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Vietnam is today a country in Southeast Asia which includes North Vietnam, Annam, a former French protectorate encompassing the territory of the Empire of Đại Nam in Central Vietnam, and Cochin-China.


Vietnam gained independence after breaking away from China in AD 938 following their victory at the Battle of Bạch Đằng River. Successive dynasties flourished along with geographic and political expansion deeper into Southeast Asia, until it, Laos and Cambodia were colonized by the French in the mid-19th century, becoming known as French Indo-China.

In 1859, as a reaction to the persecution of Christians in Vietnam, French - and briefly also Spanish troops (from the Phillipines) - occupied the city of Saigon and the three southern Vietnamese provinces of Biên Hoa, Gia Dinh and Dinh Tuong, which Vietnam formally ceded to France by the Treaty of Saigon in 1862. In the course of the following years, other provinces and territories - the islands of Poulo Condore (1862) and the provinces of Chau Doc, Ha Tiên and Vinh Long (1867) - were conquered and annexed to what had already become the French Colony of Cochin-China in 1864. The Imperial Vietnamese government recognised the loss of all these territories by the treaties of Saigon (1874) and of Hué (1883, 1884). In 1887 Cochin-China became part of the Federation of French Indo-China.[1]

Colonial rule

Until World War I, when France would have been defeated had it not been for allied help, and with the rise of the Kuomintang in China, resistance to French rule began to appear. These signs of resistance were mercilessly crushed. Hunger strikes, like those of 1930, were treated with extreme ruthlessness as were also their instigators - the "anti-White" VNQDD, the secret nationalist party, and the Indo-Chinese Communists, who first made their appearance on the scene at this time. Their leader was a school-teacher, Nguyen Ai Quoc (the future Ho Chi Minh) who had spent some years in China, France, and Russia, and who had attended the famous Socialist Congress of Tours in 1920, where the communists had broken away from the Socialist party. In the Chamber of Deputies in Paris, men like Marius Moutet and Édouard Daladier advocated, about that time, a more 'liberal' policy in Indo-China, but these calls were dismissed by a considerable majority. In 1931 there was a famine in central Annam, the gaols were packed with revolutionaries, and there were numerous executions.[2]

By 1937 the French had completed the Trans-Indo-China railway, the country was developing economically along classical capitalist-colonial lines, rubber prices were rising, and the workers were better paid than before.[3]

After his return from France in 1933, where he had received his education, the new 19 year-old Emperor of Annam, Bao Dai, had raised some hopes among the natives. But Governor-General Pasquier soon surrounded him with 'safe' people and the young monarch soon lost his popularity as his regime became wholly controlled by the French administration. Things soon returned to normal in Indo-China, and the police and military intelligence units meant that 1939 was marked by a new wave or arrests, among those sent to prison being the wife and small child of a young revolutionary, Giap, the future Commander-in-Chief of the Communist Vietminh terrorists. Both his wife and child died in prison in 1943, a fact he seldom failed to recall in his later contacts with the French. There was "perfect peace" in Indo-China at the outbreak of World War II and the French Government had no great concerns about the colony.[4]

World War II

France had signed an Armistice with Germany in June 1940 and left the European War. The Government, which had evacuated Paris during the two months of fighting, had moved to several cities and was now sited in the spa town of Vichy. France was now neutral and still held her overseas empire intact. However, on 14 June 1940 came the first Japanese ultimatum: the demand that the French close the Indo-Chinese border to American exports to Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek's forces in China. Other demands followed: transit facilities, air bases, etc. The air bases were needed for bombing the Burma Road which was also supplying the Generalissimo. Governor-General Admiral Jean Decoux yielded what he called "an unavoidable minimum", in exchange for Japanese recognition of continuing French sovereignty over Indo-China. Later, under the Kato-Darlan Agreement of 29 July 1941, Indo-China was 'integrated' into a 'common defence' policy and the Japanese were allowed to use Saigon as an advance base for their operations in South-east Asia. Admiral Decoux prided himself on having established a satisfactory modus vivendi with the Japanese, whose presence was "discreet". 40,000 French troops remained in Indo-China keeping the country in order. Although the Decroux régime was regarded as "completely autocratic", it was in some ways, paradoxically enough, more 'liberal' than anything the Indo-Chinese had seen under the former Third Republic. However, in 1941 the Indo-Chinese Communist Party had called on the people of Indo-China to fight "both French imperialism and Japanese Fascism".[5]

Gaullism was practically non-existent in Indo-China and what little there was of it was stamped out with great energy, de Gaulle being considered a renegade and a traitor to the legal government of France. In June 1944, however, France was illegally invaded by the western plutocratic Allies and eventually over-run. The government was removed into Germany. There had been a terrible famine in Vietnam in early 1945 and the Japanese now became alarmed by the various events. On March 9th they presented Decroux with an ultimatum, which he rejected; they then rapidly disarmed all the French troops. Emperor Bao Dai thereupon congratulated the Japanese; solemnly declared that the French protectorate was abolished; proclaimed Annam to be an element of 'Great East Asia', and expressed the hope that it would "prove worthy of its independence". Following the crime of Hiroshima, the numerous Vietminh communist terrorists in the country adopted the name of the "Vietnamese Army of Liberation" and on August 10th called for National Independence and took control from the Japanese at Hanoi on August 20th. Bao Dai abdicated without much hesitation. At Saigon, too, the Japanese handed their authority over to their Vietnamese friends (not to the communists).[6]

Meanwhile, on 24 March 1945 the British puppet Charles de Gaulle had issued a statement saying that there would be a Federal Government of Indo-China, presided over by a Governor-General representing France, and composed of French and native ministers; there would also be a 'mixed' Assembly. French troops under General Philippe Leclerc sailed for Saigon. During the voyage, Lord Mountbatten notified Leclerc by telegram, on August 22nd, of the decision of the Potsdam Conference to cut Indo-China into two zones, one north, the other south of the 16th parallel. The remaining Japanese were to be disarmed in the north by the Chinese and in the south by the British. Lecler, told USA General MacArthur a few days later in Japan that he was in favour of the French landing "as many troops as possible".


Upon the post-war arrival of French troops the Communist Vietnamese "National Committee" managed to escape from Saigon, and the few British troops withdrew. The new French High Commissioner, Admiral Thierry D'Argenlieu, now arrived. On 5 February 1946 General Leclerc declared that the "pacification" of Cochin-China and South Annam had been completed.[7]

Aided by the Red Chinese and the Soviet Union, at alternating political intervals, the Communist terrorists continued their insurgency against the French, eventually leading to a military disaster for France, when they abandoned Indo-China[8] leaving the country divided politically: North Vietnam and South Vietnam. Fighting between the two sides continued during the Vietnam War, ending with a Communist North Vietnamese victory in 1975.


  1. "French Cochinchina Sept. 1945 - 1949"
  2. Werth, Alexander, France 1940-1955, Robert Hale publishers, London, 1957, p, 327-8.
  3. Werth, 1957, 0.328.
  4. Werth, 1957, p.328.
  5. Werth, 1957, p.328-9.
  6. Werth, 1957, p.330.
  7. Werth, 1957, p.332.
  8. Werth, 1957, chapters III and IV.
  • Karnow, Stanley, Vietnam, Guild Publishing, London, 1983/1987 reprint.
  • Dorr, Robert F., Air War Hanoi, Guild Publishing, London, 1988 reprint, ISBN: 0-7137-1783-1.
  • McNamara, Robert S., In Retrospect - The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, Random House, New York, 1991, ISBN:0-712-67682-1

External links