chapter  9
16 Pages

The imported book trade and Confucian learning in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Vietnam: Li Tana


Vietnam has often been seen as a land-based polity, with a series of autonomous villages located on the Red River plain, where simple exchanges of local produce that had little to do with either the neighboring mountains or the sea took place in village markets. This isolationist view held that the agrarian society of “traditional” Vietnam provided a perfect environment for Confucianism, which melted into Vietnam’s soil and was the vital integrating element in Vietnam’s hierarchical social fabric. This study questions the way in which Confucianism and agrarian society have been paired as twin foundations of Vietnamese culture, and are responsible for the gulf between the perceived opposite poles of Vietnamese history, that of the land/scholar gentry bureaucrat/peasant, and the other, the sea/ civil/merchant. In this study’s view, the post-1500 book trade between northern Vietnam, southern China, and Nagasaki (Japan) drew these Vietnam poles together; each depended on or even nurtured the other. This study will argue that NeoConfucian learning, which would form the ideological foundation of Vietnamese statecraft and culture by the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, 1 was the bi-product of the new commerce in imported inexpensive printed books and other merchandise manufactured in China.