State-driven initiatives are increasingly aiming at modernising urban landscapes as well as the Vietnamese countryside in key areas such as infrastructure and technology. Within the context of this transformation, marketplaces have become highly contested spaces. They are often referred to as “traditional” in a somewhat nostalgic fashion, but at the same time are often seen as backward and in need of renovation. Until the present day, markets fulfil a crucial practical function: they serve millions of people across Vietnam by offering various kinds of goods.
By drawing on long-term ethnographic research on a wholesale textile market in northern Vietnam, this paper will focus on ideas of fairness and resulting moral discourses among traders as crucial elements for understanding the informal rules that shape the marketplace. The paper argues that through being seen as a space infused with particular notions of morality, the market manages to sustain in a competitive environment with ever more shopping options. Furthermore, an emphasis on the traders’ perception of fairness, according to which the market is “like a bowl of rice that should feed everyone”, opens up a window to analyse recent protests organised by traders against the expansion of private markets in the village. In particular, such a focus pays attention to the ways in which these protests against new market projects—just like many other recent protests in Vietnam, according to Kerkvliet (2014)—exceed rightful resistance theory.