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A 1938 Vietnamese view of French Colonialism

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  • A 1938 Vietnamese view of French Colonialism

    The following excerpt is from a book published by a Vietnamese intellectual in 1938. It is the best judgment I've seen on the effects of French colonialism. Both the author, and later his son, a scientist, received the very highest civilian awards of the present Vietnamese government:

    Vietnam – 1938:

    “In the countryside life has not changed as it has in the city. But farmers used to grow rice to eat, weave clothing to wear, use bamboo from their gardens to build houses; now they have to take their rice and sell it in order to purchase in turn other things they need which are brought to them from the city by merchants and peddlers. Things that were thought to be strange fifteen or twenty years ago – like bicycles, flashlights, or thermoses - are now being used by some people in the countryside. Soap, matches, and Western tobacco are now to be found everywhere. As for traveling great distances, many people are accustomed to automobiles, trains, and ships. The palanquins, sedan chairs, and horses that were the traditional modes of transportation have either disappeared or become very rare. Rice farming, especially in the southern region, has begun using new techniques from Department of Agriculture experiments. Raisers of silkworms now select varieties distributed by the Department of Agriculture. Weavers purchase thread made in factories, and there are even places that use synthetic fibers. And where there are high rice fields, which were once frequent victims of drought, in many places public irrigation systems administered by the government are in use and crop yields have been multiplied. The number of farmers dealing with government agricultural banks increases day by day. In a few places the government has organized agricultural cooperatives to help the farmers sell their produce. A number of rural youths have gone to the city to study or work, and on their return have instigated reforms of village customs. There are places that have completely abandoned their numerous costly festival customs and celebrations of (Confucian state exam) promotions, with their attendant wrangling over status and portions. The study of romanized national alphabet has replaced the study of Chinese characters in the countryside; now every three or four villages have a school to teach writing and general knowledge to rural children not yet old enough to work in the rice fields.

    From the conditions described above we can see that the attitude of ... the Vietnamese people toward Western culture is now completely different than when it was first encountered.

    The rural folk no longer find the French to be a terrifying race of people, nor do they find their artifacts to be miraculous or fantastic any longer. Nor do our scholars still believe that their thought and customs are ridiculous, peculiar, or harmful to moral norms. From now on, the Europeanization of our society shall be even more profound. We cannot yet estimate where the end will be, nor can we anticipate and prevent the difficulties that will occur. But there is one thing of which we may be certain, that in the new culture of the world that is to come the culture of our nation will be a participant. One cannot say that the East is better or the West is better, and the hostilities and distinctions between the East and West will eventually disappear completely.

    - Đào Duy Anh, Viet Nam Van Hoa Su Cuong (An Outline of Vietnamese Culture), Bon Phuong publishers, Hanoi (1938), pp. 339-340. Quoted in Neil L. Jamieson’s Understanding Vietnam, University of California Press (1993), pp. 91-92.
    dit: Lirelou

    Phong trần mài một lưỡi gươm, Những loài giá áo túi cơm sá ǵ!

  • #2
    Very interesting, but do you have a point to be made?

    What I got was that under French colonialism life got better.
    "Ask not what your country can do for you"

    Left wing, Right Wing same bird that they are killing.

    you’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.


    • #3
      The various points that can be drawn from Anh's observations, which to sum up are that there were serious advances made in the Colonial age. The population increased, and their were advances in education, medicine, science, and the economy that prepared Vietnam for the modern world. Jamieson includes some negative factors, but these cannot be quantified.

      So, points?

      One, the general U.S view of Vietnam under the French was naïve and unfounded. It is no accident that all the modern revolutionaries spoke French, that many were graduates of French schools, and that Vietnam remains a member of the Association of French speaking Nations.

      Two, the French were not universally despised in Vietnam, as some would allege. They had their supporters and allies, as well as those who appreciated the advances while chafing under a colonial regime that paid metropolitan French more than Indigenous Vietnamese, even when the latter held higher positions.

      Three, assisting (or directing, in the colonial case) in nation building is not something guaranteed to win over all the population. The very creation of new ways and opportunities will win you support in some sectors, and enemies in others. So, you are correct: Life in Vietnam under French colonialism did get better. But merely getting better wasn't enough.
      dit: Lirelou

      Phong trần mài một lưỡi gươm, Những loài giá áo túi cơm sá ǵ!


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