|The Road to French Rule in Vietnam|
| French interest in Vietnam really began at the start of the 19th Century, with diplomatic and economic ties forged by the Emperor Gia Long and certain Frenchmen who helped him rise to power. The eventual French invasion and conquest of Vietnam was the result of many factor which occured in both France and Vietnam. Although united for the first time in 200 years, the country was still unstable. Rebellions were a constant problem, even among those who had fought for the dynasty.
Matters came to a head when Emperor Minh Mang banned any more Christian missionaries from entering Vietnam saying that, "The perverse religion of the Europeans corrupts the hearts of men". Soon, there were rebellions by the Christian community, and even those by non-Christians, such as Le Van Khoi in 1883 or Crown Prince Hong Bao, Catholic missionaries were singled out for blame and many were tortured and executed. When seen in conquest, the persecution was about as severe as happened in many countries around the world, however, France was not prepared to tolerate such behavior at this time.
|The French conquest of Hong Hoa in 1884|
| France had just come through the nightmare of the French revolution and successive era of instability. The French had seen the extremes of liberal republicanism and anti-clericalism. Now, they were much more conservative, monarchist and supportive of the Catholic Church. The Bourbon kings Louis XVIII and Charles X were devout Catholics who supported missionary work. The increasing influence of the British in China also pressed France to enter the Asian colonial race before all of the prizes were claimed. However, it seemed that the timing was always wrong for saving the situation. Emperor Minh Mang was horrified by the defeat of Imperial China by the British and sent peace envoys to France, but King Louis Philippe, who was more liberal and not supportive of the missionary effort, nonetheless refused to meet with them due to the anger of French conservatives and Rome.
Relations continued to worsen during the reign of Emperor Thieu Tri as conflict continued and open hostilities broke out, though without the authorization of the French government. It was not until the reign of Emperor Tu Duc and another serious campaign against the Christian community that the new ruler of France, Emperor Napoleon III, launched the formal invasion of Vietnam. Much like the situation in Mexico, the conservative and devoutly Catholic Empress Eugenie pushed for some effort to come to the aid of the persecuted missionaries in Vietnam. Napoleon III reasoned that France had a right to those concessions promised to King Louis XVI by Nguyen Phuc Anh for services which, in any case, France was unable to deliver. Nevertheless, it was the persecution of the Christian community which was used as the pretext for invasion.
In 1858 fourteen ships and 2,500 troops were dispatched under Admiral Rigault de Genouilly to take the port city of Tourane. Spain also lended some support, but it was clear this was a French operation and on August 31, 1858 the French easily captured the city, and the conquest of Vietnam was underway. However, France soon learned a lesson that had been taught to other powerful nations many times in the past: Vietnam was stronger than it appeared. Vietnamese Christians failed to rise up in support of the invasion, fearful of court retribution, Nguyen mandarins fed known spies false information to confuse the French and the combined enemies of heat and disease took a huge toll.
Eventually, the bulk of French forces were re-deployed for the conquest of Saigon in 1859. Here again, conquest was easy but control was not. The populace shunned them and guerilla harassment was fierce. Soon, the French were bogged down in static defense in Tourane and Saigon with no hope for victory. Admiral Genouilly tried to open negotiations with Emperor Tu Duc but was refused. Eventually, however, Napoleon III sent in reinforcements and a combination of French tactics and technology won them Saigon. Emperor Tu Duc, whose will was broken by the victory and the continuing rebellions by Vietnamese peasants in north Vietnam, agreed in 1862 to make peace and signed over to France the region around Saigon, Poulo Condore Island, freedom for Catholics and the openning of three ports to Western trade.
However, the Vietnamese continued to resist, against both the French invaders and the Emperor who had surrendered portions of their country to them. More French troops were required to keep control of the situation. Emperor Tu Duc though was wise enough to know that this was only the begining and tried to negotiate a way out. Napoleon III was eager to end the costly campaign, but the military high command refused to give an inch and often took offensive action on their own authority. In 1863 they took Cambodia and in 1867 occupied three more provinces in CochinChina. Eventually, after the fall of Napoleon III, the French began to encroach on north Vietnam. Almost totally helpless, Emperor Tu Duc called on his Chinese overlord for aid in 1873. The Sino-French War ensued and northern Vietnam became a chaotic and bloody land of guerillas, bandits and massacres. In the end, China recognized France as the master of Indochina and Emperor Tu Duc was forced to agree that: CochinChina become a French colony while Annam and Tonkin became French protectorates. The era of French rule had begun and Emperor Tu Duc became known as the last independent Emperor of Vietnam.