The Indochina region comprises of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia countries. This region was highly influenced by colonization. Indochina refers to a peninsula that lies slightly southwest of the Chinese Republic and on the eastern part of India.
The region was part of the enormous French colonial empire that focused on ensuring that France became a significant global power that enhanced control of social, economic, political, and economic wealth in the countries it colonized.1
French and Vietnam relationships began in the early nineteenth century. Its intervention in the war was justified by the fact that it had the jurisdiction and political mandate of ensuring that the work of the Paris Foreign Missions organization was preserved and its continuity enhanced.
French military conquest in this region influenced its decision to impose political and economic boundaries in Indochina.2
The paper focuses on the in-depth analysis and understanding of the various effects of colonization on French Indochina, financial benefits that might have been accrued from the colonization process, and undertaking a comparison between the effects of French colonization in Indochina and the effects of the colonization process on other colonized regions in Southeast Asia.
French Indochina was established in October 1887 when the French instituted its control of the popular northern Vietnam region. French Indochina encompassed the Vietnamese rebellion between 1885 and 1895, the French-Siamese combat, French high encroachment level on Siam between 1904 and 1907, the popular “Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang”, the French verses Thai warfare, and the many economic, social, and political challenges that faced Indochina.
French Indochina was a colonial relationship that was built based on achieving economic gains in the region. It was believed to be a “colonie d’exploitation” focused on ensuring that the French colony built a strong economic empire and that it enhanced its dominance of the global economic network.
French control of Vietnam was achieved after it had won the war against China. The federation was established in October 1887. French established a substantial control of the northern region.
However, it was the Vietnamese rebellion towards its colonies and its increased nationalist reaction towards the need for liberation and self-rule that transformed the French Indochina social and economic structure.
The constant uprisings failed to achieve any meaningful concessions that had been desired by the French leaders. In its colonization endeavors, French colonial powers “manufactured crisis after crisis” with the aim of being perceived as peacemakers yet their real goal was to enforce its biased economic strategies.
The strategies led to most countries constantly conceding defeat. Consequently, French forces continued to exercise control of their newly acquired territories.3
Effects of Colonization on French Indochina
It is evident that colonization had both positive and negative effects on the French Indochina social and economic structures. Establishment of monopolistic business strategies was a major effect of the French Indochina relationship.
At the time, French was the primary language of undertaking business ventures. This significantly transformed the economic structure of the region as it opened up new business networks, established global business operations and ensured that Indochina gained access to the worldwide marketplace.4
This was a very crucial development as it contributed to the rapid expansion and steady improvement of the Indochina transport and communication network.
Diversification of the French colony negatively impacted all the economic gains that France had already made. The diversification process ensured that France only focused on the social and economic activities that were of benefit to its citizens, not the Indochina region.
Economically, the countries in Indochina witnessed significant economic growth.
Through the French Indochina relationship, the French government established mechanisms of funding the colonized countries’ governments and ensuring that such governments became dependent on its “economic goodies”.
The funding was done through the imposition of high tax levels on the local people and by ensuring that business monopolies that were established on the selling of salt, rice, opium, and alcohol were fully enforced.
Rather than to augment business operations in the countries it had colonized, France oppressed the colonies and ensured that they did not establish their independent business networks.
The French security chiefs and financial advisers feared that empowering the colonies would be a recipe for increased rebellion due to possible achievement of economic freedom.5 The colonization process, therefore, made Indochina financially challenged.
The Colonization process also leads to many uprisings combined with increased political tension and instability in Vietnam and other Indochina countries. The high level of rebellion and political pressure hindered the concern population to venture into any meaningful economic activities.
Consequently, the countries increasingly became financially weak. By intensifying the nationalist sentiments, the Vietnamese people provoked the French military to become more forceful in its control of the territory.
This contributed to increased destruction of the French infrastructure and increased destabilization of the country’s economy.
France heightened the humiliation and exploitation of Indochina’s social and economic structures. Its increased diversification led to reduced economic impact as the rate of infrastructure development in Indochina declined significantly.
Rather than to remain steadfast in fostering the well being of Indochina, France diversified its limited resources. This made it very ineffective in the manner in which it addressed the social and economic demands of Indochina.
The colonization process was dominated with many ambiguous colonial mechanisms that lacked objectivity.6
On a positive note, colonization changed the French Indochina economic structure by bringing into action new and better commercial products that helped to boost the economy.
The changes also contributed to the emergence of more job opportunities, thus improving people’s social and economic status. Improved economic structure encouraged the growth and mining of products such as coal, rice, tea, zinc, pepper, tin, and coffee among others.7
Thanks to the colonization process, the development of the French automobile industry was also reflected in the emergence and development of rubber plantation in Indochina.
This was a significant improvement in the Indochina economic structure as the rubber industry transformed the social structure of Indochina.
In essence, the colonization process helped to discover new economic opportunities as very vast plantations started to flourish in Cochinchina, Annam, and other parts of Indochina. As the world’s major rubber producer, France managed to change Indochina country’s economic trends.
This was because the region had decided to continue practicing large-scale rubber planting for commercial purposes.8
It is also evident that colonization played a significant economic role in Indochina as it stimulated other forms of investment in Indochina countries.
For instance, colonies such as Vietnam witnessed the emergence of various business enterprises such as Michelin and an increase in the number of financial investors in mines and coffee, rubber, and tea plantations.
The colonization process had a major long-term economic impact on the region’s industrialization process. Establishment of factories, production companies, and manufacturing plants became a crucial economic development that was witnessed.9
Sadly, most of the proceeds accrued from these economic activities were always repatriated to France and used in the improvement of the French economic status while Indochina citizens continued to perish.
Improvement of transport, communication and technological networks enabled Indochina’s nations such as Indonesia and Cambodia to become bustling commercial hubs in the region. This implies that the colonization process improved people’s way of life.
The existence of unique buildings such as Beaux-Arts and landmarks that include the “Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica” and the “Hanoi Opera House” helped to improve business operations in the region.
Social structure in Indochina was negatively affected. In some instances, the colonization process enhanced rebellion that in turn caused many deaths, diseases and disintegration of the Indochina’s social structure due to the war that ensued.
This highly contributed to the high poverty level, single-parent families, and increased cases of dysfunctional families in most countries in the region.10
The situation was very different in France as the colonization of Indochina did not have any significant effect on the country’s social structure.
Other adverse effects of colonization of French Indochina included failure of the French colony to uphold human rights. Colonized people were always forced to adhere to the French policies.
Although the countries in the Indochina region grew rubber and rice, among other cash crops, the people remained very miserable and financially weak. The outright discrimination that the French occupation practiced in Indochina was very saddening.
This led to heightened nationalism, increased religious and racial clashes and high level of rebellion towards the French forces.11 Worst still, imperialism forced citizens in the Indochina countries to ignore their rich social, cultural, political, and economic practices.
Comparison with Other Colonized Regions in South East Asia
Like most colonized regions in Southeast Asia, the French colonial power’s main interest was to improve its economic status by expanding its global economic superiority. Failure to accord priority to the establishment of strong political boundaries proved to be a major failure in France.
This resulted in increased use of political strategies that were either outdated or irrelevant to the specific situations that the French colonizers faced.12
Unlike other colonized regions in Southeast Asia, France did not manage to have a heavy political presence in Indochina. This made it much easier for other global superpowers to counter France’s security forces hence the ultimate defeat of the French forces.
Unlike other colonized regions in South East Asia, Indochina countries never gained a lot of infrastructural development of its French colony.
In Indochina, colonization mainly played a crucial role in improving the overall performance of the agricultural sector.
Although industrial and mining sectors were developed, the extent to which the agricultural industry was improved does not match the degree to which the agricultural industry was profoundly and positively improved.
Unlike other colonized regions, the French settlement and colonization of Indochina did not take place on a large scale.
Like other colonized regions in South East Asia, colonization exposed Indochina people to many social hardships. The colonization process focused on enhancing French self-interests rather than ensuring that the well being of the citizens in the colonized countries was advanced.
As was the case of the Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia, colonization was biased towards making economic gains but failing to streamline the colony’s political stability.
In nearly all cases, failure to balance between economic and political demands contributed to the colonies’ ultimate defeat and loss of control of the Indochina countries.13
France, Japan, and other colonial power trends often led to increased nationalism and rebellion to the social, political, and economic ideals enforced by the colonial powers.
Colonization’s Financial Benefits
To the French people, colonization enabled their country to engage in vast rubber planting and large scale cash crop farming in foreign countries. By exporting rubber and other crop products to French companies, colonization provided many employment opportunities to the French population.
On the contrary, the Indochina people were offered jobs that mainly demanded manual labor in firms.14 The jobs provided to the Indochina people could not afford them decent housing and improved living standards. In Indochina, economic growth was based on cash crop farming.
France industrial sector financially benefited from the colonization of Indochina as it got the raw materials from Indochina in a very cheap, primitive, and consistent manner.
In Indochina, the education sector witnessed tremendous improvement. The increased demand for skilled labor compelled the French forces to sponsor the local people to acquire the much-needed work experience and skills.
Consequently, the French colony improved the level of education in Indochina and ensured that the people in the Indochina region were enlightened on the needed crop production expertise.15
The core intention of the improvement of the system of education in Indochina was to ensure that economic self-interests of France were realized in the most cost-effective, efficient and consistent manner.
Indochina’s health sector greatly benefited from the colonization of the region. Prior to being colonized by the French powers, Indochina mainly depended on traditional medicines.
However, colonization led to improved living standards coupled with hard labor and improvement in the region’s sanitation and health standards. This has a direct influence on Indochina’s financial status as better health standards implied a healthy and more productive population.
Additionally, the fact that new and more enticing goods were being produced in the colonized Indochina meant that business in the region was booming.
In France, the political sector became more stable due to improved economic standards that enabled the French government to finance its colonial policies and other domestic economic ventures.
The Indochina relationship with France resulted in the emergence of a middle-class economy.
This was mainly triggered by the fact that most of the people who worked at farms, in health sector, and on the improvement of the country’s transport and communication networks enjoyed better living standards than their unemployed counterparts.
The rise in the middle-class social strata was based on the fact that there were people who had gained formal employment in the agricultural sector while a few others had been employed in the health, education and production sectors.
Forms of Racial Segregation
During the colonization of Indochina by the French powers, race emerged as a sensitive issue. Racial discrimination was perpetrated by the French power under the disguise of employment based on one level of education and work experience.
Competitive employee recruitment strategies were never embraced as the French colonies believed that the people in Indochina countries were of a “lower grade” and could therefore not be trusted with running large multinational companies that needed a high level of creativity and innovativeness.
Colonization significantly changed the French Indochina economic structure and even augmented various economic developments in Indochina. It also bolstered enlightened people on their rights and enabled them to be aware of the need for nationalism.
France also practiced gender-based racial discrimination in Indochina. Women were mainly occupied by kitchen-related tasks most of which did demand that the person doing it be skilled.
In workplaces, Eurasians, Indians, whites, and Vietnamese were all treated in different ways due to the belief that an individual’s race determined his or her level of efficiency at the workplace.16
It was also evident that the French colonies did not encourage interracial marriages between the whites and the indigenous races.
Such marriages were perceived to degrade the white and could reveal the fact that race was never a crucial factor in determining an individual’s level of efficiency, reliability, creativity, and innovations.
Based on the above critical analysis of fundamental aspects of Indochina and colonization, it can be concluded that French colonization strategy was mainly focused on enhancing its economic and political self-interests.
Having been under the French imperial leadership between the 1850s and 1950s, Indochina suffered a lot of economic and social challenges.
During the colonization period, most French interventions were based on the need to enhance unity and ensure that French benefited from its social, economic, and political ventures undertaken in several countries across the globe.
Brocheux, Pierre, and Daniel Hemery. Indochina: An Ambiguous Colonization, 1858-1954. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011.
Edwards, Penny. Cambodge: The Cultivation of a Nation. USA: University of Hawaii, 2008.
Errington, Elizabeth and Elizabeth McKercher. The Vietnam War as history. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1990.
Laffan, Michael. Islamic Nationhood and Colonial Indonesia: The Umma below the Winds, Studies on the Middle East. New York: Routledge Publishers, 2007.
Norindr, Panivong. Phantasmatic Indochina: French colonial ideology in architecture, film, and literature. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996.
Osborne, Milton. The French Presence in Cochinchina and Cambodia: Rule and Response. New York: Cornell University Press, 1969.
1 Michael Laffan, Islamic Nationhood and Colonial Indonesia: The Umma below the Winds (New York: Routledge publishers, 2007).
2 Panivong Norindr, Phantasmatic Indochina: French colonial ideology in architecture, film, and literature (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996).
3 Michael Laffan, Islamic Nationhood and Colonial Indonesia: The Umma below the Winds, Studies on the Middle East (New York: Routledge Publishers), 13-21.
4 Panivong Norindr, Phantasmatic Indochina: French colonial ideology in architecture, film, and literature (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996), 32-52.
5 Pierre Brocheux and Daniel Hemery, Indochina: An Ambiguous Colonization, 1858-1954 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011).
6 Pierre Brocheux and Daniel Hemery, Indochina: An Ambiguous Colonization, 1858-1954, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 9-18.
7 Elizabeth Errington and Elizabeth McKercher, The Vietnam War as history (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1990).
8 Milton Osborne, The French Presence in Cochinchina and Cambodia: Rule and Response, 1859–1905. (New York: Cornell University Press, 1969).
9 Michael Laffan, Islamic Nationhood and Colonial Indonesia: The Umma below the Winds, Studies on the Middle East (New York: Routledge Publishers), 39-54.
10 Panivong Norindr, Phantasmatic Indochina: French colonial ideology in architecture, film, and literature (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996), 89-104.
11Penny Edwards. Cambodge: The Cultivation of a Nation, 1860-1945. Southeast Asia: Politics, Meaning, and Memory. (USA: University of Hawaii), 2008.
12 Panivong Norindr, Phantasmatic Indochina: French colonial ideology in architecture, film, and literature (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996), 13-22.
13 Elizabeth Errington and Elizabeth McKercher, The Vietnam War as history (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1990), 35-46.
14 Milton Osborne, The French Presence in Cochinchina and Cambodia: Rule and Response, 1859–1905. (New York: Cornell University Press, 1969), 14-31.
15 Elizabeth Errington and Elizabeth McKercher, The Vietnam War as history (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1990), 195-285.
16 Elizabeth Errington and Elizabeth McKercher, The Vietnam War as history (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1990), 69-81.