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Historical Dictionary

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HUỲNH PHÚ SỔ (1920–1947)

Founder of the Vietnamese religious movement, the Hoa Hao, who was assassinated by the forces of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). Born in Chau Doc province in southern Vietnam, he studied in a Franco-Vietnamese elementary school before dedicating himself to the creation of a new syncretic Buddhist sect, the Hoa Hao, announced in 1939. His influence spread across western Nam Bo and eventually led the French to arrest him. During World War II, the Japanese developed contacts with the Hoa Hao and freed Huynh Phu So from French incarceration in 1942 in Saigon. In 1945, with the defeat of the Japanese, Huynh Phu So temporarily aligned his followers with the nationalist cause of the DRV. That collaboration, however, did not last long. By 1947, the French Army’s Deuxième Bureau was able to intensify its contacts with members of the Hoa Hoa in an effort to break them off from the Viet Minh. Confidence was already lacking between the DRV and a variety of politico-religious groups in the south. In June 1946, Huynh Phu So created a separate political party called the Vietnamese National-Socialist Party (Dang Viet Nam Dan Chu Xa Hoi, or Dang Dan Xa for short) and appointed himself leader. In April 1947, attacks between the Hoa Hao and the Viet Minh, exacerbated by shrewd moves by French intelligence officers, such as Antoine Savani, led to a violent break when the DRV’s forces assassinated Huynh Phu So in order to consolidate their hold over the military forces in the south and block French attempts to turn the Hoa Hoa and others against them, politically and militarily. The Hoa Hoa, Cao Dai, and eventually the Binh Xuyen would transfer their allegiance to the French and their counter-revolutionary state under construction thanks to Bao Dai’s collaboration. French journalist Jean Lacouture came away from an interview with Huynh Phu So, whom the French called the “mad monk” (le bonze fou) in 1945, struck by “son visage de visionnaire, d’une tension et d’une beauté saisissante était de ceux que l’on ne peut oublier”.