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NEW HERO

Refers to the “exemplary” men and women exalted by the communist leadership of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) during the Indochina War. However, the Vietnamese communist party’s “new hero” (anh hung moi) was not quite as revolutionary as we may think. For one, Vietnamese communists drew upon a long tradition of hero worship and martyr veneration in Sino-Vietnamese political culture, one in which the state singled out men and women of virtue (dao duc) whom society should strive to emulate.

Vietnamese anti-colonialists opposing French colonial domination at the turn of the 19th century recast ancient hero veneration in nationalist ways by inventing a new pantheon of heroic nationalists and martyrs to be emulated by young Vietnamese patriots. Vietnam’s first modern nationalist, Phan Boi Chau, was the main architect of this new generation of heroes.

While Vietnamese communists continued to promote new patriotic heroes as part of their own struggle to gain Vietnam’s national independence, they went further by adding a new socialist man to the heroic, emulative repertoire. This layer, however, drew its inspiration from Sino-Soviet communist models that arrived in northern Vietnam in full force following the entry of the DRV into the international communist bloc in early 1950. It was also linked to the decision taken by Vietnamese communists to begin transforming Vietnamese society in patently communist ways.

The creation of the “new hero” and the “new (communist) man” was an instrument by which the Vietnamese communist party sought to take hold of, control, and remake Vietnamese society in truly revolutionary ways, as Benoit de Tréglodé has shown. Under the close supervision of the communist party, cadres carefully selected heroes from among the peasants and soldiers who were considered to represent the “new” men and women. These exemplary people were to serve as models to follow in setting the foundation of the new communist society. Whereas land reform was designed in part to begin the restructuring of Vietnamese rural society, the dissemination of “new heros” throughout the DRV via massive propaganda drives and emulation campaigns allowed the party to align itself with the peasantry, the workers, soldiers, women, and petty traders. Bourgeois individuals, patriotic or not, were not to be emulated. Hero worship was also a powerful tool by which the party began to inculcate a new range of virtues and values openly identified with communism and the wider international world of which the DRV was now a part.

In May 1952, the Vietnamese Worker’s Party officially began its revolutionary heroization project in earnest.  Besides being patriotic, the “new heroes” had to embody unflagging loyalty to the party. As Truong Chinh characterized the new hero in 1952, “The hero has a strong class sentiment. He knows how to distinguish the good from the bad, the friend from the enemy. He knows himself and has a responsible outlook towards the leadership and the masses. It is not personal interest that guides him in the war or in work production but rather the collective good”. While the Chinese advisors working closely with the Vietnamese communist leadership certainly provided advice and experiences, it was the Vietnamese leadership that chose to undertake this “heroic” emulation campaign. See also COLD WAR; CULTURE; HISTORY; INDOCTRINATION; LANGUAGE OF WAR; MARTYRS; LOVE AND WAR; RECTIFICATION.