Sustainability and Social Justice

Bodies in Perpetual Motion: Struggles Over the Meaning, Value, and Purpose of Fuzzy Labor on the Eve of Collectivization

Document Type

Book Chapter


Pham Thi Vach, who later became a Communist Party member and secretary for the People’s Committee in Kim Ty District (Hung Yen Province), first demonstrated her leadership potential in the late 1950s, while still a teenager. Concerned by heavy rains, she mobilized her peers to save the fall harvest one year by carrying out urgently needed repairs to dikes that protect Hung Cuong Commune from catastrophic flood. Leading by example, Vach personally dug, then carried more than 250 cubic meters of muddy soil to help reinforce the earthen embankments holding back the branches of the Red River that completely surround the low-lying commune on all sides. The ad hoc campaign, which lasted fifty days, was successful; other noteworthy achievements followed, as did a series of increasingly prestigious awards for the young woman affectionately dubbed the “Red River girl” in the state-controlled press. These awards culminated in the title of “Labor Hero” and a First-Class Medal of Merit, which Ho Chi Minh personally handed to Vach in 1961 in recognition of the role she played in transforming the commune, long known for producing more beggars than rice, into a more prosperous one.

Publication Title

State, Society and the Market in Contemporary Vietnam: Property, Power and Values

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