Topic: What do you think has been the main impact of colonialism
on local communities in the so-called
How have these communities
responded to these forces of social
Although only one can be truly
classed as ‘colonialism,’
has suffered through four major periods
of domination by another country.
The first was at the hands of the
Chinese, from 111 BCE until 939 CE (Yeager 1987: 11), the second period of
domination they spent under French
The third period, although it
only lasted a limited time was spent
under the domination of the Japanese,
while the fourth and last, was spent
under the influence of the North
Americans, directly preceding, and
during, the time of the Vietnam War.
It was only under French rule
was truly a ‘colony’.
I will, however, during the
course of this essay, be making
reference to the impact of the time
spent under Chinese domination.
Much of the culture of
is based on Chinese culture, from the
spent under Chinese domination, from 111
BCE until 939 CE.
had adopted the Confusian Philosophical
system, were intensely hirearchical, and
thereby resistant to any changes not in
accordance with their traditional past
(Yeager 1987: 11).
The first real move to colonise
occured in 1858, with the French attack
, and then became the first colonial
posession in 1897, with the appointment
of Paul Doumer, as Govenor-General of
definate brand of ‘colony’ was
implemented by him in that same year as
he once again decreed to institute the
old French Indochina Union, which
resulted in a successful pacification
campaign (Lam 2000: 1).
The French however, were not new
at this time.
As early as 1630, missionary work
had begun with a man named Alexander de
Rhodes being expelled from
due to his conversion attempts.
However, before he was expelled,
he managed to convert thousands of
Vietnamese to Christianity (Yeager 1987:
initial work led to the founding of the
Société des Missions Etrangères,
under which many missionaries travelled
in the succeeding years (Yeager 1987:
This work presented a clear
challenge to many Vietnamese societal
beliefs, and the government recognised
it as such.
It was seen as a rejection of the
traditional rites and doctorine of the
country, as almost all
’s social structures were based on the
philosophy of Confusianism, a cult of
the ancestors and the Emperor (Yeager
This was the forerunner for the
official colonisation of
After the official French
incursion in 1897, the first half of the
twentieth century saw the French
planning the best methods through which
’s resources, and the best methods
through which to keep the country
This sparked many Vietnamese
patriots to argue against the French, in
an attempt to provoke rebellion amongst
their fellow countrymen (Lam 2000: 1).
It was from the 1930’s onward
that the Communist movement rose to the
fore, with a new sense of nationalism.
The French were also proved
found themselves occupied by the
Japanese duing World War II, and not by
the French (Yeager 1987: 19).
This promoted a new sense of the
power that Asians held in the world
order, and so, after the Second World
War, with the subsequent surrender of
Japan at its culmination in 1945, Ho Chi
Minh declared the Democratic Republic of
The French however were not
willing to give up their colony so
readily, and recaptured
, executing suspected nationalists, and
sparking the onset of the first
Indochinese War by using force in the
This war lasted seven and a half
years, and ended with the unexpected
Viet Minh victory at
Dien Bien Phu
May 7, 1954
French finally withdrew and
suffered a Military separation at the
seventeenth parallel, according to the
Geneva Agreement of 1954, and
, along with
, finally gained its independence
(Yeager 1987: 20).
Impacts at the time of Colonisation:
Vietnamese experience of colonialism can
be perfectly summed up in an exerpt from
an article published in the newspaper La
Cloche Fêlé on
December 24, 1925
Vietnam was an empire, an
independent state; France reduced it to
slavery by making it a colony...The
Vietnamese had the liberty to educate
themselves; at present, the French
colonial government detains the monopoly
of education and takes advantage of that
power to hinder the evolution of the
Vietnamese people through a very smart
system of obscurantism...France has
reduced [Vietnam] to the the status of
the most ignorant and the most backward
land in all of Asia...There are...the
state monopolies of alcohol and opium.
The Vietnamese people are
oppressed by the heavy weight of
taxation and contributions while French
civil servants gobble up each year 80
percent of the budget’s revenues.
(Lam 2000: 70/1)
Already with the Missionary
Alexander de Rhodes, a clear impact on
’s society can be seen.
With the baptism of so many
Vietnamese into the Christian faith
(Yeager 1987: 14), it shows the already
overwhelming impact that Western society
had on the Confusian belief system of
the French finally moved in to
officially, they took all Vietnamese
religious and public holidays, and
replaced them with their own, leaving
the Vietnamese only their Vietnamese New
The Vietnamese people however
would not let their culture be
completely overwhelmed, and they adapted
the French Joan of Arc day, to celebrate
their own heroines, the Trung Sisters,
who until this time had never had a
festival dedicated to them (Lam 2000:
This is a clear indication of how
the Vietnamese chose to respond to their
While some attempted rebellion,
they were quickly quashed, and so, most
Vietnamese chose instead, to incorporate
elements of the dominant culture, and
adopt it to fit their own.
They took from the colonisers
what they needed, and essentially,
ignored the rest.
Vietnamese culture had already adopted
many aspects from the Chinese.
The main adaptation was the
adoption of the Confuscianist
philosophies, which governed
’s religion and politics (Yeager 1987:
The Chinese mode of governance
had already proved itself to be
effective, and so this was adopted, with
the succession of Vietnamese Emperors
following, ruling in a pro-Confuscianist
manner (Yeager 1987: 13).
Up until the eighteenth century,
Chinese characters were the most
prominent form used in the creation of
literature, and for centuries was in
fact the only written form used in
(Yaegar 1987: 23).
The Vietnamese, in light of
Western technological superiority, began
to see themselves as an inferior group.
The French held all major
positions of responsibility, and there
was virtually no indigenous
administration (Lam 2000: 9).
The French were immediately
treated better, both by their fellow
Frenchmen, and also by the indigenous
(Lam 2000: 53) Schools taught in French,
and taught French history (Lam 2000:
53/4) resulting in the adoption of many
of France’s cultural intricaies.
Along with this, the architecture
of the cities also began to change.
The French built in the European
style, which contrasted starkly to the
already existing Vietnamese buildings
(Lam 2000: 55), and the streets were
named in French, and after people, or
places etc. of
(Lam 2000: 54), furthering the already
existing Vietnamese sense of alienation
in their own country.
The French permeated every aspect
of Vietnamese life, monopolising their
economies, and exploiting the people by
recruiting them to work in appalling
conditions of plantations, and
recruiting them by lot to serve in the
Many of their own cultural
aspects seemed to be disappearing, being
replaced by those of the French, who
practiced an autonomy over almost every
part of Vietnamese life, even to the
extent that the Vietnamese began to
adopt western dress (Yeager 1987, 18).
some extent the Vietnamese felt they had
lost their country through the effects
The Vietnamese felt, and to some
extent still feel they no longer control
their own country (Lam 2000: 80),
especially with the rise of
globalisation, which once again sees
their country controlled by foreigners.
There was also a sense of lost
freedom, and the loss of human rights
(Lam 2000: 84/5), as their colonial
masters tended to treat the Vietnamese
no better than animals.
Even their freedom of religion
had been taken away from them (Lam 2000:
The Colonial government
monopolised the important trades in
alcohol, salt and opium.
The people reacted to this by
moonshining, and smuggling (Lam2000:
to import and export, which is still in
Alcohol moonshining on the other
hand was prominent, as French alcohol
was not seen to be pure enough for
The moonshiners therefore were
assured of a rural clientele.
Salt on the other hand was not
illegally produced, but instead,
Both these aspects gave the
colonial customs officers the right to
enter and search any Vietnamese
households at any time (Lam 2000: 48),
resulting in punishment if any illegal
commodity was found, and regardless,
resulting in an invasion of the privacy,
much valued by the Vietnamese.
Officers generally worked on tips
provided by neighbours, thereby if
something was found it was often planted
there (Lam 2000: 49).
Regardless of this, the practice
still continued, as it was a way for the
colonial government to assert their
authority, and keep the indigenous
subservient, which was also asserted
through the variety of exorbitant taxes
that the Vietnamese were forced to pay
on almost every aspect of their lives
(Lam 2000: 87).
Impacts and Response:
French colonial rule made
many impacts on Vietnamese society, some
of which can still be seen today.
Perhaps one of the most prominent
of these impacts, is the rewriting of
history that occured after the
After 1954, there was an
intellectual assault in
, where an abundance of histories,
ethnographic works and folkloric studies
It was difficult for these
writers, and they were still operating
in a world organised by colonial norms,
and yet were attempting to contest and
challenge the conclusions come to by
Colonial writers had protrayed
as a people who lacked real
civilisation, and it was the task of
post-colonial writers to dispute this
view (Pelley 1998: 374).
They did this often by
constructing folktales, and depicting
Vietnam as an innovator rather than an
imitator of first, the knowledge of the
Chinese, and secondly of the French (Pelley
The country was required to be
protrayed largely as a harmonius and
homogenous society (Pelley 1998: 375)
rather than the geographically divided
range of ethnic minorities that had in
French were responsible for the
beginnings of archaeological discoveries
, which served to build a national
history for the country (Pelley 1998:
The French also served to create
a physical boundary for the country.
Before colonialism there had been
no physical sense of the boundaries of
where one could, or could not tread, and
so mass relocation of nomadic people was
undertaken after colonialism ended (Pelley
Thus the French were responsible
for the first geographic, and political
maps of the country.
These boundaries have been
retained by the Vietnamese, and
furthered by the divisions of the 1954
was the most prominently written
language in colonial times.
The Vietnamese chose French,
rather than their own language as their
main means of communication (Yaeger
The missionary Alexander de
Rhodes was one of the first men to
modernise the Romanised writing of
(Yeager 1987: 26).
Before this time Vietnamese had
been written with Chinese characters.
During the colonial period the
Romanised style of writing was taught in
schools, in order to lessen the great
void between the inigenous, and their
French occupiers (Yeager 1987: 17).
This form is still used widely in
to French occupation are still used in
other elements of the Vietnamese
The word Tây in
Vietnamese means ‘Western,’ and
thereby denotes anything French, and has
ultimately come to mean anything big,
powerful, or out of the ordinary.
The Colonial mindset can also
clearly be seen through the language,
and naming of things.
The Vietnamese Onion for example
is weak and fragile, whereas the French
Onion is the bigger and more powerful of
the two families of onion.
The word also can mean
To certify that a product is of
good quality, it must simply be
designated ‘Western-Merchandise’ and
all doubts will cease (Lam 2000: 52/3).
Scientific language too, has
changed almost in direct response to
colonialism, as, in order to escape from
their now French heritage, the
Vietnamese were forced to adopt many
scientific terms from China, in order to
express the ideas, that until
colonisation they had had no inkling of.
It was noted in 1960, by Pham Van
Dong that “our language is still
impeverished regarding the different
sciences – natural science, technical
work, economics studies, and philosophy
– and we mush borrow foreign words”
(Duong 1965: 39).
the otherhand, agriculture in the
colonial period before 1954, suffered
from a low level of organised change
(Woodside 1970: 705).
It was for this reason, directly
against the colonisers, that
post-colonial cooperative associatons
emerged, which served purely to further
The agricultural reform in fact
began as early as 1945, against the
famine of 1944-45, which killed between
400,000 and 2,000,000 Veitnamese
peasants (Woodside 1970: 706).
The agricultural sector appeared
to be the prime reason for growth and
transformation in the country (Lavigne
growth in turn is linked with both
foreign and direct investments (Lavigne
2000: 2), which themselves are resulting
from the French, through their
up to foreign correspondence.
’s status of a colony, and also the
Vietnam War, proved to promote an
emotionally favourable prejudice from
Their annual committments to
exceed $2b (Lavigne 2000: 2).
however still remains backward compared
to their Asian counterparts.
some colonial mindsets still exist in
Although the French built roads,
which made areas throughout the country
more accessible, furthered
communication, and made travel easier,
the Vietnamese were afraid to travel on
them, as automobile accidents often
occured, most likely with a pedestrian,
or their livestock.
While the roads are still used,
the fear that they instilled still
exists to some extent.
Peasants can still be seen today,
walking very carefully along the sides
of the main roads, with their livestock
(Lam 2000: 47).
of the main adoptions, while small, yet
culturally very important, is the
adoption of the Chirstian dating system.
The Vietnamese now use the
Christian notions of dating in terms of
Christ’s birth and death, rather than
their traditional dating system, which
relied on the cycle of the emperors’
reigns (Yeager 1987: 16).
was also left their resources which had
been inexpertly exploited under the
The DRV promoted the forestry,
and new techniques, not before explored,
such as animal husbandry, and planted
new crops, such as tea, tobacco and
They developed a vast industrial
network, which catered generally for
steel, plants, coal, tin and iron mines,
and also housed a hydroelectric power
plant (Pelley 1998: 381).
This was all made possible by the
French’s introduction of the railway
colonialism was also indirectly
responsible for the increased autonomy
Through the ‘coolie trade’,
where many male workers were recruited
to work on plantations, there was a rise
in women-dominated households,
especially during the 1930’s (Woodside
This in turn led to the
development of new technology, to cater
for the newly acquired female working
Some of these developments
included smaller boats ‘straight
sowing sampans’ which women could use
to sow rice without having to wade in
water, the ‘straight transplanting
yardstick’ which made it possible for
women to plant in straight lines without
having to stretch wires and strings
through the fields.
There were also new weeding hoes
produced, and smaller machines for
repairing and husking rice, all for the
easier use of women (Woodside 1970: 711)
many of which are still in use in the
more peasant-dominated villages.
has had many impacts on
, which have facilitated social and
While some have been more
influential than others, they have all
contributed to the current cultural
Vietnamese have responded to
colonialism, by first, fighting for
their independence, and then using what
it gave them to develop their own
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