USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

Ho Chi Minh in Paris

We start in Paris in 1919. We find there a young man from the large French colony of Indochina (today’s Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) working in the restaurant of the famous Ritz Carlton Hotel. Ho Chi Minh, much like Gandhi, attended a school run by the colonial authorities, a French lycee. After he completed his studies in Vietnam, Ho left for Paris in hopes of continuing his education in the mother country. Unlike Gandhi, these hopes proved futile and Ho found himself in Paris and in search of a way to get by.

In searching for the foundation of Ho’s intellectual and political roots, we must recall that he came from a family both highly anti-colonialist and in some ways highly integrated into the colonial world, as evidenced by the formal French education Ho received. Ho’s father was a Confucian scholar and a minor colonial administrator. From an early age, Ho was steeped in classical Confucian studies, not the training one would expect from a future communist leader but one that imbued Ho’s thinking with a strong sense of Vietnamese pride. Indeed, caught between the two mighty forces of French colonial rule and Chinese cultural hegemony, Ho held even more tightly to a sense of Vietnamese identity.

In Paris, the peace conference was taking place and Ho was exposed to the heady ideals of Wilsonianism and the spirit of democratic government. In a bold move, Ho even went so far as to petition the conference for Vietnamese independence, a call that was totally ignored by the peacemakers, unconcerned, as we have noted, with the colonial “rights” of subjects within the former allied domains. It was in the years after the Paris conference that Ho began his long career as a Marxist. Let us trace his ideological development by looking at some of his own writings and try to understand this development in the context of the times.

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