Friday, August 25, 2006

Chasing Liberty: a look back on history




For years, teachers, or more broadly speaking, Vietnam education, has tried to cram into students’ mind the idea that a good child must be studious and obedient to parents and teachers. None of the teachings (and preaching) ever refers to an active, stormy, even imaginative student as “good”.


Put aside the story about Vietnam edution system, take a look back on history, and you will see that Vietnamese psycho has never celebrated freedom of thoughts, or liberty. As a nation’s thoughts and philosophies are shown best in its historical records, we should look up ours in Vietnam’s most famous history books, among them is “The Complete History Book of Dai Viet” by Ngo Si Lien. I feel sure that in his works, Ngo Si Lien the great historian did not write any word of “freedom”, “liberty”, or “creativity” (definitely not). With lots of efforts I have skimmed his work. I felt I can understand why they say young generations are bad at what they call “national history”.  It is because nothing is so boring as the so-called “national history” as it has so far been told in every history book of ours. The writing style is boring, the facts are scattered and often exaggerated, the presentation in short is unacceptably poor. More significant to me, I find all these books contain just emotionless letters and words. They fail to show any  link between young readers of our age with “our glorious ancients”. They fail to show us the beauty of time or the priceless lessons of history.  A history book written by a western historian would be all the different. You know, one of my favourite books is “The Lessons of History”. If anyone of you should like to know what western history books are like, just try them once and you will get the answer.


In the case of “The Complete History Book of Dai Viet” by Ngo Si Lien, it leaves us in confusion, wondering what are the highest values of life in a nation like Vietnam. These values don’t include either “freedom”, “liberty”, or  “creativity”. They are not what I want. (I don’t know about others, perhaps some will appreciate traditional values). 


If history may be viewed as the mirror that reflects a nation’s soul, we can see now that deep in our inner feelings, for ages, we Vietnamese have never given freedom and creativity a worthy prominence.  We don’t really know what true freedom is, and we can hardly imagine a nation or society with freedom. Many will wonder if freedom means instability, or rebellion, or  chaos. Vietnam has never seen any thinker or philosopher, let alone world-famous works on arts or thoughts or politics. Those who we call respectfully as “thinkers” were just poets and historians, like Nguyen Trai, Nguyen Du, Ngo Si Lien, Le Van Huu, and at such level they could not be survived by any world-famous works. Their famous works, if anything, merely revolve around things like a citizen's duties, patriotism and, above all, loyality towards the court. None of them thought of issues which forever are of concern to mankind, such as leadership, cult and religion, politics, development, etc. Take religion and sociology as an example. None of our "thinkers" ever questioned why people had to pay worship to some supernatural force called "ancestors" or "Buddha". None of them ever asked why man should be superior to woman, and why the Vietnamese should honour a stranger from the north, Confucius.


I believe  that all such concepts as “freedom”, “liberty”, “equality”, “creativity” must have come into Vietnam no sooner than when the French conquered this land.  Westerners - we should highly appreciate them in this case - are the ones who bring such values to us.


Oh, respectful Ngo Si Lien, you gave freedom a bad name!