Ambrosio R. Villorente
The French started her conquest of French Indochina in 1859 and completed it in 1883. Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos composed French-indochina, among which Vietnam was the most populated and important.
Before the coming of French, Vietnam was independent from China for the last 900 years but China has strong cultural influence. Similar to China, Vietnam has an emperor. Mandarin officials selected those who passed the examinations to serve as emperor.
In the 18th century, the farmer’s main crop was rice planted in two main rice areas. One is in the Red River Valley irrigated canals and dikes, and in the South, the Mekong River Delta considered Vietnam’s bread basket.
For administrative purpose, the French divided Vietnam into three zones. Hanoi served as the capital of the North, Hue in the center, and Saigon in the South.
In the irrigated villages, a small number of landlord families owned much land a bigger number owned enough land to get by, but majority of the families rented the land to live.
Due to the uneven land distribution, there were peasant revolts. To stop the problem, the emperor and the landlords instituted the program "Village Land" where parts of the land were owned by the village as a whole. The village council rented these fields to poorer families at reasonable rates. But still the rich became richer and the poor poorer.
The French colonial government did not differ much in the management of agricultural land. Moreover, the French introduced the capitalist system in the economy. The government took the land and gave it to French businessmen for mining and plantation farming. It increased the tax to 20 percent of the produce to finance a modern state. However, peasants refused to work for the low wages business and industry offered to pay. In view of these, the French increased the tax to 100 percent and compelled to be paid in cash. Some of the peasants’ sons and daughters went to work for low wages in business and industry to earn cash to pay tax. The French forced them to pay taxes enough even during bad harvest due to calamities.
The French also increased the power of the landlords in the villages that gave political and economic powers to the colonial government. This policy made the landlords strong both in economic and political powers. More agricultural products went to the cities and less and less were left to the peasants. There were inequalities.
But as business and industry grew, resistance as well developed and became strong and stronger. This resistance came about because of the concentration of economic and political powers in the hands of the landlords. A good example is "My Thuy Phong" village where in 1940, five (5) families controlled 40 percent of the land and the 90 percent of the poorest families controlled 35 percent of the land. Others rented land from the landlord or found jobs at low wage. Those unable to pay taxes were arrested. Behind the police were the colonial courts which always ruled in favor of the landlords.
Before the year 1940 ended, only 6,200 landlords owned 45 percent of the land in Vietnam.
In 1935, five men agreed to meet regularly to formulate ways and means to stop the French colonialists from transforming the old class of feudal landlords and imperial officials into a new class of capitalists.
One of the 5 owned a small village shop; another was a low – level clerk, owned a bicycle, a small wooden house on a small piece of land. The third man was poor but educated and rich of ideas. He was a peasant at 40 years old, can’t read and write but possessed strong sense of humor and inquiring mind. The 4th man was a poor peasant who maintained village shrines and pagoda. And the 5th man was Ho Chin Minh, the son of a big landlord.
Ho Chi Minh’s father was well off and expected his son to be subservient to him and be loyal to the large landholding class. However, Ho Chi Minh always thought of how can he liberate his country from foreign domination and improve the living condition of his people.
In 1939, after regular and continuous meetings, they looked outside of Vietnam for ideas, new ideas. Ho Chi Minh founded the Vietnamese Communist Party. He went to china and Russia but returned to Vietnam in 1941 with a plan to build a mass organization to fight for independence. He enlisted everybody – workers, capitalists, landlords and peasants. They organized themselves into Viet Minh League to fight colonialism. They denied they were communist.
Ho, in his fight for Vietnam’s independence used the words of the American Declaration of Independence. He requested support of the United States for their cause. He never got the support.
On September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnamese independence in front of 500,000 people in Hanoi. But British Troops landed in Saigon. Later, French Japanese and Nepali troops under British command occupied Saigon. The French Army replaced the British.
In the election in January 1946, the Viet Minh won, but they had no arms to fight the French troops which landed in Hanoi and drove the Viet Minh. There were guerrilla wars in the Villages until 1954 where the French was defeated in the battle of Dien Bien Phu. The French left Vietnam in 1954. Nevertheless, the United States occupied Vietnam.
The next issues in this column will be the division of Vietnam into the "North and the South"
Why the United States involved herself in Vietnam and how the Vietnamese gained victory against the superpower, the Unites States of America. /MP