Nguyen Chi Thien: Dissident poet

Nguyen Chi Thien, who died on 2 October aged 73 at a hospital in Santa Ana, California, was a Vietnamese dissident poet who spent nearly 30 years in communist prisons in his native country. Thien had contracted tuberculosis while in Vietnamese prison, and doctors were investigating a large mass in his lung in the days before he died.

Thien first went to prison in 1960 after telling Vietnamese high school students that, contrary to their textbooks, the end of the Second World War was not the result of a Soviet attack, but rather US nuclear attacks in Japan. He was later imprisoned again because of poems he wrote that decried communist oppression. But because of a lack of evidence, he never went to trial.

In 1977, Thien was released from prison long enough to write down poems he had memorised in captivity, a manuscript that became known as Flowers of Hell. The poems were published in Vietnamese after he hand-delivered them to British diplomats at their embassy in Hanoi. When he exited the embassy, security agents were awaiting him and he was sent back to prison. While he was still imprisoned, Thien won the International Poetry Award in Rotterdam in 1985. He was released from prison in 1991 and travelled to the US in 1995, and later France, before settling in Orange County's Little Saigon.

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