V. The Modern Period, 1789–1914 > E. East Asia, 1793–1914 > 4. Vietnam, 1802–1902
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1788)
4. Vietnam, 1802–1902
During the early 19th century, the Vietnamese ruler built a Chinese-style court; internally he was called emperor, though in tributary relations with China he was called king. Before long, though, as elsewhere in East Asia, the Western powers exerted increasing pressure to secure rights to trade and proselytize on Vietnamese soil. Vietnam was the only country in East Asia to become a colony of a Western power—France—by century's end, leading to a partition of the country.  1
The reign of Emperor GIA-LONG (born Nguyên Anh in 1762) began after his rebellious forces took Saigon with French help, won a number of victories, and finally captured Huê (1801). He established the Nguyên dynasty—with its capital at Huê—which would last, in name, until 1945. He had been supported in his struggles by the French missionary Pierre Pigneau de Béhaine (1741–99), bishop of Adran. He moved to build a centralized monarchy on the Chinese model, with a Confucian bureaucracy, and he instituted sanctions against Buddhist and Daoist religious practices. Two regional rulers, one in Hanoi and the mighty Lê Van Duyêt (1763–1832) in Saigon, exercised considerable local authority, but their power was withdrawn under Gia-long's successor. The population of the country was roughly 8 million. Administrative sites, aside from those that were major cities or ports, did not become centers for trade; commerce was conducted, as before, at river confluences. The all-important commerce with China tended to be dominated by Chinese émigré merchants, numbering some 40,000 at this time. Land registers were updated annually beginning in 1807 as a part of Gia-long's reforms, but there were still many poor peasants and many with no land to till. Corvée requirements also fell with a heavy burden on the peasantry. Gia-long also enacted a law code (1812) patterned closely after that of Qing China.  2
Both Gia-long and his successor sought Western technology to build their military capacity as well as to modernize other sectors of the economy. Yet, for all his efforts, the Gia-long reign witnessed roughly 100 uprisings—caused by the devastations of natural disasters and the government's inability to respond.  3
Catholic missions had been active in the country since the early 17th century (See 1624) and with considerable success. The French, excluded from India by the British, focused their attention ever more on Vietnam. Gia-long, while interested in Western technology, was not open to giving either the French or the British free rein in his country.  4
The reign of Emperor MING-MANH (b. 1791) witnessed a continuation of many of the trends set in motion by his father, Gia-long. The power of the government was further centralized, and, as if by exchange, local administrative autonomy grew stronger, especially with the emergence of the van than class, a middle-level local stratum of intellectuals who were charged with local administration. Unlike the seemingly similar locally resident yangban of Yi dynasty Korea, the van than never became wealthy landlords. The state's inability to address problems of the poor masses also continued to plague it. There were over 200 uprisings during Ming-manh's reign. Despite these problems, he furthered use of Chinese-style civil service examinations as the means of bureaucratic recruitment. He fashioned his court in the Confucian Chinese model, and he took measures against Christianity, proscribing it as heterodox, for he suspected that Christians supported rebellious provincial lords. There were some 300,000 Vietnamese converts to Catholicism. Following an uprising in 1833 in which Christians had been involved, he began serious repression, including the execution of missionaries and converts. He was openly derisive of Buddhism as well, and Buddhist-oriented popular religions were frequently responsible for local insurrections. He refused so much as to meet with a British envoy (1822). With the dissolution of the British East India Company's monopoly of trade with China (1834) and the Opium War (1839–1842) (See 1841–42), commercial relations of the Western powers within East Asia changed.  5
Ming-manh sent missions to London and Paris to try to reach some measure of compromise with the powers supporting Christianity, but missionary animus crushed these efforts.  6
During the short reign of Emperor THIÊU-TRI, the sanctions against Christians continued, as did the will of the ruler not to meet with foreign missions. The party of former missionary Karl Gutzlaff (1803–51) in 1847 was a complete failure. On several occasions during these years, U.S. and particularly French naval commanders intervened militarily on behalf of Catholic missionaries. In 1847 the French bombarded Danang (Tourane).  7
The reign of Emperor TU-DUC (b. 1830) witnessed the exacerbation of problems with the Western powers and domestic troubles as well. Despite all of these problems, the deeply Confucian Tu-duc encouraged cultural development to an unprecedented extent, making his reign a high point of literary culture in Vietnamese history. He also relentlessly suppressed Christianity, sanctioning thousands of executions primarily of Vietnamese converts and of 25 Western priests.  8
1858, Aug
A joint French-Spanish expedition under Adm. Rigault de Genouilly, attempting to end the Nguyên court's intransigence, bombarded Danang on the coast. Unable to proceed by land to the capital at Huê, the expedition turned south and occupied Saigon in early 1859. Britain registered no objections.  9
1862, June 5
The Treaty of Saigon was signed, following French fighting and pressure along the Vietnamese coast. It stipulated that Vietnam would relinquish to the French control over the three southern provinces of “Cochin China,” as the French and other Westerners came to call the southern part of Vietnam, and pay an indemnity of 20 million francs over ten years. Long associated by Westerners with the whole of Vietnam, the name Annam became associated henceforth with central Vietnam; and Tonkin (or Tongking) became associated with the north (taken over by the French, 1884). Free exercise of the Catholic religion was to be allowed, and three ports in the central and northern parts of the country were to be opened to French trade. Tu-duc had little choice but to go along with the French; he was fighting to suppress rebellion in the north. There was much popular resistance to the French incursions, such as the “righteous army” of peasants organized by Truong Dinh (1820–64) in the Mekong delta area. Although they and similar forces raided and irritated the French, their efforts failed to sustain an effective movement.  10
Adm. Pierre de la Grandière served as governor of Cochin China. He organized a governmental system through “admirals,” but most of the actual governing was done through Vietnamese officials.  11
1863, Aug. 11
King Norodom (b. 1836, r. 1836–1904) of Cambodia accepted a French protectorate.  12
The French occupied the three western provinces of Cochin China, after an insurrection.  13
French explorations were carried out along the Mekong River as far as the Chinese province of Yunnan. It was hoped that this would prove a useful route into southwestern China, but the river was shown to be unnavigable along its upper reaches, and the French therefore began to turn their attention to the Red River of Tonkin. The Mekong delta was to become the site of massive public works projects under the French, with irrigation canals dug and large tracts of land reclaimed for rice agriculture; immense rice plantations emerged, and rice exports grew tenfold between 1860 and 1900.  14
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.