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Sunday, September 20, 2020

Ancient “huong uoc” and new “huong uoc”: differencies and similarities

Updated: 10:46’ - 01/04/2011

>>“Huong uoc” and the process of legal reform as well as rural democratization
>>New “huong uoc” or new rural conventions

Associate Prof. Dr. Bui Xuan Duc

State and Law Research Institute

The reemergence of “huong uoc” (new “huong uoc” - village codes) has contributed to a certain extent to the current process of management and democratization in the countryside of Vietnam. Yet, from the research point of view, many questions should be clarified: The differences and similarities between ancient and new “huong uoc” in their perception their natures as well as spheres of their impacts? The development and inheritance of ancient “huong uoc” in new “huong uoc”? The efficiency and social values of new “huong uoc” as compared to ancient “huong uoc” and the trend of development of new “huong uoc”?

There have been no uniform legal definitions of ancient “huong uoc.” According to general perception, it is the common agreement of conventional nature or the internal rules of villages or clans, and the written records of regulations concerning social organizations as well as life in a village.

New “huong uoc” has been elaborated on the basis of knowledge about “huong uoc” though its nature, role and regulation scope may be no longer the same as those of the ancient “huong uoc.” If the ancient “huong uoc” is considered a charter on operation of the village community, consisting of institutions on various organization in the village and commune, the new “huong uoc” is only considered the written social regulations prescribing the general rules of behavior, set under the common agreement of the population community to govern the social relations of self-governance of people with a view to preserving and promoting the fine customs and practices as well as cultural traditions in villages, hamlets, population groups, rendering active support for the management of the State by laws.

It can be seen that the present-day “huong uoc” is not quite different from the ancient “huong uoc” in terms of their general conception. Yet, considering in detail their positions, spheres of impact, regulation contents, we can realize that they are greatly different from each other.

1. Contents of “huong uoc”

The contents prescribed in “huong uoc,” particularly ancient “huong uoc,” are diversified. Here, we would like to concentrate on comparing the most common and fundamental contents of “huong uoc.”

a) Regulating the question of organizing the village management

The first and foremost important regulation scope of ancient “huong uoc” is the organization of self-governance institutions of villages and communes.

Some “huong uoc” recorded the process of reclaiming virgin land for setting up villages, determining the boundaries as well as acreage of public land and private land in villages. They also provided that villagers were obliged to protect “such territories.”

“Huong uoc” dwelt on organizations in villages such as “Hoi Dong Ky Muc” (the Council of Village Notables), “Hoi Dong Ly Dich” (the Council of Village Officials) or “Nhom Ngu Huong” (Group of Five Village Officials), their functions, powers as well as relationships. “Hoi Dong Ky Muc” (later during the French tenure, there also appeared “Hoi Dong Toc Bieu” (the Council of Clan Representatives) was a body performing the self-management in villages and having full power to decide on important affairs such as taxation, corvees, distribution of public land, construction and renovation of temples or pagodas, organization of festivals, rites... Meanwhile, “Hoi Dong Ly Dich” was an executive apparatus and at the same time represented the State in villages. It was headed by “ly truong” (village chief) assisted by “pho ly” (deputy village chief), who were elected by the Council or villagers, and recognized by the State.

The ancient “huong uoc” touched upon rural quarters as well as their positions and roles. They also dwelt on clans, which rally people of the same blood lines. The relationships between clans and individuals as well as among clans have had great impacts on village activities. The ancient “huong uoc” also contained many provisions on social order and hierarchy in village activities, on population management, marriage, codes of conduct, funerals...

Meanwhile, as they do not serve as “legal bases” for an administration level like the ancient “huong uoc,” new “huong uoc” naturally do not contain provisions on administrative management institutions of the above-mentioned type of self-management. However, under the general guidance, new “huong uoc” set out appropriate measures and modes to help local population participate in managing the State, the society, ensuring to promote the democratic freedoms of people; to mobilize and create conditions for people to exercise their rights and fulfill their obligations.

This can be explained through the fact that the questions of managing villages and communes now have been prescribed rather fully in various laws. The State has, on the one hand, deeply intervened in the social relations in the country in general and the countryside in particular, and, on the other hand, ignored forms of people’s self-governance in domains where exist more elements of “sentiment” than “reason,” which should be regulated by the provisions of customary laws, morality than by rigid laws.

It can also be realized that recently the State has stipulated forms of democracy in villages, hamlets, such as village meetings, village chiefs, Yet, these institutions are not the administration structure and village chiefs are determined as “the extended hands of communes,” inclining to perform the administrative functions rather than to represent villagers in organizing the self-governance functions permitted by the State.

This is the difference and also a limitation of new “huong uoc,” which makes it unable to bring about expected results, because new “huong uoc” are based on self-agreement (which was considered by some self-governance), lacking coerciveness, while the ancient “huong uoc” existed on the basis of an administrative unit, being a charter on the operation of the institutions of village self-governance administration with the State coercion.

b) Protecting the community life

The sense of protecting the community life was manifest in the maintenance of village security in association with the organization of armed protection of villages and communes. This was a “vital” issue of each village and specified in detail in the ancient “huong uoc,” or in some places, it was compiled in a separate “huong uoc.”

First of all, it was the regime of building watch-posts to guard against “thuy, hoa, dao, tac” (floods, fires, burglars, pirates) and to protect the villagers’ lives and properties. The night patrols and watch as well as the responsibilities of patrol teams, and the villagers’ responsibilities to ensure the village security were specified.

Of course, such specific things now need not to be prescribed in new “huong uoc” as the local administrations at all levels have apparatuses and means in hand to protect the common security. New “huong uoc” only concentrate on setting forth specific measures to maintain order and security in localities, contributing to preventing and combating such social vices as drug abuse, gambling, boozing, burglary, prostitution as well as other law-breaking acts. However, new “huong uoc” have inherited and developed positive elements in ancient “huong uoc” such as the promotion of people’s sense of maintaining security, strictly observing laws, the participation in managing, educating and helping sinners in population communities, the setting up of self-governance organizations in the grassroots such as conciliation teams, security boards, production protection teams, construction boards....

c) Production and environmental protection

“Huong uoc,” ancient and new, contain many provisions coping with natural calamities and protecting agricultural production.

First, regarding irrigation, ancient “huong uoc” prescribed the tasks of dyke embankment and consolidation, river and canal digging and dredging, and particularly the use of water, crop protection. They encouraged villagers to make full use of land for agricultural production. These tasks were accompanied with punitive measures against those who broke the village rules.

“Huong uoc” also prescribed measures to build and repair public-utility works such as village roads, water wells, communal houses, temples.

It can be seen through this that the people’s sense of community is very high and prominent. The peasants were willing to sacrifice their own interests for the common interests as, according to them, if the floods come the whole village would be submerged. The protection of farming conditions was one of the important contents of ancient “huong uoc.”

Promoting that spirit, new “huong uoc” set out measures to build up the unity, mutual assistance and support within the communities, mobilizing members in families, clans, quarters and villages to unite together for hunger elimination and poverty alleviation, production development, life improvement, learning promotion, local craft promotion; mobilizing the community members to participate in cooperation teams or cooperatives for development of production; promoting the development of craft villages; making contributions to the construction of infrastructure and public-utility works such as power supply networks, roads, schools, health stations, cemeteries, cultural and sport facilities in their localities.

They also provide the setting up and use of assorted funds in accordance with law and people’s contributing capabilities, set out measures to protect the properties of the State, the communities as well as individual citizens, to protect the environment, forests, seas, rivers, lakes, scenic places, pagodas, temples, water sources, dykes, water dams, canals, sluices, power transmission lines, to build and develop intra-village roads, to plant trees. Here, the compatibility between ancient “huong uoc” and new “huong uoc” is very manifest.

d) Preservation of fine customs and practices

Ancient “huong uoc” attached great importance to the protection of fine customs and practices in villages, with many provisions on village genie worshipping associated with various rituals, on religious activities such as repair of pagodas and temples, prohibition of social evils such as gambling, superstition.

They also contained many provisions on learning promotion such as reserving land to present those who passed examinations, using crop yields as pay to local teachers and rewards for outstanding students, giving warm welcomes home to persons who passed national examinations with distinction, reserving worthy positions to village teachers in communal activities, meting out punishments to those who refused to let their children go to school.

Promoting the above-mentioned high values of the ancient “huong uoc,” new “huong uoc” have set out measures to preserve and develop fine customs and practices, to observe the civilized lifestyle in daily-life activities, to abolish bad habits, customs and practices in marriages, funerals, rituals as well as worshipping in localities, to develop healthy cultural activities, promote solidarity, mutual support and assistance within population communities, well implement the social policies of the Party and the State, including the policy on population and family planning, building of cultured families. In this aspect, the provisions of ancient “huong uoc” have been further developed to a new height suitable to the new time.

d) Commendation and penalties

To ensure the effect of their provisions, the ancient “huong uoc” prescribed forms of commendation and penalties, which were diversified, too severe and no longer suitable to the present-day conditions.

The prescribed forms of commendation used to be pecuniary or material rewards, promotion to high positions in the village hierarchy, the lessening of obligations to make contributions or compensations.

The punitive forms were also diversified, including pecuniary fines, material sanctions, compensations, deprivation of material interests, whipping, dismissal from office, demotion, boycott of funerals of violators, expulsion from villages. Public opinions in villages and communes were of no little significance, which compelled village members into framework of traditional morality of villages.

New “huong uoc” also set out punitive and commending measures to ensure their implementation such as opening golden books to record achievements of collectives and individuals, rewarding good people for their good deeds; educating or criticizing violators of village rules by families, communities or local mass media, forcing persons who commit serious violations to perform obligations and responsibilities within the scope of community, or imposing punitive measures but not harsh punishment infringing upon the lives, health, freedom, honor, dignity, property, legitimate rights and interests of citizens.

2. Process of formulating, amending and implementing “huong uoc”

The written ancient “huong uoc” emerged in mid-15th century during King Le Thanh Tong’s tenure. The process of drafting and promulgating ancient “huong uoc” was spontaneous at first, then directed and controlled by the State later. For that reason, they were considered codified customary law. However, the State’s direction and control was found only here and there in different books. So far, many researchers have realized that ancient “huong uoc” were made in a similar form.

The “huong uoc” of Cat Lu village, Dai Tu commune, Van Lam district, Hung Yen province, made in March 1781, clearly stated: “All the established regulations were signed by the entire population in the village, and submitted to the district mandarins. The district mandarins shall approve and hand them back to people for implementation.” So, it can be seen through this that all ancient “huong uoc” were promulgated according to a procedure that they were drafted by village scholars and mandarins, discussed and consented by villagers and submitted to district mandarins for approval before they were enforced. In the course of their enforcement, “huong uoc” could be amended and supplemented when necessary.

For new “huong uoc,” the process of formulating, adopting, approving, enforcing, amending and supplementing them was prescribed rather specifically and strictly by law through the following steps:

Step 1: Setting up drafting teams and organizing the drafting of “huong uoc.”

Step 2: Organizing the gathering of comments of agencies, organizations and people on the draft “huong uoc”

Step 3: Discussing and adopting “huong uoc.”

Step 4: Approving “huong uoc.”

Step 5: Organizing the implementation of “huong uoc.”

3. Remarks and conclusions

We can realize through the above analyses that the ancient “huong uoc” and the new “huong uoc” are generally similar in their regulating purposes and roles in the social life in the countryside, in the form of presentation, in principal contents of the provisions. The basic difference between them is their positions and spheres of impact on the community life. The ancient “huong uoc” influenced the organizational relations of the population community in villages as an administrative level, regulating different aspects of the village life, from the organization of village-managing institutions after the model of “self-governance administration,” including Hoi Dong Ky Muc, Ngu Huong group, to the relations among these village institutions, and defining rules for protection of the socio-economic life in the communities. They can be considered the “charters” or “codes” of the villages as an administration level- the self-governance administration.

Meanwhile, new “huong uoc” also cover villages or hamlets, which are, however, no longer an administrative management level. Therefore, their nature and contents are only restricted to setting out appropriate measures and modes to help local population participate in the management of the State. They prescribe measures to preserve and promote fine customs and practices, to follow civilized lifestyle in daily-life activities, to develop healthy cultural activities, contribute to protecting the properties of the State, the communities and citizens, eliminating bad habits, social evils and superstition, and promoting unity, mutual support and assistance within the communities, to maintain order and security in localities, as well as commending and punitive measures to ensure the implementation of “huong uoc.” This is the basic difference between the ancient “huong uoc” and the new “huong uoc”.-



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