Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

3 - Remember and Forget the Last War: The Discursive Memory of the Sino-Vietnamese War in China

Friday, March 23
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Location: Wilson C, Mezzanine Level

After the normalization of diplomatic relations between Beijing and Hanoi in the 1990s, the 1979 border war was systematically removed from textbooks and censored in media and academia in China, leaving the younger generations largely ignorant of a conflict taking place merely three decades ago. With the rise of the internet and new media in recent decades, memory of the war has "resurfaced.” How is the 1979 war remembered, or re-remembered in China, and why? The theoretical anchors of my paper are Paul Connerton’s study of “prescriptive forgetting”, recent scholarship on civil resistance in China, and case studies of historical memory in Asia. I argue that China’s censorship of the memory of the 1979 war is not simply due to the “sensitivity” of the issue in Sino-Vietnamese bilateral relations, but also because the conflict cannot fit into the official narrative of China's foreign relations in the 1970s, which presents a post-Maoist, “peaceful” China reengaging with the world. A taboo still exists over criticizing Deng Xiaoping or his legacy. While the war is not commemorated formally or on a national level, a bottom-up recognition of the war has emerged in China, especially on the internet and in the border provinces. The discursive memories of the war and the heroic image of the soldiers have been redirected, mainly by veterans, to share their war experiences with the public to secure better retirement benefit, or because they believe they deserve more respect and recognition in an era of rising nationalism.

Qingfei Yin

George Washington University, District of Columbia

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Send Email for Remember and Forget the Last War: The Discursive Memory of the Sino-Vietnamese War in China