Malcolm Browne’s image of Thích Quảng Đức’s self-immolation is one of the most powerful and disturbing of the images of the 20th century. It was such an important cultural event that the car that escorted Đức to his fiery death has been preserved at one of Vietnam’s most well-known temples.
In itself, Thien Mu Pagoda is an impressive structure. At seven stories high, it is the tallest Pagoda in Vietnam and its construction dates back to 1601 CE. Although the structure and its gardens are beautiful, it sadly lost its luster when it became better known for its involvement in the struggles between Catholics and Buddhists in South Vietnam.
Leading up to the 1960s, Catholics were given preferential treatment over Buddhists, and discrimination was institutionalized from the top-down in the government. In 1963, the government massacred nine Buddhists and the situation was at a breaking point. This desperation led Thích Quảng Đức to ride from his temple to Saigon, leave the car at an intersection and set himself on fire.
His actions inspired others to follow suit, and discrimination against Buddhists was slowly addressed through protests across Vietnam. Although all that’s left is the rusty blue car, many find the temple an inspiring location and the small car a potent memorial to Đức’s desperate protest.