In Search of Moral Authority: The Discourse on Poverty, Poor Relief, and Charity in French Colonial Vietnam is a pioneering exploration of the discourses on poverty and poor-relief activities in early twentieth-century Northern Vietnam. Treating poverty as a socially constructed idea, Van Nguyen-Marshall argues that poor relief was a domain where both French colonialists and Vietnamese intellectuals vied for moral authority. For the French colonial officials, poor relief fell within the purview of the French «civilizing» mission, the official justification for imperialism. However, the colonial agenda, racial prejudices, and the French administrators’ own ambivalent attitudes toward the poor made any attempt at poor relief doomed for failure. For Vietnamese intellectuals, the discourse and activities on poor relief became a rallying call for patriotism, nationalism, and, for some, anti-colonialism.
In Search of Moral Authority deals with social issues such as charity and poor relief, as well as the construction of national and gender identity by Vietnamese intellectuals. This book is essential reading for students and specialists of Vietnamese history as well as those interested in issues of poverty, public welfare, and charity.