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Thursday, December 02, 2004

Colonial Wafare pt, 15

Keeping the natives in line.

Gia Long (Nguyen dynasty)

Gia Long's successor, Minh Mang, was so anti-European that he barred French missionaries and forbade Christian preaching. When a peasant revolt broke out in 1833 aided by missionaries, he began a purge of Christians. Over the years numerous Vietnamese converts and French nationals were killed. The policy was continued by Emperor Tu Duc, which ultimately gave France an excuse to invade Vietnam in 1858 in the name of protecting its citizens. In 1862 the French forced Tu Duc to cede three eastern provinces of southern Vietnam -- which the French called Cochinchina -- and by 1885 they had gained control of the entire country.

Subsequent Nguyen emperors reigned under the hand of the French. The last was Bao Dai, who abdicated in 1945 when the Viet Minh, the nationalist movement led by Ho Chi Minh, seized power from the departing Japanese. Bao Dai later fled to Hong Kong but returned as nominal sovereign in 1949 during France's abortive attempt to reassert colonial control from the insurgent Viet Minh. In 1955, after a referendum called for a republic and Ngo Dinh Diem became president, Bao Dai retired to France where he resumed something of the lifestyle he had previously enjoyed as the "Playboy Emperor." He died in 1997.


The French invaded Indochina because of trade and stayed because of the wars.

French Indochina

The decision to invade Vietnam was made by Napoleon III in July 1857. After more delays, a task force of 14 ships and 5,000 men came to Da Nang in August 1858. It only took a day to occupy the town, but the French could make no progress after that. Because they lacked the necessary shallow-draft boats to go up the Perfume River to Hue, they could not threaten the Vietnamese capital. Worse than that, no reinforcements arrived--they went to join the British in the Second Opium War against China--and the expected anti-government uprisings by Vietnamese Catholics failed to take place. On top of all that, French casualties from tropical diseases soon exceeded their battle dead, and when the rainy season started in October, the army was completely immobilized.

The French commander, Adm. Rigault Genouilly, decided to abandon Da Nang and attack in the south. Here he hit where it really hurt; he took Saigon, the main city in the rice-growing Mekong delta region. But Tu Duc still refused to admit defeat, and soon Saigon also came under siege by the more numerous Vietnamese forces. The situation remained a stalemate until 1861, when the French garrison was relieved by reinforcements returning from the Chinese expedition, along with some Spanish troops from Manila. Now the Franco-Spanish forces took the offensive, spreading out to capture three of the six provinces in the Mekong delta. Unable to resist the modern military technology of the West, Tu Duc finally gave in, and in the treaty that followed he signed away the provinces captured by the French. At this point the Spanish lost interest in Vietnam and withdrew, but the French were not finished yet. One year later (1863) a French officer visited the king of Cambodia and forced him at gunpoint to sign a treaty that transferred Cambodia's vassalage from Siam to France. In 1867 the governor of Saigon annexed the rest of the Mekong delta for France, allegedly to prevent Vietnamese interference in the affairs of Cambodia.(1)

For a while the French had hopes that the Mekong could be used as a trade route to southwest China, bringing trade goods to millions of potential customers. An explorer named Francis Garnier went up the river in 1866-68, and he came back with the report that the river could only be navigated as far upstream as Laos. The Red River, however, was suitable for commercial traffic, so now French eyes looked northward to Tonkin.

The first merchant to try the Red River route, Jean Dupuis, brought a cargo of arms from China to Vietnam in 1873. He tried to go back to China with a cargo of salt, and was arrested in Hanoi for trying to break the government's salt monopoly. Garnier was sent to Hanoi with 60 men to rescue Dupuis; once he did so, he seized the citadel at Hanoi and tried to claim all of Tonkin for France. Not long after that Garnier was killed in a battle with the Black Flags, a gang of Chinese and Vietnamese bandits, and the whole campaign to conquer the north collapsed. France, which had recently suffered a disastrous defeat (the Franco-Prussian War, 1870-71), was in no mood to send Saigon the money or manpower needed for new conquests. The anticolonial faction in the Paris government declared that the recovery of France should take precedence over all other matters for the time being.

It took ten years of rapid economic growth before France was ready to raise the tricolor over more colonies. In April 1882 a force of 250 men was sent to Hanoi under Captain Henri Riviere, officially to suppress the Black Flags, who had grown to dominate most of Tonkin by this time. When Riviere suffered the same fate as Garnier, the French Chamber of Deputies immediately voted to impose French control over Tonkin, no matter what the cost. A stronger expeditionary force moved into the Red River delta in August 1883, while the French fleet bombarded Hue, where, unknown to the French, Emperor Tu Duc had died just a few weeks earlier. The court mandarins quickly surrendered the whole country to the French. That should have been the end of the fighting, but shortly before his death Tu Duc formed an anti-French alliance with China, in effect using Vietnam's oldest enemy to get rid of her newest foe. A new war broke out, this time with China on the side of the Vietnamese. The Chinese did well on land, but in 1885 the French fleet occupied several seaports on the Chinese coast; China was compelled to get out of Vietnam to get the ports back. A number of Vietnamese guerrillas, however, continued to resist the French until the turn of the century before they were finally suppressed.

The final act of French expansion was to take Laos from Siam in 1893, followed by two more pieces of Siamese territory in 1904 and 1907.

However, the rebellion of 1885 set the stage for future revolts

How and When Vietnam's "Resistance Movement Began"

When the young emperor, Ham Nghi, together with his court, fled Hue in July 1885 for the security of the mountains of central Vietnam, the Vietnamese resistance to French colonial rule began. The decision to resist the imposition of the French protectorate was sudden, but not unplanned. One of the regents responsible for the government of the thirteen-year-old Ham Nghi was Ton That Thuyet. He had long urged a more vigorous defense against French force and had prepared a mountain retreat, supplied with food, ammunition, and gold. But only a series of insults by French military commanders and an attempt to deprive the court at Hue of all power and influence finally convinced the royal family that its honor, at least required an active military defense.

On his flight from Hue Nghi issued a royal declaration known as the "Loyalty to the King Edict." True to Confucian belief, the emperor accepted full blame for the calamities that had befallen the country but insisted upon strict obedience to the new edict. Loyalty to the monarchy and hatred of the French were sufficiently strong to produce a twelve-year guerrilla resistance against the French. It drew its leaders from loyal mandarins and other local scholars and has been named the "Scholars' Revolt." Until the French captured Ham Nghi in 1888, the Scholars' Revolt centered around him.

With the French in hot pursuit of the fleeing court, the would-be rebels were unable to reach the mountain retreat they had selected in advance. The supplies stored there fell, instead, into French hands. The rebels moved farther into the mountains, quickly becoming dependent upon the support of small villages.

The Guerrilla War Begins

In the early years the rebels were highly effective. Selective Vietnamese ambushes prevented French troops from gaining a major foothold in the mountains. Ton That Thuyet reportedly had more volunteers than he could use. The classic pattern of guerrilla warfare emerged. By day the forces kept to the security of the mountains. At night they entered villages to resupply and to gain new recruits. Everywhere the French appeared to be in control of the villages, but nowhere were they safe.

With these early successes Ton left the young emperor in the care of his sons and traveled to China, hoping in vain to enlist the support of Peking. The French, too, began to seek support elsewhere. Their demand for more money and more troops from France was met in Paris by criticism from the Chamber of Deputies, which had previously been so enthusiastic about the protectorates.

The French then turned south to their colony of Co-chin China, in hopes of enlisting support. Twenty years of colonial rule had its effect there. A large number of Vietnamese already held stakes in the French rule. These tested collaborators proved willing to raise armies to fight their fellow Vietnamese in the North. One of the wealthiest of the Cochin Chinese, Tran Ba Loc, also proved to be one of the most ruthless of the antiguerrilla fighters. He literally wiped a score of villages off the map.

The French also sought other allies. After Ham Nghi's flight they had installed a new emperor, Dong Khan. They called upon the mandarins to support this "rightful" ruler, making a highly enticing offer: Rebels who voluntarily surrendered would be pardoned; those caught would be summarily executed. However, many mandarins refused to recognize the new emperor and at best remained neutral. Much like the Americans nearly a century later, the French also exploited the guerrillas' reliance upon Vietnam's ethnic minorities in the mountains, especially the Muong. Small bribes were often enough to gain the cooperation and loyalty of the ethnic troops.

The French used this last connection to capture Ham Nghi and strike a fatal blow to the resistance. While in the care of Ton That Thuyet's sons, he was guarded by Muong tribesmen. The French approached the Muong chief, offering him opium and a military title in exchange for his betraying the emperor. Ham Nghi was captured in November 1888. True to the Confucian tradition of obedience to the father, one of Ton's young sons fell in defense of his monarch. The other, shamed by his inability to carry out his father's instructions, committed suicide. The sixteen-year-old Ham Nghi behaved with dignity, refusing to communicate even his name to his French captors. He would not meet with relatives who had returned to the court at Hue and lived the rest of his life in exile in the French colony of Algeria.

The End Of The Scholars' Revolt

The capture of Ham Nghi was a turning point in French pacification efforts. More and more mandarins saw the wisdom of accepting the French offer and returned to their duties, this time in the service of the French. Others followed the Confucian tradition of retirement to their home villages. It became increasingly easy for the French to consolidate their rule without aid from Paris. Mandarins were able to conscript native troops to battle the remaining insurgents, and taxes were heavily increased to pay for the military campaigns.

For a minority, however, the capture of Ham Nghi only intensified their efforts. Plans were laid for a long-term struggle. One guerrilla group captured and beheaded the Muong betrayer of Ham Nghi. Others developed increasingly sophisticated guerrilla tactics and began the manufacture of replicas of the most advanced French weapons. But the French developed a strategy that ultimately led to the end of guerrilla resistance. Focusing their entire attention on a particular area they built a series of fortifications around the guerrillas' mountain base. Slowly moving in, they trapped the guerrillas in an ever-tightening noose. Ultimately the guerrillas' only hope was exactly what the French wanted: a frontal attack at-tempting to break through the French ring. These tactics destroyed the mass of the guerrilla movement. Those who were left fell victim to disease, starvation, many committed suicide.

By 1897 the last of the guerrilla forces in the mountains of Tonkin had been subdued. A decade of peace commenced, during which the French could begin the process of developing their new possessions. But the rebellion lived in the memory of the people, providing lessons both by what it had accomplished and what it had not.

The French never had an easy time in Vietnam. The end was even more drawn out and ugly than the vengeful Dutch did in Indonesia.

posted by Steve @ 2:05:00 AM

2:05:00 AM

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