I was looking around in the Virtual Vietnam Archive at Texas Tech University today when I started to come across “infiltrator diaries.” That is how the diaries of North Vietnamese soldiers who journeyed down the Hồ Chí Minh Trail to fight in the South were labeled by a US Army center that collected such materials, the Combined Document Exploitation Center (CDEC).
I found one that had the lyrics to various songs in it. It had lyrics, for instance, for the “Liberation March” (Hành khúc giải phóng).
“Stars in the Night” (Những ánh sao đêm).
And the “Song of the Forest Worker” (Bài ca người thợ rừng).
And then I found a page in this diary with Chinese text – the lyrics of the “Ode to the Motherland” (歌唱祖國) [I prefer “fatherland,” but there is a Wikipedia entry already for “Ode to the Motherland,” so. . .].
The “Ode to the Motherland” was a patriotic song that was composed in the early 1950s, not long after the People’s Republic of China had been established. It was also featured in the 1965 film, The East is Red, a musical that depicts the history of the Chinese Communist Party’s rise to power.
I also found out from a document in the Virtual Vietnam Archive that The East is Red was shown in Hanoi theaters in the fall of 1966. The diary that has the lyrics to “Ode to the Motherland,” meanwhile, was captured in 1967.
While it’s not clear if the person who wrote that diary learned about that song from watching The East is Red or through some other means, what all of this points to is a shared cultural world at that time.
Subsequent historical events have made that shared moment difficult/painful for some people to remember, to the extent that it is now rarely acknowledged, but I was reminded of that time and that world when I came across this diary.
In the 1960s, the East was Red, North Vietnam was in the East, and at least one Vietnamese was singing “Ode to the Motherland” on the Hồ Chí Minh Trail.
(Item Number: F034600741985. Title: Captured Documents (CDEC): Vietcong Infultrator’s [sic] Diary (100 pages) [29 March 1967])