Ho Chi Minh

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Hồ Chí Minh
Ho Chi Minh

Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam
In office
1946 –  1955

President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam
In office
1955 –  1969

Born May 19, 1890
Nghệ An Province, Vietnam
Died September 2, 1969
Hanoi, Vietnam
Political party Vietnam Workers' Party

Hồ Chí Minh listen  (Chinese: 胡志明; May 19, 1890 – September 2, 1969) was a Vietnamese revolutionary and statesman, who later became Prime Minister ( 1946– 1955) and President ( 1955– 1969) of North Vietnam.

He was originally named Nguyễn Sinh Cung. He was also known as Nguyễn Tất Thành (阮必成: 'Nguyễn will accomplish'), Nguyễn Ái Quốc (阮愛國: 'Nguyễn the patriot'), Lý Thụy (李瑞) and Hồ Quang (among others), and is popularly called Bác Hồ ('Uncle Hồ') in Vietnam. The name Hồ Chí Minh means "he who enlightens." He is most famous for being the founder of the Viet Minh independence movement in 1941 and establishing Communist control in part of Vietnam in the 1950s.

Ho was fluent in English, several dialects of Chinese, French, German and Russian besides his native Vietnamese. Ho Chi Minh City was named after him.


Early life

Nguyễn Sinh Cung was born in Hoàng Trù Village (maternal hometown) and lived there from 1890 to 1895. He grew up in Kim Liên Village (paternal hometown), Nam Đànawr District, Nghệ An Province, Vietnam. Following Confucian traditions, he received the name Nguyễn Tất Thành at age 10. He had three siblings, his sister Bạch Liên (or Nguyễn Thị Thanh) who worked as a clerk in the French Army, his brother Nguyễn Sinh Khiêm (or Nguyễn Tất Đạt), a geomancer and traditional herbalist and another brother (Nguyễn Sinh Nhuận) who died in his infancy.

His father, Nguyễn Sinh Sắc, was a Confucian scholar, and a teacher. He himself received a strong Confucian upbringing. He also received a modern secondary education at a French-style lycée in Huế, the alma mater of his later disciples, Phạm Văn Ðồng and Võ Nguyên Giáp. Hồ Chí Minh applied for a course at the French "Colonial Administrative School" immediately after he arrived in Marseille. However, his application was rejected.

In France

In 1911, Hồ Chí Minh went to the South to Gia Dinh (Saigon) and joined a ship en route to Marseille, France as a cabin-boy. Hồ Chí Minh’s first time abroad was not easy; he worked hard as a cleaner, waiter, cook's helper, and film developer. Regardless, he was very excited with what he learned from a totally different world each day. He often went to the public library, read newspapers and paid close attention to the current affairs and political issues. He also appreciated the French everyday life, and enjoyed Maurice Chevalier songs, which he knew by heart.

In the USA

It is believed that he even travelled to the United States, first arriving in New York in 1912 during a stop-over while working as an on-board cook on a ship. Ho claimed he later worked for a wealthy family in Brooklyn between 1917 and 1918, and during this time he may have heard Marcus Garvey speak in Harlem. It is believed that while in the United States Ho made contact with Korean nationalists, an experience that served to develop his political outlook.

In England

He lived in England more specifically Crouch End in north London, at various points between 1913 and 1919 where it is claimed he trained as a pastry chef under the legendary French master, Escoffier, at the Carlton Hotel in the Haymarket, Westminster, although there is no contemporary evidence to support this. There is a commemorative Blue Plaque on the building, which is now New Zealand House. The city's fancy restaurants were beyond his means, but he indulged in one luxury — American cigarettes, preferably Camel or Lucky Strike brands.

Political education

Hồ Chí Minh embraced communism while living abroad in France from ca. 1919- 1923. Ho claimed to have arrived in Paris in 1917, however the French police documented his arrival in the French capital from London in June 1919. Following World War I, as Nguyễn Ái Quốc (Nguyen the Patriot), on behalf of the "Group of Vietnamese Patriots" he petitioned the great powers at the Versailles peace talks for equal rights in French Indochina but was ignored. He asked sitting U.S. President Woodrow Wilson for help to remove the French by any means possible in Vietnam, for a new nationalist movement and new government, but this idea was ignored. Ho Chi Minh soon helped to form the French Communist Party and spent all his time in Moscow. It was at this time that Nguyễn Ái Quốc became "Hồ Chí Minh", a Sino-Vietnamese name with a common surname (Hồ) and a given name meaning 'enlightened will' (Chí meaning 'will', and Minh meaning 'light'). In other words he became "the one (he) who enlightens".

In China and the Soviet Union

In 1923 Ho moved to Guangzhou, China, where he married a Chinese communist cadre. From 1925-26 he organised 'Youth Education Classes' and occasionally gave lectures at the Whampoa Military Academy on the revolutionary movement in Indochina. He stayed in Hong Kong as a representative of the Communist International. In June 1931 He was arrested there by British police and remained in prison until his release in 1937. He then made his way back to the Soviet Union, where he reportedly spent several years recovering from tuberculosis. In 1938 he returned to China and served as an adviser with Chinese Communist armed forces.

Independence movement

He returned to Vietnam in 1941 to lead the Việt Minh independence movement, conducting successful military actions against the Japanese occupation forces and later against the French bid to reoccupy the country ( 1946- 1954). At one point he was captured by the Japanese but escaped. However he suffered under their torture and was nursed back to health by American doctors. He was jailed for many months by Chiang Kai-shek's local authorities. After his release in 1943 he returned to Vietnam. After the August Revolution (1945) organized by the Việt Minh, he became Chairman of Provisional Government (Premier of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam), when he forced Emperor Bảo Đại to abdicate, but this government was not recognized internationally. He petitioned American President Harry Truman to accept Vietnamese independence, but was rebuffed due to French pressure on the U.S. and the fact that he was Communist.

In 1945, His subordinates executed a number of nationalists that were not part of the Viet Minh, including the leader of the Constitutional Party, the head of the Party for Independence, and Ngo Dinh Diem's brother, Ngo Dinh Khoi. . Purges and killings of Trotskyists, the rival anti-Stalinist communists, have also been documented During 1946, when Ho was out of the country, his subordinates, without him being aware, imprisoned 25,000 non-communist nationalists and forced 6,000 others to flee Hundreds of political opponents were also killed in July. All parties apart from the Viet Minh were banned and local governments purged which ensured that there was little opposition to Hồ's regime later on.

Birth of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam

It was on September 2, 1945 that he read the Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Việt Nam. Before this speech, both the new Vietnamese anthem (Tiên Quân Ca) written by Văn Cao and the American anthem (the Star-Spangled Banner) were played. Before the speech, he had tried unsuccessfully to acquire a copy of the American Declaration of Independence from the OSS. Unable to get one, he quoted it from memory as, "All people are created equal. They are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. Among these are the right to live, the right to be happy, and the right to be free".

During this period, the History Channel reports that a team of American paramedics rescued him from a certain death. Paramedics per se, however, did not come into existence until the late 1960s. It is possible that the History Channel reference should have been to corpsmen.

He signed an agreement with France which recognized Vietnam as an autonomous state in the Indochinese Federation and the French Union on March 6, 1946. But soon after, the agreement broke down. The purpose of the agreement on the Vietnamese side was to get the Chinese army to withdraw from northern Vietnam. Soon after the Chinese left, fighting broke out with the French. Hồ Chí Minh was almost captured by a group of French soldiers led by Jean-Etienne Valluy at Việt Bắc, but he was able to escape.

In January 1950 the Soviet Union recognized Ho's government and in February Ho went to Moscow to meet with Stalin and Mao. Ho was told by Stalin that China would be responsible for backing his Viet Minh . Mao's emissary to Moscow stated in August that China planned to train 60-70,000 Viet Minh in the near future. China's crucial support to Ho enabled him to carry on the fight against the French.

In 1954, the important Battle of Điện Biên Phủ was fought between the French and Viet Minh, which convinced France to give up its empire in Indochina.

Becoming president

Hồ Chí Minh became president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam ( North Vietnam) in 1955. North Vietnam operated as a single-party Communist-led state.

From 1953 to 1956, the government of Hồ Chí Minh conducted the Land Reform Campaign due to pressure from China to mimic the Land Reform of Mao Zedong. In the process, tens of thousands of landowners were publicly denounced , with their land distributed to poor peasants. Of the identified 44,444 landlords, 3939 were tried and 1175 were executed. . Edwin Moise, a leftist historian on land reform, commented "There were valid reasons for the exaggeration of classism.... But this extreme view of the class nature of rural affairs sometimes went beyond the real interests of the revolution and it often went beyond the bounds of objective truth" and also implied that punishment for non-existent crimes was proportionately larger than in Mao's Chinese Land Reform. President Hồ Chí Minh would later weep as he publicly apologized for the campaign.

Another controversial incident occurred on November 2, 1956 when villagers in Hồ's home province of Nghệ An revolted and were subsequently put down by the military. According to one estimate, 6,000 people were deported or executed.

During the early years of Ho's government, 900,000 to 1 million Vietnamese, mostly Catholic, left for South Vietnam while 130,000, mostly Viet Minh personnel, went from South to North. This was partly due to claims by church officials that the Virgin Mary had moved South out of distaste for life under communism. Although this migration was allowed under the Geneva Agreement for 300 days, Canadian observers claimed that some were forced by North Vietnamese authorities to remain against their will.

In 1959 Ho's government began to back the Hanoi-controlled National Liberation Front in South Vietnam (via the Ho Chi Minh Trail), which escalated the fighting that had begun in 1957. In late 1964 North Vietnamese combat troops were sent southwest into neutral Laos.

During the mid to late 1960s, Ho permitted China to send 320,000 troops to North Vietnam, who helped build railways, roads, and airports, thereby freeing a similar number of North Vietnamese forces to go to the south.

On becoming a cult hero

Hồ Chí Minh is the centre of what his detractors see as a large personality cult in North Vietnam, though his supporters argue that this was charismatic authority. The former capital of South Vietnam, Saigon, was renamed Ho Chi Minh City on 1 May 1975.

Authors like Stanley Karnow, Jean Laconture, had praised him as a modest leader with great achievements. Later, Bui Tin has disclosed some mysteries about Ho Chi Minh such as his using the pen name Tran Dan Tien to write a book to idolize himself

For the West, he remains much of a dual character: to his supporters Hồ Chí Minh is viewed positively as a committed Nationalist who fought for a united Vietnamese state. To his detractors and some critics in the West he was an opportunistic communist who seized power, created an authoritarian government, plunged Vietnam into a war that wrecked the country and established economic policies that left Vietnam poor. They claimed that he mandated the invasion of South Vietnam that resulted in the deaths of over a million of its citizens. Many more, as many as two million, fled South Vietnam after the unification of Vietnam. Some criticize the Việt Cộng, who were subordinate to him, for "terrorism" in the south, even though his direct knowledge of these exactions is still not clearly known by his biographers.

In 1975, the Students' Union of Wadham College, Oxford renamed a college quadrangle from the "JCR Quad" to the "Ho Chi Minh Quad", reflecting student sympathies following the end of the Vietnam War.

Death and legacy

Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, Hanoi
Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, Hanoi

Hồ Chí Minh died on the morning of September 2, 1969, at his home in Hanoi at age 79 from multiple health problems. Many across the country tearfully mourned his death. Santiago Álvarez's 1969 documentary film 'Seventy-Nine Spring Times Of Ho Chi Minh' (much of which was based on found footage) documents some of this, with powerful scenes depicting crying school children and weeping mourners, for example. His death day was initially reported to be September 3. The death day was actually September 2, but was changed since it coincided with the National Day as celebrated in Vietnam. Recently the government changed his official death day to September 2. His embalmed body was put on display in a granite mausoleum modeled after Lenin's Tomb in Moscow. This was consistent with other Communist leaders who have been similarly displayed before and since, including Mao Zedong, Kim Il-Sung, and for a time, Josef Stalin, but the "honour" violated Hồ's last wishes. He wished to be cremated and his ashes buried in urns on three Vietnamese hilltops, each in one of the three main regions of Vietnam (North, Central and South). He wrote, "Not only is cremation good from the point of view of hygiene, but it also saves farmland."

In Vietnam today, he is elevated by the Communist government to an almost cult-like status even though the government has abandoned most of his economic policies. He is still referred to as "Uncle Hồ" in Vietnam. Hồ Chí Minh appears on the Vietnamese currency, and his image is featured prominently in many of Vietnam's public spaces. UNESCO had planned to officially recognize him as a "great man of culture" on his 100th birthday, but the Vietnamese exile community blocked this from happening.


  • "Nothing is more precious than independence and liberty."
  • "I only follow one party: the Vietnamese party."
  • "You can kill ten of our men for every one we kill of yours. But even at those odds, you will lose and we will win." (referring to France and America in their wars in Vietnam)
  • "It is better to sacrifice everything than to live in slavery!"
  • “The Vietnamese people deeply love independence, freedom and peace. But in the face of United States aggression they have risen up, united as one man."
  • "We have to win independence at any cost, even if the Truong Son mountains burn."
  • "In (Lenin's Theses on the National and Colonial Questions) there were political terms that were difficult to understand. But by reading them again and again finally I was able to grasp the essential part. What emotion, enthusiasm, enlightenment and confidence they communicated to me! I wept for joy. Sitting by myself in my room, I would shout as if I were addressing large crowds: "Dear martyr compatriots! This is what we need, this is our path to liberation!" Since then (the 1920s) I had entire confidence in Lenin, in the Third International!"
  • "When the prison doors are opened, the real dragon will fly out."
  • "It was patriotism, not communism, that inspired me."
  • "Remember, the storm is a good opportunity for the pine and the cypress to show their strength and their stability."
  • "My only desire is that all of our Party and people, closely united in struggle, construct a peaceful, unified, independent, democratic and prosperous, and make a valiant contribution to the world Revolution." (Hanoi, May 10, 1969.)
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