1916: Phan Xich Long, mystic insurgent

Add comment February 22nd, 2019 Headsman

Vietnamese mystic Phan Xich Long was executed on this date in 1916 by the French, after attempting to expel their occupation and situate himself as Emperor of Vietnam.

In his youth a peripatetic fortune-teller and geomancer, Phan Phát Sanh (as he was then known) formed a secret society by 1911 centered around enforcing his rights as the purported long-lost descendant of Ham Nghi — an 1880s emperor whose short reign ended in French captivity.

By 1912 he was barnstorming the Mekong Delta in saffron robes, buttressing his pretense to the throne with all the aspirations and disappointments of an occupied people. It was now that he took the name by which history recalls him, meaning “Red Dragon”, orchestrated a coronation ceremony, and set himself at the head of a movement equal parts messianic and patriotic, gradually cementing the credibility of his royal bona fides through various rumors and forgeries. The would-be emperor and his adherents made no bones at all about their rebellious intent; Long wielded a ceremonial sword inscribed with the words “First strike the debauched king, next the traitorous officials”.

Debauched kings and traitorous officials had other plans as they usually do, and the French managed to arrest the Red Dragon on the eve of his planned rising on March 1913. It went off anyway; few followers yet realized that their emperor was in manacles, though they soon realized that the invisibility potions that the mystic had prepared for them were nothing of the sort. The rebellion was crushed within days.

Parked in Saigon Central Prison serving a sentence of life at hard labor, Long perceived his moment to strike again when a national mood deteriorating under the privations of World War I birthed another royalist revolt in early 1916. Long evidently maintained secret contacts with these rebels, and his liberation was the objective of their attack upon his prison — and whose failure resulted in Long’s speedy execution under the auspices of a military court that also condemned 57 other insurgents.*

They hadn’t seen the last of him: years later another rabble-rouser would claim to be Phan Xich Long’s reincarnation. Today, there’s a street named for Phan Xich Long in Saigon.

* These appear to me to have been executed by musketry (military court, mind) rather than guillotine but few sources I’ve seen are prepared to take an explicit stand on this detail.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Pretenders to the Throne,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Shot,Vietnam,Wartime Executions

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1859: Father Paul Loc, Vietnamese martyr

Add comment February 13th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1859, Paul Loc, a Catholic Vietnamese Martyr, was summarily beheaded at Saigon ahead of a French landing.

The orphaned child of a Catholic family from Cochinchina (southernmost Vietnam), Paul Loc was brought up by a pastor and went to seminary.

His ministry during the reign of a sovereign very hostile to the inroads of Christian missionaries, lasted less than two years. At that point, France went to war to conquer Cochinchina.

At that point, Father Loc was clapped in prison, but even then the earnest young man’s treatment seems to have been light. But on this date, French warships had been sighted ascending the Dong-Nai River towards Saigon itself, and the city’s panicking defenders martyred the priest almost without warning.

According to this French text, Paul Loc had his head cut off at the gates of Saigon’s citadel. Just a few days later, the French did indeed successfully take Saigon … the start of a beautiful friendship.

Pope Pius X elevated Paul Loc to “Blessed’ in 1909.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,History,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Religious Figures,Summary Executions,Vietnam,Wartime Executions

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1941: Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Indochina Communist cadre

Add comment August 28th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1941, Vietnamese Communist cadre Nguyen Thi Minh Khai was shot as an anti-France insurrectionary.*

Khai (Vietnamese Wikipedia page | English) surely fit the description: she was a leader of the Indochinese Communist Party in the 1930’s, working directly with Ho Chi Minh in his Hong Kong exile. She would return in 1936 to the city later named for that redoubtable revolutionary as its ranking agitator.

Khai, the most famous of the Indochinese Wars’ vast ranks of women fighters, would marry fellow revolutionary Le Hong Phong, the chairman of the party, who died in prison in 1942. Khai’s sister’s marriage made Khai sister-in-law to the revolution’s military lion Vo Nguyen Giap.**

But her prominent position also made her a target.

Arrested by the French late in 1940, she was tortured and condemned to death. She was shot with other cadres, shouting last words that the decades yet to come would pretty well vindicate.

Long live the Communist party of Indochina. Long live the victorious Vietnamese revolution. (Source)

Readers whose Vietnamese is stronger than mine — i.e., extant in any form whatsoever — might get something out of this video:

As a national heroine, Nguyen Thi Minh Khai is the namesake of any number of public spaces in Vietnam, like schools and roads.


Paradoxical historiography: the street address visible to the right of the photo brands a revolutionary name onto an upscale coffee shop in Ho Chi Minh City. (cc) image from Lawrence Sinclair.

* Some sources give an April 1941 execution date, particularly April 25. I believe this may actually be the date Khai was condemned. There are also some sources indicating a guillotine execution; though the guillotine was certainly available, the bulk of the sources seem to say that Khai was shot.

** Giap is still going strong after all these years; he just turned 100 a few days ago. Khai’s sister was not as lucky; she died in French custody at the prison American pilots would later refer to as the “Hanoi Hilton”.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Martyrs,Notably Survived By,Occupation and Colonialism,Revolutionaries,Shot,Torture,Vietnam,Women

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1963: Ngo Dinh Diem

10 comments November 2nd, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1963, Ngo Dinh Diem, the first president of South Vietnam, was executed in the back of an armored personnel carrier along with his younger brother and secret police chief, Ngo Dinh Nhu, the day after their government had been overthrown in a military coup.

Born into the Buddhist country’s Catholic elite, Diem was brought up as a French colonial administrator but fled Vietnam in 1950 under a death sentence from Ho Chi Minh’s nascent Vietminh. Over several years living and lecturing in the United States, he established his anti-communist bona fides with influential conservatives and was returned to his native country as Prime Minister when the U.S. inherited the foundering French war against nationalist guerrillas.

Fearing communist victory at the polls, Diem blocked scheduled 1956 elections to unify North and South Vietnam, making an interim division permanent. But Diem made an inconsistent American client, often spurning Washington’s advice and alienating the Buddhist majority with heavy-handed authoritarianism that eventually prompted Buddhist monks to begin public self-immolation as a form of protest.

The government responded by arresting monks.

By now more a liability than an asset, Diem was ousted with the blessing of a fellow Catholic head of state, John F. Kennedy.

This first successful coup — Diem had already quashed attempted putsches in 1960 and 1962 — began a cycle of internecine revolts in which weak South Vietnamese governments were toppled in rapid succession … leaving Saigon ever more visibly the puppet of Washington, and dragging the United States ever more deeply into the Vietnam War.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Heads of State,Mature Content,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Power,Shot,Summary Executions,Vietnam

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