Heroes & Villains - Ho Chi Minh - Part 1

The past century of global politics is a complex story of weird, creepy, unhealthy friendships, unlikely alliances, and shifting loyalties. 

Few people represent the truth of this claim quite as effectively as the North Vietnamese leader, Ho Chi Minh. Ho Chi Minh was a liberator, a subjugator, a terrorist, a savior, a visionary, a censor, a philosopher, and a barbarian.

Above all else, and I write this somewhat grudgingly, Ho Chi Minh was a winner.

Ho Chi Minh, 1946. Fresh from fighting off the Imperial Japanese.

Ho Chi Minh, 1946. Fresh from fighting off the Imperial Japanese.

Nguyen Sinh Cung was born in Vietnam in 1890. At the time, Vietnam was not a sovereign nation, but rather existed as a component of what was called "French Indo-China". Vietnam was governed by an Emperor, whose government was backed by the French. Though an emperor in title, this regent was little more than an extension of French rule.

That Thanh's father, Nguyen Sinh Sac, was a member of the emperor's court. However, Sinh Sac was not a proponent of French colonialism, and would end up being dismissed for his displeasure with their rule.

When Sinh Cung turned 10, his father, in accordance with confucian naming tradition, re-named his son Nguyen That Thanh (Which apparently means "Accomplished")

 That Thanh's older sister, Nguyễn Thị Thanh (Also called Bạch Liên), was a clerk for the French-vietnamese military. From this position, she facilitated the smuggling of supplies to various anti-french forces within Vietnam. She was sentenced to life imprisonment when caught. There is little information available regarding her after this event. However, based on how totally fair and reasonable colonial governments were, I'm sure she was fine. (I'm guessing she died in prison under less-than-ethical circumstances)

At school, That Thanh learned French. This conflicted with his blossoming nationalist views, but he also felt that knowing French would turn out useful when resisting the colonial government. He also participated in a rally against the colonial taxes of the very poor (He should have brought this up in the 60's. Americans would have appreciated the resemblance). While this could have put his academic carreer at risk, it did not.

After a brief stint as a teacher in Pan Thiet, That Thanh joined the kitchen staff of a French steam-ship. The steamer arrived in France in 1911, at which time he tried unsuccessfully to enroll in a French university.

This rejection turned out to be a blessing, as That Thanh's continued work in the shipping industry gave him a chance to see the world. Also, for those of you noting the year, it meant he was given a chance to avoid the gigantic fucking horrifying war that France was about to be in the literal middle of.

That Thanh got a chance to see America in 1912, when his ship arrived in New York. His stay was brief, however, and by 1913, he was living in Britain, hopping from town to town and doing odd jobs.

At the end of the Great War, Ho Chi Minh participated in an effort to bring the issue of Vietnamese independence to the Versailles peace talks. This appeal was ignored, and Vietnam continued under French rule for the next 28 years. That Thanh's political views became more and more Nationalist, and his committment to communist doctrine strengthened in turn.

In 1920, he began using the name Nguyen Ai Quoc, meaning "Nguyen the Patriot".

Nguyen That Thanh at a communist gathering in Paris, 1920.

Nguyen That Thanh at a communist gathering in Paris, 1920.

In 1923, Ai Quoc traveled to Moscow to enroll in a Soviet University, as well as become involved in the "Comintern", which was an organization dedicated to the proliferation of the international communist movement.. After two years of university, he became a teacher in Canton, China, where he spent another two years educating not only the locals, but also displaced Vietnamese youth.

At this point in our narrative, I think its becoming clear that once he had left Vietnam, Nguyen Ai Quoc never got too comfortable in any single place. I think that throughout his extensive travels, he never lost sight of what his end-game was. He was going to forge some connections with the international communist community, and then he was going to return to Vietnam and start some serious shit with the Colonial French.

Ai Quoc developed an appreciation for Lenin, who had become a messianic figurehead of Communism. He believed that Lenin was someone who truly understood and elucidated the struggle of the working class versus the arbitrary elite.  Perhaps that's a fair assessment. However, to quote Nietzsche:

"Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you."

Were the abyss to glance at Lenin's legacy, it would blink.

In the late 20's, Ai Quoc was on the move again. He passed through Europe, moving south, skirting Africa, and finally ending up in Thailand. From Thailand, he moved back through China, then to Hong Kong, where in 1931 he was arrested by British authorities after participating in a convention that united two Communist Vietnamese organizations into a single entity.

As part of some hazy political maneuvering, the British announced Nguyen Ai Quoc's death at the time of his arrest, then quietly released him in 1933. This may or may not have been a decision influenced by French political pressure. The reason for this deception is dubious at best.

In my next installment, I will discuss Ai Quoc's return to the Soviet Union and mainland China, then his involvement in wicked-awesome resistance against the Imperial Japanese during World War II. Most importantly, I will discuss him finally amassing enough Experience Points to evolve into Ho Chi Minh, "Bringer of Enlightenment."


Trueman, C N. “Ho Chi Minh.” History Learning Site, History Learning Site, 27 Mar. 2015, www.historylearningsite.co.uk/vietnam-war/ho-chi-minh/.


“Who Is Ho Chi Minh? Everything You Need to Know.” Ho Chi Minh Biography, The Famous People, 17 Sept. 2017, www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/ho-chi-minh-46.php.


Martinez, Carlos. “Fifty Years on the Frontline: the Revolutionary Contributions of Ho Chi Minh.” Invent the Future, Invent the Future, 19 May 2015, www.invent-the-future.org/2015/05/fifty-years-on-the-frontline-the-revolutionary-contributions-of-ho-chi-minh/.

I'm obligated to note that "Invent the Future" has a very pro-communist bias. That being said, this bias, while distinct, does not diminish the quality of their articles. I believe it is important to reach out to and try to understand people I consider ideological opponents. Thus, I have seen fit to consult Invent the Future's article on Ho Chi Minh to gain a better understanding of his legacy in the eyes of someone who fully supports what he represented.