"You will now bury your green years as a student in prison’s dark cell."

The smile of an assured future

by o Doan Hoang

Court in time: Vo Th Thang before her trial in the former Sai Gon. — File Photo
Ideal ordeal: Thang is all smiles as she meets children in a remote hamlet in northern Lai Chau. — VNS/Tuyet Lan

HA NOI — Photography plays a wonderful role in nailing down a soulful moment from the past, and that is perhaps the main reason why the photo of the smiling Vo Th Thang, taken by a Japanese photographer has become so famous.

The soul and strength of the resistance war has been caught in a mini-second.

In the background are two fierce and brutish-looking military police (MPs) of the former Sai Gon military regime, putting into even bolder relief the undaunted, beautiful smile of the young girl Vo Th Thang.

It was in 1968 during Tet Mau Than (the Lunar New Year of the Monkey). Liberation fighter Vo Th Thang, after being unsuccessful in attempting to take the life of an enemy, was captured. She was in charge of a section of the liberation army fighting the enemy within the Sai Gon-Gia nh special zone.

After being captured (when this photograph was taken), Thang was brutally tortured by the enemy and put on trial at a special military court at Bach ang Harbour – Sai Gon.

She was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. The enemy said to her: "You will now bury your green years as a student in prison’s dark cell". She calmly responded: "Do you think your administration could exist for another 20 years to keep me in prison?"

More than 30 years have gone by, but that photo remains both a symbol of the Vietnamese nation and of the beauty of Vietnamese women.

Thang is now over 50 and the head of the General Department of Tourism of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam. On International Women’s Day on March 8, Vo Th Thang was interviewed by Van Nghe Tre Weekly.

"... Actually at that time I found it reasonable to smile and answer that way, so simply, by casting doubt on another 20 years, because that was our burning confidence in the undeniable victory of the revolution. This confidence was not only of my own. All of our fighters could have burst into that smile. I also did not know there was a photo taken on that day. Six years later (1974), the enemy returned me to the revolution at Loc Ninh Airport. I had gone through Thu c, Ch Hoa, Ho Nai-Tan Hiep prisons, even through the Tiger Cage in Con ao (Poulo Condor Island). I now smile remembering this photo....

"Suddenly, a reporter took a magazine and showed me the photo, asking: Do you know who it is? I answered: ‘Was it six years ago?’ He smiled. To tell you the truth, while in prison, I did not know of the existence of that photo. I only listened to the Liberation Radio and read the newspapers from the north for news of how we were doing, and nothing more.

"... I have never met these two MPs again. But my family did meet them. Once, by accident, one MP came to my brother’s house. Having looked at the wall and seen the picture of himself, he asked who the smiling girl was. My brother said: "My sister". He was confused, leaving quietly, and from then on, nobody met him again. But I know his sister was the chairman of the people’s committee of a ward.

"I haven’t met the photographer. Once he came to Viet Nam to look for me. It would have been very interesting to meet that friend from the land of cherry blossoms... "

Thirty years have gone by, the country girl in the ba ba blouse (a loose fitting blouse usually worn by southern women) with her hair hanging loose and beautiful smile is now a middle-aged woman. But that beauty still shines in her smiles of today. She said she is over 50 now, her eldest son is a soldier stationed in south of the country and her daughter is a senior secondary school student, but young people still address her as "Sister Vo Th Thang".

That made her smile again, like that famous smile of the young girl from Long An caught in the photograph in 1968. — VNS

March 21, 1999: in Vietnam News Online Edition Vol. II./Nr. 228.

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*Letzte Änderung: 26.07.2002 - maw

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