The French invasion of Vietnam resumed in the 1880s, when the French attacked Hanoi and occupied several major cities along the Red River in the North. This occurred shortly after the death of Tu Duc, and it threw an imperial court already in division over succession into further division concerning how to respond to the renewed French aggression. An accommodationist faction came to dominate the court, and it ceded political influence to France over the remaining territory of Vietnam. The French divided Vietnam into the protectorate of Tonkin in the far north, where the traditional capital city of Hanoi was located; and the protectorate of Annam, which included the imperial capital of Hue and stretched from Tonkin to the French colony of Cochin China in the far south. The Vietnamese imperial court and its bureaucracy were allowed to govern in the protectorate of Annam, functioning as a puppet authority under the direction of the French (Duiker 2000:12-13).
We have seen in previous posts that conquest and colonial domination involved peripheralization, where the newly conquered regions were converted into exporters of raw materials on a base of forced labor (see “New peripheralization, 1750-1850” 8/20/2013; “The world-economy becomes global, 1815-1914” 8/21/2013; “The modern world-economy” 8/2/2013; “Unequal exchange” 8/5/2013). This pattern was followed in Vietnam, as feudal Vietnamese communal agriculture was transformed into a system characterized by privately-owned large-scale plantations and mines oriented to the exportation of rubber, rice, and minerals. The plantations and mines were in the hands of a small number of owners, principally foreigners; and the puppet Vietnamese authority was required to supply forced laborers for them. In addition, during colonial rule many small farmers became tenant farmers burdened by debt peonage (Prina 2008:14; Duiker 2000:173-76; Fall 1967:69; Ho 1968:236-237).
The peripheralization of Vietnam was concentrated in the French colony of Cochin China, in part because it was a colony directly administered by the French rather than a protectorate administered indirectly through a Vietnamese government under French direction. The production of rubber and rice for export, on a base of forced and super-exploited labor, provided the economic foundation for the colony of Cochin China. Rubber seedlings had been imported from Brazil, and rubber plantations under French ownership were developed along the Cambodian border. In the Mekong River delta, the French drained the marshlands, and rice was cultivated by sharecroppers who paid exorbitant rents to absentee Vietnamese landlords living in Saigon. The rice was processed in plants owned by Chinese descendants of settlers of previous centuries, as Cochin China became the third largest rice exporter in the world. In addition to owning rice mills, the Chinese controlled banking, and they were an important force as merchants in Saigon and other cities of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. They lived in separate Chinese sections that maintained significant components of Chinese culture. In addition, several thousand Europeans settled in Saigon, attracted by nearby rubber, tea, and coffee plantations as well as opportunities vis-á-vis factory ownership and the import-export trade. Saigon became the largest industrial and commercial city of Vietnam, as textile mills, cement factories, and food processing plants emerged (Duiker 2000:42, 110-11).
The accommodation of the emperor and the imperial court to French colonial domination undermined the prestige and authority of the emperor. And it led to a decline of fidelity to the Confucian ethic, which stressed service to the community, personal right conduct, and benevolence. Corruption became endemic among bureaucratic officials, and land that was previously reserved for poor families was now seized by the wealthy. The Vietnamese imperial system was in decadence (Duiker 2000:29).
What historic social, political, and environmental factors enabled the French to impose colonialism on Vietnam? This will be the subject of our next post.
Duiker, William J. 2000. Ho Chi Minh. New York: Hyperion.
Fall, Bernard B., Ed. 1967. Ho Chi Minh On Revolution: Selected Writings, 1920-26. New York: Frederick A. Praeger.
Ho Chi Minh. 1968. Páginas Escogidas. La Habana: Instituto del Libro.
Prina, Agustín. 2008. La Guerra de Vietnam. Mexico: Ocean Sur.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Vietnam, French colonialism, French Indochina, Cochin China