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Official Gazette

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

From village codes to regulations in present-day society

Updated: 11:24’ - 08/03/2011

Ninh Viet Giao  
Association of Nghe An folklorists


A. Huong uoc (village codes) before the August 1945 Revolution

I. What is huong uoc?

Huong uoc is the legal writ of each village comprising regulations, both civil and criminal, on the preservation of ethics, customs and habits, etc., relating to the organization of society as well as to the life of the villagers. Huong uoc is the reflection of the social and cultural life of a village.

Huong uoc came into existence in history, are readjusted and complemented when necessary. They are a set of customary laws that exist in parallel with law and are essentially not contrary to law. It ensues that to know how a village is managed, whether security and order is well maintained there and whether it has fine customs and habits, it is necessary only to look into its huong uoc.

II. Huong uoc prior to the August 1945 Revolution

A study of the remaining huong uoc in Nghe An province shows that most of them are in two parts:

The first part consists of statistics such as:

- The land and fields, their categories and acreage.

- Statistics on the families, temples, shrines, communal house, pagodas, etc., their locations and under the care of which giap (non-administrative units constituting a village).

The second part consists of regulations. Almost all the huong uoc in Nghe An province contain the following regulations:

1. Regulations on the village communal meals and the offerings to the tutelary genie, the rites of admission to a giap, to the village, the village hierarchy , the dedication of the meal to the dignitaries, the feasts offered by persons passing into the rank of the “elders” and persons receiving an honor from the State.

2. Regulations on meetings, the manners of speaking at a meeting, of expressing one’s approval or disapproval of a decision at the village meeting, how to record approvals in a meeting.

3. Regulations on the protection of crops, construction of dykes and dams, culverts, canals, tending of bovine animals, cutting of rice stubble, digging and removal of fertile soil...

4. Regulations on the protection of roads, wells and trees along the village roads, withing premises of the temples and pagodas etc., in a word, protection of public property and the environment.

5. Regulations on the duty of children to their parents, grandparents, duty of spouses, sisters and brothers, toward neighbors, duty of permanent residents and guest residents.

6. Regulations on funerals and weddings.

7. Regulations on learners and graduates.

8. Regulations on singing and organization of singing parties.

9. Regulations on election of the village chief, other dignitaries and subaltern village officials, their method of working and remunerations.

10. Regulations on the protection of order and security, protection of the fine traditions of the village, prevention of theft, adultery and gambling...

Such regulations are prescribed in the huong uoc found  not only in Nghe An  but also in Thanh Hoa, Ha Tinh, Ha Tay and other provinces.

In addition,  a number of huong uoc  also deal with the following :

- Regulations on the land, especially the handling of the pieces of communal land, their per capita distribution, their sale to defray expenditures of the village, the fields allotted to soldiers, elderly people, devoted to the upkeep of pagodas and temples, to the holding of ceremonies, to the promotion of education...

- Regulations on  awards to persons with meritorious deeds to the village.

- Regulations on the proceedings of ceremonies.

- Regulations on the obligation to contribute to the military service and to the public utility projects,

- Regulations on the raising and protection of cattle and poultry.

- Regulations on mutual assistance among villagers.

- Regulations on the preservation of the material cultural relics and  the preservation and bequeathal of the spiritual cultural values, etc.

Thus, it can be observed that  huong uoc deal with a wide range of questions in social life.

III. Who are the authors of huong uoc and their objectives

All the huong uoc claim that they are compiled by all the villagers or a certain mandarin in cooperation with the villagers, that they have been unanimously adopted by the whole village and signed by the dignitaries. Some even claim that they have been signed by all the villagers. However, in reality huong uoc are compiled chiefly by a group of dignitaries.

Most have a “foreword” which lays down  the objective as the pivotal idea on which the regulations of the village are compiled. In this respect we can consider the objectives of the following the villages to see the way how the huong uoc (in Nghe An province) are conceived  and written:

“The Court relies on laws to maintain the rule of the  king over the country. The village has its regulations to preserve and embellish its cultural traditions” (huong uoc of Tho Loc village in Nghia Dan district).

“It should be assumed that in the village everyone has to prize humanism while in the neighborly relations, nobody can make light of morality. In the cultural traditions of our country, this has always been considered the most important thing” (huong uoc of Duong Xuan village in Anh Son district).

“Of course, a village must have its regulations. Lam Dien - La Thi has four regulations: to counsel one another in moral conduct; to use rules to bind one another when errors are committed; to communicate with one another through rites and customs; to show mutual compassion and assistance in case of distress” (huong uoc of Phu Van village, Yen Thanh district).

Obviously, the writing of huong uoc is prompted by the same good intention to ensure the fine traditions and order in the village, to strengthen the villagers’ force, to elevate  the village’s wealth and to bring about harmony, solidarity and mutual assistance among all villagers.

IV. Vitality of huong uoc

 Huong uoc is upheld not only as a law in itself but also as a system of moral norms, because the regulations written in the huong uoc place on the forefront the duties and obligations of citizens, not ordinary citizens alone, but also the dignitaries and other responsible men in the village. Everyone is duty-bound to strictly observe the prescriptions in the huong uoc, which is actually the prerequisite for the vitality of huong uoc.

As any rule, the village rules also prescribe rewards and penalties aimed at preserving the good traditions and stability of life in the village and directing everyone to observe the norms of morality and the fine customs and habits bequeathed from the ancestors. In the course of time, these customs and habits which are handed down from generation to generation become generally accepted practices. Brought into huong uoc they become a sort of “extra legal” document  known as customary law with a system of moral norms implied therein. There actually lies the vitality of huong uoc.

This legal character is reinforced by the fact that huong uoc is compiled by a collective of dignitaries in consultation with the villagers. The same collective also included those who would enact huong uoc, who receive in their mission the active support from the Court and the mandarinate from the provincial to the district level whose concern is to maintain the necessary equilibrium in society  and defend the monarchy. Thus, the vitality of huong uoc is enhanced by the close combination of the traditions in the village with  the power of the administration at all levels of the monarchic system.

The vitality of huong uoc is all the greater in a long established community because  here the social organization  and cultural life have reached a higher stage of development. In studying  the Vietnamese villages in the agricultural economy in the past, we can see that with an autarkic economy and a self-contained spiritual world (the temple to worship the tutelary genie, the communal house, the pagoda, the saint-worshiping house, the shrine to the land genie...), with its specific customs and habits, with its self-imposed regulations, the ancient huong uoc is a legal document that embraces all aspects of local life: the land, the social hierarchy, order and security, weddings, funerals, ceremonies, feasts, deference to the elderly and the learned persons... Though located in the nation it is not part of the national entity but “an entity within an entity, a nation within a nation, a complete world and universe in itself.”

That is why huong uoc has continually been revised and complemented according to the specificities of each village and the evolution of the social situation through different periods of history.

In this sense, huong uoc can be rightly seen as basis of the stability and prosperity of the nation. The Vietnamese have proceeded from the villages to the country. Village and country have always intertwined and harmonized with each other, so have the country’s laws and the village’s rules. Only when the village is firm can the country be peaceful. That is the raison d’etre and the vitality of huong uoc in the past.

B. Regulations in present-day society

I. Some features of the changes in the village and the compilation of regulations in present-day society

Since the August 1945 Revolution many upheavals have been seen in the villages, affecting their operating apparatus and the grassroots administrative units. At times the village is hamlet, at other times it is a small commune, then a large commune, then again a commune  while the non-administrative unit called “giap” has remained almost unchanged. Along with this change in the administrative unit,  the operating apparatus has also changed. In a village in the past, there were only a village chief (ly truong) and  five auxiliaries (ngu huong). In a commune today there are the Party Committee, the People’s Committee, the commune military committee, the People’s Security Service, the Fatherland Front Committee, the grassroots mass organizations such as farmers, women, youth... The merger of several former villages into the present commune has brought about much change to the delimitations, land and various economic installations. Many perturbations have also happened in the population. The swelling population has forced part of the rural population to migrate to the mountain areas, to the North or the South to establish new villages. Many families were dislodged by the two wars including young soldiers who after the return of peace have not returned to their native villages. Since 1975 many people in the countryside have left their villages to settle in the towns. Besides, the shift of the economy from a subsidized economy to a market economy has broken up the former self- contained village which can no longer be seen as a “complete entity within an entity, a nation within a nation”.

Due to these perturbations, over a long period from 1945 to 1990, huong uoc almost fell into oblivion. Nobody thought of studying the ancient huong uoc.

However, in recent years in face of the complexities in the rural areas including the increased incidence of insecurity in the communal life, the destruction of cultural relics and the erosion of many fine customs and popular fetes, the need has arisen to revert to huong uoc. In the world cultural decade launched by UNESCO, the nations are called upon to preserve their national identities and the people to return to their roots. In Vietnam, many people have come to realize that huong uoc is not only a kind of legal instrument but, more importantly, a system of ethical norms imbued with many folk cultural values which must be studied and revised in service of national construction. Thus, a number of provinces have compiled their present-day qui uoc, which is officially included in the Resolution of the 5th plenum of the Party Central Committee, 8th Congress.

II. How are the present-day qui uoc elaborated?

a/ Why quy uoc (regulations) instead of huong uoc ?

Huong uoc are the regulations or conventions of a village community which has stabilized over a long times, has a clearly delimited land territory and an apparatus of functionaries to manage all aspects of life in the village and discharge the public work of  the State. But now the village has no longer the same connotation as in the past. It can be a former village  but it also can be a new village, a new hamlet or a street or street quarter. The present village has a village chief but since it is not the grassroots administrative unit, the power of the village chief is restricted, hence the difficulties in putting the regulations of the huong uoc into effect. On the other hand, in many localities the cohesion of the residents of the same village, especially in the spiritual field (worshiping of the same tutelary genie), no longer exists which makes it difficult for them to carry out a common huong uoc. Moreover, not only the village but also a street or street quarter may also write its own regulations. Probably for these reasons huong uoc has been changed to quy uoc (regulations) which are understood to be the regulations adopted by a population community residing in a given area. This area may be a traditional village or a newly established village, or a street quarter, or a mountain village or a hamlet split from an old commune. These regulations deal with a wide range of questions concerning culture and society, security and public order, protection of crops, funerals and festivities, protection of the environment, weddings, funerals and festivities, building of cultured families (under a wider plan to build cultured villages, cultured street quarters and cultured hamlets). This is actually a newly established system of customary laws which is to exist in parallel with the State law.

b/ Who compiles  quy uoc?

Judging by the population unit governed by a set of quy uoc, the compilers must be a board of functionaries in the hamlet, street quarter or village under the direction of the Party cell. However, through the study of a number of quy uoc in Nghe An, we see that quy uoc may be compiled by one of the following:

- The committee of the Party cell and the Managing Committee as is the case with Chan hamlet in Thach Giam commune, Tuong Duong district, or Hamlet 6, Quynh Loc commune, Quynh Luu district.

- The Fatherland Front Committee of the hamlet as is the case with Hamlet 4, Quynh Hau commune, Yen Thanh district.

- The Party Representative Board of the street quarter as is the case with Street Quarter 7, Quang Trung Ward, Vinh city.

All the sets of regulations are compiled in consultation with the commune Cultural Board and all services and mass organizations in the village, street quarter or hamlet such as  the Fatherland Front Committee, the War Veterans’ Association, the Association of  the Elderly, the Women’s Union, the Youth Union... In particular, they are unanimouly adopted by the whole village community.

What is more, these regulations are all approved by the commune or ward People’s Committee. Many bear the signatures of representatives of the district Culture and Information Section or Culture and Information center.
This  testifies to the democracy and increases the legality of the village regulations.

c/ Objective of the regulations

Through a number of regulations we have in hand we can see that the compilers have all raised the following questions:

- To directly safeguard the socialist regime, defend the right to mastery of the working people, defend the legitimate rights and interests of the citizens, defend discipline and law against criminal acts, at the same time educate everyone in the sense of defending law, preventing and fighting all law-breaking acts (Regulations of Hamlet 6, Quynh Loc commune, Quynh Luu district).

- To build the village, street quarter and hamlet in the present stage of the revolution, i.e. to continue and develop the fine customs and habits of the earlier generations of residents, in order to encourage everyone to observe a civilized way of life, respect and help one another (Regulations of Trung Thuan hamlet, Nhan Thanh commune, Yen Thanh district).

- To build a cultured environment marked with order and discipline in order to contribute to the renovation process, build the native land with the common aim of “making the people prosperous, the country strong, and society equitable and civilized”. (Regulations of Van Nam village, Khanh Thanh commune, Yen Thanh district).

d/ Method of compilation

There are two main forms:

- After a short introduction about the objective comes immediately the listing of the regulations (as in Hamlet 4, Quynh Loc commune, or Dong Hoa village, Dong Thanh commune, Yen Thanh district).

- Some sets of regulations are divided into chapters and clauses such as in Ngoai village, Nghi Hop commune, Nghi Loc district, of Toan Thang village, Dong Hop commune, Quy Hop district, or Phuong village, Nghia Xuan commune, Quy Hop district...

III. Tenets of present-day regulations

To see the contents of the present-day regulations, let us look into the two following examples:

1. Regulations of Van Nam village, Khanh Thanh commune, Yen Thanh district

The regulations are in two parts:

The first part includes:

a/ General description of the situation including a short history of the village and the present situation.

b/ The necessity to compile a regulation of the new cultured village.

The second part comprises concrete stipulations.

There are six general stipulations concerning the population of the village, the activities in the village, the social organizations, family clans and lines, urging them to unite in building a new and cultured village.

There are seven concrete stipulations:

1. To set up a board to direct the building of a new and cultured village.

2. To provide for  the cultured lifestyle including the safeguard of security and order, monitoring strangers coming to the village, handling of burglary, fires, adultery.

3. To ensure a harmonious family life.

4. Stipulations on education at school.

5. Stipulations on weddings, funerals, death anniversaries, festivities...

6. Stipulations on the protection of crops.

7. Stipulations on the building of cultural infrastructures, the information group, art group and entertainment group in the village.

Each stipulation has several articles.

2. Regulations of Tan Thang village, Dong Hop commune, Quy Hop district

These regulations are arranged in the following chapters:

Chapter I: Building a new cultured village, with 3 articles:

- To live in concord, solidarity and mutual assistance.

- To observe the policies of the Party and the State.

- To observe simplicity in funerals and weddings, to fight against superstition and harmful practices.

Chapter II: Building a cultured way of life, with 3 articles:

- To protect and repair cultural relics and public utility works.

- To promote the fine traditions of the village.

- To uphold solidarity  and  mutual assistance.

Chapter III: Building an orderly and secure life in the village, with 10 articles such as ban on gambling and opium smoking and other drug abuses, ban on theft and burglary, protection of environmental hygiene, protection of the livestock, observance of regulations on the registration of household membership...

Chapter IV: Punishments comprising 5 articles.

For example: gambling and organization of gambling, apart from the punishments prescribed by the administration, the offender is also liable to these additional punishments:

First time: warning, publicization over the loudspeaker;

Second time: a fine of 30kg of paddy and publicization over the loudspeaker;

Third time: a fine of 30kg of paddy and publicization over the loudspeaker.

Other examples may be cited but from the above-mentioned sets of regulations we can see some similarities and differences in the old huong uoc and the new regulations. Here we  try to point out the good points and  the inadequacies of the old and new regulations.

IV. Good points and inadequacies

1. Good points

a/ It can be said that the entire people have warmly welcomed the policy of the Party and the State on making the village regulations. While reports on this question from other provinces are not available, in Nghe An province alone, within only a short time, as many as one hundred sets of draft regulations had been sent to the provincial Culture and Information Service in response to the Resolution of the 5th Plenum of the Party Central Committee, 8th Congress, on formulating and implementing the regulations of the villages, hamlets, population clusters and Circular No. 04/1998/TT-BVHTT of July 11, 1998 of the Ministry of Culture and Information guiding the observance of civilized weddings, funerals and festivities.

b/ This policy has urged the citizens and particularly the grassroots officials to fully reappraise their outlook on their village, hamlet, street quarter not only in the political, economic, educational, security fields, but also on the historical plane, to see how the village has been formed and developed together with  the customs and habits, lifestyle and traditional behavior among the villagers..., this to heighten their method of management and to show their exemplariness in performing their managerial function.

c/ Although many improvements still have to be brought to the compilation of the regulations, the wide response of the population to this undertaking proves that it is an objective necessity. It also shows the need to compile such regulations as to suit the particularities and traditions of each village.

d/ In villages where the regulations have been laid down and implemented, order and security are better preserved and the population more readily and voluntarily discharge their obligations toward the State and the locality. Also they are more open in criticizing the local officials, hence harmony has been step by step restored in the communal life and mutual understanding has been improved between cadres and villagers.

In fact,

- In many villages the main points in the regulations have been broadcast over the local loudspeaker network; or

- Written in big letters on the village’s outer wall or on panels placed at vantage points; or

- Printed in leaflets and distributed to the families.

2. Inadequacies and difficulties

aIn the past, the villagers knew little or nothing of the laws of the Court but knew almost every stipulation of the huong uoc. Today, the regulations, as the concretization of the Constitution and State law in a population community, tend to refer to the same regulations for all villages, hence their generality and lack of persuasion in view of their incompalibility with realities in their village.

b/ Unlike the past when the villages had difficult access to the mass media, today the availability of many means of communication allows the citizens to compare the State laws with the village regulations. So, it is important that the regulations must have their particularities but at the same time must not contradict the State laws. In this sense, the village regulations must be a synthesis of the laws and also a system of  norms of ethics and morality. From the thirty sets of regulations we have collected, we can see clearly their character of customary laws, but not much of their being a system of ethical norms even though they are claimed to be regulations of cultured villages.

c/ As pointed out above, in the past the huong uoc were effected through the village dignitaries who acted as representatives of the grassroots administration of the feudal State. Today the village is no longer the grassroots level of administration and the powers of the Party or administration cannot be compared to those of the village dignitaries. This inevitably leads to difficulties in the enactment of punishments and rewards, especially punishments, such as the banishment of a villager from the village community as prescribed in many ancient huong uoc.

d/ Until now we are accustomed only to the writing of resolutions and directives. In wording, we are accustomed only to exhortations and appeals, in thinking, we are used only to generalities. The same can be observed in the compilation of village regulations that have come to our hand. Not a few are similar to a resolution, others bear the character of many plans. Many regulations are written in the form of slogans. Some are almost the stereotypes of others. Meanwhile, some are too simplistic or go into too many trivial, unimportant details, not to mention some regulations which run against State law such as the regulations of Panat village in Que Phon commune that allow the villagers to leave their dead up to 72 hours in the house whereas the State only allows 24 hours.

e/ Many village regulations have not taken into account the market mechanism. For example, they do not provide for the ban on prostitution, probably on the assumption that there is no prostitution in the rural areas. Likewise, no regulations deal with the penalties against wrong-doing village officials, etc.

In spite of these inadequacies and shortcomings, the village regulations as they have been compiled so far have proved their great superiority over the ancient huong uoc and we strongly believe that this superiority will continue to increase over the years as the regulations will improve as necessitated by realities.- 



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