Between a Rock and a Hard Place Sinophobia and Spiritual Warfare in Contemporary Vietnam

Activity: Talk or presentationAcademic


This paper focuses on a category of rituals recently revitalized and are extremely popular among Vietnamese spiritualists that express strong anti-Chinese sentiments: giải yểm or the undoing of Chinese hexing (trấn yểm). Practitioners believe that China, through its agents in the millennia of colonizing Vietnam (111BC-938AD) and the subsequent history of tributary relations had on
multiple occasions hexed (trấn yểm) Vietnam by planting objects or even human bodies into the important ‘dragon vein’ of Vietnam with the mal-intention of cutting off the vital force of Vietnamese national sovereignty. This imagined “China” refers simultaneously to contemporary China as an overpowering and threatening neighbor and to Chinese civilization as one of the main
sources of Vietnamese civilization. Chinese geomantic crimes have been fought by generations of Vietnamese, both the living and spirits. Giai yểm practitioners see themselves as contemporary warriors who continue the task of spiritual decolonization from China. Sinophobic sentiments and ritual actions in Vietnam originate from a mix of widespread ‘cartographical anxiety’, ‘civilizational insecurity’, and a political distrust of both the internal Other (a fraction of the
Vietnamese ruling Communist Party) and the external Other (Chinese Communist Party).
Period12 May 2021
Degree of RecognitionInternational