5/11/12 - uncle ho's tomb

In today's excerpt - after almost a millennium as an independent kingdom, in the 1800s Vietnam (French Indochina) became a French colony and its people suffered under the colonial lash. It was then occupied by Japan during World War II, and sensing an opportunity upon the end of the war, Vietnam declared its independence from France under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh. Vietnam's independence was brief, however, as the French ignored Vietnam's declaration and reasserted their rights to the colony. It took three wars of independence -- first against the French, then against the U.S., and finally against the Chinese -- before the country finally regained genuine independence. "Uncle" Ho became revered in Vietnam as fervently as George Washington was after the American Revolution, and today his body is viewed by thousands each day in an imposing mausoleum in the heart of now-capitalist Hanoi:

"Born Nguyen Sinh Cung on May 19, 1890, in the village of Hoang Tru near Vinh, just north of Hue in central Viet­nam, Ho [Chi Minh] spent his young life looking over his father's shoulder as [he] studied to be a mandarin (high government offi­cial). While living in Hue, he saw his mother and sister die -- experiences that steeled him for a harsh life later. Ho's father was a thinker and had many friends who were active in radical poli­tics, and from an early age Ho was exposed to lots of revolutionary talk [against the French]. Ho studied only briefly at university before setting out on his own, walking the length of Vietnam and working as a teacher here and there from 1906 to 1911. ... Like Che Guevara's motorcycle trip around South America, Ho Chi Minh's formative wanderings in Vietnam were a major part of his identity. He developed his compassion and understanding of the Vietnamese people and also saw up close their struggles under a colonial yoke.

"Leaving Saigon in 1911, Ho set sail as a cook on a ship. Reputedly, this was the time when he gained his worldly perspective and began to understand notions of the world as a class struggle, a kind of Darwinian fight that can have only one solution: an ongoing peasant/proletariat revolution. He connected with other free thinkers abroad, working in kitchens in London, and then moved to Paris, where he changed his name to Nguyen Ai Quoc ('Nguyen the Patriot'). His ideas began to gain clout among fellow dissidents, and he became involved in underground print journalism while building a Rolodex of fellow revolutionaries.

"He traveled between Moscow and China, a revolutionary peripatetic, for most of the 1930s, and grew a large fol­lowing. As a founder of the Indochinese Communist Party, he was under constant suspicion and surveillance, at one point fleeing to Hong Kong and then on to the south of China, where he formed the League for an Independent Vietnam, whose members, later soldiers, were called the Viet Minh, and then Viet Cong in the war with the United States. Imprisoned by Chiang Kai-shek in 1940, Ho changed his name to Ho Chi Minh ('Enlightened One') and returned to Vietnam via surreptitious border cross­ings and long stays in hide-out caves in the far north (near Cao Bang).

"On August 19, 1945, after the surrender of the Japanese in World War II, Ho Chi Minh made his 'Declara­tion of Independence' that borrowed language from U.S. and French docu­ments of freedom. Thus began the armed revolution. Outwardly an ascetic, Ho was reput­edly a ladies' man, and stories of his nighttime dalliances, real or imagined, pepper more recent histories. He is even said to have taken up with a French woman and to have fathered a number of children. Diminutive and delicate, Ho was a leader who lived a spartan exis­tence, upholding the ideals of egalitarian revolution, living in a simple two-room building on the grounds of the former imperial palace.

"Ho Chi Minh died from natural causes in 1969, just 6 years short of seeing his dream of a unified Communist Vietnam. Nearing death, Ho was explicit about his wishes to be cremated, his ashes divided into three separate portions and distributed at sites in the north, center, and south to celebrate the reunification of the country. He asked for no pomp or circumstance, no grand tomb or homage to his remains. The hulking mausoleum [is where he is now] embalmed and set on a palanquin for general public viewing. ...

"Following a long tradition of deifying war heroes, Ho Chi Minh's image is everywhere [in Vietnam]: on cabs, in shrines, and in long rows of portraits hung in family rooms, sanctified in the family pantheon as one of the great immortals."


Ron Emmons


Frommer's Vietnam


John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


Copyright 2012 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


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