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

Vietnamese Patriotic Hygiene Movement

The Việt Minh witnessed how effective the patriotic hygiene movement was in motivating the Chinese masses to resist biological weapons and to participate in hygiene improvement projects (Rogaski 2004). The Việt Minh sought to reproduce the patriotic hygiene movement’s successes in northern Vietnam. Thus they included a representation of the PRC's patriotic hygiene movement and its effects in the pamphlet they produced about biological warfare (see especially images one, four, and five in the gallery above). You can compare the imagines above to the PRC's own.

What are the similarities and differences in the themes presented? What might the differences in the quality and presentation of the information say about the state capacities of the Việt Minh and the PRC?

The Việt Minh planners believed that changing peasant mentalities would lead to transformations in hygiene practices and improvements in health. Thus, they hoped to simultaneously mobilize peasants for battle against the French, to spread knowledge about germ (vi trùng) theory, and to eliminate practices that were deemed “unscientific” (phản khoa học) and “unhygienic” (phản vệ sinh) (Malarney 2012).

In this way, the Việt Minh pamphlet suggests that biological warfare encouraged Vietnamese medical doctors on the Committee to Prevent Germs to view germs as part of both their broader natural and social environments. Biomedical knowledge and laboratory research were both important to counter biological warfare but so too was the social knowledge related to mass movements and motivating peasants. In other words, the farmer's tool and the soldier's weapon were just as important as the medical doctor's instruments and the scientist's notebook in combatting biological weapons (see image five in the gallery above). And as the waning farmer enthusiasm for reporting suspected French use of biological weapons shows, misunderstanding the social environment was just as dangerous as misunderstanding the natural environment for the Việt Minh.

Finally, this pamphlet as suggests the importance of individuals in preventing biological invasions during the Cold War. Even though the Việt Minh and the subsequent Democratic Republic of Vietnam projected the image of a strong state, they were still reliant on the cooperation and efforts of the people to carry out state-led projects. This pamphlet thus pleads with readers to accept state control of people and places (see images two and three in the gallery above). The confident state-centric view projected in this pamphlet was, however, at odds with the individual voices of concern and worry recorded in reports and letters held in state archives.

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