Vietnam: Duong Thu Huong

I will fight through my writing to convince others of the need for democracy and to ensure that people live with their full rights as human beings. Only a life like that is worth living."

— Duong Thu Huong

Duong Thu Huong (born 1947) calls herself an exile in her own country. A veteran of the Vietnam War and the war with China, she was disillusioned with the regime and became a vocal advocate of human rights and democratic reforms. She published short stories and novels about hunger and malnutrition in Vietnam, but her books were banned and she was expelled from the Communist Party. In 1991, she was imprisoned for seven months without trial. Duong Thu Huong lives and writes in Hanoi under permanent surveillance and is not allowed to travel abroad.

Duong Thu Huong was only 20 years old during the Vietnam War when she became the leader of a youth brigade of 40 “singing soldiers” sent to the frontline in Quang Binh, where most of the bombings were taking place. For eight years, she lived with soldiers in small underground tunnels, singing and writing lyrics for the encouragement of the troops. Duong Thu Huong was one of three members of her group who survived the war. In 1975, she worked as a screenwriter in Hanoi. Four years later, she became the first female film correspondent during the war against China. It was this war that disillusioned her forever. Back in Hanoi in 1980, she published novels and short stories about hunger and malnutrition in Vietnam, which found a large readership. But her work was banned from publication in 1982. Duong Thu Huong never wanted to become a writer. “It happened inadvertently. It happened because of the pain, I felt,”. she says. She finds herself in a continuing “war against the authorities and against a dictatorial regime”. Her bestseller “Paradise of the Blind” scandalized the Communist Party, which banned her books and expelled her from the party, but she continued to criticize the socialist system. On April 14, 1991, the secret police surrounded her mother’s house in the center of Hanoi. Duong Thu Huong was arrested and imprisoned in solitary confinement. She was accused of collaborating with foreign countries and “revealing state secrets” and held for seven months and seven days without trial. But they could not break her courage. Once out of prison, she continued to criticize the leadership, blaming them for corruption and loss of democracy in Vietnam. She continues to write and remains hopeful that one day, the Vietnamese people will live better lives. “There is still a long way to go, but I remain hopeful, for without hope, it’s hard to live this life,” she says.