Like many up-and-coming nations, Vietnam has been using beauty contests to make its mark on the world. In July, Vietnam played host to the Miss Universe pageant, presided over by Jerry Springer and former Spice Girl Melanie Brown ("Scary Spice").

For many Vietnamese, the event was more compelling evidence the country has arrived than joining the World Trade Organisation was the year before. Newspapers and television channels repeatedly pointed out that this was the first time Miss Universe has been held in a communist country.

But pride crumbled after government investigators found the new Miss Vietnam, crowned on August 31, had not finished high school.

Shocked, Ministry of Culture officials stripped 18-year-old Tran Thi Thuy Dung of her most coveted prize: the right to represent Vietnam at this month's Miss World contest in Johannesburg. Officials in Hanoi are now scrambling to find a suitable candidate to send to South Africa.

Some Vietnamese feel their Government's rigorous enforcement of the rules has botched their chances of winning. Britain and Australia do not have any minimum educational requirement, while the US gives beauty queens six months to finish high school after their first competition.

But the head of Vietnam's Performing Arts Agency, Le Ngoc Cuong, says he has the country's reputation to protect. "If we didn't have the education requirement, lots of girls would drop out of school to focus on beauty pageants, and we can't let that happen," he said.

The Australian - November 08, 2008