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Ho Chi Minh


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(b. 19 May 1890, d. 3 Sept. 1969).

President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam 1945–69

Rise to power

Born Nguyen Tat Thanh as the son of a local scholar in Kim Lienh (central Annam), he was educated at the National Academy (Quac Hoc). In 1911, he travelled to Europe as a ship's steward. In 1918 he went to work as a socialist journalist in Paris, and in 1920 he became a founding member of the French Communist Party. Expelled from France in 1923, he went to Moscow and then to south China in 1924, where he recruited Vietnamese exiles to Communism, under the banner of the Communist Youth League of Vietnam. This was transformed in 1930, under his direction, into the Communist Party of Indochina, which was fiercely repressed after uprisings in 1930–1. At this time he was in Hong Kong, where he was briefly imprisoned, before returning to Vietnam to build up the Communist Party into the main oppositional force to French colonial rule. Back in China from 1938, together with other Communist exiles such as Vo Nguyen Giap he founded the Vietminh Front in 1941. In 1943 he again returned in secret to Vietnam, where he began to recruit Vietminh guerrilla fighters and to organize resistance to the Japanese, adopting the name Ho Chi Minh.

In power

Upon the defeat of the Japanese in 1945 he proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on 2 September, of which he became President and (until 1955) Prime Minister. The new state was never recognized by the French, who now sought to re‐establish colonial control. Helped by his military commander, Vo Nguyen Giap, he won the ensuing Indochina War through his capacity to inspire and generate popular support. By his authority alone he managed to convince the more radical members of his party to accept the compromise of the Geneva Agreements, which left him only in control of Vietnam north of the 17th Parallel. In this territory, he established a socialist regime, while striving to undermine the South Vietnamese government in any way possible. He managed to keep the support of both the Soviet Union and China as he led the country through the first years of the Vietnam War. Though stern and authoritarian, he was known as ‘Uncle Ho’ among his people. Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1975.

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