Story by Duc Minh

May 29, 2021

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How Ha became a bourgeois was a fascinating story that many people admired and took as a good example. Moreover, he had a great heart for the country and people. Ha donated a lot of his assets to the state, mostly real estate in Hanoi, including the house at 24 - 48 Ly Quoc Su Street, the house at 2/12 Ngo Huyen Street (with an area of more than 2,200sqm), the house at 60 Nguyen Du Street (more than 1,000sqm), the house at 8 Ly Quoc Su Street (84sqm), the house at 4, 339 Thinh Yen Street (more than 2,200sqm), and the house at 31 Hang Bong Street (182sqm).

Before 1945, he also had a printing house in Hue and planned to open another in Saigon. Ngo Tu Ha was a large bourgeois of Hanoi at that time and was voted as one of the 300 most famous people of Indochina in the 1940s by the local Nam Phong newspaper.

A poor young Christian who started his career empty-handed, but with much effort, hard work, and intelligence, he became a successful businessman. Ha's life story was admired by many people.

Ha was born in a peasant family in Quy Hau village, Kim Son district, Ninh Binh province. His mother was skilled at raising silkworms which generated a stable income for the family and supported her children’s schooling.

 

Ha attended a catholic school where he proved to be a smart boy with a great memory and very good French skills. He was appreciated by priests for his excellent academic results. Instead of accepting a simple life in the poor countryside, at the age of 17, Ha left his home village to Hanoi to study printing at the IDEO Printing House in Hanoi.

It was the largest and most modern French printing house in Indochina at that time. Thanks to his intelligence and patience, Ha became a famous printer in Hanoi. He also tried to learn printing house management skills. 

In 1911, Ha decided to open a small printing house on Hang Gai street. After a while, he bought land and set up a larger printing house at 24 Ly Quoc Su street (previously known as Lamblot Street), thanks to his savings and the large support of his family.

When Ha started his business, right after a large shipment of paper and ink arrived in Hanoi from France, the World War I broke out, leading to the closure of the Suez Canal and difficulties for trade between Europe and Asia. Paper prices surged. 

Under the circumstance, thanks to the good management of the printing house and printing quality, competitive prices, and his wide network, Ngo Tu Ha printing house attracted many customers, both Vietnamese and French. Ha became the leader of the printing industry in Vietnam at that time. 

 

When he had financial stability, Ha devoted himself to many social activities, movements, and charity for the poor.

Trinh Van Duong, Ha's grandson, recalls: “Before 1945, he used to go out to socialize, do charity during the day and only return to the printing house late at night. He only slept one or two hours and spent the rest of time on work.”

Even though he was busy at work he was very interested in the education of the people, especially the poor. He joined scholar Nguyen Van To’s Association for the Dissemination of the National Language. After the success of the August Revolution in 1945, he participated in the popular education movement launched by President Ho Chi Minh to eradicate illiteracy. His printing house printed a large number of textbooks for the movement.

 

Ha had a warm heart for people. He initiated and participated in many charity activities. His descendants still keep photos of when he pulled a cart to lead a group on the streets of Hanoi to raise money for the hungry and when he and President Ho Chi Minh attended a Mass at Hanoi´s St. Joseph´s Cathedral praying for about two million people who starved to death in the famine in 1945. From the North to the South of the country, Ha´s checks were sent to orphans and poor widows. He also mobilized businesses to do charity so that he was loved and respected by a lot of people.

With his reputation in the printing industry, Ha developed connections with intellectuals and scholars at that time like Pham Quynh, Nguyen Van Vinh, Mai Dang De, Nguyen Van To, Tan Da, Nguyen Khac Hieu, and so on. For them, he was both a good friend and a generous sponsor. His printing house helped scholars and researchers print their books and works. In particular, Dong Thanh Magazine of Ngo Tu Ha printing house was a gathering place for many famous journalists and writers of progressive articles and researches, contributing to affirming Oriental and Vietnamese cultural values.

From a printing businessman to a prominent national bourgeois, Ha became famous among the intellectuals and even French colonial officials. He joined the Viet Minh (League for the Independence of Vietnam), became an advisor to President Ho Chi Minh, was elected a member of the first National Assembly, and read the Manifesto of the National Assembly, making his patriotic career successful and admirable.  

 

In a historic document, late Prime Minister Pham Van Dong of North Viet Nam (the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam) wrote: “Ngo Tu Ha is a patriot who has participated very early in the Viet Minh movement [the League for the Independence of Vietnam that later became the government of North Vietnam]. He has often met Uncle Ho and is on familiar terms with me.”

Being a patriot protesting foreign invasions, Ha was soon alive to the revolution. As the owner of the Ngo Tu Ha Printing House, he provided Viet Minh troops with materials and technology to print clandestine newspapers and leaflets that called on people to rise up in the August Revolution of 1945, which was one of the greatest landmarks in Vietnam’s history, formally marking the end of French colonialism and the beginning of an independent Vietnam. 

At that time, Vietnam was part of French Indochina so the country used the currency of the whole Indochina which was “Piastres” (which means “dong” in Vietnamese).

 

On January 31, 1946, the Ngo Tu Ha Printing House was selected to print the first paper money for the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The banknotes, printed with the portrait of beloved Uncle Ho, had values of 100 dong, 50 dong, 20 dong, 10 dong, 5 dong, 2 dong and 1 dong. They all were transported to the Ministry of Finance to be signed and stamped with serial numbers before issuance.

The banknotes were issued in a timely manner, not only meeting the spending needs of the Government and people but also affirming the nation's independence and sovereignty.

French colonialists burnt the Ngo Tu Ha printing house right after they began the re-invasion of North Vietnam on December 19, 1946.

The house at 24 Ly Quoc Su Street (Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi) is now the vestige of the Ngo Tu Ha Printing House.  

 

After the success of the August Revolution in 1945, with the support of the Viet Minh and a large majority of voters in his hometown in the northern province of Ninh Binh, Ha was elected as a member of the first National Assembly in 1946. At the age of 63, he became the oldest member of the National Assembly. 

At the first session of the National Assembly held on March 2, 1946, Ha was appointed as chairman of the session who read the opening statement and the manifesto of the National Assembly of Vietnam. He was also elected as a member of the National Assembly Standing Committee. 

In the early days of building the new government, Ha was an advisor to revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh, helping him make important decisions in building the country, including suggesting the date for the Declaration of Independence, which then became the National Day of Vietnam, falling on September 2. 

Among the photos Ha's family has kept until now, there are some photos of him sitting next to President Ho Chi Minh and revolutionaries Huynh Thuc Khang and Nguyen Van To, as well as the event of praying for two million people who starved to death at the Hanoi Cathedral in 1945, the year of the Rooster.

Ha also acted as a link between President Ho Chi Minh and King Bao Dai, the last king of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945).

 

When the nationwide resistance war broke out in 1946, Ha went to Switzerland. He returned in 1954 with the Vietnamese government’s delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Van Dong in the glory of victory after the successful negotiation at the Geneva Conference in 1954, in which the French agreed to withdraw their troops from Vietnam.

In 1954, at the age of 72, Ha continued to perform his duties in the first session of the National Assembly Standing Committee.

He was an active member and one of the founders of the League for the National Union of Vietnam. He was elected as a member of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Vietnamese Fatherland Front, which was established on September 10, 1955.

He was also a member of the Liaison Committee for Vietnamese Patriotic and Peace-Loving Catholics, chairman of the national association to help soldiers with difficulties, and Deputy Minister of War Invalids and Veterans (later the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs).

On August 8, 1973, Ha passed away at the age of 92. His active life is a shining example of a patriotic national bourgeois, an exemplary National Assembly member.

 

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