Hồ Chí Minh (19 May 1890 – 2 September 1969), born Nguyễn Sinh Cung and also known as Nguyễn Tất Thành and Nguyễn Ái Quốc, was a Vietnamese Marxist-Leninist revolutionary leader who was prime minister (1945–1955) and president (1945–1969) of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). He was a key figure in the foundation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945, as well as the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the Việt Cộng (NLF or VC) during the Vietnam War.
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He led the Việt Minh independence movement from 1941 onward, establishing the communist-governed Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945 and defeating the French Union in 1954 at Điện Biên Phủ. He officially stepped down from power in 1955 due to health problems, but remained a highly visible figurehead and inspiration for Vietnamese fighting for his cause – a united, independent Vietnam – until his death. After the war, Saigon, the capital of Republic of Vietnam, was renamed Hồ Chí Minh City in his honor.
Nguyễn Sinh Cung was born in 1890 in the village of Hoàng Trù, his mother's hometown. From 1895, he grew up in his father's hometown of Kim Liên, Nam Đàn, Nghệ An Province. He had three siblings: his sister Bạch Liên (or Nguyễn Thị Thanh), a clerk in the French Army; his brother Nguyễn Sinh Khiêm (or Nguyễn Tất Đạt), a geomancer and traditional herbalist; and another brother (Nguyễn Sinh Nhuận) who died in his infancy. As a young child, Nguyễn studied with his father before more formal classes with a scholar named Vuong Thuc Do. Nguyễn quickly mastered Chinese writing, a requisite for any serious study of Confucianism, while honing his colloquial Vietnamese writing. In addition to his studious endeavors, he was fond of adventure, and loved to fly kites and go fishing. Following Confucian tradition, at the age of 10, his father gave him a new name: Nguyễn Tất Thành (“Nguyễn the Accomplished”).
Nguyễn’s father, Nguyễn Sinh Sắc, was a Confucian scholar and teacher, and later an imperial magistrate in the small remote district of Binh Khe (Qui Nhơn). He was demoted for abuse of power after an influential local figure died several days after receiving 100 strokes of the cane as punishment for an infraction. In deference to his father, Nguyễn received a French education, attended lycée in Huế, the alma mater of his later disciples, Phạm Văn Đồng and Vơ Nguyên Giáp. He later left his studies and chose to teach at Dục Thanh school in Phan Thiết.
In the USA
In 1912, working as the cook's helper on a ship, Nguyễn traveled to the United States. From 1912-13, he lived in New York (Harlem) and Boston, where he worked as a baker at the Parker House Hotel. Among a series of menial jobs, he claimed to have worked for a wealthy family in Brooklyn between 1917–18, and for General Motors as a line manager. It is believed that, while in the United States, he made contact with Korean nationalists, an experience that developed his political outlook.
At various points between 1913 and 1919, Nguyễn lived in West Ealing, and later in Crouch End, Hornsey. He reportedly worked as a chef at the Drayton Court Hotel in West Ealing. It is claimed that Nguyễn trained as a pastry chef under Auguste Escoffier at the Carlton Hotel in the Haymarket, Westminster, but there is no evidence to support this. However, the wall of New Zealand House, home of the New Zealand High Commission, which now stands on the site of the Carlton Hotel, displays a blue plaque, stating that Nguyễn worked there in 1913 as a waiter. He was also an avid Chelsea F.C supporter and was a regular at Stamford Bridge (stadium).
Political education in France
From 1919–23, while living in France, Nguyễn Sinh Cung began to approach the idea of communism, through his friend and Socialist Party of France comrade Marcel Cachin. Cung claimed to have arrived in Paris from London in 1917, but the French police only had documents of his arrival in June 1919. Following World War I, under the name Nguyễn Ái Quốc ("Nguyễn the Patriot"), he petitioned for recognition of the civil rights of the Vietnamese people in French Indochina to the Western powers at the Versailles peace talks, but was ignored. Citing the language and the spirit of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Quốc petitioned U.S. President Woodrow Wilson to help remove the French from Vietnam and replace them with a new, nationalist government. Although he was unable to obtain consideration at Versailles, the failure further radicalized Nguyễn, while also making him a national hero of the anti-colonial movement at home in Vietnam.
In 1920, during the Congress of Tours, in France, Quốc became a founding member of the Parti Communiste Français (FCP) and spent much of his time in Moscow afterward, becoming the Comintern's Asia hand and the principal theorist on colonial warfare. During the Indochina War, the PCF would be involved with anti-war propaganda, sabotage and support for the revolutionary effort. In May 1922, Nguyễn wrote an article for a French magazine criticizing the use of English words by French sportswriters. The article implores Prime Minister Raymond Poincaré to outlaw such Franglais as le manager, le round and le knock-out. While living in Paris, he reportedly had a relationship with a dressmaker named Marie Brière.
In the Soviet Union and China
In 1923, Nguyễn (Hồ) left Paris for Moscow, where he was employed by the Comintern, studied at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East, and participated in the Fifth Comintern Congress in June 1924, before arriving in Canton (present-day Guangzhou), China, in November 1924. In June 1925, Hoàng Văn Chí claimed Nguyễn (Hồ) had betrayed Phan Bội Châu, the head of a rival revolutionary faction, to French police in Shanghai for 100,000 piastres. Nguyễn (Hồ) later claimed he did it because he expected Châu's trial to stir up anti-French resentment, and because he needed the money to establish a communist organization. In Ho Chi Minh: A Life, William Duiker repudiated this hypothesis. Other sources claim that Nguyễn Thượng Hiền was responsible for Châu's capture. Châu never denounced Nguyễn.
In 1925-26 he organized "Youth Education Classes" and occasionally gave lectures at the Whampoa Military Academy on the revolutionary movement in Indochina. According to Duiker, he lived with and married a Chinese woman, Tăng Tuyết Minh (née Zeng Xueming), on 18 October 1926. When his comrades objected to the match, he told them, “I will get married despite your disapproval because I need a woman to teach me the language and keep house.” She was 21 and he was 36. They married in the same place where Zhou Enlai had married earlier and then lived together at the residence of a Comintern agent, Mikhail Borodin.
Chiang Kai-shek's anti-communist 1927 coup triggered a new round of exile for Nguyễn. He left Canton again in April 1927 and returned to Moscow, spending some of the summer of 1927 recuperating from tuberculosis in the Crimea, before returning to Paris once more in November. He then returned to Asia by way of Brussels, Berlin, Switzerland, and Italy, from where he sailed to Bangkok, Thailand, where he arrived in July 1928. “Although we have been separated for almost a year, our feelings for each other do not have to be said in order to be felt”, he reassured Minh in an intercepted letter.
He remained in Thailand, staying in the Thai village of Nachok, until late 1929 when he moved on to India, and Shanghai. In June 1931, he was arrested in Hong Kong. To reduce French pressure for extradition, it was (falsely) announced in 1932 that Nguyễn Ái Quốc had died. The British quietly released him in January 1933. He made his way back to Milan, Italy, where he served in a restaurant. The restaurant is now a traditional Lombard-cuisine temple and harbors a portrait of Hồ Chí Minh on the wall of its main dining hall. He moved to the Soviet Union, where he spent several more years recovering from tuberculosis.
In 1938, he returned to China and served as an adviser with Chinese Communist armed forces, which later forced China's government to the island of Taiwan. Around 1940, Quốc began regularly using the name "Hồ Chí Minh", a Vietnamese name combining a common Vietnamese surname (Hồ, 胡) with a given name meaning "He Who enlightens" (from Sino-Vietnamese 志 明; Chí meaning 'will' (or spirit), and Minh meaning "light").
In 1941, Hồ returned to Vietnam to lead the Việt Minh independence movement. The “men in black” were a 10,000 member guerrilla force that operated with the Việt Minh. He oversaw many successful military actions against the Vichy French and Japanese occupation of Vietnam during World War II, supported closely but clandestinely by the United States Office of Strategic Services, and later against the French bid to reoccupy the country (1946–54). He was jailed in China by Chiang Kai-shek's local authorities before being rescued by Chinese Communists. Following his release in 1943, he returned to Vietnam. He was treated for malaria and dysentery by American OSS doctors.
Following the August Revolution (1945) organized by the Việt Minh, Hồ became Chairman of the Provisional Government (Premier of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam) and issued a Proclamation of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Although he convinced Emperor Bảo Đại to abdicate, his government was not recognized by any country. He repeatedly petitioned American President Harry S. Truman for support for Vietnamese independence, citing the Atlantic Charter, but Truman never responded.
According to some unverified sources 1945, in a power struggle, the Việt Minh killed members of rival groups, such as the leader of the Constitutional Party, the head of the Party for Independence, and Ngô Đ́nh Diệm's brother, Ngô Đ́nh Khôi. Purges and killings of Trotskyists were also documented in The Black Book of Communism.
In 1946, when Hồ traveled outside of the country, his subordinates imprisoned 2,500 non-communist nationalists and forced 6,000 others to flee. Hundreds of political opponents were jailed or exiled in July 1946, notably members of the National Party of Vietnam and the Dai Viet National Party, after a failed attempt to raise a coup against the Vietminh government. All rival political parties therefore banned and local governments purged to minimize opposition later on.
However, it was noted that the Democratic Republic of Vietnam's first Congress had over two-third of its members come from non-Vietminh political factions, some without election. NPV party leader Nguyễn Hải Thần was named Vice President. They also held four out of ten ministerial positions.
Birth of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam
On 2 September 1945, following Emperor Bảo Đại's abdication, Hồ Chí Minh read the Declaration of Independence of Vietnam, under the name of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. In Saigon, with violence between rival Vietnamese factions and French forces increasing, the British commander, General Sir Douglas Gracey, declared martial law. On 24 September, the Việt Minh leaders responded with a call for a general strike.
In September 1945, a force of 200,000 Republic of China Army troops arrived in Hanoi. Hồ made a compromise with their general, Lu Han, to dissolve the Communist Party and to hold an election which would yield a coalition government. When Chiang later traded Chinese influence in Vietnam for French concessions in Shanghai, Hồ Chí Minh had no choice but to sign an agreement with France on 6 March 1946, in which Vietnam would be recognized as an autonomous state in the Indochinese Federation and the French Union. The agreement soon broke down. The purpose of the agreement, for both the French and Vietminh was to drive out Chiang's army from North Vietnam. Fighting broke out in the North soon after the Chinese left.
The Viet Minh then collaborated with French colonial forces to massacre supporters of the Vietnamese nationalist movements in 1945-6. The Communists eventually suppressed all non-Communist parties but failed to secure a peace deal with France. In the final days of 1946, after a year of diplomatic failure and many concessions in agreements such as the Dalat and Fontainebleau conferences, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam government found that war was inevitable. The bombardment of Haiphong by French forces at Hanoi only strengthened the belief that France had no intention of allowing an autonomous, independent state in Vietnam.
On 19 December 1946, Hồ, representing his government, declared war against the French Union, marked the beginning of the Indochina War. The Vietnam National Army, by then mostly armed with machetes and muskets immediately attacked, waging assault against French positions, smoking them out with straw bundled with chili pepper, destroying armored vehicles by Lunge Mines and Molotov cocktails, holding off attackers by using roadblocks, mines and gravel. After two month of fighting, the exhausted Việt Minh forces withdrew after systematically destroying any valuable infrastructure. Hồ was reported to be captured by a group of French soldiers led by Jean-Etienne Valluy at Việt Bắc in Operation Lea which turned out to be a Việt Minh advisor, who was later killed trying to escape. According to journalist Bernard Fall, after fighting the French for several years, Hồ decided to negotiate a truce. The French negotiators arrived at the meeting site: a mud hut with a thatched roof. Inside they found a long table with chairs and were surprised to discover in one corner of the room a silver ice bucket containing ice and a bottle of good Champagne which should have indicated that Hồ expected the negotiations to succeed. One demand by the French was the return to French custody of a number of Japanese military officers (who had been helping the Vietnamese armed forces by training them in the use of weapons of Japanese origin), in order for them to stand trial for war crimes committed during World War II. Hồ replied that the Japanese officers were allies and friends whom he could not betray. Then he walked out, to seven more years of war.
In February 1950, after the successful removal of French border's blockade, Hồ met with Stalin and Mao Zedong in Moscow after the Soviet Union recognized his government. They all agreed that China would be responsible for backing the Việt Minh. Mao's emissary to Moscow stated in August that China planned to train 60-70,000 Việt Minh in the near future. The road to the outside world was open for Việt Minh forces to receive additional supplies which allow them to escalate the fight against the French regime throughout Indochina. In 1954, after the crushing defeat of French Union forces at Điện Biên Phủ, France was forced to give up its fight against the Viet Minh.
The 1954 Geneva Accords, concluded between France and the Việt Minh, provided Vietminh forces would regroup in the North and the French and their colonial army (which was later known as the Army of Republic of Vietnam) forces regroup in the South. Hồ's Democratic Republic of Vietnam relocated to Hanoi and became the government of North Vietnam, a communist-led single party state. The Geneva accords also provided for a national election to reunify the country in 1956, but this was rejected by Diệm's government and the United States.
The U.S government committed itself to contain the spread of communism in Asia beginning in 1950, when they funded 80% of the French effort. After Geneva, the U.S became the replacement for France as Republic of Vietnam's chief sponsor and financial backer, but there was never a written treaty between the United States and South Vietnam.
Following the Geneva Accords, there was to be a 300-day period in which people could freely move between the two regions of Vietnam, later known as South Vietnam and North Vietnam. Some 900,000 to 1 million Vietnamese, mostly Catholics, as well as many anti-communist intellectuals, former French colonial civil servants and wealthy Vietnamese, left for the South, while around 250,000 people, mostly Vietminh soldiers, went from South to North. Some Canadian observers claimed many were forced by North Vietnamese authorities to remain against their will. With the backing of the U.S., the 1956 elections were canceled by Diệm, Vietnam's premier, and later the first president of Republic of Vietnam. Diệm formed another election, which he won by fraud.
In North Vietnam Political opposition groups were suppressed; those publicly opposing the government were imprisoned in hard labor camps. Prisoners were abused and beaten atop of labor-intensive work forced upon them. Many died of exhaustion, starvation, illness (who often died without any medical attention), or assault by prison guards. Up to an estimated 172,000 North Vietnamese died under the mass slaughter of "landlords" during land reform. Torture was used on a wide scale, so much so that by 1954 Ho Chi Minh became concerned, and had it banned. Dr. Steven Rosefielde, professor of economics at the University of North Carolina, places an estimated death toll at between 200,000 to 900,000.
At the end of 1959, Lê Duẩn was appointed acting party leader, after knowing the election would never happened and Diệm's intention to purge out all opposing forces (mostly ex-Việt Minh), began request the Politburo to sending aid to the Vietcong newly uprising in South Vietnam. This was considered by Western's analyzers as a loss of power by Hồ, who is said to have preferred the more moderate Giáp for the position. The Hồ Chí Minh Trail was established in late 1959 to allow aid to be sent to the Vietcong through Laos and Cambodia, thus escalating the war and tipping the balance, turning it to their favor. Duẩn was officially named party leader in 1960, leaving Hồ a public figure for Vietnamese rather than actually governing the country. Hồ maintained much influence in the government, Tố Hữu, Lê Duẩn, Trường Chinh, and Phạm Văn Đồng would often share dinner with him, and later all of them remained key figures of Vietnam throughout and after the war. In 1963, Hồ purportedly corresponded with South Vietnamese President Diệm in the hopes of achieving a negotiated peace. This correspondence was a factor in the U.S. decision to tacitly support a coup against Diệm later that year.
In late 1964, PAVN combat troops were sent southwest into neutral Laos and Cambodia. According to Chen Jian, during the mid-to-late 1960s, Lê Duẩn permitted 320,000 Chinese volunteers into North Vietnam to help build infrastructure for the country, thereby freeing a similar number of PAVN personnel to go south. However, there is no sources from Vietnam, US or Soviet confirmed about the number of Chinese troops stationed in Northern Vietnam. By early 1965, U.S. combat troops began arriving in South Vietnam, first to protect the airbases around Chu Lai and Danang, later to take on most of the fight, as "More and more American troops were put in to replace Saigon troops who could not, or would not, get involved in the fighting".
As the "quick victory" promises failed and fighting escalated, widespread bombing all over Vietnam by the U.S. Air Force and Navy escalated Operation Rolling Thunder. Hồ remained in Hanoi during his final years, demanding the unconditional withdrawal of all foreign troops in Southern Vietnam. By July 1967, Hồ and most of the Politburo of Workers Party of Vietnam concluded the war had fallen into a stalemate, since the United States Army presence forced the People's Army of Vietnam to expend the majority of their resources maintaining the Hochiminh Trail instead of reinforcing their comrade's ranks in the South. With Hồ's permission, the Vietcong planned to execute the Tet Offensive, gambling on taking the South by force and defeating the U.S. military. The offensive came at great cost and with heavy casualties on NLF's political branches and armed forces but achieving a fundamental change in the attitudes of people in the South. Up until Tet, many civilians generally favored the Vietcong; in the wake of mass executions and looting at Hue, popular support evaporated away from the Vietcong. It appeared to Hồ and to the rest of his government that the scope of the action had shocked the public on a global scale, that up until then had been assured just before Tet that the Communists were "on the ropes". The overly positive spin that the U.S. military had been attempting to achieve for years came crashing down. The bombing of Northern Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh trail was halted, and U.S and Vietnamese negotiators began to discuss how to end the war.
From then on, Hồ and his government realized that instead of trying to face the might of the U.S. Army, which would ultimately wear them down, merely prolonging the conflict would lead to eventual acceptance of Hanoi's terms. By 1969, with negotiations still dragging on, Hồ's health began to deteriorate from multiple health problems, including diabetes which prevented him from participating in further active politics. However, he insisted that his forces in the south continue fighting until all of Vietnam was reunited under his government regardless of the length of time that it might take, believing that time and politics were on his side.
With the outcome of the Vietnam War still in question, Hồ Chí Minh died at 9:47 a.m. on the morning of 2 September 1969 from heart failure at his home in Hanoi, aged 79. His embalmed body is currently on display in a mausoleum in Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi despite his will requesting that he be cremated. News of his death was withheld from the North Vietnamese public for nearly 48 hours due to it being the anniversary of the founding of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. He was not initially replaced as president, but a "collective leadership" composed of several ministers and military leaders took over, known as the Politburo. Six years after his death, after the Fall of Saigon, several PAVN tanks in Saigon displayed a poster with the quote: "You are always marching with us, Uncle Hồ". In the campaign, there was a famous song written by Huy Thuc, often sung by People's Army of Vietnam soldiers along the trail of the offensive, "Bác vẫn cùng chúng cháu hành quân" ("You are always marching with us, Uncle Ho").
The former capital of South Vietnam, Saigon, was officially renamed Hồ Chí Minh City on 1 May 1975 shortly after its capture which officially ended the war.
Hồ's embalmed body is on display in Hanoi in a granite mausoleum modeled after Lenin's Tomb in Moscow. Streams of people queue each day, sometimes for hours, to pass his body in silence. This is similar to other Communist leaders like Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong.
The Hồ Chí Minh Museum in Hanoi is dedicated to his life and work.
Chilean musician Victor Jara references Hồ Chí Minh in his song "El Derecho de Vivir en Paz" ("The Right to Live in Peace").
In Vietnam today, Hồ's image appears on the front of Vietnamese currency notes. His portrait and bust are featured prominently in many of Vietnam's public buildings, classrooms (both public and private schools) and in many family's altar. There's at least one temple dedicated to him, built in Vinh Long in 1970, shortly after his death right in the heart of Republic of Vietnam control areas.
In 1987, UNESCO officially recommended to member states that they "join in the commemoration of the centenary of the birth of President Hồ Chí Minh by organizing various events as a tribute to his memory", considering "the important and many-sided contribution of President Ho Chi Minh in the fields of culture, education and the arts" who "devoted his whole life to the national liberation of the Vietnamese people, contributing to the common struggle of peoples for peace, national independence, democracy and social progress."
Publications about Hồ's non-celibacy are banned in Vietnam. A newspaper editor in Vietnam was dismissed from her post in 1991 for publishing a story about Tăng Tuyết Minh. William Duiker's Ho Chi Minh: A Life (2000) presents much information on Hồ's relationships. The government requested substantial cuts in the official Vietnamese translation of Duiker's book, which was refused. In 2002, the Vietnamese government suppressed a review of Duiker's book in the Far Eastern Economic Review.