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Historical Dictionary

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HOÀNG XUÂN HÃN (1909–1996)

Born in Ha Tinh province, Hoang Xuan Han became one of Vietnam’s best known intellectuals. He completed his primary and part of his secondary studies in Vinh and Thanh Hoa between 1917 and 1926 before moving on to Hanoi to study at the Lycée Albert Sarraut, from which he graduated in mathematics in 1928. He obtained a scholarship to study in France and attended the prestigious preparatory school, Lycée Saint Louis, until 1930, specializing in mathematics. From this point he studied at the most prestigious French learning institutions of the time: the École polytechnique (1930–32), the École nationale des ponts et chaussées (1932–1934), and the École normale supérieure (1935–1936), rue d’Ulm, where he became a certified instructor of mathematics. Upon his return to Indochina shortly thereafter, he taught at the Lycée du Protectorat, the École d’agriculture et de sylviculture, and the Agents techniques des travaux publics.

Though always discreet and no political militant, Hoang Xuan Han was nonetheless increasingly attracted to nationalist politics, especially during the heady days of the Popular Front period in Indochina. He joined the Association for the vulgarization of quoc ngu at this time. He also put his knowledge of Chinese characters and the Sino-Vietnamese script, chu nom, in the service of unearthing Vietnam’s national history, heritage, and heroes. When the Lycée du Protectorat was moved to Thanh Hoa, he studied inscriptions of the ancient Vietnamese General Ly Thuong Kiet and wrote on other military heroes of the past, such as the Tay Son brothers.

Following the Japanese overthrow of the French in the coup de force of 9 March 1945, Hoang Xuan Han became the minister of Education and the Arts in the short-lived Tran Trong Kim government. He met with Bao Dai on several occasions during this time to discuss the future of Vietnam. As minister of Education, he oversaw the use of Vietnamese in the Vietnamese education program instead of French.

While Hoang Xuan Han was sympathetic to the nationalist cause of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), he never held a governmental position. He did, however, accept Ho Chi Minh’s invitation to take part in the DRV delegation to the Dalat Conference in 1946. He remained in French-controlled Hanoi after the outbreak of war on 19 December 1946, dedicating himself to teaching and researching one of the greatest national works of Vietnam, the Tale of Kieu (Truyen Kieu) and publishing an heroic biography of Ly Thuong Kiet in 1949. Indeed, Hoang Xuan Han made his contribution to the anti-colonial cause as something of a nationalist historian during the Indochina War. However, this did not keep him in Vietnam. In the early 1950s, he moved to France and helped develop the Vietnamese holdings in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, as well as in libraries in Italy and at the Vatican. He was present at the Geneva Conference, upon the invitation of Phan Anh and Nguyen Manh Ha. He died in France. See also ATTENTISME; COLLABORATION; HISTORY, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM.