Saigon’s hidden presidential palace and forgotten president: the Republic of Cochinchina and Nguyễn Văn Thinh

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89 August Revolution Street [Cách mạng Tháng 8], the former villa of Dr. Nguyễn Văn Thinh and unofficial headquarters of the Republic of Cochinchina in 1946. (Photo: Author)
Late one November night in 1946, the owner of the villa at 89 Rue de Verdun wrote a final letter. He then tied a noose to the rafter in his upstairs bedroom.

The suicide of Nguyễn Văn Thinh left vacant both this Saigon villa and the Republic of Cochinchina’s presidency. From June to November that year, the villa was both his home and seat of government for this ill-fated, French-sponsored state. French officials had denied him Norodom Palace—the centre of the colonial state and later site of South Vietnam’s presidential palace, renamed as the current tourist attraction “Independence Palace.” But Saigon’s first presidential palace remains today, unadorned and unvisited, at number 89 on the renamed August Revolution Street [Cách mạng Tháng 8].

Today, the Vietnamese state tells visitors that Independence Palace memorialises the leadership of the communist party in realising Hồ Chí Minh’s aspiration. The villa at 89 August Revolution Street, however, is a countervailing monument to the diversity of leadership within Vietnam’s late colonial society and the alternative aspirations for political development that many Vietnamese supported.

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Saigon’s hidden presidential palace and forgotten president: the Republic of Cochinchina and Nguyễn Văn Thinh

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