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Photography in Southeast Asia III: Nguyễn ThếSơn (Hanoi)
Mountain Connecting Mountain, River Connecting River (2012 / 2019)

Vietnam—China, mountain connecting mountain, river connecting river, together fronting the East Sea, our friendship is like the morning sun. Drinking from the same river, we look at one another, day and night, in the early morning, together we listen to the rooster sing. Ah, we share the same ideals, our hearts remain connected, and the path of victory is lined with red flags flying. Ah, together we proclaim, long live, Ho Chi Minh—Mao Zedong.

This is an iconic song that symbolised the warm relationship that Vietnam and China enjoyed during the 1960s. At that time, the song would often be heard on public radio and cultural performances. There were many literary and artistic works made in the same spirit, often describing the relationship between the two countries with the adage of “lips opened, teeth gets cold”. In the North, students were required to memorise and sing this song before the start of school.

However, the fate of the song changed with the shift in international relations. With the surfacing of the conflict between Soviet Union and China in the late 1960s, Vietnam was forced to take sides. As Vietnam did not want to go against the Soviet Union, her relationship with China began to deteriorate. It culminated in the border war between China and Vietnam, which broke out in 1979. It was only in 1990 when the last army unit withdrew back to China. In that period, cultural works such as Mountain Connecting Mountain, River Connecting River no longer fitted with the realities. Instead, songs, poems, films and novels condemning Chinese aggression while mobilising the Vietnamese youths to join the national defence gained wide circulation.

In the late 1980s, global politics shifted again with the end of cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Having lost its fulcrum, Vietnam started normalising her relationship with China. After 1992, cultural works that were popular during the Vietnam-China conflict no longer fitted with the times. To cement her relationship with China, Vietnamese leaders started emphasising the Motto of 16 Golden Words and the Spirit of Four Goodness. Songs such as Mountain Connecting Mountain, River Connecting River began circulating, once again, in the mass media.

In 2012, I travelled from Hanoi to Lao Cai, following the Red River to the border regions of both countries. I wanted to see how the image of the river, which connects the fate of both countries, as the song proclaimed, has changed over the last 50 years. Selecting six images from the trip, I made a set of black-and-white photographs to compare the current realities and the imageries conjured in the song. The photographs are paired with six lacquer panels, which feature found images downloaded from the Internet worlds of both countries and the name of the song inscribed in calligraphy. The installation is like an open couplet, inviting viewers to re-examine the ambiguous and tangible relationship, its past and present, between Vietnam and China.

Mountain Connecting Mountain, River Connecting River- lumenvisum Hong Kong 2019
Mountain Connecting Mountain, River Connecting River- lumenvisum Hong Kong 2019
Mountain Connecting Mountain, River Connecting River- lumenvisum Hong Kong 2019
Mountain Connecting Mountain, River Connecting River- lumenvisum Hong Kong 2019
Mountain Connecting Mountain, River Connecting River- lumenvisum Hong Kong 2019
Mountain Connecting Mountain, River Connecting River- lumenvisum Hong Kong 2019
Mountain Connecting Mountain, River Connecting River- lumenvisum Hong Kong 2019
Mountain Connecting Mountain, River Connecting River- lumenvisum Hong Kong 2019

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