The forgotten nephew of Vietnamese king lives in poverty

By Kim Thuy, Duy Tran, Dac DucMarch 27, 2016 | 04:54 pm PT
In contrast with the luxury life that most people assume royal families have, Nguyen Phuoc Bao Tai, nephew of King Thanh Thai from the Nguyen Dynasty- the last feudal dynasty of Vietnam - has been living in poverty his whole life.

His father is Prince Nguyen Phuoc Vinh Giu, the seventh son of King Thanh Thai, one of the nationalist kings of the time who had deep anti-French sentiments.

In 1916, the family of the king was banished to Reunion Island by the French colonists for their promotion of an independent Vietnam.

After 31 years, in 1947, the family was allowed to return. Former prince Vinh Giu was then sent to work in a civil engineering unit in Can Tho City, where Nguyen Phuoc Bao Tai was born.

Almost nobody knew about his royal origin till the late Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet visited him in 2005. All his neighbors were surprised.


Former prince Vinh Giu and late Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet in 2005. Photo courtesy of Bao Tai

Sympathizing with the family’s situation, the Prime Minister asked the provincial government to help the royal family to buy a two-floor house on an installment plan. Bao Tai, the youngest son of the Prince, was given a motorbike to work as motorbike-taxi driver (xe om).

The 52 year-old forgotten royal, Bao Tai, has lived for over a year in a 12 meter square rented room in Ho Chi Minh City.


Nguyen Phuoc Bao Tai. Photo by Duy Tran

Sometimes he takes extra work as a builder with a salary of about VND 200,000 ($9) per day. He has to go from place to place to ask if anyone wants to hire him, and as he is getting older and weaker, he finds it more and more difficult to get hired.

However, to him, hardship counts for nothing, but what breaks his heart is his only child’s disease.

“I chose a royal name for my girl, but unfortunately, her life is just as miserable as mine. She suffers from cerebral palsy, so she lies in bed all day, she not not speak and can not eat or drink by herself,” Bao Tai said.

“In several years to come, my wife and I can no longer do manual work as we are getting older and we do not know how to make money to buy medicine for my daughter,”


Bao Tai with his daughter and wife. Photo by Duy Tran

The middle name of the royal line is “Bao”, which was one of names for royal families when feudal dynasties ruled the country. And his daughter’s name is Nguyen Phuoc Thanh Tuyen, which is also a royal name.

Beset with poverty, Bao Tai has never dreamed of getting a chance to come back to offer his father and grandfather incense as they were buried in Hue, the capital city of the Nguyen Dynasty.

But with financial support from Hue authorities, the family on March 24, arrived in Hue after 10 years on the anniversary of King Thanh Thai’s death.


The family in Hue to offer incence to Thanh Thai King and Former Prince Vinh Giu. Photo by Dac Duc

“This is the first time my daughter and I have come to Hue to offer incense for our ancestors,”  Bich Thuy, Bao Tai’s wife, said.

Bao Tai, could not hide his emotions and began to cry.

They will stay in Hue for four days before going back to Ho Chi Minh City – to continue to struggle to make ends meet.

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