There can be no doubt that the mandarins, whose authority derived from the acquisition of knowledge, were the country’s only wielders of power, nor that as a class they were firmly opposed to technical progress and social change. Thus, if it is true that Vietnam could have avoided the loss of her independence by changing and progressing, the mandarins must be held largely responsible for the failure of Vietnam to defend herself against the West.
The mandarins have indeed been blamed by their critics for almost everything that went wrong in nineteenth-century Vietnam. Vietnam’s alleged intellectual stagnation, social immobility, and suicidal policy of isolation from the West were directly ascribed to the conservative attitudes of the mandarins, and to a governmental system that gave them control of the state. Western observers in particular, ever since they began to study Vietnam’s strictly mandarinal system of government, have concentrated on discovering and exposing its flaws. They saw that mandarinal mentality rejected the idea of change and progress, and they consequently connected the mandarins’ intellectual habits with the state of stagnation in which they found Vietnam. The mandarins’...
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