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Nguyễn Thị Năm and the Land Reform in North Vietnam, 1953

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Abstract

New scholarship has challenged conventional portrayals of the Vietnamese revolution and its leader, Hồ Chí Minh. However, little has been said about Hồ Chí Minh’s role in the social-political and economic revolution known as the land reform. This paper looks at the life and trial of landowner Nguyễn Thị Năm to illuminate Hồ Chí Minh’s role in the decision to execute Nguyễn Thị Năm. It also examines the execution as part of the broader history of the land reform and of the consolidation of communist power in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
RESEARCH ESSAY
ALEX-THAI D.VO
NguynThNăm and the Land Reform
in North Vietnam, 
On Monday, September ,, the Vietnam National Museum of
History in Hà Ni launched an exhibit entitled Land Reform
[ci cách rung đt, ] opening up for the first time this
politically sensitive historical subject for public viewing and discussion.
The
opening ceremony began at : a.m. in the open space in front of the
museums entrance. It included speeches from representatives of the gov-
ernment, the Party, and the museum, along with the performance of patri-
otic songs and dances. Inside the museum were displayed approximately
 pictures and documents with images of wealthy landowners,
impover-
ished peasants and depictions of life before and after the land reform. This
exhibit accentuated the land reforms supposed success in redistributing
land and improving the lives of poor peasants. According to the museums
director, the exhibit was crafted to focus on the benefits of the reform and
not on the suffering that it caused.
The attendance was overwhelming and media coverage was extensive, espe-
cially on the Internet.
Some observers applauded the decision to stage the
exhibit; however, many questioned its narrow focus on the land reform pro-
grams success and the exclusion of its shortcomings. Discussion of the subject
spilled beyond the official narrative, with manypeople inside Vietnamas well as
1
Journal of Vietnamese Studies, Vol. , Issue , pps. . ISSN -X, electronic -.
© by The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved. Please direct all
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DOI: ./vs.....
Vietnamese abroad beginning to talk more openly about the programs violence
and injustices. Consequently, on September ,, just five days after its
grand opening, the exhibit was closed indefinitely.
The closing down of the exhibit suggests that the land reform remains
a sensitive subject that cannot be discussed openly in Vietnam today. This
essay addresses three issues. First, it proposes that the timing, formation, and
implementation of the land reform program were shaped by diplomatic and
military relations between the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), the
Soviet Union, and the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) during the early
s. China, its land reform model and its advisers were especially impor-
tant in helping the DRV to develop its own land reform program. Second,
even though the Chinese presence and model were important and, at times,
overwhelming, they were not unwelcome. Rather, they were keenly sought
after and willingly accepted. HChí Minh and the DRVs leaders were
deeply involved in the development and implementation of the program;
as such they were fully aware of, and arguably responsible for, its many
errorsand injustices, including the punishment of people on trumped-
up charges. Third, the DRVs purposes in carrying out mass mobilization
and land reform were to eliminate rural elites, consolidate political power in
the countryside, and gain the popular support needed for war against
France. HChí Minh and his lieutenants were more than willing to sacrifice
the wealthy landowning class a process that began with the public perse-
cution and execution of NguynThNăm, a person known to be a loyal
supporter of the resistance movement. NguynThNăms trial and execu-
tion gave the decision-makers at the top and local cadres the template to
push land reform forward and consequently to reap what are still incalcu-
lable consequences.
This essay is divided into two sections. The first examines historiograph-
ical debates that have shaped most peoples understanding of the land
reform program. It introduces recent studies made possible by the availabil-
ity of newly found archival, library, and first-person sources. The second
section, divided into five parts, examines the life, trial, and execution of
NguynThNăm in relation to the DRVs land reform program, and H
Chí Minhs involvement in both processes. This section begins with a bio-
graphical sketch of NguynThNăm and her relationship with the DRV.
2VO
Part two explores the significance of the recommendation of Luo Guibo (the
Chinese general adviser in Vietnam) to mobilize the masses to carry out
land reform. The third part explains the process of mass mobilization. Part
four will examine the trial and persecution of NguynThNămandher
associates, and the final part will consider the logic behind the decision to
execute NguynThNăminordertoproveHChí Minhsroleinthecase
and the development of the land reform program.
This paper is based on information from VănKinĐng [The Complete
Collection of Party Documents], primary sources from the Vietnam
National Archive III, the Vietnam National Library, provincial archives and
libraries in Thái Nguyên, Phú Th, Thanh Hóa, NghAn, Nam Đnh, and
Thái Bình, and interviews of eyewitnesses in the regions where land reform
was implemented.
Land Reform: Historiographical Overview and
New Promises
The trial and execution of NguynThNăm was an important early episode
in the Vietnamese WorkersParty [Đng Lao Đng Vit Nam] (VWP) land
reform campaign that unfolded from  to .
Although the reform
transformed much of Vietnamese rural society and left a profound impres-
sion on the minds of many Vietnamese, historiography on the subject has
been very limited. A reason for this is the persistent efforts of the Vietnamese
government to control the narrative and to silence public discourse on the
topic, thereby making it very difficult for researchers to gain access to
reliable primary source materials. As a result, most standard interpretations
of the land reform have relied on sources, paradigms, and explanations
selectively put forward by the VWP. This limitation has forced many ob-
servers to become mere mouthpieces for the VWPs messages and dissidents
to raise only sensationalist questions such as whether the violence of the land
reform might better be characterized as a bloodbath.
In reality, land reform was much more complex. The processes by which
it was carried out were various, with a multitude of causes and effects. It was
not until the initiation of ĐiMi [Renovation] in  that the Communist
government tacitly began to tolerate greater personal and public freedoms,
thereby creating a more open political and academic environment. Rigid
NGUYNTHNĂM AND THE LAND REFORM IN NORTH VIETNAM, 1953 3
criteria for accessing and releasing internal documents loosened, which
permitted the declassification of many valuable sources. Libraries, archives,
and ethnographic sites were made more accessible, allowing researchers to
examine internal records and oral histories. As a result, the study of the
Vietnamese experience, including the land reform, during the Vietnam War
has made significant progress in the past twenty-five years.
The loosening of censorship rules enabled wider publication of historical
fiction and personal memoirs on subjects related to the land reform. None-
theless, most of the influential historiography on the subject was produced
during the pre-ĐiMi era, driven by the polarizing atmosphere of the
Vietnam War. This important aspect divides the historiographical debates
as well as how people understand the land reform into two camps: One camp
argues that the land reform was part of the class struggle, a tragic bloodbath
that caused the death and suffering of hundreds of thousands of North Viet-
namese; the other camp offers a narrative that is more consistent with the
official VWP account and that disputes the bloodbathinterpretation by
insisting on the land reforms general success in redistributing land and
improving the socio-economic status of poor peasants. These scholars argue
that the bloodbathis a myth promulgated by the US government and its
South Vietnam ally to legitimize the Vietnam War. The debates between the
two camps often centered on the discourses of the land reform campaign from
 to , the degree of Chinas influence on Vietnams reform policies,
the economic effects of the war, and most importantly, the number of victims.
The bloodbath argument was popular from the late s to the early
s, perhaps in light of the escalation of the Vietnam War and US involve-
ment in it. During this period, many scholars wrote about the social and
political development of North Vietnam, with special attention to the land
reform and its consequences. These years saw the publication of Bernard
B. FallsThe Vit Minh Regime () and The Two Vietnams (), J. Price
GittingersCommunist Land Policy in North Vietnam(), Gerard
TongassJai vécu dans lenfer communiste au Nord Viet-Nam (), P. J.
HoneysNorth Vietnam Today ()andCommunism in North Vietnam
(), Hoàng VănChísFrom Colonialism to Communism (), George
CarversThe Faceless Viet Cong(), Joseph ButtingersVietnam: A
Dragon Embattled () and Vietnam at War (), Stephen T. Hosmers
4VO
Viet Cong Repression and Its Implications for the Future (), Anita Lauve
NuttsOn the Question of Communist Reprisals in Vietnam (), Daniel E.
TeodorusThe Bloodbath Hypothesis: The Maoist Pattern in North Viet-
nam's Radical Land Reform,(), and Robert F. TurnersVietnamese
Communism: Its Origins and Development (). More often than not,
these works emphasized the brutality of the reform program and rely on
accounts from intellectuals who previously lived under the North Vietnam-
ese government.
Gerard Tongas, for example, was disillusioned with the DRV and
described it as a sour, depressing, and totalitarian state. In his account of
the land reform, Tongas provided one of the earliest estimates of the death
toll, guessing that as many as one hundred thousand people might have
perished. However, he also seemed to reject HChí Minhs connection to
it by blaming HChí Minhs hardline lieutenants, including Trưng Chinh,
Võ Nguyên Giáp, Hoàng QucVit, and others, for the revolutionary vio-
lence.
Meanwhile, Bernard B. Fall stressed the Machiavellian and violent
character of the regime. Fall wrote in The Two Vietnams that the best-
educated guesses on the subject are that probably close to , North
Vietnamese were executed in connection with the land reform and that at
least twice as many were arrested and sent to forced labor camps.However,
unlike Tongas, Fall attributed the violence of the regime directly to HChí
Minh and further suggested the totalitarian nature of the VWP, highlighting
its attempts to appear democratic while executing those perceived as internal
rivals.
Hoàng Văn Chí, whohaving joined the Vit Minhwitnessed the land
reform program firsthand and lost two family members to it, has one of the
most personal and unique perspectives. In his influential From Colonialism
to Communism, Hoàng Văn Chí offered a thorough description of the land
reform program, especially its terrible socio-political consequences.
Hoàng
Văn Chí estimated that more than six hundred thousand people, or per-
cent of North Vietnams population of thirteen million, were executed. He
also emphasized the direct and considerable Chinese influence on the cam-
paign. Yet unlike Tongas and Fall, he appeared ambivalent about HChí
Minh, at times referring to him as incorruptible while offering plenty of
countervailing evidence to suggest his duplicity. Regarding the latter, Hoàng
NGUYNTHNĂM AND THE LAND REFORM IN NORTH VIETNAM, 1953 5
Văn Chí wrote considerably on HChí Minhs consistent betrayal of other
nationalists.
Because of his own experience, Hoàng VănChísdepictionof
the land reform and the conditions in North Vietnam is possibly the most
extensive; however, some scholars, including Gareth Porter and Edwin
Moise, have criticized his subjectivity and the lack of evidence to support
his arguments.
These accounts added to the strong and growing anti-Communist senti-
ment of the time. Both the US and the Sài Gòn governments utilized these
interpretations and estimations to muster public support for continuing the
war against North Vietnam. In South Vietnam, the accountsespecially
Hoàng Văn Chí's, once it was translated into Vietnamese in intensified
the publics fear of a VWP takeover. It is interesting that Hoàng VănChí's
account was the best known and indeed the only comprehensive written
documentation of the land reform during the NorthSouth conflict. Hoàng
VănChís account was based on his own experience and stories he had heard
about events that many others who fled to the south might not have experi-
enced. His account was therefore revealing and important for understading
the land reform. In the United States, President Richard Nixon nearly doubled
Hoàng Văn Chí's figure of six hundred thousand deaths to one million
claiming that half had been murdered and the other half had died in reedu-
cation campsto enhance the justification for American continued involve-
ment in the war.

The other depiction of land reform that was widely publicized in the
south was the  film Chúng Tôi MunSng [We Want to Live], produced
by Bùi Dim, later South Vietnams ambassador to the United States (
). It is not clear why there are not more depictions of the event given the
hundreds of thousands of people, the majority of whom were Catholic, who
must have lived through the land reform campaign before fleeing south,
across the seventeenth parallel, during the one-year period of free move-
mentstipulated by the  Geneva Accords. It is possible that the majority
of people who left North Vietnam at this time might have heard or seen
aspects of land reform, without having personally endured mobilization,
class denunciation, and the other excesses that came during the summer
of . Indeed, before the signing of the Geneva Accords, most land
reforms were carried out in the highland regions under direct control of the
6VO
DRV government. Following the signing of the agreement, the DRV was
bound by Article c, which prohibited either government from taking any
reprisals or discrimination against persons or organizations on account
of their activities during the hostilities and to guarantee their democratic
liberties.

As a result, and in combination with the fear that an intensifica-
tion of mass mobilization for class struggle would push more people to the
south, the DRV leadership resorted to downplaying the land reform propa-
ganda while keeping the campaign away from coastal areas such as Hi
Phòng, Thái Bình, and Nam Đnh, where there was danger of emigration.

Mass mobilization and rent-reduction campaigns during this three hundred-
day period were therefore confined to the provinces of Thái Nguyên, Phú
Th, Tuyên Quang, Bc Giang, Cao Bng, Lng Sơn, BcCn, Vĩnh Phúc,
Yên Bái, Thanh Hóa, NghAn, Hà Tĩnh, Ninh Bình, and Hòa Bình.

To counter the bloodbath image and especially Hoàng VănChíand
Nixons claims, Gareth Porter published in  The Myth of the Bloodbath:
North Vietnams Land Reform Reconsidered, which challenged the idea of
mass killings. Porter dismissed the studies of Hoàng Văn Chí, Fall, and
others as careless scholarship that relied on inadequatesecondary sources
and accused Hoàng Văn Chí of colluding with the US Central Intelligence
Agency. He rightly criticized those scholars for not sufficiently addressing
the need for some sort of land reform in Vietnam and for not emphasizing
the programs success in redistributing the land to poor peasants. Porter
concluded that the program was generally humane and nonviolent, with
only about , people being executed and another , sentenced to life
imprisonment. His calculations were consistent with the estimation of eight
hundred to , deaths suggested by the available official Vietnamese doc-
umentation.

Porters assessment of the land reform, however, was based on
the same kinds of inadequatesources that he accused other historians of
usingin his case, North Vietnamese newspaper reports and government-
sponsored publications. Nonetheless, his refutation of the earlier literature
was widely accepted by many among the anti-war movement, especially by
the historian and political scientist George M. Kahin.

Much of the data on land reform and the argument used by Gareth Porter
and others in this camp to explain the errors committed were taken from
TrnPhươngs edited volume, Cách mng rung đtVit Nam [Land
NGUYNTHNĂM AND THE LAND REFORM IN NORTH VIETNAM, 1953 7
Revolution in Vietnam]. TrnPhương was a professor of economics who
joined the VWP at an early age and was trained in China during the height
of the land reform campaign. From  to , he served as Vietnams
deputy prime minister. Commissioned by the North Vietnam government
in the mid-s, Cách mng rung đtVit Nam became the standard
narrative on the history of the Partys land policy, covering the period under
French colonialism to the end of the land reform. Its value lied mainly in its
vast amount of statistical data. However, the explanations for the land
reform policy, its achievements, and its shortcomings remained extremely
partial, merely reiterating the Party line. For example, concerning the vio-
lence and injustices committed during the land reform campaign, Trn
Phương simply placed the responsibility on leftist deviations at the lower
level, arguing that VWP leaders did not discover errors until the end of the
program.

Thus, he absolved the top Party leaders from responsibility for
the violence. Though flawed and biased, his book remains a standard refer-
ence for many scholars on land reform.
In his  book Land Reform in China and North Vietnam: Consolidat-
ing the Revolution at the Village Level, Edwin E. Moise emphasized the
comparative nature of the land reform programs in China and Vietnam.
He argued that although the land tenure conditions between the two coun-
tries were significantly different, the same laws and regulations were applied.
However, Moise also concluded that the Vietnamese land reform program
was more chaotic and less successful than the Chinese version because
Communist China had a longer history of transforming villages. Contra-
dicting Hoàng Văn Chí and many Vietnamese observers, including top-
ranking officials within the VWP who blamed the application of the Chinese
model for its failure in Vietnam, Moise did not conclude that any errors
could be traced back to the Chinese model. Rather, he asserted that the
VWPs desire to create its own reform movement, ignoring the Chinese
program guidelines, was to blame. Moreover, Moise argued that Vietnamese
peasants did not have a large desire for land reform and, thus, had to be
deluged with accounts of real and imaginary landlord crimes.

Moise also stated that both central policymakers and village cadres
operated not from concrete information or clear-cut instructions, but
through spontaneous reactions to imperfect data. In other words, there
8VO
was miscommunication, lack of awareness, and misinterpretion of pur-
poses between DRV leaders and land reform cadres.

Relying on the
errors and deviationsparadigm put forward by the VWP leaders and
in TrnPhươngs examination of the land reform, Moise suggested that the
Party did not advocate the widespread killing, and that the radicalization of
the campaign resulted from the undisciplined reform cadres who acted on
their own and against the wishes of the Party. In this way, he contextualized
the program within the Resistance War, arguing that it was impossible for
policymakers to be cautious or present alternative plans. According to
Moise, excesses and errors were inevitable, with many innocent people
being punished for imaginary crimes.
His argument, however, did not take into account the significant influ-
ence of the  Party reorganization campaign [chnh đng] or the
 political consolidation of the army campaign [chnh quân], whereby
the Party, under the guidance of Chinese advisers, carried out sweeping
campaigns of criticism [phê bình] and self-criticism [tphê bình] to purify
both the Party and the army. These purification campaigns were meant to
reeducate [cito] and channel the thoughts of officers and soldiers along
the Party line to prepare for the land reform that the Party planned to carry
out in the winter of .

During these campaigns and throughout
the land reform period, party officials, soldiers, and reform cadres were
regularly provided with directives, orders, lessons, songs, poems, and stories
to foster class consciousness and instill in them hatred for the landowner
class. Considering the propaganda effects of these campaigns, it is thus
difficult to conclude that the excesses and errors committed during land
reform stemmed from miscommunication and misinterpretation alone.
Rather, these campaigns as well as the training and guidance materials that
were given to reform cadres should be examined thoroughly to understand
their effects on the implementation of the land reform campaign.

Moise argued that North Vietnamese leaders did not draw on the Chinese
experience to avoid mistakes; instead, they recklessly implemented their plan
and took several serious missteps. The result was the mistaken classification
and witch-hunts of village-level Party members and political activists, many
of whom were erroneously branded as landowners or counterrevolution-
aries. Concerning the death toll, Moise disagreed with Porters estimate,
NGUYNTHNĂM AND THE LAND REFORM IN NORTH VIETNAM, 1953 9
asserting that Porter had misunderstood the data. At the same time, how-
ever, contrasting the high estimates made by Hoàng Văn Chí and Fall, Moise
placed the number of deaths between three thousand and fifteen thousand.

Still, although Moises study on the Chinese reform program used a range of
sources in several languages, his study of Vietnam relied on only sixteen
Vietnamese sourcesespecially TrnPhươngsall of which were Party-
sponsored.

Thus, although Moise seems to have presented a more moderate
interpretation of the Vietnamese land reform than Porter, his arguments often
favored the explanation that best suited the imperatives of the anti-war move-
ment. He even cited aspects of the justification promoted byHChí Minh and
the VWP leaders, which placed the blame for the errors committed during
land reform on deviations between policies and implementation. Nonetheless,
for more than three decades, Moises interpretation was considered the
authoritative explanation of the land reform.
The vantage points from which these scholarly assessments of the land
reform program were developed and interpreted demonstrate how war
experiences and political conditions influenced and motivated each authors
assessment. Although the scholars all made valiant efforts with close read-
ings of the publications available to them at the time, their efforts were
constrained by the inability to consult relevant archival and library sources
as well as ethnographic firsthand accounts. With the exception of Moises
more moderate assessment and particularly Hoàng VănChísfirsthand
experience, the limitation of sources hindered other authorsabilities to
verify their data and support their arguments in order to recognize the
socio-political complexities of the land reform movement and understand
its lived experience. Hence, their assessments of the land reform, even
though they do discuss other issues related to the campaign, all too often
fixate on the number of deaths.
The problem with this fixation on death statistics, however, is what con-
stitutes a bloodbath. This is a highly sensitive question, but one that is deeply
embedded in the historiography and seems to surface in any discussion of
Vietnams land reform. Those who place more importance on the violence of
the campaign often cite the highest possible death figure, while historians
making the counterargument tend to believe the lowest. The actual number
is undoubtedly important, as it helps to quantify the degree of violence, yet
10 VO
without reliable evidence, the focus on an unsubstantiated number can
distract readers and detract from other relevant discussions about the land
reform. In fact, more than two thousand document files and three hundred
booklets on the land reform are housed in the Vietnam National Archive III
and the Vietnam National Library. They contain many formerly classified
internal Party discussions, debates, decisions, data, and guidelines. Without
intensively probing this information, it is difficulteven irresponsiblefor
anyone to make a definite claim.
By concentrating on the death toll, the historiansdiscussion thus far
neglects to examine land reform from other points of view. First, they do
not examine land reform in relation to how those policies were formulated,
influenced, and changed by socio-political conditions during the Resistance
War, the Battle of Đin Biên Ph, the Geneva Accords, and especially North
Vietnams diplomatic relationships with both China and the Soviet Union.
They do not consider the agrarian policies (rent and interest debt reduction
campaigns) that were implemented during the early Resistance War years to
establish the foundation for land reform; the reorganization campaigns;
events during the land reform campaigns implementation, including the
constant demand for participation in emulation campaigns; the promulga-
tion of and indoctrination in class antagonism; or the changing effects of
social and cultural dynamics, collectivization, and domestic conditions, par-
ticularly at the local levels, on the land reform policies and vice versa. Most
important here are the socio-political complexities that shaped the land
reform campaign, and how they influenced the personal experiences of the
campaigns perpetrators, beneficiaries, and victims. Without considering
these last factors, it is difficult to evaluate the totality of the land reform
experience.
The  ĐiMi and recent permission to access land reform archival
files have made possible more critical reexaminations and representations of
the land reform program by both Vietnamese intellectuals and foreign
scholars. Related Vietnamese fiction and memoirs include Dương Thu
HươngsNhng thiên đưng mù [Paradise of the Blind], TDuy Anhs
Bưc qua li nguyn[The Broken Curse], Lê Minh KhuêsBi kch nh
[A Small Tragedy], Ngô NgcBisÁc mng [Nightmare], Đào Thngs
Dòng sông mía [The Sugar Cane River], Bùi TínsHoa xuyên tuyết
NGUYNTHNĂM AND THE LAND REFORM IN NORTH VIETNAM, 1953 11
[Snowdrops] and Mttht[True Face], VũThưHiênsĐêm gia ban ngày
[Darkness in the Daytime], TrnDnsGhi  [Notes ],
Võ VănTrcsChuyn làng ngày y[Village Story] and Cng rêu dưiđáy
ao [Patch of Moss on a Ponds Bottom], Tô HoàisBa ngưi khác [Three
Others], Hoàng Minh TưngsThica thánh thn[The Time of the Gods],
and Trn ChiếnsTrn Huy Liu: Cõi Ngưi[Trn Huy Liu: The Human
Realm], TrnThếNhânsNgày long triđêm lđt[Trembling Sky by Day,
Splitting Earth by Night], Huy Đc's Bên Thng Cuc[The Winner], and
most recentlyTrnĐĩnhsĐèn cù [Turning Lamp].
Recent scholarship that examines the reform campaign using primary
materials from Vietnamese archives, libraries, and interviews includes
Nguyn Duy Tiếns book Quá trình gii quyếtvnđrung đtThái
Nguyên tsau cách mng tháng năm đếnhếtci cách rung đt
[The Process of Implementing the Right to Own Land for Peasants in Thai
Nguyen ()] (); PhmQuangMinhs PhD dissertation,
Zwischen Theorie und Praxis: Agrarpolitik in Vietnam seit [Between
Theory and Practice: Agrarian Politics in Vietnam since ]() and
article Caught in the Middle: Local Cadres in HiDương Province();
Lê ThQunh Ngas PhD dissertation Quá trình thchinchtrương ci
cách rung đtcađng tnh Thanh Hóa ()[The Process of
Realizing the PartysLandReformPolicyinThanhHóa()]
(); NguynThKhuyênsMastersthesisQuá trình thchinch
trương ci cách rung đtcađng tnh BcNinhtnăm đến
[The Process of Realizing the Partys Land Reform Policy in Bc Ninh
from  to ](); Alex-Thai D. Vos Masters thesis Agrarian
Policies in Northern Vietnam During the Resistance War, 
(); and, most recently, Alec Gordon Holcombes PhD dissertation
Socialist Transformation in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

The first four works are by Vietnamese scholars in Vietnam. As their titles
suggest, each work concentrated on a single province in which land reform
was implemented. NguynDuyTiếns works contain highly relevant infor-
mation on the province of Thái Nguyên, the DRVs secret headquarters region
where the land reforms experimental phase was implemented from April to
August .PhmQuangMinhs works are extremely well researched and
the most erudite, using previously classified and never-before-seen archival
12 VO
materials, including documents from the Communist Party Central Commit-
tee Archive. His works examine the top-downand bottom-upperspec-
tives concerning the relationship between the local Communist Party cadres
and how the Party leadership dealt with problems related to these cadres,
specifically in HiDương Province during the land reform (the s), col-
lectivization (s-s), and de-collectivization (s onwards). Unfor-
tunately, his dissertation is in German and has yet to be translated into English
or Vietnamese. NguynThKhuyên and Lê ThQunh Nga focus on the
provinces of Bc Ninh and Thanh Hóa, respectively. Like Phm Quang Minh,
both use archival sources from provincial and national archives.
My Masters thesis, Agrarian Policies in Northern Vietnam During the
Resistance War, ,moves away from the commonly studied
period () to examine the DRVs agrarian policies from  to
 in order to exemplify the fundamental importance of this period as
a milestone in the implementation of land reform and the consolidation of
political dominance in rural North Vietnam. I argue that land reform was
a key revolutionary objective of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP)
since its establishment in . This objective continued to be nurtured with
the  Trưng Chinh and Võ Nguyên Giáp co-authored study of Viet-
nams rural conditions, Vnđdân cy[The Peasant Question], in which
they designated the five categories that would become the basis for the s
land reform. However, during the early years of the Resistance War, the
DRVs weak political and economic position meant its land policies were
only conservatively applied to appease the interests and gain the support of
both the rich and the poor. As political, economic, and military conditions
improved, and especially after gaining the support of China and the Soviet
Union, land policies underwent a critical shift, provoking the intensive
implementation of the class struggle necessary to eradicate the Vietnamese
traditional elite and consolidate power in the countryside.
To date, the most complete and important study of the land reform
() is Alec Holcombes dissertation, Socialist Transforma-
tion in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.Using archival documents
that he spent over a year studying at the Vietnam National Archive III,
Holcombe tests the validity of the VWPs official narrative for carrying out
the land reform campaign and especially its justification for the errors. The
NGUYNTHNĂM AND THE LAND REFORM IN NORTH VIETNAM, 1953 13
evidence that he found showed that the VWP leadership based its reform
program on Maoist models and planned and implemented the program with
the direct assistance of Chinese advisers. As such, thousands of hastily
trained cadres were sent into the countryside to instigate class struggle,
organize public trials against class enemies, and redistribute confiscated land
and belongings to the poor. Such activities ultimately caused widespread
violence and injustice that the VWP leaders dismissed as unfortunate errors
due to leftist deviations[tkhuynh] by the performing cadres. Holcombe,
however, strongly rejects this finding, instead arguingwith sufficient evi-
dence—“that the land reform unfolded as planned by the Party leaders.
Freer discourse and greater access to information have allowed for more
meticulous, complex, and thorough interpretations of North Vietnams land
reform program. As such, these explanations also expose the naivety that
gave rise to a commonly accepted theory concerning the existence of a radical
faction within the VWP. The theory, fostered by such scholars as William
Duiker, David Marr, and Lien-Hang Nguyen, suggested that during the First
Indochina Warand especially during the land reform periodVWP gen-
eral secretary Trưng Chinh led a radical faction to exclude HChí Minh
from all real power in order to push forward the adoption of harsher land
reform policies.

Applying such a supposition, the theory conveniently
placed the blame for all of the land reforms excesses and supposed errors
on Trưng Chinh, Hoàng QucVit, Lê VănLương, and HViếtThng,
while absolving HChí Minh, PhmVănĐng, and even Võ Nguyên Giáp.
By freeing HChí Minh of any major involvement in the campaign,
scholars who advance this theory play into the common pattern, created
and promoted by the current regime, of the constant need to craft and
maintain a mythological image of HChí Minh. Hence, any association
of HChí Minh with the violence, injustices, and tensions of the land reform
is rejected. This was the ideal image that HChí Minh and the VWP have
tried to maintain since drafting the land reform program. However, new
evidence has proven otherwise. HChí Minh was actively involved in the
planning and execution of the program, whether by secretly traveling long
distances to Beijing and Moscow to discuss the program with Mao Zedong
and get Joseph Stalins approval or penning a vitriolic essay to persecute
a known patriotic landowner.
14 VO
By discussing at length the bloodbathdebates that have for more than
sixty years precluded the possibility of understanding the land reform pro-
gram, I would suggest the need to examine land reform not from the per-
spective of its results, but rather from that of its processes. As such, in the
next part of this paper I will focus on NguynThNăm and her relationship
with the anti-French nationalist resistance movement led by HChí Minh
and the VWP. In so doing, I outline the development of the land reform
policies and show the conflict between public representations and the actual
process of making political decisions, especially concerning the decisions
made by HChí Minh and the VWP. I will describe HChí Minhs role
in the trial and persecution of NguynThNăm to show the incalculable
consequences of the land reform in North Vietnam.
Mother of the Resistance: NguynThNăm and the Land
Reform
NguynThNăm was born in  in Làng Bưi, outside of Hà Ni. Her
parents were small business owners, neither poor nor rich. Like most young
women of her day, she married early. Her husband was the only son of a rich
fish-sauce storage owner in the port city of Hi Phòng, but a profligate
spender. Within just a short amount of time, he had squandered his entire
inheritance on opium and other women. NguynThNăm had to find a way
to feed her two sons, her husband, and her mother-in-law. She opened
a small diner, serving noodles and dog meat.

After the French-constructed Hi Phòng Cement Plant became the pio-
neer of the Vietnam cement industry, she began selling scrap iron. She soon
became a successful merchant, establishing herself as the Queen of Ironin
Hi Phòng, buying and selling steel imported from France. At the height of
her success she was also known as Ms. Cát Hanh Long. This was the name of
her business in Hi Phòng, in reference to her sonsnames, Nguyn Hanh
and Nguyn Cát.

She then began investing in plantation farming in the
midland region of Thái Nguyên using the money she made in the metal
market.

In , she bought the plantation of Reyllon in Đng H, which
she renamed Cát Hanh Long Plantation. At , mu[acres], it was the
largest plantation in Thái Nguyên at the time, occupying about half the
available land in the communes of Đng Bm and Dân Ch.

NGUYNTHNĂM AND THE LAND REFORM IN NORTH VIETNAM, 1953 15
During the Japanese occupation of Indochina during World War II,
a famine struck northern Vietnam from October  to May  [nn
đói nămtDu]. Between four hundred thousand and two million people
starved to death.

NguynThNăm used her wealth to buy rice, food and
supplies to bring some relief to those living on or near her plantation. She
also hired and encouraged peasants in the Thái Nguyên region to clear the
forests on the land and begin farming. She bought herds of cattle to till the
soil, hired peasants to farm rice and sugarcane, and imported equipment
from France to establish Vietnams first granulated sugar factory. As her
businesses grew, she employed more than two thousand people and con-
structed camps for them to live in. At the same time, she was involved in
trading timber and bamboo and, through these ventures, became even
wealthier.

In every sense, she was a true capitalist.
But she was also very patriotic, even before the August Revolution that
gave rise to the VCP. While running her steel business in Hi Phòng, she
became acquainted with many revolutionary activists who later held key
positions in the VCP, such as Lê ĐcTh, Hoàng Hu Nhân, Hoàng Tùng,
VũQuc Uy, Hoàng ThếThin, and NguynĐình Thi.

In Thái Nguyên
she sheltered a division of Vit Minh soldiers. In September , during
Golden Week,HChí Minh asked the people to contribute their wealth to
the economic growth of the newly established Democratic Republic of Viet-
nam, and to support the military. This appeal was met with massive support,
bringing in approximately twenty million French Indochinese piasters and
 kilograms of gold. Most of the contributions came from merchants and
landowners, including NguynThNăm, who personally donated more than
seven hundred ounces of gold in addition to rice, fabric, typewriters, and
housing for Vit Minh cadres.

With her wealth she could have protected her children from military
service, but instead she encouraged them to join the Vit Minhs army, even
before the  August Revolution. With news of the Vit Minhs rise to
power in Hà Ni, NguynThNăm left Hi Phòng immediately in her
private car and went straight to Thái Nguyên to notify her sons and their
comrades. Shortly thereafter, her sons joined the revolutionary forces in Hà
Ni.

Nguyn Hanh, at the young age of , accompanied the delegation of
NguynLương Bng and Trn Huy Liu to the capital of Huế, located in
16 VO
central Vietnam, to force the abdication of Emperor BoĐi on August ,
. Nguyn Cát was injured when the national Resistance War against the
French forces exploded in the area of CuGiy, the gateway to Hà Ni.
However, he later became a famous regimental commander of the Vit
Minhsth Division.

HChí Minh and the Vit Minhs occupation of Hà Ni proved short-
lived, however, as French forces returned to Vietnam and rapidly reestab-
lished control of the city. After negotiations between HChí Minh and
France broke down, HChí Minh and the Vit Minh leadership fled to
their northern hillside base at Tân Trào, a village not far from the Thái
Nguyên provincial capital and NguynThNăms plantation. From there,
HChí Minh and the Vit Minh launched the rural insurrection that started
the First Indochina War on December ,. The war raged for eight
years before it ended with the defeat of France at the Battle of Đin Biên Ph
and the signing of the Geneva Agreement on July ,. It was from this
region that the VWP implemented its land reform.
Moving Forward
Land reform had been a central objective of the Vietnamese communist
leaders since the formation of the Communist Party in .

However,
the VitMinhs political, military, and economic positions were still weak
from  to . The leadership understood that the war required the
strong support of the peasants, who accounted for more than  percent of
the northern population, but the leaders also needed the cooperation and
financial support of merchants and landowners. Hence, the VitMinhhad
to temporarily put aside their original policy of ngưicàycórung[land
to the tiller] and resort to moderate policies to avoid alienating the land-
owners. These moderate policies included reducing rent and taxes on land;
controlling wages; redistributing lands owned by village communes,
Frenchmen, and Vietnamese traitors; and increasing farm production
by cultivating previously uncultivated land. These measures enlisted peas-
ant support against the French without jeopardizing the economic support
from the wealthier classes. This modification of their original policies was
also a result of the VitMinhs lack of political control over the rural
areas, lack of sufficient numbers of trained and educated cadres, and the
NGUYNTHNĂM AND THE LAND REFORM IN NORTH VIETNAM, 1953 17
lack of class consciousness among the peasantry to carry out agrarian
reform.

However, political conditions began to change in late  with the
victory of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in China, which militarily
secured the DRVs base in the northern region and solved the problem of
supplies. Diplomatically, both the Soviet Union and China recognized the
DRV in early  and pledged to support the VWPs anti-imperialist
struggle.

At the request of HChí Minh and the VWP leadership, on
January ,, the CCP appointed Luo Guibo [La Quý Ba] as head of
the Chinese Political Advisory Group (CPAG) to Vietnam. In ,Luo
Guibo became Chinas ambassador to Vietnam and remained in that posi-
tion until December ,.

Domestically, the military situation in
Vietnam shifted in favor of the resistance forces, and the Communist Party
reemerged as the VWP in . Consequently, beginning in ,more
comprehensive and stricter land policies were formulated, and greater
efforts were made to ensure the enforcement of the policies already in
place.

For the first time in Vietnam, class struggle was emphasized as
inseparable from the military struggle.

Reorganization campaigns [chnh
đn] were carried out from  to  to purify and train Party officials
on the class awareness needed for mass mobilization during the land
reform.
By August , the VWPs rural class strategy had dramatically changed
in tone. Instead of continuing to draw the landlords into the resistance,the
strategy had shifted to neutralize some landlords, and expel imperialist and
reactionary feudal large-landlords.

Combined with other rural regulations
from  to ,

this change can be seen as the first of three steps toward
land redistribution, which consisted of mobilizing the masses to overthrow
the land-owning class, expropriating lands and redistributing them to the
peasantry, and consolidating economic and political authority at the rural
level.
This shift was most apparent in two events in the fall of . It began
with Luo Guibos proposal to the VWP leadership, sent to HChí Minh and
Trưng Chinh, in the report Preliminary Comments on Mass Mobilization
in .

The six-section proposal outlined the purposes, requirements,
and steps in leading a mass mobilization movement, reorganizing the village
18 VO
commune bureaucratic system by removing the rural elites and replacing
them with Party cadres, and gaining political control of rural areas. The
larger end was to unite the material and popular support to consolidate the
Partys power.
Dated September ,, this seven-page proposal was arguably one of
the principal factors that shifted the VWPs land and class policies.
This does not suggest that the document was the only and final decision
concerning the development of North Vietnamslandreformprogram,but
rather that it served as a structural prescription for the VWPsmassmobi-
lization and official land reform campaign that took place between April
 and July . It was not detailed enough to be a step-by-step blue-
print for land reform, but it was a framework for the VWP leaders, par-
ticularly HChí Minh and Trưng Chinh. The proposal is also important
in that it shows, for the first time in the discourse on land reform, exactly
what was being communicated between the Vietnamese leadership and the
supposedly all-powerful Chinese advisers about land reform. As such, it
permits researchers to see how both the Chinese and Vietnamese leader-
ship understood their situation and what they needed to do at the timeto
carry out a rigorous land reform program to change the political conditions
surrounding Hà Niandgainthemanpowertowageanall-outwaragainst
France. This, however, was only made possible with aid from China. As
a result, both the Chinese advisers and VWP leadership understood that
the Resistance War no longer needed the rich peasants and land-owning
classes.
ThesecondsignofthisshiftwasthatLuoGuibosrecommendation
coincided with HChí Minhs secret trip to China and the Soviet Union
(September to November ) and with a series of short letters that H
Chí Minh sent to Joseph Stalin while in Moscow. When HChí Minh was
on his way to China in September, Luo Guibo was sending Trưng Chinh
his preliminary comments on mass mobilization. HChí Minhstrip
taken to discuss the Northwest Campaign [chiếndch Tây Bc] and other
strategic plans, including land reform, with Chinese leaders in order to win
the war against the Frenchwas possibly also arranged in anticipation of
following the Chinese envoy to attend the nineteenth Congress of the
Communist Party of the Soviet Union. On September ,HChí Minh
NGUYNTHNĂM AND THE LAND REFORM IN NORTH VIETNAM, 1953 19
sent Stalin a cable requesting the latters permission to attend the Congress,
scheduled for October to .UponreceivingStalins permission, HChí
Minh left Beijing on October ,.WhileHChí Minh was in Moscow,
Trưng Chinh sent Luo GuiboscommentstoHChí Minh on October ,
.
The timing and delivery of Luo Guibos proposal on mass mobilization to
HChí Minh were important because they coincided with HChí Minhs
request for Stalins attention and support. After arriving in Moscow, on
October ,HChí Minh sent Stalin the following note: Dear and Beloved
Comrade. I am awaiting your order as to come, to kiss you, and to present
a report on the question of Vietnam. While I will be making the report, it
would be desirable that Com. Liu Shaoqi [Lưu ThiếuK] be present at the
conversation.

Stalin granted the request. On October ,HChí Minh
and Liu Shaoqi met with Stalin to discuss Vietnams situation and policies.

During this meeting, according to Vietnamese sources, the suspicious Stalin
pointed to two chairs in the meeting room and remarked, Comrade HChí
Minh, there are two chairs here, one for nationalists and one for interna-
tionalists [communists]. On which do you wish to sit?HChí Minh sup-
posedly replied, Comrade Stalin, I would like to sit on both chairs.

This
questionwhich many Vietnamese observers suggest demonstrated Stalins
reservations about HChí Minh and the VWPs commitment to interna-
tional communismpressured HChí Minh to define his position before
the Soviet Union would fully devote its support to the Vietnamese revolu-
tionary cause. This line of analysis suggested that the way for HChí Minh
to define his and his partys position was to carry out a class struggle-based
land reform.
However, given the timing of Luo Guibos preliminary proposal and H
Chí Minhs trip to China and then the Soviet Union, HChí Minh and the
VWP leaders seemed to have decided on their position before HChí
Minhs arrival in Moscow. It is reasonable to suggest that without the VWP
leadersrequests, suggestions, or some kind of initiation of the mass mobi-
lization model, Luo Guibo would not have drafted such a proposal. Instead
his proposal on mass mobilization was a model that HChí Minh and the
VWP leaders had wanted since first asking Mao Zedong to send Chinese
advisers to Vietnam following the CCPs victory in . The success of the
20 VO
Chinese communist revolution, which had needed the mobilization of the
masses and control of the rural areas, was an object of admiration and
a model that the VWP sought to emulate.

The Chinese advisers were on
a mission to pass on Chinas experience in financial and economic work,
rectification of cadresideology and work style, military strategies, govern-
ment work, and mobilization of the masses. More precisely, Luo Guibos
proposal came at about the same time that he was invited to attend the
VWP Politburo meeting early in September to discuss and make recom-
mendations on the preparation for the Northwest Campaign and future
objectives for the resistance.

It is possible that, within this context, Luo
Guibo made his proposal. Hence, whether Stalin pressured HChí Minh or
not, land reform was going to be implemented by late . Thus, upon his
arrival in Moscow, HChí Minh knew exactly which cards he held and
understood that land reform was not a matter of ideology, but of pragma-
tism. He sought out Stalin to gain the support that would benefit his and
the VWPsinterest.
Following his meeting with Stalin on October ,HChí Minh sent
Stalin two consecutive letters on October  and ,, informing him
of the progress of Vietnams land reform program. In the first letter, H
Chí Minh stated that he had started developing Vietnamslandreform
program and that he would present it to Stalin. He also asked Stalin to
send two Soviet officials to Vietnam to survey the conditions and made an
additional request for ten tons of malaria medication, weapons, and per-
mission for Vietnam to send fifty to one hundred Vietnamese students to
the Soviet Union for military and ideological training. In the second letter,
HChí Minh outlined the VWPs land reform program and inquired after
Stalins instructions. HChí Minh stated that he had composed the pro-
gram with the help of two Chinese advisers, LưuShaoShi[LiuShaoqi]
and Van Sha San.

The letters demonstrate HChí Minhs ability to play
both sides of the field by making promises to please Stalin while making
specific material requests that were of utmost importance to the Vit
Minh.
On November ,,HChí Minh sent Stalin a brief message in
which he affirmed: I promise you to work diligently in the realization of
the agrarian program and in waging our patriotic war. I hope I will be able to
NGUYNTHNĂM AND THE LAND REFORM IN NORTH VIETNAM, 1953 21
come back in two or three years so as to submit to you a report on the results
of our work.

Upon his return from Moscow, HChí Minh and the VWP
leaders expanded Luo Guibos proposal on mass mobilization and began
diligently laying the foundation for the massive land reform. In suggesting
the two-to-three-year time frame, it seemed that HChí Minh had a vision
of how long the land reform would take.
These successive developments historically demonstrate when and why
the VWP began to shift its position on land reform. Furthermore, they
show the Soviet Union and Chinas tremendous impact on the manner in
which the VWP developed and implemented their policies. A close com-
parison of the VWPs land and mass mobilization policies both before and
after HChí Minhs trip and particularly Luo Guibos proposal shows the
substantial amount of input that the Chinese adviser had on the method-
ological structure for mass mobilization, from inception to fulfillment. This
was most clearly displayed in Directive /CT/TW (April ,)on
mobilizing the masses. Following the tone and content set by Luo Guibo,
this directive became the Partys framework on how to mobilize the masses
to carry out land reform.

Thng tay phát đng qun chúng,which means resolutely mobilize
the masses,was the maxim that brought the long trilđt[sky-shaking
and earth-shattering] fear to many Vietnamese in rural parts of the country
from  to .

The principal aim was, in fact, the mobilization of
a massive class struggle intended to improve the economy and gain the
support of the rural population, which was needed to win the Resistance
War and consolidate political power. However, most citizens and cadres
had no clear understanding of Marxist social ideas or terminology, includ-
ing concepts such as class divisions and class struggle. Nevertheless, to
achieve their objectives, as Luo Guibo proposed, the leaders first had to
create the right conditions for mass mobilization by establishing a firm
political stance, a determined attitude, and a thorough comprehension of
mass mobilization in order to overcome misconceptions within the Party.
These supposed misconceptions included the fear that mass mobilization
would divide the united front and undermine the strength of the resistance
forces, cause panic and fear among the united frontselites,andleadto
revolt from the landowner class, who would disperse their properties,
22 VO
disrupt order, and withhold supplies from the troops. Indeed, until the
early s, the Resistance War had relied significantly on support from
the rich and landowning gentry.
Yet, the Soviet Union and particularly Chinas diplomatic support and
military aid changed this relationship, and the landowners became much less
important. Hence, Luo Guibo emphasized the need to win the majority
[peasants], isolate the minority [landowners], take advantage of their con-
flicts, and defeat each group.

The notion of defeating each group could be
understood as the complete annihilation of the land-owning/ruling class
while subjugating the majority peasantry to the Partys rule and guidance.
To achieve such objectives, Luo Guibo recommended that the central gov-
ernment issue and promulgate the policies, ordinances, and guidelines that
would establish the legal apparatus to protect the peasantsstruggle and
authorize officials and cadres to carry out mass mobilization against the
landed class. Luo Guibo argued, The method of providing top-down sup-
portive and protective measures in combination with bottom-up mass mobi-
lization is the crucial factor that determines whether mass mobilization will
succeed or fail.

Moreover, leadership had to enhance its control of the movement. This
entailed careful processes of investigation, evaluation, and research when
dealing with subjects who were to be denounced, expropriated, and exe-
cuted. The space of categorizing groups, according to Luo Guibo, should not
be too wide or too large and required the approval of authorized leaders as
well as the following of certain legal procedures. Amendments or decisions
on issues related to policies or issues of importance needed prior instructions
and needed to be reported on after implementation. Between the authorities
and their subordinates, there had to always be consistent communication
about progress as well as detailed instructions.

There was also the need to
reorganize village commune organizations (party cells, peasantsassocia-
tions, village administration, and rural self-defense units) to establish Party
dominance. Here, Luo Guibo explained how to restructure communal orga-
nizations. Reorganization is an important way for the Party to train cadres
through criticism and self-criticism, classify social-political groups and af-
filiations, and enact the guidelines and policies to encourage mass partici-
pation in the movement.

NGUYNTHNĂM AND THE LAND REFORM IN NORTH VIETNAM, 1953 23
In the last segment of his proposal, Luo Guibo diagrammed the prepa-
ration strategies needed to carry out mass mobilization. He advised the
VWP leaders to survey the land, class, organization, and cadre situations
in the rural areas. Then, using the information drawn from these assess-
ments, Luo Guibo recommended that they prepare and train two hundred
cadres. One-third of the two hundred cadres to be trained were to be ct cán
[backbone] elements, the preeminent Party member who would be respon-
sible for leading the attack on the land-owning class. All cadres had to be
made fully aware of mass mobilization policies, guidelines, objectives, and
requirements. Furthermore, Luo Guibo suggested large-scale propagation of
the policies in the print and broadcast media and in government announce-
ments and publications. Cadres were responsible for making reports to the
masses and composing songs to publicize the policies and guidelines. In all,
twenty đoàn [brigades] were to be divided from the two hundred cadres to
carry out mass mobilization experiments in twenty key village commune
sites in Interzone VitBc and Interzone IV.

The purpose of this exper-
imental stage [đt thí nghim] was to train and gain experience before
commencing the mass mobilization on a large scale.
From late  to mid spring ,HChí Minh and the VWP leader-
ship prepared to carry out Luo Guibos suggestions by passing a series of
laws and regulations, including a resolution from the Partys Fourth Plenum
calling for land reform in areas under their direct control.

In the spring of
, the CCP appointed Zhang Dequn [KiuHiu Quang] to head the Land
Reform and Party Consolidation Section in Vietnam. Beijing sent forty-two
additional land reform specialists that year to strengthen Zhang Dequns
team.

These advisers taught the specially chosen Vietnamese cadres how to
survey, analyze, and classify the class and socio-economic conditions of the
villages before carrying out mass mobilization.
The Process of Mass Mobilization
Phát đng qun chúng [mass mobilization] was the most important process
in the Vietnamese land reform program.

Its goals were to mobilize the
poor and landless peasants to overturn the economic and political influence
of feudalism, achieve political dominance for the Party, and subsequently
establish a proletarian rural dictatorship. The campaign was applied during
24 VO
the land rent reduction [gimtô], interest reduction [gimtc] and the land
reform phases. Almost identical techniques were used in both phases, with
the only notable differences being an increase in violence and a broadening
of the types of property subject to confiscation.

The process was tightly and
uniformly organized and directed. Between  and , it was extended
to an estimated , village communes in rural North Vietnam.

Each
commune underwent mass mobilization under the supervision of a đi công
tác [work team] that reported to the VWPs central authorities with the
intention of suppressing the economically wealthy and politically influential
rural bourgeoisie.
Mass mobilization began with the central authorities carefully selecting
asite,usuallya[commune]. The had to be a place with a stable
military and political situation. After selecting the site, a đi[team] of
specially trained mass mobilization cadres were sent in. Through the local
Party cell, the đisurveyed the situation in the , reformed organizations,
convened meetings, and announced government policies to the population.
Particular attention was given to social groups deemed likely to be useful
for later mobilization efforts. Disguised as peasants, members of the đi
went to mobilize the masses and investigate the conditions in each .They
contacted fifteen to twenty of the poorest peasants or laborers in the ,
asking permission to live with them.

They then applied the three to-
gethersstrategy: cùng ăn[eating together], cùng [living together], and
cùng làm [working together] with the peasants and their families. This
practice was meant to build trust and familiarize cadres with the peasants
personal hardships and sufferings.

It is worth noting that, because of
cadresown fears about encountering suffering, sickness, and difficulty,
not all of them were initially dedicated to carrying out the VWPs
policies.

The cadre usually stayed in the for two to three months, acquainting
themselves by sharing the tasks performed by the peasants. Using the tactic
of thăm nghèo hikh[visiting the poor and asking about their sufferings],
they explored the lives of the impoverished peasants.

By probing into every
detail of their hostslives, the cadres were able to investigate the conditions,
socio-political makeup, and especially the class relationships between rich
andpoorinthecommune.Atthesametime,thecadreswouldbein
NGUYNTHNĂM AND THE LAND REFORM IN NORTH VIETNAM, 1953 25
a position to win over their hostshearts and minds and thus be able to
encourage the peasants to take action. The cadres indoctrinated the peasants
by contrasting their poverty with the landownersaffluence. By blaming the
landowners, they convinced the peasants that their bad luck and suffering
was the fault of cruel and ruthless landowners. Through such psychological
manipulation, the cadres instilled in the peasantsminds the ideological
cause of exploitation and suffering and ignited in them resentment and
hatred to declare a class struggle against the landowners.

The cadres relentlessly indoctrinated the peasants until they understood
that the only way to improve their lives was to support the Party agenda,
which included overthrowing their exploiters. The ideologically mobilized
peasant was called r[root]. Once a peasant was thoroughly resentful of the
landowners, the cadre ceased all direct involvement in the village. From that
point on, the cadre carried out its mission by employing the ras its mobi-
lization agents, ordering them to recruit other peasants. The newly mobi-
lized peasants were labeled chui[beads]. This recruiting process was called
btrxâu chui[growing roots and stringing beads].

The roots, being the
most important element in the whole program, bore responsibility of con-
necting with cadres from nearby villages to exchange information. Every
detail of village life was investigated and documented, whether it be about
land ownership or about a person randomly fishing at a local pond, because
such informationno matter how irrelevant or wrongcould be used in
public denunciations.

As the core instrument of mass mobilization was
established and hatred for landowners implanted, the cadres relied on the
poor peasants to draw out the middle-class peasants and organize a peasants
association to begin mobilizing the remainder of the people against land-
owners, traitors, reactionaries, and bullies. This process organized the mobi-
lizing entities needed to incite class struggle and also relieved the cadres of
the responsibility of having to carry out the action themselves.

After amassing enough information about a village, a cadre member
would make a personal report to a provincial party committee [tnh y].
There, in consultation with the committee, he would profile and classify the
population of the village. He would identify the landowners and accuse them
of whatever crimes were necessary to put them on trial. At this point, the
đoàn ci cách rung đt[land reform brigade] would arrive to take on full
26 VO
responsibility for supervising village affairs, appointing the ct cán [back-
bone elementsthe trained roots and beads] to barricade and police the
village and cut off all unauthorized communication in and out of the village
while they awaited the rulings from higher authorities.
Once approved by higher authorities, the campaign of population clas-
sification officially began. This process involved training peasants on how to
classify the village population. For guidance, the government provided the
cadres with documents of regulations and specific methods to train pea-
sants.

After days of intensive study and discussion, those who attended the
course deliberated on the division of landowners into three classes: traitor-
ous, reactionary, and cruel; ordinary; and resistance (those who participated
in the Resistance War). In practice, most of the landowners, even those who
had served the DRV administration or had been decorated by HChí Minh
for their achievements, were placed in the first class and charged with
crimes, no matter what their previous relationship with the resistance had
been. However, anyones class status could be raised or lowered, depending
largely on his or her conduct during the mobilization campaign. As a result,
many landowners became compliant. However, many still could not escape
their treason trials because the campaign previously stipulated a fixed num-
ber of death sentences and terms of penal servitude.

Once the head of
a land-owning family was arrested, the cadres would fabricate accusations to
pressure the family, primarily to extort money and jewelry. In addition to
losing property and enduring humiliation and mistreatment, the land-
ownersfamily members were also isolated from everyone. Since they were
prohibited from working outside the house, many died of starvation.

During this process, peasants attended special classes in which they were
taught how landowners had cheated, robbed, exploited, and oppressed them.
They were provided with a long list of typical crimes with which to accuse
and incriminate the landowners. Those who were specifically trained came
to be known as denouncers.Each denouncer had to make at least one
accusation against the landowner on trial. These denouncers fell into three
categories: those drawn in by the promise of material rewards or political
privileges; those who wished to protect themselves and avoid trouble; and
those who denounced others out of a fear of being falsely accused themselves
or found guilty by association. The mass mobilization campaign was so
NGUYNTHNĂM AND THE LAND REFORM IN NORTH VIETNAM, 1953 27
thorough and caused so much fear that it left very fewif anychoices for
those who were being mobilized. Most of the time it did not matter whether
they agreed or not; they were all obligated to participate.

After compiling a list of crimes attributed to the landowners, the denoun-
cers were given careful training on public denunciation to make their denun-
ciations sound more convincing before the accused, in the presence of a multi-
commune crowd that could number as many as twenty thousand. Under the
guidance and supervision of a cadre, the denouncers memorized and
rehearsed speeches that had been written for them, and performed bodily
gestures in front of a straw dummy to create a sense of realism and sincerity.
Once these peasants were giác ng[enlightened] and trained, the cadre
team would have them foment class resentment by spreading sensationalist
propaganda about the landownersimmorality. The denunciation trial
would begin once all the preparations were completed.

Those classified
as đach[landlords] or phú nông [rich peasants] would be brought before
an assembled tòa án nhân dân đcbit[Special Peoples Court],

where
peasants were encouraged to tkh[pour out grievances] against the đach
gian ác [despotic landlords].

According to article of Decree /SL on the establishment of the
Special Peoples Court, the number of people constituting the presidium
should include one chánh án [presiding judge] and six to ten thm phán
[judges]. The court should be composed of the bncnông [poorest and
most wretched peasants] and trung nông [middle peasants], with bnc
nông holding the majority. One half should be chosen by the Provincial-
level Resistance Committee [y Ban Kháng Chiến Hành Chính Tnh] and
approved by the Interzone-level Resistance Committee [y Ban Kháng
Chiến Hành Chính Liên Khu]. The other half should be chosen by the
peasant association [Nông Hi] or by recommendation of the district or
inter-district peasant assembly.

This court, which was usually comprised of
mostly poor, uneducated, and ill-trained peasants who knew very little about
judicial procedures, imposed sentences that ranged from the death penalty
to hard labor and imprisonment and included the confiscation of property.

On the denunciation day, a multi-commune crowd would gather in an
open field.

The crowd sat on the ground facing the Special PeoplesCourt.
The chairing judge of the Court would open the denunciation by declaring the
28 VO
task of overthrowing the traitorous and reactionary landowners, who for
thousands of years had exploited and oppressed them. He would then give
an order, and the accused would be brought before the Court. The captain
would then call upon the peasants who had rehearsed their denunciation to
come forward and denounce the accused. Denouncers would arise, point
fingers at the accused, and hurl allegations and insults at them. The land-
owners were not allowed to reply or defend themselves. The denunciations
would last from one day to three consecutive days or nights, depending on the
alleged crime, with each day or night being reserved for a specific type of crime
(economic, moral, and political). Following the denunciation, the court would
deliver the verdict against the accused. The purpose of this show-trial was to
give the public the impression that the movement had arisen spontaneously
from the peasantsown desires to overthrow the land-owning class.

The Trial
On April ,, after the land reform cadres had been fully trained, H
Chí Minh and the VWP leadership launched the experimental mass mobi-
lization campaign [công tác phát đng qun chúng thí nghim] to carry out
rent reduction and land reform as recommended by their Chinese adviser,
Luo Guibo. The campaign was divided into several experimental phases [đt
thí nghim]. The first lasted until early August, .

Instead of the two
hundred cadres initially recommended in Luo Guibos proposal, the VWP
chose  cadres and divided them into the đoàn ci cách rung đtI[Land
Reform Brigade I] and đoàn ci cách rung đtII[Land Reform Brigade II].
Brigade I was assigned to VitBc and Brigade II to Interzone IV.

Addi-
tional reform cadres were added to each brigade once it reached its desig-
nated region.

Each brigade elected ten đoàn y[brigade leaders] to lead the
implementation. Of the remaining cadres, some were assigned office duties,
and the rest were divided into teams of up to fifteen cadres each. Each team
had a captain and vice-captain.
The program was implemented in twenty communes in Interzone Vit
Bc and Interzone IV: six in Thái Nguyên Province, three in Phú Th
Province, one in Tuyên Quang Province, seven in Thanh Hoá Province, and
three in NghAn Province. In addition, Interzone IV carried out mass
mobilization in three subsidiary communes, two in Thanh Hóa and one
NGUYNTHNĂM AND THE LAND REFORM IN NORTH VIETNAM, 1953 29
in NghAn.

These areas were especially chosen because they were where
the VWP had the most control over the population during the war. The six
communes in Thái Nguyên Province that were chosen for the land reform
experimental phase were Đng Bm, Dân Ch,PhúcXuân(Đng H),
Hùng Sơn(ĐiT), Đc Liên, and Nhã Lng (Phú Bình). The eighty-six
cadres in the six teams responsible for the mobilization in Thái Nguyên
Province reached their assigned communes on April ,.

In Thái
Nguyên and Phú Th,people were categorized as landlords during
this stage, fifty-four of which were publically denounced before the Special
Peoples Court during the first phase [đtI].

One of the first persons to
stand trial was NguynThNăm, on May ,.

The choice of NguynThNăm was not surprising or accidental. Prior to
the arrival of the land reform brigade, NguynThNăm had been tried twice
at the end of , by the VWP Central Committee and the Thái Nguyên
Provincial Committee. The first trial, on November , was organized by the
đoàn thc nghimci cách rung dt[land reform experimental brigade] and
included the participation of three hundred tenants from the Đng Bm and
Dân Chcommunes. The trial ordered NguynThNăm to comply with the
governments agrarian policies of reducing rent and interest while giving
peasants the right to cultivate the fallow lands they cleared without taking
rent. The second trial was carried out at NguynThNăms plantation on
the evening of December  to force her to fulfill the decisions made in the
first trial and crush her political influences. This time, thousands of peasants
from the estimated , population of Đng Bm and Dân Chattended.
As a result, NguynThNăm promised to carry out the peasantsdemands.
However, the trials sparked early leftist deviations that went far beyond
expectations, creating unnecessary tensions and causing panic among the
rich and land-owning class.

The trial in May, which took place on a hot summer day in the village of
Đng Bm, was larger and more open. More than five thousand

people
from Đng Bm, Dân Ch, and neighboring communes were crammed
together at the foot of the Voi Mountain, surrounded by other, lower hills
on a road that led to the town of Thái Nguyên. They used tree branches to
protect themselves from the sun and to conceal themselves from French
combat aircraft. Under a red banner that read Overthrow the despotic
30 VO
landlord NguynThNăm, take back the land for the peasants,athin
woman in a brown blouse kneeled with others. Nearby stood her two sons,
Nguyn Hanh and Nguyn Cát, also known as Hoàng Công,

and her five
associates, Sergeant Lê Đình Hàm, Lê Đình Phúc (Hoàng Văn Chính), Phm
Quang Chiêu, NguynVăn Sâm, and Lê Đình Hào.

Sitting behind a rickety wooden table before the crowd was a chtch
đoàn [presidium], composed of one chánh án [presiding judge] and several
thm phán [judge] representing the Special Peoples Court.

About a meter
behind them were high-level land reform cadres assigned from the Central
Committee for Land Reform (CCLR). These cadres were among the 
chosen and trained to direct the reform pilot program. Their presence was
meant to supervise and guide the presidium through the tribunal process, as
this was an exemplary trial.
The presiding judge rose from his seat and called on the masses to
denounce the accused. His statement was followed by a roar of Down with
the evil landlord!He continued by reading the personal profiles of the
accused, but did not identify their crimes. Nonetheless, each pause was
followed by a wave of denunciations from the crowd. At the conclusion of
his speech, he asked the peasants to expose NguynThNămandher
associatescrimes, demanding that they pay retributive compensation for
their murderous sins.

Many from the crowd took turns denouncing and attacking the accused.
A female peasant stormed the defenseless landowner and shouted, Damn,
NguynThNăm! Stand up!When NguynThNăm weakly lifted herself
from the ground, the peasant continued: Do you know who I am? You are
a cruel hypocrite. Youve exploited our sweat and blood. Because of you, my
whole family is poor and starving. Do you remember how many peasants
have died of hunger and thirst working on your plantations? Now, thanks to
the Party, we have risen and you must pay back everything that youve taken
from us.The cadres behind the table swung their arms in unison and
shouted, Down with the evil landlord! Down, down, down!Everyone in
the audience followed their fiery act, raising their fists and shouting. The
atmosphere was simmering with hatred, as more than thirty peasants took
turns condemningtheaccused.

At times, the accusers hit or slapped
NguynThNăm and her sons. Others humiliated them by spitting on them
NGUYNTHNĂM AND THE LAND REFORM IN NORTH VIETNAM, 1953 31
and making them crawl on dirt, like animals. Youre dogs!one peasant
yelled at them. Among the denouncers, the harshest came from Miss Đng,
a servant NguynThNăm loved and trusted.

The trial of NguynThNăm and her associates differed from her pre-
vious ones, in which the verbal and physical abuse lasted from : a.m. to
: p.m.

The accused were not given the opportunity to defend them-
selves. At the end of each trial, the presiding judge read a prepared indict-
ment, charging NguynThNăm, her sons, and her associates with crimes
that included colluding with French and Japanese forces, communicating
with secret agents Hervé and Girovich,

working with the traitor Cung
Đình Vn,

and communicating with NguynHiThn

to sabotage the
resistance movement, and engaging in propaganda against the Vit Minh.
NguynThNăm was accused of exploiting labor, defaulting on payments,
starving people, and murdering  people.

As a result, she and Lê Đình
Hàm were given death sentences.

Her sons were imprisoned until the end
of  and would thereafter endure discrimination and prejudice for the
rest of their lives.

At the conclusion of his prepared statement, the judge yelled, Execute
the landowner NguynThNăm! Execute the reactionary wicked landowner
NguynThNăm!The audience, riled up by the fury, waved their fists at the
dejected landowner and screamed, Execute her! Execute the landowner
NguynThNăm.

The Vitriolic Decision
The complicated questions of who made the decision to persecute Nguyn
ThNăm and why are of paramount importance. Who would put an ardent
supporter of the revolution on trial, and why? NguynThNăm had been
active in the VWP-organized Womens Union of Thái Nguyên and Inter-
zone VitBc. She donated her lands to the revolutionary cause. She trans-
formed her plantation into a base for many Special Forces regiments. She
established camps large enough to shelter one thousand people. Soldiers
stopped at her plantation to prepare for battle, and she provided them with
food and medication, treating them wellalmost as if they were her own
sons.

During the resistance, HChí Minh, General Võ Nguyên Giáp,
General Nguyn Chí Thanh, General Secretary Trưng Chinh, Prime
32 VO
Minister PhmVănĐng, and senior Party leaders Lê Thanh Ngh,LêGin,
and Hoàng QucVit were all concealed on her property and protected by
NguynThNăm.

As a founding member of the VWP Womens Union,
NguynThNăm regularly attended meetings with HChí Minh, Tôn Đc
Thng, and Hoàng QucVit.

In fact, because of her strong, active sup-
port of the revolution, she was often called mkháng chiến[mother of the
resistance].

So who would single her out and why?
Narratives have tried to demonstrate that Chinese advisers had pressured
HChí Minh and the VWP into prosecuting NguynThNăm. According
to Hoàng Tùng, chief editor of the VWPs official newspaper Nhân Dân
[The People] from  to ,the choice of NguynThNăm as the first
person was a result of someone having informed the Chinese advisers.
Hoàng Tùng added that, at a Politburo meeting, HChí Minh said, I agree
that those who are guilty must be punished, but I do not believe that it is
ethical if the first shot [to start land reform] is directed at the head of
a woman, especially when that person has helped the revolution. The French
has a saying, A woman should not be touched, not even with a rose petal.’”
Nonetheless, at the insistence of Luo Guibo, HChí Minh reluctantly sub-
mitted: I will follow the majority, but I still think it is not right.

In the book MtTht[True Face], Bùi Tín wrote:
Hoàng QucVit [Chief Director of the Pilot Campaign in Thái Nguyên]
recalled that he immediately headed back to Hà Ni to inform HChí Minh
of the critical situation. HChí Minh listened attentively and stated, This is
not good! [We] cannot open the campaign by shooting a woman, especially
one that has nourished communist soldiers and a mother of an officer in the
Peoples Army.He promised to intervene and to tell Trưng Chinh

about
this serious and urgent matter.
However, Bùi Tín found no action was taken, and pleas to reverse the verdict
came too late. All the journalists and writers who participated in the cam-
paign had already drafted their accusations, condemnations, and convic-
tions. Uncle Hknew it was not right,as Hoàng QucVit conveyed to
Bùi Tín, but even he did not dare to tell them [the Chinese advisers] ...
They were the sons of God, Maos special envoy.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Đoàn Duy Thành stated in his unpub-
lished memoir Làm ngưi là khó [Being a Person is Difficult]:
NGUYNTHNĂM AND THE LAND REFORM IN NORTH VIETNAM, 1953 33
After the completion of the rectification of errors campaign, many senior
officials told me that, When preparing to shoot NguynThNăm, Uncle H
intervened and questioned, Couldnt the land reform find a male despotic
landlord to start the campaign instead of shooting a female?’” But the
enforcement officials reported that they had asked Chinese advisers and were
answered, Regardless of male or female tiger, they are all man-eaters!And
thus they just executed her.

Again, HChí Minh and the VWP leadership were depicted as powerless
against the Chinese advisers, even when knowing the severity of the situation.
It therefore seems clear that the Chinese advisers were the main force
behind the land reform campaign, including the conviction and execution of
NguynThNăm, while HChí Minh and other VWP leaders were just
bystanders. This argument is supported by Luo Guibos proposal to his
Vietnamese comrades and the strong presence of a large number of Chinese
advisers in Vietnam who were there to teach and carry out the land reform
plan. However, if this was indeed the case, it begs the question of HChí
Minh and his governments agency in the activities surrounding the land
reform. If the Vietnamese leaders based their political existence on the idea
that they were the rightful leaders of the Vietnamese nation and its revolu-
tionary movement, why then would they so meekly submit to the Chinese
advisers? If they were so incapable of doing what they believed was right,
what does this say about their legitimacy? The answer might be a matter of
pragmatism, where the benefits outweighed the costs. Putting NguynTh
Năm on trial and executing her made it clear that no one was safenot even
a woman who had extended generous support to the revolutionary struggle.
Moreover, it sent a message to factions within the VWP who did not support
the ideological turn that began in .
However, among the anecdotal arguments of who might have been
responsible, there is the suspicion that, internally, HChí Minh was always
against land reform. This notion was most ardently put forward by Hoàng
Tùng, who suggested that HChí Minh was genuinely upset by the execu-
tion of a woman. In this argument, he blamed Stalin and Mao Zedong for
pressuring HChí Minh, as early as , to carry out land reform. Hoàng
Tùng claimed, After meeting Stalin and Mao [in ], the two continued
to pressure Uncle [HChí Minh] to act as they had, which meant carrying
34 VO
out the workerpeasant alliance led by the Party, establishing a worker
peasant government, and then carrying out land reform. Uncle did not yet
want to carry out land reform [at that time].

However, historical records indicate that the image of a reluctant HChí
Minh is merely an attempt to deflect his responsibility for his actions in
order to protect his reputation as the incorruptible leader of the Vietnamese
Communist revolutionary struggle. Thus, it is very possible that these
accounts could have emerged after it became clear that the land reform was
highly unpopular and it was important to shield HChí Minh from asso-
ciation with its excesses. General Secretary of the Party Trưng Chinh and
General Võ Nguyên Giáp might have been the Partys most formidable
theoretician and most brilliant military strategist, but HChí Minh was the
most charismatic figure of the resistance movement. Today, the memory of
his personality is still the dominant symbol of the party, although this is
a crafted and polished memory that has been used to advance particular
interests, claim legitimacy and suppress dissent. But if we look at the docu-
ments from the early- to mid-s, HChí Minh, especially in , had
a great deal of input in the decision-making process. He was the life of the
VWP.
Hence, when the mass mobilization campaign started to commit errors
and spark local uprisings in ,HChí Minh demoted Trưng Chinh
and other members of the Land Reform Committee. He asked General Võ
Nguyên Giáp, who by then had gained a great deal of respect as a military
hero among the Vietnamese for his victory at ĐinBiênPh,tomake
a public apology on behalf of the government on October ,.

HChí Minh however made no such admission of errors. Instead, he kept
a low public profile on the issue during the correction of errors campaign,
and only during a session of the DRV National Assembly did he tearfully
acknowledge that serious mistakes had been committed. Yet, he defended
the program as a whole.

Moreover, recently released internal documents
show that HChí Minh continued to insist that the mass mobilization
campaign was the right policy.

Heseemstohavedonesosimplyto
justify the campaign by legitimizing the goals designed by ranking leader-
ship and ascribing the errors to bad implementation by lower reform
cadres.
NGUYNTHNĂM AND THE LAND REFORM IN NORTH VIETNAM, 1953 35
A thorough examination of HChi Minhs political influence during the
land reform period shows that he was the supreme decision maker in North
Vietnam. By , with political recognition and military support from both
the Soviet Union and China assured, HChí Minh and the VWP leadership
knew that it was the right time to implement land reform. They believed that
only through radical land reform could they garner the peasantssupport
and bring the war against France to an end, thereby taking some of the
economic pressure off the party. Moreover, by adopting the Chinese land
reform model, the VWP bound China to the progression and future of the
Vietnamese revolution. Hence, HChí Minh invited the Chinese to assist
with his reform program while he arranged to make it happen. Although the
Chinese presence was significant and, at times, overwhelming, it was not
unwanted; rather it was quite the opposite.

In his memoir Droplet in the Sea (), HChí Minhs friend and
former Vietnamese Ambassador to China, Hoàng Văn Hoan, suggested that
the CCLR granted the land reform teams the power to execute despot land-
lords to enhance the spirits of the peasants. The execution of landowners in
Thái Nguyên, which later spread to other areas, was seen as a good method to
raise the power of the peasants.

However, this sense of power gave the
VWP and its reform cadres the liberty to exert a massive campaign that
produced terrifying consequences.

More violence broke out when people
began to take advantage of the chaos created by the campaign to settle old
scores.
The Vietnam Institute of Economics recently claimed that the campaign
categorized [sbqui trong ci cách rung đt], individuals as cruel
and bullying landowners,”“landowners,”“revolutionary landowners,or
rich peasants,but a staggering . percent or , of them were
wrongly branded [sbqui sai]. Of these, , of the , people
classified as cruel and bullying landowners had been misclassified.

These
figures do not give us a concrete number of people who might have been
executed [xt] versus those who were wrongly executed. However, they
show that the number of errors committed, just in the form of categorizing
people, was undeniably dramatic.
As discussed above, by mid- HChí Minh and other leaders of the
VWP understood that it was time to implement some type of agrarian
36 VO
reform. What is surprising, however, is that so many senior and influential
leaders of the Communist Party and the DRV government turned their backs
on their benefactorunless this was meant to emphasize that they were more
than willing to defy the united front of all races, classes, religions, and political
affiliations for the common national interest, by approving her death sen-
tence.

This was not just a verdict against an enemy, but rather, one aimed
against a person who had been actively helping the Communistsone that
they accused of a litany of fabricated crimes.

Certainly, Luo Guibo and his team of Chinese advisers were influential. In
fact, their presence, work, and influence during the land reform were enthu-
siastically acknowledged during a conference:
All of us brother and sister representatives of the peasants, as well as staffs and
personnel serving the conference thank the Chinese advisers and staffs for
providing us many highly valuable experiences and for dedicatedly, day and
night, working and helping us complete the land reform at the six communes
and for actively helping us carry out this conference.

However, what could the Chinese advisers have done if HChí Minh, as the
leader of the DRV, had opposed their wishes or suggested a more culpable
person? If he realized they were wrong, why did he continue using them as
late as ? Considering the legal documents issued and communications
exchanged during the land reform, if HChí Minh had overseen the devel-
opment of policies in those secret Politburo meetings, chosen the cadres to
carry out the pilot program, and read the declaration to commence the cam-
paign, would he not have been able to choose who to execute and who not to?
Simply put, if he could not save NguynThNăm, who could have? It might
appear, then, that he had made up his mind.
To provide the legal apparatus for the land reform cadres to crush the
land-owning class, as Luo Guibo recommended, HChí Minh issued on
April ,, Decree /SL, which stipulated the punishments for land-
owners who opposed the laws during mass mobilization. Comprising four-
teen articles, it defined the categories of landowners, crimes, and
punishments. Most crimes, such as dispersing properties, trying to cross
into enemy territory, or sabotaging production, were punishable by one to
five years of imprisonment. Other crimes, such as colluding with the enemy,
NGUYNTHNĂM AND THE LAND REFORM IN NORTH VIETNAM, 1953 37
spying, killing, or organizing groups to foment destruction against the
government, resulted in ten years of imprisonment, life imprisonment, or
execution.

However, in reality any of these crimes could be used to accuse
and prosecute anyone since the trials during land reform tended to be based
on accusations rather than legitimate evidence.
At her May , public trial, NguynThNăm was, per Decree
/SL, convicted of all her crimes, and was sentenced to death. However,
she was not immediately executed because in the beginning stages of the
land reform campaignespecially during the experimental stage, when the
program was still not so intensivethere was a grace period for reform
cadres to make detailed reports on cases, which would then be sent to the
CCLR and the Politburo for review.

Once reviewed, they were sent to H
Chí Minh, who had the final word.

During the month that the report was
being prepared and making its way up the chain of command, NguynTh
Năm was kept under arrest. It is possible that the leadership was expected to
use this period to deliberate any possible disagreements within the Party
concerning NguynThNăms fate. Moreover, this period gave the Party
time to continue vilifying and denouncing NguynThNăm, reassuring the
public that her punishment was just to make her an example.
Between March and July ,, the VWP, through its mouthpiece,
the Nhân Dân, published five articles about the struggle against NguynTh
Năm. The first four articles were VCát-Hanh-Long: Phát đng nông dân
đu tranh[The Case of Cát Hanh Long: Mobilizing the Peasants to Strug-
gle] by N.D. (March ,), Mtcuchi nghquan trng[An Impor-
tant Conference] by H.D. (March ,), My bài hcln[Important
Lessons] by Minh Nghĩa (April ,), and Đihi nông dân đu tranh
[The Peasant Meeting Struggle] by T.Đ. (July ,). In his recent memoir
Đèn cù [Turning Lamp], TrnĐĩnh, a key journalist for Nhân Dân, con-
firmed that Trưng Chinh assigned him to follow the development of the
NguynThNăm trial, publicize the struggle, and praise the strength of the
mobilized peasants. Concerning NguynThNăms crime, Trưng Chinh
told TrnĐĩnh to just follow the documents and indictments by the reform
team.

Thus, TrnĐĩnh was responsible for writing the four long articles
about NguynThNăms case. His last article was written two weeks after
the trial, and publicized the denunciations at NguynThNăms trial.
38 VO
After more than a month of deliberation, which was probably enough
time for HChí Minh to be informed of NguynThNăms case and its final
verdict, and a series of public incriminations, NguynThNăm was taken
before a crowd and tied to a tree trunk before a firing squad of five soldiers.
The captain shouted out the instructions: Raise your arms! Load your guns!
The enemy is in front. Fire!Her body went into shock and then stopped
moving. There was blood. The captain walked up to her and counted the
bullet holes in her body. One, two, three, fourone shot missed the target.
He then pulled out a pistol, pressed it to her temple, and pulled the trigger.

The exact date of NguynThNăms execution is still unclear, but two
reports made at the Hi nghịỦy ban Liên Vit Toàn Quc [The All-Nation
Meeting of United Vietnam] on July ,, and July , suggest
a possible time frame. The first report was made by Hoàng QucVit, then
chief director of the pilot campaign in Thái Nguyên, in which he specified
that NguynThNăm along with four other landowners had been sentenced
to death. However, he did not indicate whether the sentence had been
carried out.

Three days later, TrnĐcThnh, executive member of the
Peasant Mobilization Committee who was responsible for making progress
reports on the experimental phase in VitBc and Interzone IV, reported
that NguynThNăm had been executed: According to a report received,
the Special Peoples Courts in VitBc has executed [xt] five ringleaders:
NguynThNăm, Sergeant Lê Đình Hàm, Trn Thúc Cáp, Dương Văn
Trung, and Nguyn Quang Minh.

As such, it is reasonable to infer that
NguynThNăm was executed between July  and , or perhaps before
July .
Following the execution, on July ,,

Nhân Dân published the last
of the series of articles on the struggle against NguynThNăm, entitled
Đachác ghê[Landlords Are so Atrocious]. It reads:
Ancient sages have taught that the rich are inhumane.Everyone knows that
landowners are evil with their exploitive ways, but who would have thought
that there are those who kill without blinking an eye? This is a particular
example. The miserable old hag Cát Hanh Long, her two sons, and their
subordinates have killed fourteen peasants and tortured and disabled dozens.
They killed thirty-two families, including two hundred people: In , they
sent thirty-seven families to their plantations to deforest and cultivate for
NGUYNTHNĂM AND THE LAND REFORM IN NORTH VIETNAM, 1953 39
them. They worked [them] hard but fed them meagerly. After a few short
months, because of the hardships, thirty-two families died; not a single one
survived. They raped more than thirty peasants: In , they brought sixty-
five farmers from Thái Bình Province to their plantation ...A few days later,
thirty died. ...From  to , they brought home twenty orphans to
raise. They made these children live in the basement, fed them insufficiently,
and relentlessly overworked and beat them. After just a few months, fifteen
died. As a result, the hag Cát Hanh Long directly and indirectly murdered
 people. The scenes of them torturing peasant debtors are no less cruel
than the colonial French. ...And that is not to mention their counter-
revolutionary crimes. They have colluded with the French and the Japanese to
arrest cadres. After the August Revolution, they conspired with the French
and Vietnamese collaborators to sabotage the resistance. In the mass mobi-
lization campaign, local people gave enough evidence to denounce them. Cát
Hanh Long and her sons could not refute [these accusations] and confessed to
the crimes of harming the people and the nation. Their crimes can never be
fully written, and their evils can never be washed clean.

Đachác ghêwas penned by C.B. Unknown to the Vietnamese public at
the time, this penname was one of approximately sixty-six known aliases
that HChí Minh used mostly for writing articles in Nhân Dân to promote
the Partys policies.

From March ,, to March ,, articles
were signed C.B.

According to Bùi Tín, at that time, all Nhân Dân
articles marked with the inscription C.B.were Ca Bác[of/belonging
to Uncle], were regarded as sacred, had to be printed immediately on the
front page, just right below the headline,

and could not get a dot or
comma wrong.

Furthermore, TrnĐĩnh revealed that the article was
written by HChí Minh. He stated, Perhaps to coordinate with my article
[Đihi nông dân đu tranh], C.B. sent Đachác ghê.

TrnĐĩnhs most revealing claim, however, was that both HChí Minh
and Trưng Chinh secretly went to watch the trial of NguynThNăm. He
claimed that Uncle Hcovered his beard to attend one trial and Trưng
Chinh wore sunglasses throughout.

If TrnĐĩnhs account is true, it
refutes past anecdotes concerning HChí Minhs whereabouts and knowl-
edge of the trial. In particular, it contradicts the belief that HChí Minh was
in Hà Ni or somewhere far from the site of the trial and that news of
NguynThNăms trial and execution had to be brought to him at the last
40 VO
minute, too late for him to intervene. Distance-wise, if HChí Minh, at the
time of NguynThNăms trial, was residing at the Vit Minh headquarters
in the district of Đnh Hóa, Thái Nguyên Province, then he was only about
forty-five to fifty kilometers west of Đng Bm, the site of NguynTh
Năms trial. By foot, it would have taken him eleven to twelve hours to walk.
Hence, it is reasonable to suggest that HChí Minh was within distance of
being very informed of the trial, if not physically there, as TrnĐĩnh
claimed. Moreover, even if HChí Minh was not at the trial, he would still
have known something about it since between May  and August  there
was a string of six reports to the Partys leadership that detailed the progress
of the experimental campaign as well as the trial of NguynThNăm.

Five
of the six reports were delivered before HChí Minh wrote his Nhân Dân
article on July ,.
If HChí Minh was indeed present at NguynThNăms trial on May ,
, or was close enough to know the details, and then took more than
a month to deliberate over the matter, why did he not stop her execution?
Instead, why, after his cadres executed her, did he write a vitriolic statement
and publish it nationwide to further vilify herespecially if he had thought,
as some narratives have suggested, that it was not the right thing to do? One
possible answer could be that he thought it was needed to justify the decision
to execute NguynThNăm to ease any possible tensions, fear, chaos, and
protests that might have arisen after news of her execution spread. This was
demonstrated in TrnĐcThnhs August , assessment of the
mobilization campaign, in which he stated that the movement at the exper-
iment areas met many obstacles ...The impact of the struggle against
NguynThNăminĐng Bm led traitors and reactionary bullies to pre-
pare to counter because they knew that they too will eventually be
denounced.

As such, HChí Minhs article may have served the purpose
of easing the difficulties that TrnĐcThnh later reported, while also
pushing forward mass mobilization by promoting NguynThNăm and
her crimes as the universal symbol of the entire landowner class that needed
to be washed clean.
Chosen to serve as the guiding example for mass mobilization, the per-
secution, indictment, and propagation of NguynThNăms crimes were
orchestrated to inflame the peasantsfury. As such, the charges against her
NGUYNTHNĂM AND THE LAND REFORM IN NORTH VIETNAM, 1953 41
had to be overwhelmingly indefensible; the people participating in the trials
had to be chosen with care, the statements read by the court presidium had
to be prepared and well-rehearsed, and the propaganda machine had to
depict an evil and treacherous NguynThNăm to convince the public that
retribution was just. The first three articles on the NguynThNăm trial
presented her crimes against the people and the nation, incited public out-
rage against her, and prepared the publics mindset for the process of đut
[struggle]. The fourth article, written after the trial, detailed the May 
struggle against NguynThNăm. After her execution, HChí Minh wrote
Đachác ghêto condemn NguynThNăm in the strongest possible
terms. Direct and powerful, it concentrated on her long list of crimes to
counter in advance any possible argument or evidence that her defenders
might put forth. As such, it justified the Partys action. This was necessary
because it was very possible that emotions would wane and the peasants
would become indifferent to the mobilization program that was about to
come their way as news of NguynThNăms execution spread. TrnĐc
Thnh, in his routine progress reports on the experimental mass mobiliza-
tion campaign, indicated that news of the trials against NguynThNăm
frightened the land-owning class and created obstacles to the movement.

Consequently, the article advanced the Partys action against thousands
of people in the ensuing years. It became a template for cadres to catalogue
the crimeslandowners allegedly committed and powerful proof that even
the most credited patriots were susceptible to the same punishment.
As such, the article was republished in internal mobilization guidelines as
a lesson for land reform cadres.

As unsettling as her persecution and
execution were, NguynThNăms case came to symbolize the unimaginable
powers that top decision-makers and local executing cadres wielded to push
land reform forward. Such powers led to violence and injustices that today
remain incalculable.
Conclusion
The bullets fired at NguynThNăms body speak volumes about HChí
Minh and the Vietnamese Communist leadership. A single command issue
by HChí Minh to stay her execution would have not only saved Nguyn
ThNăm, but would have likely saved many people from being wrongly
42 VO
persecuted or killed during the land reform campaign. Yet, HChí Minh did
not order this command to save her, nor did he want to. The decision to
prosecute and execute her was intentional. Hoàng Tùng confirmed this in
his memoirs, stating that the VWPs Politburo convened and decided on
NguynThNăms fate.

Moreover, more than a month passed between
the verdict and the execution, which was enough time for HChí Minh and
the VWP to review her case. They knew that executing a friend of the
revolution was wrong, but it was also necessary. Publicly persecuting, humil-
iating, and finally executing the person who had given tremendously to the
revolution squarely placed the emphasis on power and class struggle.
It also foreshadowed the innumerable consequences that came in the
programs later phases, which showed that in the Partys struggle to gain
power, everyone is susceptible to the same fate. Enabling the trial and exe-
cution of NguynThNăm meant that ones contributions to the revolution
would not ensure protection, even though there were guidelines on class
struggle that carefully explained that a persons actions prior to  and
between  and the land reform should be taken into account during the
trial. Indeed, the guidelines stated that people who showed genuine contri-
tion were entitled to lighter sentences. However, this was not always the case.
Rather, it depended much on the political conditions at a given time.
For example, after signing the Geneva Agreement, the Party advocated
for the pardoning of a number of prisoners, including political prisoners.
However, it strongly opposed granting amnesty to landowners convicted
during mass mobilization. This was because the Party was afraid that releas-
ing the landowners before land reform has been completed would raise
suspicions among the peasants, thereby hampering class struggle in land
reforms. Those who had been sentenced to ten years or more were not to be
pardoned except when necessary for political purposes. Only under special
circumstances were certain people convicted ten years or less allowed
amnesty: those who showed that they were contrite and wanted to perform
labor reform, and those who were famous and whose release could improve
the international reputation of the Party.

HChí Minh and the VWP leadership must have been aware of the
violence that accompanied the Chinese land reform of the late s and
early s, but they wanted to use land reforms in Vietnam as a means of
NGUYNTHNĂM AND THE LAND REFORM IN NORTH VIETNAM, 1953 43
acquiring political power. There is no doubt that the program redistributed
land to the peasants and garnered the support needed to defeat the French at
Đin Biên Phin , but the process was not the ideal version promul-
gated by official policy. This point is made clear in TrnĐcThnhs August
, report on the experimental campaign, in which he suggested that
the program had gone too far. In his assessment, TrnĐcThnh stated:
In recent days the area of struggle has been too wide, in VitBc there were
communes that denunciated eleven out of sixteen landowners. Especially in
Interzone IV, one-third of the landowners were denounced. There were small
landowners who were denounced, but had very little crimes. Or their children
who were forced to kneel even though they were not directly involved in the
exploitation.

Nonetheless, mass mobilization and land reform continued moving for-
ward, reaching higher extremes, with more orders calling for the instigation
of more hatred toward the rich and land-owning class. Starting with Nguyn
ThNăm, HChí Minh used her as an example to plunge Vietnams rural
society into fear and conflict, ultimately forcing the peasants to submit to the
political structure that he and the VWP planted during and after the land
reform. By instilling and fostering hatred among social classes,

HChí
Minh and the VWP opened the gates for Party cadres as well as many people
to engage in indiscriminate persecution, confiscation, cleansing, and need-
less violence.
Today, as the VCP continues to maintain its power in Vietnam, under-
standing the mysteries that created HChí Minhs aura is even more nec-
essary because he is the foundation of its legitimacy. For this reason, the
Party venerates him and gives him equal status as the saints and Buddha on
many ancestral altars. His ethical values are taught to every Vietnamese
student, beginning in kindergarten. Images and accounts of his asceticism,
intelligence, humility, charm, and fervent devotion to the Vietnamese nation
have all become significant components of HChí Minh the person. Essen-
tially, to many ill-informed Vietnamese, and to foreigners, he is the embodi-
ment of everything that is beautiful and unique about Vietnam and the
Vietnamese people. Yet the story of NguynThNăm remains shamefully
unknown, and her contribution to the revolution continues to be ignored.
44 VO
ALEX-THAI D. VOis a PhD student of History at Cornell University. This
paper was orginally presented at the Sixth Annual Engaging with Vietnam:
An Interdisciplinary Dialogue Conference, held at the University of Oregon
in November 2014. The author thanks all the participants of the conference,
the anonymous JVS reviewers, and especially Keith Taylor, Barry Strauss,
Hue-Tam Ho Tai, Benedict Kerkvliet, Peter Zinoman, Christopher Goscha,
Olga Dror, Phm Quang Minh, PhmHng Tung, Tuong Vu, and Alec
Holcombe for their helpful comments during the researching and writing of
this paper. The paper is based on research carried out at the Vietnam
National Archives III in Hà Ni, the National Library in Hà Ni, and
provincial archives and libraries in northern Vietnam.
ABSTRACT
New scholarship has challenged conventional portrayals of the Vietnamese
revolution and its leader, HChí Minh. However, little has been said about
HChí Minhs role in the social-political and economic revolution known as
the land reform. This paper looks at the life and trial of landowner Nguyn
ThNăm to illuminate HChí Minhs role in the decision to execute Nguyn
ThNăm. It also examines the execution as part of the broader history of the
land reform and of the consolidation of communist power in the Democratic
Republic of Vietnam.
KEYWORDS: HChí Minh, NguynThNăm, Luo Guibo, North
Vietnam, phát đng qun chúng, ci cách rung đt
Notes
. Vietnamese words, including common names such as Vit Minh, HChí
Minh, NguynThNăm, Thái Nguyên, Sài Gòn, and Hà Ni, are rendered here
in the Vietnamese alphabet.
. From here on I will use the term landowner,instead of the common, yet more
politicized term landlord,when I refer to wealthy individuals who own large
amounts of land. However, landlordwill be kept whenever it is quoted as well
as in situations where the context demands that it be used.
. Trinh Nguyn, Lnđutrinlãmvcicáchrung đt,Thanh Niên Online,
September ,, http://www.thanhnien.com.vn/van-hoa-nghe-thuat/lan-dau-
trien-lam-ve-cai-cach-ruong-dat-.html (accessed October ,).
NGUYNTHNĂM AND THE LAND REFORM IN NORTH VIETNAM, 1953 45
. The communist party in Vietnam was established in  as the Indochinese
Communist Party (ICP, ); it was subsequently renamed the
Vietnamese WorkersParty (VWP, ) and, since , has been
known as the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP). From here on, I will use the
Vietnamese WorkersParty, VWP, Party, and DRV to denote the ruling
communist political entity in North Vietnam during this period. Vit Minh, or
the League for the Independence of Vietnam, was a communist-led collabo-
rative nationalist resistance movement against French colonial rule, within
which the VWP played the dominant role. During the land reforms, the VWP
turned against many non-communist components within the Vit Minh,
including those associated with the ĐiVit and Quc Dân Đng. From here
on, the term will be used with the understanding that the Vietnamese com-
munist party played the dominant role in all aspects of decision making.
. See, for example, Kim NinhsA World Transformed: The Politics of Culture in
Revolutionary Vietnam,  (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan
Press,), Lien-Hang NguyensHanois War: An Internatinoal History of the
War for Peace (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, ); Pierre
AssilinsBitter Peace: Washington, Hanoi, and the Making of the Paris Agree-
ment (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, ) and Hanois Road
to the Vietnam War:  (Berkeley: University of California Press, ),
and Ken MacLeansThe Government of Mistrust: Illegibility and Bureaucratic
Power in Socialist Vietnam (Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin
Press, ).
. Nguyn Công Lun, Nationalists in the Vietnam Wars: Memoirs of a Victim
Turned Soldier (Bloomington: IU Press, ), ; Gerard Tongas, J'ai vécu
dans l'enfer communiste au Nord Viêt-Nam (Paris: Les Nouvelles Éditions
Debresse, ).
. Bernard B. Fall, The Two Vietnams (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, ),
,.
. It is worth noting that the author of this work was a Western-educated son of
a wealthy land-owning family in the Thanh Hóa provincea region that, along
with Thái Nguyên and Phú Th, experienced the VWPs experimental phase of
land reform. Hoàng Văn Chí considered himself a Vietnamese nationalist. He
lived through much of the period that he wrote about, first as a non-
Communist member of the Vit Minh resistance for the nationalist cause of
abolishing French colonial power, then as an unwilling participant in the land
reform program. Mistrusting the Vit Minhs leadership and policies, he
along with other Vietnamesefled North Vietnam to South Vietnam in April
 and joined Ngô Đình Dims government. Displeased with the leadership
of Ngô Đình Dim, he requested reassignment to the Vietnamese Embassy in
46 VO
New Delhi, India. It was there that he obtained a $, (US) grant from the
Congress of Cultural Freedom in France to produce his work on land reform in
Vietnam. Given this background, it might be expected that his narration and
analysis on the land reform comes with anecdotes of first-hand experience as
well as probably anti-communist sentiment.
. Hoàng Văn Chí, From Colonialism to Nationalism (New York: Frederic
A. Praeger, ), .
.New York Times, July ,.
.Hipđnh Geneve  và các tài liu liên h[The  Geneva Accords and
Related Documents] (Sài Gòn: [publisher not identified],), .
.Chthca ban bí thưngày tháng năm vvicđu tranh chng Pháp
và bn Ngô Đình Dimddvà bpmtsđng bào ta vào min Nam,
[Directive by the Pulitburo on September , Concerning the Struggle
against France and Ngô Đình Dims Attempt to Entice and Coerce People to
Move South], VănKinĐng Toàn Tp, tp, (Hà Ni: Chính TrQuc
Gia, ), .
. Alec G. Holcombe, Socialist Transformation in the Democratic Republic of
Vietnam(PhD diss., Berkeley University, ), .
. Gareth Porter, The Myth of the Bloodbath: North Vietnams Land Reform
Reconsidered (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, ), ,.
. During the Vietnam War, Gareth Porter was a graduate student of George
McTurnan Kahin, a leading critic of U.S. involvement in the war. Porter was an
active anti-war activist during the Vietnam War, serving as Saigon Bureau
Chief for Dispatch News Service International from  to  and later as
co-director of the Indochina Resource Center, an anti-war research and edu-
cation organization based in Washington, D.C.
.TrnPhương, Cách mng rung đtVit Nam [Land Revolution in Vietnam]
(Hà Ni: Khoa hcxãhi, ), .
. Edwin E. Moise, Land Reform in China and North Vietnam: Consolidating the
Revolution at the Village Level (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina
Press, ), . The gist of Moises argument was first published in a 
article entitled Land Reform and Land Reform Errors in North Vietnam.
A well-researched study of the land reform that was produced around the same
time is Christine Pelzer Whites PhD dissertation Agrarian Reform and
National Liberation in the Vietnamese Revolution, ,which she
extended from her  article Land Reform in North Vietnam.
. A more contemporary examination of this issue is Phm Quang Minhs
Caught in the Middle: Local Cadres in HiDương Province,in Beyond
Hanoi: Local Government in Vietnam, ed. by Benedict J. Kerkvliet and David
G. Marr (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, ). The author
NGUYNTHNĂM AND THE LAND REFORM IN NORTH VIETNAM, 1953 47
argued that a large gap existed between the central government and local cadres
in the realization of party policy because local cadres faced conflicts with local
villagers when trying to carry out central policies while also representing their
communities.
. Qiang Zhai, China and The Vietnam Wars:  (Chapel Hill: The
University of North Carolina Press, ), . According to Zhai, on
February ,, the Chinese lead adviser in Vietnam, Luo Guibo, sent
a report to the CCP leadership, proposing that the PAVN conduct a political
consolidation campaign to make its officers and soldiers aware of the
distinction between the peasant and the landlord.Luo Guibos proposal was
approved and then drafted in a document entitled A Preliminary Proposal
Regarding the Political Consolidation of the Army,which outlined the
purposes, requirements, and methods of the campaign.
. This was one of hundreds of learn from experienceguides and pamphlets that
were mass-produced and distributed to land reform cadres. They include the
following examples: Bếpđla[The Flaming Red Stove], Giai cp công nhân
đivici cách rung đt[The Working Class and Land Reform], Vch kh
[Determining Misery], Phóng tay phát đng qun chúng [Resolutely Mobilize
the Mass], Sclnh thành lp tòa án nhân dân đcbit[Directive on Estab-
lishing the Special Peoples Court], Căm thù đach[The Hartred of Land-
lords], Đng dân chVit Nam vivnđCi Cách Rung Đt[The
Vietnamese Democratic Party and the Issue of Land Reform], Ánh sáng đang v
[The Light is Returning], Thơca phát đng [Mobilization Poetry], Nên vnên
chng [Becoming Wife and Husband], Nhnrung [Receiving Land].
. Moise, Land Reform in China and North Vietnam, .
. In a recent exchange with the author of this article at the  Vietnam
Center and Archive Conference in Washington D.C. on September ,
, Moise acknowledged the limitation of his sources and argument,
particularly the violent and costly nature of the campaign, and suggested
that further research should be done to better understand North Vietnams
land reform.
. Other works that have addressed the land reform and its effects include Qiang
ZhaisChina and The Vietnam Wars, , William DuikersHo Chi
Minh (New York: Theia, ), Kim NinhsA World Transformed: The Politics
of Culture in Revolutionary Vietnam, Lien-Hang NguyensHanois War: An
International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam, and Ken MacLeansThe
Government of Mistrust: Illegibility and Bureaucratic Power in Socialist Viet-
nam. With the exception of Qiang Zhai, who relied primarily on Chinese
archival sources, the other assessments of the land reform have relied mainly on
secondary sources.
48 VO
. Holcombe, Socialist Transformation in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam,
.
. Hoàng Nht Linh, Nghbuôn: Mhôi, nưcmt, ncưi[Trades: Sweats,
Tears, Laughter] (Hà Ni: Trung Tâm Thông Tin HKTHC, ), ;Dương
Trung Quc, Viết nhân ngày thương binh litsĩ[In Commemoration of
Martyrs and Wounded Soldiers], Lao đng, July ,, http://laodong.com.
vn/lao-dong-cuoi-tuan/viet-nhan-ngay-thuong-binh-liet-si-.bld
(accessed September ,). According to Xuân Bas March , article in
Công An Nhân Dân, NguynThNăms husband passed away in .
. Nguyn Cáts other name is Hoàng Công, which was often used for covert
operations when he was still with the Vit Minh.
. Thái Nguyên is a mountainous, midland province in the northeast region of
Vietnam, approximately seventy-five kilometers from Hà Ni and  kilo-
meters from Hi Phòng Province. From  to , it (specifically the district
of Đnh Hóa) served as the operational headquarters of the VWP during the
Resistance War against the French.
.NguynDuyTiến, Quá trình thchinquynshurung đt cho nông
dân Thái Nguyên ()[The Process of Implementing the Right to
Own Land for Peasants in Thái Nguyên ()], (Hà Ni: Chính Tr
Quc Gia, ), ,,.InareportmadeonJuly,,Hoàng
QucVitstatedthatNguynThNăm, at the time of her trial, had ,
muof land.
. Fredrick Logevall, Embers of War (New York: Random House, ), ;
Charles Hirschman, Samuel Preston, and Vu Manh Loi, Vietnamese
Casualties during the American War: A New Estimate,Population and
Development Review , no. (): .
. Hoàng Nht Linh, .
.Dương Trung Quc, Viết nhân ngày thương binh litsĩ.ĐcThwas
among the founders of the VWP and became head of the Partys Central
Organizing Committee and Hà Nis lead negotiator during the Paris
Agreement in ; Hoàng Hu Nhân was General Secretary of Hi Phòng;
Hoàng Tùng was Chief Editor of Nhân Dân [The People], the official
newspaper of the VWP; VũQuc Uy was a famous writer and cultural
politician; Hoàng ThếThiên was a general in the Vietnam Peoples Army; and
VũĐình Thi was a writer and composer who was also a member of the Vit
Minh.
.Dương Trung Quc, Viết nhân ngày thương binh litsĩ; Xuân Ba, Chuynv
ngưiphntng bxlý oan: Tìm mbà Cát Hanh Long,[The Story of the
Woman Who Was Wrongly Charged: Finding the Tomb of Cát Hanh Long]
Công An Nhân Dân, March ,, http://cand.com.vn/Phong-su/Chuyen-ve-
NGUYNTHNĂM AND THE LAND REFORM IN NORTH VIETNAM, 1953 49
nguoi-phu-nu-tung-bi-xu-ly-oan-Tim-mo-ba-Cat-Hanh-Long-/
(accessed April ,).
.Dương Trung Quc, Viết nhân Ngày Thương binh Litsĩ.
. Ibid. In the article, Dương Trung Quc suggested that it was the st Division,
while Xuân Ba suggested the th Division.
.Tuyên ngôn caĐng Cng SnĐông Dương,[Declaration of the Indochina
Communist Party], VănKinĐng Toàn Tp, tp, (Hà Ni:,
Chính TrQuc Gia, ), .
. Alex-Thai Dinh Vo, Agrarian Policies in North Vit-Nam During the Resis-
tance War, ,(MA Thesis, Cornell University, ), .
.Nghquyếtcathưng vtrung ương vnhn xét tình hình các vicphi làm
do Liên Xô, Trung Quc và các nưc dân chnhân dân thanhnVit Nam đ
ra ngày --[Resolution by the Central Standing Committee
Commenting on the Status of Works that Need to be Accomplished, as
Recommended by the Soviet Union, China and the Democratic States
Recognizing Vietnam, April ,], VănKinĐng Toàn Tp, tp,,
(Hà Ni: Chính TrQuc Gia, ), ; Qiang Zhai, .
. Ang Cheng Guan, Vietnamese CommunistsRelations with China and the Second
Indochina Conflict,  (London: McFarland & Company, Inc., ), .
.History of the Communist Party of Vietnam (Hà Ni: Foreign Languages
Publishing House, ), .
.Hoàn thành nhimvchunbchuynmnh sang tng phn công (báo cáo
hi nghtoàn quclnthba)[Complete the Task of Preparing for General
Counter-attack (Report at the Third National Conference)], VănKinĐng
Toàn Tp, tp,,,.
.Chthca ban chp hành trung ương vchính sách rung đtcaĐng
[Directive by the Central Executive Committee on the Partys Land Policy],
VănKinĐng Toàn Tp, tp,,.
.Chthca ban thưng vtrung ương vcông tác điu tra nông thôn năm
[Directive by the Central Standing Committee on the Task of
Investigating the Rural Areas in ], ;Chthca ban thưng v
trung ương vvic phân đnh thành phn các tng lp nhân dân nông thôn
[Directive by the Central Standing Committee on Social Status Demarcation in
the Rural Areas], VănKinĐng Toàn Tp, tp,,;Chthca
ban bí thưvcucvnđng chnchnh Đng[Directive by the Party
Secretariat on Rectification of the Mobilization of the Party], VănKinĐng
Toàn Tp, tp, (Hà Ni: Chính TrQuc Gia, ), ;Chth
ca ban chp hành trung ương vchính sách rung đtcaĐng[Directive by
the Central Executive Committee on the Partys Land Policy], VănKi
nĐng
Toàn Tp, tp,,,.
50 VO
.Ýkiếnsơbcađng chính La Quý Ba (cvn Trung Quôc) vvnđng
qun chúng năm,Phông PhThTưng (PPTT), File no. , Vietnam
National Archive III (VNA-III), Hà Ni.u served ,năm).
. Ilya V. Gaiduk, Confronting Vietnam: Soviet Policy toward the Indochina
Conflict  (Stanford: Stanford University Press, ), .
. Qiang Zhai, .
. Duiker, Ho Chi Minh,.
. Besides the presence of Chinese advisers, the DRV also translated many
stories of Chinese land reform experience into Vietnamese for its own land
reform cadres to learn. Two examples: Mtvàivnđcơbnvcicáchrung
đtTrung Quc[A Few Fundamental Issues Concerning Land Reform in
China], Thng livĩđica phong trào cicáchrung đtTrung Quc
()[Great Victory of the Land Reform Movement in China (
)].
.Dương Danh Dy, trans., HiKýCVn Trung QucVit Nam [Memoirs of
Chinese Advisors in Vietnam] (France: Din Dàn, ), .
.Soviet-Vietnamese economic and scientific-technical cooperation, :
Letter from HChí Minh to Stalin in ,Russian Archives, http://www.
rusarchives.ru/evants/exhibitions/vietnam/.shtml (accessed May ,).
. Gaiduk, .
.Chthvphát đng qun chúng trong năm[Directive on Mass
Mobilization in ], PPTT, File no. , VNA-III, Hà Ni.
.Thng tay phát đng qun chúngis a propaganda slogan commonly used by
the VWP to command its cadres to mobilize the masses. Long trilđt,
which literally translates as sky-shaking and earth-shattering,is a verbal
depiction that many Vietnamese used to stress the terrors of land reform.
.Ýkiếnsơbcađng chí La Quý Ba (cvn Trung Quôc) vvnđng qun
chúng năm,PPTT, File no. , VNA-III, Hà Ni.
. Ibid.
. Ibid.
. Ibid.
. Ibid., . An interzone [liên khu] is an administrative grouping of several
provinces. Six interzones were estab