Lê Hải, Polish Academy of Science / GlobalVietDiaspora, 21 July 2011
On the 5th of June 2011, thousands of people in Saigon and hundreds of their compatriots in Hanoi demonstrated near the Chinese consulate and embassy in those cities. In following weekends, demonstrations continued with smaller crowds but expanded to include Vietnamese youth living in other cities in France, Japan and Netherlands. Although the slogans aimed at the Chinese expansion, following discussions were about what the authorities and the demonstrators should behave to suit the national community. My analysis focuses on materials from collected posts on the Internet (blogs and their comments, photos and their captions) and appliesmethodological elements from the theory of discourse (Sutherland 2005, Wodak et al. ed. 2009) to look at the demonstrations as an example of the crisis of the hyphen between the nation and the state in the nation-state in an effort to understand the Vietnamese identity.
The discursive construction of national identity
In his theoretical research, which also covered the case of Vietnam in length, Benedict Anderson (1983) perspective included the widely accepted conclusion that “nations are mental constructs, ‘imagined communities,’ which nationalised political subjects perceive as discrete political entities (Wodak et al. ed. 2009:3). Then, nation, state, and legitimacy can form a conceptual triad, “with governments understood as agents of a nation-building ideology seeking to link all three” (Sutherland 2010:4). In specific conditions, the legitimacy falls into crisis, and the analysis of its condition offers a better insight into the national identity of Vietnam.
The demonstrations will be located into the national “discursive space”, represented through textual discourses.  In the micro-discourse, “the nation is characterised as the rhetorical expression of an underlying ideology.” The most important features are “the presence of contested concepts, the expressive values of words and the relationships established between them by means of listing or other classification” (Sutherland 2005:198). After the textual analysis developed by Stuart Hall, more attentions were paid to the way our conceptual map of the world and the society can be represented through the communication and language systems. The nation is then “defined as a certain way of representing the reality” (Jakułowski 2004:179) and the understanding of it can be reached through analysing its signification practice.
In line with the methodological perspective briefly introduced above, selected exchanges of rhetoric and textual expressions surrounding the demonstration will be analysed at the nodal point between the state – represented by the hierarchy of officials, with enforcement officers at the front – and the nation – part of it represented by the protestors, both active and passive attendants.
The Vietnamese government protested the Chinese provocation  on May 26th when it claimed sovereignty in the water territory, but it was unclear whether the authorities allowed the two demonstrations in Saigon and Hanoi on June 5th or not. Although some bloggers, including mid-range officials, expressed their supports and hinted  of a secret support from the authorities, there are many calls on domestic Internet asking people not  to attend the demonstration allegedly organised  by the leading anti-communist group of Việt Tân. According to the photos leaked on the Internet, the University of Industry in HCMC announced  a ban of students signed on June 1st by the head of the HR department. On the day of action, a blogger declared that staff in the tourism industry in Saigon reported a message from the city department of tourism to all staff in hotels and restaurants that they should not get involved in the demonstrations. The worker’s union in industrial zones in the province of Đồng Nai also released a similar document  on June 24th.
The arguments against a demonstration included the negative example of the jail sentence of Nguyễn Tiến Trungas on the Internet forum  hosted by the University of IT in Saigon. It cited  the view of the local branch of the Youth Association calling “student not to join the demonstration,” and the view of school authorities warning those who do not listen would face removal. Demonstrators observed that the authorities in Saigon were better prepared in the following Sunday. Hence, whether they were against or supported the first demonstration or not, the internal negotiation may have voted in favour of banning further protests in Saigon.
In Hanoi people were able  to continue  in the following Sundays, but the third attempt in Saigon was suppressed before it was able to start. In its second time, many active protestors identified from the first demonstration were arrested  by the security forces in plain clothes like in the photo above, shared on Facebook.
Of course the demonstrations are neither political nor statistic representation of the nation of Vietnam. The Vietnamese government and its controlled mass (Thayer 2008) are the official and internationally recognised representatives of the whole nation. But at least demonstrators represent the message that the majority might have accepted: they were against China’s attempt of expansion. PM Nguyễn Tấn Dũng,  foreign ministry speaker Nguyễn Phương Nga,  and official newspapers all repeated the same message  on sovereignty of Vietnam and against the Chinese action in the incident of Bình Minh II, which triggered the demonstrations. Furthermore, they led a different view on what the nation should be, and their position is strengthened thanks to a number of press reports abroad and on the Internet. They may act alone, but others join or at least recognize their message, like the case of a lonely protestor standing several hours in front of the Chinese consulate in Saigon on the 5th June 2011, receiving water from ‘strangers.’
Their network and influence could surely increase, as after the previous demonstration in December 2007. Those would-be leaders who called for a gathering and those previously known from their activities against China were all detained or temporarily placed under house arrest. Some were released with no further appointment, and some were escorted back to their provinces like the case of Mẹ Nấm in Nha Trang. Blogger Lan Phương also reported that well-known persons from the demonstration in 2007 including the musician Tuấn Khanh, the poet Trần Tiến Dũng and the publisher Bùi Chát were asked to leave Saigon or invited to tea meeting, and had their mobile phones locked for a while. Other leaders like Điếu Cày and Nguyễn Tiến Trung were already in jail.
The demonstrations quickly forged new leaders who stepped up in the ad hoc situation. By taking photos and publishing them online, many people have already crossed the line and actively promoted further protests. The blogger Đinh Vũ Hoàng Nguyên,  who witnessed how his friends dealt with, alleged provocations on motorbike by Chinese agents and became a leader for his group. A demonstrator reportedly bought water for “strangers” and would become a logistic leader in the next event. The demonstrators in Hanoi received water and food earlier prepared from sponsors.
The impact from these demonstrations is also wider than the previous suppressed acts in 2007. The blogger Đinh Vũ Hoàng Nguyên reported that his relative – a policeman working since dawn that day – was briefed that the demonstrators are generally “good elements” and to pay attention to opportunists and provokers. The blogger Trịnh Hữu Long on his facebook said he was impressed when getting the call on demonstration on May 31th from a female friend “who never paid attention to politics.” The appearances of many children including the girl leading the demonstration in Saigon as in the photo above will surely make many people think about politics again.
Negotiation at the hyphen
The best record from the rhetoric exchange was published by the famous poet Đỗ Trung Quân on his facebook.  He joined a group of former communist leaders including the former head of student in Saigon Huỳnh Tấn Mẫm, former deputy secretary of the local branch of the youth association in Saigon, and former deputy chairman of the Father Front in Saigon Lê Hiếu Đằng, as well as the French origin Vietnamese Hồ Cương Quyết (Andre Menras). Gathering at a cafeteria at 6:30, they took taxi to the place at 7:45 and faced the security force. A man asked them to disperse, explained that they should act within law.
“Law is to defend people and defend the country, not to defend the Chinese,” replied Mr Cao Lập, a former communist prisoner from Côn Đảo, “Which side are you on? Vietnam or China?” He challenged and the officer in plain clothes had to step back.
“The city branch of the Youth Association (Thành đoàn) should organise demonstrations for young people. It did not dare hence young people do it themselves,” Mr Huỳnh Tấn Mẫm replied when an official praised him to persuade other to disperse.
They were then invited to the office to meet deputy secretary of the local branch of the communist party in Hochiminh City Nguyễn Văn Đua, as well as the deputy president of the city Nguyễn Thành Tài, and head of the propaganda department Ms Nguyễn Thị Quyết Tâm.
“You don’t have to teach us about the methods,” Mr Lê Hiếu Đằng emotionally replied to the words by Mr Nguyễn Chơn Trung, who slapped his hand to the table and told them to use the right method.
“I can’t image that Brother 6 Quang is that bad,” Mr Cao Lập said on standing position.
“We have already expressed our view. If the state understands the people will then we will support. If not then we will continue to express our view.” Concluded Mr Huỳnh Tấn Mẫm.
Commenting on the post, a blogger (Nguyễn Tiến Hùng) came to a conclusion, that “the monopoly on patriotism was broken.” From the same line in the demonstrations against the former South Vietnam state and the US army, those former comrades now are on the contrary positions to each other. When Mr 3 Đua called Andre Menras comrade, he replied: “Comrade does not mean member of the same party. I used to stand on the side of Vietnam in every fight against expansion and sovereignty challenge. This demonstration is also in that soul.” The demonstrators clearly showed an alternative expression of national identity and represent an alternative image of the nation of Vietnam.
After more than a decade with the new nationalist project in nation building (Nguyễn Khoa Điềm 2001), the communist state has gone through several major negotiations with the nation of Vietnam. It has adopted the ancestor worship; communist leaders burnt incenses to the King Hùng and attended religious rituals at others including the Trần shrine. It has earlier abandoned the collective economy, adopted the market-oriented system; communist leaders enriched and sent their children to study in capitalist countries. However, those crises are not like this one, which is right in the heart of the hyphen between the communist state and the nation in its nationalist movement.
From the margin position as in the shown case of the Nhân Văn Giai Phẩm movement in the 1950s, this time intellectuals clearly mark their role in the discourse and production of national symbols (Foucault, cited in Szacki 2003). Whether allowing the demonstrations or not, the communist party had to accept the emerging power of various groups, who are networking and joining their powers from different backgrounds: religious, civic, political, intellectual – all are elements of the wider canon of national culture (Lê Hải 2011). As captured in the photo represented at the beginning of this essay, the communist state is no longer the only the dominant power in making national symbols. This time, it is in an equivalent discourse (Foucault 1969) with active members of the nation, who can both look for support from the mass and promote its position to the mass consciousness. This time, whether wearing the northern red flag or the southern yellow flag, Vietnamese people abroad both demonstrate with the same message: “Hoàng Sa and Trường Sa belong to Vietnam” – so do they.
Lê Hải is a a researcher at the Department of Theoretical Sociology, Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Science. He is also the Vietnamese language editor of GlobalVietDiaspora.
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 That can happened in both micro- and meso- levels, and the theory-building Discourses are divided into Grand and Mega types (Sutherland 2005)
 Chinese boats disturbed the work of the Vietnamese research ship Bình Minh 02 and cut the cable linked to the censor unit, more details are reported by many websites including the VTC http://vtc.vn/311-288095/quoc-te/binh-minh-2-nhung-khoanh-khac-doi-mat-tau-hai-giam-tq.htm, http://www.petrotimes.vn/tag/binh-minh-2 and video on Youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UaH5tZoi7o0
 as in our private conversations before the demonstration. However, they later expressed their frustration about the lack of support from local authorities.
 In example the internaut nicknamed choikoncho joined a low key forum (phutu.tk) on 17th May 2011 to post a message in an irrelevant thread of “general comedy” (thư giãn tổng hợp) to alert: “Urgent: Do not demonstrate on 5th June 2011” ( http://phutu.7forum.net/t936-topic).
 On the 1st June 2011 Việt Tân released a support letter to the demonstration call by the domestic group of Nhật Ký Yêu Nước (Diary of Pariotism) http://www.facebook.com/nhatkyyeunuoc1, archive at http://danluan.org/node/8954. On the 3rd it had to release another public letter to confirm no relationship between the two organisation http://www.viettan.org/spip.php?article11197
 Copies on many websites including http://nguoivnyeunuoc.blogspot.com/2011/06/ai-hoc-cong-nghiep-cam-sinh-vien-vien.html, my electronic archive from Internet sources.
 My electronic archive, also from Internet sources.
 posted by Dương Phi Long from the Media club of the school, left his email as email@example.com.
 This is partly a reason that let people still believe in a secret green light from the government. After 5 consecutive Sundays, the article on The Diplomat on 6th July saw the demonstration a managed action. In addition, on the 5th June 2011 there was an exercise on making the S (national geographical) shape of Vietnam in Nha Trang and the issue of sea-and-islands (biển đảo) was add into the agenda of the following festival in that city.
 But many protestors and reporters were arrested after the sixth demonstration on July 10th. Journalist Phi Khanh reported on Bauxite Việt Nam http://boxitvn.blogspot.com/2011/07/toi-bi-cong-tam-giu-vi-chup-anh-nhung.html
 Mr Phan Nguyên reported his arrest on his Facebook and the story was quickly republished on others including the famous blog of Quê Choa at http://quechoa.info/2011/06/14/yeu-nước-do-bằng-gi/
 His speech in Nha Trang in the festival week, reported on PetroTimes on 9th June 2011 http://www.petrotimes.vn/xa-hoi/2011/06/bao-ve-vung-chac-chu-quyen-bien-dao-va-cac-hoat-dong-kinh-te-bien
 As earlier, she repeats the claim of Vietnam to the sea territory, as on her press conference on 29th May, 3 days after the incident on 26th May, reported by many newspapers the day later http://giaoduc.net.vn/xa-hoi/40/3419.html
 started by the Vietnamese official news agency TTXVN, like the one on Tuổi Trẻ Online on 27th May 2011 http://tuoitre.vn/Tuoi-tre-cuoi-tuan/Van-de-Su-kien/Quoc-te/439870/Phan-doi-tau-Trung-Quoc-vi-pham-chu-quyen-lanh-hai-Viet-Nam.html