Who is Huu Ngoc?
Never heard of him? Huu Ngoc is a famous Vietnamese scholar who has authored numerous articles and publications on Vietnamese culture and how it intertwines with the world’s multi-cultural fabric. Born in 1918 in Hanoi, this Asian intellectual doesn’t just limit himself to analysing the cultural identity of his own country. He also casts his eyes over French, American, Laotian, Japanese cultures, to name but a few. At the age of 95 this writer continues to strive for his passion: spreading and extending the influence of cultural diversity as well as upholding the values of cultural integration and universal reciprocation.
Navigating several generations
Is it his advanced age or his multitude of experiences that have granted Huu Ngoc such wisdom? The ‘almost-centenarian’ has been able to see his country evolve, destroy itself, rebuild itself and develop. He has lived through all these changes and is now in a position to make valuable insights on the meanderings of history.
However, his beginnings didn’t predictsuch an illustrious future: under the French regime Huu Ngoc didn’t complete his law degree and he then gave up on becoming a doctor. During the Indochina War, he was head of the Re-education Committee for European and African Soldiers captured at the battle of Dien Bien Phu (1954).
His journey took another turn when he became Ho Chi Minh’s personal translator. Thereafter, he presided over the editorial board for The Gioi (The World) Publications in Hanoi. He also managed both the Vietnam-Sweden and Vietnam-Denmark cultural funds. Decorated with the medal of independence, the military medal for his feats of arms, the Swedish Order of the Polar Star and Academic Palms, Huu Ngoc has an intellectual authority that few can argue with. In addition to this, for almost twenty years he has been the cultural commentator for Courrier du Vietnam (a French-language newspaper in Vietnam) and he communicates each week with thousands of readers.
An inexhaustible writer
Several thousand articles have been written by Huu Ngoc’s hand and most of these have been brought together in the imposing collection “Wandering through Vietnamese culture”, published in 2004. This has since become a bestseller.
Huu Ngoc received the 2008 GADIF prize (Group of French-Speaking Embassies, Delegations and Institutions in Vietnam) for this large-scale work, as well as the 2006 ‘Gold Prize’ for the English version.
Between 2003 and 2012, Huu Ngoc and Lady Bortonwrote a series of works about many aspects of Vietnamese culture from food to marriage, the aodai (traditional dress) and even bamboo. His collaborator, an American feminist, is the author of the book ‘Vietnam: After Sorrow’ which paints a picture of the realities of women during the Vietnam war, whether they were mothers, wives, workers, fighters or all four.
The abovementioned works echo numerous others which had been published earlier such as “Vietnamese folk-tales.Satire and Humour”,from 1986 and “Sketches for a portrait of a Vietnamese culture” in 1998.
Despite his advanced age, Huu Ngoc has continued to devote his life to the understanding and influence of Vietnamese culture. He also tries to make younger generations aware of the importance of preserving this millennia-old culture, with a view to strengthening a still young national identity.
Words of gold
From his thousands of articles, one entitled, “National identity in the face of globalisation” was awarded the ‘Golden Words’ prize in 2003.
Here is an extract: “It is important to consider globalisation without passion, in all of its aspects, because it is an unstoppable phenomenon and one with which we must coexist. We must contemplate it actively,not passively, in light of the UNESCO Declaration on Cultural Diversity (November 2001). If we must fight against the negative aspects of globalisation we must also understand how to make the most of its creative potential. Thanks tohuge technological developments in information, communication and transport,globalisation can provide an audience and a field of action for national and ethnic cultures on a hitherto unknown scale. While the worldwide spread of a cultural, material or spiritual product can lead to standardisation, it is, on occasion, no less true that it may also add to a country or region’s cultural diversity, especially when it concerns distant, out of the way locations. Human heritage is best shared in this way.”
As a cultural researcher,Huu Ngoc reminds us of the numerous influences that make up Vietnamese cultural identity but which don’t detract from its ideological basis. According to Huu Ngoc, preserving our roots doesn’t have to mean that other cultures are rejected as the construction of a cultural identity needs to accept and integrate influences from elsewhere in order to endure and be upheld.
‘Reading this book is like being taken by the hand and gently guided through the garden of knowledge by a friend who knows the way. Huu Ngoc knows where the flower of wisdom blossoms and where it bears fruit.’BodilMalmsteen, Stockholm
Thu An Duong.