In the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the ruling party and government had promoted a “new ways of life” (nếp sống mới) policy, primarily aimed at simplification of traditional rituals, prohibition of superstitious practices, and encouragement of sanitary and healthy lifestyles. In the present paper, we examine the central, provincial and municipal-level policies used to direct districts, communes, villages, cooperatives, and quarters to establish their own local codes (quy ước) for practicing such “new ways of life.”
From the late 1950s, in some areas of provinces belonging to the Việt Bắc autonomous region and the Lào Cai province, the provincial and Việt Bắc autonomous regional governments began to guide their locals to edit the communal code in such a way as to popularize the “new ways of life.”
By the mid-1970s, most provinces and municipalities in North Vietnam had begun to direct the establishment of new local codes by districts, communes, villages, cooperatives, and quarters, and had prepared drafts of the code to be reviewed by lower-level officials. Although the Ministry of Culture also compiled its drafts, provincial and municipal officials drafted their own original versions of the text in an effort to manage regional features of their own customs. Moreover, when provincial and municipal officials wrote instructions for the code’s preparation, they asked members of the districts, communes, villages, cooperatives, and quarters to discuss the concrete contents of the code texts and approve them by mutual consent, intending to make them more suitable for the actual situation of each area.
In March 1975, the central government propounded regulations for weddings, funeral ceremonies, and festivals for the first time, and these regulations introduced stricter rules than did the draft code for “new ways of life.” However, the proclamation of these regulations did not entail the withdrawal of the codes. Rather, the codes for “new ways of life” in each area were to be revised according to the new regulations, and they continue to constitute the guidelines according to which the people should practice the “new ways of life.”
Previous studies have pointed out the following two distinctive features of the traditional community compacts (hương ước, 郷約) and the new community compacts (hương ước mới): (1) they were compiled on the basis of discussion among the members; (2) they provided detailed provisions depending on participants’ opinions on issues in their local areas. The local codes for “new ways of life” also had such features, and the government officials promoted local editing and revision of the codes under the policy that the “new ways of life” had to be achieved by promoting people’s self-motivation and their consciousness but not by force nor administrative punishment.