Stanford University professor and Pulitzer-Winner Joel Brinkley Accused Of Xenophobia and Anti-Vietnamese

It is ironic fate that Stanford University professor and Pulitzer-winning journalist Joel Brinkley will be always remembered as “known for his xenophobic, anti-Vietnamese views” and his writings “did not meet our journalistic standards.”

Through his recent trip of 10 days to Vietnam, he put a hat of a journalist, historian, sociologist, and  anthropologist when penned that Vietnamese nation is more aggressive than its neighbors due to its unique appetite for wild and domesticated animals. I do not fault him for making a theory of the association between eating meat and aggressivity. He is entitled to his own opinion and that theory can be studied or explored by other sociologists or anthropologists. image

After the outrage among Vietnamese descents and other ethnics around the world caused by his article “Despite increasing prosperity, Vietnam’s appetites remain unique,” he admitted that he “badly phrased … part about meat and aggression” and “I would call the Vietnamese more robust than their neighbors.”image

There have been two online petitions to Standford University: Remove Joel Brinkley, No Place For Racism by Mark Nelson and Professor Joel Brinkley – Stanford University: Resign from teaching by Jason Nguyen. Each has collected about 1,860 and 1,127 signatures, respectively.

Professor Joel Brinkley reached the peak of his journalist career at age 28 when he won Pulitzer award in 1980 for his report the genocide in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouges. He has since enjoyed a very lucrative and respectable career of columnist and writer. Calling someone racist is a very harsh critic that should not be used  frivolously.

His article has caused online uproar that he himself admits that he has never seen it in his career. There have been several articles and thousands comments condemning his article.

Besides his theory of association of eating meat and aggressitivity is worth to debate, all other points he made were historically and factually wrong, and prejudicial.

Eating dogs or wild animals has been parts of most ancient civilizations and most parts of the world including Europe and America as “dog meat has also been used as survival food in times of war and/or other hardships.”

His lack of knowledge or refusal to fact-checking about the current dog meat consumption still persist in China, Korea and Vietnam, shows his contempt for his readers or his prejudice against Vietnamese people. If dog consumption is still a common practice in China, the most populous in the world, 1.3 billion people versus 90 million Vietnamese, the title of the article “Vietnam’s appetites remain unique” shows his prejudice against Vietnamese.

Let’s me reassure the readers that dog meat consumption is a dying breed. My understanding that only a few enjoy eating dog meat with drinking parties. Personally, I have only eaten porc, beef, chicken, ducks, turkeys, fish, and sea foods, it give me goose bumps thinking of eating dog, rat, rabbit, deer, and snake meats. Mr. Brinkley seems to forget that Vietnamese culture is deeply influenced by Buddhism, which preaches pacifism and vegetarian consumption, and specifically forbids dog meat consumption. Mr. Brinkley has mistakenly prided himself that he could understand a culture in such a short time over 10 days span.

In the article’s paragraph:”Vietnam has always been an aggressive country. It has fought 17 wars with China since winning independence more than 1,000 years ago and has invaded Cambodia numerous times, most recently in 1979. Meantime, the nations to its west have largely been passive in recent centuries.”, he made it sounds like Vietnamese love to fight against the giant neighbor China. Vietnam has endured to repell 17 times of Chinese invasions for the past 1,000 years when it regained its independence in 939. Sadly, Vietnamese people have known more wars than peace time in their history. Therefore, they are more likely peace-loving people rather than being aggressive.

Mr. Brinkley is factually wrong again that Vietnam was born of China. Vietnamese civilization is 4,000 year-old. Vietnam was colonized by China for a thousand years and it lost northern parts, which are currently Guangdong and Guangzhou, provinces of China. If Vietnam had been an aggressive country, it would have invaded and ruled China as the Mongols and Manchus did. Vietnam was among a few countries that defeated twice the Mongols while they conquered the world from China to Eastern Europe. Prince  Lý Long Tường and his followers sought asylum in Korea and helped Koreans to defeat Mongols. Defeating the Mongols and the Manchus proves that Vietnam was capable of conquering and could have conquered China in those 17 Chinese invasions. This shows that Vietnamese are peace-loving and respect the Giant neighbor China.

Vietnamese did expand southward by conquering the Cham Kingdom. It was initially accomplished through marriages between Vietnamese princesses and Kings of Cham, territorial concessions were given to Vietnam. Later, the Nguyen Lords, considered as rogue lords by the official and nominal kings of Vietnam, had to expand southward for their own survival.  There is a big difference between the state’s expansionist policy and individual pioneers that conquered the Cham Kingdom.

In regards to the Khmer empire, which was on the decline or even on the free fall in the 18th century, Cambodia was torn between Siam (Thailand) and the Nguyen Lords. Finally, one of the Nguyen Lords’ descendent, Nguyen Anh, was able to conquer Vietnam and reunite North and South Vietnam into an empire of the last Nguyen dynasty. At the peak of the Nguyen dynasty, the Nguyen’s empire was larger than the current Vietnam because 30% of the current Cambodia was part of Vietnam. Siam was also involved in conquering a declining Cambodia. In 1979, Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia helped to stop the most gruesome genocide against its own people.

Vietnam's GDP per capita is barely better than Laos, Cambodia and Burma, and largerly lower than the rest of ASEAN countries.

Vietnam’s GDP per capita is barely better than Laos, Cambodia and Burma, and largerly lower than the rest of ASEAN countries.

Again, Mr. Brinkley is factually wrong about GDP per capita, which is only estimated to be around $ 1,500, which represents only one fourth of Thai’s. Mr. Brinkley may have been confused between GDP (Gross domestic product) and PPP (Purchasing Power Parity).

The above graph shows that Vietnam is still a very poor country compared to its neighbors. Who would most benefit from illegal poaching of wild animals? Usually, Not the poachers themselves, but the traffickers and the wealthy foreigner buyers.

In conclusion, the question is whether Mr. Brinkley happened to use poor choice of words or he intentionally distorted the image of Vietnam and its people as aggressive? He corrected he would replace the word “aggressive” with “robust”. It is again not factually correct, Vietnamese are far from being robust according to statistics of average human height or male height. Vietnamese men’s average height is 162.1cm.

  • World’s Average Height:168,1 cm-5ft 6.2in- Youth World’s average:170,6 cm -5ft 7.2in
    Europe’s Average Height :175,3 cm- 5ft 9in- Youth 177,6 cm- 5ft 9.9in
    Asia’s Average Height:166,2 cm- 5ft 5.4 in- Youth 168,8 cm- 5ft 6.5 in
    Latin America’s Average Height : 168,9 cm- 5ft 6.5 in-Youth 170,7 cm- 5ft 7.2in
    USA’s Average Height : 176,4 cm- 5ft 9.4in- Youth- 177,6 cm-5ft 9.9in
    Africa’s Average Height: 168,5 cm- 5ft 6.4in- Youth -170,5 cm-5ft 7.1in

The answer is obvious the controversial article written by Joel Brinkley was intentionally prejudicial against Vietnamese people. Furthermore, all the facts about Vietnam’s history, economy and culinary appetite were completely false. It is unfortunate a Pulitzer-winner and a professor from Stanford could have written such a biased and distorted  view, which he is entitled to, but unworthy of journalist professionalism. Consequences and accountability should be drawn. He cannot serve a role model to his students anymore.


The followings are the controversial and critical articles:

Joel Brinkley: Despite increasing prosperity, Vietnam’s appetites remain unique

American Voices Tribune Media Services; 5:16 p.m. CST, February 1, 2013

imageYou don’t have to spend much time in Vietnam before you notice something unusual. You hear no birds singing, see no squirrels scrambling up trees or rats scurrying among the garbage. No dogs out for a walk.

In fact, you see almost no wild or domesticated animals at all. Where’d they all go? You might be surprised to know: Most have been eaten.

Of course, as with most states in the region, tigers, elephants, rhinos and other big animals are trafficked to China. At this, of course, Vietnam is hardly alone — though the World Wildlife Fund describes the state as the world’s greatest wildlife malefactor.

Various reports show that Vietnamese kill more rhinos for their horns than any other nation. Chinese value those horns for their mythical medical qualities — like so many exotic-animal body parts.

Animal trafficking explains the dearth of tigers, elephants and other big beasts. But what about birds and rats? Yes, people eat those, too, like almost every animal that lives there. In Da Nang in January, I saw a street-side merchant with bowls full of dead rats for sale — their fur removed but otherwise intact — ready to cook.

Last spring, Conservation International reported that several varieties of Vietnamese gibbon, part of the ape family, “are perilously close to extinction” — all but a few of them already eaten.

All of this raises an interesting question. Vietnamese have been meat eaters through the ages, while their Southeast Asian neighbors to the west — Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar — have largely left their wildlife alone.

In each of these other countries you see flocks of birds that are absent in Vietnam along with numerous pet dogs and cats. There, people eat rice, primarily, and for many people in most of those states their diet includes little more than that.

Vietnam has always been an aggressive country. It has fought 17 wars with China since winning independence more than 1,000 years ago and has invaded Cambodia numerous times, most recently in 1979. Meantime, the nations to its west have largely been passive in recent centuries.

Many anthropologists and historians attribute the difference to the state’s origins. Vietnam was born of China, while India heavily influenced the other countries — two nations with drastically different personalities, even today.

Well, certainly that played a part. But I would argue that because Vietnamese have regularly eaten meat through the ages, adding significant protein to their diet, that also helps explain the state’s aggressive tendencies — and the sharp contrast with its neighbors.

Right now, the favored dish is dog. In fact, dog meat is particularly prized. It’s considered a specialty because it is said to contain more protein than other meats. For Vietnamese, tradition has it that whenever you have bad luck you should eat dog meat to change your fate. But you shouldn’t eat it at the start of the lunar month, or the reverse will happen. You’ll actually bring on bad luck.

Now, however, tradition is clashing with modernity — and the law has changed with it. Thirty years ago, it was illegal to keep a pet dog. The government held the view that dog meat was a nutritional priority that couldn’t be ignored. That point of view still pertains, though the government repealed the law years ago.

In fact, still today, driving down the highway it’s not unusual to see a flatbed truck hauling dogs curled up in little stacked cages, six cages high, eight deep, off to market — similar to the way chickens are transported to slaughterhouses in the west.

But now, Vietnam is a rapidly prospering state; more than half the population was born after the Vietnam War (which they call the American war). Per capita income is about $3,400, which may not seem like a lot but is higher than in most neighboring states. And as the middle class grows, so does Western influence — picked up from television, movies, Facebook, Twitter and the rest.

With that has come a new desire among some to keep pets. So now you do see an occasional dog here and there, lounging on the front porch of someone’s home — but under the watchful eye of its owner. Even now, as Vietnam rapidly modernizes and matures, if the dog wanders too far from home, someone will grab it and then serve dog for dinner.

Visiting Vietnam, many Western visitors despair. As one Western blogger put it: “I can quite honestly say it’s the most gruesome thing I have ever seen.”

I could not agree more.

(Joel Brinkley, a professor of journalism at Stanford University, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former foreign correspondent for the New York Times.)

Editor’s note: Tribune Media Services, which distributed this article, issued a follow-up statement on Friday, February 1:


Tribune Media Services (TMS) recently moved an opinion column by Joel Brinkley about his observations from a trip to Vietnam that did not meet our journalistic standards. The column has provoked a highly critical response from readers since its release.    

TMS has a rigorous editing process for its content, and in the case of Brinkley’s column that moved Jan. 29, all the required steps did not occur. We regret that this happened, and we will be vigilant in ensuring that our editing process works in the future.

From PAUL VON ZIELBAUER: Joel Brinkley’s bizarrely inaccurate op-ed about Vietnam, its people and culture serve up an antiquated and rather offensive caricature of Asian culture. Do Vietnamese eat dog meat and raise some dogs specifically for food?images

They do – and so do Chinese and Koreans, by the way – to the understandable dismay of many Westerners. Are Vietnamese barbarians who snatch untended dogs off the street, and does that ridiculously false fact make Vietnam, as he claims, “an aggressive country”?

No. Vietnamese people – despite the taste among some for certain kinds of food that we may find offensive – are lovely people to a remarkable degree. Mr. Brinkley, an award-winning reporter in his day and now a Stanford University journalism professor who claims expertise in Southeast Asia, ought to know a whole lot better.

The response

From JOEL BRINKLEY: I was traveling in Vietnam in late December and early January, and this is what I saw with my own eyes, first hand. And this is what the people I interviewed told me. On the issue of meat and aggressiveness, perhaps that was not as well phrased as it should have been. But eating a diet rich in protein will make you more robust than others, in Laos, Cambodia and other Southeast Asian states who eat rice and very little else. After all half of Laotian children grow up stunted, even today. In Cambodia the rate is 40 percent. That means they grow up short and not so smart. Would it also follow that they would be less aggressive than Vietnamese? I think so.

Don’t forget that the World Wildlife Fund calls Vietnam the world’s worst wildlife malefactor. And have a look at the attached photo [of rats below] I took in Da Nang.

(Credit: Joel Brinkley)


The Stanford Vietnamese Student Association Responds to Stanford Professor’s Offensive Article

by the Stanford Vietnamese Student Association (SVSA), February 6th, 2013

The Tribune Media Services recently published an opinion article titled, “Despite increasing prosperity, Vietnam’s appetites remain unique,” written by Stanford’s Joel Brinkley, a Hearst Visiting Professional in the Department of Communication. In the article riddled with stereotypical assertions and cultural judgments, Professor Brinkley has denounced the country of Vietnam and its people as “gruesome” and “aggressive” with a backwards diet of endangered animals in the midst of its rising economic status. The Stanford Vietnamese Student Association (SVSA), in solidarity with numerous on-campus organizations, find this article to be a perversion of the cultural image of Vietnam and an antithesis to the mission of universal tolerance and acceptance that Stanford University— students, faculty, and staff alike — should promote.

Professor Brinkley’s article is a thinly veiled attack on the culture of Vietnam with its culinary habits in the spotlight. His offensive statements and baseless arguments, such as the assertion that the Vietnamese have consumed almost all of their wild and domesticated animals, are grossly inaccurate and sensationalistic; they are loosely based on statistics that are rooted in unmentioned context.

Professor Brinkley defends his opinion piece by stating that he has seen Vietnam with his own eyes on a short 10 day trip and that certain unnamed individuals have confirmed his story; he responds to opposition by further insulting other cultures with no scientific proof or backing. To these claims we must reply that his research was negligent and fallacious. The advancement of arguments based on personal observation and mere hearsay is incredibly negligent. It is impossible for Professor Brinkley to see the real Vietnam, with its beauty along with its true faults, if he approaches the experience with an ethnocentric prejudice. For example, his critical statements on the “tradition” of eating dogs for good luck are an incomplete literal translation of a Vietnamese proverb praising living dogs for bringing wealth to a family. He also seems to ignore that the consumption of dog is not “unique” to Vietnam.  His lack of care for properly introducing the traditions of a foreign culture is evident in his disregard for the subtle nuances of customs he does not understand. It is true that a small minority of the Vietnamese eat dog meat, but his portrayal of a barbaric Vietnamese population and his judgments on cultural practices that are different than his are simply racist. As for his native sources to whom he does refer, Professor Brinkley anonymizes them to reduce the perspectives of the Vietnamese people to hardly a whisper.

Furthermore, the Vietnamese population is composed of 54 ethnic groups, each diverse in its own customs. For Professor Brinkley to judge an entire nation by the actions of a few individuals is to ignore a hallmark of Vietnamese culture, beautiful because it is so multifaceted.

Given his reputable career as a Pulitzer-winning foreign correspondent for multiple large publications — not to mention his ambassadorship to academia here at Stanford — Professor Brinkley has a responsibility to present the truth. In this regard, he has disappointed the student body he has pledged to mentor and inspire as an educator; we expect more from our professors than unscientific claims connecting the supposed “aggression” of an entire nation to the meat on their dinner plates. His influence in the industry becomes a misguided weapon: By condemning a culture he hasn’t bothered to understand, he insults not only the native Vietnamese, but Vietnamese and other Asians around the world. We have endured and fought against the stereotypical jokes and rumors surrounding our cultures, but he has pushed Asian Americans back into the “foreigner” status, outliers in their new homes. Professor Brinkley has poorly reflected the Stanford community, often considered a haven of cultural understanding and critical thinking, and he has tainted the atmosphere of tolerance for diversity on our campus.

To Professor Brinkley: You wrote in a previous article that Vietnam “is a country to watch — and perhaps, one day soon, to admire.” We hope that in light of our response you will revisit your insensitive words with a clearer understanding of your mistaken judgments and instead give Vietnam and its people a fair chance to reach the potential you once envisioned.

In solidarity,

Stanford Vietnamese Student Association
Stanford Asian American Activism Committee
Stanford Asian American Students’ Association
Stanford Hmong Student Union
Stanford Korean Student Association
Stanford National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
Stanford Sigma Psi Zeta
Stanford Lambda Phi Epsilon
Stanford Alpha Kappa Delta Phi
Muslim Students Awareness Network
Stanford Black Student Union
Stanford Pilipino American Student Union
ASSU Community Action Board
ASSU 14th Undergraduate Senate

Stanford Asian American Graduate Student Association

SEALNet (Southeast Asian Leadership Network)

Stanford Movimento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlán

Formed in the spring of 1993, the Stanford Vietnamese Students Association (SVSA) has served as a second family for all members, providing a support network as well as opportunities to increase cultural and ethnic awareness. SVSAparticipates in many on-campus activities, including its annual Lunar New Year Festival, Spring Culture Night, and High School Academic Conference. SVSA seeks to not only cultivate awareness, culture, and community among our members, but we aim to spread our message among the different communities at Stanford and beyond.

US columnist slams Stanford prof for badmouthing VN

Source Tuoi Tre February 4th, 2013

Editor’s Note: Hanoi-based Scott Harris, our U.S. columnist, responds to a Chicago Tribune article in which Joel Brinkley, a professor of journalism at Stanford University, labels Vietnam “an aggressive country” simply because the people here eat meat. Harris, like many other Vietnamese and international readers, disagrees with most of what was written in that piece of writing published February 1 on the news site.

As the Year of the Snake slithers in, my thoughts turn to a true tale that always grosses out of folks back home– about the night I dined on snake and washed it down with vodka red from the serpent’s blood. Didn’t want to lose face with my macho companions.

But perhaps I should call those Vietnamese guys “aggressive,” the term employed in a bizarre essay by American journalist Joel Brinkley that is generating sharp criticism for portraying Vietnamese culture as barbaric. If you haven’t heard about Brinkley’s commentary, let me fill you in: After ten days of travel in Vietnam, this journalism professor at Stanford University essentially declared that Vietnam’s “aggressive” history of warfare stems from its carnivorous ways – particularly the appetite for thit cho (meat of dogs) and thit chuot (meat of rats).

Brinkley should know better – yet seems to know just enough to be dangerous. His report embarrassed its distributor, a syndicate that now says the commentary “did not meet our journalistic standards” and blamed its release on a lapse in its “rigorous editing process.” Brinkley’s former colleagues at the New York Times and present colleagues at Stanford University must be shaking their heads. He should be embarrassed himself – but in responding to criticism that he made matters worse, insulting the people of Cambodia and Laos as well.

I sort of feel sorry for him. On Wikipedia, somebody altered the first sentence of his biography to say he is “known for his xenophobic, anti-Vietnamese views.” Yet as a foreign correspondent, Brinkley won a Pulitzer Prize in 1980 for his coverage of the genocidal horrors of Cambodia. But some 33 years later, he concludes this essay by saying he “could not agree more” with “a Western blogger” who described Vietnam’s culinary practices as “the most gruesome thing I have ever seen.”

More gruesome than “the killing fields” of the Khmer Rouge?

There’s trouble from the start: “You don’t have to spend much time in Vietnam before you notice something unusual. You hear no birds singing, see no squirrels scrambling up trees or rats scurrying among the garbage. No dogs out for a walk.”

“In fact, you see almost no wild or domesticated animals at all. Where’d they all go? You might be surprised to know: Most have been eaten.”

My first reaction was puzzlement, thinking about how often I saw rats scurrying in the alleyway near our first home in Hanoi, and how I loathed the Vietnamese neighbor’s yippy pet dog that barked at all hours. Understand that I grew up loving our dachshund Heidi and our mutt Fanny, so I would say no thanks to barbecued dog. At any rate, there are plenty of Vietnamese who take their pet dogs out for walk–but, yes, also worry that their pets will be stolen for their meat.

Brinkley suggests that Vietnamese tastes are unique – but fails to mention that dog meat is also on the menu in China and Korea. Brinkley is also correct in noting that the poaching of tigers, bears, rhinos and elephants for folk medicine and other uses have devastated these native species. But wildlife protection experts say that poaching is, of course, not unique to Vietnam and expressed puzzlement over Brinkley’s conflation of endangered tigers with commonplace dogs and rodents.

Brinkley goes on to make sweeping assertions that Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar (with a history more influenced by India) have been embroiled in fewer wars over the centuries because, essentially, they eat more rice and less meat than the Vietnamese (more influenced by China). So, ipso facto . . .

“Vietnam has always been an aggressive country,” Brinkley declares. “It has fought 17 wars with China since winning independence more than 1,000 years ago and has invaded Cambodia numerous times, most recently in 1979. Meantime, the nations to its west have largely been passive in recent centuries.”

So he mentions Cambodia in 1979, which he must have known well. Yet, oddly, there is no mention of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge and no context for Vietnam’s intervention, which is widely credited with helping to end the genocide. Nowhere does he cite the secret bombing campaigns by (meat-eating) Americans on Cambodia and Laos that contributed to the political conditions – or, for that matter, the widespread spraying of the toxic defoliant Agent Orange and its damage to flora and fauna. Yes, Vietnam has been engaged in warfare with neighbors many times over the millennium. Yet in Brinkley’s broad-brush shorthand, it’s all about those aggressive, dog-eating, rat-eating Vietnamese.

Now consider Brinkley’s response to criticism : . . . On the issue of meat and aggressiveness, perhaps that was not as well phrased as it should have been. But eating a diet rich in protein will make you more robust than others, in Laos, Cambodia and other Southeast Asian states who eat rice and very little else. After all half of Laotian children grow up stunted, even today. In Cambodia the rate is 40 percent. That means they grow up short and not so smart. Would it also follow that they would be less aggressive than Vietnamese? I think so.

So, do protein imbalances between neighboring cultures lead to warfare? The theory, perhaps, might be advanced by a passive-aggressive vegan cult who believes prehistoric humans took a disastrous turn when they stopped just gathering sustenance and started hunting. Perhaps Brinkley was just riffing the outline on a provocative manifesto that inspires a global movement from meat to veggies. Give peas a chance.

In defending his reporting, Brinkley shared a photo he took in Danang of some skinned rats being prepared for cooking – which, I confess, made me think: ewww…

But I pulled myself together to seek the perspective of a Vietnamese guy I’ve known for 20 years. He grew up in Saigon, moved to the U.S. as a young man and is now in Hanoi to visit his daughter and grandchildren over the Tet holiday.

My father-in-law laughed. The Vietnamese taste for meat, he told me, is one of those cultural differences between north and south. Thit cho, he explained, appeals more to northerners. But down south, he said, field rodents fatten up on the endless rice. “It tastes like chicken,” he said.


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