French Indochina

French Indochina (previously spelled as French Indo-China),[lower-alpha 1][lower-alpha 2] officially known as the Indochinese Union[lower-alpha 3][lower-alpha 4] and after 1947 as the Indochinese Federation,[lower-alpha 5] was a grouping of French colonial territories in Southeast Asia until its demise in 1954. It comprised Cambodia, Laos (from 1899), the Chinese territory of Guangzhouwan (from 1898 until 1945), and the Vietnamese regions of Tonkin in the north, Annam in the centre, and Cochinchina in the south. The capital for most of its history (1902–45) was Hanoi; Saigon was the capital from 1887 to 1902 and again from 1945 to 1954.

French Indochina
Indochine française (French)
法属印度支那 (Chinese)
อินโดจีนฝรั่งเศส (Thai)
Đông Dương thuộc Pháp (Vietnamese)
ឥណ្ឌូចិនបារាំង (Khmer)
ຝຣັ່ງອິນດູຈີນ (Lao)
Motto: "Liberté, égalité, fraternité"
"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity"
Anthem: La Marseillaise
("The Marseillaise")
Vietnamese-style seal of the Government-General of French Indochina[lower-alpha 3]
Map of French Indochina, excluding Guangzhouwan
StatusFederation of French colonial possessions
Common languagesFrench (official)
GovernmentFrench federation
 1887–1888 (first)
Ernest Constans
 1955–1956 (last)
Henri Hoppenot[lower-alpha 5]
Historical eraNew Imperialism
 French conquest of Vietnam
17 October 1887
19 April 1899
 Addition of Guangzhouwan
5 January 1900
22 September 1940
Oct. 1940 – May 1941
9 March 1945
13 September 1945
19 December 1946
21 July 1954
737,000 km2 (285,000 sq mi)
CurrencyFrench Indochinese piastre
Preceded by
Succeeded by
of Annam
of Tonkin
French Protectorate of Cambodia
Twelve Tai
Qing dynasty
Kingdom of
Luang Phrabang
Kingdom of Champasak
of Siam
Democratic Republic of Vietnam
Kingdom of Kampuchea
Lao Issara
Empire of
Kingdom of
Kingdom of
Luang Phrabang
Empire of Japan
State of
Kingdom of Cambodia
Kingdom of Laos
Today part ofVietnam
  1. Localised version of the Great Seal of France removing a number of French nationalistic symbols related to universal suffrage, science, and the Gallic cock while adding an anchor and rice wheat.[1]
  2. Localised version of the Great Seal of France removing a number of French nationalistic symbols related to universal suffrage, science, and the Gallic cock while adding an anchor and rice wheat.[2]
  3. Used on Classical Chinese language documents, its inscription reads Đại Pháp Quốc Khâm mệnh Tổng thống Đông Dương Toàn quyền đại thần quan nho (大法國欽命總統東洋全權大臣關伩) written in seal script.
  4. Changed the name to "Thai" since 1939
  5. As Commissioner-General

The Second French Empire annexed Cochinchina and established a protectorate in Cambodia in 1862 and 1863 respectively. After the French Third Republic took over northern Vietnam through the Tonkin campaign, the various protectorates were consolidated into one union in 1887. Two more entities were incorporated into the union: the Laotian protectorate and the Chinese territory of Guangzhouwan. The French exploited the resources in the region during their rule, but also contributed to improvements of the health and education system in the region. Nevertheless, deep divides remained between the native population and the colonists, leading to sporadic rebellions by the former. After the Fall of France during World War II, the colony was administered by the Vichy government and was under Japanese occupation until March 1945, when the Japanese overthrew the colonial regime. After the Japanese surrender, the Viet Minh, a communist organization led by Hồ Chí Minh, declared Vietnamese independence, but France subsequently took back control of French Indochina with the help of the British. An all-out independence war, known as the First Indochina War, broke out in late 1946 between French and Viet Minh forces.

To counter the Viet Minh, the State of Vietnam, led by former Emperor Bảo Đại, was proclaimed by the French in 1949. French efforts to retake Vietnam were unsuccessful, culminating in defeat at the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ. On 22 October and 9 November 1953, the Kingdom of Laos and Kingdom of Cambodia proclaimed their respective independences. Following the Geneva Accord of 1954, the French were forced to withdraw from Vietnam, which had been split into the two countries (until 1976), and French Indochina was no more.


First French Interventions

French–Vietnamese relations started during the early 17th century with the arrival of the Jesuit missionary Alexandre de Rhodes. Around this time, Vietnam had only just begun its "Push to the South"—"Nam Tiến", the occupation of the Mekong Delta, a territory being part of the Khmer Empire and to a lesser extent, the kingdom of Champa which they had defeated in 1471.[3]

European involvement in Vietnam was confined to trade during the 18th century, as the remarkably successful work of the Jesuit missionaries continued. In 1787, Pierre Pigneau de Behaine, a French Catholic priest, petitioned the French government and organised French military volunteers to aid Nguyễn Ánh in retaking lands his family lost to the Tây Sơn. Pigneau died in Vietnam but his troops fought on until 1802 in the French assistance to Nguyễn Ánh.

French conquest of Cochinchina

Expansion of French Indochina (violet)

The French colonial empire was heavily involved in Vietnam in the 19th century; often French intervention was undertaken in order to protect the work of the Paris Foreign Missions Society in the country. For its part, the Nguyễn dynasty increasingly saw Catholic missionaries as a political threat; courtesans, for example, an influential faction in the dynastic system, feared for their status in a society influenced by an insistence on monogamy.[4]

In 1858, the brief period of unification under the Nguyễn dynasty ended with a successful attack on Tourane (present day Da Nang) by French Admiral Charles Rigault de Genouilly under the orders of Napoleon III. Prior to the attack French diplomat Charles de Montigny's efforts to reach a peaceable solution had failed. Seeing no other recourse, France sent Genouilly forward in a military effort to end Vietnam's persecution and expulsion of Catholic missionaries.[5]

Fourteen French gunships, 3,300 men including 300 Filipino soldiers provided by the Spanish[6] attacked the port of Tourane causing significant damage and occupying the city. After fighting the Vietnamese for three months and finding himself unable to progress further in land, de Genouilly sought and received approval of an alternative attack on Saigon.[5][7]

Sailing to southern Vietnam, de Genouilly captured the poorly defended city of Saigon on 17 February 1859. Once again, however, de Genouilly and his forces were unable to seize territory outside of the defensive perimeter of the city. De Genouilly was criticised for his actions and was replaced by Admiral Page in November 1859 with instructions to obtain a treaty protecting the Catholic faith in Vietnam while refraining from making territorial gains.[5][7]

Peace negotiations proved unsuccessful and the fighting in Saigon continued. Ultimately in 1861, the French brought additional forces to bear in the Saigon campaign, advanced out of the city and began to capture cities in the Mekong Delta. On 5 June 1862, the Vietnamese conceded and signed the Treaty of Saigon whereby they agreed to legalize the free practice of the Catholic religion; to open trade in the Mekong Delta and at three ports at the mouth of the Red River in northern Vietnam; to cede the provinces of Biên Hòa, Gia Định and Định Tường along with the islands of Poulo Condore to France; and to pay reparations equivalent to one million dollars.[8][9][10]

In 1864 the aforementioned three provinces ceded to France were formally constituted as the French colony of Cochinchina. Then in 1867, French Admiral Pierre de la Grandière forced the Vietnamese to surrender three additional provinces, Châu Đốc, Hà Tiên and Vĩnh Long. With these three additions all of southern Vietnam and the Mekong Delta fell under French control.[9]

Establishment and early administration

In 1863, the Cambodian king Norodom had requested the establishment of a French protectorate over his country. In 1867, Siam (modern Thailand) renounced suzerainty over Cambodia and officially recognised the 1863 French protectorate on Cambodia, in exchange for the control of Battambang and Siem Reap provinces which officially became part of Thailand. (These provinces would be ceded back to Cambodia by a border treaty between France and Siam in 1906).

Siamese Army troops in the disputed territory of Laos in 1893
The Presidential Palace, in Hanoi, built between 1900 and 1906 to house the Governor-General of Indochina

France obtained control over northern Vietnam following its victory over China in the Sino-French War (1884–85). French Indochina was formed on 17 October 1887 from Annam, Tonkin, Cochinchina (which together form modern Vietnam) and the Kingdom of Cambodia; Laos was added after the Franco-Siamese War in 1893.

The federation lasted until 21 July 1954. In the four protectorates, the French formally left the local rulers in power, who were the Emperors of Vietnam, Kings of Cambodia, and Kings of Luang Prabang, but in fact gathered all powers in their hands, the local rulers acting only as figureheads.

Japanese women called Karayuki-san migrated to cities like Hanoi, Haiphong and Saigon in colonial French Indochina in the late 19th century to work as prostitutes and provide sexual services to French soldiers who were occupying Vietnam. Since the French viewed Japanese women as clean, they were highly popular.[11][12] Images of the Japanese prostitutes in Vietnam were put on French postcards by French photographers.[13][14][15][16][17] The Japanese government tried to hide the existences of these Japanese prostitutes who went abroad and did not mention them in books on history.[18][19]

Beginning in the 1880s there was a rise of an explicitly anti-Catholic French administration in French Indochina.[20] The administration would try to reduce Catholic missionary influence in French Indochinese society, as opposed to the earlier decades where missionaries played an important role in both administration and society in French Cochinchina.[20]

From 1 January 1898, the French directly took over the right to collect all taxes in the protectorate of Annam and to allocate salaries to the Emperor of the Nguyễn dynasty and its mandarins.[21] In a notice dated 24 August 1898, the Resident-Superior of Annam wrote: "From now on, in the Kingdom of Annam there are no longer two governments, but only one" (meaning that the French government completely took over the administration).[21]

Early Vietnamese Rebellions

While the French were trying to establish control over Cambodia, a large scale Vietnamese insurgency – the Cần Vương movement – started to take shape, aiming to expel the French and install the boy emperor Hàm Nghi as the leader of an independent Vietnam.[22] The insurgents, led by Phan Đình Phùng, Phan Chu Trinh, Phan Bội Châu, Trần Quý Cáp and Huỳnh Thúc Kháng, targeted Vietnamese Christians as there were very few French soldiers to overcome, which led to a massacre of around 40,000 Christians.[23] The rebellion was eventually brought down by a French military intervention, in addition to its lack of unity in the movement.[24][25][26]

Nationalist sentiments intensified in Vietnam, especially during and after World War I, but all the uprisings and tentative efforts failed to obtain sufficient concessions from the French.

Franco-Siamese War (1893)

Territorial conflict in the Indochinese peninsula for the expansion of French Indochina led to the Franco-Siamese War of 1893. In 1893 the French authorities in Indochina used border disputes, followed by the Paknam naval incident, to provoke a crisis. French gunboats appeared at Bangkok, and demanded the cession of Lao territories east of the Mekong River.

King Chulalongkorn appealed to the British, but the British minister told the king to settle on whatever terms he could get, and he had no choice but to comply. Britain's only gesture was an agreement with France guaranteeing the integrity of the rest of Siam. In exchange, Siam had to give up its claim to the Thai-speaking Shan region of north-eastern Burma to the British, and cede Laos to France.

Further Encroachments on Siam (1904–07)

Occupation of Trat by French troops in 1904.

The French continued to pressure Siam, and in 1902 they manufactured another crisis. This time Siam had to concede French control of territory on the west bank of the Mekong opposite Luang Prabang and around Champasak in southern Laos, as well as western Cambodia. France also occupied the western part of Chantaburi.

In 1904, to get back Chantaburi, Siam had to give Trat and Koh Kong to French Indochina. Trat became part of Thailand again on 23 March 1907 in exchange for many areas east of the Mekong like Battambang, Siam Nakhon and Sisophon.

In the 1930s, Siam engaged France in a series of talks concerning the repatriation of Siamese provinces held by the French. In 1938, under the Front Populaire administration in Paris, France had agreed to repatriate Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Siem Pang and the associated provinces (approximately 13) to Siam. Meanwhile, Siam took over control of those areas, in anticipation of the upcoming treaty. Signatories from each country were dispatched to Tokyo to sign the treaty repatriating the lost provinces.

Anti-French revolts in the early 20th century

While during the early 20th century calm was supposed to reign as the French had "pacified" the region, but constant uprisings contesting French rule characterised French Indochina this period.[27] "There is ample evidence of the rural populations' involvement in revolts against authority during the first 50 years of the French colonial presence in Cambodia."[28] The French Sûreté was worried about the Japanese victory during the Russo-Japanese War and its lasting impression on the East as it was considered to be the first victory of "a yellow people over the white", as well as the fall of the Manchu-led Qing dynasty to the Xinhai Revolution which established the Republic of China.[27] These events all had significant influence on nationalist sentiments in the territories of French Indochina.[27]

The early 20th century saw a number of secret societies launch rebellions in Cochinchina, the Peace and Duty Society (Nghia Hoa Doan Hoi) was introduced to the region by the Minh Hương refugees following the Manchu conquest of China and the Vietnamese Heaven and Earth Society (天地會, Thiên Địa Hội).[29] The Peace and Duty Society was also active supporting anti-Qing insurgents in China.[29]

The majority of the traditional mandarin elites would continue to operate under the French protectorate being loyal to their new rulers, but as early period of the Pháp thuộc saw an influx of French enterprises significant changes to the social order of the day inspired new forms of resistance against French rule that differed from the earlier Cần Vương Movement.[29] The new social circumstances in French Indochina were brought about by the establishment of industrial companies by the French such as the Union commerciale indochinoise, the Est Asiatique français shipping company, the Chemin de fer français de l'Indochine et du Yunan railway company, as well as the various coal exploitation companies operating in Tonkin, these modern companies were accompanied by an influx of French tea, coffee, and rubber plantation magnates.[29]

Following the defeat of the Nguyễn loyalist Cần Vương Movement a new generation of anti-French resistance emerged, rather than being rooted in the traditional mandarin elites the new anti-French resistance leaders of the early 20th century were more influenced by international events and revolutions abroad to inspire their resistance and the issue of modernisation.[27] Some Vietnamese revolutionaries like Phan Châu Trinh traveled to the Western World (Đi Tây) to obtain the "keys" to modernity and hope to bring these back to Vietnam.[27] While others like the revolutionary leader Phan Bội Châu made the "Journey to the East" (Đông Du) to the Japanese Empire which they saw as the other role-model of modernisation for Vietnam to follow.[27] The Đông Du school of revoluties was supported by Prince Cường Để, a direct descendant of the Gia Long Emperor.[27] Prince Cường Để hoped that by financing hundreds of young ambitious Vietnamese people to go get educated in Japan that this would contribute to the liberation of his country from French domination.[27]

The Duy Tân Hội was founded in 1904 by Phan Bội Châu and Prince Cường Để.[30][31][29] The group in a broader sense was also considered a Modernisation Movement.[32][33][34] This new group of people consisted only of a few hundred people, with most of its members being either students or nationalists.[29] Notable members of the society included Gilbert Trần Chánh Chiêu.[35] The members of the Duy Tân Hội would establish a network of commercial enterprises to both gain capital to finance their activities and to hide their true intentions.[29] A number of other anti-French organisations would support the Duy Tân Hội such as the Peace and Duty Society and the Heaven and Earth Society.[29]

The Tonkin Free School (Đông Kinh Nghĩa Thục), which was created in Hanoi in 1907 by the supporters of both Phan Châu Trinh and Phan Bội Châu was closed in the year of its founding by the French authorities because it was perceived as being anti-French.[27] The Tonkin Free School stemmed from the movement of the same name, which aimed to modernise Vietnamese society by abandoning Confucianism and adopting new ideas from both the Western world and Japan. In particular, it promoted the Vietnamese version of the Latin script for writing Vietnamese in place of classical Chinese by publishing educational materials and newspapers using this script, as a new vehicle of instruction. The schools offered free courses to anyone who wanted to learn about the modern spirit. The teachers at the school at 59 Hàng Đàn included Phạm Duy Tốn.[36]

in the years prior to World War I the French arrested thousands of people with some being sentenced to death and others being imprisoned at the Poulo Condore jail island (Côn Sơn Island).[27] Because of this Côn Sơn Island would become the best school for political prisoners, nationalists, and communists, as they were gathered together in large, common cells which allowed them to exchange their ideas.[27]

In March 1908, mass demonstrations took place against the authorities demanding a reduction of the high taxes took place in the French protectorates of Annam and Tonkin.[27]

The heads of Duong Be, Tu Binh and Doi Nhan decapitated by the French on July 8, 1908 in the Ha Thanh Poisonning

In June 1908, the Hanoi Poison Plot took place where a group of Tonkinese indigenous tirailleurs attempted to poison the entire French colonial army's garrison in the Citadel of Hanoi.[27] The aim of the plot was to neutralise the French garrison and make way for Commander Đề Thám's rebel army to capture the city of Hanoi. The plot was disclosed, and then was suppressed by the French.[37][27] In response the French proclaimed martial law. The French accused Phan Châu Trinh and Phan Bội Châu of the plot, Phan Châu Trinh was sent to Poulo Condor, and Phan Bội Châu fled to Japan and thence, in the year 1910, he went to China.[38][39][27] In the years 1912 and 1913 Vietnamese nationalists organised attacks in Tonkin and Cochinchina.[27]

Using diplomatic pressure the French persuaded the Japanese to banish the Duy Tân Hội in 1909 from its shores causing them to seek refuge in Qing China, here they would join the ranks of Sun Yat-Sen's Tongmenghui.[29] While places like Guangdong, Guangxi, and Yunnan were earlier in the French sphere of influence in China, these places would now become hosts of anti-French revolutionary activities due to their borders with Tonkin and Laos, being the primary places of operation for both Chinese and Vietnamese revolutionaries.[29] This allowed for members of the Duy Tân Hội to perform border raids on both Tonkin and Laos from their bases in China.[29]

In March 1913 the mystic millenarist cult leader Phan Xích Long organised an independence demonstration in Cholon which was attended by 600 peasants dressed in white robes.[40] Phan Xích Long claimed descent of the deposed Hàm Nghi Emperor and the Ming dynasty's emperor and declared himself to be the "Emperor of the Ming dynasty".[29]

The year 1913 also saw the Duy Tân Hội's second insurrection campaign, this campaign resulted in the society's members murdering two French Hanoi police officers, attacks on both militia and the military, and the execution of a number of Nguyễn dynasty mandarins that were accused of working together with the French government.[29] Another revolt also broke out in Cochinchina in 1913 where prisons and administrative hubs were attacked by crowds of hundreds of peasants using sticks and swords to fight the French, as the French were armed with firearms a large number of protesters ended up dying by gunshot wounds causing the protests to break up ending the revolt.[29]

During the early 20th century the French protectorate over Cambodia was challenged by rebels, just before it saw three separate revolts during the early reign of King Norodom, who had little authority outside Phnom Penh.[27]

During the early 20th century Laos was considered to be the most "docile" territory as it saw relatively little uprisings.[27] The French attributed this to them being more stable rulers than the Siamese who had ruled over them for a century before the establishment of the French protectorate over their country.[27] Both the traditional elite and the Laotian peasantry seemed largely content with French rule during this period.[27] Despite this, sporadic revolts occurred in Laos during the late 19th century and early 20th century. During the late 19th century Southern Laos saw upland minority communities rising up in revolt, these were led by Bac My and Ong Ma on the Bolaven Plateau, who demanded the restoration of the "old order" and led an armed insurrection against the French until as late as 1936.[41][27] The Phu Mi Bun Revolt revolt erupted in 1901 and was not suppressed until 1907. It was a "major rebellion by local Lao Theung tribes (the Alak, Nyaheun and Laven) against French domination".[42][43] Though there is not extensive literature on these particular revolutionary revolts in the Bolaven Plateau, one can see that the native communities desired to rid the region of the extensive and overpowering influence of their colonisers.[44]

Introducing French education

On 16 May 1906 the Governor-General of French Indochina Jean Baptiste Paul Beau issued a decree establishing the Councils for the Improvement of Indigenous Education.[45][46] These organisations would oversee the French policies surrounding the education of the indigenous population of French Indochina to "study educational issues related to each place separately".[45]

According to researcher Nguyễn Đắc Xuân, in 1907, the imperial court of the Nguyễn dynasty sent Cao Xuân Dục and Huỳnh Côn, the Thượng thư of the Hộ Bộ, to French Cochinchina to "hold a conference on education" (bàn nghị học chính) with the French authorities on the future of the Annamese education system.[47] This meeting was also recorded in the work Hoàng Việt Giáp Tý niên biểu written by Nguyễn Bá Trác.[46] The creation of a ministry of education was orchestrated by the French to reform the Nguyễn dynasty's educational system to match French ambitions in the region more.[46] As explained by the Resident-Superior of Annam Ernest Fernand Lévecque "Its creation is to better suit the times as more opportunities to study" opened up in the South to which this new ministry was best suited to help this transition.[46]

While the Nguyễn dynasty's Ministry of Education was nominally a part of the Nguyễn dynasty's administrative apparatus, actual control was in the hands of the French Council for the Improvement of Indigenous Education in Annam, which dictated its policies.[45] All work done by the ministry was according to the plans and the command of the French Director of Education of Annam.[46] The French administration in Annam continuously revised the curriculum to be taught in order to fit the French system.[46]

World War I

A report by the Viện cơ mật on the financial and military aid given by the Nguyễn dynasty to Great France in the year Khải Định 2 (1917). Note how the document ends with the phrases Đại Pháp vạn tuế, Đông Dương vạn tuế (大法萬歲, 東洋萬歲).

The French entry into World War I saw thousands of volunteers, primarily from the French protectorates of Annam and Tonkin, enlist for service in Europe, around 78 of all French Indochinese serving in Europe were Annamese and Tonkinese volunteers.[48][49] This period also saw a number of uprisings in Tonkin and Cochinchina.[50] French Indochina contributed significantly to the French war effort in terms of funds, products and human resources.[27]

Prior to World War I the population of French Indochina stood at around 16,395,000 in 1913 with 14,165,000 being Vietnamese (Tonkinese, Annamese and Cochinchinese), 1,600,000 Cambodians, and 630,000 Laotians.[51][27] These 16.4 million subjects were ruled over by only around 18,000 French civilians, militaries, and civil servants.[27]

During this period Governor-General of French Indochina Albert Sarraut promised a new policy of association and a "Franco-Annamese Collaboration" (French: Collaboration franco-annamite; Vietnamese: Pháp-Việt Đề huề) for the wartime contribution by the French Indochinese to their colonial masters.[27] However, beside some liberal reforms, the French administration actually increased economic exploitation and ruthless repression of nationalist movements which rapidly resulted in a disappointment of the promises made by Sarraut.[27]

During the early days of the war around 6 million Frenchmen were drafted causing a severe labour shortage in France.[52] In response, the Undersecretary of State for Artillery and Munitions proposed to hire women, European immigrants, and French colonial subjects, these people were later followed with Chinese immigrants.[52] From 1915 onwards, the French war effort's manpower needs started to rise significantly.[29] Initially the French maintained a racial hierarchy where they believed in "martial races" making the early recruitment fall onus primarily on North Africa and French West Africa, but soon the need for additional manpower forced the French to recruit men from the Far East and Madagascar.[29] Almost 100,000 Vietnamese were conscripts and went to Europe to fight and serve on the French battlefront, or work as labourers.[53][54] Vietnamese troops also served in the Balkans[55] and the Middle Eastern front. This exceptional human mobility offered the French Indochinese, mostly Vietnamese, the unique opportunity of directly access to social life and political debates that were occurring in contemporary France and this resulted in their aspirations to become "masters of their own destiny" to increase.[27] Exposed to new political ideals and returning to a colonial occupation of their own country (by a ruler that many of them had fought and died for), resulted in some sour attitudes.[27] Many of these troops sought out and joined the Vietnamese nationalist movement focused on overthrowing the French.[56]

In 1925 Communist and anti-French activist Nguyễn Ái Quốc (later known as Hồ Chí Minh) wrote "taken in chains, confined in a school compound... Most of them will never again see the sun of their country" and a number of historians like Joseph Buttinger and Martin Murray, treated his statement by Nguyễn Ái Quốc as an article of faith and believed that the Vietnamese men who participated in World War I were "forcibly recruited" by means of "terrorism", later historians would claim that the recruitment enterprise employed during this period was only "ostensibly voluntary".[48] While there is some truth to these claims, the vast majority of the men who volunteered for service in Europe were indeed volunteers.[48] Among the motivations of volunteering were both personal and economic ambitions, some French Indochinese volunteers wished to see what the world looked like "beyond the bamboo hedges in their villages" while others preferred the money and the opportunity to see what France actually looks like.[48] Their service would expose them to the brutality of modern warfare and many would change their perception about many social norms and beliefs at home because of their experiences abroad.[48]

Of the 93,000 French Indochinese soldiers and workers who came to Europe, most were from the poorest parts of Annam and Tonkin, which had been badly hit by famine and cholera, a smaller number (1,150) of French Indochinese soldiers and workers came from Cambodia.[27] In Northeast France around 44,000 Vietnamese troops served in direct combat functions at both the Battle of the Vosges and the Battle of Verdun.[57][27] French Indochinese battalions were also used in various logistics functions such as serving as drivers to transport soldiers to the front lines, stretcher bearers (brancardiers), or road crews.[27] Vietnamese soldiers were also used to "sanitise" battle fields at the end of the war, where they would perform these duties in the middle of the cold European winters without being provided with warm clothes, in order to let the (White) French soldiers return to their homes earlier.[27]

The financial expenses of the 93,000 French Indochinese labourers and soldiers sent to France during the war – salaries, pensions, family allocations, the levy in kind (mostly rice), and even the functioning of the Indochinese hospital – were entirely financed from the budget of French Indochina itself and not from France.[27]

One of the effects of World War I on French Indochinese society was the introduction of a vibrant political press both in French and in the indigenous languages that led to the political radicalisation of a new generation of nationalists.[27] Because most of the indigenous people that served in France and the rest of Europe during the War were Vietnamese these social and political developments affected the Vietnamese more.[27] Because French Cochinchina was a direct French colony it enjoyed favourable legislation concerning the press which fostered a public sphere of oppositional political activism.[58][27] Although these developments occurred throughout French Indochina they were more strongly felt in Cochinchina due to its more open society.[27]

The French Indochinese in Europe experienced much more egalitarian social relations which were strongly contrasted with the racial hierarchy they experienced at home.[27] In France the French Indochinese serving often engaged in comradery with the French and many had romantic relationships with French women, the latter being unthinkable in their home countries.[59]

During this period the French protectorates of Annam and Tonkin were initially ruled by the Duy Tân Emperor.[27] However in 1916, the Duy Tân Emperor was accused by the French of calling for his subjects to resist French rule and after his deposition he and his father were exiled to the island of La Réunion in the Indian Ocean.[27] Thereafter, the Khải Định Emperor became the new monarch of Annam and Tonkin and he closely collaborated with the French administration.[27] At the same time Cambodia was ruled by King Sisowath who was crowned in 1904 and cooperated closely with the French administration in his territory.[27] King Sisowath attended the colonial exhibition in Marseilles in 1906 and was the King af the time of the retrocession of the provinces of Battambang and Siem Reap to Cambodia by the Siamese in April 1907.[27] During the reign of King Sisowath there was "an inexorable increase in French control" and the French residents gained executive authority to issue royal decrees, appoint officials, and collect taxes.[60][27] The French protectorate of Laos at the time was ruled by King Sisavang Vong, who was crowned king in 1904.[27] King Sisavang Vong was trained at the Lycée Chasseloup-Laubat in Saigon and at the Colonial School in Paris.[27] In 1914, the French built a new palace in Luang Prabang for him, and a new agreement with the French administration signed in 1917 allowed him only formal signs of royal power with actual power over Laos being in the hands of the French.[27]

The Great War presented a number of opportunities for the indigenous French Indochinese people serving in the West that didn't exist before, notably for some individuals to obtain levels of education that were simply unattainable at home by acquiring more advanced technical and professional skills.[61] For example Dr. Nguyễn Xuân Mai, who in 1910 became one of the first indigenous auxiliaries to graduate the Hanoi medical school, hoped to gain his PhD in France so he enlisted to fight in the war.[61] In 1921 he would acquire his doctorate and he became one of the first Vietnamese doctors to enjoy the same rights as his French colleagues.[61]

While World War I saw a number of new economic sectors develop in French Indochina, namely rubber plantations, mines, and other forms of agriculture, these were all French owned and the local trade to the great export-import houses was in the hands of the Overseas Chinese communities.[62][27] Only a handful of Vietnamese landlords, moneylenders, and middlemen benefitted from the new economic opportunities that arose during this period as the colonial economy of exportation was designed to enrich the French at the expense of the indigenous population.[27] During this same period the average livelihood of the indigenous peasantry was drastically decreased due to both direct taxation and indirect taxes the French used to finance ambitious public works programmes constructed using the corvée system.[27]

Prior to the year 1914, the mise en valeur (development and improvement) of French Indochina was primarily financed by European French public loans, French private capital, and higher taxes on the local populations.[27] But during the war French Indochina became completely responsible both for financing itself and the people they sent to Europe to fight in the war as investment funds from Metropolitan France completely stopped.[27] This meant that taxation increased, more rice was being exported, and the locals purchased war bonds.[27] French Indochina provided a Metropolitan France with large financial aid; between the years 1915 and 1920 of the 600,000,000 francs that France received from its colonial empire 367,000,000 francs were sent by French Indochina.[27] Though historian Patrice Morlat places the initial financial contribution of French Indochina at 381,000,000 gold francs (valued at 997,000,000 euros in 2017), roughly 60% of all financial contributions Metropolitan France received from its colonial empire (excluding Algeria).[29] Morlat further noted that French Indochina supplied 340,000 tonnes of raw materials to France during the course of the war, which amounted to 34% of all raw supplies that Metropolitan France received from its colonies.[29] The shipping of these materials was threatened by the presence of German submarines.[29]

World War I also saw the colonial government of Cochinchina authorising the creation of Vietnamese-language newspapers in 1916, this was done to secure popular support for the war effort, the colonial authorities hoped that this would create a loyal indigenous group of politically active people.[27] The Cochinchinese colonial government offered financial support to these loyalist newspapers, but kept close control on the contents written in them to ensure a prevailing pro-French narrative.[27] The editors of these newspapers were often retours de France (people back from France) and were kept under close surveillance as they often had connections to anti-French dissidents and activists. Among these newspapers was La Tribune indigène (The Indigenous Forum) launched in 1917 by the agronomist Bùi Quang Chiêu working together with the lawyer Dương Văn Giáo and journalist Nguyễn Phan Long.[27] Afterwards they created La Tribune indochinoise (The Indochinese Forum) and in 1919 these three men would found the Indochinese Constitutionalist Party in Saigon.[27] Because of these activities the French Surêté regarded their nationalism as dangerous.[27]

The French invoked a supposed "German connection" between the Vietnamese revolutionaries and the German Empire, alleging that Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Beijing were the sight of German agents hoping to help the Vietnamese revolutionaries as they shared the same goal, namely to defeat the French.[29]

World War I also saw a number of rebellions throughout French Indochina, in 1914 3 major uprisings happened throughout Vietnam, followed by a number of revolts in Cochinchina.[27] From 1914 to 1917 members of the Tai Lue people led by Prince Phra Ong Kham (Chao Fa) of Muang Sing organised a long anti-French campaign, Hmong independence movements in Laos also challenged French rule in the country.[27] 1914 also saw bands of Yunnanese revolutionaries invade French Indochina, who crossed the border and started attacking French military posts parading Chinese Republican flags, these rebels were later joined by various Laotian ethnic minorities (Lao, Kha and Black Tai).[63] The joint Yunnanese and Laotian ethnic minority rebels spread misinformation claiming that "Paris has been crushed by the German Army" to make the French seem weaker.[63] The motivations of this revolt are disputed as contemporary French colonial officials attributed it to Chinese opium smugglers, while the Canadian historian Geoffrey C. Gunn thinks that it was a political revolt.[63] In February 1916 in Cochinchina supporters of Phan Xích Long marched on the Saigonese penitentiary where he was held demanding his release, this coincided with other uprisings in the Mekong Delta.[27] The mandarin Trần Cao Văn engaged with he Duy Tân Emperor to try and stage a large rebellion in Annam in 1916, but their conspiracy was discovered and foiled by the French.[27] In 1916 the Kingdom of Cambodia saw a 3 month uprising organised by between 30,000 and 100,000 peasants against both the mandatory corvée and the increased taxes, Australian historian Milton Osborne refers to this uprising as "The 1916 Affair", the circumstances leading up to this large revolt were directly caused by the war.[27] 30 August 1917 saw the beginning of the Thái Nguyên uprising, which lasted until 1918.[64]

The large amount of uprisings and rebellions that occurred during the war would inspire the creation of a political security apparatus that was used to find and arrest political dissidents in the post-war period.[27]

Relations with Japan during World War I

On 27 August 1914 Japan officially entered the war on the side of the allies (also known as the Entente Powers), Japan invaded and took the German colony of Tsingtao and the rest of the Kiautschou Bay Leased Territory.[27] In November 1914 Japan would supplant the German sphere of influence in southern China with its own political and economic influence making putting it in direct competition with French Indochina.[27] Even though the Japanese openly supported a number of anti-French secessionist movements, such as Prince Cường Để's Duy Tân Hội, the French situation in Europe was bad enough for prime minister Georges Clemenceau to ask the Japanese for their help.[27]

The war situation in Europe so bad that in 1914 the French considered exchanging French Indochina with Japan for both financial and military support, but this idea was quickly abandoned.[27]

Clemenceau asked the Empire of Japan to aid them with the transportation of the travailleurs et tirailleurs indochinois to Europe and by sending its own forces to help fight in Europe.[27] Clemenceau also wanted the Japanese help intervene in Siberia to fight the Bolshevik forces during the Russian civil war to prevent the loss of the many French-Russian loans, which were important for the French post-war economy.[27]

In 1918 the idea of selling French Indochina to Japan was raised again and like the first time that it was proposed it was abandoned again.[27]

Both during and after the war the economic relations between France and Japan strengthened as Japan became a creditor of France following the latter's financial difficulties which came as a result of the war.[65][27]

Expansion of the security apparatus

A 1920 report by the Sûreté générale indochinoise on Nguyễn Tất Thành (阮必誠), who would later be known as Hồ Chí Minh (胡志明).

As Sarraut was determined to secure French rule over the country he created a strong political surveillance apparatus that functioned throughout French Indochina.[27] He centralised all local police forces and developed an intelligence service, these policies would lead to the creation of the Sûreté générale indochinoise, which sought to monitor and police anti-French activities both inside and outside of French Indochina.[66][27]

French security was expanded because of fears of German involvement with their enemies in the Far East, Gaston Ernest Liébert, the French consul in Hong Kong and a major player for the intelligence services coordinated by the political affairs bureau of French Indochina, noted that Vietnamese revolutionaries and Germany both shared the same interest (the defeat of the French).[29][67] Liébert argued that French Indochinese who rebelled should be treated according or as traitors to France.[29] Another reason for the expansion of the security state was that the French feared that such a large expulsion of French soldiers to fight against the Germans would inspire a general uprising similar to what the British experienced in Egypt.[68]

In April 1916 the administrator of civil services at the Political Affairs Bureau in Hanoi launched two voluminous reports that went into great detail about the parallel histories of what he referred to as the "Annamese Revolutionary Party" (how he called the Duy Tân Hội) and of the secret societies of French Cochinchina. These two reports proved to be very important to the Political Affairs Bureau as they would trigger a full-scale reform of the organisation making it into an umbrella organisation.[29] The reform policies were enacted to help control the narrative around French rule through policing and surveillance.[29] The colonial police forces were connected with "the general control of Indochinese workers and riflemen" (Contrôle général des travailleurs et tirailleurs indochinois), a political police force, as the military presence was reduced to allocate more soldiers to the home front.[27] In Metropolitan France these nascent surveillance organisations were put in charge of policing the 100,000 French Indochinese present to help fight the Central Powers.[29]

Both domestically and internationally the French Indochinese police maintained a sizeable network of informants, countries where they operated included not only Metropolitan France, but also neighbouring countries like China and Siam as well as Japan, which was a common refuge for Vietnamese nationalists.[27] The French Indochinese police often got foreign authorities to arrest anti-French activists, e.g. Phan Bội Châu who was hiding in China since 1909 was arrested there in 1917.[27] Phan Bội Châu admitted to being in contact with German and Austro-Hungarian ministers, noting that the Germans and Austro-Hungarians promised his revolutionary activities financial support in the form of 10,000 Siamese ticals (approximately 55,000 euros in 2017).[29] Phan would later be arrested abroad again in 1925, when he arrived in Shanghai on what he thought was a short trip on behalf of his movement. He was to meet with Hồ Chí Minh, who at that time used the name Lý Thụy, one of Hồ's many aliases. Hồ had invited Phan to come to Canton to discuss matters of common interest. Hồ was in Canton at the Soviet Embassy, purportedly as a Soviet citizen working as a secretary, translator, and interpreter. In exchange for money, Hồ allegedly informed the French police of Phan's imminent arrival. Phan was arrested by French agents and transported back to Hanoi.[69][70][71][72]

Following Communist victory in the October Revolution the security apparatus of French Indochina was strengthened to fight the "Bolshevik danger" in the colonies.[27] While the Sûreté générale was created during World War I, in 1922 it was expanded to become a better instrument to surveil and repress any potential Bolshevik elements, first in Metropolitan France and later in French Indochina.[27] The activities of the Sûreté générale indochinoise were managed by the newly created Department of Political Affairs.[27] The Sûreté générale indochinoise would be used as the paramount tool to gather intelligence of subversive elements within French Indochinese society and to conduct large-scale union-wide registration by the colonial police forces of suspects and convicts.[27]

The increase in surveillance and repression was accompanied with a propaganda campaign aimed to convince the indigenous populations of the "enlightenment" of French colonialism.[29] Both the indigenous peasantry and the elites had to be won over by being told of the many "advantages of colonialism".[29] The Political Affairs Bureau assembled a umber of Vietnamese elites belonging to the indigenous intelligentsia through the French School of the Far East to aid in the pro-French propaganda effort.[29]

While the French hoped to isolate political dissidents by locking them up in prisons, these prions would ironically turn into "schools" for nationalism and Communism as concentrating a large number of political enemies together would allow them to communicate with each other, which contributed to the growth of Communism within French Indochina.[73][27]


A Bảo Đại 3 (1928) issue of the bimonthly Du-học-báo (遊學報) magazine issued by the Société d'encouragement aux études occidentales (Vietnamese: Annam như Tây du học bảo trợ hội; Hán-Nôm: 安南如西遊學保助會), an organisation set up by the Southern Court to bring Annamese students to France to study the latest scientific literature.

As French Indochina was supposed to be a self-financed colonie d'exploitation économique (colony of economic exploitation) most of its budget during this period was financed through revenue collection, taxes on the local populations, and consumption quotas for monopolised goods such as opium, salt, and alcohol.[74][27] In 1920 44% of the French Indochinese government budget came from opium, salt, and alcohol alone.[27]

During the 1920s France allowed more Vietnamese to enter Metropolitan France for both studying and work purposes.[75][52] Both legal and illegal immigrants entered France from French Indochina working various types of jobs, such as sailors, photographers, cooks, restaurant and shop owners and manual labourers.[52] In France many Vietnamese immigrants and their organisations aligned themselves with the French Communist Party (PCF) who promised to represent them both in legal and political matters.[52] As returnees from France were more skilled and spoke fluent French the French colonists in Indochina would hire them to perform better paying jobs and often brought ideas of the successful Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.[52] In provinces like Thanh Hoá, Nghệ An, and Hà Tĩnh where around twenty thousand returnees lived pro-Bolshevik activities would increase during this decade and this region saw the creation of many pro-Bolshevik parties.[52]

A number of Vietnamese men would serve in occupied parts of Weimar era Germany after the war.[48] Seeing how devastated Germany was and how the French treated the German inhabitants of the occupied regions some Vietnamese soldiers would empathise with the German people.[48] Official reports on the French Occupation of the Rhineland summarised the contents of the letters written by the soldiers during that period this way: "The French oppress the Germans in the same way they have the Annamites [sic]."[48]

After the Great War former governor-general Albert Sarraut became the French Minister of the Colonies, Sarraut was the architect of the collaboration Franco-annamite which characterised French colonial policy during the interwar period.[27] Regarding the internal security of the French apparatus in the Far East Sarraut stated "I have always estimated that Indochina must be protected against the effects of a revolutionary propaganda that I have never underestimated, by carrying out a double action, one political, the other repressive."[76][27] indicating that he saw repressing subversive elements as paramount to the continued French domination of the region.[27] His policies benefited collaborators while they were instrumental in repressing dissidents.[27] Sarraut boasted the image of himself as a liberal indigenophile who benefited the indigenous people of French Indochina.[27]

Albert Sarraut presented the collaboration Franco-annamite as a necessity of the French protectorate over their countries, the collaboration Franco-annamite was attractive to the Westernised indigenous elites of French Indochina as it would build a framework of mutually beneficial partnership between France and the Vietnamese before full sovereignty for the latter could be restored.[27] In the colony of Cochinchina a handful of indigenous people were involved in the decision-making processes through political bodies that were established to serve as representative assemblies (Cochinchina's Colonial Council, Saigon Municipal Council, among other local bodies).[27]

In 1920 the French established provincial advisory councils in the Kingdom of Laos.[27] In 1923 this was followed by an indigenous consultative assembly, which served an advisory role.[27] Despite the Laotian indigenous consultative assembly not having any real political power, it served as an organisation that brought people from all over Laos together and contributed to the later formation of a modern Laotian national consciousness where prior they associated themselves more with their region.[27]

In Cochinchina 1923 saw the creation of the Parti Constitutionnaliste Indochinois led by Bui Quang Chiêu, which was founded to obtain the right of political participation for the indigenous people in Cochinchina.[27] As a member of this party Nguyễn Phan Long was elected a member of Cochinchina's colonial council.[77]

In Kopong Chang, Cambodia the French resident Félix Bardez was assassinated in the year 1925 by disgruntled indigenous people.[78] Félix Bardez visited the village at a time when its inhabitants were frustrated with the colonial policies of the French in Cambodia as the French raised the taxes to finance the Bokor mountain resort, when Bardez visited he refused to free prisoners who were arrested for being unable to pay their debts, this agitated a crowd of around 700 angry peasants who then killed him, his interpreter, and the militiamen present during his visit.[78] This assassination was a sign of the wider political unrest that characterised Cambodia during this decade.[78]

In March 1925 the French built a war monument resting on two sculpted Asian elephants to commemorate those that died fighting in World War I in the Cambodian capital city of Phnom Penh, the opening ceremony brought together a crowd which contained "people of all races and all religions".[79][80]

On 6 November 1925 a "Convention" (Quy ước) was established after Khải Định's death that stated that while the sovereign is abroad a council (Hội đồng phụ chính) had the power to run all affairs of the Southern court, with the signing of the convention only regulations related to custom, favours, amnesty, conferring titles, dignitaries, among others are given by the emperor.[81] Everything else is up to the French protectorate government.[81] This document also merges the budget of the Southern court with the budget of the French protectorate of Annam and that all the meetings of the Council of Ministers (Hội đồng thượng thư) must be chaired by the Resident-Superior of Annam.[81] Thus, in this document, the French colonialists completely took over all the power of the government of the Southern dynasty, even in Trung Kỳ.[81]

In 1927 Vietnamese World War I veterans staged an unsuccessful rebellion in Bắc Ninh province using vintage World War I era weapons and tactics.[48]

According to American historian David G. Marr the 1920s marked the transition of what he termed the "traditional" to the "modern" nation-consciousness among the Vietnamese people, indicating a shift among both the elites and the peasants.[82] Marr argues that the Vietnamese retours de France "urbanised" and "politicised" Vietnamese nationalism during the 1920s and 1930s, inspiring more "modern" movements to take up the struggle against French domination.[27] This decade saw the emergence of the Việt Nam Quốc Dân Đảng (VNQDĐ) and the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) which were often middle class in nature and proved to be more successful in transcending class and geographical divisions to mobilise against the French than earlier movements, relying on better and more organized communication structures than their predecessors.[27]

During the 1920s the contestation of French colonial power in Cambodia and Laos was mostly aimed at the corvée and tax policies, continuing from the war period.[27] The early years of this decade were characterised by widespread violence and a lack of order and security in rural Cambodia, as recorded by French residents in the provinces.[27] Contemporarily Upper Laos was referred to as being "violently agitated" by the French administrator Paul Le Boulanger between the years 1914 and 1921.[27] While the nature of Vietnamese resistance changed radically during the 1920s and the 1930s due to various major socio-cultural changes that were occurring at the time by a small, but growing, urbanised Vietnamese middle class, the rebellions in Cambodia and Laos remained to be "traditional" in their style and execution in contrast to the more "modern" political activism and radicalism that characterised what is now Vietnam during this period.[27]

Yên Bái mutiny (1930)

French Indochina around 1933.

On 10 February 1930, there was an uprising by Vietnamese soldiers in the French colonial army's Yên Bái garrison. The Yên Bái mutiny was sponsored by the Việt Nam Quốc Dân Đảng (VNQDĐ).[83][84] The VNQDĐ was the Vietnamese Nationalist Party.[85] The attack was the largest disturbance brewed up by the Cần Vương monarchist restoration movement of the late 19th century.

The aim of the revolt was to inspire a wider uprising among the general populace in an attempt to overthrow the colonial authority. The VNQDĐ had previously attempted to engage in clandestine activities to undermine French rule, but increasing French scrutiny of their activities led to their leadership group taking the risk of staging a large scale military attack in the Red River Delta in northern Vietnam.

Left opposition and the 1940 uprising in Cochinchina

In Cochinchina where French rule had the distinction of being direct and therefore more sensitive to political shifts in Paris, it was punctuated by periods of relative liberalisation. The most significant was during the 1936–1938 Popular Front government led by Leon Blum which appointed as governor-general of Indochina Jules Brévié.[86] Liberal-minded, in Cochinchina Brévié tried to defuse an extremely tense political situation by amnestying political prisoners, and by easing restrictions on the press, political parties,[86] and trade unions.[87]

Saigon witnessed growing labour unrest culminating in the summer of 1937 in general dock and transport strikes.[88] In April of that year the Vietnamese Communists and their Trotskyist left opposition ran a common slate for the municipal elections with both their respective leaders Nguyễn Văn Tạo and Tạ Thu Thâu winning seats. The exceptional unity of the left, however, was split by the lengthening shadow of the Moscow Trials and by growing protest over the failure of the Communist-supported Popular Front to deliver constitutional reform.[89] Colonial Minister Marius Moutet, a Socialist commented that he had sought "a wide consultation with all elements of the popular [will]," but with "Trotskyist-Communists intervening in the villages to menace and intimidate the peasant part of the population, taking all authority from the public officials," the necessary "formula" had not been found.[90]

In April 1939 Cochinchina Council elections Tạ Thu Thâu led a "Workers' and Peasants' Slate" into victory over both the "bourgeois" Constitutionalists and the Communists' Democratic Front. Key to their success was popular opposition to the war taxes ("national defence levy") that the Communist Party, in the spirit of Franco-Soviet accord, had felt obliged to support.[91] Brévié set the election results aside and wrote to Colonial Minister Georges Mandel: "the Trotskyists under the leadership of Ta Thu Thau, want to take advantage of a possible war in order to win total liberation." The Stalinists, on the other hand, are "following the position of the Communist Party in France" and "will thus be loyal if war breaks out".[92]

With the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 23 August 1939, the local Communists were ordered by Moscow to return to direct confrontation with the French. Under the slogan "Land to the Tillers, Freedom for the workers and independence for Vietnam",[93] in November 1940 the Party in Cochinchina obliged, triggering a widespread insurrection. The revolt did not penetrate Saigon (an attempted uprising in the city was quelled in a day). In the Mekong Delta fighting continued until the end of the year.[94][95]

World War II

A propaganda painting in Hanoi, 1942

In September 1940, during World War II, the newly created regime of Vichy France granted Japan's demands for military access to Tonkin following the Japanese occupation of French Indochina, which lasted until the end of the Pacific War. This allowed Japan better access to China in the Second Sino-Japanese War against the forces of Chiang Kai-shek, but it was also part of Japan's strategy for dominion over the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Thailand took this opportunity of weakness to reclaim previously lost territories, resulting in the Franco-Thai War between October 1940 and 9 May 1941. The Thai forces generally did well on the ground, but Thai objectives in the war were limited. In January, Vichy French naval forces decisively defeated Thai naval forces in the Battle of Ko Chang. The war ended in May at the instigation of the Japanese, with the French forced to concede territorial gains for Thailand.

On 9 March 1945, with France liberated, Germany in retreat, and the United States ascendant in the Pacific, Japan decided to take complete control of Indochina and destroyed the French colonial administration. Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were proclaimed as independent states, members of Japan's Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The Japanese kept power in Indochina until the news of their government's surrender came through in August. The general disorganization of French Indochina, coupled with several natural disasters, caused a dreadful famine in Northern and Central Vietnam. Several hundred thousand people – possibly over one million – are believed to have starved to death in 1944–45.

In Hanoi on 15–20 April 1945 the Tonkin Revolutionary Military Conference of the Viet Minh issued a resolution that was reprinted on pages 1–4 on 25 August 1970 in the Nhan Dan journal. It called for a general uprising, resistance and guerilla warfare against the Japanese by establishing 7 war zones across Vietnam named after past heroes of Vietnam, calling for propaganda to explain to the people that their only way forward was violent resistance against the Japanese and exposing the Vietnamese puppet government that served them. The conference also called for training propagandists and having women spread military propaganda and target Japanese soldiers with Chinese language leaflets and Japanese language propaganda. The Viet Minh's Vietnamese Liberation Army published the "Resistance against Japan" (Khang Nhat) newspaper. They also called for the creation of a group called "Chinese and Vietnamese Allied against Japan" by sending leaflets to recruit overseas Chinese in Vietnam to their cause. The resolution called on forcing French in Vietnam to recognize Vietnamese independence and for the DeGaulle France (Allied French) to recognize their independent and cooperate with them against Japan.[96][97]

On 17 August 1970, the North Vietnamese National Assembly Chairman Truong Chinh reprinted an article in Vietnamese in Nhan Dan, published in Hanoi titled "Policy of the Japanese Pirates Towards Our People" which was a reprint of his original article written in August 1945 in No 3 of the "Communist Magazine" (Tap Chi Cong San) with the same title, describing Japanese atrocities like looting, slaughter and rape against the people of north Vietnam in 1945. He denounced the Japanese claims to have liberated Vietnam from France with the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere announced by Tojo and mentioned how the Japanese looted shrines, temples, eggs, vegetables, straw, rice, chickens, hogs and cattle for their horses and soldiers and built military stations and airstrips after stealing land and taking boats, vehicles, homes and destroying cotton fields and vegetable fields for peanut and jute cultivation in Annam and Tonkin. Japan replaced the French government on 9 March 1945 and started openly looting the Vietnamese even more in addition to taking French owned properties and stole watches, pencils, bicycles, money and clothing in Bac Giang and Bac Can. The Japanese tried to play the Vietnamese against the French and play the Laotians against the Vietnamese by inciting Lao people to killed Vietnamese as Lao murdered 7 Vietnamese officials in Luang Prabang and Lao youths were recruited to an anti-Vietnam organization by the Japanese when they took over Luang Prabang. The Japanese spread false rumours that the French were massacring Vietnamese at the time to distract the Vietnamese from Japanese atrocities. The Japanese created groups to counter the Viet Minh Communists like Vietnam Pao ve doan (Vietnam protection group) and Vietnam Ai quoc doan (Vietnam Patriotic Group to force Vietnamese into coolie labour, take taxes and rice and arrested ant-Japanese Vietnamese with their puppet government run by Tran Trong Kim. The Viet Minh rejected the Japanese demands to cease fighting and support Japan, so the Japanese implemented the Three Alls policy (San Kuang) against the Vietnamese, pillaging, burning, killing, looting, and raping Vietnamese women. The Vietnamese called the Japanese "dwarfed monsters" (Wa (Japan)) and the Japanese committed these atrocities in Thai Nguyen province at Dinh Hoa, Vo Nhai and Hung Son. The Japanese attacked the Vietnamese while masquerading as Viet Minh and used terror and deception. The Japanese created the puppet Vietnam Phuc quoc quan (Vietnam restoration army). and tried to disrupt the Viet Minh's redistribution and confiscation of property of pro-Japanese Vietnamese traitors by disguising themselves as Viet Minh and then attacking people who took letters from them and organizing anti-French rallies and Trung sisters celebrations. Japanese soldiers tried to infiltrate Viet Minh bases with Viet Minh flags and brown trousers during their fighting. The Japanese murdered, plundered and raped Vietnamese and beheaded Vietnamese who stole bread and corn while they were starving according to their martial law. They shot a Vietnamese pharmacy student to death outside of his own house when he was coming home from guard duty at a hospital after midnight in Hanoi and also shot a defendant for a political case in the same city. In Thai Nguyen province, Vo Nhai, a Vietnamese boat builder was thrown in a river and had his stomach stabbed by the Japanese under suspicion of helping Viet Minh guerillas. The Japanese slit the abdomen and hung the Dai Tu mayor upside down in Thai Nguyen as well. The Japanese also beat thousands of people in Hanoi for not cooperating. Japanese officers ordered their soldiers to behead and burn Vietnamese. Some claimed that Taiwanese and Manchurian soldiers in the Japanese army were participating in the atrocities against the Vietnamese but Truong Chinh said that even if it was true Taiwanese and Manchurian soldiers were committing the rapes and killing, their Japanese officers were the ones giving the orders and participating along with them. Truong Chinh said that the Japanese wanted to plunder Asians for their own market and take it from the United States and Great Britain and were imperialists with no intent on liberating Vietnam.[98][99]

Truong Chinh wrote another article on 12 September 1945, No 16 in Liberation Banner (Co Giai Phong) which was also reprinted on 16 August 1970 in Nhan Dan. He commemorated the August revolution against the Japanese, after the Japanese surrendered on 15 August 1945 then the Viet Minh started attacking and slaughtering Japanese and disarming them in a nationwide rebellion on 19 August 1945. The Japanese had already disarmed the French and the Japanese themselves lost morale so the Viet Minh managed to seize control after attacking the Japanese. Viet Minh had begun fighting in 1944, when the French were attacked on Dinh Ca in October 1944 and in Cao Bang and Bac Can French were attacked by Viet Cong in November 1944 and the French and Japanese fought each other on 9 March 1945, so in Tonkin the Viet Cong began disarming French soldiers and attacking the Japanese. In Quang Ngai, Ba To, Yen Bai and Nghia Lo political prisoners escaped Japanese were attacked din Son La by Meo (Hmong) tribesmen and in Hoa Binh and Lang Son by Muong tribesmen. The Viet Minh took control of 6 provinces in Tonkin after 9 March 1945 within 2 weeks. The Viet Minh led a brutal campaign against the Japanese where many died from 9 March 1945 to 19 August 1945. Truong Chinh ended the article with a quote from Sun Yatsen, "The revolution is not yet won, All comrades must continue their al out efforts!"[100][101]

On 26 September 1945 Ho Chi Minh wrote a letter calling for struggle against the French mentioning they were returning after they sold out the Vietnamese to the Japanese twice in 4 years.[102][103][104][105]

The Japanese forced Vietnamese women to become comfort women and with Burmese, Indonesia, Thai and Filipino women they made up a notable portion of Asian comfort women in general.[106] Japanese use of Malaysian and Vietnamese women as comfort women was corroborated by testimonies.[107][108][109][110][111][112][113] There were comfort women stations in Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, North Korea and South Korea.[114][115] A Korean comfort woman named Kim Ch'un-hui stayed behind in Vietnam and died there when she was 44 in 1963, owning a dairy farm, cafe, US cash and diamonds worth 200,000 US dollars.[116] 1 million Vietnamese were starved to death during World War II according to Thomas U. Berger.[117] 2 billion US dollars worth (1945 values) of damage, 148 million dollars of them due to destruction of industrial plants was incurred by Vietnam. 90% of heavy vehicles and motorcycles, cars and 16 tons of junks as well as railways, port installations were destroyed as well as one third of bridges.[118] Some Japanese soldiers married Vietnamese women like Nguyen Thi Xuan and[119] Nguyen Thi Thu and fathered multiple children with the Vietnamese women who remained behind in Vietnam while the Japanese soldiers themselves returned to Japan in 1955. The official Vietnamese historical narrative view them as children of rape and prostitution.[120][121]

In the Vietnamese Famine of 1945 1 to 2 million Vietnamese starved to death in the Red river delta of northern Vietnam due to the Japanese, as the Japanese seized Vietnamese rice and didn't pay. In Phat Diem the Vietnamese farmer Di Ho was one of the few survivors who saw the Japanese steal grain.[122] The North Vietnamese government accused both France and Japan of the famine and said 1-2 million Vietnamese died.[123][124] Võ An Ninh took photographs of dead and dying Vietnamese during the great famine.[125][126][127] Starving Vietnamese were dying throughout northern Vietnam in 1945 due to the Japanese seizure of their crops by the time the Chinese came to disarm the Japanese and Vietnamese corpses were all throughout the streets of Hanoi and had to be cleaned up by students.[128]

On 25 March 2000, the Vietnamese journalist Trần Khuê wrote an article "Dân chủ: Vấn đề của dân tộc và thời đại" where he harshly criticized ethnographers and historians in Ho Chin Minh city's Institute of Social Sciences like Dr. Đinh Văn Liên and Professor Mạc Đường who tried to whitewash Japan's atrocities against the Vietnamese by portraying Japan's aid to the South Vietnamese regime against North Vietnam as humanitarian aid, portraying the Vietnam war against America as a civil war. changing the death toll of 2 million Vietnamese dead at the hands of the Japanese famine to 1 million and calling the Japanese invasion as a presence and calling Japanese fascists at simply Japanese at the Vietnam-Japan international conference. He accused them of changing history in exchange for only a few tens of thousands of dollars, and the Presidium of international Vietnamese studies in Hanoi did not include any Vietnamese women. The Vietnamese professor Văn Tạo and Japanese professor Furuta Moto both conducted a study in the field on the Japanese induced famine of 1945 admitting that Japan killed 2 million Vietnamese by starvation.[129]

Return of the French and initial conflicts with the Việt Minh

After the second World War, France petitioned for the nullification of the 1938 Franco-Siamese Treaty and reasserted itself in the region, but came into conflict with the Việt Minh, a coalition of Communist and Vietnamese nationalists led by Hồ Chí Minh, founder of the Indochinese Communist Party. During World War II, the United States had supported the Việt Minh in resistance against the Japanese; the group had been in control of the countryside since the French gave way in March 1945.

American President Roosevelt and General Stilwell privately made it adamantly clear that the French were not to reacquire French Indochina after the war was over. He told Secretary of State Cordell Hull the Indochinese were worse off under the French rule of nearly 100 years than they were at the beginning. Roosevelt asked Chiang Kai-shek if he wanted Indochina, to which Chiang Kai-shek replied: "Under no circumstances!"[130]

Members of the 1st Foreign Parachute Heavy Mortar Company during the Indochina War

After the close of hostilities in WWII, 200,000 Chinese troops under General Lu Han sent by Chiang Kai-shek entered northern Indochina north of the 16th parallel to accept the surrender of Japanese occupying forces, and remained there until 1946.[131] This was in accordance with the instructions made by General Douglas MacArthur in General Order No. 1, of 2 September 1945. Working with the VNQDĐ (broadly the Vietnamese equivalent of the Chinese Kuomintang), to increase their influence in Indochina and put pressure on their opponents.[132]

Chiang Kai-shek threatened the French with war in response to manoeuvering by the French and Ho Chi Minh against each other, forcing them to come to a peace agreement. In February 1946 he forced the French to surrender all of their concessions in China and renounce their extraterritorial privileges in exchange for withdrawing from northern Indochina and allowing French troops to reoccupy the region starting in March 1946.[133][134][135][136]

General Lu Han's 200,000 Chinese soldiers occupied north Vietnam starting August 1945. 90,000 arrived by October, the 62nd army came on 26 September to Nam Dinh and Haiphong. Lang Son and Cao Bang were occupied by the Guangxi 62nd army corps and the red river region and Lai Cai were occupied by a column from Yunnan. Vietnamese VNQDD fighters accompanied the Chinese soldiers. Ho Chi Minh ordered his DRV administration to set quotas for rice to give to the Chinese soldiers and rice was sold in Chinese currency in the red River delta. Lu Han occupied the French governor general's palace after ejecting the French staff under Sainteny.[137] Chinese soldiers occupied northern Indochina north of the 16th parallel while the British under the South-East Asia Command of Lord Mountbatten occupied the south.[138][139] Vietnamese civilians were robbed, raped and killed by French soldiers in Saigon when they came back in August 1945.[140]

Chiang Kai-shek deliberately withheld his crack and well trained soldiers from occupying Vietnam since he was going to use them to fight the Communists inside China and instead sent undisciplined warlord troops from Yunnan under Lu Han to occupy north Vietnam and Hanoi north of the 16th parallel to disarm and get Japanese troops to surrender.[141][142] Ho Chi Minh confiscated gold taels, jewelry and coins in September 1945 during "Gold Week" to give to Chinese forces occupying northern Vietnam. Rice to Cochinchina by the French in October 1945 were divided by Ho Chi Minh, and the northern Vietnamese only received one third while the Chinese soldiers were given two thirds by Ho Chi Minh. For 15 days elections were postponed by Ho Chi Minh in response to a demand by Chinese general Chen Xiuhe on 18 December 1945 so that the Chinese could get the Dong Minh Hoi and VNQDD to prepare. The Chinese left only in April–June 1946.[143] Ho Chi Minh gave golden smoking paraphernalia and a golden opium pipe to the Chinese general Lu Han after gold week and purchased weapons with what was left of the proceeds. Starving Vietnamese were dying throughout northern Vietnam in 1945 due to the Japanese seizure of their crops by the time the Chinese came to disarm the Japanese and Vietnamese corpses were all throughout the streets of Hanoi and had to be cleaned up by students.[128] While Chiang Kai-shek, Xiao Wen (Hsiao Wen) and the Kuomintang central government of China was disinterested in occupying Vietnam beyond the allotted time period and involving itself in the war between the Việt Minh and the French, the Yunnan warlord Lu Han held the opposite view and wanted to occupy Vietnam to prevent the French returning and establish a Chinese trusteeship of Vietnam under the principles of the Atlantic Charter with the aim of eventually preparing Vietnam for independence and blocking the French from returning.[144] Ho Chi Minh sent a cable on 17 October 1945 to American President Harry S. Truman calling on him, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, Premier Stalin and Premier Attlee to go to the United Nations against France and demand France not be allowed to return to occupy Vietnam, accusing France of having sold out and cheated the Allies by surrendering Indochina to Japan and that France had no right to return.[145] Ho Chi Minh dumped the blame on Dong Minh Hoi and VNDQQ for signing the agreement with France for returning its soldiers to Vietnam after he had to do it himself.[146][147] Ho Chi Minh's Việt Minh tried to organize welcome parades for Chinese soldiers in northern Vietnam and covered for instances of bad behavior by warlord soldiers, trying to reassure Vietnamese that the warlord troops of Lu Han were only there temporarily and that China supported Vietnam's independence. Việt Minh newspapers said that the same ancestors (huyết thống) and culture were shared by Vietnamese and Chinese and that the Chinese heroically fought Japan and changed in the 1911 revolution and was attacked by western imperialists so it was "not the same as feudal China". Ho Chi Minh forbade his soldiers like Trần Huy Liệu in Phú Thọ from attacking Chinese soldiers and Ho Chi Minh even surrendered Vietnamese who attacked Chinese soldiers to be executed as punishment in the Ro-Nha incident in Kiến An district on 6 March 1946 after Hồ Đức Thành and Đào Văn Biểu, special commissioners sent from Hanoi by Ho's DRV examined the case.[148] Ho Chi Minh appeased and granted numerous concessions to the Chinese soldiers to avoid the possibility of them clashing with the Việt Minh, with him ordering Vietnamese not to carry out anything against Chinese soldiers and pledging his life on his promise, hoping the Chinese would disarm the Japanese soldiers and finish their mission as fast as possible.[149]

Chinese communist guerilla leader Chu Chia-pi came into northern Vietnam multiple times in 1945 and 1948 and helped the Việt Minh fight against the French from Yunnan. Other Chinese Communists also did the same.[150]

After persuading Emperor Bảo Đại to abdicate in his favour, on 2 September 1945 President Ho Chi Minh declared independence for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. But before September's end, a force of British and Free French soldiers, along with captured Japanese troops, restored French control. Ho Chi Minh agreed to negotiate with the French in order to gain autonomy, but the Fontainebleau Agreements of 1946 failed to produce a satisfactory solution.

First Indochina War

Bitter fighting ensued in the First Indochina War as Ho and his government took to the forests and mountains. In 1949, in order to provide a political alternative to Ho Chi Minh, the French favoured the creation of a unified State of Vietnam, and former Emperor Bảo Đại was put back in power. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia became associated states of the French Union and were granted more autonomy.

The first few years of the war involved a low-level rural insurgency against the French. In 1949 the conflict turned into a conventional war between two armies equipped with modern weapons supplied by the United States, China and the Soviet Union.[151] French Union forces included colonial troops from their colonial empire - Moroccan, Algerian, and Tunisian Arabs/Berbers; Laotian, Cambodian and Vietnamese ethnic minorities; Black Africans - and French professional troops, European volunteers, and units of the Foreign Legion. The use of metropolitan recruits was forbidden by the government to prevent the war from becoming even more unpopular at home. It was called the "dirty war" (la sale guerre) by leftists in France.[152] Vietnamese women were also raped in north Vietnam by the French like in Bảo Hà, Bảo Yên District, Lào Cai province and Phu Lu, which caused 400 Vietnamese who were trained by the French to defect on 20 June 1948. Buddhist statues were looted and Vietnamese were robbed, raped and tortured by the French after the French crushed the Việt Minh in northern Vietnam in 1947-1948 forcing the Việt Minh to flee into Yunnan, China for sanctuary and aid from the Chinese Communists. A French reporter was told "We know what war always is, We understand your soldiers taking our animals, our jewelry, our Buddhas; it is normal. We are resigned to their raping our wives and our daughters; war has always been like that. But we object to being treated in the same way, not only our sons, but ourselves, old men and dignitaries that we are." by Vietnamese village notables. Vietnamese rape victims became "half insane".[153]

The strategy of pushing the Việt Minh into attacking well-defended bases in remote parts of the country at the end of their logistical trails was validated at the Battle of Nà Sản even though the base was relatively weak because of a lack of concrete and steel. French efforts were made more difficult due to the limited usefulness of armoured tanks in a forested and mountainous environment, lack of strong air forces for air cover and carpet bombing, and use of foreign recruits from other French colonies (mainly from Algeria, Morocco and even Vietnam). Võ Nguyên Giáp, however, used efficient and novel tactics of direct fire artillery, convoy ambushes and massed anti-aircraft guns to impede land and air supply deliveries together with a strategy based on recruiting a sizable regular army facilitated by wide popular support, a guerrilla warfare doctrine and instruction developed in China, and the use of simple and reliable war material provided by the Soviet Union.[154]

However, 1950 was the turning point of the war. Ho's government was recognised by the fellow Communist governments of China and the Soviet Union, and Mao's government subsequently gave a fallback position to Ho's forces, as well as abundant supplies of weapons. In October 1950, the French army suffered its first major defeat with the battle of Route Coloniale 4. Subsequent efforts by the French military managed to improve their situation only in the short term. Bảo Đại's State of Vietnam proved a weak and unstable government, and Norodom Sihanouk's Cambodia proclaimed its independence in November 1953. Fighting lasted until May 1954, when the Việt Minh won the decisive victory against French forces at the gruelling battle of Điện Biên Phủ.

Geneva Agreements

Indochina in 1954

On 20 July 1954, the Geneva Conference produced the Geneva Agreements between North Vietnam and France. Provisions included supporting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Indochina, granting it independence from France, declaring the cessation of hostilities and foreign involvement in internal Indochina affairs, and delineating northern and southern zones into which opposing troops were to withdraw. The Agreements mandated unification on the basis of internationally supervised free elections to be held in July 1956.[3]

It was at this conference that France relinquished any claim to territory in the Indochinese peninsula. The United States and South Vietnam rejected the Geneva Accords and never signed. South Vietnamese leader Diem rejected the idea of nationwide election as proposed in the agreement, saying that a free election was impossible in the communist North and that his government was not bound by the Geneva Accords. France did withdraw, turning the north over to the Communists while the Bảo Đại regime, with American support, kept control of the South.

The events of 1954 marked the beginnings of serious United States involvement in Vietnam and the ensuing Vietnam War. Laos and Cambodia also became independent in 1954, but were both drawn into the Vietnam War.

United States involvement

In 1954 the French defeat at Điện Biên Phủ renewed the United States interest in intervening, including some senators who called out for large scale bombing campaigns, potentially even nuclear weapons.[155] President Dwight Eisenhower, even though he did not believe a military victory, believed in the domino theory, where if Vietnam were to fall to communism then there would be multiple other countries that would fall to the ideology in Southeast Asia, from Vietnam to India there would be a dramatic shift in global power. Eisenhower chose to not put boots on the ground, but his decision to start to get involved likely is more important to the countries eventual step into the country than Johnson's decision to take that last step.

Eisenhower had a further impact in that he would continue to provide support for future presidents policy in the country, Lyndon B. Johnson and Gerald Ford both used him to large extents, Kennedy did have several meetings with him in the White House, and Nixon was mostly on his own, but considering their familial ties there was inevitably some ideas that were considered that otherwise would not have been. As he was so involved the United States policy in French Indochina his influence is hard to underestimate.[156]


Government-General of French Indochina
Gouvernement général de l'Indochine française
The emblem and seal of the Government-General.
Established17 October 1887
Dissolved21 July 1954
StateFrench Indochina
LeaderGovernor-General of French Indochina
Appointed byPresident of France and the Ministry of the Colonies
Main organCabinet of the Government-General
HeadquartersNorodom Palace, Saigon (1887–1902),
Residence of the Governor-General of French Indochina, Hanoi (1902–1945)

The government of French Indochina was headed by a Governor-General and a number of French residents.[157] The Governor-General was assisted by a system of different government agencies, however these agencies functioned only to be consultants to help the Governor-General perform his role and exercise his powers.[157] The protectorates of Cambodia, Annam, Tonkin, and Laos all had Residents-Superior while the colony of Cochinchina had a Governor. In the protectorates the indigenous administrations were nominally combined with the French administration, but in the colony of Cochinchina as well as "colonial cities", such as Đà Nẵng in Annam, the French maintained direct rule.[157] All constituent countries of French Indochina had their own legal systems.[158] In Annam and Tonkin the laws of the Nguyễn dynasty, such as Sắc (敕, "Imperial Order"), Chí (誌, "Ordinance"), and Dụ (諭, "Decree"), remained in effect but were subordinate to the laws of the French administration.[158]

The government-general of French Indochina as well as its powers were established and amended through presidential decrees.[158] The Governor-General held supreme power in French Indochina over the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the government and had the power to appoint the residents below him.[157] The Governor-General was also in charge of all the military affairs of the country, among their responsibilities were the ability to set up an army corps, deploy the French Indochinese military forces, and issue conscription orders.[157] However, the Governor-General was not in charge of actually commanding the military forces during actual military campaigns and battles.[157] The Governor-General was also the chairman of the Indochinese Supreme Council (later renamed to the Indochinese Government Council) which was the highest government agency in charge of general affairs.[157]

Two French women (wife and daughter of Governor-General Paul Doumer) throwing small coins in front of Annamite children (by Gabriel Veyre)

Other government agencies of the Government-General of French Indochina include the Indochinese Defense Council, Mine Consultancy Committee, the Indochinese Education Consultancy Council, the Supreme Council for Exploitation of Colonies, the Indochinese Economic and Financial Interests Assembly, etc.[157]

In the protectorates of Annam and Tonkin the government of the Nguyễn dynasty shared its power with the French administration de jure but were de facto directly ruled by the French colonial apparatus.[157] The Residents-Superior and Governor of Cochinchina did not have legislative powers only executive.[158] While the Emperors of the Nguyễn dynasty did maintain their legislative powers, all imperial decrees had to be approved by either the Resident-Superior of Annam or by the Governor-General of French Indochina.[158] Until the early 20th century the Gia Long era Hoàng Việt luật lệ (皇越律例), sometimes known as the "Gia Long Code", remained the main civil code of the Nguyễn dynasty until the Emperor issued the nearly identical Civil Code of Annam and Civil Code of Tonkin.[158]

A number of the legal documents in effect in the French Republic were also applied to French Indochina, these included the Code Napoléon of 1804, the Code de commerce of 1807, the Code d'instruction criminelle, and the French penal code of 1810.[158] These laws took effect in French Indochina on the date that the Governor-General issued decrees that they would also apply to the federation.[158]

The legislative decrees of the Governor-General had to be sent to the Minister of Colonies for consideration, the Minister would then approve or disapprove The decrees.[158] However, the Minister of Colonies was not entitled to make any amendments to the decrees and if they wished to alter it they would have to draft it and then send the draft to the President of France.[158] Only French Presidential decrees could overturn the decrees of the Governor-General.[158] Executive decrees did not have to be sent to the Metropolitan France for review and immediately came into effect.[158]

Throughout Vietnam thousands of villages had their own independent legal codes that governed the social relations within the village community, thousands of written regulations existed and the central administration often recognised them.[158] These legal codes were known as the Hương ước (鄉約), Hương lệ (鄉例) and Lệ làng (例廊), which could be translated as "rural covenants", and also existed in China and Korea.[159][160] The Hương ước contained rules about various legal practices like land management, marriage, labour relations, arbitration of disputes, as well as local customs such as family relations, village relations, ghosts, ancestor worship, sacrifice, mourning, and longing.[159] Both the government-general of French Indochina and the government of the Nguyễn dynasty attempted reform these rules and regulations in their favour.[158] To expand their power into Vietnamese hamlets and villages the French administration issued models for the villages to follow, but many Vietnamese villages still functioned independent of the French and Nguyễn administrations.[158]



Indochina in 1891 (from Le Monde illustré)
  1. Panorama of Lac-Kaï
  2. Yun-nan, in the quay of Hanoi
  3. Flooded street of Hanoi
  4. Landing stage of Hanoi

The Vietnamese, Lao and Khmer ethnic groups formed the majority of their respective colony's populations. Minority groups such as the Muong, Tay, Chams, and Jarai were collectively known as Montagnards and resided principally in the mountain regions of Indochina. Ethnic Han Chinese were largely concentrated in major cities, especially the Hoa in Cochinchina and the Chen in Cambodia, where they became heavily involved in trade and commerce. In addition, there was also a tiny French minority which accounted for 0.2% of the population (or 39,000 people) by 1940.[161] Around 95% of French Indochina's population was rural in a 1913 estimate, although urbanisation did slowly grow over the course of French rule.[lower-alpha 6]


The principal religion in French Indochina was Buddhism, with Mahayana Buddhism influenced by Confucianism more dominant in Vietnam, while Theravāda Buddhism was more widespread in Laos and Cambodia. In addition, active Catholic missionaries were widespread throughout Indochina and roughly 10% of Tonkin's population identified as Catholic by the end of French rule. Cao Đài's and Hòa Hảo's origins began during this period as well.[162][163]

French settlements

Subdivisions of French Indochina

Unlike Algeria, French settlement in Indochina did not occur at a grand scale. By 1940, only about 34,000 French civilians lived in French Indochina, along with a smaller number of French military personnel and government workers (6,000). Of these almost half, 16,550, lived in Cochinchina, the vast majority living in Saigon.[164]

The principal reasons why French settlement did not grow in a manner similar to that in French North Africa (which had a population of over 1 million French civilians) were because French Indochina was seen as a colonie d'exploitation économique (colony for economic exploitation) rather than a colonie de peuplement (settlement colony helping Metropolitan France from being overpopulated), and because Indochina was distant from France itself.


During French colonial rule, the French language was the principal language of education, government, trade, and media and French was widely introduced to the general population. French became widespread among urban and semi-urban populations and became the principal language of the elite and educated. This was most notable in the colonies of Tonkin and Cochinchina (Northern and Southern Vietnam respectively), where French influence was most heavy, while Annam, Laos and Cambodia were less influenced by French education.[165] Despite the dominance of French in official and educational settings, local populations still largely spoke their native languages. After French rule ended, the French language was still largely used among the new governments (with the exception of North Vietnam). Today, French continues to be taught as a second language in the former colonies and used in some administrative affairs.[166][167]


French Indochina was designated as a colonie d'exploitation (colony of economic exploitation) by the French government. Funding for the colonial government came by means of taxes on locals and the French government established a near monopoly on the trade of opium, salt and rice alcohol. The French administration established quotas of consumption for each Vietnamese village, thereby compelling villagers to purchase and consume set amounts of these monopolised goods.[168] The trade of those three products formed about 44% of the colonial government's budget in 1920 but declined to 20% by 1930 as the colony began to economically diversify.

The colony's principal bank was the Banque de l'Indochine, established in 1875 and was responsible for minting the colony's currency, the Indochinese piastre. Indochina was the second most invested-in French colony by 1940 after Algeria, with investments totalling up to 6.7 million francs.

During the first 6 months of World War I the government-general would expel all German and Austro-Hungarian people living in French Indochina.[169] The two pre-war import/export houses, Speidel & Co. and F. Engler & Co., were officially re-organised as French companies, however in reality they continued to operate under both German control and using German capital.[169] During the 1910s Speidel & Co. was the largest importer of European goods into the country with Engler being one of its major competitors.[169] After the German owners were expulsed from the company lower level employees tried to continue running these companies despite increasing push back from the French colonial authorities by means of arbitrary customs enforcement, freight interference, and regulatory aggravations.[170][169] Later the French would seize all of the German Speidel Company's warehouses and would sell the seized goods at low prices both to Vietnamese consumers and Chinese exporters to try and increase revenue.[169] These goods included rice, wine, and canned goods.[169]

During World War I export regulations kept changing which the Chinese export businesses took advantage of by purchasing rice for minimal prices from the Vietnamese farmers who grew it and then deliberately passing along the risks of the export trade to those small Vietnamese farmers who were the least able to bear the losses involved.[171][169]

As the war made both imports and exports from and to Europe more difficult French Indochina would increase trade with other Pacific countries.[169] During the war period import businesses would import flour from the United States and dairy products from Australia, though at lower levels than during the pre-war period.[169] Prior to World War I French Indochina had an annual flour import worth $950,000 and an annual condensed milk import worth $135,000, but during the war they would only import half this amount from the United States and about one fifth the amount of condensed milk from Australia.[169]

Beginning in the 1930s, France began to exploit the region for its natural resources and to economically diversify the colony. Cochinchina, Annam and Tonkin (encompassing modern-day Vietnam) became a source of tea, rice, coffee, pepper, coal, zinc and tin, while Cambodia became a centre for rice and pepper crops. Only Laos was seen initially as an economically unviable colony, although timber was harvested at a small scale from there.

At the turn of the 20th century, the growing automobile industry in France resulted in the growth of the rubber industry in French Indochina, and plantations were built throughout the colony, especially in Annam and Cochinchina. France soon became a leading producer of rubber through its Indochina colony and Indochinese rubber became prized in the industrialised world. The success of rubber plantations in French Indochina resulted in an increase in investment in the colony by various firms such as Michelin. With the growing number of investments in the colony's mines and rubber, tea and coffee plantations, French Indochina began to industrialise as factories opened in the colony. These new factories produced textiles, cigarettes, beer and cement which were then exported throughout the French Empire.


The Paul Doumer Bridge, now Long Biên Bridge, in Hanoi.
Musée Louis Finot in Hanoi, built by Ernest Hébrard in 1932, now the National Museum of Vietnamese History.

When French Indochina was viewed as an economically important colony for France, the French government set a goal to improve the transport and communications networks in the colony. Saigon became a principal port in Southeast Asia and rivalled the British port of Singapore as the region's busiest commercial centre. By 1937 Saigon was the sixth busiest port in the entire French Empire.[172]

In the 19th century, the French colonial administration worked to develop regular trading networks and an efficient transport infrastructure between Indochina and southwest China.[173][174] The primary motivation for such an effort was to facilitate export of European goods to China.[175] A railway would also give France access to Yunnan's natural resources, mineral resources and opium, and open up the Chinese market for Indochinese products such as rice, dry fish, wood and coal.[175] Thus in the early 20th they completed the Kunming–Haiphong railway connecting the important port city of Haiphong with the Yunnanese capital city of Kunming.[175]

In 1936, the Trans-Indochinois railway linking Hanoi and Saigon opened. Further improvements in the colony's transport infrastructures led to easier travel between France and Indochina. By 1939, it took no more than a month by ship to travel from Marseille to Saigon and around five days by aeroplane from Paris to Saigon. Underwater telegraph cables were installed in 1921.

As elsewhere in the world, the railways in French Indochina were the sites of active union and labour organisation.[176]

French settlers further added their influence on the colony by constructing buildings in the form of Beaux-Arts and added French-influenced landmarks such as the Hanoi Opera House (modeled on the Palais Garnier), the Hanoi St. Joseph's Cathedral (resembling the Notre Dame de Paris) and the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica. The French colonists also built a number of cities and towns in Indochina which served various purposes from trading outposts to resort towns. The most notable examples include Sa Pa in northern Vietnam, Đà Lạt in central Vietnam and Pakse in Laos.

Architectural legacy

The governments of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia have previously been reluctant to promote their colonial architecture as an asset for tourism; however, in recent times, the new generation of local authorities has somewhat "embraced" the architecture and advertise it.[177] The heaviest concentration of French-era buildings are in Hanoi, Đà Lạt, Haiphong, Ho Chi Minh City, Huế, and various places in Cambodia and Laos such as Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Phnom Penh, Battambang, Kampot, and Kep.[178]

See also


  1. While both "Indo-China" and "Indochina" can be found in contemporary English-language sources, "Indo-China" is the most commonly used spelling (even though Indochine, instead of Indo-Chine, was commonly used in French); contemporary official publications also adopt the spelling of "Indo-China".
  2. French: Indochine française; Vietnamese: Đông Dương thuộc Pháp, 東洋屬法, lit. 'East Ocean under French Control; Khmer: ឥណ្ឌូចិនបារាំង, Ĕnduchĕn Bareăng; Thai: อินโดจีนฝรั่งเศส, RTGS: Indochin khong Farangset
  3. Decree of 17 October 1887.
  4. French: Union indochinoise; Vietnamese: Liên bang Đông Dương, 聯邦東洋, lit. 'East Ocean Federation'; Khmer: សហភាពឥណ្ឌូចិន; Lao: ສະຫະພາບອິນໂດຈີນ
  5. French: Fédération indochinoise; Vietnamese: Liên đoàn Đông Dương; Khmer: សហព័ន្ធឥណ្ឌូចិន; Lao: ສະຫະພັນອິນດູຈີນ
  6. Vietnam alone has fifty-four ethnic groups, presented at the Ethnographic Museum of Hanoi.


  1. Lecompte, Jean. Monnaies et jetons de l'Indochine Française. (Principality of Monaco, 2013) Quote: "Les légendes sont bien sûr modifiées. A gauche, les attributs de l'agriculture et des beaux-arts sont remplacés par des épis de riz et à droite figure une ancre symbolisant le ministère de la Marine et des Colonies. Hélas, Albert-Désiré Barre décède le 29 décembre 1878 et c'est alors son frère aîné Auguste-Jean Barre qui lui succède et mène à terme le projet. Les premières frappes sortent en 1879." (in French))
  2. Lecompte, Jean. Monnaies et jetons de l'Indochine Française. (Principality of Monaco, 2013) Quote: "Les légendes sont bien sûr modifiées. A gauche, les attributs de l'agriculture et des beaux-arts sont remplacés par des épis de riz et à droite figure une ancre symbolisant le ministère de la Marine et des Colonies. Hélas, Albert-Désiré Barre décède le 29 décembre 1878 et c'est alors son frère aîné Auguste-Jean Barre qui lui succède et mène à terme le projet. Les premières frappes sortent en 1879." (in French))
  3. Kahin.
  4. Owen, p. 106.
  5. Tucker, p. 29.
  6. Chapuis (1995), p. 195.
  7. Chapuis (2000), p. 48.
  8. Chapuis, pp. 49–53.
  9. Llewellyn.
  10. Thomazi, pp. 69–71.
  11. Roustan, Frédéric (2012). "Mousmés and French Colonial Culture: Making Japanese Women's Bodies Available in Indochina". Journal of Vietnamese Studies. 7 (1): 52–105. doi:10.1525/vs.2012.7.1.52. JSTOR 10.1525/vs.2012.7.1.52. Archived from the original on 21 June 2022.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  12. Carney, Joey (27 April 2020). "A Brief Primer on Vice and Sex in Colonial Vietnam". Simi Press.
  13. Hoskins, Janet (Summer 2007). "Postcards from the Edge of Empire: Images and Messages from French Indochina". Asia's Colonial Photographies. IIAS Newsletter (44): 16, 17. Archived from the original on January 2012.
  14. Hoskins, Janet (January 2007). "Postcards from the Edge of Empire: Images and Messages from French Indochina". IIAS Newsletter.
  15. Yee, Jennifer (2004). "Recycling the 'Colonial Harem'? Women in Postcards from French Indochina". French Cultural Studies. 15 (5): 5–19. doi:10.1177/0957155804040405. S2CID 162718081.
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