China Beach, overlooking Monkey Mountain and the South China Sea
Every time Vietnam has a new spat with China, whether it’s ‘illegal’ Chinese miners digging up bauxite in the Central Highlands, another Vietnamese fishing boat getting bitch-slapped in the South Chinese Sea, or Hanoi-sponsored stories of tricksy little Chinese hobbitses selling poison apples and bags of false gold, the Vietnamese public (at the gleeful prodding of Hanoi), goes around trying to rid themselves of all reminders of their wicked neighbour to the north (ignoring the fact that much of their national religion, language, food, music and art derives directly from China, and that ethnic Vietnamese themselves were once one of many southern-Chinese hill tribes).
One of the most obnoxious thorns that the Vietnamese never seem to be able to rid themselves of is ‘China Beach’ in Danang.
Nobody seems to know exactly when and why the name came about. Vietnamese insist the correct name is ‘Non Nuoc.’ US servicemen once based in Danang told me that the name ‘China Beach’ was in use before their arrival. I myself have looked at dozens of old maps, and while every beach to the north or south of Danang seems to have a designation, this glorious beach in Danang is the only one who’s name does not appear on any map.
The government has tried everything to uproot the scourge of China’s name on the beach, from various threats to fines to hauling local business owners in for questioning if they dare to hang a sign labelled ‘China Beach.’
Yet, due perhaps to the popularity of the old TV show by the same name, the desire of local tourism operators to latch onto that valuable name recognition, and pesky guidebook writers, like me, who make sure to drop that little name in absolutely everything they write, the government just can’t seem to wipe ‘China’ off the map.
I can hardly blame the government for throwing its hissy fit. It was kind of nasty of China to try to sell Vietnamese territory to oil companies this week. And of course Vietnam isn’t the only one to throw a temper tantrum when other countries don’t play fair. Much like Vietnam, we in the US decided to rename ‘French Fries’ to ‘Freedom Fries’ about 10 years ago when France wasn’t very supportive of our military plans.
I was however, struck by a bit of hypocrisy from Thanh Nien Newspaper in a story today, where they proclaimed:
“Beautiful beaches in the central city of Da Nang are being officially called by a name nonsensically imposed on us by US soldiers who invaded our country.
What’s worse, the misnomer makes it seem as if this beautiful coastline isn’t even ours: China Beach.”
Particularly ironic was the fact that the photo they used wasn’t even China Beach—it looks like its actually a stretch to the north near Hai Van Pass.
A bit of a local secret, a shrine sits at the ruins of Thap Lieu Cuc (seen here only as shadows behind and to the right, in the trees), an ancient Cham temple. The temple is located not far behind the Royal Citadel in Hue, but few know of its existence. Perhaps this is because it is evidence supporting the likelihood that Hue's Citadel was built upon a Cham city.
You see, Vietnamese conveniently forget a little history. A certain kingdom by the name of Champa has been occupied by a certain foreign country by the name of Vietnam, which has slowly devoured it under an occupation of 500-1000 years. The Cham people, who have their own distinct language, have had to live under not just one imposed beach name, but hundreds, perhaps thousands, of place names imposed on them by their Vietnamese occupiers.
Particularly in the provinces of Dong Nai, Binh Thuan, Ninh Thuan and Khanh Hoa (the provinces of Panduranga and Kathura in the Cham language), the Cham people still actively use the original Cham names for their cities, villages, rivers, mountains and beaches.
So Vietnam, I have some sympathy for your ‘China Beach thing,’ but when you are ready to re-assign the original and correct name of ‘Indrapura’ to the very recent ‘Danang,’ maybe I’ll be more ready to listen to your self-interested fussing.
At least be glad that there isn't a 'Saigon Beach.' It would have been a shame if evil Communist invaders from the north came down and re-named that after themselves too.