Thursday, September 29, 2011


Heinz Schütte
Hundred Flowers in Vietnam
No. 22
Berlin 2003
Philosophische Fakultät III
Institut für Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften
Seminar für Südostasien-Studien

Heinz Schütte
Hundred Flowers in Vietnam
No. 22
Berlin 2003
SÜDOSTASIEN Working Papers
ISSN: 1432-2811
published by the Department of Southeast Asian Studies
Unter den Linden 6
10999 Berlin, Germany
Tel. +49-30-2093 6620
Fax +49-30-2093 6649
The Working Papers do not necessarily express the views of the editors or the Institute of
Asian and African Studies. Although the editors are responsible for their selection, responsibility
for the opinions expressed in the Papers rests with the authors.
Any kind of reproduction without permission is prohibited.
Table of content
1. Introduction 7
2. Anti-colonialism, national revolution and the Chinese influence 8
3. The enigmatic Nguyen Son 10
4. Writers and artists in the Resistance 12
5. Nguyen Chi Thanh, Tran Dan and the 32 points 16
6. The antagonistic contradictions of 1956 20
7. Cent Fleurs écloses: Giai Pham 23
8. Cent fleurs écloses: Nhan Van 27
9. Epilogue 30

1. Introduction
The Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) which emerged from the eight-year resistance
war against the French colonial regime and the Geneva Convention on Indochina in 1954,
was, soon after the return of the victorious troops of the People’s Army to Hanoi, afflicted
with two severe inner-political crises – a rural and an urban one whose latter, as will be
shown, was at least partially fed by the former. The crisis in the countryside was the outcome
of mistakes and errors committed during the land reform which had been urged forward since
1953 and which led to generalised fear, dissatisfaction and to peasant revolts in the provinces
of Nghe An and Ha Tinh which were put down by the People’s Army. The second crisis was
a revolt of urban intellectuals whose most visible expression was the so-called Hundred
Flowers or Humanism movement, Nhan Van-Giai Pham. This short-lived, exceptionally creative
flowering shall in the following be delineated and put into its politico-historical context.1
The only comprehensive description of these events is the 1991 book by Georges Boudarel,
Cent Fleurs écloses dans la nuit du Vietnam,2 which did not become known beyond a small
circle of experts. Shorter publications of the late 1950s and the 60s3 as well as the book by
Hoang Van Chi, From Colonialism to Communism4, all of which, at the time of their publication,
are likely to have been read as ammunition in the cold war climate. In 1987 there appeared
an outline by Hoang Giang in the Paris-based Chroniques Vietnamiennes under the
title La Révolte des Intellectuels Communistes au Viet-Nam en 1956.5
I became acquainted with the Hundred Flowers movement when, in 1997, I read Boudarel’s
book and began interviewing francophone Vietnamese intellectuals in Hanoi as part of a study
on cultural syncretisms. On the occasion of a further visit to Hanoi, I had Boudarel’s book
photocopied about 25 times for my interview partners. This got me onto politically ticklish
territory which is to this day tabooed by official Vietnamese historiography. For my photocopies
were handed on, photocopied again and initiated a discussion which gained me admittance
to the circle of independent intellectuals which had so far not been accessible to me. As
a result, I was able to make contact with the survivors of the dissidence and to record their
recollections in long discussions.
Further, I availed myself of the archives of the former German Democratic Republic, especially
those of the Central Committee of the SED and the Ministry of External Affairs which
1 Christopher Goscha has generously commented on an earlier, much longer version of this paper. I am grateful for his encouraging
and critical remarks.
2 Georges Boudarel, Cent Fleurs écloses dans la nuit du Vietnam – Communisme et Dissidence 1954-1956, Paris, 1991;
Georges Boudarel, Autobiographie, Paris, 1991
3 Bernard B. Fall, Crisis in North Vietnam, in: Far Eastern Survey, New York, January 1957, pp. 12-16; P. J. Honey, Revolt
of the Intellectuals in North Vietnam, in : The World Today, vol. 13, no. 6, June 1957, pp. 250-260; Nguyen Dang Thuc, An
Intellectual views the Nhan-Van Affair, in: Asian Culture 1958, vol. 1, no. 2; P. J. Honey, Ho Chi Minh and the Intellectuals,
in: Soviet Survey, no. 28, 1959, pp. 19-24; Nhu Phong, Intellectuals, Writers and Artists, in: The China Quarterly, no. 9,
1962, pp. 47-62
4 Hoang Van Chi, From Colonialism to Communism. A Case History of North Vietnam, New York, 1964. Hoa Mai (ed.),
The ‘Nhan-Van’ Affair, published by The Vietnam Chapter of the Asian Peoples’ Anti-Communist League, no year, no place
(Saigon, 1958), contains translations from contributions to Nhan Van.
5 Hoang Giang, La Révolte des Intellectuels Communistes au Viet-Nam en 1956, in: Chroniques Vietnamiennes, no. 2, Paris,
1987, pp. 12-15; this article has later appeared in English in: The Vietnam Forum, no. 13, 1990. See also: Georges Boudarel,
Intellectual Dissidence in the 1950s. The Nhan Van Giai Pham Affair, in: ibid. And: Hirohide Kurihara, Changes in the Literary
Policy of the Vietnamese Workers’ Party, 1956-1958, in: Indochina in the 1940s and 1950s, edited by Takashi Shiraisi
and Motoo Furuta, SEAsia Program, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 1992; Georges Boudarel/Nguyen Van Ky, Hanoi
1936-1996. Du drapeau rouge au billet vert, Paris, 1997, pp. 131-140; Heinz Schütte, Kurzlebige Hundert Blumen in Vietnam
1955-1957, in: Internationales Asienforum, Vol. 33 (2002), No. 3-4, pp. 271-301
contain valuable material on Vietnam and the events here under discussion.6 Most of what I
found in the archives has been confirmed by the interviews, and vice versa.
2. Anti-colonialism, national revolution and the Chinese influence
The men and (very few) women I have been able to talk with in Hanoi, were born between
1906 and 1930. They perceived Ho Chi Minh’s declaration of independence of 2nd September
1945 as a moment of catharsis – a youthful awakening to national consciousness, determined
to create a world of justice and equality, of prosperity and happiness. The joint
experiences of the Resistance became the foundation myth and the essential ingredient of the
community ideology of the new state.7
Ever since 1950 when the Vietnamese resistance had succeeded in driving the French away
from the northern border,8 which led to a joint frontier between the Chinese and the Vietnamese
revolutions, Maoism made its appearance with its ideological rectification procedures
(chinh huan). Thereupon quite a few intellectuals left the ranks of the resistance, although the
majority considered this necessary for the success of the struggle against colonialism. Due to
the communist victory in 1949, China enjoyed an immense prestige, and she did not only export
ideology and advisers to the South, but also provided massive material help vital for the
impoverished country and which allowed the Viet Minh forces to transform themselves from
a guerilla movement into a real army. The Cold War was in full swing; while the Viet Minh
received Chinese assistance, the USA – in renunciation of Roosevelt’s anti-French policy –
massively assisted the French war effort.9
In January 1950, the third plenum of the Vietnamese Communist Party officially signalled the
turn of Vietnam to China10 and to a class-orientated internal policy including the liquidation of
« reactionary elements » inside the country. Chinese writings11, especially Mao’s works, were
translated into Vietnamese with the aim to apply Chinese methods of Marxism-Leninism-
Maoism, of the revolution and thought reform in Vietnam. Thought reform courses for intellectuals
were conducted in the maquis of Viet Bac ever since 1951. The liberation of the Vietnam-
China border proved to be the decisive precondition for the launching of the inner-
Vietnamese revolution.12
The land reform got underway on a grand scale in 1953 in order to mobilise the peasantry for
the final assault on the French; together with the advance of the Viet Minh armies, the land
reform also had slowly moved from the high north further south13. It was executed on the basis
of Chinese landholding statistics, although conditions in Vietnam did not conform to those
of the age-old enemy cousin. Not only there existed in Vietnam – and particularly in the North
– overwhelmingly small and middle peasants,14 but the majority of large landowners had long
6 The files of the Staatssicherheit (Stasi) of the GDR concerning Vietnam, however, fell victim to the shredder during the
Wende of 1989/1990.
7 see David G. Marr, Vietnam 1945. The Quest for Power, University of California Press, 1995, pp. 345 and 552, and Duong
Thu Huong, Au-delà des illusions, Paris, 1996, p. 268/269
8 Colonel Dang Van Viet, La R. C. 4 Campagne des Frontières (1947-1950), Hanoi 1990
9 As a result, France attempted to convince the USA (and the rest of the Western world) that the war in Indochina was not a
colonial war but France’s contribution to the attempts of the Western world to push back communism. See Bernard B. Fall,
The Two Viet-Nams, New York and London, 1964, pp. 69/70, p. 225
10 Hy V. Luong, Revolution in the Village – Tradition and Transformation in North Vietnam, 1925-1988, Honolulu, 1992, p.
11 In May 1951, the German anti-fascist deserter from the Foreign Legion to the Viet Minh in Viet Bac, Rudolf Schröder alias
Le Duc Nhan alias Kerkhof, read Liu Chao-chi’s On the Party in English, and he commented on it in his 1950 diary. Fonds
Maria Schröder (FMS)
12 Hoang Van Chi, From Colonialism to Communism, op. cit., pp. 85/86
13 see Joseph R. Starobin, Eyewitness in Indo-China, New York (1954), 1968, p. 91
14 98,2 % of the acreage under cultivation consisted of properties of 5 ha or less. See Fall, The Two Viet-Nams, op. cit., p.
since fled anyway. While the resistance was a united national effort composed of all classes
against the colonial regime, the land reform was designed and practiced as a class struggle,
stimulating hatred within a society which the Viet Minh had so far presented as a patriotic
community, against all those not of peasant or working-class origin and, consequently, against
those categorised (and endangered) as « reactionary elements ».
The victory of Dien Bien Phu did not lead to the unity of Vietnam but, due to the resolutions
of the Geneva Conference on Indochina, the country remained divided: north of the 17th parallel
a communist regime, and a capitalist one in the South. Yet Dien Bien Phu was, as Graham
Greene has shown, the symbol of the impossibility and the end of European colonialism.
My interview partners in Hanoi were drunk with victory, ivre de victoire – it had been their
war and it was their victory, leading to their freedom. « The period was romantic », said the
poet Huy Can (born 1920) who has never been a dissident but is by many considered a « revolutionary
mandarin », and nostalgically he added: « One is a romantic because one is a patriot.
Thus, on completion of the national and political revolution in the North, the internal social
and cultural revolution was launched. After the land reform, the struggle against the Hundred
Flowers-Movement (Nhan Van – Giai Pham) which was centered on Hanoi, ended with the
hegemony of the Party over the intellectual domain, over culture and ideology. Then, from
1958 to 1960, followed the so-called reform of capitalists and capitalism16 (cai tao tu san),
including small traders who exhibited a « tendency to bourgeois spontaneity ».17 From
1945/46 onwards there had been a national united front for independence under the leadership
of the Viet Minh, whereas class struggle was waged in the entire society as of 1953/54 – if not
since 1950/51 – with the aim of establishing a marxist-leninist society.
The war of resistance against the French colonial regime had not only been conducted militarily
but also ideologically, according to the motto adopted by Ho Chi Minh in his December
1951 letter to the « Painter Comrades »: « Arts and literature also constitute a front », and
where he says: « Should there be anyone who thinks ‘Mr. Ho Chi Minh is conducting the arts
onto the territory of politics’, then he would be correct. Because literature and the arts, just as
any other activity, cannot stand aloof from economics and politics, but they are interdependent.
»18 In February 1957, the Central Committee of the Vietnamese Workers Party appealed
to the 2nd Congress of Writers and Artists in these words: « Our people demands of our writers
and artists to fulfill their duty as ‘engineers of the soul’ through the perfect creation of big
ideas, noble sentiments, precious virtues and the banishment of bad ideas and sentiments and
decadent morals. »19 These ideas had already been developed by the general secretary and
maître penseur of the Party, Truong Chinh (1907-1988), in his chapter on Cultural Resistance
of 1947 as well as his more extensive report delivered at the Second National Cultural Conference
held in the resistance stronghold of Viet Bac in July 1948, entitled Marxism and Vietnamese
Culture20 which, according to Nguyen Huu Dang (who had been close to Truong
15 Personal communication, Hanoi, 29. 11. 1997
16 see the excellent unpublished paper by Nguyen Thi Ngoc Thanh, The reform of capitalists and capitalism in North Vietnam,
Institute of Economics, Hanoi, September 1999
17 Resolution des XIV. Plenums des Zentralkomitees der Partei der Arbeit Vietnams (November 1958), in: MfAA/A 8679,
fiches 1 and 2, pag. 101
18 Auswärtiges Amt, Berlin, Politisches Archiv-Bestand MfAA/A 8582, pag. 0180. In the following quoted as ‘MfAA’
19 ibid., pag. 040. See also Nguyen Dinh Thi, Kampf gegen Revisionismus in der Literatur und Kunst, in: Hoc Tap, No. 3,
1958. MfAA/A 8494, pag. 050-079
20 Truong Chinh, Marxism and Vietnamese Culture. Report delivered at the Second National Cultural Conference, July 1948,
in: Selected Writings, Hanoi, 1994, pp. 202-278; Truong Chinh, Cultural Resistance (1947), in: ibid., pp. 121-126. Truong
Chinh was the renovator and the systematiser of a Vietnamese cultural theory. He connects the Vietnamisation, popularisation
and scientific character of culture with the national struggle against the Japanese and the French led by the CP. Not only
does he show intellectuals of the early 1940s a way out of colonial humiliation, but, moreover, he incorporates them into the
Chinh ever since the 1930s when he was in charge of the party journal Tin Duc, i. e. ‘Information’)
were already written in 1943 under the title Les grandes lignes d’un mouvement culturel
proposées par le Parti (De cuong van hoa moi).21 This Action plan for a new culture proposed
the motto of a national and scientific culture.22
The revolution, however, had not only begun in 1945, but its roots must be traced back to an
earlier stage. And if we want to trace its beginnings, we do also need to look at the Indochinese
environment and, apart from Thailand, particularly to China. It seems that in the 1930s,
revolutionary influences from China and the Soviet Union were solidly engrained in the leading
circle of the Indochinese Communist Party. From 1938 to 1941, for example, Nguyen Ai
Quoc23 was the Comintern’s representative in China where he worked as party secretary and
then was in charge of culture and propaganda of an army unit24. At that time he had translated
a Chinese text on the peasant question25 which was followed by a treatise on the Long Resistance
(in HCM’s works of 1941), namely Mao’s text on the Protracted War of May 1938
where the author declared that « The theory of the inevitable subjugation of China is false, but
equally false is the theory of rapid victory ».26
The Vietnamese communists were thus familiar with Mao’s ideas on the revolutionary struggle.
They would also have known his views on New Democracy (1940) and the role which
intellectuals were supposed to play in it. In actual fact, Mao’s New Democracy postulate had
in 1943 been taken up by Truong Chinh in the above-mentioned document, and it is here that
he talked for the first time about culture as a front – apart from the economic and political
front – on which communists had to fight. Vietnamese culture had to be national, scientific
and popular, i. e. mass-oriented. And ‘popular’ means that the center of culture moves from
the cities to the countryside, just as the struggle withdrew from the urban centers to the countryside.
The war is the historic vehicle of the revolution of the arts; arts and letters leave the
towns and cities, and instead chase darkness and backwardness (of feudalism and colonialism)
out of the countryside so as to enlighten it with the civilising and progressive message of the
new age, of the revolution. The cities remained in the hands of the imperialists, and they had
become the embodiment of evil, of all that was rotten and decadent. The new cultural and
societal forms were to emerge from the popular rural masses where the essence of Vietnamese
culture was supposed to have been maintained. Cultural production - be it in the form of poetry,
painting or music – has a morally and politically uplifting function and becomes indistinguishable
from propaganda which aims at winning over the population for the communist
cause, even though it may (in a first phase) come along in the guise of nationalism. To this
end, the Union for the salvation of Vietnamese national culture (Hoi Van hoa Cuu quoc) was
created in 1944 under the leadership of the long-standing collaborator of the General Secretary,
Nguyen Huu Dang, to whom I shall come back later. The task of the Union was to ‘introduce’
intellectuals to the Viet Minh.
3. The enigmatic Nguyen Son
As mentioned above, Chinese influences can be detected much earlier than 1950, and I want
to return once more to this point in connection with the notorious general Nguyen Son (1908-
1956). Some consider him a military failure and a literary and cultural bletherer, to others he
Viet Minh-alliance. See Kim Ninh, Revolution, Politics and Culture in Vietnam, 1945-1965, Yale University, 1996, unpublished
PhD thesis, pp. 52 ff., 100 ff.
21 Personal communication, Hanoi, 20. 10. 2000
22 Nguyen Dinh Thi, MfAA/A 8582, pag. 081
23 Alexander Woodside, Community and Revolution in Modern Vietnam, Boston, 1976, p. 224
24 Pierre Brocheux, Ho Chi Minh, Paris, 2000, p. 178
25 Dang Phong, personal communication in Tam Dao, I
26 Mao Tse-Tung, Ausgewählte Werke, Band II, Peking 1968, pp. 127 ff.
is a stylite, a charismatic renovator of the Vietnamese intellectual scene. Who is this Nguyen
As a 17 year old student he had fled to China in 1925 in order to evade the French police who
were after him because of his involvement in a student movement. In China he was educated
at Whampoa military academy, became a member of the Chinese communist party and its
Central Committee and, as an officer, took part in the Long March. He organised the first
theatre group of the Red Army and was in charge of a propaganda unit. At the request of the
cadre-starved Communist Party of Indochina, he returned to Vietnam in late autumn of 1945
and became a member of the Central Committee. Yet the Chinese Central Committee only
‘lent’ him to the Vietnamese as both it and Son the Chinese feared that he might run into
problems of political acclimatisation in his original fatherland, thus keeping his return to
China open from the very beginning.27 He subsequently became head of the 4th Interzone
(Khu IV, northern Central Vietnam) with its headquarters at Quang Ngai until his return to
China in 1951. Due to personal differences with general Giap and unovercomable political
disagreements with the official line of the communist party of his seemingly difficult fatherland,
he is said to have asked the Chinese communist party to take him back.28 We know little
about him, so until today he remains enigmatic, a myth, open to various causes and wild interpretations.
His strength, Frey/Stern insists, lied in politics rather than in military craftsmanship.
It seems that, ever since 1947, he had suggested or even carried out, chinh huan (rectification)
courses.30 In 1948/49, he translated several Mao texts, notably writings on the long resistance
and on materialist dialectics.31 His great passion, though, was theatre and literature. And although
there seem to be no texts by himself, we know from oral reports that he constantly
talked about these subjects, in public and in private, and that in this way he had become a
stimulant, an inspiration and a patron for artists and writers.32 “His audience watched him
spellbound as Arabs would the story-teller.”33 The courses on Arts and Literature for the Resistance
(Van Nghe Khang Chieu) which he inspired are to this day remembered as highlights
on the way to a revolutionary cultural renewal. Through him, Maoism avant la lettre arrived in
the sphere of culture, a smooth and exciting appeal to the young to dedicate themselves to the
new, the revolutionary, to embrace adventure and the people and the dream of a morrow
which had never existed before.34
Today, some insist that they were wise to his tricks and knew from the very outset he was a
hard-core Maoist who interpreted Mao’s Yenan ideas35 of the early 40s,36 that he was a blusterer.
For most, though, in a transfiguring recollection, he has remained a renovator who encouraged
his audience but would never impose his ideas, and in this way he became
retrospectively an intellectual door-opener, the mythical counter-model to the dictatorial To
Huu (see below). His early death is likely to have contributed to the evasiveness of his impact.
27 Ferry Stern, Ist es auch Wahnsinn…., unpublished manuscript, n. d., p. 860 (This is the original, 1216-page manuscript of
Ernst Frey, Vietnam, mon amour – Ein Wiener Jude im Dienst von Hô Chi Minh, hg. von Doris Sottopietra, Wien, 2001
28 Stern/Frey, op. cit., p. 1143. According to the same source, he was then readmitted to his position in the CCP yet was
severely critizised by his Chinese comrades for his opposition to Giap and to the Vietnamese Central Committee. Ibid., p.
1168. Several of my Vietnamese interlocutors in Hanoi related that he was charged with lack of revolutionary discipline.
29 Stern/Frey, op. cit., p. 1089
30 see Hoang Van Chi, op. cit., p. 136
31 Interview with Ho Si Bang in Hanoi, 16/11/2001
32 see: Mon hoc va giang vien (Studienfächer und Dozenten), ca. 1948, Khu IV, Quelle: Ng. Xuan Sanh
33 Stern/Frey, op. cit., p. 860. - And the historian Dao Hung, then a secondary school student, remembered: “Il a parlé avec
nous, les lycéens, à notre niveau de connaissances, à Tay Hoa. » Personal communication, Hanoi, 17 October 2001
34 see Chu Ngoc, Nguyen-Son. Nguoi di dau trong duong loi Van nghe rong rai (Nguyen Son, the pioneer of a liberal line in
literature and the arts), in: Nhan Van, no. 5, 20/11/1956
35 Dao Hung, 17. 10. 2001. Stern/Frey called him an “exponent“ of Mao’s guerrilla tactics, op. cit., p. 883
36 Le Dat, 2. 11. 2001
Apart from that he was an excentric, a daredevil, a lady’s man, conscious of his power, close
to the people and sporting a Clark Gable moustache, a Robin Hood who smoked forbidden
cigarettes. Such characters are scarce among disciplined stalinist communists and they are
therefore bewitching, firing the imagination, so that not a few poets and artists after 1954
would refer to him as a liberal and a humanist among the communist leaders.37
What nowadays is considered Maoist ideas or historical dialectics in literary critique, was at
the time perceived as a bombshell of modernity, as an antithesis of bourgeois literary criticism
with which the young intellectuals of the time had grown up under French colonialism.
Nguyen Son’s literary criticism – and especially his analysis of the Kieu – were identified
with the critique of Confucian society, and suddenly they saw the world with new eyes. He
contrasted the Freudian interpretation of the Kieu with a materialist one which was received
as an illumination, leading the way towards material reality and the people. Under the influence
of such trends, not a few urban intellectuals started to move towards a populist-utopian
version of the revolution: They demanded a “new culture” which was neither Confucian nor
French. Nguyen Son’s direct sphere of influence, the Khu IV, was a unique field of discussion
for this new culture which had not yet seen the light of day, and there were in his Interzone
some of the later dissidents such as Dao Duy Anh, Chu Ngoc and (the ‘Trotskyist’) Truong
Tuu, (Nguyen) Si (Sy) Ngoc and Nguyen Tien Lang38 but also Dang Thai Mai…
4. Writers and artists in the Resistance
During the resistance, artists and writers were cadres in the service of the revolution; they
belonged to the intelligentsia and they were to be the vanguard of the socialist tomorrow. According
to Truong Chinh’s Cultural Resistance of 1947, the cultural front aims at the elimination
of the outdated, obscurantist and backward modes of thought and action. Cultural activity
becomes propaganda; cultural workers “must aim at welding our people into one bloc, in
support of the government, with firm confidence in national salvation, not losing heart when
faced with difficulties and hardships.”39 The resolution of cultural and ideological questions
was considered the prerequisite for military success and economic development – ideology
therefore is of the uppermost importance.
Consequently, in the People’s Army, there was a large group of writers and artists most of
whom, before the outbreak of war in December 1946, had been educated in the Franco-
Indochinese secondary schools. They accepted the discipline and the deprivations of the Viet
Minh-led war and justified their choice by what official historiography calls “Patriotism” to
which they syncretistically added French values as their own ones. Many of them had moved
into the war in the name of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the Revolution of 1789, the Rights of
Man and the Citizen, the Republic, and of Democracy. « Ils se sentent en parfaite communion
avec la masse qui se réveille et qui lutte »,40 Dang Thai Mai would write in 1961, and this is a
fine example of the attempt of the North to monopolise the discourse and the interpretation of
nationalist, i.e. anti-colonial history. As mentioned above, professor Dang Thai Mai had been
a player in the cultural field of the 4th Interzone and therefore close to Nguyen Son; we can
only surmise as to the ideological influence Son might have had on him.
Such famous New Poetry representatives of the early 1940s as Huy Can (born 1920) and
Xuan Dieu (1916-1985) – romantically lost, painfully suffering from the abandonment of the
individualist, waiting to find the redeemer – were reborn by the Party, the Viet Minh and the
37 Hoang Cam, 25. 10. 2001
38 see Nguyen Tien Lang, Les Chemins de la Révolte, Paris, 1953
39 Truong Chinh, Cultural Resistance, op. cit., pp. 121-124. On a training school for popular letters and arts in the Viet Bac,
see Léo Figueres, Je reviens du Viet-Nam libre, Paris, 1950, pp. 55-58
40 Dan(g) Thai Mai, La Littérature Vietnamienne, in: Europe, no. 387/388, July-August 1961, p. 91
revolution and unconditionally immersed themselves into the new community which emerged
in the movement.41 Yet this was not the case for all intellectuals. The poets Hoang Cam (born
1922), Tran Dan (1924-1997) and Le Dat (born 1929) or scholars such as Phan Khoi (1887-
1960), Dao Duy Anh (1904-1988) and Tran Duc Thao (1917-1993) have never been just and
only unquestioning party automats fed with, and uncritically regurgitating the right ideological
slogans. Although they did for certain periods not resist the collective fanaticism which
had gripped the movement, they retained their contradictoriness and their individuality.
In actual fact, however, most of the later dissidents were members of the Party or worked
closely with it or its leading representatives, and often in high positions. Le Dat was a private
secretary of party chief Truong Chinh from 1949 to 1951 and, from 1952 onwards, secretary
of the Party’s ideological bureau. In 1951 he organised re-education courses for intellectuals.42
His friend Hoang Cam (who has never been a member of the Party, though) served as head of
the Viet Bac artistic group in 1951/52 under general Chu Van Tan. In June 1952 he was appointed
head of the army’s department of arts and letters by general Nguyen Chi Thanh43, at
the time director of the political commissariat of the People’s Army. This artistic group comprised
more than 200 men and women. Moreover, for the next two years, the famous general
would meet regularly with the poet and some of his friends in a kind of private academy to
further his artistic and literary education.44 The novelist Phung Quan (1932-1995) used to be a
liaison agent between the army units under general Ha Van Lan. His ever obstinate and bellicose
colleague Tran Dan who in those days in the circle of friends was known as the « pirate
chief »45, had first worked in one of the Viet Minh’s information services before joining the
army in 1948 and was involved in the first literary and artistic group of the armed forces.46 In
1950-51 Tran Dan was in charge of a campaign for the re-education of intellectuals through
manual labour,47 while he would later on become editor-in-chief of the Army’s literary journal
Van where he cooperated with Vu Cao and Tu Bich Hoang.
During the war, not a few of these urban intellectuals married young women from poor peasant
backgrounds,48 amongst them Hoang Cam and Le Dat. They thus demonstrated their
wholehearted devotion to the revolution and the rural masses because the private, the national
and the political did no longer belong to separate spheres but, in keeping with the dominating
ideology and the emotional fever of the times, became submerged in one inseperable whole in
a passionate, youthful adventure. Devotion to the enlightening Party was not always free from
elements of messianism. And marriage, especially with a member of the previously downtrodden
classes where the essence of Vietnamese culture had ostensibly been preserved, had
41 Neil L. Jamieson, Understanding Vietnam, University of California Press, 1995, pp. 189, 209, 268/269. See also Peter
Zinoman, Introduction to Dumb Luck, a novel by Vu Trong Phung, Ann Arbor, 2002, pp. 18-20. And see, for example, the
portrait of the poet (Nguyen) Xuan Sanh, in: Franz Faber, Rot leuchtet der Song Cai, Berlin, 1955, pp. 142-144. In the short
story Dans la Jungle from 1948, the writer Nam Cao who was killed in 1951, in Georges Boudarel’s translation, said: « Je
pensais vraiment trop à moi. Après la révolution d’Août, je mesurais un peu plus chaque jour que mon ‘moi’ ne signifiait
pratiquement rien. Il prenait juste quelque valeur quand il arrivait à s’harmoniser avec les hommes qui m’entouraient. Souvent
il fallait s’oublier, oublier son nom et sa réputation pour pouvoir être utile. A quoi bon se démener pour chercher à se
faire un nom dans l’histoire? L’histoire est une prise bien plus grande. Elle est l’oeuvre des masses. Penser au grand nombre
plutôt qu’à soi. Je fis et je fais encore beaucoup d’efforts pour prendre de l’intérêt aux travaux modestes et obscurs, mais
utiles… ». Chi Phéo, Hanoi, 1960, p. 184
42 « C’était lui qui donnait des directives à nous autres dans le sens du Maoisme », Nguyen Dinh Thi told me in Hanoi on
43 In 1952, the Party introduced the « two-commander system » of joint military and political commanders in the People’s
Army, and it was devised and implemented chiefly by general Nguyen Chi Than. Douglas Pike, PAVN – People’s Army of
Vietnam, Novato, Calif., 1986, pp. 158-159
44 Personal communication, Hanoi 1999/2001
45 Personal communication Le Dat, Hanoi 11. 10. 2000; see Nhu Phong, op. cit., pp. 52-53
46 Boudarel, Cent Fleurs écloses…, op. cit., pp. 49/50
47 Personal communication Hoang Cam, Hanoi 5. 10. 2000; see also Kim Ninh, op. cit., pp. 205/206
48 see the novel by Duong Thu Huong, Histoire d’amour racontée avant l’aube, La Tour d’Aigues, éditions de l’aube, 1991.
Most of them only divorced after Doi Moi (1986) – this was pointed out to me by Tran Duy in Hanoi on 17/10/2001
therefore become a highly symbolical act in the revolutionary process. The journalist and political
activist, Nguyen Huu Dang who never got married and who had organised the independence
celebrations for Ho Chi Minh on 2nd September 1945 and in November 1946 was
in charge of the First national cultural congress in Hanoi, was later entrusted by Truong Chinh
with recruiting intellectuals for the resistance through the Cultural society of national liberation
(Van hoa cuu quoc) which lasted until 1948. He became the Inspector General for People’s
Education and in this capacity conducted the campaign against illiteracy49 through which
he contributed to the regime’s assuring itself the monopoly over knowledge and access of
knowledge. Another ‘example’ ist the painter Phan Ke An: In 1948 he was commissioned by
Truong Chinh to spend several weeks with Ho Chi Minh in Viet Bac so as to make sketches
and portraits of the president. And 52 years later he related the encounter as an idyll in which
the young student met his master, a master of morals and proper conduct.50
But not all was unambiguous submission and blind devotion to the task they had shouldered.
Because even during the war, artists and writers in the ranks of the resistance experienced
unfair treatment, and this was surely all the more so since Maoism set in. They originated
overwhelmingly from the (petty)bourgois urban classes, and in the harsh milieu of the resistance
where everybody tried to be more than politically correct, they were at best tolerated as
« court jesters » but otherwise systematically discriminated against by the « cultural cadres »
vis-à-vis artists from proletarian and peasant backgrounds. This was emphasised by a mid-
1956 report by Nguyen Dinh Thi (1924-2003), then editor-in-chief of Van Nghe, the journal
of the association of writers and artists, and who, for given reasons, self-critically related that
whenever a writer would ask leave to write, he would be told: « Indeed you must be suffering
from bourgeois liberalism – from individualism. »51 And, as was underlined by Nguyen Tuan,
president of the Association of writers and artists: « The dominating view was that only the
manual worker, i.e. the worker or the peasant as long as they were soldiers, could be the people’s
artists. »52
On the occasion of the screening of a film about the declaration of independence of 2nd September
1945, Rudolf Schröder alias Le Duc Nhan, one of the high-ranking German intellectuals
in the Viet Minh, on 5 April 1950 scribbled the following comments in his frail little diary:
“The yearning for the city, their capital, Hanoi, became distinctly perceptible through the intensity
of applause each time a street, a house… could be recognised. … I was most impressed
by the excited applause for the female groups of the parade, particularly the groups of
girls from the Hanoi bourgeoisie, easily recognisable by the characteristic style of their
clothes and the light colours of their festive dresses. The acclamation was repeated unabated
with each new group, and it was clearly much longer than for the President and much more
lively and primordial at that. In the darkness where nobody feared being observed by the others,
all was neighing and howling. A collective sexual frenzy of distateful primitiveness.” And
he continued: “These youngsters – Confucians, repressers, abstainers – also will want to live
when they get back. I’m wondering what that will look like.”53
With the return to Hanoi in 1954 and a sudden decrease of tension and iron discipline, therefore,
the moment for stock-taking had come at last. For many, the goal longed-for over many
years had been attained, and for some it was the time to embark on the second leg of the
struggle for a new society because after the flush of victory they woke up in a social reality
they had not envisaged. They had so far accepted the leadership of the regime as the only one
49 Personal communication Nguyen Huu Dang, Hanoi, 30. 10. 2000
50 Conversation with Phan Ke An, Hanoi 2 and 14 October 2000
51 Zur kulturellen Situation, Report of GDR embassy in Hanoi, no date – probably mid-1956; in: MfAA/A 8420, pag. 020
52 ibid., pag. 017. See also interview with Tran Duy, 17.10. 01: cot can
53 Fonds Maria Schröder
that had been able to rid them of colonialism. Probably most of them had never considered
Marxism as the model of a post-colonial order – unless they had identified communism or
marxism with the ideals of the enlightenment or with Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The historian
Dao Hung (born 1932) told me, that he had joined the Party as a very young man during the
resistance war. I asked him what it had meant for him to become a communist, and he replied:
« At the time, communism was just like patriotism – it meant anti-colonialism, and all decent
people were communists. »54 The latter part is certainly a simplification and post-facto rationalisation,
but I think it is true to say that most intellectuals of the Resistance were anticolonialists,
nationalists, patriots, including those with anti-communist leanings from urban,
educated or land-owning families who frequently came from the confucian literati elite.
Ivre de victoire, « drunk with victory », the poet Hoang Cam was charged with organising the
victory celebrations, and intellectuals more and more demanded that they be given their share
as citizens in the creation of the new post-colonial, post-war order. Hoang Cam spoke for
many an ex-resistant when he declared: « Seven-eight years of resistance war have polished
me like a billiard-ball; now the hour has come to let my prickles grow again. »55
Yet Hoang Cam and his comrades were soon to realise that during the years of war, an omnipotent
party-state had established itself. It was present by its direct agents in those spheres in
which previously there had been room for negotiation between citizens and mandarins, between
literati and monks who had acted as mediators with considerable leeway in the social
and political spheres and among different interest groups. The Party was equally drunk with
victory, and it saw itself on top of the world after the triumph over the French; it was not going
to tolerate any compromises in the North on the pretext of the not-yet achieved reunification
with the South. Also, due to the eradication of « reactionary elements » in the purges of
party, state and mass organisations which had accompanied the land reform, the peasantry
which had gained victory far away from the urban centers, had come to power in Hanoi.56 The
philosopher Tran Duc Thao in 1956 talked about « the hooliganisation of the peasantry »,57
and this expressed both the traditional elite’s attitude towards the rural masses and the shock
experienced by them over the apparent abolition of their seemingly eternal superiority.
The success of the Viet Minh can not only be explained by its (reckless) ability to exclude
other anti-colonial groups and to present itself as the guarantor of success but, moreover, from
the fact that in 1945/46 it represented a large majority and the determination of a humiliated
people to resist. The Viet Minh had found the language which gave words to colonial violations
and, more importantly still, it was capable of organising the resistance. The leadership at
the time knew how to link the myth of Vietnam’s cultural uniqueness with her ostensibly
eternal patriotism. The intellectuals had devoted themselves to this project which came to be
confirmed in the ritual of the 2nd September 1945 and which made the Viet Minh the representative
of the Vietnamese people. In 1954, on the other hand, the situation was quite different:
What everybody had longed for had been achieved, namely independence. The countermyths
which had been neglected during the war, could once more begin to speak up – the
values assimilated from French education, the popular buddhist traditions and the hidden (anarchic)
taoist values of thought and conduct which had always opposed the rigidity of confu-
54 Personal communication, Hanoi, 12. 10. 2000. « Je ne crois pas qu’il y ait eu plus de cinquante vrais communistes
convaincus dans toute l’Indochine en 1945. En revanche, pour qui voulait l’indépendance nationale du Vietnam, il n’y avait
pas d’autre choix que de soutenir le Vietminh. » Viet Tran, Vietnam: J’ai choisi l’exil, Paris, 1979, p. 18
55 Boudarel, Cent Fleurs écloses, op. cit., pp. 23/24
56 see, for example, the novel by Duong Thu Huong, Paradise of the Blind
57 Tran Duc Thao, Freedom and Society, in: Giai Pham Mua Dong, Hanoi, 1956, quoted in: Hoang Van Chi, From Colonialism
to Communism, op. cit., p. 123
cianism and the raison d’état58. Marxism had proven its credibility as the instrumental ideology
of resistance, but its cultural one-dimensionality had not succeeded to exterminate the
myths and the intellectual and popular cultures of Vietnam, including the French heritage of
the educated strata, in favour of its hegemony. Many intellectuals therefore rejected the authoritarian
demands of the Party which threatened to smother them. They had read André
Gide’s Retour de l’URSS when it first came out in 1936, and some had still been able to lay
hands on George Orwell’s Animal Farm published in 1945. Those messages were, finally, not
lost on them.
But for nothing in the world they would have disavowed their contribution to and their performance
in the resistance. When Huy Can had said that “The period was romantic”, he had
spoken for most of his colleagues, albeit the lessons drawn might be fundamentally different.
The poet Vu Can (1928-1999), formerly chief editor of the official propaganda organ, pertinently
accepted the contradictions in himself when he wrote the poem La Condition in 1992:
Jeune je vivais dans l’humiliation
Frustré de ma propre patrie comme j’étais
Elle pesait lourd la colonisation
Vietnamien elle m’avait fait sujet français
A la révolution j’allais adhérer
Tant pour laver ma honte que celle des miens
L’indépendance a redonné la dignité
L’ex-sujet français devient objet vietnamien59
5. Nguyen Chi Thanh, Tran Dan and the 32 points
During the drizzly and melancholy winter months of 1954-1955, a group of journalists, writers
and artists, members of the People’s Army’s Arts and Letters Bureau, came together to
discuss, and eventually demand, an ideological and cultural re-orientation. The North Vietnamese
army of those days has been described as « a school of democracy »60 because it
would continue critical debates throughout the war which, if this is correct, would be pursued
with a growing sense of urgency under conditions of peace.
Does this mean that the Party’s hold on intellectuals in the Army was weak, or does it mean
that the Party of those days was not entirely gleichgeschaltet, i.e. unified ideologically?61
There were in the army throughout the war all those conflicting elements and representatives
of ideological persuasions which, after Dien Bien Phu when the revolution was to cement its
power over political and social institutions, should burst open, soon to find their battleground
in the theatre of social revolution. Outside the army, the pursuit of a cultural opening could
not be restrained either, and there existed an intricate network of close personal relations in
the intimate village circle of North Vietnamese intellectuals between army and civilian life.
Some of the poets who congregated during that winter had known each other from the circle
of their symbolist journal, L’Enfer, in 1946, and they were influenced by Verlaine and Rim-
58 For a revealing comparison of an ensemble of folk worship and the high tradition of religion which together make up the
religious and ethical fabric of a given society with « a good deal of trafficking between the two pantheons », see Amitav
Ghosh, In an Antique Land – History in the guise of a traveller’s tale, New York, 1992, pp. 251-252
59 Vu Can, Frissons d’Hérésie – Poèmes, published in photocopied form in 12 copies by the author, Hanoi 1998, p. 59. Two
weeks before his death on 17th May 1999, Vu Can said to me in his characteristically ironic melancholy: “J’ai 50 au Parti
Communiste et 25 ans de diabète – qu’est-ce qui est le pire selon toi?” Conversation with Vu Can, Hanoi, 3. 5. 1999; see also
Frissons d’Hérésie, pp. 129/130
60 Boudarel, Cent Fleurs écloses, op. cit., p. 97
61 Thanks to Christopher Goscha for his pertinent remarks in this respect.
baud. « We’re a gang of homeless ones, lost, wandering around, by mistake reborn in the hour
of the fading stars. »62 And one could well argue that these people had at no point reneged on
their individuality63 which had been shaped by their ‘liberal’ education in the 1930s and early
40s, although they had at times fettered their energy and their spirits to the almost hysterical
will to outdo any past. One of them, the poet and writer Tran Dan, who at the time was working
in the cultural department of the army under the general and political commissar Tran Do,
was sent to China to write the script for a film on the battle of Dien Bien Phu. There he fell to
loggerheads with the commissar assigned to him who did not only keep watch over the political
conduct of his charge, but apparently was determined to have the last word in artistic questions
according to the political line of the party as well.64 This experience is likely to have
contributed to Tran Dan’s rebelliousness in the events soon to come. The assertion that in
China Tran Dan had come into contact with the ideas of the liberal marxist literary critic Hu
Feng and that China, implicitly, had been the spiritual godfather of the Vietnamese dissidence,
is very unlikely and impossible to prove.65
Tran Dan’s experience in China, the political leading-strings applied by his authoritarian
watchdog, coupled with the Army poets’ and artists’ life under stringent military discipline
which they did no longer consider justified after the restoration of peace, appear to have been
major causes for the outbreak of dissent. And it means that the Party’s battle for intellectual
hegemony was anything but won in 1955-1956.66
In the magazine Hoc Tap (Study) appeared in 1958 – i.e. shortly after the events to be presented
in the following – a long report written by the poet, composer and writer Nguyen Dinh
Thi (1924-2003) who was then general secretary of the Association of Vietnamese Writers
and Artists, under the title Against Revisionism in Literature. Its German translation is kept in
the archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the German Democratic Republic.67 This
document contains the only archival indication concerning the group of writers and artists in
the army which for the very first time voiced critique of the organisation and content of the
DRV’s cultural policy. At first, their critique was restricted to cultural and artistic work in the
ranks of the army. According to Nguyen Dinh Thi, there emerged « in the army around Tran
Dan, Tu Phac and others, a group of writers and artists who demanded the foundation of an
independent association of writers and artists free from any political and organisational direction
of the army. The false standpoints were smashed consequent upon a struggle that took
several months but for the time being, the bourgeois ideology in the conceptions of Le Dat or
Tran Dan remained hidden from the public. »68 The first part of the quotation is a factual observation
(except that Le Dat was not a member of the army), whereas the second can not be
accepted as such. Because the authorities succeeded neither in smashing the « false standpoints
» of the reformers, nor did their conceptions (which were by no means always very
« bourgeois ») remain hidden from the public.
62 Boudarel, Cent Fleurs écloses, op. cit., p. 49
63 see Kim Ninh, op. cit., part II: The construction of the New State, 1954-1956, p. 230
64 According to oral information in Hanoi and in Paris, the political commissar was Hoang Xuan Tuy, who later became
director of the Polytechnical School in Hanoi and Vice-Minister for Higher Education.
65 see Boudarel, Cent Fleurs écloses, op. cit., pp. 52 ff, 87, 156 ff. Early in March 2001 I asked Boudarel as to what he and
Tran Dan had known by 1955 on Hu Feng, and he replied: « Rien », and he then added: « Je me suis trompé ». See also Kim
Ninh, op. cit., p. 231; William J. Duiker, Ho Chi Minh, New York, 2000, p. 489. On Hu Feng: Merle Goldman, Literary
Dissent in Communist China, Harvard University Press, 1967, as well as her Hu Feng’s Conflict with the Communist Authorities,
in: The China Quarterly, vol. 12, 1960; Roderick MacFarquhar, The Hundred Flowers, London, 1960
66 It would be most interesting to know more about the role played at the time by general Tran Do.
67 MfAA/ A 8494, fiche 1, pag. 050-079. The concept ‘revisionism’ has been applied to the Hanoi dissidence only since
1957; the concept emerged in reaction to the XXth Congress of the CPSU in 1956 and was thus not current in Vietnam in
68 ibid., pag. 051
What then is Nguyen Dinh Thi talking about? Tran Dan and his friends Tu Phac, Hoang Cam,
Do Nhuan, Truc Lam, Hoang Tich Linh and others had drawn up a catalogue of 32 points
entitled Proposals for a cultural policy which had been edited by Tran Dan. Instead of passing
them on to the competent authorities through official channels, they had asked general
Nguyen Chi Thanh to suspend the programme of one of their regular get-togethers and instead
listen to and discuss their proposals. To this he agreed, and the memorable meeting took place
in Hanoi in February 1955 in Thanh’s private residence. It seems that the writers and artists
had no doubt that in the person of Nguyen Chi Thanh they had a supporter of their claims, and
they were equally certain to find sympathetic encouragement – or at least tolerance – with
generals Tran Do and Le Liem. Apart from general Thanh and the complete circle of teachers69,
there were two high military men present, namely Le Quang Dao, head of the army office
for education and information, and his deputy, Vo Huong Cuong.
The 32 points have never been published, and there is no written record. Participants have
related to me in Hanoi that Tran Dan read slowly from his handwritten notes and that Thanh
listened attentively until point 14 had been presented. At that moment, to the extreme consternation
of all, Nguyen Chi Thanh exploded with fury, violently banging the table, jumping up
and accusing the assembly of bourgeois liberalism and of being infected with the sugary bullets
of capitalism. He stormed out of the room – relations between the artists and the general
were henceforth broken off, and the attempt to enter into discussions on a cultural reorientation
with the army authorities, with the Party and government, had failed.
Were the poets, writers and artists really so naive and politically innocent as not to recognise
the hard-core politcal commissar behind the affable facade of Nguyen Chi Thanh who, as the
man of the party in the army, could not possibly accept demands which contradicted the
party’s platform on culture? They seem to have concluded hat Thanh had undergone an abrupt
change of ideology and that he had been hit by the bullets that had come from the northern
neighbour. Had they assumed that Maoism had only been a tactical means in the struggle
against colonialism and that it would be abandoned once the war was over? The question
needs to be asked, though, if there had been any sympathies for the reformers on the part of
military leaders, as is sometimes maintained. General Giap has to this day remained silent on
the matter, although one of his close collaborators, the political commissar of the battle of
Dien Bien Phu, Le Liem, did in fact, on behalf of the Politbureau, negotiate with the men who
had strayed from the right path during the hot summer of 1956 so as to bring them back into
the fold. Le Liem and Giap, just as Tran Do, were soon to be accused of Revisionism.70 My
impression is that the level of presumed tolerance and sympathy for a cultural and artistic reorientation
on the part of the North Vietnamese Party, state and army leadership, must be defined
in the light of the revisionism debate which blew up with the XXth Congress of the
CPSU. Thereupon the span of what was politically and culturally possible in the Eastern bloc
at the time between Maoism and Soviet revisionism à la Nikita Chrushev, became evident.71
By no means there was in the Vietnamese leadership at that stage any inclination to extend a
helping hand to a pluralist cultural policy, in other words: a freeing of culture from its political,
military and economic functions.
69 This circle comprised the novelist Thanh Tinh, the poet Vu Cao and his brother, the writer Vu Tu Nam, the poet Phung
Quan, the painter Mai Van Hien, the composers Do Nhuan, Luong Ngoc Trac, Van An and Doan Nho as well as the writers,
poets and journalists Cao Nhi, Phac Van, Tu Phac and, of course, Hoang Cam. See also Kim Ninh, op. cit., p. 285. On general
Thanh, see Bui Tin, 1945-1999 Vietnam – La Face Cachée du Régime, Paris, 1999, pp. 86-87, and Georges Boudarel,
Cent Fleurs écloses, op. cit., pp. 98-100
70 In 1999, at the age of 86, Tran Do was excluded from the Party after having put his demands for an opening and for reforms
of the regime into the Internet – after many years of bidding for his proposals behind closed doors, he went public, thus
overstepping the Party’s level of tolerance. He died in August 2002.
71 Over the following 20 years, this split between China and the Soviet Union was to determine, in manifold ups and downs
and in floating alliances, the internal and external policies of the DRV. On this aspect, the GDR archival material gathered
yet so far not exploited, is most revealing.
The demands of Tran Dan and his friends comprised essentially three areas: First, the restitution
of responsibility for arts and literature to writers and artists; second, the establishment of
a department for literature and the arts within the army which was to be attached to the (civilian)
federation for literature and the arts and which would not be subordinate to the control of
the political general commissariat’s propaganda and education department; third, the abolition
of military regulations applied to the army’s department for arts and literature.72
Tran Dan submitted these demands in the name of the collective. He pleaded for a realism
informed by the social and individual truths and demanded that neither a programme, nor a
guiding principle should ever be allowed to become an immutable model. « Realism », he
proposed, « encourages a hundred schools to unfold, both in content and in form.» Accusing
the political cadres to smother creativity and the arts, he concluded that the writer should not
write so as to satisfy the wishes of the department of propaganda and education, and that the
« revolution does not need flatterers who fawn political programmes, ruminating hatred of the
enemy and patriotism, nor does it need shamans who celebrate its cult, deceitfully beating
their cymbals and chanting their repulsive litanies… In our literature there is at present much
artificiality (and even hypocricy)… The writer comes forward with a frame and he forces reality
into it…. Why do we, for example, not write about the office? Or about love? When we
write about love, then it is a matter of sacrificing oneself for the fatherland… Why are only
peasants and workers worthy to be portrayed? » So he insisted: « We want to talk openly and
honestly and we want to say everything. »73
The reformers objected to a socialism in which the leninist party held sway over all aspects of
society, including the most personal affairs of an individual’s life, insisting that « Politics
cannot control literature and the arts. »74 They seemed to be anticipating the Spring of Prague,
wishing to portray reality in its diversity and in its contradictoriness because « everyone carries
in himself an element of the facets of reality: of men, of stories, of facts… Every soldier,
every cadre, every writer carries in himself a… novel. »75 Their great literary influences were
the French symbolists (Verlaine, Rimbaud) and Majakowski.
In my encounters with the surviving actors of those events it was always pointed out that what
they wanted was diversity, independent debate and organisational relaxation within the existing
socialist order, and that their demands were not levelled at party or government. This is
borne out by a report from GDR embassador Pfützner who gives an account of the situation at
the end of 1955: «After the restoration of peace (Geneva Conference on Indochina of 1954),
artists of all branches expected a decisive change and were hoping for support from government
and party. They found themselves in all types of jobs and activities. They had become
administrative cadres or organising officials or had remained army cadres. In the army, for
example, they were subject to strict military discipline which would not allow them any artistic
work and which frequently had a mortifying and humiliating effect on them. For example,
just like any other soldier, they have to go to bed at 9 o’clock at night so they have no opportunity
to devote at least a few hours of the night to their art. In other governing bodies and
organisations, where artists time and again demanded that they be granted the indispensable
preconditions for their work, they invariably met with bureaucratic incomprehension. – This
is what the situation was like about a year ago when there emerged among writers and artists a
movement which loudly expressed its discontent. »76
72 Nhu Phong, op. cit., p. 57
73 Boudarel, Cent Fleurs écloses, op. cit., pp. 89-92; Boudarel et Nguyen Van Ky, op. cit., pp. 132-136
74 Nhu Phong, op. cit., p. 57
75 Boudarel, Cent Fleurs écloses, op. cit., p. 93
76 Botschafter Pfützner, Oppositionelle Bewegungen der Schriftsteller und Künstler gegen die Politik des ZK der Lao-Dong-
Partei in den Fragen der Literatur und Kunst, November 1956, in: MfAA/A 8420, pag. 031
With their 32 demands, the artists and writers in the army were the first ones to formulate an
alternative to the cultural policy of the Party. The above-mentioned report of the East German
ambassador pointed out that the intellectuals (Kulturschaffende) from the army and from civilian
life who, after the sacrifices they had made throughout the war, were now expecting
relaxations on the part of – and in cooperation with – the government and the party. He went
on to say that only due to the negative stance adopted by the authorities, a certain radicalisation
and an increasing marginalisation had occurred.77
6. The antagonistic contradictions of 1956
It had become evident that the desired reforms would not be granted because « The leading
party has given to Vietnamese literature and Vietnamese arts the light of marxist-leninist ideas
and illuminated the path to struggle for the societal revival of Vietnam and the evolution of
the new Vietnamese man… The party has introduced writers and artists to the best method of
artistic creation, the method of socialist realism… ».78
Party and government are driven by one aim, i.e. re-unification under the leadership of the
party. In the case of deviation from the prescribed line, the enemy might exploit the situation.
The 8th plenum of the Central Committee of the Lao Dong Party in 1955 discussed the « fight
against spies, saboteurs, counter-revolutionary organisations and… the education to vigilance.
The unfolding of this struggle in the cities demands, as a prerequisite, registration and the
obligation to report of the population, in the factories and in the public service the permanent
education and training to secrecy and the guarding of official secrets. »79 In addition, the population’s
freedom of movement was restricted (ho khau), and every citizen was equipped with a
biographical identity booklet which indicated the social class membership of its bearer (ly
But the heretics did not give in. Rather, together with colleagues and friends from outside the
army, in March 1956 they published Giai pham mua xua, the literary works of spring, an almanach-
like literary collection. The charges against them now moved out of the comparatively
protected circle of the military and were forthwith taken up by the Party, i.e. by To Huu
(1920-2003), « generally considered the biggest contemporary poet »81, member of the Politbureau
in charge of education and propaganda, and the Party’s official poet, interpreter of the
right line which was largely stipulated by him – one of the most powerful men in the country.
He proved ruthless.82 It is related in Hanoi that he had convened the colleagues with whom he
had entertained amicable relations during the resistance, to his office and that he snapped at
them: « For whom do you write? For the future instead of for the workers and peasants and
for the revolution? If that is so, then you shall eat in the future, and not now! » The Party had
taken a decisive step towards control over the ideological sector and thus to the stabilisation
of its power after 1954. While the Viet Minh had, ten years earlier, attempted to control ac-
77 ibid., pag. 028-036
78 Hauptreferat auf dem 2. vietnamesischen Kongreß der Schriftsteller und Künstler 1957: Die Entwicklung der Kunst und
Literatur in ihren großen Zügen, in: MfAA/ a 8582, pag. 079-080
79 Botschaft der DDR, Hanoi, 20/9/1955, Aktenvermerk über die Versammlung der Botschafter der befreundeten Länder,
Genossen Truong Chin (sic), 17/9/55 – 15.00 bis 18.00 Uhr, in: MfAA/A 8679, fiche 3, pag. 0229a
80 Georges Boudarel et Ngyen Van Ky, op. cit., p. 134
81 Blood and Flowers – The path of the poet To Huu, Hanoi, 1978, p. 9. Also see Harry Thürk et al., Stärker als die reißenden
Flüsse – Vietnam in Geschichte und Gegenwart, Berlin, 1970, p. 188
82 To Huu is likely to have been deeply hurt in his pride as a poet early in 1955 by the biting attacks on the part of Tran Dan
and Le Dat on his poetry collection Viet Bac for which he had received the literature price for 1954-1955. See Boudarel, Cent
Fleurs écloses, op. cit., pp. 119 ff; Kim Ninh, op. cit., pp. 235-238; Gérard Tongas, J’ai vécu dans l’enfer communiste au
Nord Viêt-Nam, 2me édition, Paris, 1960, p. 337. Further: Nguyen Tran Huan, The Literature of Vietnam, 1954-1973, in:
Tham Seong Chee, ed., Essays on literature and society in Southeast Asia. Political and sociological perspectives, Singapore
University Press, 1981, pp. 322-323 and 330-331. For an (official) biography of To Huu (about 1959), see MfAA/A 8494,
pag. 0137
cess to the written word and to knowledge through the literacy campaign, the Party now dealt
a fatal blow at the producers of the written word so as to bring them into its orbit.83
For the leadership of state and party, however, things turned rather rough also due to internal
as well as external problems. In the countryside, the excesses of the land reform and the
purges of the party and mass organisations, had provoked opposition and rebellion. Everywhere
the situation was « politically tense »84; even families whose members had fought in the
Resistance, were now persecuted. Famine considerably aggravated the situation;85 neither the
economic upturn nor the political and ‘moral’ impact expected from the land reform had materialised,
deputy foreign minister Ung van Khiem told the GDR ambassador in October
Phung Quan, writer and poet, described what he had seen in the countryside of the northern
delta in theses verses:
I have passed through
Many villages of Kien-An and Hong Quang
Where the sea broke in and left its salt over wide plains
Where, for two successive seasons, no grain of rice has grown
And human excrement is red with peels of sweet potatoes.
I have met countless emaciated children
Of five or six years old
Eating less rice than bran…87
On 29th September 1956, the hero of Dien Bien Phu, General Giap, made a public selfcriticism
in the name of party and government, and the correction of mistakes committed in
the land reform began in November. President Ho Chi Minh had personally admitted to errors
in the land reform which in general, though, he considered as ultimately positive and successful88.
He wept in public which to this day does not fail to produce the impression of his honesty
and fatherly concern for the well-being of the people. Despite such conciliatory gestures,
the situation continued to deteriorate, and in November 1956 – at the same time as the
« events in Hungary » – the People’s Army was employed for the bloody task of putting down
peasant uprisings in a number of villages in Nghe An, Ho’s home province. An indication of
the seriousness of the crisis is the sudden visit of Chinese Premier Chou En-lai to Hanoi on
18th November.89
Meantime, writers, poets and artists, together with other members of the intelligentsia, had
been sent to the countryside to observe the land reform. The experiences they were confronted
with, enforced their doubts and stoke up the climate of resistance in the urban centers. It now
83 In an unpublished manuscript of the early 1970s, Rudolf Schröder alias Le Duc Nhan wrote: « The ability to read and write
is splendidly suited to produce, maintain, spread and deepen obscurantism… I fear that by now Vietnam has become one of
the countries where those in power totally control knowledge. » FMS, manuscript in my possession, p. 56
84 Botschaft der DDR to Ministerium für Auswärtige Angelegenheiten, Hanoi 8/4/1957, in: MfAA/A 8383, pag. 009
85 In September 1955, General Secretary Truong Chinh informed the ambassadors of « the friendly countries » that there still
were « 91000 unemployed who are, to an extent, occupied with casual jobs… The number of those affected by acute famine
dropped from 1 million (March, 1955) to 180000 (July, 1955). The May harvest exceeded the preliminary estimate (without
any figures). In industry and trade, however, the plan has not been fulfilled. » The remarkable thing about this information is
not the figures provided (and it is irrelevant whether they are exact or not), but the admission of famine and extreme economic
difficulties. Botschaft der DDR, Hanoi, 20/9/1955, Aktenvermerk über die Versammlung der Botschafter der befreundeten
Länder…, in: MfAA/A 8679, pag. 0229a
86 Botschaft der DDR to Zentralkomitee der SED, Berlin, Hanoi, 17/1/1956, in: Zentralkomitee der SED Internationale Verbindungen,
Bundesarchiv, DY30/IV2/20/217. In the following, this archival fund will be quoted as ‘ZK der SED’
87 from Giai Pham Mua Thu, October 1956, quoted from Hoang Van Chi, Collectivisation and Rice Production, in: The
China Quarterly, no. 9, 1962, p. 96
88 Bernard B. Fall, ed., Ho Chi Minh On Revolution – Selected Writings, 1920-1966, London, 1967, pp. 304-306
89 P. J. H., Revolt of the Intellectuals in North Vietnam, op. cit., p. 251
became apparent, as Georges Boudarel has pointed out, that Mao’s utopian line which had
been dogmatically applied in Vietnam, had led to excesses90 in the land reform and to reactions
of the population which threatened to tear the regime apart and which subsequently
made divisions in the leadership apparent: on the one hand, a dogmatic maoist majority, and
on the other a minority, more pragmatic wing, the so-called revisionists.
1956 was a critical year for the communist bloc. A certain détente and a timid questioning of
dictatorial rule had already begun with Stalin’s death in 1953. On the occasion of the XXth
congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, on 26 February 1956, general secretary
Krushev delivered his so-called secret report on the crimes of Stalin, thus overthrowing the so
far indubitable idol. At the end of May, 1956, following Mao’s speech On Contradictions,
Peking – convinced, it seems, that antagonistic contradictions in the country had been overcome
and that, consequently, remaining non-antagonistic ones could be openly discussed –
called on the entire intelligentsia to criticise bureaucracy and other shortcomings of the regime.
This led to the short-lived Chinese version of the Hundred Flowers under the motto A
hundred schools contend; a hundred flowers bloom.91 At the end of June, an uprising occurred
in Poznan, Poland; in October, revolt erupted in Hungary, squashed in November by the Warsaw
pact armies.
These events unnerved the regime in Hanoi. In a Resolution of the 10th (enlarged) session of
the central committee on the achievements of the land reform and the re-organisation of parties
and mass organisations in September, we read: « The unfavourable influence of the situation
reigning in the countryside is currently extending to the cities and is spreading to all
classes and societal strata of the country in the North just as well as in the South. These circumstances
impose on us the necessity to amend the mistakes committed decisively, rapidly
and considerately. »92 In a tête-à-tête on 7th January 1957, Prime Minister Pham Van Dong
told the GDR ambassador that «about three or four months ago… the situation in the countryside
had been very critical, much more serious than we had been prepared to admit at the
time »93, and that it had not been possible to raise the material situation since the restoration of
peace in July 1954. According to the ambassador’s report, the Prime Minister continued saying
that the « dissatisfaction so far manifests itself in ideologically masked (disguised) attacks
onto the people’s democratic regime. Here the government differentiates carefully between
avowed enemies of the public order, and fellow-travellers or scatterbrains. The fullness of
strength would be employed against its enemies. »94 On the type of action to be employed
against dissatisfied intellectuals and in particular against the Nhan Van group, there was, according
to Nguyen Dinh Thi who met the ambassadors accredited in Hanoi on 20 October
1956, « so far no uniform view within the Central Committee of the Lao-Dong-Party, although
representatives of the CC had already had a number of discussions with the group. »95
This undecisiveness gave the rebels some breathing space which came to an abrupt end with
the suppression of the Hungarian revolt. A meeting of the governing communist parties in
Moscow in December 1957 decided to crack down on all deviants.96 The ice age had set in
The party’s hegemony had been maintained by repression. But the thorn of doubt in the flesh
of the system had been confirmed by the XXth party congress of the SU whose significance
90 Georges Boudarel et Nguyen Van Ky, op. cit.
91 Merle Goldman, Literary Dissent in Communist China, op.cit., p. 160; Roderick Farquhar, The Hundred Flowers, op. cit.
92 MfAA/A 8380, pag. 056
93 Botschafter Pfützner to MfAA, 8/1/1957, in: MfAA/A 8699, fiche 3, pag. 0233-0237
94 ibid., pag. 0234
95 Botschafter Pfützner to Ministerium für Auswärtige Angelegenheiten der DDR, Hanoi, 5/11/1956, in: MfAA/A 8420, pag.
96 see Roderick MacFarquhar, op. cit., pp. 303/304
for Vietnam and her intelligentsia cannot be overestimated. Nobody at first had read
Krushev’s speech, yet reports and rumours – here and there from the extremely rare French
newspapers – nourished from fragmentary information, made the rounds and hatched the conviction
that what had so far been taken for granted, was no longer valid.97 If the doubt had
been postulated in the Kremlin, then doubt must also be permissible in Vietnam. This goes to
explain that the ardent socialist patriotism of many a young revolutionary which had temporarily
been strengthened through the Maoist experience and which was simultaneously being
modified by the reading of Soviet novels ever since the early 1950s98, was getting amputated
of its socialist-communist variant by the Moscow congress.
These desillusioning events, though, did at the same time lead to new encouragements. The
fact that the revelations about Stalin and Soviet totalitarianism came from inside the regime,
was, in the minds of many Vietnamese, proof of the communist system’s renewability. « For
us, the Soviet experience had always been a light of freedom », said the historian Dao Hung.99
Therefore, the XXth congress of the CPSU ultimately encouraged the dissidents not to
slacken off their demands. The then attaché of the GDR embassy in Hanoi, Klaus Matzke, on
23rd August 1963 had a discussion in the Ministry of Culture of the DRV with comrades Vo
Cong Ky, head of the foreign department, and (Xuan?) Thuy. He was told « that even among
Vietnamese intellectuals in the arts and literature, bourgeois influences were being perceived…
». Matzke asked whether these « pernicious conceptions would perhaps come from
Thailand or South Vietnam », to which his interlocutors replied: « The source of these pernicious
views were neither in Thailand nor in South Vietnam, but in the Soviet Union. »100 The
contradictions had become antagonistic indeed.
7. Cent Fleurs écloses: Giai Pham
What had happened on the intellectual scene of Hanoi in the meantime? I have already mentioned
that the Literary Works (Giai Pham) which were later in the year referred to as those of
spring (mua xua), had appeared in March 1956, edited by Hoang Cam. In this literary selection,
the writers did not aim at the Soviet Union, but they took the master thinker of their
party, Truong Chinh, at his word and aimed at his programmatical piece Marxism and Vietnamese
culture of 1948 where he had demanded: « Without criticism and controversy, our
cultural movement is too placid, too uneventful… True unity must be founded on criticism
motivated by unity and aimed at strengthening unity… ». And then he let the cat out of the
bag: « The criticism we have in mind is criticism that abides by principles and democratic
discipline, and not ‘free criticism’. There may be some who wish to use criticism to sow dissension
and doubt in the ranks of our people and supply the enemy with documents to be used
against us. They are not critics but trouble-makers who seek not progress but provocation.
Their place is not on the public debating platform of a democratic country but in the prisons
of the people’s state. »101 Truong Chinh’s definition of ‘critique’ was unambiguous, and the lot
of those who would not abide by it, was equally unambiguous.
97 According to Bui Tin, op. cit., p. 57, the DRV’s General Secretary Truong Chinh who had participated in the Moscow
congress, was « en état de choc » since he had heard the secred report. Bui Tin relates how Truong Chinh had hidden the
transcript of Krushev’s speech in his briefcase, that he did not talk to anybody about what had happened, and that on his
return to Hanoi he only informed Ho Chi Minh about it.
98 Conversation with Dao Hung, Hanoi 10/10/2000
99 ibid., and he continued: « But then this did slowly change, and with the rise of Brechnev this hope vanished. And with the
invasion of the Soviet troops into Czechoslovakia, it is over for us… ».
100 And further: « Since many Sov. works of art and literature were imported into the DRV, the CC of the Workers’ Party of
Vietnam had given instructions to reorganise the control agencies for the import of Sov. films, Sov. literature etc. so as to put
a stop to such pernicious influences. » Aktenvermerk Nr. 117/63, Botschaft der DDR, Hanoi, 7. 9. 1963, ZK der SED, DY
30/IV A2/20/442.
101 Truong Chinh, op. cit., p. 271
The writers and artists of Giai Pham were members of official organisations such as the army,
the writers’ association or the editorial staff of the association’s cultural magazine. And we
can assume that they had all been engaged in the anti-colonial war (apart from a very few
who, due to the Geneva Convention, had come from the South). The authors of this literary
collection were « animated by the desire to make a stand against conformism, to seek what is
modern, to preach openly the sincerity of the artist. »102 Two contributions in particular
aroused the wrath of the custodians of the right path. One is a quatrain by Le Dat, entitled Mr.
People who live too long
Are like lime-pots.
The longer they live, the worse they grow
And the narrower they become.103
In Giai Pham mua thu, the August edition of the Literary Works, the confucian scholar, sinologist,
journalist and political activist Phan Khoi (1887-1960)104, explained that the limepot
was a vessel indispensable for the betel chewer and that its opening would gradually get narrower
due to sediments. As it is getting useless, it is placed onto the family altar or kept in the
pagoda where it is venerated alongside the ancestors. Le Dat had thus attacked the cult of the
old, the veneration of ancestors, of teachers and the old men in the party apparatus. The poet
Xuan Dieu, reborn through the revolution, replied: « Being educated by the party, the older
people among us do indeed become narrower day by day, as we struggle to restrict individualism
within us, the smaller the better, in order that the new human, the collective human can
grow and develop: And this is a source of happiness for us. »105 Then, as Phan Khoi critizised
the 1954-55 prize-winning poems of Xuan Dieu as « verses partly incomprehensible and vulgar
», he was told « that this could not be the case as the poet had been educated by the
party », whereupon the ever so sharp veteran of the Vietnamese literature milieu replicated:
« The party has taught Xuan Dieu how to make revolution and not how to write poetry. »106
And this was exactly the point where roads parted…
The style of the second offending poem was influenced by Majakowski and written by Tran
Dan; it had 500 lines and was entitled We shall win (Nhat dinh thang). The « leading cultural
cadres (considered) the poem… a cunningly reactionary work… ».107 It told of the love of a
young couple during the melancholy month of December after the end of the war under conditions
of cramped and squalid living space, material distress, hopelessness, and the mass exodus
to the South – taboos in a socialist society. « How much pain, how much woe we have
been through in those days! I walked the streets but didn’t see streets or houses. I only saw
rain which trickled on red flags. » The dejected image is followed by programmatic demands:
« Why is it that the difficulties of our country are not reflected in poetry?… I’d rather that all
those who claim reunification first start with the small things: With eating, sleeping, with private
affairs. With pondering over things, with tenderly caressing their children, with making
love… ».108 Tran Dan did not portray the heroic peasants, workers, and soldiers decreed by the
propaganda officials because:
102 MfAA/A 8420, pag. 022
103 see Hoang Van Chi, From Colonialism to Communism, op. cit., p. 236; also: Hoang Giang, op. cit., p. 12
104 see Neil Jamieson, op. cit., pp. 109/111. Phan Khoi’s grandfather was the legendary general Hoang Dieu who hanged
himself when the French captured the citadel of Hanoi in 1882. Phan Khoi spent 9 years on the French prison island of Poulo
105 quoted from Jamieson, op. cit., p. 265; see Hoang Van Chi, From Colonialism to Communism, op.cit., p. 237
106 Resumé of an article by Phan Khoi Kritik an der Art, wie man bei uns Kunst und Literatur leitet, Botschaft der DDR in
Hanoi, in: MfAA/A 8420, pag. 015
107 Zur kulturellen Situation, DDR-Botschaft Hanoi, in: MfAA/A 8420, pag. 023
108 My translations from Giai pham of spring 1956, as rendered in: DDR-Botschaft Hanoi, MfAA/A 8420, pag. 007-012
Oh, at all times Man (Nguoi) lacked confidence in Man,Man has always
been afraid of the future.
He talked about the glorious army, the struggle for reunification, about devotion to the just
cause of the North, but: « So much sorrow and anxiety unfold this night… There you see,
darling, that even the most ardent believer knows moments of doubt. »109 Consequently, « in a
meeting of the permanent commission of the writers’ and artists’ association in February
1956, the writer and his poem were banished and the journal of the association informed the
public that Tran Dan was a reactionary and a slanderer of the political order of the North.
Thereupon the Literary Works of Spring were withdrawn and pulped. »110
I have been told in Hanoi that Tran Dan was in the countryside as a doi vien, a member of a
land reform group, and that he was not aware of the publication of his poem. In February
1956, though, « due to a disciplinary offence in the army (absenteeism overnight without authorisation)
»111 he was, together with his composer friend Tu Phac, arrested by the military
under cover of darkness. At the time, he lived with a young woman from bourgeois-catholic
background in Sinh Tu street, which, for a member of the People’s Army and of the party,
was considered treason of his (imputed) class position. In order to get out of his prison deep in
a dark cellar, sly Tran Dan simulated a suicide attempt which led to helplessly embarrassed
excitement among top military and government leaders. He was committed to write his selfcrticism,
and his superiors tried to make him see his devious ways to get him back to the fold
because a poet of this calibre was a valuable instrument in the ideological struggle against the
South and for the stabilisation of the North. Nguyen Dinh Thi doesn’t beat about the bush:
« Literature and the arts are meant to forge a new ideology and a new soul in the sense of patriotism
and the socialist ideal for our people. »112 Artists and writers are stooges of the Party’s
messianic project which, conversely, means that the Party requires their cooperation. For as
we have seen, they are soldiers on the cultural, political and economic front in the battle for
the construction of socialism. And this, of course, affords them a certain degree of independence.
The Literary Works were the first open assault on the Party’s conformism and orthodoxy. The
XXth congress of the CPSU gave the opponents of the orthodox line an enormous stimulus,
and even the president of the Association of Writers and Artists for a short time self-critically
pleaded for candour and discussion: « The artists do not want to turn away from the Party,
they recognize that the Party has given them orientation, but they demand an uncontrolled
artistic space. The central question in this circle today is whether all artistic tendencies will be
allowed to express themselves. »113
That this question was to be answered positively, was no longer in doubt for the majority of
artists and writers because « the simultaneous exposure of Stalin’s bloody errors, the land
109 ibid.
110 Zur kulturellen Situation, ibid.
111 Botschafter Pfützner, Hanoi, November 1956, Oppositionelle Bewegungen der Schriftsteller und Künstler gegen die Politik
der Lao-Dong-Partei in Fragen der Literatur und Kunst, in: MfAA/A 8420, pag. 032. It is rumoured in Hanoi that it was
To Huu who had ordered the director of the arts and letters services of the army, Van Phac, to arrest the poet, following a
meeting of those responsible for ideology and culture to discuss the first issue of Giai pham where, I was told, the poet Che
Lan Vien had opened the attack on Tran Dan.
112 Report of the Executive Committee of the Association of Writers and Artists, Second National Congress of Writers and
Artists, 28 February 1957, quoted from Gérard Tongas, J’ai vécu dans l’enfer communiste au Nord Viêt-Nam, 2me édition,
Paris, 1960, p. 336
113 Nguyen Tuan, in: Zur kulturellen Situation, op. cit., pag. 018. Even the hardest of hardliners among North Vietnam’s
ideologues, To Huu, appears to soften under the impression of the XXth Congress; he admits « that, in the past, serious errors
have been committed in the field of culture and in the treatment of the bourgeois intelligentsia which need to be corrected.
Everything that has been wronged in the field of ‘isms’, is due to weak ideological orientation. » ibid., pag. 020
reform tragedies and the party purges, was to radically change the atmosphere overnight. »114
Two more issues of Giai Pham came out, the one of summer and the one of autumn, and the
first issue which had been confiscated in spring, was reprinted. All artists and writers were
obliged to participate in an 18-day conference of their association from 1 to 18 August where
they had to study Marx and Engels and write their autocritique.115 There the contradicitions
between the party line and the intelligentsia came vividly into the open. For the political cadres,
poetry was not a private affair, and it was to be didactic instead of expressive.116
Nevertheless, the 10th session of the Central Committee of the Lao Dong Party in September
1956 had created a « more democratic atmosphere »117 whereupon, during that memorable
meeting which even today in Hanoi is described as a milestone, the award of the 1954-55 literary
prizes – especially the second prize for Xuan Dieu’s The Star (Ngoi Sao) – was passionately
debated. Van Nghe, the Association’s journal, opened its pages for discussion, the
leading cultural cadres wrote self-critical statements118, and in the course of summer and autumn,
a whole string of spring-like creative journals blossomed: The students published Dat
Moi (New Land), the very popular poet Nguyen Binh brought out Tram Hoa (Hundred Flowers)
119; further, there appeared Noi That (Free Speech), Tap San Phe Binh (Critique-Review)
and several others, and even the official publications such as the party newspaper Nhan Dan
(The People), and Cuu Quoc, the organ of the Fatherland Front, could not resist the torrential
wave of free expression of opinion on intellectuals, their role in socialism and Vietnamese
society, and on democratic freedoms.
The essay by Phan Khoi on Criticism of the Leadership in Arts and Letters in the autumn edition
of Giai Pham120 is symptomatic for the climate amongst intellectuals and their dispute
with the Party and the culture authorities at the time. Phan Khoi, after the privations of the
war and the achievement of independence, did not question the legitimacy and moral authority
of the state which had been forged during the resistance. For him, the cause of the Democratic
Republic of Vietnam was the just cause. On the other hand, he quarreled with the
authoritarian cultural theory, the ideological narrowness and the dictatorial ambitions which
had also evolved during the war. Phan Khoi and his friends demanded a civil society of emancipated
citizens. The old literatus insisted that public criticism – not just criticism behind
closed doors – was necessary, that the truth had to be told, even though he had been advised
that one could not talk about certain truths. Yet, he wrote, « I do not believe this. Under a different
regime this would be true. Under our regime, though, where criticism and self-criticism
are considered weapons – which truth one should not be able to disclose? !» And, responding
to the objection that public criticism in the press allowed the enemy to fabricate wrongful accusations,
he replied that he did not believe that either. « Formerly, dirty linen used to be
washed within the family… Nowadays, internal dissension must be put before the masses
114 Georges Boudarel, Intellectual Dissidence in the 1950s – The Nhân Van-Giai Phâm Affair, in: The Vietnam Forum, no.
13, 1990, pp. 160/161. See also: Kommuniqué der vietnamesischen Regierung zur innenpolitischen Lage in der DRV 1956,
in: MfAA/A 11621
115 on this point, see interviews with Nguyen Dinh Thi, March 2002
116 Jamieson, op. cit., p. 270
117 « The first example for this came from the deputies of Hanoi who, on their 3rd congress, in full freedom of opinion, critizised
the situation of the city and discussed new proposals. This was something quite new in political life. » Zur kulturellen
Situation, in: MfAA/A 8420, pag. 023. See also: ZK der SED, Schreiben ADN 24/11/1956
118 Selbstkritik des ständigen Büros des Verbandes der Schriftsteller und Künstler veröffentlicht am 2. 10. 56, in: MfAA/A
8420, pag. 020-021
119 Several participants in the events have told me that Nguyen Binh – « almost illiterate, an anarchist, a real poet! » – had
been subsidised by the ideological bureau of the Party in order to write against Nhan Van, but: « He was an artist! », and his
columns very soon were on an equally critical course…
120 According to the Foreword, this edition intended « to contribute to the preparation of the national congress of writers and
artists so as to develop and to advance the freedom of artistic and literary creation on the basis of the principle ‘Let a hundred
flowers bloom’. The Literary Works of autumn contain texts of several authors of different character, different esthetic tendencies.
Each author is responsible for his own text. » MfAA/A 8420, pag. 023
without whom nothing can be solved. » The argument that the enemy would use the (published)
truth for the pursuit of his devious aims, he considered « a pretext that serves to better
hide the truth. Moreover, the enemy always lies, whether we provide him with material or
not. »121 He pointed out that nobody demanded unrestrained freedom but only the freedom of
artistic work. And « Since art is a private sphere, politics should not encroach on it. »122
The reason for the publication of Giai Pham Phan Khoi saw in the cultural policy of the DRV
after Dien Bien Phu. He deplored the way Tran Dan was incriminated by the Writers’ Association
because of his We will win and that he was even (wrongly) accused of having written
the word He or Man (Nguoi) in capital letters which was reserved for Ho Chi Minh. « When I
heard that accusation, I imagined I was in a royal court watching Mr. X accuse Mr. Y of lese
majeste because Y did not respect taboo words. Happily I awoke from my daydream and
found myself in a session of the Congress of Arts and Letters Association! »123
8. Cent fleurs écloses: Nhan Van
On 20th September 1956, a second « private publication » made its appearance, the journal
Nhan Van (Humanism), edited by Phan Khoi and the painter and writer Tran Duy (born 1920)
as editorial secretary. In October 2000 one of the protagonists of the venture described Nhan
Van to me as « a very important instrument for the struggle for freedom and against intellectual
enslavement, for democracy and against a dictatorship which calls itself proletarian. »
The clear-cut political motives advanced in the year 2000, though, may not have been quite
the same as those which had evolved much more spontaneously 45 years earlier.124
The real driving force behind the undertaking was the journalist, publicist and politician
Nguyen Huu Dang (born 1918). He had been intimately connected with the anti-colonial
movement since the 1930s as a close associate of Truong Chinh; at the age of 16 he had been
imprisoned by the French. He became Minister for Youth in Ho Chi Minh’s first government,
and on behalf of the President, he had organised the independence ceremony of 2 September
1945 in Ba Dinh square125 – a fateful hour in which Annamites had become Vietnamese (“Aus
den Annamiten waren Vietnamesen geworden”), as Rudolf Schröder alias Le Duc Nhan was
to write later126. In November 1946, Dang was in charge of the National Cultural Congress in
Hanoi. During the war, he had been inspector general for people’s education and was thus
responsible for the battle against illiteracy. As mentioned already, in the early 1940s, Truong
Chinh had entrusted him with the mobilisation of intellectuals, writers and artists for the cause
of the revolution and the anti-colonial struggle through the Cultural Society for National Liberation
(Van hoa cuu quoc)127. Simultaneously, though, throughout the decades of cooperation
with Truong Chinh, Dang had been an ambitious candidate for positions of power and an opponent
in ideological questions. This opposition now manifested itself openly and found its
hotbed with the publication of Nhan Van. While Truong Chinh was a dogmatic marxist,
121 Résumé zum Artikel von Phan Khoi, MfAA/A 8420, pag. 013
122 quoted from Hoang Van Chi, The New Class, op. cit., pp. 80/81
123 ibid., pp. 81/82
124 Thanks to Christopher Goscha
125 Despite its colonial past with its Résidence générale (« le symbole du pouvoir colonial » according to Charles Meyer, Les
Français en Indochine 1860-1910, Paris,1985, p. 192), through the ritual of 2 September, Ba Dinh square became the symbolic
center of the new state and, consequently, the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh was built here.
126 unpublished manuscript, p. 117
127 This society existed until 1948 when it was replaced by the newly founded professional association of writers and artists.
It is related that Dang had lost trust in the eventual victory of the Viet Minh and that, therefore, he had withdrawn from the
Resistance (Nguyen Dinh Thi) into a form of ‘internal exile’. Others maintain that the arrival of Maoism had led to his desillusion
(Dang Phong). Dang himself keeps silent on this aspect and on the years 1950-1954…
Nguyen Huu Dang is rather a liberal-democratic socialist, although he had at times entertained
utopian dreams.
After Dien Bien Phu, Dang set out to tackle the second stage of his life’s work, i.e. the struggle
for democracy and for the rights of man and the citizen. The experienced organiser rallied
the poets Hoang Cam and Tran Dan in the army and others from civilian life such as Le Dat,
Tran Duy and influential intellectuals such as Phan Khoi, Dao Duy Anh (1904-1988) or the
philosopher Tran Duc Thao (died 1993), the professor of literature Nguyen Manh Tuong
(1909-1994)128 and the great painter Bui Xuan Phai (1920-1988)129 around Nhan Van (although
all these people were either friends or at least knew each other well, and there existed an intricate
web of personal relations between the intellectuals and artists of Hanoi anyway).130
Nguyen Huu Dang’s busy negotiations with the intellectual and literary elite of Hanoi did not
remain concealed from the political leadership who, in turn, attempted to sow dissension in
the emerging ranks to keep writers and intellectuals away from making common cause with
Dang. As already mentioned, on behalf of the Central Committee, general Le Liem, assistant
director of the political department of the army, had a series of discussions with writers and
poets during the weeks preceding publication of the journal.131 He is reported to have assured
them of the justness of their demands, that the highest authorities right up to the President
would sympathetically listen to them, and that everything was discussable and negotiable –
provided they accepted two conditions: The first one was that they renounced their cooperation
with Nguyen Huu Dang who, Le Liem is said to have maintained, was not primarily interested
in intellectual and artistic reforms but pursued political objectives, ultimately the
overthrow of the socialist system. The other prerequisite was to abandon the Nhan Van project
altogether, which meant not going public and instead enter into open talks with the authorities.
These proposals were not flatly rejected by some of the writers who presented their counterproposals.
They explained to Le Liem that they were ready to give up the project and their
alliance with Dang if, first, the political leadership would dismiss those responsible for the
arrest of Tran Dan and, secondly, publicly apologise for the ‘mistakes’ committed vis-à-vis
writers and artists. This was not only aimed at the powerful To Huu, but they expected that
the Party admitted to mistakes before the public. Yet these were exactly the two points that
could never be negotiable. Nhan Van accused those responsible for cultural affairs « not to
take people into account, to stifle heart and soul through an excess of politics, bureaucratism,
their authority mania and their encouragement of the conventional only. The journal Nhan
Van affirms its willingness to acknowledge the leadership of the Lao Dong Party and to support
the regime of the Democratic Republic, but that it also strives for the democratisation of
intellectual life. »132
128 Nguyen Manh Tuong, Un Excommunié. Hanoi 1954-1991: Procès d’un intellectuel, Paris 1992
129 Philippe Papin, Histoire de Hanoi, Paris, 2001, p.320
130 The GDR ambassador in Hanoi at the time described the Nhan Van group as follows: « With regard to its tendencies and
its composition, the group constitutes a non-uniform front. One section, the most reactionary one, under the pretext of opposing
the manifestations of the personality cult, fights against the fundamentals of government policy and the Lao-Dong-Party.
Another section consists of ideological scatterbrains who either plead for ‘true marxism’ or demand some ‘democratic freedoms’
as they were supposed to be guaranteed in capitalist countries… As a result of mistakes committed by the government
and party, not only in their relationship with writers and artists (e.g. mistakes in the land reform, violation of democratic
legality etc.), this group has become a reservoir of all those dissatisfied and displeased and requires the attentiveness of party
and government. » Botschafter Pfützner, Oppositionelle Bewegungen der Schriftsteller…, November 1956, MfAA/A 8420,
pag. 034
131 Throughout the life of Nhan Van, talks and negotiations took place between the highest representatives of the state and
prominent members of the Nhan Van group.
132 Zur kulturellen Situation, MfAA/A 8420, pag. 024
The journal was published in the shape of a newspaper and was originally financed by small
amounts from its contributors. Its success was outstanding; its « circulation of 6000 to 7000
copies which is very high for Hanoi »133 sold virtually overnight. The first issue carried a long
article entitled The man Tran-Dan (Con Nguoi Tran-Dan) which was Hoang Cam’s version
of his friend’s fate. It was accompanied by a drawing by Nguyen Sang which accentuated the
cicatrice of Tran Dan’s throat from the (simulated) suicide attempt – a telling indictment of
the culture bureaucrats. In the third edition, the dramatic producer Chu Ngoc claimed: « In our
criticism, we want to employ the following method: say it openly, say it honestly, and say
everything. »134 But, as Tran Duy cautioned in his leading article of 30 September under the
heading Let us fight so that all the hundred flowers are allowed to blossom: « Under the reality
which reigns in our country, it is not an easy and simple thing to accomplish the principle
‘Blossoming of a hundred flowers’. A formula alone does not have enough force to penetrate
all the conservative, bureaucratic spirits accustomed to outdated methods of leadership and
who know only one concern, and that is to tie literature and the arts to dry slogans, to the
party line, and to mechanical principles of economics and sociology… ».135 And Le Dat pronounced:
« A policeman in the street is necessary – a policeman in one’s heart is dangerous.
The call for public debate, for legality and human rights, thus: for structural reforms and, implicitly,
political pluralism, was raised more and more emphatically. Even those who did not
see themselves as political thinkers, let alone actors in the political arena, but considered
themselves poets, writers or artists, could not but join forces, after what had occurred in Moscow,
in Hungary and in Poland (not to mention the events at the Stalinallee in Berlin in June
1953). The 5th issue of Nhan Van, dated 20 November 1956, carried an unsigned article under
the heading Lessons from Poland and Hungary (Bai hoc Ba lan va Hungari). Its author, as I
was assured in Hanoi, was the poet Le Dat who distinguished between the need to impose
democracy for the masses and inflict dictatorship upon the enemy. Thus, he concluded, it was
« necessary to resolutely and courageously correct mistakes promptly and fully, particularly
by raising the standard of living of the people, and by increasing democratic freedoms. » In
Poland and Hungary, « the cult of Stalin and Stalin’s mistakes… seriously prejudiced man’s
life and his right to freedom. »137 The emphasis on heavy industry and the neglect of agriculture
and small industry had been detrimental to the people’s living conditions. « The erroneous
theory that the more one advances toward socialism, the more bitter the class struggle will
be, has led to baleful consequences, such as abusive enlightenment, dictatorship toward both
party members and the masses, and serious violations of the judicial system of socialism. »138
The fourth edition of Nhan Van of 5 November carried a leading article by Nguyen Huu Dang
whose publication, it seems, had been hotly debated in the editorial team as some of its members
considered it too outrightly political, dreading that the regime would take drastic steps
against the journal if the article was printed; indeed it reached the bounds of what was toler-
133 Botschafter Pfützner, Oppositionelle Bewegungen…, op. cit., pag. 034. Members of the editorial group have assured me
in Hanoi that of the first issue, 1500 copies were printed (and sold), and that no. 5 appeared in 20000 copies.
134 quoted from Boudarel, Intellectual Dissidence in the 1950s, op. cit., p. 164
135 quoted from: Zur kulturellen Situation, in: MfAA/A 8420,pag. 024. Tran Duy’s The Giants which appeared in the autumn
edition of Giai Pham, was summarised by ambassador Pfützner as follows: « The country is tormented and oppressed by
demons and evil spirits. Then giants appear who bravely take up the cudgels against those tormentors and who finally overthrow
them. But they do not pay attention to the wretched, and in their battle they also destroy love and emotions. » Translated
from: Oppositionelle Bewegungen…, op.cit., MfAA/A 8420, pag. 033; see also Hoang Van Chi, the New Class in
North Vietnam, op. cit., pp. 123-131
136 Botschafter Pfützner, Oppositionelle Bewegungen…, November 1956, op.cit., pag. 033. Another rendering of Le Dat’s
poem is in Nguyen Dang Thuc, op. cit., p. 69: « Placing police stations and machinery in the center of the human heart, /
Forcing feelings to be expressed according to a set of rules promulgated by the government. »
137 The lessons of Poland and Hungary, Nhan Van no. 5, 20 November 1956, in: Hoa Mai, editor, op.cit., p. 130
138 ibid., p. 131
able. Dang wrote: « …we are used to looking down upon bourgeois legal principles, so that
among a large number of people this state of affairs has become a contempt for the law in
general. It is also because, during our long and hard resistance, we were used to solving all
questions within our groups, at our convenience. We were accustomed to resorting to ‘rule of
thumb’ to move things along every time this work ran into a regulation. We were used to replacing
law with’view point’… In the agrarian reform, illegal arrests, imprisonments, investigations
(with barbarous torture), executions, requisitions of property, and the quarantining of
landowners’ houses (or the houses of peasants wrongly classified as landowners), which left
innocent children to die of starvation, are not exclusively due to the shortcomings of leadership,
but also due to the lack of a complete legal code. »139
For the next edition, Dang had written a leader entitled How are human democratic freedoms
guaranteed by the Vietnamese Constitution of 1946 in which he pointed out that the Constitution
had not been applied due to the war but that now « the situation of the North could be
considered as stabilized » and that, as a consequence, Article 10 should be respected: »All
Vietnamese citizens have the right to freedom of expression and press; freedom of publication;
freedom of organization and assembly; freedom of residence; free circulation inside and
outside the country. »140
Before the sixth issue which had already been set up in type but had not yet been printed,
could come out, the administrative committee of Hanoi on 2 December 1956 published a decree
which prohibited the journal Nhan Van because it had published articles « which exaggerate
the truth, slander, create conflicts and anxiety, jeopardize the people’s democratic order
which had many grave consequences that harm the order and the peace of the city. »141
9. Epilogue
Even after having outlawed the heretic publication, the authorities still stood comparatively
aloof – the « events in Hungary » urged caution. The incriminated publications had, « as a
cultural opposition,… increasingly developed a political controversy… which proved to be
destructive and demoralising…, (but) the party organ and the journals continued to deal with
the problem of the intelligentsia. The emphasis in these articles was that one should have
more confidence in intellectuals and especially in those who had participated in the resistance.
In an unpublished talk of Truong Chin’s (sic), the party expressed its views on the question of
the intelligentsia, stressing the frank and correct attitude of the party vis-à-vis the intelligentsia.
There existed the dictatorship of the proletariat, and not the dictatorship of some individuals.
If something of that sort had happened, then this had been wrong and needed to be
corrected. »142
Publication bans in Hanoi and military repression in Eastern Europe, however, could so far
not silence the contradictory spirits who were still thirsting for action. This became evident
during the 2nd national Congress of Writers and Artists of Vietnam which took place from 20
to 28 February 1957 with about 500 participants. The Central Committee in its address to the
« Fighters on the cultural front » explained that « The August Revolution, simultaneously
with the liberation of the nation, has liberated our writers and artists. » But to-date « we are
139 Nguyen Huu Dang, It Is Necessary To Have A More Ordered Society, Nhan Van. November 5 (1956), in: Hoa Mai, ed.,
op.cit., pp. 101-104
140 Nguyen Huu Dang, How Are Democratic Freedoms Guaranteed By The Vietnamese Constitution Of 1946, Nhan Van,
November 20 (1956), in: Hoa Mai, ed., op. cit., pp. 127-129
141 Beschluß des Verwaltungskomitees von Hanoi über das Erscheinungs- und Vertriebsverbot der Zeitung « NHÂN-VAN »,
with a letter of the GDR embassy in Hanoi dated 7/1/1957 to the MfAA in Berlin, in: MfAA/A 8420, pag. 043. On 14 December,
President Ho Chi Minh had « signed a decree defining the nature, tasks, rights and activities of the Press », see Hoa
Mai, ed., op. cit., pp. 165-167
142 Zur kulturellen Situation, in: MfAA/A 8420, pag. 026
short of works which are truly worthy of the heroic people. » The Party admitted to errors in
the field of literature and the arts, but they were to be balanced against the failings of artists
and writers such as « for example the as yet confused ideological platform, a superficial understanding
of the life of the people, formalism, naturalism and lack of discrimination etc.
which are still widespread in their creations. » In order to attain the « glorious aims » formulated
by the Party, « our writers and artists must eagerly study Marxism-Leninism, the political
platform and the practical policy of party and government, consolidate their class position,
their ideology and improve upon the techniques of their arts. »143
The Congress unanimously adopted a resolution which stipulated the present-day tasks of arts
and literature as follows: « Strengthening of North Vietnam in her gradual progress towards
socialism, continuation of the struggle for the achievement of national unity, and active construction
of a rich national literature and arts. »144 But the alleged unanimity of this resolution
could not hide the differences which continued to exist, and indeed in the discussions they
came vividly to light. General Secretary Truong Chinh who deemed Nhan Van « a weapon of
psychological warfare of the enemy against the DRV », sharply objected to the Hundred
Flowers: « useful flowers should blossom, stinking flowers and the flowers of evil had to be
eradicated. Even during his speech he was vigorously contradicted by the opposition. »145
Phan Khoi asked to speak, and « there was much commotion in the hall… » because he demanded
« the freedom… to carry out the controversy in the newspapers » in order to know the
truth about the group under attack. « He wanted concrete… proof for what Trung (sic) Chinh
had affirmed without being concrete. A member of the chair interrupted Van (sic) Khoi and
asked Khoi to put off his comments to another time as time was running out. » Phung Quan,
author of the novel Escape from Poulo Condore, attacked Truong Chinh: « There is much talk
about unity among writers and artists. I declare there is no unity (among us). It has been shattered.
Our doubts, our sorrow are (as big as) a mountain. There is only one way to attain
unity, one has to give us the opportunity to freely voice our opinions. As long as one continues
to condemn us to silence, it is out of the question to talk about unity and solidarity among
us. » And on Truong Chinh’s demand for the eradication of the « stinking flowers », he had
this to say: « The difficulty (consists) in recognising which flowers are stinking and which
ones are flowers of evil… As to the extermination of the bad flowers, one should leave their
elimination to criticism and to the people instead of to the opinion of whatever authority
which is not competent anyway. One takes things too easy calling us opponents of the party,
we are only against its errors… ». The minutes recorded « Silence, no acclamation. » Yet
when the composer Do Nhuan « passionately expressed his disapproval of Phung Quan and
most severely attacked ‘Humanism’, (he) had the most frenzied applause. Very tense atmosphere.
Acts of violence were to be feared. »146
The debate led nowhere; the leadership of party and the state continued in their uncompromising
attitude. In July, the directorate of the Association of Writers and Artists launched a new
official weekly, Van (Literature), which, conceived as an ideological striker, came back – just
as Nguyen Binh’s Tram Hoa before – as a boomerang and was discontinued upon its 37th
issue as it had displayed « bourgeois literary tendencies… derived from an ideology of the
143 MfAA/A 8582, pag. 035, 036, 040. On the cultural cadres’ critique of the failings of artists and writers, see also Die
Entwicklung der Kunst und Literatur in ihren grossen Zuegen by Nguyen Dinh Thi, in: ibid., pag. 083-085, 095-096. On the
report by Nguyen Dinh Thi and on the 2nd Cultural Congress, see also: Gérard Tongas, op. cit., pp. 329 ff.
144 quoted from the Vietnamese Bulletin no. 7/57 of 2/3/1957, as rendered in: MfAA/A 8582, pag. 0168
145 Über Fragen der Literatur und Kunst in der Demokratischen Republik Vietnam, Mai 1958, in: ZK der SDE,
146 Diskussion. Aus den Berichten der DDR-Botschaft zum Kongreß, in: MfAA/A 8582, pag. 0152-0162. Do Nhuan and
Phung Quan had been members of the « academy »-group around general Nguyen Chi Thanh, see footnote 59
‘falling classes’».147 Together with those who had hitherto not been noticed as deviants, the
contributors of the outlawed publications quickly found shelter with Van on whose pages they
continued the battle. The journal was halted because it was supposed to have fallen short of
expectations, namely to « continue the ideological clarification process which had flared up
since the XXth Party Congress of the CPSU, the slogan ‘Let 100 flowers bloom’, and the
events in Hungary but which could not be considered completed ». Cuu Quoc also, which had
published poems by Majakowski and Brecht’s An die Nachgeborenen, was severely reprimanded.
148 The translation from the French of, inter alia, Brecht’s poem which had appeared
in an edition of the Writers and Artists Association’s publishing house in 1957, had been done
« by representatives of Revisionism, that is Tran Dan, Le Dat and Hong (sic) Cam. The foreword
had been written by Huy Phuong, also a representative of Revisionism. »149
On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik October revolution, the twelve governing
parties of the Soviet bloc met in Moscow in November 1957 where harmony carried
the day with regard to the need to crack down on deviants: Mao Tse-tung and Krushev agreed
to keep a tight rein on intellectuals and arts and letters.150 In Vietnam, political education
courses « to study the problems of the Moscow talks »151 for writers and artists, in the university
and for other members of the intelligentsia were conducted. The machine of repression
was set in motion. Early in February, harsh attacks appeared against « revisionist » views
propagated by the journal Van which « proved that they have nothing in common with the
workers’ and peasants’ regime in the DRV which, under the leadership of the Lao Dong
Party… is building Socialism. » Such occurrences were attributed to « the activities of a
group of enemies of the people of long standing ».152 The language was no longer conciliatory,
attempting to settle differences and to negotiate as had been the case even a few months earlier,
but it had become stern, doctrinaire and menacing. Dissidents were sent « into reality »,
i.e. into the countryside or into factories, frequently under extremely harsh and perilous conditions,
so as to be reformed through physical labour and contact with the masses. As of 1 August
1958, all intellectuals were to undergo periods of cultural practice which were meant to
« enable artists to create truly socialist works »153 in that they « descended to the masses »154.
Truong Chinh, rather leniently, saw « in education the essential means to correct a comrade
who has committed mistakes » whereby the objective is « to eliminate the disease but to save
the patient as a human being ».155 To this end, innumerable rectification and reeducation
courses were conducted, and many intellectuals, writers and artists were to write their autocritique
time and again.
147 William G. F. Smith, The Nhan Van Giai Pham Affair: Literary dissidence in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, 1956-
1957, unpublished M.A. Area Studies (South East Asia), SAOS, London, September, 1993, p. 29
148 Botschaft der DDR… to Ministerium für Auswärtige Angelegenheiten, Berlin. Hanoi 27/2/57 (sic – should be ‘1958’), in:
MfAA/A 8420, pag. 046-048
149 Botschaft der DDR, Hanoi, to Ministerium für Auswärtige Angelegenheiten, Berlin, 13/11/1958, in: MfAA/A 8494, fiche
2, pag. 097/098
150 G. F. Hudson, China and the Communist ‘Thaw’, in: Roderick Mac Farquhar, op. cit., pp. 295, 303
151 Botschaft der DDR to Ministerium für Auswärtige Angelegenheiten, Hanoi 27/2/58, in: MfAA/A 8420, pag. 048. See also
MfAA/A 8499, pag. 092
152 Attaché Kittler, Über den Kampf gegen rechte Elemente, in: MfAA/A 8494, fiche 1, pag. 080
153 ibid.; see also P. J. Honey, Ho Chi Minh and the Intellectuals, op. cit., p. 24
154 Attaché Kittler to MfAA, Hanoi 24/6/1958, in: MfAA/A 8420, pag. 070. Professor Dang Thai Mai, the father-in-law of
general Vo Nguyen Giap and then president of the Association of Writers and Artists, explained the need for these ‘cultural
practica’ as follows: « Only that writer or artist who lives with the working people, eats with them, and lives with them under
one roof and works with them, will be able to perceive the creative force, the sincerity and simplicity in everyday life, the
patience and endurance in the overcoming of difficulties and privations of those people who, according to the directions of
the party, actively build a new life and a happy future for our fatherland. » MfAA/A 8493, pag. 028
155 Truong Chinh, Die Wiedergutmachung der Irrtümer und der weitere Vormarsch, in: Hoc Tap, November 1956, quoted
from: ZK der SED, DY30/IV2/20/217. On the different positions in this regard, see Hirohide Kunihara, op. cit., pp. 167-172
Dissident writers, including journalists and artists, were prohibited from publishing, and their
salaries were reduced to below the minimum requirements. Where Berufsverbote were officially
pronounced, they were limited to 1 or 2 years. In most cases, though, they were in force
for more than 30 years. The relative and cautious, never guaranteed and perpetually imperiled
turning-point only came with the reforms introduced by General Secretary Nguyen Van Linh
in October 1987. There have never been official rehabilitations. Noted intellectuals such as
Tran Duc Thao, Nguyen Manh Tuong or Dao Duy Anh were allowed to remain in Hanoi, but
they were ‘excommunicated’ and isolated non-persons, vegetating on the verge of material
disaster and mental despair.156 Phan Khoi was abused as an « old French agent and open enemy
of communism », and so was Tran Duy.157
In June 1958, the powerful politician, leading cultural cadre and poet To Huu and his poet
colleague and henchman for decades, Huy Can, then vice-minister of culture, reported on the
results of cultural activities over the past years. They referred to the « sabotage » of the « subversive
» Nhan Van-Giai Pham group and pointed out that « even today… reactionary publications
which were directed against the Communist Party of China, against the People’s
Republic of China or against Ho chi Minh » were being found.158 But late in 1958, the XIVth
plenum of the Central Committee reported that « the subversive elements have been given a
decisive blow and the attack of the bourgeoisie has been repelled. »159 In 1964, the « great
model » in poetry was Chairman Mao because his poems and rhymes inspired « revolutionary
spirit ».160
While poets, writers and artists were generally considered (naive but indispensable) sheep
who had strayed from the right path yet who it seemed possible to recuperate through reform
and education, this was not the case for a political mind like Nguyen Huu Dang. Together
with two friends he was arrested as a reactionary on 10 April 1958.161 Driven into a corner by
rumours, insinuations and threats under phantastically secretive manoeuvres, he had tried to
flee the country in order to continue the struggle for a democratic Vietnam from overseas. On
15 April 1958, the party paper Nhan Dan, in an article by Manh Phu Tu, anathematised him
as « a very dangerous saboteur of the first order and as a Trotskyist carrying out destructive
work ».162 In January 1960, he was tried as a spy of the former colonial power. He spent 15
years in a penal colony near the Chinese border, isolated from the outside world, constantly
threatened by hunger, cold and illness, and then 15 years under the most wretched and dehumanising
conditions in his home village. Early in the 1990s, he was allowed to return to Hanoi.
« Nous autres démocrates, nous sommes complètement paralysés mentalement », he says
156 see the testimony of Nguyen Manh Thuong, Un Excommunié, op. cit.
157 Abteilung Außenpolitik und Internationale Beziehungen. Über Fragen der Literatur und Kunst in der Demokratischen
Republik Vietnam, Mai 1958, in: ZK der SED. See also: Gérard Tongas, op. cit., pp. 340/341
158 Botschaft der DDR to Ministerium für Auswärtige Angelegenheiten, Hanoi 24/6/1958, Die Entwicklung der DRV auf
kulturellem Gebiet, in: MfAA/A 8420, pag. 070-079
159 Resolution des XIV. Plenums des Zentralkomitees der Partei der Arbeit Vietnams (November 1958), in: MfAA/A 8679,
fiche 1, pag. 067
160 Botschaft der DDR, Hanoi 24/11/1964, Attaché Matzke, Einschätzung über die Kulturpolitik und kulturelle Entwicklung
in der DRV, unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Verwirklichung der Beschlüsse des 9. Plenums des ZK der Partei der
Werktätigen Vietnams auf dem Gebiete der Kunst und Literatur, in: ZK der SED, DY/30/IV A2/20/437.
161 Botschaft der DDR to Ministerium für Auswärtige Angelegenheiten, Hanoi 23/4/1958, in: MfAA/A 8420, pag. 069; see
also Nhu Phong, op. cit., p. 64
162 in: MfAA/A 8494, fiche 1, pag. 089-091. Phan Khoi died early in 1960, a few days before his courtcase was to commence.
163 Nguyen Huu Dang has not been rehabilitated, but since his return to Hanoi he has received a pension. Also, the government
donated him a house in noble Phan Dinh Phung street which he sold forthwith… On 2 September 2000, he appeared for
about one minute on national television as a witness of the declaration of independence in 1945 – this was the very first time
his name was publicly mentioned. In the same vein, the Ho Chi Minh prize for the Social Sciences for 2000, the most presti34
The questions posed by the Nhan Van-Giai Pham group remain to this day unresolved. Ever
since the late 1980s, though, a younger generation of writers such as Duong Thu Huong, Bao
Ninh and Nguyen Huy Thiep, who have participated in the so-called American war, have created
uneasiness and anxiety and who are threatened with house arrest and prohibition to publish
their works. On them gets heaped the concerted wrath of the authoritarian quarters in the
Party and the cultural bureaucracy. « The domain of arts », Phan Khoi had written, « only
belongs to the arts; here politics must not interfere. » The demand for freedom of thought in
1956 struck terror into the rulers in Hanoi because it imperilled the monopoly for spiritual
hegemony. In consequence of the narrow-minded imposition of party orthodoxy, Vietnamese
socialism has lost the intellectual and creative class which had been willing to shoulder the
cultural and scientific modernisation of the country in order to render the system internally
attractive and externally credible. Instead, philistine cultural bureaucrats under the leadership
of the Party, have done their utmost to keep Vietnam isolated from the world of knowledge,
from questioning and doubts, from any thought and practice unbecoming an ossified dogma,
thus constraining the country into the narrow provincialism of petty bourgeois backwardness.
But then, this was one of the crucial aims of the revolution.
Paris, February 2003
geous decoration of the country, has been posthumously bestowed on Tran Duc Thao, Dao Duy Anh as well as some other
intellectuals and politicians.
SÜDOSTASIEN Working Papers
1. Hans-Dieter Kubitscheck, Das Südostasien-Institut an der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.
Zur Geschichte der Südostasienwissenschaften.
2. Andreas Schneider (1996), Reintegration. Untersuchungen am Beispiel laotischer Absolventendeutscher
3. Ingrid Wessel (1996), State and Islam in Indonesia. On the interpretation of ICMI.
4. NguyÔn Minh Hà (1996), Die Ergänzungsglieder im vietnamesischen Satz.
5. Ursula Lies (1996), Vietnamese Studies in Australia.
6. Martin Klein (1997), Javanismus und Herrschaft in Indonesien. Zum Zusammenhang
von Kulturinterpretation und Ideologie. Vorstudien zu einer Kritik der politischen Praxis
der Neuen Ordnung Indonesiens.
7. Thomas Engelbert (1997), Staatskapitalismus unter der Führung einer nationalistischen
Partei. Zur gegenwärtigen Diskussion des Zusammenhanges zwischen ökonomischem
Pragmatismus und politischer Legitimierung der Kommunistischen Partei in Vietnam.
8. NguyÔn Minh Hà (1997), Zur Entwicklung der vietnamesischen Sprache und Schrift.
9. Jean-Dominique Giacometti (1998), La Bataille de la Piastre 1918-1928. Réalités économiques
et perceptions politiques dans l’Empire colonial Français.
10. Georgia Wimhöfer (1998), Wissenschaft und Religiosität im Werk von Y.B. Mangunwijaya.
11. Uta Gärtner, Myanmar verstehen: Sprachlehrbuch. (11/1&2). Glossar und Schlüssel
(11/3). 2. Auflage.
12. NguyÔn Minh Hà (2003), Einführung in die Phonetik der vietnamesischen Sprache. 4.
13. Kristina Chhim (1998), Die 2. Parlamentswahlen Kambodschas. Hoffnung oder Farce?
14. Stefan Hell (1998), Siam und der Völkerbund, 1920-1946.
15. Claudia Götze-Sam (2002), Welche grammatischen Relationen verbergen sich hinter den
sog. Passivkonstruktionen im Khmer? 2. Auflage.
16. NguyÔn Minh Hà (1999), Vietnamesisch zum Anfassen. Konversation, Teil 1.
17. NguyÔn Minh Hà (2000), Vietnamesisch zum Anfassen. Konversation, Teil 2.
18. NguyÔn Minh Hà (2000)Vietnamesisch zum Anfassen. Konversation, Teil 3.
19. Michael Steinmetz (2000), Siam im Jahr 2475 (1932): Das Ende der absoluten Monarchie.
20. Johannes Herrmann (2000), Staat und Menschenrechte im Demokratisierungsprozess in
21. Andreas Schneider (2001), Laos im 20. Jahrhundert: Kolonie und Königreich, Befreite
Zone und Volksrepublik.
22. Heinz Schütte (2003), Hundred Flowers in Vietnam, 1955-1957.
23. Thomas Engelbert and Jana Raendchen (eds.) (2003),Colloquium and Round-Table
Discussion on Ethnic Minorities and Politics in Southeast Asia.

Review by Shawn McHale, George Washington University

The field of Vietnamese history can sometimes appear an insular place.
At times, one imagines from the scholarship by area specialists that the
country is a realm apart, subject to its own logics, understandable only
within a Vietnamese frame. It is therefore salutary when a leading
scholar of Vietnam's modern history, in a thoroughly researched article,
suggests that situating the controversial Nhan Van Giai Pham [NVGP]
literary affair in a broader transnational frame mght shed light on both
Vietnamese and comparative communist history. This is an excellent
article. Its judgments on the writings of the NVGP writers and their
significance are sure-footed. Its attempt to come up with "a more sober
appreciation" of NVGP is to be welcomed. As I myself wrote in 2002,
criticizing many earlier treatments of the affair,

In many senses, the Nhan Van-Giai Pham affair lives on in Vietnamese
historical consciousness only as a metaphor and a memory separated from
the facticity of the event. To some, it is an antisocialist conspiracy;
to others, it is a paradigmatic example of communist repression of
freedom. Embedded in predetermined narratives, the Nhan Van Giai Pham
affair plays its predetermined roles.1

It should be clear that I share broad agreement with much of Zinoman's
argument. Knowledgeable readers will realize that Zinoman has gone far
beyond earlier writings in systematically exploring the "reform
communist" parallels of NVGP with other movements around the world, as
well as in exploring in depth a wide range of NVGP texts. Despite this
agreement, I take issue with parts of his critique of past scholarship
(including, it appears, my own). But first, let me lay out key elements
of Zinoman's argument.

Peter Zinoman focuses his case on the Nhan Van - Giai Pham affair of
1956, an affair which is iconic in the modern intellectual history of
Vietnam. This affair has many parallels to movements in the rest of the
communist world which emerged during and after Stalin's death. At the
same time, past scholars have noted key differences between the
Vietnamese affair and its obvious communist world analogues, such as
China's Hundred Flowers movement. The core of Zinoman's article, and the
crux of his dissatisfaction with past scholarship, is conveyed in the
following statement, which I will quote at length:

This article calls into question the conventional assessment of NVGP's
strength and disputes its characterization as a "dissident" movement.
The article suggests that the standard view of NVGP fails to appreciate
the "reform Communist" character of its agenda. The movement's
reputation for bold dissidence is a product of the intensity with which
it was repressed by the party state, on the one hand, and the narrow
national frame of reference through which it has tended to be viewed, on
the other. Moreover, when examined within a broader transnational
context-one marked by the emergence of loosely connected reformist
movements throughout the Communist world in the 1950s inspired by
de-Stalinization-NVGP comes off as a relatively restrained effort to
"save" Vietnamese Communism by transforming it from within. This is not
to deny the bravery of the leaders of the movement or the tragedy of
their fate at the unforgiving hands of the party state. Rather, the
article tries to recapture a measure of perspective about the objectives
of NVGP as well as a more sober appreciation of its potential and
limitations as a political force (65).

While accepting that recent scholarship on NVGP has been "path breaking
in many respects" (62), Zinoman nonetheless notes its shortcomings: its
lack of depth, and its excessive focus on dissent and dissidence.
"Instead of considering the diverse range of views expressed by members
of the movement, existing studies tend to dwell narrowly on their most
dramatic statements of opposition" (62). "The new scholarship not only
stresses NVGP's dynamism but also insists on the 'dissident' character
of its agenda. Indeed, NVGP is characterized as a "dissident" movement
by every recent scholar of the movement" (62, my emphasis). To
illustrate the problem with seeing this movement through the frame of
dissidence, Zinoman uses the example of an article by Lê Ð?t, which
"raises questions about the scope and intensity of NVGP's oppositional
project and about the usefulness of 'dissidence' as the central concept
for making sense of the movement." Zinoman goes on to add:

Part of the problem lies in the failure of students of NVGP to employ
the more rigorous definition of "dissidence" typically employed by
historians of Communist politics in other parts of the world.
Scholarship on Leninist regimes often draws a distinction between two
forms of political opposition: reformism and dissidence. Reformism (a
concept with complex affinities to "revisionism") tends to seek
improvements in the workings of the government based on
reinterpretations of canonical Marxist-Leninist texts but without
challenging the legitimacy or indeed the desirability of a single-party
Communist system. Dissent, on the other hand, opposes the normative
principles on which the system is based and promotes an alternative
political arrangement based on the protection of individual rights and
an acceptance of pluralism. (63).

In my reply, I would like to make two major points: 1) the necessity of
situating our understanding of NVGP in a discussion of the evolution of
the Vietnamese public sphere from colonial to postcolonial times; and 2)
Zinoman's take on reform communism, and his lack of discrimination in
the use of the terms "dissent" and "dissidence."

1) On the Vietnamese Public Sphere: With the exception of an essay of
mine and a book by Kim Ninh,2 all past scholars have, if I am correct,
begun their discussion of NVGP in the 1950s. This is a mistake. NVGP is
the only case in the communist world in which contestation developed
after colonial rule, anticolonial struggle in the public realm, and an
anticolonial war. This past history of the public sphere should inform
how we approach NVGP. For some contributors to NVGP (e.g. Dao Duy Anh,
Phan Khoi, Truong Tuu, Nguyen Huu Dang), NVGP would simply realize the
goals of a decades-long struggle for the right to express freely their
critiques, critiques which they had been able to express from 1936-39 in
Vietnam's freest public sphere ever. The freedom to express such views
was at the core of some intellectuals' participation in the August
General Uprising of 1945. For example, in one of the first messages
issued by the Viet Minh in August 1945, it called for Vietnamese to
realize "the rights of democratic freedom, of assembly, of organization,
of religious beliefs, of thought, of free speech, of travel, [and] of
universal suffrage."3 Many intellectuals agreed to self-censorship
during the war against the French, but it seems clear that once the war
was over, they expected a freer public realm.

Seen in this light, NVGP was not a challenge to a long-entrenched
authoritarianism in the public realm. For the older generation of NVGP
writers, it was a return to the reality of the public sphere in the late
1930s, and a call to realize the promise of the revolution articulated
in 1945 by communist intellectuals themselves like Nguyen Huu Dang,
persons who were both communists and believers in democracy. This
context, I would argue, is essential in understanding NVGP. It is
ignored by Zinoman.

But the intellectual desire in 1956 to "return" to the public sphere of
1936-39 was naïve, I have also argued. In that earlier public realm, the
intelligentsia occupied a privileged and leading place. What NVGP shows
us is the structural transformation of the public sphere from the late
1930s onwards. From a realm in which an intelligentsia expected to play
a critical and leading role, NVGP marks the point at which the
intelligentsia was definitively put in its place, subordinate to the
Worker's Party. If it acted post-1956, it was to articulate the views
and concerns of a "mass regarding" party, not the views of a privileged
and somewhat autonomous elite class.

Given my argument, it is not surprising that I believe that
understanding NVGP in terms of reform communism is only part of the
story. The most comprehensive view of NVGP should link the transnational
refashioning of communism back to this Vietnamese history of the
structural transformation of the public sphere.

2) On Dissent, Dissidence, and Reform Communism: Zinoman has three
complaints about past scholarship. One is that scholars have not
appreciated the diversity of views articulated by NVGP writers. Second,
he goes on to claim that "NVGP is characterized as a 'dissident'
movement by every recent scholar of the movement" (62, my emphasis).
Finally, he also believes that the "standard view of NVGP fails to
appreciate the 'reform Communist' character of its agenda" (65). All of
these claims are problematic or overdrawn.

Zinoman's first claim - that scholars have not appreciated the diversity
of views expressed by NVGP writers - puzzles me. My essay on the
philosopher Tran Duc Thao clearly goes against the grain of some other
scholarship that homogenizes NVGP as "dissident" or even
'anti-communist." But my work aside, what about Georges Boudarel's book
Cent fleurs écloses dans la nuit du Vietnam: communisme et dissidence,
1954-56 (Paris: Jacques Bertoin, 1993)? It is true that Boudarel spends
much time on developments that led up to NVGP, and not on NVGP itself.
For example, he argues at length about the importance of "contestation"
in the army, and how this contestation later shaped NVGP. But he does
not homogenize these authors' views. Dissent can co-exist with
diversity. Another author, Kim Ninh, repeatedly uses the term "dissent,"
in her book4, and one could argue that she homogenizes all NVGP writing
in this way and elides its diversity. But is this a fair reading?

I think the answer to this question is provided by Zinoman himself.
Zinoman uses the terms "dissent" and "dissidence" interchangeably, as if
the concepts mean the same thing, but ignores the way that other
scholars distinguish the meanings of these terms. It is safe to say that
these terms are often used interchangeably by scholars, but it also
seems clear that the two terms have slightly different (if contested)
differences. "Dissent" is a broader term, and at its core is the notion
of difference of opinion. "Dissidence" is more precise: in studies of
communism, it refers to intellectual contestation that takes on a
political character, and it often implies that one belongs to a
sociological grouping, dissidents.

If we examine the actual way in which past scholars have argued over
NVGP, some interesting patterns emerge. Kim Ninh never uses the term
"dissident" or "dissidence" alone. She once refers to "dissident
voices."5 Overwhelmingly, she uses the term "dissent." Boudarel uses a
range of French and Vietnamese terms. He goes on at length on the affair
in terms of the Vietnamese term th?c m?c , which is difficult to
translate; it can refer to unease, disquiet, and doubts. His favorite
seems to be the French term "contestation" (protest, contestation).6 His
use of "dissidence" is rarer. As for me: I never characterize NVGP as
"dissident." (Indeed, I stated that Tran Duc Thao, a contributor to
NVGP, "undoubtedly did not see himself as a dissident against Marxism.")

Simply looking at Boudarel's, Ninh's, and my use of the term "dissent,"
it seems clear that we would not agree with Zinoman that dissent would
have to, in his words, "oppose the normative principles on which the
system is based." We simply use the term "dissent" differently than does
Zinoman, as a term quite distinct from "dissidence." In my particular
case, I would argue that an older generation's understanding of
"dissent" was deeply shaped by the experience under French colonial
rule, not by reform communism.

In my view, NVGP was emphatically not a dissident movement, despite the
Worker's Party post-1956 attempt to paint it in such terms. Scholars and
activists who have portrayed NVGP as anti-socialist or anti-communist
are simply wrong. On this Peter Zinoman and I are in complete agreement.

Zinoman's third beef with other scholars is that they do not appreciate
the "reform communism" character of NVGP. On this, I am puzzled. I think
it indisputable that some contributors to NVGP, such as Tran Duc Thao,
Le Dat, and Nguyen Huu Dang, saw themselves as reformist communists. But
what about others? I don't know enough to make a claim, but was Nguyen
Manh Tuong ever a member of the communist party? As for Phan Khoi, it
seems clear that he was an anticolonial patriot. He became very
dispirited with the Party during the long war of Resistance (1945-54).
He was never a communist.

In the end, Zinoman's critiques of past scholarship seem to take him in
two directions. By emphasizing the diversity of NVGP interventions, and
giving a careful and extensive analysis to support this point, he wants
to underline that NVGP cannot be simply glossed as "dissident." With
this I agree. But in accentuating the "reform communist" character of
NVGP, he wants to subsume all this diversity under the banner of a mild
reformist communism. Can Zinoman have it both ways? Has Zinoman ended up
committing the same error as those he criticizes: homogenizing the
character of NVGP interventions?

Shawn McHale (PhD, Cornell, 1995) is Director of the Sigur Center for
Asian Studies, George Washington University, where he teaches courses on
Vietnam, Southeast Asia, colonialism, and history and memory. His
publications include Print and Power: Confucianism, Communism, and
Buddhism in the Making of Modern Vietnam (Honolulu: Hawaii, 2004);
"Understanding the Fanatic Mind? The Viet Minh and Race Hatred in the
First Indochina War (1945-1954)," Journal of Vietnamese Studies (October
2009): 98-138; "Vietnamese Marxism, Dissent, and the Politics of
Postcolonial Memory: Tran Duc Thao, 1946-1993," Journal of Asian Studies
(February 2002): 7-37. He is currently working on a book on the war in
the Mekong delta of Vietnam, 1945-54, in local and transnational

Copyright (c) 2011 H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online.
H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for
non-profit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to
the author(s), web location, date of publication, H-Diplo, and H-Net:
Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For other uses, contact the H-Diplo
editorial staff at


1 Shawn McHale, "Vietnamese Marxism, Dissent, and the Politics of
Postcolonial Memory: Tran Duc Thao, 1946-1993," Journal of Asian Studies
61:1 (February 2002), 9.

2 Shawn McHale, "Freedom, Violence, and the Struggle Over the Public
Arena in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, 1945-1958, in Christopher
Goscha and Benoit de Treglode, eds., Vietnam Since 1945: States, Margins
and Constructions of the Past (Paris: L'Inde Savante, 2004); Kim Ngoc
Bao Ninh, A World Transformed: The Politics of Culture in Revolutionary
Vietnam, 1945-65 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002).

3 Thong cao thu nhat cua Uy ban Giai Phong [First communique of the
Liberation Committee [of the Provisional Government], August 1945, in
Tran Huy Lieu and Van Tao, compilers, Tong khoi nghia thang tam [The
August General Uprising], Hanoi, NXB Van Su Dia, 1957, p. 34. This
proclamation appears to have been made on 17 August 1945.

4 Kim Ngoc Bao Ninh, A World Transformed: The Politics of Culture in
Revolutionary Vietnam, 1945-65 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press,

5 Kim Ngoc Bao Ninh, A World Transformed, 241.

6 Georges Boudarel, Cent fleurs écloses dans la nuit du Vietnam :
communisme et dissidence 1954-56 (Paris: Jacques Bertoin, 1993). Th?c
m?c is the subtitle of the first chapter, pp. 9-20. A search of
Boudarel's book on Google books shows that the term appears to have been
used 20 times in the book (especially in that first chapter). Searches
show 15 uses of "contestation" (including pp. 9,20, 143), 5 uses of
"dissidents" (see pp. 118 and 251), 4 of dissidence (including p. 118,
the front cover, and the back cover. A close reading of my actual copy
suggests, in some cases, that Boudarel is talking about how the Workers'
Party saw the upstart writers, not how they perceived themselves. A
fair-minded reader could suggest that Boudarel could have been more
precise in his use of terms, but that "dissidence" was not the
organizing theme of his book.

H-Net Humanities and  Social Sciences Online
Humanities & Social
Sciences Online
Hosted by Matrix
Copyright © 1995-2006 - Contact Us
RSS | Validate: XHTML | CSS

No comments: