CHINA and Vietnam were the two countries whose people’s struggle to free themselves from neocolonial rule interested me when I was a student activist. China’s struggle first and foremost because I became a member of a party that was partly guided by the thought of Mao Zedong (Maoism) and Vietnam because of its triumph against US imperialism. Thus, I got lost in the worlds of Mao and Lin Biao and of Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap and of the dreams associated with their victories.
Both the triumphs of China and Vietnam against imperialism were led by their communist parties. But the international communist movement is not one united front. Even during the Cold War when the world was divided into the communist and capitalist spheres, the communist parties of China and the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics were riven by a conflict on ideology. China also attempted to invade Vietnam following a border conflict.
Who would have thought that decades after, China and Vietnam would still be at it, this time in the South China Sea? Who would have thought that China, once ruled by foreign imperialist powers then junior imperialist powers, is now casting its moist eye on territories owned not only by Vietnam but also by many other Southeast Asian countries including the Philippines? A country whose territory was once grabbed is now grabbing territories?
How ironic. The once “sleeping dragon” that is China is shaping itself into a likeness of its conquerors while Vietnam, whose epic war against US imperialism is a stuff of legends, is now seeking the help of the US in its territorial dispute against China. In the battle for control of territories in the South China Sea, it is puny Vietnam that is putting the best fight, which is not surprising considering its history. By the way, don’t forget that, like in China, a communist party is leading Vietnam.
Which makes Vietnam formidable politically when compared to other claimants of South China Sea territories like the Philippines, whose elections China could influence. Proof of that is President Duterte, who obviously owes part of his electoral win in 2016 to China’s support. That country is now reaping what it had sown with a Philippine leadership that has become subservient to it.
Which brings me back to history. It was only after I wrote the History of Tudela, the birthplace of my father in the Camotes group of islands, that I realized that I missed badly on my true calling. In another life, I think I should be a historian. There is something in history that excites me no end. My love for history is actually second only to creative writing, but writing novels, I feel, is more difficult than digging for information, which could bring me to twists and turns that, to use a cliche, are stranger than fiction.
When I went to the village of Maktang in Poro town in Camotes to join a group of anthropologists digging for more information on the claim that the battle between Lapu-Lapu and Magellan happened there, my mind ran wild. On the shore I imagined a ship and people trading goods. And I ended up having a better appreciation of my ancestors.