A couple follow a photographer at a public park looking for different locations for their wedding shoot in downtown Hanoi. PHOTO: AFP
Repeatedly, I read about the need for a return to “traditional family values” in Vietnam. But I am yet to see or hear an explanation of what these are.
All of this society’s ills seem to be blamed on “individualism” which has seeped into the Vietnamese psyche through education and exposure to other cultures over several hundred years, beginning primarily with the French education systems during the days of colonialism.
Vietnamese literature since the late 1700s is full of stories about the repressiveness of Vietnamese family values and patriarchal control.
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These values have been rejected by succeeding generations, opting for more individual freedom and less obligation to family – especially the role of the Vietnamese wife, once no less than an indentured servant subject to the whims of the mother-in-law.
In a recent Vietweek (March 29-April 4) article, domestic violence was blamed on the weakening of traditional values. What values were these? Is it not the other way around? That the guise of traditional values has been used to defend the beating of wife and children?
According to sociologist Vu Hong Phong, Vietnamese men are being unfairly held responsible for domestic violence and the pressure on men to work and support their families is too intense (I guess this is an excuse for violence).
The real problem is that men are losing control over their spouses and they are unable to deal with their loss of power and control over women.
Domestic violence in Vietnamese families is nothing new and the fact that such violence may be on the increase is the result of several factors.
Societal changes that have followed Vietnam’s opening up to the world are many: the changing role of men and women, individualism, rejection of antiquated values, industrialization, education, internet, market economy, gap between rich and poor, unemployment, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, or financial troubles.
All these changes have ramped-up the amount of stress in everyone’s life, but stress is not an excuse for being unable to control one’s self or to disrespect others.
One needs only look at the younger generation in Vietnam today and see their enthusiasm for freedom and individualism. What these young people have neglected to comprehend is that freedom and individualism does not come without rules and obligations.
Individualism does not give them the right to act in any manner they like without any consideration for society as a whole or for the individuals that their actions impact.
The time has come for society to teach individual responsibility and universal values to control the insanity that was once mitigated by traditional family structures.
I feel that a lot of the time, traditional values are about controlling and maintaining the family’s status in the community. It has not been enough about teaching children how to control themselves, to be honest, to be productive citizens and considerate adults.
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By Roy Little *
*The writer is an American expat who lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City. The opinions expressed are his own.
The story can be found in the September 13th issue of our print edition Vietweek