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Viet Nam’s Most Historical Embroidery

by Lady Borton

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Few people have ever seen Viet Nam’s most historical embroidery. Finely stitched in subtle colors, this artwork depicts the One Pillar Pagoda, Ha Noi’s reconstructed thousand-year-old landmark. President Ho Chi Minh presented The One Pillar Pagoda to Frank Loseby and his daughter in 1960.

Vietnamese on the streets and village paths can all tell the story of Frank Loseby. A solicitor, Mr. Loseby represented Ho Chi Minh while he was detained by Hong Kong authorities between mid 1931 and early 1933. The Hong Kong police had illegally arrested Ho Chi Minh (at the time known as Nguyen Ai Quoc) for communist activities. Ho faced deportation into French hands and certain death. Throug Mr. Loseby’s intervention, Ho Chi Minh’s habeas corpus case was tried in Hong Kong Supreme Court and appealed to the Privy Councel, the highest court in the British Empire. Habeas corpus, an ancient and fundamental principle of British law, is a prerogative writ used to challenge the validity of a person’s detention either in official custody (e.g when held pending a deportation or extradition) or in private hands.

At the time, Ho Chi Minh went by the name of Sung Man Cho, one of his nearly 200 aliases. Sung Man Cho vs. The Superintendent of Prisons challenged the British governor’s colonial powers in Hong Kong. During the summer of 1931, the story of Ho Chi Minh’s court case received more coverage in Hong Kong’s English-language newspapers than the combined stories of the concomitant British financial crises, British abandonment of the gold standard, and the fall of the MacDonald Labour government.

After Ho lost his case in the Hong Kong Supreme Court, Frank Loseby appealed to the Privy Council. Lawyers for Ho Chi Minh and the British Colonial Office settled that case out of court in the summer of 1932. In accordance with the settlement, Hong Kong authorities did deport Ho Chi Minh in early 1933 but not into French Hands. The Losebys regarded Ho Chi Minh as part of their family. Ho often stayed with the Losebys and joined them for meals.

Because of his activities in the Vietnamese national liberation movements, Ho could not be safely deported to China or anywhere in either the French or British empires. In secret, it was decided that Ho should go to Vladivostok, but Ho insisted he travel only on a Soviet ship. However, no Soviet ships traveling to Vladivostok stopped in Hong Kong.

After much argument, it was arranged that a cadet officer attached to the Secretariat for Chinese Affairs would fetch Ho from the prison hospital in a car on the afternoon of 28 December 1932 and release him in the streets, on the clear understanding that he would leave Hong Kong by 15 January. This scheme was duly carried out; however, on 15 January, the Chinese Consul tipped of the Hong Kong Police that Ho had been to China and was returning to Hong Kong . On 19 January 1933, the Hong Kong Police met the SS Ho Sang and again arrested Ho Chi Minh. This was violating the out-of-court Privy Counsel settlement.

Once again Frank Loseby came to the aid of Ho Chi Minh. This time, he arranged Ho Chi Minh’s departure in cooperation with Hong Kong authorities. Mr. Loseby had Ho disguise himself as a Chinese businessman. A Chinese member of Mr. Loseby’s staff pretended to be Ho Chi Minh’s secretary. By pre-arrangement on 22 January 1933, the Assistant Superintendent of the Hong Kong Police accompanied two “belated stranger” – a distinguished Chinese businessman and his assistant – on a speed launch to catch up with the SS Ho Sang after it has already left the Hong Kong harbor for Macao.

Nearly thirty years later, in 1960, Ho Chi Minh and the government of Viet Nam invited the Loseby’s and their daughter, Patricia, to Viet Nam so that Ho could personally thank Frank Loseby for saving his life. Frank Loseby presented Ho Chi Minh with a Chinese businessman’s flowing brocade gown, satin turban and silk shoes similar to the ones Ho had used as a disguise. Those garments are in a permanent display in Han Noi’s Ho Chi Minh Museum.

Ho Chi Minh presented the Loseby family with an embroidery of The One Pillar Pagoda as a symbol of his affection and gratitude and that of the Vietnamese people. The One Pillar Pagoda is with the Loseby family in England. Scholars at the Ho Chi Minh Museum are currently researching the story behind the crafting of this exquisite embroidery, which is such an intriguing part of history

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