The child Nguyen Sinh Cung advanced quickly in his studies, and at the age of 11, his father gave him the name Nguyen Tat Thanh (meaning “he who will succeed”). Thanh was socialized in the environment of the anti-colonial nationalist movement formed by the Confucian scholar-intellectual class. His teachers for most of his formal education as a child and adolescent were Confucian scholars. The renowned scholar and nationalist Phan Boi Chau (see “Confucian scholars and nationalism” 4/29/2014) was a close acquaintance of his father, and Phan asked Thanh to join his modernization movement, but Thanh declined, apparently having reservations in relation to its pro-Japanese orientation. Thanh also studied briefly at a Franco-Vietnamese academy, where he was influenced by anti-French teachers, but he was dismissed from the school for his political activities. At the age of 20, he taught in a patriotic nationalist school, but he disappeared after a year, fleeing colonial authorities (Duiker 2000: 23-27, 33-41).
In 1911, at the age of 21, Thanh obtained employment as a kitchen assistant on a French steamship, which enabled him to see Paris as well as cities in Spain and various African and Asian countries. His writing during these early travels shows that he was struck by the level of poverty and inequality in Paris. And he noted the similarity of conditions in Africa to those of Vietnam, thus beginning to understand colonialism as a general global process. He also lived temporarily in the United States and London and later lived in Paris, working at various working-class jobs, such as servant, gardener, and vender of newspapers. In addition to his worldly experiences, he was a voracious reader, and his favorite works included Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Leo Tolstoy, Lu Xun, and Barbusse (Prina 2008:79; García Oliveras 2010:23-24; Duiker 2000:42-56).
When Thanh arrived in Paris in 1917 at the age of 27, he immediately became politically active in the city’s significant Vietnamese émigré community. He was the guiding force in the creation of a new organization, the Association of Annamite Patriots, seeking to renovate Vietnamese nationalism, which had become stagnant in the émigré community during the World War. Phan Chu Trinh, the most prominent member of the Vietnamese émigré community as a result of his letter to the French Governor General (see “Confucian scholars and nationalism” 4/29/2014), was one of the directors of the new organization. On behalf of the organization, Thanh wrote a petition that was presented to the ministerial office of the Peace Conference in Versailles. The petition demanded Vietnamese autonomy; freedoms of association, press, and movement; amnesty for political prisoners; equal rights for Vietnamese; the abolition of forced labor; and the abolition of taxes on salt, opium, and alcohol. The petition, dated June 18, 1919, was signed by Nguyen Ai Quoc (“Nguyen the Patriot”), and thereafter Thanh would use this name. News of the petition spread quickly in the émigré community, galvanizing the cause of Vietnamese nationalism. At the age of 29, “Nguyen the Patriot” had become a prominent member of the Vietnamese émigré community in Paris (Prina 2008:79; García Oliveras 2010:24-27; Duiker 2000:54-62).
Upon his arrival in Paris in 1917, Thanh began to attend meetings of the French Socialist Party. Beginning in 1919, as the author of the famous petition, Nguyen the Patriot was received with great respect by French socialists (Duiker 2000:55, 62).
Since his childhood, Nguyen the Patriot had been formed in the political-intellectual-moral tradition of Vietnamese nationalism that had been developed by the Confucian scholar-intellectual class. In Paris from 1917 to 1924, he continued to be politically active in Vietnamese nationalism, and indeed became one of its most prominent spokespersons. At the same time, however, he began in 1917 a process of encounter with an alternative political-intellectual-moral tradition, that of French socialism, as we will discuss in the next post.
Duiker, William J. 2000. Ho Chi Minh. New York: Hyperion.
García Oliveras, Julio A. 2010. Ho Chi Minh El Patriota: 60 años de lucha revolucionaria. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
Prina, Agustín. 2008. La Guerra de Vietnam. Mexico: Ocean Sur.
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