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Cablegate: What's (Not) Available at Hanoi's Bookstores

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) Summary: Government controls continue to ensure that
both imported and locally printed books stay within
acceptable bounds. Fictional works increasingly are the
most popular offerings in Hanoi's bookstores, instead of
previous foci on ideological or political titles. Some
political publications persist -- still heavy on Ho Chi Minh
Thought and Marxism -- but offerings on controversial
political and economic issues appear non-existent. Market
forces appear to be winning out over ideology. End Summary.


2. (U) On July 15, the Ministry of Culture and Information
(MOCI) suspended operations of a weekly student magazine
(Sinh Vien Vietnam) for, inter alia, lampooning Vietnamese
currency by showing a banknote flushing down a toilet, as
well as for publishing cover pictures of naked male and
female statues from Vietnam's ancient Cham relics. In May,
the Committee to Protect Journalists (based in New York)
listed Vietnam as one of the 10 worst places in the world to
be a journalist.

3. (U) MOCI's Publishing Department has the responsibility
for monitoring and approving all publications officially
brought into or published in Vietnam. Procedurally, for non-
political and social works, importers must only inform the
Publishing Department of their imports; for political
publications, however, the procedures are much stricter. A
senior official from the state-run Vietnam General
Corporation on Import-Export of Books and Periodicals (aka
"Xunhasaba") explained that publishers must submit samples
of all proposed imports for approval to MOCI, including
summaries of the contents. Xunhasaba reports to the MOCI's
Publishing Department, which has responsibility for
reviewing the contents of all publications in Vietnam.

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4. (U) Importers may only proceed with written permission
from MOCI. These procedures apply even for state offices,
government agencies, think tanks, and libraries. Publishing
houses must also follow similar procedures before printing
individual publications. In practice, however, many
publishers increasingly neglect seeking permission for non-
sensitive themes. One Xunhasaba official commented,
however, that "even bold publishers exercise caution and
follow the requirements when it comes to political-social

5. (U) One professor from the Institute of Historical
Science opined that censorship with respect to printed
publications has encouraged more people to access the
Internet for news and current issues, rather than reading
"well-edited," out-of-date publications. He noted that
firewalls do not appear to be a significant barrier.


6. (U) Hanoi has six major state-run bookstores downtown,
along with numerous smaller, privately run bookstores in
different neighborhoods. Three of the four largest and most
comprehensive bookstores are affiliates of the Hanoi Books
Distribution Corporation, and are located in the central
business district. Two other bookstores are Xunhasaba
showrooms. There is a small English-language bookshop run
by a foreigner, as well as ubiquitous street stalls run by
Vietnamese entrepreneurs, who usually specialize in
periodicals, soft-back publications, and foreign languages
textbooks. Publications at these outlets are usually sold
at much cheaper prices -- 15 to 30 pct lower -- compared
with those at state-run bookstores, because they are often
illegally produced and not copyright-compliant.

7. (U) Entryways at Hanoi's major bookstores usually
showcase literary works, with short stories and fiction
translated from foreign languages predominant. Pearl Buck,
Alfred Hitchcock, Agatha Christie, George Simenon, Conan
Doyle, Danielle Steele, Sidney Sheldon, Ernest Hemingway,
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Jack London are favorites.
Vietnamese fiction is also widely available. In early 2003,
Vietnamese readers rushed to buy new book of ghost stories,
which authorities later banned. One of the reasons cited
unofficially for the ban was that its co-author is a well-
known overseas Vietnamese speaker now living in Canada.
Early in 2001, a book of fiction revolving around the lives
of homosexuals was popular; apparently, it was the first
time a gay theme was published and openly available in

8. (U) Vietnamese readers are usually denied the latest
overseas literary works, perhaps attributable to substantial
royalties required. Ho Chi Minh City-based Tre Publishing's
director claimed in an interview that he had passed up JRR
Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy because HarperCollins
asked for "too much money." Nonetheless, Tre Publishing
subsequently contracted to translate and publish the Harry
Porter series, after agreeing to ten percent retail price as
royalties. In early July, local newspapers reported that
ninety per cent of the initial 30,000 copies of the latest
Harry Porter title "Order of the Phoenix" sold out on July
21, the day of release in Vietnam. Local media claimed that
Vietnam was the first country in the world to put out an
authorized translation.


9. (U) Among political publications, collections of
Vietnam's laws and regulations, the Constitution, criminal
and labor codes, college textbooks on Ho Chi Minh's thought,
and Marxist philosophy dominate. Less than ten per cent of
political publications are biographical; of those, "The
Complete Book of US Presidents," Winston Churchill's
memoirs, biographies of Deng Xiaoping, Zhu Rongji, Hu
Jintao, Mao Tse-tung, Bill Gates, Lee Kuan Yew, Fidel
Castro, Che Guevara, Yasser Arafat, Vladimir Putin, and
Yevgeni Primakov stand out, along with even separate
biographies of Presidents Bush and Clinton.

10. (U) Surprisingly, few publications focus on Vietnam's
most well known Communist figures; apart from Ho Chi Minh,
General Vo Nguyen Giap, Le Duan (described as having
actually led the Vietnam War), and former Prime Minister
Pham Van Dong, few other revolutionaries or politicians are
featured in biographies. Few of the existing biographies
are very popular nowadays, according to shop assistants.
According to one bookstore official, about 15 per cent of
revenue nonetheless comes from political publications.
There are scant titles on the Vietnam War, or war in
general, although a recently published memoir of a former
soldier and "Why Vietnam?" by Archimedes L. A. Patti are

11. (U) Historical publications are limited not only in
quantity, but also type. Many of the books do not focus on
any particular historical era but rather span decades or
centuries in encyclopedic fashion. When Americans are
depicted, it is sometimes still as savage killers,
brandishing guns or military equipment with captions such
as, "Kill! Kill! Kill!" On the Vietnamese side, there are
usually many pictures displaying dead bodies. But the
crowded aisles of management and economics books often
feature American authors and examples.

12. (U) Books on religion are also scarce. The majority of
such publications are about Buddhism, with a lesser
collection on Confucianism. It is rare to find a book on
Christianity, Islam, or other religions -- much less Bibles
or a Koran -- other than in a reference-type book. In one
large bookstore, there was a book with Jesus Christ on the
cover. But the content focused on the life of Jesus rather
than on Christianity itself.

13. (U) Publications about controversial subjects such as
political pluralism or economic privatization are fare or
non-existent in major bookshops. Apart from a handful of
publications on the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement,
there are few other publications on such topics or even
about the major economies in the region, such as Japan and
Korea. Nor are there books readily available about China's
economic reforms or the writings of Deng Xiaoping, despite
the clear similarity to Vietnam's ongoing efforts. Widely
available, however, are economic textbooks, which refer to
general, macro-principles, rather than to specific economic
issues and problems.

14. (U) Shelves hold only a smattering of book titles on
other current international issues. Before and during Iraq
hostilities this year, two Vietnam News Agency-affiliated
publishing houses produced two widely read publications
addressing the operations and international opposition.
Books about Osama bin Laden, 9/11, and international
terrorism from 2001 remain available, although their
popularity has peaked. Readers can also find books by
Vietnamese scholars on "The US-Russia: Counterparts and
Rivals," "Relations between the US and Big Nations in the
Asia-Pacific Region," "Contemporary Capitalism: Inner
Contradictions - Trends - Prospects," "Sino-Vietnamese
Relations: Events during the 1991-2000 Period," "Japan:
Major Political Changes during the 1990s and Prospects," and
"Development as Freedom" by 1998 Nobel Prize winner Amartya


15. (U) Up to half the physical space at most major
bookstores -- even at the main Political and Legal Bookshop
-- in Hanoi is reserved for dictionaries, foreign language
textbooks (most in English), children's books, and books on
travel, cooking, and interior decoration. Book distributors
declined to comment about revenue shares, but officials from
Xunhasaba admitted that they have been importing large
quantities of publications of this nature upon requests from
their distributors. An even larger volume of publications
of this nature is printed locally, and in Vietnamese.

16. (U) Comment: Vietnam's Doi Moi economic renovation
process has created more opportunities for development and
prosperity, enabling average people to seek out books on
general knowledge and education, as well as entertainment.
Even the state-owned sector is responding to these market
demands and providing what the public wants -- rather than
what it "should know." It is another sign of the decline
of ideology in the lives of average Vietnamese, and a
welcome sign of additional individual choice -- within
carefully maintained bounds.

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