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Tuesday, May 28, 2019, 14:30 (GMT+7)
“French invasion of Vietnam was just a civilizing process” - a distortion of history

At present, some people believe that “French invasion of Vietnam was just a civilizing process”. This is totally a distortion of history aiming at negating the leadership role of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV); therefore, this argument should be resolutely refuted.

Colonialism is a “flaw” and drag on the progress of human history. Nevertheless, some people unintentionally or intentionally distort the history when justifying and applauding the Western colonialism’s rule and “great contributions” to its colonies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In our country, some people still believe that the French invasion of Vietnam is just a “civilizing process” in an underdeveloped nation, adding that “under the French rule, Vietnam was not prosperous yet, but it had not been wealthy beforehand”. They emphasize that public works which Vietnam is now using were constructed by the French without any contribution made by the CPV. This is a dangerous argument aiming at distorting and denying the CPV’s leadership role and despising the Vietnamese people by the hostile and reactionary forces.

Vietnamese miners under the French colonial regime (file photo)

In fact, human race has been criticizing, condemning, and unmasking the nature of Western colonialism in general, the French colonialism throughout its history. President Ho Chi Minh ever condemned and described the French colonialism’s “enlightenment process” in Vietnam as a cover for the French Colonialists’ imposition of rule and exploitation of a colony.

Politically and legally, after invading Vietnam, the French Colonialists did not apply any achievement of the French Revolution of 1789 to removing the obsolete totalitarian feudal regime and establishing a more progressive political regime under the bourgeois democratic enlightenment. On the contrary, the French Colonialists used the feudal regime as lackeys of the colonial rule. It should be noted that the French Colonialists implemented an extremely hostile and discriminatory policy between the white French and Vietnamese natives. In his work entitled “French Colonialism on Trial” (1925), Ho Chi Minh (aka Nguyen Ai Quoc) wrote that “there was an abyss of administrative and legal discrimination between the Europeans and the natives; the formers enjoyed the rights to freedom of all types and reigned as the absolute rulers; meanwhile, the natives were muzzled and led with a cord without any complaint; if a native dared to express opposition, he would be immediately declared a rebel or a revolutionary and treated exactly with that sin”.

To maintain their rule, the French Colonialists also adopted the “divide and rule” policy in a bid to weaken the unity within Annameses and create disagreements between siblings. Justice was not exercised, and it obviously belonged to the whites; any colonialist could kill, massacre and rape the natives; if he was brought to trial, he would be acquitted. And that was how the French Colonialists had done to reserve the whites’ prestige over the “gooks”. More ironically, the “enlighteners” clearly exposed their deception and brutality when adopting the “voluntary conscription” with the large-scale searches for new recruits across Indochina; tens of thousands of Vietnamese people fell on the battlefield far from their homeland as the “blood-tax” payers of the French. The colonial regime even tortured their relatives so brutally that the draft dodgers had to “voluntarily” join the military.

While eliminating the people’s rights to freedom of all types, the French Colonialists even ruthlessly killed the Vietnamese patriots against their brutal rule and plunged uprisings and patriotic movements into the sea of blood. The French prisons in Guiana, New Caledonia, and Con Dao were filled with native political prisoners after the crackdowns. Machine guns and guillotines quickly forced those who opposed the French “enlightenment” to be silenced. Was that a type of “enlightenment”?

Economically, to rifle Vietnam’s natural resources to enrich the mother-country, the French Colonialists initiated and stepped up the first economic exploitation (1897-1914) and the second one (1919-1929) in Vietnam, thereby exhausting the country’s natural resources. In addition, the land, rail, and water traffic system serving their economic exploitation was expanded; some public works were constructed to meet the need of the colonialists instead of that of the natives.

It is worth noting that in order to enslave and exploit our people, the colonial regime adopted the policy on monopolizing and encouraging alcohol and opium. “At that time, there were 1500 alcohol and opium retailers and only 10 schools in every 1000 villages”. Between 1900 and 1910, the colonial government earned 45 million piastres profit from alcohol. At the same time, it took various measures to encourage and force the people to use opium. That regime damaged Vietnamese extraction but brought large profit to the colonialists. Between 1900 and 1907, the revenue from opium was 54 million piastres (about 6.8 million piastres per year), and in 1911, it was 9 million piastres. Besides, the French Colonialists also allowed loan sharking and imposed various exorbitant taxes. Only between 1890 and 1896, the direct taxes were doubled; between 1896 and 1898, they were as high as one and a half times beforehand. That was why the people were impoverished, and many peasants had to sell their wives, houses, fields and gardens to escape debts and imprisonment.

On the achievements in the French “enlightenment”, Ho Chi Minh ever said that: “the contrast was also noticeable in the economic field. The natives as the one side had to “toil and moil” for the heaviest and cheapest labour to earn their living and feed all budgets of the government. The French and foreigners as the other side had the right to freedom of movement and the right to exploit the country’s natural resources and seize export, import, and all the most profitable economic sectors while the people lived in poverty and ignorance”. He also uncovered the nature of the colonialism’s “civilizing process” when pointing out that the French colonial government did not remove the feudal agrarian regime; it even allowed and abetted may colonialist and lackey landowners to seize the land from villages and peasants, while maintaining the obsolete tenancy regime which was very safe though. In fact, many capitalists after coming to Indochina and Vietnam changed into landowners literally. That was the French Colonialists’ “achievements” as they turned back the wheels of progress. As a result, Vietnam in the colonial period was just a backward, crippled economy with long-term serious consequences for its socio-economic development later on.

In the Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, President Ho Chi Minh condemned the French Colonialists’ economic policies: “In the field of economics, they have fleeced us to the backbone, impoverished our people and devastated our land. They have robbed us of our rice fields, our mines, our forests, and our raw materials… They have invented numerous unjustifiable taxes and reduced our people, especially our peasantry, to a state of extreme poverty. They have hampered the prospering of our national bourgeoisie; they have mercilessly exploited our workers”.

In the field of culture and society, the French Colonialists “civilized” our society with the policy to keep the Vietnamese people ignorant. Although the French built several academic and vocational schools, they mainly aimed to train a contingent of Vietnamese officials capable of assisting their exploitation and colonial rule. That was proved by Ho Chi Minh with the opinions of some French colonialists about education in Indochina and Vietnam. They thought that “equipping Annameses with knowledge or allowing them to acquire knowledge by themselves turn out like we provide them with a gun against us”, and that “training intellectual dogs will cause trouble rather than being helpful”. They believed that “we should only teach Annamese French and teach them how to read and make simple calculations”. To prevent the Vietnamese youth from going to school, the colonial government introduced the regulations in which the primary education was divided into 5 levels, and after the third level in the primary education, students had to obtain the Elementary Diploma and study in French at the two last levels. Those strict regulations made many rural students drop out of school, thereby leading to the popular illiteracy within the masses. According to the statistics in 1914, in all three regions of Vietnam, there was only 20% of school-aged children had chance to go to school while 80% of Vietnamese children were illiterate.

The curriculum was in French and aimed to brainwash, enslave and stupefy the people, falsify Vietnam’s history, disseminate the French culture, and deny the independent existence of the native civilization, thereby effectuating the dependence on France in the youth’s mind, making them scared of the mother-nation’s material power and grateful for the colonialism’s “enlightenment”, transforming them into those who lost and ignored their national identity and history. President Ho Chi Minh ever wrote that “in addition to training some people to be attachés, interpreters and low-ranking officials in necessary quantity to work for the colonial regime, they have provided an education that is depraved, perfidious and even more dangerous than ignorance; such an education only spoils learners’ good character, only teaches them to be “faithful” hypocritically, only teaches them how to adore the superiors, and only teaches the youth to love another Homeland that is bullying them. That education teaches the youth to despise their identity and origin”. Even the French also thought that “spiritually, the French did not organize a new education in place of the education removed by them. They only built a small number of schools to educate parrots and those who lost their origin and lacked morality and basic knowledge”. More than that, the French even tightened their control on publications, particularly the press, while employing cultural means to disseminate colonialism and attack progressive ideology and revolutionary movements around the world. They prohibited students from reading and studying the works by Victor Hugo, Rousseau and Montesquieu as they feared that the ideology of those enlighteners would impact on the youth. Alongside the policy to keep our people ignorant, the French Colonialists condoned and developed social evils, such as gambling, prostitution, and superstition, particularly among the youth with a view to ruining Vietnamese social values.

In the field of health, the people could hardly access medical services and were frequently confronted with epidemics, especially infectious, dangerous ones.

Apparently, the above-mentioned convincing documentation and evidences, particularly those given by President Ho Chi Minh exposed the French Colonialists’ purpose of economic exploitation, while “enlightenment”, “equality”, and “charity” acted as only the cover for their purpose. And it was a historical fact that no one could deny.

Associate Prof. Ly Viet Quang, PhD

The Institute of Ho Chi Minh and the Party’s Leaders, Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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