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Tuesday, December 1, 2020

New “huong uoc” or new rural conventions

Updated: 10:44’ - 01/04/2011

>>From village codes to regulations in present-day society

To Dong Hai

Realities of the social life in Vietnam have shown that “huong uoc” has sustained through time and proved its potential vitality in the Vietnamese society in the past, at present and in the future. Therefore, the demand to formulate a new form of “huong uoc,” or more exactly a form of new rural conventions, has become stronger and stronger.

For this reason, the Vietnamese Party and State has, since the early ‘90s, successively adopted various resolutions and policies to encourage the elaboration of new “huong uoc” on the basis of bringing into full play the positive elements of the ancient “huong uoc” in order to better contribute, together with the State laws, to the management of the social life in villages hamlets and communes.

The fifth plenum of the VIIth Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam, held in June 1993, passed a resolution on rural socio-economic stability and development, which stated among other things: “To encourage the elaboration and implementation of “huong uoc,” as well as regulations on civilized lifestyle in villages, hamlets and communes.”

Later, new huong uoc’s role in building a self-governed lifestyle and cultural life in population units (villages, hamlets) was further confirmed at the VIIIth national Party congress, thus having contributed to the materialization of the mechanism of people’s mastery and the renewal of the political system in Vietnam.

On June 19,1998, the Prime Minister issued Directive No. 24/1998/ CT-TTg on the elaboration and implementation of huong uoc in villages, hamlets and communes.

So, the “huong uoc” elaboration has been institutionalized through the State’s documents, and “huong uoc” has been officially recognized by the State as an effective instrument contributing to the management of village society and giving rise to positive elements in rural construction and development.

Unlike the ancient “huong uoc,” which were drawn up by a local mandarin or scholar, agreed upon by people and signed by village officials, new “huong uoc” are often compiled by the caucus commissions of villages, hamlets, street quarters, population groups or by the Fatherland Front Committees of villages; commented by the Cultural Committees of communes, mass organizations in villages and hamlets such as Fatherland Front Committees, War Veterans’ Associations, Women’s Union, Youth Union; discussed and unanimously adopted by the local people. The elaboration of new “huong uoc” receives close direction by the grassroots Party cells. When finalized, the written “huong uoc” are approved by the commune/district People’s Committees.

It can be realized through this that new “huong uoc” are worked out in a fairly democratic process with people from all walks of life and many mass organizations contributing their opinions and the administration of commune or district level approving them, thus creating legal foundations for new “huong uoc.”

New “huong uoc” cover the following issues:

- The protection of the socialist regime, the laboring people’s mastery, the legitimate interests of citizens and the social order and security in villages, hamlets and communes; the fight against acts of committing crimes or running counter to laws; the education of people in the sense of law observance; the prevention and combat of all manifestations of law violations.

- The inheritance of fine customs and practices as well as civilized lifestyle, promoting them in the current new cultural life so as to foster the mutual love and assistance among family members, villagers.

- The creation of a healthy cultural environment and building of a discipline- and order- governed society with a view to successfully carrying out the cause of renewal, national construction and defense for the objective of a rich people, a strong country and an equal and civilized society.

Most of contents of new “huong uoc” are covered by sub-law documents, aiming to bring into full play the fine traditions of ancient villages, preserve fine customs and practices, build new cultured villages, maintain political security and stability as well as social order and safety, develop economy and step up cultural activities within the population community in each locality with its own identity in the common cause of national development.

A new “huong uoc” often comprises the following principal parts:

Part One: General characteristics of the locality, outlining the historical process of formation and development of the village, the current general situation of the village and raising the question of formation of the convention of new cultured village (or population quarter).

Part Two: Containing two sections:

- The general provisions which include articles on village members, activities, social organizations, descents, families as well as the general provisions on code of conduct among villagers, determination and willingness to build a new cultured village.

- The specific provisions which cover the organization of the Steering Board for implementation of the Convention, the regulations on cultured lifestyle, social order and security, the management of outsiders, patrol against burglaries, fires, social evils..., the regulations on code of conduct in families, clans, villages, the regulations on schooling, weddings, funerals, rituals, festivities, the regulations on agricultural production, land protection, irrigation and drainage, on building cultural infrastructure, the setting up of information teams, art troupes, entertainment and recreation activities in village.

 New “huong uoc”  will be signed by the compilers, all villagers or representatives of various organizations and branches, committing to voluntarily implement these conventions. Finally, they bear the signatures and stamps of the representatives of the local administrations approving them.

II. Bringing into full play the values of “huong uoc” in the current process of legal reform and rural democratization in Vietnam  

The relationship between the State laws and “huong uoc” in the history of Vietnam’s legal culture shows that despite all limitations, basically the State laws have been associated with the village rules, governing the village rules on the one hand and also being governed by the latter on the other hand. Such interaction between the State laws and “huong uoc” have created the Vietnamese identity of legal culture. Therefore, it would be one-sided and unjust to hold that in the light of vigorous changes in all aspects of the rural life in Vietnam, “huong uoc” is nothing but a story of the past. Yet, on contrary, in spite of historical ups and downs, the positive values of ancient “huong uoc” remain to be the continuous underground sources of national culture, though they once seemed to be forgotten. As a result, recently “huong uoc” have staged a spectacular comeback in many localities, many villages.
Ancient “huong uoc” played a particularly important role in the village life in Vietnam, which can be outlined in the following aspects:

- They contributed to organizing and managing various aspects of the village life, maintaining order and discipline, creating a stable and safe living environment for the whole village community.

- They helped nurture and foster sense of community, indomitable spirit, autonomy and self-reliance for each member and the entire village community.

- They helped establish a democratic life, associating human beings with nature, individuals with community.

- They contributed to maintaining and developing the fine customs and cultural traditions of the community, consolidating the moral and humanitarian values.

- They helped consolidate and enhance solidarity, mutual assistance and support in each family, each family line and the entire community.

- They contributed to building up the sense of village community, associating it with the sense of nation.
With a view to “decanting troubled water for clean one”, the affirmed positive values of “huong uoc” should be assimilated while their limitations and negative aspects should be rectified and eliminated.

The basic thing in the movement for elaboration of new “huong uoc” is not merely to continue promoting the positive values of ancient “huong uoc” but more importantly to place the objectives and contents of new “huong uoc” in their organic relations to the tasks of the current legal reform and rural democratization in Vietnam. For its part, the process of legal reform and rural democratization should be placed in its relations with the process of elaborating and implementing new “huong uoc” in Vietnamese villages. Consequently, the question of relationship between the State laws and “huong uoc” is being raised to a higher level of perception and a higher level of development.
In this sense, the following elements should be taken into account in the process of legal reform in Vietnam:

1. The legal reform, particularly the branches of law closely related to rural development, should take into consideration the diversity, complexity and paradox of the Vietnamese countryside. It can be realized that the present-day Vietnamese countryside represents a fairly polyhedral picture. The economic, social, cultural and psychological characteristics of each region, each zone, each locality have helped villages and communes to get out of their monotony once established under the mechanism of centralized and State-subsidized economy and seek their own paths of development. The current situation of the rural society reflects a double-faced trend: The rural life is currently creating conditions for the resurrection of the small-scale agricultural economy, the village psychology as well as the ancient institutions which have died out or been done away with. At the same time it also accelerates dismantling the small-scale agricultural economy by taking up the development of the commodity economy, stepping up the rural industrialization and modernization. Such rural dilemma demands that the legal reform must create a new legal environment in order to create premises for the “revitalization” of the time-tested traditional values of “huong uoc” and the abolition of the negative aspects, and at the same time lay foundation for the Vietnamese countryside to embark into a new civilized and modern socio-economic mechanism. On the basis of that newly-created legal environment, the Vietnamese countryside shall be built up with a unified and diversified structure of village.   

2. All subjects governed by law shall be re-determined in various aspects of the political, economic and social life in each village. On the basis of fully re-evaluating all social relations which have been directly regulated by the State laws over the past several decades, the subjects of direct law regulation must be re-classified and narrowed. More concretely, the State laws should regulate the fundamental social relations, which are universal and typical for  the entire political, social and economic life in villages of all types. Those relations which are not typical for all villages and demonstrate the characteristics of each type of community may be left to be governed by other social norms, including village rules and “huong uoc.” This means that the modes and forms of regulating the social relations arising in the village life, which recognize “huong uoc” and their traditional cultural values as an important source of regulation of the village relations. So, the State laws must perform the regulation at two levels: the direct regulation of fundamental and universal social relations arising in various aspects of the political and economic life at the grassroots level; and the indirect regulation via “huong uoc.” In the second level of regulation, the State laws must penetrate into the village life through normative provisions of “huong uoc.”

3. Once “huong uoc” are recognized as a source of regulation for a number of social relations in the village life, the State laws must create space for such regulation. The legal basis of this space is the very recognition of the self-governance right of the village community. Ancient “huong uoc” could play a big role in consolidating and preserving the key socio-cultural values of villages just because they had been formulated on a broad basis of the villages’ self-governance regime. Without such regime, “huong uoc” have no ground to exist. Therefore, recognizing and prescribing the villages’ self-governance regime become conditions decisive to the revitalization of “huong uoc” in its positive meaning. Of course, the determination of the nature, extent and scope of the self-governance right for the grassroots units is an uphill task. The complexity and difficulty in building up a self-governance regime are associated to a number of questions, which have been left unanswered so far. Such questions include:
The self-governance is closely associated to the ancient village structure which is characterized by family-line linkage, customs, practices, religious beliefs, lifestyle and spiritual world. But today villages have experienced numerous changes and have basically lost their ancient linking elements. In many localities, the villages now are purely administrative units and places of residence.

The ancient villages were seen from the perspective of “huong uoc” as independent administrative units closely related to the “commune” concept. Yet, the present-day villages are no longer independent administrative units and closely related to the concept of “hamlet” or village. So, a village constitutes a part of a commune and a commune has many villages. This has made more and more elements of ancient villages fade away. Meanwhile, from the legal point of view, communes but not villages are grassroots units. So, the unanswered question is whether the self-governance is determined for the communes or the villages.

Self-governance, in a traditional meaning of “village democracy,” is often associated with two basic institutions: the bureaucratic institutions and the non-bureaucratic institutions. Over the past decades, the village institutions in Vietnam have basically been bureaucratized. Apart from the village administrations, political and social organizations, including those organized in hamlets have been organized or supported in all aspects of their operations by the State. Therefore, the organizations and operations of these institutions are characterized by the State powers though to different extents while they should have really become the instruments of self-governance of  communal structures and fully non-bureaucratic.

4. In their relations with the country-side, the legal reforms create basic changes in the organizational structure of institutions as well as in the administrative relationship at the grassroots units. First of all, a new mechanism as part of the power system shall be built up and put into operation at the commune level. The commune administration apparatus should be organized along the direction of combining the State power with the self-governance right of the population community in the locality. The Resolution of the fourth plenum of the IXth Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam set forth fundamental orientations and solutions to the further consolidation of the grassroots administrations. These have constituted important political bases for the renovation of laws governing the power structure at the grassroots level. Therefore, a law governing the commune level should be quickly studied and elaborated in order to create a new apparatus characterized by both the public powers and the self-governance at the commune level.

From another aspect, there must be a thorough perception of the relationship between the commune level and the hamlet level. The current size of a commune no longer corresponds to a traditional village, the nature and requirements of the current development. In the countryside, it may be utopian to split up a commune into many villages; so, the restoration of hamlets emerges as a proper solution. However, the emergence of the position of hamlet chief is changing the administrative relations in communes. Communes are being in the danger of becoming an intermediate level while hamlets are gradually becoming the administrative units.

Consequently, there should be a clear-cut attitude in perception and legislation that the hamlet is a form of communal self-governance and a starting point for the formulation of “huong uoc” with a view to maintaining and bringing into full play the traditional values confirmed and tested in the ancient “huong uoc.” The organizational structure and institutions in hamlets must be truly non-bureaucratic in order to really become forms of rallying community, preserving and bringing into full play the communal identity as our forefathers had done in the ancient villages.

5. The grassroots democracy regulation is currently implemented in Vietnamese villages and communes, thus creating important steps of development in the process of rural democratization. Under the guiding principle that the people are aware of, the people discuss, the people do and the people inspect matters, the Government decree on the grassroots democracy regulation has constituted an important legal basis for the people to exercise their democratic rights. The results of implementing the democratic mechanism in villages and communes over the recent years have revealed positive changes in the democratic life therein. However, the democracy regulation with the provisions on people’s awareness, people’s discussion, people’s performance and people’s inspection has just stopped short at general provisions which are universal for all grassroots units. Therefore, only if the provisions in the democracy regulation are penetrated into the conventions of hamlets and embodied in specific provisions to suit the characteristics of each hamlet, can they bring into full play their significance and role. It should be realized that the grassroots democracy regulation in its capacity as a legal document which is regulating the relationship between the public powers and the public in the grassroots locality, not regulating the relationship between the public and the public in the villages’ self-governance system like “huong uoc.” The democratic life at the hamlet level would be rigid and formal if the hamlet activities are governed only by the democracy regulation, which, therefore, must be embodied in the provisions of “huong uoc.”

6. “Huong uoc” are being drafted and implemented under different names in various rural areas in Vietnam. It is no longer appropriate to debate on whether “huong uoc” are necessary or not as “huong uoc” and their existence have become a matter of fact. The question which requires further thinking in order to better promote the regulating efficiency of laws and the regulation of “huong uoc” too is the relationship between the State laws and “huong uoc” in term of the subjects of regulation, the scope and extent of regulation and particularly the contents of regulation.

As analyzed in Part I above, such relationship reveals that the uniformity and contradiction between the State laws and “huong uoc” were inevitable in the former societies where the State laws and “huong uoc” representated different forces with conflicting interests in a sense that the State laws often expressed and protected the interests of the rulers while the village rules basically expressed the interests and demands of the ruled. But in our regime, the State is of the people, by the people and for the people; hence the State laws are of the people and serve the people’s interests. Therefore, there have been no reasons for the State laws and “huong uoc” to contradict each other. They are unified for a common objective of promoting to the fullest democracy of the people through various forms and means of regulation.

For that reason, the process of renovating the legislation governing the countryside should be facilitated in order to clear the way for the traditional values of legal culture, which was forged from the forefather’s cultural heritage to be brought into full play in the new “huong uoc.” The formulation and implementation of new “huong uoc” in Vietnamese villages must contribute to supplementing and elaborating laws, transforming the letters and spirit of State laws into the particular circumstances and conditions of each hamlet, each village or each commune.
It is the uniformity between the State laws and the new “huong uoc” that constitutes the condition for a broader process of democratization characterized by the time’s modernity and the national cultural identity in Vietnam’s rural areas nowadays.-


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