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HÒA HẢO

The word “Hoa Hao” in Vietnamese means “conciliation” or “concord”. The Hoa Hao faith emerged in the late 1930s in the Mekong Delta. The messianic leader of the movement, Huynh Phu So, drew heavily on local Buddhist beliefs and the southern popularity of Maitreya Buddha, the Saviour, to build this millenarian religious movement. Huynh Phu So attracted a large peasant following, many of whom were looking for a saviour and the promise of a better world to help them make it through the difficult economic times of the 1930s. By the time the Japanese started moving into northern Indochina in 1940, Huynh Phu So had thousands of followers located in large swaths of the Mekong delta running up the river into Cambodia. The Hoa Hao faith was particularly strong in the Vietnamese provinces of Tan Chau, Chau Doc and Long Xuyen. During World War II, the Japanese backed Huynh Phu So and pressured the French to release him from captivity. Upon the defeat of the Japanese in August 1945, Huynh Phu So temporarily aligned his followers with the nationalist cause of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). That collaboration, however, did not last long. Confidence was lacking on both sides. By 1947, the French Deuxième Bureau in southern Vietnam intensified its contacts with members of the Hoa Hao in an effort to lure them from the DRV. In April 1947, attacks between the Hoa Hao and the DRV 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 Hao and others against them, both politically and militarily. The Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, and eventually the Binh Xuyen would cross over to the French and their counter-revolutionary state led by Bao Dai. However, Hoa Hao collaboration was always precarious at best. Leaders, such as Le Quang Vinh and Tran Van Soai, moved back and forth among the DRV, the French, Bao Dai, and later Ngo Dinh Diem forces. See also HUYNH VAN TRI; NGUYEN GIAC NGO.