In 1937, leading members of the Self-Strength Literary Group [Tự Lực Văn Đoàn], together with a number of Hà Nội’s Western-educated architects and intellectuals, founded the League of Light [Hội Ánh Sáng or Đoàn Ánh Sáng] to combat unsanitary housing. This study traces the league’s brief history, from its inception in December 1936 to its gradual demise sometime in the early 1940s. It argues that the leaders of the League of Light were interested in more than simply improving the living conditions of impoverished Vietnamese; they aspired to carve out a pluralistic public space for civic collective action, where one had barely existed before. For the peasant masses, the league wanted to change how they thought and behaved by manipulating the physical space in which they lived. For educated urban elites, their participation in the organization served to generate modern ideas of community, civic duty, and social responsibility. Through the restructuring and regulation of everyday life, the league’s founders aspired to shape social order through the establishment of a Vietnamese civil society.
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