Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Ho Chi Minh in Hong Kong

On 16th August 1945, Ho Chi Minh and some other prominent members of the Indochina Communist Party declared the creation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. This grizzled revolutionary had just lived through years of exile in Moscow, Marseilles, Paris, Brussels, Bangkok, various cities in China, and Hong Kong. That's right, Ho Chi Minh had not only lived in Hong Kong but had used it as a base to organise revolutionary activities.

In fact, the Indochina Communist Party had been founded in Hong Kong in 1930. Its objectives? Overthrow of the French; establishment of an independent Vietnam ruled by a peoples' government; nationalisation of the economy and cancellation of public debts; land reform; the introduction of an eight-hour work day; and education for all. (sounds pretty good in this day and age too!) He had been arrested by the British in 1931 for inciting political activity (the British hardly wanted revolutionaries in their midst), but was smuggled out of the Colony secretly a year later before the French could extradite him to Vietnam to face a death sentence. Where was he held? In none other than the Victoria Prison in Central. He escaped Hong Kong to spend the next seven years in the Soviet Union.

But Ho was a nationalist revolutionary first. In fact, at the Versailles conference after World War I he had petitioned Woodrow Wilson for assistance in getting the independence of Vietnam. Even as late as World War II, he wanted America's help in creating an independent republic. But his leftist leanings made him a difficult target of support for America. He had actually been a founding member of the French Communist Party in Paris when it split from the Socialists in 1920. He had also lived in Canton for three years before being forced to flee by Chiang Kai-Shek's persecution of Communists in 1927.

As for his wartime activities, his allegiance to the Communists and his deep-seated nationalism meant he saw the Japanese as just another series of invaders rather than a solution to French colonialism. When war broke out, he returned to Vietnam for the first time in 30 years. He established a base by the border of Free China from which to oppose both the Vichy French and their allies the Japanese, but was ultimately captured by Chiang Kai-Shek's Nationalist forces and thrown in jail for two years. Upon his release, he made his way back to Vietnam with a guerilla force armed by the Chinese. He was pleased when the Japanese overthrew the Vichy French government in place in Vietnam in March 1945, because with the War drawing to a close, he saw his chance to establish his country before the French were able to return.

The rest is history well-known to most of you - Ho led bloody wars of attrition that forced the French and ultimately even the Americans from his country, although he died in 1969 before the ultimate victory and the fall of Saigon in 1975. I shall just leave you with two quotes from this larger-than-life revolutionary figure: "Nothing is more precious than Independence and Liberty" and "You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours. But even at those odds, you will lose and I will win."

Hard to believe his party was founded and his revolution was organized for a time, in the heart of commercial Hong Kong.

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