French Indochina


French Indochina (previously spelled as French Indo-China),[a][b] officially known as the Indochinese Union[c][d] and after 1947 as the Indochinese Federation,[e] was a grouping of French colonial territories in Southeast Asia until its demise in 1954. It comprised Cambodia, Laos (from 1899), the Chinese territory of Guangzhouwan (from 1898 until 1945), and the Vietnamese regions of Tonkin in the north, Annam in the centre, and Cochinchina in the south. The capital for most of its history (1902–45) was Hanoi; Saigon was the capital from 1887 to 1902 and again from 1945 to 1954.

Indochinese Union
Union indochinoise  (French)
法屬印度支那  (Chinese)
สหภาพอินโดจีน  (Thai)
Liên bang Đông Dương  (Vietnamese)
សហភាពឥណ្ឌូចិន  (Khmer)
ສະຫະພາບອິນໂດຈີນ  (Lao)
Motto: "Liberté, égalité, fraternité"
"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity"
Anthem: La Marseillaise
("The Marseillaise")
Vietnamese-style seal of the Government-General of French Indochina[b]
Vietnamese-style seal of the Government-General of French Indochina.svg
Map of French Indochina, excluding Guangzhouwan
Map of French Indochina, excluding Guangzhouwan
StatusFederation of French colonial possessions
Common languagesFrench (official)
GovernmentFrench federation
• 1887–1888 (first)
Ernest Constans
• 1955–1956 (last)
Henri Hoppenot[d]
Historical eraNew Imperialism
• Establishment
17 October 1887
19 April 1899
• Addition of Guangzhouwan
5 January 1900
22 September 1940
Oct. 1940 – May 1941
9 March 1945
13 September 1945
19 December 1946
21 July 1954
• Total
737,000 km2 (285,000 sq mi)
CurrencyFrench Indochinese piastre
Preceded by
Succeeded by
of Annam
of Tonkin
French Protectorate of Cambodia
Kingdom of
Luang Phrabang
Kingdom of Champasak
of Siam
Democratic Republic of Vietnam
Kingdom of Kampuchea
Lao Issara
Empire of
Kingdom of
Kingdom of
Luang Phrabang
Empire of Japan
State of
Kingdom of Cambodia
Kingdom of Laos
Today part ofVietnam
  1. ^ Localised version of the Great Seal of France removing a number of French nationalistic symbols related to universal suffrage, science, and the Gallic cock while adding an anchor and rice wheat.[1]
  2. ^ Used on Classical Chinese language documents, its inscription reads Đại Pháp Quốc Khâm mệnh Tổng thống Đông Dương Toàn quyền đại thần quan nho (大法國欽命總統東洋全權大臣關伩) written in seal script.
  3. ^ Changed the name to "Thai" since 1939
  4. ^ As Commissioner-General

The Second French Empire annexed Cochinchina and established a protectorate in Cambodia in 1862 and 1863 respectively. After the French Third Republic took over northern Vietnam through the Tonkin campaign, the various protectorates were consolidated into one union in 1887. Two more entities were incorporated into the union: the Laotian protectorate and the Chinese territory of Guangzhouwan. The French exploited the resources in the region during their rule, but also contributed to improvements of the health and education system in the region. Nevertheless, deep divides remained between the natives and the colonists, leading to sporadic rebellions by the former. After the Fall of France during World War II, the colony was administered by the Vichy government and was under Japanese occupation until March 1945, when the Japanese overthrew the colonial regime. After the Japanese surrender, the Viet Minh, a communist organization led by Hồ Chí Minh, declared Vietnamese independence, but France subsequently took back control of French Indochina. An all-out independence war, known as the First Indochina War, broke out in late 1946 between French and Viet Minh forces.

To counter the Viet Minh, the State of Vietnam, led by former Emperor Bảo Đại, was proclaimed in 1949. French efforts to reunite Vietnam were unsuccessful. On 22 October and 9 November 1953, the Kingdom of Laos and Kingdom of Cambodia proclaimed their respective independences. Following the Geneva Accord of 1954, the French withdrew reluctantly from Vietnam, which had been split into the two countries (until 1976), and French Indochina was no more.


First French InterventionsEdit

French–Vietnamese relations started during the early 17th century with the arrival of the Jesuit missionary Alexandre de Rhodes. Around this time, Vietnam had only just begun its "Push to the South"—"Nam Tiến", the occupation of the Mekong Delta, a territory being part of the Khmer Empire and to a lesser extent, the kingdom of Champa which they had defeated in 1471.[2]

European involvement in Vietnam was confined to trade during the 18th century, as the remarkably successful work of the Jesuit missionaries continued. In 1787, Pierre Pigneau de Behaine, a French Catholic priest, petitioned the French government and organised French military volunteers to aid Nguyễn Ánh in retaking lands his family lost to the Tây Sơn. Pigneau died in Vietnam but his troops fought on until 1802 in the French assistance to Nguyễn Ánh.

19th centuryEdit

Expansion of French Indochina (violet)

The French colonial empire was heavily involved in Vietnam in the 19th century; often French intervention was undertaken in order to protect the work of the Paris Foreign Missions Society in the country. For its part, the Nguyễn dynasty increasingly saw Catholic missionaries as a political threat; courtesans, for example, an influential faction in the dynastic system, feared for their status in a society influenced by an insistence on monogamy.[3]

In 1858, the brief period of unification under the Nguyễn dynasty ended with a successful attack on Tourane (present day Da Nang) by French Admiral Charles Rigault de Genouilly under the orders of Napoleon III. Prior to the attack French diplomat Charles de Montigny's efforts to reach a peaceable solution had failed. Seeing no other recourse, France sent Genouilly forward in a military effort to end Vietnam's persecution and expulsion of Catholic missionaries.[4]

Fourteen French gunships, 3,300 men including 300 Filipino soldiers provided by the Spanish[5] attacked the port of Tourane causing significant damage and occupying the city. After fighting the Vietnamese for three months and finding himself unable to progress further in land, de Genouilly sought and received approval of an alternative attack on Saigon.[4][6]

Sailing to southern Vietnam, de Genouilly captured the poorly defended city of Saigon on 17 February 1859. Once again, however, de Genouilly and his forces were unable to seize territory outside of the defensive perimeter of the city. De Genouilly was criticised for his actions and was replaced by Admiral Page in November 1859 with instructions to obtain a treaty protecting the Catholic faith in Vietnam while refraining from making territorial gains.[4][6]

Peace negotiations proved unsuccessful and the fighting in Saigon continued. Ultimately in 1861, the French brought additional forces to bear in the Saigon campaign, advanced out of the city and began to capture cities in the Mekong Delta. On 5 June 1862, the Vietnamese conceded and signed the Treaty of Saigon whereby they agreed to legalize the free practice of the Catholic religion; to open trade in the Mekong Delta and at three ports at the mouth of the Red River in northern Vietnam; to cede the provinces of Biên Hòa, Gia Định and Định Tường along with the islands of Poulo Condore to France; and to pay reparations equivalent to one million dollars.[7][8][9]

In 1864 the aforementioned three provinces ceded to France were formally constituted as the French colony of Cochinchina. Then in 1867, French Admiral Pierre de la Grandière forced the Vietnamese to surrender three additional provinces, Châu Đốc, Hà Tiên and Vĩnh Long. With these three additions all of southern Vietnam and the Mekong Delta fell under French control.[8]

In 1863, the Cambodian king Norodom had requested the establishment of a French protectorate over his country. In 1867, Siam (modern Thailand) renounced suzerainty over Cambodia and officially recognised the 1863 French protectorate on Cambodia, in exchange for the control of Battambang and Siem Reap provinces which officially became part of Thailand. (These provinces would be ceded back to Cambodia by a border treaty between France and Siam in 1906).


Siamese Army troops in the disputed territory of Laos in 1893
The Presidential Palace, in Hanoi, built between 1900 and 1906 to house the Governor-General of Indochina

France obtained control over northern Vietnam following its victory over China in the Sino-French War (1884–85). French Indochina was formed on 17 October 1887 from Annam, Tonkin, Cochinchina (which together form modern Vietnam) and the Kingdom of Cambodia; Laos was added after the Franco-Siamese War in 1893.

The federation lasted until 21 July 1954. In the four protectorates, the French formally left the local rulers in power, who were the Emperors of Vietnam, Kings of Cambodia, and Kings of Luang Prabang, but in fact gathered all powers in their hands, the local rulers acting only as figureheads.

Vietnamese RebellionsEdit

While the French were trying to establish control over Cambodia, a large scale Vietnamese insurgency – the Cần Vương movement – started to take shape, aiming to expel the French and install the boy emperor Hàm Nghi as the leader of an independent Vietnam.[10] The insurgents, led by Phan Đình Phùng, Phan Chu Trinh, Phan Bội Châu, Trần Quý Cáp and Huỳnh Thúc Kháng, targeted Vietnamese Christians as there were very few French soldiers to overcome, which led to a massacre of around 40,000 Christians.[11] The rebellion was eventually brought down by a French military intervention, in addition to its lack of unity in the movement.[12][13][14]

Nationalist sentiments intensified in Vietnam, especially during and after World War I, but all the uprisings and tentative efforts failed to obtain sufficient concessions from the French.

Franco-Siamese War (1893)Edit

Territorial conflict in the Indochinese peninsula for the expansion of French Indochina led to the Franco-Siamese War of 1893. In 1893 the French authorities in Indochina used border disputes, followed by the Paknam naval incident, to provoke a crisis. French gunboats appeared at Bangkok, and demanded the cession of Lao territories east of the Mekong River.

King Chulalongkorn appealed to the British, but the British minister told the king to settle on whatever terms he could get, and he had no choice but to comply. Britain's only gesture was an agreement with France guaranteeing the integrity of the rest of Siam. In exchange, Siam had to give up its claim to the Thai-speaking Shan region of north-eastern Burma to the British, and cede Laos to France.

Further Encroachments on Siam (1904–07)Edit

Occupation of Trat by French troops in 1904

The French continued to pressure Siam, and in 1902 they manufactured another crisis.[clarification needed] This time Siam had to concede French control of territory on the west bank of the Mekong opposite Luang Prabang and around Champasak in southern Laos, as well as western Cambodia. France also occupied the western part of Chantaburi.

In 1904, to get back Chantaburi, Siam had to give Trat and Koh Kong to French Indochina. Trat became part of Thailand again on 23 March 1907 in exchange for many areas east of the Mekong like Battambang, Siam Nakhon and Sisophon.

In the 1930s, Siam engaged France in a series of talks concerning the repatriation of Siamese provinces held by the French. In 1938, under the Front Populaire administration in Paris, France had agreed to repatriate Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Siem Pang and the associated provinces (approximately 13) to Siam.[citation needed] Meanwhile, Siam took over control of those areas, in anticipation of the upcoming treaty. Signatories from each country were dispatched to Tokyo to sign the treaty repatriating the lost provinces.[non sequitur]

Yên Bái mutiny (1930)Edit

French Indochina around 1933

On 10 February 1930, there was an uprising by Vietnamese soldiers in the French colonial army's Yên Bái garrison. The Yên Bái mutiny was sponsored by the Việt Nam Quốc Dân Đảng (VNQDĐ). The VNQDĐ was the Vietnamese Nationalist Party. The attack was the largest disturbance brewed up by the Cần Vương monarchist restoration movement of the late 19th century.

The aim of the revolt was to inspire a wider uprising among the general populace in an attempt to overthrow the colonial authority. The VNQDĐ had previously attempted to engage in clandestine activities to undermine French rule, but increasing French scrutiny of their activities led to their leadership group taking the risk of staging a large scale military attack in the Red River Delta in northern Vietnam.

Left opposition and the 1940 uprising in CochinchinaEdit

In Cochinchina where French rule had the distinction of being direct and therefore more sensitive to political shifts in Paris, it was punctuated by periods of relative liberalisation. The most significant was during the 1936–1938 Popular Front government led by Leon Blum which appointed as governor-general of Indochina Jules Brévié.[15] Liberal-minded, in Cochinchina Brévié tried to defuse an extremely tense political situation by amnestying political prisoners, and by easing restrictions on the press, political parties,[15] and trade unions.[16]

Saigon witnessed growing labour unrest culminating in the summer of 1937 in general dock and transport strikes.[17] In April of that year the Vietnamese Communists and their Trotskyist left opposition ran a common slate for the municipal elections with both their respective leaders Nguyễn Văn Tạo and Tạ Thu Thâu winning seats. The exceptional unity of the left, however, was split by the lengthening shadow of the Moscow Trials and by growing protest over the failure of the Communist-supported Popular Front to deliver constitutional reform.[18] Colonial Minister Marius Moutet, a Socialist commented that he had sought "a wide consultation with all elements of the popular [will]," but with "Trotskyist-Communists intervening in the villages to menace and intimidate the peasant part of the population, taking all authority from the public officials," the necessary "formula" had not been found.[19]

In April 1939 Cochinchina Council elections Tạ Thu Thâu led a "Workers' and Peasants' Slate" into victory over both the "bourgeois" Constitutionalists and the Communists' Democratic Front. Key to their success was popular opposition to the war taxes ("national defence levy") that the Communist Party, in the spirit of Franco-Soviet accord, had felt obliged to support.[20] Brévié set the election results aside and wrote to Colonial Minister Georges Mandel: "the Trotskyists under the leadership of Ta Thu Thau, want to take advantage of a possible war in order to win total liberation." The Stalinists, on the other hand, are "following the position of the Communist Party in France" and "will thus be loyal if war breaks out."[21]

With the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 23 August 1939, the local Communists were ordered by Moscow to return to direct confrontation with the French. Under the slogan "Land to the Tillers, Freedom for the workers and independence for Vietnam",[22] in November 1940 the Party in Cochinchina obliged, triggering a widespread insurrection. The revolt did not penetrate Saigon (an attempted uprising in the city was quelled in a day). In the Mekong Delta fighting continued until the end of the year.[23][24]

World War IIEdit

A propaganda painting in Hanoi, 1942

In September 1940, during World War II, the newly created regime of Vichy France granted Japan's demands for military access to Tonkin following the Japanese occupation of French Indochina, which lasted until the end of the Pacific War. This allowed Japan better access to China in the Second Sino-Japanese War against the forces of Chiang Kai-shek, but it was also part of Japan's strategy for dominion over the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Thailand took this opportunity of weakness to reclaim previously lost territories, resulting in the Franco-Thai War between October 1940 and 9 May 1941. The Thai forces generally did well on the ground, but Thai objectives in the war were limited. In January, Vichy French naval forces decisively defeated Thai naval forces in the Battle of Ko Chang. The war ended in May at the instigation of the Japanese, with the French forced to concede territorial gains for Thailand.

On 9 March 1945, with France liberated, Germany in retreat, and the United States ascendant in the Pacific, Japan decided to take complete control of Indochina and destroyed the French colonial administration. Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were proclaimed as independent states, members of Japan's Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The Japanese kept power in Indochina until the news of their government's surrender came through in August. The general disorganization of French Indochina, coupled with several natural disasters, caused a dreadful famine in Northern and Central Vietnam. Several hundred thousand people – possibly over one million – are believed to have starved to death in 1944–45.

First Indochina WarEdit

After the World War, France petitioned for the nullification of the 1938 Franco-Siamese Treaty and reasserted itself in the region, but came into conflict with the Viet Minh, a coalition of Communist and Vietnamese nationalists led by Hồ Chí Minh, founder of the Indochinese Communist Party. During World War II, the United States had supported the Viet Minh in resistance against the Japanese; the group had been in control of the countryside since the French gave way in March 1945.

American President Roosevelt and General Stilwell privately made it adamantly clear that the French were not to reacquire French Indochina after the war was over. He told Secretary of State Cordell Hull the Indochinese were worse off under the French rule of nearly 100 years than they were at the beginning. Roosevelt asked Chiang Kai-shek if he wanted Indochina, to which Chiang Kai-shek replied: "Under no circumstances!"[25]

Members of the 1st Foreign Parachute Heavy Mortar Company during the Indochina War

After the close of hostilities in WWII, 200,000 Chinese troops under General Lu Han sent by Chiang Kai-shek entered northern Indochina north of the 16th parallel to accept the surrender of Japanese occupying forces, and remained there until 1946.[26] This was in accordance with the instructions made by General Douglas MacArthur in General Order No. 1, of Sept. 2, 1945. Working with the VNQDĐ (broadly the Vietnamese equivalent of the Chinese Kuomintang), to increase their influence in Indochina and put pressure on their opponents.[27]

Chiang Kai-shek threatened the French with war in response to manoeuvering by the French and Ho Chi Minh against each other, forcing them to come to a peace agreement. In February 1946 he forced the French to surrender all of their concessions in China and renounce their extraterritorial privileges in exchange for withdrawing from northern Indochina and allowing French troops to reoccupy the region starting in March 1946.[28][29][30][31]

After persuading Emperor Bảo Đại to abdicate in his favour, on 2 September 1945 President Ho Chi Minh declared independence for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. But before September's end, a force of British and Free French soldiers, along with captured Japanese troops, restored French control. Ho Chi Minh agreed to negotiate with the French in order to gain autonomy, but the Fontainebleau Agreements of 1946 failed to produce a satisfactory solution. Bitter fighting ensued in the First Indochina War as Ho and his government took to the hills. In 1949, in order to provide a political alternative to Ho Chi Minh, the French favored the creation of a unified State of Vietnam, and former Emperor Bảo Đại was put back in power. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia became associated states of the French Union and were granted more autonomy.

However, 1950 was the turning point of the war. Ho's government was recognised by the fellow Communist governments of China and the Soviet Union, and Mao's government subsequently gave a fallback position to Ho's forces, as well as abundant supplies of weapons. In October 1950, the French army suffered its first major defeat with the battle of Route Coloniale 4. Subsequent efforts by the French military managed to improve their situation only in the short term. Bảo Đại's State of Vietnam proved a weak and unstable government, and Norodom Sihanouk's Cambodia proclaimed its independence in November 1953. Fighting lasted until May 1954, when the Viet Minh won the decisive victory against French forces at the gruelling battle of Điện Biên Phủ.

Geneva AgreementsEdit

Indochina in 1954

On 20 July 1954, the Geneva Conference produced the Geneva Agreements between North Vietnam and France. Provisions included supporting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Indochina, granting it independence from France, declaring the cessation of hostilities and foreign involvement in internal Indochina affairs, and delineating northern and southern zones into which opposing troops were to withdraw. The Agreements mandated unification on the basis of internationally supervised free elections to be held in July 1956.[2]

It was at this conference that France relinquished any claim to territory in the Indochinese peninsula. The United States and South Vietnam rejected the Geneva Accords and never signed. South Vietnamese leader Diem rejected the idea of nationwide election as proposed in the agreement, saying that a free election was impossible in the communist North and that his government was not bound by the Geneva Accords. France did withdraw, turning the north over to the Communists while the Bảo Đại regime, with American support, kept control of the South.

The events of 1954 marked the beginnings of serious United States involvement in Vietnam and the ensuing Vietnam War. Laos and Cambodia also became independent in 1954, but were both drawn into the Vietnam War.

United States InvolvementEdit

In 1954 the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu renewed the United States interest in intervening, including some senators who called out for large scale bombing campaigns, potentially even nuclear weapons.[32] President Dwight Eisenhower, even though he did not believe a military victory, believed in the domino theory, where if Vietnam were to fall to communism then there would be multiple other countries that would fall to the ideology in Southeast Asia, from Vietnam to India there would be a dramatic shift in global power. Eisenhower chose to not put boots on the ground, but his decision to start to get involved likely is more important to the countries eventual step into the country than Johnson's decision to take that last step.

Eisenhower had a further impact in that he would continue to provide support for future presidents policy in the country, Lyndon B. Johnson and Gerald Ford both used him to large extents, Kennedy did have several meetings with him in the White House, and Nixon was mostly on his own, but considering their familial ties there was inevitably some ideas that were considered that otherwise would not have been. As he was so involved the United States policy in French Indochina his influence is hard to underestimate.[33]


Government-General of French Indochina
Gouvernement général de l'Indochine française
The emblem and seal of the Government-General.
Established17 October 1887
Dissolved21 July 1954
StateFrench Indochina
LeaderGovernor-General of French Indochina
Appointed byPresident of France and the Ministry of the Colonies
Main organCabinet of the Government-General
HeadquartersNorodom Palace, Saigon (1887–1902),
Residence of the Governor-General of French Indochina, Hanoi (1902–1945)

The government of French Indochina was headed by a Governor-General and a number of French residents.[34] The Governor-General was assisted by a system of different government agencies, however these agencies functioned only to be consultants to help the Governor-General perform his role and exercise his powers.[34] The protectorates of Cambodia, Annam, Tonkin, and Laos all had Residents-Superior while the colony of Cochinchina had a Governor. In the protectorates the indigenous administrations were nominally combined with the French administration, but in the colony of Cochinchina as well as "colonial cities", such as Đà Nẵng in Annam, the French maintained direct rule.[34] All constituent countries of French Indochina had their own legal systems.[35] In Annam and Tonkin the laws of the Nguyễn dynasty, such as Sắc (敕, "Imperial Order"), Chí (誌, "Ordinance"), and Dụ (諭, "Decree"), remained in effect but were subordinate to the laws of the French administration.[35]

The government-general of French Indochina as well as its powers were established and amended through presidential decrees.[35] The Governor-General held supreme power in French Indochina over the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the government and had the power to appoint the residents below him.[34] The Governor-General was also in charge of all the military affairs of the country, among their responsibilities were the ability to set up an army corps, deploy the French Indochinese military forces, and issue conscription orders.[34] However, the Governor-General was not in charge of actually commanding the military forces during actual military campaigns and battles.[34] The Governor-General was also the chairman of the Indochinese Supreme Council (later renamed to the Indochinese Government Council) which was the highest government agency in charge of general affairs.[34]

Other government agencies of the Government-General of French Indochina include the Indochinese Defense Council, Mine Consultancy Committee, the Indochinese Education Consultancy Council, the Supreme Council for Exploitation of Colonies, the Indochinese Economic and Financial Interests Assembly, etc.[34]

In the protectorates of Annam and Tonkin the government of the Nguyễn dynasty shared its power with the French administration de jure but were de facto directly ruled by the French colonial apparatus.[34] The Residents-Superior and Governor of Cochinchina did not have legislative powers only executive.[35] While the Emperors of the Nguyễn dynasty did maintain their legislative powers, all imperial decrees had to be approved by either the Resident-Superior of Annam or by the Governor-General of French Indochina.[35] Until the early 20th century the Gia Long era Hoàng Việt luật lệ (皇越律例), sometimes known as the "Gia Long Code", remained the main civil code of the Nguyễn dynasty until the Emperor issued the nearly identical Civil Code of Annam and Civil Code of Tonkin.[35]

A number of the legal documents in effect in the French Republic were also applied to French Indochina, these included the Code Napoléon of 1804, the Code de commerce of 1807, the Code d'instruction criminelle, and the French penal code of 1810.[35] These laws took effect in French Indochina on the date that the Governor-General issued decrees that they would also apply to the federation.[35]

The legislative decrees of the Governor-General had to be sent to the Minister of Colonies for consideration, the Minister would then approve or disapprove The decrees.[35] However, the Minister of Colonies was not entitled to make any amendments to the decrees and if they wished to alter it they would have to draft it and then send the draft to the President of France.[35] Only French Presidential decrees could overturn the decrees of the Governor-General.[35] Executive decrees did not have to be sent to the Metropolitan France for review and immediately came into effect.[35]

Throughout Vietnam thousands of villages had their own independent legal codes that governed the social relations within the village community, thousands of written regulations existed and the central administration often recognised them.[35] These legal codes were known as the Hương ước (鄉約), Hương lệ (鄉例) and Lệ làng (例廊), which could be translated as "rural covenants", and also existed in China and Korea.[36][37] The Hương ước contained rules about various legal practices like land management, marriage, labour relations, arbitration of disputes, as well as local customs such as family relations, village relations, ghosts, ancestor worship, sacrifice, mourning, and longing.[36] Both the government-general of French Indochina and the government of the Nguyễn dynasty attempted reform these rules and regulations in their favour.[35] To expand their power into Vietnamese hamlets and villages the French administration issued models for the villages to follow, but many Vietnamese villages still functioned independent of the French and Nguyễn administrations.[35]



Indochina in 1891 (from Le Monde illustré)
  1. Panorama of Lac-Kaï
  2. Yun-nan, in the quay of Hanoi
  3. Flooded street of Hanoi
  4. Landing stage of Hanoi

The Vietnamese, Lao and Khmer ethnic groups formed the majority of their respective colony's populations. Minority groups such as the Muong, Tay, Chams, and Jarai were collectively known as Montagnards and resided principally in the mountain regions of Indochina. Ethnic Han Chinese were largely concentrated in major cities, especially in Southern Vietnam and Cambodia, where they became heavily involved in trade and commerce. In addition, there was also a tiny French minority which accounted for 0.2% of the population (or 39,000 people) by 1940.[38] Around 95% of French Indochina's population was rural in a 1913 estimate, although urbanisation did slowly grow over the course of French rule.[f]


The principal religion in French Indochina was Buddhism,[citation needed] with Mahayana Buddhism influenced by Confucianism more dominant in Vietnam,[citation needed] while Theravāda Buddhism was more widespread in Laos and Cambodia. In addition, active Catholic missionaries were widespread throughout Indochina and roughly 10% of Tonkin's population identified as Catholic by the end of French rule. Cao Đài's origins began during this period as well.

French settlementsEdit

Subdivisions of French Indochina

Unlike Algeria, French settlement in Indochina did not occur at a grand scale. By 1940, only about 34,000 French civilians lived in French Indochina, along with a smaller number of French military personnel and government workers. Of these almost half, 16,550, lived in Cochinchina, the vast majority living in Saigon.[39]

The principal reasons why French settlement did not grow in a manner similar to that in French North Africa (which had a population of over 1 million French civilians) were because French Indochina was seen as a colonie d'exploitation économique (economic colony) rather than a colonie de peuplement (settlement colony helping Metropolitan France from being overpopulated), and because Indochina was distant from France itself.


During French colonial rule, the French language was the principal language of education, government, trade, and media and French was widely introduced to the general population. French became widespread among urban and semi-urban populations and became the principal language of the elite and educated. This was most notable in the colonies of Tonkin and Cochinchina (Northern and Southern Vietnam respectively), where French influence was most heavy, while Annam, Laos and Cambodia were less influenced by French education.[40] Despite the dominance of French in official and educational settings, local populations still largely spoke their native languages. After French rule ended, the French language was still largely used among the new governments (with the exception of North Vietnam). Today, French continues to be taught as a second language in the former colonies and used in some administrative affairs.[41][42]


French Indochina was designated as a colonie d'exploitation (colony of economic exploitation) by the French government. Funding for the colonial government came by means of taxes on locals and the French government established a near monopoly on the trade of opium, salt and rice alcohol. The French administration established quotas of consumption for each Vietnamese village, thereby compelling villagers to purchase and consume set amounts of these monopolised goods.[43] The trade of those three products formed about 44% of the colonial government's budget in 1920 but declined to 20% by 1930 as the colony began to economically diversify.

The colony's principal bank was the Banque de l'Indochine, established in 1875 and was responsible for minting the colony's currency, the Indochinese piastre. Indochina was the second most invested-in French colony by 1940 after Algeria, with investments totalling up to 6.7 million francs.

Beginning in the 1930s, France began to exploit the region for its natural resources and to economically diversify the colony. Cochinchina, Annam and Tonkin (encompassing modern-day Vietnam) became a source of tea, rice, coffee, pepper, coal, zinc and tin, while Cambodia became a centre for rice and pepper crops. Only Laos was seen initially as an economically unviable colony, although timber was harvested at a small scale from there.

At the turn of the 20th century, the growing automobile industry in France resulted in the growth of the rubber industry in French Indochina, and plantations were built throughout the colony, especially in Annam and Cochinchina. France soon became a leading producer of rubber through its Indochina colony and Indochinese rubber became prized in the industrialised world. The success of rubber plantations in French Indochina resulted in an increase in investment in the colony by various firms such as Michelin. With the growing number of investments in the colony's mines and rubber, tea and coffee plantations, French Indochina began to industrialise as factories opened in the colony. These new factories produced textiles, cigarettes, beer and cement which were then exported throughout the French Empire.


Musée Louis Finot in Hanoi, built by Ernest Hébrard in 1932, now the National Museum of Vietnamese History

When French Indochina was viewed as an economically important colony for France, the French government set a goal to improve the transport and communications networks in the colony. Saigon became a principal port in Southeast Asia and rivalled the British port of Singapore as the region's busiest commercial centre. By 1937 Saigon was the sixth busiest port in the entire French Empire.[44]

In 1936, the Trans-Indochinois railway linking Hanoi and Saigon opened. Further improvements in the colony's transport infrastructures led to easier travel between France and Indochina. By 1939, it took no more than a month by ship to travel from Marseille to Saigon and around five days by aeroplane from Paris to Saigon. Underwater telegraph cables were installed in 1921.

French settlers further added their influence on the colony by constructing buildings in the form of Beaux-Arts and added French-influenced landmarks such as the Hanoi Opera House (modeled on the Palais Garnier), the Hanoi St. Joseph's Cathedral (resembling the Notre Dame de Paris) and the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica. The French colonists also built a number of cities and towns in Indochina which served various purposes from trading outposts to resort towns. The most notable examples include Sa Pa in northern Vietnam, Đà Lạt in central Vietnam and Pakse in Laos.

Architectural legacyEdit

The governments of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia have previously been reluctant to promote their colonial architecture as an asset for tourism; however, in recent times, the new generation of local authorities has somewhat 'embraced' the architecture and advertise it.[45] The heaviest concentration of French-era buildings are in Hanoi, Đà Lạt, Haiphong, Ho Chi Minh City, Huế, and various places in Cambodia and Laos such as Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Phnom Penh, Battambang, Kampot, and Kép.[46]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ While both 'Indo-China' and 'Indochina' can be found in contemporary English-language sources, 'Indo-China' is the most commonly used spelling (even though Indochine, instead of Indo-Chine, was commonly used in French); contemporary official publications also adopt the spelling of 'Indo-China'.
  2. ^ French: Indochine française; Vietnamese: Đông Dương thuộc Pháp, 東洋屬法, lit. 'East Ocean under French Control; Khmer: ឥណ្ឌូចិនបារាំង; Thai: อินโดจีนฝรั่งเศส, RTGSIndochinkhongfarangset
  3. ^ Decree of 17 October 1887.
  4. ^ French: Union indochinoise; Vietnamese: Liên bang Đông Dương, 聯邦東洋, lit. 'East Ocean Federation'; Khmer: សហភាពឥណ្ឌូចិន; Lao: ສະຫະພາບອິນໂດຈີນ
  5. ^ French: Fédération indochinoise; Vietnamese: Liên đoàn Đông Dương; Khmer: សហព័ន្ធឥណ្ឌូចិន; Lao: ສະຫະພັນອິນດູຈີນ
  6. ^ Vietnam alone has fifty-four ethnic groups, presented at the Ethnographic Museum of Hanoi.


  1. ^ Lecompte, Jean. Monnaies et jetons de l'Indochine Française. (Principality of Monaco, 2013) Quote: "Les légendes sont bien sûr modifiées. A gauche, les attributs de l'agriculture et des beaux-arts sont remplacés par des épis de riz et à droite figure une ancre symbolisant le ministère de la Marine et des Colonies. Hélas, Albert-Désiré Barre décède le 29 décembre 1878 et c'est alors son frère aîné Auguste-Jean Barre qui lui succède et mène à terme le projet. Les premières frappes sortent en 1879." (in French))
  2. ^ a b Kahin.
  3. ^ Owen, p. 106.
  4. ^ a b c Tucker, p. 29.
  5. ^ Chapuis (1995), p. 195.
  6. ^ a b Chapuis (2000), p. 48.
  7. ^ Chapuis, pp. 49–53.
  8. ^ a b Llewellyn.
  9. ^ Thomazi, pp. 69–71.
  10. ^ Jonathan D. London Education in Vietnam, pg. 10 (2011): "The ultimately unsuccessful Cần Vương (Aid the King) Movement of 1885–89, for example, was coordinated by scholars such as Phan Đình Phùng, Phan Chu Trinh, Phan Bội Châu, Trần Quý Cáp and Huỳnh Thúc Kháng, who sought to restore sovereign authority to the Nguyễn throne."
  11. ^ Fourniau, Annam–Tonkin, pp. 39–77
  12. ^ Brocheux & Hémery 2004, p. 57-68.
  13. ^ David Marr (1971) Vietnamese Anticolonialism, pg. 68
  14. ^ Huard, pp. 1096–1107; Huguet, pp. 133–223; Sarrat, pp. 271–3; Thomazi, Conquête, pp. 272–75; Histoire militaire, pp. 124–25
  15. ^ a b Lockhart & Duiker 2010, p. 48.
  16. ^ Gunn 2014, p. 119.
  17. ^ Daniel Hemery Revolutionnaires Vietnamiens et pouvoir colonial en Indochine. François Maspero, Paris. 1975, Appendix 24.
  18. ^ Frank N. Trager (ed.). Marxism in Southeast Asia; A Study of Four Countries. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1959. p. 142
  19. ^ Daniel Hemery Revolutionnaires Vietnamiens et pouvoir colonial en Indochine. François Maspero, Paris. 1975, p. 388
  20. ^ Manfred McDowell, "Sky without Light: a Vietnamese Tragedy," New Politics, Vol XIII, No. 3, 2011, p. 1341 (accessed 10 October 2019).
  21. ^ Ngô Văn, In the Crossfire: Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary. AK Press, Oakland CA, 2010, p. 16
  22. ^ Tyson, James L. (1974). "Labor Unions in South Vietnam". Asian Affairs. 2 (2): 70–82. doi:10.1080/00927678.1974.10587653. JSTOR 30171359.
  23. ^ Chonchirdsim, Sud (November 1997). "The Indochinese Communist Party and the Nam Ky Uprising in Cochin China November December 1940". South East Asia Research. 5 (3): 269–293. doi:10.1177/0967828X9700500304. JSTOR 23746947.
  24. ^ Paige, Jeffery M. (1970). "Inequality and Insurgency in Vietnam: A re-analysis" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 November 2018. Retrieved 9 November 2018.
  25. ^ Tuchman, p. 235.
  26. ^ Addington, p. 30.
  27. ^ Neville, p. 119.
  28. ^ Duong, p. 21.
  29. ^ Tønnesson, p. 41.
  30. ^ Errington, p. 63.
  31. ^ The Vietnam War Seeds of Conflict 1945–1960.
  32. ^ Marder, Murrey (22 August 1984). "When Ike Was Asked to Nuke Vietnam". The Washington Post.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  33. ^ Cuddy, Edward (2003). "Vietnam: Mr. Johnson's War. Or Mr. Eisenhower's?". The Review of Politics. 65 (4): 351–374. doi:10.1017/S0034670500039073. JSTOR 1408716. S2CID 145582758.
  34. ^ a b c d e f g h i Pham Diem (State and Law Research Institute) (24 February 2011). "The state structure in French-ruled Vietnam (1858–1945)". Vietnam Law and Legal Forum magazine, Vietnam News Agency – Your gateway to the law of Vietnam. Retrieved 10 August 2021.
  35. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Pham Diem (State and Law Research Institute) (24 February 2011). "Legislation in French-ruled Vietnam". Vietnam Law and Legal Forum magazine, Vietnam News Agency – Your gateway to the law of Vietnam. Retrieved 10 August 2021.
  36. ^ a b Thông tín viên RFA (23 March 2018). "Hương ước – xưa và nay. Hương ước – hay còn gọi là lệ làng, là một giá trị văn hóa, truyền thống, gắn liền với lịch sử dân tộc Việt Nam. Trải qua bao biến cố, Hương ước đến nay vẫn còn được lưu giữ và đóng vai trò trong nền văn hóa và phong tục, tập quán của người Việt" (in Vietnamese). Đài Á Châu Tự Do. Retrieved 22 January 2022.
  37. ^ Key P. Yang; Gregory Henderson: An Outline History of Korean Confucianism: Part II: The Schools of Yi Confucianism. In: The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 18, No. 2. (Feb., 1959), pp. 259–276. Retrieved on August 3, 2005 "Stable URL".
  38. ^ Jennings, Eric. (2001). p136. Vichy in the Tropics: Pétain’s National Revolution in Madagascar, Guadeloupe, and Indochina, 1940–1944. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  39. ^ Pierre Brocheux and Daniel Hémery (2001), Indochine : la colonisation ambiguë 1858–1954, La Découverte, 2001, p. 178. (ISBN 978-2-7071-3412-7)
  40. ^ Vietnam – La politique linguistique, L'aménagement linguistique dans le monde (in French)
  41. ^ Baker, Colin; Jones, Sylvia Prys (1998). Encyclopedia of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education. Multilingual Matters. p. 384. ISBN 9781853593628.
  42. ^ Richardson, Michael (16 October 1993). "French Declines in Indochina, as English Booms". International Herald Tribune.
  43. ^ Peters.
  44. ^ Thomas, Martin (15 November 2007). The French Empire Between the Wars: Imperialism, Politics and Society. Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0-7190-7755-5.
  45. ^ The Country's Cultural and Tourist Center.
  46. ^ Bailey.


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External linksEdit

  • (in English and French) The Colonization of Indochina, from around 1892
  • (in English and French) Indochina, a tourism book published in 1910
  • Pierre Brocheux: Colonial Society (Indochina), in: 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War.
  • Annuaire général de l'Indo-Chine française – BnF (in French)

Coordinates: 21°02′00″N 105°51′00″E / 21.0333°N 105.8500°E / 21.0333; 105.8500