|The Nguyen Who Resisted the French|
| A great deal of blame has been heaped on the Nguyen Dynasty for their resignation to French colonial rule, and in some cases, their peaceful cooperation with the colonial administration. However, this is by far much too simplistic a view. No one, no matter how they are pampered, relish the idea of being powerless in a land they once ruled. The Nguyen emperors were far from satisfied with their positions, even those who cooperated were very disappointed and frustrated by their situation and some emperors even risked their exalted position in order to fight the French.
The first of these in the colonial era was Emperor Ham Nghi, who was taken from the Forbidden City by Ton That Thuyet and provided the moral and symbolic leadership of the so-called "Mandarin's Revolt" or the "Can Vuong Movement" of 1884. Vietnamese people from all walks of life joined
|this effort toward independence. Men like Phan Dinh Phung were part of it, others like Phan Boi Chau were inspired by it, some like Phan Chu Trinh determined to learn from it. Emperor Ham Nghi, while he had not been part of the conspiracy to start the uprising, was determined toward the goal of national liberation and refused to do or say anything that would betray this cause. Because of his defiance, he was exiled for the rest of his life in the French North African colony of Algeria.|
| After Ham Nghi fled the Forbidden City, the next emperor, Dong Khanh, cooperated with the French. His successor however, did not. Emperor Thanh Thai continues to be a source of some controversy for Vietnamese historians. Was he truly mad, or was he playing the fool to escape French scrutiny? Regardless of that, some facts are clear and obvious: throughout his reign he was plotting secretly against the French, he was arrested trying to flee to China to join the revolutionary movement of the Marquis Cuong De and after his capture he made his opposition to French rule open and blatant.
The French had always tried to keep Dong Khanh isolated and locked away from his people, for his interests as well as their own, but Thanh Thai managed to outwit the occupiers, travelling incognito around the country to see conditions for himself and speak to the people directly, though they often had no idea the young man they were talking to was the "Son of Heaven". Exiled in 1916, after being removed in 1907, he only returned to Vietnam after progress was starting to be made toward an independent government in Saigon.
|Finally, after Thanh Thai's removal, came the last monarch to actively oppose French rule: the young Emperor Duy Tan. Although his own planned rebellion was thwarted virtually before it could begin, the compassion, courage and devotion of the young emperor has endeared him to all of his countrymen. He protested when the French desecrated the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc, he gave half his salary to the poor when the French raised taxes and whether reigning or in exile he remained committed to the cause of a free and independent Vietnam.|
|After attempting to start a rebellion in 1916, Emperor Duy Tan was deposed by the French (bear in mind that none of the treaties signed by France gave them any right to enthrone or depose emperors). His followers were executed and he was exiled along with his father to Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. His memory however continued to hold an honored place in the hearts of his people for both his compassion and his committment to Vietnamese independence. During World War II he joined the naval service of the Free French forces and continued to associate himself with the ever-strengthening movement for complete freedom in Vietnam. The evidence suggests that, after the Bao Dai regime proved unsuccessful, President Charles DeGaulle was planning to restore Duy Tan to the throne as the constitutional monarch of Vietnam. Sadly, he died in a plane crash over Africa before anything could come of the effort.|