September 1974: Ngô Viễn Chí and the Daily Chores of Unit Đ814

In September 1974, Ngô Viễn Chí was still encamped within Unit Đ814, after documenting their river transport in July the same year. The unit was a combination of Unit 81 and Unit 84 and served as the Rear Service for troops fighting on the front line. Ammunition, medicine, rice and military equipment was brought by road and then ferried on the river to Unit Đ814. Wounded soldiers were taken from Đ814 to hospitals like “K50” on the return trip.

Figure 1: Ngô Viễn Chí, September 1974, “Kho gạo; Trí thú như của nhà; C11-Đ814; Kho phân ra chịnuôi sàn gạo (Rice Storage; Dedicated working spirit; C11-Đ814; A woman and soldier separate rice and rice seeds.” Watercolour on paper.

In the watercolour painting (fig. 1), the woman sieves rice to separate the rice from seeds, rice husk, stones and other impurities before it is held in storage. The soldier is tying burlap sacks ready for loading with rice.

Whether the female in the painting is a civilian or not is unclear. It was common for women in villages sympathetic towards the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) and the National Liberation Front (NLF) to provide aid and services to People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and NLF forces. At the same time, it is well known that PAVN and NLF military units regularly recruited women.

Either way, preparing and storing food was of vital importance for PAVN and NLF troops during the Second Indochina War. In the way that Nguyễn Thanh Minh painted woman preserving cassavas in the Tây Bắc, Chí’s focus on cleaning and storing rice goes some way in highlighting how self-sufficient PAVN and NLF troops were in comparison to their Republic of Vietnam (RVN) and US counterparts.

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