Contested Territory: Ðien Biên Phu and the Making of Northwest Vietnam [book review]

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
James A. Anderson, Associate Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: Contested Territory is a fascinating monograph that describes a complex picture of post–World War II local administration in Northwest Vietnam's Black River borderlands through the 1954 Ðien Biên Phu campaign and subsequent land reform and political realignment efforts by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) government. Most readers are familiar with the prominent historiographical position that the Ðien Biên Phu campaign occupies in Vietnam's nationalist narrative of casting off French colonial bondage, including accounts of the region's indigenous non-Kinh inhabitants assisting the Viêt Minh in defeating the materially superior French. Christian C. Lentz's study recontextualizes the military campaign as a significant midpoint, and not a triumphal endpoint, in the creation of a postcolonial Vietnamese state. In this process, Lentz explores DRV state engagement with local Tai-speaking communities and their Hmong, Khmu, and Dao swidden cultivator neighbors, in a multilayered and dynamic study that draws as much on research methods from anthropology as it does on history or human geography. As Lentz writes, “this study analyzes how the Black River's threefold social formation interacted with downstream forces, generating alliances and exposing fissures that shifted rapidly over time and stretched unevenly across space” (p. 17). Drawing on Thongchai Winichakul's notion of a geobody and related studies of spatial sovereignty, Lentz's exploration of territory as strategy has this reader looking at state formation in the Vietnamese borderlands from a new perspective.

Additional Information

The Journal of Asian Studies 79, no. 2 (May 2020): 538-540.
Language: English
Date: 2020
book review, Vietnam, Northwest Autonomous Zone

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