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Friday, 21 February 2014 10:49
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Ho Chi Minh - the eminent culturist of Vietnam

At the 24th session of the General Conference in Paris, the UNESCO approved Resolution 24C/18.65 on the 100th birth anniversary of President Ho Chi Minh, honoring him as a Hero of National Liberation, eminent culturist of Vietnam. Celebrating the 120th Birth anniversary of the President, Chief Representative of the UNESCO Office in Hanoi, Ms. Katherine Muller Marin said: “I am here today to fulfill the mission of the Resolution adopted by UNESCO General Assembly at its 24th Session in Paris in 1987, on the Birth anniversary of President Ho Chi Minh, the national hero and a great culturist. The General Conference considered that international celebrations on the birthdays of eminent intellectual and cultural personalities would contribute to reaching UNESCO’s objectives and to greater international understanding.“(1)

President Ho Chi Minh as a conductor of the song “Unity” at the capital youth’s evening party welcoming the success of the Third National Congress of the Vietnam workers’ Party and the National day of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (9-1960)


Photo: VNA

1. Some important points need to be emphasized on eminent cultural personalities

First of all, it is not that everyone who works or involves in creative activities in the cultural field is recognized as “a culturist”. A performer of such a kind of a creation can only be recognized as “a culturist”, if she/he has reached the heights of cultural knowledge of the times, using her/his extensive knowledge to serve her/his nation and those in the world, bringing practical benefits, making worthy contributions to the rich and diverse development of national cultures, human progress and civilization. Second, in the history of Vietnam as well as the history of all nations around the world, there are many celebrities but there are rare cases of being both heroes of national liberation and culturist. Ho Chi Minh is a “rare phenomenon”, who was conferred a “double honor”, as said international friends. This is one of the rare and glittering gems of our nation and humankind during our time. Third, we need to perceive properly the blending of the “heroic” and the “cultural” in Ho Chi Minh. Culture is all creations and inventions of humans which are used to adapt themselves to the needs and demands of life and survival; culture is knowledge of how to behave to comfort yourself and to treat others, and in a society, where oppression, exploitation, and injustice exist, the most meaningful mode of behavior and treatment is to carry out revolution to dispel the darkness of colonialism, imperialism, of ignorance, poverty, and illness that weigh down on the lives of the oppressed nations. If we adopt this concept of culture, Ho Chi Minh is a great man of culture in its truest and fullest sense. Fourth, that’s why a very significant aspect should be noted in Ho Chi Minh:  revolutionary culture. Right at the beginning of his revolutionary life, he already got to know the importance of culture to human life, to the cause of social liberation and national renovation, to the building of solidarity and mutual

understanding among nations. He was deeply aware that the beginning step of his effort to search for the revolutionary path was to equip himself with cultural mettle so that he would be enlightened in terms of perception and theory. Since when he embarked on the path of national salvation to the rest of his life, he had been always eager to fight on the cultural front, closely linking culture with revolution in the spirit of “resistanize culture, and culturalize the resistance” And so, his most important cultural cause was that he had devoted his whole life to the cause of national liberation for peace, national independence, democracy and social progress. General Vo Nguyen Giap, one of his excellent disciples, asserted: “The most important cultural work of Ho Chi Minh was that he led all the nation to expel foreign invaders in the new era, regained for it the right to life, a cultured life. President Ho Chi Minh together with humankind eliminated a tremendous hindrance on the way towards a civilized world, erased a stain in history: colonialism.”(2)

Since earlier times, world cultural personalities had discussed the need to have perception of the revolutionary culture, and action culture to awaken the masses, assist humans with the câpbility of self-liberation and liberation of others. Colombia’s great cultural personality Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel Prize winner for literature, at the 2nd meeting of Latin American intellectuals in early December 1985, said, “Revolution itself is a cultural cause, it fully expresses a penchant for creativity and ability in creativity, proves and requires from us all a profound belief in the future.”(3)

President Ho Chi Minh is included as an entry in the biographical dictionary The Twentieth Century’s Culture for the reason that: “He initiated and held high the banner of liberation for colonial peoples and became a key guide unquestionably acknowledged and respected in Asia and the third world “(4).

2. The eminent culturist Ho Chi Minh showed a perfect blend of national cultural essence with that of human culture. He is the product of both the national history and of the times

As product of the national history, Ho Chi Minh not only crystallized the thousands of years of cultural tradition of the Vietnamese people, sustained and continuously developed the national culture streamline, but also stimulated the culture and the community of Vietnamese ethnic groups to develop, creating a new cultural power, a new face of history in the period of national liberation from the colonial yoke. It is the cultural power that has helped Vietnam achieve successes in their revolution and war against foreign invasions and making the first step in building a new society.

As product of his times, on his path of study and research, Ho Chi Minh was forged in Western culture with the ideas of freedom, democracy and progress, rooted in Greco-Roman ancient humanism in the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment and culminated in the Marxist humanism. He always received selectively Western culture in particular and human cultures in general, and combined those with the cultural traditions of his family, homeland, and nation and turned them into a useful weapon for the struggle for liberation of his nation and others sharing the same fate. Therefore, Ho Chi Minh left an imprint on the course of human development; he was the embodiment of a culture of peace, noble humanism and passionate solidarity and friendship among peoples. He was the convergence of the values of the True, the Good, the Beautiful, Democracy, Independence, Freedom and Happiness.

Ho Chi Minh represents the harmonious, subtle and dialectical combination between tradition and modernity, the nation and mankind, and the East and the West. He found the “essence” of the cultural traditions of the East and the West. In Oriental culture, it is harmony, “coexistence” (use similarities to dominate the difference), taking the people as the roots of the country; highlighting the sense of community and collectiveness. Western culture often emphasizes on reason and science as criteria of truth, and gives preference to individualism. But the most salient originality of Ho Chi Minh as an eminent culturist is that based on Marxist materialistic dialectics. He found the common denominator of cultures, thereby promoting the progress of humanity on the basis of rallying rather than exclusion. In his remark at the reception hosted by French Prime Minister G. Bidon on 2nd July 1946, Ho Chi Minh clearly stated, “Have not we discarded the aggressive imperialism and narrow-minded nationalism that are no longer relevant to today’s world?” We are all stimulated by a spirit.

Confucian philosophy and Western philosophy both praise an ethical principles: “Don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto yourself”(5).

3. A great revolutionary, a journalist, a writer, a poet, and educator Ho Chi Minh left to us an extremely pure and noble cultural cause that revolutionized and modernized Vietnamese literature and art

The author of more than 250 poems, about two thousand articles, many short stories, political commentaries, and literary skits, he disclaimed any title of honor in the field of culture and art and proclaimed himself just as a professional revolutionary. His literary writings and articles always have the breath of life and of his time. Stemming from the  aspirations of the nation and the goals of the revolution, he always set for himself and also reminded those working in the writing and journalist professions these questions: “Whom to write for?” “What to write for?” “How to write?” His answers to these questions were consistent: to write for the masses so as to enlighten them, raise their intellectual standards and help them to understand and effectively perform their duties. With a rich knowledge of foreign languages, he used his pen as a sharp weapon to condemn colonialism, imperialism, advocate and organize the masses to stand up to carry out a revolution. Throughout the whole lifetime, he worked very hard to sow the light of culture and of revolution for the people and helped to bring light to people in other countries to dispel the darkness of colonialism, imperialism, ignorance, poverty, and illness that weighed heavily on the lives of the oppressed people.

With a deep understanding of the significance of the combination of culture with revolution, right after the day of declaration of independence in Vietnam, President Ho Chi Minh himself initiated the campaign among the entire population to fight against the enemy of ignorance, together with the enemy of hunger and the enemy of foreign invasion. He considered ignorance also a kind of enemy and the fight against it was like that against foreign invaders. Strongly aware that “an ignorant nation is a weak nation”; “ignorance will lead to stupidity; stupidity will lead to cowardliness”, Ho Chi Minh mentioned first the mission to eradicate illiteracy, so that every Vietnamese person should be able to read and write, to get updated with new knowledge in order to maintain national independence and to get involved in national building. Education must aim at development of the personality, inherent capability and creativity of the learner. A person should learn so as to be able to work, to live as a man, to become a cadre, to serve the country, the people and humanity, and to protect and develop the country. Learning must go hand in hand with practice. He said: “We have an urgent task to educate our people. We must make our nation become a brave, patriotic and hard-working nation, be worthy of the independent Vietnam”(6). More than that, education has a noble mission to make “the country of Vietnam become more beautiful and the Vietnamese people step onto the platform to glory and stand abreast with powers on the five continents”(7).

Along with the fight against illiteracy, Ho Chi Minh launched a movement to build a new life, to change the old lifestyle and working style, in order to bring culture deep into the life, into the psychology of the people, to use the new culture to “amend corruption, laziness, vanity and luxury”. According to him, “culture should make all Vietnamese people, the young and old, men and women, everyone understand their duties and know to enjoy the happiness they deserve.” The campaign to build a new life in the spirit of Ho Chi Minh step by step went into the life of the people, gradually forming movements with new practices and customs such as building families of new culture, increasing production, practicing thrift, tree-planting festivals, physical exercises, “good people, good deeds”, etc. The mass cultural movement launched by Ho Chi Minh actually created a solid foundation for sustaining the fledging revolutionary government, aimed at defeating the invaders, gradually eliminating backwardness and poverty, and building a new society.

As an eminent culturist, Ho Chi Minh always attached attention to “human cultivation”, held talents in high regard, sowing the seeds of revolution, nurturing the new-typed man, especially the younger generation to enable them to master the boundless knowledge of mankind, to have revolutionary ideals and virtues to become competent masters of the country and keep the nation advancing abreast with the time.

4.  Culture is also good knowledge of how to conduct, to behave oneself and to be a true man.

One aspect of Ho Chi Minh, an eminent culturist, is his cultured behavior. Any culturist has her/his own way of behaving and showing her/his humanness, and Ho Chi Minh behaved in his way, very typical of his characters and nature.

The noble cultural cause of President Ho Chi Minh, the eminent culturist of Vietnam, is commented by Soviet journalist Osip Mandelstam as follows: “Nguyen Ai Quoc (Ho Chi Minh) radiates a culture, not European culture, but probably a culture of the future.” Ho Chi Minh lived a materially frugal but culturally rich life. That’s the life for freedom and happiness of humans; he found his happiness in his strong attachment to humans and nature; in his tireless struggle for peace, national independence, democracy, progress and solidarity and friendship between people. Ho Chi Minh’s heritage keeps showing the value of the time to the future.

Assoc. Prof., Dr. BUI DINH PHONG

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics and Public Administration


Further reading:

(1) Speech at the International Scientific Conference “Ho Chi Minh’s heritage in our modern times,” held on 12 and 13 May, 2010 in Hanoi.

(2) National Center for Social Sciences and Humanities - Vietnam UNESCO Committee: President Ho Chi Minh - A Hero of National Liberation and Great Culturist, Social Sciences Publishing House, Hanoi, 1995, p.21.

(3) Quoted from an article by Minister of Culture Tran Van Phac, published on Literature and Arts Research Magazine, issue 4, 1989.

(4) Starting from 1983, in preparation for the biographical dictionary titled 20th Century Culture, edited by Alan Bullock and R.B Wodinger (published by Harper and Row in 1983), 300 scholars in the world were polled to select 20th century culturist. Anyone meeting one of the three following criteria would be selected: (1) The 20th century was the one of leaps in sciences and technology, such as the Einstein’s Relativity Theory. Anyone who made scientific and technological inventions that can change the world will be the culturist of the world. (2) The 20th century was that of brutal wars. Anyone who fought fervently for human’s rights to life, who defended humans and liberated them, and who was representative of humanism will be honored as the culturist of the world. (3) The 20th century was the one of decolonization. Anyone who contributed greatly to the liberation of colonies and the oppressed nations and who tumble the world of colonies, and who redraw the world political map, will be honored as the culturist of the world.

(5), (6), (7) Ho Chi Minh: Completed Works, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1995, vol.4, p. 267, 8, 33.

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