The French Protectorate (1887-1945)

Justin Corfield. The History of Vietnam. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008.

The Establishment of French Rule

In 1887, the French, having also annexed Laos, formed the Indochinese Union—French Indochina—which consisted of the colony of Cochinchina and the four protectorates: Annam, Tonkin, Cambodia, and Laos. The French administration was headed by the governor-general of Indochina, who had his headquarters in Saigon, with a Résident-Superieur in each of the capitals of the four protectorates: Hue (Annam), Hanoi (Tonkin), Phnom Penh (Cambodia), and Vientiane (Laos). The bureaucracy included a civil service that was controlled by the French who also held all the senior positions. The lower levels had many Vietnamese bureaucrats and minor officials including educated Vietnamese, some of whom moved to Phnom Penh and Vientiane to work in the colonial administration.

The office of the governor-general of French Indochina was a position of immense power. One governor-general, Paul Doumer, later became president of France and another, Albert Sarraut, served two terms as prime minister. The governor-general operated through three advisory councils involving government, economic interests, and defense. The civil service for Indochina provided the French and local employees for both federal and state functions, with 4,654 French civil servants working in Indochina in 1937, administering a population of about 23 million. To illustrate the high numbers, a statistic often quoted was that the British employed a similar number of Britons to run India, which, in 1931, had a population of 352 million.

Unlike in Annam, Tonkin, Cambodia, and Laos, the administration of Cochinchina—southern Vietnam—was in the hands of a lieutenant governor (and after 1911 a governor) who was responsible for the day-to-day running of the colony. He was advised by a private council and a colonial council. The former had 10 members who were nominated by the governor-general and included the commander-in-chief of the army, the solicitor-general, the chief engineer of public works, and two Vietnamese officials. By contrast the colonial council was an elected body with 10 members chosen by the resident French citizens, and 10 “native” members elected by the Vietnamese on a restricted franchise, two delegates from the chamber of agriculture and two from the chamber of commerce. It met only once a year but set up a permanent committee that usually consisted of five members, two of whom were locals. In Annam and Tonkin, the French used the Vietnamese bureaucracy to run the two states, with municipal commissions running some of the cities in Annam, and municipal councils in Hanoi and Haiphong.

Officially the emperor of Vietnam, as well as the king of Cambodia and the king of Laos, held power in their respective protectorates, but in reality their power was purely symbolic. In Hue, Ham Nghi’s older brother, Dong Khanh, was proclaimed emperor. The French had thought that Ham Nghi, being younger, would be easier to manipulate, but they were wrong. Dong Khanh was 21 when, on September 19, 1885, he became emperor. His accession coincided with the French desire for Vietnamese soldiers to put down the Can Vuong revolt being led by Ham Nghi. Dong Khanh contributed soldiers to this end, making him unpopular with Vietnamese nationalists. To boost support for himself and the French presence, Dong Khanh toured the countryside urging people to support the French. King Sisowath in neighboring Cambodia had a similar task. Soon afterward, Dong Khanh died suddenly on January 28, 1889.

Despite Dong Khanh’s support for the French, the French overlooked his descendants and chose Thanh Thai, a son of the disgraced Emperor Duc Duc, to succeed to the throne. They were partly motivated by Thanh Thai’s age (he was 11), but also because the French wanted to show that they could decide on the imperial succession. Some French even claimed that the family of Dong Khanh had an inherited trait of mental disease. The year after the death of Dong Khanh, work began on a modest mausoleum for him.

The first governors-general did not take great interest in the running of French Indochina, but they were interested in the rising importance of the rubber industry and the wealth that it generated. So the whole system of ruling French Indochina was overhauled by Paul Doumer who was the governor-general from 1897 until 1902. Albert Sarraut was to make significant changes and administrative improvements.

Charles Mayréna and the Kingdom of Sedang

It was not long before Vietnam began to catch the imagination of Europeans. One of the more remarkable stories of Southeast Asia at this time centered on James Brooke, a British sea captain, who befriended the sultan of Brunei in Borneo and who had gained the title of sultan of Sarawak in 1846, establishing a dynasty that was to last for a century. Many other Europeans probably harbored the romantic idea of being ruler of some remote “country.” One of these was Charles Mayréna, born as Charles David, in Toulon, France, in 1842. When he was 21 he had served in the French colonial forces who had captured Cochinchina, but then returned to France. After taking part in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, he started working for a bank in Paris. In 1883, he was charged with embezzlement and, leaving his wife and two children, fled to the Netherlands East Indies, from where he was deported as an undesirable. Back in Paris he heard about the sultan of Aceh in northern Sumatra who was fighting a war to stop his country from becoming a Dutch colony.

Probably intending to head to Aceh, Mayréna arrived in Saigon in 1885 and ended up establishing a plantation in central Vietnam. Accused of gun-running, he disappeared for a short period, but returned in 1888 to offer his services to the French to stop English adventurers from making themselves a presence in the Vietnamese highlands. On June 3, however, Mayréna telegraphed a message to the French governor stating that he had proclaimed himself King Marie I of Sedang, and was quite happy to turn over his kingdom to the French in return for retaining economic control. He added that if he did not hear back from the French, he would contact their deadly enemy, the Germans.

The whole affair was greeted with some hilarity by the French population of Indochina, with the new king promulgating his own constitution, issuing several royal edicts, and creating orders of chivalry. He was briefly seen in Haiphong obtaining printers to produce elaborate certificates for the Order of Saint Marguerite and having uniforms made for his army. When the French governor decided to ignore him, the new king sailed for Hong Kong where the English governor greeted him, although the business community decided not to invest in Sedang. The next year Marie 1 went to Paris where he was a press sensation as he awarded people titles, issued some more decrees, printed his own postage stamps, and then, also with no support from business, moved to Ostend in Belgium.

With Marie 1 in Europe, the French officials went into Sedang and took down all his flags, dismantling his “kingdom.” By January 1890, he had decided to return to Vietnam and left Belgium for Singapore where he tried to buy arms, but these were impounded, and the French refused him permission to return to Vietnam. Unable to get Siamese permission to return to Sedang through Siam and Laos, he retired to the island of Tioman, off the west coast of Malaya, where he died under circumstances that were never made clear. According to one account, he was bitten by a poisonous snake; another said that he was shot dead in a duel. The story of his life romanticized the Western view of Vietnam, which was reflected in the many postcards of French Indo-china printed from the 1900s, showing temples, palace courtiers, the “noble savages” of the jungles, the peasants toiling in the fields, and some macabre scenes such as executions or severed heads. For many of the French posted to Vietnam, life was much more grim than they had imagined.

The Instability of the Imperial Court

The appointment of Thanh Thai as emperor signaled the exercise of French power to choose the emperor, and indeed Thanh Thai’s father, Duc Duc, had signed the Harmand Treaty, which had acknowledged French control over Vietnam. The choice of Thanh Thai as emperor took everybody by surprise. He and his mother were in prison when guards brought him the news. His mother thought the guards had come to murder them, so both were pleasantly surprised!

Thanh Thai and his mother moved to Hue, but it was not long before the new emperor became eccentric and was even suspected of being mentally unstable, although some have subsequently argued that the incidents were staged to confuse the French. The emperor quickly accumulated a large number of concubines, and, in 1902, was involved in a scandal with two European women in Danang. The French administration was unhappy when Thanh Thai occasionally had servants and maids publicly flogged and was also concerned when he started inviting foreign visitors to have dinner with him during which time he recounted scandal and gossip much to the amusement of these guests, and probably to the detriment of the French authorities.

On a political front, in 1905 Thanh Thai tried to escape to China to join an anti-French resistance group; however, he was captured and sent back to Hue where he feigned madness for a period. In 1907, worried about his growing anti-French tendencies, the French decided to depose him and they exiled him to Vung Tau in the south, where he lived with his 4 wives, 10 children, and 20 female maids. During World War I he ran up large debts, some incurred from buying German products, and several mandarins paid the debts to prevent the shame that would have occurred had the ex-emperor been sued.

After Thanh Thai was deposed, the French chose his fifth son, Duy Tan, to become the next emperor. It was an odd choice because it was not long before Duy Tan revealed himself as even more anti-French than his father. When World War I broke out, many French officials and businessmen in Vietnam returned to France to serve in the French forces, defending their homeland from the Germans. Many Vietnamese also enlisted in the French colonial forces and served on the western front, where they also suffered significant casualties. In Vietnam, however, some nationalists decided the situation provided an ideal opportunity to move against the French, with Emperor Duy Tan announcing his support for an anti-French rebellion. On May 3, 1916, Duy Tan left the imperial palace in Hue and after urging people to rebel against the French, he took refuge in the nearby Thien Mu Pagoda. He was captured by the French and taken to the Mang Ca Citadel where he was held prisoner before he and his father were taken to Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean. In exile there, they were barred from returning home. Duy Tan’s mother was eventually allowed to return to Vietnam in 1920, but the two ex-emperors were never allowed to return to their homeland.

The Consolidation of French Power

On May 17, 1916, Khai Dinh, the son of Dong Khanh, was proclaimed emperor. He was 30 years old when he acceded to the throne and avoided controversy during his nine-year reign, presiding over a period of considerable prosperity for Vietnam during which great wealth was generated for French companies and the small Vietnamese elite. Historians tend to view him as a French puppet, but he, no doubt, was constantly worried about being deposed, as had happened to his two predecessors. Even though he ruled for only 9 years, it took 11 years to complete the emperor’s mausoleum, which was so expensive that extra taxes had to be levied to pay for its construction.

The commercial benefits of French rule in Indochina were paradoxical. On the one hand, the French taxpayer constantly had to subsidize the French administration; on the other hand, French companies made fortunes from their ventures in Indochina, especially rubber companies in Vietnam. The French taxpayer, as well as the Indochinese taxpayer, paid for the costs incurred in the roads, bridges, canals, railroads, and public works projects in Indochina. These allowed for rapid exploitation of the natural resources of Vietnam, with coal mines being established in the north of the country, the growing of rice in the rich river deltas, and the valuable rubber industry along the Cochinchina-Cambodian border region. In return the French were able to sell their own goods to a market that was unable to import from other countries owing to high tariffs for non-French goods. The French also constructed textile factories such as those at Nam Dinh in the north, which were built in 1913 and came to operate 54,000 spindles and employ more than 5,000 workers. There were also paper mills, cement and glass factories, and sugar refineries. By 1930, approximately 100,000 people were working in industries and mining in Vietnam, which began to generate considerable wealth for France. For most of the Vietnamese, apart from native crafts like pots and basket weaving, many of their own industries were unable to compete with cheap mass-produced French goods, leading to resentment from many artisans.

The life of the Vietnamese indentured laborer or factory worker was monotonous, and the people were often poorly paid. Novels such as Anthony Grey’s Saigon (1982) and films such as Indochine (1992) have sought to portray the hard life of Vietnamese laborers in rubber plantations, but there are few contemporary accounts of the hardships that faced the peasants in the villages where extended families would work from dawn to dusk, often going hungry. In many places peasant farmers would have to pay up to 60 percent of their crop in rent. Starvation was not uncommon, with some descriptions of emaciated people lying on the side of roads in the hope of help from passers-by. As with other developing countries, many peasants left villages to find work on plantations or in the cities. Rice production per acre declined, and even through the amount of land devoted to rice quadrupled between 1880 and 1930, the land was either sold at auction to the highest bidder or taken over by French speculators or their Vietnamese friends. The result was that 45 percent of the land in Cochinchina was owned by 3 percent of the landowners, with 70 percent of landowners being peasant farmers who owned only about 15 percent of all land. Some of those in the cities worked as coolies. They labored at the docks or pulling rickshaws, and those who could afford it found solace in opium dens. Others chewed betel nut for its properties as a stimulant, although, as a cause of mouth cancer, it was to lead to the premature deaths of many of them.

Although the French boasted that they had made improvements in education and medical care, by 1939 only 15 percent of school-age children attended school, and four-fifths of the population was illiterate. One school, the lycée in Dalat, only took European children, and in 1937 there were only 4,611 secondary school students in the whole of Indochina out of a total population of 23 million. Although a medical school was established in Hanoi, in 1939 there were only 2 doctors for every 100,000 Vietnamese, compared to 25 per 100,000 in the Philippines, and 76 per 100,000 in Japan. High levels of infantile mortality persisted, and there was also a high prevalence of malaria, cholera, and other diseases.

The life of the Vietnamese elite changed considerably under the French. The political machinations at the imperial court in Hue during the first part of the Nguyen dynasty had rested entirely on the whim of the emperor. Now colonial officials made all the important decisions, and, with few of them staying long in their positions, astute mandarins were able to delay the implementing of policies they did not like, in the hopes that the succeeding official would change direction. One of these courtiers was Ngo Dinh Kha who had been the master of rites and the grand chamberlain to the Emperor Thanh Thai. He lived in Hue and became the headmaster of the Quoc Hoc, the National Academy, on the south bank of the Perfume River, facing the Imperial Citadel. Founded by Thanh Thi in 1896, it had replaced the earlier Quoc Tu Giam (Imperial Academy) and by the early twentieth century had emerged as one of the most important centers for education in the country. Ngo Dinh Kha’s family had been devout Roman Catholics since the 1690s. Up to a hundred of the clan were murdered in an anti-Catholic attack on them in 1870, and like most Vietnamese intellectuals, he represented the paradox of being fascinated by French culture, but secretly disliking French control of the country. At least five of his six sons were all to share his beliefs; his third son become prime minister in 1954 and later became the first president of South Vietnam in 1955.

Born near Hue in 1867, Phan Boi Chau moved to the imperial capital and became an ardent nationalist leader by 1900, often meeting with pupils from the Quoc Hoc and talking with them about his views on Vietnamese independence. In 1905, the Japanese defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War signified for Phan Boi Chau a great change in the nationalist climate in Asia, with an Asian country capable of defeating a European “Great Power.” Believing that Japan might support a Vietnamese resistance movement, Phan Boi Chau went to Tokyo along with Marquess Cuong De, a great-great grandson of Prince Canh, the son of Emperor Gia Long. Styling himself Prince Cuong De, his plan of overthrowing the French won support from some Japanese politicians, and it was not long before numbers of young Vietnamese nationalists went to Japan where they studied at colleges and were also trained in the use of political propaganda, firearms, and explosives. The newly established Free School of Tonkin, opened in 1907, rapidly became a focus for anti-French dissent, and in the following year, there were mass demonstrations against the French, with hundreds of nationalists and others arrested, some being executed and the others being sent to the penal colony the French established on the island of Poulo Condore, off the coast of Cochinchina.

Phan Boi Chau’s agitation for Vietnamese independence brought him into contact with other Asian nationalist leaders such as Dr. Sun Yat-sen who was planning for a revolution in China. When that was achieved in 1911, Phan Boi Chau had great hopes for the Chinese to support the Vietnamese, but problems in China prevented them from helping. While Phan Boi Chau went to Hong Kong, Japan, and Siam to raise support for his cause, Phan Chu Trinh, also from central Vietnam and the son of a member of the Can Vuong movement of Emperor Ham Nghi, which had opposed the French, became convinced that it was not the French that posed the main threat to Vietnam but the Vietnamese feudal system. He also saw Japan as a potential enemy rather than friend, influenced by the anti-Japanese Korean nationalism being espoused by Syngman Rhee. In 1926, Phan Chu Trinh died and his funeral in Saigon became the occasion for one of early massive nationalist protests in the city. In the same year, Phan Boi Chau was arrested in Shanghai by French agents and taken to Hanoi where he was tried for sedition and jailed, and later placed under house arrest in Hue where he died 15 years later.

The Early Years of Ho Chi Minh

In 1907, a local government official Nguyen Sinh Sac enrolled two of his sons at the Quoc Hoc in Hue. Both had both passed the entrance examination and been awarded scholarships. Nguyen Sinh Sac was a friend and colleague of Phan Chu Trinh, and his oldest son, Nguyen Tat Thanh, was 17, and a passionate believer in Vietnamese nationalism, remaining at school until he was 20. In 1910, Sac, the father, was dismissed from his government position for sentencing an influential local man to receive 100 strokes of the cane; the man later died from the punishment. Sac and his sons believed that he had been singled out because the dead man was well connected rather than because the punishment was unfair. Sac and his older son moved to Saigon, and, in 1911, the son managed to get a position as a cook’s apprentice on a French ocean liner. He spent the next few years at sea, traveling around the world and visiting many of the major ports. In 1913, he was in the United States; and, by 1915, he had settled in England, living in London where he claimed to have worked as a snow sweeper and then as a pastry chef at the Carlton Hotel for the famous chef Auguste Escoffier, although some historians have doubted this last assertion. He also probably visited the United States again in 1917 or 1918, where he heard Marcus Garvey speak out against the treatment of African Americans.

Moving to Paris toward the end of World War I, he changed his name to Nguyen Ai Quoc (Nguyen the Patriot)—he later changed his name to Ho Chi Minh—and submitted a petition to the allied leaders at Versailles demanding that Vietnam should achieve the same rights of self-determination as being accorded to the people of Europe. The next year, 1920, he became a founding member of the French Communist Party, moving to the Soviet Union in 1923 and living in Moscow where he tried to get the Soviet government to support the idea of Vietnamese independence. In December 1924, Nguyen Ai Quoc moved to Canton (Guangzhou) in southern China, where he established the Revolutionary Youth League of Vietnam and in 1930 transformed it into the Indochina Communist Party.

On the run from the French, Nguyen Ai Quoc moved to Hong Kong where he was arrested by the British and held in prison until his release in 1933. He then returned to the Soviet Union, where he lived for several years. A recently published photograph of him soon after he arrived in the Soviet Union shows a rather haggard and gaunt man who obviously suffered, either from illness or ill treatment, in the prison in Hong Kong. During his time in the Soviet Union, he made his plans for the Vietnamese Revolution, although this did not come about until the end of World War II.

European Society in French Indochina

Much is made of the luxurious life enjoyed by Westerners in colonial Vietnam, and there are many accounts of people dressing for exquisite dinners and being fussed over and waited on by servants who did all the menial chores in their palatial houses. Certainly this was the life of the colonial administrators, but many of the minor colonial officials lived in cramped quarters in a difficult climate and were susceptible to tropical diseases; many died g prematurely. The New York-born traveler and raconteur Harry L. Foster (1894-1932) visited Saigon in about 1922, and published his account in A Beachcomber in the Orient (1923). Foster wrote that the first time one travels in a rickshaw, one feels like a fool, on the second ride one has the feeling of being an inhuman slave-driver using one’s coolie as a draught-horse, and on the third and subsequent ride one feels like a potentate being drawn around by a vassal. Although many colonial officials and Europeans in Vietnam were by no means rich, the miserable life of the coolies and rickshaw pullers certainly made them feel better.

The Hotel Métropole, founded in 1901, was regarded as the place to stay in Hanoi, and when wealthy visitors arrived in the city, their names appeared in the local papers. When the British writer W. Somerset Maugham went to Hanoi in 1922-1923, he was tracked down by a former acquaintance, a man who had dropped out of medical school in London, and worked for the Chinese Customs Service for 25 years. He finally managed to save enough money to return to England where he found the climate dreadful and eventually moved to Haiphong. Maugham’s meeting with him was later recounted in The Gentleman in the Parlour (1930), by which time the presence of European drifters was common. In 1928, the British traveler Malcolm Macdonald also stayed at the Hotel Métropole, where his valet reported the shocking news that the French once turned up for dinner without bothering with evening dress.

Certainly petty jealousies were rampant in the European community, with not infrequent accounts of men taking mistresses, or having affairs with wives of other Europeans. The availability of cheap prostitutes, male as well as female, led to numerous scandals that were to rock French society in Indochina. In 1917, while France was preoccupied with World War 1, an ambitious geologist, Jacques Deprat, was being arraigned in Hanoi on charges of placing some European fossils among samples he had collected from northern Vietnam and southern China. Deprat was dismissed from the French Indochina civil service and expelled from the Geological Society of France, ending the career of an aspiring French scientist. In another scandal several years later, charges of theft of ancient artifacts were made against André Malraux, a French Socialist. Surviving two trials in 1924-1925, Malraux believed the charges were brought against him as a way of trying to get him to stop protesting on behalf of the Vietnamese.

The 1930 Uprising and Bao Dai’s Attempt at Reform

In 1926, the Emperor Khai Dinh died, and his 12-year-old son became the Emperor Bao Dai. The boy went to France to complete his education and did not return until 1932. In the meantime there had been a major uprising against the French. During World War 1, the Thai Nguyen Rebellion had broken out in northern Vietnam in August 1917 and was quickly crushed. Although Ho Chi Minh had been establishing a communist movement in Vietnam, and among Vietnamese exiles, the major revolutionary nationalist movement at the time was the Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang (VNQDD), the Vietnamese Nationalist Party, which had been founded in 1927 by Nguyen Thai Hoc, and was modeled on the Chinese Kuomintang from whom they gained some support.

Many Vietnamese peasant farmers worked in rubber plantations and mines in the 1920s, with French companies making large profits. With the slump in the world market from 1929, however, the decline in the price of rubber and other commodities led to many indentured laborers either having their pay cut or losing their jobs. Discontent allowed the VNQDD to recruit numbers of sympathizers, and on the night of February 9-10, 1930, the VNQDD managed to persuade a garrison at Yen Bay, Tonkin, to rebel and kill their French officers. The French reacted swiftly, however, by taking back Yen Bay and executing many of the mutineers, with the result that the rebellion quickly petered out, and the VNQDD leaders who managed to escape fled to southern China where they remained until 1945.

Although the other garrisons did not mutiny, from the late 1930s bands of peasants had been gathering and started attacking local landlords and Vietnamese officials. It was not long before communist ideas started spreading, and the peasants established communes in remote parts of Annam. The French ruthlessly suppressed these moves, in one instance using their air power to attack columns of demonstrators. Although some of the Vietnamese elite were happy that the French had restored law and order, many others were disgusted by the French actions. Although the French did crush the VNQDD and the Indochina Communist Party, with many nationalists either being executed, thrown in prison at Poulo Condore, or fleeing into exile, the nationalist cause was to gain many new recruits.

In September 1932, Emperor Bao Dai returned from France where he had completed his education. He was 19 years old, and on his return, his first actions, after paying his respects at his father’s tomb and to the regent, were to visit a trade school and a girls’ school. He promised judicial reform, the creation of a ministry of national education, recognition of a house of representatives, and inclusion of the president of the elected assembly in the council of ministers. Bao Dai was crowned as emperor, which ended the regency presided over by his domineering mother, known at Court as the “Tigress.” A cosmopolitan figure, Bao Dai disliked the strictures of the court at Hue, and he appointed a little-known mandarin, Ngo Dinh Diem, as minister of the interior. It was a frustrating period for the emperor, and soon both he and Diem realized that the French made all major policy decisions, so Diem resigned after two months. Instead of trying to push ahead with his administrative and taxation reforms, Bao Dai resigned himself to an easy life as a playboy, inheriting from his mother an appetite for gambling. Suffering from neurasthenia, the young Emperor found relief in hunting wildlife in the jungles of central Vietnam.

As the Great Depression hit Vietnam, the plantations laid off large numbers of their workers and the French brutally crushed any attempts at agitation or rebellion. This continued until 1936 when the French people elected a Popular Front government, and Léon Blum became prime minister, taking over from former Indochina governor Albert Sarraut. Blum immediately introduced reforms into the running of Indochina, and, as a show of goodwill, he ordered the release of all political prisoners. These included Ton Duc Thang, who had been arrested in 1929, Le Duan, and Truong Chinh, all of whom would play a major role in the Vietnamese Communist movement for more than 40 years.

World War II

With the outbreak of World War II, there was a rise in the demand for rubber, and initially French Indochina—or, to be more precise, particular French companies—prospered. The French governor-general, Georges Catroux, was a supporter of the allied cause, and devoted his efforts in Indochina to boosting the production of rubber and other supplies. The French reinforced some of their positions in case of possible attack from saboteurs rather than any enemy forces.

In May 1940, when Germany invaded France, the French in Indochina were shocked. The fall of France in June 1940, after a campaign of only 5½ weeks, horrified them and breathed new life into the nationalist movement. On June 25, 1940, the new pro-German Vichy government in France appointed Jean Decoux as the new governor-general. Soon afterward French Indochina was attacked by Siam, and its defeat by an Asian power further encouraged the nationalists. On September 22, 1940, Decoux concluded a treaty with Japan, allowing for up to 30,000 Japanese troops to be stationed in French Indochina and able to use all Indochinese airports. The Japanese also established several more businesses in the region, including the Yokohama Specie Bank. The bank manager, Eisuke Ono, brought his wife and daughter, Yoko Ono (later the artist-musician and wife of John Lennon) to the Vietnamese northern capital.

The outbreak of World War II in 1939 had given ex-Emperor Duy Tan an opportunity to enlist in the French army, and in 1942 he rallied to the Free French navy serving as a telecommunications officer. In December 1945, he met with French leader, Charles de Gaulle, and soon afterwards was on his way back to Réunion when he was killed in a plane crash. There has been speculation that De Gaulle was planning to restore Duy Tan to the throne. His body was taken back to Hue where he was buried near Duc Duc’s mausoleum. It was not until 1950 that Thanh Thai’s son-in-law, Vuong Quang Nhuong, then the minister of education, managed to persuade the French to allow Thanh Thi to return to live privately in Saigon where he died four years later, and was buried in a grave near that of his father and his son.

In May 1941, Ho Chi Minh managed to get the Vietnamese Communists to agree to form a broad alliance with other nationalist groups. This was known as the League for the Independence of Vietnam, and subsequently as the Viet Minh. After December 1941, when Japan attacked British Malaya, Pearl Harbor, and the Philippines, the former from bases in Indochina, Ho Chi Minh decided to cooperate with the Allied war effort and started providing the United States and other allied nations with important military and political intelligence. In return Ho Chi Minh sought to get the Allies to recognize the Viet Minh as the legitimate representative of the Vietnamese people.

With the Chinese Communists supporting their compatriots in China, the Chinese Nationalists (Kuomintang) continued to do the same for the VNQDD. The nationalists hoped that they might be able to eject the French from Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh saw the importance of forging an alliance with the United States and managed to rescue a number of U.S. pilots before going on to meet General Claire Chennault of the Flying Tigers, whereupon the general gave Ho Chi Minh an autographed photograph of himself.