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Chapter Eleven

In the eyes of emperor Quang Trung at that time, “A nation can only survive long, and a society can only be prosperous, when common people dare to speak their mind to their superiors, and when those in power know enough to listen to their subordinates speak of right and wrong.”

LTD: The film Hanoi in Whose Eyes began to be shown in 1982 and at once created a tidal wave. Most people who had seen it approved and commented enthusiastically. And then it was swiftly… banned!

Director Trần Văn Thủy was in trouble.

Because it was banned, many people in that generation never got to see it; and even fewer people among the current young generation are aware of it. Nevertheless, the film has remained famous and long lived; many people even to this day still try to see it. Newspapers dig it up for discussion, and publish many interviews with the director. It will be of great interest to hear Thủy relate his stories about this film and its fate.

TVT: For some time after the resounding success of the film Betrayal, I felt stymied as to what to do next; I feared to make a false step. The topics the leadership instructed us to cover were the routine ones: developing the economy, building cooperatives, educating political doctrine, promoting confidence in the party, etc.

Every month I continued to receive my meager salary and idled around. After doing nothing for some time, I began to feel embarrassed and bored. Throughout 1981, I did nothing at all for the film studio. At the end of the year, when we did performance assessments, I fell into the “poor” category. But how can there always be an attractive topic for a film?! How can one always be able to produce an interesting film?! These things depend on what life presents you with, and on what your instincts tell you.

At the beginning of 1982, I decided to meet the studio director and ask to make any film, so as to fulfill the duty of a person on government payroll, and get a “good” performance assessment at the end of the year like everyone else. Any sort of film would do, and any theme would be OK; whether good or bad didn’t matter as long as I “fulfilled my duty.”

This was how the saga of Hanoi in Whose Eyes began; it was absolutely not part of any “plot of an evil force” as was later stated in a political indictment; nor was the author of this film a “fearless and learned man,” as later rumor had it.

Mr. Lưu Xuân Thư, the director of our studio, was a good-hearted person who understood my feelings. One day he was walking past the administration office, where I was sitting, and waved a stack of paper in the air like a salesman.

“Here’s “The Five City Gates of Hanoi!” Here’s the script of a tourism film! Who wants to do it, please be my guest!”

I stepped out and snatched the stack of paper from his hand. The script, written by Đào Trọng Khánh, had been approved by the studio for production. On the first page, Mr. Trương Huy, the chief of the editing division (newly transferred to the studio from his former position as chief of academic affairs at the Film School), had written some comments regarding its content: “This is a film to promote tourism; the key materials are drawn from the writings of Mr. Hoàng Đạo Thúy.”1 (I have carefully preserved this document.)

After reading the script, I looked out the window at the city streets and saw long lines of people waiting to buy food rations, and homeless people hanging around forlornly with nothing to do in the parks and sidewalks. Scenes in the city at that time (1982) were full of decay and misery. Pagodas and other historic sites, the old streets with good food and rare items, city folk with refined manners… nothing remained of Mr. Hoàng Đạo Thúy’s dream of the good old days that could be used to promote tourism. To make a five-or six-reel color film at no small expense, just so that it could be shown a few times as a routine and then cast away in a corner for storage, would really be indecent.

This thought haunted me to such a degree that I later made quite a different film entitled Whose Hanoi Is It, as everyone knows. After touching on the heroism and wisdom of Nguyễn Trãi (a great strategic thinker who help found the Lê Dynasty) in his poem: “A cold sheet flung across my shoulders I can’t sleep at night; My heart is filled with care for common people throughout my life” I threw in a humble passage to extend the thought:

Our people are still poor, still in want, and their lives are still very hard. It would be meaningless and extravagant to make a film about our ancestors that would cost half a million piastres without bringing any benefit to anyone… The stories of the great ancestors are often measured in centuries, but the life and death of our poor people are measured in days or even hours.

It is for such reasons that, when sitting around over a cup of tea with my friends, I often compare myself to “an old jalopy with no brakes…”

Having received the film script, I of course had to make the film. But I was completely stuck with regard to what to make of “The Five City Gates of Hanoi.” If it had fallen into somebody else’s hands, it would have been done in a trice, and the film would have been available right away. I had to admit that I was inferior to my colleagues due to my slowness, thoughtfulness, and perfectionism. For several months on end I wandered about the city temples and pagodas, the Huy Văn Palace (to call it a “palace” is a mockery), the Bộc Pagoda, the Quan Thánh Temple, and the shrines devoted to Nguyễn Trãi, Chu Văn An, Ngô Thời Nhậm, the Temple of Literature, the grave of Đoàn Thị Điểm, the places associated with Bà Huyện Thanh Quan, and Hồ Xuân Hương. I spent a whole month turning the pages of books in the National Library, the Hanoi Public Library, and the Liberal Arts Library, so as to become familiar with the work of such researchers as Mr. Nguyễn Vinh Phúc, and Mr. Trần Huy Bá (Mr. Bá is a first cousin on the paternal side with the historian Trần Huy Liệu)…

Sometimes, as if awakening suddenly from a trance, I would ask myself, “What am I doing? I have forgotten entirely that the business now facing me is to make a film, not to engage in all this reading! But everything I managed to collect and study regarding the legends of our ancestors obsessed me, swept me away. Living day and night with those stories, my whole soul was overtaken by them. I was stunned and humbled to discover that until that time I had never understood Hanoi at all. I felt myself a thousand times at fault before these ancestors, because I had never been conscious of the magnitude of their accomplishments, or the nature of the great hopes they placed on their descendents.

But in any case, I had already agreed to undertake this project. Given the same budget, the same energy, the same time frame, and the same topic (Hanoi), I would try to make a difference in terms of content and spirit.

“The Five City Gates of Hanoi” would have been a film to promote tourism. “Hanoi in Whose Eyes” would deal with a conceptual Hanoi, with how to rule and run the nation.

Before shooting the film, I devoted some time to making a careful “prescription,” using pen and paper to make notes concerning the issues. In other words, I made a checklist of problems and illnesses in the current society that would require treatment. I underlined these issues by making a bullet point next to each, so that when I quoted legends from past history to illustrate the points, could throw in anything that might make people relate to the current situation, startle them from slumber, or make them more thoughtful.

LTD: Thủy rummaged through a pile of documents and took out the film script for Hanoi in Whose Eyes, that he had written himself, and that Lưu Hà had copied. The pages were yellow with age. Thủy read from it:

“The inscribed steles that still remain in the Temple of Literature are due to King Lê Thánh Tông. This good king who loved poetry had them set up in 1475 to record the names of successful examination candidates. And the King established the Tao Đàn (poetry) Association, headed by the “Nhị Thập Bát Tú” (twenty-eight celebrated poets of that era), together with the royal advisors who established the Hồng Đức Law Code. During the reign of this King, the “Comprehensive History of Đại Việt” (Đại Việt Sử Ký Toàn Thư) by Ngô Sĩ Liên appeared, along with many other works.

(the Huy Văn Pagoda scene:)

On coming to Hàng Bột (Flour Goods) Street, we might drop by the Huy Văn Pagoda (formerly Huy Van palace). Here again we would meet King Lê Thánh Tông, and come across legends that the current generations must still think hard about.

Because he had experienced hardship in his youth and had suffered many injustices, or perhaps due to the goodness of his heart, King Lê Thánh Tông in 1491 ordered the construction of the Quảng Văn Temple on this piece of land, now the South Gate Garden (vườn hoa Cửa Nam), inside which was placed the Đăng Văn Drum, so that if anyone was suffering injustice and had nowhere else to seek redress, he could come and strike it in three rounds, upon which officials would come out to receive the complaint for the king to judge.

In discussing the former feudal era, some historians have made the following comment: “If a Đăng Văn drum had been placed here during the Hậu Trần (later Trần) dynasty, or in the Lê Mạt (later Lê) dynasty, people in the area would surely have been deafened.”

LTD: Thủy let the pages drop.

“How absurd and terrible! That word ‘former’ made me miserable later on! They would interrogate me, saying, ‘So why didn’t you just say the feudal era instead of the ‘former’ feudal era? Did you mean to say that the present era is feudal’? And then, ‘which Lê did you mean when you referred to the Lê Mạt (later Lê) dynasty?”2

He went on with the film script:

TVT: King Lê Thánh Tông was not born in a royal palace, but on this piece of land among common people, at a time when his mother, Madame Ngô Thị Ngọc Giao had been in trouble and, relying on Nguyễn Trãi’s protection, was hiding there. Later on, on the left hand side of the palace, a statue of Lê Thánh Tông’s wife, Empress Trường Lạc Hoàng, would be built. The Huy Văn Palace had been built during the reign of King Lê Thái Tông. After coming to the throne, Lê Thánh Tông had it refurbished to commemorate the place where he had been born.

(a scene showing the Huy Văn Palace in ruins)

How fortunate it was that the thirty-two years of Lê Thánh Tông’s reign were a period of great prosperity in the nation, during which a wise king, with his talented subordinates, demonstrated the innate gift of a fair and enlightened ruler for looking after the common people.

Abutalib (a popular poet from Dagestan) once said, “If you fire at the past from a pistol, the future will shoot back from a cannon.”

We now visit Đống Đa Hill, one of thirteen hills where invading Manchu troops lie buried. This site is closely related to the name and reputation of the great emperor Quang Trung.

At the age of eighteen, Nguyễn Huệ (Quang Trung) started an armed uprising with his elder brothers.

At the age of thirty-two, he deposed the Nguyễn lordship in the South, and destroyed 20,000 Siamese troops on the Rạch Gầm River.

At the age of thirty-six, he deposed the Trịnh lordship in the North, defeated 200,000 Qing troops, made four attacks on Gia Đình (near Saigon), and went three times up to Thăng Long, each time with earthshaking consequences.

The fiery orders that Quang Trung gave to his generals and soldiers still echo far and wide:

“Fight till they have not a single cannon left.”

“Fight till they have not a scrap of armor left.”

“Fight so that they’ll know that this heroic Southern land has owners…”

This pagoda—known as Chùa Bộc—lies right on a former battleground of Emperor Quang Trung. A stele within the pagoda has the following inscription (translated): “After the lightening fire attack, all turns to smoke in a blink of an eye.”

In this pagoda an eternal truth lies enshrined: The Hearts of the People.

Even under the rule of the Nguyễn Lords, who opposed the Tây Sơn Brothers, the people still built statues of Quang Trung and worshiped this popular hero in a plain hempen shirt whose tolerance and breadth of heart was greater even than his already glorious military power.

According to one legend, at the end of the Lê dynasty Nguyễn Huệ (Quang Trung) went to see King Lê Cảnh Hưng after destroying the Trịnh Lords. The old king had long since lost his power, and only a remnant of his civil and military officials remained in his court; so when the “Bắc Bình Vương” or “Conqueror of the North” (Quang Trung) strode up to the throne wearing his sword, everyone present turned pale with alarm…

Only one mandarin, Phương Đình Pháp, dared to step forth. In polite but measured tones he said, “General, according to the laws of the state it is forbidden to wear a weapon when approaching the throne. Please remove your sword!” Nguyễn Huệ glared at him, but Pháp retained his poise. Then, suddenly thinking that this was indeed correct, Nguyễn Huệ calmly turned his sword over to Pháp.

(The following words are spoken with solemn deliberation and accompanied by an echo for emphasis:)

In the eyes of Quang Trung at that time, “A nation can only survive long, and a society can only be prosperous, when common people dare to speak their mind to their superiors, and when those in power know enough to listen to their subordinates speak of right and wrong.”

Perhaps that is why, starting from the year Bính Ngọ (1846) when every surviving vestige of Quang Trung’s reign had been destroyed and burned out of vengeance by the Nguyễn dynasty, the people still continued to build statues of Quang Trung that they could worship.

The words “This statue of Quang Trung was built in the year Bính Ngọ” were discretely carved behind the base of the statue.

Perhaps that is why the symbolic word displayed over the head of the statue for worship, was not “Dũng” (Courage), not “Vũ” (Martial Strength), not “Uy” (Authority), and not “Linh,” (Supernatural Power) but rather “Tâm” (Heart).

On going into the Museum of History to seek the meaning of the word “Tâm” (Heart) one must also come to Nguyễn Trãi. Our nation has left us only one Nguyễn Trãi. Though said to come from Nhị Khê, he was in fact born in Hanoi.

History records that in the year Bính Thân (1416), at Lũng Nhai in Lam Sơn, Lê Lợi ordered the construction of a nine-foot-high shrine, and together with a group of his dedicated associates, including Phạm Văn Xảo, Trần Nguyên Hãn, and Nguyễn Trãi. he made a solemn sacrificial offering to Heaven and Earth, in which all those assembled swore to share each others’ hardships and joys, and live and die together, so as to drive out the aggressors and save the people.

At that time Lê Lợi said, with sincerity, “I’m a commoner wearing simple hempen clothing, and farming the land, now being forced to raise troops to fight the aggressors; but I have no intention of becoming a king or a lord myself.”

The Vĩnh Lăng stele was erected to commemorate the great accomplishments of Lê Lợi, Nguyễn Trãi, and the commoners who formed the troops of Lam Sơn, but there is nothing on this stele referring to the circumstances of his later years: after acceding the throne and falling seriously ill, his eldest son Tư Tề was ignorant and arrogant, and his next son Nguyên Long was still too young, therefore he came to harbor suspicions against all the officials who had accomplished great things for him, because he was convinced that they were plotting to put others on the throne after his death.

There is nothing to record the fact that in 1429 Lê Lỡi ordered the killing of Phạm Văn Xảo because of his suspicions; and then sent forty-two bodyguards to the Sơn Đông camp, where Trần Nguyên Hãn was living in solitude, to bring him back to the capital for punishment. On the way to the capital Hãn jumped into a river and killed himself.

There is nothing either to record the fact that Lê Lợi had Nguyễn Trãi arrested, stripped of all official positions, and thrown into prison. Such was the outcome of ten years of “lying on brambles and tasting gall…”3 (sharing all hardships and dangers).

(The scene returns to the image of Lê Lợi pointing forward with his sword.)

In former times, Lê Lợi had said, “I’m a commoner wearing simple hempen clothing and farming the land, now being forced to raise troops to fight the aggressors; but I have no intention of becoming a king or a lord myself”

To the King, Nguyễn Trãi still advised: “I wish to beg your majesty to love and care for the people, so that in the neighborhoods and villages there will be no more sounds of hatred and sorrow. Herein lies the basis of the nations’ health: loving the people and performing humane and virtuous deeds. Do not, because of personal favor, give rewards in a thoughtless manner, and do not, due to anger, administer thoughtless punishments. Do not love money and possessions, and so fall into extravagant habits. Only in this way can the nation be stable, secure, and longlasting.”

Worshipping the values enshrined in the word “heart” and daring to invoke the blue heavens in his loyal and honest admonitions, Nguyễn Trãi set down the following words: “Heaven does not shelter any mere individual; nor does earth support any mere individual. Those who favor the one having humanity are the people; and those who keep boats afloat, and who capsize boats, are also the people.”4

The collection “Letters Written in the Military” (Quân Trung Từ Mênh Tập)5 includes the following words of Nguyẫn Trãi: “Whether a nation enjoys victory or suffers defeat, and whether it flourishes or goes down to destruction, is a matter closely bound up with the happiness or misery of its people.”

Perhaps, Nguyễn Trãi had inherited the spirit of Trần Thủ Độ, the founder of the Trần dynasty. Độ said, “Whoever becomes king of the realm must know how to turn the desires of the people into his own desires, and adopt their hearts as his own.”

Or perhaps Nguyễn Trãi had inherited the thoughts expressed in the last words of Trần Hưng Đạo to Kinh Trần Anh Tông when the King came and asked him for a strategy to protect the nation in case of an invasion from the north, he said, “Nurturing the people’s strength is the deepest scheme and firmest foundation; it is the best strategy for preserving the nation.”

Tô Hiến Thành was from Hạ Mỗ, in Đan Phượng district, outside of Hanoi.6 At the end of his life, when he was severely ill, an official in the inner circles of the court named Võ Tán Đường cared for him and administered his medicines night and day, whereas Trần Trung Tá, a court counselor, seldom came to look after him, because he was busy with court affairs.

Just when he was close to death the queen’s mother asked him, “Sir, if through some misfortune you should pass away, who should be your successor?”

Without pausing to consider, he replied, “Counselor Trần Trung Tá.”

Astonished, the queen’s mother asked, “Võ Tán Đường has devoted himself heart and soul to your service—why do you propose Trần Trung Tá instead of him? Trần Trung Tá has done little to care for you.”

Tô Hiến Thành thought very hard and said, “When I consider all the court officials, I find that Trần Trung Tá is the only one capable of great deeds, so I recommended him. If your highness had asked me who was good at serving me, I would have recommended Võ Tán Đường!”

(Statues in the Tây Phương pagoda appear on the screen.)

Oh silent statues, what do you all have to say to later generations? Is it true that the nation survives and prospers because of talented people? They have also created your images and kept them lasting!

Such is the content of the film Hanoi in Whose Eyes. But from the moment it was born, it came under bruising attacks beyond imagination.

In 1983, 1984, and 1985, I had nothing left, including professional necessities and “mouthfuls of rice and scraps of clothing.” My wife told me I was crazy, and my friends said the same, but, more than anything else, it was loneliness that made me miserable.

Naturally, I was never terrified, but remained calm and confident in the things I believed, and the things I was doing. When subjected to questioning, I would state the following to security agencies and responsible authorities:

The script for “The Five City Gates of Hanoi” was simply a pretext for me to get started, a means of getting some people to work with me, to get equipment and film stock. It has nothing to do with the basic spirit of Hanoi in Whose Eyes.

The content of Hanoi in Whose Eyes, that is, the actual script that I used in making the film, was written by me alone. I produced it myself, and take all responsibility for it. When the film was mounted, the title, Hanoi in Whose Eyes, was given to it by me, and the entire script was also written by me. I cannot put the blame for my troubles on anyone else, and still less can I fabricate a lie that someone else urged me to do what I did.

Day after day I went to the places where I had shot this film, in order to contemplate and light incense, praying silently as follows: “All you distinguished ancestors: have I committed any sins? The film speaks only of your great wisdom; what reason can there be for its rejection?”

I “appealed” to the people in power: “Please just tell me which parts aren’t right, which parts are incorrect, so we can fix them.”

When the studio board of directors “respectfully transmitted” this wish of mine to those holding the reins of power, they agreed to the idea of fixing the film; but when asked “What parts need to be fixed?” one of them gave the curt reply, “This film is so wrong that it can’t be fixed.”

One of the members of my film crew was Lưu Hà, the chief cameraman, a son of Mr. Lưu Xuân Thư. This was the first film he had worked on in the Stage and Cinema School. I urged Hà to suggest to the school’s board of directors that the film be shown at the Children’s Palace under the rubric of “introducing a new work.” The Children’s Palace was at that time the best place in Hanoi to show films; it had five hundred seats for spectators, a white screen, and strong lighting. The list of invitees, aside from the teachers and students at the Stage and Cinema School, would include scholars, researchers, and leaders from many departments, bureaus, and institutes…

Praise be to God, the plan was accepted! The spectators were packed in tightly, filling all the seats. While watching the film, they yelled and clapped their approval, making a din in the theater.

After the showing, the studio director asked me, “What are your intentions now?”

“The production of this film was due, not only to my own efforts, but also to those of the whole film crew, the whole studio. If the film proves interesting and is praised, then it is to everyone’s credit, but if the film “has problems,” why must all the strokes of the whip land on me alone?”

He answered sincerely: “You’re right. But how are we going to fix the film now?”

“How you fix it is your own business. Uncle Hồ has taught us that we must know how to “listen to the masses.” At the very least, you should show it to the people in the studio, in the Department of Cinema, in other film studios, and in literary and artistic associations, so that they can contribute their opinions…

After seeing the film, many people exclaimed, in astonishment, “Why must a film like this be banned?” Everyone, without exception, praised the film’s content, including all the officials and researchers in the Institute of Philosophy, the Institute of History, the Institute of Literature, and the Institute of Chinese and Nôm (Southern Demotic) Texts.7 But there was still an unwritten order from somewhere: “This film cannot be shown under any circumstances!”

This was in the middle of 1983. I ran out of hope…

Suddenly one day, Mr. Nguyễn Việt Dũng, deputy chairman of the Office of the Government (formerly the Council of Ministers), called the studio, demanding that the film Hanoi in Whose Eyes be shown there. The studio director answered, “There’s an order from the leadership that this film must not be shown.”

On October 15, 1983, the Office of the Government called again, yet the request was again refused on the pretext that “The film is being cut apart in order to revise it.” But on the other end of the line Mr. Dũng said, “We know whether the film can be shown or not. This is an instruction from Prime Minister Phạm Văn Đồng!”

A plan was made to show the film Hanoi in Whose Eyes to Prime Minister Phạm Văn Dồng at 3:00 p.m. on October 18, 1983. I suggested that I be allowed to come along, but Director Bùi Đình Hạc refused:

“No way. To go there, you have to pass through the “red gate.” They’ll be checking names off there!”

“Anh Hạc! Let me come along—I want to hear with my own ears what Mr. Đồng has to say!”

But Mr. Hạc didn’t agree. Before the departure, I sneaked into the little white “Lada” (a Russian-made car) of the director and sat in the back seat, next to five canisters of film.

When Mr. Hạc saw me sitting there, he had to accept the situation. When we got to the gate, the guard in his watch post called out,

“Whose vehicle is this?”

“It’s the car from the film studio, coming to show a film to the PM!”

The barrier was raised, and the same voice called out, “Enter!”

I told Mr. Hạc,“See, no papers were demanded, and there was no checking of name lists!”

I carried the five canisters of films in my arms into the guest room. About thirty minutes later the Prime Minister stepped into the room. He spoke at once, with obvious irritation: “Why is it so difficult for me to see a film? If it’s too difficult, I won’t trouble you any more.”

Who could imagine such a thing! The Prime Minister had had to wait nearly half a month to see the film from the time of his first request!


When the film was over and the lights came on, Mr. Đồng continued to sit silently, his head bent slightly forward, with his hand resting on his forehead. The other people present were also silent. You could hear the soft sound of the ceiling fans overhead.

A short while later, he turned to me and asked, “Who has seen this film, and what has been said about it?”

To be polite, I let Mr. Hạc explain it. Mr. Hạc said, “Sir, those responsible have concluded that this film has problems, that it uses the past to talk about the present. This film doesn’t help the party solve current difficulties, but instead shows nostalgia for the feudal past, and spreads malicious ideas among the people and party members of a pessimistic, suspicious, and negative nature…”

Mr. Hạc also said, “They’ve concluded that the author of this film was an artist, but not a revolutionary artist.”

“Who said this?”

“Sir, Comrades Hoàng Tùng, Hà Xuân Trường, Văn Phác…”

Having heard this much, Mr. Đồng was very annoyed, and grumbled, “Who gave you all permission to act as the final judges?”

He remained sunk in thought for a long time, then said, “I don’t think this affair is as important as you make it out to be. My first comment is: Since you all are brothers and sisters in art, then you should know how to love and protect each other. If you don’t protect each other, who else will do it? My second comment is: Mr. Dũng must put a note of this on the record and send it to the Office of the Party Secretariat: “Organize public showings of this film for the people to see; the more widely the better, and the more often the better! Show it at once! If anything wrong is found, it can be fixed!”

Before we left, he spoke to me earnestly in private, saying that if I encountered anything bad, I should use every means to contact him directly.

I don’t know whether or not it was due to his annoyance at the fate of this film, or at my situation, but in the opening ceremonies of the Second National Cinema Conference held in the Children’s Palace just two days after he viewed Hanoi in Whose Eyes, Prime Minister Phạm Văn Đồng arrived very early, and made a speech that lasted more than an hour before more than five hundred cinema artists who had come from the entire country.

He spoke very deeply, very forcefully, and very extensively about how the arts should be managed, saying, “You must not force our artists to crawl through the eye of a needle, adhering to stereotypes and pre-set moulds…”

Indeed, many people who were present at that ceremony still preserve in their memories the indelible impression that was made when he turned in the direction of the Chairing Committee of the conference and said, “I beseech you all! I beg of you all! That when you censor films, you should try to be as tolerant as I am!” The whole assembly hall instantly exploded with the clamorous noise of applause. Everyone there knew what he was talking about. From that point on, the film began to be shown in some organizations and clubs…

The event was reported by a number of newspapers. Among them, the journalist Trần Ngọc Kha wrote the most detailed account, and published it in Life and Law (Đời Sống và Pháp Luật), New Hanoi (Hà Nội Mới), Vietnam.net, and Vanchuong.viet.org. net…

But, to our surprise, only a few months after Prime Minister Phạm Văn Đồng intervened, Hanoi in Whose Eyes disappeared again from the radar screen.

We knew only that it could not be shown, that it was banned, and that the ban was being enforced.

No one could give any explanation as to why and how this came about. An order to ban a work could sometimes be a formal written decision made at a conference to be circulated internally, or it could merely be some casual remark or phone call; and often no date was set to lift the ban.

To be honest, I must also relate for the record that at this time I was also summoned to show Hanoi in Whose Eyes to two senior leaders, Mr Lê Đức Thọ (in his Nghỉ Tàm villa by the West lake), and Mr Trường Chinh (in the office of the Party Central Committee), who both would discuss it with me afterward. These meetings had many memorable aspects; if it should prove convenient, I may talk about them on some other occasion. But the only concrete result worth mentioning here is that the film was still banned and couldn’t be shown.

Then several years later, when the film was shown publicly and won a prize, people invited Mr. Trường Chinh to watch it again. This time he was jovial, open, and had words of praise for us. But I don’t dare repeat those words of praise, because I feel we didn’t actually deserve them.

1. Hoàng Đạo Thúy (1900–94) was a cultural activist and social historian. He led the Vietnamese Boy Scout movement in the North during the colonial period. He was the author of more than half a dozen books, including several on the scenes and history of Hanoi.
2. Many people at the time suspected that the reference to this dynasty was a veiled reference to Lê Duãn, a party chief during the war years.
3. This is an allusion to an episode in a Chinese historical legend: “The Saga of Wú and Yuè.”
4. The idea is that the relation of the people to rulers is like that of water to boats; water can keep a boat from sinking by supporting it; but it also can overthrow a boat.
5. This work consists of letters to Chinese generals written by Nguyễn Trãi on Lê Lợi’s behalf during the concluding phase of the Lam Sơn uprising from 1423 to 1427.
6. Tô Hiến Thành (d. 1179) was an official in the court of Lý Anh Tông and Lý Cao Tông, the sixth and seventh emperors of the Lý dynasty, who came to serve the Lý as prime minister.
7. “Nôm” refers to an adaptation of Chinese characters used in traditional times to write Vietnamese texts.

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