Entrepreneurs of Disorder: A Look at New Research in Vietnam Studies

01/04/2021 16:42

Entrepreneurs of Disorder: Gangsters, Revolutionaries, and Collaborators during the Decolonization of Vietnam: A Look at New Research in Vietnam Studies

April 6, 2021
1:00 AM – 3:00 AM

Please join us for a panel discussion: 

Kevin Li, Columbia University
Edward Miller, Dartmouth College
Nu-Anh Tran, University of Connecticut
Haydon Cherry, Northwestern University
Shawn McHale, George Washington University

Masako Ikeda, Executive Director, University of Hawaii Press

Dr. Kevin Li will present his cutting-edge scholarship, Entrepreneurs of Disorder: Gangsters, Revolutionaries, and Collaborators during the Decolonization of Vietnam (1945-1955), followed by commentary from a panel of leading experts in modern Vietnam Studies. In contrast to the overwhelming scholarship on modern Vietnam that has conventionally focused on elite politics and narratives of resistance and collaboration Dr. Li’s work examines the rise of violence entrepreneurs—gangsters, bandits, and racketeers—as leading political and military figures during decolonization. Prewar anticolonialism, violent decolonization, and civil war upended the prevailing structures and ideas of political power. At the end of World War II, members of the Saigon underworld organized local toughs, farmers, laborers, fugitives, and military deserters into a confederation of armed groups to thwart French reoccupation. Between 1945 and 1955, the Bình Xuyên played a key military and political role on both sides of the First Indochina War—first as part of the communist-led Việt Minh insurgency, then as an anti-communist bulwark against it. In its latter role under the auspices of the French military and the non-communist Vietnamese state, the Bình Xuyên dominated Saigon and its hinterland, fielded an army of over three thousand, gained command of the national police, cultivated a political mass organization, and built a lucrative business portfolio. As both insurgent and pacifier, the group harnessed its military capacity, economic resources, and patriotic reputation to vie for political power. In the process, Dr. Li shows how these erstwhile outlaws came to assume the guise of the state and the mantle of nationalism, explaining how the Bình Xuyên’s path to power became possible and how this new reality shaped political authority, governance, and war in modern Vietnam.

Following Dr. Li’s presentation, five leading scholars in Vietnam Studies will provide comments before opening the floor to general discussion.

Online via Zoom. Please register here.

This event is organized by the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University.