One of the fascinating lessons I've learned in my 10th standard was about 'The Nationalist Movement in Indo-china'. This Story is about Vietnam, how they first lost the war against France to how they regained control of their country fighting France, Japan & US. This war is also called as 'The First Television War'. Battle scenes were shown on the daily news programs.

(Side Note: The source of this post is NCERT Social History Book and Wikipedia. This is just for information/revision purpose. There may be some mistakes, please let me know if you find one. I'll correct them ASAP)

The Beginning

It all started in 1858 when France attacked Vietnam and it took France about 22 years(1880) to establish a firm grip over the northern Vietnam. After winning the Franco-Chinese war, in 1887, France won the war and gained control over Vietnam.

The Development Phase


Courtesy: Wikipedia

France believed that Vietnam was essential to supply them with natural resources and essential goods. So they began with building canals and draining lands in the Mekong Delta to increase cultivation. They abruptly increased rice production with forced labors and exported rice to the international market. The area under rice cultivation went up from 274,000 hectares in 1873 to 1.1 million hectares in 1900 and 2.2 million in 1930. Vietnam exported two-thirds of its rice production and within no time they became the third largest exporter of rice in the world. But where there is good there is bad. The transportation system for exporting goods was poor, so French business interests were pressurizing the government in Vietnam to develop the infrastructure further.

The Economy

Everyone agreed that colonies had to serve the interests of the mother country

Many influential writers and policy-makers believed that to make profits, the economy should be developed and standard of living of the people should be improved. Due to high population, low productivity plus most of the plantations were owned by the French people, The standard of living declined and the plan to develop economy failed.

The Education

Like the British in India, the French claimed that they were bringing modern civilization to the Vietnamese

The French thought that there was only one way to civilize people - Education. Well, that must be easy, just establish more schools and a standard curriculum. Nope! They had to resolve a dilemma. Once educated, the Vietnamese may begin to question colonial domination. Moreover, French citizens living in Vietnam began fearing that they might lose their jobs to the educated Vietnamese. So they decided to establish new French schools and dismantled traditional schools. They suggested that Vietnamese be taught in lower classes and French in the higher classes. The few who learned French and acquired French culture were to be rewarded with French citizenship.

Was it a success?
Simple answer - Nope!

In 1925, in a population of 17 million, there were less than 400 who passed the examination. The french teachers failed them to increase the opportunities for French People.

The Modern Education

It was not enough to learn science and Western ideas: to be modern the Vietnamese had to also look modern. The school encouraged the adoption of Western styles for short hairs. For the Vietnamese, this meant a major break with their own identity since they traditionally kept long hair. Vietnam was losing not just control over its territory but its very identity: its own culture and customs were being devalued. To underline the importance of a total change there was even a ‘haircutting chant':

Comb in the left hand
Scissors in the right,
Snip, snip, clip, clip!
Watch out, be careful,
Drop stupid practices,
Dump childish things
Speak openly and frankly
Study Western customs.


1. The Story Time

As a resistance in school in 1926, a major protest erupted in the Saigon Native Girls School. A Vietnamese girl sitting in the first seat was asked to move to the back of the class and allow a local French student to occupy the front seat. She refused.The principal expelled her. When angry students protested, they too were expelled, leading to a further spread of open protests. Seeing the situation getting out of control, the government forced the school to take the students back. The principal reluctantly agreed but warned the students saying:

I will crush all Vietnamese under my feet. Ah! You wish my deportation. Know well that I will leave only after I am assured Vietnamese no longer inhabit Cochinchina.


Hygiene, Disease and Everyday Resistance

The French decided to rebuilt Hanoi (Capital of Vietnam). The French part of Hanoi was built as a beautiful and clean city with the best sewer systems. The other part of Hanoi was provided with nothing. Therefore, In 1903, the modern part of Hanoi was struck by bubonic plague. The sewers also served as a great transport system, allowing the rats to move around the city without any problem.


Courtesy: Wikipedia

2. The Story Time

To end the plague, a rat hunt was started in 1902. The French hired Vietnamese workers and paid them for each rat they caught. Rats began to be caught in thousands: on 30 May, for instance, 20,000 were caught but still there seemed to be no end. The bounty was paid when a tail was given as proof that a rat had been killed. So the rat-catchers took to just clipping the tails and releasing the rats, so that the process could be repeated, over and over again. Some people, in fact, began raising rats to earn a bounty. Defeated by the resistance of the weak, the French were forced to scrap the bounty program.

3. The Story Time

In 1939, there was a famous movement called "Hoa Hao". The founder of Hoa Hao was a man called Huynh Phu So. He performed miracles and helped the poor. The French tried to suppress the movement inspired by Huynh Phu So. They declared him mad, called him the Mad Bonze, and put him in a mental asylum. Interestingly, the doctor who had to prove him insane became his follower, and finally, in 1941, even the French doctors declared that he was sane. The French authorities exiled him to Laos and sent many of his followers to concentration camps.

The Vision of Modernisation

In 1907-08 some 300 Vietnamese students went to Japan to acquire modern education. For many of them, the primary objective was to drive out the French from Vietnam. Then Vietnamese students established a branch of the Restoration Society in Tokyo but were soon clamped down by the Japan Government. They then moved to China, but still, they couldn't convince because the objective was no longer to set up a constitutional monarchy but a democratic republic.

The New Republic of Vietnam


Courtesy: Wikipedia

In 1940 Japan occupied Vietnam, as part of its imperial drive to control Southeast Asia. So nationalists now had to fight against the Japanese as well as the French. The League for the Independence of Vietnam(Vietminh) fought the Japanese and recaptured Hanoi in September 1945. Thus, The Democratic Republic of Vietnam was formed with Ho Chi Minh as their chairman. The French tried to regain control using the emperor, Bao Dai but after 8 years of fighting Vietminh Defeated French.

In the peace negotiations in Geneva that followed the French defeat, North and south were split: Ho Chi Minh took power in the north while Bao Dai’s regime[France] was put in power in the south.

The Entry of US

The National Liberation Front(NLF) was a small community in South Vietnam which joined hands with Ho Chi Minh to unify Vietnam. Fearing the communists gaining power, the US decides to intervene, sending troops and arms to help the South. They brought heavy weapons and trucks and many high tech weapons of that time making North Vietnamese fighters impossible to win.

4. The Story Time

The story of the Ho Chi Minh trail is one way of understanding the nature of the war that the Vietnamese fought against the US. It symbolizes how the Vietnamese used their limited resources to great advantage. The US regularly bombed the trails to disrupt supplies, but this failed because Vietnamese were rebuilding them very quickly.

Courtesy: Textbook

The National Heros

The roles of women made a huge impact on anti-imperialist movement in Vietnam. Women's as rebels - they enjoyed greater equality than in China. Women as Warriors - Many women were seen with a rifle in one hand and a hammer in the another. A group of women shot down a Jet with just firing twenty bullets. Women in Times of Peace - Women were seen in hospitals(Helping the wounded), factories, rather than as fighters.

Nurse treating soldier in hospital during vietnam war.

The End Of The War


Courtesy: Flickr - US Citizens march on bringing Troops Back

It was now clear that the US failed to achieve its objectives. A peace settlement was signed in Paris in January 1974. This ended the conflict with the US. Then NLF occupied the presidential palace in Saigon(Capital of South Vietnam) on 30 April 1975 and unified Vietnam.