The generation of soldiers, advisors, politicians, and civilians who participated in Vietnam’s intervention in Cambodia between 1978 and 1989 had diverse, colorful, and powerful experiences. Their impressions and reflections as immortalized in diaries, songs, poems, plays, short stories, and even novels form the core of popular memory of Vietnam’s long involvement in Cambodia, which I term Vietnam’s Cambodian Decade. I argue that all Vietnamese literature on this period exhibits some combination of state propaganda to justify the Vietnamese presence in Cambodia on the one hand, and exoticization of Cambodia and Cambodians on the other. This latter tendency I term “Cao-Mienism,” drawing the connection between Edward W. Said’s critique of Orientalism and the old Vietnamese term for Cambodia, Cao Miên, which carries many outdated connotations of a mystical, uncivilized, violent, and hypersexual other. I divide Vietnamese literature on the Cambodian Decade into four distinct groups, based largely on the chronological order of their publication, but also on the distinct literary characteristics of each group, thereby charting the evolution of Vietnamese views of the Cambodian Decade through the years. My main finding is that Vietnamese literature on the Cambodian Decade started out largely to serve the needs of state propaganda, but has in time shifted decisively to Cao-Mienizing Cambodia. I conclude by warning that both strands of propaganda and Cao-Mienization remain relevant in contemporary Vietnamese literature and can serve to perpetuate and legitimize a hegemonic discourse on Cambodia that is detrimental to bilateral relations.

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