World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Madame Nhu

Trần Lệ Xuân
Madame Nhu
First Lady of South Vietnam
In office
26 October 1955 – 2 November 1963
President Ngô Đình Diệm
Succeeded by Madame Khánh
Personal details
Born (1924-08-22)22 August 1924
Hanoi, French Indochina
Died 24 April 2011(2011-04-24) (aged 86)[1]
Rome, Italy
Political party Can Lao Party
Spouse(s) Ngô Đình Nhu (m. 1943–63); his death
Relations Trần Văn Chương (father)
Thân Thị Nam Trân (mother)
Ngô Đình Diệm (brother-in-law)
Trần Văn Khiêm (brother)
Children Ngô Đình Trác
Ngô Đình Quynh
Ngô Đình Lệ Thủy (died 1967)
Ngô Đình Lệ Quyên (died 2012)
Religion Catholic Church
prev. Mahayana Buddhism

Trần Lệ Xuân (22 August 1924[2] – 24 April 2011), popularly known as Madame Nhu, was the de facto First Lady of South Vietnam from 1955 to 1963. She was the wife of Ngô Đình Nhu who was the brother and chief adviser to President Ngô Đình Diệm. As Diệm was a lifelong bachelor, and because she and her family lived in Independence Palace, she was considered to be the first lady.

Known for her incendiary comments attacking the Buddhists of South Vietnam and the American influence in the country, she had to live in exile in France after her husband Nhu and her brother Diệm were assassinated in 1963.


  • Early years 1
  • Rise to power 2
  • Post-elections 3
  • Advocacy 4
  • Buddhist crisis 5
  • Visiting the United States 6
  • Downfall 7
  • Life in exile 8
  • Diary of Madame Nhu 9
  • Books about Madame Nhu 10
  • Influence on Vietnamese fashion 11
  • Children 12
  • Quotes 13
  • References 14
  • Notes 15
  • External links 16

Early years

Trần Lệ Xuân was born into a wealthy aristocratic family in Hanoi, French Indochina, then part of the French colonial empire. Her given name means "Spring's Beauty" [2] Her paternal grandfather was close to the French colonial administration, while her father, Trần Văn Chương, studied law in France,[3] and practicing in Bac Lieu in the Mekong Delta before marrying into the ruling imperial dynasty.[4] Her father also served as the first foreign secretary for Indochina under Japanese occupation.[5] Her mother, Thân Thị Nam Trân, was a granddaughter of Emperor Đồng Khánh and a cousin of Emperor Bảo Đại.[6]

She dropped out of Lycée Albert Sarraut, a prestigious French school in Hanoi. She spoke French at home and could not write in Vietnamese; as an adult, she drafted her speeches in French and had them translated into Vietnamese.[3] She gained a reputation in her youth as a tomboy who loved ballet and piano, once dancing solo at Hanoi's National Theatre.[7] She had an elder sister named Trần Lệ Chi (who married the Frenchman Etienne Oggeri and changed her name to Lechi Oggeri) and a younger brother, Trần Văn Khiêm.[8]

When she became an adult, her mother introduced her to a series of eligible young men, but she insisted on Nhu. He was fourteen years older and referred to her as "little niece" in accordance with Vietnamese custom.[9] In 1943, aged 18,[10] she married Nhu, and converted from Mahayana Buddhism to Roman Catholicism, her husband's religion. After an uprising by the Viet Minh in August 1945, her brother-in-law, Ngô Đình Khôi, the eldest of the Ngô brothers, was buried alive, and Nhu and another brother, Ngô Đình Cẩn, were forced to flee.

She, her mother-in-law and her eldest daughter, at the time a baby, were captured. Thinking her piano was a radio for communicating with French colonialists, the Viet Minh blew it up and then exiled her to a remote village for four months, where she lived on two bowls of rice a day.[7] The French dismissed Nhu from his post at the National Library due to his brother (Diệm)'s nationalist activities, and he moved to Đà Lạt and lived comfortably, editing a newspaper, where his wife bore three more children.[3]

Rise to power

Madame Nhu's brother-in-law, Diệm, had been appointed Prime Minister of the State of Vietnam by her mother's distant cousin, Emperor Bảo Đại, after the French had been defeated at the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ. At the start of 1955, French Indochina was dissolved, leaving Diệm in temporary control of the south.[11]

A referendum was scheduled for 23 October 1955, to determine the future direction of the south. It was contested by Bảo Đại, the Emperor, who advocated the restoration of the monarchy, while Diệm ran on a republican platform. The elections were held and Diệm won 98.2% of the votes. As a result, Diệm eliminated the Emperor Bao Dai and became the first president of South Vietnam.[12][13]


Madame Nhu and Vice President Johnson

After the election, the couple moved into the Presidential Palace. Madame Nhu was influential on government policy and, since her brother-in-law, Ngô Đình Diệm, was unmarried, she was regarded as the First Lady of South Vietnam.[3] Madame Nhu frequently talked to the Vietnamese, French and foreign press quite candidly.

In 1962, she had a statue erected in

Honorary titles
Preceded by
Empress Nam Phương
First Lady of South Vietnam
Succeeded by
Madame Khánh
  • Interview with Madame Nhu, 1982
  • Madame Ngô Đình Nhu, sister-in-law of President Diệm speaking after the assassination of husband and brother-in-law (audio file)
  • Madame Nhu speaking of "barbecued monks" (download mp3 or mpg file)
  • "Dainty Emancipator" Time magazine, 26 January 1959
  • Madame Nhu at the Internet Movie Database

External links

  1. ^ a b (Vietnamese) "Bà Trần Lệ Xuân qua đời". BBC News. 24 April 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-25. 
  2. ^ a b c d Joseph R. Gregory (26 April 2011). "Madame Nhu, Vietnam War Lightning Rod, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-04-26. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Karnow, pp. 280–284.
  4. ^ J. Lacouture, Vietnam: Between Two Truces, p. 79
  5. ^ Lacouture, p. 79.
  6. ^ The Royal Ark
  7. ^ a b c Jones, pp. 292–93.
  8. ^ Warner, p. 93.
  9. ^ Prochnau, pp. 122–23.
  10. ^ a b c d Jones, p. 293.
  11. ^ Maclear, pp. 65–68.
  12. ^ Karnow, p. 239.
  13. ^ Jacobs, p. 95.
  14. ^ Langguth, pp. 169–171.
  15. ^ a b Langguth, p. 170.
  16. ^ Tucker, p. 293.
  17. ^ The couple was found strangled to death in Washington, D.C., in 1986, killed by their son, Trần Văn Khiêm, reportedly for being cut out of their will, according to "Change in Will Linked to Saigon Aide's Death", The New York Times, 8 August 1986
  18. ^ Jones, p. 294.
  19. ^ Langguth, pp. 109–111
  20. ^ a b Jones, p. 292.
  21. ^ Warner, pp. 117–19.
  22. ^ Maitland and Weiss, p. 65.
  23. ^ McNamara, In Retrospect, p. 42.
  24. ^ "Joan or Lucrezia?", Time, 23 March 1962
  25. ^ Jones, pp. 195–196.
  26. ^ a b Jones, p. 196.
  27. ^ Langguth, p. 109.
  28. ^ Langguth, p. 111.
  29. ^ a b Langguth, p. 164.
  30. ^ a b Langguth, p. 212.
  31. ^  
  32. ^ Tucker, p. 405.
  33. ^ Warner, p. 92.
  34. ^ Sheehan, p. 208.
  35. ^ Jones, p. 245.
  36. ^ Langguth, p. 219.
  37. ^ a b Langguth, p. 216.
  38. ^ Jones, p. 266.
  39. ^ Vietnam: A Television History: America's Mandarin (1954-1963)
  40. ^ Jacobs, pp. 294–5.
  41. ^ Jones, p. 290.
  42. ^ Jones, p. 291.
  43. ^ "South Viet Nam: The Crackdown". Time. 30 August 1963. Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  44. ^ Jacobs, p. 146
  45. ^ Halberstam, p. 146.
  46. ^ R. McNamara, In Retrospect, p. 53.
  47. ^ Id., pp. 53–54.
  48. ^ a b Jacobs, p. 154.
  49. ^ Karnow, p. 302.
  50. ^ Halberstam, p. 151.
  51. ^ Hammer, p. 171.
  52. ^ a b Jones, p. 306.
  53. ^ Jones, p. 393.
  54. ^ Jones, p. 351.
  55. ^ a b Jones, p. 352.
  56. ^ Jones, p. 357.
  57. ^ a b Jones, p. 359.
  58. ^ US Dept of State: Historical Documents › Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963, Volume IV, Vietnam, August–December 1963 › Document 94 (see Note 4)
  59. ^ 'Madame Nhu meets Belgrade Press' The Straits Times, 17 Sept 1963
  60. ^ R. McNamara, p. 67.
  61. ^ a b c d e Jones, p. 372.
  62. ^ Langguth, p. 246.
  63. ^ R. McNamara, p. 76.
  64. ^ a b c d e Jones, p. 385.
  65. ^ Cooper, Chester L. (1970). The Lost Crusade: America in Vietnam. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co. pp. 196–197. 
  66. ^ p. 73 Newcomb, Richard F. A Pictorial History of the Vietnam War Doubleday, 1987
  67. ^ Karnow, pp. 296–320
  68. ^ a b c d e Jones, p. 433.
  69. ^ Jones, p. 431.
  70. ^ Jones, pp. 432–33.
  71. ^ a b Jones, p. 407.
  72. ^ Jones, p. 423.
  73. ^ a b Jones, p. 424.
  74. ^ Milestones: 21 April 1967, Time
  75. ^ Interviewing Madame Nhu, 1982 by Judith Vecchione
  76. ^ "American Experience | Vietnam, a Television History". PBS. Retrieved Dec 14, 2012. 
  77. ^ FindACase™ | 03/02/93 ESTATE TRAN VAN CHUONG v. FIRST AMERICAN
  78. ^ a b c (Vietnamese) "'Bà Nhu như tôi từng biết' (phần 1)'". BBC News. 26 April 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-26. 
  79. ^ Robert Templer (26 April 2011). "Madame Nhu obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 2011-04-26. 
  80. ^ (Vietnamese) Tú Anh (25 April 2011). "Bà Ngô Đình Nhu từ trần tại Roma, hưởng thọ 87 tuổi".  
  81. ^
  82. ^ a b
  83. ^ Barnes & Noble sales dept promotion
  84. ^ by Boi Tran Huynh; Chapter 4: Visual Arts of the Republic of Viet-Nam (The South) 1954–1975: The 'Other'Vietnamese Aesthetics from 1925 Onwards
  85. ^
  86. ^ ImmigrazioneOggi - Oblò: i rifugiati... ed il coraggio di chi salva vite umane
  87. ^ a b "Letters to the Times: Mrs. Nhu Defends Stand", The New York Times, 14 August 1963.
  88. ^ "In the Lions' Cage".   (Subscription required.)


  • Jacobs, Seth (2006). Cold War Mandarin: Ngo Dinh Diem and the Origins of America's War in Vietnam, 1950–1963. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.  
  • Jones, Howard (2003). Death of a Generation: How the Assassinations of Diem and JFK Prolonged the Vietnam War. New York City: Oxford University Press.  
  • Maclear, Michael (1981). Vietnam:The Ten Thousand Day War. New York City: Methuen Publishing.  
  • Tucker, Spencer C. (2000). Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social and Military History. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO.  
  • Warner, Denis (1964). The Last Confucian: Vietnam, South-East Asia, and the West. Sydney:  
  • Moyar, Mark (2006). Triumph Forsaken The Vienam War, 1954–1965. Cambridge. 


  • "Whoever has the Americans as allies does not need enemies."[71] (following the assassination of her husband and her brother-in-law)
  • "Whoever has the Americans as ally does not need an enemy. I did not believe them. But if the news is true, if really my family has been treacherously killed with either official or unofficial blessings of the American government, I can predict to you all that the story in Vietnam is only at its beginning." [audio file, External Links below]
  • "If one has no courage to denounce, if one bows to madness and stupidity, how can one ever hope to cope with the other wrongs of humanity exploited in the same fashion by Communists?" (referring to the practice of self-immolation of Buddhist monks)[87]
  • "I may shock some by saying "I would beat such provocateurs ten times more if they wore monks' robes," and "I would clap hands at seeing another monk barbecue show, for one can not be responsible for the madness of others."[7][87]
  • Explaining her macabre comment about "these Buddhist barbecues" after the suicides by fire began, she said that her daughter had overheard a U.S. soldier use the phrase at a Saigon hot-dog stand. "It sounded like a perfectly harmless Americanism," said Mme. Nhu.[88]
  • She said that the media, including The New York Times, were under a "mad spell" cast by the Buddhists and needed electroshock therapy to rehabilitate them.[10]


  • Ngô Đình Lệ Thủy was killed in April 1967, in an automobile accident in Longjumeau, France.
  • Ngo Dinh Trac became an agricultural engineering graduate, is married and has four children (3 boys, 1 girl).
  • Ngo Dinh Quynh graduated from ESEC (École superieur du commerce et de I'economie), a private school training professionals in the economy. He works as a trade representative for a U.S. company in Brussels, Belgium.
  • Ngô Đình Lệ Quyên received a Ph.D. from the University of Rome. Lệ Quyên was a lawyer in the legal IT sector and was invited as a guest lecturer at presentations by Law Faculty of the University of Rome. She served as Commissioner of Immigration Caritas Europe. On 16 April 2012, she was killed in a traffic accident on the way to work in Rome.[85][86]


In the early 1960s, Madame Nhu popularized a tight-fitting version of the traditional áo dài (long dress) that was considered controversial in its day, due to its tight fit and low-cut neckline. According to Boi Tran Huynh, a scholar of Vietnamese visual arts, "To foreigners, this collar made sense, given the tropical conditions, but conservatives saw it as too suggestive for Vietnamese women."[84]

Influence on Vietnamese fashion

  • Trần Lệ Xuân Giấc Mộng Chính Trường (Vietnamese book)
  • Đệ Nhất Phu Nhân Trần Lệ Xuân (Vietnamese book)
  • La République du Viêt-Nam et les Ngô-Đình - written by the children of Madame Nhu, Ngo Dinh Quynh and Ngô Đình Lệ Quyên, also family friend Madame Jacqueline Willemetz (French book)
There is the significant claim upon this book that the author was ultimately entrusted with Madame Nhu's unpublished memoirs
and her diary from the years leading up to the coup.[83]
  • Finding the Dragon Lady: the Mystery of Vietnam's Madame Nhu[82]

Books about Madame Nhu

Madame Nhu kept a personal diary during her position as First Lady of South Vietnam. Her diary is dated from 1959 through to 1963 and is in the possession of United States Army Captain James Văn Thạch.[81] The diary is in the initial steps of being authenticated by the Hoover Institution Library and Archives, at Stanford University.[82]

Diary of Madame Nhu

In early April 2011, she was taken to a hospital in Rome where she died three weeks later, on Easter Sunday, 24 April 2011.[1][2][79][80] News of her death was announced by her sister Lechi Oggeri, while family friend Truong Phu Thu was interviewed by BBC News afterwards.[78]

In her last years, she lived with her eldest son, Ngô Đình Trác, and youngest daughter, Ngô Đình Lệ Quyên, in Rome, and was reportedly working on a book of memoirs to be published posthumously.[78] Her memoirs would be written in French and would be translated into Vietnamese and Italian.

In the 1990s, she was reportedly living on the French Riviera and charging the press for interviews. In 2002, she gave an interview to journalist Truong Phu Thu of Dân Chúa Mỹ Châu, a Vietnamese Catholic community publication. It was published in October 2004. The article stated that she was living in Paris and working on her memoirs.[78]

In 1993, she sued her parents' insurance company to prevent it from awarding their death benefit because she contested the validity of their wills. Her parents allegedly changed their wills, disinheriting their son Khiem and Madame Nhu and making their sister Le Chi the sole beneficiary.[77]

On 2 November 1986, Madame Nhu charged the United States with hounding her family during the arrest of her younger brother, Trần Văn Khiêm, who was charged in the strangling deaths of their parents in their Washington, D.C. home after being cut out of their will.[2]

In November 1982 in Rome Madame Nhu accorded to Judith Vecchione[75] a first significant interview on the historic events in Vietnam. Vecchione was a producer for "Vietnam, A Television History".[76] The series was subsequently aired on PBS in 1983.

The military government of Vietnam under General Dương Văn Minh confiscated all of the property in Saigon that belonged to Madame Nhu and her family, and she was not allowed to return to South Vietnam. She went to Rome briefly before moving permanently to France with her children. Her daughter, Lệ Thủy, died in 1967, at age 22, in an automobile accident in Longjumeau, France.[74]

Life in exile

In the aftermath of the coup, the statues of the Trưng Sisters that Madame Nhu had erected with her own facial features were demolished by jubilant anti-Diệm rioters.[73] The Times of Vietnam office was also burned down, and the newspaper was never published again.[73]

In response to the killings of Diệm and Nhu, she immediately accused the United States, saying "Whoever has the Americans as allies does not need enemies",[71] and that "No coup can erupt without American incitement and backing".[68] She went on to predict a bleak future for Vietnam and said that, by being involved in the coup, the troubles of the United States in Vietnam were just beginning.[68] She called the deaths an "indelible stigma" against the Americans and said "My family has been treacherously killed with either official or unofficial blessing of the American government, I can predict to you now that the story is only at its beginning."[68] She invoked biblical analogies, saying "Judas has sold the Christ for thirty pieces of silver. The Ngô brothers have been sold for a few dollars."[68] When asked if she wanted asylum in the United States, she said, "I cannot stay in a country whose government stabbed me in the back. I believe all the devils in hell are against us."[72]

On 2 November 1963, Diệm and Nhu were assassinated in a coup d'état led by General Dương Văn Minh (Armed Forces Council) with the understanding that the United States would not intervene. At the time of the assassinations, Madame Nhu was in Beverly Hills, California, traveling with her 18-year-old daughter, Ngô Đình Lệ Thủy.[68] Her other children were in Vietnam at the family retreat in Đà Lạt and she feared that they would meet the same fate as their father.[69] The children were not harmed by the generals and were flown out of the country into exile in Rome, where they were placed in the custody of their uncle, Archbishop Thục. Madame Nhu later flew to Rome to join them.[70]


In the wake of the tumultuous events, Madame Nhu appeared on NBC-TV's Meet the Press on 13 October 1963, defending her actions and those of the South Vietnamese government. "I don't know why you Americans dislike us ... Is it because the world is under a spell called liberalism? Your own public, here in America, is not as anti-Communistic as ours is in Vietnam. Americans talk about my husband and I leaving our native land permanently. Why should we do this? Where would we go? To say that 70 percent of my country's population is Buddhistic is absolutely true. My father, who was our ambassador to the United States until two months ago, has been against me since my childhood."

She denounced American liberals as "worse than communists"[65] and Buddhists as "hooligans in robes".[66] Her father did not share the same beliefs and followed her around the country rebutting her comments,[64] denouncing the "injustice and oppression" and stating that his daughter had "become unwittingly the greatest asset to the communists." She predicted that Buddhism would become extinct in Vietnam.[67]

Despite the United States Vice President Lyndon Johnson's advice for her to stop damaging relations with inflammatory remarks, Madame Nhu refused to back down, describing herself a "scapegoat" for American shortcomings and failures. She went on to accuse the administration of betraying her family, saying "I refuse to play the role of an accomplice in an awful murder ... According to a few immature American junior officials—too imbued by a real but obsolete imperialist spirit, the Vietnamese regime is not puppet enough and must be liquidated."[64] She accused the Americans of undermining South Vietnam through "briberies, threats and other means" to destroy her family because they "do not like" it.[64] She further mocked Kennedy's entourage, asking why "all the people around President Kennedy are pink?"

Madame Nhu arrived in the United States on 7 October, and her arrival was greeted by the United Nations' launching of an inquiry into the repression of Buddhists in South Vietnam.[64] Kennedy had resisted the temptation to deny her an entry visa and his administration soon came under a flurry of verbal attacks.[64]

In the 29 September 1963 meeting with Diệm, McNamara bemoaned "the ill-advised and unfortunate declarations of Madame Nhu",[61] who had described U.S. military advisors as "acting like little soldiers of fortune".[61] McNamara said that such comments would damage bilateral military cooperation and deter American officers from helping the South Vietnamese forces.[61] Lodge denounced the comments and said, "These men should be thanked, not insulted."[62] However, one of his aides lost his composure and asked if "there were not something the government could do to shut her up."[61] Diệm was stunned by the comments and retorted that "one cannot deny a lady the right to defend herself when she has been unjustly attacked", saying his sister-in-law was entitled to freedom of speech.[61] But McNamara reinforced the point, noting to Diem that "This is not satisfactory. The problems were real and serious. They had to be solved before the war could be won."[63]

The issue resulted in an awkward confrontation when U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Maxwell Taylor, traveled to Vietnam for a fact-finding mission about the progress of the war. One of the purposes of the mission was to achieve, in the words of President Kennedy, "a visible reduction in influence of Nhus, who are symbol to disaffected of all that they dislike in GVN. This we think would require Nhus' departure from Saigon and preferably Vietnam at least for extended vacation."[60]

In Madame Nhu's first destination, Belgrade, she said in an interview that "President Kennedy is a politician, and when he hears a loud opinion speaking in a certain way, he tries to appease it somehow", referring to the opposition to her family's rule.[57] She continued: “if that opinion is misinformed, the solution is not to bow to it, but the solution should be to inform.”[58][59]

There was also speculation that she could turn up at the United Nations in New York and embarrass South Vietnam and the U.S.[56] Bundy said in a meeting that "this was the first time the world had been faced with collective madness in a ruling family since the days of the czars" and her comments provoked much debate on how to get Diệm to silence her.[57]

Madame Nhu's comments were such that President National Security Council deemed her a threat to U.S. security, and told the then United States Ambassador to South Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. to seek her permanent removal from South Vietnam.[55]

When acting U.S. ambassador William Trueheart warned that development aid might be withheld if the repression orchestrated by the Ngôs continued, Madame Nhu denounced it as "blackmail". Nhu and Diệm, fearing a cut in aid, sent Madame Nhu to the United States on a speaking tour. She departed South Vietnam on 9 September 1963 in an expedition that brought widespread international scorn to her family's regime.[54] She had predicted "a triumphant lecture tour".[55] She left on 17 September for the Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting in Yugoslavia, followed by a trip to Italy and possibly to the United States, where she had an invitation to speak before the Overseas Press Club of New York.

Visiting the United States

Following the pagoda raids, Trí Quang was given asylum at the U.S. Embassy after Ngô Đình Nhu's plans to assassinate him were uncovered. Madame Nhu gave a media interview in which she called on government troops to invade the American embassy and capture Thích Trí Quang and some other monks who were staying there, saying that the government must arrest "all key Buddhists".[52] In a media interview, her husband responded to his parents-in-law by vowing to kill his father-in-law, claiming his wife would participate. He said "I will have his head cut off. I will hang him in the center of a square and let him dangle there. My wife will make the knot on the rope because she is proud of being a Vietnamese and she is a good patriot."[53]

Her comments further stoked open infighting with her parents, who would eventually disown her and seek refuge in the United States. Her father, Trần Văn Chương, the ambassador to the United States, resigned in protest,[48][49] along with all but one of the staffers at the embassy.[50] Chương charged Diệm with having "copied the tactics of totalitarian regimes".[48] His wife, who was South Vietnam's observer at the United Nations, resigned and spoke of mass executions and a reign of terror under Diệm and Nhu. She predicted that if Diệm and Nhu and Madame Nhu did not leave Vietnam then they would inevitably be killed.[51] Madame Nhu claimed Buddhist leader Thích Trí Quang "spoke for many intellectuals who had repeatedly ridiculed her."[52]

The United States, in a position of some leverage owing to the considerable US aid flowing into South Vietnam, in August 1963 wished to give President Diệm a chance to rid himself of both his brother and Madame Nhu. In a cable drafted by Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, Roger Hilsman, to Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Lodge was instructed to advise Diệm of a call for "the removal of the Nhus from the scene."[46] U.S. President Kennedy supported the message in the cable upon its approval by most of his advisors.[47]

This occurred after [44] A few days after the raids, Madame Nhu described the deadly attacks on the Buddhists as "the happiest day in my life since we crushed the Bình Xuyên in 1955", and assailed them as "communists."[45]

In July, the US government rejected a request from her to travel to the United States for a public speaking tour, fearing a public relations disaster.[41] On 3 August, she called the Buddhists "seditious elements who use the most odious Communist tactics to subvert the country."[42]

Her own father went on radio to condemn her comments.[20] A Confucian, Chương said that the regime had alienated "the strongest moral forces", implying that they had lost the Mandate of Heaven. She responded by calling him a "coward". Her mother said that "There is an old proverb in my country which means 'one should not make oneself or one's family naked before the world'... I was sick... Now, nobody can stop her ... She never listened to our advice."[10] After these comments, the U.S. ambassador, Frederick Nolting, told Diệm that if he did not denounce his sister-in-law's comment in public, the Americans would have to stop supporting him, but he refused to do so, and assailed the monks.[40]

Madame Nhu publicly mocked Thích Quảng Đức, who performed a self-immolation on 11 June 1963 in a crowded Saigon street to protest against the shooting of Buddhists by Diệm's regime. Nhu labelled it a "barbecue" and stated, "Let them burn and we shall clap our hands."[37] She further offered to provide more fuel and matches for the Buddhists, noting his "barbecuing" was not "self-sufficient" because "imported gasoline" was used.[39] The monk's suicide followed Ngo Dinh Nhu's repression of the Buddhist-fueled protests and was responsible for the regime's continuing instability. According to historian Howard Jones, these comments "all but put the finishing touch on the Diệm regime".

On 8 June 1963, Madame Nhu released a statement through the Women's Solidarity Movement accusing the Buddhists of neutralism, effectively accusing them of being [30][38]

When she heard that Diệm was to sign a statement offering compensation to the families of Buddhist protesters shot dead by the police of his brother Ngô Đình Cẩn, she was reported to have thrown a bowl of soup at him.[37]

Buddhist crisis

The following year she instructed her Women's Solidarity Movement to oppose American attempts "to make lackeys of Vietnamese and to seduce Vietnamese women into decadent paths."[35] As relations became strained, she publicly accused the Americans of having supported the 1960 coup.[36]

Diệm reacted to the bombing by cracking down on political dissidents and further tightening control of the press.[32] Madame Nhu added, "[y]ou open a window to let in light and air, not bullets. We want freedom, but we don't want to be exploited by it."[33] In a radio interview in late-1962, she mockingly remarked that American journalists were "intoxicated with communism."[34]

On 27 February 1962, two dissident Republic of Vietnam Air Force pilots, Nguyễn Văn Cử and Phạm Phú Quốc, bombed the Independence Palace, the official residence of the Ngô family, with the aim of assassinating them. One bomb landed in a room where Diệm was reading, but failed to detonate. The family escaped to the cellar unhurt, except for Madame Nhu, who sustained an arm fracture while running for cover.[31]

She often exerted her influence through bouts of shouting. Sometimes when she disagreed with a proposal or decision that had been made inside the palace by some ministers or other senior public servants, she would verbally abuse them and intimidate them into adopting her preferred stance.[30]

As her husband's influence grew, as did her own vicariously, so did American distaste for them. [29]

Madame Nhu claimed that she and her husband were responsible for Diệm's triumph over the Bình Xuyên in the Battle for Saigon in 1954.[26] She claimed it was the family's destiny to save South Vietnam.[27] Following the collapse of the coup, her influence in the family began to rise.[28]

She had a message to Diệm's opponents: "We will track down, neutralize and extirpate all these scabby sheep."[24] French journalist François Sully wrote that Madame Nhu was "conceited, and obsessed with a drive for power that far surpasses that of even her husband ... It is no exaggeration to say that Madame Nhu is the most detested personality in South Vietnam."[25] Sully was promptly expelled from Vietnam by the Ngô family.[26]

Madame Nhu exerted influence with her fiery attitude, often abusing Diệm and Nhu, who bowed to her angry tirades. Madame Nhu was frequently mocked by the media for her ostentatious flaunting of power, and was sometimes called the "[20] She once stated "Power is wonderful. Total power is totally wonderful."[21] She once told a group of American congressmen, "I'm not exactly afraid of death. I love power and in the next life I have a chance to be even more powerful than I am."[22] U.S. Defense Secretary McNamara noted that "I saw Madame Nhu as bright, forceful, and beautiful, but also diabolical and scheming—a true sorceress."[23]

During her brother-in-law's presidency, Madame Nhu pushed for the passing of "morality laws" outlawing abortion, adultery, divorce, contraceptives, dance halls, beauty pageants, boxing matches, and animal fighting, and closed down the brothels and opium dens. She was widely mocked by the public who regarded her as a hypocrite,[3] with older Vietnamese believing her décolleté gowns to be sexually suggestive, in addition to widespread rumors of her own infidelity. Her family received further scorn as her sister Trần Lệ Chi, who was married to Nguyển Hữu Châu, had a French lover named Etienne Oggeri, and critics alleged that Madame Nhu introduced the laws so that her sister's husband could not get a divorce. Since he was extremely wealthy, the Ngô family would have lost highly valuable assets. In addition, her brother, Khiêm, used his government connections to bilk rich entrepreneurs.[3] Diệm had stated before becoming President, "The history of China bears witness to the grave crises brought on by the empresses and their relatives."


Howard Jones says "Madame Nhu was chauffeured in a black Mercedes and wore a small diamond crucifix",[10] and "wore form-fitting apparel so tight that one French correspondent suggestively described her as 'molded into her ... dress like a dagger in its sheath.' On formal occasions, she wore red satin pantaloons with three vertical pleats, which was the mark of the highest-ranking women of the imperial court in ancient Annam."[18]

Her father became the ambassador to the United States while her mother was South Vietnam's observer at the United Nations. Two of her uncles were cabinet ministers.[16] Her parents resigned their posts in 1963, in protest over the treatment of Buddhists under the regime of President Diệm and disowned their daughter.[17]

[15] officers and public servants into joining her "movement".ARVN She pressured the wives of [15] The statue cost US$20,000, a substantial sum at the time, given that South Vietnam was a developing country, but she was undeterred by criticism about largesse.[14]

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.