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The subject of this study is the impact of French colonial administrative policies on Vietnamese peasant society between the 1880s and 1945—a period that is crucial for an understanding of the nature of the peasants' determined struggle not only against the French colonizers but also against their American successors. In his Foreword to the book, Professor Alexander Woodside (East Asian Research Center, Harvard) remarks that "for English-speaking readers, this book is likely to serve as a forceful, unpleasantly chilling introduction to some very representative Vietnamese views about what Vietnamese relations with the industrial West have meant to Vietnamese society over the past century."
The book is divided into two nicely complementary parts. In the first, Mr. Long presents a brief but detailed history of the effects that the French policy of land expropriation and free land concession had upon the peasant; the resulting problems of tenant farming and sharecropping; and the roles of taxes, tax collection, usury, government agrarian credit programs, and industry and commerce in determining the peasants' living standards.
This history provides an objective background for the second part of the book, which introduces moving personal Vietnamese accounts in translation of life in the twenties and thirties. "The Peasants," by Phi Van; "When the Light's Put Out," by Ngo Tat To; "Dead End," by Nguyen Cong Hoan; "Mud and Stagnant Water," by Hoang Dao; and "Who Committed This Crime?" by Tran Van Mai are only samples from the rich legacy of Vietnamese writings on social change that were produced during this period and that because of stringent censorship took the form of the short story and the novel. "Some of the best documentation of the conditions of peasant life appeared in fictional disguise," writes Mr. Long—and the prolific outpourings of these tormented and often short-lived writers became a most sophisticated means of indirect opposition to French rule.