The Woman Issue in Vietnam before 1945
Dang Thi Van Chi *
Due to special natural and social conditions, Vietnamese women contributed to the construction and protection of the country in history. The great contribution of women has buttressed women’s position in the traditional family and Vietnamese society. Vietnamese history always records the great victories of the women who fought against foreign aggression. However, under the feudal system, the influence of Confucianism, especial from the XIX century, during Nguyen dynasty, problematized the position of women in society.
At the beginning of the XX century, under the impact of colonial exploitation, the cultural and education policy French, and the influence of the democratic trend and revolution in the world,
society changed in all fields of politics, economics, society, culture, and education. This is an important and necessary basis for the acceptance of the new theory; democracy and revolution outside Viet Nam Vietnam fostered a new trend and mobilized revolution in . This change, in turn, affected women’s life in all aspects. Women became an important social force, as seen in all political trends at that time. This is a good solution for the Vietnamese women’s question that led Vietnam Vietnam to the common international trend as well as determined the success of women’s mobilization movement in . Vietnam
1. The presence of “women questions” in
’s society prior to August Revolution of 1945 Vietnam
Before being invaded by the French,
was feudal nation where wet rice cultivation was the key economic feature. The majority of Vietnamese women were farmers, craftsmen and small traders. Vietnam
In the early 20th century, as soon as the first workers appeared, women participated in such hired labor force. Exploiting French colonial schemes attracted tens of thousand of women, who were mainly farmers having gone bankrupt, to work in Hong Gai and Ke Bao mines, the Nam Dinh textile mill, the Ben Thuy match mill and Nam Ky rubber plantations. Concomitant with the development of the colonial economy and
’s working class, the number of female workers increased dramatically. As indicated in Indochinese Statistical Chronicle, in 1939-1940, in 1908, there were 6,687 female workers, accounting for 41 percent of the total number of workers. Until 1912, such number increased to 7,500 people, making up 45 percent. In certain fields such as textile, the proportion of female workers was quite high. For instance, in Nam Dinh textile mill, in 1900, female workers accounted for 66 percent; that number going up to 71 percent in 1937. Vietnam
Due to their illiteracy, very few women had attained professional skills, thus simply engaged in manual works. Their working day often lasted over 12 hours (in the Ben Thuy match mill), or 15 hours as official rules in the Nam Dinh textile mill (cited in Nam Phong (The South wind) -4/1921). In Ke Bao mine, a working day lasted up to 20 hours due to their long travel to work [Phu nu tan van (Women new Literature- 26/6/1930]. Although the female workers had to work in harsh conditions, they received very low wages, which were only two thirds of that offered to men..
In rural areas, female farmers were pushed into the life of servants and tenant farmers due to the burden of taxes. As the last resort, they moved to the city, joining the work force to become servants, shop assistants and prostitutes. They were faced with poverty and became the victim of capitalism. In 1938, Ha Noi had at least about 250 Vietnamese Geisha houses; and there were reportedly thousands of prostitutes.
Moreover, since the beginning of the XX century, a number of schools exclusively for girls were founded in big cities such as Sai Gon, Ha Noi and some other localities. In the first year, Brieux school (also the first
Girl School throughout Indochina), which started on 6th January 1908 in , received 178 students. That number went up to 38,984 (out of a total of 192,694 students) in 1930-1931 and to 85,447 in 1940-1941 (among whom 24,658 were from Tonkin, 15,436 from Central Vietnam and 43,353 from South of Vietnam) [Dan ba ( woman Paper)- special edition in 1941] Hanoi
Among these girl schools, French was taught from the preparatory classes. High school level classes were taught in French. Students had only two hours for Vietnamese lessons each week. At school, students were forced to speak French. It can be seen that such educational program gave rise to a new class of girl schools called “new girls”, who were certainly influenced by Western culture, having a living style that challenged the traditional morality. The phenomenon of the “new girl” (Gai moi) was also an issue of social concern, leading to debates in the press.
Together with the significant increase of schoolgirls, the number of female teachers and intellectuals went up remarkably. There were many female graduates from the university, some of whom obtained the French doctorate degree such as Ms Hoang Thi Nga, etc. Generally, except for some of them who stayed home doing housework, the rest worked and lived on their qualifications. However, under the colonial regime, they could be dismissed anytime and were discriminated against although they belonged to the upper class. According to the regulations found in 1918, the salary of female teachers was just 80% or sometimes over 60% of that of the male teacher.
The development of these female intellectuals brought about a great change in their cultural life and paved the way for a new pace of developments in accessing the new thought on women’s rights and liberation.
The changes in Vietnamese society, especially in women’s life under the influence of the international feminism movement made a great impact on the awareness of intellectual classes in society and raised the awareness of women on politics, economy, culture and education, etc. At that time, many books presenting and analyzing Vietnamese women’s situation were published. For examples:
- In 1928, Dang Van Bay raised the question about “equality between men and women”; he argued that “many women were abandoned, bullied while men were free and highly appreciated. The equality should be for both men and women and not to value men over women. Those who feel hurt when bullied by others should know the pains of those who are oppressed. ”.
- In 1929, Phan Boi Chau, who wrote the book “Women question”, said that “Women are one race of humankind and citizens of a country… so researching humankind and nationals without the women issue is a lacuna of researchers, and when society is reformed, there will be a huge damage”. Additionally, he proposed that it was necessary to mobilize women and link them with women unions in order to unify their spirit to “break up chain of immoralists”.
- In 1932, Tran Thien Ty and Bui The Phuc wrote “The Women question in
”. They explained that Vietnamese women in the past thought that the sole obligation and purpose of their life was to fulfill their duty towards their husband, children, parents and relatives. In spite of considering it as a standard of the ideal women at all the time, he admitted that things had hanged. Women no longer wanted to be tyrannized by men, “women need to enjoy freedom. Freedom has come to every modern women. In Vietnam , women became an important issue”. Vietnam
- In 1938, Cuu Kim Son and Van Hue wrote the book “Women’s life” which emphasized that the women problem is a pressing issue which needed to be solve immediately; women is an very important issue indeed”.
The women question caught effervescent attention and discussion on newspapers. In 1934, “The modern literature world” on 11/8 said that “women here shore up a feminism movement. The words such as equality, equal rights, and liberation are spoken of in every forum. Besides establishing newspapers as official bodies of the propagandas, they wrote books. Daily newspapers had a separate chapter about women every week. Women, therefore, has played an important role in this region.”
Published books and discussions on newspapers about feminism, equality between men and women and women liberation demonstrated that the women issue in
focused on the following problems: Vietnam
- The first is women’s role in family and society. In the context of a semi-feudal colonial country like
, women’s role in society went together with their role in the national liberation revolution and the anti-feudal struggle. Vietnam
- The second is women’s rights in culture and education (education for women, women with literature and arts, etc); economy (rights of labour, salary equality and insurance, etc); politics (women’s rights to vote and self-nomination), and so on.
- The third is women's emancipation from feudal obligations; attitudes of chastity, chastity of widows, free marriage, polygamy and early marriage, etc.
- The fourth is women’s virtue such as issues of the new young lady, prostitution, etc, and what an ideal woman in a new society is.
Thus, the women problem obviously is an issue of modern Vietnamese history, a problem of social mobilization and national liberation campaigns of the entire Vietnamese people before 1945. In the context of the international feminism in the early 20th century, the Vietnamese women problem contained not only the immanent factor but also the temporal characteristic.
When the "women question" was increasingly considered by the intelligentsia and society, the solution for women matters was the main
focus of the political organization and trend at the time. The suggestion of solution for the women question in
, however, was determined by the recognition of the women status and role in the society. Vietnam
2. Viewpoints from the contemporary political organizations and trends about the role and status of women in society
After World War I, in 1918, several political trends and parties developed within the petty capitalist and capitalist classes in
. Political organizations had different viewpoints about women’s role depending on their political aims. Vietnam
Pham Quynh, Director of Nam phong ( The South wind) newspaper, Minister of Education in the late Hue court, who together with King Bao Dai planned to resume the implementation of the 1884 Treaty and called for “national sovereignty”, “constitutionalism”, “national unification”, highly appreciated Vietnamese women in history but only took the upper-class women into account. According to him, “for women, the most important thing was to establish a character suitable to one’s social conditions”. Under social changes and the influence of French culture, he believed that the upper-class women could take part in the innovation of society, or Europeanization, but it should be within their own families, “making examples of their families” by doing charity and relief work, child protection, and setting up “salons to receive famous scholars to talk about national and life issues, with the hope it would affect the evolution of the Vietnamese nation” (Nam Phong ( The South wind) Newspaper, October 1917).
Bui Quang Chieu, leader of the Constitutionalist Party, and Nguyen Phan Long, a representative of the middle-class national reformist trend, considered the “women’s role is in the house” (Bui Quang Chieu, Women New literature, 20 June 1929) or “women should only choose to be housewives” (Nguyen Phan Long, Phu nu tan van (Women New Literature), 11 July 1929), thus they did not need to take part in social work, the struggle for equal rights, and women’s liberation. They believed that women were not equal to men because of women themselves, “because of their nature, not through anyone’s fault”. The political objectives of the capitalist class as represented by Bui Quang Chieu were to ask the French Government to expand democratic and liberal rights in
Indochina and to allow the native capitalist class greater participation in colonial councils. Therefore, he opposed women who asked for equal right to men, as he was afraid that assisting women in the struggle for equal rights would mean assisting them to become “protestors ... in the family as well as in society (Bui Quang Chieu, Phu nu tan van (Women New Literature), 20 September 1929).
In general, these organizations and political trends did not mention national liberation and thought that women should only be homemakers.
Only Phan Boi Chau, who planed to win independence for the nation by his determined struggle, surpassed his contemporaries not only in terms of political viewpoints, but also in his awareness of women issues. He was moving gradually from monarchism to bourgeois democratic thought, before approaching socialist thought. Phan Boi Chau accurately assessed the role of women in the national liberation in the early 20th century. He also actively mobilized our people to struggle for national liberty. However, since his house arrest in Hue in 1925, Phan Boi Chau’s activities were restricted to speeches or propaganda leaflets, and his ideas about organizing and uniting women outlined in the book “The Women’s problem” published 1929 were not implemented in revolutionary reality.
The Vietnamese Nationalist Party, founded in December 1927, was a revolutionary party of the petty capitalist class and patriotic progressive intellectuals based on the “Nam Dong literary society” group. The policy of this party was to promote a national revolution, fight against the French colonialists and the autocratic monarchy in order to establish democratic political institutions. However, the Vietnamese Nationalist Party did not have grassroots units in the labor class. Although the initial regulations of the Vietnamese Nationalist Party allowed women to join the Party, they had to do their activities in a separate cell. Later, the Vietnamese Nationalist Party for some reason no longer allowed women to join the Party, but rather gathered them in a separate union called the Vietnamese Women’s Union (with the exception of one party cell of women founded before the change in the policy that included the participation of Ms. Nguyen thi Bac and Ms. Nguyen Thi Giang). According to the Regulations of the “Vietnamese Women’s
Union”, the purpose of this union was to:
1. Cooperate with men in undertaking the national revolution.
2. Establish a democratic republic group.
3. Assist and protect oppressed nations
These above purposes indicate that the Vietnamese Nationalist Party was concerned with organizing and attracting women, but did not have a plan to mobilize women for their particular requirements.
On 3 February, 1930 (according to a pre-1945 revolutionary newspapers it was 6 January, 1930), the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) was founded in Hong Kong, marking an important breakthrough in Vietnamese national history and ending a time of crisis in the national salvation of the Vietnamese people. The summary of the political program of the Party clearly stated the objectives of the Party as doing “bourgeois revolution of civil rights and land revolution to progress towards a communist society” and “equal rights between men and women” - which was one of the 13 main policies of the Party, and one of the 10 objectives mentioned in the Appeal of the leader Nguyen Ai Quoc on the foundation of the Party. The 1930 political thesis  of the Vietnamese Communist Party also clearly stated one of the ten “essential tasks of a bourgeois revolution of civil rights” which was to implement “equal rights between men and women”. The Resolution of the Central General Conference in October 1930 on mobilizing women clearly expressed the Party’s viewpoint on women’s role in the people’s democratic national revolution led by the Party, as well as the Party’s policy of mobilizing women.The determination that women were an important force accounting for “a large part of the proletarian class” who were exploited not only by capitalists and feudalists but also restricted by feudal customs and morality, and “did not have any freedom”, if women could be awakened to revolutionary ideas, they would enthusiastically join the revolution and become “an essential force”. The Resolution of Party confirm: “If the women in the public at large do not join the revolutionary struggle, the revolution cannot be victorious”.
The Vietnamese Communist Party asserted the significant and decisive role of women in the people’s democratic national revolution, thus it regarded mobilizing women as “a very big and essential task”  This is one of the basic differences between the Vietnamese Communist Party and other political organizations.
In the early 20th century, as the women problem became a pressing issue in society, most intellectuals expressed their opinions about it. However, the proposals for solution of women problem in
depended on the awareness of women’s role and status in the society. Generally, the proposals followed two tendencies. The first was to accept the colonial regime and women mobilization policy under the framework of colonialism. This tendency was advocated by intellectuals, journalists, the female bourgeois and lower middle class intellectuals and characterized by a liberal feminism movement. The other was the tendency towards a movement of national liberation revolution and the construction of a new society advocated by patriotic intellectuals and members of Communist party. Vietnam
3. Solution for women problem in the framework of the colonial society.
* Promotion of education for women
Under Feudal society, Vietnamese women never went to school. Education for women therefore was raised quite early and considered a solution for the women problem in
. However, the education for women depended on the attitudes about women’s role in family and society. Some argued that women were to stay at home, do housework and take care of her husband and children. T purpose of education for women therefore was to help them do their housework and educate their children better. “Women have to learn to perfect their personality” [District education officer Hoai Duc Ngo Dinh Ty]. Some such as Ngo Dinh Ty, Nguyen Ba Hoc, Vu Ngoc Lien, Trinh Thu Tam, Than Trong Hue, and Tran Thuc Cap argued that: science subjects were necessary as well, but it was “the most necessary to educate “Three subjections”, “Four virtues” and “Women’s housework”… Moreover, according to their opinions, teaching in French would take more time than in Vietnamese in Franco-Vietnamese schools. They worried that new western education would not be suitable to Vietnamese traditional culture, so “if new education methods are not used fully while the traditional one is removed, what is the basis for existence?” [Nam Phong ( The South wind)-10/1920]. Vietnam
People, who were aware of the new tendency, approved feminism and highly appreciated women’s role in family and society chose the solution of filtering the quintessence of the two civilizations to educate women. Mrs Dam Phuong said that “virtue is the root of knowledge”, but the situation now had changed and “the competition contains anthropological factor, knowledge was a must-have to do anything while women were the majority, so it is more and more necessary for women to learn. [Nam Phong ( The South wind)-1/1921]. Additionally, Tan Dan approved that “we do not neglect the new education method and maintain the traditional one as well, we learn the both so that we will be qualified enough to deal with life. [Tan dan ( New people)-8/1/1925].
As women’s place was at home and education for women was necessary, but mainly to help women do better their tasks in the family such as assisting their husbands and taking care their children, so the educational program for schoolgirls in France-Vietnam schools did not meet the expectations of educators and intellectuals in the society. Textbooks for women became an important question. According to David Marr, after the appearance of Learning virtue reading book composed by Phan Dinh Giap in 1918, about 25 textbooks with 1000 to 5000 or even 10.000 copies of each were published. Most textbooks taught schoolgirls housework, behavior and consciousness of housewife. In 1922, in the Civilization Daily on 4/5/10922 the writer proposed a book about domestic science which “should be written”. He said that a book about domestic science was extremely necessary for women because “women’s task was both housework and caring for their family”. At the end of the 1920s, textbooks educating the national spirit for women appeared such as Schoolgirl Reader of Trinh Dinh Ru in Hai Phong published in 1926. In 1927, Phan Boi Chau also wrote Female citizen learning published in
with the message that women should be responsible for their country. Hue
Critics proposed to reduce the period of learning French and increase the period of learning Vietnamese and housework in the educational program. On the one hand, it reflects the worry that learning French would make Western cultural influence on women and remove Confucian virtue which was considered as an important value of the traditional culture by most intellectuals; on the other hand, it also reflected the nationally spiritual intellectuals’ policy of propagating Vietnamese, building and developing a national literature to “create the spirit of an independent country for its nationals. For these writers, feminism always went together with womanology and the preservation of Confucian virtue.
In 1930s, together with the development of international feminism movement, the growth and the greater role of Vietnamese urban bourgeoisie and lower middle intellectuals class in economy, culture, society and politics, the feminism mobilization became more effervescent, especially the appearance of women newspapers and the participation of female intellectuals in newspaper publishing and composition, and feminism movement. They were editorial directors of women newspapers they held Woman fairs, delivered speeches and wrote a lot of articles to support for women movements towards feminism and to concentrate on some issues such as womanology, women’s career, etc.
In order to propagandize the education for women, there were many proposals of establishing Associations for Women education. Many reading rooms for women were born such as Reading Rooms of Nguyen Thi Trang, Nguyen Thi Phuong Hoa in Sai Gon, Reading Room of Mrs Hoang Dac Vinh in Faifo (Hoi An), etc. [Hoan cau tan van (The Global new Literature) - 15/9/1934] in which Women Bookshop of Phan Thi Bach Van in Go Cong was the most remarkable. This bookshop published many books towards the propaganda of women’s patriotism. Some of them were considered as banned books by colonial authority and finally, after publishing “Female talent”, Phan Thi Bach Van had to go on trial for the crime of “using literature to incite women to do national affairs as men do. Although she incited women, she meant to encourage men to dedicate for the country and nation”. The bookshop was closed [Than Chung-6, 14/2/1930], and readers from everywhere sent letters to Dong Phap Times for encouragement which proved the great impact of bookshops on readers.
*Promotion of women’s career
Women’s career was considered an important factor of women’s equality, “a key to emancipate women” [Zan bao (People Newspaper) -14/10/1933]. Therefore, this issue caught much attention of many people, raised many debates and published in many newspapers as well. Springing on the fact that many urban bourgeois and lower middle class women were the wives and daughters of officials who did nothing and used their free time on useless entertainments such as playing cards, attending a gathering session, reading love novels, etc, so the initiators of this movement called women to participate in social production and consider women’s career as the best liberation and solution for the women problem in Vietnam.
Within the propaganda tendency of that time, women needed to have a job for self-living, feeding themselves and their family as well as participating in production process to contribute to society. Phu nu tan van (woman new Literature) introduced many idols of successful businesswomen. A newspaper article published on 5/10/1933 introduced Mrs Le Thi Ngoc, a young poor widow with three small children. In 1919, on the occasion of Chinese boycott, she opened a tea, coffee and noodle shop which was monopolized by Chinese people. Her business developed into a restaurant system named Duc Thanh Hung widespread from Sai Gon to Thu Dau Mot within a little over ten years. She was respected as the Queen of coffee and noodles. An article on the newspaper published on 2/11/1933 also introduced Mrs Thach Thi Mau, Mr Nguyen Kim Dinh’s wife, the editorial director of Dong Phap Times (Sai Gon). She was famous for good business as well as helping her husband “pay his debt to save the newspaper” when it was faced with financial difficulties. The articles said: “She looks after and conserves the printing-house stably all the time” because “she has the status of a businesswomen, the will-power, thriftiness and industriousness of a traditional woman, so she could build up and maintain her such career”…
In order to encourage women to participate in social labor, Phu nu tan van also held women fairs (May 1932) to introduce products made by women. Mrs Dam Phuong organizes a women association in
to teach women. Then, many women associations were established in many provinces such as Go Cong, Ha Noi, Hue Dinh, etc. In 1941, Mrs Dam Phuong pointed out those handicrafts of Da Nang, Nam women were appreciated highly thanks to the Association. Hue
Communists were criticized for the consideration of women’s career as a solution to resolve the women problem based on the fact that most Vietnamese women had been playing an important role in social production process. Under the existing colonial regime, women’s career must be the equality of salary, working condition, insurance, pregnancy benefits, sickness, etc. And they advocated women to participate in the propaganda of democracy as well as the national liberation struggle movement of the whole country.
*Indirect execution of women’s political rights
It is noticeable that all veiwpoints about women at that time avoided issues related to political rights of women; some writers even wrote that the equality between men and women did not mean political equality, “the political equality is illusive”, “it is worthless for women” [Nam phong ( The South wind) -6/1927] in the late 1920s.
In 1932, with the event of a representative of Southern Vietnam being sent to
colonial House of Representatives, Vietnamese intellectuals discussed seriously about the recruitment system in Southern Region. Nguyen Van Tao, a communist, at that time proposed universal suffrage for both men and women in Trung Lap (Neutrality Newspapers) for the first time, and at the presentation in Tan Dinh where a lot of intellectual representatives of Southern newspapers such as Diep Van Ky, Hoang Tan Dan, Nguyen Phan Long participated, his proposal was criticized to be “pretty good” but “not practical” because French women did not have the rights to vote, so it was difficult to do so in Vietnam according to Hoang Tan Dan on Public Opinion [Cong luan -1/7/1932]. Moreover, Vietnamese Torch newspaper also said that it was not practicable to execute the universal suffrage for both men and women in Paris because of the low intellectual standard [Cong luan -2/7/1931]. Women at that time were called for indirect “vote” “by criticizing traitors to the country and oppositionist against the rights of women. Women can concur with candidates accepting women’s request for women’s career, education and labor safety” or by advising their husband and children to vote for the qualified candidates, etc. Additionally, communist reporters wrote many articles denouncing the colonial regime and reflected upon women’s life under the colonial regime. Vietnam
* Women’s liberation campaigns against Feudal ethical behavior ties
The purpose of liberating women from feudal ethical behavior ties received supports from the intelligentsia and groups following different politic trends at that time. Communists, radical thinkers and those who found bourgeois campaigns on women’s rights unrealistic as Phan Khoi and Diep Van Ky supported this. When the issues could not be solved by law under colonial regulations, they continued to support women’s rights based on morality. Feudal ethical regulations on women were considered: conception on chastity, three submissions, remarriage of widowers or polygamy. Especially, after continuous suicides in
and Sai Gon, there were many discussions on newspaper on great family regulations, liberty of marriage and individual liberty. Hanoi
. Writers, especially Phan Khoi, had studied Confucianism theory on women in the current society. He thought that the conception on chastity and the forbiddance on widowers to remarry had started since the Sung Confucianist period due to a thought of Trinh Nhi “Unfaithful is more disgraceful than starveling”. According to Khoi, men’s selfishness is the root of the unfair and immoral regulation. A widower who remarried due to her living could never be worshipped together with her husband, despite having raised her children perfectly “Thus, the regulation forbidding women to remarry is unfair, immoral and useless for the society. It should be erased” (Phu nu tan van-13/8/1931)
Loi ban gai (girls’ talk) on Public Opinion (Cong Luan) also had an article to discuss about Chastity [Cong luan – 3/4/1932]. It mentioned that due to economic problems, many women had to loose chastity to live. That’s why chastity can not be used as a measurement to evaluate women as “a bad society makes women loosing chastity” [Cong luan -18/3/1934]
When redefining the concept of a woman’s chastity (trinh), criticizing the norm that prevented a widow from getting married again, journalists also reviewed the three Confucian submissions of a woman (daughter to her parents, wife to her husband, and widow to her children) and agreed that these submissions were no longer practical. In the interview with “Phu nu Tan van” newspaper, Phan Boi Chau also showed his staunch objections to the submissions as well as polygamy [Phu nu tan van – May 18, 1934]. Meanwhile, Cong luan newspaper argued in an article: the idea of submission put women into a really passive position. The norm that women had to depend completely on her parents, husband or children was outdated. To conclude the article, the writer quoted John Stuart Mill: “That men force women to submit is against humanity and justice”. [Cong luan – May 5, 1932]
There were score of newspaper articles which supported free, love-based marriages at that time. It was claimed that the suicides at Thi Nghe, Binh Loi bridges in the South or at Hoan Kiem, Truc Bach lakes in the North demonstrated the ‘indirect murder’ nature of the current marriage norms. Free marriage was considered a solution to the family crisis and youth suicide problems in the cities and became a motto of the movements led by the Communist party. Therefore, the revolution by peasants and workers under the leadership of the Party was sometimes associated with the movements of free marriage and liberalisation for women.
*The issue of “ new girls” and the construction of a woman’s ideal image – the concern on how heritage should be selected and abandoned and which new things should be accepted.
An indispensable impact of the Asian –Western cultural interaction and the influence of capitalist technology civilization was the changes in the urban social life, especially Women’s life. That was the presence of women in the urban lower middle class – wives and children of civil servants who worked for colonial government; service workers; especially the presence of “new girls” who were influenced by Western lifestyle and capitalist civilization which threatened the strong connection in traditional families, and the Confucian moral rule existed thousands of years in Vietnamese feudal intellectual’s awareness as well.
Many authors expressed their criticism towards the changes of urban women and women taught by western education. Those who acquired very fast the capitalist lifestyle and Western culture in different ways such as essays, short stories, and letters and so on. For instance, Today’s girls [Nam Phong-7/1929] and Life debt in the dream [
Nam phong-8/1929] written by Van Huong, A girl’s dream [ phong-12/ 1927] Nam
In authors’ critical eyes, apart from working women in rural areas, almost urban women were not deserved “gentle wives and virtuous daughters –in – law”. With the concept that women had to improve both education and virtue, women’s main job was to look after their family. The authors believed that educated women without taking care of their family and doing housework would be “thrown away”. The authors also criticized modern educated girls who were affected by “too much western lifestyle”, “too much civilization”, and “too much freedom” [
phong- 7/1929]. Nam
Therefore, the images of “new girls”, “modern girls”, “and new schoolgirls” were often strongly criticized. They were considered as a typical type of people for moral decadence, which was the result of the women liberty campaign. People who were against male- female equal rights and women liberation usually took those new girls as examples.
The attendance of “new girls” was one of the reasons for many people to criticize women’s rights campaign under the name of protecting the morals.
In the article “The moral theory” (Dao duc luan) [Nam phong-3/1919], Pham Quynh worried that “nowadays, women are not the people to look after family, but a decorated item showed in libertine places, or sometimes is a valuable thing to bribe to get people’s interest. And a bad family leads to a loose society”. According to some writers, if women did not learn the new things seriously, it was better for them to keep their practice and customs” [Cong luan (Public opinion)-1/4/1927]. Thus, the development of an ideal woman image as an example for other women to follow was one of the issues that attracted people’s attention.
Since its appearance, Phu nu tan van held contests named “Kieu – to praise or to condemn” and “Literature contest of virtuous women”. The objective of the contests was to practice the commentation and evaluation competence on political, social issues and to improve writing skills for women, however, the attitudes on women’s virtue was shown clearly through the contest as well. It was said that women’s ideal image of three subjections and four virtues according to Confucianism was still dominant before 1929.
“In the mid - decade of 1930s, the robust development of international feminism had a great impact on the changeable society of
. The enhancement of women’s education made public opinion and press circle review the ideal women image and reevaluate how the traditional women and modern women were. Newspapers for women wanted to create an ideal women image with the harmonization of good traditional virtues of Eastern women and quintessence of Western civilization. The articles tried to classify the outwardly “modern women” and the real “modern women”, and did not consider all modern women as the critical ones. Van Tam of Dong Phap newspaper said that a modern woman was the one who was responsible for their home as well as active in society. [ Dan ba moi ( New women - 24/8/1936]. In his opinion, a modern woman must understand her existence before participating in social activities. It was the most important obligation: the human being responsibility. “Modern women” also were as good as the traditional women in taking care of their home. Moreover, they understood clearly about their responsibilities in society. [Dan ba moi (New women) - 24/8/1936]. Vietnam
The event that Ms Nguyen Huu Thi Lan became Nam Phuong Queen was considered as a glorious result of modern schoolgirls – the high educated girls with “characteristics of Hong Lac lineage”. Tu Hoa said that if Ms Lan had not been a modern girl studying oversea and hadn’t gained civilized western culture and especially hadn’t been allowed free communication, the queen position would not have belonged to her probably. It proved that women were influenced by Western civilization in that time as well. Therefore, “women should try to study, the more they study, the better it is and despite their high education, they must keep Vietnamese spirit”. [Hoan cau tan van - 12/4/1934].
In brief, the image of ideal women under the influence of feminism and women liberation firstly must be real modern women who harmonize the traditional virtue standards of “good mother and responsible wife” and the requirements of modern civilized society and the feminism. They are who have their own career to live independently, their education to bring up their children scientifically, who are equal with their husbands and participate in social activities; who can uphold women’s rights, guide, advise, encourage women to be equal with men as well as interfere in the inequality in society [Phu nu tan van - 23/11/1934]. The difference to classify “modern women” and “traditional one” is their appearance. “Modern women” worn modern fashion according to the modes of Lemur designer, they also have to know how to make up, and have a healthy body thanks to playing sports regularly, and be active and brave in communication and encourage women overcoming difficulties such as public opinions and prohibition of their family. Therefore, columns for women in newspapers as well as newspaper for women usually mention beauty topic such as making up, fitting exercises, women with sports. It is the very great encouragement on sport for women in newspapers that made Vietnamese society has many athletes and sport activities such as Women football competitions, bicycle races, tennis matches, women jogging and so on.
4.The Communist Party Vietnam mobilized woman to participate in the struggle for independence of nation- the absolute solution to woman issues in Vietnam
* The Indochinese Communist Party’s (ICP) policy of mobilizing women
With a true appreciation of women’s roles in the liberation of the country, the CPV seeked to encourage women to participate in revolution activities. Unlike the previous patriotic movements and revolutions, the main subjects to whom the CPV tried to involve were working women, female peasants and workers, those who represented the majority in the society. In order to encourage them to join the revolution, the CPV’s strategy was to encourage them to take part in Worker, Peasant, Youth communities and other women organisations. There should be ‘female delegates’ or ‘women in charge’ to learn more about women’s lives, enlighten and encourage them to be part of the Party’s fights in such organisations. The CPV also planned to set up other organisations for women such as ‘Women Association’ to involve more of those who are ‘workers’ wives and peddlers’.
The Communist Party, during the Revolution, at appropriate situation and period, always provided sound and timely instruction on mobilizing women; encourage them to join revolutionary activities under the leadership of the Party.
Together with this, the Communist Party also focused on training women. In the period of 1926-1929, there were many women trained in classes in Quong Zhou as Nguyen Trung Nguyet, Nguyen Tri Duc and Ly Phuong Thuan, Nguyen Thi Minh Khai…Among those, many of them had become key cadres and good exemplary to raise the awareness of the people on patriotism.. Especially, Nguyen Thi Minh Khai under the nickname Nguyen Thi Kim Anh, Kim Anh, she had written a book named ”Women’s problems” and many other articles on newspapers such as Dan chung (the people) Doi nay (This time)...disseminating Marxist opinions about women’s rights, being against wrong conception of women’s liberation. Through these book and articles, opinions of Marxism and Leninism were widely known, orienting and promoting the women’s liberation campaign.
*Using revolutionary newspaper as a mean of propagandizing, mobilizing, organizing and guiding women struggling.
Right when it was founded, the VC Party was very concerned with mobilization and propaganda, considering it an important task “to convince people and the vast majority of workers and lead them in the struggle”. In the process of leading the revolution, the Party always closely supervised and offered timely guidance for the mobilization of women through revolutionary newspapers and propaganda leaflets, pointing out that “the Party’s newspapers are liaison instruments between the Party and the working people”: Therefore, revolutionary newspapers had to address the everyday life of the workers and peasants, introduce political issues, basic political concepts and suitable political slogans, and the literary style of the newspapers had to be simple, understandable for working people.. As for mobilizing women, the Party emphasized “Regarding propaganda, newspapers of the Party, Youth Union, Workers’ Union and Peasants’
Union must address practical issues for women or have a separate column for those articles” . Newspapers in those days, some of which were like leaflets only, were confidentially published, however, they received the interests of many women. Thung Dau (Oil barrel) was an example. Even though the size was as small as a leaflet, there was a column about it. ( Loi Ban gai (Girls’ talk)
In 1930-1931, under the leadership of the Indochinese Communist Party, for the first time, workers and peasants united in the struggle. In this movement, the Party provided timely and close guidance for the work of organizing women. Most revolutionary propaganda leaflets of the Party during this period included slogans demanding rights for women, for example:
1. Equal rights between men and women;
2. No marriages forced by parents;
3. No polygamy; and
4. Elimination of the unsound custom of despising women
It can be seen that Communist newspapers cared most about women’s rights. Bua Liem (Hammer and sickle -1/11/1930), Co Vo San (Proletarian flag-1/2/1931) called for workers to raise their requirement about “men, women, the elderly youngsters, same working hours, same salary”. Cong nong binh ( worker-farmer- soldier- 6/2/1931), after analyzing the situation, also said that ”People should follow Indochina Communist Party to: destroy the imperialism of landlords and the authority, achieving total independence for the country, providing equal rights for both men and women...” Especially, revolutionary newspaper during this time always analyzed and clearly showed the situation of exploited and oppressed women under the colonial period.
The French front for common people was established in August, 1935. The success of
Indochina Democratic front in the fight to ask for newspapers liberation was an advantage for the Indochina Communist Party to struggle with wrong thinking about the awareness of women’s rights and women liberation, propagadizing revolutionary thoughts, organizing and instructing struggling campaign... Many intellectual women were involved in writing for newpapers, having article to propagadize the Communist opinions on women liberation, struggle with wrong thinking on this as Nguyen Thi Luu, Mai Huynh Hoa, Nguyen Thi Thu. Especially, articles of Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, under the nickname of Nguyen Thi Kim Anh, Kim Anh contributed to the opening of women’s minds and developed women’s campaigns.
In Indochina Congress movement, many women had written about the real life of women in
Indochina and called for struggling in newspapers as Nguyen Thi Luu, Nguyen Thi Thu. Mai Huynh Hoa wrote an article on “Women with Indochina Congress”, Nguyen Thi Luu, Nguyen Thi Thu, Nguyen Thi Kiem and Mai Huynh Hoa with “What Indochina women hope for?” These two articles then were reposted on Nu luu (21/8/1936)
Instructions on these articles were “Upper-class, middle-class and labored women must be united, establish an Action Committee, have representatives to communicate with each others, discuss your requirements and together with men to found Indochina Congress”. On Nu Luu newspaper (Woman e’lite- 14/9/1936), “An eager call to
Indochina women” instructed that women’s slogans must be closely linked with practical requirements as
“1. Freedom and living.
2. Implementing women’s suffrage
3. Education: Vocational training must be established.
4. Women are able to work in offices.
5. Same work, same salary.
6. Sports gyms and schools should be open for women.
7. Seat for business stipulation should be stopped ”
The woman reporter was become the mainly leader in mobilization to establish the woman’s committee to discuss about creating document on the people’s expectation Meetings in women’s committees to create the document on people’s expectation were highly spoken of as “Women in three regions are united to do politics for the first time in Indochina” [Dan ba moi (New Women)-26/9/1936]
To instruct the multitudes to set up organizations, The Labour (1938 – 1930) had published series of how to set up legal organizations including choosing a meaning, organizing an opening ceremony, declaring the reasons of setting up the organizations, electing the president and the secretary of the meeting, how to set up the agenda and how to solve the issue of the being banned, and how to solve the problem of the threat of dissolving the patriotic organization of the colonial government.
Besides patriot organizations in which working women, bourgeois women and the lower middleclass women was calling for setting up an organization named Women Literature Foundation. Mrs. Ngoc Hung said that it was the key criteria to open the door for the women to participate into all aspects of the lives. “It will be the cradle for the completion of womanism naturally and it will be the light which shows the way for Vietnamese women to catch up with the international women. [New women – 11/11/1935]
In 1940, when
Germany attacked the French Government led by Reynaud was soon collapsed. The People Government wasn’t existed, the Communist Party was dismissed and had to run secretly. This circumstance had considerable influences on the politic in France Indochina.
The 8th Central Conference in May 1941 decided to establish the United Nation Front called the Organization of Ally of Independent Vietnam (Viet minh in short). One of 10 great programs of Vietminh was “gender equality”. The group of Vietnamese women who saved the nation was in this organization. The regulation of this organization clearly stated that “Unite all women who loved
Vietnam in order to realize the women rights, and along with other groups who were against France and Japan make be independent completely. In 1941, because of the urgent problem of antithesis campaign, the Resolution for the Northern Conference directed that: propaganda female officials shouldn’t be in charge of traffic directing, there is a need to train other women to perform traffic tasks so that propaganda staff can do their jobs, to train more female staff from “save country women group”, to deliver documents calling for the urban women. Vietnam
As the Indochina Communist Party worked secretly, revolution - journalism was distributed secretly and mostly in mountainous area, the revolutionary base and rural areas to mostly working people especially poor working women – mostly are illiterate, therefore, those articles all were in the verse so that they were very easy to memorize and popularize among those people.
Under the way of asking and answering questions, Vietnam Independence news solved successfully particular issues such as women could not only participate into armed forces but also were very effective like K.H, etc, if they did not join in armed forces, women could participate in working and providing necessities for the forces.
Besides instructing how to direct the movement, the revolution journalism also propagandized women to actively participate in other revolutionary tasks. The women who had achievements would be praised.
During this period, journalism also played a major role in directing the movements; it especially had a great effect in propagandizing women. Some provinces also published their own periodical named “Girl in the Front” - the voice of Thanh Hoa female, etc. In the general insurrection of 1945, journalism was the place which voiced the order and declared the victory. Women became major forces in this event.
The development of the revolution - journalism had a profound effect on journalism in general and on women journalism in particular. By journalism, in this period the major characteristics of Marxist Womanism were publicized widely, the issue of women right and women liberation were closely attached to the national and class liberation.
* The women participated in the struggle to seize national independence under the leadership of the Indochinese Communist Party.
After perceiving the role and position of themselves in society, Vietnamese women got involved in realistic activities, became a political force in struggles to require livelihood right, democratic right as well as in the struggle for national independence under the leadership of Indochinese communist party in the period 1930-1945.
In 1935, the first congress of Indochinese communist party highly praised Vietnamese women activities from the period from 1930 to 1945: “the existence of national and society liberation comes along with the participation of women into revolution. The highest revolution period of labor women was 1930-1931. Within those two years, there were no strikes without the participation of women. Women at one time led the struggle; at another place they organized demonstration, strikes with only women.”
During the period for the campaigning for democracy (1936-1939), consciousness of women’s rights as well as the women right movement had a new development. Most of the struggle requiring freedom and democracy in this period have the participation of many women such as: the welcome of commissioner Goddard, plenipotentiary B’revie’, demonstration in Sai Gon to call for the execution of the labor law, democratic freedom, and the release o political prisoners. In the force showing on May 1st at the competitive show in Ha Noi, women participated as a distinguished political force with nearly 5,000 people from all classes: pupils, civil servant, workers, merchant.
The 8th Central Conference in May 1941 decided to establish the United Nation Front called the Organization of Ally of Independent Vietnam (Viet minh in short). One of 10 great programs of Vietminh is “gender equality”. The group of Vietnamese women who save the nation was in this organization. The regulation of this organization clearly stated that “Unite all women who love
Vietnam in order to realize the women rights, and along with other groups which were against France and Japan make be independent completely. In 1941, because of the urgent problem of antithesis campaign, the Resolution for the Northern Conference directed that: propaganda female officials shouldn’t be in charge of traffic directing, there is a need to train other women to perform traffic tasks so that propaganda staff can do their jobs, to train more female staff from “save country women group”, to deliver documents calling for the urban women. There is also a need to use all measures to unite all women”, “the fight for national liberation needs the women participation to gain the victory.” Vietnam
In the campaign of August revolution in 1945, many women led demonstrations to show off power, seizing political power in many localities nationwide. In Ha Noi, Nguyen Khoa Dieu Hong presented to call everyone to support to Vietnamese league in the meeting on August 17th of the general public servant and turn the meeting into the demonstration going the rounds on the streets right before the night of general uprising break out. In Bac Giang, Ha Thi Que directly commanded partisan to seize the Japanese military posts, seize political power in provinces. Truong Thi My led troops to demonstrate to seize Hoai Duc district (Ha Dong), next to the gate to Ha Noi. Phan Thi Ne led to seize political power in Hoi An, Nguyen Thi Dinh led to seize political power in Ben Tre home town, Tran Thi Nhuong led the revolt in Sa Dec… In the great buoyancy of the general uprising to seize political power, hundreds of women were nominated in people revolution committee at province and district level… that was an eloquent proof of the real role and big contribution of women into the liberation struggle of Vietnamese people.
“Women question” has been clearly proved to be a great force in
before and after the August Revolution in 1945. After the 1st World War, with the rapid development of the world women, the influence of economic, politic, cultural, educational policies have become urgent topics within the society which need to be solved immediately. Vietnam
The discussion on press on women issues promoting society to concern more on women, as well as concern more on issues that women are facing in a changing society to integrate into the world: What do women study and what do they study for? Labor right, insurance and salary, civil quality and voting and standing right of women, the right to get married…
Many well-educated citizens have known how to use journalism as a means to call for the patriotism among our people. In the situation that all of the journal topics have been checked severely, women seemed to be a safer one. The solution to Vietnamese women issue became the focal point which led to many discussions on newspaper and the political programs of the contemporary political organizations.
In 1945, The August Revolution was successful. On 2nd September 1945, in Ba Dinh Square, in the sacred moment when President Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independence to announce a new regime, 2 women (Duong Thi Thoa and Dam Thi Loan) had an honour to raise the flag with red theme and a yellow star, the Vietnamese national flag, on the very Independent Day. After the Revolution, the 9th chapter of the 1st Vietnamese Congress in 1946 stated that “The national power is in Vietnamese hands, without the difference of ethnic, gender, rich or poor, grade, religions, etc. The women are equal to the men in all fields.’
In the first period of Vietnamese Assembly, 10 women were elected as the representatives of the Assembly. This is the victory of the Indochina Communist Party and the success in solving women issue played a crucial role. This victory also placed a milestone in the development of Vietnamese women on the way lasted for more than half a century to human and women rights.
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Và nhiều tờ báo tiếng Việt trước Cách mạng tháng Tám năm 1945 như :
Nông cổ mín đàm, Nam phong, Đông Pháp thời báo, Tân dân,Phụ nữ tân văn, Phụ nữ tân tiến, Đàn bà mới, Đàn bà, Hạnh phúc, Công luận, Tiếng dân, Hoàn Cầu tân văn, Hồn trẻ, Dân chúng, Ngày mới, Lao động, Búa Liềm, Cờ Vô sản, Nhành lúa, Việt Nam độc lập, Cứu quốc…
*This paper presented in First Congress: Asian Association of World Historians (AAWH) from 29/5-31/5/2009 in Osaka University