Phan Thanh Gian (1796-1867)
Phan Thanh Gian, nicknames Dam Ba, Dam Nhu, Luong Khe, Mai Xuyen, born on the 12th day of the 10th month of the Lunar year of Dragon, or 1796, in Tan Thanh Village, Vinh Binh District, Dinh Vien Prefect, Vinh Long Province, now is Bao Thanh Commune, Ba Tri District, Ben Tre Province.
Born into a poor family, Phan Thanh Gian lived a very hard life in his early years since his mother's passaway. An intelligent and studious learner, Gian attended the Huong contest (local examination) when he was 30 (in 1825) and got the Bachelor degree at the Gia Dinh school. The following year, 1826, Gian attended the Hoi contest (centralized examination, held in Hue Kingdom City), he ran third in place and got the associate Doctorate degree, became the first doctor of the Cochinchine territory. He entered the mandarin life that stretched for 3 Kings of the Nguyen Dynasty: Minh Mang, Thieu Tri and Tu Duc. Under Minh Mang Reign, he was appointed important positions such as Academic Writer and Editor, then switched to Middle Minister of Justice (in 1827), then Superintendent of Quang Binh Province (1828), Acting Superintendent of Nghe An Province (1831), Secret Service Chief (1834), Viceroy of the West Part (1835), Governor of Quang Nam Province (1836), etc.
After the passaway of Minh Mang, he was retained as a senior official, appointed as Vice Chief Judge of Thua Thien School (1840), Vice Chief of the Historical Research Institute (1847).
Under Tu Duc Reign, Phan was assigned to teach and administer the Kinh Dien School, and the head of the editorship to compose the historical book Kham Dinh Viet su thong giam cuong muc (The Summarized Chronicles of Vietnamese History, in 1848). In 1849, he was assigned Minister of the Interior, Secret Service Official. In 1850, Phan was assigned to Governor of the West provinces of the Cochinchine along with Nguyen Tri Phuong. Then he was appointed Vice Viceroy of the Cochinchine. Early 1862, Phan was appointed the King's Envoy to negotiate with the French colonialists to redeem the occupied provinces. However, in June 5, 1862, Phan signed with Bonard (a French Naval Admiral) and Guttierez (Colonel, chief commander of the Spainish legion troops in the Cochinchine) a peace accord of 12 clauses, including a clause to concede 3 Eastern Province of the Cochinchine to the French for 4 million USD in return, paid by instalment in ten years. For this mistake, Phan was reprimanded by Tu Duc, but no punishment was taken. The following year, Phan again was assigned Chief Envoy to France, along with Vice Chief Envoy Pham Phu Thu, to negotiate for redeeming the lost 3 three Eastern Provinces. He was, however, unsuccessful.
In January, 1866, Phan was sent to Vinh Long to defend the province from the French invasion of the Western Provinces. On June 20, 1867, Vinh Long fell (again) into the French hands, Phan Thanh Gian went on hunger-strike and killed himself on August 4, 1867. He was posthumously revoked all titles, degrees and positions he had ever held, and 19 years later was recovered all.
There are many contrary ideas about Phan's rights and wrongs. No matter what he had ever done, he deserved to be commemorated with more merits than what he was accused of.