French Indochina

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Location of French Indochina
Administrative division of French Indochina

French Indochina ( French Indochine française , Vietnamese Đông Dương thuộc Pháp , Khmer សហភាព ឥណ្ឌូចិន ) was the name of the French colonial areas in Indochina on what is now Laos , Cambodia and Vietnam until the end of the Indochina War in 1954 .

The official name of the colony was Union Indochinoise ("Indochinese Union", vietnam. Liên bang Đông Dương ). It was founded in 1887 and united the three Vietnamese regions of Cochinchina , Annam and Tonkin , the Kingdom of Khmer and, from 1893, Laos.

At the head of the administration was a governor-general based in Hanoi , who was subordinate to the governor of Cochinchina and the senior residences of Tongking, Laos, Annam and Cambodia.


Vietnam experienced its first contacts with European societies through the Catholic missionary movement which was brought into the country from the 17th century by French and Spanish missionaries. Under Emperor Gia Long , Catholic missionaries gained influence at court as advisers to the imperial court and helped the Nguyen dynasty to assert their claim to power over the Tây Sơn dynasty . In the 18th century, around 3 - 5% of the population of the northern part of Tonkin was Christian. Under Emperor Minh Mạng , the suppression of the Christian missionary movement began in 1832 because it was seen by the Confucianist elite of the country as incompatible with the ruling state ideology and religion. This policy led to public executions of missionaries and their participation in uprisings against the Nguyen. From the middle of the 19th century, church districts in France began to demand military intervention to enforce missionary interests.

Map of French Indochina around 1905. Also shown is the French sphere of interest in the neighboring Kingdom of Siam
Territorial development of French Indochina

The Vietnamese state under Emperor Tự Đức faced great internal and external challenges in the middle of the 19th century. From the 1840s onwards, crop failures and famines created political instability. The advance of the Catholic missionary movement also undermined the religious order that supported the state. Tu Duc initially tried to secure the position of the Nguyen dynasty by suppressing rebellions, the missionary movement and limiting concessions to the European powers. Even before Tu Duc came to power, Vietnam had lost an ally that could potentially be mobilized against the Europeans in the First Opium War with the defeat of the Qing dynasty .

In the 1850s, the Second Opium War , the US naval expedition to Japan and the British takeover of Burma led to a further increase in the power of the European powers in East Asia. The French Empire after the victory in the Second Opium War be thereat Expeditionary Force decided under Charles Rigault de Genouilly to use for a punitive expedition against Vietnam. The pretext was the execution of two Spanish missionaries on Tu Duc's orders in 1857. In September 1858, the Franco-Spanish expeditionary corps captured the small port town of Da Nang . In 1859, with the conquest of Saigon , the Navy began the Cochinchina campaign with the aim of occupying several provinces in South Vietnam. After severe military defeats, Tu Duc agreed to the Saigon Treaty in 1862 , which established a French colony in Cochinchina.

The French Republic began the Sino-French War in 1884 with the aim of completely removing Vietnam from the sphere of influence of the Qing Empire. As a result of the Chinese defeat in the Treaty of Hue, the Vietnamese imperial court accepted the protectorate over Tonkin and Annam. With Cambodia's King Norodom I , France concluded a protectorate treaty that de facto came close to annexing the country. In 1887, the French colonial power created a civil government with the Indochinese Union under a governor-general, which further reduced the remaining influence of the local elite. The governor general responsible for the colonial ministry in Paris was the direct head of the administration of Annam and Tonkin. Cochinchina was ruled by a colonial council made up of a few thousand French citizens.

The Vietnamese population evaluated colonization as foreign rule and the destruction of the traditional world and society. The religiously and culturally legitimized emperor continued to be viewed by many as the legitimate head of society. Foreign rule was thematized in folk songs as a painful loss of the traditional order. Colonization was opposed in the 19th century by a growing guerrilla movement, which was mainly recruited from peasant society. This Helft-Dem-Kaiser-Movement organized its units in large units with military discipline, wore regulated blue uniforms whenever possible and was supported by the Mandarine class . As part of the revolt, there were massacres of the population who converted to Christianity, with several tens of thousands dead. The French colonial authorities were able to push back the insurrection movement through the use of military units, most of which consisted of Vietnamese themselves, but only created a fragile security situation until the 20th century.

After the Franco-Siamese War in 1893, Laos was incorporated into this colonial empire. From 1900 onwards, the lease area of Kwangtschouwan in southern China was finally placed under the administration of French Indochina. In February 1943, Japanese troops occupied Kwangtschouwan.

After the First World War , attempts were made to systematically supply electricity to French Indochina .

A Franco-Thai war between the France of the Vichy government in Indochina and the Kingdom of Thailand took place between December 1940 and January 1941 and ended with the victory of Thailand. During the Second World War , Japanese supremacy came about , but the French troops remained in the country until March 1945. Japan capitulated in August 1945 .

After France regained control, there were increasing military conflicts with the communist Việt Minh , led by Ho Chi Minh . During the Second World War, the United States supported the Việt Minh in their fight against the Japanese occupiers. On September 2, 1945, after Emperor Bảo Đại abdicated, Ho Chi Minh became President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam . However, British, French and Chinese troops were able to restore French power in the area that same month, and bloody fighting broke out. In 1950, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed a "Democratic Republic" for the second time, which was recognized by the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union .

In the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ (March 13, 1954 to May 7, 1954) the French colonial army suffered a crushing and decisive defeat, whereupon France's influence in the region decreased and Vietnam was divided into a northern and a southern state . In the same year, French Indochina was separated from the French Union and on July 20, 1954, the Indochina Conference (also the Geneva Indochina Conference ) confirmed the full sovereignty of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

Institutions of the colonial state

General government emblem

The highest state authority was initially in the hands of the admirals as military commanders. As territory gained, a local inspector was appointed who was typically a naval officer as well. The latter headed a colonial administration which, in the absence of cooperation between the traditional local mandarins, relied on local people who had been trained in Christian schools. Little by little, the French succeeded in establishing provincial and district administrations within their territories, which established contact with the village chiefs and notables by passing the local elite. In 1880 the sovereignty of the military ended with the appointment of a civilian governor of the Cochinchina colony. A colonial council was also created, controlled by the economic elite of the French living in the colony. In doing so, the Colonial Ministry took control of the territory at the expense of the military. The remaining areas in Annam and Tonkin were placed under a French resident assigned to the Foreign Ministry in 1886 . In the same year, with the creation of the Guards indigène, an armed force made up of locals was set up with the aim of suppressing political unrest. In 1887 the Indochinese Union was created, headed by a governor general as the highest official in the entire area. However, the powers of the governor general were only gradually expanded in the following decade, especially under the aegis of Paul Doumer, at the expense of representing the colonists.

The colonial administration replaced traditional legal systems based on the Chinese model with their own systems of European design, in which the locals, however, remained disadvantaged compared to the colonists. In 1883, for example, a civil code was passed for Cochinchina . The domestic criminal law was also replaced by European models. This process did not end until 1936 with the introduction of western law in Tonkin. The main focus was on land tenure rights, which under the previous law were often assigned to a group or village community. Replacing this with the private property of an individual made the country accessible to the colonial economy only through purchase. The official registration of the population as individuals rather than social groups was seen by the administration as a basic requirement for taxation and police control. In November 1918 personal identification papers became compulsory.

Demography and population development

Areas Area (km²) population Inhabitants / km²
Tongking 104,932 9,264,309 (1940) 88.3
Annam 147.503 6,211,228 (1939) 42.1
Laos 231,400 1,023,314 (1939) 4.4
Cambodia 174,886 3,046,432 (1936) 17.4
Cochinchina 68,546 4,615,968 (1936) 60.8
total 740.454 23,853,500 32

During the French colonial era, Indochina experienced a fundamental demographic change. A decline in child mortality increased the population from around 10 million in the mid-19th century to around 16 million at the turn of the century. The French colonial authorities estimated the population of Indochina in 1948 at 27.5 million people. The increase in population growth was more evident in the majority of the Vietnamese than in the minorities of the colony. The Vietnamese majority also took possession of settlement areas in the mountainous regions and the Mekong Delta, which had previously been considered the domain of the Tai, Moi, Laotians or Khmer. The European minority in the country was made up of French people and descendants from mixed marriages. Their number grew from 24,000 at the turn of the century to around 34,000 in 1940. Around half of the French were directly employed in the colonial administration. Most of them lived in the metropolitan areas of Saigon-Cholon and Hanoi-Haiphong. The majority of the European population was strictly separated from the local population in terms of leisure and social organization. The Chinese minority in Indochina, who often traditionally assumed the economic role of traders or craftsmen, made up around 418,000 people in 1940. The Japanese takeover of power in the colony in 1945 and the resulting violent clashes, which culminated in the Indochina War, led to an exodus of French civilians, especially in 1945 and 1946. During the war, the French population shifted from the Viet-Minh-dominated north in the south, which is more stable from the French point of view.

See also


Commons : French Indochina  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
  • Pierre Broucheux, Daniel Hémery: Indochina - An Ambigous Colonization 1858-1954. Berkeley, 2009.
  • Werner Draguhn, Peter Schier (Ed.): Indochina - The permanent conflict? Institute for Asian Studies, Hamburg 1981, ISBN 3-921469-76-7 , u. 1987, ISBN 3-88910-036-8 .
  • Donald Lancaster: The Emancipation of French Indochina . Oxford University Press, London, New York 1961.
  • Albert Maybon: L'Indochine. Larose, Paris 1931.
  • Oskar Weggel : Indochina - Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos. 1990.

Individual evidence

  1. Pierre Broucheux, Daniel Hémery: Indochina - An Ambiguous Colonization 1858-1954. Berkeley, 2009, pp. 17-20
  2. a b Christopher Goscha: The Penguin History of Modern Vietnam. London, 2016, pp. 53-63
  3. Pierre Broucheux, Daniel Hémery: Indochina - An Ambiguous Colonization 1858-1954. Berkeley, 2009, pp. 44-46, pp. 76f
  4. Pierre Broucheux, Daniel Hémery: Indochina - An Ambiguous Colonization 1858-1954. Berkeley, 2009, pp. 51-64.
  5. Pierre Brocheux, Daniel Hémery: Indochina. An ambiguous colonization. 1858-1954. 2009, p. 183, pp. 73-75.
  6. Pierre Brocheux, Daniel Hémery: Indochina. An ambiguous colonization. 1858-1954. 2009, p. 183, pp. 98-100.
  7. Mortimer Epstein (Ed.): The Statesman's Yearbook. Statistical and Historical Annual of the States of the World for the Year 1945. 82nd edition. Macmillan & Co. Ltd., London 1945, doi: 10.1057 / 9780230270749 pp. 910–915 ( PDF; 1.5 MB )
  8. Pierre Brocheux, Daniel Hémery: Indochina. An ambiguous colonization. 1858-1954. 2009, pp. 253-256.
  9. Pierre Brocheux, Daniel Hémery: Indochina. An ambiguous colonization. 1858-1954. 2009, p. 183, p. 197-198.
  10. Christopher E. Goscha : Historical Dictionary of the Indochina War (1945-1954) - An International and Interdisciplinary Approach. Copenhagen 2011, p. 174 f.