French Subjugation

  French colonialism in Vietnam, though short-lived (1859-1954) in com- parison with Chinese rule, distinguished itself by its sheer brutality and contempt for the Vietnamese people and their culture. France’s mission, aside from plundering and profiting from Vietnam’s considerable
natural resources and exploiting the country’s apparently inexhaustible supply of cheap labor, was to save the Vietnamese from their own political leadership from themselves by "civilizing" them. The French made the mistake of seeing the Vietnamese as "big children" with limited mental capacities, and of believing that their Vietnamese enemies were no better than common criminals who lacked patriotism and dedication.
Above : Those Vietnam's Patriotic in French prison in 1908

  In a passage from a colonial curricular guide, French administrators’ paternalistic description of their work sounds like a noble calling, em phasizing their desire "to protect the people from themselves and their own shortcomings such as gambling, excessive superstitions of all sorts and their love of chicanery which ruins both their savings and their health" (Altbach and Kelly 1984, 19). Even for those few Vietnamese who had access to the colonial education system, opportunities for promotion and advancement were limited, in keeping with the French principle that "the lowest-ranked representative of France in Indochina must receive a salary superior to that of the highest Indochinese official employed by the colonial administration. In Understanding Vietnam, Neil Jamieson uses the example of a Vietnamese professor who graduates from the University of Hanoi, studies in France, and returns home, only to earn less than the French janitor who cleans the classroom in which he teaches (1995, 97). The main purpose of education was to create a tiny elite of Viet- namese who could assist in the administration of their own country as a French colony. By 1945, in the twilight of French rule, 95 percent of the population was illiterate. 


  Above : Approximately 2 million deaths in 1945 famine

  Some, pointing to hospitals, schools, and roads, argue that France brought Vietnam the benefits of Western civilization. But although there is some truth to this, as evidenced by the restored villas of Hanoi that are now being used as government offices, embassies, and businesses, amenities such as hospitals or schools were available only to a minority of Vietnamese, while the majority suffered from the regime’s taxation policies
and racial prejudice.The transcription of the Vietnamese language in the Latin alphabet from Chinese ideographs in the seventeenth century was both a blessing and a curse. It had the net effect of severing future generations from their own national literature, written in Chinese characters, as well as from a millennium of Chinese influence (Altbach and Kelly 1984, 25). But it also had a favorable impact on literacy in the long term because it made the language easier to learn than, say, Chinese or Japanese. As in other societies, the Vietnamese language was one

of the keys to preserving Vietnam’s national identity. Each occupying power in turn regarded Vietnamese as inferior to its own language. Like Chinese, the French language dominated Vietnamese schools, the university, the government, business, and foreign relations.
Above: Dien Bien Phu Victory 1954

  Many older men who were educated in lycées (French secondary schools) and later fought against the French nevertheless openly express their admiration and affinity for French culture. The views of these Vietnamese Francophiles, some of whom were charter members of Vietnam’s Communist Party,reflect the tendency to distinguish between peoples and cultures on the one hand and governments and policies on the other. One political factor that might explain Vietnamese openness to things French, according to a Frenchman who has spent much of his career in Vietnam,is the current French government’s foreign policy, which is decidedly more
multilateral and inclusive than those of, for example, the U.S. and Great Britain. The ways in which the Vietnamese and French cultures complement each other also offer a more positive starting point than for other Westerners. A marked French influence remains in Hanoi’s architecture and cuisine (e.g., baguettes, croissants, sauces), as well as in an openness toward French culture,even among young people.Some attribute this to a Vietnamese tendency toward selective cultural borrowing—retaining only what they like most—while others point to similarities between Vietnam as a tea-sipping and France as a wine-sipping café culture. In both soci-
eties,for example,developing a relationship,whether over a cup of tea or a glass of wine, always precedes "getting down to business." 

Above: The villa was built by the French in Dalat

  Among young people, English has now become the language of choice: French ranks a distant second among the foreign languages studied by Vietnamese high school and university students. But I have been approached by older people—in formal settings, such as a meeting, as well as informal ones, for example in a park—wanting to converse with me in French. As this older generation passes on, so too will much of this linguistic bridge to Vietnam’s colonial past.

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3 Respones to "French Subjugation"

tomo said...

It's beautiful village

July 28, 2010 at 5:18 PM
tomo said...

Nice post friend.
How are you today?

July 28, 2010 at 5:20 PM
Tomo said...


November 7, 2010 at 12:21 AM

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