Thursday, September 17, 2009
Monarch Profile: Emperor Thanh Thai
As he grew older the stories of his bizarre, perverse and at times cruel behavior behind the walls of the Forbidden City became legendary. Some maintain though that this was all an act, and point to his very well written poetry and political opinions as proof, that he was simply "playing the fool" to have greater freedom and divert attention. If so, he was an extremely gifted actor and the French were content to let him remain on the throne as a curiosity; a sort of tourist-attraction, while they ruled the country themselves. However, the reign of Emperor Thanh Thai was innovative in many ways. He was the first Vietnamese monarch to cut his hair short, drive a car and wear western clothes as well as the first to be extensively photographed. This did not endear him to the very traditional court but many people were impressed by his concern for them. He would slip out of the Great Within disguised as a common peasant to speak to his people and hear their complaints and concerns.
In 1916, when his son attempted to lead an uprising against the French, the opportunity was taken to be rid of them both. The throne went to Emperor Khai Dinh (now deemed good enough to succeed his father Dong Khanh) and Thanh Thai and Duy Tan were shipped off to La Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. Thanh Thai still caused scandal, his own son calling on the French to intervene but to no avail. After the Vietnamese declaration of independence in 1945 he was allowed to return home but was mostly kept under house arrest on Vung Tau, though on one occasion he did meet his cousin, the reigning Emperor Bao Dai. He died on March 24, 1954 in Saigon and was buried in the tomb of his father in Hue. His record remains a mixed one. Most dismiss him as a lunatic, others however, maintain that the stories are overblown and that it was all a charade by a patriotic monarch who was trying to distract his captors to plan for the independence of his country.