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Passion, Betrayal, and Revolution in Colonial Saigon

Passion, Betrayal, and Revolution in Colonial Saigon: The Memoirs of Bao Luong

Hue-Tam Ho Tai
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Passion, Betrayal, and Revolution in Colonial Saigon
    Book Description:

    This is the incredible story of Bao Luong, Vietnam’s first female political prisoner. In 1927, when she was just 18, Bao Luong left her village home to join Ho Chi Minh’s Revolutionary Youth League and fight both for national independence and for women’s equality. A year later, she became embroiled in the Barbier Street murder, a crime in which unruly passion was mixed with revolutionary ardor. Weaving together Bao Luong’s own memoir with excerpts from newspaper articles, family gossip, and official documents, this book by Bao Luong’s niece takes us from rural life in the Mekong Delta to the bustle of colonial Saigon. It provides a rare snapshot of Vietnam in the first decades of the twentieth century and a compelling account of one woman’s struggle to make a place for herself in a world fraught with intense political intrigue.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94611-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  6. Southern Vietnam in the 1920s
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    In a seldom-visited museum in Ho Chi Minh City hangs a picture of a woman named Nguyen Trung Nguyet. The museum is dedicated to Ton Duc Thang (1888–1980), the man who succeeded Ho Chi Minh as president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1969 and later, after the reunification of the country in 1975, of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The caption reads, “Nguyen Trung Nguyet, Vietnam’s first female political prisoner.”

    To me Nguyen Trung Nguyet was Second Aunt, my mother’s older sister. When I was a child, she left her house in Vinh Long for Saigon only...

  8. 1 The Girl from the South
    (pp. 12-22)

    Nguyen Trung Nguyet’s parents had named their firstborn child “faithful moon.” In Vietnamese culture, whose rhythms follow the lunar calendar, the moon is the symbol of constancy. As the oldest child of Nguyen van Nham and his wife, Dao thi Chau, Trung Nguyet was known as Second Sister by her siblings and, much later, as Second Aunt by their children. This southern custom was said to derive from the belief that the first child should always be known as ”second” to fool the devil, who loved to take firstborn children back to the netherworld; others claimed the custom honored the...

  9. 2 From Faithful Moon to Precious Honesty
    (pp. 23-36)

    A year or so before Nguyen Trung Nguyet left home, Nguyen van Nham had taken his two older daughters to a studio in town to have their photograph taken. In the photo the two girls stand stiffly on either side of a bentwood chair, a piece of furniture that appears in many other photographs of the period. Trung Nguyet, who was then sixteen or seventeen, wears her hair up in several elaborate chignons, a sign of her status as a grown-up young lady. She is wearing twoao dai. Her sister Hue Minh would have been twelve or thirteen at...

  10. 3 Apprentice Revolutionaries
    (pp. 37-52)

    The men living in the house were Korean revolutionaries. Overjoyed at finally meeting them, Truong Phong and Hoai Nghia immediately engaged in a furious written exchange with the Koreans in Chinese. While someone heated leftover food and prepared beds for the newcomers, Kim Huong and Thanh Huyen inspected the house; Van Thong worked out what he would say when his group reached the headquarters of the Revolutionary Youth League the next day. Exhausted by her long day of walking, Bao Luong lay down and went to sleep. Suddenly, a youth in military uniform yanked her mosquito net open and pulled...

  11. 4 Vignettes from the Revolution
    (pp. 53-61)

    Upon her return Bao Luong rejoined her old cell. It included Ton Duc Thang, her cousin Tran Truong, and Do Dinh Tho, the man who had checked her out in Phuoc Long together with Nguyen Bao Toan. After settling back in, she went home to Phuoc Long. Her first task was to persuade her family to support her activities. This proved easy. Her mother assured her that she would deal with their neighbors’ curiosity. Her father gave her money and cooperated with Van Thong, who had returned home on the same trip, in organizing local activities.

    On the way back...

  12. 5 Prelude to a Murder
    (pp. 62-87)

    In 1967, when she first published her memoir, Bao Luong Nguyen Trung Nguyet was one of only two surviving participants in a murder committed nearly forty years earlier; the other, Ton Duc Thang, who had left for North Vietnam in 1946, never talked about this period of his life. Hers is therefore the principal insider account of what led up to that fateful night of December 8, 1928, when a former peddler-of-herbal-medicine-turned-anticolonial-agitator was slain. Although her memoir does not contain the only extant account, since the police extracted confessions from other participants in the murder and in its plotting, it...

  13. 6 The Crime on Barbier Street
    (pp. 88-101)

    On the way home from the meeting of December 2, 1928, Tran Truong said to Bao Luong, “Please undertake some errands for me.” Bao Luong stared at her cousin. He must have drawn one of the marked ballots. When she arrived at Do Dinh Tho’s house, she found Nguyen van Thinh and Ngo Thiem there, whispering. Thiem asked her to accompany him to the Khanh Hoi dock, where he introduced her to the man who arranged for league trainees to travel to China as stowaways. On the way back from Warehouse 5, he sighed in relief: “That’s it. Bao Luong,...

  14. 7 The End of the Revolutionary Youth League
    (pp. 102-114)

    Bao Luong was not willing to marry Nguyen Bao Toan, but she was nonetheless fond of him. She notes in her memoir: “Among those who put their faith in Nguyen Bao Toan were Uncle Tran van Trieu’s wife and her sister-in law Aunt Tran Ngoc Vien, Tran Sum [Tran Truong’s brother], Van Thong [Bao Luong’s neighbor and fellow trainee], and many others. One could say that in the Long Binh and Phuoc Long areas, those who had joined the revolution considered Nguyen Bao Toan as a shining star. He was good looking and better educated than most and was good...

  15. 8 The Road to Hell
    (pp. 115-138)

    “During the colonial period,” Bao Luong recalled, “nothing was more terrifying than to be taken to the police station, and especially to the main station on Catinat Street. To be kept there was worse. When it came to ‘procedures’ inflicted on the body, one would need to have recourse to some extraordinary new language to depict the torments suffered in that police station; in Vietnam under French rule it was like the tenth circle of hell on Earth. For a long time we had heard that people were tortured to death in that building. We three were there now. Beginning...

  16. 9 Down among Women
    (pp. 139-165)

    “Anyone who has money or other property, bring them over for safekeeping!” a guard told the new arrivals at Central Prison.

    Bao Luong took out the gold chain that Lê Oanh had given her, the little heart from her friend Ngoc Anh, and the ring with the square face from her cousin Tran Truong; she put them in a little package and handed them over. She then went to receive an identification tag, a wooden placard about three fingers wide. She took it without bothering to read the inscription, then waited for her friends to complete their procedures and get...

  17. 10 The Verdict
    (pp. 166-174)

    Bao Luong had been in cell 18 for a year. One morning she went to the office to meet her lawyer; her case was about to be brought before the court. Lawyer Giaccobbi held her hand: “Remember, deny everything. Don’t admit to anything!” Phan van Gia smiled and added: “Deny what you can. Don’t worry about what the lawyers will say. The day after tomorrow you’ll appear before the tribunal. The three judges in red robes were brought in from France. Prepare your speech so that it is smooth and logically organized.” Two days later, on July 15, 1930, one...

  18. 11 Life and Death
    (pp. 175-180)

    Tran Truong, Ngo Thiem, and Nguyen van Thinh were executed on May 21, 1931, nearly a year after their trial and two years after their arrests.

    A mystery hangs over the fate of Do Dinh Tho and Lê Oanh. They are listed as having fled, yet their mug shots are part of the Barbier Street case file. Had they been arrested and turned informants in exchange for their freedom?

    Soon after his release from prison, Bao Luong’s brother Vien Dai joined the Indochinese Communist Party. On May 3, 1930, Uncle Trieu’s wife took part in a demonstration in Cao Lanh....

  19. NOTES
    (pp. 181-186)
    (pp. 187-188)
    (pp. 189-190)
  22. INDEX
    (pp. 191-199)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 200-200)