Chapter 13: Hòa Hảo Buddhism under the Communist Rule

29 Tháng Mười 201312:00 SA(Xem: 1778)
Chapter 13: Hòa Hảo Buddhism under the Communist Rule

Although many leaders of the Second Republic hastily fled the country on the eve of the fall of Saigon, masses of population remained under Communist rule. Naturally, those individuals and organizations which had taken part in the past anti-Communist struggle became subject to particularly harsh treatment.

On May 1, 1975, Communist commanders assigned two battalions to seize the Hòa Hảo Holy Land. However, the initial assault was repulsed by the Hòa Hảo Self Defense units. On the same day, an emergency meeting was held at the Hòa Hảo Holy Land. General Lâm Thành Nguyên and Phan Bá Cầm, general secretary of the Social-Democratic Party, chaired the gathering of a number of military and political activists of the Hòa Hảo community. The meeting, which was designed to discuss the grave situation, proceeded in an atmosphere of anxiety. News reports indicated that the armed forces of South Vietnam had disintegrated. Therefore, the Communist forces could be expected inside the Hòa Hảo Holy Land any time soon. Nobody wanted to commit bloodshed inside Hòa Hảo village, hence, a decision was made to withdraw all Hòa Hảo armed forces from the Holy Land. Around 5 PM May 2, the Communist forces took over the Hòa Hảo Holy Land.

Subsequently, up to 14,000 armed Hòa Hảo followers and former government soldiers gathered in the area of Tây An Cổ Tự Pagoda. However, these forces lacked any viable plan of action, hence, they were unable to sustain long term resistance to the Communist forces. On May 6, 1975, the Hòa Hảo resistance ended and Tây An Cổ Tự Pagoda was seized by Communist troops.

Immediately after the takeover of South Vietnam, the Communist government ordered the dissolution of the entire Hòa Hảo Buddhist Church and the Ancestral Temple's organization. The authorities opted to delete the words “Hòa Hảo” from the map of Vietnam as the Hòa Hảo Holy Land was rechristened and became Phú Tân district. In addition, they forced Huỳnh Phú Sổ's relatives to deliver the order to ban the Hòa Hảo Church and its activities.

On June 19, 1975 the authorities forced the Ancestral Temple to issue a declaration, which called for the immediate dissolution of the entire Hòa Hảo Buddhist organization including administrative committees, evangelizing bodies, recital halls, youth and womens organizations, and medical institutions as well as Bảo An units and the Social-Democratic Party. On July 29-31, the authorities staged a so-called “Religious Congress: A Return to National Roots,” or Đại Hội Tôn Giáo Trở Về Nguồn Cội Dân Tộc in Thốt Nốt. The gathering ended with a government-sponsored meeting. Some 1,500 Hòa Hảo followers reportedly attended. They were told to observe strictly all clauses of the June 19 declaration.

Moreover, the Hòa Hảo Buddhist community became targeted by official Communist propaganda. Notably, on August 9, 1975 the official mouthpiece, Sài Gòn Giải Phóng (Liberated Saigon) daily, ran an article which accused Hòa Hảo leaders of plotting an armed rebellion. The publication specifically blamed Lương Trọng Tường, Huỳnh Văn Nhiệm and Trần Hữu Bảy, aka Hai Tập, of keeping stockpiles of weapons, illegally holding meetings of administrative committees and accepting cash donations. The newspaper alleged that these preparations had been made in order to overthrow “the Revolutionary” authorities. Sài Gòn Giải Phóng also stated that on July 2 the plot was uncovered and illegal weapons were seized.

The official publications as well as the June 19 declaration indicated that the Communist authorities moved to dissolve all Hòa Hảo Buddhist institutions, including the evangelizing bodies of the Church. In fact, this policy amounted to an unconditional prohibition of all Hòa Hảo religious practices and activities. It should be pointed out that some prominent leaders of the Hòa Hảo Buddhist community and the Social-Democratic Party were executed. Moreover, the authorities actively sought ways to provoke conflicts among Hòa Hảo followers.

Apart from closing down all Hòa Hảo Buddhist institutions, the government also confiscated all of the church's properties. In all, 28 provincial or city offices, 82 district offices, 476 village offices and 3,100 hamlet offices were shut down almost overnight. 468 Recital Halls, 452 community centers, 213 evangelizing centers as well as 2,876 local offices, notably, are the many recital halls were seized by the authorities. These buildings were transformed into administrative offices, military and police outlets. Some Hòa Hảo cemeteries were destroyed. For instance, Bình Minh cemetery was leveled while the access to the Memorial in Cần Thơ, dedicated to four fallen Hòa Hảo leaders, was restricted. The government has not returned any of the Hòa Hảo properties confiscated after 1975.

Following the official restrictive policies, the authorities persecuted nearly all Hòa Hảo Buddhist leaders and many of its followers. All Hòa Hảo officials were subject to forced detention in so-called “re-education” prison camps. Those officials who had previously worked at the Central institutions of the Church, were detained for at least two years. Although many rank-and-file Hòa Hảo activists were released, soon some of them were eventually re-arrested. Some adherents were forced to make the ultimate sacrifice due to their firm and uncompromising stance. For instance, in 1975, Huỳnh Văn Lầu was executed in Châu Đốc and Nguyễn Thành Long, head of Hòa Hảo community center in Cái Răng district, Cần Thơ province, was killed by the police.

Initially, the Communist authorities tried to force the Hòa Hảo followers to destroy their sacred books, altars and images of Huỳnh Phú Sổ. However, these moves proved a failure as the adepts refused to obey and halt Hòa Hảo worship. Subsequently, the regime employed a flexible policy. The authorities allowed them to keep altars and images of Huỳnh Phú So, but the officials insisted that adepts must place Hồ Chí Minhs portraits above images of the founder of the Hòa Hảo congregation. Although the Hòa Hảo adherents responded with passive methods of resistance, they declined to follow the official instructions and continued the practice of Hòa Hảo rituals.

The Communist authorities banned circulation of the Hòa Hảo sacred books and other religious texts in order to secure destruction of the Hòa Hảo ideology. However, the government officials achieved some unintended results, which clearly contradicted their initial objectives. In fact, the official restrictions sparked an increased demand for Hòa Hảo religious texts. Moreover, even some people in Saigon expressed increased interest in reading the Hòa Hảo sacred books although that was not exactly the case before 1975 when the Hòa Hảo community enjoyed a number of freedoms, including a right to publish and distribute religious texts.

On the other hand, the Communist authorities tried to enlist some members of the Hòa Hảo younger generation. The regime also secretly assigned some trusted cadres to control the Hòa Hảo community. Nonetheless, these measures had a very limited impact. There were few collaborators among the Hòa Hảo followers and they were widely viewed as traitors by the majority of the adherents.

The Communist officials repeatedly held a number of meetings, forced the Hòa Hảo followers to attend these gatherings and “voluntarily” approve resolutions to support the “revolutionary authorities.” The assemblage of July 29-30, 1975 in Thốt Nốt, An Giang became the most high-profile gathering of this type. However, the Hòa Hảo adepts remained loyal to their religion and refused to adhere to the Communist regime and its institutions.

Notably, in October 1976 the authorities forced some former members of the Hòa Hảo leadership to travel throughout the Mekong Delta provinces and make public statements. The gist of these statements was the “admission of mistakes and advice to collaborate with the revolutionary authorities.” Yet it was nobodys secret that the declarations were made under strong government pressure, hence, these public requests made no impact whatsoever among the Hòa Hảo followers.

The authorities paid special attention to high-ranking Hòa Hảo officials. Most of these activists spent years in prison camps. According to an account by Dr. Nguyễn Đức An, who spent seven months in Communist detention, the Hòa Hảo leaders remained calm, confident and absolutely loyal to their religion despite regular threats and harassment. One of Hòa Hảo activists said that although they could all perish in jail, the Hòa Hảo Buddhist faith would never disappear, according to Dr. Nguyễn Đức An. Thousands of Hòa Hảo and Social-Democratic Party activists were arrested by the authorities. It should be pointed out that many of them died in detention although exact statistics are yet to become available. However, Hòa Hảo expatriate groups learned some names of victims of the Communist reprisals.

In 1977, Ngô Văn Ký, aka Phán Ký, died in detention in Phú Nhuận, Gia Định. He was a trusted supporter of Huỳnh Phú Sổ and was responsible for the safety of the Hòa Hảo founder during the initial months of anti-French resistance. In 1945-1946, Huỳnh Phú Sổ lived in Ngô Văn Kýs house in the Biên Hòa area. Later, Ngô Văn Ký was named an adviser of the Central Administrative Committee of the Hòa Hảo Buddhist Church.

Shortly after the fall of Saigon in April 1975, Quan Hữu Kim died in Saigon. He was in charge of the Hòa Hảo clandestine network in the Saigon-Cholon area before 1947. Subsequently, Quan Hữu Kim was named as a member of the Central Committee of the Social-Democratic Party and an adviser of the Central Administrative Committee of the Hòa Hảo Buddhist Church.

In late 1979, Phan Bá Cầm died in Chí Hòa prison in Saigon. During 1947-1948 he was the chief of the Châu Đốc Provincial Committee of the Social-Democratic Party and secretary of the Central Administrative Committee of Hòa Hảo Buddhist Church. Later he served as General Secretary of the Social-Democratic Party and chairman of Vietnams Nationalist Forces. Phan Bá Cầm also headed a Vietnamese division of the International Human Rights Association. Under the penname, Vương Kim, he wrote a number of voluminous research books relative to Hòa Hảo Buddhist doctrines and history. Some of his books, notably Long Hòa Assembly and the End of the World were reprinted more than ten times. Phan Bá Cầm was a resolute nationalist warrior, hence, the Communists murdered him in detention.

Trình Quốc Khánh was the head of the Long Xuyên Provincial Committee of the Social-Democratic Party. Subsequently, he served as General Secretary of the Social-Democratic Party. Despite his fragile health, he faced his fate with courage. When the Communist authorities tried to force Trình Quốc Khánh to denounce the founder of the Hòa Hảo congregation, the Hòa Hảo veteran replied that he did not urge them to denounce Hồ Chí Minh. It was reported that Trình Quốc Khánh died in detention although the exact date of his death remains unknown.

By 1975, Lâm Thành Nguyên, former commander of the armed forces of the Social-Democratic Party, became chairman of the Union of the Hòa Hảo Army Veterans. He died in a so-called “re-education” prison camp.

The Ancestral Temple has been an indisputable center of the Hòa Hảo Buddhist community. All adherents have been keen to undertake a pilgrimage to the Ancestral Temple and pray there. When Huỳnh Phú Sổs parents passed away, Huỳnh Thị Kim Biên, aka Cô Năm, took care of all worship activities in the Temple.

In the immediate aftermath of the Communist takeover of South Vietnam, the new authorities banned all major rituals and gatherings in the Ancestral Temple. On June 19, 1975, the government forced the Ancestral Temple to issue a declaration which approved the dissolution of all Hòa Hảo institutions.

In 1978, Huỳnh Thị Kim Biên suddenly passed away. It was rumored that she died because of an overdose of a prescribed medication. Subsequently, the authorities detained Lâm Đồng Thanh, who remained in charge of the temple.

As can be seen, since 1975, all administrative offices, places of worship, and social and cultural institutions connected to the faith have been closed, thereby limiting public religious festivals. Believers were forced to practice their religion at home.

The Vietnamese government restricts the activities of the unofficial Hòa Hảo Buddhist organizations and their members. Many Hòa Hảo Buddhists were unable obtain permits to visit Hoa Hao village, the birthplace of Huỳnh Phú Sổ and the center of the religion. Moreover, the government banned the public celebration of major ceremonies, such as the ceremony to commemorate the disappearance of the religion's founder, as well as the public display of important religious symbols, such as the Hòa Hảo Buddhist flag.
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