The Nationalist Movement in Indo-China | Revision Notes

The Nationalist Movement in Indo-China | Revision Notes

The Nationalist Movement in Indo-China

Indo-China consists of the present territories of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Vietnam has been the land of many diversified groups. In the past, it was ruled by a series of Chinese dynasties and was deeply influenced by the Chinese culture.
Later, it was colonised by the French, Japanese and Americans.

French Occupation of Vietnam

The French troops arrived in Vietnam in 1858. After defeating the Chinese army, they assumed full control of Tonkin and Annam. By mid 1880, they had full control of the northern region of the country.

Development of Agriculture

  • France, like any other European imperial country, regarded that they have a mission to civilise the natives of the territories which they conquer.
  • They took various steps to increase cultivation in Vietnam. They built canals and draining lands in the Mekong delta.
  • The production of rice doubled after many irrigational works and projects were completed. Vietnam soon became one of the major producers and exporters of rice in the world.
  • Infrastructure of the country was also improved to enable quick transport of various goods from one place to the other. A trans Indo-China railway line connecting the northern and southern parts of Vietnam with China was laid down.
  • Vietnam also had large rubber plantations. Often indentured labour worked on the farms. Indentured labour is a form of labour where workers sign contracts with the owners of plantations. Such contracts gave no rights to the labourers and benefited only the employer. Indentured labourers could not leave work before the completion of the term of the contract.


  • Education was seen by the French as a means to civilise the natives. Education of the Vietnamese in modern education was resisted by colons. Colons were the French people who were living in Vietnam.They feared that if the Vietnamese are provided with modern French education, they might lose their jobs in the region.
  • The elite and well-to-do class in Vietnam was influenced by the Chinese culture. To eliminate the Chinese influence in society, the French set up various French schools for the Vietnamese.
  • However, only elite Vietnamese could enrol into the French schools and most of them were deliberately failed by the school authorities so that they could not qualify for better paying jobs.
  • School textbooks commissioned by the French glorified the French colonial rule.
  • The Tonkin Free School was started in 1907 not only to impart western education but also to accept and follow the Western style of dressing.
  • However, the teachers in schools did not blindly follow the curriculum. Sometimes, they modified the text and criticised what was stated in books.
  • The students in Vietnam argued and fought against the efforts of the French Government to prevent them from taking up government and white-collared jobs.
  • Therefore, schools became an important place for fighting political and cultural battles. Fighting against the French education system imbibed a larger fight against colonial rule.

Hygiene, Rule and Other Resistances

  • The French rebuilt the modern city of Hanoi. One part of the city meant for the French occupation had a proper sewage system, while the part of the city meant for the natives was not provided with any modern drainage system. This resulted in the spread of plague.
  • The French Government began to pay the natives for each rat they caught. The Vietnamese labourers used this opportunity to negotiate for a higher price. Because only the tail of the rat had to be shown to claim the reward, many Vietnamese labourers only clipped the tail and set the rat free. Some even began to raise rats in order to earn some money.
  • This programme was finally put to an end. This incident tells us about the small struggles of the local Vietnamese who fought against the colonial rule in their own small way.

Religion and Ensuing Colonial Conflicts

  • The French tried to reshape the social and cultural lives of the natives. The Vietnamese followed Buddhism and Confucianism. The French tried to spread Christianity which was intolerant of these two religions.
  • One of the early movements of the Vietnamese against the spread of Christianity was the Scholars Revolt in 1868. The revolt was led by the officers of the imperial court. In the uprising, thousands of Catholics were killed in the Ngu and Ha Tien provinces. Although the movement was crushed, it gave a much-needed spark to the nationalists in Vietnam.
  • The Hoa Hao movement was a spiritual movement which also opposed French colonisation. Huynh Phu So was the founder of this movement. He criticised extravagant spending and opposed the sale of child brides, gambling and the consumption of alcohol and wine.
  • The French also crushed this movement. Huynh Phu was exiled and his supporters were sent to concentration camps.


  • Phan Boi Chau was a nationalist who formed the Revolutionary Society in 1903. Ling Qichao was a Chinese reformer. Phan wrote the book History of the Loss of Vietnam under the strong influence of Ling Qichao. This book outlined the negative impacts of Vietnam’s cutting of ties with China.
  • Phan Chu Trinh was another nationalist who opposed monarchy and was not in favour of taking imperial help in fighting against the French. He accused the French of suppressing the principle of liberty of the people.
  • In the first decade of the twentieth century, many Vietnamese students went to Japan to receive modern education. They also wanted to drive the French out of Vietnam. This was the ‘go east movement’ which became popular in Vietnam.
  • Many Vietnamese nationalists had close relationships with Japan and China. These Vietnamese requested the Japanese Government to help liberating Vietnam. However, some Vietnamese leaders in Japan were deported by the Japanese Government.
  • Overthrow of monarchy and the rise of Dr Sun Yet Sen in China also inspired the Vietnamese. The latter organised the Association for the Restoration of Vietnam to work against French imperialism in Vietnam.

Phan Chu Trinh

The Communist Movement and Vietnamese Nationalism

  • The 1930s was a period of economic depression. Many farmers and workers in Vietnam received lower prices for their rubber, and hence, discontent grew in many provinces. This was brutally suppressed by the French.
  • In 1930, Ho Chi Minh established the Vietnamese Communist Party which was later named the IndoChinese Communist Party.
  • Japan occupied Vietnam in 1940 as it wanted to control South Asia. However, the Japanese were defeated at Hanoi in 1945. The democratic Republic of Vietnam was formed, and Ho Chi Minh became its Chairman.

Ho Chi Minh

Challenges Faced by the New Republic of Vietnam

  • The new republic of Vietnam faced many challenges. The French tried to assert their control with the help of a puppet emperor, Bao Dai. The Vietnamese withdrew to the hilly regions as the French had launched attacks on the nationalists.
  • The Vietnamese however defeated the French in May 1954. Although the French were defeated, it persuaded the Vietnamese to accept the division of the country into the North and the South. The communists under Ho Chin Minh occupied the north, while the emperor assumed power in the south.
  • However, Bao Dai was overthrown by a coup led by Ngo Dinh Diem. He became a dictator. The National Liberation Front (NLG) was formed to oppose him.
  • Both Ho Chin Minh and NLF fought for the unification of Vietnam. This was watched over suspiciously by the US who did not want the birth of another communist nation.

America in Vietnam

  • Because America did not want the birth of another communist nation, it entered Vietnam which opened another chapter in the history of the country. Equipped with modern weapons and latest technology, they killed thousands of civilians. Chemical weapons were also used against them.
  • Many people in the US also criticised the war in Vietnam. A compulsory military service was waived for students studying in the universities. Thus, many soldiers going to Vietnam belonged to the poor and humble background.
  • The US Government underestimated the power of the Vietnamese in fighting the war. Finally, the American troops withdrew from Vietnam and peace treaty between the two countries was signed in 1974 at Paris.

The Ho Chin Minh Trail

  • The Ho Chin Minh trail was a large network of footpaths and roads and was used to transport men, women and materials.
  • Most of the trail was outside Vietnam in neighbouring Laos and Cambodia and was used as a route to supply goods to Vietnam. Goods were carried on the trail not only in trucks but also by porters who carried about 25 kg of weight on their backs.
  • This trail line proved very crucial during Vietnam’s war with America. The US regularly bombed this supply line by intensive bombing, but it was rebuilt quickly.

The Ho Chin Minh Trail

Role of Vietnamese Women

  • Women in Vietnam enjoyed only limited power. However, with the beginning of the nationalist movement, a new image of womanhood emerged. Many writers began to celebrate the women who rebelled against the old and traditional social order.
  • Ban Boi Chau wrote a play in which Trung sisters were shown fighting against the Chinese rule in order to save Vietnam. The Trung sisters were now idolised by the Vietnamese. They began to be depicted in paintings, novels and plays.
  • Other women rebels who revolted against the Chinese were also glorified.
  • Women also participated in large numbers in the war against France and America. They were portrayed as young brave soldiers who were ready to give up their life while fighting.
  • Women were represented in Vietnam not only as soldiers but also as workers.
  • When casualties among men increased in the war, women were urged to join the war.
  • By the time peace began to be established in Vietnam during the 1970s and the war seemed to end, the number of women in the Vietnamese army began to decrease.

Vietnamese warrior women

The End of the War

  • The prolonged period of American war in Vietnam drew criticism not only from different parts of the world but also from America.
  • Thousands of American soldiers had lost their lives in Vietnam. Many American writers became disillusioned with the American bombings in Vietnam.
  • Finally, America, after being criticised for its Vietnamese policies, signed a peace treaty in Paris in January 1974. This ended the conflict in Vietnam. However, the conflicts between the Saigon regime and the NLF continued.
  • The NLF finally won and unified Vietnam in 1975.