The body of Ho Chi Minh, the first president of Vietnam and a man known as the father of the nation’s independence, rests in the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in the central part of Hanoi.
I recently went to this solemn, grey-stone structure for the first time in a while at the invitation of an elderly member of the Communist Party of Vietnam, someone I’ve known for quite a while. I saw many visitors, including elementary school students on a field trip, couples and tourist groups from provincial areas. He’s familiarly known as “Uncle Ho”, and attracts a constant stream of visitors nearly half a century after his death.
The body rests there with four guards of honour standing around it. When we walked out of the mausoleum, the elderly Communist asked himself: “If Uncle Ho were alive, what would he think about Vietnam today?”
It’s said that “what if” should be avoided when talking about history. Based on this understanding, we pondered the president’s last testament, in which he said all comrades must preserve the unity and oneness of mind of the party. Each party member must be deeply imbued with revolutionary morality, and show integrity, uprightness and complete selflessness, he wrote.
He also wrote: “The American invaders defeated, we will rebuild our land 10 times more beautiful.”
“When I am gone, a grand funeral should be avoided in order not to waste the people’s time and money,” his testament said.
Ho requested that he be cremated and his ashes buried in northern, central and southern Vietnam. With his final words, he rejected the construction of a stone monument and a statue of him, and instead hoped that a building would be created where people could take a rest and a memorial tree would be planted. Ho talked about the importance of unity and serving the people, and opposed being deified. He was fond of living a plain life, wearing the people’s uniform and sandals. His will is a testament to a person who was known as having a saintly personality.
But what happened in reality?
After his death in 1969, the body was preserved with the support of the now-defunct Soviet Union, and was later placed at the mausoleum. After the end of the Cold War, “Ho Chi Minh thought” was added to the country’s Constitution in 1992 as its guiding principles in addition to “Marxism-Leninism”. Many political signs are seen on the street that say: “Learn President Ho Chi Minh’s thought, morals and dignity”.
Rampant corruption and injustice have become problems as well. In the anti-corruption campaign led by Communist Party general secretary Ngyuen Phu Trong, people close to former reformist Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung have been arrested one after another.
A party source said the series of arrests is part of a power game in the guise of an anticorruption campaign. Many observers agree.
As a result of giving top priority to economic development, instead of creating a beautiful homeland, the country’s environmental contamination is now a threat to the lives of its people. Last autumn, Vietnam’s state-run media reported research that said air pollution is responsible for 10 per cent of deaths. It is true that Ho’s successors successfully unified North and South Vietnam. Looking back at the path Vietnam has travelled since unification, however, there is no denying that Ho’s successors treated his testament disrespectfully.
They’ve idolised Ho, though he hated to be treated that way, and continued to take advantage of his name to maintain one-party rule.
What would have happened if Ho’s wishes had been carried out is truly one of history’s “what-ifs”. But I cannot stop it filling my imagination. “All Vietnamese are a child or a grandchild of Uncle Ho. If that’s true, there are so many children and grandchildren who are unworthy of Ho,” said the communist. It was like Uncle Ho himself had spoken.