Without firing a shot, the communist leadership managed to achieve what a generation of war had not: the flight of discontents; more than a million Vietnamese left their homeland in three waves between 1975 and 1989. Never before in any country had so many people fled peace. Among those leaving were Vietnam’s best and brightest—the writers and scholars and statesmen and economists and merchants, the very people Hanoi desperately needed to build a new society incorporating all Vietnamese. The exodus included a half-million people of Chinese origin—coal miners from Qiiang Ninh, fishermen from the Gulf of Tonkin, pottery workers from Mong Cay, merchants from Cholon. Many of their families had lived in Vietnam for generations.
“These Chinese hegemonists and expansionists have always been our enemies,” Le Duan said. “I have known that ever since Nixon went to Peking in 1971. . . . We have to be on our guard and watch out. The Chi¬nese have been our enemies and will remain so for hundreds of years to come.”
In Cholon, Saigon’s prosperous Chinese quarter, truckloads of soldiers and volunteers wearing red armbands descended on the maze of teeming, narrow streets to inventory private property—everything from gold watches to factory machinery—that was to be turned over to the state in the name of destroying free enterprise. Within days the property was confiscated and South Vietnam’s currency was abolished. Overnight mil¬lionaires became paupers.
“They took everything but who knows what happened to it,” a gar¬ment maker in Cholon told me. With turning a profit suddenly illegal, he survived the 1970s by hiding the spools of thread he produced by candle¬light under his shirt and asking friends in the market to trade them for food.
The newspapers, brothels, and restaurants in Saigon closed. The Con¬tinental Hotel, on whose veranda Graham Greene, Colonel Pham Xuan An, and coundess writers, diplomats, and spies had gathered to exchange information, was renamed the Hotel of the General Uprising. Writers, poets, and intellectuals who had not fled in the first exodus were scooped up and dispatched to camps to learn the language of Marxism. One of them was Cuong, the photographer who had wanted to join in rebuilding Vietnam. His crime: He had worked for an American wire service. Trinh Cong Son, whose antiwar songs had been as popular in the North as in the South, was sent off to a camp near his hometown of Hue to grow sweet potatoes and cassava. His crime was speaking of the conflict as a civil war. Library shelves were emptied, and more than 100 authors and nearly 1,000 specific titles, including Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, were banned. To fill the cultural void, Hanoi sent 170,000 books to the South—mostly about Marx, Lenin, Engels, and the ac¬complishments of communism—and 450,000 pictures, almost all of them of Ho Chi Minh. The newspapers disappeared, then the book¬stores closed. At the banks, safety deposit boxes were sealed, accounts frozen. The price of rice soared from thirty cents a pound to nearly $2. Westerns and martial-arts action pictures were replaced by films about revolutionary heroes. Audiences were forbidden from leaving the the¬ater before the end of the shows.
“The Communist Party of Vietnam … armed with Marxism-Lenin¬ism, is the only force leading the state and society, and the main factor determining the success of the Vietnamese revolution,” read the constitu¬tion drafted for the newly united country, which today is known as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
As if there weren’t enough problems at home, Vietnam twice went to war within four years of Saigon’s fall. Provoked by cross-border attacks, Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1978 and overthrew Pol Pot’s murderous Khmer Rouge regime. Vietnam stayed on in Cambodia for eleven years as an occupying power. China decided to teach Vietnam a lesson for in¬vading its Cambodian ally and sent 600,000 troops south. China man¬aged to penetrate only twenty miles into Vietnam and was forced to withdraw after seventeen days, having lost 20,000 dead. By 1980, Viet¬nam’s thuggish leaders had turned the country into an outcast. It was in¬ternationally isolated, increasingly poor, gripped by near famine, as dispirited and desperate in the North as it was in the South. The Dark Years had arrived.
“My life seems little different from that of a sampan pushed upstream towards the past,” Bao Ninh wrote. “The future lied to us, there long ago in the past. There is no new life, no new era, nor is it hope for a beautiful future that now drives me on, but rather the opposite. The hope is con¬tained in the beautiful prewar past.”

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