The early life and times of President Souphanouvong

This article is written to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the birth of President Souphanouvong (July 13, 1909 - July 13, 2019) 

Even though President Souphanouvong passed on many years ago, his revolutionary spirit still burns bright among successive generations of Lao people today.
From his youth, through to the revolution and beyond, he led a remarkable life and became the nation’s founding president.
This week, the President of the Lao Front for National Development, Dr Xaysomphone Phomvihane, reviewed the exemplary life of President Souphanouvong, whose crowning achievement was to unify the Lao Patriotic Front and lead the revolutionary forces to the eventual triumph of national liberation.
He was then tasked with rebuilding Laos following many years of war and deprivation.
His motivation for taking on these challenges was the ultimate peace and happiness of the Lao people.
Souphanouvong’s life as a young man

President Souphanouvong (right) meets with President Ho Chi Minh in a revolutionary zone. (File photo)

Souphanouvong was born on Tuesday July 13, 1909, into the royal family in Luang Prabang province. 
He was the youngest of the sons of Prince Bounkhong, who served as the viceroy of Luang Prabang. His mother was Princess Kham-ouan.
He had two sisters – Princess Thavivanh and Princess Chindaratsamee. He also had two stepbrothers, Princes Phetsarath and Souvannaphoumma – the children of a different mother. They were themselves to play an important role in the country’s history.
Souphanouvong was well educated, as would be expected of a member of the royal family. Despite his royal lineage, he would play with the children of commoners without concern for social class divisions.
This put him closely in touch with the daily life of the local people and sparked feelings of mercy and compassion in the young prince.  
At the age of seven, he went to the local primary school. He excelled at his studies and scored high marks in all his subjects.
By the mid-1920s, he was studying at the Lycee Albert Sarraut in Hanoi, Vietnam. He took courses in social and natural sciences, and various foreign languages.
He was also interested in the arts, sports and music, and had a special talent for painting and writing poems.
He graduated in sciences and letters with a high grade and was selected to attend the Protectorate School of the Indochinese Region, where he also excelled.    
From 1931-1934, he studied engineering at the National University of Bridges and Roads in Paris, France. Before doing so, he took a pre-course at Saint-Louis College.
While at university he was actively involved in practical work and travelled to various countries in the east and west of Europe.
He also visited several African countries to get in touch with the deep truths of that continent. He experienced the dignity of the poor despite their daily struggles, which impressed upon him the impact of European colonisation on the continent.
President Souphanouvong was an active self-starter when it came to learning. He lived a simple life, certainly not luxurious. Eventually he was able to communicate in nine languages that were in common use on the international stage.
Official life
In France, President Souphanouvong graduated in road engineering from the National University of Bridges and Roads, and was the first Lao national to obtain this certificate.    
After he finished university in France in 1937, he returned to Indochina and worked in Nha Trang (the second public works region in Annam). During his three years there, he supervised the construction of roads and bridges on Road No. 14 and a hydropower plant in Da Vinh.
He also helped to build bridges and repair Road No. 13 in Stung Treng province, Cambodia.
The engineer was then appointed to work in Phin district, Savannakhet province, to build Road No. 23 and Xe Banghieng Bridge.
In 1942, President Souphanouvong worked in Vinh district, Vietnam.
During his time in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, President Souphanouvong’s work was productive as a result of his ability and dedication.
Importantly, he learned the truth about the deeds of the French colonialists and saw how they treated the people in their colonies.
All of these factors influenced the ideas and thinking of President Souphanouvong and the path he subsequently followed in life.
The first path open to him was to continue to work within the French colonial system, and lead a more relaxing life.
The second path was to fight for his country’s liberation and bring freedom and rights to all Lao ethnic peoples.
As we now know, the future president selected the road less travelled, taking on the hardships of a revolutionary life that would eventually lead to the liberation of Indochina, and the people and nation he loved. 

By Xayxana Leukai
(Latest Update July 12, 2019)


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