I was reading something about Vietnam today and suddenly realised how little most outsiders know of that country.
There are a couple of reasons for that.
One is that like a lot of things, the more significant sums of money available for Asian studies has historically been shaped by the wishes of the US military. With Vietnam having long been neither strategically threatening nor historically appealing to the US Army, I suspect a research career in Vietnamese studies just doesn’t (or didn’t) have the career benefits of studying other nations in the neighbourhood.
There’s also a stupendous amount of money available in the business world to those who can get closer to China and its thinking, which isn’t necessarily the case with Vietnam. And if the total jobs available from understanding Vietnam are also negligible compared with those understanding China, the incentive to focus on Vietnam vanishes.
Finally, and putting it bluntly, I again suspect the allure of field trips and extended stays for Western staff in Vietnam just doesn’t compare with the appeal of some of its regional competitors such as Thailand, and this too limits the West’s engagement and knowledge.
In summary, I put forward those thoughts on why there doesn’t appear to be so much research work around Vietnamese studies and why the country lacks the profile of some others in the neighbourhood.
Furthermore, on a personal note my university offered limited courses and insights into Vietnam, and I don’t know very many Vietnamese people.
All that said, many of the Vietnamese I know are among the hardest working, most ingenious and most ruthlessly capable people I’ve ever met, and I’m unsurprised that the Americans didn’t prevail in their military foray there half a century ago.
I wish I knew more and could say more about Vietnam.