A book review by Jason Beerman in Saturday, 01 September 2012's Toronto Star, reminds me that Communism in theory and practice can be miles apart. The Zenith now translated into English, is a book describing a fictionalized account of the life of Ho Chi Minh by celebrated Vietnamese authoress Duong Thu Huong. Celebrated that is outside Vietnam where, for the most part, Thu Huong and her works do not meet the Government's approval and she now lives in exile in Paris.
Born in 1947 in Thai Binh, about 70 miles east of Hanoi, and a former member of Vietnam's Communist Party, Thu Huong served in a women's youth brigade from 1967 in "The War Against The Americans" until the reunification of Vietnam in 1975 and again during the brief war with China in 1979. She did much front line service where her duties included tending to the wounded and burying the dead and is deaf in her right ear due to a bomb exploding very close to her during that War.
It was after reunification and realising that in South Vietnam matters were not all as had been negatively portrayed by the Communist hierarchy, or the War having been simply fought against the Americans but much more a civil war, that she became increasingly critical of the oppressive measures taken by the newly victorious Government in the now unified Vietnam.
Thu Huong began writing books in 1985 and these were very popular, selling over 100,000 copies each, until her obvious disapproval of policies and actions taken by Government officials contained in the story lines and the subtle underlying criticisms appreciated more by Vietnamese readers, displeased the Government's censors.
She was also an outspoken critic in official Communist Party journals and at Party congresses and like events where, according to the PEN American Center, Thu Huong took the authorities to task over issues including bureaucracy, corruption and "intellectual cowardice". Certainly not the Party creating "humanity's paradise" that had spurred her and so fellow many young cadres in the bitter civil war.
After her third novel Paradise of the Blind (1988) and the first Vietnamese novel to be published in the USA, the Government had had enough. The book describes the horrors and consequences of the Maoist-style land reforms in (North) Vietnam after 1953 and which she witnessed, when thousands of corpses of peasant "landlords" were left to rot on the side of the road as an example to all. Too much negative detail? The authorities decided to ban all Thu Huong's works and from about this time, she was being called "traitor" and "dissident slut" by senior Government leaders.
In 1990 she was expelled from the Communist Party of Vietnam and soon after lost her job as a screenwriter for the Vietnam Film Company. Her writing now had to be sent abroad for publication, in the first instance to Paris, and, continuing to champion human rights and advocating a more democratic political reform in Vietnam, she was arrested in 1991 and served a seven month term of imprisonment in solitary confinement. There had been no trial and her release was secured largely due to outside pressure, particularly from France.
Praised and widely recognised for her works which were by now being translated into a number of languages, Thu Huong was made a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government in 1994.
Jason Beerman in the Toronto Star tells us that Thu Huong spent 15 years researching The Zenith first published in Paris in 2009. The book centres around Ho Chi Minh shortly before his death in 1969, reminiscing on his past life. Dominating Ho's thoughts is a relationship he is supposed to have had in the 1950s with a woman 40 years his junior and who bore him two children. When he wanted to make this relationship public, the Politburo objected and arranged the savage murder of the woman.
This is not going to be received well by the Government in Vietnam for not only does it condemn the system - Vietnam is still officially a Marxist-Leninist single-party state - the image is totally at odds with the cult portrayal of the "Uncle Ho" celibate, saint-like figure married, if at all, only to Vietnam as its "revolutionary father", a portraiture which has been prevalent since Ho's death on 2 September 1969. (He died on Vietnam's Independence Day. Vietnam gained its independence from the French on 02 September 1945). Anything that diverges from this depiction is virtually taboo.
Ho Chi Minh, the scion of a good family was an accomplished scholar and attended a French school in Hué, the old Royal Capital of Vietnam. Born Nguyen Sinh Cung in 1890, and adopting a number of names before using Ho Chi Minh permanently from around 1940, he would work in the USA, Britain, Russia and France - where he became a founding member of the French Communist Party in 1920 - and other countries.
Under the name Nguyen Ai Quoc, during 1925-1926 he was supervising a contingent of Vietnamese trainees at Chiang Kai-Shek's Whampoa Military Academy. There in October 1926 he married Zeng Xueming (1905-1991). This marriage has never been recognised by the Vietnamese Government but one of the legal witnesses was Deng Yingchao, wife of future Chinese Premier Chao Enlai. Following a purge by Chiang against the Communists in April 1827, Nguyen had to flee and the couple were separated for ever.
No brutal murder then. Might Thu Huong's Zenith be an allegorical tale with the brutally murdered wife symbolizing Vietnam?
The country's home-grown banking crisis rumbles on with a report by Neil Gough in the New York Times on 25 August, telling of the arrest of two top executives of the Asia Commercial Bank, one of Vietnam's biggest and in which Britain's Standard Chartered has a 15 per cent stake. This caused a run on the bank shortly after the news broke as depositors withdrew US$240 million equivalent - an awful lot of money in Vietnam - and was at least partly to blame for the near eight per cent fall in the Ho Chi Minh Stock Index by 25 August.
The story which is really getting tongues wagging though, was headlined in the same New York paper on 01 September: "In Vietnam, Message of Equality Is Challenged by Widening Wealth Gap" (Thomas Fuller). The story shows a photo taken in April 2012 of an attractive young lady, To Linh Huong, touring a construction site. Twenty-four year-old Ms Huong, the daughter of a Politburo grandee had just been appointed the state-owned company's head, though she had just recently graduated in? Journalism.
Mr Fuller writes:
"...Vietnam's political mandarins are struggling to reconcile their party's message of social justice and equality with the realities of an elite awash in wealth and privilege. The yawning divide between rural poverty and urban wealth has become especially jarring, now that a decade of breakneck growth has come to an end..."
Lots of arrests as criticism went "viral" in Vietnam? Nope, I believe the young lady has resigned or taken a much less prominent role since the photo was taken.
Best though that Duong Thu Huong enjoys the City of Light that little bit longer.