Revisiting Ho Chi Minh's Testament: Assessing Its Impact on Modern Vietnam's Path

Does Ho's legacy strengthen and increase the influence of the Vietnamese Communist Party right now?

Revisiting Ho Chi Minh's Testament: Assessing Its Impact on Modern Vietnam's Path
Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

Thuy Huong wrote this article in Vietnamese, which was published in Luat Khoa Magazine on September 15, 2023. Lee Nguyen translated the article into English.

On Vietnam’s annual Independence Day celebration, state media outlets publish articles praising Ho Chi Minh on the day of the country's founding, coincidentally also the day of his death. The content of these articles is directed towards reinforcing and enhancing the influence of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) through the ideal image of Ho Chi Minh. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

In these publications, phrases honoring Ho Chi Minh's ethics and ideology, such as the assets of the party and the Vietnamese people, are constantly mentioned. A few articles also discuss his vision for post-war economic and social development to bolster the party's legitimacy. Scholars refer to this phenomenon as "Ho Chi Minh belief.” [6] [7] [8]

Among Ho Chi Minh's legacies, his will and testament are often cited as the moral foundation for serving the nation by the party; the VCP uses this to mobilize public support and solidify its position in Vietnamese society.

However, the VCP’s reliance on Ho Chi Minh’s testament not only fails to raise the party's legitimacy in the current context but may even reduce it. The two fundamental reasons for this argument are: (i) the use of vague discourses creates difficulties for public understanding, and (ii) these discourses are incapable of connecting with generations born after the war.

The Construction of the VCP, Ho Chi Minh, and Vietnam’s Identity 

The VCP’s power structure demands loyalty, which is achieved through the admiration and adoration of the masses for the image of Uncle Ho or his status as the “Father of the Nation.”

In 1945, the VCP had only 5,000 members, and most of the population was unfamiliar with Ho Chi Minh. [9] From 1945 to 1960, the party and Ho Chi Minh actively created the "brand" of Ho Chi Minh to associate him with the identity of the VCP and the newly established government. According to a few scholarly analyses, constructing the image of Ho Chi Minh was crucial for propagating socialism in Vietnam. 

Before and after the 1954 Geneva Accords, most Vietnamese were illiterate and lacked education. Therefore, the VCP could connect more effectively with them through a specific figure, Ho Chi Minh, who embodied the ethical qualities that Vietnamese families could easily relate to. While the resistance against French colonialism was an internal and apparent demand of Vietnam then, the need for creating a new society under the socialist model was not as evident. Creating the "Ho Chi Minh belief" was a strategic choice of the VCP and Ho Chi Minh himself to work towards this goal. [10]

Constructing the identity of Ho Chi Minh was an intricate process. While domestic researchers are still seeking the origins of documents related to Ho Chi Minh's political activities, international academic research shows that Ho Chi Minh actively crafted his mystique by creating pseudonyms and writing memoirs about himself. [11] After 1960, Ho Chi Minh gradually lost his power to Le Duan, but he continued to play a role as a staff member within the party's machinery, representing the face of the VCP until his death. In other words, nurturing the cult of Ho Chi Minh was linked to the survival of the VCP.

The Testament of Ho Chi Minh

Published documents reveal that the creation of Ho Chi Minh's testament was tightly monitored and part of the VCP’s political strategy.

Specifically, the 1965 draft of Ho Chi Minh's testament bore the signature of General Secretary Le Duan. [12] This indicates that the contents written by Ho Chi Minh required the party's approval. The VCP also controlled the process of publishing this document after his death. Many years after Ho Chi Minh's passing, the party made the draft of his testament public. Viewed within the context of the passage of time, the control by the VCP contributes to the ambiguity of Ho Chi Minh’s image and moral values.

The inaccurate discourse created by the VCP also affected the construction of the rule of law in the country. During his lifetime, Ho Chi Minh himself encouraged the use of pure Vietnamese language rather than Sino-Vietnamese characters (e.g., he asked to set his testament on fire and not to preserve it by using the term "đốt đi" instead of the Sino-Vietnamese "hoả thiêu"). He did not name the testament that he drafted but regarded it as a "letter" (thư) or "a few words left behind" (mấy lời để lại). The party later used the term "di chúc" – testament (or sometimes "di huấn").

It is difficult to conclude whether using the term "di chúc" was accidental, mistaken, or intentional. However, when the party used a different word to describe the last writing of Ho Chi Minh, its term blurred the line between political discourse and legality. In all forms of modern society, a "di chúc" or testament is universally understood as an expression of one's will to transfer his property to others after his death. This legal concept has also been incorporated into the Civil Code of Vietnam.

Research indicates that blurring the lines between political and legal rhetoric can disrupt the establishment of social order and diminish the efficacy of governance through the rule of law. [13] The employment of identical terminology across disparate domains, yet with varying definitions, contributes to societal confusion and misunderstanding among citizens. [14] In Vietnam's context, where private ownership is not prevalent, conflating the political inheritance of a deceased leader with the tangible legacies of individual citizens results in the dissemination of inaccurate information. [15] This misrepresentation of facts can, consequently, have a detrimental impact on the collective mindset of society.[16]

The Evolution of the Discourse on Ho Chi Minh's Testament 

Through different historical periods, the VCP has undergone specific changes to adapt to the times. However, many studies conclude that the changes in the party are aimed at maintaining its dominant political position through the education system and media. Controlling collective memory is one of the techniques used to achieve this goal. [17]

Repeating the discourses about Ho Chi Minh's testament can be seen as part of the party's strategy to maintain the moral symbol of Ho Chi Minh in the collective memory. Ho Chi Minh's testament is considered a representation of abstract values such as humanitarianism and revolutionary ethics. However, this technique does not contribute to constructing or enhancing the party's legitimacy in the current context. From a party-building perspective, the discourse is not formulated into specific behavioral rules or guidance for party members. From the standpoint of the relationship between the VCP and the people, the discourse was not created to connect with the generations born after the Vietnam War.

The ethical principles set by Ho Chi Minh during the process of building the new regime were often clear, simple, and widely disseminated to the public. [18] The internal regulations for party members were quantified for easy implementation. [19] Compared to that time, current regulations on party member conduct are less clear. [20] If compared to the model that has significantly influenced the VCP - the Chinese Communist Party - studies indicate that the lack of clarity may serve the purpose of maintaining the party's existence. [21] Implicit and informal regulations still have more power to regulate behavior than formalized rules.

However, considering both the economic scale and population, Vietnam does not possess the might of China. If Ho Chi Minh's testament truly represents the spirit of patriotism or nationalism, its discourse must change to adapt to the new situation. This not only affects the party's legitimacy with the domestic population but also influences foreign relations between Vietnam and other major powers. [22]

Until now, the party mainly presented Ho Chi Minh's testament through written text. Unlike a few other propaganda tools with artistic applications that are more creative, such as music, video clips, or podcasts, using text weakens the testament's ability to connect with the community. For example, while the Hoa Lo Prison Relic uses creative communication strategies to attract young visitors, the Ho Chi Minh Museum has not successfully created a new space where words can interact more engagingly with the public.

To conclude, this writer posits that it is crucial for the VCP to reform the discourse surrounding Ho Chi Minh’s will by establishing explicit codes of conduct for party members and clarifying 'Ho Chi Minh’s beliefs'. Such transparency and innovation in discourse are essential for the continued relevance of the Communist Party’s development in the future if it still wants to be the only political party in Vietnam.


1. Hà An - Nguyễn Thăng - Minh Nhật. (2023, September 5). Bản Di chúc của Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh - văn kiện lịch sử quý báu, là tài sản vô giá của Đảng, của dân tộc Việt Nam - Báo Đại biểu Nhân dân. Báo Đại Biểu Nhân Dân.

2. TTXVN. (2023, September 1). Xây dựng Đảng trong Di chúc của Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh. Báo Tin Tức.

3. Hồ Chí Minh - phút cuối của Người và ngọn lửa đầu tiên của đời. (2023, September 2). Báo Quân Đội Nhân Dân.

4. Bảo tàng Hồ Chí Minh - Ho Chi Minh Museum. (2023, September 2). Bản tin Bảo tàng Hồ Chí Minh số 21 [Video]. YouTube.

5. VNEWS - TRUYỀN HÌNH THÔNG TẤN. (2023, September 2). Gần 33.000 lượt khách vào Lăng viếng Bác trong ngày 2/9 - VNEWS [Video]. YouTube.

6. Olga Dror. (n.d.). Sự hình thành tín ngưỡng Hồ Chí Minh: truyền thống Việt Nam và các biến tướng (Phần 1).

7. Olga Dror. (n.d.). Sự hình thành tín ngưỡng Hồ Chí Minh: truyền thống Việt Nam và các biến tướng (Phần 2).

8. Olga Dror. (2016). Establishing Hồ Chí Minh’s cult: Vietnamese traditions and their transformations. The Journal of Asian Studies, 75(2), 433–466.

9. The writer talked with a 94-year-old acquaintance about the "August Revolution." Despite his old age, the acquaintance was still lucid. While memory is not concrete evidence, the writer believes his recollection of this historical event is etched in his mind. He was born into a poor farming family in Quang Ngai Province and lost his father early, and often had to accompany his mother to work as a hired laborer in rice fields to make a living. According to his account, during the "revolution," some people ran into the village, urging everyone to seize the Japanese army's rice storehouses. Many people followed suit, and he also joined them. 

10. See [6], [7], [8].

11. Quốc Phong. (2020, September 6). Trần Dân Tiên là ai?

12. Tâm Trang. (n.d.). Di chúc của Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh qua các năm.

13. For example, see

14. Scoville, C., & Fligstein, N. (2020). The promise of field theory for the study of political institutions. In Cambridge University Press eBooks (pp. 79–101).

15. The absence of private ownership is the root cause of endless controversies over Land Law and land rights. For example, see

16. Ecker, U. K. H., Lewandowsky, S., Cook, J., Schmid, P., Fazio, L. K., Brashier, N. M., Kendeou, P., Vraga, E. K., & Amazeen, M. A. (2022). The psychological drivers of misinformation belief and its resistance to correction. Nature Reviews Psychology, 1(1), 13–29.

17. London, J. D. (2022). The Communist Party of Vietnam. In Routledge eBooks (pp. 21–47).

18. For instance: Uncle Ho’s six teachings for the Ministry Public Security

19. Unfortunately, the writer encountered difficulties in finding original documents related to this issue. The Archives Department of the Office of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee is not open to the public ( The Vietnam National Archives does not store documents on the party's activities. However, interviews with some veteran retired party members indicate they may have engaged in "policy propaganda" and established the Communist Party's credibility at the grassroots level because of clear regulations. For instance, a former judge of the Supreme People's Court stated that she received a salary allowance when mobilizing the people at the local level. If invited by the people for a meal at their homes, she would use this working allowance to pay them (with specific rates for each day). These regulations are transparent (and widely disseminated to the people), so she and her fellow party members strictly adhere to them. 

20. 19 điều Đảng viên không được làm theo Quy định 37-QĐ/TW. (n.d.).

21. Ewan Smith. (n.d.). On the Informal Rules of the Chinese Communist Party. Center for the Study of Contemporary China Perelman Center for Political Science & Economics.

22. Professor George Kahin argued that the United States supported the Democratic Republic of Vietnam until the People's Republic of China was established in 1949.

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