Retrospective

01

Dec
2021

Formation of the Viet Minh

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After the destruction of the Indochinese Communist Party in Cochinchina in November 1940, the center of party authority emerged in Tonkin under the direction of Truong Chinh (given name: Dang Xuan Khu, 1907–1988), who had joined the Youth League in the late 1920s, had spent six years in prison, and had worked as a legal journalist in Hanoi during the Popular Front period. This man had chosen his revolutionary name to celebrate the Long March (truong chinh in  Vietnamese) that had been a defining event in the history of the Chinese Com- munist Party during the 1930s. Within a few months he was summoned to the  Sino-Vietnamese border to join a new leadership group developing in southern China around Ho Chi Minh. The Comintern released Ho Chi Minh to depart Moscow in late 1938 with a  caravan bringing aid and advisors to the Chinese Communist Party in north- western China at Yenan. From there he was sent south as an officer in the Red  Army and assigned to administrative duties with joint Communist–Nationalist operations in the Hunan–Guangxi border region. Following the Japanese advance into Guangxi in the autumn of 1939, he went to Chongqing where the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975) was located. There he consulted with Zhou Enlai (1898–1976), the representative of the Chinese Communist Party at Chiang Kai-shek’s capital, and with local Vietnamese. One important contact that he apparently made at this time was Ho Hoc Lam (d. 1942), a compatriot from Nghe An. Ho Hoc Lam had gone to Japan as a student with Phan Boi Chau. There he met Chiang Kai-shek, a fellow student, and formed a lifelong friendship with him. Ho Hoc Lam subsequently supported Phan Boi Chau’s activities in China and eventually became a general in the Chinese Nationalist Army. In 1936, Ho Hoc Lam, along with other Vietnamese  émigrés in Nanjing, had formed an organization called the Vietnamese Independ- ence League (Viet Nam Doc Loc Dong Minh Hoi). Although moribund, it was  still officially recognized as an organization by the Nationalist government and, with Ho Hoc Lam’s blessing, was available for future use by Ho Chi Minh. In early 1940, Ho Chi Minh went to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan. The ruler of Yunnan was Long Yun (1883–1962), a sinicized member of the Yi (Lolo) Tibeto-Burman ethnic group, who had governed the province since 1927. The relationship between Chiang Kai-shek and Long Yun was difficult, but critical aid reached Chongqing through Yunnan via the Burma Road and the air link over the mountains from India. Kunming was also where the largest American air base in China was located, the home of the “Flying Tigers” of Claire Lee Chennault (1893–1958).  In Kunming, Ho Chi Minh met with two Vietnamese members of the Indo- chinese Communist Party just arrived from Hanoi, Pham Van Dong (1906–2000)  and Vo Nguyen Giap (b. 1911). Pham Van Dong, originally from Quang Ngai, had a typical biography of being active in Revolutionary Youth and the founding of the Indochinese Communist Party with prison time in the 1930s. Vo Nguyen Giap, from Quang Binh, had been a secondary school classmate of Pham Van Dong and had subsequently graduated from the University of Hanoi and became a history teacher. The meeting of Ho Chi Minh with these two men at Kunming in June 1940 prompted letters to the Comintern and the Chinese Communist Party soliciting aid, though there was little prospect of assistance from either potential source. News of the events in Lang Son and Bac Son prompted Ho Chi Minh and his  accumulating associates to shift to Guilin, which was closer to military oper- ations. Guilin was under the authority of Zhang Fakui (1896–1980), a Hakka  Nationalist general with a certain reputation for military competence. In the wake of the unauthorized Japanese attack on Lang Son, Zhang Fakui was driving the Japanese out of Guangxi. Meanwhile, Vietnamese refugees from the Lang Son debacle were crossing the border into China. In October 1940, Ho Chi Minh reactivated the Vietnamese Independence League, obtained documentation with the name Ho Chi Minh (previously he had used a series of cover names, the most well-known of which was Nguyen Ai Quoc), and went to Jingxi, in western Guangxi about one hundred kilometers from the Cao Bang border. Members of the Vietnamese Nationalist Party were recruiting refugees from Lang Son at Jingxi. Ho Chi Minh and his entourage went there to also take advantage of this recruiting opportunity. He made a local accord with the Vietnamese Nationalist Party at Jingxi, forming an alliance called the Vietnamese Liberation League (Viet Nam Gia Phong Dong Minh Hoi) but the relationship between the two groups was competitive and without trust.  From Jingxi, Ho Chi Minh established contact with Truong Chinh’s commit- tee in Tonkin. In May 1941, he convened what became known as the Eighth  Plenum of the Indochinese Communist Party, subsequently called the Pac Bo Plenum. Pac Bo was a liaison base in the mountains just inside the Vietnamese  border. This meeting established the Vietnamese Independence League, there- after commonly known by the abbreviation Viet Minh, as a front organization  for the Indochinese Communist Party to rally patriotic Vietnamese willing to fight for independence but not necessarily interested in fighting for a communist revolution. After a year of supervising propaganda, training recruits, and establishing bases in Cao Bang, in August 1942 Ho Chi Minh set out for Chongqing to bring the Viet Minh to the attention of Allied representatives. Nationalist security agents arrested him near Jingxi because of the forged documentation he was carrying. By February 1943 he had been transferred to the prison at Liuzhou, a major center of Zhang Fakui’s operations. In Liuzhou, Zhang Fakui had gathered Vietnamese émigrés under an umbrella organization called the Vietnamese Revolutionary League (Viet Nam Cach Mang  Dong Minh Hoi). The Revolutionary League included members of the Vietnam- ese Nationalist Party, the Dai Viet movement, and other smaller groups as well as  unaffiliated individuals. Nguyen Hai Than (1879–1955) was chairman of the Revolutionary League. He was a veteran of Phan Boi Chau’s operations and a long-term resident of China. He had been peripherally affiliated with Ho Chi  Minh’s Revolutionary Youth movement of the 1920s, but did not like its com- munist connection. He had also been associated with Ho Hoc Lam in the  formation of the Vietnamese Independence League at Nanjing in 1936. A prominent figure in the Revolutionary League was Nguyen Tuong Tam, the former leader of the 1930s literary group turned Dai Viet activist. He had gone to China where he became a leader of the Vietnamese Nationalist Party. Another leading figure in the Revolutionary League was Vu Hong Khanh (1898–1993). He had fled to China during the failed uprising of the Nationalist Party in 1930. He became a general in the Chinese Nationalist army, established a good relationship with Long Yun in Yunnan, and had assembled a Nationalist Party base at Kunming. Zhang Fakui’s intention was to use the Revolutionary League to develop an intelligence operation in Indochina. Eventually, he learned of Ho Chi Minh’s true identity and was authorized by Chongqing to make use of him. After being released from prison and demonstrating his ability to supply information, Ho Chi Minh was brought into a reorganized Revolutionary League in early 1944. Finally, in August 1944, Zhang Fakui allowed Ho Chi Minh to leave Liuzhou, and he returned to Cao Bang. During Ho Chi Minh’s two years of confinement in Guangxi, his colleagues began to build military bases in the mountains north of Hanoi and initiated National Salvation Associations (Hoi Cuu Quoc) to expand their influence among peasants, workers, youth, women’s organizations, and soldiers in Tonkin and Annam. Truong Chinh was particularly active in rallying intellectuals into the Viet Minh. In addition to a National Salvation Cultural Association (Hoi Van Hoa Cuu Quoc), he also formed two ostensibly non-communist parties as member organizations of the Viet Minh front: the Vietnamese Socialist Party (Viet Nam Xa Hoi Dang) and the Vietnamese Democratic Party (Viet Nam Dan Chu Dang).

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