Boston, November 30, 2000
Dr. Cam Hoang and Dr. Phuoc Vo Respectively, President & Chairman Vietnamese Medical Association of the Free World 86C John St. Cabramatta, NSW 2166 Australia
Dear Dr. Vo and Dr. Hoang:
Thank you for your letter of October expressing your concerns about the Rockefeller Progam on the Study of the Vietnamese Overseas. For some reason, we only received it a few days ago. I appreciate your concerns; unfortunately there has been quite a bit of confusion and misinformation about the program and I hope this letter will help clear some things up.
Part of the problem we have faced I believe lies in a general misunderstanding of the general outlines of our program. In our literature, our program is described in very large, sweeping, and general terms. We have done this to try to attract applicants from the widest range of fields. In our project description, we list a wide range of themes, subjects, topics and approaches that applicants might focus on during residencies. Unfortunately, some have read this to suggest that we plan to have fellows undertake sweeping studies of all these areas during their residencies. That is not true. Typically, our applicants focus on one very specific area of study in the Humanities.
Another confusion I believe lies in the some misunderstanding related to the Humanities focus of our project. We are not involved in building a large sociological study or in “data collection,” or in studies of the refugee communitî Ours is a Humanities residency program, whose intention is to bring scholars in the Humanities, those engaged in the fields of Literature, Philosophy, Linguistics, History, and Cultural Studies to pursue their research.
As for the two scholars from Vietnam, neither Dr. Hoang Ngoc Hien nor Professor Nguyen Hue Chi are engaged in sociological studies of the diaspora population, nor are they involved in writing the history of the Vietnamese refugee communitî Dr. Hien is studying the major texts of the Overseas Writings from 1975 to 2000, with particular emphasis on the subjects of love and attachment to the land and working on a literary essay related to the subject. Because of such misunderstandings and because of some misrepresentations of the biographies of the two fellows selected from Vietnam, we have received, as you point out, many letters of protest. Dr. Hien and Professor Chi are well-known literary scholars, both in Vietnam and abroad, with a reputation for authentic, scholarly research. (We have asked those who have protested to document their claims based on an overall examination of their works: none has been able to provide any) These scholars submitted their applications like everybody else; they were selected because of the quality of their proposals and their reputations and credentials, not because they were from Vietnam.
Dr. Hien is an internationally known scholar, respected by writers both inside and outside Vietnam. Nguyen Mong Giac, editor-in-chief of Van Hoc, probably one of the three most respected Vietnamese literary journals overseas, singled out Dr. Hien for superlative accolades in his essay “Nguyen Minh Chau and Hoang Ngoc Hien, two authentic writers,” an unprecedented 15-page tribute. Mr. Giac calls him one of the two “most daring, most valued” writers of the literary community in Vietnam. Dr. Hien’s work has received notice by advanced educational institutions in the US. and Franceï He was invited to visit and offer talks to students at Yale University, Harvard University, and The University of California, Berkeley from October to December 1995 under the sponsorship of Yale University’s Southeast Asian Program. While in California, he met with many of the top exile writers, including the late Mai Thao In June and July of 2000, Dr. Francois Julien, Chair of the Department of Oriental Culture and Languages at Diderot University, asked Dr. Hien to give a lecture on Oriental Culture at the Marcel Granet Institute in Paris. There he met and had wide-ranging discussions with many Vietnamese exile writers in France. Dr. Hien is also the co-editor of Yale University’s Vietnam Review, together with the most eminent Vietnamese translator Huynh Sanh Thong and exile writer Truong Vu.
Mr. Hue Chi, a widely-known specialist in Classical Literature and Philosophy, principal compiler of the groundbreaking 3-volume “Poetry and Prose of the Ly Tran Dynasties,” is engaged in reading works in the diaspora on Classical Literature and Philosophî He will study their development and transformation since 1975, and compare them with the parallel changes in Vietnam. Prof. Chi is not a stranger vis-a-vis Vietnamese overseas literatureï He is one of the few well-known critics in Vietnam who has actually written about it, and the only one whose essay on this subject has been noted with appreciation abroad. Thuy Khe, an overseas writer and RFI reporter, comments that Prof. Chís “The Vietnamese Literature Overseas: A Few Impressions” has “introduced a number of overseas works under the serious viewpoint of a critic and researcher, disregarding altogether any demarcation of geography and politics.” Professor Chi is currently working on the 4th volume of Tho Van Ly Tran and will join us shortly.
Throughout the last few months, we have been in contact with the top overseas Vietnamese literary journals in the U.S. and abroad. They have known Dr. Hien and Professor Hue Chi either by reputation or personally for some timeï Their journals have published or reviewed their writings and they welcome Dr. Hien’s and Prof. Chís participation in the Rockefeller Program. As we have tried to point out in our responses to the letters of protest, the effort to discredit our program and Dr. Hien and Professor Chi, rests either on fabricated biographies of these scholars provided by a student from Boston, or on the blanket generalization that “no writer from Vietnam could write with objectivity about the diaspora experiences.” We have tried to provide the true biographical backgrounds of Dr. Hien and Professor Hue Chi to counter these charges. As for the latter charge, I assure you that had we thought that either scholar could and would not write with honesty and candor, neither would have been voted to be a Rockefeller fellow. Shortly we will post on our website a number of their essays; I hope you will read them and share them with your colleagues. Still, despite the campaign, we have been heartened at the warm reception Dr. Hien has received to date. Dr. Hien has been systematically reading the major works of Vietnamese writers in the diaspora and has been talking directly to a number of authors of the works he has been reading. Writers in different locations in the U.S. have asked him to visit. I think the best thing an organization such as yours can do is help ensure that the best representation possible of the exile scholarly community would participate in the Program. We will welcome your working with us to publicize this Project in the Vietnamese exile community, and to encourage the best qualified exile scholars to applî We are currently in the process of attempting to work with the Rockefeller Foundation to create more relaxed residency requirements so that more exile scholars can participate.
If you have any recommendations, please forward them to us. Again, let me thank you for expressing your view. I hope that you will jointly work with us to seek out the best talents in the exile community to ensure that for the academic year 2001- 2002 and 2002-2003 there will be a significant presence of the exile scholars among the list of Rockefeller Fellows.