In 1923 a twelve-year-old Vo Nguyen Giap, a resident of the hamlet of An Xa, district of Le Thuy in Quang Binh Province of An Nam, received his official education certificate for having completed his elementary studies (Diplome des Etudes Primaires complementaires). The following year he took the entrance examination (concours d'entree) to qualify for additional schooling in Hue--and failed. When he took the examination again, in 1925, he finished second among all those tested that year. Soon after, he left An Xa for Hue where he enrolled at the Lycee National, known to Vietnamese by the name Lycee Quoc Hoc, a seedbed of revolutionary sentiment. (1)
Other luminaries for which the Quoc Hoc would serve as alma mater included Ho Chi Minh (Nguyen Sinh Cung, Nguyen Tat Than, Nguyen Ai Quoc), Pham Van Dong, Ngo Dinh Diem, Ta Quang Buu, Buu Hoi, Buu Kinh, Ha Thuc Ky, Dao Dang Vy, and Nguyen Thuong. (2)
Phan Boi Chau, the great Vietnamese patriot, lived in Hue during those years, confined under house arrest by a French colonial court order. He was an exemplar to many of the Quoc Hoc boys, some of whom occasionally visited his home to listen to his vision for the future of Viet Nam. One such schoolboy was Vo Nguyen Giap. "The cock is crowing! Arise," Chau once told Giap, "arise and prepare for action!" (3) In 1926, during Giap's second year at the Quoc Hoc, a classmate, Hai Trieu, lent him a book written by Nguyen Ai Quoc entitled Le Process de la Colonisation Francaise that, Giap said later, "inspired me with hatred and thrilled me." He also eagerly studied the works of Marx and Lenin and liked them.
Giap first became a student activist in that same year when Phan Chu Trinh, a leading reformer, died. At Quoc Hoc, in memory of Trinh, Giap encouraged his fellows to dress themselves in white mourning clothes. This act enraged the French headmaster, whom Giap had nicknamed "the tyrant of Quoc Hoc." At about that same time Giap also took it upon himself to collect money to help those held in French prisons. (4)
In 1927, that same headmaster charged one of Giap's school friends, Nguyen Chi Dieu, with cheating during an examination, perhaps a way of ridding the school of a trouble-maker. Giap and Dieu talked with friends who, in turn, talked to other students and they organized a "quit school" movement. The action spread through the Lycee and even next door to Lycee Dong Khanh, the girl's high school, then into parochial secondary schools of the area run by the Roman Catholic Church, and finally to other parts of central Annam.
Although the Quit School Movement soon collapsed, Lycee authorities expelled Giap from the Quoc Hoc. Remaining in Hue rather than returning to An Xa, Giap organized an underground reading library and, for a time, he and Nguyen Chi Dieu pondered the possibility of fleeing Viet Nam. Upon occasion Giap traveled back to his ancestral village at An Xa to visit his father, Vo Quang Nghiem, a lettre, a scholar, a sometime practitioner of traditional Asian medicine, and a rice farmer who tilled his own land while also renting another small parcel and loaning small sums of money to others. Nghiem was also a mandarin holding the lowest rank of ninth grade, civil corps, and so townspeople called him Cuu Nghiem. Giap enjoyed those visits with his father and his mother, Nguyen Thi Kien, whose greatest happiness was found working with her hands in the soil. Her father had been a member of the Can Vuong movement and, athough she was unlettered, she delighted in telling her children (and later her grandchildren) how her father fought against the French colons. (5)
During one of those home visits, Dieu came to see Giap and recruited him into a newly organized group, the Tan Viet Cach Menh Dang (Revolutionary Party for a Great Viet Nam). (6) Although a noncommunist organization, Tan Viet rhetoric sounded very marxist. Its expressed goal was "to carry out first a national revolution and then a world revolution. …