Asia Minute: Vietnam’s Sacred Turtle and the Communist Party

Jan 21, 2016

Credit Wikipedia Commons

This is an important week for the political future of Vietnam. The country’s leadership will be undergoing some changes at the weeklong Communist Party Congress. But local media are focused on the death of a famous turtle—and even that has political overtones. HPR’s Bill Dorman explains in today’s Asia Minute.

In about a week, Vietnam’s government may have an entirely different leadership.  It won’t be as a result of direct elections or the expressed will of the people - it is all up to Vietnam’s communist party.  Once every 5 years, there’s a party congress….and the next one gets underway tomorrow.

But the top news in Vietnam this week is, arguably, about the death of a turtle.  Not just any turtle—this is a Yangtze giant softshell turtle nicknamed “great grandfather.”  It weighs nearly five-hundred pounds and is believed to be more than a hundred years old, one of four known to exist in the world.

It’s also been seen as a symbol of Vietnam’s struggle for independence…a sacred turtle trusted with the magical sword of a 15th century rebel leader, one who drove out Chinese invaders.  The turtle’s body was found floating in a lake this week in Hanoi.

To many in Vietnam, that was not only a national loss, but also an omen, with a looming change of government.  The party congress could result in a change in the leadership of the communist party, as well as the prime minister and the president.

The remains of the turtle will be preserved… the disposition of the current government, not so clear.