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Hồ Chí Minh’s World Journey: From Glamorous France To Tumultuous China

Hồ Chí Minh’s journey around the world from 1911 to 1941

President Hồ Chí Minh may be one of the most reputed figures in Vietnam’s modern history. He played a key role in forming our country as it is today. In 1945, it was he who declared the independence of Vietnam to the world at Ba Đình,  Hanoi.

However, to reap these achievements, President Hồ Chí Minh had spent 30 years touring the world to see and learn more from other countries. In this article, we will introduce Hồ Chí Minh’s journey around the world. The information is taken from the book Ho Chi Minh: A Life by William J. Duiker and his official biography in Vietnam.

Departed from Saigon for Marseille

Nha Rong Harbour
Nhà Rồng Harbor, where Nguyễn Tất Thành started his journey in 1911. Today, it is the site of the Hồ Chí Minh Museum.
Image credit: danh vo

As a person deeply concerned about the nation’s position as a French colony, Nguyễn Tất Thành, later President Hồ Chí Minh, had long been holding a dream to go abroad to learn from the most innovative countries in the world.

That’s why on 5th June 1911, he embarked on the steamer Admiral de Latouche-Tréville. Here, he worked as a helper by the nickname of Văn Ba. The ship departed from Nhà Rồng Harbor to Marseille, France. On the way, it also passed by big cities such as Le Havre and Dunkirk.

La touche Treville
The steamer Admiral de Latouche-Tréville in a storm.
Image credit: manhhai

During this time, he applied to the French Colonial Administrative School, only to be rejected. Therefore, he decided to go across the Atlantic Ocean to the US for more chances.

Nhà Rồng Harbor / Hồ Chí Minh Museum in Hồ Chí Minh City
Address: 01 Nguyễn Tất Thành Street, Ward 12, District 4, Hồ Chí Minh City
Opening hours: Tue-Sun 7.30am-11.30am | 1.30pm-5pm (Closed on Mondays)
Telephone: 028 38255740
Hồ Chí Minh Museum in Hồ Chí Minh City’s website

Working in Harlem and Boston

Omni Parker House
Parker House Hotel, better known as Omni Parker House today.
Image credit: Kimberly Vardeman/Wikimedia Commons

In December 1912, Nguyễn Tất Thành went on a ship to the Americas. Along his journey, he briefly visited cities such as Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, and finally arrived in New York.

In this bustling city, he worked as a manual worker in Harlem. Later, he was employed as a baker at Parker House Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts by the name of Paul.

Little is known about his activities in the US except for some letters and postcards that he sent back to Indochina. However, it’s possible that while living here, he might have witnessed how racism and violence, especially lynching, had been imposed on the Black American community. Plus, as mentioned in Duiker’s book, he may have attended some large Pan-American meetings and got impressed by the determination of the African-Americans there.

Omni Parker House
Address: 60 School Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02108
Telephone: 617 227 8600
Omni Parker House’s website

Working in the UK

Ho Chi Minh as a baker
Nguyễn Tất Thành as a baker at Carlton Hotel in 1913.
Image credit: VnExpress

In late 1912, Nguyễn Tất Thành went across the Atlantic Ocean again to the United Kingdom, where he would spend the next 5 years. The young man continued his kitchen work at Drayton Court Hotel in West Ealing as credited on the official website of the borough.

Ho Chi Minh plaque London
A plaque commemorating Hồ Chí Minh in Haymarket, the UK.
Image credit: Tony Hisgette

Nguyễn Tất Thành also had a while working at Carlton Hotel in Haymarket, Westminster and possibly received training from the respectable chef Auguste Escoffier. Today, though Carlton Hotel has been demolished and replaced by New Zealand House, you can still see a plaque acknowledging Nguyễn Tất Thành’s time here.

New Zealand’s House / New Zealand High Commission
Address: 80 Haymarket, St. James’s, London SW1Y 4TE, United Kingdom

Hồ Chí Minh’s second time in France

Ho CHi Minh 1921
Nguyễn Tất Thành in 1921.
Image credit: Agence de presse Meurisse/Wikimedia Commons

From 1917 to 1919, Nguyễn Tất Thành moved to Paris where he gradually got involved in more political activities.

In fact, he was part of the group Groupe des Patriotes Annamites, or Group of the Annamese Patriots, fighting for the rights of the colonial peoples. He became a political journalist and writer and adopted a new alias – Nguyễn Ái Quốc.

Ho Chi Minh Compoint
A plaque at Compoint Land, arrondissement 7, Paris, identifying where Nguyễn Ái Quốc used to reside in the 1920s.
Image credit: Rungbachduong/Wikimedia Commons

In 1920, Nguyễn Ái Quốc, together with 5 other people, established the French Communist Party, which is still functioning today.

During this time, he reportedly attended some classes at Sorbonne University and spent much time reading in the libraries.

From Moscow to Guangzhou

Nguyen AI Quoc 1924
Nguyễn Ái Quốc (on the floor) and his fellows at the 5th Communist Internationale Meeting in 1924.
Image credit: Quân đội nhân dân

With his remarkable political activities in France, Nguyễn Ái Quốc was sponsored by Dmitry Manuilsky, a Bolshevik revolutionary, to study in the Soviet Union. In June 1923, he travelled to Moscow. Also, during this period, he got more exposed to the communist activities and got to know more revolutionaries who were also studying in Moscow at the time.

As a member of the Communist Internationale, in 1924, he took the new alias Lý Thụy and then Vương, or 李瑞 and 王 in Chinese respectively, and went to Guangzhou to help spread revolutionary ideas to the local youth through his political science classes.

The original copy of Đường Kách mệnh exhibited at Vietnam’s National Museum of History.
Image credit: Hoangkid/Wikimedia Commons

In 1927, his lectures were collected in a book named Đường Kách mệnh, meaning The Revolutionary Road. This book marked the beginning of Marxism and Leninism in Vietnam. Today, you can find the original copy of this book, which is a national treasure, at Vietnam’s National Museum of History in Hanoi.

Vietnam’s National Museum of History
Address: Số 216, Trần Quang Khải Street, Hoàn Kiếm District, Hà Nội
Opening hours: Tue-Sun 8am-12am | 1.30pm-5pm (Closed on Mondays)
Telephone: 84 024 38252853
Vietnam’s National Museum of History’s website

Arrival in Thailand

Ho CHi Minh House in Thailand
Hồ Chí Minh’s House in Nakhom Phanom, Thailand.
Image credit: Siwa Tungjittikul

In 1927, Nguyễn Ái Quốc came back to Europe and kept going around this continent as assigned by the Communist Internationale.

One year later, he departed from Europe for Thailand. In the guise of a bald monk named Thầu Chín, he spent his time in Nakhon Phanom working with the overseas Vietnamese there. Meanwhile, he also authored some articles and papers for publication in Vietnam.

Today, when visiting Nakhon Phanom, you can still find the house where Thầu Chín used to live and a gallery showing his life here.

Ba Na Chok / Hồ Chí Minh’s House in Nakhon Phanom
Address: Nakhon Phanom–Sakon Nakhon Road, Na Rat Khwai, Nakhon Phanom, 48000 Thailand

Stood trial in Hong Kong

The wall of Victoria Gaol, where Tống Văn Sơ was imprisoned.
Image credit: Shek Mok YU/Wikimedia Commons

In 1929, Nguyễn Ái Quốc went from Thailand to Hong Kong. In Kowloon, he helped reconcile the conflicting communist parties from Vietnam, then combined them to form the Vietnamese Communist Party on 3rd February 1930. This date is still celebrated annually in Vietnam.

In 1931, under the name of Tống Văn Sơ, or 宋文初 in Chinese, Nguyễn Ái Quốc was captured by the police and had to stand trial as the British colonials considered him as a threat. In 1932, he was released from prison and got on a boat to Singapore. As this harbor city was part of British Malaya at this time, Tống Văn Sơ was captured again by the British colonial police as soon as he arrived in Singapore.

With the help of attorney Francis Henry Loseby and his fellows, Nguyễn Ái Quốc was released. Though free, he still had to flee from Hong Kong to Shanghai, China in January 1933. He kept moving northward to Vladivostok of the former Soviet Union and found a way back to Moscow.

The second time in Moscow and China

Ho Chi Minh 1930s
Nguyễn Ái Quốc in the 1930s.
Image credit: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS via manhhai

In Spring 1934, Nguyễn Ái Quốc continued his study in the Soviet Union by the names of Lin and Linov. This was the period when he sharpened his political ideology and thoughts.

Also in these years, he got a chance to work closely with the pioneering revolutionaries of Vietnam such as Trần Phú, Lê Hồng Phong, and Hà Huy Tập, the first three secretaries of the Vietnamese Communist Party.

From 1938 to 1941, Nguyễn Ái Quốc returned to China to work as a political consultant of the alliance of Chinese forces against the Japanese. During this time, he took the identity of a major named Hồ Quang, or 胡光 in Chinese.

Return to Vietnam

108 Milestone
The 108th milestone where Nguyễn Ái Quốc returned to Vietnam.
Image credit: Hồ Chí Minh Museum

On 28th January 1941, Nguyễn Ái Quốc passed the 108th milestone marking the border between China and Vietnam. This was the first time after about 30 years that he came back to his home country.

Ho Chi Minh Pac Bo
Hồ Chí Minh fishing in Pác Bó.
Image credit: Hồ Chí Minh’s Mausoleum

After returning to Vietnam, he stayed in a remote cave in Pác Bó, Cao Bằng to help guide the revolutionary activities in the country. Five years later, the Vietnamese drove out the French and the Japanese. On 2nd September 1945, Nguyễn Ái Quốc, better known as Hồ Chí Minh at this time, declared the Democratic Republic of Vietnam’s independence.

Hồ Chí Minh’s journey around the world

Though there is still controversy about the exact itinerary of Hồ Chí Minh from 1911 to 1941, his journey is highly inspiring to many people.

On the one hand, it reminds us of the price of peace and independence. On the other hand, it encourages us to persistently fight for our dreams.

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Cover image adapted from Kimberly Vardeman/Wikimedia Commons, Shek Mok YU/Wikimedia Commons, and Gia Lai People’s Procuracy Department 

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