Phan Đình Phùng – Wikipedia

Vietnamese revolutionary

Phan Đình Phùng (Vietnamese: [faːn ɗîŋ̟ fûŋm]; 1847 – January 21, 1896) was a Vietnamese revolutionary who led rebel armies against French colonial forces in Vietnam. He was the most prominent of the Confucian court scholars involved in anti-French military campaigns in the 19th century and was cited after his death by 20th-century nationalists as a national hero. He was renowned for his uncompromising will and principles—on one occasion,[1] he refused to surrender even after the French had desecrated his ancestral tombs and had arrested and threatened to kill his family.

Born into a family of mandarins from thành phố Hà Tĩnh Province, Phan continued his ancestors ‘ traditions by placing first in the metropolitan imperial examinations in 1877. Phan quickly rose through the ranks under Emperor Tự Đức of the Nguyễn Dynasty, gaining a reputation for his integrity and uncompromising stance against corruption. Phan was appointed as the Imperial Censor, a position that allowed him to criticise his fellow mandarins and even the emperor. As the head of the censorate, Phan’s investigations led to the removal of many incompetent or corrupt mandarins .

Upon Tự Đức’s death, Phan almost lost his life during a power struggle in the imperial court. The regent Tôn Thất Thuyết disregarded Tự Đức’s will of succession, and three emperors were deposed and killed in just over a year. Phan protested against Thuyết’s activities, was stripped of his honours and briefly jailed, before being exiled to his home province. At the time, France had just conquered Vietnam and made it a part of French Indochina. Along with Thuyết, Phan organised rebel armies as part of the Cần Vương movement, which sought to expel the French and install the boy Emperor Hàm Nghi at the head of an independent Vietnam. This campaign continued for three years until 1888, when the French captured Hàm Nghi and exiled him to Algeria.

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Phan and his military assistant Cao Thắng continued their guerrilla chiến dịch, building a network of spies, bases and small weapons factories. However, Cao Thắng was killed in the process in late 1893. The decade-long chiến dịch eventually wore Phan down, and he died from dysentery as the French surrounded his forces .Phan was born in the village of Đông Thái in the northern central coast province of thành phố Hà Tĩnh. Đông Thái was famous for producing high-ranking mandarins and had been the home of senior imperial officials since the time of the Lê Dynasty. Twelve consecutive generations of the Phan family had been successful mandarinate graduates. [ 2 ] All three of Phan’s brothers who lived to adulthood passed the imperial examinations and became mandarins. [ 2 ] [ 3 ] Early on, Phan indicated his distaste for the classical curriculum required of an aspiring mandarin. He nevertheless persevered with his studies, passing the regional exams in 1876 and then topping the metropolitan exams the following year. [ 2 ] In his exam response, Phan cited Japan as an example of how an Asian country could make rapid military progress given sufficient willpower. [ 4 ]Phan was never known for his scholarly abilities ; it was his reputation for principled integrity that led to his quick rise through the ranks under the reign of Emperor Tự Đức. [ 2 ] He was first appointed as a district mandarin in Tỉnh Ninh Bình Province, where he punished a Vietnamese Roman Catholic priest, who, with the tacit tư vấn of French missionaries, had harassed local non-Catholics. Amid the diplomatic controversy that followed, he avoided blaming the unpopular alliance between Vietnamese Catholics and the French on Catholicism itself, stating that the partnership had arisen out of the military and political vulnerabilities of Vietnam’s imperial government. [ 2 ] Despite this, the Huế court eventually removed Phan from this post. [ 5 ]

Phan was transferred to the Huế court as a member of the censorate, a watchdog body that monitored the work of the mandarinate. He earned the ire of many of his colleagues, but the trust of the emperor, by revealing that the vast majority of the court mandarins were making a mockery of a royal edict to engage in regular rifle practice.[5] Tự Đức later dispatched Phan on an inspection trip to northern Vietnam. His report led to the ousting of many officials who were deemed corrupt or incompetent, including the viceroy of the northern region.[5] He rose to become the Imperial Censor (Sino-Vietnamese: Ngự Sử), a position which allowed him to criticise other high officials and even the emperor for misconduct.[6] Phan openly criticised Tôn Thất Thuyết, the foremost mandarin of the court, believing him to be rash and dishonest.[6] Aside from his work in rooting out corruption, Phan also compiled a historical geography of Vietnam, which was published in 1883.[7]

Despite his prominent position in the Nguyễn Dynasty, little is known about Phan’s personal stance on Vietnamese relations with France, which was in the process of colonising Vietnam.[5] France had first invaded in 1858,[8] beginning the colonisation of southern Vietnam.[9] Three provinces were ceded under the 1862 Treaty of Saigon,[10][11] and a further three in 1867 to form the colony of Cochinchina.[12][13] During the period, there was debate in the Huế court on the best strategy to regain the territory. One group advocated military means, while another believed in the use of diplomacy in addition to financial and religious concessions.[14] By the time of Tự Đức’s death in 1883, the whole of Vietnam was colonised, henceforth incorporated with Laos and Cambodia into French Indochina.[15][16]

Upon his death in 1883, the childless Tự Đức had named his nephew, Kiến Phúc, as his successor, [ 5 ] rather than Dục Đức, his most senior heir. Tự Đức had written in his will that Dục Đức was depraved and unworthy of ruling the country. [ 17 ] However, led by Thuyết, the regents enthroned Dục Đức under the pressure of the ladies of the court. [ 5 ] [ 17 ] Phan protested against the violation of Tự Đức’s will of succession and refused to sanction anyone other than Kiến Phúc. Lucky to escape the death penalty, Phan was stripped of his positions. [ 5 ] Later, Dục Đức was deposed and executed by Thuyết on the grounds of ignoring court etiquette, ignoring the mourning rites for Tự Đức and having affairs with the late emperor’s consorts. [ 17 ] Phan again protested the regents ‘ actions and was briefly imprisoned by Thuyết, before being exiled to his home province. [ 5 ]Phan rallied to the cause of the boy Emperor Hàm Nghi — the fourth monarch in little over a year — after an abortive royal uprising at Huế in 1885. [ 5 ] [ 18 ] Thuyết and fellow regent Nguyễn Văn Tường had enthroned Hiệp Hòa after disposing of Dục Đức. However, the new emperor was wary of the regents ‘ behaviour and attempted to avoid their influence, leading Thuyết to organise his execution. [ 19 ] The teenage Kiến Phúc ascended the throne, but was poisoned by his adoptive mother Học Phi — one of Tự Đức’s wives — whom he caught having intercourse with Tường. [ 20 ] Kiến Phúc was thus replaced by his 14 – year-old brother Hàm Nghi. In the meantime, the French concluded that the regents were causing too much trouble and had to be disposed of. [ 20 ]

Thuyết had already decided to place Hàm Nghi at the head of the Phong Trào Cần Vương (Loyalty to the Emperor Movement), which sought to end French rule with a royalist rebellion. Phan helped the cause by setting up bases in Hà Tĩnh and creating his own guerrilla army.[5] Thuyết had hoped to secure support from the Qing Dynasty of China,[21] but Phan thought that Vietnam’s best chance of effective support came from Siam.[7] Gia Long, the founder of the Nguyễn Dynasty and great-grandfather of Tự Đức, had married his sister off to the King of Siam. He had also used Siam as a base-in-exile during his quest for the throne in the 1780s.[7] However, direct appeals to the Siamese government only yielded a few pack trains of firearms and ammunition.[5] In preparation for the revolt, Thuyết had been building up an armed base at Tân Sở for over a year.[20][22]

In any case, the Cần Vương revolt started on July 5, 1885 when Thuyết launched a surprise attack against the colonial forces after a diplomatic confrontation with the French. [ 23 ] [ 24 ] [ 25 ] Thuyết took Hàm Nghi northwards to the Tân Sở mountain base near the border with Laos after the attack failed. The chiến dịch was launched when the emperor issued the Cần Vương edict that had been prepared by the regent. [ 22 ] [ 26 ]

Phan initially rallied support from his native village and set up his headquarters on Mount Vũ Quang,[27] which overlooked the coastal French fortress at Hà Tĩnh. Phan’s organisation became a model for future insurgents. For flexibility, he divided his operational zone into twelve districts.[6] His forces upheld military discipline and wore uniforms.[28] Phan initially used the local scholar-gentry as his military commanders. Their first notable attack targeted two nearby Catholic villages that had collaborated with French forces. Colonial troops arrived a few hours later, quickly overwhelming the rebels and forcing them to retreat to their home village, where the retribution was heavy.[5] Phan managed to escape but his elder brother was captured by the same former viceroy of northern Vietnam who had been removed from office as a result of Phan’s critical report. The disgraced official was now a French collaborator, serving as the governor of Nghệ An Province.[5]

The strategy of attempting to pressure Phan into capitulating was a classical strategy of coercion. The French used an old friend and fellow villager to make an emotional and deeply Confucian appeal for Phan to surrender in order to save his brother, his ancestral tombs and his entire village. Phan was reported to have replied : [ 29 ]

(Original Vietnamese)[30]

Nay tôi chỉ có một ngôi mộ rất to nên giữ là nước Việt Nam.

Tôi chỉ có một ông anh rất to là mấy triệu đồng bào.

Nếu về mà sửa sang lại phần mộ tổ tiên riêng mình thì ngôi mộ cả nước ai giữ?

Về cứu sống ông anh của riêng mình thì còn bao nhiêu anh em trong nước ai cứu?

From the time I joined with you in the Cần Vương movement, I determined to forget the question of family and village.
Now I have but one tomb, a very large one, that must be defended: the land of Vietnam.
I have only one brother, very important, that is in danger: more than twenty million countrymen.
If I worry about my own tombs, who will worry about defending the tombs of the rest of the country?
If I save my own brother, who will save all the other brothers of the country?
There is only one way for me to die now.