Dr. Dinh Van Lien*
President Ton Duc Thang was born at Ong Ho Islet, My Hoa Hung Commune, Long Xuyen City, An Giang on 20 August 1888. At his teenage, he learnt at Vien Dong Technical School (1906-1909). He worked as a worker at Ba Son Shipyard of the French Naval Forces in Saigon. From that time on, He joined revolution in the most active historical stages. He became President of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (from December 1976 to 1981). After 92 years of life and nearly 70 years of revolutionary operation and 17 years in jail, Ton Duc Thang has left us an eventful life, a simple and modest manner. He is a simple man with abundance of noble humanity, as said by many people, a simple great man.
It can be said that Ton Duc Thang’s life-span is a mirror of a firm and loyal man, who stepped along the road of Vietnam Revolution in the struggle against the French Colonialists and American Imperialists to the date of victory (1945-1975). Experiencing misery and pain, that Ba Son Worker, that President always showed an extreme patriotism, a spirit of solidarity and friendship of classes, international communism, a natural, profound and valuable humanity.
He had his youth in zeal and enthusiasm. In 1909, graduating Vien Dong Technical College, he worked as a worker at Ba Son Shipyard in Saigon; organizing a strike in 1912. In 1914, he was mobilized into army force and taken to France. He worked as a mechanic in a French Naval Forces. He displayed attitude of antiwar, opposing the French intervention to the Soviet Russia in the Black Sea in 1919. In 1920, returning to Vietnam, he founded the Red Union, calling workers to struggle, typically the strike of Ba Son workers (August 1925). In 1927, he joined the Vietnam Youth Revolution Society, being a member of the South Regional Executive Committee. He was arrested by the French Colonialists in Saigon 1928, sentenced 20 years of hard labour and exiled to Poulo Condor (1930-1945).
In the late 1929, during the high tide of revolutionary movements, Ton Duc Thang was caught by secret agents, driven to Saigon Jail, being tortured by brutal punishments for information disclosure. They finally failed before the unyielding and indomitable spirit of the communist soldier. They sentenced Ton Duc Thang 20 years of hard labour and exiled him to Poulo Condor. In the “Hell on Earth”, Ton Duc Thang always put solid belief to the victory of Vietnam Revolution. He called comrades at Prison I to found the special unit, becoming one of the unit leaders and with prisoners struggling. It is accurate when they say, “Prisons are schools of struggle”. At such a place, a communist must have iron spirit to face to chains, blows, guns… At such a place where “gold is tested by fire and will is tested by misery”, Ton Duc Thang soldier lived nearly 17 years in the prisons of the colonialists and imperialists. Such a person of Ton Duc Thang with constant patriotism and iron will so as to suffer during 17 years, a very long time, in jails.
It was known that during this time, the Party was just existed, Revolution was still at the beginning, so what such a belief could Ton Duc Thang kept his uprightness. In my opinion, like many revolutionists, the time in prison is the “metal training time”. However, Ton Duc Thang’s prison time should be furthermore learnt. Our country has given birth to great sons. 17 years in jail made Ton Duc Thang grow with the history, with his personality, with Vietnam Revolution. As Uncle Ton’s saying when he was the first to be awarded the most noble medal of our country – the Gold Star Order, in his speech at the ceremony, the President said in tears: “at this glorious ceremony, I thought of the childish time, the misery and difficulties, under the leadership of the Party. Party has led me, educated me. People have trained and made me to such present day.”
In 1930, He joined Vietnam Communist Party at Poulo Condor. After the August Revolution in 1945, He returned to the South to join the resistance war, holding the position of the South Regional Secretary (1945). He was the Deputy Head of the Standing Committee of National Assembly (1946-1955) and then the Head of the Standing Committee of National Assembly (1955-1960). He was a National Assembly Member continuously from the I to the VI session.
In the Government, he was the Minister of Internal Affairs (May 1947 – November 1947), National Special Inspector (August 1947), the Vice President of Democratic Republic of Vietnam (1960-1969), the President of Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (1969-1980). He was Uncle Ho’s intimate friend. In the Party, he was the Member of the Central Executive Committee of Vietnam Communist Party from 1947 and from the II to IV session. He was the leader of Vietnam Revolution in the resistance war against France and the USA. This An Giang’s son was trained in jails, maintaining zeal in revolutionary enthusiasm until our country is totally independent, fee and peaceful. We can see at Him the lofty sacrifice, all for the great cause against enemies, for the prosperity and happiness of People. Despite at any position, even in the highest one as a President, he lived simply and modestly. He was the intimate comrade-in-arms of President Ho Chi Minh. He was a typical communist, a soldier of great prestige, a symbol of the strength of great solidarity.
When the August Revolution succeeded, He was taken to the mainland. The Communist Soldier Ton Duc Thang continued to ardently fight against the French Colonialist with the Southern peoples. After that, he was directed to the North, holding the important positions as: Deputy head of Inter-Vietnam Society, Chairman of Inter-Vietnam Front, Head of the Standing Committee of National Assembly, Chairman of the Central Committee of Vietnam Fatherland Front; Vice President and then President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (then the Socialist Republic of Vietnam). In spite of any positions, President Ton Duc Thang always shoed the loyalty to the Fatherland, the Party, the people, devoting all his life-span to serve the Revolution, the People.
It may be said that modest and simplicity, affection and integrity are the virtues of President Ton Duc Thang. President Ton Duc Thang was very modest. The image of a person of a colony opposing war in the Black Sea in 1919 to protect the young Soviet Russia was an event praised and appreciated by the Soviet people as well as world’s peace-loving and advanced people. However, when remembering this event, President modestly wrote: “I believe that, any patriotic Vietnamese, even if he were a worker, attending such historical moment in the Black Sea, can not do otherwise than I. Loving Fatherland and hating Imperialism also mean loving the October Revolution and hating those opposing it.”
The person of President Ton Duc Thang showed the righteousness, creating trust from people. Therefore, he was so attractive, symbolizing the solidarity of peoples, all classes, races… for the common target of Revolution: liberation for the independence and freedom of the country, for the happiness of peoples.
Tirelessly devoting to the career of construction, development of the strength of the national great solidarity block, President Ton Duc Thang was also the active factor to execute the close solidarity between the working classes and labourers of the countries. With his devotion to the world’s movements, President Ton Duc Thang was elected the Chairman of International Peace Protecting Committee of Vietnam, member of the World Peace Council, awarded the Lenin Prize “for the peace and friendship among peoples” and many noble orders from countries.
Becoming the Head of State, the President always kept his modest and simple of a labourer. He loved walking, doing manual work and did everything by himself without asking anybody to help. The President put on simple wears. When some comrades coming from the South visited him, seeing the President wearing an old sweater with one piece added to be longer, they asked him in feeling: “Uncle, being a President, why do you wear such an extended sweater?” The President joyfully answered: “The President wear the extended sweater so the people could have enough rice to eat”. How upright and simple!
Uncle Ton, a simple great man, He is great because of his great heart, his great personality, his life-span devotion to serve the people, consider people’s happiness as his own. The ethics and personality of Uncle Ton are glorious. The son of Ong Ho Islet, the worker of Ba Son, the soldier in the Black Sea and the President of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam has his great ethics and life-style.
Historian Christoph Giebel, at the Faculty of History of Washington University, USA, a researcher on President Ton Duc Thang, in a case answering BBC, saying: “President Ton Duc Thang is a simple, modest. He lived with his own nature and ideal. He is described as a typical revolutionist. What a simple great man!”
Over 20 years, Ton Duc Thang has welcomed and served nearly 1,500,000 turns of domestic and foreign visitors. Ton Duc Thang has an exhibition system with 1,000 items, materials, pictures introducing the life and career of President Ton Duc Thang: the house of his childhood at Ong Ho Islet (My Hoa Hung Commune, An giang), the pictures of the Youngster Ton Duc Thang to learn and work at the age of 18, the wooden trunk used during the time to learn at Asia Mechanical School, the events of hoisting antiwar flag in the Black Sea, founding the union and leading the struggle of Saigon workers in 1920s, the pictures of “rice-husking cell” and “Hai thang Gang” showing the mettle and ethics of a communist… The open topics on operation of President Ton Duc Thang as: Poulo Condor Pearl, Uncle Ho and Uncle Ton, President Ton Duc Thang everyday life, Uncle Ton in world’s people’s heart… and the work reproducing the working and resting space of Uncle Ton and the collection, exhibition of original objects on “President Ton Duc Thang’s everyday life has carved deeply the simplicity, modesty, the plain living of a President”.
The Museum is the place to store, research, display and introduce the life and career of President Ton Duc Thang, a great patriot, a typical unyielding soldier, the successor of the President of Vietnam after President Ho Chi Minh passed away during the time of 1969-1980.
Over 20 years to exhibit and introduce the life and career of President Ton Duc Thang, the Museum deserves with the love and trust of people in Ho Chi Minh City and nationwide. The more President Ton Duc Thang is loved, the same as the Museum. It is such a cultural address of Ho Chi Minh City.