Social Control

I am agog. That in itself surprises me because ever since I've been involved in the Vietnamese community, I've heard horror stories of journalists and religious leaders being arrested or put under house arrest because of their pro-democracy efforts in Vietnam. And I've heard stories that the social control in Vietnam is enough to keep most of the people "herded" into the same ideological corral. But now it's happened to someone I know, and that makes a world of difference.

"Hôm nay, em muốn nói cho anh biết là nếu bây giờ anh vào blog em sẽ không thấy entry nào cả." I got this email a few days ago and I'm still a bit shaken up about it. "Today I need to let you know that if you go to my blog you won't see any entries at all." At the request of her parents, the young Vietnamese blogger deleted the entire contents of her blog. Her blog is - or was - a delightful mixture of the introspective diary stuff that started the blogging trend and light political commentary. So light that we calloused Americans wouldn't even notice the inferences she made to government slip-ups or overlooks, but nonetheless considering alternative options for the way Vietnam is being governed today. Her second to last entry was about a terrible train wreck (see here for a more in-depth article): a bus carrying a load full of students was hit by a train. The bus was crowded so the boys crammed in the back to give the girls room in the front, and it was the back end that the train slammed into. 5 students died (at last count) and many more were seriously injured. After expressing her deep sorrow for the families involved, giving her condolences and encouraging all to keep the victims' families in our prayers, she asked one question about the safety standards mandated by the State for railroad crossings. The question I can not quote for it is now gone for good (I've searched high and low online, including Google's cached pages, to no avail), but the gist of it was this: "Most people blame the bus driver for not paying attention. But the railroad crossing was only marked by a siren. How would things have turned out if the State [Vietnam] required that safety bars be required at all crossings?" As I said, the implication here is light and directed toward a policy, not the system. In fact, some of her other posts dealt with "nước ta" ("Our Country") in a much more judgemental manner. But apparently this article was the tipping point. Her next and last entry mentioned that some friends found issue with her treatment of the State, and some even criticized her for being too "bạo động" (lit: "to rise up, uprising," basically saying she was too revolutionary). Her email detailed what happened next: big sister caught word of the nature of her blog and read it. Sister brought it to mom and dad, who immediately "asked" that it be removed. All of it. The very hand and mind that clicked those words into being became the hand that erased them forever.

Given the political situation in Vietnam right now, I don't blame her parents for being too careful, but I'm so sad to see such a young, intelligent voice smothered so quickly, or in current overseas Vietnamese community lingo, bị bịt miệng. Although the free-speech atmosphere in Vietnam has improved greatly over the years, the rumors of political dissidents being arrested or mysteriously lost has produced a strong mechanism for social control of young "free-speakers," much like our parents telling us to eat up because "there's starving children in China." Whether it's true or not, and regardless of the actual ramifications of such actions among Vietnam's youth, the notion that the government arrests those who speak against it holds much of the population under control, much more than the official propaganda spread by the government itself. And why not use it ("it" being the arresting of "political dissidents"), if it effectively dictates the actions of the majority by making a public example of a few? Many of the youth in Vietnam enforce this social control among their friends, as is the case with this situation. It goes to show that freedom is not only dictated by the current political regime, but also by the society in which it exists.

This particular blogger said she bawled her eyes out when she had to delete her blog. Her parents were making an executive decision for the welfare and safety of their still-under-age daughter, and we can't dispute their motive in ordering the blog's demise. But the difficult thing for me to swallow is the identity that was washed away with it. We live in an age of virtual identities, and especially for Vietnamese youth who "waste hours a day chatting on Yahoo messenger" these identities are very salient and precious. To delete a blog, full of personal expression as well as other readers' comments, is to squash a certain part of one's self. I just hope she'll get back up and keep questioning. Hopefully she'll find the "happy medium" where observance of social dictates and expression of personal quandaries can co-exist in Vietnam. And I hope that Vietnam starts using safety bars for their railroad crossings.


Jennie said...

WOW. That IS sad. I hope she finds courage to keep writing for her own personal purposes. I'm sure a strong and lively voice like that cannot be smothered for good.

I didn't realize Viet Nam was so... communist in free speech issues.

xanghe said...

Yeah, I actually heard from her that she'll be able to blog again after exams but only about personal stuff. She's not too happy with that.

Actually, the government began releasing political dissidents from jail/house arrest around two years ago. It just so happens that that was the same time that Vietnam was being accepted into the WTO (World Trade Organization). Vietnam is now a member of the WTO, and has turned right around on its human rights record with a vengeance. Journalists, religious leaders and even lawyers have been jailed because of "speaking out" against the government. Of course, this is only one side of the story (there is much improvement in Vietnam right now), but a side that can not be ignored, nonetheless.

Here are some resources if you're interested:
An overseas, grassroots movement against jailing free speakers

Eye-opening video of a trial

travel log
  • 02.13.08 - to the temple with Luan and his mom, good to be back
  • 02.14.08 - Mẫu's alive! and staying for the weekend
  • 02.15.08 - floor hockey and Thái food makes for some strange dreams
  • 02.17.08 - frisbee and swamp monster at the park: fun but I'm pooped!
  • 02.19.08 - just read Triết's response to my last post - game on!
  • 02.20.08 - raining and expected to continue through Sunday - thank goodness!
  • 02.21.08 - 3-hour nap is a bad idea right before bed
  • 02.23.08 - to the beach to watch kites, a baptism @ 5pm, and homemade bulgogi - what a day!
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release notes v1.0 - FINALLY DONE!
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