HIH Crown Prince Bao Long (1936-2007)
            On July 27, 2007 His Imperial Highness Crown Prince Bao Long of Vietnam was called to his eternal reward. His death came after ten years as the de jure Emperor of Vietnam in exile following the death of his father, His Majesty Bao Dai, the last Vietnamese emperor on July 30, 1997. He spent his earliest years in fairly traditional fashion for a Vietnamese heir to the throne but his overall life was anything but ordinary.
            The first born of the Emperor and his Catholic wife Empress Nam Phuong, Bao Long was raised first in the traditional Confucian tradition of the Vietnamese Imperial Family as he would one day be expected to be pontiff and the Son of Heaven in the national religion when he succeeded his father. This is why his mother was denied a dispensation for a religious wedding to the last Emperor. In 1939 he was formally invested as crown prince and heir to the throne in the traditional ceremony, as his father before him had been, to avoid any succession disputes. However, his traditional Vietnamese life ended with the Japanese surrender in 1945 and the success of the August Revolution when the communists under President Ho Chi Minh took control of the country.
            With his father having abdicated and the country descending into turmoil it seemed the monarchial history of Vietnam was over and Crown Prince Bao Long, with his siblings, accompanied their mother into exile in France in 1947 where he was brought up, as per her wishes, as a Roman Catholic. However, his position changed yet again when, in 1948, the former Emperor Bao Dai was made Chief of State or Quoc Truong of the French sponsored State of Vietnam in opposition to the communist regime in the north. Although the monarchy had not been technically restored, Crown Prince Bao Long was again treated as future successor of his father. In fact, some had even suggested putting him on the throne in the French colony of Cochinchina in southern Vietnam but this unprecedented idea was soon dismissed. Nonetheless, he again had public duties to perform and was present in 1953 for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom in London as the representative of the State of Vietnam and the Nguyen Imperial Dynasty.
            Of course, the State of Vietnam never had a peaceful existence and while the Emperor was content to spend most of his time in luxurious safety in France, Bao Long, now a young man, desired to be on the front lines in the fight for his people and the future of his country. Given his background and upbringing it is also not surprising that he had a more favorable view of the Franco-Viet alliance which the French government and his own father, grandfather and great-grandfather had tried to foster. Bao Long expressed his desire to serve in the newly formed National Army of Vietnam to aid the French forces in their fight against the communist Vietminh but this request was refused. In a way not unlike that recently faced by Prince Harry and his possible deployment to Iraq it was considered too much of a risk that the son and heir of the Emperor might be killed or captured by the communist forces and used to their own ends.
            Denied a place in the service of his own country, Bao Long volunteered to join the French Foreign Legion and it was in that famous band of warriors that he fought in the French colonial war in Algeria where he was decorated with the Croix de Guerre for merit and bravery in battle. For ten years he was a Legionnaire before retiring from the army and taking a job at a Parisian bank. Those who followed the Vietnamese Imperial Family might have found this somewhat ironic given how closely the Crown Prince followed in his fathers footsteps in matters of money. During his early exile in France Emperor Bao Dai was well known for his extravagant losses in the casinos of Monte   Carlo and at one point his mother, the Empress Dowager, in Vietnam had to sell off family heirlooms to help her son pay his gambling debts. Similarly, the Crown Prince had to sell some of the passions of his father and some of the jewelry that belonged to his mother to pay his own debts.
            Crown Prince Bao Long was also a confirmed bachelor. The late Emperor was a notorious ladies man and had numerous affairs and mistresses throughout his life in addition to his legal wives. The Crown Prince, on the contrary, while certainly never avoiding female companionship, never married at all nor did he ever have any acknowledged children. This might be considered unusual behavior for a royal heir but, keep in mind, he was also the son of a father known for his infidelity and saw from his earliest years the pain this caused his mother and it is a matter of fact that many children of difficult or failed marriages choose not to marry themselves. Crown Prince Bao Long, after leaving the army and seeing any possibility of a royal restoration in Vietnam evaporating, chose to live a very private life in every sense.
            On the whole, Bao Long shunned the limelight and at times even seemed somewhat shy about his humble and rather ordinary lifestyle. He avoided political entanglements and his public statements were mostly confined to a single televised announcement upon the death of the Emperor reflecting on his life and accepting his position as head of the Nguyen Dynasty. His silence on political activism itself did cause him some controversy though. When approached by a Vietnamese pretender advocating an imperial restoration and claiming leadership of the family the Crown Prince refused to meet or speak with him and as a result was ridiculed by this same pretender who accused him of being a traitor and weakling for refusing to acknowledge his self appointed position even though this same individual originally claimed (falsely) that the Crown Prince had supported him when in fact he was never even aware of this man or of his agitation and delusions of grandeur.
            Despite these little hiccups, which in all likelihood and thankfully never reached the ears of the Crown Prince, he spent the rest of his life in quiet seclusion, with his status as de jure Emperor in exile important only as a symbol to the scattered monarchists who remembered the last days of the Nguyen reign. The actual history, like most, is complicated but it is certainly unfair that virtually all of the younger generations of Vietnamese, no matter where they live around the world, have gotten their history from sources whose most basic justification for existence compels them to all agree on opposing the Nguyen monarchy even if they agree on absolutely nothing else at all.
            For Christians, and Catholics have long been the largest religious minority in Vietnam, the issue was complicated by the history and the lifestyles of the Nguyen emperors. For some time the Nguyen emperors were infamous around the world for their persecution of Christianity however, later, they came to tolerate and accept the religion with some even embracing it. However, the lifestyle of the last Emperor did little to endear him to Vietnamese Catholics, especially when he came to be rivaled by the austere and devout Catholic mandarin Ngo Dinh Diem. His Catholic wife might have been a greater help as she was beloved by all sections of society but his constant philandering did his cause no help. By the time the Emperor settled down, married a French woman and converted to Catholicism himself his days on the throne were long gone as were any reasonable chance of it ever being recovered.
            However, even at the very least, the Crown Prince held symbolic significance for Christians in particular among the rest of the Vietnamese community. If we are to give the late Emperor Bao Dai the benefit of a doubt and assume that his conversion was sincere and part of a heartfelt turnaround in his life, then we must assume that he would have converted in the same way if he had still been Chief of State for Vietnam. In that regard, we can say that the immediate Vietnamese Imperial Family became Catholic and that the Vietnamese monarchy would have been Catholic (it essentially is in exile today) and Crown Prince Bao Long would have been the first Catholic to become Emperor of Vietnam.
            Imagine what that symbolism means. The Vietnamese monarchy would have come full circle from the Catholic Crown Prince Canh, son of the founder of the Nguyen Dynasty, who died before he could succeed his father. Without playing any active role whatsoever, Crown Prince Bao Long, the de jure Vietnamese emperor, represents how God will meet His people half way but that the people must do their part as well. By simply existing, through circumstances totally beyond his control, Crown Prince Bao Long embodied the free, tolerant and Catholic monarchy that Vietnam could potentially be today if things had gone differently in 1945 when so many chose to put their faith in communist demagogues rather than the traditional institutions of their country. For that reason, if no other, Crown Prince Bao Long deserves to be remembered and remembered well. He represented a Vietnam that might have been, he represented a more traditional, open and libertarian Vietnam; a monarchy, as opposed to the intolerant, totalitarian communist regime that has ruled the whole country since 1975 and is still going brutally strong today.
Rest In Peace Crown Prince Bao Long
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