Xin Chào from Quê Bắc in Kim Liên Commune,
I’m here at the birthplace of Hồ Chí Minh, one of the great leaders of the 20th century. I’ll admit it’s a kind of pilgrimage, to see if there are any obvious clues from those formative years.
The house in which Hồ Chí Minh (known at birth as Nguyễn Sing Cung) was born no longer exists so a replica is here to show us the site and the environs. There’s no reason to believe it is anything other than authentic.
The bamboo house has portals but no doors, earthen floor, fairly basic cooking equipment and simple furniture. Foundational walls are rammed earth and the roof is bamboo. As an adult, Hồ Chí Minh himself eschewed any of the trappings of modernity. He’d come from humble stock and stayed humble his entire life.
Hồ Chí Minh’s father was a teacher and patriot scholar, one of a group of locals who objected to the French presence in their country. He urged his children to study to understand “human ethics”. Hồ Chí Minh wrote, “Night and day I dreamed of having my actions recorded in history”.
French colonial rule
In the village, the impressionable Hồ Chí Minh witnessed the daily misery of people forced to comply with French colonial rule. This included being beaten for failure to pay rent or taxation or corvées. Much later in life, reflecting on his formative years, Hồ Chí Minh wrote, “At about the age of 13, for the first time, I heard such French terms as ‘liberty’, ‘equality’ and ‘fraternity’. So I developed a desire to find out exactly what was meant by these terms”. As an adult, visiting France and involving himself in the French Communist Party, he was surprised to learn that many French citizens objected to French colonialism.
Very few Việtnamese people live in such rudimentary circumstances these days: a mark of the progress which is undeniably a partial legacy of Hồ Chí Minh himself. It’s safe to surmise that the many local visitors also appreciate the fact.
The whole village is preserved as a shrine to a selfless life. He was devoted to his nation and his people. There are few hints here to indicate what impelled such a humble man to rise to such greatness. He did meet some influential thinkers in his teenage years (when he was known by the name Than Ta) and his parents were better educated than average.
respect for education
Respect for education is a cultural characteristic of Việtnamese people. That didn’t originate with Hồ Chí Minh of course but he did, as president, instill pride in teachers. And he did institute permanent educational reform. Many of the people paying homage have benefited from these reforms.
It’s possible to buy a pair of Hồ Chí Minh sandals in the souvenir stalls nearby, of which there are many. They’re made of rubber but not crudely fashioned out of used tires, as they were by the great man himself.
It’s not possible to pinpoint any particular elements of Hồ Chí Minh’s upbringing which explain his greatness but it is worth a reflective look around.
Hẹn gặp lại from Quê Bắc near Vinh,
Other photos from hereabouts