French Indo-China


In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. French Indo-China is Number 78 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. French Indochina was comprised of the colony of Cochinchina (the extreme southern part of present-day Vietnam), the protectorates of Tongking (i.e., Tonkin, or the northern part of Vietnam), Annam (central and southern Vietnam except for the area occupied by Cochinchina), Cambodia, parts of present-day Laos, and the leased Chinese territory of Kwang-chow-wan (Guangzhouwan). The book covers physical and political geography, political history, social and political conditions, and economic conditions. The section on geography notes the importance of the two main rivers, the Red and the Mekong, and the long coastline. The population is estimated at 16.6 million people, of which approximately 80 percent were Annamese (i.e., Vietnamese), with the remainder comprised of Cambodians, Chinese, Thai (i.e., Tay), and members of other smaller groups. The historical section alludes briefly to the ancient Khmer and Annamese kingdoms, but it focuses mainly on the 19th century, when the French penetrated the region and competed with China and Siam (present-day Thailand) for influence. The economy of French Indo-China was largely agricultural, and its main export rice. The study notes that the “natives of Indo-China have accepted with apparent placidity the rule of the French, though disturbances have occurred from time to time in Annam and Tongking which show that discontent and unrest are at work beneath the surface.”

Last updated: February 4, 2016