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Tran Duc Thao

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Title: Tran Duc Thao  
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Subject: Nhân Văn–Giai Phẩm affair, Phan Khôi, Vietnamese philosophy, History of Vietnam since 1945, Marxist theorists
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Tran Duc Thao

Trần Đức Thảo (Từ Sơn, Bắc Ninh, 26 September 1917 – Paris, 24 April 1993) was a Vietnamese philosopher. His work (written primarily in French) attempted to unite phenomenology with Marxist philosophy. His work had some currency in France in the 1950s and 1960s, and was cited favorably by Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard and Louis Althusser.


Studies in France

Born in Hanoi, French Indochina, he was educated there, completing his baccalaureate at 17. In 1936, he continued his studies in France, becoming a student of Maurice Merleau-Ponty at the École Normale Supérieure where he wrote a dissertation for a diplôme d’études supérieures on Hegel. In 1943, he completed his agrégation with a thesis on the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl, being received premier ex aequo alongside Jules Vuillemin. Through the 1940s, he worked on his first book, Phenomenology and Dialectical Materialism. The book argued that the defects of the phenomenological account of consciousness could only be remedied by the Marxist account of labor and society. In the 1940s and 50s, Trần Đức Thảo’s ideas achieved some currency among the elite philosophical circles of France. At the same time, he became an active anti-colonialist, publishing articles in Jean-Paul Sartre and Merleau-Ponty’s journal Les Temps modernes about colonialism in Indochina; these articles were read by Frantz Fanon and other anticolonialists. From October to December 1945, Trần Đức Thảo was jailed by the French government as a threat to its security.

Return to Vietnam, 1951

Phenomenology and Dialectical Materialism was published in 1951, and in the same year he returned to Vietnam, working in support of the Communist Party. In 1956, he was named the Dean of History in the country’s first national university.

But he became critical of the Party over land reforms which had led to many deaths in 1956, and Trần Đức Thảo was caught up in the Nhan Van-Giai Pham affair in which the dissident intellectuals of the late 1950s were publicly criticized or punished. Though Tran Duc Thao was never jailed, he fell out of favor with the ruling Party, publishing two self-criticisms in Nhân Dân and leaving his position of authority in 1958. None of his work was published in his home country from 1965 until 1987.[1]

Work on Recherches sur l'origine du langage et de la conscience

For the next thirty years, his profile was lower, as he worked in the rural provinces translating philosophy into Vietnamese and preparing his book Investigations into the Origin of Language and Consciousness. This book, published in France in 1973, combined materialist biological and cognitive accounts of subjectivity and consciousness with the Marxist account he had elaborated earlier. In the liberalized political climate of the 1980s, he was able to return to France for medical treatment, and there he met many of his old philosophical colleagues again, although he lived in poverty in an apartment at the Vietnamese embassy. He died in Paris in 1993 and was cremated at the Père Lachaise Cemetery.


  • Phénoménologie et matérialisme dialectique (1951), Phenomenology and Dialectical Materialism English edition: ISBN 90-277-0737-5
  • “The Phenomenology of Mind and its Real Content”. Telos 8 (Summer 1971). New York: Telos Press.
  • Recherches sur l'origine du langage et de la conscience (1973) Investigations into the Origin of Language and Consciousness . English edition: ISBN 90-277-0827-4


  1. ^ Thu-Hương Nguyễn-Võ The Ironies of Freedom: Sex, Culture, and Neoliberal Governance in Vietnam 2008 Page 69 "Prominent intellectuals in the university such as Paris-trained philosopher Trần Đức Thảo were later denounced for demanding the “expulsion of politics from the area of expertise” "
  • Herrick, Tim. "'A book which is no longer discussed today': Tran Duc Thao, Jacques Derrida, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty." Journal of the History of Ideas 66:1 (2005).
  • McHale, Shawn. "Vietnamese Marxism, Dissent, and the Politics of Postcolonial Memory: Tran Duc Thao, 1946-1993." Journal of Asian Studies 61:1 (Feb. 2002).
  • Spire, Arnaud. "Tran Duc Thao, un marxiste dérangeant" (obituary). L'Humanité 26 April 1993. (In French.)

External links

  • Tran Duc Thao resources from (In English, French, and Vietnamese.)
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