Flag Designer Urban Myths Squelched

Viet Nam News, August 28, 2008

Through devoted and persistent research, writer Son Tung proved unequivocally who designed the National Flag, enabling the State to honor him 40 years after his death.

Since the solemn ceremony to recognize the National Flag’s designer, 26 years have passed, but writer Son Tung’s memories of the occasion remain fresh, and his research into the designer’s life remains unequivocally important to revolutionary history.

With more than 200 local dignitaries in Nam Ha Province’s Duy Tien District, Tung and musician Van Cao (and a few others from Ha Noi) attended the ceremony, which included a speech delivered by Tung to pay respect to Nguyen Huu Tien, who, as a result of Tung’s devoted investigations, was then known as the father of the National Flag.

"The oil-painting of Nguyen Huu Tien by musician Van Cao was placed on the altar, from which incense poured in plenty, as the attendees were all eager to honor him," recalled Tung, who wrote a speech for Tien’s funeral service. "Everyone burst into tears when the secretary of the district’s Party Committee presented the State’s certificate of merit, recognizing Tien’s devotion to national independence and the State’s gratitude for his sacrifice, to Tien’s wife and daughter, nearly 40 years after he was killed in 1941."

The attendees then fell into silence as Tung delivered his research findings.
In 1965, Tung began investigating the lives and careers of the late President Ho Chi Minh and many other veteran revolutionaries. "President Ho, the National Flag (a red flag with a five-pointed yellow star in the centre), and the National Anthem had been on my plate since the August 1945 Revolution," Son Tung said. "In 1965, I began looking for the National Flag’s creator."

During war time, all revolutionary and Party activities were secret, thus Tung’s research was difficult. "At that time, I only knew the flag appeared for the first time in the Nam Ky (south Viet Nam) uprising against the French in November 1940," Tung said.

Before Tung read General Vo Nguyen Giap’s memoirs, which provided some solid facts about the flag’s origins, he had gathered many details, but lacked clear proof. Tung extracted a segment of General Giap’s memoirs, from the chapter Pac Bo to Tan Trao (the two major revolutionary bases in north Viet Nam), which recalled a class that Nguyen Ai Quoc (President Ho’s former name) had opened in China’s Guang Xi Province to train Vietnamese revolutionaries, and to prepare to unite all of the country’s forces to fight the foreign aggressors. The excerpt is as follows:

"The graduation ceremony was held in the middle of a deserted forest, with all feeling extremely excited after many days of training. Everyone stood around President Ho... The red flag, with the yellow, five-pointed star in the centre, fluttered in the cold wind like a sacred flame to warm our hearts. We all faced South (towards the motherland), lauding the spirit of the failed Nam Ky uprising and swearing to march forward, braving all difficulties, in the revolutionary path. We were all determined to one day bring home this sacred flag and raise it high in the capital city centre... President Ho brought that flag home, and it appeared again in the 1941 conference to set up the Viet Nam Independence League’s Front, or the Viet Minh, and again at a 1944 ceremony to establish the Viet Nam Liberation Army (predecessor of the Viet Nam People’s Army)."

In 1965, to find the origin of the flag that President Ho brought home, Tung met with Dang Van Cap, whom the president had assigned in 1940 to listen to the radio news coming out of Viet Nam and to report back.

"When the president asked what was new in the Nam Ky uprising, I told him about the appearance of a flag. The president asked how many points were on the star, and whether it was in the middle or the corner, but I told him the news had not mentioned it," Cap told Tung. President Ho described a flag he wanted Cap to create with a red piece of cloth and a yellow paper star glued to the centre, which was later discovered to be like the one used in the Nam Ky uprising.

Tung’s next stop was meeting musician Van Cao, who wrote the famous Tien Quan Ca (originally written as an army march, it later became the National Anthem), and the pair eventually became intimate friends.

"I asked him once whether he had ever seen the flag before writing the song, which includes the flag’s description, but he had just imagined that’s what the flag would look like," Tung said.
The line of the anthem is: "Soldiers of Viet Nam, we go forward! Determined to save our Motherland... The gold star of our flag is fluttering in the wind, leading our people, our native land, out of misery and suffering... Our flag, red with the blood of victory."

These coincidences, that President Ho and Van Cao had imagined the same flag without seeing the original from the Nam Ky uprising, intrigued Tung, and pushed him further.

"Who created the original flag used in the Nam Ky uprising?" increasingly became Tung’s central question.

In 1968, by chance, he met with a senior revolutionary named Nam Thai, who was a soldier in the Nam Ky uprising. Amazingly, Thai was the person assigned to print the flag, as well as many other important documents.

"Thai revealed that the flag’s designer was the head of the printing office and a member of the standing board of the Nam Ky Party’s Committee. He told me more in detail about Tien," Tung said.
Thai told Tung, "Born into a family in the north, Tien founded the first Party Committee of Nam Ha Province. He was arrested and imprisoned in Con Dao Island, off the southern coast, but managed to escape and return to operate secretly in Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta provinces under the alias Hai Bac Ky. He had many other names such as engineer Hai, painter Hai or teacher Hai, due to his skills and achievements in repairing engines, opening training classes, and drawing portraits of the elderly. He designed a red flag with a five-pointed yellow star in the middle and gave it to the leaders of the Nam Ky Party Committee with an explanation of the flag’s symbols. He himself drew the flag’s design on a lithographic plate to print leaflets. Unfortunately, when the printing was almost finished, Hai Bac Ky was arrested and shot to death with many other revolutionaries in August 1941."

Thai also gave Tung a poem Hai Bac Ky (Tien) composed before he was escorted to the execution ground. The poem, titled Tu Biet (Farewell Forever), was translated as follows:

Today I have some words before parting
To tell you, my comrades across the country
That my spirit will remain with the nation
That resentment (against the enemy) will be deeply engraved;
My Nam Ha beheading execution had been wiped away
The hard labor sentence in Con Dao had gone,
You should complete the (revolutionary) path, you shall.
The yellow-starred red flag brightens our future

In 1976, one year after the nation was reunified, Tung traveled to the South in search of documents lated to President Ho and Nguyen Huu Tien, and in 1977, went to Tien’s native Lung Xuyen Village. Tung had traveled there 16 times, and on one occasion, musician Van Cao and some others from Thanh Nien Publishing House accompanied him.

With information provided by the villagers, Tung met Tien’s younger brother Nguyen Huu Uan, whom was then the deputy secretary of the Thai Nguyen Province’s Party Committee. With Uan’s help, Tung learned more about the life of Tien.

Through meetings with Tien’s relatives, students and comrades, Tung gathered many valuable documents that continued to agree with previously found records. Among the collection of documents was a poem that Tien composed to explain the meaning of the flag, which he wrote as follows:

... All those of red blood and yellow skin
Together we fight under the nation’s sacred flag
The flag is soaked with our red blood, shed for the nation
The yellow star is the color of our race’s skin
Stand up, quickly! The nation’s soul is calling for us
Intellectuals, peasants, workers, traders and armymen
United as a five-pointed yellow star...
Determined to fight the French and Japanese fascists...

After collecting enough material to prove that Tien designed the flag, Tung wrote a book called Nguyen Huu Tien.

A draft was forwarded to the Party History Institute and received complete approval from the Institute director, President Truong Chinh and other Party officials. They all agreed with Tung’s findings.
"At the time, the Sai Gon Giai Phong (Liberated Sai Gon) newspaper published my draft in many editions under the headline: Designer of the National Flag in installments," Tung said.

In 1981, as approved by the Party History Institute, the Thanh Nien Publishing House printed the book entitled Nguyen Huu Tien. Since then, it has been republished three times.

The 78-year-old researcher cannot forget the National Flag designer’s moving memorial ceremony, especially when Tien’s wife embraced Van Cao and Tung and said through her tears, "Thanks to both of you for letting me meet my husband again – we’d been apart for more than 40 years."