This page was created by Michitake Aso.  The last update was by Kate McDonald.

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

Cartographies of Revolution

Cold War-era maps show the connections that Vietnam had with the socialist world. After the 1949 victory of the Chinese communists under the leadership of Mao Zedong and the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC), the Việt Minh gained an important ally. Starting in May 1951, supplies from the USSR also began to cross the North Vietnam-China border. Between 1952 and 1954, the Việt Minh received over 100 tonnes of medical supplies and equipment from China and the USSR. The map below shows “Dissident Activities in Indochina” from November 1950. It was produced by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1951 and included in the Pentagon Papers. The Việt Minh were active in the lands bordering China including a region called the Việt Bắc.

Now consider the following map published by the CIA in 1967. While this map presents a topographic view of Northern Vietnam, thus using the language of scientific objectivity, there were at least two important choices to note. First, it reproduces older Sinosphere and regional geographies by linking Northern Vietnam to its northern neighbor. This decision was not accidental, of course, and like earlier regional maps had a military motivation. Starting in 1965, the United States had sent its military to the Republic of Vietnam and began what is known in America as the Vietnam War. During this war, communist China and North Korea sent aid and advisors to North Vietnam. Second, this map notes the population centers of Hanoi and Thai Nguyen and shows them linked by a railroad. Both Hanoi, the capital, and Thai Nguyen, the location of a steel plant, were targets of incessant American bombing.

In this way, the shape of this map was the result of the victories of the Chinese, the North Korean, and the Vietnamese communist parties.

By the 1970s, the National Liberation Front, and its ally the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, could imagine themselves as a world leader of socialist countries. As Che Guevara (1928-1967) said, “what a luminous, near future would be visible to us if two, three, or many Vietnams flourished throughout the world….”

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