Vietnamese Grief over General Vo Nguyen Giap’s death

On October 4th, Vietnam has been shaken by the news of General Vo Nguyen Giap’s death (at 103 years old). He is one of the most respected and well known military leaders in Vietnam after Ho Chi Minh. He led the North Vietnamese in the war against both France and America. Every Vietnamese, who grew up in Vietnam, learned about Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap’s contribution in unifying the country, or at the least have heard of his name. General Vo Nguyen Giap’s death was carried out as a national funeral, which is similar to America’s state funeral, in order to honor his achievement and contribution to the country. This is one of the rare death events, in which I was able to see death and its impact on people on such a grand scale.

When people think about death, they often think about the grief that the living people experienced. Grief has many forms and is handled according to the culture. In many cultures, grief in public supposed to be a calm and solemn display of emotion. After the news of Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap’s death, thousands of Vietnamese from all over the country traveled to North Vietnam, where his family is to pay condolences. The line of people waiting to come into Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap’s house and pay respect wrapping around many streets in Hanoi was an extremely significant picture. There were many adults, children, elders, as well as retired soldiers standing in the heat of Hanoi. People from all over Vietnam coming to Hanoi brought flowers, poems, and songs written about Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap. People who come to funeral are not supposed to disturb the solemn mood and have to pay condolences in prescribed way of that culture. In Vietnam, waiting in line in public is not a common practice and is considered as a recently “imported” cultural behavior. However, people were waiting patiently for hours in Hanoi in order to express their grief and sincerity.

It was surprising to see grief experienced by that many people toward one person. There has to be some form of bonding between the dead and the people who experienced grief. This bond can be biologically made (such as in family) or culturally made. In cases of natural disasters or mass murders, people often feel sympathy for the tragic death of the victims. It is a cultural behavior to express sympathy to show your humanity side. ”Bad death” also often provokes extreme emotion such as anger and depress.  In Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap’s case, his bond with the people in Vietnam is culturally made by people learning about and seeing him through book, television and the news.

When a person’s social status is high, having a good death including a good funeral is important. In many cultures, having a lot of people attending a grand scale’s funeral proves that the dead person was a beloved and important person when he was alive.

 General Vo Nguyen Giap’s obituary from New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/05/world/asia/gen-vo-nguyen-giap-dies.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0).

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