Hanoi Confronting French Colonial Aggression

Immediately after France’s conquest of the three eastern provinces of South Vietnam, every participant in the 1864 preliminary civil service examination refused to sit for the event. They entered the Temple of Literature in mass, and held a solemn ceremony. After that, they paraded near the Lake of the Restored Sword, expressing aloud their desire to be enrolled in the army and to be sent to the South to fight the aggressors.

At the end of 1872, when French businessman J. Dupuis came to Hanoi to cause riots, he encountered a great hostility from the people.

In early November 1873, Francis Garnier led his troops to Hanoi, and 15 days later, o­n 20th November 1873, he started his attack. As the Court in Hue was inclined not to fight the French, it failed to take appropriate defensive measures. As a result, the Citadel could not survive Garnier’s attacks in spite of a fierce resistance by Governor Nguyen Tri Phuong. But the people spontaneously rose up against the French troops, laying sierge to them in cooperation with the Black Flag Movement. Finally, Garnier was killed in Cau Giay o­n 21st December 1873.

But the Court of Hue persisted in conducting peace negotiations instead of staging a military resistance, and reached a compromise with France whereby the latter give back the former the emptied Citadel in return for Navy Cantonment (the area where the Historical Museum and the Russo-Vietnam Friendship Hospital now stand) as concession land.

In early March of 1882, Henri Rivière arrived at Hanoi. He sent an ultimatum to Governor Hoang Dieu, requiring the latter to surrender. But Hoang Dieu responded to him with fierce resistance and committed suicide afterwards when the Citadel fell into the hands of the enemy. The people of Hanoi continually took up arms and, again in cooperation with the Black Flag, rebels killed Henri Rivière in Cau Giay (19th May 1883). Under these conditions, if reinforcements had been sent to Hanoi by the Court of Huế, all of the remaining French troops could have been destroyed and Hanoi fully liberated. But King Tu Duc was bent o­n taking Hanoi back through compromise. Ultimately, France imposed o­n Vietnam the Treaty of 1884, whereby France established its so-called protectorate over the whole of Vietnam. Hanoi was part of that protectorate, belonging to Tonkin.

The people of Hanoi and the entire country refused to surrender. Many patriotic organizations were rapidly formed in Hanoi, most outstanding of which was the Dong Kinh nghia thuc founded by a group of Confucian scholars in February 1907. It was the policy of the Dong Kinh nghia thuc to oppose French domination by promoting cultural and educational development that would pave the way for subsequent political self-liberation. Conducting its activities in the form of a cultural movement through the establishment of a private school, the Dong Kinh nghia thuc received an enthusiastic response and great support from the people of Hanoi and other provinces. The movement spread wider and wider, and many other schools of this kind were founded. The French colonial rulers feared the widespread political influence of the Dong Kinh nghia thuc very much. They closed the schools and arrested the teachers in December 1907, and prohibited all documents published and circulated by this organization.

This was followed by the “Hanoi poisoning” case in 1908. In accordance with a plan worked out by the insurgents, a chef was to poison the food prepared for French troops and officers. o­nce the troops took the food, several shots were to be fired as a signal for the insurgent troops stationed outside Hanoi to take action. Unfortunately, the plot was discovered and many participants were arrested and executed.

The year 1925 witnessed o­ne political event that caused a political stir throughout the country and encouraged other movements to take action. That was the intense political opposition to France’s attempt to put patriot Phan Boi Chau o­n trial. This indignant opposition wave forced Governor General Varenne to free Phan Boi Chau. This was followed in 1926 by another political movement in the form of a memorial service in honor of patriot Phan Chu Trinh at Dong Nhan Temple o­n 4th April. The French colonists sent troops to the temple to threat and intimidate those attending the service. Hanoians crowded the temple gate and maintained order for the service to be carried out in peace. The French authorities found no reason to disperse the crowd. The resistance of Hanoians kept growing and brought the revolutionary movement to a new height with the establishment of the Indochinese Communist Party.