Cablegate: In the Hoa Hao Heartland

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: NA
SUBJECT: In the Hoa Hao Heartland

Ref: 02 Ho Chi Minh City 1140

1. (SBU) Summary: The south's An Giang province includes
members of almost all of Vietnam's religious communities,
but is the homeland of the indigenous Hoa Hao Buddhist sect
which, according to GVN figures, comprises almost 40% of the
province's two million residents. The GVN-recognized Hoa
Hao Administrative Committee (HHAC) appears to be unusually
deeply involved with community development efforts normally
undertaken by the government. The four-year old HHAC also
boasts an extensive program to train and develop its
leaders, and denies that any current "monks" are mainstream
Hoa Hao believers. Hoa Hao Founder Huynh Phu So's ancestral
home -- a Hoa Hao pilgrimage site -- is still occupied and
run by his family, which tries to sidestep controversies
surrounding the HHAC and the various non-GVN recognized Hoa
Hao groups. Given the HHAC's activities, terminology, and
approach, it is not difficult to see why its detractors
claim it is too close to the CPV and GVN. End Summary.

The Hoa Hao

2. (U) Nguyen Huy Diem, Secretary of the Hoa Hao
Administrative Committee, and Nguyen Van Luong, head of the
HHAC's Administration and Personnel Division, along with
several other Hoa Hao and An Giang provincial officials, met
DCM, poloff, and ConGen pol/econoff at the Administrative
Committee's headquarters near the Hoa Hao Founder's temple
on May 20. According to Diem, Hoa Hao believers practiced
their faith in their homes after 1975. The Hoa Hao's "old
administration" was not in line with the Founder's teachings
and prophecy, Diem claimed. By 1999, however, "living
conditions" had improved sufficiently from the time of
"liberation" that followers proposed establishment of an
administrative committee. With approval (unclear from
Diem's remarks whether tacit or formal) from GVN
authorities, Hoa Hao followers then organized a congress to
set up an administrative structure, elect an administrative
committee, and "regularize" the faith. Organizers,
including Diem, invited over 400 individuals to attend the
congress; 210 representatives from 9 provinces came.

3. (U) The congress established regulations and a plan for
the organization based on "the teachings and prophecy of the
Founder." The followers also vowed to improve and develop
their virtues and to develop their religion, Diem added.

4. (U) A new Administrative Committee of eleven members
was divided into four divisions. One is responsible for
organization and personnel and supervises local-level Hoa
Hao committees that now exist in over 230 communes and wards
with large Hoa Hao populations in nine provinces, according
to Diem. Each local committee has one leader and five
assistants. Diem said that the HHAC is still conducting a
census to determine the true number of believers, but
estimated there were about two million nation-wide. The
organization and personnel division also oversees
celebration of two major annual holidays, "Founding Day" and
the Founder's birthday. Diem claimed that over 300,000
visitors had attended one of these celebrations in 2002.

5. (U) Another division handles "propaganda and teaching."
It has published -- with GVN permission -- 100,000 copies of
a book outlining the Founder's teachings and prophecies as
well as 250,000 copies of the portrait of the Founder. It
has also distributed various cassette tapes and a regular
newsletter. The division organizes 24 "basic professional
teaching" classes, which about 6,000 followers have attended
for fifteen-day sessions. The division also developed a new
"training of trainers" class for 100 participants that will
last eighteen months. These trainers will then go out and
provide classes to others. Young people are quite
interested in learning about the Founder's teachings, Diem

6. (U) The charitable and social assistance division
builds bridges, road, and houses; conducts flood relief;
offers food to hospital patients; helps those needing eye
surgery; provides free coffins; disseminates traditional
herbal medicines; and conducts vocational training classes.
Believers contribute funds and labor for these projects.
Diem estimated the number of bridges built by the Hoa Hao at
143, along with over 100 kilometers of roads. (He clarified
that they must consult with local authorities about the
projects.) While people "know" these are Hoa Hao projects,
the HHAC invites local authorities to the opening
ceremonies. Since charity and good works is one of the
pillars of the Hoa Hao faith, followers are "eager" to
donate their labor and money to these community projects, he
added. There is no overseas assistance for these
activities, even from U.S.-based Hoa Hao. Diem noted that
the Hoa Hao cooperate with the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha,
especially for eye surgeries, as well as with other
religions "as necessary."

7. (U) An "inspection and control" division is responsible
for maintaining the "purity" of the religion and for
ensuring that teaching is accurate. It is also charged with
stopping followers from "abusing and distorting" the
religion and from undertaking activities that defame the Hoa
Hao faith. If necessary, it takes steps to "encourage"
followers to avoid those who "abuse and distort" the

8. (U) DCM asked Diem about Hoa Hao followers and monks
such as Nam Liem (reftel) who do not accept the HHAC's
authority. Diem claimed that the number of Hoa Hao outside
his organization was limited. He also pointed out that,
according to the Founder's prophecy, the religion consists
only of the Founder and followers; there are not supposed to
be any spiritual leaders or monks. He contrasted the HHAC -
- a body elected by Hoa Hao followers -- with "self-
declared" leaders or monks whom the HHAC does not recognize.
These individuals oppose the HHAC because it does not
recognize them, Diem declared. Regarding the monk Nam Liem,
Diem emphasized that he is not a Hoa Hao, but an independent
monk outside the Hoa Hao Buddhist sect, with no followers.
Diem denounced Nam Liem for keeping a Buddha statue in his
house, in contrast to the normal Hoa Hao practice of
representing Buddha with a brown or red cloth. The HHAC had
sent a delegation to meet with Nam Liem, but the monk
refused to speak to them. Diem compared this behavior to
that of Huynh Van Long, who had been a monk but now belongs
to a commune-level HHAC committee. The HHAC had invited
many such people to join their organization and a "high
percentage" had accepted, he claimed. He reiterated that
the only person with a spiritual role in the Hoa Hao
religion was the Founder himself. The HHAC was thus not a
spiritual, but an administrative organization.

9. (U) Diem declined to answer a question about how many
of An Giang's provincial leaders are Hoa Hao. He noted,
however, that about 400 Hoa Hao in An Giang are CPV members.

The Founder's House

10. (U) The Founder's ancestral home is a focal point of
the Hoa Hao religion. DCM and party visited on May 20 and
spoke with Bui Thi Be and Bui Van Duong, the niece and
nephew of the Founder. They received DCM cordially, but
cautiously. Ms. Be still lives in the ancestral home with
some other family members. The public portion of the home
is a somewhat temple-like pavilion fronted by a garden
containing topiary and colored lights. Numerous portraits
of the Founder and his relatives adorn the walls. Ms. Be
and Duong said that their role was to maintain the house and
facilitate worship there. They do not teach other followers
or claim to know much about the affairs of the HHAC.

11. (U) The house attracts tens, if not hundreds, of
thousands of pilgrims every year, they claimed. Ms. Be said
that the three most important times are the founding day of
Hoa Haoism and the anniversaries of the Founder's birth and
death. Smaller commemorations occur on his parents' death
anniversaries. The first celebration of founding day
following GVN recognition of Hoa Haoism was the biggest, she
said. The holidays had been celebrated but on a smaller
scale, prior to 1999. She commented that the size of
celebrations had diminished somewhat since the first
officially sanctioned celebrations in 1999, in part because
there are now some 250 local associations that also
commemorate those holidays in their own locations. Since
most followers are farmers, the number of pilgrims is also
influenced by the success of the harvest.

12. (U) In response to a question about relations with
overseas Hoa Hao associations, Ms. Be claimed that local Hoa
Hao maintain "normal" relations with family members
overseas, but did not comment on relations with overseas Hoa
Hao organizations. She clarified that it is her family that
is responsible for maintaining the Founder's home, not the

13. (SBU) Comment: The HHAC's structure and its
terminology are more reminiscent of a GVN agency or a CPV-
controlled mass organization than most religious bodies.
The activities of the HHAC's social affairs division are
particularly startling in their scope and appear to be far
beyond what other religions are allowed by the GVN to
undertake. If the HHAC represents Hoa Hao followers who
have made their peace with the GVN and have decided to play
by its rules, as many critics claim, they have done so in a
definitive way that leaves them surprising freedom of action
even in non-religious fields.

© Scoop Media

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