Philosopher Tran Duc Thao – Our great pride

Posted at: MONday - 05/05/2014 15:52 - post name: Nguyễn Thị Thùy

Philosopher Tran Duc Thao – Our great pride

This article aims at sketching out the portrait of a Vietnamese person who is mentioned by the veteran revolutionary, renowned pioneer Marxist scholar, and hero of labor Trần Văn Giàu in the piece of writing Trần Đức Thảo – a philosopher (1): “Our country has no philosopher. If yes, it is Trần Đức Thảo. Trần Văn Giàu is only a philosophy professor or a philosophy researcher.” As a disciple, I would like to add with hope of being correct: fỏ the Vietnamese good repute in the international arena, in terms of academy, perhaps Trần Đức Thảo has been the best philosopher ever. I would like to sketch out Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo’s special portrait in original form as follows: (1)

 1.   Trần Đức Thảo, an eminent person of Kinh Bắc-Bắc Ninh “the cradle of Vietnamese people and culture”:

Trần Đức Thảo was born in 1917 in Thái Bình and died in 1993 in Paris. He lived in Song Tháp Village, Châu Khê Commune, Từ Sơn Sub-district, Bắc Ninh Province in Trần family, the offspring of King Trần Nghệ Tông. His father is Trần Đức Tiến, a civil service of postal sector under the French regime, who is a person of righteousness, generosity, and kindness. He had been joined the movement Đông Kinh Nghia Thục (1907) and deserved credit for reforming and opening Song Tháp Village that was respected by the villagers. His mother is Nguyễn Thị An, born in a honorable family, who had remembered many ethnic poetries such as Ai tư vãn (Lament Of Loneliness) by Princess Ngọc Hân and Vè thất thủ kinh đô (A Poetry of the Fall of Capital) to read to her children. His parents had 2 sons. The first-born child is Trần Đức Tảo, Bachelor of Laws, who after the success of August revolution, ardently organized local performing teams to encourage people to participate in the French resistance, worked in the diplomatic service, and died in 1947. He was a revolutionary martyr.

Trần Đức Thảo lived in Thái Bình until the age of 5, and then he followed his father to live, learn, and grow up in Hanoi. Till 1936, he studied in France. The whole life of the Philosopher hardly identified himself with his homeland but he spent a deep-rooted love for this place. At the end of his life, the best urgent wish of Philosopher was lying at rest in his fatherland after his death.  The Philosopher is a person of Kinh Bắc, one of 4 towns surrounding Thăng Long - Đông Kinh in the past, including Sơn Tậy , Sơn Nam, Hải Đông, and Kinh Bắc. Among them, Bắc Ninh is the majority which Nguyễn Văn Huyên, the father of Vietnam modern ethnography considered as “the cradle of Vietnamese people and culture”. The temporary Archeologist, late Professor Trần Quôc Vượng  also thought that is was “ the cradle- essence- nuclear of the Kinh - Việt people, the primary land of the North, the most brilliant and harmonious Kinh Bắc cultural area in the first time of the civilized era of Đại Việt”. As described by the famous Zen master, scholar, and theologian Thích Nhất Hạnh with the pen name Nguyễn Lang in the work Việt Nam Phật giáo sử luận (A historical viewpoint of Vietnamese Buddhism), Luy Lâu – a place of Thuận Thành Sub-district, Bắc Ninh, in the second half of the second century AD was a powerful Buddhism Centre on a level with the two biggest Chinese Buddhism Centers, such as Lạc Dương and Bành Trạch (2).  Bắc Ninh is quite the cradle of Vietnamese culture starting with the friendship with the Buddhism culture. After that, Bắc Ninh, Kinh Bắc was also the first place where the Vietnamese culture stroked up a friendship with Chinese culture to form a Vietnamese-Chinese culture. This place was not only the leading place, but also home of the most national outstanding people. The first Sinology examination took place in 1075. The first-ranked person in the examination was Lê Văn Thịnh in Bắc Ninh. The Sinology competition regime lasted 844 years, including 47 Poinsettias out of who 12 came from Bắc Ninh. Hải Dương was ranked in the second place with 7 people. The first Poinsettia in each competition regime with Poinsettia titles was always from Bắc Ninh: Nguyễn Quan Quang (1246) in Từ Sơn, Đông Ngàn. Among 2890 graduates of a pre-court competition-examination from junior doctor and above, 348 came from Bắc Ninh followed by Hải Dương with 245 people. (3). Under the King Lê Thánh Tông dynasty, the Tao Đàn Association was founded, of which the King was the Marshal and Vice Marshal still was a native of Bắc Ninh: Thái Thuận. It could be added that would have the story of Kiều written by a great and extraordinary Vietnamese literary genius Nguyễn Du as in the verse “Nguyễn Du viết Kiều đất nước hóa thành thơ” (When Nguyễn Du wrote the Story of Kiều, the country turned into literature (Chế Lan Viên) if his mother was not Trần Thị Tần, a native of Bắc Ninh? Despite the fact that genius Nguyễn Du was a product of Lam Hồng in the past, the only world-famous Vietnamese philosopher Trân Đức Thảo now also comes from Song Tháp Village, Châu Khê Commune, Từ Sơn Sub-district, Bắc Ninh Province.

That was Bắc Ninh, the Vietnamese people’s core cultural cradle, from where Trần Đức Thảo in the depth of the mind became a modern intellectual in the period when Vietnamese culture got out of the regional cultural influence sphere to reach the world one with a modern nature.

2. Trần Đức Thảo: a lifetime patriotic intellectual

Băc Ninh, Kinh Bắc is not only the home of many national outstanding people, but also the homeland of Saint Giong, the first and most brilliant symbol of the people’s  independent will where the poem Nam quốc sơn hà  (Mountains and Rivers of the Southern Land) resounded near the Như Nguyệt River in the resistance against the Song invaders, considered as the first Declaration of Independence of Vietnam; where the fierce battleground against the Mongol invaders (Quế Võ , Từ Sơn) was placed; where the Pacifying King (Bình Định Vương) Lê Lợi led the Lam Sơn insurgent army, located the general headquarters (Bồ Đề - Gia Lâm) to open the last campaigns against the Ming invaders, and won the complete victory for the country; and where the enduring Hoàng Hoa Thám insurrection against the French colonialists took place during 13 years (Nhã Nam). They are followed by Nguyễn Văn Cừ, Ngô Gia Tự, and Hoàng Quốc Việt who are among pioneers in the proletarian revolution.  In particular, among the branches of original Trần family in Tức Mặc, Sơn Nam, the most brilliant family who together with the people achieved the most majestic feats of arms against the Mongol invaders in the history, one settled in Bắc Ninh, namely Tran family branch in Song Tháp, Châu Khê, Từ Sơn who bequeathed the family tradition reflected right in the Trân Đức Tiến family, aforementioned Trần Đức Thảo’s father.  Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo, a lifelong patriotic intellectual, originates from such a firm family, clan, and homeland.

Trần Đức Thảo as well as other Vietnamese excellent youngsters such as Phan Văn Trường, Nguyễn An Ninh,  Nguyễn Thế Truyền, Nguyễn Mạnh Tường, Nguyễn Văn Huyên, Tạ Quang Bửu, Trần Văn Giàu,  Lê Văn Thiêm, Hoàng Xuân Hãn, and Nguyễn Xiển under the French domination studied in France with the same motivation of showing the French people Vietnamese intelligence and then acquiring the quintessence of French, European, and American culture so that they could come back to Vietnam to build up and develop the national culture in the period when the European and American culture “ruled the roost” and the bad luck as in the line of verse “Á Âu xáo lộn hông pha hắc/ Pháp Việt phận minh tớ đội thầy” ( Phan Bội Châu) happened more and more eventfully and violently, including the culturally and spiritually severe dominance of the West over the East besides its support. Thus, it could be said that people like Trần Đức Thảo at that time studied for their patriotism. For that reason, wherever they attend, they studied hard. It was not enough. They had to do other activities with their patriotism. Therefore, December 1994, when working as an Attaché for French scientific research, in the political report at the Indochina Congress in Avignon, Trần Đức Thảo presented the program on developing a democracy in Indochina and he contacted parliamentarians of French Communist Party in charge of political issues research.  After that, in early 1945, in the name of Indochinese General Delegation, Trần Đức Thảo with engineer Lê Viết Hường met the General Secretary of the French Communist Party Maurice Thorez to receive promise of help in the patriotic movement in Indochina which was realized. The August Revolution was successful. On 2nd September, President Hồ Chí Minh read the Declaration of Independence. In France, Trần Đức Thảo wrote pamphlets and held press conference to support Vietminh and Hồ Chí Minh government. On the Le Monde newspaper, when the reporter asked “what will Indochinese people act when the French expeditionary forces come?” Trần Đức Thảo responded “to fire”. Due to this answer, he was imprisoned with the count of causing insecurity in France. In the prison, Trần Đức Thảo wrote the famous article Sur L indochine (About Indochina) to oppose the France’s plot to come back to Indochina and raise the Indochinese determination to protect the independence.  This article was posted on the Magazine Les Temps modernes after 3 months of being discharged from prison because of protests from the French Communist Party and many French progressive intelligentsias. In 1946, when President Hồ Chí Minh attended the meeting Fontainebleau in France, Trần Đức Thảo acted as his secretary. After contracting the Fontainebleau Treaty, he asked for going home but President Hồ Chí Minh said with general idea “your enthusiasm is very welcome but at present, there is no breading ground for you. Set your mind at rest to stay here to develop your academy and take advantage to create good partnership with French progressive people!”  Following President Hồ Chí Minh, Trần Đức Thảo stayed in France over another five years to make every effort to develop his philosophy cause in the direction of Marxism and wrote many articles to call upon nationals to support Vietminh and resistance against French colonialists. Until the end of 1951, with the thought of living far away from the Fatherland and having few contributions to the national resistance, Philosopher decided to go home and directly joined the resistance to introduce philosophy into the practical life of the country as said by himself in his narrative. This is an extremely especial event in Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo’s life, a noble expression of his hearty patriotism because as we known, our sacred resistance against French invaders entered a violent phase at that tine. Many intelligentsia and artists had ever left their urban life to ardently participate in the resistance but for some reasons, primarily having no endurance of hardship, they left the resistance and go home. Whereas, Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo, on the contrary, left magnificent Paris, the world capital of lights, and found way to go through London, Prague, Moscow, and Beijing back to Tân Trào to joined the resistance. At that time, this phenomenon must have been particular.  Afterwards, there were different opinions about, Trần Đức Thảo’s repatriation. For example, the author Phan Tam Khê, an overseas Vietnamese in France, had written in his close and respectful condolence writing for Philosopher with an idea “he would have been something in Europe if he had not returned home”.  It could come from the simple thought that the academic conditions and environment would be actually more convenient in France than in Vietnam, where the war against France was happening and followed by American war.  However, Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo thought in a different way that the Fatherland’s fate and interests should have been priority. I am Philosopher’s former disciple; I have never seen his regret about leaving Paris for joining the resistance in the country even when he met difficulties. Up to now, no one has told that story of Philosopher.

3. Trần Đức Thảo: an overseas student gracing Vietnam Fatherland in France:

Not only Trần Đức Thảo, but also overseas Vietnamese in France mentioned above and untold people at that time were famous for being good learners.  Prof. Nguyễn Mạnh Tường left a record that over 80 years, up to now, in France, with other countries’ overseas students, including French, there seems to have no 22-year-old record-breaker successfully defending his both national PhD theses in Law and Literature in 1 month and 17 days. Even the French press warned the French government about such Vietnamese outstanding people.  Nguyễn Văn Huyên, of whom a Professor reminded the French government to beware while training such Indochinese people in his doctoral thesis defense at Sorbonne University, was the same case. Lê Văn Thiêm, one of the first Rectors of Hanoi University of Education later, was the first Vietnamese person with mathematical theorem invention. Trần Đức Thảo, in 1936, after passing high-school finals in Mathematics and Philosophy and being the freshman in the Hanoi Law University, came to Paris to attend the preparation course for the College of Education in Ulm city. Despite the name of College, it had been the best reputable college in the French university education. Many most famous scholars and scientists in France graduated from this college. If a book was wrote by the author’s name Ancien  élève  de  L  école Normale Supérieur d Ulm (former student of College of Education of Ulm), its reputation would be higher than others.  As usual, to enter this college, you must attend a preparation course for 2 years after passing high-school finals.  In some cases, among a thousand of examinees, only a few dozen passed. Those who failed the exam would be directly accepted to study the second year at other universities. Trần Đức Thảo passed in to this college. During time studying here, Trần Đức Thảo had to take an additional university degree in Philosophy because it was one of conditions to implement graduation thesis later on.  Also at that time, when France was at war, Trần Đức Thảo had to seek shelter in the Literature Department under Clérmond Ferrand University and luckily met Prof. Jean Cavaillès who guided his research on Edmond Husserl’s phenomenology and his graduation thesis on this subject with excellent results. He was first ranked in the school year 1943, but because of being an Indochinese person, he only tied for first (Premier exaequo).  In the country, the Journal Nghiên cứu Đông Dương  (Indochina Research) reported: A new master from the North Vietnam – Official gazette on 28th August 1943 informed us the brilliant success of the university sector with the tie for first place of Trần Đức Thảo in the Philosophy test...” enclosed with photos. According to Dr. Cù Huy Chử, Lawyer  Cù Huy Song Hà’s son, who had conditions to be close with Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo over 30 years and specialized in the unique studies on Trần Đức Thảo in Vietnam now, in the book “Prof. Trần Đức Thảo – Overflowing homeland sea and Philosophical meditation (Labor Publishing House) presented to the readers 3 months ago, from the birth of College of Education of Ulm to 50s of the 20th century, on foreigners, only Trần Đức Thảo graduated and first ranked in Philosophy contest.

After graduation, Trần Đức Thảo stayed in the College of Education of Ulm to continue his Philosophy Master’s thesis still on Husserl’s phenomenology. In 1944, Trần Đức Thảo directly studied Husserl and Hégel in Belgium. Then, he came back to France to work as the research attaché at the National Center for Scientific Research, France. It was thought that with his afterward philosophic achievements, Trần Đức Thảo was quite capable of defending successfully his philosophy thesis. However, Trần Đức Thảo gave up the defense because at that time, his heart and mind were directed towards the national sacred resistance and prepared to come back to join it directly.

For Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo as well as Vietnamese intellectuals famous for their knowledge in France in that period, being a good learner was really a way to grace the country in the midst of tragedy and misery under the rule of French colonialism. I thought that today we could see that when mentioning the overseas Vietnamese students’ patriotism at that time. In 1955, at the great lecture hall in No. 35 Lê Thánh Tông when it was still under the Hanoi University of Education, the senior revolutionary, politic lecturer Hà Huy Giáp sometime felt delighted while forcefully speaking to us, students, that “our people are very intelligent. There are many good learners like Trần Đức Thảo to make the French suffer a crushing defeat.”  The catholic priest Cao Văn Luận, who in 1946 the President Ho Chi Minh in the trip to France to attend the Fonteanebleau Meeting met and mobilized for the revolution, later in the Reminiscences Bên dòng lịch sử (On The Side Of History), considered Trần Đức Thảo as one of three most outstanding Vietnamese people in France, including Phan Châu Trinh, Nguyễn Ái Quốc, and Trần Đức Thảo.

4.  Trần Đức Thảoonly Vietnamese Philosopher in the international arena

Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo’s philosophy career left for the country as well as the world, in accordance with Dr. Cù Huy Chử, nearly 200 works in Vietnamese, French, and German with about 15 thousand pages (converted to pages 13/19). Fortunately, fundamentally, they are stored in the Library of late Dr. Cù Huy Chử’s family in Ân- Tùng - Trang, 32 Bác Ái, Bình Thọ Ward, Thủ Đức District, Ho Chi Minh City after being allowed by Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo when he was alive and Dr. Trần Đức Tùng, the Philosopher’s nephew, only legal person for the heritage authorized by Trần Đức Thảo.     This heritage source was collected from many places such as Department of Scientific Information of Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics, Vietnamese Embassy in France, Publishing House of National University, Hanoi, Vietnam National Library, and General Sciences Library of Ho Chi Minh City. Especially, Dr. Cù Huy Chử with his son made effort in years to complete the work of 522-A1 paper List of heritages of Philosophy Professor Trần Đức Thảo.   In this work, besides the opening, there were the first part: List of writings in French, German, and Vietnamese (from page 1 to page 92), the second part: List of writings translated from Gernam and French (from page 93 to page 101) that includes a number of unpublished ones, the third part: List of letters of Prof. Trần Đức Thảo (from page 103 to 137), the fourth part: List of Biographies-Resumes-Photo Materials-Profiles of Prof. Trần Đức Thảo (from page 139 to page 204), the fifth part: List of research works on Prof. Trần Đức Thảo (from page 205 to page 239), the sixth part: Autographs of  Prof. Trần Đức Thảo  (from page 241 to 333), the seventh part: The cover page representing the works of Prof. Trần Đức Thảo stored in Dr. Cù Huy Chử’s Library (from page 335 to page 508), and the Appendix (from page 508 to 522). All of them were arranged in the profile boxes ordered from 01 to 037. I would like to relate minutely so that you can partly imagine how the extreme magnitude of so-called academic career of Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo is.  At the same time, you can see how the extraordinary enthusiasm-psychology as well as talent and effort of Dr. Cù Huy Chử and his father that are probably imparted by their relative – great poet (Cù) Huy Cận are. Perhaps most of Vietnamese people in general have not heard about Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo. Meanwhile, the name Trần Đức Thảo has been well known among the intellectuals, especially international philosophers – an uneasy performance. Taking pains to read the List of heritages of Philosophy Professor Trần Đức Thảo by Dr. Cù  Huy Chử and his son in the fifth part: List of research works on Prof. Trần Đức Thảo to know the assessments of foreigners such as the graduate from the College of Education of Ulm, member of the Politburo, and theorist of the French Communist Party Roger Garaudy, the world well-known linguist André Haudricourt, and the famous French Philosopher Lucien Sève; knowing the contents of the head of Trần Đức Thảo in the French Philosophic Dictionary and Phenomenological Encyclopedia; learning about the contents of two-day workshop on Trần Đức Thảo  at the College of Education of Ulm in June, 2012; having knowledge of the situation of Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo’s works printed and translated in great magazines and publishing houses of France, UK, USA, Spain, Hungary, Netherlands, and Japan; and understanding the close academic relation between Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo and the world renowned intellectuals such as Alexander Kojève (France), Jean Paul Sartre  (France), Edgar Morin ( France), Lucien Sève (France), J. Ferrand (France),   Daniel J. Herman (UK), Robert S. Cohen (USA), Vincent von Wroblewsky (Grermany), Ferruccio Rossi- Landi (Italia), Gyorgy Szépe (Hungary), and Ubajenhi Lurektop (Soviet Union), we can figure partly how the reputation of Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo in the international arena is. When mentioning in the opening that in terms of academic reputation in the international arena, up to now, among Vietnamese people, perhaps Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo had been the best Philosopher ever, I feel afraid of getting a bad name as “father scratches child’s back, child scratches father’s”. However, that fear now has been reduced a bit. That is the influence of Philosopher on the world. In the country, in Sai Gon, before 1975, a number of respectable readers such as Nguyễn Hiến Lê and Nguyễn Đăng Thục also expressed their high appreciation to Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo when reading his writing Triết lý đi đến đâu (Where the Philosophy goes). After the national unity, though it was late, with the support of time, the book Triết gia lữ hành Trần Đức Thảo (Travel Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo) edited by Phạm Thành Hưng and Trần Ngọc Hà and published by the National University Publishing House in 2006 gathered articles on Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo and praises of the names at home such as Trần Văn Giàu, Nguyễn Đình Thi, Hà Xuân Trường, Phan Ngọc, Phùng Quán, and Đỗ Lai Thúy and Jean Paul Jouary in addition. Afterwards, also in the same year, a talk on Trần Đức Thảo at the National Library saw the participation of poet Việt Phương who was the closest staff of President Phạm Văn Đồng and the connector between Prof. Trần Đức Thảo and this late President for years, Prof. Phạm Như Cương, former Director of the Institute of Philosophy and former Chairman of Vietnam Social Sciences Committee, and two old Professors of the Ho Chi Minh National Political Academy, writer Đỗ Chu, and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Phạm Thành Hưng. At the meeting, there was an opinion (not ensured for the accuracy) that the Trần Đức Thảo Philosophical School now appeared in Latin America.  In Japan, Trần Đức Thảo is considered as one of three world-greatest philosophers in the 20th century. In Germany, late Prof. Acad. Hoàng Trinh told a story a long time ago that when coming to German Democratic Republic to ask for a help in learning about Hégel, some German Professors said, “Why you have to come here when your country Vietnam has Prof. Trần Đức Thảo, a master of Hégel.” In France, Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo was highly appreciated for his credit for pioneering the combination between the French-German philosophies. Later in 2007, the VNU – University of Social Sciences and Humanities held a whole-day Scientific Workshop to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo’s birthday and introduce the Trần Đức Thảo Prizes to the students of Philosophy Department. It included 27 reports added up as a chorus of praise tingled with a little pity on Philosopher for his hardship with earthly things.

Although the career and reputation of Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo is so famous, it seems to be difficult to define the meaning of philosophical contents of Philosopher for the majority of Vietnamese educational circles. Therefore, to understand thoroughly those contents, it needs some necessary conditions those are uneasy for everyone. They are:

- An excellent French, especially German, knowledge because the majority of Philosopher’s works are in these languages, and if they are translated into Vietnamese, they have undergone quite a loss

- A certain knowledge base of the world philosophy, originally the environment to develop philosophy of Philosopher

- A necessary knowledge base of natural sciences such as modern physics, biology, and human sciences such as anthropology, history, psychology, linguistics, and logic to read wide reference books of Philosopher

- More importantly, an abstract thinking capacity of science to be able to infiltrate into Philosopher’s works while our country has a strength of concrete thinking but weakness of abstract thinking that will be seen when looking at our language

Even though nowadays, we better ourselves at a certain level, approach to the philosophy works of Philosopher meets some difficulties. He is originally a unique person with such abstract thinking capacity in Vietnam and probably in the world.

It is really difficult for many people to go into ins and outs and maze in the philosophy world of Trần Đức Thảo, whom is considered as the national only philosopher by Prof. Trần Văn Giàu, the century’s great philosopher by poet Huy Cận, the brilliant philosopher of Vietnam and in the world by Prof. Vũ Khiêu, and the genius. However, I should think that through many research works, its avenue was clear. Its starting point as well as peak is the Phenomenology of Husserl and Hégel and then Marxism with a firm personal stuff on the spirit of acculturation and even negotiation of negotiation.   Especially, with an advantage of a person who is influent in French and German, he could read the original Marxism and understand thoroughly the origin of Marxism as a classic German philosophy and Western philosophy in general. On this avenue, some phenomena that had been noticed by the public opinion rose such as the protestation against the Alexandre Kojève’s curriculum on  Hégel’s phenomenology of spirit, the declaration of making a break with  existentialism  (1948), and the debate with Jean Paul Sartre (late 1949 and early 1950) on Marxism and existentialism.  Paul Sartre thought that Marxism was valuable in terms of political economics but not philosophy and that philosophy is of existentialism while Trần Đức Thảo affirmed the comprehensive value of Marxism, including philosophy. Phénoménologie  et  Matérialisme dialectique (Phenomenology and Dialectical Materialism), Recherches sur L origine  du langage et de la concience ( Finding out the origin of language and consciousness) are the most highly appreciated works of Philosopher’s career.  La Logique du présent vivant (The logic of the lively present) won the Ho Chi Minh Award. For the Marxism in particular, Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo was given by researcher Cù Huy Chử the credit of developing dialectical materialism into humanity dialectical materialism. I should think that I can identify Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo like that on his philosophy itinerary because the decisive inspiration along the philosophy avenue of Philosopher is still taking human being, especially natural biological human as the core center of the an exploration and discovery in state of mind “ nhật tân , nhật nhật tân , hữu nhật tân”.  Of course, though how far he is great and glorified, it is hard to avoid challenge of time and judgment of the academic world.  Hopefully, the first International Scientific Workshop on Trần Đức Thảo at Hanoi University of Education will be a great landmark of a comprehensive period of research and discovery which comprehends the value of philosophical thought of Trần Đức Thảo, currently only Philosopher of Vietnam in this country; thence Vietnamese philosophy’s development will be promoted.

5. Trần Đức Thảo: the father of the History of philosophical thought subject under the education of Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Hanoi University of Education.

When staying in France, Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo was invited to lecture in a number of quite famous Universities of ancient history of Greek and Hégel. Especially in our country, right in that period, on 4th September, 1849, President Ho Chi Minh signed a decree on appointing him to the member of National Council of Education. After returning home,  Philosopher had worked in the General Secretary  Trường Chinh’s office for a while and then in the Central Literature – History – Geography Board, forerunner of the Vietnam Center for Social Sciences and Humanity later. After the restoration of peace in the North in 1954, Hanoi Capital was liberated, the College of Arts Education and  College of Sciences Education, the direct forerunners of Hanoi University of Education today, were established.  Prof. Trần Văn Giàu – Secretary of the two colleges’ Party Committees – came in person to the Literature – History – Geography Board to invite Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo to hold the position of Head of History Department of College of Arts Educaiton. \\ Moreover, he gave up his place in 16D, Alley II, Hang Chuoi Street to Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo and removed to 16 Phan Huy Chú where was not as good and quite as the older. Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo became the father of the History of philosophical thought subject in Hanoi University of Education under the education of Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The Professor’s teaching contents included History of Western ideas before Marx and special subject Nerve Dialectics which were touch in the first and second years. History of Western ideas before Marx was printed and issued by the Social Sciences Publishing House later. To have this book, while the teacher just lectured by talking without writing, the students had to permit him to establish a civil affair committee to take notes of his lecture and then asked him for his approval to print it and take it as their learning material.   Cao Huy Đỉnh led the civil affairs committee, but after months, Nguyễn Đinh Chú replaced him all of the two school years. Phạm Hoàng Gia, Hoàng Thiệu Khang, and Đoàn Mai Thi were also the committee’s members. The special subject Nerve Dialectics studied on the development process of neurological complications from the abiotic to biotic status, including worms, reptiles, fish, birds, mammals, species, apes, and humans. In 1965, this topic was translated into French on the La Pensée (The Thought) Journal, a great reputable Journal in France, of which Editorials with general idea: it was unnecessary to introduce the name of Philosopher because it had been so familiar with the European readers. The noteworthy thing is that although he lived in Vietnam with difficult conditions of books and information, the author had respectable research results. In the Hanoi University of Education at that time, Prof. Trần Đức Thảo, as a teacher, was really a strange phenomenon that had not seen among the traditional teachers. He could be considered as a completely “anti-pedagogy” teacher, but he was also a “great super-pedagogy” teacher. He lectured with no lesion plan. He did not seat on chair but on table, not look at the students but the ceiling of the lecture hall, spoke confusedly, and smiled sometime.  Generally, the students did not understand so much but they presented to grasp. There was no reason why they recognized that they were stupid. In the class, some students imitated the Teacher’s “philôdôp style”. Two guys were purchasing the most beautiful girl in the class, so they showed their authority by a pen war on the Vietnam Student Magazine on the issue “Hégel’s Nuclear Rationalism”. After Trần Đức Thảo heard about that story and informed them, they both spoke unclearly. Additionally, the Medical and Pharmaceutical students at that time had yet to be separated into Medical students and Pharmaceutical students and used the same yard with the College of Education. Some of them and a number of high school teachers in Hanoi came to the College to listen to his lecture.  Especially, the number one Vietnamese Scholar – Prof. Cao Xuân Huy – attended, too. The great lecture-room No. 35 Lê Thánh Tông from the main room to amphitheatre seemed to be crowded and quite with the lecture of Prof. Trần Đức Thảo every day. That strange phenomenon happed because of the great rumors of Professor. He had been first ranked in the École de Normale Supérieur’s Philosophy in Ulm City, the most reputable college of France, defeated Jean Paul Sartre in the debate, and left magnificent Paris to return home to join the resistance despite hardship. Moreover, he was honored by reputable Professors in the college. For example, Prof. Trần Văn Giàu, who was rumored a lot as a valedictorian of the Far East University of Soviet Union over Titô, President of Yugoslavia Maurice Thorez, a General Secretary of the French Communist Party, a member of the French Communist Party before the birth of Indochinese Communist Party, and a Marxist philosophy lecture in the first year school with a big attraction, but when being extolled by his students, he said “Wait a minute! If you want to learn about philosophy, please wait until the second year school to get knowledge from Mr. Thảo, who read almost books of Paris library.” For another example, according to veteran revolutionary Hà Huy Giáp aforementioned, at that time, in the Hanoi University of Education, there was a generation of professors, including Đào Duy Anh, Đặng Thai Mai, Nguyễn Mạnh Tường, Cao Xuân Huy, TrầnVăn Giàu, Trương Tửu, Nguyễn Khánh Toàn, and Phạm Huy Thông who were national cultural chieftains not only contemporary, but also forever. However, in public opinion, according to assessment of many professors, Prof. Trần Đức Thảo was the most reputable.  That is the reason why the students revered him as mentioned above. The question is in terms of pedagogical sciences, what the issue of “anti-pedagogy” but “great super-pedagogy” means. By my self-experience, I am grateful to Prof. Trần Đức Thảo because I think that after 55 years of practicing, although I broke up with the History of philosophical thought subject to come back to literary career and taught while researching, I contributed a little to the life. That owns to master Trần Đức Thảo because he sowed the seeds of lifelong obsession in me that makes me pursue persistently and eagerly as well as strive for. That is a desire to think and have an abstract thinking capacity of science more or less, which he had. Though literary history is different from history of philosophical thinking, scientific research of literature needs that thinking capacity. It is why he is called “great super-pedagogic” person. He was like the most eminent educator, especially a university lecturer who wants to combine with scientific research. Thus, he could not only lighten his students but also sowed in them the seeds of a lifelong obsession so that they could follow him and shine. It is quite a rare. This is an individual story of mine as well as of a student generation who has had a great happiness for receiving instruction of Prof. Trần Đức Thảo for the national education career and additionally opinions of Professor on building up and developing the university education.

Tthanks to  strong attachment for many years to the university education of France, which is famous for a cultural country and partly a university education of Europe, added with sustainable national spirit, as a member of the National Council for Education elected by President Ho Chi Minh since 1949 when he had yet to return home, as a Chairman of History Department of the Hanoi University of Education as well as Hanoi University when the departments had yet to be separated despite the establishment of Hanoi University, and as a Vice Director of Hanoi University, Prof. Trần Đức Thảo made lots of just proposals on developing the university education of Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the direction of science, nation, and modernity to get the international qualification. According to Professor, university should associate teaching with scientific research. Basic science and professional science training must be balanced. Especially, much attention must be attached to humane society.  The backward status due to war situation must be quickly overcome and every effort must be made to rise to keep up with the world. The faculty of arts must be appreciated but it still needs to have a separation between faculty of arts and faculty of arts education. The open of college classes of arts nearby classes of arts pedagogy in the University of Arts Education in 1954 and then the establishment of Literature Department of Hanoi National University of Education as well as Hanoi University in the North and throughout the country later are originated mostly from the idea of Prof. Trần Đức Thảo.

Ladies and Gentlemen!

Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo: such a person, a life, and a career are our great pride. The people closest to him are teachers and students of Hanoi National University of Education, including Philosophy Department. He is also the pride of Kinh Bắc – Bắc Ninh people, our Vietnamese people, and those who had known and will know about Philosopher in general. Especially, it is greater when recognizing that a country wants to be a powerful one to walk abreast with the world’s countries, philosophy is indispensable.  President Ho Chi Minh, in 1946, did not want Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo to return home immediately but to stay temporarily in France to have conditions to further improve the philosophical research achievements because of a deep awareness that the national future needs philosophy and philosophers like Trần Đức Thảo. After over 6 years, when Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo returned home, he was invited for a meal by the Prime Minister Phạm Văn Đồng and by President Ho Chi Minh in the following day. President said, “I am so glad when you come back home. I hope that you will spend your talent serving the resistance for a victory.”  President’s expectation for Prof. Trần Đức Thảo was nothing more than in terms of philosophy, originally necessary to the country, which was rear. Although the country was in difficulty and he himself met misfortune sometime, Philosopher Trần Đức Thảo was really untroubled and enduring to continuously contribute brilliant philosophical outcomes to the country as well as humanity so that the country had additional pride.

Ladies and gentlemen!

To finish the article, I, the disciple, hope that the Bắc Ninh Province’s leaders and people will soon find out way to satisfy the venerated souls of an outstanding child of Bắc Ninh, who up to now has been the unique person in terms of philosophy. That person at the end of his life, insisted on being able to rest in peace in his fatherland: Song Tháp Village, Châu Khê Commune, Từ Sơn Sub-district, Bắc Ninh Province “the most ancient cradle of Vietnamese people and culture.” Please notice that Philosopher had no family and lived far away from his hometown and relatives. Philosopher had a nephew but he was old and lived in the South, so over 20 years, in Van Dien Cemetery, Philosopher rested but not in peace and a sentence in the Tale of Kieu by Nguyễn Du, the maternal grandchild of Bắc Ninh: “ Ấy... ai người viếng  thăm” (no one visits that grave) could turn out to be true. What a lonely and cold place! Oh, my God! Dear people! Dear Bắc Ninh , Từ Sơn, Châu Khê, Song Tháp citizens!


                                 Yên Hòa study room, chilling days of the end of winter

                                                        (January- 2013)


    [*]: Speech at the International Workshop on Trần Đức Thảo held by the Hanoi National University of Education [7th May, 2013]

1.     A part of material in this article is based on the works of late Dr. Cù Huy Chử. I would like to ask permission of and thank Doctor’s venerated soul.

2.     Lạc Dương: the capital of China under Han Dynasty, now a sub-district of Hà Nam Province.  Bành Trạch: locates in the Yangtze River’s downstream, now in Jiangsu Province.

3.     The data is drawn from the book Việt Nam hướng tới nền giáo dục hiện đại (Vietnam directs to the modern education) by Prof. Dr. Nguyễn Đình Hương and printed in Hung Phu General Culture Joint Stock Company. 2009

Author: Nguyen Dinh Chu Translated by Nga Nguyen
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