The case of the Red River Delta. By Pham Van Bich. Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, Vietnam in Transition series. Richmond: Curzon, 1999. pp. 270. Bibliography, Index.
The study is about the family and its changes over 50 years (1945-95) in a northern part of Vietnam (Red River Delta). The author should be complimented with this respectful and impressive work. The book is the result of the reworking of his doctoral dissertation at the Department of Sociology, University of Goteborg, Sweden. The material in the book is not based on anthropological fieldwork but on a wealth of literature. It is amazing, that so many studies on the Vietnamese family, covering a timespan ...view middle of the document...
In Chapter one the traditional family is described and the French influence analysed. In particular the emergence of two new social categories in urban areas: the middle and the working class, formed new styles of family life. Rightly, the author presents fundamental characteristics of the traditional family, which still count for the 'modern' family as well; such as the collective community, hierarchy of sexes and ages, patrilineal family, patrilocal post-marriage residence pattern and its variant: gender separation, and womenâ€™s status (division of labour, spatial segregation). The background of the patrilocal residence pattern is explained by focusing on the meaning and role of ancestor-worship. In the French period commerce was considered as unworthy for menâ€™s respect. Women were in charge of the marketplace and brought their families a significant amount of cash income (p.33). But, this did not bestow them with prestige and power.
In the second Chapter the social changes affecting the family in the period 1945-95 are shown. Firstly a number of crucial state planned policies and interferences are analysed, as ideological campaigns, laws on marriage and the family, womenâ€™s liberation movement, class struggle approach during land reform 1953-56 and its
disastrous effect when it came to childrenâ€™s denunciation of parents (p.72). The study shows that women generallyl benefited greatly from collectivization in this period. The neglect of buffaloes shows the disadvantage of cooperatives. It is remarkable that the same buffalo story was told to me by several people in Lao PDR. Policies of industrialization, household registration and housing policies had a strong impact on living and working conditions of the family members. The Delta was a battlefield in the wars against the French and the American air forces. Families suffered also from heavy losses of life among the soldiers born in the Red River Delta area in the Cambodian (1978-91) and the Chinese border war (1979). Population imbalance between men and women had wide consequences and created families of single mothers: unacceptable in the traditional family (p.87). But, recently the official policy towards single mothers has changed dramatically. Unmarried women are allowed to have a child after a brief affair with a married man. Children bear the motherâ€™s family name and these families follow a matrilineal system.
In 1986 the government launched its economic reform programme, known as doi moi (renovation), towards a market-led economy. Agricultural, industrial and cultural reforms followed and had deep implications for marital and family relations.
The husband-wife relationship stands central in Chapter three. Crucial themes are discussed, such as spouse selection, expectations of brides, reasons for divorce in the traditional family. In the part on the conjugal bonds in the present family the focus is on marital partner selection and interaction at work, in free time, in...