A Prince, a Missionary
Hien V. Ho
         In 1773, three brothers from the small village of Tây Sơn (Western Mountain) in Central Vietnam started a revolution that toppled the nearly two hundred year old dynasty of the Nguyen Lords and sent their last heir, Prince Nguyễn Ánh, on a long exile. The youngest and the most famous among the brothers, Nguyễn Huệ ended the Trinh Lord's rule in the North, chased the last Lê King out of the country and eventually defeated the 200,000-strong Qing army in one of the most celebrated victories of Vietnam's history.

         On the other side of the world, in 1774, Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, wrote "A Summary View of the Rights of British America" and became the most thoughtful spokesman of the Revolution. In 1776, he was in charge of the draft of the proposed American Declaration of Independence, which in turn became an inspiration for the French Revolution in 1789-1780. Jefferson later met a very young envoy from Vietnam, Prince Nguyễn Phúc Cảnh, brought to France on a mission to get military aid for his father Nguyễn Ánh who was struggling for years to regain South Vietnam from the hands of the Tây Sơn brothers. This article will try to take a new look at events more or less related to the lives of the little Prince and his mentor the missionary in the last decades of the eighteen-century when three revolutions took places in three countries in three continents.

         Thomas Jefferson and the quest for the ideal rice

         In July 1787, Thomas Jefferson, then American Minister to France, expressed an interest in acquiring rice seed from Vietnam and that "may constitute the first official American awareness of that distant foreign country." Jefferson quoted Poivre, a French farmer general of Isle de France, who had traveled to many countries throughout Asia, with particular attention to the objects of their agricultures, as saying that "in Cochinchina, they cultivate 6 different kinds of rice, three of them requiring water, and three growing on highlands." Jefferson wrote: "The dry rice of Cochinchina has the reputation of being whitest to the eye, best flavored to the taste, and most productive. It seems then to unite the good qualities of both the others known to us. Could it supplant them, it would be a great happiness, as it would enable us to get rid of those ponds of stagnant water so fatal to human health and lives. But such is the force of habit, and caprice of taste, that we could not be sure beforehand it would produce this effect. The experiment however is worth trying, should it only end in producing a third quality, and increasing the demand. I will endeavor to procure some to be brought from Cochin-china. The event will be however uncertain and distant."

         Six months later, in January 1788, Jefferson wrote: "I have considerable hope of receiving some rice from Cochin-china, the young Prince of that country, lately gone from here, having undertaken that it shall come to me. But it will be some time first."

        Please read the rest of the story in THE WOMEN OF VIETNAM.