For many, Nguyen Khac Vien was a respected teacher to generations of Vietnamese students. Few realize, however, he was an intelligent forecaster of Viet Nam’s future, and a symbol of Vietnamese intellectualism devoted to the development of the country.
|Doctor Nguyen Khac Vien speaks at the awarding ceremony of his Grand Prix de la Francophone .|
In an interview in late 1992 conducted in HCMC’s Pasteur Institute’s guesthouse in which he was spending winter, Nguyen Khac Vien expounded on a misleading popular slogan calling the people to strive for richness.
He compared the slogan to that of the French Revolution in 1789, which focused instead on liberty, equality and fraternity. Their moral strength, he explained, built the foundation for their future prosperity. Had the people of France focused on short-term profit, teachers would have cheated students, doctors would have robbed patients, and everybody would have become worse off.
We see now that Nguyen Khac Vien was quite correct. Teachers often coerce pupils into attending expensive private sessions, dishonest doctors rip off their wards, and bribery lubricates the formalities of government instead of brotherhood.
With the Open Door Policy of the late ‘90s, when an abundance of commodities began flooding into Viet Nam, Nguyen Khac Vien said, "Japanese motorbikes and films – well, they are just like cannonballs firing at our cities. They keep on firing until our cities turn into piles of rubble."
His condemnation rings true. Currently, 80% of traffic accidents in Viet Nam involve motorcycles, causing the country a considerable headache. When in 2000 France suffered 30 traffic fatalities per day, French newspapers bitterly satirized that the country was truly powerful – in terms of traffic accidents. Meanwhile, the Asian Development Bank has released statistics indicating that Viet Nam suffers 40 traffic fatalities each day, a stark, powerful contrast.
Indeed, anyone who has witnessed police destroying huge piles of violent and pornographic videos can almost hear the terrible cannonballs bombarding our culture. As far back as the liberation of the South, he predicted the swarthy cadres who would abuse power and position to squeeze profit from the people in the future. At the time, many were shocked to hear his words.
On a lighter note, he also called for Viet Nam to focus on traditional sports such as foot-shuttlecock and wrestling… shortly afterwards, the Vietnamese shuttlecock team won award after award in international tournaments for several consecutive years.
During the Lunar New Year of 1997, a greeting card from Nguyen Khac Vien arrived from Ha Noi, wondering if he and the author might meet again. This was the revolutionary intellectual’s final farewell, as he passed away in May.
Dr. Nguyen Khac Vien (1913-1997) was one of the most distinguished figures in the Vietnamese revolutionary movement. He became a pediatrician after graduating from the Paris Medical University in 1941. In his time in France he studied and popularized Vietnamese culture, as well as heading up a Patriotic Overseas Vietnamese movement protesting the war led by France and the United States in Indochina.
In 1963 he returned to his country and worked for the French-English magazine, Viet Nam Studies. He also served as Director of the Foreign Language Publishing House (now World Publishing House).
In 1984 he founded the Children Psychology and Psychosis Research Center. In November 1992 he held a Grand Prix de la Francophone (worth 400,000 francs), and donated most of the proceeds to the research center.
In 1997 he was awarded a first-rank independence medal by the State of Viet Nam. On September 1, 2000, he was posthumously awarded the State Prize by the President for his book, "Viet Nam, an Epic."