Nguyen Van Huyen and Tran Duc Thao

Talking to me about his early days in Viet Bac, Tran Duc Thao reminded me of his meetings with Ton That Tung, Ho Dac Di, Tran Dai Nghia at Minister Nguyen Van Huyen’s home.

He said Nguyen Van Huyen was a level-headed person who had wide knowledge in various fields, including culture and history.

Mr. Thao said it was Mr. Huyen who nominated him to the National Educational Council in 1949 to work despite the fact that he was in France at that time. (He did not go back to Vietnam until late 1951 and early 1952)

When working for the Office of Mr. Truong Chinh, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee (CPVCC), Mr. Thao proposed that he visit military workshops and schools for his research, during which he recommended paying more attention to basic science and establishing a Literature-History research team. His proposal was considered the foundation for the CPVCC Commission on Communication and Education, as well as the Literature-History-Geography Departments and other social sciences departments under the Committee for Social Sciences. Mr. Huyen also nominated Mr. Thao to the post of the President of the France-Vietnam Friendship Association, which helped the government take over the Ancient Far East Institute, the Director of which is a friend of Mr. Thao’s brother (Mr. Tran Duc Tao) and Mr. Huyen.

In tertiary education, Mr. Thao always paid attention to maintaining a balance between research and lecture, and his idea was strongly supported by Mr. Huyen.

However, they sometimes had arguments. While Mr. Thao supported the idea that scientists should be able to live on their scientific projects, Mr. Huyen said it was no easy task in Vietnam’s situation. Mr. Huyen said Mr. Thao sometimes had his head in the clouds.

Tran Duc Thao was among the three people who joined the Nhan Van – Giai Pham movement (together with Dao Duy Anh and Nguyen Manh Tuong). Minister Huyen discussed with his Deputy, Mr. Ha Huy Giap about Mr. Thao’s participation in the movement and decided to consult President Ho Chi Minh and Prime Minister Pham Van Dong. PM Dong then wrote a note to Mr. Thao to ask him to think carefully about his participation. It did change his mind. Then President Ho Chi Minh discussed with Mr. Huyen about the assignment of work to Mr. Thao.

According to Mr. Thao, Mr. Huyen was the one who laid the foundation of the Vietnam’s culture-history sector, which he thought studied Vietnamese people’s mind and feeling to understand Vietnamese history.

He said that Mr. Huyen also invented the “Southeast Asia” concept in his PhD thesis. Mr. Thao also appreciated the role of feeling in Mr. Huyen’s attitude to people.

With deep sympathy with Mr. Thao, Mr. Huyen always appreciated his thoughts and ideas about history and philosophy. Mr. Huyen said that he was really impressed by Mr. Thao “Vietnam and East Asia” article, published in the Far Eastern Economic Review.

Mr. Huyen also admired Mr. Thao’s analysis of the progress of Vietnamese revolution in late 19th and early 20th century. Mr. Thao said “Vietnam used to be influenced by Chinese culture, but revolutionists Phan Boi Chau, Phan Chu Trinh, Huynh Thuc Khang, and Ngo Duc Ke had absorbed western theoretical revolution through Chinese ideologists such as Luong Khai Sieu, Khang Huu Vi, and Ton Dat Tien.

When being asked what motive led to such spiritual movement, Mr. Thao said it was the nation’s demands for liberation and freedom. Such demands led them to a new way.

Through such stories, we can easily recognize the admiration of Nguyen Van Huyen for Tran Duc Thao.

In the meantime, Tran Duc Thao felt very sorry as he could not pay tribute to Nguyen Van Huyen when he passed away.

I am lucky to have the chance to work with both of them, and thoroughly understand their thoughts, as well as their mutual affection, which led to my memoirs.

Ho Chi Minh City, September 18, 2011