Ho Chi Minh

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh (hô chē mĬn), 1890–1969, Vietnamese nationalist leader, president of North Vietnam (1954–69), and one of the most influential political leaders of the 20th cent. His given name was Nguyen That Thanh. In 1911 he left Vietnam, working aboard a French liner. He later lived in London and in the United States during World War I before going to France near the end of the war. There he became involved in the French socialist movement and was (1920) a founding member of the French Communist party. He studied revolutionary tactics in Moscow, and, as a Comintern member, was sent (1925–27) to Guangzhou, China. While in East Asia, he organized Vietnamese revolutionaries and founded the Communist party of Indochina (later the Vietnamese Communist party). He also established a training institute that attracted many Vietnamese students, where he taught a unique blend of Marxism-Leninism and Confucian-inspired virtues. In the 1930s, Ho lived mainly in Moscow and China. He finally returned to Vietnam after the outbreak of World War II, organized a Vietnamese independence movement (the Viet Minh), and raised a guerrilla army to fight the Japanese.

Ho proclaimed the republic of Vietnam in Sept., 1945, and later agreed that it would remain an autonomous state within the French Union. Differences with the French, however, soon led (1946) to an open break. Warfare lasted until 1954, culminating in the French defeat at Dienbienphu. After the Geneva Conference (1954), which divided Vietnam at the 17th parallel, Ho became the first president of the independent republic of North Vietnam. The accord also provided for elections to be held in 1956, aimed at reuniting North and South Vietnam; however, South Vietnam, backed by the United States, refused to hold the elections. The reason was generally held to be that Ho's popularity would have led to reunification under Communist rule. In succeeding years, Ho consolidated his government in the North. He organized a guerrilla movement in the South, the National Liberation Front, or Viet Cong, which was technically independent of North Vietnam, to win South Vietnam from the successive U.S.-supported governments there (see Vietnam War).

See biographies by J. Lacouture (1968), D. Halberstam (1971), J. Sainteny (1972), C. Fenn (1974), D. O. Lloyd (1986), and W. J. Duiker (2000).

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