I’ve always heard the phamily talking about events and people surrounding the Vietnam war but I could never really understand it’s importance. Could call it lack of maturity I guess, along with a bit of a language barrier, not to mention being a person who isn’t actually living inside of Vietnam itself.
It took a while to make the connection but in due time, I began to realize how it is indeed a rather significant event, not just for the personal understanding of my lineage, but also in terms of a better understanding in current interracial and geo-political relations in the world today.
The age of enlightenment really does mark the beginning of many of the critical events that has shaped the modern world. It was then when humanity gave birth to something called colonialism, triggering the largest migrations of people this world has yet to see. By those looking to escape the traditional dogmas but in the process, created a new dogma, one that the world is all funnelling in to, and that is ‘The New World Order.’
It was the scientific and philosophical explosions inside Europe that proves itself time and time again, to be a beginning to the largest war humanity has yet to fully grasp, and that is the war between science & spirituality, a war that will redefine everything, the war between man versus machine.
Where my roots lay is within my people, and is where my existence will continue to lead me; This is my take on the Vietnam war.
Vietnam, under rule of the Nguyen Dynasty (est. 1802), had gone through a French colonization phase (French Indochina) for approximately 6 decades (1887-1954). This began when the French decided to fight their way through East Asia with their imperialist agenda, starting in 1857 for Vietnam. It took them about 30 years to get their colonial system established but they eventually got their way in 1887. Proclaiming the Indochinoise Union; consisting of 3 different regions, Cochinchina (south), Annam (central), and Tonkin (north).
1857 – It starts with Napoleon the Third, part of House of Bonaparte, a substantial political figure for the French who was responsible for launching
a number of foreign takeover campaigns during his rule. The Vietnamese had rejected and executed a pair of Catholic missionaries sent in on the French inspired diplomatic mission. The French then respond, Napoleon III authorizes French war general, Renault de Genouilly to launch a punitive expedition against the Vietnamese. Allied with the Spaniards, they gathered 14 sail vessels and 2500 men before they set sail.
1858 – They land at their destination, the port of Da Nang, catching the Vietnamese people off guard, they managed to capture the port and gain control easily.**
**The French & Spanish had prior knowledge to the port from the French’s 17th century Roman Catholic insurgence in to Vietnam during the age of enlightenment in Europe. Headed by French and Spanish priests, it is said they successfully converted approximately 300,000 Vietnamese to Catholics. Prior to this, it was the gained knowledge through 15-16th century exploration that had the port named Tourane by the French. ‘Da Nang’, Vietnamese township and port, is at the very center of Vietnam on the coast, making this a clear strategical choice for the beginning of their military expedition.
Their control over the port didn’t last too long. Vietnamese war generals Nguyen Tri Phuong, and Le Dinh Ly (under Nguyen Dynasty emperor Tu Duc), lead a defensive charge against the French garrisons that lasted for approximately 2 years. It was a small scale battle that was said to be filled with more disease related deaths as opposed to actual killing. Casualties is estimated in the 100’s. The French had seized some points within the port but had no strategic significance in the end and were forced to retreat from Da Nang in March of 1860. According to the missionaries, the French had also anticipated some form of help from the Vietnamese Catholic population in Da Nang but ended up being a complete negative.
1859 – French War General Genouilly realized that nothing significant was going to come about in Da Nang. Strategically leaving 2 more locations that could be targeted, either a port in the North, Tonkin, or somewhere in the south, Saigon. Knowing that the North would require more manpower due to it’s population density, he proceeds by heading south with 12 ships, leaving 2 behind in Da Nang. After a 5 day lay-over in Cam Ranh, they then restocked and regrouped and began heading further south.
1860 – Breeching into Vung Tau, they began their attack, causing destruction and mayhem up the Saigon river until they reached the Citadel of Saigon. The Genouilly fleet was not able to stand up to the Nguyen Tri Phuong army (20,000 soldiers) and was forced to act disgracefully instead by destroying the surrounding infrastructure.
1861 – Charner’s squadron, another French military group was released from a war with North Eastern China and were sent south towards Saigon; 3500 soldiers totaling 27 ships pushed through the Saigon Citadel and into the battles of Ky Hoa, My Tho, Bien Hoa, and Vinh Long. The Vietnamese fought hard with guerilla warfare tactics but the French eventually succeeded in capturing a total of 3 provinces surrounding Saigon – forcing Emperor Tu Duc to seek peace for the sake of his people.
1862 – Signing of The Treaty Of Saigon – required Vietnam to permit the Catholic faith to be preached and practised freely within its territory; to cede the provinces of Biên Hòa, Gia Định and Định Tường and the island of Poulo Condore to France; to allow the French to trade and travel freely along the Mekong River; to open Tourane, Quảng Yên and Ba Lac (at the mouth of the Red River) as trading ports; and to pay an indemnity of a million dollars to France and Spain over a ten-year period. The French placed the three southern Vietnamese provinces under the control of the navy ministry. Thus, casually, was born the French colony of Cochinchina, with its capital at Saigon.
1864 – Cochinchina formally constituted as a French colony.
1874 – Cochinchina expands itself across 3 more provinces; acknowledged by emperor Tu Duc in a revision of The Treaty of Saigon.
1883 – Emperor Tu Duc dies of natural causes and his son Duc Duc is appointed. Duc Duc only reigns for a matter of 3 days before he gets sentenced to life in captivity by the royal court. Reasons are unclear but it is said it was out of his acts of debauchery during his coronation, leading to incrimination based on Tu Duc’s will.
Hiep Hoa, son to the 3rd emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty, Thieu Tri, becomes the 6th emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty.
The French ambush the city of Hue during this time, unexpectedly slaughtering 2500 Vietnamese people in the battle of Thuan An, leaving the royal house vulnerable to a full on attack. The French prove that they were no longer trying to be subtle in their colonial motives and begin to show brutality in their desires to take full control. They inflict fear on the peasantry with their belligerence by paying no mind to the sacred confucianism, ultimately disrupting the harmony in the land.
Hiep Hoa then gets pressured into signing onto the Treaty of Hue. This preserved the courts and royal house for the Vietnamese as protectorates of France but henceforth allows the country to begin undergoing it’s first stage of significant French political influences – this marks the final days of an independent Vietnam.
Emperor Hiep Hoa then gets forced to commit suicide by court officials out of shame for signing of the protectorate to the French. The royal house begins to show suffering from it’s unwarranted political instability.
Kien Phuc, son of prince Kien Thai of the royal house, gets appointed to become the 7th emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty.
1884 – Tonkin area goes into a state of conflict. A series of battles break out with the French against Chinese armies and Vietnamese nationalists as they try to seize complete control of the area. Knowing they were not welcome, the French proved themselves once again to become savages and go on a complete rampage in the surrounding areas. Focusing their aim mainly in getting control over the Red River as part of their economic plan, the connection between China, Vietnam, and the sea; they end up having to face off with mainly Chinese forces at this point (e.g. Black Flag Army) which is now known as the period of the Sino-French war (1884-1885.)
Kien Phuc later dies to health-related issues and brother Ham Nghi gets appointed to become the 8th emperor.
1885 – The French are victorious in the Sino-French war, having successfully pushed out the Chinese armies from Tonkin, they sign a peace treaty with the Chinese on June 9th in Tientsin.
Politically speaking, this now paved way for the French to fully stake their claim. With a protectorate signed in Vietnam and a peace treaty with the Chinese, all that was needed now was for them to militarily secure Tonkin. The French proceed by consolidating troops from the Sino-French war to secure the area, tallying up to 35,000 troops by the end of summer. A cholera epidemic sweeps through the French troops; said to have killed more of them than the actual Sino-French war itself. This spanned over a period of 9 months due to neglect of quarantine measures by their leadership. Despite this epidemic, the French kept on pushing forward with their agenda.**
**The French army’s successes proves itself to be hidden inside their military technologies. They had the Vietnamese and Chinese completely outclassed in warfare methods with their ships and soldiers being more than well-equipped (the casualty count in the battles thus far takes a shine) to take out any Asiatiques in their way. Keeping in mind, they had also just come out of the French Revolution back home, so they had also been naturally conditioned for the climate of warfare.
With the French now having the secured positions in Tonkin, they then make way in achieving full political diplomacy with the Vietnamese royalty. General De Courcy summons the princes and highest ranked mandarins of the royal court for a meeting to present the French’s political and economical plans. Unfortunately for De Courcy, the key figureheads of the royal house did not show up to the meeting. The relationship between the French and the Vietnamese proves itself to not be in the greatest of interests to both parties.
The royal house had become paranoid about the French’s true motives and were extremely cautious. Now worried about a complete foreign take over for it would be a travesty; blasphemy to the highest degree in terms of their confucianism. The French on the other hand had also became paranoid, believing that the mandarins who didn’t show up were secretly planning an attack on them – The negotiations end up going nowhere and De Courcy and his men left the royal house empty handed that day.
1885 cont’d – The French experience a major Vietnamese resistance attack, now known as the ‘Hue Ambush’, the first notable Vietnamese nationalist insurrection. The Vietnamese surprise the French with guerilla warfare and attack them in the middle of the night around the citadel of Hue. The French counter attack and eventually end up securing the citadel by day light, forcing emperor Ham Nghi and select members of the royal house into hideaway in the mountains of Laos.
Ton That Thuyet, a leading mandarin since the Tu Duc era, becomes Ham Nghi’s voice of reason and advises Ham Nghi to send out a message: “Can Vuong.” A message that ends up spreading throughout Vietnam for years to come. ‘Can Vuong’, meaning “aid the king” in Vietnamese, made up for a series of patriotic attacks by the Vietnamese people. A patriotism that had seemingly built up over the years since the attacks in Da Nang and the occupation of Saigon, it ultimately got triggered by the French’s attempt in full spectrum dominance in infiltrating the royal house.
Ham Nghi’s Letter to the People
The Emperor proclaims: From time immemorial there have been only three strategies for opposing the enemy: attack, defense, negotiation. Opportunities for attack were lacking. It was difficult to gather required strength for defense. And in negotiations the enemy demanded everything. In this situation of infinite trouble we have unwillingly been forced to resort to expedients. Was this not the example set by King T’ai in leaving for the mountains of Ch’I and by Hsuan-tsung when fleeing to Shu?
Our country recently has faced many critical events. We came to the throne very young, but have been greatly concerned with self-strengthening and sovereign government. Nevertheless, with every passing day the Western envoys got more and more overbearing. Recently they brought in troops and naval reinforcements, trying to force on Us conditions We could never accept. We received them with normal ceremony, but they refused to accept a single thing. People in the capital became very afraid that trouble was approaching.
The high ministers sought ways to retain peace in the country and protect the court. It was decided, rather than bow heads in obedience, sitting around and losing chances, better to appreciate what the enemy was up to and move first. If this did not succeed, then we could still follow the present course to make better plans, acting according to the situation. Surely all those who share care and worry for events in our country already understand, having also gnashed their teeth, made their hair stand on end, swearing to wipe out every last bandit. Is there anyone not moved by such feelings? Are there not plenty of people who will use lance as pillow, thump their oars against the side, grab the enemy’s spears, or heave around water jugs?
Court figures had best follow the righteous path, seeking to live and die for righteousness. Were not Ku Yuan and Chao Tsui of Chin, Kuo Tzu-I and Li Kuang-pi of T’ang men who lived by it in antiquity?
Our virtue being insufficient, amidst these events We did not have the strength to hold out and allowed the royal capital to fall, forcing the Empresses to flee for their lives. The fault is Ours entirely, a matter of great shame. But traditional loyalties are strong. Hundreds of mandarins and commanders of all levels, perhaps not having the heart to abandon Me, unite as never before, those with intellect helping to plan, those with strength willing to fight, those with riches contributing for supplies – all of one mind and body in seeking a way out of danger, a solution to all difficulties. With luck, Heaven will also treat man with kindness, turning chaos into order, danger into peace, and helping thus to restore our land and our frontiers. Is not this opportunity fortunate for our country, meaning fortunate for the people, since all who worry and work together will certainly reach peace and happiness together?
On the other hand, those who fear death more than they love their king, who put concerns of household above concerns of country, mandarins who find excuses to be far away, soldiers who desert, citizens who do not fulfill public duties eagerly for a righteous cause, officers who take the easy way and leave brightness for darkness – all may continue to live in this world, but they will be like animals disguised in clothes and hats. Who can accept such behavior? With rewards generous, punishments will also be severe. The court retains normal usages, so that repentance should not be postponed. All should follow this Edict strictly.
By: Imperial Order Second day, sixth month, first year of Ham-Nghi
**The ‘Can Vuong’ has now become legendary in Vietnamese culture as the one time where the people were able to unite in full strata. Everyone from the royalty, to the gentry, to the scholars, to the military, and to the peasants across the country were all able to come together in a common spiritually motivated effort to reclaim the land. It is said to have comprised of 50 different groups of whom executed the series of spontaneous attacks across the country that started in the Annam shortly after the Hue Ambush.
Converted Christians and Catholics were among the first to be targeted by the ‘Can Vuong’ in the Southern regions of Annam. They were seen as potential enemies due to their coherent nature with the French. The French were slow to respond but eventually rectify the situation.
With a full scale disruption now taking place, to take away legitimacy of Ham Nghi’s reign, the French then enthrone Dong Khanh, Ham Nghi’s elder brother, to be the 9th emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty.
1887 – Most notable standoff by the ‘Can Vuong’ next to the Hue Ambush was the siege of Ba Dinh. Resistant leader Dinh Cong Trang had built a fortress along the Annam and Tonkin border and began antagonizing the French soldiers, who then respond swiftly to his call with heavy French artillery. They fought for 2 months, costing thousands of Vietnamese lives with only 50 some odd casualties for the French. Trang had gambled on other groups getting the French from behind while they took their shots but the plan never falls through. This weakened the ‘Can Vuong’ movement as a whole. As the word got around, the Vietnamese people became disenchanted by the slaughtering, and the French had now proved themselves to be the assertive authority with their military strength.
The ‘Can Vuong’ movement lasted for a total of approximately 4 years but was not at all successful in their hopes of reclamation from the French. There was a lack of coordination in establishing anything significant in terms of maintaining a military presence to withstand the French troops. A lack of sophisticated warfare experience could be to blame, as opposed to the French who were presenting themselves to be much more war able. The hearts and spirits of the Vietnamese may have been in the right place, but there simply was not enough planning to gain the traction needed against the well endowed French.
1888 – Ham Nghi gets betrayed by his bodyguard and gets captured by the French, sending him to exile in Algeria where he then gets married and has 3 children: Prince Minh-Duc, Princess Nhu May and Princess Nhu Lý.
1889 – Thanh Thai, the son of the 6th emperor, Duc Duc, was next up to be enthroned to be the 10th emperor. Thanh Thai reigned for a solid 18 years starting at the young age of 10. At this point, it’s safe to say that the French believed in maintaining some kind of royalty heritage. They were smart enough to understand at the time that it was better to operate in the shadows of Vietnamese traditions to attain their economic goals. During Thanh Thai’s 18 year reign, history states that he was constantly weary of the French. The French, keen on executing their imperialistic plans, had kept him under close tabs. As Thanh Thai got older and intuitions matured though, he then began to adopt mixed feelings about the French and his people. He would then start dressing up in common clothes and sneak out of his palace to see how the Vietnamese people were really doing on his land.
1895 – Paris appoints Paul Doumer to set up the framework for the economic exploitation of Vietnam, aimed to monopolize the sale of salt, opium, and alcohol. This was executed via colonial administrations through the replacement of the local officials with their own Francophile bureaucrats across the 3 allocated regions (north, central, and south.)
1901 – Thanh Thai became the first emperor to successfully adopt Western ideologies, which is what contributed to a substantially longer reign than his predecessors. He had a French haircut and learned how to drive a car to name a few things. He also supported Western style education and was able to implement a democratic outlook to his politics; He held meetings where he would sit down in a circle of subjects and hold discussions about how things were going in the country, something very different from the ancient confucius traditions.
Unfortunately, when his weariness of the French began to develop, he realized that the French had a full infiltration in his palace with spies and that the French did not really care about the Vietnamese people. More than likely, he had developed an understanding that the French were only using his reign as a front to maintain civil stability while they were forging a deep rooted colonial system into the land.
1907 – With cognitive dissonance kicking in Thanh Thai’s mind, the French began to scrutinise him, forcing him to feign insanity to be left alone with his thoughts. As time went on, Thanh Thai begins to develop a passion about maintaining Vietnamese autonomy. And to no surprise, when the next resistance movement transpired, he tried to escape to China but was then arrested by French forces who then claimed him to be insane, forcing the emperor to be abdicated.
Thanh Thai’s son, Duy Tan, then became the 11th emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty (Thanh Thai was sent into exile in Vung Tau (South Vietnam.)) Duy Tan was only 7 years old when the French decided to appoint him to be the next emperor, making it clear that the French became persistent in making an emperor that would eventually become 100% Pro French. The struggle for the French continued as Duy Tan also grew up to be one that was hungry for autonomy.
1916 – With the French failing again in creating an emperor that would grow up to be blind to the discriminatory nature of their colonial administrations, this made the emperor’s Vietnamese influences attract to him even more. The Vietnamese bureaucrats who surrounded him then proceeded to make another attempt in reclamation; Tran Cao Van leads the rebellion, marking this to be the end of Duy Tan’s 9 year reign.
The French were pre-occupied with the World War 1 situation back home, Tran Cao Van and his revolutionaries smuggled Duy Tan to the imperial city of Hue. It was only a few days later though until the French found out about this and sent out troops out to take control of the situation. The bureaucrats were then captured and beheaded while Duy Tan, too young to be killed, got exiled with his father (Thanh Thai), to Reunion Island.
Duy Tan lived out a simple life in Reunion Island, finding aspirations for the liberal arts, eventually become a part of something called the Free France movement during World War 2 (1942), where he then worked his rankings to a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Free French Army in 1945. Charles De Gaulle, leader of the Free French Army, approached Duy Tan during this time with a proposition. Duy Tan having developed a strong following in Vietnam during his absence, with the Ho Chi Minh Revolution in full effect and the French being kicked out, Charles was reaching out to Duy Tan in hope that he would be able to salvage the French’s efforts in Vietnam. Duy Tan died in a plane crash on his way back to Vietnam. With Vietnam declaring it’s independence during this time, his father Thanh Thai was also then released to go back to Vietnam (under terms of house arrest, in Vung Tau.)
To be continued.