Tao enjoyed the benefits of a middle-class upbringing
in South Vietnam's capital city. But the pretty
schoolgirl who grew up speaking the language of
colonialism at school was also learning about
social justice at home.
Tao's mother raised
a family of revolutionaries.
A family of revolutionaries:
My mother was wonderful. Not
only did she give us the opportunity to attend
a French school, she also taught us to resist
against the dictatorship, against repression
and injustice. When the dictator [South Vietnamese
president] Diem repressed the Buddhists [in
1964], we took part in demonstrations.
protest against Diem regime.
Tao was horrified by the brutal measures taken
by Diem, the corrupt Catholic president installed
by the Americans, to silence the Buddhist monks
who spoke out against the war. Her family attended
massive street rallies in support of the monks.
At one rally, Tao and her sister Tan were spotted
by a Viet Cong recruiter. He later visited their
home. The girls joined the guerilla movement in
support of Communist North Vietnam, and went to
On working with the Viet Cong:
When I was 18,
I was part of a plan to bomb the Saigon central
police station. I am the leader of the commando
unit, and I carry the explosives inside the
To succeed in the plan,
I had to convert one of the police staff to
our cause. But I was arrested because this person
Tao and her sister were thrown into
jail. Even in jail, they would not stop protesting
against their arrest and the South Vietnamese
regime, and as a result were moved to the infamous
Tiger Cages in the island prison on Con Son. It
was the beginning of seven years of torture, beatings
On her imprisonment and torture:
sometimes they made my sister or me witness
the torture of the other. When I saw them beat
my sister, it was very painful
us in the Tiger Cages, and when I came to my
senses I thought I fell into Hell because the
cage was the shape of a coffin. The jailors
walked above us, and we were inside the cages
below. There was so much sufferingthey
mistreated us, poured down quick lime [a caustic
chemical which burns the skin on contact] when
they wanted to repress us.
But despite the beatings and torture,
the girls continued their resistance. Tao and
her sister painstakingly wrote the names of all
of the political prisoners held in the island
prison in microscopic script on the inside of
a prison uniform and gave it to their mother to
smuggle out of the country. The list of political
prinsoners would make its way to the Paris Peace
Talks, where it was entered into evidence, documenting
that South Vietnam was holding political prisoners,
a fact they had vehemently denied. These talks
would curtail U.S. involvement in the war.
On life in the Tiger
In 1970, U.S. Senator, then
a legislative aide, Tom Harkin captured
the horror of the tiger cages in a series
of photos that appeared in LIFE magazine.
"One day we heard
strange voices. My cellmates said, You can
speak English, ask them who they are. I
asked Where are you from? They answered,
We are US congressmen and we come
to investigate the military regime.
I denounced the conditions, the bedbugs,
the torture. One person on this team, he
came back to Vietnam 25 years later. He
is now a senator from Iowa, Tom Harkin."
When Tao was released
she could barely walk.
Tao's release; the end of the War:
When I was released
I couldnt believe it
makes tears pour down. I couldnt walk.
I was paralysed [from years of torture]. I was
cured in those months, but at the time of the
liberation, my legs are still very weak. But
I participate in the liberation. I planted the
The war was over, but Tao's revolutionary ardor
was undimmed. After several jobs in the post-war
government, she went back to school and studied
marine biology because she believed the field
could help feed the new nation. In 1988, twenty
years after they first met, she married Sau Cong
- the V.C. recruiter who had spotted her in the
crowd of demonstrators and changed her life.
Tao married the
Viet Cong who recruited her.
Tao marries her Viet Cong recruiter:
When we got married, I asked
him When did you fall in love with me?
He said Since the beginning, since our
first meeting. I asked him Why,
if you loved me, didnt you prevent me
from taking those risks and placing the explosives
at the police headquarters? He said Because
it was your duty. Only when we have freedom,
we can have love. If our people, our country,
is dominated, we cant have happiness.
Tao and Sau Cong now operate a shrimp co-operative
in the Mekong Delta, and are helping nearly two
dozen small farmers climb out of poverty. For
Tao, as long as Vietnam's poorest still lag behind,
the war is not over.
is not over.
Tao's ongoing fight for justice for all:
My husband said to me that
during the war time, we dared to sacrifice our
lives for the liberation of our people. So now
that the peace is restored, when we see our
people so poor and starving, we must do something
to help them
In the war time, solidarity
is easymaybe because during the war, the
people were needed for the resistance. Now no
one needs the poor people. So the revolution
is not over, and its a struggle all around
the world. Anyone who believes must join together
to carry out this new warthe war against
poverty, injustice and repression.