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After shifting its headquarters from the mountains to Hanoi in late 1954, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam received large amounts of aid from China and  the Soviet Union, including food, consumer goods, military and industrial equip- ment, and money. But the greatest foreign presence in North Vietnamese domes- tic affairs was Chinese supervision of the land reform program. Chinese  involvement in Vietnamese land reform was not an exercise of unwanted influ- ence but rather the provision of expertise eagerly sought and gladly accepted by  the Vietnamese communist leadership. During the years of Chinese participation  in the French war and the tenure of Luo Guibo (1908–1995) as Chinese ambas- sador from 1950 to 1954, a very close, albeit unequal, relationship was estab- lished between the two communist parties. Communist success in China was an  object of admiration and emulation by the Vietnamese. At the same time, there were reasons for land reform in Vietnam that had nothing directly to do with the Chinese model. Truong Chinh, the leader of the party since 1940, had co-authored with Vo Nguyen Giap a study of rural conditions, published in 1937–1938 during the Popular Front period, entitled Van De Dan Cay, “The Peasant Question.” This work portrayed rural society with the five categories that became the basis for land reform in the 1950s. It described the system of landholding, taxation, and indebtedness that made peasant life difficult, but also described the peasant “mentality” as indoctrinated to accept exploitation through the influence of religious beliefs and an irrational respect for private property. While Mao Zedong’s emphasis on the peasantry may be detected here, the work is more generally the application of Marxist analysis to the rural conditions in Vietnam, particularly northern Vietnam, where it was written and published. The view of peasant life in The Peasant Question is very similar to what was portrayed in “realist” literature being published at that same time. For example, Nguyen Cong Hoan’s Buoc Duong Cung (Impasse), published in 1938, depicts the tragedies of peasant oppression and attributes them to the stupidity of the peasants themselves, who are illiterate, do not understand why their lives are so bad, and have no idea about what to do. In 1937, the communist poet To Huu (1920–2002) published Mo Coi (Orphan), which expressed deep sympathy with the sufferings of the downtrodden. The Maoist idea of making revolution by mobilizing poor peasants to overthrow rural tyranny did not come as news to  Vietnamese communists. Both China and Vietnam were overwhelmingly agrar- ian countries and aspiring revolutionaries could not avoid that fact.  In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Truong Chinh pushed for ever more radical rural policies as conditions permitted. Initially, during the first two years after the August Revolution of 1945, with the Chinese occupation and the outbreak of war with France, he was content to call for rent and debt controls. Beginning in 1948, he ordered census and land ownership surveys as an initial step in gathering information about rural conditions at the village level. This was primarily aimed at the provinces with relatively large peasant populations that were governed by the communists: Thai Nguyen, Thanh Hoa, Nghe An, and Ha Tinh. With the arrival of Chinese allies in early 1950, a flurry of decrees about land policy included conducting a census to sort the rural population into the five categories of landlord, rich peasant, middle peasant, poor peasant, and landless. This produced resistance from local officials who claimed that people had been incorrectly categorized, and a “rectification” was required later in the year. Local party leaders were not yet ideologically motivated to follow land reform instructions. At the party congress in early 1951, land reform became a priority, and thereafter the Land Reform and Party Consolidation Section of the Chinese  Political Advisory Group (CPAG) assisted in organizing a program of “purifica- tion” to prepare for land reform by re-educating party members through cam- paigns of criticism and self-criticism. As Chinese advisors became more involved  in training and supervision, they began to influence the pace and details of implementing policy. In a document submitted to Vietnamese leaders entitled “Preliminary Comments on Mass Mobilization in 1953,” dated September 3, 1952, Chinese ambassador Luo Guibo outlined a plan for land reform and asserted that it was time to begin. Shortly after this Ho Chi Minh went to Beijing, and by October was in Moscow with a land reform plan ostensibly written with the assistance of Liu Shaoqi (1898–1969), second after Mao Zedong in the Chinese party hierarchy. Ho Chi Minh presented the plan to Stalin and solicited his approval. In early 1953, the Vietnamese communists held a conference on mobilizing the rural population. Truong Chinh personally chaired the committee assigned to implement land reform. At the same time, dozens of Chinese land reform experts were sent to join the Land Reform and Party Consolidation Section of CPAG in  Vietnam. From April to August 1953, an experimental mass mobilization cam- paign was conducted in Thai Nguyen and Thanh Hoa. This was designed to  provide training for land reform cadres and to evaluate the response of peasants. This was followed in September by codifying procedures for mobilizing villagers to overturn property relations and authority structures. Cadres were to recruit the poorest villagers and train them to denounce and confiscate the property of people they identified as their oppressors. Land would then be redistributed, local government would be reorganized, and the culprits would be punished. Because of the implications of this for local party leadership, in November the party issued a directive for evaluating party cells and individual members based on class background, ideological correctness, competence, and willingness to follow instructions. In December, the first of several waves of land reform was begun in Thai Nguyen. The beginning of mass mobilization for land reform coincided with the mobilization of soldiers and supplies, including rice from Thanh Hoa, to the battlefield of Dien Bien Phu. Thereafter, the land reform campaign was extended to all parts of the new Democratic Republic of Vietnam north of the post-Geneva line at the seventeenth parallel. However, reports of excessive violence accumulated, and by early 1956 war veterans were protesting. By late 1956, the party leadership acknowledged errors and in 1957 instituted a rectification campaign to correct injustices. But many thousands of people had been killed and local party members were in turmoil. The excessive violence was partly due to the application of a model designed for rural conditions in China, where class tensions were higher than in Vietnam. It also partly came from the enthusiasm of Vietnamese cadres in  demonstrating revolutionary fervor to their superiors and fidelity to their Chi- nese mentors. Large numbers of them were from urban backgrounds, were  unfamiliar with rural life, and relied on their theoretical training when interven- ing in village society. But more fundamentally the violence was an integral part of  the plan for the party to gain firm control of the rural population, which included quotas for the number of people to be executed. The negative reaction to land reform violence began to be a factor in party affairs in the wake of Nikita Khrushchev’s famous speech at the Moscow party congress in February 1956 attacking Stalin’s cruelty and personality cult. The Vietnamese delegates to this congress were Truong Chinh and Le Duc Tho (1911–1990). Le Duc Tho was from an upper-class family in the Nam Dinh area south of Hanoi. He had been an early member of the Indochinese Communist Party and had spent much of the 1930s and early 1940s in prison. After regaining his freedom in 1944, he worked closely with Truong Chinh and was a leading figure at the Tan Trao conference in August 1945. He held responsibility for internal party operations. From 1949 to 1954 he was assigned to the south where in 1951 he helped to organize the party’s Central Office for the Southern Region (Truong Uong Cuc Mien Nam; generally translated in English as Central Office for South Vietnam, COSVN). In 1954, he returned to Hanoi and was among the most powerful leaders in the party, nicknamed “the hammer” for his skill in enforcing discipline. While he was in the south, Le Duc Tho became an associate of Le Duan (1907– 1986). Le Duan was from a working-class background in Quang Tri Province. His party career was similar to Le Duc Tho’s, being an early member and spending many years in prison. After emerging from prison in 1945, he obtained leadership of the party organization in the south, confining Nguyen Binh to military affairs until Nguyen Binh’s death in 1951. While Le Duc Tho was educated and relatively cultured, Le Duan had a strong but rather uncouth personality. The two men nevertheless worked well together and established an enduring bond. When Le Duc Tho returned north in 1954, Le Duan remained as the senior party leader in the south. Dismayed by the effects of Ngo Dinh Diem’s “denounce the communists” campaign, in early 1956 Le Duan sent a request to Hanoi to abandon the policy of non-violent struggle in the south and to make plans for armed resistance. This directly challenged the leadership of Truong Chinh, who favored Chinese advice to build socialism in the north and to postpone dealing with the southern question. When Truong Chinh and Le Duc Tho returned from Moscow to Hanoi in early 1956, there were three vexing issues facing the party. In addition to land reform and the southern question was the question of how to respond to Khrushchev’s speech with its critique of homicidal politics and the cult of personality. This speech could be locally interpreted as a critique of how the land reform was conducted and of Ho Chi Minh’s cult of avuncular sainthood. Protocol required the Vietnamese to acknowledge the Moscow speech. This was done with a pro forma statement. But the speech simply punctuated a post-Stalin relaxation of discipline that was affecting many parts of the communist world. In Poland, violent protests led to a change in government. In Hungary, replacement of the Stalinist party leader was followed within weeks by an uprising. In China, Mao Zedong proposed to allow public discussion to identify problems and strengthen the party, thereby initiating what became known as the “hundred flowers campaign.” In Vietnam, young intellectuals, most of whom were party members and veterans of the war with France, wanted to express their own thoughts and feelings beyond wartime propaganda and political slogans, and they believed that doing this served both the party and national culture. A number of literary journals sprang up in 1956, the two most influential being Nhan Van (Humanity) and Giai Pham (Fine Arts). The editor of Nhan Van, and the doyen of what became known as the Nhan Van Giai Pham Affair, was Phan Khoi, the poet who a quarter-century before had started the New Poetry Movement. The contributors to the new journals were emboldened by what seemed to be a  relatively more open attitude toward diversity of thought throughout the com- munist world and by critical accounts of the land reform that began to surface in  newspapers and party communications. They wrote against dogmatism, hero worship, and politicized art. They were for the most part not seeking to dissent from the revolution but rather to enrich it with the benefits of a more tolerant view of human creativity. The movement nevertheless tarnished Truong Chinh’s leadership because he had taken the lead to mobilize intellectuals into the party during the 1940s and had posed as the party expert on cultural matters. Now, the two prime areas in which Truong Chinh had most distinctively exercised his leadership, land reform and culture, seemed to be slipping out of the party’s control. Within a year, important decisions were made about each of the three issues (land reform, intellectual ferment, and the southern question), but not before there was a change of leadership. In September 1956, Truong Chinh stepped down as leader of the party and was temporarily replaced by Ho Chi Minh. In early 1957, Le Duan returned to Hanoi to be leader of the party. He and his ally Le Duc Tho were thereafter the primary decision-makers in Hanoi. Le Duc Tho kept track of party personnel and ensured that Le Duan was obeyed. Ho Chi Minh, now most valuable to the party as a symbol of continuity and unity, was assigned to maintain fraternal relations with the Chinese and Soviet parties. Truong Chinh, Pham Van Dong, and Vo Nguyen Giap remained respected  senior colleagues but had weak individual power bases. Leadership of the mili- tary shifted to Nguyen Chi Thanh (1914–1967), who came from a peasant  background in the Hue area. Like Le Duan, he was not from the educated élite, as were most of the top party leaders, and he was from the central coast just south of the seventeenth parallel. He had joined the party in the mid 1930s, spent time in French prisons in the early 1940s, had attended the Tan Trao conference, and by the time of the second party congress in 1951 had risen to the rank of general and was in charge of political commissars in the army. In the late 1950s, he became an ally of Le Duan. The party knew that it could not afford to either alienate or fail to control the peasantry. A rectification campaign to ostensibly redress the injustices committed during the land reform was begun, but not before the most famous episode of resistance to party authority occurred. This was in Quynh Luu district of Nghe An, one of the last places reached by the land reform. There, a large Catholic population had patriotically followed the Viet Minh during the French war but had been prevented from joining the Catholic exodus to the south in 1954. In the summer of 1956, land reform cadres arrived in Quynh Luu. Taking exception to both the religion and the relative wealth of the population, the cadres were especially brutal. When members of the International Control Commission,  which had been set up to monitor compliance with the Geneva Accords com- prised of representatives from Canada, India, and Poland, happened to drive  through Quynh Luu district in November 1956, people gathered and appealed to them for assistance to go to the south. Local authorities were unable to disperse the demonstrators, and the army was deployed to restore order; there was loss of life. Regardless of the “errors” that called for “rectification,” most of which were beyond recall, the land reform program achieved what it set out to do. It eliminated anti-revolutionary class enemies in rural society, it instituted an ostensibly more equitable distribution of land usage, and it traumatized the rural population into obedience to the state. The latter achievement was particularly important for the larger agenda of the new Hanoi leadership. The land reform experience instilled an unquestioning compliance to authority that enabled the communist party to rely on the sacrifice and suffering of the people again and again during the next thirty years. As for the intellectuals involved in the Nhan Van Giai Pham Affair, their journals were shut down, some of them were imprisoned, most of them were sent  to work in factories or the countryside to be re-educated to think like proletar- ians. As part of the disciplining of the young intellectuals involved in this  movement, the poets who had been at the forefront of the New Poetry Movement  in the 1930s, and who had at that time gained fame for expressing their indi- vidualism, alienation, and romantic imagination, were now mobilized to criticize  the younger generation for wanting to express their personal feelings. Ngo Xuan Dieu, Cu Huy Can, Luu Trong Lu, The Lu, and Che Lan Vien had all joined the revolution in the 1940s and wrote of their experience as a religious conversion, turning them away from the prison of their own feelings toward the common life of the people. They all wrote poems or essays to condemn the selfish, anti-social attitudes of the Nhan Van Giai Pham generation and to praise the infallible leadership of the party.  Cultural policy in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam aimed to replace pre- revolutionary beliefs and practices with new cultic symbols of the state, such as  Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Ho Chi Minh. Village festivals were prohibited as superstitious and wasteful. Many temples and shrines were closed or turned into storehouses. Buddhist monks and Catholic priests were limited in number and carefully supervised. Traditional music, typically slow and melancholy, was speeded up to a cheerful marching beat. The singing of ca tru was suppressed as “feudal.” The proscription of popular culture was part of the effort to nurture “the new socialist personality.” In art and literature, heroic themes of peasants and soldiers advancing together into a bright future were celebrated. Socialist realism as developed in the Soviet Union and China became the criteria for literary and artistic expression. A few pre-twentieth-century historical  figures were portrayed as proletarian nationalists, especially the eighteenth- century Tay Son leader Nguyen Hue Quang Trung, who was celebrated for  coming from an underclass, defeating the oppressive feudal regime, and leading armies against foreign invaders. But more effort was put into identifying and promoting the memory of exemplary cultic figures from more recent times, for example Mac Thi Buoi (1927–1951), a woman from the Hai Duong area with a reputation for bravery who was captured and killed by the French. In 1955, she was designated as a national hero and commemorated with a mausoleum, a statue, a shrine, and a postage stamp. While religions such as Buddhism and Christianity were discouraged, Confucianism was both denounced as the ideology of the old feudal class and redefined as a source of redeemable tradition among the common people for whom it represented not only respect for authority but also a commitment to social justice and, in its Mencian form, a justification for revolution. Party cadres discovered that they could easily insert themselves into the space vacated by the old class of mandarins. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam became a local version of the type of modern totalitarian state that emerged in the twentieth century under the banners of fascism and communism.

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