In this paper I will argue that against the backdrop of a more aggressive stance of the People’s Republic of China in the South China Sea the representation of the Vietnamese-Chinese past, especially of the Chinese invasion of the northern provinces of Vietnam in 1979 and other military skirmishes between the two countries in 1974 and 1988 has become a contested issue in Vietnam. I will show that while before the collapse of socialism China was commonly depicted as an “aggressive” and “expansionist” power in Vietnamese history textbooks and school books, after the normalization relations with Beijing in 1990 military skirmishes with China at the border and in the South China Sea have been played down. However, against the backdrop of assertive Chinese actions in the South China Sea in the last few years, to emphasize friendly ties with the northern neighbor and to maintain silence about the war in 1979 and military disputes about the Paracel and Spratley Islands in official representation has become more and more difficult in Vietnam. First, I discuss how in the last few years Vietnamese historians and the Vietnamese public have increasingly called for an overhaul of Vietnamese textbooks: they demand that new history textbooks should provide detailed accounts on all military conflicts with China and present them as “just wars” against a foreign aggressor. Secondly, I argue that the commemoration of Vietnamese soldiers who died during military disputes China since 1974 has been stepped up – mainly due to initiatives of “agents of remembrance”, but also due to an increased coverage in Vietnamese newspapers. This also applies to soldiers who died during the Johnson South Reef Skirmish in the Spratley Islands in 1988 and even soldiers of the former Republic of Vietnam who sacrificed their lives in the naval battle of the Paracel Islands in 1974.
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