Saigon show uncovers century of conflict and political turmoil

By Manh Tung   March 7, 2018 | 03:10 am PT
Saigon show uncovers century of conflict and political turmoil
A photo by LIFE magazine at the exhibition shows the Independence Palace after a bomb attack in 1962.
The Independence Palace has witnessed countless events unfold and shape the course of Vietnamese history.

Ho Chi Minh City will open an exhibition on Friday telling the story of its Independence Palace, one of the country's most famous landmarks.

The "From Norodom Palace to Independence Palace 1868-1966" exhibition will feature a collection of over 500 documents, pictures and artifacts showcasing the history of the Independence Palace, especially from the lesser-known time period between 1868 and 1966, said Tran Thi Ngoc Diep, director of the Independence Palace.

This exhibition is the most comprehensive ever about the palace, said Diep.

The exhibition will display how the palace was constructed and how its left-wing was destroyed by bombs during the war, and depict the rise and fall of former President of the Republic of Vietnam Ngo Dinh Diem. It will also show the self-immolation of Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc in protest of the persecutions of Buddhists under Diem’s regime.

A central part of the exhibition is its colossal reserve of valuable historical documents, collected by historians from around the world. Many of them came from archives centers in Vietnam, the United States and France.

“We want to provide viewers with an interpretation of history itself, not just its recreation,” said Edward Miller, a professor of history and author of the book “Misalliance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and the Fate of South Vietnam”, who is one of the organizers.

“You must understand history in its particular context, not in isolated, separate time periods,” he said.

Edward Miller stands next to an image at the exhibition. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung

Edward Miller stands next to an image at the exhibition. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung

The Independence Palace, formerly known as the Norodom Palace, was constructed in 1868 by the French government and served as its headquarters in the then Saigon between 1887 and 1945.

On March 9, 1945, Japan usurped France and conquered Indochina. The palace was held by the Japanese administration until September of the same year, when France returned to the south of Vietnam and took back control of the palace.

In 1954, the Geneve Accord prompted France to retreat from Vietnam. On October 26, 1955, Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem deposed the reigning King Bao Dai, formed the Republic of Vietnam and became president. Diem and his family became residents of the Palace until a coup and assassination took his life on November 2, 1963. The palace was later occupied by the second President of the Republic of Vietnam Nguyen Van Thieu, who lived there from 1967 to 1975.

On April 30, 1975, northern Vietnam stormed the palace, signaling the end of the Vietnam War and the start of national reunification.

The exhibition will be in place for three years at Nguyen Du Street, District 1, and will be open to the public for free during its first two weeks.

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