Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

Surveying Northern Vietnam

In a now largely forgotten episode of the First Indochina War (1946-1954), the Việt Minh charged the French with the use of biological weapons after similar allegations had been made against the US military in North Korea and northeast China. This path explores the work the Việt Minh did to map knowledge of imperialistic germ warfare onto Northern Vietnam. See Christopher Goscha's, Phi Van Nguyen's, and Simon Abdela's on-line resource for a historical dictionary of the First Indochina War.

Mapping is a way to bound local space in a particular time. In response to fears of biological warfare, Vietnamese leaders sought to map emotional geographies of fear through surveys of countryside. Such mapping drew on older Sinosphere, borderland, and  national geographies as well as newer aerial geographies.

First consider the Việt Minh's investigations of biological warfare through its Committee to Prevent Germs. You can also explore a side path that looks at the life and work of one of the Committee's leaders, Tôn Thất Tùng. Then, look at the rural surveys conducted by the Việt Minh and consider what their results tell us about germ warfare in northern Vietnam and rural society of the 1950s more generally.

As you read through this path, keep the following questions in mind:

What was it like to be on the receiving end of germ warfare? How did experts and lay people in Vietnam react to being the target of alleged biological weapon? How did Vietnamese scientists, politicians, and citizens seek to mitigate the effects of biological warfare (real and imagined)?

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