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Paper for "Religion, Ethnicity and Modernity in Southeast Asia"
The Center for Area Studies – Seoul National University




Nguyên Thê Anh
École Pratique des Hautes Études, The Sorbonne, Paris


With the onset of Western imperialism in the nineteenth century, the Vietnamese found themselves faced with a kind of domination that effected the dislocation of traditional social, economic and political institutions, processes and values, and the overthrow of which demanded new kinds of political action. Colonial rule, therefore, precipitated a cultural crisis not only by questioning the validity of every aspect of the traditional conception of the uni­verse, but also by constraining people to find new patterns of expression for their national con­sciousness, and to formulate the problem of the political future of their country. The intricacy of the situation was such that it appeared unthinkable to consider conciliating the type of mod­ernity brought by foreign colonization or restructuring within the framework of the traditional Confucian monarchy, the only form of political organization that the Vietnamese had ever known up to then. Moreover, the colonial status made it particularly difficult to accord the objectives of both modernization and nation-building, since the latter would require a very dif­ferent stance toward the past than would the former : as a general rule indeed, while commit­ment to modernization entails rejection of those aspects (local, religious, ethnic, linguistic...) of a society's past deemed impediments to a rationalized bureaucratic order, nation-building depends on the very opposite move, insisting on a commitment of faith, on the « acceptance of the fundamental givenness of premises about who belongs to the community sharing the same national heritage. » [Keyes, Kendall & Hardacre 1994: 4-5].

The Confucian bureaucracy was the most important organized segment of traditional  Vietnamese society to feel the full impact of colonialism, the first victims of foreign rule being the mandarins who must now yield, or at least share their power and privilege, with newcom­ers. A new social class was emerging which cut into the traditional domains of the scholar-gentry and the peasantry. The stimulation of domestic and foreign trade, the expansion of bureaucracy, the creation of specialized agencies, and the establishment of modern schools were soon to give birth to a class of new specialists for whom a brand-new set of social rights and duties had to be improvised, generally at the expense of the older classes. To begin with, the administrative, professional, and commercial elite was suddenly allowed to dictate terms governing village life where the old gentry had left well enough alone. By assuming the task of executing colonial policy for the French authorities, the new elite also left the old mandarins in the lurch : free to retire, to collaborate, or to agitate against the new order [Truong Buu Lâm 1982].

Colonial intrusion, furthermore, introduced splits into the unity of a social class that classi­cal learning had remarkably welded together. Divided loyalties had become an issue since the French seizure of the control of Cochinchina in the 1860s, when bitter debates engulfed the Confucian literati as to whether collaboration afforded an acceptable alternative to non coop­eration. The moral dilemma was complicated by the fact that in the early years of the French advance the court at Huê adopted a compromising, concessive policy, signing agreements recognizing French authority in various regions, so that in theory at least open resistance to the French meant opposition to court policy as well. The traditional supporters of the monarchy, the scholar-gentry, for whom the Confucian concept of dynastic loyalty (trung quân) stood for national consciousness, as they had been taught by classical political theory that the mainte­nance of the dynasty was synonymous with the preservation of the country, were then con­fronted with an impossible choice : the court having surrendered to the enemy, how could the moral principle of loyalty towards the sovereign be reconciled with the duty of resisting the invaders ? They could solve this contradiction only by continuing to profess their fidelity to the monarchy as an idealized institution, but not to those who were leading state policy. This ide­alist and intransigent monarchism expressed itself in the mid 1880s in the righteous « upri­sings » of the patriotic scholars and pro­vincial gentry, commonly known as the royalist Cân Vuong (Aid the King) movement, after the flight of the young king Hàm‑Nghi from the imperial city of Huê in July 1885. This movement, which would continue to nurture a disembodied royalism six or seven years after Hàm-Nghi's capture in 1888, was to last until the end of the nineteenth century; it attested to the strength of the commitment of the Vietnamese at the time to the con­cept of dynastic loyalism [Marr 1971: 44-76 ; Fourniau, 1989 ; Nguyên Thê Anh 1992: 127-134, 169-173].

Cân Vuong partisanship had a character both ideological and racial‑politic ; its battle cry was to « kill all heterodox people and drive out the French », the former objective being accomplished by the indis­criminate slaughter of Vietnamese Catholics. Still, it found expression only in disparate movements, heavily de­pendent upon their regional leaders, none of who gained enough  prestige to unite the followers under a single command. In the historical condi­tions of the latter half of the nineteenth century, of course, it would have been difficult for this unification to have been brought about under any leadership but that of the court and the cen­tral bureaucracy. Yet, yielding to the invaders' demands, the court of Huê had traded its own sur­vival for national sove­reignty. Having thus resigned its role, it could no longer pretend to command the people's alle­giance.

The Cân Vuong movement, for all that, had no real concept yet of Vietnam as a nation‑state in competi­tion with other nation‑states. Nationalism means ideologies that simul­taneously stress the rediscovery and preserva­tion of a cultural identity and the assimilation of modern material techniques and revolutionary ideas : evidently, the struggle of the Vietnamese literati against French intervention in the latter half of the nineteenth century was not yet nationalistic, but merely « a compound of xenophobia and Confu­cian loyalism » [Woodside 1987: 312].

The last years of the 19th century witnessed anyway the definitive extinction of the last focal points of the armed resistance that had mobilized the Confucian literati since 1885 against the colonial power on behalf of the re-establishment of the legitimate sovereign of Vietnam. Prenationalistic traditionalist ideologies of resistance seemed to survive in sudden insurrec­tions that would still stir up the countryside in northern Vietnam now and then. However, those short-lived and short-range movements, which ignored French rule rather than opposed it, were not prompted by any clearly defined political doctrine except a vague belief in the provi­dential mission of leaders guided by supernatural forces in their struggle to restore national independence, either under a new heaven-sent king or under a descendant of emperor Gia-Long, the founder of the reigning dynasty. They were no longer inspired by the represen­tatives of the official ideology, but only by illuminati – healers, fortune-tellers, mediums, etc. – who had acquired some local notoriety through their allegedly magical power, and who expected to derive from the traditional monarchical institution its sacred dimension to set up entirely differ­ent references. There were elaborate oaths, rituals, and regalia, as well as colorful legitimizing myths linking the golden past to the glorious future. These would-be messiahs were numerous; presenting themselves as reincarnations of tutelary spirits of the country, they were able to impress the peasants with magical practices and predictions of a popular character so to per­suade them that they were submitted to a higher volition. For example, claiming to have authority over infernal forces, Mac Dinh Phuc assailed the citadel of Hai-phong in December 1897 with a troop of scantily armed followers, sporting the badge of « soldiers of Heaven. » Or else Nguyên Van Câm, nicknamed Ky Dông (the marvellous child), caused uprisings at Thai-binh and Hai-duong by inducing people to believe in his attribute as a celestial envoy [Nguyên Thê Anh 1978: 425-428]. Also the secret society called Thuong Chi (superior will) took advantage of folk beliefs to extend its influence, presenting to the population its leaders as the reincarnations of the spirits of mount Tan-viên or Giong ; in the night of 5 December 1898, it tried to launch simultaneous attacks on the citadel of Hanôi and the cities of Haiphong, Hai-duong, and Thai-binh, but those actions aborted even before they really began [Nguyên Thê Anh 1992: 168].

 Promising to offer exactly what the Nguyên dynasty was no longer capable of offering – solidarity, justice, and salvation – those messianic movements obviously indicated that people experienced intense crises for which received religio-political authority no longer seemed an adequate or acceptable solution. But, because their eschatology led people to expect an immi­nent reordering of the world by the direct intervention of a sacred power, they very quickly lost their attraction once they had proved incapable of effectively challenging the power of the colonial state. In any case, they would in no way be ever able to threaten seriously the colonial order, as their recruits generally received as weapons no more than talismans supposed to make them invulnerable. Nevertheless, they emphasized the state of disarray following upon the grave shock that the consolidation of the colonial regime had inflicted on the traditional socio-political structures. To the degree that French colonization was seen as a disaster, it also dealt a grievous blow to Confucianism.

The establishment in 1887 of the Indochinese Union implied indeed the completion of a double dismantlement : dismantlement of the territorial unity of the country, now divided into three separate entities of different status, Tonkin, Annam and Cochinchina ; dismantlement of the sociocultural structure the keystone of which, the monarchical institution, was emptied of its substance owing to the progressive confiscation of the royal functions by the protecting power, and ceased to be perceived as the reference axis around which society was to be organized [Nguyên Thê Anh 1985: 148-150]. The royal administration was merged into a highly centralized system dependent exclusively on the competence of France's representatives, who surrogated themselves to the authority of the king on one hand, and the mandarins on the other, for the effective exercise of power  [Nguyên Thê Anh 1988: 82-83, 95-96]. The leading class of literati originating from the traditional civil service examinations witnessed thus the increasing erosion of the predominating social status that had been theirs, because the colonial situation condemned them to not being able either to exercise their essential functions, or to identify themselves with the new order of things. Moreover, they had to resign themselves to seeing their tenets battered by Catholicism, which in their eyes represented the ideological spear-head of colonialism : assimilating itself with the colonizing nation, the Catholic church had formed itself into religious communities separated from the rest of the population in the big cities and certain coastal areas, exerting its attractive power in particular over the miserable rural strata of the overpopulated delta of the Red River and the deprived provinces of central Vietnam.

Dispossessed of their rank, questioned by what had become of the monarchy, those repre­sentatives of the Confucian ideology were clearly aware of their own degradation. The final failure after 1897 of the resistance movements, while it ascertained to them the superiority of the West in every domain, made them gauge all the more the inextricability of the impasse into which they found themselves driven. A period of doubt, of self-examination, of deep recompo­sition began then for them. The sense of their sociological alienation induced some of them to deliberately choose to stand on the fringe of the current socio-political order, for want of being able to oppose it openly. Carried to extremes, this determination in keeping away from the po­litical and social evolution led certain to reject all actions, to regard the Taoistic conception of non-action as an end in itself [Woodside 1976: 30-31 ; Nguyên Thê Anh 1985: 299].

This attitude, however, is incompatible with the Confucian precepts that commanded the responsible man to « save his epoch. » Other men, therefore, brought themselves to resolutely meet the obligation laid to them to determine new bases for their mission and their existence as members of a social group, and to find ways to adapt to the radically changed world in which they live. Their defeat before colonialism had progressively persuaded them to abandon the traditional legitimacy founded on old Confucian notions of dynastic fidelity and of filial piety to attain a national consciousness apprehended as embodying men and earth in an indissoluble whole. They were, of course, no longer interested in defending the old regime and traditional methods, as it had become appa­rent that the traditional elite and the entire social system upon which it was based had been transformed into instruments of for­eign domination. What mat­tered to these men was not only to overthrow foreign rule and recover Viet­namese sovereignty and self‑determination, but more significantly to search for new values and an institu­tional system that would enable Vietnam at the same time to regain its lost independence and to revitalize its society. Heavily influenced by the ideas of the 1898 reform movement in China, they professed that any traditional attitude standing in the way of independence and freedom should be discarded, and that any Western idea and technique crucial to survival and growth in the twentieth century be assimilated. It was thus feasible to abhor the French for colonizing Vietnam and to learn from them for their modern wisdom [Marr 1981: 289].

Although at the dawn of the 20th century these men were still searching their fighting line, wavering between violent action and the way of legal action that counted on emancipation through the diffusion of progress and cultural, economic and social modernization,[1] their nationalist thought, nevertheless, revolved round a broader objective than merely the recovery of political independence. Prepared henceforth to downgrade the Confucian idea of cosmic-social sympathy in favor of the Western-derived concepts of bitter struggle and linear progress, they wished to update a practicable way toward the regeneration of the national community through adhesion to modernity and the demolition of the socio-political order in place, that they considered as the primary cause of the reinforcement of the French presence and the inhibition of the development of the country. They were especially concerned with a new definition of the political system in terms of the nation-state on the model of the Western state organization : they were going to endeavor to make prevail the idea that it would be necessary to transmute from the concept of the state characterized by king-subject relationship to a state concept based on citizenship and patriotism. In particular, they did not fail to notice that what Vietnam­ese mass patriotism could be mobilized then was largely anti-modern : it was imprisoned in an unscientific village religion run by sorcerers and focused upon the cults of medieval person­ages. They understood, therefore, that they had little choice but to change from the old hero-directed politics of the Confucian past to the newer masses-directed politics of the Westernized present, and demolish the hierarchical barriers to a more modern mass solidarity which Confu­cian monarchy and patriarchy had promoted [Woodside 1989: 151]. From this new way of addressing the cultural and political issues, the reconverted Confucian intelligentsia expected to stamp out the structural weaknesses of the Vietnamese society that the colonial situation had brought to light [Nguyên Thê Anh 1988: 83-85].

The most representative of this first generation of Vietnamese nationalists was Phan Bôi Châu (1867‑1940), who embarked upon a lifetime of anti-colonial activities after having passed the regional ex­aminations in 1900. During the first quarter of the twentieth century, he was the figure behind practically every party and every agitation that rankled the colonial administra­tion. Much influenced by the Chinese reform movement of Kang Youwei, Liang Qichao and their followers, and admiring the Japanese ex­ample of progressive mon­ar­chism, Phan Bôi Châu dreamed of a Meiji‑style renovation in Vietnam that could keep the Vietnamese monarchy as its symbolic centerpiece [see Shiraishi 1993]. He created an organization known as the « Renovation Society » (Duy‑Tân Hôi), the objective of which was to encourage Vietnam to follow Japan's path in adopting Western science and technology in order to throw off Western domination, then initiated what was to become an Eastern travel movement, going himself to Japan in 1905 [see Vinh Sinh 1988]. By 1908, two hundred Vietnamese students had gone to study at Japanese schools, to be groomed for the prospect of restoring Vietnam's independ­ence. But the Japanese government, responding to French diplomatic pressure, formally ex­pelled the Vietnam­ese students in 1910. Meanwhile, after the October 1911 revolution in China, the Chi­nese model of revolutionary change became more attractive to Vietnamese na­tionalists. In February 1912, Phan Bôi Châu and more than a hundred other Vietnamese, in ex­ile in South China, founded a new organization called the « Vietnamese Revival Society » (Viêt-Nam Quang Phuc Hôi). The purpose of this organization was to create a democratic republic in Vietnam similar to the one Sun Yatsen was trying to achieve in China. What is more impor­tant, the socie­ty de­cided to cre­ate its own army in order to liberate Vietnam. The strat­egy of reconquer­ing the country from China border bases, crucial to the history of Vietnamese nation­alism, was born at this time. Nonetheless, Phan Bôi Châu's activities met with little real suc­cess, and he was finally kidnapped in 1925 by French security agents in Shanghai, then spent the rest of his life under house arrest in Huê.

A contemporary of Phan Bôi Châu, Phan Chu Trinh (1872‑1926) had also passed the regional civil service examinations in 1900. He thereafter severed his relationship with the colo­nial mandarinate, travelled through different provinces of Vietnam reviling the very classi­cal studies and examination system of which he was a product. After being active as one of the sponsors of a wide tax resistance movement in central Vietnam in 1908,[2] he was imprisoned as part of the co­lonial government's general campaign of sup­pression of dissident scholar‑gentry. Released in 1911 at the behest of the French League for the Rights of Man, he spent the 1911‑1925 period in France, where his apartment served as a meeting  place for Viet­namese students and political agitators abroad. Impressed by the liberal aspects of French culture and humanist philosophy, he trusted that the French presence in Vietnam could have positive results provided that it led to the introduction of progressive expressions of Western civiliza­tion and ultimately to concession of the political rights and ideals of the Enlightenment. He was especially famous for his scathing diatribes against the institution of monarchy. He wrote, for instance : « The emperor is the man who takes other people's rights and make them his own, who takes public powers and make them private powers. »[3] Also : « The emperor, to whom it is forbidden to govern, is nothing more than a well-clothed mannequin, sitting on a carefree throne, doing what he is ordered to do, signing what he is commanded to sign. »[4] Believing that popular fixations regarding the person and position of the king interfered with the development of the image of the nation, Phan Chu Trinh deemed that the superiority of the West proceeded not only from its scien­tific and technological advances, but above all from the vitality that political democracy im­parted to Western societies. He therefore advocated a Western‑style written constitution and a republi­can presi­dency, whose incumbent could be impeached [Woodside 1976: 36-43]. 

By attacking the monarchical regime, Phan Chu Trinh only expressed the prevalent think­ing among the majority of Vietnamese nationalists, whose disaffection to the traditional po­liti­cal order was total by the 1920s. The generation that came after the two Phan's was to declare itself ideologically unattached and in radical rupture with the old attitudes of opposition. Na­tion­alism then was no longer equated merely with anti-colonialism. It became equated with revolu­tion, that is, a total, radical transformation of the Vietnamese social, economic and politi­cal structure, in­volving the destruction of both the French colonial rule and its collaborative Viet­namese monar­chy, and the building of a new Vietnamese society.

Being however degree‑holders of the ancient triennial examination system, having received thorough training in Confucian classics, most of those progressive literati re­mained Con­fucian revolutionaries, even though they perceived a socio-political revolution to be neces­sary to effect radical transformations within Vietnamese society. The manifold nature of the functions of Confucianism – as a civic religion, as a mode of socialization, as a style of moral and politi­cal legitimacy, as well as a social philosophy that exalted hierarchy – made it remarkably diffi­cult indeed to uproot. Phan Bôi Châu for one never ceased to appear as a qualified man of culture in the world of classical Chinese, and never really broke with Confucianism, attached forever as he was to the principle of historical permanence of the moral values that blended with the Confucian rules. He was indeed too much a product of traditional Vietnam to be able to conceive fully of a radical new world. Throughout his eventful life, he worked almost entirely within the assumptions of East Asian cultural and political principles and precedents. In his work Không hoc dang (The Light of Confucian Knowledge) that he composed during his last years to expound the significance of Confucianism to modern Vietnam, he still proclaimed his admiration for the type of well-balanced « democracy » of the ancient Chinese sage-emperors, who had admitted that their throne belonged to the people and not to themselves. Dis­playing the dispassionate wisdom of a moral philosopher, he took a step back toward a Confu­cian vision of society by deploring the final loss of Vietnam's spiritual vitality owing to the dis­appearance of the self-regulating moral education and the social rituals of its classical past. Likewise, Phan Bôi Châu's friend and comrade in anti-colonial activity, Huynh Thuc Khang (1876-1947), began in 1927, after many tribulations in a life devoted to searching for solutions for the future of his country, to publish his newspaper Tiêng Dân (The People's Voice) to express a mild but nevertheless very convincing call for reform in the colonial structures ; remaining at heart a Confucian scholar, even as he pointed out the shortcomings of Confucian­ism, he assigned to his journal the mission of educating the people in the task of emancipating society [Nguyên Thê Anh 1986].

Nevertheless, it is obvious that the Confucian ideology would not come off unscathed from the contesting of the ancient principles of authority and organization by its very support­ers, contention that stressed the deficiencies of the traditional socio-political system. Such nationalism as that purported to be primarily a restructuring will was indeed to open the door to implacable iconoclasm : by transferring their loyalty to the idea of nation, the old scholar-gentry radically renounced the antiquated values, including especially those of the Nguyên monarchy. Among those who mobilized themselves the most for progress, Phan Chu Trinh, as mentioned above, reserved no place for the royal person in the new civil society that he dreamed of constructing. His denunciation of the imperial convention was to play an important part in freeing the minds from the hold of traditional culture [Nguyên Thê Anh 1985: 156-157].

But time was not given to the body of the Confucian literati to complete its own conver­sion : the repressive measures taken by the colonial administration following the events of 1908, while eliminating all those that counted as progressive literati, ended the literati's histori­cal role as a social class. Wholesale arrests and deportations decimated their group ; those who could escape had to seek refuge abroad, joining Phan Bôi Châu in his exile. Besides, the sociocultural landscape was deeply modified during the second decade of the 20th century with the appearance of new social strata, as a result of the economic and political transformations effected by the colonial regime. Those younger generations trained in modern education in the schools set up by the colonial administration were in radical rupture with the old hierarchical and moralizing social order. They voiced their contest through straightforward criticism of Confucianism, continuing thus the undermining work already prepared by the reformist literati. The most stern judgement was that pronounced by a young intellectual of Western training, Nguyên An Ninh (1900-1943). In his articles published in La Cloche Fêlée (The Cracked Bell), a newspaper in French that he founded in 1923, he compared Confucianism to a « rough copy of culture » imported from China, but which had served during many centuries as moral and political support for a regime of authority, oppression, intellectual vanity and social order. Taking up his stand on the ground of the universalism and humanism of Enlightenment, he stigmatized the « arrogance » of the old Confucians that he charged with all the crimes of the past [Trinh Dinh Thao 1990: 268-272].

However, the onslaughts on the intellectual elitism and the social conservatism contained in Confucian philosophy, as well as on the negative effects of Confucian ethics on the Viet­namese society of the time, triggered off a movement of rehabilitation of Confucianism. To Nguyên An Ninh's message calling for the appropriation of Western sciences and technology and for the immersion in the cultural bath that had ensured Europe's cultural, economic and political superiority, Pham Quynh (1892-1945), the director of the review Nam Phong (Southern Wind), opposed his fear of the risks of excessive westernization, since modern education was diverting more and more the young from traditional morals and culture and exposing them to such dissolving doctrines as materialism or utilitarianism. For Pham Quynh, the most serious danger that could threaten the survival of the nation would be the loss of its soul, of its cultural essence. Conservation was therefore as important as progress. What Pham Quynh wished to realize above all was the neo-Confucean dream of a synthesis between Western savoir-faire and Eastern « know-how-to-be » [Nguyên Thê Anh 1992: 262-266].

Meanwhile, the revolutionary blaze of 1930[5] warned the administration that, with the break-up of the Confucian universe, the peasant masses were missing a superstructure that « from somewhere would reconcile them with the new age » [Mus 1952: 145], while the leading class, placed in a subordinate position in auxiliary offices of the French administrative appara­tus, was only poorly associated with a superstructure that did not belong to it and, this not­withstanding, was uprooting it from its fundamental traditions. Thence the colonial power, having rediscovered the traditional usefulness of the « three bonds » of Confucianism (rulers over subjects, parents over children, husbands over wives) as a formula for social control, set after 1931 as its line of conduct the restoration or consolidation of Confucian moral values and the customs founded on them, the upgrade of the conservative components of tradition, i.e., the notables of the villages, the mandarins, and the monarchy, to divert public opinion from revolutionary propaganda. Nevertheless, this could no longer prove as a viable ideological solution to the cultural crisis ; especially, the ultra-conservative purpose that aimed solely at congealing the existing social structures in a state of inert tranquillity could in no way satisfy the intelligentsia. For want of an alternate mobilizing ideology, its members turned towards communism, or at the very least sympathized with it, because the Indochinese communist party, founded in 1930 and defining itself as a revolutionary organism of struggle against the colonial regime, appeared capable of offering at the same time « scientific » revolutionary tech­niques for political liberation and an ideological solution to replace the obsolete Confucian value system. By then, the Confucian scholar activists had been completely overtaken by the more radical strands in the anti-colonial movement, and Confucianism ceased to be a major force in Vietnamese nationalism.

The Vietnamese Communist movement must anyway be understood within this context of the fundamental conflict between the colonial order and nationalism. Although it was deter­mined to find roots among the rural and working masses, and indeed managed to do so, it actually attracted a large number of the urban educated population, whose immediate support appeared best obtained by Communist appeal directed toward their frustration over the limited opportunities offered to a modern elite under French rule. The Vietnamese intellectuals at the time, discouraged by the incomprehensive policy of the colonial administration, were in search of any new anti-colonial ideology that was unconnected with the past or the values of colonialism. Thereupon, the Leninist doctrine of imperialism offered them a convincing explanation of French behavior in Vietnam and suggested at the same time that colonialism would ultimately be doomed [Huynh Kim Khanh 1982: 77-89]. The structural similarities with Confucianism that Marxism contains (such as its this-worldly orientation, its claims to represent a rational, scientific doctrine of universal applicability, its hierarchical nature and strong emphasis on political relationships and the state) might also have facilitated moving from the former to the latter. The fact is that the Vietnamese communists of the first generation who came from the provincial literati were willy-nilly the bearers of one component of the dual power resulting from the old bipolar distribution of political responsibility between the court mandarins and the village-based scholar-gentry : the survival of many Confucian reflexes within these revolution­aries might explain the incomplete break of the Vietnamese revolution with mandarin leader­ship traditions, causing the Vietnamese communist party itself to have come to resemble an old-fashioned Confucian oligarchy [Woodside 1989: 148-149, 154-155]. This induces me to conclude in a somewhat straying manner with the statement that it would be perhaps necessary to revise the view of the revolutionary intelligentsia as merely a product of Western influence and Western types of education. In fact, what still dominated the people's lives long after the official suppression in 1918 of the civil service examinations, which required a knowledge of Confucian ethics and Confucian political theory, and which for centuries had enabled Vietnam to recruit at least part of its ruling elite, was the informal curriculum [Woodside 1989: 145] found in the multiple Confucian legacies in the Vietnamese language, literature, poetry, archi­tecture, not to say religion.  


Appendix : Hàm-Nghi's Cân vuong Edict of 28 June 1889.[6]    

Great Imperial Proclamation to the Officers and to the Population of the Southern Resistance.  

This proclamation promulgates a secret edict to be strictly obeyed.  

The first day of the 6th month of the 5th Hàm-Nghi year,  

I have received the heritage of kingship and inherited the succession of the supreme office. However, hardly had my regime begun when brigands in innumerable troops took hold of power, exerting more and more their dictatorship, which no longer allowed the slightest avoid­ance so to enjoy tranquillity. Under these conditions, all the ministers were secretly summoned to the Council of state affairs to take the blood oath of fidelity. It was originally planned to break down the citadel, then to advance on Gia-dinh. But, contrary to all expectations, Van-Tuong betrayed, so that His Majesty has withdrawn here. The sovereign and his ministers have met again to exchange their oaths. To assure the restoration, it has been decided to form a plan based on the support of an expedition sent by a foreign power. How could I have spared my own efforts for that ? That is why, without avoiding the hardships of a long crossing at the risk of my life, I went myself to Germany to seek that succor. Thanks to Italy's kind permission, I came back directly to Canton, where I have received the officers in a general gathering to settle our matters. I have felt an increased solace in experiencing the kindness displayed to me according to my mandate. In the strict obedience to duty, every one will unite his efforts to accomplish the secret sworn pact. The very evidence that is unanimously ascertained every­where is the common hatred for those with whom we cannot share our existence, so that con­cert will be made with wise and great-hearted men to encourage enthusiasms. For my part, I have henceforth drawn up the plan « destroy Go while leaning on Yu. » We already have the support of a foreign power. But if we succeed in gathering a numerous force, how shall we feed it if we have no resources ? That is what is disturbing me. If all those that resist, from the ministers to the common people, voluntarily supply a contribution to the state, their names will be registered in golden books, awaiting the day of victory when they will be repaid a hundred­fold, with rewards in gold and in endowments. Don't they be sparing of their gifts, so to encourage the high command and the troops !  

This is my will, be it respected !  


  Fourniau, Charles. 1989. Annam-Tonkin, 1885-1896. Lettrés et paysans vietnamiens face à la conquête coloniale. Paris: L'Harmattan.

  Huynh Kim Khanh. 1982. Vietnamese Communism, 1925-1945. Ithaca: Cornell University          Press.

  Keyes, Charles F., Kendall, Laurel, & Hardacre, Helen. 1994. Asian Visions of Authority:            Religion and the Modern States of East and Southeast Asia. Honolulu: University o Hawaii Press.

  Marr, David G. 1971. Vietnamese Anticolonialism 1885-1925. Berkeley: University of     California Press.

  Marr, David G. 1981. Vietnamese Tradition on Trial, 1920-1945. Berkeley: University of             California Press.

  Mus, P. 1952. Viêt-Nam. Sociologie d'une guerre. Paris: Ed. du Seuil.

  Nguyên Thê Anh. 1973. Phong trào khang thuê miên Trung nam 1908 qua cac châu ban triêuDuy-Tân [The Anti-taxation Movement in Central Viêtnam in 1908 through the Red         Documents of Duy-Tân's Reign]. Saigon: Bô Van-Hoa Giao-Duc và Thanh-Niên.

  Nguyên Thê Anh. 1978. « Le nationalisme vietnamien au début du XXe siècle : Son expression à travers une curieuse lettre au roi d’Angleterre. » Bulletin de l’Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient 65(2): 421-430.

  Nguyên Thê Anh. 1985. « The Vietnamese Monarchy under French Colonial Rule 1884-1945. » Modern Asian Studies 19(1): 147-162.

  Nguyên Thê Anh. 1985. « L'élite intellectuelle vietnamienne et le fait colonial dans les premières années du XXe siècle. » Revue française d'Histoire d'Outre-Mer 72(268): 291-307.

  Nguyên Thê Anh. 1986. « A Case of Confucian Survival in Twentieth-Century Vietnam: Huynh Thuc Khang and his Newspaper Tiêng Dân. » The Vietnam Forum (Yale Southeast Asia Studies) 8: 173-203.

  Nguyên Thê Anh. 1988. "Les élites vietnamiennes face à l'Union indochinoise." The Vietnam Forum 12: 82-99.  

  Nguyên Thê Anh. 1992. Monarchie et fait colonial au Viêt-Nam (1875-1925). Le crépusculed'un ordre traditionnel. Paris: L'Harmattan.

  Shiraishi, Masaya. 1993. Vietnamese Nationalism and its Relations with Japan and Asia: Phan Boi Chau's Ideas of Revolution and the World (in Japanese). Tokyo: Gan'nand Shoten.

  Trinh Van Thao. 1990. Vietnam. Du confucianisme au communisme. Paris: L'Harmattan.

  Truong Buu Lâm. 1982. New Lamps for Old. The Transformation of the Vietnamese        Administrative Elite. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

  Vandermeersch, L. 1995. « Un ‘vrai faux’ édit de l’ex-empereur Ham-Nghi. » Bulletin Associa­tion française des Amis de l’Orient, 40: 1-5.

  Vinh Sinh, ed. 1988. Phan Bôi Châu and the Dong-Du Movement. New Haven: Yale       Southeast Asia Studies.

  Woodside, Alexander B. 1976. Community and Revolution in Modern Vietnam. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

  Woodside, Alexander B. 1987. In D.J. Steinberg, ed., In Search of Southeast Asia. A Modern   History. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, rev. edn.

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* Religion, Ethnicity and Modernity in Southeast Asia. Edited by Oh Myung-Seok, Kim Hyung-Jun. Seoul National University Press, 1998, pp. 231-250.

[1] The association policy proclaimed by the governor general Paul Beau led the supporters of this trend to believe in the possibility of compromising with the colonial government, which would allow a peaceful evolu­tion toward an autonomous regime. They thought that cultural, economic and social modernization through the diffusion of progress and the recovery of commercial and industrial activities would help, thanks to the eco­nomic development of the country, to emancipate society and the individual from mandarinal absolutism, and to rouse the dynamism of the enslaved people by instilling into them a real national consciousness. From 1905-1906 on, a campaign for renovation (duy tân) was launched simultaneously by the Dông Kinh Nghia Thuc movement (from the name of a free school founded in Hanoi, on the model of Keio School in Tokyo, by a degree-holder of the traditional examination system, Luong Van Can) and by the reformist movement of the literati of central Vietnam, whose main spokesman was Phan Chu Trinh. Their mode of action was the open organization of a network of agricultural or commercial cooperative societies and the establishment of mutual education societies intended to spread modern learning by means of quôc ngu (romanized Vietnamese), much easier to assimilate than the Chinese characters, and apt to be a tool for teaching literacy to, and communicat­ing with, the masses : in this way, could be won the mass support that eluded the leading elite as long as they isolated themselves by writing esoterically in Chinese. In this mobilization for progress, the literati advocated the renunciation of traditional book learning instruction, the teaching of all the newest Western theories of evolution, of the nation, of the social contract, and denounced the prejudices in favor of government positions, a debasement of the surviving Confucian mystique of public service, to the exclusion of economic and commer­cial activities. Lastly, they cast the blame on the mandarins in function for all the evils that befell society [Nguyên Thê Anh 1985: 300-303].

[2] In March and April 1908, wide demonstrations of peasants were staged in different provinces in central Viet­nam against what was propagandized as the harsh and arbitrary tax and corvee rates that the French admini­stration had imposed on the villages. This could be likened to a movement of civil disobedience that took advantage of the peasantry's dissatisfaction to organize a massive trend of opinion capable of influencing the authorities. The errors and excesses of the administration, the corruption of certain mandarins were denounced in pamphlets, posters, or poems, so to stir up the anger of the population : "The mandarins are like oil-presses, and the people are like pea-nuts already extracted of their oil. There is no more head, there is no more law. The government exists only by the people, but why does it not love them and why does it aspire only after money? Money, money, it is the people's money, and not that of the French. If we complain reasonably, nothing could be done against us. The French are not all wicked, and then they will not be able to kill us all." [cf. Nguyên Thê Anh 1973]

[3] Quoted by Woodside 1987: 317.

[4] Quoted by Nguyên Thê Anh 1985: 157.

[5] 1930 was marked by many upheavals : the insurrection fomented at Yên Bai in North Vietnam by the Viet­namese Nationalist Party (Viêt Nam Quôc Dân Dang), the large-scale uprisings of peasants in central Vietnam and of plantation workers and laborers in South Vietnam triggered by the newly founded Indochinese Commu­nist Party.

[6] Original in Chinese characters reproduced in Vandermeersch 1995.