Page last updated at 13:11 GMT, Tuesday, 17 February 2009

The war through Chinese eyes

By Vivienne Guo

The first time I learned something about the third Indochina War was from my father's stories of the "Vietnamese devils".

Vivienne Guo
Vivienne Guo says she struggled to understand the conflict as a student

When he was on leave from the air force, he would take me for rides on his bike.

That was an exciting time for me, sitting on the back seat of my father's bicycle hearing the ringing bell and listening to his war stories. I adored my father for his service in the People's Liberation Army (PLA), and all the more so for his stories.

The images of the "Vietnamese devils" in the war are still clear in my mind and just as lively now as they were when I was an eight-year-old girl 14 years ago.

Those "Vietnamese devils", he told me, were so cold and cruel in our "war of self defence against Vietnam", they used the weapons sent from China to kill Chinese soldiers and they made barriers with the provisions donated in the past by China.

I remember learning that the Vietnamese were so "bad and ungrateful" that we needed to teach them a lesson, and we did.

Objective view

For a long time I had the impression of Vietnamese as some creepy men with cold faces, holding weapons in their hands. The name "Vietnam" (Yuenan) in Chinese sounded eerie to me even though I had no idea what it really was like.

The relationship between Vietnam and China will improve if they can be freed from the legacies of war

Several years later, in my high school history class, neither the teacher's lectures nor the textbook were clear enough about what happened during the war in 1979.

The only thing that was addressed was the significance of China's triumph, however this description was very vague for me then and now.

After I went to Peking University to study International Relations, I tried to get a more objective view of the relationship between Vietnam and China 30 years ago.

The background of the Cold War and the end of China's Cultural Revolution shaped the ideologies and the identities of the two nations.

Vietnam's closeness to the Soviet Union and its invasion of Cambodia caused China to lose influence in the communist camp and deepened its split with Soviet Union.

At the same time, the end of the Cultural Revolution made China eager for a distraction from its internal affairs. Fuelled by the events of "banishment of Chinese" from Vietnam in the late 1970s and the friction between the two countries on the Prickly Islands, the third Indochina War was finally ignited.

No triumph

The war ended with the withdrawal of the Chinese Army due to lack of supplies and inexperience fighting modern wars, but "triumph" is not the word I will use to describe the result of this war for either China or Vietnam.

For me, the most important legacies are the unresolved disputes the war left between Vietnam and China and the distorted memories driven by ideology.

Today, 30 years after the third Indochina War, young people from both countries have started to forget about that bloody fight.

The relationship between Vietnam and China will improve if they can be freed from the legacies of war, and I guess it is the time for me to tell some new stories about Vietnam to my father in a kind of peaceful language.

After all, the most dangerous thing for the Sino-Vietnamese relationship is that the two countries still speak the language of violence during a time of peace.

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