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Vietnam's Ethnic and Religious Minorities:

A Historical Perspective

Edited By Jörg Thomas Engelbert

The book deals with Vietnam’s ethnic and religious minorities in a historical perspective. The time frame stretches from the pre-colonial era to contemporary times. Except for one paper on the situation of the Vietnam-China border area, the authors focus on South or Southern Central Vietnam. The Chinese, the Cham and the Bahnar represent three different categories of ethnic minorities: the so-called Foreign Asians, the highly developed nationalities and the former tribal populations, who once lived at the margins. The Vietnamese and Highland Catholics as well as the French Protestants are two prominent religious minorities. The aim of this book is to contribute to a discussion about common features, categories and tasks, which transcend regional, ethnic or religious particularities and the familiar lowland-highland divide.

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Introduction to the Topic

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What is a minority? Pascal Bourdeaux has remarked that in contemporary western democracies, the concept of minority is normally used to qualify very diverse social and political phenomena. According to his explanation, the background of these phenomena called minorities is either for a social group to emancipate themselves, to protest against something, or to make statements based on the claim to a legitimate right to be different, to the right to individual freedom and perhaps even to citizens’ equality. In societies like Vietnam, for instance that have not experienced such claims, which he qualifies as “modern or even postmodern”, this concept of a minority refers first of all to the difference between majority and minorities within one people. At first this expression was used especially to refer to ethnic minorities but later also to religious groupings.1

Trần Thị Liên mentions three different kinds of minorities: ethnic, linguistic and religious. She also thinks that the purely numerical relationship of a group towards a majority alone does not yet constitute a minority. It can only be described as such if the state determines it as a minority, hence changing it from a numerical to distinct social group. State power is, according to her analysis, actively reinforcing diversity through such policies as fostering suspicion, segregation or prejudice. We might add to this thought that toleration, acceptance and even promotion can also be granted by a state which is ethnically or religiously controlled by representatives of a majority....

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