Events engulfing Vietnam over the past
three decades have compounded the dilemma of concerned intellectuals seeking
sources for their national inspiration. Traditionally schooled in Nho hoc,
or Confucian learning, they were cut adrift from their origins by the system
of education that accompanied French colonial rule. As this elite was
oriented toward French, it lost touch with the peasantry and left them
vulnerable to Communist persuasion.
Minister TON THAT THIEN, by contrast, relentlessly has sought to digest the
essence of Western scientific method and wed it to Vietnamese cultural
values. Freedom of thought and expression he found were essential to this
pursuit. His convictions led him to act with perceptive courage and staunch
individualism as writer and editor, professor and government official.
Born in Central Vietnam in 1924 THIEN from early youth was steeped in the
history and classical teachings of his country. After World War II he earned
a degree at the London School of Economics. Graduate work at the Institute
of International Studies in Geneva was interrupted by a call to join the
Vietnamese delegation at the 1954 conference that led to independence for
THIEN enlisted promptly in the new government in Saigon, serving as Press
Secretary to the Premier. Differing later with the authoritarian
conservatism of the Diem regime, he left to complete doctoral studies in
Geneva. Unlike other disaffected idealists who found haven abroad, he
returned in 1963 to serve as Director General of Viet Nam Press. Moving to
private journalism as a political columnist on the Saigon Daily News, he
went on to found with like-minded colleagues the Viet Nam Guardian, becoming
its managing editor.
When the Guardian was suppressed in December 1966 THIEN continued to write
for the London Economist, The Far Eastern Economic Review and Forum World
Features, among others. He also taught and in 1967 became Vice Dean of the
Faculty of Social Sciences of Van Hanh University, where he helped organize
the study group that is probing Vietnam's past for guides to the present.
With the appointment of Tran Van Huong as Premier in April 1968 signaling
more popularly responsive government, THIEN accepted the post of Minister of
Information. His first act upon assuming office was to lift press
censorship, explaining: "Why have 25,000 Americans and more than 100,000
Vietnamese died in this war, if not for freedom?"
In electing TON THAT THIEN, editor and now Minister of Information of the
Republic of Vietnam, to receive the 1968 Ramon Magsaysay Award for
Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts, the Board of
Trustees recognizes his enduring commitment to free inquiry and debate.