This paper aims to reconsider the ethnic category of the Han in Vietnam, focusing especially on the Ngai people, a Han ethnic group from South China. In 1979, the government of Vietnam officially recognized them as the Dan Toc Ngai, one of the country’s 54 ethnic groups. Therefore, the Ngai people were considered to be the aboriginal ethnic group of the Dan Toc Ngai in previous studies. Based on fieldwork, however, I found that the Ngai people are not completely equivalent to the Dan Toc Ngai, because some Ngai people in Vietnam belong to other ethnic groups, such as the Nung, Hoa, or San Diu. In this paper, I explicate the ethnic category of the Ngai people, clarifying their migration patterns, identity politics, and the formation of a global network since the end of the 1970s. In doing so, I emphasize that the Ngai people are identified as a definite trans-border ethnic group, and that the group’s ethnic categories and identities may vary according to the socio-political situation. I will then highlight the necessity of understanding the Ngai people in the context of studying the Dan Toc Ngai and other Han people in Vietnam.
This paper, based on fieldwork conducted among the ethnic groups speaking Hakka dialects in Vietnam, aims to answer the questions of who are the Ngái and how they perceive their own ethnicity, which may help fill some gaps in our current understandings on this ethnic group.
Our findings suggest that the Ngái and Khách (Hakka) groups, although living in different places and referred to by various names, share common distinctive features of culture, religion, language, history and the like. The perception of ethnicity among them is however relatively flexible and vague, partly because of migration, cohabitation and interaction with other groups in the places of settlement. This finding tends to support the theoretical suggestion that ethnicity is fluid and will change when circumstances change.
This paper reports the findings of field studies in China, Vietnam, and Australia into the gods worshiped by the Hoa Nung people. The Hoa Nung are a group of ethnic Chinese who migrated from southern China in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and settled in Hai Ninh province (the present Quang Ninh province), northern Vietnam. The settlement’s central religious facility in Ha Coi (the present Quang Ha) was the temple of the Goddess of Mercy, Wu Guo Guan Yin Miao (Mieu Quan Am Ho Quoc). In 1954, when the communist government led by Ho Chi Minh occupied their autonomous region, the Hoa Nung undertook a massive migration from northern to southern Vietnam. During this migration, the temple gods also migrated to the south. In addition to many places in southern Vietnam, branches of worship were also established in Australia after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Politicians that have been important to the people in the borderland between China and Vietnam throughout history are included among the gods.
In Vietnam, people must belong to one of the 54 ethnic groups recognized by the state. In the agricultural hilly area in the north, nearly 100,000 people are self-proclaimed Ngai, who speak a kind of Hakka language. Though the state accommodated the new category ‘Ngai’ to pull them apart from China during the Chinese-Vietnamese War in 1979, the cadres in the rural area compelled the Ngai people to register themselves as Hoa, as they regard the people with Chinese-origin as Hoa. According to the Statistics Bureau of Vietnam, only around 1,000 people are recognized as Ngai. In this study, I consider the difficulty faced by one ethnic group to live in country A, which conflicts with country B, to which they originally belong. To this end, I clarify the life histories of the self-proclaiming Ngai. They are publicly regarded as reactionary in nature, but many Ngai cooperated with the Viet Minh and did not leave Vietnam even in 1978-79. As discriminatory policies were implemented without public knowledge, the Ngai faced severe hardships in the 20th century. Recently, however, the young Ngai are pioneering their way to a better life by going to work in China, using the new network that was established during the war.