General Vo Nguyen Giap’s little-known facts

VietNamNet Bridge – On the occasion of the 100th birthday of General Vo Nguyen Giap, we would like to introduce an article by Tran Manh Thuong, a lecturer of the Stage and Cinematography University. Thuong, a fellow-countryman with General Giap, has collected photos and documentation about the legendary general for dozens of years.

General Vo Nguyen Giap visited his home village in Quang Binh province.

General Giap’s childhood

The boy named Vo Nguyen Giap was born in the flood season, on August 25, 1911, in a shed under the shadow of an old jackfruit tree.

The little boy Giap was a member of the Vo family, a big one in An Xa village, Loc Thuy commune, Le Thuy district in the central province of Quang Binh. His family has seven brothers and sisters. As the eldest brother and sisters died young, the family then had three daughters and two sons – Vo Nguyen Giap and Vo Thuan Nho, who was Deputy Minister of Education later.

The boy Giap’s parents are Mr. Vo Quang Nghiem and Mrs. Nguyen Thi Kien. As a prestigious teacher in the region, Mr. Nghiem taught Han scripts and then the national language of Vietnam. He was also a medical practitioner. Mr. Nghiem was not An Xa village’s first notable and he was always invited to be the village’s officiating priest at public events.

When the war of resistance against the French broke out, Mr. Nghiem did not quickly evacuate with his family, so he was arrested by the French. He was confined in a prison in Hue city. He was tortured and died there. After the country’s unification, his family found out his remains and buried him at the cemetery for martyrs in Le Thuy district.

Mr. Nghiem’s family was poor. The family had to borrow from usurers in the village, including Khoa Uy, a Chinese Vietnamese family in the neighboring village of Tuy Loc. Little boy Giap once rowed a boat to carry rice to pay debts to Khoa Uy, with his mother.

When General Giap was a boy, his mother often told him stories about General Ton That Thuyet, who supported King Ham Nghi to release the Can Vuong proclamation, to call for feudal intellectuals and the people to raise up against the French to defend the country every night. His father also told him about the war of resistance against the French rule through folk poems.

The boy entered a village class and then the general school in the neighboring village of Tuy Loc, where had the famous Hom market.

There was an alcohol store at the Hom market, which was owned by a French colonialist. To please the French and local officials during French holidays, the little boy Giap’s teacher often told his students to sing for these people. Giap was unpleasant seeing his teacher to be subservient to the French owner of the alcohol store, though the boy was his dear student.

Finishing the general school, little boy Giap moved to the district school to enter the third class, which was 4-5 kilometers from his home. To go to the school, he had to go by ferry-boat across the Kien Giang River. He boarded at a relative’s home. He was the best student in his class.

Finishing the third class, the boy went to Dong Hoi town for further studies. The town is located on the bank of the Nhat Le River, more than 20km from his village. Giap boarded at the home of his father’s acquaintance in Dong Hoi. The host liked the boy very much and did not take accommodation fees from Giap. Giap studied with a renowned teacher – Dao Duy Anh, who became a famous scholar, a cultural researcher, a historian and a writer in the future.

The boy Giap was small but handsome. He sat in the first table in class, with schoolgirls so he was teased by classmates. During two years in Dong Hoi, he was always the top student. He was also the first laureate at the graduation exams. He was the pride of his family and his village.

At the age of 13, he went to the capital city of Hue to attend the exams to the Hue national high-school. He was subjective to surely pass the exams because he was the top student of Quang Binh. However, he failed. He was very disappointed and sad.

The next summer, Mr. Nghiem took Giap back to Hue city for the second exams. This time Giap passed examination to enter the Hue national high-school.

Early day with revolutionary campaign

General Vo Nguyen Giap at his home in Quang Binh.

Giap always ranked the first at the Hue national high-school. His teachers and classmates were very surprised when he fell to the second position for one month. But for the young man, Vo Nguyen Giap, study was no longer his top opportunity.

He entered the Hue national high-school at the time the struggling campaign of farmers, intellectuals and students in the central region to ask for tax reduction and the French administration to set free revolutionist Phan Chu Trinh* reached its peak. Vo Nguyen Giap quickly joined the movement.

He had many comrades in the struggling campaign of Hue’s students, such as Nguyen Khoa Van, Nguyen Thuc Hao and especially Nguyen Chi Dieu, who were famous revolutionists later. Dieu often shared with Vo Nguyen Giap his discontentment about the colonial education, which aimed to educate efficient henchmen for the “mother country”.

Also at the Hue national high-school, Giap was taught by patriotic and outstanding teachers like Vo Liem Son, Cao Xuan Huy and Dang Thai Mai.

In April 192, a large-scale student strike broke out at the Hue national high-school. Nguyen Chi Dieu was suspected as the leader of the strike. He was wrongly accused of a cribber at a mathematic exam and was expelled from the school.

Vo Nguyen Giap and many other students were discontented with the case and they petitioned the school to revoke its decision but the school returned the petition. Vo Nguyen Giap and Nguyen Khoa Van organized another student strike to protest the school’s decision to expel Dieu. The student strike at the Hue national high-school spread to other schools in Hue and became a general student strike.

The French administration in Hue, under the direct guidance of the chief detective of the central region Leon Sogny, mobilized all forces to supervise all activities of the Hue national high-school’s students. Many students were arrested but under the pressure from the public opinion, the local authorities had to release these students. However, they expelled students who were claimed as the leaders of the student strike, including Vo Nguyen Giap, Nguyen Chi Dieu and Nguyen Khoa Van.

Being expelled from school, Vo Nguyen Giap did not return home. He went to central provinces of Quang Nam, Da Nang, Binh Dinh and others to visit his friends and listened out for the situation. During the time in Quang Nam, he paid a visit to a newly-built temple for Phan Chau Trinh and then returned home in deadlock.

One day, Nguyen Chi Dieu suddenly visited Giap at his home village in Quang Binh. Dieu took with him documents about the “Union of oppressed nations in the world” and some documents of the meeting of the Association of Revolutionary Youth of Vietnam in Guangzhou, China, including two speeches by leader Nguyen Ai Quoc. Giap, and was very moved reading the documents.

Dieu told Giap that after being expelled from school, he joined the Tan Viet Revolution Party. He showed Giap programs and charters of the Tan Viet Revolution Party. Giap was then admitted to this party.

In summer 1928, Giap returned to Hue and began the life of a revolutionist. At Hue, Dieu recommended Giap to work at the Quan Hai Tung Thu, a publishing house ran by Tan Viet party.

Vo Nguyen Giap worked as the secretary of the publishing house. He was a member of a secret group of the Tan Viet Party, led by Dao Duy Anh. Through Tan Viet Party, Giap had access to social, economic and revolutionary doctrines of the world.

In 1929, Vo Nguyen Giap became a key member of Tan Viet Party. He actively campaigned Tan Viet Party to join the Communist Party. As the editor in chief of the Tieng Dan (People’s Voice) newspaper, Dao Duy Anh introduced Vo Nguyen Giap to Huynh Thuc Khang (a Vietnamese anti-colonialist and associate of Phan Chu Trinh. Born in Quang Nam Province, he went on to top the imperial examinations in 1900. Most cities in Vietnam, have named major streets after him).

Vo Nguyen Giap worked as a sub-editor for Tieng Dan newspaper, the first newspaper following the progressive tendency in central Vietnam, which was established by Huynh Thuc Khang in 1928. Through this newspaper, Vo Nguyen Giap made public articles about the Marxism. Thus, he became a target of the colonial government.

On October 25, 1929, Vo Nguyen Giap was arrested, along with other revolutionists as Dang Thai Mai, student Nguyen Thi Quang Thai, who was Giap’s wife later and some of his old friends at the Hue national high-school. He was only 19 at that time. Vo Nguyen Giap was sentenced two years in jail.

In late 1931, he was released thanks to the French Red Relief Association’s campaign to ask the French colonial government in Vietnam to release political prisoners. Giap was put under home arrest in An Xa village.

A short period of time later he went to Vinh city, Nghe An. He saw teacher Dang Thai Mai there and the teacher helped seek a temporary job for him. In 1932, teacher Mai moved to Hanoi. Vo Nguyen Giap followed him.

Leaving the high school early, Vo Nguyen Giap decided to spend ten months for self-study in Hanoi. He then excellently passed the high-school graduation exams. After that he taught at the Thang Long School, with teacher Dang Thai Mai. Many of his students become prestigious intellectuals and high-ranking officials.

In 1936, the Common People’s Front held the power in France, forcing the colonial administration in Indochina to perform democratic reforms. Vo Nguyen Giap participated in many public campaigns of the party. He wrote for many newspapers of the Party in Vietnamese and French. He became chairman of the Northern Vietnam Press Committee. Vo Nguyen Giap worked very hard. He could write all articles for an installment of “Le Travail” newspaper within 24 non-stop hours.

In late 1939, the Common People’s Front collapsed, France and the world in general faced the threat of the fascism. In Indochina, the colonial government suppressed the revolution campaign. They arrested many revolutionist . At this time, Hoang Van Thu, permanent member of the Indochina Communist Party adviced Vo Nguyen Giap to go overseas, where he met leader Nguyen Ai Quoc.

While teaching at the Thang Long School, Vo Nguyen Giap married Nguyen Thi Quang Thai, younger sister of famous revolutionist Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, who he met on a train from Vinh to Hue city many years ago.

Giap liked Thai in their first meeting. They felt in love when Thai admitted to the Dong Khanh high school for female students in Hue. They met again in the prison. During their time in prison, Vo Nguyen Giap further understood Thai.

In summer 1940, Vo Nguyen Giap went abroad, leaving his wife and his daughter – Vo Hong Anh, who became a famous physicist in the future – in Vietnam. They did not know that they would never meet again. Thai was arrested by the French and died in prison.

As destiny, Vo Nguyen Giap met Nguyen Ai Quoc in Yunnan, China. After a short period of time, Nguyen Ai Quoc knew that Vo Nguyen Giap was the one needed for the Vietnamese revolution. He sent Vo Nguyen Giap to a military training course of the Chinese Communist Party at a military base in China.

On his way to the base, he was called back because the world situation changed greatly. In Europe, German fascist invaded France. Nguyen Ai Quoc judged that the situation in Indochina would change quickly and Vietnamese revolutionists needed to return home urgently to grasp new opportunity.

In 1941, Vo Nguyen Giap and Ho Chi Minh returned to Cao Bang province. During the time at the Pac Po cave, Ho Chi Minh predicted that the revolution would succeed in 1945.

In December 1944, Ho Chi Minh assigned Vo Nguyen Giap to build the Armed Propaganda Brigade for Liberation of Vietnam, the forerunner of the Vietnam People’s Army today.


* Phan Chu Trinh, 1872–1926, was a famous early 20th century Vietnamese nationalist. He sought to end France's brutal occupation of Vietnam. He opposed both violence and turning to other countries for support, and instead believed in attaining Vietnamese liberation by educating the population and by appealing to French democratic principles.
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