AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 692

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Organizer: Stephen O'Harrow, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

Chair: Hue-Tam Ho Tai, Harvard University, USA

Discussant: Christoph Giebel, University of Washington, USA

Various iterations of Ho Chi Minh's biography, ranging from hagiography to systematic debunking, have come to dominate the historiography of twentieth century Vietnam. These narratives cast a shadow over all other narratives, giving scant recognition to the complexities involved, marginalizing associates who came from unorthodox backgrounds and those people whose direct connexions with his story might cause embarrassment or detract from the ascetic image favored by officialdom. This panel addresses the lives of "secondary" people in the revolutionary movement, lives that illustrate the diversity of their times and which do not entirely fit in with the heroic linear interpretation required by official retellings. Claire Tran thi Lien investigates two important Catholics who, unlike most of their co-religionists, suppported Ho. Sophia Quinn-Judge looks at the life of female revolutionary Nguyen thi Minh Khai and her alleged liaison with Ho, still under official wraps. Le Minh Hang describes the épopée of Vu Van Viet, who started life in first group of Vietnamese promoted to officer rank in the French colonial army, but who left to follow Ho, becoming a founder of the artillery arm of the Viet Minh that directly contributed to the Fernch defeat at Dien Bien Phu. And finally, Michel Fournié looks directly at the shadow of Ho, and at how the official slogan "Learn and follow the moral example of Ho Chi Minh" has been retold and changed over time [from when he was still alive to the present] by the party to energize the lives of the Vietnamese masses.

Nguyên Manh Hà and Pham Ngoc Thuan : Cross portraits of two Catholic personalities of the 20th century
Claire Thi Lien Tran , Universite Paris Diderot, France

The purpose of this paper is to focus on the political path of two Catholic personalities, whose commitment for independence in 1945 drove them to support Ho Chi Minh : the Northener Nguyen Manh Ha (1912-1993) and the Southener, Pham Ngoc Thuan (1914-2002) met on the boat to France as teenager in the 20s’ and then only met up in the end of the 80’s in France. Both are issued from ancient Catholic family, with a father belonging to the first generation of the new urban elite « francisée », working for the French administration, one as doctor at the indigneous hospital in Hanoi, the other as a land surveyor in Saigon. Both had the privilege to to study in France during the interwar period, before to come back home with a high French diploma at the end of the 1930’. As « retour de France », both had experienced the frustration of the colonial system considering them as second zone French citizen, and looked for the new engagement in Vietnamese fight for independance in 1945: one accepting Giap’s proposition to participate in the National Union Government as a Secretary of the Treasury, the other deciding to enter in the Resistance and becoming one year later the chief of the Nam Bo resistance. Beside some common points, their further life choices diverged and led them to distinct path, from 1945 (one considering himself as leftist but Catholic the other adhering to the VCP and becoming a hight diplomate of the DRV) to the 1990’s (one working from France to the opening of the country, the other choosing the exil in France as a last political protest after an entire life dedicate to the Party). Beyond the uniqueness of their destiny along the 20 th century, this biographical cross studies intends to contribute in a better knowledge of the Catholic minority. Indeed studies mainly focused on Ngo Dinh Diem and his supporters whereas other personalities are neglected. More generally, it also aims to contribute in the studies on a generation of Vietnamese westernized elite. The biographical approach permits an insight on the complexity of the networks within and outside the Catholic community: indeed, both were deeply connected with the westernized elite and the Catholic community (including the Ngo).

From ideology to instrumentalization: the moral model of Ho Chi Minh in early twenty-first century as a lever of post-collectivist governance of the masses.
Michel Fournie, INALCO, France

My paper aims to explore the creative potential of the Vietnamese Communist party ideologues to respond to a context which has evolved from a situation of class struggle to that of class consciousness in a post-collectivist environment inculcating the sense of individual moral responsibility of the citizens through the propagandistic employment of the narrative of the life of Ho Chi Minh, under the slogan "Learn and follow the moral example of Ho Chi Minh" – a campaign aimed at imposing, from the leading officials of the Party to the lowest peasant, the value of the model of the Revolutionary Morality, as seen in Ho's own life. This political vision aims to instrumentalize the iconic "aura" of Ho Chi Minh to bring out in the popular mentality, a "power of reason" to compensate for the shock of generations, the growing contradictions engendered by growing social differences but also to "struggle against moral and life-style decline, red tape, corruption, wastefulness and social evils" This is an attempt to renew the creative energy of revolutionary leaders’ who should stay in close touch with the grassroots and, in Ho's words, truly respect the people's collective rights to be the Master and to achieve the "successful building of socialism". As a natural continuation of the "Movement for good morals" initiated by Ho in 1954, the campaign, "Learn and follow the moral example of Ho Chi Minh " should be evaluated prior to the 11th congress scheduled for early 2011. This paper, by setting a diachronic perspective of myth Ho Chi Minh, is an attempt to clarify the impact of the material energy of Ho Chi Minh's thought on the attitudes and aspirations of the Vietnamese population.

Crossing over: the revolutionary tale of Vu Van Viet and his wife, Nguyen Thi Quy
Hang M. Le, University of Hawaii, USA

In 1940, Le Xuan Oanh, a poor but eudcated school master from a village in the Red River Delta, was given the opportunity to join the ranks of the first "promotion" of ethnic Vietnamese ever to be trained as officers in the French colonial army. He took as his finacee Nguyen Thi Quy from a well-to-do northern Catholic family. He fought for the French against the "Siamese" in the Cambodian border war of 1941 and was with his unit at Lang Son at the time of the Japanese coup d'etat of March, 1941. Captured by the Japanese as an enemy combattant, he escaped and presented himself to the family of his fiancee to release her from her obligations to him, a man on the run. Instead rejecting him, she decided to follow him into the growing Viet Minh movement led by Ho Chi Minh. In the early post-war government of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam, he took the nom de guerre of Vu Van Viet and was appointed second in command of the national military academy. When open war with the French broke out, his wife's family fled south to the French zone, but she followed him into the jungle. This paper examines the true narrative of the most unlikely pair of Viet Minh revolutionaries, one a former French officer and the other a young woman from one of the richest Catholic families of Hai Duong province, and how their lives passed under the shadow of Ho Chi Minh.

Nguyen Thi Minh Khai: More than a Revolutionary Martyr
Sophia W Quinn-Judge, Temple University, USA

Nguyen Thi Minh Khai has long figured as a footnote in Vietnamese communist history, as one of the Saigon party leaders executed by the French in 1941. She has received the usual biographical treatment reserved for female activists: narrow attention to her work as an organizer of women. This paper will look at her in a more multidimensional way, as someone who lived through the early years of revolutionary upheaval in the 1930s, was groomed for leadership in Moscow and then was sent to Saigon to work with men who joined the top leadership after 1945, including Le Duan and Nguyen Van Linh. Her close relationship with Ho Chi Minh, which may have been romantic as well as political, also deserves closer scrutiny, although it is a topic that is taboo within Vietnam. One of her main contributions may have been to serve as a link between the communist movements in north and south, at a time when the French had their organizations under close observation. When she was shot by the French at the age of 31, she took with her a large amount of institutional knowledge.