Tran Trong Kim (1883 – 1953), was a Vietnamese scholar and politician who served as the Prime Minister of the short-lived Empire of Vietnam, a state established with the support of Imperial Japan in 1945. This came after Japan had seized direct control of Vietnam from the Vichy French colonial forces during the Second World War.
Tran Trong Kim’s cabinet only existed for around four months, from 17 April to 25 August 1945. In just four months of working with limited sovereignty and independence, his government changed the name of the country, and introduced a legal and educational foundation for Vietnam that would continue for many years.
The cabinet consisted of all the best intellectuals: a professor, two engineers, four doctors and four lawyers. They were Tran Trong Kim, Hoang Xuan Han, Ho Ta Khanh, Trinh Dinh Thao, Tran Trong Kim, Vu Ngoc Anh, Tran Van Chuong, Tran Dinh Nam, Vu Van Hien, Phan Anh, and Nguyen Huu Thi. This is an outline of their five great achievements.
1. Resetting the country’s name.
A country named Vietnam was the ‘dream’ of Emperor Gia Long, but it was never recognized by the Chinese Thanh Dynasty. The country was called Dai Nam by King Minh Mang, and this was removed by the French to form Tonkin, Annam and Cochinchina in the Indochina Federation.
When the country was authorized as “independent” by the Japanese, Emperor Bao Dai and the government speedily proclaimed the country under the new name of Vietnam, which is still in use today.
2. Using Vietnamese as the national language and in educational books.
Despite some attempts to use Japanese during the Japanese occupation of Indochina, French remained the administrative language, along with Vietnamese and some Chinese until 1945. Professor Hoang Xuan Han, Minister of Education, played a major role in making the decision to use Vietnamese as the national language instead of French. Mr Han composed textbooks, including mathematical and technical books, in Vietnamese and applied “The National Literature Book” to the school curriculum in 1945-46. This was the basis for high school programs across Vietnam.
3. Unifying the territories
According to the historian, Le Manh Hung quoted by BBC as saying, on June 16th 1945, Emperor Bao Dai announced the unification of the three regions Tonkin, Annam and Cochinchina. Tran Trong Kim’s government also negotiated with Japan to reclaim three French dominated cities, Hanoi, Haiphong and Danang.
The new Vietnamese government then appointed leaders for these cities: Tran Van Lai was the mayor of Hanoi, Vu Trong Khanh mayor of Haiphong, and Nguyen Khoa Phong mayor of Danang. In Hanoi, Tran Van Lai changed the street names from French to those of Vietnamese national heroes.
4. The constitution emphasizes freedom and independence
Although there was no real power and having not been recognized by the great powers because the government was closely associated with the Imperial Japanese Empire, Tran Trong Kim formed the Draft Constitution Council.
The Council consisted of famous intellectuals and artists: Phan Anh, Nguyen Tuong Long, Vu Dinh Hoe, Huynh Thuc Khang, Dang Thai Mai, Ton Quang Phiet, Ho Ta Khanh, Nguyen Van Sam, Nguyen Van Thinh, Ho Huu.
The Constitution recognized freedom of association and professional associations. The General Assembly of Civil Servants was formed to serve as political backing for the new government.
5. Withdrawing and empowering the revolutionary generation
The government of Tran Trong Kim had no Congress, no army and no international recognition outside of the Japanese Empire. The Cabinet had disintegrated when revolutionary movements emerged, and superpower nations tried to influence Vietnam.
Conscious of these issues, the intellectuals of Tran Trong Kim’s government chose to hand over the power to a Viet Minh-led government without bloodshed. Nothing was done to stop the raising of the new Viet Minh flag, red with a yellow star, when it was raised in Hue on 21st August.
As the first Vietnam government, Tran Trong Kim’s cabinet withdrew peacefully in order to empower a new generation of politicians and professional revolutionaries. Sadly, the Vietnamese nation quickly descended into fighting between the Viet Minh and the Vietnam Nationalist Party between 1945 and 1946.