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Tuesday, June 20, 2017, 15:46 (GMT+7)
Ho Chi Minh’s journalistic style

“Journalism” means three things: (i) writing newspaper articles, including the writing of articles and giving of interviews conducted by journalists of some newspaper; (ii) management of a newspaper; and (iii) to some extent, the reading of newspapers to both collect information and improve quality of a newspaper or an article. Ho Chi Minh experienced all of those processes. This article aims to give some insight into the first aspect. There are three most fundamental requirements, including (i) succinct writing; (ii) sufficiency of essential information; and (iii) good writing, fascinating to readers.

Although Ho Chi Minh did not possess a press card and take any media training courses, he was a “genuine” journalist and a master of Vietnamese revolutionary journalism. He was also a founder, editor-in-chief, reporter, publisher, etc., that is to say, he was involved in every phase of journalism. Ho Chi Minh worked as the managing editor of Thanh Nien, a newspaper published by the Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth Association since 1925. Ho Chi Minh wrote over 3,500 articles for both domestic and foreign newspapers in his life.

Ho Chi Minh was named as a revolutionary, man of culture, militarist, diplomat, poet, and so on. However, he only admitted to being a professional politician. In that capacity, Ho Chi Minh paid special attention to using press as a tool to attain the goals of national, societal and human liberation. Ho Chi Minh’s journalistic style aimed to achieve those goals, nothing else. Consequently, it was a goal-oriented style. That was the reason why he used to emphasized treatises: Who was the article going to be written for? Why was it written? What to write? How to write?

1. A succinct style

Ho Chi Minh did not write general or sublime newspaper articles, but the ones whose content went straight to people’s hearts. The theme which had been chosen by him used to direct to a designated purpose. The articles, therefore, were very short and compact. In his book “The Road to Revolution”, Ho Chi Minh wrote “this book seeks to express succinctly to make it easy to understand and remember.” It can be regarded as a “declaration” of Ho Chi Minh’s writing style for the rest of his journalism career.

The Declaration of Independence, drafted and read, on behalf of the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, by Ho Chi Minh on September 2nd, 1945 at Ba Dinh Square represented the essence of a new lease of life of a revitalizing nation through a succinct style. The Declaration of Independence did not exceed 1,003 words. On mentioning opportunities, causes, or measures to seize power and establish the democratic republic regime, Ho Chi Minh phased them through 9 words “the French left, the Japanese surrendered, Bao Dai abdicated.” That Declaration of Independence contained sufficient legal evidence while briefly summarizing the emergence of a new political regime; constituted a declaration of legitimate rights of a people and individuals (human rights) living in independence and freedom, and of a political institution making its first debut in the name of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh’s brief and succinct writing style was also portrayed in his works such as the Party’s Brief Political Program (276 words); the Party’s Brief Strategy (253 words); the Party’s Summarized Program (178 words); and the Brief Regulations of the Communist Party of Vietnam (603 words). Despite being short, these documents satisfied every criteria to be political programs of a political party at its founding conference in early 1930. Even remarks delivered at welcome or farewell meetings with state leaders on their visits to Vietnam were also written in such a brief and succinct manner by Ho Chi Minh. Sometimes, he added several lines of verse. Impetuous appeals, letters and newspaper articles written to fellow-citizens, soldiers and teenagers in particular were very short and succinct, but full of love an affection.

Ho Chi Minh was against lengthy but hollow writing style. He also affirmed that short and succinct style was not always right. Lengthiness here means lack of tidiness and succinctness. In interviews with various newspapers and news agencies, he used to give shorter answers than the questions, especially with thorny ones.

2. Provision of sufficient vital information

On writing newspaper articles, Ho Chi Minh paid attention to providing correctly and sufficiently fundamental information to readers. This is an impressive style of Ho Chi Minh, a revolutionary journalist. In “The Road to Revolution,” he wrote “there must be someone criticizing that my literature is curt. That is right! Whatever I say, I will say in a simple and short manner. It is like two and two make four, without embroidering. I only hope my compatriots to think back, come to their senses and unite to start a revolution after reading these books. Literature and hope exist in the word: Revolution!.”

Ho Chi Minh used to use statistics. These numbers could speak for themselves, and were not dry because they were evaluated. Later on, in spite of being very busy with his work, he still collected daily information from domestic and foreign newspapers, radio stations, books and reports of various levels and branches. He used to do a double-check of information and numbers. Although articles written by Ho Chi Minh were short, but they contained sentences conveying deep and trustworthy judgment and information.

It is a pity that, in the age of information technology, many people are making lengthy pieces of writing with inadequate information and even inaccuracy. The reason for this may lie in the fact that some journalists do not exercise good conduct and journalism skills, and lack adequate access to information. Many are too compliant with accepting information even from unreliable sources. Ho Chi Minh’s journalistic style shows clearly that what still ambiguous will not be written, what ought not to be published should not be published, and what needs informing readers informs sufficiently and accurately.

Ho Chi Minh’s articles effectively provided readers with information. Given his style of goal-oriented commitment, he focused selectively on essential information to avoid being occupied by minor details. Readers usually confront with the choice of articles suitable for their specific circumstances. Nevertheless, no matter who the readers are, they have to respect accurate information mentioned in the articles. Ho Chi Minh used a number of pen names, possibly just because of wishing to evade “prejudice” when he wrote newspaper articles. This was unique to a revolutionary journalist.

3. Good writing (appealing to readers)

Journalists should write from their hearts, and Ho Chi Minh was such a journalist. Pens and languages constitute the means of expressing journalists’ hearts. As for Ho Chi Minh, articles “ordered” were “ordered” from hearts. To make the articles appealing to readers, he used to remind journalists of various types of readers because each article had their own target audience. This article was interesting to this group of people, but might not be attractive to others. Ho Chi Minh aspired to make sure that his thought was conformable with each type of audience through his language of journalism. Ho Chi Minh used popular language (both verbal and written) to make it easy for every one - from scholars to ordinary people - to comprehend what he wished to communicate. His writing style aimed specifically to four issues that need defining clearly, including what to write; who to write for; why to write; and how to write. Many of his articles (but not all) were reviewed by his colleagues before they were sent for publication. Every idea was of equal importance to him notwithstanding they were of a member of Politburo or an assistant.

What makes a newspaper article interesting does not depend on the use of onomatopoeic and ornate words, but the correct ones to depict the essence of matters. Some articles even make use of wordplay and metaphors to impress readers. In his criticism articles, Ho Chi Minh portrayed a unique writing style, both resolute and profound. For instance, during the French colonialists’ reoccupation of Vietnam, when Ho Chi Minh was run down and mocked at, he applied the tactic “an iron fist in a velvet glove” by saying that “a newspaper, in essence, is a place to put something down in black and white. However, those papers can be also used to write ultimatums or love letters. French newspapers have inclined towards using the papers to write ultimatums up to now. From now on, we should use the papers to write affectionate letters. It does not mean newspapers from both sides will exchange love letters. Nevertheless, if some matter were fabricated, the other side, despite its rightness or wrongness, would be dissatisfied with and unhesitatingly make similar response.”

Ho Chi Minh used to criticize officials and party members, who were keen on using wordplay, foreign words and lengthy expression; talking the hind leg off a donkey; and using words inappropriate with target audience and improper content. Ho Chi Minh raised the voice of people, learned the voice of people and even used folk verses and proverbs in political commentaries. Curiously enough, when being used in such way, they became experience passed on from generation to generation of our people. It is a common knowledge that folk verses and proverbs represent and are drawn from the wisdom of common people. Ho Chi Minh sought to describe his arguments on political issues and Marxism-Leninism in a straightforward and plain manner, which enabled easy understanding of his ideas, avoiding wordiness and plagiarism. His appeals in the newspapers reflected the strategic resolve and actions of the whole people; his greetings on the occasion of New Years contained poems composed for the previous New Year’s Eves and the new ones, which were really sacred and full of emotion. His profound political commentaries and letters, including his testament, sent to industries, circles, pupils, teenagers, children, the whole Party, armed forces, and people both inside and outside our country were imbued with love and affection, demonstrating his effective writing style – a style depicting the spirits of “peoples, science and the masses.”

4. Several thoughts on the study and application of Ho Chi Minh’s journalistic style in the current situation

It is a common knowledge that everyone has their own unique style. Is it possible to study and apply Ho Chi Minh’s journalistic style? The answer is “yes.” There are still common features in Ho Chi Minh’s unique style that can be learnt and applied though this is not easy at all. If someone wishes to learn and apply, they need at least two things as follows:

First, they have to be in a proactive and active position. Position is all of a person’s attitudes and psychologies in a certain matter that may have a considerable influence on the outcome of his/her actions. There can be two opposing positions: active, positive and passive, negative. Those who have a active, positive position will achieve good results when dealing with humans and things as categorized by Ho Chi Minh. Conversely, those with a passive, negative position will find it difficult or impossible to get a result. Ho Chi Minh used to maintain an active, positive, and relaxed position when he wrote a certain article. That is journalists’ psychological state. Consequently, when seeking to learn Ho Chi Minh’s journalistic style, we need to maintain a position like his; proactiveness and activeness. I my self recognize that learning Ho Chi Minh’s journalistic style constitutes daily essential needs. It is like humans need water to drink, food to eat, and air to breathe. You can only get good results if you are in such a position. That position must become a precondition for the success of a revolutionary journalist at this stage. To obtain this position, a journalist also needs to possess high intelligence and a citizen’s ethics, as well as good professional ethics. That is journalists’ capacity and intelligence learned and trained everyday in any conditions. That is also a requirement in terms of the depth of intelligence, the breadth and thickness of culture, and the experience of journalism.

Second, there should be an effective application in practical conditions. To do so, it is necessary to be well aware of the practical situation and essence of ongoing issues. Good intellectual nourishment is attributed to its appealing taste. This taste is varied nowadays. However, there are popular tastes of “national spirit and characteristics” that create Vietnam’s culinary culture. Consequently, although Ho Chi Minh’s articles were written decades ago, and the present circumstance is different from that in the past, readers still find many interesting ideas. Life never stops changing. What makes an article everlasting lies in the essence of mentioned issues, not in specific details. The details are confined to a specific circumstance that make it hard to suit every time. Ho Chi Minh’s journalistic style resembles his conception of action: “to act flexibly while maintaining firmly his own principles”. That is also Marxist dialectics in Ho Chi Minh’s journalistic style left for generations of Vietnamese revolutionary journalists.

Professor Mach Quang Thang, Dr.

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