Colonialism and the Nguyen Dynasty
          It is difficult to set a specific date for the beginning of the colonial era in Vietnamese history. The French had been making inroads into Indochina since the death of Emperor Gia Long in 1820. However, it was during the long reign of Emperor Tu' Du'c (1847-1883) that the first French colony in Viet Nam was established in "Cochinchine". This was part of an ongoing campaign by the French president-turned-dictator Louis Napoleon III to establish a worldwide French colonial system. Finally, during the reign of Emperor Hiep Hoa (1883) the French forced the Nguyen court to sign a treaty recognizing Annam and Tonkin as "protectorates" of France.
          This was a time of colonial competition and expansion for many countries in Europe, America and soon to be followed in the Far East by Japan. This can be called "classic colonialism" in which the European power incorporates a third world country into their own national system as a "client state" under their ultimate control, but usually with some level of local
involvement in administration, whether meaningful or symbolic. To have a realistic view of history and the consequences upon current world affairs, we must be fair in admitting that colonialism was not without it's beneficial points as well as it's cruelties. 
          All European countries at this time had to at least try to maintain the image as much for their own people as subject peoples that their presence overseas was somehow beneficial. This lead to a number of rather condescending slogans such as the British phrase, "the white man's burden" or the French version, "mission to civilize". In the mind of the European, they were spreading the benefits of their culture to people they viewed as being backward and inferior. Considering that Viet Nam had been a well established and highly civilized empire longer than most countries in Europe had even existed, this was an ironic and arrogant attitude to have. However, it did serve to at least soften the blow of colonialism to at least a slight degree. Whether intentional or not, there were benefits from this time.
          One area was in religious work. Since all major religions champion up-lifting values and principles, the spread of religion can only be a benefit to any society. Christianity was introduced in Viet Nam and soon became one of the most popular religions alongside Buddhism and Confucianism. Christian missionaries also established schools; hospitals and various other institutions which were of immense help to the Vietnamese people, many of which survive today, though under different leadership. Later, this also provided a core of resistance to the Communist takeover of Viet Nam. Today, in all of East Asia only the Philippines has a larger Catholic population than Viet Nam.
          General education was also improved during the colonial era, though in this way the contribution of the French and the results are more mixed than in any other area. Through the influence of Confucianism, Viet Nam had already had for many, many centuries a great appreciation for learning and valued education above all professions. Traditionally, the examinations for the mandarinate had been open to anyone, but it was very difficult for many people to find the time and money to study enough to pass these difficult exams. However, with the French, modern schools were established and a system of public education was beginning to form. However, this may have been detrimental to France in the long run, as most of the anti-French and anti-establishment leaders were educated by the French. Modern technology was also made available, though it reached few in the short term.
          However, in spite of the shock effect the French presence had on Vietnamese society, the traditional culture did manage to survive, largely because of the retention of the Nguyen monarchy, no matter how restricted, still maintained the ancient customs, rituals and societal structure of ancient Viet Nam. The most damage to true Vietnamese culture did not come about until after 1945, with losses increasing substantially from 1955, 1975 and most lately the 1990's. Successively increasing through the years, the traditional culture of Viet Nam is being eradicated by the new enemy of the modern era, economic or neo-colonialism. This new form of foreign dominance contains an even greater potential for exploitation than classic colonialism but without any of the very few benefits of the old days. Neo-colonialism is more sinister because it is more unseen, it is controlled, not by government officials in the public eye, but by corporate executives behind the closed doors of first world meeting rooms.
          Today, the Vietnamese Communist Party is welcoming neo-colonialism into Viet Nam with open arms. The formula for this exploitation is insidiously simple and comes in several varieties. The most common begins with a business in the first world, perhaps a clothing manufacturer, opening a factory in a country like Vietnam where there
are huge numbers of poor people ready to work long hours for next to nothing. Taking advantage of this virtual slave-labor, an executive makes a deal with the local Communist authorities, sweetened by a small bribe, restrictions are liften, salary fairness, working conditions and child labor are not scrutinized and the business gets a green light to exploit the workers as much as they please. As long as the local officials are given their bribes, nothing is said, and similar "investments" are encouraged.
          In situations like this, children are often forced to work, conditions are deplorable, housing (when provided) is totally substandard and wages are so small even the native workers can barely survive. Yet, unlike classical colonialism, there is not even an effort to improve any aspect of the society in question. All of this is done on private property, behind locked gates and closed doors and with the unofficial blessing of the local authorities who are eager to look the other way in return for American dollars. This is a huge problem that people in the First World must become more educated on and demand that their companies and governments STOP exploiting impoverished people and simultaneously supporting totalitarian governments who rule by fear and oppression.