The emergence of the modern nation-state was particularly advanced in Spain, England and France (see “The modern nation-state” 8/14/2013), with the result that by the end of the fifteenth century, these nations had developed a significant capacity for conquest. The centralized Western European nation-states were still no match for China or Japan, but they had developed the capacity to conquer the indigenous empires and societies of America.
The Spanish conquest of America was aided by environmental factors. The steel shields and swords of the Spanish were more advanced than the bronze and stone weaponry of the indigenous, who had not discovered iron. And the Spanish had horses, the Sherman tanks of pre-modern warfare; whereas in America, large mammals had become extinct during human colonization. And the Spanish conquest was aided by the relative lack of immunity to diseases carried by the European conquerors, a consequence of less contact among populations in America than in Africa, Asia, and Europe (see “What enables conquest?” 8/9/2013).
The Spanish imposed a colonial system characterized by forced labor and the exportation of gold and silver to Spain. The bullion was used by Spain to purchase manufactured goods from Northwestern Europe, thus facilitating the commercial expansion and agricultural modernization of Northwestern Europe. These dynamics created a European-centered world-economy that encompassed Western Europe as its core and Latin America and Eastern Europe as its periphery, a territory much larger than that of the Chinese world-empire. And it increased the economic and military power of the centralized states of Britain and France, which after 1750 began a conquest of vast regions of Africa and Asia, seeking to expand even further the geographical territory of the European-centered world-economy (see “What is a world-system?” 8/1/2013; “The origin of the modern world-economy” 8/6/2013; “Conquest, gold, and Western development” 8/8/2013).
Thus, we can see in sum the dynamics that enabled Western European conquest and domination of the world, which reached its culmination during the twentieth century. The common interests of the monarchs and a rising merchant class created the modern nation-state, a centralized state with an advanced capacity for conquest, but not as advanced as the empires of Southeast Asia. Spain proceeded to conquer the empires and societies of America, leading to the formation of a European-centered world-economy, which further increased the capacity for conquest of the Western European states, particularly Britain and France. After 1750, the European nation-states, increasingly powerful, undertook a project of conquest and domination of vast regions of Asia and Africa, which was dialectically related to the modernization of industry and further increased the power of the Western European nation-states.
But the European nation-states would find formidable resistance in the world-empires of Southeast Asia. The region had developed food production early, and its empires were advanced (see “Food production and conquest” 8/12/2013). For centuries, China was by far the largest and most advanced world-empire, and its conquests had included the empire of Vietnam. As a result of its considerable strength, European powers deferred invasions of China until the nineteenth century. Because of European invasions beginning in 1839, China was compelled to accept treaties that led to her partial de-industrialization, but China was never conquered, colonized, and peripheralized like most of Southeast Asia, South Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean (Fairbank 1986; 1992; Frank 1979).
For its part, Japan was not invaded by the European powers during the period of the expansion of the European-centered world-economy from 1750 to 1914. As a result, Japan experienced “independent national development” (quoted in Frank 1979:153). Its project for a Japanese-centered world-system in Asia clashed with the European-centered world-system in the twentieth century, and it was brought to an end by the Japanese defeat in World War II and the subsequent occupation by the United States, leading to Japan’s incorporation as a core nation in the European-centered world-economy.
French invasions of Vietnam were selective, and its conquest of Vietnam was partial. French troops had landed in Da Nang in central Vietnam in 1858, but imperial troops compelled the French to withdraw. Beginning in 1859, the southern region was occupied by French troops, and Cochin China was developed as a colony directly administered by the French. As a result, in the south, French settlers developed plantations, and Saigon emerged as a commercial and industrial center. And in the northern region, Hanoi was attacked and several cities along the Red River were occupied by French troops in the 1880s. The French protectorate of Tonkin in the north in effect functioned as a French colony, although Cochin China was more attractive to most French settlers and investors. But most of the empire of Vietnam, stretching between Tonkin and Cochin China and including the imperial capital of Hue, had not been conquered by the French. The Vietnamese emperor ceded political influence over this central region to the French, and it became the French protectorate of Annam, with the Vietnamese imperial court and bureaucracy functioning as a puppet government. To be sure, the emperor was compelled to concede the transformation of the countryside into the production of rice for export and to provide labor for the plantations, thus fulfilling the economic goals of the French colonial project. Nevertheless, because of the indirect form of French rule, which was in effect a concession to the Vietnamese emperor, the peripheralization of Annam was less thorough than in Cochin China (Duiker 2000:9, 12-13, 42, 110-11; see “French colonialism in Vietnam” 4/25/2013).
The ceding of political influence and territory to the French by the emperor was opposed at the outset by a faction in the imperial court and by the Confucian scholar-gentry class, many of whom favored continued military resistance against French aggression. A movement of opposition to French colonialism began immediately. It would be a movement not only in opposition to French colonialism but also in opposition to the collaboration with French colonial rule by the Vietnamese imperial court. This will be the subject of our next post.
Duiker, William J. 2000. Ho Chi Minh. New York: Hyperion.
Fairbank, John King. 1986. The Great Chinese Revolution: 1800-1985. New York: Harper & Row.
__________. 1992. China: A New History. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Frank, Andre Gunder. 1979. Dependent Accumulation and Underdevelopment. New York: Monthly Review Press.
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