NEWS

Secrets beneath the soil

Mount talk explores shadow economy of Vietnamese coal mines circa 1890-1945
October 09, 2018

Thuy Linh Nguyen, Mount associate professor of History, presented “Dynamite, Opium and a Transnational Shadow Economy at Vietnamese Coal Mines (1890-1945)” on Thursday, October 4 at the college.

Thuy Linh Nguyen, Mount associate professor of History, presented “Dynamite, Opium and a Transnational Shadow Economy at Vietnamese Coal Mines (1890-1945)” on Thursday, October 4 at the college.

 

According to Thuy Linh Nguyen, Mount Saint Mary College associate professor of History, the coal mines of Vietnam were once the epicenter of an explosive secret.  

In her recent presentation to the college, “Dynamite, Opium and a Transnational Shadow Economy at Vietnamese Coal Mines (1890-1945),” Nguyen revealed that coal mining in the northern part of the country fueled about five decades of clandestine economic activities in communities across the Chinese-Vietnamese borderland.

Nguyen’s presentation explored these thriving and complex illicit businesses, which involved the trafficking of explosives and opium via coal mines. 

During the French colonial period (1858-1954), Vietnam became one of the world’s leading coal exporters. As a result, the rise of the coal mining industry in Vietnam has often been linked to the French economic presence, she said. But beyond the confines of modern mining enterprises, the transnational shadow economy boomed, led by Vietnamese mine workers, Chinese opium syndicates, and their secret trading networks. 

This blended history of coal mining, crime, and labor provides a new perspective in understanding the coal industry, the importance of inter-Asian networks, and the fluidity of a mining frontier, Nguyen explained. 

The presentation was part of Nguyen’s current book project on the history of coal mining in French colonial Vietnam. Originally from Vietnam, Nguyen completed her doctoral studies on Asian history at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests are modern Vietnam, East Asian transnationalism, and the history of European imperialism.

Her talk was part of this semester’s Investigating Research on Campus (iROC) series. The goal of the college’s iROC is to “provide a forum for Mount faculty, staff, and students to showcase their research endeavors with both Mount Saint Mary College and the local community in a manner easily understood by attendees,” explained series coordinators Evan Merkhofer, assistant professor of biology, and Jennifer Park, assistant librarian for access and outreach services. Presentations include research proposals, initial data collection, and completed research projects.

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