Hồ Chí Minh’s acting skill in the eyes of Western scholars - Dân Làm Báo

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Hồ Chí Minh’s acting skill in the eyes of Western scholars

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Abstract: Hồ Chí Minh, leader of the Vietnamese Communist Party, was known for his ability to act and fraudulent tricks. Many Western scholars have written about this since more than 40 years ago. Jean Lacouture described Hồ as a self stage manager and a play actor. Mieczyslaw Maneli considered Hồ’s act of shedding tears a cheap trick. A representative performance is Hồ’s dealing in the land reform campaign in the 1950s. Hồ accused Madame Năm Cát Hanh Long of murder in a newspaper article written under a pen name, but later acted as if he had known nothing about her when he learned of her death by execution. In 1956, Hồ publicly admitted mistakes in the land reform. William Duiker believed that this admission was prompted by instructions to practice self-criticism from Krushchev in Krushchev’s speech denouncing Stalin. In delivering his speech, Hồ had a chance to show off his acting skill by shedding crocodile tears.

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Hồ’s ability to act with deceptive intent was well known to many Western scholars. “Mendacity was a cornerstone in Ho’s career and that of his party” (Blum 1982, 218). Hồ was capable of cowardice (Brocheux 2007, 159); he had a talent for wearing disguises and lying (ibid., 137). “Ho Chi Minh was a brilliant fraud who spent his life pretending to be exactly the opposite of what he really was” (Nixon 1986, 32). More than 40 years ago, Jean Lacouture, a French scholar, journalist, historian, and author of many biographies on world leaders, wrote a book about Hồ in 1968 with incisive comments about Hồ’s personality. Mieczyslaw Maneli, a communist Polish delegate to the International Commission for Control and Supervision (ICC) in Vietnam as a legal and political advisor in 1954-1955 and as delegation chief in 1963-1964, published a book in 1971 about his experience in Vietnam with several paragraphs about Hồ.

Jean Lacouture was a communist sympathizer during the war in Vietnam. As a journalist, Lacouture had several occasions of meeting Hồ, interviewing him, and interacting with others who had personal knowledge of Hồ. A keen observer, Lacouture (1968, 217) described Hồ as a career play producer: “He is continually stage-managing himself, continually looking at situations with a producer’s eye.” Lacouture recounted an incident that was typical of Hồ’s acting. When Hồ went to France in 1946, he was invited to the Hôtel de Ville. “At first he declined all offers of food and drink, but eventually he changed his mind, picked out a fine-looking apple, put it in his pocket and before the astonished gaze of the French President [of the Municipal Council of Paris, Henri Vergnolle], walked out of the building; he then hurried down the steps and before the cheering mass of people presented the apple to a little girl.” (ibid.) To Hồ’s fans, this act may reflect his urbane nature and his love for children. To most people, however, this is merely a cheap trick to win the hearts of the people. 

Hồ always tried to establish warm relationship with the common people. “He is forever addressing ordinary citizens in an easygoing or fatherly tone, forever distributing oranges or other tidbits to the children” (ibid.). His style was not genuine Vietnamese, however. “This mixture of play-acting, charm and urbanity adds up to a personality which seems more Chinese than Vietnamese” (ibid.). The Vietnamese people, as Lacouture keenly observed, “are as a rule more straightforward, more sentimental, less demonstrative” (ibid.). Regardless whether Hồ exhibited a Chinese or Vietnamese style of acting, “for all his artfulness, there is something warm, friendly and beguiling about the way [Hồ] addresses his fellow citizens” (ibid., 217-218).

A master of shedding crocodile tears, Hồ once made a remark to his private secretary, Vũ Đình Huỳnh, “Sometimes fake tears are useful in getting a point across in a speech” (Duiker 2000, 572). He was known to “burst into histrionic tears at will” (Nguyễn Công Luận 2012, 577 n9), especially when there was a crowd like in a ceremony (See, for example, Huỳnh 2004). However, his acting skill was not always perfect. Lacouture (1968, 217) had the following remark about Hồ’s acting skill: “The character he projects is too well rounded to be entirely spontaneous, and his large handkerchief has often dabbed at dry eyes.” 

Mieczyslaw Maneli knew Hồ well through his job as a delegate to the ICC in 1954-1955 and his behind-the-scene diplomatic negotiations for a peaceful resolution for Vietnam in 1963. Maneli had several meetings with Hồ and Phạm Văn Đồng (Maneli 1975). On one occasion, when Hồ expressed his sorrow while recounting the death of Lenin, “tears came to his eyes and he wiped them off his cheeks” (Maneli 1971, 154). According to Maneli, a well-known Polish journalist had also witnessed Hồ doing exactly the same thing in front of her previously (ibid.). The act conveyed such hypocrisy that Maneli exclaimed, “It seems incredible that a man who played so important a role in contemporary history used a cheap trick to underscore his allegiance to Communism” (ibid.). 

However, Bùi Tín, a former colonel in the People’s Army of Vietnam and a Vietnamese dissident, “entirely reject[s] any suggestion that [Hồ] was a clever actor” (Bui 1999, 17). It should be noted that Bùi Tín wrote that remark in a book published in 1999 when he was likely unaware of many facts, now known, about Hồ Chí Minh. Recently, after knowing about the Cát Hanh Long incident (below), Bùi Tín said that everything about Hồ being the best politician, diplomat, poet, and journalist was merely fabricated (Bùi 2014).

Hồ’s acting and stage-managing skill may be best exemplified by his role in the land reform program in the 1950s. 

On July 21, 1953, an article appeared in the People Newspaper with the title, “What an Evil Landowner!” (Địa chủ ác ghê). The article denounced a woman named Nguyễn Thị Năm, owner of Cát Hanh Long, and her children for the crime of killing 260 innocent peasants (Nguyễn 2010). 

What an evil landowner!

The sages have taught us, “Whoever becomes rich, turns inhuman.” Everybody knows landowners are wicked: they exploit the people, charge exorbitant land rent and huge interest, avoid taxes – that’s what we think. Nobody can imagine the landowners kill people without blinking their eyes. Here is one example:

The landowner woman Cát-hanh-Long and her two children and their hoodlums have:

killed 14 peasants, tortured and beaten tens of peasants, leaving many disabled.

caused deaths to 32 families totaling 200 people – in 1944, they sent 37 families to their plantation to deforest and plough soil for them. They forced their workers to toil hard but fed them little. After a few months, due to heavy labor, all 37 families died, nobody was alive.

They drove more than 30 peasants to death – In 1945, they brought 65 peasants who were suffering starvation in Thái Bình to their plantation. Also because of hard labor and being ill fed, more than 30 peasants died within a few days at Chùa Hang hamlet.

In 1944-45, they took in 20 orphans. They forced the children to live in underground caves, starved them and gave them ragged clothes, forced them to do hard labor and beat them non-stop. Within a few months, 15 children lost their lives.

In sum, the three mother-child Cát-hanh-Long gang directly or indirectly, killed 260 compatriots!

As for the torturing of peasants who owed them rent or debts, it was as cruel as what the French colonialists did. For example:

In cold weather, they forced the peasants to remove their shirts and splashed cold water on them. 

Or they forced the peasants to carry cold water in leaky containers, and the cold water leaked out onto their heads and shoulders, chilling them to their core.

They tied the peasants tight, hung them from the ceiling beams, pulling the victims up and down.

They hammered the buffalo yokes into the peasants’ mouths, breaking their teeth and causing them to vomit blood. They pumped water into the victims’ stomachs, and trampled their bellies, gushing out water. They poured fish sauce into the peasants’ noses, choking them. 

They used candles to burn the peasants’ bodies, burning their skin and flesh.

And they committed crimes against the revolution. Earlier, the mother-child gang conspired with the French and the Japanese to arrest our cadres. After the August revolution, they conspired with the French bandits and the Vietnamese puppet traitors to attack the resistance.

In the public campaign, the local people presented clear evidence to denounce them. The mother-child Cát-hanh-Long gang couldn’t deny the accusations, and had to confess their crimes against our country and against the people.

It is truly:

impossible to write out all their crimes, even if we used all the bamboo cut from the forests,

impossible to wash clean their sins, even after emptying the entire ocean.

(7-21-1953)

The sharp accusation of Madame Cát Hanh Long and her children was devastating. They were already considered guilty before their trial. The article was authored by a mysterious person who signed the initials C.B. Nobody knew who C.B. was at the time. However, it has since been discovered that C.B. was a pen name of Hồ Chí Minh (Viện 1986, 56). Hồ wrote numerous articles under the pen name C.B. (See, for example, Viện 1986, 55-56, 66-68, 78-84, 90-92; Viện 1995, 414-415, 412-413). The pen name C.B. actually was used on 147 documents written from March 1951 to March 1957 in the Nhân dân newspaper (Tin 2014; Trần 2014; Wikipedia 2014). 

However, the above article “What an Evil Landowner!” is not included in the official publications of Hồ’s works by the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV). The intentional suppression of this article clearly exposes the admission of guilt about Hồ’s cowardly character of stabbing people behind their backs. One consequence of the non-publication of this article is that many Western scholars, who often rely on official government publications, are unaware of the damning evidence that ultimately destroys Hồ's saintly image. The “What an Evil Landowner!” article, however, is widely available on the Internet (Bùi 2014; Nguyễn 2010; Tin 2014; Trần 2014). With this undisputed evidence, history books, especially biography books on Hồ such as books authored by Quinn-Judge (Quinn-Judge 2002), Duike (Duike 2000), and Brocheux (Brocheux 2007), will have to be rewritten.

In addition, using the pen name Đ.X. (See, for example, Viện 1995, 368, 415, 417, 419; Wikipedia 2014), Hồ wrote another article titled, “What evil reactionary landowners!” (“Địa chủ phản động ác ghê”) published in the newspaper Cứu Quốc, Number 2459 (2 November 1953) (Viện 1995, 413). By including the article “What evil reactionary landowners!” by Đ.X. as one of Hồ’s writings in an official government publication, the government of the SRV publicly acknowledged that it was authored by Hồ. Although this article did not use cruel words with specificity as in the “What an Evil Landowner!” (by C.B.) article, their contents were similar, especially the particular use of the expression “What … evil.. landowner!” This shows that the two articles were written by the same author. These articles described the crimes of the landowners and accused them of cooperating with the French to betray the country and its people. 

Hồ signed the Land Reform decree, starting the program from Thái Nguyên province to arrest and prosecute Madame Năm Cát Hanh Long as the first victim. Despite her significant contribution to the Communist Party, having provided shelter and supplies to Party leaders during the early years of revolution, Madame Năm Cát Hanh Long was condemned to death and executed (Nguyễn 2010). Hồ was informed of the execution but did nothing to prevent the tragedy (Brocheux 2007, 158; Bui 1999, 29). Instead he declared, “[T]he French say that one should never hit a woman, even with a flower, and you, you allowed her to be shot!” (quoted in Brocheux 2007, 158; Logevall 2012, 633). Hồ acted as if he had known nothing about Madame Năm Cát Hanh Long while it was he who had written a newspaper article, using a pen name, accusing her with the most incriminatory words. A double-tongued person, he now reprimanded his subordinates for killing her. This example not only illustrates Hồ’s acting skill but also his incredible wickedness, malice, cowardice, and hypocrisy. Worse, he hid behind the pen and abused the power of the press to advance his objectives. Last but not least, he used the power of the press while he was the leader of North Vietnam. 

Later, in August 1956, Hồ and the Party leaders collectively admitted the mistakes in the land reform (Duiker 2000, 485; Logevall 2012, 633). This admission of mistakes was considered as an act of self-criticism. At the time, and even now, many believed Hồ was sincere in his admission and apology.

However, Hồ’s act of admitting mistakes could not escape the sharp eyes of historians. William Duiker, a U.S. historian specialized in Vietnam and Hồ Chí Minh, believed that this admission was in reality politically motivated. Duiker observed that prior to Hồ’s public admission of errors, an earth-shaking event had taken place in the communist world. On February 25, 1956, Khrushev delivered a shocking speech at the Twentieth Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Khrushchev 1956). In addition to attacking Stalin and the personality cult, Khrushchev denounced mass repressions and physical annihilation. Most pointedly, Khrushchev (1956) urged his communist comrades to promote “the wide practice of criticism and self-criticism.”

Duiker believed that Khrushchev’s speech in February 1956 denouncing Stalin and encouraging “self-criticism” may have been the reason for the Vietnamese communist leaders to admit their mistakes in the land reform campaign (Duiker 2000, 481-482). The reactions of Hồ and the Party leaders after Khrushchev’s speech supported this assertion. In March 1956, the Politburo of the Vietnamese Workers Party (VWP), a predecessor of the current Vietnamese Communist Party, met and had its communiqué broadcast, referring to the “exaltation of individualism” and “the spirit of self-criticism” (ibid., 481). Later in April 1956, the VWP Central Committee held an enlarged session and discussed the issue of self-criticism. At the close of the conference, the Central Committee issued a resolution praising the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) “for its courage in admitting errors” and noting that the VWP “had not sufficiently engaged in examining its own practices in Vietnam” (ibid., 482). In particular, Hồ declared that “by engaging in self-criticism, the CPSU had displayed a degree of courage that should be imitated by all fraternal parties” (ibid., 482). Hồ’s announcement shows that Hồ’s admission of mistakes about the land reform was merely pretentious and was used only to show to the Soviets that he and his comrades were following the instructions given by Soviet leader Khrushchev. 

During the 10th Congress in October, 1956, Hồ again emphasized the self-criticism and opposition to the personality cult, reflecting exactly Khrushchev’s instructions. “From the central committee to the village party branches, everyone must follow correctly the principles of collective and responsible individual leadership; everyone must oppose the vices of personality cult, bureaucracy, and command chains; everyone must self criticize honestly and criticize frankly; everyone must be truly democratic” (Hồ 1956b). Hồ was not new to self-criticism, a communist technique to expose and persecute reactionary elements (See, for example, Beng 2013); he wrote an article on self-criticism in 1947. However, the timing (after Khrushchev’s earth-shaking speech), the long delay (three years after the start of the campaign), the contents of the declarations and speeches (personality cult and self-criticism), and the severe official punishment (Trường Chinh was relieved of duty), all pointed to Hồ’s orchestrated act. 

While reading his speech admitting the mistakes in the land reform campaign, Hồ had a chance to show off his acting skill as revealed to Vũ Đình Huỳnh. He took out his handkerchief, wiped his right eye and then his left eye (Hồ 1956a; Fig. 1). According to Lacouture (1968, 217), his eyes must have been all dry then. Although that performance was not really Oscar worthy, it might have succeeded in convincing many Vietnamese people to believe that he was sincere. 

Fig. 1: Hồ Chí Minh dabbed his eyes during his speech admitting mistakes in the land reform. 

Ronald Reagan was a movie actor before taking office as the 40th President of the United States. Hồ Chí Minh was the leader of the Vietnamese Communist Party before turning into a drama performer in public. 

What a contrast! 



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References: 

Beng, Kor Kian. 2013. Communist Party's self-criticism COULD BACKFIRE. 10-3-2013.

Blum, Robert M. 1982. Drawing the Line: The Origin of the American Containment Policy in East Asia. W.W. Norton and Company, New York, U.S.A. 

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Bui Tin. 1999. Following Ho Chi Minh: Memoirs of a North Vietnamese Colonel, Translated and adapted by Judy Stowe and Do Van, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, U.S.A. 

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Duiker, William J. 2000. Ho Chi Minh – A Life, Hyperion, New York, U.S.A. 

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