Bao Dai

Bao Dai

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Bao Dai, the Khai-Dinh, the Emperor of Vietnam, was born in Hue on 22nd October, 1913. Educated in France, Bao Dai succeed his father as emperor on 6th November, 1925. He reigned under the Regency of Ton-Thai Han until he came of age in September, 1932.

In September, 1940, the Japanese army invaded Indochina. With Paris already occupied by Germany, the French troops decided it was not worth putting up a fight and they surrendered to the Japanese.

When the Japanese surrendered to the Allies after the dropping of atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945, the Vietminh was in a good position to take over the control of the country. The following month, Ho Chi Minh announced the formation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Unknown to the Vietminh, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin had already decided what would happen to post-war Vietnam at a summit-meeting at Potsdam. They had agreed that the country would be divided into two, the northern half under the control of the Chinese and the southern half under the British.

Bao Dai went into exile in Hong Kong in March, 1946. After signing an accord recognising Vietnamese national unity within the French Union, he was allowed to return in June, 1948. The following year the French installed Bao Dai as Head of State.

The French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954. French casualties totalled over 7,000 and a further 11,000 soldiers were taken prisoner. The following day the French government announced that it intended to withdraw from Vietnam. The following month the foreign ministers of the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain and France decided to meet in Geneva to see if they could bring about a peaceful solution to the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.

After much negotiation the following was agreed: (1) Vietnam would be divided at the 17th parallel; (2) North Vietnam would be ruled by Ho Chi Minh; (3) South Vietnam would be ruled by Ngo Dinh Diem, a strong opponent of communism; (4) French troops would withdraw from Vietnam; (5) the Vietminh would withdraw from South Vietnam; (6) the Vietnamese could freely choose to live in the North or the South; and (7) a General Election for the whole of Vietnam would be held before July, 1956, under the supervision of an international commission.

People in Vietnam were unhappy with Ngo Dinh Diem. In October, 1955, the South Vietnamese people were asked to choose between Bao Dai and Ngo Dinh Diem for the leadership of the country. Colonel Edward Lansdale suggested that Diem should provide two ballot papers, red for Diem and green for Bao Dai. Lansdale hoped that the Vietnamese belief that red signified good luck whilst green indicated bad fortune, would help influence the result.

When the voters arrived at the polling stations they found Diem's supporters in attendance. One voter complained afterwards: "They told us to put the red ballot into envelopes and to throw the green ones into the wastebasket. A few people, faithful to Bao Dai, disobeyed. As soon as they left, the agents went after them, and roughed them up... They beat one of my relatives to pulp."

After his defeat Bao Dai went into exile and lived for the next forty years in France. Bao Dai died in Paris on 31st July 1997.

It was generally conceded that had an election been held, Ho Chi Minh would have been elected Premier ... I have never talked or corresponded with a person knowledgeable in Indochinese affairs who did not agree that had elections been held as of the time of the fighting, possibly 80 per cent of the population would have voted for the Communist Ho Chi Minh as their leader.

In Vietnam a Communist government has set out deliberately to conquer a sovereign people in a neighbouring state. The evidence shows that the hard core of the Communist forces attacking South Vietnam were trained in the North and ordered into the South by Hanoi. It shows that the key leadership of the Vietcong (VC), the officers and much of the cadre many at the technicians, political organizers, and propagandists have come from.

Its goal is to conquer the south, to defeat American power and to extend the Asiatic domination of Communism ... Our power, therefore, is a very vital shield. If we are driven from the field in Vietnam, then no nation can ever again have the same confidence in American promise or protection . We did not choose to be the guardians at the gate, but there is no one else.

The policy of our Government to continue to support military dictatorship is costing us heavily in prestige around the world, because the policy proves us to be hypocritical ... So long as Diem is the head of the Government of South Vietnam, we continue to support a tyrant, we continue to support a police-state dictator . On the basis of the present policies that prevail there, South Vietnam is not worth the life of a single American boy.

Birth of Emperor Bao Dai of Vietnam

The last Vietnamese emperor was born on October 22nd, 1913.

Prince Nguyen Phuc Vinh Thuy was born in Hue in Annam, close to the South China Sea coast. He was the son of Khai Dinh of the Nguyen dynasty, the nominal ruler of Annam, though in reality a French puppet. Annam was part of French Indochina and covered much of present-day Vietnam. Hue was the capital and the royal palace where the little boy grew up was reserved for the rulers and their wives, concubines and other subordinates and forbidden territory for everyone else.

When he was nine the young prince was sent to Paris for a French education, at first at the Lycée Condorcet (whose other former pupils included Marcel Proust). He was 12 when his father died in 1925 and he succeeded to the throne, taking the name Bao Dai, meaning ‘Keeper of Greatness’, which would prove, putting it mildly, something of an overstatement. He then returned to Paris to continue his studies.

A regency took over in Annam until Bao Dai came of age when he was 19 in 1932. The French ran the country until the Japanese conquered French Indochina in 1940. Bao Dai remained the nominal ruler and the French administration continued to operate, but the Japanese were in control. In March 1945 they ousted the French altogether and under threat of ‘eliminating’ him bullied Bao Dai into declaring a new Empire of Vietnam, with himself as emperor, but in August the Japanese surrender ended the Second World War in Asia.

Communist revolutionaries led by Ho Chi Minh now seized power and set up the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Bao Dai abdicated, but remained on the scene as ‘supreme adviser’. A complicated war broke out between rival Vietnamese factions while the French attempted to recover the country by force. Bao Dai left for Hong Kong. The French lured him back as ‘head of state’ in 1950, but he spent most of his time in France. In 1954 the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu and the country was divided into North Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh and South Vietnam. Bao Dai was purportedly ‘head of state’ in South Vietnam, but Ngo Dinh Diem ran the country as prime minister, while Bao Dai spent his time in luxury in France and Monte Carlo, where he kept his private yacht.

In 1955 Bao Dai was removed from office by a patently fraudulent vote in a referendum to establish a republic, organised by Diem. The vote was 98 per cent for a republic. Bao Dai had plenty of money and spent his last 40 years and more womanising, gambling and enjoying himself in France until his death aged 83 in 1997.

Bao Dai – Vietnam’s last emperor dies in exile – 1997

After leaving Vietnam, he lived in exile, mostly in southern France, and also in the Principality of Monaco. He allegedly had one of the largest yachts in the port of Monte Carlo, on which he often sailed at one time.

On July 30, 1997, the last emperor in Vietnam’s history, Bao Dai, died. He was the thirteenth ruler of the Nguyen dynasty, and became emperor when he was only 12 years old. Bao Dai was the son of the previous emperor Khai Dinh, and was born in 1913 in the city of Hue, which functioned as the imperial capital (the city of Hue is located very close to the former border between North and South Vietnam).

It should be emphasized that the Vietnamese emperors after the 1880s did not have much power over the country in practice, but were a kind of puppets of the French colonialists. Nevertheless, the French allowed the emperors to nominally rule the area of ​​Anama (central part of present-day Vietnam, with its capital in the said city of Hue). French colonial rule extended much wider, over a large area of ​​Indochina, ie over the present-day states of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Bao Dai was educated as a boy in Paris, at the Lycée Condorcet, and later at the Paris Institute for Political Studies. It is interesting that he was educated in France even after he became emperor at the mentioned 12 years of his life (after his father’s death). He married a Vietnamese woman who was a Roman Catholic, and their youngest son Bao Thang is still nominally a contender for the Vietnamese imperial throne (he lives in France).

After the success of the Ho Chi Minh Communists, Emperor Bao Dai abdicated in 1945. Later, war broke out, with the French reinstalling Bao Dai nominally at the head of the state. However, in 1955 he was overthrown again. Bao Dai lived in exile mostly in southern France and also in the Principality of Monaco. He allegedly had one of the largest yachts in the port of Monte Carlo, on which he often sailed at one time.

Bao Dai died in France. He is buried in Passy Cemetery, not far from the Paris Trocadero (on the opposite side of the Seine from the Eiffel Tower).

Bao Dai Essay

Prince Nguyen Vinh, later known as Emperor Bao Dai, was the son of Annamese emperor Khai Dinh. Born in Hue on October 22, 1913, Bao Dai was educated in France. He became emperor of Vietnam on November 6, 1925. On his ascension to the throne he took the name Bao Dai, meaning “Keeper of Greatness.” After taking the throne he returned to France and resumed his education, and the regent Ton-Thai Han served until he came of age in 1932. Bao Dai married Jeanette Nguyen Huu Hao on March 24, 1934. As the empress Nam Phuong, she bore him two sons and three daughters.

Bao Dai was a reformer, seeking to modernize Vietnamese educational and judicial systems and to end archaic court practices such as the kowtow, and he put young reformers in his first cabinet of 1933. However, the French government continually undermined his initiatives and his authority.

In the mid-1930s, with France threatened by Germany, Bao Dai saw his opportunity to seek greater autonomy. When Germany conquered France the new French government at Vichy was compelled to surrender Indochina to Japanese control. Japan declared that it had freed Vietnam from foreign rule.

Under Japanese control Bao Dai established a nationalist government. Although he declared Vietnamese independence, in reality Vietnam switched from French to Japanese control. Under Japanese occupation a communist resistance formed led by Ho Chi Minh communist guerrillas called the Vietminh.

At the Potsdam Conference in 1945, the Allied leaders Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin agreed that Vietnam would be divided between Chinese and British control after the war. A month after the Japanese surrender in August 1945, Ho Chi Minh announced the creation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Vietnam became a battleground among the Vietminh, royalists, democrats, and supporters of the French.

Bao Dai stepped down to avert a civil war and in March 1946 went into exile in Hong Kong. However, France returned him as a constitutional monarch in an attempt to unify Vietnam. Bao Dai was hesitant, but French agreement to recognize the independent Vietnam led him to return. In 1948 Bao Dai agreed to lead a unified Vietnam under the French Union, received permission to return, and became head of state in 1949. But he soon left Vietnam for Europe, vowing never to return until his country was truly independent.

In 1954, when France lost the crucial battle at Dien Bien Phu against the Vietminh, it finally agreed to grant independence to Indochina. At Geneva in June 1954, representatives of the United States, the Soviet Union, China, Britain, and France met to decide how to end conflict in Vietnam. They agreed to divide Vietnam at the 17th parallel, with Ho Chi Minh ruling the north and Ngo Dinh Diem ruling the south as prime minister under Bao Dai. The Vietnamese could choose whether to live in the north or south. By July 1956 an election would be held to determine whether Vietnam would be unified.


b. October 22, 1913 - d. July 31, 1997

Bao Dai was the 13th and Last Emperor of Vietnam and South Vietnam 1926-1954. He was ousted from power by Diem in 1954 elections.

Emperor, Vietnam and South Vietnam, 1926-1954

Vietnam’s last emperor ascended to the throne in 1932 and cooperated with the Japanese occupying Vietnam during World War II. After the war, he briefly joined ranks with Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh, only to flee into exile in Hong Kong and France from 1949-1955. He returned to Vietnam to rule under French control until he was ousted by Diem in a rigged election in 1954.

Born Prince Nguyen Vinh Thuy on Oct. 22, 1913, he was the son of Emperor Khai Din and was given the imperial name Bao Dai (“Keeper of Greatness”) on his succession as emperor in 1926 at age 12. With France the colonial ruler, he was sovereign in little more than title, and the French appointed a regent to manage the court’s activities while Bao Dai completed his education in Paris. He returned home to the imperial city of Hue in 1932, assuming the ceremonial duties of the 13th emperor of the Nguyen dynasty. Despite the limitations of his authority, Bao Dai championed reforms in the judicial and educational systems, and he attempted to put an end to the more outdated trappings of Vietnamese royalty. He ended the ancient mandarin custom that once required aides to touch their foreheads to the ground when addressing the emperor. But he became far better known for his leisure activities. He established an early reputation as an adventurer and playboy, devoting weeks at a time to hunting expeditions in the Vietnamese rain forests.

Despite the hopes of Vietnamese nationalists early in the century that Bao Dai might emerge as a pioneer of Vietnamese independence, he was often seen as the puppet of others — first, the French colonialists, then the Japanese occupiers of World War II, then the communist movement led by Ho Chi Minh, then the French again.

He displayed no similar courage in dealing with the Japanese when they swept across Southeast Asia and occupied Vietnam during World War II. Bao Dai was allowed to retain his throne in hopes that his presence would demonstrate continuity and quiet the population. With defeat looming in March 1945, the Japanese declared Vietnam an independent country under Bao Dai.

When Japan surrendered, the Vietnamese communists under Ho Chi Minh declared themselves to be Vietnam’s new rulers and proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Bao Dai, whose government was tainted by its collaboration with the Japanese, agreed to abdicate in exchange for an appointment as “supreme adviser” to Ho Chi Minh.

It soon became clear, however, that the communists had no intention of sharing any power with the former emperor. And with France attempting to reassert its colonial claim to northern and central Vietnam by force, Bao Dai left for exile in Hong Kong and China.

In 1949 he was coaxed home by the French, who saw him as a possible alternative to Ho Chi Minh, whose guerrillas were then at war with the French colonial army.

Bao Dai returned to Vietnam with the titles of premier and — again — emperor. His government was recognized by the United States and Britain in 1950, but it never won widespread popular support.

As before, Bao Dai seemed to take less interest in governing Vietnam than in perfecting a lavish life style. He left major decisions to his French-backed advisers, preferring instead to spend his time with his many mistresses at his hunting lodge in the cool highlands of central Vietnam.

When the 1954 peace accord between the French and the communists resulted in the division of Vietnam into North and South, Bao Dai and his advisers tried to assume true power in South Vietnam.

What To See

Visiting this 2 stories structure, travelers will have a chance to discover the living of the royal family through 25 rooms and its amenities. The ground floor is the working place of the king. It consists of the office room, the guest room and the reception room. Upstairs is the living space of the king and his family. The bedroom of the king also has a gorgeous balcony called the watching moon balcony where the king and the queen could appreciate the moonlight. Each of the room reflects the characteristics and status of the owner: the eldest son's room is painted yellow and considered luxurious at that time, the Queen's room can be easily identified with her feminine touch

Inside the palace, there are many valuable items still preserved in good condition. They include several sculptures of royal family, the life-size white bust of Bao Dai himself and a smaller gold and brown bust of his father Khai Dinh, picture of Angkor Wat given to King Bao Dai by King Sihanouk of Cambodia and an engraved glass map of Vietnam, to name a few.

Sunday Rewind Why The Bao Dai Is One Of The Coolest Rolex Watches Of All Time

A unique, complicated Rolex with a diamond dial and a strange history? Yes, please.

Certain watches loom large in the imaginations of collectors. They tend to have snappy names, often taken from celebrities, world leaders, and luminaries of other sorts. For me, one of the best examples of this is the storied Bao Dai, a totally unique Rolex ref. 6062 triple calendar moonphase watch made for the Vietnamese emperor from whom it gets its name. There are diamonds, there's a black lacquer dial, and there are a few crazy stories – not much to complain about there, right? Lucky for us, we got the opportunity to go hands-on with this watch before it sold at Phillips in May 2017. It more than lived up to expectations.

The watch ended up selling for a hair over $5 million (sorry, spoiler alert). At the time, this made it the most expensive Rolex watch ever sold at auction – and for the second time. A ref. 4113 split-seconds chronograph had displaced it from its throne just a year before, but the Bao Dai came back up for sale and was able to take its spot back rather quickly. We all know what happened just a few months later, but that doesn't make the Bao Dai any less interesting or any less desirable. If you haven't read the full story, now's the time to do it.

1997: Bảo Đại – The Last Emperor of Vietnam

He was the 13 th ruler, who was also a member of the Nguyễn dynasty. Đại became Emperor of Vietnam when he was 12 years old. He was born in Huế (the capital of Vietnam) in 1913. His father was the previous Emperor Khai Dinh. It is interesting to note that the city of Huế is located very close to the former border between North and South Vietnam.

After the 1880s, the Vietnamese emperors didn’t have much power over the land, but were under the control of the French colonialists. But, the French allowed them to rule the area of Annam (the central part of today’s Vietnam, and the city of Huế was their capital). The French colonialists even controlled the area of Indochina, i.e. Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

Bảo Đại received his education at the Lycée Condorcet, and the Paris Institute of Political Studies. It is interesting to note that he was educated in France even after he had been elected emperor (after his father’s death). He married a Vietnamese girl, who was a Roman Catholic. Their youngest son Bảo Thắng is a pretender to the Vietnamese Imperial Throne.

Đại abdicated his throne in 1945, but war broke out, and the French appointed Đại the head of the state. In 1955, he was deposed. After his departure from Vietnam, he spent some time in the south of France, and in the Principality of Monaco. He allegedly owned one of the largest yachts, and used it for many sailings. Bảo Đại was buried in Passy Cemetery, near Trocadero, Paris.

Bao Dai

Last Emperor of Vietnam, the 13th and last Emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty, born Prince Nguyen Vinh Thuy on October 22, 1913 in Hue, died July 30, 1997.

After being educated in France, he became Emperor in 1925 (crowned in 1926) but was not able to escape French control of his government ? Vietnam was part of French Indochina. In 1940 during World War II, coinciding with their ally Germany?s invasion of France, the Japanese invaded Indochina. While they did not eject the French administration, the Japanese directed policy from behind the scenes in a parallel of Vichy France. As far as Bao Dai and the Vietnamese were concerned, this was now a kind of double-puppet government. This arrangement lasted until March 9, 1945 when the French were overrun and Bao Dai had little option but to switch allegiance to Japan.

The Japanese surrendered to the Allies in August 1945, and the Communist Viet Minh under Ho Ch? Minh aimed to take power. Due to the Japanese associations, Ho was able to persuade Bao Dai to abdicate on August 25, 1945, handing power to the Viet Minh ? an event that greatly enhanced Ho's legitimacy in the eyes of the Vietnamese people. Bao Dai was appointed ?supreme adviser? in the new government in Hanoi, which asserted independence on September 2.

As his country descended into violence ? rival Vietnamese factions clashing with each other and with the French ? Bao Dai left the country after a year in the ?advisory? role, living in Hong Kong and China. The French persuaded him to return in 1949 as leader and Emperor. But the war between the French colonial forces and the Viet Minh continued, ending in 1954 shortly after a major victory for the Viet Minh at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.

The USA, nervous since the war of Ho Ch? Minh?s communism, became strongly opposed to the idea of a Vietnam run by Ho after his government of the north, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, in 1950 gained recognition from the Soviet Union and China. In the south in the same year, the French formed a rival Vietnamese government under Bao Dai in Saigon which was recognized by the United States and Great Britain, but did not enjoy wide popular support.

The 1954 peace deal between the French and the Viet Minh involved a Chinese-inspired, supposedly temporary partition of the country into North and South. Bao Dai had intentions to to take full control of South Vietnam, and from his home in France appointed the religious nationalist Ng? D?nh Diem as Prime Minister. However, in 1955 Diem used a referendum to remove the Emperor and took control of the South himself, managing to win American support.

On March 20, 1934, at the imperial city of Hue, Bao Dai married Jeanne Marie-Th?r?se (Mariette) Nguyen Huu-Hao Thi Lan (1914-1963), who was renamed Hoang Hau Nam Phuong, or Empress of the South. A daughter of Pierre Nguyen Huu-Hao, Duke of Long-My, she died in 1968. They had four children, including a daughter, Princess Phuong Mai, who married Don Pietro Badoglio, 2nd Duke of Addis Ababa and Marquess of Sabotino.

Bao Dai had four other wives, three of whom he married during his marriage to Nam Phuong: Phu Anh, a cousin, whom he married circa 1935 Hoang, a Chinese woman, whom he married in 1946 (one daughter) Bui Mong Diep, whom he married in 1955 (two children) and Monique Baudot, a French citizen whom he married in 1972 and whom he first created Princess Vinh Thuy then renamed Thai Phuong Hoang-Hau.

Bao Dai took no further major part in Vietnamese politics and died in a military hospital in Paris in 1997. He was interred in the Cimeti?re de Passy, Paris.

Japanese occupation of Vietnam

The Japanese military entered Vietnam in September 1940 and remained there until the end of World War II (August 1945). French colonial administrators remained in charge for most of this period, until the Japanese assumed control in 1945. The Japanese occupation of Vietnam helped strengthen the Viet Minh and contributed to the outbreak of the First Indochina War in 1946.

The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere

The pretext for the invasion was Japan’s ongoing war with China, which began in 1937. By occupying Vietnam, Tokyo hoped to close off China’s southern border and halt its supply of weapons and materials.

The occupation of Vietnam also fit into Japan’s long-term imperial plans. Japanese leaders, driven by militarism and hungry for profit, dreamed of creating what they called a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, an economic coalition of Asian nations. Together, these Asian countries would expel Western imperialists and capitalists then share trade, resources and commodities between themselves.

In reality, the Co-Prosperity Sphere would be a quasi-empire, run from Tokyo for the benefit of Japan, its government and its corporations. Countries like China, Korea and Vietnam would be transformed into vassal states ruled by puppet governments. They would provide cheap land, labour and resources for Japanese industries. The Co-Prosperity Sphere was Japanese imperialism cloaked in a veil of Asian nationalism.

The Japanese gain entry

From early 1940, Tokyo began pressuring French colonial administrators in Vietnam, demanding that Japanese soldiers be allowed into the country to secure the Chinese border. These requests were refused until 1940 when soldiers from Nazi Germany invaded France. Within a month, the French government had surrendered and signed an armistice with Berlin.

The French surrender at home weakened the French colonial government in Vietnam, which had little option but to concede to Japanese demands. An agreement signed in June 1940 allowed Japanese troops to control the northern border between Vietnam and China. Another, signed in August, acknowledged Japan’s rights and interests in south-east Asia.

On September 20th the French governor-general, Jean Decoux, signed an agreement with Tokyo giving the Japanese access to Haiphong harbour and allowing the placement of up to 6,000 troops in northern Vietnam. But the Japanese, dissatisfied with this agreement, broke it the following day. By midnight on September 22nd, the Japanese invasion of Vietnam was underway.

Japanese forces took just a week to secure control of Vietnam. By October, there were around 10,000 Japanese soldiers stationed there, mainly around the ports, airfields and important industrial centres.

‘Most favoured nation’

For most of their occupation, the Japanese left the French colonial government in place, though its authority was greatly diminished. This tactic contradicted Tokyo’s policy of “Asia for Asians” – but at the time, Japan did not have the resources for a full-scale occupation of Vietnam. Instead, they preferred to leave the French in charge and develop Vietnam as a client state. This allowed Tokyo to ‘use’ Vietnam for its own ends without deploying large numbers of soldiers there (at no point did Japanese troop numbers in Vietnam exceed 35,000 men).

Between 1941 and 1945, French colonial authorities in Vietnam, led by Decoux, engaged in a policy of ‘co-existence’ with the Japanese. Decoux’s administration mirrored the Vichy regime that governed occupied France in collaboration with the Nazis.

In May 1941, Decoux granted Japan ‘most favoured nation’ status, meaning the bulk of Vietnamese exports were allocated to Tokyo at low prices. Later, Japanese troops were given unrestricted access to Vietnam’s roads, rail network and ports. This allowed them to use Vietnam both as a thoroughfare for the conquest of Thailand and Burma, and a staging point for attacks further south.

Local resistance to the Japanese

The Vietnamese people had mixed feelings about this dual imperialism. Some welcomed the arrival of the Japanese. They believed that domination by an Asian colonial power was preferable to domination by Westerners. Two notable Vietnamese religious groups, Cao Dai and Hoa Hao, openly collaborated with the Japanese. Other Vietnamese considered the Japanese just another troupe of foreign imperialists, no different to the French.

The Japanese made some effort to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese – a policy that differed from their brutality and oppression in China. Propaganda suggested the Japanese were in Vietnam as “liberators” rather than conquerors. Japanese language courses were organised in large cities. Japanese films, literature and poetry were translated into local languages. The Vietnamese people were told how Japan’s military supremacy was slowly driving the white imperialists out of Asia.

While some Vietnamese drew closer to the Japanese, most believed Japanese imperialism would be the same, or even worse, than that of the French. One peasant told his neighbours that “The Japanese are a hundred times crueller than the French. Even a worm or cricket could not live under their brutal violence”.

US involvement

The Japanese presence in Vietnam also attracted foreign attention, particularly from the United States. In 1940, America was not yet at war with Japan but it was still working to restrict Japanese expansion through Asia. The US also wanted to protect its imports of raw rubber, half of which came from Vietnam.

At first, Washington backed the French colonial regime in Vietnam, hoping it would resist Japanese overtures. When Decoux and the French caved into Japanese demands, the US changed tack. The attack on Pearl Harbour and the US entry into the war in December 1941 changed things further. By 1943, President Roosevelt was floating the idea of Vietnamese independence.

The war in the Asia-Pacific sharpened Washington’s interest in Indochina. The Americans opened a military station at Kunming in southern China, while American advisers and Office of Strategic Services (OSS) agents supported both the Chinese Guomindang and Vietnamese resistance groups.

The Americans also worked closely with Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh, who supplied the US military with information about Japanese troop numbers and movements. This was more a convenient working relationship than an alliance – but it gave Ho Chi Minh hope that Washington might support Vietnamese independence, once the war had ended.

Ho Chi Minh (seated, fourth from left) with US officers and OSS agents during World War II

The Japanese takeover and surrender

By the start of 1945, the war was going poorly for Japan. Having surrendered the Philippines, the Japanese were in retreat across south-east Asia, relinquishing captured territory and incurring heavy losses. Tokyo had previously identified Vietnam as a fallback position for retreating Japanese troops because it could be more easily occupied, secured and defended.

In March 1945, the Japanese occupation force, claiming French colonists were assisting the Allies, withdrew their support for the colonial regime. The French were removed from power in Vietnam. Every French colonial official or military officer was arrested and locked up all French soldiers were disarmed. The Japanese invited emperor Bao Dai to declare Vietnamese independence and handed him the reins of power, though both were only nominal.
From March 1945 Vietnam became a member state of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, in effect a Japanese colony run by a puppet government.

Shutting down colonial authority in Indochina only benefited the Viet Minh, which flourished without pressure from French troops. Ho Chi Minh condemned the Japanese occupation and declared the Japanese his “number one enemy” – but he resisted calls for a major Viet Minh campaign against them. Knowing the Japanese were in retreat and that a major Allied attack against them was imminent, Ho preferred to wait.

By June 1945, Ho Chi Minh felt strong enough to establish a Viet Minh-controlled zone in north-western Vietnam. This region was remote and had no strategic significance to the Japanese, so they did not launch any major campaigns against it.

Through the middle of 1945, the Viet Minh busied itself with organisation, propaganda and recruiting. Ho Chi Minh also had to deal with food shortages and famine, which were widespread in the north. The Viet Minh movement consolidated its hold in the north and began to spread into central Vietnam, gaining 100,000 new recruits.

By the start of August 1945, the Japanese were on the verge of defeat and the resistance movement was stronger than ever. Viet Minh cadres began seizing control of Japanese-held villages and towns. In early August, the US dropped atomic weapons on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, attacks that would lead to the Japanese surrender. As the Japanese mobilised to leave Vietnam, its people wondered who their new rulers might be.

1. In September 1940 Vietnam was occupied by Japanese forces, which were expanding throughout south-east Asia and seeking greater control over China’s southern borders.

2. Japan’s vision was that Asian nations like Vietnam be absorbed into its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, a confederation free of Western influence or control.

3. For much of World War II, the Japanese allowed the French colonial government to continue ruling Vietnam. Japan lacked the men for a full-scale occupation of Vietnam.

4. In March 1945 the Japanese, then in retreat from south-east Asia, abruptly ended French rule and seized control of Vietnam, installing Emperor Bao Dai as a puppet ruler.

5. With French control ended and the Japanese distracted, Ho Chi Minh and the nationalist Viet Minh flourished, gaining numbers and seizing control of parts of north-western Vietnam. Japan’s defeat in August 1945 then raised the question of who would rule post-war Vietnam.

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