1955: Northwest Countryside in Newly Liberated Vietnam

In the years that followed liberation from French colonial rule, North Vietnam was a source of pride for Hồ Chí Minh’s Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) and the Việt Minh. With areas like the Việt Bắc and the Tây Bắc acting as strongholds for communist political and military leadership, these were integral areas for their success in organizing the resistance. For Hồ Chí Minh’s Lao Động, these rural areas provided the perfect example for their communist policy of empowering the peasant masses against wealthy and corrupt landowning classes. No less, the strategic location of these northern territories on the southern China border had provided the DRV and Việt Minh with integral aid in fighting French forces. Also, the mountainous terrain had allowed the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the Việt Minh to employ their then innovative guerrilla tactics under the intelligent leadership of General Võ Nguyên Giáp, not to mention the rugged scenery embodying the resilient nature of the northern fight for independence.

No stranger to this region of Vietnam from his time training in China to his long journey across the countryside to Điện Biên Phủ, Phạm Thanh Tâm returned twice throughout 1955 and 1956 to document the rural areas. In 1955, Tâm noticed a sense of peace prevalent after the PAVN and Việt Minh victory at Điện Biên Phủ in May 1954, typified by a soldier playing a đàn nhị in his spare time (fig. 1). The đàn nhị is a traditional musical instrument commonly known as an erhu. Tâm also documented commonplace scenes like an emblematic rural market (fig. 2).

Figure 1: Phạm Thanh Tâm, 1955, Điện Biên Phủ, “Hbiêc (artist’s pseudonym) 1955.” Charcoal and watercolour on machine-made paper.
Figure 2: A typical market scene in Dien Bien Phu, Phan Thanh Tam, W05.12.133, 1955, Dien Bien Phu

Despite a large number of ethnic Thai being recruited into the French Far East Expeditionary Corps during the First Indochina War, they were seen as welcomed supporters of the DRV cause after many of them deserted the satellite fortifications on Anne-Marie hill at the battle of Điện Biên Phủ on 17 March 1954.

In 1956, when Tâm returned once more to the region, he met two beautiful Thai sisters, Noọng Ngôi (younger sister) and và Noọng Ún (elder sister) (fig. 3). Tâm wanted to highlight Thai women for there beauty. Among the interesting details in the sketch is the water container made from a dried fruit shell.

Phạm Thanh Tâm, 1956, Điện Biên Phủ, “Điện Biên; 1956; Hbiêc (artist’s pseudonym).” Graphite pencil on machine-made paper.

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