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What modernity?


I have attended an interesting seminar about the Chinese experience in the transition to market economy with socialist characteristics. The aim of the seminar was to help Vietnamese scholars and researchers, who usually claim to be 10 years behind China in terms of social and economic development, to reflect on the challenges that the transition poses to Vietnam today.
One of the conclusions of the seminar is that Vietnam is committed to modernization and market economy and, at the same time, to preserve a Vietnamese social and political values and norms. The interesting question that follows from this conclusion is whether modernization and these Vietnamese values can go hand in hand or exclude each other.
There is clearly a tension between the idea of modernity linked to market economy and the values that drove the fight for independence in Vietnam. Looking at the streets of Hanoi the tension is clearly visible. Motorbikes have taken the place of bicycles; foreign cars have replaced the old Ladas; roads are busy; all kind of shops have opened; people walk with their Ipods; there is an energy which drives, among other things, also consumerism. A consumerism that on the one hand is the consequence/cause of rapid economic growth on the other increases the gap between well being in urban and rural areas and the general income gap between middle urban class and the farmers in rural areas.
This gap underlines the difficulty to secure the equity and equality that underlines the political ideology of the government with a fast growing economy. The seminar on China made it clear that the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 were a series of demonstrations led by students and intellectuals. The sons and daughters of the middle class which had grown out of the economic transition but lacked the connection to the political establishment and had therefore fewer opportunities to secure a good job and a larger share of the growing prosperity.
It is not yet clear to me what the Vietnamese character of modernization actually is and I am still learning about it. Development is a process of change that always challenges traditional norms and values. The lesson from China will help Vietnam to avoid a Tiananmen.

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