Land reform in Vietnam

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Land reform in Vietnam was a program of land reform in North Vietnam from 1953 to 1956. It followed the program of land reform in China from 1946 to 1953.

The aim of the land reform program was to break the power of the traditional village elite, to form a new class of leaders, and redistribute the wealth (mostly land) to create a new class that has no ownership. It was an element of the Communist revolution. The reform led to allegations of many villagers being executed, land being taken away even from poor peasants, and of paranoia among neighbors. Several foreign witnesses testified to mass executions.[1][2] A number of sources have suggested that about 30% of the "landlords" executed were actually communist party members.[3][4][5][6][7] Former North Vietnamese government official Nguyen Minh Can, told RFA’s Vietnamese service: "The land reform was a massacre of innocent, honest people, and using contemporary terms we must say that it was a genocide triggered by class discrimination".[8]

Between 50,000 and 172,000 perceived "class enemies" were executed.[9][10][11] Reports from North Vietnamese defectors at the time suggested that 50,000 were executed. A Hungarian diplomat was told that 60,000 were executed.[12] Declassified Politburo documents confirm that 1 in 1,000 North Vietnamese (i.e., about 14,000 people) were the minimum quota targeted for execution during the earlier "rent reduction" campaign; the number killed during the multiple stages of the considerably more radical "land reform" was probably many times greater.[13] Lam Thanh Liem, a major authority on land issues in Vietnam, conducted multiple interviews in which communist cadres gave estimates for land reform executions ranging from 120,000 to 200,000. Such figures match the "nearly 150,000 houses and huts which were allocated to new occupants".[14] Landlords were arbitrarily classified as 5.68% of the population, but the majority were subject to less severe punishment than execution. Official records from the time suggest that 172,008 "landlords" were executed during the "land reform", of whom 123,266 (71.66%) were later found to be wrongly classified.[11] Victims were reportedly shot, beheaded, and beaten to death; "some were tied up, thrown into open graves and covered with stones until they were crushed to death".[15] The full death toll was even greater because victims' families starved to death under the "policy of isolation."[16] As communist defector Le Xuan Giao explained: "There was nothing worse than the starvation of the children in a family whose parents were under the control of a land reform team. They isolated the house, and the people who lived there would starve. The children were all innocent. There was nothing worse than that. They wanted to see the whole family dead."[17] Former Viet Minh official Hoang Van Chi wrote that as many as 500,000 North Vietnamese may have died as a result of the land reform.[18]

Gareth Porter wrote The Myth of the Bloodbath, claiming that the death toll was only in the thousands[19] but was criticized by historian Robert F. Turner for relying on official communist sources. Turner argued that the death toll "was certainly in six digits."[17] Historian Edwin Moise, who estimated that over 8,000 people were executed during the land reform,[20] has defended this practice; asserting that the official communist newspapers of North Vietnam were "extremely informative" and "showed a fairly high level of honesty" when compared to those of other communist states.[21] Moise's denial that China played an important role in the reform is no longer accepted by modern scholarship.[22] Porter and Noam Chomsky argued that Hoang Van Chi used to be "employed and subsidized" by South Vietnam and the US, and challenged the reliability of translated North Vietnamese documents on which Chi's view was based on.[23] Turner defended Chi, noting that while he received a grant from the Congress for Cultural Freedom (which was later revealed to have been funded by the Central Intelligence Agency), there was no evidence this affected his conclusions.[17] Chi opined that "Mr. Porter studies....a few propaganda booklets published by Hanoi....I lived through the whole process, and I described what I saw with my own eyes."[24] Both Chi and Turner noted that Porter barely could not speak Vietnamese (despite his claim that sources about the land reform were mistranslated), and that he relied on sometimes inaccurate English translations of Nhan Dan done by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (as well as English-language propaganda meant to encourage anti-war groups).[24][17] Chomsky cited Colonel Nguyen Van Chau, head of the Central Psychological War Service for the South Vietnamese army from 1956 to 1962, who claimed that early figures for the land reform were "100% fabricated" by the intelligence services of Saigon.[23] Chau was one of dozens of officers dismissed from their positions while under investigation in South Vietnam;[25] he later made public appearances alongside North Vietnamese, Viet Cong, and French Communist Party representatives.[26] Recent scholarship from Vietnam also suggests that a larger number of landlords were persecuted than previously believed.[11]

More than 1 million North Vietnamese people fled to the South, due in part to the land reform.[27] It is estimated that as many as two million more would have left had they not been stopped by the Viet Minh.[28]


  1. ^ Tongas, Gérard. J'ai vécu dans l'enfer communiste au Nord Viet-Nam. Paris, Nouvelles Éditions Debresse, (1960).
  2. ^ Boudarel, Georges. Cent fleurs écloses dans la nuit du Vietnam: communisme et dissidence, 1954-1956. Paris: J. Bertoin, (1991).
  3. ^ Nhan Dan, August 13, 1957.
  4. ^ Time, July 1, 1957, p. 13, says they were given a proper burial.
  5. ^ Gittinger, J. Price, "Communist Land Policy in Viet Nam", Far Eastern Survey, Vol. 29, No. 8, 1957, p. 118.
  6. ^ Lam Thanh Liem (1990), "Chinh sach cai cach ruong dat cua Ho Chi Minh: sai lam hay toi ac?" in Jean-Francois Revel et al., Ho Chi Minh, Nam A, pp. 179-214.
  7. ^ Dommen, Arthur J. (2001), The Indochinese Experience of the French and the Americans, Indiana University Press, p. 340.
  8. ^ RFA. "Vietnamese Remember Land Reform Terror" June 8, 2006.
  9. ^ Bernard B. Fall (1967), The Two Vietnams: A Political and Military Analysis (London: Pall Mall Press, 2nd rev. ed.), p. 156.
  10. ^ Robert F. Turner (1975), Vietnamese Communism: Its Origins and Development (Hoover Institution Press), pp141-3, 155-7.
  11. ^ a b c The History of the Vietnamese Economy (2005), Vol. 2, edited by Dang Phong of the Institute of Economy, Vietnamese Institute of Social Sciences.
  12. ^ Robert F. Turner, Vietnamese Communism: Its Origins and Development (Hoover Institution Press, 1975), pp141-3, 155-7.
  13. ^ Alec Holcombe, Politburo's Directive Issued on May 4, 1953, on Some Special Issues regarding Mass Mobilization Journal of Vietnamese Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Summer 2010), pp. 243-247, quoting a translated Politburo directive from May 4, 1953. This directive was published in Complete Collection of Party Documents (Van Kien Dang Toan Tap), a 54 volume work authorized by the Vietnamese Communist Party.
  14. ^ Lam Thanh Liem (1990), "Chinh sach cai cach ruong dat cua Ho Chi Minh: sai lam hay toi ac?" in Jean-Francois Revel et al., Ho Chi Minh, Nam A, pp. 179-214.
  15. ^ Readers Digest, The Blood-Red Hands of Ho Chi Minh, November 1968.
  16. ^ Nhan Vhan, November 5, 1956: "In the agrarian reform, illegal arrests, imprisonments, investigations (with barbarous torture), executions, requisitions of property, and the quarantining of landowners’ houses (or houses of peasants wrongly classified as landowners), which left innocent children to die of starvation, are not exclusively due to the shortcomings of the leadership, but also due to the lack of a complete legal code. If the cadres had felt that they were closely observed by the god of justice... calamities might have been avoided for the masses." Nhan Vhan was one of the best-known opposition periodicals that was allowed during the three-month period of relative intellectual freedom in the fall of 1956, modeled on Mao's "Hundred Flowers" campaign.
  17. ^ a b c d Turner, Robert F. "Expert Punctures 'No Bloodbath' Myth". Human Events, November 11, 1972.
  18. ^ Hoang Van Chi (1962), From Colonialism to Communism: A Case Study of North Vietnam, New York: Congress of Cultural Freedom.
  19. ^ Porter, Gareth (1973). The Myth of the Bloodbath: North Vietnam's Land Reform Reconsidered. "Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars", September 1973, pp. 2-15
  20. ^ Moise, Edwin E. (1983), Land Reform in China and North Vietnam: Consolidating the Revolution at the Village Level, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. See also Triumph Revisited: Historians Battle for the Vietnam War (2010), Routledge, pg. 97.
  21. ^ Edwin E. Moise, "Land Reform and Land Reform Errors in North Vietnam," Pacific Affairs, Spring 1976, pp70-92; also Land Reform in China and North Vietnam (University of North Carolina Press, 1983).
  22. ^ Qiang Zhai, China and the Vietnam Wars, 1950-1975 (University of North Carolina Press, 2000), pp39ff, 75ff.
  23. ^ a b Chomsky, A. Noam (1979), The Political Economy of Human Rights, Vol. I, South End Press, Boston, pg. 342-343.
  24. ^ a b Teodoru, Daniel and Hoang Van Chi, Response to Gareth Porter, "National Student Coordinating Committee", December 20, 1972.
  25. ^ New York Times, Los Angeles Times, November 23, 1963.
  26. ^ Vietnam News Agency, Paris, December 21, 1972.
  27. ^ United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "The State of The World's Refugees 2000 – Chapter 4: Flight from Indochina". Retrieved 6 April 2007. .
  28. ^ Robert F. Turner (1975), Vietnamese Communism: Its Origin and Development, pg. 102 (Stanford Ca: Hoover Institution Press).

Further reading[edit]

The land reform in North Vietnam was documented by Hoang Van Chi in From Colonialism to Communism, first published in 1962 by the Congress of Cultural Freedom, in New York, London, and New Delhi. P. J. Honey wrote the Introduction for this work.

  • Bernard B. Fall, The Two Vietnams: A Political and Military Analysis (London: Pall Mall Press, 2nd rev. ed., 1967)