Tuesday, August 4 2020


Unsung heroes

Update: August, 30/2015 - 19:58


Association Chief of People's Cultural Standards

A martyr in anti-French Resistance War. Nguyen Van To was born on June 5, 1889 in Ha Dong (now Ha Noi). When he was small he learnt Kanji, and later French in the Interpreters' School. After graduation, he worked in the Far East Archaeology School in Ha Noi, studying literature and Vietnamese ancient history. With his Oriental-Occidental erudition, he was respected by his French and Vietnamese colleagues. He used to be the Chief of the People's Cultural Standards Association in 1938 when the Association for the Dissemination of quoc ngu (national language) was set up. After the 1945 August Revolution, he was the Minister of Social Relief Work in the Provisional People's Government. He was elected to the National Assembly, 1st Legislature and was the first Head of the Standing Committee, i.e. the Chairman, and later the Minister of State in the Resistance War Coalition Government. He was captured and shot dead on October 7, 1947 by the French troops during their operation against the Viet Bac Resistance Base. On January 5, 2011, Nguyen Van To was posthumously bestowed the noble Gold-Star Order. His name has been used for streets in Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh City and many other cities in the country.

Old Ung Hoe Nguyen Van To was more than 20 years my senior. He was an erudite scholar who was well versed in Occidental knowledge. He even once corrected a literary article in French for a young colleague Nguyen Thieu Lau, a Bachelor of Letters from France. What is remarkable about him is that he was always wearing traditional costumes with a ready-to-wear turban and silk umbrella. We students at that time loved him and respected him so much that we stood in timidity upon seeing him from afar!

Yet, a happy meeting helped bring me closer to him. It so happened that on a night in late 1942 there were two guests visiting me, introducing themselves as people from the Management Board of the Association for the Dissemination of quoc ngu. They were Phuoc, a cashier, and Khai, chief of the Decorating Board. They said they were sent by the Chief of Association to visit the Editor-in-Chief of Thanh Nghi Newspaper. They handed me a letter from old Nguyen Van To, inviting me to come and speak at Tri Tri Meeting House about the popular education and illiteracy and about the aspirations of the Association for the Dissemination of quoc ngu.

"Since the Association Chief is an enthusiast for a journalist cum teacher through the articles on the above-said issue" - They said in a formal attitude.

I accepted the invitation.

The talk (in early 1943) drew a large audience, which filled the hall to capacity. The attendees comprised all faces of Ha Noi's upper classes and students, boys and girls. I prepared the talk very carefully (it was later published in Thanh Nghi newspaper). During the talk, I included some popular but evocative verses usually taught in the illiteracy classes.

O is as round as a chicken egg

O has a hat on, O wears a beard

The talk won high praise from the audience. Actually it was old To who had stoked the patriotic flame in the audience that day. Before leaving, he invited me to attend the upcoming meeting of the Association's Management Board, where the plan on expanding the movement was to be discussed. He proposed the Association admit me for the time being to the board with a title similar to the Deputy Chief of the Association Ton That Binh. Binh was a teacher at Thang Long School with me. He was also in charge of La Patrie Annamite newspaper in French (An Nam Fatherland). He was Pham Quynh's son-in-law, who had helped old To make contacts with hard-going ringleaders.

I was assigned by old To the task of going to distant provinces to set up the bases. For example, when I came to Kien An Province, I met engineer Nguyen Xien, director of Phu Lien Observatory, or when I went to Lang Son Province I met district chief La Van Lo, a strong scout. Then I went farther to Hue, where I met my old friend Dao Dang Vi, headmaster of the Viet Anh high school in the Quang Tri Association. For his part, old To gathered his strength to tour the schools with a view to consolidating the classes, which had been evacuated to the suburban areas to avoid the bombing raids of the Allied forces in Khuong Thuong and Khuong Ha to the south of Ha Noi. He often asked me to go with him.

"You are still young" - He said to me - "please have the conversation with young teachers and a big number of students and scouts who are the readers of Thanh Nghi newspaper, you know! When you talk to them, they find it easy to understand. Do tell them not to sing too many revolutionary songs. Swarms of secret agents are found everywhere, can't you see it?"

I liked old To's simple working style. Old as he was, he looked young anyway, as he did not have a moustache or beard. His way of speaking was simple with modesty, sincerity and loveliness. While on the inspection tour, he often went to visit the poor families and urged them to attend the illiteracy classes, and by the way, he inquired about their life and work. That won him their love. I learnt a lot from him. On the other hand, he was skillful in handling diplomatic relations with the French and Vietnamese high-ranking officials. He practiced the now-hard-now-soft policy that helped the association tide over a lot of 'rapids' without a hitch.

However, the difficulties lay among the young partners who were so enthusiastic in opening the classes and teaching the people. It was understandable! The Democratic faction was launching fierce onslaughts in Europe. To cope with the situation, Japan was trying to hamper the French in Indochina.

"The opportunity has come. Let's not hesitate any longer!"

The debate was so heated at the meetings of the Management Board, with key, dedicated cadres such as Nguyen Huu Dang and Nguyen Cong My. Once during the debate, the atmosphere was so tense that old To had to switch off the light. The meeting hall was pitch black. Old To laughed it off, saying some humorous words in order to water down the situation.

He trusted me, as I had a cool temperament even though I was still young.

"The French are very hanky-panky" - He said in a low voice to me - "It's true that General Governor Decoux has sent a circular letter to urgently ask the envoys of provinces to raise their voice and help us set up the branches. They've done it just to please us, you know. But I am sure you are also able to tell their dark schemes; they want us to expose all of our forces. We have to 'outshoot them with their own bow'. If we made a mistake, the whole group would die, you see."

I sympathised with his worries. I also told him my view that a private association should limit its "fermenting" role and it was the best policy. There was not any sufficient force to resolve the illiteracy problem for the entire people now. It was a great problem. We should take this problem up with the Government later when the country was independent. Now we should try our hardest but should not be impatient. Old To agreed to that idea, saying that it was suitable to his. For a long time, old To had always advised his colleagues to improve their teaching methods. Thanh Nghi newspaper had published his article, summarising his talks with the teachers, advising them to pay attention to praising the thousand-year-old morality: filial piety, diligence, civility and cordiality; we should help the poor, keep our promises and try to do the chores for our villages and the country and fulfill our duties…. It was not that he did not say anything of the future. Thanh Nghi newspaper published his research article on the love of learning about our people, on the role of village teachers, of the scholars in villages and the root of the ancient Viet language letters (it was not like the Chinese characters). In that old, old time, our villages were able to make books of taxpayers. It meant that our forefathers were not illiterate at all. How proud they were! Bravo to the old man!

For my part, to be more practical, I studied and wrote the teaching programme for adult classes.

"It's very good" - Old To said - "This is really prescribed in the Association's Rules. Its aim is to improve the people's cultural standards."

"Yes" - I answered - "At least, it helps people to read first; they should have something to read so as to avoid becoming illiterate again."

We were focusing on this direction because the Viet Minh Front (the League for Independence of Vietnam) was urgently preparing for the General Uprising.

Then the General Uprising broke out.

Many cadres who left their families for the resistance war base had now returned to the capital city.

A friend in the Viet Minh Front leadership gave us good tidings: In the planned list of the Provisionary People's Government, my name was in the Ministry of Social Reliefs Work. To tell the truth, I was very anxious: I worked as a teacher, so how could I take up that position? A few days later, all the newspapers published the official list of the Government; my name was in the Ministry of National Education and the name of old To was found in the Ministry of Social Relief Work. What a surprise!

The Ministry of Education in the first days had a Decree on wiping out illiteracy in one year. And if there were big obstacles, it would be prolonged to three years. At the same time, a Decree on establishing the Illiteracy Sector was promulgated.

I was about to make a proposal when the Association Chief Nguyen Van To became proactive in talking with the Management Board in hopes of making a decision and declaring: the organisational apparatus and all the material and spiritual assets of the Association for the Dissemination of quoc ngu were to be handed over to the Illiteracy Sector. With this advantage, the Ministry of Education held the National Conference on Illiteracy. President Ho Chi Minh attended the event, allowing the first training course for teachers to be named the "Ho Chi Minh Course". Before the conference ended, a cadre of the Ministry, Le Van Binh, my secretary, led a female trainer who brought along a golden book to ask for the signatures of President Ho Chi Minh, advisor Vinh Thuy and some ministers present at the conference.

Binh used to be the headmaster of a private school and also a good base of the Association for the Dissemination of quoc ngu. Old To often visited the school.

"Mr. Binh, I should have been in your ministry and done the illiteracy work with you! But it's right to do it this way. It's the right man and right place for both!" - Old To whispered to Binh.

Having been told about it, I loved old To all the more for his humility and simplicity. All was for the common good!

Since then I seldom met old To, as we both were up to our eyes in work. One party was engaged in eradicating hunger and the other party was involved in wiping out illiteracy. Both were heavy tasks.

Old Minister Nguyen Van To had an accident. This was the first minister who had laid down his life on the battlefield.

I would like to share a most profound feeling I had regarding my deceased predecessor, who had devoted his whole life to noble work: to improve the people's cultural standards. I would like to describe the common feeling in an image - an illusion - which had been deeply imbedded in our hearts.

Here, the illusion:

That historic night, it was heavily foggy. The whole upland was shrouded in fog….and looming in the pall of mist was an old man who looked familiar to me. He was there in that simple-looking national costume: with the ready-to-wear turban and the white gauze robe wound around him in a "fairy-like" manner.

That silhouette stood upright amid the encirclement full of swords.

The silhouette stamped his feet on a black earth mass: that gigantic mass of Crimes - the Hell filled with devils that were spitting blood and fire, both blood and fire, which were not red but as black as stinking mud.

The silhouette held his head high to look at the sky: that North polar star was twinkling as if it was waving. Then without a minute of hesitation, the silhouette was flying straight into that stream of light, that brilliant light of Ai Quoc (patriotism) - Chi Minh (clear-sightedness)

Oh, how beautiful it was!

How heroic it was!

It's not brave when you do not act for justice!

Oh, how wonderful the virtue is! How wonderful the mind is!

The Viet Bac mountains and forests - the immense ancestor's land

The spirit of scholars - the offspring of Hung Kings live forever!

I would like to pay my respect before the hallowed memory of

Martyr Nguyen Van To

The man of humaneness, great mind and bravery,

A sage!./.

Doctor Nguyen Van Luyen


Complete devotion to his people, unwavering loyalty to his country

A martyr in anti-French Resistance War. Born in 1898 in a scholarly family in Bac Ninh Province. Having graduated from the Indochinese Medicine University with high distinction, Nguyen Van Luyen was granted a scholarship to study in France and do a social medicine thesis on infant mortality in Viet Nam. Having written the thesis successfully, he returned to Viet Nam in 1928 to teach about hygiene in remote rural areas. Then he set up a clinic in Ngo Tram, Ha Noi, which was later called "Ngo Tram Hospital". He examined and treated diseases for the poor and at the same time participated in progressive social activities. On the other hand, he published a newspaper titled Tin Moi, where the news on the anti-fascist war of the Soviet people was carried with great sympathy. In the surge of the 1945 August pre-uprising, he joined the Democratic Party, which was set up with the help of the Communist Party of Indochina on June 30, 1944. This party lay within the Viet Minh Front. After the August Revolution, President Ho Chi Minh invited him and other patriotic personalities like Bui Bang Doan, Bui Ky and priest Le Huu Tu to join the Advisors' Board of the President of the Provisionary Government. He was elected the deputy of the National Assembly and worked in the Standing Committee of the National Assembly. He took part in Government conversations with France in the Da Lat and Fontainebleau conferences. When the anti-French Resistance War broke out in the capital city of Hanoi, he took up arms to fight against the French troops and sacrificed on the night of December 19, 1946. In 1953, he was posthumously bestowed with the title Martyr and the Resistance War Order, First Class.

With Doctor Nguyen Van Luyen, I knew him by name for a long time, but I knew him by sight around the time my wife was having our first baby. My wife was slender and weak, so my mother was very worried. I said to calm her down:

"Don't worry, mother. I've got this handbook!"

And I showed her a book titled San duc chi nam (A Guide to Childbirth) by Doctor Nguyen Van Luyen. My mother pursed her lips, murmuring:

"What's the use of these people who have trodden on the French's shit?"

However, when I read the measures for my wife to keep herself healthy and Dr. Luyen's advice on prenatal care, my mother was listening attentively and she applauded:

"This doctor's writing is really useful."

"It's good that this doctor has combined Oriental and Occidental medicine," - My father added.

I went to meet Doctor Nguyen Van Luyen for more instruction. He gave me his graduation thesis during his study in France on the causes of infant mortality in Vietnam. I read his thesis with passion because he dealt with social causes which he termed "a tragedy": the infant mortality rate among the Vietnamese infants was "terribly" high (these were his words). I was told that Doctor Luyen had often gone up hill and down dale in areas with unhealthy climates and remote areas to examine and give treatment to patients, and give advice to the rural women on hygiene during childbirth. I really admired his golden heart, devoted to the poor. I knew that while he was still studying in Paris, he always told himself to return home to dedicate his mind and efforts to combat the disaster that had taken so many poor children. He was the first doctor to open a private clinic for the poor. He opened it at 167 Phung Hung Street, Ha Noi, with the lovely name Ngo Tram Hospital. To popularise his social medical viewpoint, he published the newspaper Tin Moi, which sold like hotcakes at that time, as it carried progressive ideas and the latest news.

The progressive social viewpoints helped take Doctor Luyen into the national, democratic revolutionary movement. If I remembered right, his newspaper was the first open newspaper in Hanoi that published 10 policies of Viet Minh two nights before the August Revolution broke out. He joined the Democratic Party and became my comrade. Two months after reading the Declaration of Independence and presenting the provisionary People's Government before the public, President Ho Chi Minh proposed that an Advisory Board be set up to help him, made up of the 10 most prestigious patriotic personalities. Doctor Nguyen Van Luyen was one of them. In the first National Assembly election on January 6, 1946 of the six deputies of Ha Noi, he was sent to join the National Assembly's Standing Committee. President Ho Chi Minh also assigned him other important tasks such as joining the negotiation delegation with France at the Da Lat Conference and becoming an advisor at the Fontainebleau Conference.

In the extremely tense situation in late 1946 when the French colonists had provoked a lot of hostilities and excited the reactionary parties and factions against the Resistance Coalition Government, Nguyen Van Luyen published a small book condemning the neo-colonial policies of the de Gaulle government and exposing the swindling scheme, which drew Vietnamese intellectuals in an attempt to re-establish French domination. This small book was like a grenade that was thrown right into the already disarrayed ranks of the enemy, sending them into a wild rage.

To guard against revenge from the war-like colonists and reactionaries, President Ho Chi Minh asked Hoang Minh Giam, vice interior minister and a close friend of Doctor Luyen, to organize the evacuation of the doctor's family to a safe suburban area. I also said my support to it. Doctor Luyen answered seriously like an oath:

"My two sons, students of medicine, are the militiamen of the city and they have vowed to fight to the end. I am a doctor, so I will never leave my fighters."

In early December 1946, the fighting could have broken out at any time. One evening Hoang Minh Chinh was sent by the Communist Party's Central Committee to take charge of the Democratic Party and he was tasked with taking the members of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party to leave Hanoi. He drove a car to the Justice Office and took my family to the suburb without delay. He whispered to me:

"Doctor Luyen did not want to leave. He and his two sons with two machine guns will guard the city by all means. He has already evacuated his wife and three daughters."

At about 8 o'clock in the evening on December 19, 1946, the whole city suddenly blacked out. Our artillery fire from Lang Castle was heard roaring, starting the nationwide resistance war. The next night, Vu Boi Lieu, a liaison of the Office of the Justice Ministry, came to take me out of the court area that sits next to Doctor Nguyen Van Luyen's house (now the Cuban Embassy). It was reported that Doctor Luyen and his two sons fought bravely to the last bullet and were killed by French troops.

Two months later, on the eve of the Lunar New Year of 1947, the Government Council met at Sai Son Village, close to Thay Pagoda, about 20km from Hanoi. I was told by Hoang Minh Giam to go to Thanh Hoa Cave one hour before the meeting began. I was still standing hesitantly at the mouth of the cave when I saw an old "farmer" walking out from behind the mountain through a trail. He had a cotton scarf worn round the neck with a bamboo stick in the hand because the road was slippery after days of rains. President Ho Chi Minh! I bowed my head to greet him. He took my hand and came straight to the point:

"Where is the Central Committee of the Democratic Party located now? I have been told that you have stopped having meetings and got mixed with the Viet Minh organization. What is the meaning behind this? We need you right at this moment, you know!" - Then he inquired after the family of Doctor Nguyen Van Luyen in a sad voice. The president was most likely remembering the sacrifice the doctor and his two sons made… I quickly reported that the Central Committee of the Democratic Party had just sent its men to visit Doctor Luyen's wife in her home village. She was operating in the district's Association of Mothers of Soldiers and her daughters were teaching the communal illiteracy classes. The president looked happy.

Many years after the war, President Ho Chi Minh still paid concern to the family of Doctor Luyen, who had been completely devoted to his people and unwaveringly loyal to his country. He gave direct orders to give good care to the doctor's daughters so they could have good educations and good jobs.

Since the renovation and opening, Ha Noi has been expanding, with a lot of new construction and a lot of new streets. Yet, has the city forgotten the great sacrifices of Doctor Luyen and his sons for the thousand-year-old capital city? I wish one day a street could be called Three Martyrs - Father and Sons, because his two young sons, who laid down their lives together with their father, deserve to be honored. And with his devotion in the fight against infant mortality, Doctor Nguyen Van Luyen deserved a gynecology hospital named after him in Hanoi./.

Translated by Manh Chuong

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