“Vietnam Rides a Dragon, China Rides a Dog:” Sovereign Crisis and The Resurgence of Vietnamese Visual Communication

John Michael Swinbank1

1Murdoch University, Australia

As tensions rise in maritime East Asia, Vietnamese voices reasserting sovereignty and solidarity seem to be growing louder with the resurgence of official and unofficial visual messages that remind us of elements of the propaganda distributed during the mid-twentieth wars of independence, resistance and reunification. Vietnamese visual communication (comprising banners, posters, billboards and murals) that built national unity among 54 ethnic nationalities was a vital factor in the achievement of independence and self-determination. Propaganda depicted Vietnamese men and women working and fighting together for their country whose distinct S-shaped territory was now the intense focus of their national identity and loyalty. The visual style and iconography developed then is still in evidence today and the message is sounding familiar. This paper considers the similarities and continuities between the eras and the staying power of Vietnamese visual communication, too often written off as communist dogma or tourist kitsch. Far from considering it a museum piece, Vietnamese visual propaganda is a continuous evolving practice honed by decades of calamitous war and precipitous peace, and executed by a battle-hardened state propaganda machine that is at the ever-ready to unite people behind a sovereign crisis, such as the one looming in the South China Sea or as the Vietnamese call it, the East Asia Sea.


John Michael holds two MAs in communication and cultural studies. A long career in public relations has informed his return to academic study and ignited a passionate interest in revolutionary visual culture. He is equally passionate about yoga, music, art and champagne, sometimes at the same time.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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