Though it has gone down the path of Chinese-style market reform and is no longer communist in anything but name, Vietnam’s Communist Party hasn’t done much to update its image – as reflected in the cartoony, socialist-realist propaganda posters of soldiers, workers, and happy, smiling students seen across the country.
Ho Chi Minh’s image is everywhere – far more so than Mao’s in China. His portrait hangs on the walls of police stations, he’s on every bank note, and on posters and billboards on almost every street. Ho Chi Minh portraits are even available to buy in supermarkets.
Interestingly, there are not many statues of him – certainly not as many as Mao in China, or Kim Il Sung in North Korea. I wonder if this is because of his body shape. Mao and Kim were both round-faced and rotund (even during famine). Ho Chi Minh was very lean with long, skinny arms and legs and had a wispy beard that must be hard to sculpt accurately.
There are also public information posters and billboards throughout the country promoting good health and discouraging various criminal activities.
This poster, seen in Tay Ninh, is my favourite. What does it mean? Communist ghosts will stop werewolves from groping your breasts?
Anti-drugs posters are common:
The man on the left has been indulging in heroin and ‘mai dam’ – prostitutes. This was the first word of Vietnamese I learnt thanks to an exhibition called ‘Pain and Hope: 20 Years of HIV/AIDS in Vietnam’ at the Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi. I’d already noticed HIV/AIDS prevention posters on the journey to Hanoi and in the city itself – and I’ve continued to see them throughout the country.
The exhibition was surprisingly critical of the government’s past response to sufferers of the disease. AIDS awareness posters of the early 90s (like the two below) demonised those infected and, the exhibition said, led to increased isolation, ostracism and panic.
These posters also illustrate the decline of French influence – the older ones use the French acronym SIDA, while more recent ones use the English AIDS.
Though the exhibition focused on several high-risk groups – sex workers and their customers, intravenous drug users – there was not a single mention of gay men. Homosexuality, I guess, is so taboo that it can’t be mentioned even in the least flattering of circumstances. Hopefully this is not reflected in public health policies and HIV/AIDS education.