Due to the maintenance of past social structures, much of the resistance against French colonialism took place in Annam and Tonkin. Military resistance began with the Can Vuong (Save the King) movement in Annam, however, this was defeated by Cochinchinese forces in 1882. The last form of major military resistance against the French until after the Second World War took place in the hills of Tonkin, where Hoang Hoa Tham held out until 1913. From then on, the majority of anti-colonial resistance would be carried out on a different playing field, led first by Confucian-educated intellectuals who passed their torch to educated, professional revolutionaries. The Annam provinces of Nghe An and Ha Tinh, collectively known as Nghe Tinh, were known for the revolutionary movements and leaders they produced.
A Vietnamese plaque showing French colonial brutality.
Nghe An was the birthplace of one of the leaders of the first generation of intellectual resistance, Phan Boi Chau. Phan Boi Chau was studying for the Confucian civil service examinations when the Can Vuong movement collapsed, and he turned to the organization of a society that would further the cause of anti-colonial resistance. In 1904, he obtained the allegiance of the Nguyen Prince Cuong De, who he used as a rallying point for his organization, The Reformation Society (Duy Tan Huy). Cuong De had received some support from Imperial Japan, and many first generation intellectual anti-colonialists also looked to Japan as a base for future activities and a model for reform. This movement towards Japan was known as the Dong Du Movement. This first generation varied individually in terms of ideology, ranging from monarchist to republican. Despite these differences, the movement was distinctly nationalist, focusing only on anti-colonial resistance instead of a nationalist and proletariat revolution. Various groups based on different ideologies appeared and disappeared, but none were as influential as Phan Boi Chau’s organization, nor as successful as the second generation of revolutionaries.
A portray of Ho Chi Minh during his time Guangzhou, China. Source
Although Phan Boi Chau lived much of his revolutionary career in exile or house arrest, he still influenced the second, ultimately successful generation of revolutionaries, led by the enigmatic Ho Chi Minh. Phan was a friend of Ho’s father and influenced Ho’s patriotism when he was a child named Nguyen Tat Thanh. Nguyen was educated in the Confucian tradition, though he was expelled from school as a teen due to his participation as a translator for peasant uprisings in Hue. Eventually, he left Vietnam in 1911 and travelled the world as a messboy on various French liners. He settled in France after the end of the First World War, where he quickly became affiliated with the nationalist organizations founded by the first generation of revolutionaries in exile. There, he founded a nationalist group called the Association of Annamite Patriots with the help of first generation anti-colonialists Phan Chu Trinh and Phan Van Truong. This organization, like many other nationalist groups in Paris at the time, sought to take advantage of the Versailles Peace Conference happening at the time (Duiker chapter 2) Ho, with the help of his colleagues, wrote an eight-point declaration demanding equality under the law for both the Vietnamese and French people, freedom of speech, religion and assembly, amnesty for Vietnamese political prisoners, and Vietnamese representation in the French government. This declaration was called “Revendications du Peuple Annamite,” and it was signed by Nguyen Ai Quoc, the most famous of Ho’s numerous names. Ho was responsible for publicizing the document, and he personally delivered it to both the President of France and the Palace of Versailles, as well as published it in a socialist paper.
Rice and Revolution The Great Famine of Vietnam during World War II, 1944-1945
The Second World War is often associated with vast military casualties, but most do not associate how the war shifted the flow of goods and resources necessary for life, killing millions through malnutrition, starvation, and related disease. Among the famines of the Second World War, the Great Famine of Vietnam (1944-1945) remains little known outside of Vietnam, especially compared to its contemporaries in Bengal, Henan, and the Soviet Union. Though natural disasters catalyzed the famine, the scope of the famine was exacerbated by the brutal French extraction of resources in northern Vietnam, on the command of the Japanese military.
However, the famine's seeds were sown long before the disaster, with the arrival of the French in the Mekong Delta and their subsequent colonization of Dai Viet. Over half a century of repeated economic exploitation from French colonialism led to the poverty of farmers in the already overpopulated Red River Delta. This inspired years of physical and then intellectual resistance against the French colonial government, eventually leading to the rise of communism in French Indochina and the rise of Ho Chi Minh. When the Second World War broke, and France fell to the Germans in 1940, the new Vichy government took control of French Indochina. They signed "Rice Accords" with Imperial Japan, promising up to a million tons of rice and hundreds of thousands of tons of other non-staple crops every year. This led to five years of intense, severe hardship for the peasants of Vietnam, and all it took were natural disasters in 1944 and 1945 for famine to break out. Meanwhile, the Viet Minh, under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, slowly expanded their network of cadres across Vietnam during the war years and gained support from numerous Vietnamese peasants eager to end their suffering. The relationship between the Viet Minh, the Japanese, and the Vichy French came to a head among the famine years, exploding in 1945-- the year of two coups.
"Rice and Revolution: The Great Famine of Vietnam, 1944-1945" chronicles the famine, placing it in its greater historical context of colonialism and the Second World War. Through analyzing the English language literature on the subject and utilizing primary sources, it aims to elucidate and evaluate this tragic event.