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Ho Chi Minh’s viewpoints on the building and development of Vietnamese culture

(LLCT) - The objective of the revolutionary cause to which Ho Chi Minh was devoted during his lifetime was to gain independence for the nation, build a better society, bring greater freedom and happiness for people and strive for truth, goodness and beauty. Therefore, he would always pay close attention to the building and development of the nation’s culture. His point of view and instructions as to culture constituted an invaluable spiritual asset and an important foundation for our Party and people in the building and development of Vietnamese culture and people so they could enable sustainable national development. 

Ho Chi Minh’s points of view on culture include the following:

Firstly, culture is supposed to illuminate the nation’s road and culture is also a front.

Finding the right way to save the country - the bourgeoisie revolution - was an important turnaround in Ho Chi Minh’s revolutionary career. From then, he “always thought about a new society which should be democratic, equitable and humane and greatly differed from the existing societies laded with oppression and injustice in his own country and other countries, and he thought about a civilized society for his own people and other peoples. With these dreams, right from the beginning of his revolutionary career, Ho Chi Minh was aware of the importance of culture to people’s lives, the causes of national liberation and renovation, and fostering of solidarity and mutual understanding between peoples. From his youth to his old age, Ho Chi Minh would always be active on the cultural front”(1).

Culture is also a front. This thought was reflected in Ho Chi Minh’s artistic and literary activities as early as in the 1920s when he severely criticized French colonialists’ demagogic policy and denounced their trampling on Vietnamese traditions, customs and dignity. According to his ideas, the Party’s 1943 Vietnamese Cultural Platform pointed out, “The cultural front is one of the three fronts (economic, political, cultural) where communists will work” and “Let’s build up a practical and popular culture during resistance and national building”.

As the August Revolution was successful, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was born, opening a new era in the history of the Vietnamese nation. However, because of the evil mind of the enemy, the nation had to enter a period of “resistance and national building” to protect the independence which we had just gained. This was a period where culture would develop under the people’s democratic regime striving for socialism. Aiming to develop a new culture while fighting hunger, illiteracy, foreign invasion and outdated habits and traditions, Ho Chi Minh launched a national, comprehensive resistance, one of “cultural resistance and culturalization of resistance”. He advocated fighting on the “cultural front” and training “cultural fighters”.

In his letter to painters participating in an art exhibition in 1951, Ho Chi Minh stated, “Culture and art are also a front. You are fighters on that front”(2). He affirmed the spearheading role of culture in the cause of national liberation. Culture and other areas, political, economic and military, must create fronts of tremendous strength during the nation’s prolonged resistance. “Like other activities, culture and art cannot afford to stay outside, but inside of economics and politics”. Nevertheless, politics, economics and culture should be “equally important”(3).

Culture must be part of the revolution. It must be a revolutionary culture of the working class and serve working people. Ho Chi Minh pointed out, “When the nation is oppressed, it loses the freedom of literature and art. For this freedom to be achieved, we must join the revolution”(4). Joining the revolution meant becoming a powerful weapon for the causes of national liberation and emancipation of classes and the entire oppressed working population. Accordingly, during the revolution and building of socialism, Ho Chi Minh clearly defined the tasks of culture, paid attention to cultural activities, from illiteracy eradication to practice of new ways of living, from communication and education to the ways of speaking and writing and changes in work styles, and from grassroots cultural work to literary and artistic creation. All these activities must serve political tasks.

According to him, culture “must illuminate the nation’s road”(5). To that end, culture must be closely connected to everyday life and production. It must be “practical and educational” and suited the intellectual standards of ordinary people so they can easily understand, remember and follow it. When we talk about culture for working people, it is not only about bringing culture to them but also introducing them to culture and enabling them to grasp and master it.

Secondly, the nation’s cultural identity should be preserved while the quintessence of humanity’s culture should be received.

According to Ho Chi Minh, any nation has its own historical and cultural foundation, which gave rise to the essence, identity and uniqueness of its culture. In Vietnam, cultural identity refers to the sustainable cultural values of its ethnic groups and their achievements at work and during production, fighting and exchanges. In terms of content, cultural identity means love for the country and people and a sense of independence, self-reliance and national pride. In terms of form, it takes the form of languages, customs and traditions. Therefore, the nation’s cultural values should be appreciated, tapped, preserved and promoted so they can serve the revolutionary requirements and tasks in each specific historical period. He put it, “We must know the history of our country and have a good understanding of its origin” and “The more we are aware of Marxism - Leninism, the greater importance we must attach to our ancestors’ fine traditions”.

While tapping the essence of Vietnamese culture, Ho Chi Minh paid particular attention to receiving humanity’s cultural quintessence. According to him, “Vietnamese culture is influenced by both oriental and occidental cultures. We learn whatever is good about these cultures in order to create Vietnamese culture. This means we draw good experience from old and modern cultures and use it to enrich Vietnamese culture so it is compatible with the democratic spirit”(6). When talking with a Soviet writer, he emphasized, “Please do not think that I advocate abandoning some culture, be it French one. On the contrary, I’d like to say something else. I’m talking about the need to expand my own knowledge about world cultures, particularly Soviet culture, which we lack, while avoiding becoming a parrot learner. The cultures of other peoples must be studied comprehensively. Only then can they bring more benefits to my own culture”(7).

Ho Chi Minh pointed out, “[We must] promote the precious assets of our nation and learn from other countries’ advanced cultures, but bear in mind that only genuine revolutionaries can make use of invaluable insights left by predecessors” and “When we take good things from people, we must give good things back to them. Do not just borrow without paying back”. A criterion for the reception of foreign cultures is that we should learn whatever is interesting or good while considering the nation’s culture to be the basis for such learning.

Thirdly, a national, scientifically grounded, popular culture must be developed.

As soon as independence was gained, amid numerous difficulties and challenges facing the fledgling government, Ho Chi Minh paid attention to the building of a new culture for an independent nation. This new culture “must be scientifically grounded and popular so as to conform to the ongoing evolution of modern ideology”(8). At the Party’s 2nd Congress, Ho Chi Minh confirmed, “...to develop the fine traditions of the nation’s culture and receive new things from advanced cultures in the world in order to build a Vietnamese culture which is of a national, scientific and popular nature”(9).

According to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnamese culture should be originated from the nation and reflect the values and spirit of different ethnic communities in Vietnam built up during the course of thousands of years. The new Vietnamese culture should make full use of patriotism, solidarity, humanitarianism, bravery, indomitability, and the sense of independence and self-reliance. Not only should the values of the nation’s culture be special in terms of content but it also should be really special and deeply national in terms of form.

Ho Chi Minh emphasized the need to “pay attention to nurturing the national character of the arts”(10), “promote the national essence”(11) and “bring into full play the national spirit”(12). The national and international characteristics shouldbe harmonized, and “encourage the fineness and beauty of the nation to develop fully, thereby getting closer to humanity’s cultures”.

According to Ho Chi Minh, the scientific character of the nation’s culture refers to the advanced and modern elements of socialism, ways of thinking, scientific theories, intelligentsia characteristic of modern industry, science and art, workers, and cultural heights. Science should receive the quintessence and intelligence of the times and humanity’s cultural heights. One of the main characteristics of the scientific character is that we should be capable to select whatever is necessary and useful. Not every old thing would be abandoned, and not everything would be innovated. Whatever is old and bad should be abandoned. Whatever is old and usable yet troublesome should be modified. Whatever is old and good should be encouraged.

The scientific character of the nation’s culture is also reflected in the fact that the culture is compatible with the general evolution of humanity’s cultures as well as in its contribution to social development.

Ho Chi Minh would often emphasize the need to understand world cultures in order to learn from advanced knowledge of the world for national development. He demanded all government officials, Party members and ordinary people constantly learn and improve their own knowledge and others’. He would always stress the importance of learning theories so everyone could develop scientific methods of thinking and efficient work styles.

According to Ho Chi Minh, for the new culture to be popular, first of all, it should benefit working people. People constitute the vitality of the new culture because they do not only create material wealth but also spiritual values. Ho Chi Minh considered people’s works to be “precious gems”. People provide, and serve as, precious material for writers and artists. At the same time, they provide objective, accurate evaluations of cultural, literary and artistic works. According to him, most importantly, people should be beneficiaries of cultural values. He would often remind culture and art people to stay in close touch with daily lives to understand what people think, how they feel and what they wish for so their works can be useful to people’s lives. Also, he would frequently warn against works which were distant from ordinary people or unsuitable for their aesthetic levels and taste. In summary, culture should “originate from the masses and be deeply rooted in them”. On that basis, value education would be provided for the masses.

Grasping Ho Chi Minh’s points of view, the Party has become increasingly aware of the importance of the building and development of culture to society and the country’s sustainable development. The 6th Party’s Congress in 1986 pointed out, “Each cultural, literary and artistic activity must take into account its social effectiveness and must have good effects on people’s thinking, psychology and sentiments and improve their awareness of socialism and their aesthetic standards”(13). At the Congress, the Party for the first time discussed the policy of making cultural activities a common cause of society.

In the resolution by the 4th plenum of the 7th Party Central Committee in 1993 titled “Some cultural, literary and artistic tasks in the immediate future”, the Party regarded culture as the spiritual foundation of the social life. At the 5th plenum of its 8th Congress in 1988, the Party issued the resolution “Building and Developing advanced Vietnamese culture rich in national identity”, laying down guiding views and major solutions for the building and development of culture.

At the 9th plenum of the 11th Congress, the Party adopted the resolution “Building and Developing Vietnamese culture and people so they meet requirements for national sustainable development”, further supplementing and deepening some theoretical issues related to the advancement of Vietnamese culture and people. The 12th Party’s Congress in 2016 set the task of “achieving comprehensive development of Vietnamese culture and people so that they can become truthful, kind-hearted and beautiful and have a sense of national pride, humanitarianism, democracy and science. Culture must become a solid spiritual foundation of society and an important internal strength ensuring sustainable development, firmly protecting the Fatherland and achieving the goals of a ‘rich population and strong, democratic, equitable, civilized country”(14).

The Party has constantly supplemented and improved the theoretical issues related to the building and development of culture. It has identified the characteristics of Vietnamese culture in the period of the socialist-oriented market economy and international integration on national, humane, democratic, and scientific terms. It has confirmed the close interdependency between the building of culture and advancement of people. It aims to achieve comprehensive development of people whose basic qualities should include patriotism, humanitarianism, loyalty, honesty, solidarity, industriousness and creativity. It has identified the relationship between the building and development of culture and other areas of the social life, particularly the relationships between politics and culture and between economics and culture. It has emphasized the need to preserve and promote traditional cultural values and create new cultural values.

While leading the building and development of culture, the Party emphasizes the following tasks. Comprehensive development of Vietnamese people should become an objective of the general development strategy. Vietnamese culture should become wholesome and suitable for the development of the socialist-oriented market economy. The development of cultural industries should occur at the same time as the establishment and perfection of cultural product and service markets. [The country] is to be proactive in integrating into international cultures and receiving humanity’s cultural quintessence. The Party should continue to innovate its mode of leadership, and state management of the cultural sector should increase its effectiveness and efficiency.

In reality, the building and development of culture has achieved encouraging results. Progress in education and training; positive changes in cultural, literary and artistic activities, mass communication, and the preservation and promotion of cultural heritage; and the intensification of grassroots cultural institutions have brought about greater diversity and variety of people’s spiritual life and have increased the level of cultural enjoyment among people. “The country has 7,484 provincial level cultural heritage sites, 3,202 national level cultural heritage sites, 78 special national level cultural heritage sites, 8 cultural and natural heritage sites recognized by the UNESCO as world heritage, nearly 19,000 libraries of all levels, 154 cultural villages, 5,429 culture halls of all levels, 786 press agencies with 1,016 publications”(15). New factors and values related to Vietnamese people during the period of national industrialization and modernization and international integration have gradually taken shape. The freedom to create literature and art is respected and upheld. The “The entire population is united to build cultural lives” movement has gained positive results and has created a good environment for nurturing and promoting the humane values of the nation. A good number of traditional cultural values of different ethnic groups have been honored while new cultural values have come into being.

____________________

(1) Pham Van Dong: Ho Chi Minh - Past, Presentand Future, Vol.1, Truth Publishing House, Hanoi, 1991, p.44.

(2) Ho Chi Minh: Complete Works, Vol.7, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2011, p.246.

(3), (4), (5)  Ho Chi Minh: On Cultural, Literary and Artistic Work, Truth Publishing House, Hanoi, 1971, pp.70, 63, 72.

(6) Ho Chi Minh: On Culture, published by the Ho Chi Minh Museum, Hanoi, 1997, p.350.

(7), (10) Ho Chi Minh: Culture and Art Are Also a Front, Literature Publishing House, Hanoi, 1981, pp.516-517, 480.

(8) The Ideological and Cultural Board of the Party Central Committee: A Chronology of the Ideological and Cultural Work of the Communist Party of Vietnam (1925-1954), National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2005, pp. 303-304.

(9) Ho Chi Minh: Complete Works, vol.7, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2011, p.40.

(11), (12) Ho Chi Minh: On Cultural, Literary and Artistic Work, Truth Publishing House, Hà Nội, 1971, pp.77, 72.

(13) CPV: Documents of the 6th National Congress, Truth Publishing House, Hanoi, 1987, p. 91.

(14) CPV: Documents of the 12th National Congress, the Office of the Party Central Committee, Hanoi, 2016, p.126.

(15) CPV: The Central Executive Committee, The Steering Committee for Summary Work: Report on Some Theoretical and Practical Issues After 30 Years’ Renovation (1986 - 2016), National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2015, p.97.

MA Dinh Ngoc Quy

Institute of research on Ho Chi Minh and other leaders of the Party

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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