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Reaction to Revolution: Southeast Asia

Reaction to Revolution: Southeast Asia

Overview

Reaction to Revolution: Southeast Asia

 

After experiencing its series of revolutions, an industrialized France in the 19th century saw Southeast Asia as source of raw material for its expanding economy.

 

Learning Objectives

  • Identify the factors that resulted in the expansion of French control in Southeast Asia (Indochina)

 

Key Terms / Key Concepts

Dark Ages of Cambodia: the historical era from the early 15th century to 1863, the year that marks the beginning of the French Protectorate of Cambodia (As reliable sources for the 15th and 16th century in particular are very rare, a fully defensible and conclusive explanation for the decline of the Khmer Empire, recognized unanimously by the scientific community, has so far not been produced.)

Greater India: a term most used to encompass the historical and geographic extent of all political entities of the Indian subcontinent and beyond (To varying degrees, these entities were transformed by the acceptance and induction of cultural and institutional elements of pre-Islamic India.)

Indochina: a geographical term originating in the early 19th century and referring to the continental portion of the region now known as Southeast Asia,   referring to the lands historically within the cultural influence of India and China and physically bound by India in the west and China in the north (It corresponds to the present-day areas of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and (variably) peninsular Malaysia. The term was later adopted as the name of the French colony of today’s Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.)

French Indochina: a grouping of French colonial territories in Southeast Asia consisting of three Vietnamese regions of Tonkin (north), Annam (center), and Cochinchina (south), Cambodia, and Laos, with the leased Chinese territory of Guangzhouwan added in 1898

Cochinchina Campaign: an 1858 – 1862 military campaign fought between the French and Spanish on one side and the Vietnamese on the other (It began as a limited punitive campaign and ended as a French war of conquest. The war concluded with the establishment of the French colony of Cochinchina, a development that inaugurated nearly a century of French colonial dominance in Vietnam.)

 

Reaction to Revolution: Southeast Asia

 

The French emperor, Napoleon III (reigned 1852 – 1870) fancied himself to be a champion of Liberalism and Nationalism, just like his uncle and namesake Napoleon I. As a nationalist, Napoleon III hoped to advance French economic interests. Napoleon III and French industrialists viewed Southeast Asia primarily as a source of raw silk for silk mills in France. To secure this resource, during Napoleon III’s reign, France began to carve out for itself territory in Southeast Asia, which Europeans referred to as Indochina. In this period France took advantage of Chinese weakness, as that empire—the traditionally dominant regional power—was in the midst of the Opium Wars.

 

Indochina

 

Indochina is a geographical term originating in the early 19th century for the continental portion of the region now known as Southeast Asia. The name refers to the lands historically within the cultural influence of India and China, which were physically bound by India in the west and China in the north. It corresponds to the present-day areas of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and (variably) peninsular Malaysia. The term was later adopted as the name of the colony of French Indochina (today’s Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos).  The entire area of Indochina is now usually referred to as the Indochinese Peninsula or Mainland Southeast Asia.

 

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An 1886 map of Indochina, Scottish Geographical Magazine (Vol. II) edited by Hugh A. Webster and Arthur Silva White.: The origins of the name Indochina are usually attributed jointly to the Danish-French geographer Conrad Malte-Brun, who referred to the area as indo-chinois in 1804, and the Scottish linguist John Leyden, who used the term Indo-Chinese to describe the area’s inhabitants and their languages in 1808. As the French established the colony of French Indochina, use of the term became restricted to the French colony and today the area is usually referred to as Mainland Southeast Asia.

 

Greater India

 

In the pre-modern era, significant parts of the region that would later become French Indochina belonged to what is known as Greater India. Although the term is not precise, Greater India is most used to encompass the historical and geographic extent of all political entities of the Indian subcontinent and beyond; those that had been transformed in varying degrees by the acceptance and induction of cultural and institutional elements of pre-Islamic India. Since around 500 BCE, Asia’s expanding land and maritime trade resulted in prolonged socioeconomic and cultural stimulation and diffusion of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs into regional cosmology, particularly in Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka. The kingdoms that belonged to Greater India, and eventually overlapped with what would become French Indochina, were Funan and its successor Chenla, Champa, and the Khmer Empire.

Champa controlled what is now south and central Vietnam since approximately 192 CE. The dominant religion was Hinduism and the culture was heavily influenced by India. By the late 15th century, the Vietnamese—descendants of the Sinic (Chinese) civilization sphere—conquered the last remaining territories of the once powerful maritime kingdom of Champa. The last surviving Chams began their diaspora in 1471, many resettling in Khmer territory.

Between the 3rd and the 5th centuries CE, Funan and its successor, Chenla, coalesced in present-day Cambodia and southwestern Vietnam. For more than 2,000 years, what was to become Cambodia absorbed influences from India, passing them on to other Southeast Asian civilizations that are now Thailand and Laos. The Khmer Empire, with the capital city in Angkor, grew out of the remnants of Chenla, and it was firmly established in 802 when Jayavarman II declared independence from Java. He and his followers instituted the cult of the God-king and began a series of conquests that formed an empire, which flourished in the area from the 9th to the 15th centuries. Around the 13th century, monks from Sri Lanka introduced Theravada Buddhism to Southeast Asia. The religion spread and eventually displaced Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism as the popular religion of Angkor.

After a long series of wars with neighboring kingdoms, Angkor was sacked by the Thai Ayutthaya Kingdom in modern day Thailand. The city was abandoned in 1432 because of ecological failure and infrastructure breakdown. This led to a period of economic, social, and cultural stagnation when the Angkor kingdom’s internal affairs came increasingly under the control of its neighbors. The period that followed is today known as the Dark Ages of Cambodia: the historical era from the early 15th century to 1863 - the year that marks the beginning of the French Protectorate of Cambodia. As reliable sources from this period are very rare, a fully defensible and conclusive explanation for the decline of the Khmer Empire, recognized unanimously by the scientific community, has so far not been produced.

In the 19th century a renewed struggle between Siam (Thailand) and Vietnam for control of Cambodia resulted in a period when Vietnamese officials attempted to force the Khmers to adopt Vietnamese customs. This led to several rebellions against the Vietnamese and appeals to Thailand for assistance. The Siamese-Vietnamese War (1841 – 1845) ended with an agreement to place the country under joint suzerainty. This later led to the signing of a treaty for French Protection of Cambodia by King Norodom Prohmborirak.

 

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Angkor Wat, the front side of the main complex, photo by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen.: Angkor was the capital city of Khmer Empire, which flourished from approximately the 9th to 15th centuries. It was a megacity supporting at least 0.1% of the global population during 1010-1220. The city houses the magnificent Angkor Wat, one of Cambodia’s popular tourist attractions. In 2007, an international team of researchers using satellite photographs and other modern techniques concluded that Angkor had been the largest pre-industrial city in the world.

 

Lan Xang

 

Laos was inhabited the Lao people, who are closely related ethnically to the neighboring T(h)ai peoples, as they both speak similar languages. The Lao and Thai peoples had migrated to southeast Asia from southern China by 1000 CE. Laos traces its history to the kingdom of Lan Xang (Million Elephants), founded in the 14th century by Lao  prince Fa Ngum, who with 10,000 Khmer troops took over Vientiane. Ngum made Theravada Buddhism the state religion. Within 20 years of its formation, the kingdom expanded eastward to Champa and along the Annamite mountains in Vietnam. Following the exile of Ngum, his eldest son, Oun Heuan, came to the throne under the name Samsenthai and reigned for 43 years. During his reign, Lan Xang became an important trade center. After his death in 1421, Lan Xang collapsed into warring factions for the next 100 years.

By the 17th century, Lan Xang had recovered from this factionalism and would further expand its frontiers; in today’s history of Laos, this period is often regarded as the country’s golden age. In the 18th century, however, Burmese armies overran northern Laos and annexed Luang Phrabang, while Champasak eventually came under Siamese suzerainty. Chao Anouvong was installed as a vassal king of Vientiane by the Siamese. He encouraged a renaissance of Lao fine arts and literature. Under Vietnamese pressure, he rebelled against the Siamese in 1826. The rebellion failed and Vientiane was ransacked. Anouvong was taken to Bangkok as a prisoner, where he died.

Lan Xang had ethnic diversity from trade and overland ethnic migrations. The multiple hill tribe peoples were grouped into the broad cultural categories of Lao Sung and Lao Theung, which included most indigenous groups and the Mon-Khmer. The Lao Loum were ethnically dominant and there were several closely related T(h)ai groups. Perhaps because of the complicated ethnic diversity of Lan Xang, the structure of society was fairly straightforward, especially in comparison to the Khmer with their complex caste system and concepts of a divine kingship or devaraja.

 

Dynastic Vietnam

 

In 938, the Vietnamese lord Ngo Quyen defeated the forces of the Chinese Southern Han state and achieved full independence for Vietnam after a millennium of Chinese domination. Renamed as Dai Viet (Great Viet), the state enjoyed a golden era between the 11th and the beginning of the 15th centuries. Buddhism flourished and became the state religion. In the 15th century, Vietnamese independence was briefly interrupted by the Chinese Ming dynasty, but was restored by Le Loi, the founder of the Le dynasty. The Vietnamese dynasties reached their zenith in the Le dynasty of the 15th century. Between the 11th and 18th centuries, Vietnam expanded southward, eventually conquering the kingdom of Champa and part of the Khmer Empire. From the 16th century, civil strife and frequent political infighting engulfed much of Vietnam. Although the state remained nominally under the Le dynasty, actual power was divided between the northern Trinh lords and the southern Nguyen lords, who engaged in a civil war for more than four decades before a truce was called in the 1670s. During this time, the Nguyen expanded southern Vietnam into the Mekong Delta, annexing the Central Highlands and the Khmer lands there.

The division of the country ended a century later in the 18th century when the Tay Son brothers established a new dynasty. However, their rule did not last long, and they were defeated by the remnants of the Nguyen lords aided by the French, who soon took over the region.

 

Background: French Imperial Ambitions in Indochina

 

The French had few pretexts to justify their imperial ambitions in Indochina. In the early years of the 19th century, some in France believed that the Vietnamese emperor Gia Long owed the French a favor for the help French troops had given him in 1802 against his Tay Son enemies. However, it soon became clear that Gia Long felt no more bound to France than he did to China, which had also provided help. Gia Long believed that as the French government did not honor its agreement to assist him in the civil war—the Frenchmen who helped were volunteers and adventurers, not government units—he was not obliged to return any favors. Vietnamese leaders were interested in reproducing the French strategies of fortification and in buying French cannon and rifles, but neither Gia Long nor his successor Minh Mang had any intention of coming under French influence.

Regardless of Gia Long’s desires, the French were determined to establish their presence in the region, and it was religious persecution that they eventually used as pretext for intervention. French missionaries had been active in Vietnam since the 17th century and by the middle of the 19th century, there were around 300,000 Roman Catholic converts in Annam and Tonkin. Most of the bishops and priests were either French or Spanish. Many in Vietnam were suspicious of this sizable Christian community and its foreign leaders. The French, conversely, began to claim responsibility for their safety. The tension built up gradually. During the 1840s, persecution or harassment of Catholic missionaries in Vietnam by the Vietnamese emperors Minh Mang and Thieu Tri evoked only sporadic and unofficial French reprisals. In 1857, the Vietnamese emperor Tu Duc executed two Spanish Catholic missionaries. It was neither the first nor the last such incident and on previous occasions the French government had overlooked them. But this time, the incident coincided with the Second Opium War. France and Britain had just dispatched a joint military expedition to the Far East, so the French had troops on hand and could easily intervene in Annam.

 

Seizing Control

 

In 1858, a joint French and Spanish expedition landed at Tourane (Da Nang) and captured the town. What began as a limited punitive campaign, known as Cochinchina Campaign, ended as a French war of conquest. Sailing south, French troops captured the poorly defended city of Saigon in 1859. In 1862, the Vietnamese government was forced to cede three additional provinces and Emperor Tu Duc was forced to cede three treaty ports in Annam and Tonkin as well as all Cochinchina, the latter formally declared a French territory in 1864. In 1867, three other provinces were added to French-controlled territories.

During the 19th century, the kingdom of Cambodia had been reduced to a vassal state of the kingdom of Siam (present-day Thailand), which had annexed its western provinces while growing influence from the Vietnamese Nguyen Dynasty threatened the eastern portion of the country. In 1863, King Norodom of Cambodia, installed as a leader by Siam, requested a French protectorate over his kingdom. At the time, Pierre-Paul de La Grandière, colonial governor of Cochinchina, was carrying out plans to expand French rule over the whole of Vietnam and viewed Cambodia as a buffer between French possessions in Vietnam and Siam. The country gradually fell under the French control. In 1867, Siam renounced suzerainty over Cambodia and officially recognized the 1863 French protectorate over Cambodia in exchange for the control of Battambang and Siem Reap provinces, which officially became part of Thailand. These provinces were ceded back to Cambodia by a border treaty between France and Siam in the first decade of the 20th century. Under the treaty with the French, the Cambodian monarchy was allowed to remain, but power was largely vested in a resident general to be housed in Phnom Penh. France was also to oversee Cambodia’s foreign and trade relations and provide military protection.