French Indochina

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For more information, see: Vietnam War.

French Indochina was the French colonial structure that contained Cambodia, Laos, and present-day Vietnam. It existed from the first invasion in 1858 to the Geneva accords in 1954.

At the time of the French invasion, during the Second French Revolution with Louis Napoleon III as President, there were the then kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia. four parts of what is now Vietnam:

  1. Cochin China in the south, including the Mekong Delta and what was variously named Gia Dinh, Saigon, and Ho Chi Minh City
  2. Annam in the center
  3. Within Annam, the mountainous Central Highlands, the home of the Montagnard peoples, considered itself autonomous
  4. Tonkin in the North, including the Red River Delta, Hanoi, and Haiphong.


France defeated the ruling Nguyen dynasty in 1858, and accepted protectorate status. Cambodia and Laos also came under French control. Danang, then called Tourane, was captured in late 1858 and Gia Dinh (Saigon and later Ho Chi Minh City) in early 1859. In both cases Vietnamese Christian support for the French, predicted by the missionaries, failed to materialize.

Vietnamese resistance and outbreaks of cholera and typhoid forced the French to abandon Tourane in early 1860. They returned in 1861, with 70 ships and 3,500 men to reinforce Gia Dinh and. In June 1862, Emperor Tu Duc, signed the Treaty of Saigon.

French naval forces under Admiral de la Grandiere, the governor of Cochin China (as the French renamed Nam Bo), demanded and received a protectorate status for Cambodia, on the grounds that the Treaty of Saigon had made France heir to Vietnamese claims in Cambodia. In June 1867, he seized the last provinces of Cochin China. The Siamese government, in July, agreed to the Cambodian protectorate in return for receiving the two Cambodian provinces of Angkor and Battambang, to Siam. Siam was never under French control.

Colonial period

With Cochin China secured, French naval and mercantile interests turned to Tonkin (as the French referred to Bac Bo).

With the collapse of the government of Napoleon III, in 1870, as a result of the Franco-Prussian War, the French Third Republic formed, and lasted until the Nazi conquest in 1940. Most of the key actions that set the context into which the Empire of Japan moved into the region happened during this period, and in the immediate aftermath under the Vichy government.

Few Frenchmen permanently settled in Indochina. Below the top layer of imperial control, the civil service comprised French-speaking Catholic Vietnamese; a nominal "Emperor" resided in Hue, the traditional cultural capital in north central Indonesia.

Little industry developed and 80% of the population lived in villages of about 2000 population; they depended on rice growing. Most were nominally Buddhist; about 10% were Catholic. Minorities included the Chinese merchants who controlled most of the commerce, and Montagnard tribesmen in the thinly populated Central Highlands. Vietnam was a relatively peaceful colony; sporadic independence movements were quickly suppressed by the efficient French secret police.

Second World War

For more information, see: Indochina and the Second World War.

The fall of France and formation of the Vichy government, which cooperated with the Axis powers and thus Japan, permanently changed the political landscape of Indochina. It was never again to be solidly under French rule, even though the name stayed until 1954.

Nationalist resistance

For more information, see: Indochinese revolution.

There were a variety of nationalist movements, non-Communist (e.g., Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang) and Communist (e.g., Indochinese Communist Party. While there had been various attempts for autonomy, a serious declaration of independence came on September 2, 1946.