1.   Who were the DongDu Students (DDS)?

The DDS were a group of over 200 young Vietnamese who, responding to Phan Bội Châu’s appeal, went to Japan to "study" during the period 1906-1907.  Only some of them  – Trần Đông Phong and Lương Ngọc Quyến for instance  – came to join Phan Bội Châu (PBC) at their own initiative.  Many others, mainly children of rich people in the Saigon Lu.c-Tỉnh areas, just happened to be in Japan because their parents supported PBC (and Prince Cường Để), hence sent them “Đông-Du” (going East).  Most of them were young, some were at young teen-ages, yet not too young to understand Phan's  noble cause.

None of these students (except some very young boys), however, remained in Japan after 1907.  The Japanese government, due to a Franco-Japanese agreement in 1907, deported all of them.    Consequently, those Vietnamese who happened to be in Japan after 1908 but claimed themselves as DDS are merely "counterfeit" ones   (= ĐôngDu Dỏm).

(In 1986, when I interviewed a politician-turned-priest Vietnamese in Los Angeles, he claimed himself one of the DDS. The man could not give any answer when I asked him when did he come to Japan.  In fact he came to Japan sometime after the W.W. II).

2.   Why they were deported?

The French government allowed Japan to issue in Paris a very large amount of Japanese bonds.  In return, Tokyo pledged to respect the French status quo in East Asia.

[Not only the students were deported.  PBC and Prince Cường Để were of no better luck.  Later on, in his letter to Japanese Foreign Minister Kobayashi Jutaro, PBC bitterly protested the Japanese government of having  (a) expelled Prince Cường Để and  (b) informed the French in advance so they could arrest the Prince when his boat came through international waters.  This letter is currently held at the Gaimusho Archives in Roppongi, Tokyo].

3.   Why PBC brought them to Japan?

Originally, Cụ Phan did not want to bring anyone to Japan for study. He came to Japan due to his organisation's decision of seeking Japanese military assistance.

4.   Then what happened?

When PBC first came to Japan, his aim was military weapon.   He and his group did not know that Japan was neither in a position of competing with any major powers nor capable to change the international order of the time.  Japan won the Russo-Japanese war but, from an international relations viewpoint, was not strong.   England and America pushed Japan into that war.  They supported Japan with finance and technology (for the heavy social toll Japan had to pay for that victory, please read the book published by Tokyo University Press.  I cannot recall the correct title at the moment, but it is something very close to “Nichiro Senso no Shakaiteki Eikyo”.  This truth is verified by all good books on Japanese history).

Understandably, politicians like Okuma Shigenobu and Inukai Tsuyoshi were not able to tell Phan their circumstances.   They just told Phan to wait until “when the right time would come”.  Later on they suggested Phan to bring young men to Japan to study.  Many DDS arrived, only to find themselves as students of the Toa Dobun Shoin (a sort of Takushoku School).  Finally there was the fateful Franco-Japanese agreement in 1907.  All the Vietnamese were expelled.

5.   Why PBC did not want the young men to become students?

What PBC looked for was military weapon.  His mission to Japan was solely to ask Tokyo for military assistance. When this failed, he could not help but bring young men to Japan for study  (hoping that they would be given military training – not anything else).  The Đong-Du movement was indeed a reluctant choice.

6.  More details about the DDS ?

There were many types of students.  The first group was mainly children of famous families.  Among them there were Lương Ngọc Quyến and Lương Nghị Khanh (sons of Lương Văn Can, the head of the Đông Kinh Nghĩa Thục),  Phan Bá  Ngọc (son of Dr. Phan Đ́nh Phùng, commander in chief of all the Cần Vương armed forces), etc.

(a) Hoàng Trọng Mậu, Trần Đông Phong and Lương Ngọc Quyến were elites among the elites, two of them were among the best scholars known to the whole group as the “three tigers of Đông-Du    (3 cọp Đông Du).  They were “văn vơ toàn tài”.  Later on Hoàng Trọng Mậu became commander in chief of PBC's Việt Nam Quang Phục Quân.  He attacked the French, held captured by them, and lost his life as a warrior and a liberator.  Our commander Hoàng left an excellent "câu đối" before the enemies shot him to death:

Ái quốc hà cô, duy hữu tinh thần nhi bất tử  
Xuất sư vị tiệp, nhẫn  tương  tâm sự  phó  lai  sinh

(Dịch ư :  Yêu nước có tội ǵ, duy có tinh thần là bất tử
Ra quân không thắng trận, nỗi niềm tâm sự gửi đời sau)

Using famous Chinese classical literature creatively was an art of Vietnamese contemporary literature:  Ái Quốc Hà Cô” derives from the saying of Nhạc Phi.  Xuất Sư Vị Tiệp” are parts of Đỗ Phủ's sympathy for Khổng Minh.   Commander Hoàng had another pair of verses, but I can only recall part of them at the moment:

Non sông đă mất, ta đây nào có tham sinh,  . . .  
suốt mười năm luyện kiếm mài đao, tráng chí nguyện phù non nước tổ.

x  x  x  x  x      ,

nơi chín suối điều binh khiển  tướng, anh hồn linh trợ thiếu sinh quân.

(b)  Trần Đông Phong was the son of a very rich family.  He supported PBC's group  financially from the very beginning of the revolution.   Trần was a brave man.  He had once said: 

“Chúng ta muốn làm cách mạng, phải không sợ chết, không sợ đói, không sợ khổ.  Như thế th́  mong đại sự mới thành”. 

Later on he committed suicide, reasons still unknown to honest historians.    Prince Cường Để did respect him.  The Prince continued to visit Tran's tomb every year until his death in 1951.  The tomb is currently located in Ichigaya cemetery, Tokyo.   PBC himself had also written a book on Tran, entitled “Trần Chí Sĩ Truyện”.  To this date, the book has not been found.

(c)        Lương Ngọc Quyến -- later on led a small military group attacking the French.   The enemies had him captured but were so scared of "the tiger".   Apart from locking him in, they drilled a big hole in his right shoulder, put a big chain through it so that Commander Lương could not move or escape.  He suffered the pain for years, until PBC's Quang Phục Quân organised another uprising and freed him.   Two soldiers had to carry him on a small bed (or stretcher?) in order to enable him to take command of the fighting. 

There was a street named after commander Lương in Saigon.   His other name was Lương Lập Nham.   (Hopefully the man from the National Institute of History (Viện Sử Học) who came to Saigon for the re-naming of streets did not senselessly take Commander Lương Ngọc Quyến's away from the City, as he has done it to Dr Phan Đ́nh Phùng).

All the DDS lived a respectable life during those fateful two years in Japan: most of them living in extremely poor condition (one of them even had to beg in the street before he could meet PBC).  They had no particular entertainment.  One student got the news of his father's death.  Unable to return for the mourning, he put his tears into words:

Buồn biết bao, căm tức biết bao,  nơ. nam nhi chưa trả  chút ǵ,  
bốn biển mênh mang, mây bạc trông về nhà có mẹ  

Khóc cũng vậy,  tiếc thương cũng vậy, nghĩa trung hiếu giữ sao cho trọn ,  
non sông  biến đổi, giống vàng c̣n lại nước  là cha.

7.   What about the other group ?

The majority part of the DDS was mainly children of wealthy Nam Kỳ Phụ Lăo.   They came to Japan partly because their parents wanted them to do so. Some of them were very young (13-14 years of age).  When the French started to arrest their parents at home, many cried and asked PBC to let them going home.

Later on, a few of them became mandarins.   Because there were no material showing who was doing what, attempting to find out the good and the bad among the group is almost impossible.   However, I do believe that among the unsung heroes of Vietnam, there have been also the Đông-Du students who were children of Nam Kỳ Phụ Lăo.

8.   Any others ?

In contrary to those who had sacrificed themselves for the just cause, there were also many others who made good fortune from the movement.  

(a) Nguyễn Thượng Huyền (nephew of Cụ Nguyễn Thượng Hiền) was one.  PBC himself, in his autobiography “Ngục Trung Thư ” (Prison Note), tacitly referred to this man as the one who sold him out to the French.

(Phan was too nice. He referred to the man very vaguely, mentioning that the man was the nephew of a respectable scholar).  

Huyền lived in Saigon during the Ngô Đ́nh Diệm period.   He had an article in the Bách Khoa magazine entitled “Cụ PBC ở Hàng Châu”, claiming that he was innocent. 

(b) Phan Bá Ngọc (son of Dr. Phan Đ́nh Phùng) returned to Vietnam and became a collaborator.  He was later on assassinated by Lê Tảng Anh (alias Lê Hồng Sơn) by an order from Prince Cường Để.

(c) The case of Nguyễn Bá Trác (alias Nguyễn Phong Di) was typical: He simply returned to Vietnam, became a collaborator, and helped the French to arrest many of his fellow Đông Du old friends.  It was said that during one of his celebration parties, a brave scholar sweetly offered him 4 verses from “The Tale of Kieu”:

Kể từ  lạc bước trở  ra  
Một    đắc hiếu,  hai là đắc trung  
Giang hồ quen thói vẫy  vùng  
Rày xem thử đă cam ḷng ấy chưa ?

9.   Any more ?

After the deportation, most of those students who refused to return home headed for China.  Helped by various Chinese military persons, many of them were admitted to Chinese military schools. 

Later on, some of them, Hoàng Trọng Mậu and Lương Ngọc Quyến for instance, came back to fight for freedom for their motherland.   They died gloriously to make each page of our history beautiful.   They deserve to be our proud dai-sempai.  Their names live eternally with us, in our heart, with our love and our respect.

There were others who led a relatively quiet life, yet always devoted themselves wholeheartedly to the revolution.  Hồ Học Lăm was one example.

Understandably, there were also people who, for one reason or another, became Chinese citizens or Chinese military officers.   Nguyễn Hải Thần was one.  However, Nguyễn did not do anything significant other than making a big fuss during the years around 1945.

10.  To sum up

In summary – as can be seen in any community – there were all sorts of people among the Đông-Du students: the good, the bad, the ugly, etc.    All of them were in Japan only during the period 1906-1907.   Those who happened to be in Japan after 1907 were not Đông-Du students at all.   They were rather exchange-students who came to Japan sometime from 1918-1919 onwards  (Japan and French Indochina had a sort of exchange program, by which selected students were sent periodically to Japan for study  -  and vice versa).

Among these students, several names are already known by some of us: Lê Văn Quư, Đỗ Vạng Lư , etc.   Mr Nguyễn Rĩnh Nhiếp, however, was not an exchange student. He was apparently recruited by the  Mitsui (or Mitsubishỉ) group in 1940 for the Japanese Army for teaching Vietnamese language. As Prince Cường Để had no actual Vietnamese supporters at his side during the years after 1945, the Prince had "volunteered" Mr Nhiếp as General Secretary of his Japanese sponsored Phục Quốc Đồng Minh Hội  (actually Mr Nhiếp was the Secretary on paper only).  Mr Nhiếp hence had nothing related to either PBC or the Đông-Du movement.

Most of us know Mr Lương Đ́nh Của and Dr Đặng Văn Ngữ.  Both were exchange students.  They returned to Vietnam after finishing their study and used their skills to serve Vietnam until the end of their lives.


Văn-Lang Tôn-thất Phương, Canberra 1997-02.