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Impact of French Imperialism in Indochina
Transcript of Impact of French Imperialism in Indochina
During the late 1800s, France was one of the world’s greatest powers. It controlled land in Africa, South America and the three countries that formed French Indochina – Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
Jurisdiction of these imperial possessions helped France in strengthening its power, wealth and influence.
However, for the people of the Indochinese province, not only were they deprived of such benefits but also suffered great social, economic and political injustices.
Aspects of Civilisation
France, like most imperial nations, believed that natives in its colonies were inferior and in need of contact with French culture to defeat their ‘backwardness’. Such racism was the purpose for France’s ‘mission civilisatrice’, which aimed to weaken the traditional sources of authority.
Education reforms were amongst the most invested projects of French Indochina and were commenced mainly to conquer indigenous culture. Indochina had also become a melting pot of religions, however, brought about many racial and religious clashes and rebellions.
France had also felt that Catholicism was endangered in the Far East and wanted to protect it by introducing it in Indochina. These French influences can be reflected notably in the profound architecture of the Hanoi Cathedral in Vietnam.
Religion and Culture
Indochina provided significant quantities of coal, corn, rice, rubber, silk, tin and zinc and its geography was beneficial in establishing France’s overland trade with China. France took advantage of Indochina’s many 25 million people as cheap labour in mines, factories, and rice fields and on rubber plantations.
France controlled all of Indochina’s imports and exports and had the golden triangle monopoly on opium which had immensely increased France’s economy. The peasants’ work covered the cost of building canals, roads, railways lines and port facilities to service France’s trade opportunities and administration of Indochina.
Vietnam became famous for its rubber plantations, notably, the renowned Michelin tire company, which bought up thousands of acres of land. Many of the Vietnamese who were stripped of their land for failing to pay taxes were hired to work on these plantations and often suffered from malaria, dysentery and malnutrition.
Frenchmen held a majority of the chief government and public service positions, however, the Indochinese who had achieved significant positions received a portion of the wages paid to their fellow French counterparts.
France exercised its command through the emperors, leaders and the government officials who continued the daily rule of their nations or administrative areas. Following the orders of French government officials they conducted the smaller towns and villages, collecting taxes and supervising road construction and repair.
French Indochina had the political structure of a Colonial Protectorate Federation, providing people the autonomy of their own; protection from other nations by the French. However, colonised people had little rights and had to follow France’s rules, which incensed the general population and raised levels of nationalism.
The French had modernized the nation by constructing railroads which connected the major cities and imported transport, paved streets and built roads and bridges. Though it was limited primarily to larger cities and towns, France had also introduced electricity to Indochina.
In Vietnam, they reshaped sections of Saigon and Hanoi into modern cities that resembled Paris, with public parks and streets that are latitudinous and built hotels that are still in use today. The French had even opened a law and medical school.
France had also established their own legal system in Vietnam, which was based on the renowned Napoleonic Codes, replacing the one utilized by the Vietnamese for centuries. The believed their system of justice was far more humane than the one practiced in Vietnam.
The Rise of Nationalism in Vietnam
All nations of Indochina consisted of native populations, which had challenged French rule of its territory from the very beginning. In Vietnam, guerrillas fought to prevent both the forceful annexation of their land and the loss of their heritage.
Vietnamese peasants protested against changed work patterns and land ownership. Some upper class Vietnamese joined and provided leadership for armed peasant revolts, whilst, scholar patriots provided continuous support to the idea of Vietnamese national identity.
France responded with violence and attempts to abolish radical thought. This further encouraged the growth of nationalism and opposition to French rule. The French also reacted by providing upper class Vietnamese with privileges in order to achieve their faithfulness and increase the gap between them and those of lower classes.
The Growth of Communism in Vietnam
Since the 1920s, communism achieved extraordinary political success in Vietnam. In 1945, nine exiled intellectuals undergoing constant persecution by French colonial rulers had transformed into a mass party in power. By 1976, the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) had over 1.5 million members and unrivaled power all throughout Vietnam.
It was under French colonial rule that communism, an ideology emerging in Europe, was introduced to Vietnam. The success, ironically, was largely possible due to the efforts of France and the United States to extinguish the communist movement in Vietnam.
Colonialist constraint was ineffective and instead exposed colonialism’s violent character and promoted communism’s political and social ambitions. As the American effort to shape Vietnam’s fate finally succumbed in April 1975, the superiority of Vietnamese communism was established.
Role of Ho Chi Minh in Indochinese Nationalism and Communism
Ho Chi Minh was a remarkable figure in the growth of Vietnamese nationalism and communism. Ho Chi Minh’s devotion to communism was heavily influenced by the ideas of Russian revolutionary and political theorist, Vladimir Lenin. Ho’s father worked at the imperial court but was dismissed for criticizing French colonial power.
From the 1920s, Ho had been significantly involved with promoting communism and amongst others founded the French communist party in 1920. In 1923, he visited Moscow to train at Comintern, an organization created by Lenin to promote worldwide revolution.
He traveled to southern China to organize a revolutionary movement among Vietnamese exiles and in 1930 founded the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP). It was into this environment in the 1920s that Ho Chi Minh brought the concept of communism to Vietnam as a way to fuse nationalism and eventually free and unify the nation.
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