imperialism, then in full expansion, was attacking a decaying feudal
monarchy. The Nguyen dynasty, which had ascended the throne after
repressing a large-scale uprising, restored the feudal system and all of
its repressive institutions. Peasant revolts, however, continued
unabated, driving an administrative apparatus, essentially made up of a
body of mandarins trained in very conservative and ritualistic
Confucian ideology and duplicated in the villages by a body of notables
born into the landlord class, into a tight corner. With a rudimentary
infrastructure, the royal court was unable to effectively rule over a
territory stretching from north to south for more than 2,000 kilometers .
It was in the most vulnerable part, the south, that the French
colonialists began their aggression.
with French invasion, the Vietnamese side split into two opposing
parties, one arguing for compromise and the other for resistance. The
king and high-ranking court dignitaries were afraid of the modern
weapons used by the French. They were also misled as to the objectives
of the French, believing that the French, having come from so far away,
were thinking less about conquering the country than of obtaining trade
concessions. Moreover, the Nguyen monarchy, constantly suppressing
internal revolts, neither wanted to nor was able to mobilize all the
nation's energies to oppose the aggression. All this prompted the king
and court dignitaries to implement a policy of hoa nghi (peace and negotiation).
The French government sanctioned the decision to conquer Vietnam
in 1857. However, due to resistance by Vietnamese patriots, it took the
French 30 years to establish their domination over the country
In 1887, in compliance with the decree of the French King, Indochina, consisting of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos,
was established. At that time, French social and economic policies were
expedited on a small scale, and a policy on the exploitation of
colonies was imposed on a larger scale at the beginning of the 20th
century. French economic and social activities boosted the country in
many ways. The French concentrated investments in the mining industry,
as well as several other industries. A number of large plantations,
apart from rice, appeared and economical crops, such as tea, coffee, and
rubber, were developed. Agricultural products were being considered as
commodities. These changes in the economy resulted in a division between
the Vietnamese bourgeoisie and the working class.
education system was also modified. Three levels of general education,
infant, primary, and secondary, were established. The old examination
system was abolished in 1915, and schools for training administrative
officers in the French style were officially launched in 1917.
The Governor General of Indochina
decreed to restructure the mechanism of village organization in 1904.
This brought a strong resistance to the French who wanted to create a
new class of French style landlords. The French colonialists imposed an
austere policy for the working class, especially for tillers, and high
taxes were imposed on farmers. The French colonialists practiced a
policy of obscurantism.
patriots with different ideologies struggled to liberalize the country.
One movement was the Dong Du led by Phan Boi Chau. Those who followed
the policy of raising intellectual standards included Phan Chu Trinh and
the Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Group. Nguyen Thai Hoc and his fellows were
sentenced to death as a result of these protests. Nguyen Ai Quoc (or Ho
Chi Minh) founded Vietnam's
Communist Party (or the Indochinese Communist Party) in 1930. From this
point, Communist were the primary leaders of the national liberation
While seeking to maximize the use of Indochina's natural resources and manpower to fight the war, France cracked down on all patriotic mass movements in Vietnam. Indochina, mainly Vietnam, had to provide France with 50,000 soldiers and 49,000 workers, who were forcibly drafted from the villages to serve on the French battlefront. Indochina
also contributed 184 million piastres in the form of loans and 336,000
tonnes of food. These burdens proved all the heavier as agriculture was
hard hit by natural disasters from 1914 to 1917.
a unified nationwide organization, the Vietnamese national movement,
though still vigorous, failed to take advantage of the difficulties France
was experiencing as a result of war to stage any significant uprisings.
The scholars' movement had declined while new social forces were not
yet strong enough to promote large-scale campaigns.
The Quang Phuc movement had planned to seize Hanoi
through the combined action of patriots within the country and a
revolutionary army trained abroad. The secret operation was betrayed,
however, and many members of the movement were arrested. Other members
joined different organizations, armed themselves with rudimentary
weapons, and sought to bring soldiers from the local militia over to
their side. On January 6, 1919,
150 armed patriots attacked the garrison at Phu Tho. Meanwhile, enemy
posts in other provinces, such as Nho Quan in Ninh Binh and Mong Cai
near the Chinese border, were besieged. However, the attacks failed. The
Quang Phuc had the intention of launching a series of attacks against
many military and administrative centers in Tonkin, but the plan was not implemented.
Again in Tonkin, on August 31, 1917,
soldiers of the Thai Nguyen garrison held a mutiny under the leadership
of Sergeant Trinh Van Can, a former partisan of Hoang Hoa Tham, and
Luong Ngoc Quyen, a member of the Quang Phuc movement. Joined by many
soldiers, the insurgents killed the French commander, seized a large
load of arms and munitions, and liberated many political prisoners who
then joined the ranks of the combatants. The town of Thai Nguyen
was liberated. The insurgents, after a series of discussions, gave up
their plans for extending their activities to other provinces. Instead,
they dug in at Thai Nguyen in the hope of consolidating their strength.
On September 4, the French retook the town, forcing the insurgents to
leave. Scattered in the mountainous region around Thai Nguyen, the
rebels continued their struggle against 2,000 French troops for another
the most important event was the call for an uprising made by King Duy
Tan, who was enthroned in 1907, at the age of seven, by the instigation
of patriotic mandarins and scholars, particularly Thai Phien and Tran
Cao Van. The principal forces on which King Duy relied were the soldiers
who were gathered in the thousands in Hue and about to leave for France. The signal for the start of the revolt should have been given on May 3, 1916.
Unfortunately, the secret was leaked and the French disarmed the
soldiers before the day of their departure. Duy Tan attempted to flee
the capital but was captured and exiled to the Island of Reunion. Scattered armed groups were rapidly eliminated by the French, and the patriots Thai Phien and Tran Cao Van were executed.
Cochinchina, patriotic activity manifested itself in the early years of
the century by the creation of underground societies. The most
important of which was the Thien Dia Hoi (Heaven and Earth Association) whose branches covered many provinces around Saigon.
These associations often took the form of political-religious
organizations, and one of their main activities was to punish traitors
in the pay of the French.
to these secret societies, a movement led by a former bonze, Phan Xich
Long, was organized in 1913. Its members, wearing white clothes and
turbans, attacked the cities with primitive weapons. Phan Xich Long was
eventually captured and executed by the French. In 1916, underground
societies in Cochinchina tried to attack several administrative centers,
including the central prison in Saigon
and the residence of the local French governor. On the night of
February14, 1916, thousands of people armed with knives and wearing
amulets infiltrated Saigon and fought French police and troops who succeeded in defeating them.
colonial administration, while harshly suppressing the national
movement, sought to appease the elite by introducing a few paltry
reforms, with promises of important postwar reforms from the more
generous "liberal" governors. These promises were never fulfilled. The
fact that France succeeded in holding on to Vietnam
during the war years was mainly due to the weakness of the national
movement. There were of' course patriots to carry on the fight for
national independence, but the new and still embryonic social forces
failed to give the movement the necessary vigor and direction. Not until
these forces had further developed over subsequent decades was the
national movement able to be revitalized.