Corps de l’article

Heroes and their public celebrations are a frequent subject for studies concerning national identity and state-building. Anthony D. Smith, an historical sociologist most known for his works on nationalism, has stressed the importance of heroes’ existences as a binding factor between individuals and the community that the heroes are supposed to represent[1]. In recent years, psychology and social science studies that focus on the functions of heroes have emphasized the emotional values of heroes to the individuals, and further highlighted the interlink between the creation of heroes and the construction of collective identity and political community[2]. Given their symbolic power and potential for political mobilization, political entities around the world have regularly attempted to stake their claim on popular heroes and the meanings attributed to them[3].

Not unlike political powers elsewhere, the Communist Party of Vietnam—the current sole ruling power in Vietnam, has recognized the symbolic power of the heroic figure since the early days of their leadership. The party has been engaging in the mobilization of heroes and heroines for promoting its legitimacy throughout its reign. While the commemoration of heroes has always been a propagandistic instrument under communist rule, the way commemorative activities are conducted and the purposes they serve differ depending on each historical period, as the party is met with new socio-political conditions. This essay examines the public commemoration of heroic figures and its relationship to state legitimation in the post-communist era in Vietnam. Post-communist era here refers to the current period that began with the late 1980s state’s departure from the central planning system in which it held the right to monopolize both production and distribution[4]. The shift from the orthodox communist economic system to a more liberalized system that gave official approval to the private sector has helped the party remain in power. However, it has also brought challenges to the supremacy of socialist rhetoric, and thus endanger the legitimacy of the party’s reign. Facing this new reality, the party continues to rely on hero commemoration, albeit with adjustments, in order to redefine and restrengthen its position in Vietnamese society and history.

The essay is not a comprehensive study of the phenomenon and instead focuses on one heroic figure: the teenaged martyr Võ Thị Sáu (1933–1952). By analyzing the changes in post-communist commemoration of Sáu compared to how it was conducted in the previous era, this essay hopes to shed light on some characteristics of contemporary commemorative activities, especially the religious color of commemoration and the historical narrative that the hero is supposed to uphold, and the socio-political conditions that gave rise to these transformations. Hero commemoration became a site of interaction and negotiation between two contemporaneous desires of the Vietnamese communist party: one of distancing itself from socialist rhetoric, and one of reaffirming its socialist past. The efforts in achieving a balance between these two seemingly contradicting goals have great implications for state legitimation and state identity in a post-communist Vietnamese society.

Hero commemoration and its instrumentalization in the history of Vietnam

Before examining commemorative activities under the communist party, there is a need to understand the larger cultural and historical context out of which the party’s approach emerged. In Vietnam, the history of hero commemoration is deeply intertwined with struggles for power of different political entities. One can mention, for example, the tutelary spirit cult (tín ngưỡng thờ Thành Hoàng), the folk religious practice of deifying a deceased heroic individual into the guardian spirit and symbol of a village[5]. Tutelary spirit worship is often seen as a symbol of Vietnamese village’s distinctiveness and autonomy from central power[6]; yet it had also been used by the court of various dynasties to infiltrate, regulate, and proclaim authority over village life[7]. Literature dedicated to praising heroic individuals throughout pre-communist history is another area where one can observe the mobilization of heroes. These works, often produced or reproduced by court historians and scholars who supported the court, typically painted the heroes as loyal subjects, and their heroic deeds in terms of sacrifices for the ruler[8]. Entering the French colonial period, nationalists reinterpreted past historical figures into national heroes, attempting to create heroic narratives upon which a sense of national identity, perceived as crucial to the achievement of Vietnamese autonomy and independence, could be built[9].

The communist party’s mobilization of heroic figures from the twentieth century onwards was therefore more or less a product of the already existing and accumulated culture of politicizing the hero. Nevertheless, the party has played a significant role in reinforcing and readjusting hero commemoration, simultaneously making the practice a continuity and a distinct novelty in regard to previous eras. During the period of two Vietnams (1955–1975), the party[10], as the leader of North Vietnam, had two political goals in mind: full attainment of socialism in the North, and the unification of the country. This informed the reinterpretation of “old heroes”[11]; together with the creation of a new group of heroes, namely the “new hero/new man”, which consisted of the “labor hero” and the “military hero”[12]. In both cases, the heroic figure served as a medium through which the party legitimized their goals, and preached appropriate thoughts and behaviors perceived vital to their realization.

The vision of who deserved to be celebrated and remembered as a hero, and the appropriate forms of veneration, did not stay static throughout the party’s reign. Changes in the state’s approach to hero commemoration, particularly the relaxation of intolerance policy towards religious commemoration of heroic spirits, are often attributed to the 1980s economic reforms known as Đổi Mới (Renovation). Đổi Mới policies of economic liberalization and integration within the capitalist world were devised to improve the inefficient economy and concomitant social problems that had threatened state legitimacy since as early as immediately after the American war ended, and became even more unmanageable after Soviet aids came to a halt due to the USSR’s disintegration[13]. Đổi Mới proved to be a successful project that had revitalized the economy and saved the Vietnamese communist party from suffering the same fate as its Eastern European comrades did. Since Đổi Mới, and especially after the 1994 lifting of the 19-year-old US trade embargo, Vietnamese society has experienced an influx of imported commodities and international tourism, accompanied by a gradual adoption of a consumerist lifestyle, increasing opportunities for approaching new ideas and establishing exchange with the international community [14]. These profound transformations that Đổi Mới brought about were perceived by the state not entirely in terms of opportunities, but also in terms of potential dangers that could erode the foundation of state legitimacy at any moment. It is within this context that the commemoration of heroes continued to be employed, as well as modified so as to fit in the new reality and serve new purposes.

Historiography of Vietnam’s post-communist hero commemoration

There have been a number of studies, often done by anthropologists, that explore hero commemoration in post-communist Vietnam. These studies have shed light on how post-communist hero commemoration differed significantly from that of the communist era: the religious aspects of commemorative activities were tolerated by the state and in many cases active endorsed [15]. As such, and perhaps also due to the broader context of international debates about religiosity in post-communist Eastern Europe[16], hero commemoration was more often than not treated as a sub-topic within a larger question concerning Vietnam’s religious “renaissance”. Specifically, ethnographic works on post-communist Vietnamese society tended to frame hero commemorations as an extension of the ancestral cults. These studies therefore mainly paid attention to the revival of ancient and medieval heroic tutelary spirit worship and its significance in a Durkheimian sense[17]; or focused on regional ancestral worship of the war dead, often with an emphasis on the gap between the state’s vision and local memories and practices [18].

While these works were built around the hypothesis of the multiple teleologies presented in religious rituals, hence their focus on the lived experience of those who engaged in religious activities in their everyday life, they have also provided a number of explanations for the state’s greater embrace of religious practices. Within the context of Đổi Mới, state tolerance has been interpreted in several ways: as an act of commodification for promoting tourism and other for-profit purposes[19]; as an attempt by the communist party to redefine its identity and relocate its legitimacy in the “pure Vietnamese” distant past[20]; or as an official desire to promote a “return” to traditional morality in an era of perceived anomie and hyper-westernization[21]. While persuasive and particularly useful for understanding the post-communist revivification of folk religions in general, these analyses, however, tend to overemphasize the state’s desire to downplay its recent history so as to relocate its roots of identity in the less ideologically problematic distant past. Such an assumption about the irrelevance of the revolutionary past implicitly suggests the suspension of commemorative activities for a figure that is closely associated with this “irrelevant” past: the communist hero.

As scholars who have written extensively on North Vietnam such as Benoît de Tréglodé and Olga Dror have rightly pointed out, during the communist era, the state had introduced a number of new names into the pantheon of heroes, and poured a considerable amount of energy into making these heroes household names[22]. This begs the question: what happened to these heroes, whose identities have been largely perceived by the public only in terms of their affiliation with the communist party, and whose position in the national collective memory are far less secured compared to that of ancient and medieval heroes? The lack of attention to these figures is perhaps due to the assumption that communist heroes do not have “the potential to guide the nation intact through its daunting process of integration with the capitalist world”[23], and therefore are doomed to oblivion. But is it true that communist heroes no longer hold any authority in the mind of the people? Has the state really abandoned its pantheon of communist heroes? To further understand these issues, I examine the case of Võ Thị Sáu (1933–1952), a teenaged member of the Vietnam Independence League (Viet Minh)[24] during the French resistance period (1945–1954).

Võ Thị Sáu (1933-1952)—constructing the teenaged martyr of the French resistance era

Võ Thị Sáu was the fifth child of a working-class family in Dat Do district, Ba Ria-Vung Tau province, situated in the southern part of Vietnam[25]. In 1947, at the age of fourteen, following her brother’s footsteps, Sáu joined the Vanguard Police Squad of Dat Do District—a local resistance group that fought against the French occupation. After having received basic ideological and military training, she began working as a spy and provided information on French soldiers and their collaborators’ movements to the Viet Minh. In 1950, Sáu was tasked with lobbing a grenade at a group of French soldiers in the crowded market area of Dat Do. She was immediately arrested and given the death penalty. The sentence was delayed for two years since Sáu was still a minor at the time of the trial. In 1952, at the age of nineteen, Sáu was shot to death on Con Dao—an archipelago where the French authority imprisoned, reeducated, and executed political dissidents. Before being executed, Sáu is said to have rejected the last rites given by a Catholic priest, stating that she had no sin to be forgiven, and the only regret she had was her unfinished goal to annihilate all colonialists and collaborationists[26]. She refused to be blindfolded, constantly sang songs that were popular among the Viet Minh during the shooting, and her last words were “Opposition against the French colonialists! Hail independent Vietnam! Hail President Ho!”[27].

Episodes of Võ Thị Sáu’s extraordinary resilience and resistance during her imprisonment and execution are well-known among the public today, which is largely the result of years of efforts made by the state’s propaganda apparatus. The state’s commitment to constructing and popularizing the image of Sáu as a heroic teenaged martyr can be traced back as far as the early 1960s. In 1961, Nguyễn Lam, the First Secretary of the Youth League Central Committee—the largest youth organization under the leadership of the communist party—wrote an article titled “Teaching communism to our youth”, in which he emphasized the need to establish Võ Thị Sáu and several other teenaged martyrs into role models for Vietnamese youth[28]. This entailed various educational programs and propaganda campaigns promoting these teenagers organized by party’s cadres at the local level[29]. Regarding cultural products, in 1961, music composer Nguyễn Đức Toàn created the iconic song “Gratitude to sister Võ Thị Sáu” (Biết ơn chị Võ Thị Sáu), which interpreted Sáu’s death as the ultimate sacrifice for achieving an independent unified Vietnam, and which criticized the separation of North and South as an act of betrayal, which went against the martyr’s will[30]. Similarly, in 1976, poet Phan Thị Thanh Nhàn wrote the poem “The Legend of Con Dao” which romanticized Sáu’s death, highlighting her calm and even playful attitude when facing death as proof of the righteousness of her action. The first stanza of the poem was reproduced in the 1985 national school reader for first graders and again in the 1997 national school reader for second graders. These efforts contributed to the preservation of Sáu’s existence in the consciousness of generations of those who were born long after her death and who had no personal connection to her or places associated with her.

What were the reasons behind the popularization of Võ Thị Sáu? As explains Benoît de Tréglodé in his extensive study on the construction of heroism in Vietnam between 1948 and 1964, Võ Thị Sáu, along with other young soldiers and martyrs of the French colonial era, was imagined as a symbol of the nation-wide patriotic and voluntary engagement of Vietnamese youth in the resistance. This must be understood as a popular movement of and by the communist party[31]. These heroic figures thus served as pedagogical tools for defining and disseminating the party’s definition of heroic and patriotic behaviors among the masses[32]. Furthermore, as representations of the righteous beginning of the communist party, which itself was interpreted as a continuation of the “four-thousand-year-old tradition of resistance against foreign aggressors”, the heroic figures became, in Weber’s term, a source of “traditional authority” that conferred legitimacy to the party’s leadership and their various projects, including the war against the US-backed Saigon government, and the construction of a socialist Vietnam[33].

Moreover, it is worth remembering that Võ Thị Sáu was a southerner. The commemoration of her and many other southern martyrs could be seen as an attempt by the communist party in constructing a history of southern support for the party. If during the war against the Saigon government, such an image had served as a source of legitimacy and motivation for the war efforts; in the postwar era, it became a means for erasing the memory of southerners’ supports for the Saigon government. The desire to subvert this local memory was perhaps one of the main motivations for the name change to Võ Thị Sáu or other southern martyrs’ names of many streets and schools in the South after the fall of Saigon[34].

From Võ Thị Sáu to Cô Sáu (Lady Sáu)—flirting with the powerful spirit

On March 2, 1993, Võ Thị Sáu was awarded posthumously the title Hero of the People’s armed forces by President Le Duc Anh under Decree No. 149-XT/CTN[35]. This event marked the beginning of an increase in cultural products featuring Sáu. It also featured a gradual change in the state’s approach to her commemoration. Within the same year, Nguyễn Đình Thống—then head of the communist party’s history committee within the propaganda department of Ba Ria—Vung Tau province[36]—published a biography titled Võ Thị Sáu—The person and the legend. The book differed from all previous popular representations of Sáu with its mythical depiction of Sáu and its documentation of the cult of Cô Sáu on Con Dao. According to this book, after Sáu’s death, rumors about her ghost appearing near her grave, punishing those who disrespected her with terminal illness or death, and rewarding those who venerated her with career promotions or good health, started to circulate throughout Con Dao[37]. The locals, especially families of officers and staffs who worked at the Con Dao Prison where Sáu was briefly imprisoned before execution, began to worship her in private as Cô Sáu (Lady Sáu). Religious rituals were conducted in a similar fashion to the ancestral cults, such as the keeping of a small shrine or altar dedicated to Sáu in one’s home and paying respect to her grave on a regular basis. The biography has been reprinted multiple times since, and its latest version was published in 2020. In a similar vein, in 2014, The People’s Public Security of Vietnam Publishing House—a publisher with the mission of “printing and distributing widely books on topics of national security, social order and public security that adhere to the [communist] Party’s principles […]”[38], published the book The Love of Dat Do, described as a compilation of stories about Sáu’s life and afterlife that were retrieved from witnesses of Sáu’s execution and followers of the Cô Sáu cult[39].

In addition to biographies, in 1995, Ho Chi Minh City Television Film Studio—a state-owned studio under the direction of the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism—released the biopic Like a Legend, written by the prolific author, scriptwriter and party member Nguyễn Quang Sáng[40]. He was famous for his creative writings on anti-French and anti-American resistances in the South. The majority of the movie revolved around the myths surrounding Sáu’s ghost and the establishment of her cult.

Another area where one can observe the state’s acceptance of Sáu’s religious representation is online platforms such as social media, internet forums, and personal blogs. The rapid growth of the internet opened up new avenues for information dissemination and thus prompted state institutions to go online. The Cô Sáu cult, now a major cult with followers throughout Vietnam, is not only broadly featured on online news channels without fear of censorship; information about the cult, along with the myths of Sáu’s ghost, are now proudly displayed on the homepage of the party’s provincial branches, city councils, or of government mouthpieces, and most notably on the homepage of the People’s Public Security Press[41].

From the examples above, it is clear that the public representation of Võ Thị Sáu has expanded significantly from the strictly secular portrayal in the era before the 1990s. Given the conventional understanding of communist doctrines as anti-religious, one would be perplexed at the communist party’s attitude towards the integration of a religious cult into the image of its supposedly communist hero. Indeed, the current acceptance towards Cô Sáu cult stands out even more when compared to the destructions of religious sites, illegalization, and stigmatization of various forms of local religious practice led by communist cadres in previous decades[42]. Why were state institutions and high-ranking party members involved in the promotion of Cô Sáu cult? Should we see this shift in representation as an effort to remove the revolutionary past from Sáu? If so, what is Sáu supposed to represent now from the state’s perspective and what does the state hope to achieve in popularizing the mythical, religious image of her?

I would suggest that the state’s embrace of Cô Sáu cult does not indicate a desire to separate Sáu from the revolutionary past. The official narrative of Võ Thị Sáu’s life, what she symbolized—i.e., the virtuous communist fighter figure (chiến sỹ cộng sản)—and the patriotic history of southerners’ support for the communist party and their participation in the two revolutionary wars, has never been repudiated by the state. Particularly in cultural products and activities aimed at schoolchildren, Sáu’s portrayal remains strictly secular and almost identical to the pre-1990s representations, if not for the deemphasis on the grenade lobbing incident. This was done in response to the critique about exposing children to violence rather than about the legitimacy of Sáu’s action[43]. The communist party has shown no intention of letting go of the past. On the contrary, it has demonstrated intense efforts in preserving the revolutionary memory. In the case of Võ Thị Sáu, the establishment (1982) and continuous rejuvenation (1985, 1986, 1995, 2001, 2011) of the commemorative area (khu tưởng niệm) dedicated to Sáu in her hometown Dat Do highlight it[44]. The heart of the commemorative area—the memorial house, functions both as a temple and a museum[45]. Sáu’s and her family members’ altars are placed in the center room of the house, whereas the rooms upstairs are for exhibiting pictures and other materials demonstrating Sáu’s activities as a Viet Minh member.

The juxtaposition of the powerful spirit and the communist fighter implies not a deemphasis on the latter but a mutually reinforcing relationship between the two images. The acknowledgment of Cô Sáu cult and the incorporation of the mythical into Sáu’s official profile strengthened her commemoration by situating it within the (recently revitalized) deeply-rooted culture of worshipping powerful spirits[46]. In other words, Sáu’s commemoration is given a new cultural “form” that appeals to the people’s spiritual needs, and enables Sáu’s existence to be further engraved and immortalized in the imagination of the people, and along with it what she symbolizes: the revolutionary past, and the exceptional quality of the Communist. The spiritual “form” of Cô Sáu cult—perceived as part of the long history of spirit worshipping in Vietnam—bestows the “content” of Sáu’s state-approved symbolism with additional credibility and attractiveness. In return, Sáu’s extraordinary life, and her significance to the state, offers to the Cô Sáu cult’s followers a sense of approval, or even a sense of superiority over other cults whose subjects of worship do not belong in the pantheon of national heroes. Thus persuading these followers to further embrace the official narrative about the righteousness of the communist party embodied in the figure of Sáu.

Commemorating the communist fighter to survive a post-communist world

While the motivation for an acceptance of Cô Sáu cult could be explained in terms of cultural/religious authority and its potentiality for spreading and reinforcing the official narrative, there still remains some questions concerning the state’s management of the commemoration of Võ Thị Sáu: Firstly, what motivated the state’s commitment to the revivification of Võ Thị Sáu? If the commemoration of Sáu is simultaneously a commemoration of the revolutionary past and the exceptionalism of the communist man/woman, why does the communist party feel the need to uphold and reemphasize these narratives in the post-communist era, when the wars are long gone and the communist economic system has been replaced by the market-oriented model? What does the party hope to achieve? To answer these questions, there is a need to reexamine the consequences of the Đổi Mới reforms.

Although Đổi Mới had successfully saved the communist party from a regime change, it had also damaged the pre-1980s two pillars of legitimacy for the party’s leadership. One of the two, which was almost entirely uprooted, was the superiority and righteousness of socialism. By adopting Đổi Mới, the communist party had set aside its project of building a socialist Vietnam to embark on capitalism, a reversion that appeared completely contradictory to the national efforts over the past forty years[47]. Đổi Mới therefore not only implicitly annulled the authority of socialism in Vietnam, which had already shown visible signs of erosion especially since news about the disintegration process of the Eastern bloc broke out. Concomitantly, Đổi Mới also posed the danger of undermining and turning the supposedly glorious history of the party’s leadership into a mere costly, meaningless, even regressive pursuit of unattainable goals. The fall of the socialist pillar had created a domino effect that could potentially bring down altogether the remaining pillar: the historically based legitimacy of the party as the morally upright leader of two just wars, one against the French, the other against the American and the treacherous Saigon government. Indeed, with the emergence of voices that labeled Đổi Mới the “southernization”[48] of Vietnam, an admiration for the supposedly illegitimate state of South Vietnam also began to surface. The antithesis of the righteous communist government appeared, in the nostalgic recollections of embittered southerners and wishful projections of envious northerners, as one single cosmopolitan city of Saigon, as la perle de l’Extrême-Orient—divorced from war and corruptions, and abundant in consumer goods[49]. The subject of condemnation in the communist era had then transformed into the goal for the hitherto materially impoverished nation in the post-communist era. If so, what was the point of the war against the Saigon government and its “exploitative capitalism”? Sacrificing so many lives and resources to strike it down only to mount a replica of it eleven years later?[50] By the late 1990s, the idealized perception of pre-1975 South Vietnam, along with a rising skepticism about the war and ultimately about the party’s leadership, were pervasive and alarming enough to be categorized by the party as a cultural malady in the 1998 03-NQ/TW Central Resolution of the Eighth Congress on Building and Developing a Progressive Vietnamese Culture Rich in National Identity[51]. Among the antidotes proposed by the party was, of course, mass patriotic education to instill in the people’s minds the values of the revolutionary past and its legacy[52].

Within this context, the commemoration of communist fighters could be seen as a manifestation of the state’s anxiety towards the emerging competing narrative that had become increasingly popular and could seriously jeopardize the state’s monopoly on power. Communist fighters, and especially those of southern origin like Võ Thị Sáu serve as a reminder of the revolutionary past, of the righteousness of the party’s leadership, of the high morals of communist men and women, and of the historicity of popular support in the South for the party. Their commemorations become sites where the state reinvigorate the party-affirmative narrative of the revolutionary past, as well as redefine the communist party’s identity and communist morality more strongly in terms of patriotism and national defense. After all, it is difficult to reassert socialist doctrine while the state is pursuing capitalism to save itself from being irrelevant like its European counterparts. A concentration on maintaining the image of the morally upright leader of just wars and inheritor of Vietnamese patriotic tradition thus seems to be the more viable tactic for boosting public confidence in the party’s leadership. This perhaps explains why one can observe in post-communist Vietnam a “commemoration fever” that centers on the military hero, and not on the “labor hero” who symbolizes the more orthodox socialist ideals and past process of building socialism in Vietnam.


In 2017, a group of prominent artists in Vietnam[53] held a casual gathering at a cafe to discuss the figure of Võ Thị Sáu. Each artist shared their mind-boggling experiences interacting with local people in Sáu’s hometown, Dat Do. According to these artists, the locals who personally knew Sáu, including her biological sister, shared the view that Sáu was a child with an intellectual disability (chập, điên, khùng). The grenade lobbing incident in these locals’ memory appeared nothing like the official account’s depiction either. Sáu, together with a group of local militants, was indeed tasked with assassinating a mixed-race non-commissioned officer (NCO) who ran errands for the local French soldiers. Unfortunately, on the day of the mission, the NCO did not show up as planned, yet Sáu still threw the grenade into the crowded market, killing and injuring several civilians, all were local Vietnamese. The official and popular account of Sáu was, the artists concluded, a fabrication of the communist party, and those who were involved in the making of cultural products featuring Sáu (i.e. the books and movies discussed previously) deliberately perpetuated the fabricated account despite being fully aware of the truth about Sáu.

A participant of the gathering filmed the discussion and later posted it on social media[54], immediately creating an uproar on the internet. Those with an initial anti-communist party agenda did not miss the chance to pounce on their much-hated enemy, proclaiming that everything the communist party preached were lies to indoctrinate people and to justify its history of terrorism and criminal acts[55]. Pro-party individuals retaliated by posting blog posts and video clips filled with ad hominem insults against the artists. State-approved news channels, with their keen sense of money and prestige, together with state mouthpieces, readily jumped on the bandwagon to produce a series of interviews with other authors, artists, university professors, and state officers; as well as articles on “facts” about Sáu, which in essence parroted the official narrative and served to condemn those who disagreed as anti-patriots attempting to distort History[56].

The controversy surrounding the figure of Võ Thị Sáu is a fascinating event that reveals the symbolic power of communist heroes in current Vietnam’s cultural and political life. The hero serves as a medium for conflating national identity with state attachment, for smoothing out ideological ruptures in the party’s identity, and thus helps defending the party against challenges of its leadership in the post-communist era. The intensity of attacks on the authenticity of the heroic figure, as well as the immediacy and seriousness of the party’s response to these attacks further vindicate the interconnection between the hero and the legitimacy of the current rule. While it is unsure when the controversy surrounding Sáu will reach a conclusion, there is no doubt that Sáu is unlikely to disappear from the people’s consciousness in the near future, like in the case of many other controversial heroes with the same accusation such as Lê Văn Tám or Nguyễn Văn Bé[57]. The enduring popularity despite controversies of this particular heroine and her heroic image cannot be explained without mentioning Cô Sáu cult, whose followers remain committed to paying tribute at her grave and commemorative area every year[58]. Indeed, Cô Sáu cult with its cultural/religious authority has contributed to the maintenance of the official narrative as a number of personal accounts have expressed their reluctance to participate in the debate, or even outright condemned and threatened the critical population on the basis that “Cô Sáu’s spirit is extremely sacred”[59]. The party’s support for the cult, in this incident, seems to have paid out in a quite direct manner. The case of Võ Thị Sáu serves as an example of how religious elements may complement and reinvigorate narratives of the revolutionary past and its legacy in an unrevolutionary post-communist era.