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Model's Nude Photos In Vietnam Spark Traditional Values Debate

When she published nude photos of herself online, model Ngoc Quyen ignited a debate on the changing values in Vietnam, where both Confucius and Karl Marx are losing influence.

Traditional Vietnamese culture prefers women to cover up
Traditional Vietnamese culture prefers women to cover up
Marianne Brown

The young Vietnamese model Ngoc Quyen frolics naked by a river that winds through a small forest somewhere in Vietnam. She has pictures taken, and displays the images on the Internet. Underneath the photographs, she writes: "Protect the environment as you would your body."

But now, the 23-year-old suddenly finds herself entangled in scandal, and a fierce debate about traditional values has erupted about traditional values ​​in the Communist country. Not surprisingly, the images had been quickly spread through the media, via Facebook and other Internet forums. Many critics argue that the pictures exploit nudity for another purpose. Ngoc Quyen says that she has published the photos on her own initiative, and that she has no ulterior motive.

On a well-known Vietnamese website, someone named Huyen Trang comments: "Nude pictures are not acceptable in Vietnamese culture. This model is not protecting the environment. Rather, she is making it dirty." On another website, one commentator writes: "If Ngoc Quyen has parents, what must they be thinking now? I would be ashamed of her."

In Vietnam, the depiction of nudity is a very sensitive issue, especially given that the country has been largely shaped by a patriarchal culture that values modesty of women. The female body should remain a mystery, and never be exposed in public.

For many decades, the female body has been a subject of photography, says photographer Thai Phien. Women are often shown "half covered, half naked." The 48-year-old's images, which feature mostly women posing in landscapes, have long been controversial in Vietnam and were once considered by some to be pornography.

"The public has evolved in its perception of nude photography," he says. "But the cultural policy in Vietnam is still very conservative. They continue to try to avoid issues of nudity." But, he concedes, to call Quyen's images "nude art" would be going too far.

The controversy surrounding Quyen's photographs has touched a raw nerve in Vietnam, demonstrating the widening gap between the older and younger generations. Many fear that modernization will slowly erase traditional family values. So long mired in war, Vietnam has only developed into a growing Southeast Asian economy since the 1980s.

Since then, rising prosperity and the emergence of new technologies have given young people different opportunities to develop and express themselves. Many fear that the youngest generation has drifted completely from the Confucian values of its parents.

"With each generation, there is a struggle between old and new," says Khuat Thu Hong, Director of the Institute of Social Sciences in Vietnam. "The reason is that Vietnam's development is faster than it ever was before." However, even in these changing times, Quyen's nude photos are very unusual, says Hong.

Meanwhile, Ngoc Quyen has spoken out about her decision to pose naked. In an interview with VietNamNet, she was asked if her mother and boyfriend had approved of her actions. She admitted that she would have never posed nude without her mother's consent. Maybe the fact that Quyen had parental consent for her actions will soothe some traditionalists.

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