Vietnamese Scholars and Their Perception of the West in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century: The Cases of Nguyễn Văn Siêu, Nguyễn Tư Giản, and Đặng Huy Trứ


Hoang-Yen Nguyen

Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies (2022) 22 (2): 183–205

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Abstract: This study aims to understand the perception of the West of Vietnamese elites in the late nineteenth century, focusing on scholar-officials Nguyễn Văn Siêu, Nguyễn Tư Giản, and Đặng Huy Trứ after Vietnam engaged with France in 1858. This analysis focuses on the contents of their writings, showing that they perceived the far West as the Other, and used different strategies to construct an inferior Western Other by viewing the West from the perspective of Hua-Yi thought (C. huayi sixiang 華夷思想) and self-interest in order to simplify the West, and also created this essential otherness by adding geographical features. Understanding their perception and attitudes toward the West can help us gain a better understanding of the relationship between Vietnam and the West, of the complicated cogitation of Vietnamese scholars, and of the practices of Vietnamese Confucianism at that time. It can also shed light on the way East Asian elites engaged with the West, as well as on the reasons behind Vietnam’s failures in dealing with the West in the nineteenth century.

About the author: Hoang-Yen Nguyen was a HYI Visiting Scholar from 2020-21.