Historical Dictionary



At the outset, the independence cause of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) attracted among the best and the brightest of the Vietnamese intellectual class. The DRV certainly needed them. Not only were the intellectuals an important source of legitimation for the young government, but their technical, legal, administrative, engineering, and medical talents were in great demand for building the new postcolonial state. Some of the best known names of those joining the DRV include Pham Ngoc Thach, Nguyen Manh Tuong, Ton That Tung, Kha Vang Can, Nguyen Van Huong, Ca Van Thinh, Pham Thieu, Tran Dai Nghia, Pham Duy, Pham Ngoc Thao, and Tran Duc Thao. Even former Emperor Bao Dai and Catholic Bishop Le Huu Tu supported the DRV cause at the outset, making it easier for a wide range of Vietnamese to join the Viet Minh.

Almost all of these young intellectuals were French-trained, more often than not admirers of French culture and language. Some had studied in France and were married to French women. Albeit anti-colonialist and nationalist, few, if any were anti-français. Dr. Ho Dac Di trained as a surgeon in France and played music with the daughter of Pierre and Marie Curie (who later married Pierre Mendès France). Ho Chi Minh made a point of assigning these illustrious French-trained Vietnamese to his (large) delegations sent to negotiate with the French during the Dalat and Fontainebleau Conferences. Many Vietnamese elites in France returned to Vietnam to work in the resistance government following the outbreak of full-scale war. The case of Tran Dai Nghia certainly comes to mind. A number of sympathetic Vietnamese intellectuals remained in the French-occupied cities, such as Nguyen Manh Ha and Hoang Xuan Han. Their refusal to collaborate with the French continued to serve the DRV cause as did their petitions and mediatized critiques of the war.

However, many of the best and brightest nationalists did not cross over to the DRV and those who did could change their minds. Why? Because of the communization of the new nation-state from 1950. The Chinese communist recognition of and military aid to the DRV led the Indochinese Communist Party to tighten its grip on the state and on its ideological control of civil servants, officiers, soldiers, and intellectuals. Party rectification and emulation campaigns sought to mobilize, control, and homogenize – and not to promote individual thought. Moreover, the new emphasis on “workers” and “peasants” ensured that mainly urban, “bourgeois” intellectuals found themselves in the wrong “class”. If supporting the nationalist cause was not a problem, many “bourgeois” intellectuals balked at the idea of accepting the party’s limits on freedom of expression and the politization of art, culture, and even medicine.

Desertions multiplied during the second half of the Indochina War because of the DRV’s communization of the state, party, and society within the territories it controlled. Singer Pham Duy’s defection to the Associated State of Vietnam in the early 1950s was a common case, as was that of Hoang Van Chi and Le Huu Tu. Several threw in their lot with the communist party like Dr. Ton That Tung, while many retreated into the isolation of their villages or decided to live abroad. Even most of the sympathetic Vietnamese intellectuals living in Hanoi, who had refused to collaborate with the French and the Associated State of Vietnam, packed their bags and moved to Saigon or France rather than live under communist rule after the signing of the Geneva Accords. These people had closely followed the communization of the DRV, especially the land reform begun in 1953. See also ATTENTISME; CATHOLICS, EXODUS FROM NORTH; CATHOLICS IN VIETNAM AND THE WAR; CHRISTIANS AND OPPOSITION TO THE INDOCHINA WAR; CIVIL WAR; COLLABORATION; CROSSOVERS; DESERTION; NGUYEN MANH HA; POULO CONDOR; REFUGEES, FRANCE; VATICAN.