The Revolutionary Movement in Vietnam
         When the French began to colonize Vietnam, they certainly met with considerable resistance. First, they were met by the forces of the large but ailing Chinese Empire, who contested their involvement with a nation they regarded as a vassal of the Qing Emperor. In addition, there was the regular Vietnamese forces of Emperor Tu Duc, who put up a hard and spirited resistance, holding off superior French forces for some time. Then, there were also the die-hard fighters who fought on even after Tu Duc had been forced to make peace. These were men like Truong Cong Dinh, who defied the Nguyen court to continue to wage war against the invaders in a guerilla fashion that would become only too common in the future. Nevertheless, the French were soon content that Vietnam had been pacified. Yet, with the firm establishment of colonial rule came the begining of the revolutionary era, an era which would not end until the fall of Saigon in 1975.
         The first revolutionary movement was very traditional in nature, organized by the mandarins in 1885 around the young Emperor Ham Nghi. If there was one hero who stood out the most during this period it was certainly the renegade mandarin Phan Dinh Phung (left). Fighting in the name of Emperor Ham Nghi, and putting aside his differences with the regent Ton That Thuyet, he rallied a guerilla army of Nguyen dynasty loyalists to fight the French and the recently enthroned Emperor Dong Khanh. His was a movement in keeping with the traditional Confucian values. He appealed to them out of loyalty to the Emperor and motivated his followers by his example and reputation as a man of virtue and character. A poet wrote of Phan Dinh Phung, "A loyal subject between heaven and earth, His death deprived us of independence". He had once been the "Ngu Su" (imperial censor) and had been exiled by Thuyet for loyalty to Vua Duc Duc.
         Phan Dinh Phung had returned as an advisor to Ham Nghi, though he continued to clash with the less than upstanding regent Ton That Thuyet. His was the traditonal resistance, heirarchical, ruled by the mandarins and pushed by his own moral authority. In his area of operations around Hatinh he collected taxes from loyal peasants, constructed his own weapons, even some firearms and ammunition, and harassed the French for years until his death from dysentry in 1896. He remained undefeated, though his forces were hard pressed and the French had bribed friends and relatives to betray him and even desecrated the tombs of his ancestors. The struggle was defeated by a combination of factors, including the superior weapons of the French, their seemingly endless supplies, the focus of the loyalists on military rather than political victories as well and also the sad fact that many Christian Vietnamese in North Vietnam were persecuted, thus pushing them into the arms of the French and Emperor Dong Khanh.This marked the start of the end of traditional resistance to the French, but it was by no means the end. Later groups were inspired by the leaders of the Can Vuong movement, and there was still enough support for the monarchy for it to continue to play some role in the opposition efforts.
         The next major effort was more modern in the way of politics, but still very traditional in style and was led by the mandarin Phan Boi Chau (right). He first concentrated on driving out the French with the help of a modernized monarchy. To place at the head of his movement, he recruited the Nguyen marquis Cuong De, the grandson of the first crown prince Nguyen-Phuc Canh. His group was further motivated by the recent Meiji Restoration by the Japanese monarchy, and wished to work along the same lines in Viet Nam: confronting the western powers with a combination of their own tactics and technology while retaining the traditional structures of the country. He also met with the Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat-Sen as well as the counter-revolutionary leader of China, Kang You-wei during his travels in Japan and China. Along with Cuong De, he organized partisan actions against the French.
         However, Phan Boi Chau was hampered by trying to lead a revolution in the name of the monarchy at a time when the monarchy was so tied to the French colonial regime that it failed to inspire much devotion among the populace. With the unprecedented abolition of the Qing dynasty in China, republicanism began to sweep the Vietnamese nationalist community as well. Phan Chu Trinh was one of the leading early republicans. He had been a follower of Emperor Ham Nghi but had since turned against the Nguyen and become quite an admirer of French culture. He advocated enlisting French help to break Vietnam away from France, or in effect, to use the repubilcan ideals of the French against them. Although a compatriot of Phan Boi Chau he disagreed with him over his admiration for Japan and his attachment to the monarchy in even a very limited form.
          Phan Boi Chau eventually became a republican himself, reformed his movement into the
Viet Nam Duy Tan Hoi or "Association for the Modernization of Vietnam", however, the marquis Cuong De remained symbolic head of the group to encourage the traditionalists. Eventually, Phan Boi Chau was betrayed to the French authorities, possibly by the Communists, and was placed under house arrest in Hue for the rest of his life. He outlived Phan Chu Trinh, who was arrested during the 1908 tax revolts, released, sent to Paris and finally returned to Vietnam. The Marquis Cuong De remained a lesser revolutionary figure for many years by those who were still monarchists, but who could not abide the reigning emperors who they viewed as collaborators. The religious groups, the Cao Dai, Hoa Hao and even the Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem remained supporters of placing Cuong De on the throne of an independent monarchy. This option remained a possibility until the Japanese takeover of Vietnam, when independence was declared and Cuong De endorsed the restored Empire of Vietnam under the reigning monarch, Bao Dai.
         There can be no doubt that the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911 and the establishment of the Republic of China had a huge impact on all nations in the Far East. One group which rose to considerable importance during the early 20th Century was the Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang or Viet Quoc, founded in 1927 by progressives associated with the Hanoi Nam Dong Thu Xa or South-east Asia Publishing House under the leadership of Nguyen Thai Hoc (left). The goal of the VNQDD was to launch a military uprising against the French colonial regime and establish a Vietnamese republic. They took their inspiration from the Chinese Kuomintang of Sun Yat-Sen and later General Chiang Kai-Shek. However, like the Chinese nationalists, they did not have a clear ideaology other than basic democratic republicanism on western/Chinese models, they were mostly, and increasingly over time opposed to Communism which began to appear later on.
         The most pivotal moment for the Viet Quoc came in February 1930 when the group staged a military mutiny of colonial forces at Yen Bay in Tonkin. The uprising, however, was poorly organized and coordinated and many troops refused to participate. The French responded forcefully, squashing the rebellion and executing the leadership. Nguyen Thai Hoc himself was beheaded and the Viet Quoc was forced to flee with its remnants to southern China. After this, the Communist led Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi or VietMinh, became the only major option for most Vietnamese nationalists. When Ho Chi Minh formed the supposedly nationalist Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the Viet Quoc was allowed to participate but only a year later most of their members were arrested, executed or forced into exile. They became a minor political party in the south until the Communist victory in 1975.
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