PEN International mourns the death of Vietnamese poet Nguyen Chi Thien who passed away on 2 October 2012. PEN members’ thoughts are with his family and friends.
NGUYEN CHI THIENwas one of the Writers in Prison Committee’s emblematic cases featured in the 50th anniversary of the Committee’s existence. Here is a brief background of his life.
Born in February 1935 in Hanoi, Vietnam, Nguyen Chi Thien was asked in by friend to teach one of his classes as he was ill. The year was 1960. In the lesson Chi Thien told the students that America had defeated Japan in World War Two, not the Soviet Union which the official curriculum claimed.
Nguyen Chi Thien was soon arrested and sentenced to two years imprisonment on the charge spreading “anti-government propaganda”. During what turned out to be a three and a half year incarceration he composed “almost a hundred poems” (committing them to memory). He was briefly released in 1964, however, he was soon re-arrested in February 1966 on the charge of producing “politically irreverent poems”. For this offence, and without trial, he was to serve 11 years in prison camps before being temporarily released in July 1977 because there was no room in the crowded camp to cope with the increasing flow of new prisoners coming from South Vietnam. Denied employment, Nguyen Chi Thien composed a further four hundred poems.