Washington International Law Journal


John Gillespie


Throughout Vietnam's long history, the central elite and peripheral farming communities have been legally and culturally divided. This dichotomy was never as complete as the famous injunction that "the emperor's writ stops at the village gate" infers. Initially, during the period of French colonisation and more recently since the introduction of doi moi (renovation) economic reforms, central authorities have attempted to unify land management with universal normative law. This experiment has stimulated widespread non-compliance with land laws in urban centres; in some areas compliance is a fringe phenomenon. In this divided legal geography, pockets of non-compliance give the appearance of autonomy from state legality—suggesting the existence of plural land law sub-systems. But an analysis of case studies concerning land use right applications, squatting, court decisions and compulsory acquisition reveals complex relationships between land occupiers and the state. A myriad of formal and relational connections blurs the interface between state and society, suggesting that the official and unofficial aspects of land management are best understood as two components of the same system. Urban case studies suggest officials and the public share a common culture that sustains relational networks binding state land management and local land practices. In this relational matrix, the legal pluralistic concept of 'non-state legal sub-systems' is difficult to substantiate. Where relational networks are weak, such as between hill tribes and the central state, non-state legal subsytems continue to flourish.

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