The Nationalist Movement in Indo-China

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06 The Nationalist Movement in Indo-China

Emerging from the Shadow of China:

  • The modern countries of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia constitute Indo-China.
  • Many different groups of people lived in this area under the powerful Chinese empire.
  • An independent country constituting northern and central Vietnam was established.


Colonial Domination and Resistance:

  • When Vietnam was colonised by the French, the people of the country ran into conflict with the colonisers in all areas of life.
  • French troops invaded Vietnam in 1858.
  • Subsequently, in 1887, French Indo-China was formed.


Why the French thought Colonies Necessary:

  • Colonies were considered essential to supply essential goods like natural resources.
  • Like other colonial powers, France too considered it their mission to bring the benefits of civilisation to backward people.


Should Colonies be developed?

  • Writers like Paul Bernard strongly believed that the economy of the colonies needed to be developed.
  • On the contrary to what Bernard suggested, in the rural areas landlordism spread and the standard of living declined.

The Dilemma of Colonial Education

  • Under the pretext of modernisation, the French destroyed local cultures, religions and traditions, which were seen as out-dated and prevented modern development.
  • Education was seen as one way to civilise the ‘native’.


Talking Modern

  • Another problem was that the elites in Vietnam were powerfully influenced by Chinese culture.
  • The French systematically dismantled the traditional educational system and established French schools for the Vietnamese.


Looking Modern

  • The Tonkin Free School was started in 1907 to provide a Western style education.
  • The school encouraged the adoption of Western styles such as having a short haircut.


Resistance in Schools:

  • The increased number of Vietnamese teachers, made it difficult to control what was actually taught.
  • Students fought against the colonial government’s efforts to prevent the Vietnamese from qualifying for white-collar jobs.
  • The battle against French colonial education became part of the larger battle against colonialism and for independence.

Hygiene, Disease and Everyday Resistance:

Plague Strikes Hanoi:

  • The French part of Hanoi was built as a beautiful and clean city with wide avenues and a well-laid-out sewer system.
  • On the contrary, the ‘native quarter’ was not provided with any modern facilities.
  • Thus the efforts of the French to install a hygienic environment became the cause of bubonic plague.


The Rat Hunt:

  • In 1902, the French hired Vietnamese workers to hunt down the rats.
  • Those who did the dirty work of entering sewers found that if they were united they could negotiate a higher amount.
  • They also discovered innovative ways to gain profit from the situation.

Religion and Anti-colonialism:

  • The French missionaries aimed at correcting the Vietnamese tendency to revere the supernatural by imposing Christianity.
  • The Scholars Revolt in 1868 was one of the early movements against French control and the spread of Christianity.
  • Among the peasantry, religious beliefs were shaped by a variety of syncretic traditions that combined Buddhism and local beliefs.


The Vision of Modernisation:

  • Some intellectuals felt that Vietnamese traditions had to be strengthened to resist the domination of the West.
  • Some others felt that Vietnam had to learn from the West even while opposing foreign domination.
  • These differing visions led to complex debates, which could not be easily resolved.


Other Ways of Becoming Modern: Japan and China

  • Early Vietnamese nationalists looked up to Japan and China as models for change.
  • Japan and China were a refuge for those who were escaping French police.
  • These were also locations where a wider Asian network of revolutionaries could be established.

The Communist Movement and Vietnamese Nationalism:

  • In February 1930, Ho Chi Minh brought together nationalist groups and established the Vietnamese Communist called ‘Vietnam Cong San Dang’ Party’.
  • In 1940 Japan occupied Vietnam, as part of its imperial drive to control Southeast Asia.
  • The League for the Independence of Vietnam, the Vietminh fought the Japanese and recaptured Hanoi in September 1945.
  • The Democratic Republic of Vietnam was formed under the chairmanship of Ho Chi Minh.


The New Republic of Vietnam

  • The French tried to regain control by using the emperor, Bao Dai, as their puppet.
  • The Vietminh were forced to retreat to the hills.
  • On 7 May 1954, the Vietminh annihilated and captured more than 16,000 soldiers of the French Expeditionary Corps.
  • After a long fight of eight years, the French were defeated in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu.
  • Peace negotiations were held in Geneva after the French defeat.
  • The Vietnamese were persuaded to accept the division of the country.
  • The Bao Dai regime was soon overthrown by a coup led by Ngo Dinh Diem.


The Entry of the US into the War

  • The war grew out of a fear among US policy-planners that the victory of the Ho Chi Minh government would start a domino effect.
  • They underestimated the power of a small country to fight the most technologically advanced country in the world.


The Ho Chi Minh Trail

  • The Ho Chi Minh trail symbolises how the Vietnamese used their limited resources to great advantage.

The Nation and Its Heroes:

Women as Rebels

  • As the nationalist movement grew, the status of women came to be questioned and a new image of womanhood emerged.


Heroes of Past Times

  • In 39-43 CE the Trung sisters had fought against Chinese domination.
  • Other women rebels like Trieu Au who lived in the third century CE became a sacred figure.


Women as Warriors:

  • In the 1960s, photographs in magazines and journals showed women as brave fighters.
  • Women were also represented as workers.
  • As casualties in the war increased in the 1960s, women were urged to join the struggle in larger numbers.


Women in Times of Peace:

  • By the 1970s, peace talks were held and the end of the war seemed near.
  • Women were shown working in agricultural cooperatives, factories and production units.


The End of the War:

  • The US had failed to achieve its objectives.
  • Thousands of young US soldiers had lost their lives, and countless Vietnamese civilians had been killed.
  • A peace settlement ended conflict with the US but fighting between the Saigon regime and the NLF continued.
  • The NLF occupied the presidential palace in Saigon on 30 April 1975 and unified Vietnam.

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