Ho Chi Minh's
Rhetoric for Revolution

Peter A. DeCaro
Buena Vista University



On August 14th, 1945, as the eyes of the world focused on the unconditional surrender of the Japanese forces to the Allies, [1] bringing to an end World War II, little attention, if any, was placed on Ho Chi Minh, the Viet Minh, and the beginning of the “August Revolution” [2] in Indochina.  In just a few short and nearly bloodless weeks,[3] on September 2, 1945, in Hanoi, at the very moment the Japanese were officially signing the capitulation on the carrier Missouri,[4] Ho Chi Minh declared the independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.[5]  This had been an extremely important event in world history – perhaps the most important event since the 1917 October Revolution in Russia.[6]  It marked the first occasion in human history in which a revolutionary national movement under Communist leadership had succeeded in overthrowing the power of a colonial state and establishing and maintaining its own new, independent form of social and political system.[7]  However, Ho’s form of communism[8] was markedly different than that of Marxist ideology that had been the rhetorical icon of the October Revolution.  Similar to Jose Antonio’s fascist movement,[9] the hierarchical communist party (later renamed the Vietminh) [10] conformed closely to the ideas of the person at its head,[11] but unlike Antonio’s movement, did not adopt his style.  Yet, for most Vietnamese, ideology was of little or no importance;[12] it had become more about the man (Ho) and his revolution than about ideology.[13] This melding of a man and movement, I believe, opens a window to the rhetorical workings of Ho’s form of communism and perhaps to the perplexing dynamics of a revolution that lasted nearly thirty years.

As early as 1922 Ho Chi Minh knew he could not parallel his better known communist contemporaries Lenin and Stalin with their type of revolutionary discourse.  For the Vietnamese peasant didn’t understand the meaning of the “class struggle or the force of the proletariat” for the simple reason that there was no great commercial or industrial exploitation and no working class organization.[14]  Ho enrolled in the western arts of public speaking and debate, learned to read and write English and Russian[15], and schooled himself in the histories of France and the United States.[16]  His boldness and willingness to openly challenge colonial authority attracted both peasant and aristocracy in France and Indochina to support his movement.  By 1926 Ho had  become a Vietnamese icon, and in so doing was sentenced to death, in absentia, by the French colonial government of Indochina.[17]  In 1930 he formed the Vietnamese Communist Party of Indochina and assumed its leadership.[18] As he earned a widespread reputation for anticolonial discourse, it became clear that only Ho Chi Minh was capable of generating the kind of enthusiasm a leader would have to sustain.[19]

Ho, learned in the teachings of the mandarate, understood that discourse alone could not unify the Vietnamese.[20] There was a human quality the Vietnamese valued as a virtue—conduct--conduct reminiscent of the quan tu[21] (superior man)[22], which Ho effectively used to complement his rhetoric.  For the Vietnamese, character held equal, if not greater, persuasive influence than discourse.  Ho was considered by many “an intransigent and incorruptible revolutionary” in the manner of Saint-Just. [23]  By his moral standing alone Ho acquired the respect and confidence of the Vietnamese nation. His reputation for honesty and sincerity contributed greatly to his success, for in Vietnam, the masses put their trust in the personal character of a leader. [24]  For years he dressed as a peasant, wearing a Canadian windcheater and a pair of sandals made from a discarded tire. His whole appearance was an assurance that he had devoted his life to the service of the people. [25] Throughout his life Ho remained a Vietnamese, a peasant, a “man like one’s ancestors,” pure, uncorrupted in a corrupting world, a man of the land and its simplest virtues.[26]

Ho Chi Minh’s extensive rhetorical campaign made him a powerful and enduring presence in Vietnam.  Of the nation’s major revolutionary leaders of the twentieth century,[27] only he gave ”public expression” to Vietnamese inchoate longings for independence and a government other than French colonial.[28]  His clear and consistent voice had great impact on the Vietnamese peasant, especially among the younger generations,[29] so much so that at the sight of him were ready to give “all their strength, all their devotion to the nation, and if needed, their blood.”[30]

In the days immediately prior to the Japanese surrender, Vietnam did not lack in the number of political groups ready to assert themselves.[31]  However, Ho Chi Minh, seizing the “propitious moment,”[32] took the initiative.  On August 19,1945, Viet Minh forces entered Hanoi and quickly took control, firing only a few symbolic revolver shots in the process.[33]  Exactly two weeks after the Japanese surrendered, and five days after the abdication of Emperor Bao Dai, Ho Chi Minh announced the formation of a Provisional Government[34] and proclaimed himself president.[35]  Ho understood that from the point of view of the common man in the rice field the abdication of Emperor Bao Dai was an important event.[36]  In deferring to the revolutionaries the monarchy publicly claimed that its alliance with France had been the cause of its downfall, but this abdication was thought by the people to be a sign of heavenly decision, the mandate from heaven, which would result in France being driven from Vietnam.[37]  On September 2, the day Ho declared the independent republic of Vietnam, the ‘mandate from heaven’ had been given to the Viet Minh, and with it the loyalty of the Vietnamese people.[38]

Ho Chi Minh’s rhetorical prowess for the audiences that comprised the independence movement in French colonial Indochina was clearly the sin qua non of his career.  That prowess is as puzzling as it is undeniable.  The puzzle over Ho’s persuasion parallels the lingering ability to understand the nationalist movements and their appeal in Far East Asia in the period between the two world wars.

I propose to demonstrate that Ho Chi Minh successfully blends rhetoric of democracy and communism with character and the Vietnamese concept of the ‘mandate of heaven,’ and how this discourse accomplishes its purpose by animating audiences to carry out the Vietnamese Communist agenda.  I will argue that it is more than his rhetoric that exemplifies how Vietnamese communist ideology invites and can be effectively embodied in the rhetor’s substantive themes and arguments, second persona, and first or personal persona.  More specifically, I will argue that Vietnamese nationalism and cultural heritage are necessary elements for that animation.  Based on this analysis, I will suggest that when these components are reciprocal and complementary as in the case of Ho Chi Minh, they comprise a rhetorical formula[39] that helps to explain his persuasion.  Thus this study suggests that a rhetorical analysis of Ho’s discourse may be an essential element in understanding his power over the Vietnamese people.  Equally important, I believe this essay illuminates another dimension in the study of rhetoric, in that the influence that character and cultural heritage have upon the audience can be equal to, if not greater than, the rhetor’s discourse when viewed from the rhetorical situation.

Several studies by scholars of rhetoric have illustrated clearly how a particular ideology or worldview can shape the discourse of its partisans. [40]  John C. Hammerback’s Jose Antonio’s Rhetoric of Fascism superbly explicates these scholars.  The list of scholars Hammerback draws upon is as extensive as it is impressive, including the works of Frederick Antczak on the topic of reformulating audiences, Edwin Black’s description of the second persona as the implied auditor, and Maurice Charland on Kenneth Burke’s rhetorical identification.   And it is from Hammerback’s study which I liberally borrow the tools for my rhetorical analysis of Ho’s discourse.

Because the relationship a Vietnamese leader of Ho’s heritage enjoyed with his people is very complex, my way of attaining an appreciation of his discourse is to connect Hammerback’s formula for rhetorical analysis--linking ideology to rhetoric and featuring personae[41]-- to cultural heritage, which will include the concepts of the ‘mandate of heaven’ and the ‘quan tu.’  For help in this task, I will draw from the works of many scholars—Western, Chinese, and Vietnamese—on these topics.  Primarily I will extrapolate from John T. McAlister, Jr., Paul Mus, and Douglas Pike on the topic of the origins of Vietnamese politics; William J. Duiker, Douglas Pike, Jacques Dalloz, Jean Chesneaux, John DeFrancis, Hue-Tam Ho Tai, Hoang Van Chi, N. Khac Huyen, William Warby and David Marr’s comparisons of traditional Vietnamese concepts of revolution to the politics of modernization: Marxism; Confucius, Wm. Theodore de Bary, Herrlee G. Creel, Miles Meander Dawson, Gerald Hickey, Lin Yutang, Fung Yu-Lan, and Derk Bodde’s illuminations of the origins of Vietnamese philosophy and religion; and Reinhold Neuman-Hoditz, David Halberstam, Charles Fenn, Nguyen Van Trang, Ellen Hammer, and Bernard Fall’s portraits of Ho Chi Minh.  In Ho’s case it was much more than “intellectual reconstitution inextricably involving human character,”[42] the model used by Antczak to demonstrate how rhetoric can reformulate audiences, that aided in his success.  It was the rhetor’s fulfillment of a set of culturally defined expectations of leadership and circumstances that empower a leader to rule that ensured his victory.




Ho Chi Minh’s speeches, essays, and interviews contain two broad and pervasive themes. The first rests the nationalist’s case on principles reminiscent of Thomas Jefferson and the founding fathers of the United States, and the French Revolution of 1791.  Convinced of the existence and importance of enduring values and timeless truths, Ho incessantly instructed his audience on the importance of “freedom” or the “right for self-determination.”  At Versailles, in 1919, Ho prepared an eight-point petition demanding basic freedoms for the Vietnamese, which he had planned to submit to President Woodrow Wilson.  Of these eight points, those that reflected U.S. and French endearing values were, “equal rights for Vietnamese and French in Indochina, freedom of press and opinion, freedom of association and assembly, freedom to travel at home and abroad, and substitute rule of law for government by degree.”[43]  Although Ho’s voice was not heard by Wilson, Vietnamese in France and Vietnam heralded his demand for Vietnamese self-determination as “a flash of lighting, the first thunderclap of spring,” when he insisted that his people be accorded their rights.[44] 


Ho’s rhetoric for “freedom” and “self-determination” had been his sole message until 1926.  It was at this time that he demonstrably altered his discourse from denouncing “freedom lost” to “revolution” and “revolutionary parties.” We see this in Thanh Nien (Youth),[45] in which he answered the question, “What is the primary requisite for revolution?”  The essence of Thanh Nien’s teaching was contained in Duong Cach Menh (Revolutionary Path), which Ho wrote in early 1926, the “ABC of revolution,” was used as a training manual for Thanh Nien cadres.  Interestingly, Ho began with a section that preceded the introduction which dealt with “the behavior of a revolutionary.”  He wrote, in part, that a revolutionary must “be thrifty. . . be resolute to correct errors, be greedy for learning, be persevering, adopt the habit of studying and observing, place the national interests above personal interests. . . be little desirous of material things, and know how to keep secrets.”  The qualities defined here mark a whole generation of the first revolutionary militants.  The style and syntax, in principle, mirrors Confucian descriptions of the chun tzu[46] (quan tu) and is written in classical Chinese form.  The central purpose of Duong Cach Menh was to provide a revolutionary theory which would “make everyone understand why he must make the revolution; why it is impossible not to make it; and why it must be done immediately.”[47]  Duong Cach Menh represented a turning-point in the history of the Vietnamese revolutionary movement, marking a break with the past and the assertion of new principles and ideas.[48]  By the time Ho founded the Vietnamese Communist Party, he had become a champion of the Vietnamese peasant.


On 2 September 1945, in Hanoi at Ba Dinh Square, Ho addressed a crowd of approximately 100,000 people.  In declaring independence he stated, “Our people have broken the chains which for nearly a century have fettered them and have won independence for the Fatherland. . . Vietnam has the right to be a free and independent country—and in fact it is so already.”[49]  Throughout his address, Ho chose to stress the theme of freedom rather than equality,[50] which had come to symbolize class conflict and national disunity.[51]  But it was collective, not individual freedom he talked about, as his closing words made clear, “Vietnam has the right to enjoy freedom and independence. . . the whole Vietnamese people is resolved to bring all its spirit and its power, its life, and its possessions to preserve this right of freedom and independence.”[52]




Ho Chi Minh’s second theme is that of “equality” or the “right not to be brutally exploited.”  He relentlessly condemned the oppression, exploitation, and torture suffered by the Vietnamese peasant by French colonialists.[53]  Ho’s appeals were passionate pleas for equality.  He understood that Vietnam’s case as a colonial country was not exceptional but rather was typical of the whole colonial system.  In his early writings, he showed a constant concern for other colonial struggles in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.  Bernard Fall stated that, ”His early writings clearly reflect the personal humiliations he must have suffered at the hands of the colonial master—not because they hated him as a person, but simply because, as a ‘colored’ colonial, he did not count as a human being.”[54]  This intense personalization of the whole anticolonial struggle shined clearly throughout Ho’s writings.  He was not interested in debating general political theories.  Ho was far more interested in demonstrating that particular (fully named) French colonial officials were sadists who enjoyed harassing their colonial charges.  He chose to write about this than patiently whittle away at the colonial structure in hope that it would, in its own time and on its own conditions, yield a small measure of self-government to the subject nation.[55]


Ho wrote many articles that attacked the iniquities of colonialism beyond the confines of the French Empire.  An example of this was printed in La Vie Ouviere, “If the French colonists are unskillful in developing colonial resources, they are masters in the art of savage repression and the manufacture of loyalty made to measure.  The Ghandis and the De Valeras would have long since entered heaven had they been born in one of the French colonies.”[56]  This awareness of the conflict on an international scale reflected his gradual absorption of Leninism.  His articles ranged widely, but a good proportion were scarifying indictments of French colonial exploitation and brutality or bitterly ironic “open” letters to key colonial figures or hierarchic fringe.


Ho Chi Minh’s themes (ideology) of freedom and equality were basic yet powerful.  These themes define inherent motives and interests that a rhetoric can appeal to.  To be reconstituted as a Vietnamese peasant in the terms of Ho’s narratives was to be reconstituted such that freedom, independence and equality were not only possible, but necessary.  Without freedom and independence, this reconstitutive rhetoric would have ultimately died and those it had reconstituted would have ceased to be subjects, or at least remained, within their current circumstance.  In consequence, true Vietnamese nationalists could not have ignored Ho’s pleas for active participation in the liberation of their country.  Only by participation would they have been in harmony with their being and their collective destiny, as succinctly expressed by Ho, “Inhumane oppression and exploitation have helped our people realize that with revolution we will survive and without revolution we will die.”[57]

In sum, Ho Chi Minh’s discourse called on those he had addressed to follow narrative consistency and the motives through which they were reconstituted as audience members.



Frederick Antczak combined ideas drawn from Plato, Kenneth Burke, and Wayne Booth to explain how a rhetorical merger of thought and character affords an identification with an audience in a way which allows its members to discover and activate latent qualities in themselves.[58]  Antczak took the concept from Plato that a rhetoric which can intellectually and morally reconstitute audiences rather than merely indulging them, must make use of the character of both audience and speaker; and from Burke, that the center of the rhetorical enterprise is identification, a consubstantiality achieved between rhetor and auditor through sharing of substance.[59]  Booth supplied the ideas that “the primary mental act of man is to assent . . . ‘to take in’ and ‘even to be taken in’” through rhetorical exchanges, and that “by understanding and being understood, by taking in other selves, we expand our moral and intellectual capacities we expand our identities ourselves.”[60] Thus for Burke and Both, “intellectual reconstitution inextricably involves human character.”[61]  Applying his model to the discourse of Emerson, Twain, and Henry Adams, Antczak demonstrated how such rhetoric can formulate audiences, liberating listeners to think and act more creatively, intelligently, and humanely.[62]


Edwin Black described the second persona as the implied auditor, “a model of what the rhetor would have his real auditor become.”[63]  John C. Hammerback adds one important element to this, “the rhetor’s rhetorical creation in audiences of an expectation for a leader who possesses particular qualities which are identified by the rhetor.”[64]  To Hammerback’s definition I will add one more important element, “the rhetor’s rhetorical creation in audiences of an expectation for a leader who possesses particular qualities which are identified, not by the rhetor, but rather by cultural heritage.”  The Vietnamese expectation for a leader required more than discourse, it required fulfillment of a 4,500 year old legacy: the ‘mandate from heaven’ and the ‘concept of revolution.’  In his insightful explication of the nature, processes, and effects of such discourse, as referred to by Hammerback, Maurice Charland illuminates the rhetorical power of the second persona within the context of the text, the framework of ideology and the material world inhabited and impacted by human agents.[65]  In so doing he draws broadly from the thought of Black, Burke, Michael McGee, and writers on narrative, structuralism, hermeneutics, and various related topics.[66]


Charland states that in the Rhetoric of Motives, Kenneth Burke proposes “identification” as an alternative to “persuasion” as the key term of the rhetorical process.  Burke’s project is a rewriting of rhetorical theory that considers the rhetoric and motives in formal terms, as consequences of the nature of language and its enactment.[67]  Burke’s stress on identification permits a rethinking of judgment and the working of the rhetorical effect, for he does not posit a transcendent subject as audience member, who would exist prior to and apart from the speech to be judged, but considers audience members to participate in the very discourse by which they would be “persuaded.”[68]  Audiences would embody a discourse.  A consequence of this theoretical move is that it permits an understanding within rhetorical theory of ideological discourse, of the discourse that presents itself as always only pointing to the given, the natural, the already agreed upon.[69]


We see one of the first examples of the “ideal auditor” in Ho’s “Appeal in Connection with the Founding of the Indochinese Communist Party,” February 1930, in which he stated: “Workers, Farmers, Soldiers, Youths, Students! Oppressed and Exploited Compatriots! The Indochinese Communist Party has been founded.  It is the Party of the workers’ class.”  In claiming a “Party of the workers’ class,” Ho eliminated, for the first time, class status and created a new identification for the masses.  To this he added, “It [the Party] will guide the proletariat into the leadership of the revolution. . . “  It is important to note that Ho claims the “leadership” will guide the new party and not “Ho Chi Minh,” will guide the new party, or, “Ho Chi Minh and the new Party” will guide the workers’ class.  Unlike Western discourse, where the individual rises above the party and proclaims his or her vision for the people, Ho offered leadership through the collective efforts of the “Party.”  This is subtle, yet, an important strategy for Ho.  He remained faithful to the tradition of the collectivity while presenting a totally new political ideology—a polar opposite to Confucianism—to the people.  This was a permanent theme throughout Ho’s discourse.  In “The Line of the Party During the Period of the Democratic Front,” printed in Tuyen Tap (Selected Works), in July 1939, Ho stated, “The party cannot demand that the front recognize its right of leadership, but the party must demonstrate that it is the most sacrificial, most active, and most loyal element. “[70]

In a “Letter from Abroad,” 1941, Ho called for a singular people, dismissing class lines, “As one in mind and strength we shall overthrow the Japanese and French. . . He who has money will contribute his money, he who has strength will contribute his strength, he who has talent will contribute his talent.”  Ho called for each individual to contribute according to their ability, as would be expected in the collective, to make the revolution successful, as one would make the village successful.  He substituted “revolution” (and with it implied the “Party”) for village.




The Mandate of Heaven


During the 4,500 years that China influenced Vietnam, it was only natural for Vietnam to adopt and adapt many of China’s religious, social, economic, and political systems and philosophies.  Throughout centuries of local adaptation, a few of these remained unchanged—the concept of the mandate of heaven and the quan tu (superior man), despite French interference.  One cannot fully appreciate Ho’s influence and success without understanding these concepts and the roles they played within the minds of the peasantry, for they were instrumental in his success.

The cornerstone of the ideology of the Chinese state had been the concept of the mandate of heaven: the idea that the ruler of China held a sacred trust from the highest deity which permitted him to rule so long as he did so for the welfare of the people—but subject to the peril that if he failed in this trust, Heaven would appoint another to rebel and replace him.[71]  Through the work of Herrlee G. Creel, we learned that the cohesion and stability of the Chinese Empire owed much to the almost universal, and seldom-questioned, acceptance of the religious basis upon which the authority of the Empire had been founded.[72]  This acceptance persisted into the twentieth century, and it came, in unbroken line, from the beginning of Chou dynasty.[73]

According to Wm. Theodore de Bary, in their arguments, the Chou rulers appealed to a concept called t’ien ming or the ‘mandate of heaven.’[74]  Heaven elected or commanded certain men to be rulers over the tribes of the world, and their heirs might continue to exercise the Heaven-sanctioned power for as long as they carried out their religious and administrative duties with piety, wisdom, and justice.[75]  But if the worth of the ruling family declined, if the rules turned their backs upon the spirits and abandoned the virtuous ways that had originally marked them as worthy of the mandate to rule, then heaven might discard them and elect a new family or tribe to be the destined rulers of the world.[76]  The Shang kings, it was argued, had once been wise and benevolent rulers, and thus enjoyed the full blessing and sanction of heaven.  But in later days they had grown cruel and degenerate, so that Heaven had called upon the Chou chieftains to overthrow the Shangs, punish their evil ways, and institute a new dynasty.[77]  Thus the Chou rulers explained the change of dynasties not as a purely human action by which a strong state overthrew a weak one, but as a divinely directed process in which a new group of wise and virtuous leaders was substituted for an old group whose members, by their evil actions, had disqualified themselves from the “right to rule.”[78]


Creel noted that the doctrine of the mandate of heaven was not merely a force making for responsible conduct on the part of the monarch and cementing the loyalty of his vassals and officials; it had been the “central cohesive force binding together the entire Chinese people.”[79]  And this doctrine had given the Chinese individual a role in the unfolding drama of the Chinese state.  Because it was for the “people that this state had been held to exist, and no rightful government had been able to persist in the face of continued public dissatisfaction.”[80]  Thus Confucius stated that “no government can stand if it lacks the confidence of the common people,”[81] and Mencius quoting with approval the saying that it is the “common people who speak for heaven.”[82]  The people, more than any other factor, were emphasized as the key to the mandate of heaven.[83]  The Chou had given China a vision: a vision of a world, “all under heaven,” united in peace and harmony and cooperation, under the “Son of Heaven.”[84]


To the Vietnamese, the mandate of heaven was called Thien minh, or the heavenly mandate.[85]  John T. McAlister, Jr. and Paul Mus wrote that proof that a revolutionary regime had the mandate of heaven was the emergence of a new political system that was a “complete replacement of the preceding doctrines, institutions, and men in power and that showed itself to be in complete command of society.”[86]  To appear before the people, the supreme judge, with any chance of success as a messenger of fate, a revolutionary party “had to show them all the signs of its mission.”[87]  In this case the people expected the sign of signs: the ease and fluidity of success.  The revolutionary party had to succeed in everything as if miraculously.  The military and financial means were secondary considerations and would, of their own accord, put themselves in the hands of the party that had received the mandate of heaven.[88]  Such a test of legitimacy merely indicated that the Vietnamese expected there to be little uncertainty about an insurgent’s capacity to govern before there was popular recognition of his being endowed with the mandate of heaven.  McAlister, Jr. and Mus explained that in the critical task of making their choice “they looked for a sign or an intimation of legitimacy,” and the Vietnamese called that sign virtue.  The moment a virtue (in the West one would say a political system) appeared to be worn out and another was in view ready to take the place of the old, the previous abuses—which had been tolerated until then—were seen in a new light.  Then and only then, must they be remedied with the help of a new principle.  Extreme patience was thus replaced by intolerance.  First the people tolerated everything.  Then they refused to tolerate anything.  In other words, the former values did not count anymore.


This was how Vietnamese civic morality suddenly became intransigent.[89]  Paul Mus stated it had nothing whatever to do with political pretexts.  Involved here were moral values comparable to the highest in the West, but they were put into practice only when the circumstances were clearly appropriate.  Such behavior derived from a centuries-old wisdom leading to civic reactions that were in no way similar to the West’s.  Instead of going along at a moderate but continuous and slowly effective pace, the Sino-Vietnamese moral life jumped, spasmodically, from crisis to crisis far more that did that of the West.


Mus concluded that when a crisis came, the minds of the people suddenly became susceptible to moral values and more attentive to the mistakes that had been made.  They judged these errors to have been at the roots of the revolution, and, therefore, the behavior of the protagonists had a determining influence on events.  It was not by accident that East Asia preferred to use the word “virtue” for what the West called a “system.”[90]


The Quan Tu
(Sage or Superior Man)


In “The Great Learning,” Confucius says, “From the highest to

The lowest, self-development must be deemed the root of all, by

Every man.  When the root is neglected, it cannot be that what

Springs from it will be well ordered.”[91]


“The moral integrity of the ruler, far from being his private affair,

is thought to be a defining characteristic of his leadership.  He

must realize that what he does in private is not only symbolically

significant but has a direct bearing on his ability to lead. . .”[92]

To appreciate the value that the development and identification of the ideal leader’s character held in the minds of the Vietnamese citizenry during Ho’s life, an understanding of the quan tu, the Vietnamese version of the Chinese chun tzu: the superior (sage) man, is necessary.  The focus is primarily on Confucian doctrine, followed by Vietnamese adoption and integration of that doctrine into its own culture.


Lin Yutang wrote that Confucius strove to make the human being “good--a good father, a good mother, a good son, a good daughter, a good friend, a good citizen.”[93] Confucianism was a system of humanist culture, a fundamental viewpoint concerning the conduct of life and of society.  It stood for a rationalized social order through the ethical approach, based on personal cultivation.  Yutang noted that Confucianism aimed at “political order” by laying the basis for it in a “moral order,” and it sought political harmony by trying to achieve the moral harmony in man himself.  For Confucius, according to Yutang, man attained a personal cultivation when he became a ‘chun tzu’—superior man.[94]

In Fung Yu Lan’s comparative work between philosophies of the West and China, he noted that in the West philosophy had been conveniently divided into such divisions as metaphysics, ethics, epistemology, logic, etc.,[95] while in China he found reference being made to the discourse of Confucius on “human nature and the ways of Heaven”[96] as methodology.  In this quotation are mentioned two of the divisions of western philosophic thought: “human nature” corresponds roughly to ethics, and the “ways of Heaven” to metaphysics.  Fung was explicit in his notion that Confucius’ “method of conducting study” was not primarily for the “seeking of knowledge,” but rather for “self-cultivation;” it was not for the “search of truth,” but for the “search of good.”[97]

Fung explained that Chinese philosophers for the most part had not regarded knowledge as something “valuable” in itself, and so had not sought knowledge for the “sake of knowledge. . . [but] preferred to apply this knowledge to actual conduct that would lead directly to [human] happiness, rather than to hold what they considered to be empty discussions” about it.[98]  According to Fung, most Chinese philosophic schools had taught the way of what was called the “Inner Sage and Outer King.”  He explain that the Inner Sage was a person who had established “virtue in himself;” the Outer King was one who had “accomplished great deeds” in the world.  The highest ideal for man, asserted Fung, was at once to “possess the virtue of a Sage and the accomplishment of a ruler,” and so become what was called Sage-king, or what Plato termed the Philosopher-king.

Chinese philosophy, in short, had always stressed what man was (i.e., his moral qualities), rather than what he had (i.e., his intellectual and material capacities).  If a man was a Sage, he remained a Sage even if he was completely lacking in intellectual knowledge; if he was an evil man, he remained evil even though he may have had boundless knowledge.[99]

The central idea of Confucius was that every normal human being cherished the aspiration to become a superior man—superior to his fellows, if possible, but surely superior to his own past and present self.[100]  The theory of imitation, or power of example, resulted in the doctrine “government by example.”[101]  Yutang concluded that Confucius believed in history and the appeal of history because he believed in continuity.  He regarded “character, position of authority, and the appeal to history” as the three essential requisites for governing, and that lacking any one of these, no one could succeed with a governmental system and “command credence,” however excellent it might be.[102]  Thus, for Confucius, the dictum, “character exemplified government by moral example,”[103] became the primary consideration for leadership.  The Confucian superior man was merely a kind and gentle man of moral principles, at the same time a man who loved learning, who was calm himself and perfectly at ease, constantly careful of his own conduct, believing that by example he had a great influence over society in general, and had a certain contempt for the mere luxuries of living.[104]

Confucius stood for a rationalized social order through the ethical approach, based on personal cultivation.  He aimed at a political order by laying the basis for it in a moral order, and sought political harmony by trying to achieve the moral harmony in man himself.[105]  Because Confucius was interested chiefly in essential human relationships and not futile metaphysics and mysticism, Yutang asserted that the strongest doctrine of this particular type of humanism, which accounted for its great enduring influence, was the doctrine that “the measure of man is man,” a doctrine which made it possible for the common man to begin somewhere as a follower of Confucianism by merely following the highest instincts of his own human nature, and not by looking for perfection in a divine idea.[106]

David Marr discovered subtle differences between the Chinese chun tzu and the Vietnamese quan tu. “In the idealized Vietnamese world,” stated Marr, “teachers and students were bound by a tie as strong and enduring as the tie that bound fathers and sons.”[107] As the saying went, “teachers ranked second only to fathers.”[108]  This idea was vividly illustrated on New Year’s Day when students, after extending greetings to their fathers, immediately went to their teachers’ home to do likewise before paying respects to their mothers.  In Tonkin (northern region), where the Confucian ethos was far stronger than in Cochinchina (southern region), the same word thay applied to both father and teacher, emphasizing their overlapping duties in promoting the material and moral welfare of the young men in their care.[109]  Just as fathers performed their tutorial duties, so did teachers act as surrogate fathers.[110]  They cooperated together in transmitting the accumulated wisdom and values of past generations.  In return, they expected lifelong respect and obedience.[111]

According to Woodside the avowed goal of traditional education was to turn a scholar into a “superior man” (quan tu) through self-cultivation.  But self-perfection was only a first step toward political office. The motto of the superior man was: “Cultivate thyself, set thy house in order, govern thy country, pacify All-Under-Heaven.”[112]  Woodside noted that “underlying this motto was the assumption that individual self-cultivation led naturally to family management and thence to political rule.”[113]  An official was regarded as the “father and mother of the people” (dan chi phu mau). [114]  It was his responsibility to care for their welfare and, like any father, he expected to be obeyed and respected by them.  Teachers, therefore, were supposed to prepare their students not only for the examinations but also for their future role as ‘fathers and mothers of the people.’  Vietnamese officials clung to this self-image long after French administrators, having usurped the mandarins’ power, assumed the rhetorical role of fathers of the Vietnamese population.[115]


Second Persona

From a “Talk with a Vietnamese Student on the Soviet Revolution and the Soviet Oriental Institute,” printed in L’Unita, 15 March 1924, Ho appealed to cultural heritage when describing qualities of Vietnamese leadership. “We clearly understand that . . . the future of the colonial peoples depends on our self-sacrificing spirit.”  In 1941 writing in a “Letter from Abroad,” Ho appealed to history and heritage in an effort to move the masses to join the liberation movement: “Some hundreds of years ago, when our country was endangered by the Mongolian invasion,[116] our elders under the Tran dynasty rose up indignantly and called on their sons and daughters throughout the country to rise as one in order to kill the enemy. . . the elders and prominent personalities of our country should follow the example set by our forefathers.”[117]  Ho cited the Tran dynasty as an historical appeal, for all Vietnamese were familiar with its history. Ho concluded his letter stating that, “The sacred call of the Fatherland is resounding in your ears; the blood of our heroic predecessors who sacrificed their lives is stirring in your hearts.”[118]


Drawing from traditional Chinese philosophy, Ho wrote in an appeal after the national resistance against the French began, “The strength of the enemy is like fire.  Our strength is like water.  Water will overcome fire.”[119]  This is a reference to the Five Elements, where one element overcomes the other according to its strength.


To enter into Ho Chi Minh’s narrative is to “identify with Black’s second persona. . . to exist at the nodal point of a series of identifications and to be captured in its structure and in its production of meaning. . . to be a subject which exists beyond one’s body and life span. . . to live towards national independence.”[120]  Ho’s discourse describing the colonial conditions in Vietnam created that series of identifications, which, over time, captured the hearts and minds of the peasantry.  The power of Ho’s discourse and personal persona is the power of an embodied ideology.  This form of ideological rhetoric is effective because it is within the bodies of those it constitutes as subjects.[121]


To what extent did the Vietnamese people identify with Ho’s second persona?  At the time, anticolonial literature was banned in Vietnam, newspapers, fliers, books and booklets were confiscated by the colonial administration, yet, the peasantry regularly received Ho’s appeals which were printed in European newspapers.[122]  Bamboo sticks on which were engraved appeals had been secretly sent from one village to another.  Hundreds of Vietnamese were executed in reprisal for such actions.[123]


First Persona


Through his own rhetorical efforts and his steadfastness to the Confucian belief of the quan tu (chun tzu), Ho Chi Minh himself displayed the characteristics he had encased in his profiles of the model auditor and of the nationalist/communist leader.  The sources of his identification were his heritage; his physical appearance and much of his own life’s experiences, partially, providential, but primarily a result of his calculated design; the content and style of his discourse; and most importantly, the consciously crafted self-portrait he presented throughout his life.


Ho’s style of speech and writing touched the Vietnamese deeply; his speeches were vivid and simple.[124]  Unlike his contemporary, Mao Tse-tung, whose writings sometimes had a philosophical vein, Ho’s was always most concerned with the specific problems of people.[125]  He did not limit his written attacks to colonialism, he also wrote of injustices committed against blacks in the United States, “It is well known that the black race is the most oppressed and most exploited of the human family. . . What everyone does not perhaps know, is that after sixty-five years of so-called emancipation, American Negroes still endure atrocious moral and material sufferings, of which the most cruel and horrible is the custom of lynching.”[126]


In a cave at Pac Bo, 1941, Ho instructed his comrades and gave them the benefit of his world-wide experience.[127]  He also translated Sun Tzu’s Art of Warfare and wrote a training pamphlet “Guerilla Warfare: Experiences of the Chinese Guerillas.”[128]  Maintaining Confucius’ position on education, Ho wrote in “A Prison Diary,” “The civilized and the uncivilized must struggle by nature; the majority through education, will win. . . For a usefulness of 10 years, cultivate a tree; for a usefulness of 100 years, cultivate a man.”[129]




Ho had all the qualities necessary in a leader, and his austerity, perseverance, iron determination and whole-hearted devotion to the cause of the Revolution were an inspiration to all who served under him and to the nation as a whole.[130]  Paul Mus said that Ho was “an intransigent and incorruptible revolutionary in the manner of Saint-Just. . . Thus, by his moral standing alone, Ho acquired the respect and confidence of the whole Vietnamese nation.  His reputation for honesty and sincerity has contributed greatly to his success, for in Vietnam, as in many underdeveloped countries, the masses put their trust in the personal character and behavior of a leader more than in the political party he represents.”[131]


Ho’s personal behavior in the years he clandestinely traveled through Vietnam added to the mystique of the quan tu (chun tzu).  During these times it was recorded that, while staying with various friends and acquaintances, he “split firewood and boiled rice; cared for the children of friends while they worked; educated both child and adult; and tended to the needs of others before his own.”[132]


Unlike Mao and his colleagues, Ho never carried a rifle.  His only weapons were his tongue, pen, native wit, strong moral fiber, passionate devotion to the cause of his people, and his determination to achieve his set purpose against all odds.[133]  Ho was not a military leader, like Tito or the Burmese Patriotic Socialists, nor a party boss, like Rakosi or Kim Il Sung, but first and foremost a man of the people.[134]  For Ho, works were more important than faith, devotion more valuable than discipline.[135]  Through all the long years of struggle, from his early revolutionary days as he traveled the countryside to his ultimate occupancy of the Presidential Palace, the man himself had remained unchanged.[136]  Halberstam described Ho as one of the extraordinary figures of this era—part Ghandi, part Lenin, all Vietnamese.  He said of Ho that he was, perhaps more than any single man of the century, “the living embodiment to his own people—and to the world—of their revolution.”[137]  In a country where the population had seen leaders reach a certain plateau and then become more Western and less Vietnamese, corrupted by Western power and money and ways, and where, the moment they had risen far enough to do anything for their own people, immediately sold out to the foreigners, the simplicity of Ho was powerful stuff.  The higher he rose, the simpler and purer Ho seemed, always retaining the eternal Vietnamese values: respect for old people, disdain for money, affection for children.[138]  In contrast, wrote Graham Greene in 1956 about Ngo Dinh Diem, the American-sponsored leader in the South, “He is separated from the people by cardinals and police cars with wailing sirens and foreign advisers droning of global strategy when he should be walking in the rice fields unprotected, learning the hard way how to be loved and obeyed—the two cannot be separated.”[139]


Ho deliberately did not seek the trappings of power and authority, as if he were so sure of himself and his relationship to both his people and history that he did not need statues and bridges, books and photographs to prove it to him or them.[140]  It was noted that one sensed in him such a remarkable confidence about who he was, what he had done, that there would be no problem communicating it to his people; indeed, to try to communicate it by any artificial means might have created doubts among them. [141]  His abstinence from his own cult was particularly remarkable in the underdeveloped world, where the jump from poor peasant to ruler of a nation in a brief span of time inspires more than the predictable quota of self-commemoration.[142]


There is something else in Ho’s character that one does not find in any other top political figure, not even (to mention two considered more humane) Gandhi and Nehru.  This is what Confucius called ‘shu.’[143]  There is no exact equivalent in English; the nearest we might get is ‘reciprocity’ in the sense of those responses between two human beings aware of the concept that all men are brothers.  Ho’s instinct seemed to have worked from the heart rather than from the head,[144] “To see something, to feel something and then interpret one’s impressions; to try and distinguish between the appearance and reality of things; that’s all. What’s so difficult about it?”[145]


A man became wise at sixty—such was the rule of the Confucian order under which Ho Chi Minh began his life.[146]  Ho therefore became wise when the war against the French was at its height.  But he was also wise enough to avoid any cult of his own personality even after victory when his position in North Vietnam was practically unchallenged.[147]  Neumann-Hoditz said of Ho that “In Ho’s lifetime there was no personality cult of the kind which has surrounded Mao Tse-tung.”[148] 


Ho’s title of “Bac” must be understood in the context of Chinese culture in which the eldest members of society (Ho himself referred to them repeatedly in is appeals) enjoy especial veneration.  Bac means “big uncle;” it is the term used to denote the elder brother of a father or mother while the younger brother is referred to as Chu, “little uncle.”[149]  It was only natural that people began to speak of Bac Ho because his closest colleagues already belonged to a younger generation.  Bac is therefore a familiar term and the Communists in North Vietnam liked to point out that every family considered Bac Ho an honored member.[150]  In addition, Bac is synonymous with democratic conduct; the father can command, but the uncle only advises.[151]  The relations were unique between this leader of a Communist Party and state and his people for whom he demanded the most severe deprivations.[152]


Robert Shaplen wrote that Ho was the beaming father figure of his people, the man of constant simplicity, the soft-spoken Asian who seemed gentle, indeed almost sweet, sometimes self-mocking, his humor and warmth in sharp contrast to the normal bureaucratic grimness of a high Communist official.[153] Mus wrote that Ho cited the four virtues he considered as pre-eminent to be: diligence, frugality, justice, and integrity.[154]




An old Vietnamese proverb “phep vua thua le lang” (the laws of the emperor yield to the customs of the village) was known by all Vietnamese, and in many respects it characterized the village n Vietnam as a self-contained homogenous community, jealously guarding its way of life-a little world that was autonomous and disregarded (if not disdained) the outside world.[155]


The Vietnamese shared a cosmological view deeply rooted in the Buddhist-Taoist-Confucianist ideology of the Chinese Great Tradition, with Vietnamese alterations and additions, which underlied the amalgam of beliefs and practices that made up village religion, and it influenced all other aspects of village society as well.[156]  Adherence to it was manifest almost daily in behavior.  Belief in universal order, and the related concepts of harmony with this order and human destiny within it, were reflected in the way all villagers conformed to guidance by the lunar calendar and reliance on individual horoscopy, and in the respect most villagers had for the principles of geomancy.[157]  The notion of harmony was involved in many practices and rituals—observance of taboos, use of amulets or talismans, preparation of medicines, consultation with healers, propitiation or expulsion of spirits, invocations to deities, and veneration of ancestors.  The aim was to preserve or restore harmony, and, with it, well being.[158]


There also was homogeneity in the social expectation.  The drive to provide well for one’s family combined with some of the basic beliefs associated with the Cult of the Ancestors contributed to the strong motivation for economic gain that characterized the Vietnamese peasant.[159]  Most villagers wanted to improve their lot, which meant having land, a fine house, material comfort, and education for one’s children.[160]  A concern that the Vietnamese had for poverty was that the family could potentially disintegrate as members quit the village to seek a livelihood elsewhere.[161]  For the villager it was extremely important that the family remained together: in addition to the comfort of having kinfolk about, immortality lied in an undying lineage.[162]


The experience for conquest for Vietnam was by no means novel.  Vietnam as a people, a nation, and a culture had been forged over two millennia of resistance against Chinese domination.[163]  To survive, the Vietnamese had borrowed freely from Chinese social, political, and cultural institutions and values.  But the new enemy from the West (France) posed a different challenge.[164] 


In equating independence with survival, patriotic literati believed that they were engaged in a desperate race against annihilation as a people and a culture.  Their country appeared to them to be a “week and small” (nhuoc tieu) nation in the process of being swallowed up by a stronger and fitter France.[165]  Language reinforced this cannibalistic vision of colonialism as a “people-eating system” (che do thuc dan), an even more evocative description than the usual “dog-eat-dog” metaphors of Social Darwinism.[166]  Accustomed as they were to employing cultural yardsticks to measure national health, these literati opted to follow the path already taken by their Chinese counterparts in attempting to strengthen their country by reforming its culture.  But the zeal of the Vietnamese literati in embracing what they called “New Learning” from the West compounded the profound changes which colonialism had brought to the political, economic, and social landscape of Vietnam.[167]  It also undermined the power of Confucian orthodoxy and the moral authority of tradition.  The very language used by these literati was not uniform.[168]  In the South, French was used even by those who sought to overthrow French rule.  In other regions, older anticolonial activists used Chinese.  Increasingly, however, the Vietnamese vernacular, in its romanized writing system—once despised as a tool of the invaders—was employed by enemies and upholders of the colonial order alike.[169]  But whether written in Vietnamese, Chinese, or French, many of the words were unfamiliar; others were old terms which had been given new meanings and a different resonance.  They became weapons in a struggle for control over ruling metaphors and symbols.  Friends and foes of change alike used the rhetoric of the family, the metaphor of adolescence and immaturity, and above all, the emblematic figure of Vietnamese womanhood to illustrate their particular vision of both present and future.[170]


For Ho Chi Minh, revolution came to seem the only possible solution to an existential predicament that bound his personal concerns to those of the nation in a tight and seemingly natural unity.[171]  He saw a symmetry between the national struggle for independence from colonial rule and his efforts to emancipate his people from the oppressiveness of French institutions.[172]  He knew well enough that the audience he had to reach consisted, in the main, of tradition-bound peasants.[173]   Fenn asserted that Ho perceived that his fellow countrymen suffered economically, they were the “have-nots” as against the French “haves;” and Confucianism, Buddhism and Christianity offered them small comfort and no relief.[174]  Furthermore, the Vietnamese, like most Asians, were firm believers in fate.  The Marxist concept included the inevitability of proletarian victory.  It was not without significance that the Vietnamese expression for revolution—cach mang—means literally ‘change fate.’[175]  Whereas radicals conceived of independence as arising organically from their struggle toward self-emancipation, Ho’s discourse established a new symmetry between national liberation and the pursuit of social justice along class lines.


To some, security was more important than freedom, predictability more desirable than perfection.  This meant accepting inherited institutions, no matter how oppressive, and the colonial system, no matter how unjust.[176]  Others, however, were drawn to freedom in its multiple meanings: liberation of the nation from colonial rule and emancipation of the individual from the patriarchal family system, outdated moral values, and authoritarian social systems.[177]  But the corollary of freedom was uncertainty, and even those committed to the revolutionary enterprise needed assurance.  Ready as they were to sacrifice the present for the future, they too, sought certainty, albeit of another kind; not the belief that tomorrow would be like today, and therefore endurable, but the sure knowledge that it would be utterly different, and therefore better.  Only then would their sacrifices and their transgressions against conventional morality not be in vain. [178]  Amid the vagaries of life, Ho’s promise of certain victory must have seemed irresistible.  In the meantime, he balanced iron discipline with comradely warmth, and acted as substitute for the despised patriarchal family.[179]


Ho’s literary romanticization of revolution, however devoid of real substance, helped restore sympathy for the revolutionary enterprise among the peasant class.  This renewed sympathy made it possible for the rhetoric of kinship to recover its former resonance and to be put, finally, in service of revolution.[180]  The power of this rhetoric was strikingly demonstrated soon after Ho declared Vietnam independent on 2 September 1945.


In invoking Vietnam’s ancestral legacy, Ho Chi Minh demonstrated that control of national symbols and metaphors had returned to the Vietnamese.  Ho referred to himself by an appellation which became familiar worldwide: Uncle Ho.  In thus implying kinship and solidarity with his audience, Ho showed that it was possible once again to extol intergenerational harmony and to put the evocative language of the family at the service of the nation.[181]  With this joining of piety and patriotism, the early phase of the Vietnamese Revolution was over.  It was stated that Ho and the Vietminh were always sensitive to local nuance, always sensitive to Vietnamese tradition.[182]


To the peasant, consigned by birth to a life of misery, poverty, and ignorance, Ho showed a way out.  A man could be as good as his innate talent permitted; lack of privilege was for the first time in centuries not a handicap—if anything, it was an asset.  One could fight and die serving the nation, liberating both the nation and oneself.[183]  Nepotism and privilege, which had dominated the feudal society of the past, were wiped away.  One rose only on ability. And in putting all this extraordinary human machinery together, Ho gave a sense of nation to this formerly suspicious and fragmented society, until at last that which united the Vietnamese was more powerful than that which divided them—until they were in fact a nation, just as he had claimed.[184]


Hoang Van Chi noted that an important factor usually unnoticed by outside observers was the moral indignation generated in ordinary decent Vietnamese people by the corrupt practices sanctioned by the colonial regime.  This of itself was sufficient to stimulate very large numbers of them to support the Revolution.  Any rebels, no matter what ideology they supported, would have been regarded by these people as the courageous protagonists of right and justice.[185]  The mandarins serving the colonial administration, whose comfortable lives were made more conspicuous by the general poverty surrounding them, personified for the people not only treachery to the national cause, but corruption and depravity as well.  Revolutions may spring from many causes but the Vietnamese Revolution was motivated in the first place by the people’s eagerness to get rid of mandarinic despotism and insolence.[186]  For the Vietnamese people, the Revolution was a conflict between virtue and vice.  The ideological dispute which later developed was regarded as a complicating, but subsidiary, factor.[187]

Since the population of the countryside, where over 80% of the Vietnamese people lived in 1945, was not united in any political community beyond the village, the prospects for either rallying the peasants against colonial rule or creating a new system of politics was limited.[188]  Moreover, the peasants, to the extent that they were anticipating some new indigenous political superstructure in Vietnam, were expecting a revival of traditional forms of politics.  Therefore, if the Communists, or any other modern political leadership, were to create a government capable of succeeding to French rule over all of Vietnam, they clearly would have to have adapted their concept of politics to the traditional expectations of the Vietnamese peasants.[189]


In efforts to maintain their influence the French failed to realize what Ho Chi Minh and the Communists came to understand about Vietnamese society and adapted themselves to. McAlister and Mus noted that the most important of all was the fact that Vietnamese concepts of politics had been fashioned over several centuries by the all-powerful action of an intellectual elite whose traditions were adopted from China. The principles and vocabulary of China’s history were centered on the idea of a rivalry for power with Heaven as its arbiter.[190]  Its most classical pattern was established during the Chou dynasty which ended more than two hundred years before the dawn of the Christian era and which witnessed struggles among territorially based feudal states for supremacy over what later became known as central China.[191]  As China became more unified under dynastic rule, this competition took the form of feudal groups preparing to become the new dynasty chosen by heaven to succeed to the supremacy of the dynasty whose “virtue,” or political effectiveness, was giving out.  This was the game of destiny.  The stakes were territorial power, and each one placed his bet on a dynastic function.[192]


More than any other political movement, Ho Chi Minh and the Communists had realized that Vietnam required a modern system of politics if the country was to overcome its long-standing weakness of disunity and foreign rule.[193]  But how could any revolutionary leadership adapt itself to the traditional expectations of the peasants, or rather, adapt itself with the effectiveness required to lead the peasants into the modern world, where the politics of mass mobilization and mass participation in political demonstrations and military operations had become the norm?  The answer had been found in the traditional concept of “virtue,” which was a sign that the prevailing regime enjoyed the mandate of heaven, enjoyed legitimacy in traditionalist terms.[194]


Ho’s search for the secret of the strength and the cohesiveness in Vietnam’s peasant society was a quest for power to overthrow French rule and make the country united and independent.  He found this secret in the peasant’s continuing sense of belonging to a larger community beyond the village.[195]  By using old, persisting concepts, he created the framework for a new spirit of community based on totally new values.  His purpose was to link the villagers to a new sense of Vietnam as a nation by making their traditions relevant to participation in the modern politics of revolution.[196]  Instead of the extremely limited participation in politics characteristic of Vietnam’s Confucian kingdoms, Ho wanted mass involvement, and to get it he had to persuade villagers to accept new values by linking them to familiar traditions.[197]  For Ho, it was a war for the people and not for control over the land.  There was no way to turn military force into political authority without creating a bond of community with those in the countryside.


Douglas Pike wrote of Ho’s leadership qualities that without Ho Chi Minh, the course of Vietnamese history would have been vastly different.  He recognized the centrality of image in modern life and at all times projected the correct one—benevolent uncle come to put things right. He maintained a clean background.  Much of his success must be credited to his personal qualities, his self-discipline, his asceticism, his selfless dedication, and his immunity (or indifference) to the lures of nepotism, high living, and corruption.[198]

In summary I have attempted to explicate three aspects of reconstitutive rhetoric that, before now, have had little or no illumination.  The first, and I believe the foremost, is the rhetorical power that “character”—developed as a result of “doing,” and not through discourse—wields as a persuasive agent over discourse in the Vietnamese culture.  This character is defined not by the rhetor, rather, it is defined by cultural heritage.  As noted by Charland, Black, Hammerback, et al, Western rhetorical power appears to rest in the discourse rather than the rhetor’s character.  For the Vietnamese, rhetorical power rested in the character equally, if not more than, the discourse.


Second, and nearly as important as the first, is the narrow use of the term “collective” by Charland, Hammerback, Black, et al.  By their standard and meaning for the word “collective,” and the application of that standard, is polar to the Eastern concept of “collective” and its use.  Charland, et al, assume that “individuality” is the paramount ideology in their understanding of the process of reconstitution.  They therefore identify “collectivity” as something that occurs as a result of “supra” ideological identification, one above and beyond the immediate self.  In contrast, in Vietnam, the “collectivity” is the paramount ideology of the immediate self, because the self is philosophically different than the self of the West.  Individuality is disdained.  These differences dramatically influence rhetorical theory and practice.


The third factor is the understanding that cultural heritage is and can be used as persuasion.  The Confucian concept of revolution, the mandate from heaven, quan tu, and a world-view perspective are examples of imbedded cultural standards for persuasion.  

[1]William J. Duiker, Vietnam: Nation in Revolution (Boulder: Westview Press, 1983), 39.

[2]Stein Tonnesson, The Vietnamese Revolution of 1945: Roosevelt, Ho Chi Minh and de Gaulle in a World at War (London: Sage Publications, 1991), 2.

[3]Tonnesson, 395.

[4]Jacques Dalloz, The War In Indo-China 1945-54 (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, LTD, 1987), 50.

[5]Ellen Hammer, Vietnam – Yesterday and Today (New York: Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, Inc, 1966), 134.

[6]Thomas Hodgkin, Vietnam: The Revolutionary Path (New York: The Macmillan Press LTD, 1981), 1.

[7]Hodgkin, 1.

[8]Ho Chi Minh was one of the original founders of the Vietnamese Communist Party.

[9]John C. Hammerback, “Jose Antonio’s Rhetoric of Fascism,” The Southern Communication Journal, 3, 1994, 181.

[10]The Eighth Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Indochina, held at Pac Bo (Cao Bang Province) 10-19 May 1941, decided on a new line highlighting the slogan “national liberation,” establishing the Viet Minh Front, changing the names of various mass organizations into Associations for National Salvation.  Although the communists assumed the new name of “Viet Minh,” few identified it as separate from the Communist Movement.

[11]Jean Lacouture, Ho Chi Minh: A Political Biography (New York: Random House, 1968), 74-75.

[12]John T. McAlister, Jr. and Paul Mus, The Vietnamese and Their Revolution (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1970), 24.

[13]Dalloz, 50.

[14]William Warby, Ho Chi Minh and the struggle for an independent nation ( London: Merlin Press, 1972), 30.

[15]Hoang Van Chi, From Colonialism to Communism: A Case History of North Vietnam (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1964),40.

[16]Duiker, 196.

[17]Bernard Fall, Ho Chi Minh On Revolution (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Inc., 1967), 87.

[18]The Vietnamese Communist Party was originally called the Viet Nam Thanh Nien Cach Menh Dong Chi Hoi, or the Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth Organization, briefly known as Thanh Nien, created by Ho around 1929, and later changed to the Vietnamese Communist Party in 1930. See N. Khac Huyen, Vision Accomplished? The Enigma of Ho Chi Minh (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1971), 26-27.

[19]Charles Fenn, Ho Chi Minh: a biographical introduction (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973), 88. Also see David Halberstam, Ho (New York: Random House, 1971), 60.

[20]Nguyen Van Trang, Official Ho Chi Minh Biography: Childhood (1890-1911) (Hanoi: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1959), 4.

[21]Alexander B. Woodside, Community and Revolution in Modern Vietnam (Boston: Houghton Miffin, 1976), 97.

[22]This superior man is not at all a super man of the Nietzschean type.  He is merely a kind and gentle man of moral principles, at the same time a man who loves learning, who is calm himself and perfectly at ease and is constantly careful of his own conduct, believing that by example he has a great influence over society in general.  See Lin Yutang, The Wisdom of Confucius (New York: The Modern Library, 1938), 23.

[23]Hoang, 33-35.

[24]oangHHoang, 33.

[25]Hoang, X.

[26]Halberstam, 14-15.

[27] Throughout the whole of the French colonial period, armed revolts against the conquering colonialists rarely ceased, and even intermittent intervals in the fighting were marked by non-violent agitations. These movements of resistance to French rule may be defined as follows:  Can Vuong, or Monarchist Movement (1885-1913); Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc, or “Private Schools” Movement (1907-08),also known as the “Scholars” Movement; Dong Du (“Trip to the East”), or Pan-Asian Movement (1905-39); and Viet-Nam Quoc-Dan Dang, or Nationalist Movement (1925-33 and 1945-46); [27] and the Communist Movement (1925-45). 

[28]Halberstam, 12-13.

[29]Thai Nguyen, Viet-Nam: The Heart of Darkness (Manila: Carmelo & Bauerman, 1962), 187.

[30]Halberstam, 60.

[31]Douglas Pike, Viet Cong (Cambridge: The M.I.T. Press, 1966), 27.

[32]Jean Chesneaux, The Vietnamese Nation (Sydney: Current Book Distributors, 1966), 159.

[33]Douglas Pike, History of Vietnamese Communism (Cambridge: The MI.T. Press, 1966), 52.

[34]Huyen, 81.

[35]Hoang Van Chi, 60.

[36]McAlister, Jr., Mus, 68.

[37]McAlister, Jr., Mus, 69.

[38]Dalloz, 50.

[39]Hammerback, 183.

[40]Hammerback, 183.

[41]Hammerback, 183.

[42]Hammerback, 184.

[43]Lacouture states that when the Versailles Peace Conference started work, Ho and his friend Phan Van Troung—aided by the Van Phu Trinh—drew up an eight-point program for their country’s emancipation and forwarded it to the conference secretariat in January 1919.  This plan had been inspired by President Wilson’s Fourteen Points.  See Lacouture, 24.

[44]Lacouture, 25.

[45]Thanh Nien or “Youth” is the current abbreviation of the term Viet-Nam Thanh-Nien Cach-Menh Dong-Chi Hoi (the Association of Vietnamese Revolutionary Young Comrades).  The word Dong Chi meaning “comrade” reflects the communist tendency of the movement.  This is the first occasion of its use in the Vietnamese language.  This was the name that Ho Chi Minh gave to a crypto-communist organization which he founded in Canton in 1925, a few months after he had been sent there by the Comintern.  See Hoang, 42.

[46]For Confucius, the chun tzu is a “superior man” that becomes a model for society, the actualization of a mode of being, emulating proper behavior and wisdom through self-actualization.  See Miles Meander Dawson, The Basic Teachings of Confucius (New York: The New York Home Library, 1942), 6-7.

[47]Hodgkin, 225-6.

[48]Hodgkin, 225-6.

[49]Hammer, 134.

[50]“Equality” became a word with multiple definitions.  To the Confucians, equality meant people equal to one another according to rank, family, etc. (although true equality never existed in the Confucian system); to the French, equality meant the difference between French and Vietnamese, peasantry, land ownership, etc.. Ho chose to avoid the ambiguity of the word.

[51]The rhetoric of the early 1920’s regarding “equality” appears to have been abandoned, although Ho’s use of equality referred mainly to equality between nationalities more than individuals.

[52]Hue-tam Ho Tai, Radicalism and the Origins of the Vietnamese Revolution (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992), 256.

[53]Hoang, footnote 7, 39.

[54]Fall, vi-xi.

[55]Fall, vi-xi.

[56]Fenn, 36.

[57]Ho Chi Minh, “Appeal Made by Comrade Nguyen Ai Quoc on the Occasion of the Founding of the Party,” 3 February 1930.

[58]Hammerback, 183.

[59]Hammerback, 183.

[60]Frederick Antczak, Thought and Character: The Rhetoric of Democratic Education (Ames: The Iowa State University Press, 1985), 11.

[61]Antczak, 11.

[62]See Hammerback explaining Maurice Charland’s, “Constitutive Rhetoric: The Case of the Peuple Quebecois,” 184.

[63]Edwin Black, Rhetorical Criticism, A study in Method (Chicago: McMillan Company, 1965), 113.

[64]Hammerback, 186.

[65]Hammerback, 186.

[66]Hammerback, 186.

[67]Maurice Charland, “Constitutive Rhetoric: The Case of the Peuple Quebecois,” Quarterly Journal of Speech, 2, 1987, 133.

[68]Charland, 133.

[69]Charland, 133.

[70]Ho Chi Minh, “The Line of the Party During the Period of the Democratic Front (1936-1939), Tuyen Tap, July 1939. Reprinted in Su That Publishing House, Hanoi, 1960,pp. 196. Located in the Indochina Archives, University of California, Berkeley, California, file DRV, subj. Biography, date 7/39, sub-cat. Ho.

[71]Besides the multitude of ordinary spirits, a Heaven (T’ien) or God (Ti) was supposed to exist, to both of which the Shu Ching (Book of History) makes reference in its section “The Speech of T’ang.”  See Fung Yu-Lan, A History of Chinese Philosophy: The Period Of The Philosophers, translated by Derk Bodde (Peiping: Henri Vetch, 1937), 30-1. 

[72]Herrlee G. Creel, The Origins of Statecraft in China (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1970), 82.

[73]Creel, 82.

[74]Wm. Theodore de Bary, Editor, Sources of Chinese Tradition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1960), 8.

[75]de Bary, 8.

[76]de Bary, 8.

[77]de Bary, 8.

[78]de Bary, Editor, 8.

[79]Creel, 94.

[80]Creel, 94.

[81]See Confucius, Analects, 12.7.  Also see Lin Yutang, 116.

[82]See Mencius, 5(1).5.8. Also see David G. Marr, Vietnamese Anticolonialism, 1885-1925 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), 103.        

[83]Creel, 97.

[84]Creel, 441.

[85]McAlister, Jr., Mus, 67.

[86]McAlister, Jr., Mus, 67.

[87]McAlister, Jr., Mus, 67.

[88]McAlister, Jr., Mus, 65.

[89]McAlister, Jr., Mus, 61.

[90]McAlister, Jr., Mus, 61-62.

[91]Dawson, 7.

[92]Tu Wei-ming, Centrality and Commonality: An Essay on Chung-Yung (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1976), 71.

[93]Yutang, 6.

[94]Yutang, 6.

[95]Fung, v 12.

[96]Fung, v 12.

[97]Fung, v 12.

[98]Fung, 2.

[99]Fung, 2.

[100]Dawson, 1.

[101]Yutang, 22-23.

[102]Yutang, 32.

[103]Yutang, 102.

[104]Yutang, 23.

[105]Yutang, 6

[106]Yutang, 6.

[107]Marr, 103.

[108]“Nhut phu nhi su:” first comes the father then comes the teacher.  See Marr, 103.

[109]Marr, 103.

[110]Much of traditional Vietnamese ethics was summarized in the Confucian Ta Hsueh formula, wherein knowledge and self-cultivation led to proper family regulation, which induced state order, which promoted universal peace.  See Marr, 103.

[111]Woodside, 97.

[112]“Tu than, te gia, tri quoc, binh tien ha.”  See Woodside, 97.

[113]Woodside, 97.

[114]Woodside, 97.

[115]Woodside, 97.

[116]In 1284 AD, Kubilai Khan, the Mongol emperor tried to force Vietnam into submission.  He sent an army of five hundred thousand men to conquer Vietnam.  The Vietnamese emperor sent his best general, Tran Trung Dao to drive out the invaders.  A master in guerilla warfare, general Tran Trung Dao opted for a superb defense strategy and effective tactics to overcome his inferiority in number of troops and weapons.  Three hundred and fifty years earlier, general Ngo Quyen used the underwater spikes to defeat

[117]Ho Chi Minh, Letter from Abroad, 1941.

[118]Ho Chi Minh, Letter from Abroad, 1941.

[119]V.D. Tran, “The Rhetoric of Revolt: Ho Chi Minh as Communicator,” Journal of Communication,4, 1976, 142-147.

[120]Charland, 143.

[121]Hammerback, 186.

[122]In 1898 the French passed a law suppressing freedom of press in Vietnam.  Patriotic literature—poems, anecdotes, and narratives—were circulated clandestinely by word of mouth or written in characters and then communicated orally to the masses.  Chinese and Chu Nom remained the exclusive writing system of the resistance.  For further detail see John DeFrancis, Colonialism and Language Policy in Vietnam (Hague: Mouton Publishers, 1977), 154-5.

[123]Osipo Mandel’stam, The Plamya, No. 36, 23 December 1923, translator: Documentation Office, Hoc Tap, Article: Hanoi, Hoc Tap, Vietnamese, No. 6, June 70, pp. 37-42.  This document was located at the Indochina Archives, File DRV, Subject Biography, Sub-category Ho, University of California, Berkeley, California.

[124]Warby, 111.

[125]Warby, 111.

[126]Ho Chi Minh, “Lynching,” La Correspondance Internationale, No. 59, 1924.

[127]Reinhold Neumann-Hoditz, Portrait of Ho Chi Minh (Hamburg: Herder and Herder,1972), 129.

[128]See Lacouture, 78.

[129]Ho Chi Minh, In a Prison Diary

[130]Hoang, x.

[131]Hoang, 33-5.

[132]See Days With Ho Chi Minh,  138-9.

[133]Warby, 8.

[134]Warby, 8.

[135]Warby, 8.

[136]Warby, 110.

[137]Halberstam, 12-13.

[138]Halberstam, 14.

[139]Halberstam, 13.

[140]Halberstam, 18.

[141]Halberstam, 17.

[142]Halberstam, 17.

[143]Fenn, 46.

[144]Fenn, 46.

[145]Tran Ngoc Danh, quoting Ho in Histoire du President Ho, Foreign Languages Press, Hanoi, 1949, p. 33. Reprinted by Fenn, 46.

[146]Neumann-Hoditz, 169.

[147]Neumann-Hoditz, 169.

[148]Neumann-Hoditz, 169

[149]Neumann-Hoditz, 169.

[150]Neumann-Hoditz, 170.

[151]Neumann-Hoditz, 170.

[152]Neumann-Hoditz, 170.

[153]Robert Shaplen, The Lost Revolution (New York: Harper and Row, 1965), 70.

[154]Fenn, 40.

[155]Gerald Cannon Hickey, Village in Vietnam (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964), 276.

[156]Hickey, 276.

[157]Hickey, 276.

[158]Hickey, 277.

[159]Hickey, 277.

[160]Hickey, 277.

[161]Hickey, 277.

[162]Hickey, 277.

[163]Hue-tam, 4.

[164]Hue-tam, 4.

[165]Hue-tam, 4-5.

[166]Hue-tam, 5.

[167]Hue-tam, 5.

[168]Hue-tam, 6    

[169]Hue-tam, 6-7.

[170]Hue-tam, 6-7.

[171]Shaplen, 46.

[172]Shaplen, 46.

[173]Hue-tam, 5.

[174]Hue-tam, 6.

[175]Hue-tam, 6.

[176]Hue-tam, 7.

[177]Hue-tam, 7.

[178]Hue-tam, 7.

[179]Hue-tam, 7.

[180]Hue-tam, 256.

[181]Shaplen, 92.

[182]Shaplen, 93.

[183]Shaplen, 93.

[184]Shaplen, 93.

[185]Hoang, 35.

[186]Hoang, 35.

[187]Hoang, 35.

[188]McAlister, Jr., Mus, 117.

[189]McAlister, Jr., Mus, 65.

[190]McAlister, Jr., Mus, 65.

[191]McAlister, Jr., Mus, 65.

[192]McAlister, Jr., Mus, 65..

[193]McAlister, Jr., Mus, 113-4.

[194]McAlister, Jr., Mus, 113-4.

[195]McAlister, Jr., Mus, 114.

[196]McAlister, Jr., Mus, 114.

[197]McAlister, Jr., Mus, 114.

[198]Douglas Pike, History of Vietnamese Communism, 1925-76, 60.