Redefining the Origins of the Vietnamese Civil War (and the conflict between Phan Bội Châu and Hồ Chí Minh in the 1920s-30s)


The fifth death anniversary of the revolutionary Phan Bội Châu took place in October 1945. This was the height of the Vietnamese revolution, a moment that conventional histories trace back to Phan Bội Chau’s assertive nationalism. It’s leaders – figures like Hồ Chí Minh, Võ Nguyên Giáp, and Trường Chinh — we are told were inspired by Phan Bội Châu and he saw in them his natural successors. At that moment narratives of the revolution and Vietnamese unity that have defined this era should all come together. Yet it’s precisely here that they fall apart.

That moment in 1945 was bitter. Present for the anniversary were two of Phan Bội Châu’s closest colleagues, Huỳnh Thúc Kháng and Võ Bá Hạp. As Võ Bá Hạp stared at the ancestral alter he blurted out: “It’s a good thing this old man has already passed away. If not, now he also would find himself arrested for being a ‘reactionary’ [phản động] or a ‘race traitor’ [Việt gian].” Huỳnh Thúc Kháng replied, “They’d only have to bring out a copy of ‘Pháp-Việt đề-huề’ [Franco-Vietnamese Collaboration] and the inquisition would have all the evidence it needed.” Hue’s two most important scholars agreed, had Vietnam’s preeminent revolutionary not died five years earlier, had he lived to see the 1945 revolution, he may not have lived to see the end of it (1).

This paper was presented at the 2017 AAS annual conference. Read the rest of the conference paper here in this PDF.


1 – “Ngày giỗ cụ Phan ở Huế 1945,” Cải Tạo n. 26, 6 November 1948.