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Historical Dictionary

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VIETNAMESE NATIONALIST PARTY (Việt Nam Quốc Dân Đảng, VNQDĐ)

Created in 1927, the Vietnamese Nationalist Party (Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang) posed the first organized nationalist challenge to colonial rule over Vietnam. At the outset, this party counted among its members a wide range of individuals – disgruntled youth, teachers, journalists as well as soldiers in the colonial army, merchants, and members of the bourgeoisie. Inspired and to a considerable extent modeled on the Chinese nationalist model, the VNQDD sought to create a mass-based party along Leninist lines.

While the Vietnamese Nationalist Party started off as a reform-minded party, a combination of French repression and frustration with failed colonial reformism saw the party adopt a more radical line. In 1930, led by a young school teacher, Nguyen Thai Hoc, nationalists organized and launched a “general uprising” against the French in northern Vietnam designed to throw out the colonialists, unify the country and create a Republic. Initially caught off guard by the revolt, the French responded quickly and crushed the uprising, located mainly in northern Vietnamese colonial garrisons such as Yen Bay. Those who escaped made their way to southern China. Meanwhile, the French sent scores of the arrested to colonial prisons, especially Poulo Condor, while they executed the core leadership. Before going to the guillotoine, Nguyen Thai Hoc went down in history when he screamed out Long Live Vietnam (Viet Nam Van tue)! His fiancée signed a double suicide note, one dedicated to her lover, the other addressed to the nation. Nationalism was real.

This French repression coincided with a second one directed against the Indochinese Communist Party, sending hundreds of communists to prison or fleeing into southern China on the heels of the nationalists. Indeed, French repression had the unintended effect of forcing communists and nationalists into fierce competition for the nationalist high ground in the microcosms of the colonial prisons and southern Chinese cites, where fierce debates and even low-intensity violence broke out between the two sides. This violence manifested itself in a civil war in the wake of World War II as the VNQDD and the ICP moved to create the nation state they had failed to achieve in the early 1930s. The arrival of the Republican Chinese occupying forces delayed the start of what would have surely become a full-blown civil war by October 1945. The communists at the head of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) realized that they could not authorize the security forces to attack the nationalist leaders, including the head of the VNQDD, Vu Hong Khanh, arriving with or backed by the Chinese from exile in southern China. To do so would be to risk a hostile Chinese take-over. Determined to deny them any pretext for overthrowing the fledgling government, the Viet Minh and the communists allowed the opposition to organize propaganda drives, operate newspapers, publish political cartoons satirizing the communists and even Ho Chi Minh, the “father” of the new nation.

Thanks to the Chinese security umbrella, the VNQDD joined forces with the Greater Vietnam National Party of Truong Tu Anh and the Alliance Party of Nguyen Hai Than. These parties organized membership drives, mobilized youth groups, and recruited for their militias. These opposition leaders decried what they considered to be the communist monopoly over the new state. They called for the creation of a truly nationalist coalition, with non-communists holding key ministries. Their wish was granted on several occasions thanks to Chinese pressure. Meanwhile, the opposition organized anti-Viet Minh demonstrations called on the population to boycott elections and urged workers and civil servants to go on strike. It was all part of their bid to roll back communist efforts to define the limits of political participation, citizenship, and power. Things got so bad that in mid-November 1945 the ICP leadership decided to “dissolve” its party as a reflection of communist “selflessness” and “authentic” patriotism.

Until the Chinese pulled out, the VNQDD fought its battles for Vietnamese hearts and minds via newspapers, printing presses, and publishing houses. The VNQDD paper Viet Nam was particularly effective in late 1945 and early 1946 in portraying the Viet Minh and the DRV leaders as internationalist communists bent on betraying the country. Scathing debates became commonplace in government and opposition papers. Powerfully charged words that had been proffered back and forth privately between the two sides now came into the open in Hanoi and in bold print: Viet gian, phan quoc, phan dong, Viet quoc, and perhaps even Viet cong. Communist hate for the opposition was palpable. The chief of the DRV’s security services recalled one memorable encounter: “What paper do you have there?” “Viet Nam” a young nationalist replied. Mockingly, the chief of police shot back: “There’s nothing Vietnamese in it; their paper is nothing but a traitorous one!” (Viet Nam gi bao cua chung may la bao Viet Gian!)

This violent “war of the pens” set the mental stage for the civil violence of mid-1946. The shift began when the Chinese finished pulling the bulk of their troops out of upper Vietnam by 17 June 1946. Within a few weeks, the communists unleashed the security services against the VNQDD and the Greater Vietnam party while Vo Nguyen Giap used his emerging army against nationalist troops located in the northern countryside, with the support of local French troops. By September 1946, Vu Hong Khanh and most of his remaining forces had returned to southern China. Meanwhile, with the Chinese gone, the DRV Ministry of Interior authorized the police to confiscate opposition papers. In a final move to define in the clearest of terms the limits of opposition, the government replaced the original Vietnamese Nationalist Party with a “new” VNQDD, whose leaders and organizations were now tied to the DRV.

The security service’s raids against the VNQDD presence in Hanoi, doubled by the army’s attacks against the nationalist forces in the countryside, marked the outbreak of the first civil war in Vietnam since the 18th century. It was also the first in a long line of civil conflicts that would dominate modern Vietnamese history for the rest of the 20th century. Vu Hong Khanh would return to northern Vietnam with a few of his men in early 1950 as Chinese communist troops consolidated their hold over southern China and put an end to the Republic of China, the VNQDD’s most important backer. See also AID, CHINESE; BINH XUYEN; CAO DAI; COLLABORATION; HOA HAO; HUYNH PHU SO; LE VAN VIEN; LANGUAGE OF WAR; PHAM CONG TAC.