Sex in the City: The Descent from Human to Animal in Two Vietnamese Classics of Urban Reportage

  • Richard Quang-Anh Tran (Author)


This article examines the relationship between urban space, normative sexuality and animal metaphors in two Vietnamese classics of modern reportage, namely Tam Lang’s “I Pulled a Rickshaw” (1932) and Vu Trong Phung’s “Household Servants” (1936). Both reportages are set in colonial Hanoi, and both provide a glimpse of the explosive growth of urban space and its perceived effects on the city’s inhabitants. While scholars examining early twentieth-century Vietnamese urban reportages have tended to focus on their historical and ethnographic value, the article pays special attention to a key dimension that defines the genre: their figurative lan-guage. The article demonstrates that the distinction between human and animal is intertwined with each author’s critique of colonial modernity. For both Lang and Phung, urban space repre-sents a postlapsarian descent of the human to the animal level. Far from embodying liberation, urban space metaphorically figures as a disruption of certain ideals of human sociality founded on a moral regime, whereby the category of the “human” is distinguished from the animal by norms of self-regulation and self-moderation. Insofar as it is founded on such a regime, norma-tive sexuality and urban space embody antinomies of each other.


Hanoi, Tam Lang, Vu Trong Phung, reportage, moral regime, sexuality, urban space