Ho Chi Minh Biography

Photo by Marjorie Zaum K.

The Beginning

The Teenage Years

Ho Chi Minh, the cook

Ho Chi Minh Comes To America

Early Political Career

Ho Chi Minh's Communist Training Camp

Ho Chi Minh's Party Plans

Ho Chi Minh in Jail

The Return of Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh's New Group

Back in Jail

The Fight Against Japan

A Dream Come True

The War With France

A Win or Loss for Ho? Civil War in Vietnam

The End


Links to other Ho Chi Minh and Vietnam War pages

Ho Chi Minh was born on 19 May 1890 in a small straw hut in the town of Kimlien, in the province of Ngh**e** An. Ho Chi Minh was born under the name of Nguyen Van Thanh, which means Nguyen, who will be victorious. His father was involved in the revolution to push the French out of Indo-China. After Ho's mother was thrown in jail for stealing weapons from a French barracks, Ho's father gave him and his brother Khiem jobs working as messengers for the revolutionists.

Ho first really learned about the French Revolution when he was fifteen years old. He was going to a French high school in Huˇ. He could not understand how a country with the expression "Liberty! Equality! Fraternity!" could oppress Indo-China. At the time, the French were building their own schools(like the one Ho was going to), hospitals, roads and technology improvements to the area. While he was taught that they were trying to improve the area, Ho taught the other students that they were only doing this for the French people and their relatives. When the French were living well, they would attack Indo-China. He also taught the other students of how Vietnam has been invaded constantly for the past 2,000 years and that France was no different. He was getting this information from banned books that he was able to get hold of. He was kicked out of school one day in 1910, after being caught giving out copies of banned papers. He then went out in search of a job. Ho found a job as a teacher in the small village of Phan-Thiet, which was in Cochin-China.

After seeing the Manchu dynasty of China overthrown, Ho decided that Indo-China needed foreign support to help win the revolution against the French. He quit his job and went to Saigon to learn to be a cook. Being a cook would help him get a job anywhere. In 1912 Ho, twenty-two years old at the time, found a job as a galley hand on the French ship Latouche-Trˇville, which he held for two years. In the two years at sea, Ho did more studying than in all the years that he was in school. He read the works of great authors and mastered many languages.

In 1914 Ho got a job as a cook in the Carlton Hotel in London. While working there he noticed how Asian workers at the hotel were being over-worked and under-paid, so he started a Workers' Association to help improve working conditions in England for Asians.

Ho soon found his way to the United States. He was really impressed. He liked the way the country was run. His only problem was with the way that the Americans treated the blacks.

In 1921, Ho Chi Minh began a group known as Le Paria, which means "The Outcast." Le Paria's goal was try to stop the French colonialism in Indo-China. After finding out that the French sent spies to follow him, Ho just laughed and sent them his daily schedule, to make their lives easier:

"Morning: from 8 to 12 at the workshop.
Afternoon: in newspaper offices (leftist, of course) or at the library.
Evening: at home or attending educational talks.
Sundays and holidays: visiting museums or other places of interest.
There you are!"

Ho Chi Minh was soon known by many people from Indo-China as their main spokesman. They were amazed by a person who was not afraid to laugh at the French, yet stood up for the people of Indo-China. Many people thought that Ho Chi Minh was no more then a legend!

Ho Chi Minh decided to take the pseudonym name Nguyen-O-Phap, which meant Nguyen who hates the French, but changed it to Nguyen Ai Quoc, which was Nguyen the Patriot, since it was a little bit less offensive.

When Sun Yat-sen, leader of China's nationalist army, died in 1925, Chiang Kai-shek of Moscow was put in charge with military strategist Mikhail Borodin. Chiang chose Ho to be Borodin's advisor and interpreter. Ho took this position, but began to secretly plan Indo-China's first communist organization, set in Canton. Most of Ho's followers were young Annamese rebels who were sick of being in the Vietnamese Nationalist party and their leader, Pham Boi Chau. The group set up Chau by hurling a bomb at the governor of Indo-China's car. Chau disappeared after this.

Ho was soon accused of taking a bribe from the French, in exchange for revealing Chau's where-abouts. Chau was said to be exucuted, but really died naturally while in jail. Pointing this out got Ho out of trouble for a while.

Once Ho's Communist party got going, he set up a training camp for guerrilla techniques. It was called the Whampoa Military Academy. At the academy, the followers were trained in suicide missions. They did strikes on the schools, plantations and mines of Vietnam, hoping to stir up French authorities.

On 18 February 1930, Ho released the plans that his party had -- to overthrow the French colonism, to make Indo-China free, to establish a group of government workers, to stop taxing on the wrong things, to have an eight-hour working day, to restore the freedoms of speech and press and to provide educating and to have equality of the sexes. One plan that he did not have was to have freedom of election. He said that the French brought election to Indo-China.

On 12 September 1930, there was a march on the city on Vinh by the Indo-China Communist Party(ICP). Ho managed to escape, but was sentenced to death, should he ever be caught. Ho hid out in Hong Kong for the next year, but heard the news of his father's death. He stopped taking care of himself, since he was so saddened by the news. He was caught a year later but Sir Stafford Cripps, his defender in court, was able to bring his sentence down to imprisonment.

Reports came in 1933 that Ho died while in jail. This caused great mourning in Vietnam, until rumors began that people had seen Ho in different areas. These rumors were true. Somehow Ho had escaped, or secretly been set free. Ho was reunited with his party and laid low for a while.

In 1938, Ho returned to China as advisor for the Chinese Communist Red Army, where he was known as "Uncle Ho." While he wished to return to his ICP, "I am a professional revolutionary," he said. "I am always on strict orders. My itinerary is always carefully prescribed - and you can't devite from that route, can you?"

Because of the plans going on between Russia and Germany in 1939 regarding Fascism, most of the Communist groups, including the ICP, were being hunted down and the remaining members imprisoned. Many of the ICP members were put in jail.

"Now is the time!", Ho replied after hearing this news. In February 1941, Ho finally returned to Vietnamese side of the Tonkin border, kissing the ground the second that he crossed. On 10 May 1941, Ho met with a group of Communists on Marx Mt., to listen to his new plans to free the country. He planned to form a new group, Vietminh, to fight for the independance of Vietnam. They spent nine days on Marx Mt., discussing their plans to make Vietnam independant and on Ho's fifty-first birthday, he changed his name to who he is now known as, Ho Chi Minh(He Who Enlightens).

Vietminh got support from with the French who were secretly working for London, as well as support from the American CIA. However, this was beginning to make a big dis-trust between Vietnam and China.

In December 1941, Ho was arrested by China and charged with being a spy for the French. He was put in various jails in China, and rumors sprung up again that he died. Vietminh held a funeral for Ho on Marx mountain. They thought that he was dead until one day when one of Ho's good friends found a poem written on a newspaper:

The clouds are setting the peaks aglow
The peaks are hugging the clouds -
I wander alone, roused to feeling
Scanning the distant southern sky
I am thinking of my friends

He reconized the writing as Ho's, and knew that he was still alive. Ho's imprisionment was very harsh. He was constantly being moved and faced mean guards, mosquitos, very little food and drink and the choice of water to drink or water to wash each day. In the meantime, Vietminh was becoming a success. They were the only group that the government of Vietnam left alone to do what they wished. They were currently planning an attack on Japan. Chang Fa-kwei, leader of China, offered to free Ho if he would give him copies of the reports on Japan and France. If Ho agreed, China would also supply $100,000 each month to help Vietminh destroy Japan. Ho agreed.

With Ho back in command, Vietminh began their attack on Japan. With some help from the United States, Vietminh was able to defeat Japan in August of 1945.

With Japan behind him, Bao Dai, emperor of Vietnam, decided to turn down his throne to Vietminh, making Ho Chi Minh the "Supreme Political Advisor." Since this included southern Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh was now the controller of Vietnam, which was his dream come true.

With Thomas Jefferson and the Decleration of Independence in mind, Ho decided to establish a Democratic Republic in Vietnam. The following is a portion of Ho's speech of independance - "A people who have courageously oppsoed French domination for more than eighty years, a people who have fought side by side with the Allies against the Fascists during these last few years - such a people must be free and independant."

France would not grant Vietnam independance, so Ho had no choice but to wage war with them. The war went on for eight years between Vietnam and France in the mountains and rice fields of Vietnam, but Vietnam came out the winner after the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

Even though Ho and Vietnam won the war, he also lost. He lost South Vietnam, the control of it. After sime quarrels between Ho and South Vietnam, he took away their election rights. The United States responded by taking Vietminh power and giving it to North only.

Now that Ho could only control North, he decided to try to build it into a Communist State and to inprove the lifestyle of North Vietnam. He started a program that would give all children ten years in school.

The continuing fighting between the North and South eventually led to a civil ear. Many people were worried that the South would win, since they were being helped by the United States, but Ho ws confident that the North could beat them. This war became known as the Vietnam War

Ho was growing old and sick in the 1960's, and did not do as much himself for Vietnam as before. By the beginning of 1969, Ho began to have heart problems. On 3 September 1969m at 9:47 A.M., Ho Chi Minh died of a heart attack at the age of seventy-nine. People in Vietnam thought of Ho as their greatest hero in the past 2,000 years. His body was laid at the spot where he gave his Independance Speech in 1946. 10,000 people came to see him one last time, all wearing black bands to remember his death. The feuding sides agreed to have a seventy-two hour cease-fire in memory of Ho. The city of Saigon was later named Ho Chi Minh City.

Books I used to help write this biography

Ho Chi Minh - Legend of Hanoi - by Jules Archer
© 1971 The Macmillian Company, published in New York

Ho Chi Minh: A Political Biography - by Jean Lacouture
© 1968 Random House, published in New York

We the Vietnamese - Voices from Vietnam - edited by Fran**c**ois Sully
© 1971 Praeger Publishers, published in New York

China in Revolution - by Vera Simone
© 1968 Fawcett Publications, published in Greenwich

Vietnam - A Dragon Embattled - by Joseph Buttinger
© 1967 Frederick A. Praeger, published in New York

Links to Other Ho Chi Minh and Vietnam Pages

Another Ho Chi Minh Biography - http://www.idbsu.edu/surveyrc/Staff/jaynes/marxism/bios/minh.htm
A Ho Chi Minh Page - http://www.eecs.uic.edu/~vnguyen3/hcm.html
A Ho Chi Minh Site(in a foreign language) - http://www.his-j.com/a-sgn.htm
Ho Chi Minh & Land reform - barbarism of a revolution - http://www.middlebury.edu/classes/vietnam/0235.html
Letter from Ho Chi Minh to Lyndon Johnson - http://www.shss.montclair.edu/english/furr/hotolbj.html
Communism in Vietnam - http://www.pacificu.edu/up/as/vb/comm.html
Page maintained by
Richard E Green
Last Updated 12 June 1996