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Vietnam, Where A Folk Hero And His Incense Burner Became A Political Dilemma

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Tran Hung Dao Statue and the incense burner before removal. Photo courtesy: Internet/Pinterest.

Some Vietnamese had sarcastically joked in the past few days that the “spirit” of Grand Lord  (in some other translations, Grand Prince) Tran Hung Dao (1228-1300 AD), a General of the Tran Dynasty (1225-1400AD), just became the country’s newest victim of injustice due to the forced removal of his property.

Three days ago, the giant incense burner which has been placed in front of the Tran Hung Dao statue during the last five decades was suddenly removed by the city on February 17, 2019.

Taking away the incense burner could be seen as an inexcusable behavior in a society where veneration of ancestors and past national heroes still plays a significant role in the people’s beliefs and religious practices.

The decision indeed has caused an angry storm that swept across Facebook in Vietnam with no signs of slowing down, despite the following explanation offered by the city’s officials.

The incense burner suddenly became a political dilemma for the Vietnamese Communist Party’s leadership in Ho Chi Minh City.

Tran Hung Dao, whose real name was Tran Quoc Tuan (Hung Dao was his posthumous title), probably is the most revered General in Vietnamese history.

His statue has stood tall at Bach Dang Pier of Saigon River, in Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, untouched since 1967.

To pay respect to Tran Hung Dao, people would come, burn incense, and put them in the giant incense burner in front of the statue.

During certain commemorating events, some people also come to the location and burn incense.

In the morning of February 17, 2019, however, the top leaders of Ho Chi Minh City allowed a forklift to come and remove the giant incense burner that had been part of the statue since it was first installed.

The timing of the removal was probably the most insulting factor, according to those who were offended by it.

February 17, 2019, marked the 40th commemoration of the Vietnam-China Border War which lasted over a decade. Vietnam claimed the loss of over 60,000 lives from just between February 17, 1979, to March 4, 1979.

Vietnamese people revered Tran Hung Dao as a folk hero because he represents the people’s resistance against China’s aggression.

For generations of Vietnamese, regardless of religious background, Tran Hung Dao was a Sage who had saved the country and its people three times from the Mongols and the Yuan Dynasty which ruled over China and a vast territory in Asia and Europe during the 13th century. His statute had risen to the level of a deity that people worship with the deepest respect.

Known for his military skills during the battles on waters in ancient time, the modern Vietnamese saw him as the protector of their naval forces. The pier where his statue locates also got named after his famous battlefield: Bach Dang River.

At a time when China has become more aggressive in the South China Sea, any signs of remote disrespect to Tran Hung Dao could cause an uproar among the Vietnamese people, and this time, it certainly did.

During the last three days, social media in Vietnam was full of posts and comments about what happened to the Grand Prince Tran’s statue. They range from satire, criticism, to even cursing at the decision makers. All major newspapers in the country also wrote about the story.

Adding oil onto the fire, however, more people became upset when the Secretary of the VCP’s Division in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City – Tran Kim Yen – explained to the media about the city’s decision on February 18, 2019.

According to Ms. Yen, proper worshipping activities should be done at temples and pagodas. The city had decided that the incense burner should be at the Tran Hung Dao Pagoda in Tan Dinh Ward, so they removed it and placed it at the “appropriate” location.

Many people were not satisfied with the decision, especially when it was unilaterally decided by the officials without public consultation.

Opponents of the decision quickly pointed out that there is an incense burner at the King Ly’s statue in Hanoi where top VCP’s leaders come together and burn incense to pay respect during the Lunar New Year every year.

They also posted pictures of incense burners standing in front of many statues of Ho Chi Minh across the country to dispute the official’s explanation that worshipping activities could only be done in temples and pagodas.

Some people – like dissident attorney Le Cong Dinh – questioned the fact that the explanation came from a leader of the VCP, and not from the administrative branch of the government. He also initiated an online protest, requesting the city government to put back the incense burner.

Not forget to mention, the night before the removal, social media in Vietnam was circulating a document stamped “Secret,” allegedly coming from the VCP.

The document requested that the local authorities must stop self-organized groups from organizing any events to commemorate February 17, 1979, at the statue’s location.

The removal of the incense burner created an ongoing discontentment among not only the residents of Ho Chi Minh City but the Vietnamese people at large, where they raised questions about the ability to lead of the VCP’s officials in Ho Chi Minh City.

Press Release

The Vietnamese: On Our Second Anniversary

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On November 8, 2017, the editorial board of The Vietnamese launched our website with only one purpose: to bring more information on human rights and the political situation in Vietnam to the international audience.

Two years ago, we realized that foreigners don’t really understand Vietnam and that that they don’t know what Vietnam’s politics are really like. They may not know that the sunny and relaxed place of tourism in the tropics has been controlled by a single political party for more than seven decades in the North and for more than 40 years in the whole of the country. The Vietnamese people live under an authoritarian state and so have no free and fair elections. They do not elect any of the leaders of their country because those leaders are selected behind closed doors by the Vietnamese Communist Party. Vietnam’s government is the type of regime that the Umbrella Movement was trying to avoid for Hong Kong people in 2014 when protests broke out.

As democracy activists, it has been a bit mind-boggling for us to see the world wholeheartedly support the rights of the people of  Hong Kong but while just giving a pass to us Vietnamese – a people who also believe in democracy – who continue to suffer under an authoritarian regime.

It was then that we decided that we needed to write in English about Vietnam. We felt a need to bring the stories and the lives of those who suffer when their human rights are being violated by the state and to make these stories more widely seen within international communities.

For two years, we have been working mostly voluntarily to bring forward our magazine’s objectives. More importantly, we have brought out the stories of our people and our human rights activists to the world. It has been two years with not a lot of financial support, but it was also two years in which we received tremendous human resources for free. We know that we are heading in the right direction when more people reach out and try to work with us when we have no means to pay them. We believe that they are happy to contribute because they understand that the world needs to hear our voices. The good news is that in 2019, we were successful in raising enough funds to pay for our freelancers and we hope that more writers will join us since we issued our call for more pitches one month ago.

We thank you, our readers, for your support and belief in us. We thank you and call on writers to walk with us and realize our goal to be a platform to advocate for each and every Vietnamese individual’s human rights and democracy. We call on all of you to share and raise your voices for our dreams, our visions, and to support our daily struggle for Vietnam to become a democratic country where the rule of law and human rights are respected.

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Press Release

The Vietnamese: Call for Pitches

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Dear Readers and Writers:

For the last five months, The Vietnamese has not been publishing regularly, something that you may have noticed. Our magazine was short on staff and it affected our publication. We are very sorry about any inconvenience it may have caused you. But here comes the good news. 

Starting in September 2019, we have been back and starting to use a new working scheme for our publication. Now we are reaching out to freelancers to submit pitches and work on articles to be published on our platform. 

As we have written in our mission statement for The Vietnamese, this magazine will be “a platform for each and every Vietnamese individual – who shares our dreams, our visions, and our daily struggles for a democratic country where the rule of law and human rights are respected – to raise their voice and bring their issues to the world stage.” 

We have probably also noticed some of the same issues as many of you, that Vietnam’s human rights situation and political scene were not being demonstrated as clearly as we want them to be on the world stage. Many of the critical issues that Vietnamese people care and are concerned about were not discussed in English writings. And now, this is the time that you can submit your pitches and start writing about what concerns Vietnamese people the most in terms of human rights, democracy, and political concerns.

Please be aware that as a magazine, The Vietnamese quite often does not publish very time-sensitive or breaking news. We decide on pitches at our weekly editorial meetings, and so it may take up to at least one week to respond to your pitch. Once we accept a pitch, it typically takes two weeks to one month before it is published as our editorial team is also made up of freelance and part-time staff, which may delay our response time. 

A few times a year, we will also be considering a specific call for pitches for certain themes and we will send out updates when there are such calls.

OUR RATES:

– US$200 for text (approximately 1,500 words for written pieces)

– US$200 for 7-10 minute (edited) video clips with English subtitles, US$150 for a recorded op-ed or interview. 

Invoices should be submitted after the article has been published on our website. We are committed to paying timely and promptly.

PITCH FORMAT:

Please answer all of these questions in an email to be sent to editor@thevietnamese.org or vi.tran@thevietnames.org. 

– What is your name?
– What section are you pitch to, is it written form  or video?
– What’s your idea? (Please be as specific as you can.)
– Who could you talk to or have access to?
– What makes this story interesting or insightful?
– When can you submit the first draft?
– Will you submit photographs with the article that you or another person has taken?
– Please provide any links to your previous published articles or videos.

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Press Release

Pham Doan Trang Received Prize for Impact from Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 Press Freedom Awards

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Photo credits: RSF

On September 12, 2019, our editor Pham Doan Trang had received the Prize for Impact from Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Awards 2019 in Berlin, Germany.

Trang was not able to travel and received her award in person. Instead, our editor Trinh Huu Long and also the editor-in-chief for Luat Khoa magazine was representing Trang to accept it.

Being her colleagues, The Vietnamese magazine’s staff is delighted and honored that Doan Trang received the Impact award. We have all been inspired and moved by her tireless efforts – as she stated – to make sure that “journalism is not a crime anywhere in the world.” Together with her, we all work for Vietnam to soon be a democratic country.

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