Since 1990 public political criticism has evolved into a prominent feature of Vietnam's political landscape. Over the last three decades, such criticism has become widespread around four main clusters of issues: factory workers demanding better wages and living standards; villagers demonstrating and petitioning against corruption and land confiscations; citizens opposing China's encroachment into Vietnam and criticizing China-Vietnam relations; and dissidents objecting to the party-state regime and pressing for democratisation.
In this episode of New Books in Southeast Asian Studies, Professor Michele Ford hosted Emeritus Professor Benedict Kerkvliet to discuss his book, Speaking Out in Vietnam: Public Political Criticism in a Communist Party–Ruled Nation (Cornell University Press, 2019). In his analysis of Communist Party–ruled Vietnam, Benedict Kerkvliet assesses the rise and diversity of these public displays of disagreement, showing that it has morphed from family whispers to large-scale use of electronic media, and argues that although we may think that the party-state represses public criticism, in fact Vietnamese authorities often tolerate and respond positively to such public and open protests.
Benedict Kerkvliet is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Political and Social Change at the Australian National University. Fascinated with how ordinary people deal with big pressures on their lives, Ben has emphasized research on agrarian politics in Southeast Asia. Closely related is his study of interactions between ordinary people and authorities or other elites. He is currently researching local reactions to major recent national policies in the Philippines and Vietnam.
Professor Michele Ford is the Director of the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre, a university-wide multidisciplinary center at the University of Sydney, Australia.