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Japan through Vietnamese Eyes (1905–1945)

  • Tran My-Van (a1)

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Vietnamese resistance to French rule dates back to the mid-nineteenth century, but the first decade of the twentieth century heralded a new chapter in the long history of anti-colonialism in Vietnam. It began with the fervent reformist efforts of a group of nationalist scholars trained and brought up in traditional ways, whose Movement for Modernisation (Phong Trao Duy Tan) was greatly influenced by the rise of Japan in the eastern hemisphere, especially following Japan's victory in the Russo-Japanese war (1904–1905). Japan became a source of inspiration and began to be perceived as a model, a stimulant and even as a possible saviour of Vietnam.

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A preliminary version of this article was delivered at a Symposium on the Japanese Occupation sponsored by the Department of History at the National University of Singapore in December 1995. The Toyota Foundation provided financial support for the Symposium, and I am grateful to the Foundation for supporting my participation.

1 My-Van, Tran, A Vietnamese Scholar in Anguish, Nguyen Khuyen and the Decline of the Confucian Order, 1884–1909 (Singapore: Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 1992), p. 16.

2 Hoc, Vien Su, Hoi Ky Tran Huy Lieu (Hanoi: Khoa Hoc Xa Hoi, 1991), p. 29.

3 Another person was Pham Phu Thu (1821–82), a member of the mission which Tu Due sent to France and Spain (1863–64) to negotiate the purchase of three eastern provinces of Cochinchina lost to the French. Thu's diary entitled Tay Hanh Nhat Ky (Diary of a Trip to France) revealed his observations and amazement at French developments and his recognition of the need to modernise Vietnam. His 303-page journal was presented to Tu Due, who was impressed by Thu's effort and concern but took no action.

4 For information on To, see My-Van, Tran, “A Nineteenth Century Reform Movement: The Memorials of Nguyen Truong To, 1828–1871” (Paper presented at the 13th Conference of the International Association of Historians of Asia,Tokyo,1994).

5 Nguyen Khuyen was a Tarn Nguyen (meaning he had passed the three highest examinations of the Court at the top of the list in each examination) and a famous poet. At the height of his mandarinal career he withdrew from politics to avoid collaboration with the French and spent the rest of his life recounting in beautiful poetry his sad feelings about his incapacity to change the situation. See My-Van, Tran, A Vietnamese Scholar in Anguish.

6 Chau, Phan Boi, Nguc Trung Thu, Doi Cach Mang, trans. Nhat, Dao Trinh (Saigon: Vi Nuoc, 1973), p. 25.

7 Ibid., p. 28.

8 Ibid., p. 29.

9 De, Cuong, Cuoc Doi Cach Mang Cuong De (Saigon: Trang Liet, 1957), p. 15.

10 Le, Nguyen Hien, Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc (Saigon: La Boi, 1968), p. 26.

11 Ibid., p. 26.

12 Bach, Thai, Thi Van Quoc Cam (Saigon: Khai Tri, 1968), p. 71.

13 Phan Boi Chau Toan Tap, ed. Thau, Chuong (Hue: Thuan Hoa, 1990), vol. 2, p. 50. For Chau's writings on these two men, see Luc, Nguyen Tien, “Phan Boi Chau viet ve cac nha lanh dao cong cuoc Duy Tan o Nhat Ban”, Nghien Cuu Lich Su 276 (1994): 3850.

14 Phan Boi Chau Toan Tap, vol. 2, p. 18.

15 Chau, Phan Boi, Nguc Trung Thu, p. 43.

16 Ibid., p. 39.

17 Chau, Phan Boi, Tu Phan (Saigon: Anh Minn, 1956); Le, Nguyen Hien, Dong Kinh, p. 35.

18 “Phan Boi Chau Nien Bieu”, in Phan Boi Chau Toan Tap, vol. 6, p. 147.

19 Chau, Phan Boi, Nguc Trung Thu, p. 198.

20 Khac, Truong Trong, Nam Muoi Bon Nam Hai Ngoai (Saigon: publisher unknown, 1971), p. 29.

21 'Apparently Cuong De was not granted a scholarship, nor did he do as well as other students academically. By his own admission, he preferred reading books on the Meiji Restoration and the Russo-Japanese war to other assigned books on general matters. De, Cuong, Cuoc Doi Cach Mang, p. 25.

22 For comparative observations on Chau and Fukuzawa, see Sinh, Vinh, “Phan Boi Chau and Fukuzawa: Perceptions of National Independence”, in Phan Boi Chau and Dong Du Movement, ed. Sinh, Vinh (New Haven: Yale Southeast Asia Studies, 1988), pp. 101149.

23 Chau, Phan Boi, Nguc Trung Thu, pp. 5051.

24 Ibid., pp. 52–53.

25 For information on the School, see Bang, Vu Due, “The Dong Kinh Free School Movement”, in Some Aspects of Vietnamese History, ed. Vella, Walter F. (Hawaii: University Press of Hawaii, 1973), pp. 3095.

26 Mai, Dang Thai, Van Tho Cach Mang Viet Nam Dau The Ky XX (Hanoi: Van Hoc, 1964), p. 268; Bach, Thai, Thi Van, p. 74.

27 See Truong, Phan Van, Une Histoire de Conspirateurs Annamites à Paris (Gia Dinh: Imprimerie Dong Phap, 1928), ch. 10.

28 De, Cuong, Cuoc Doi, p. 23; Xuan, Nguyen Van, Phong Trao Dux Tan (Saigon: La Boi, 1970), p. 155.

29 Luc, Nguyen Tien, “Phong trao Luu hoc sinh o Nhat Ban”, Nghien Cuu Lich Su 278 (1995): 22.

30 Chau, Phan Boi, Nguc Trung Thu, pp. 5960.

31 For information on the relationship between the Japanese and the Chinese nationalists, in particular between Miyazaki Toyen and Sun Yat-Sen, see Jansen, Marius B., The Japanese and Sun Yat-Sen (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967). Masaya Shiraishi has argued that Chau joined the Ashu Washinkai, an Asian Friendship Organization, well before the expulsion of Vietnamese students from Japan; see Shiraishi, Masaya, “Phan Boi Chau in Japan”, in Phan Boi Chau and The Dong Du Movement, ed. Sinh, Vinh, pp. 7375.

32 Chau was introduced to Miyazaki by Sun Yat-Sen in October 1908. See Chau's letter to Miyazaki in which he tried to remind the latter of the various occasions and locations of their previous meetings, and requested further contact. Phan Boi Chau Toan Tap, vol. 1, pp. 2021.

33 De, Cuong, Cuoc Doi, pp. 3133.

34 Phan Boi Chau Toan Tap, vol. 1, pp. 2831.

35 Phan Boi Chau Nien Bieu gives the figures “100 from Cochinchina; 40 from Tonkin; 50 from Annam and a few more…”, p. 154; Khac, Truong Trong, Nam Muoi Bon Nam Hai Ngoai, p. 29.

36 Hoi, Dao Van, Ba Nha Chi Si Ho Phan (Saigon, 1957), p. 121.

37 De, Cuong, Cuoc Doi, p. 95.

38 For the full letter, see Nhat, Dao Trinh, Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc (Hanoi: Mai Linh, 1938), p. 89.

39 De, Cuong, Cuoc Doi, pp. 130–31.

40 Ibid., p. 140.

41 Tran Hy Thanh was sent to Japan in 1908, at the age of ten. He was placed under the care of Cuong De and received a Japanese education. After graduating from Waseda University, Thanh left for Peking to teach Japanese. In 1938, while he was in Yokohama working for the local authorities, Cuong De placed him in charge of the external relations for the Phuc Quoc on account of his language skills and background. De, Cuong, Cuoc Doi, pp. 132–33.

42 For a detailed study of this episode, see Chonchirdsin, Sud, “The Indochinese Communist Party and the Nam Ky Uprising in Cochinchina”, South-East Asia Research 5,3 (11 1997): 269–93.

43 Vy, Nguyen, Tuan Chang Trai Nuoc Viet, Vol. 2 (Glendale, CA: Dai Nam, 1988 [reprint of 1968 ed.]), vol. 2, pp. 473–74.

44 Ibid., p. 489.

45 Ibid., p. 476.

46 See Yoshizawa, Minami, “The Nishihara Mission in Hanoi, July 1940”, in Indochina in the 1940s and 1950s, ed. Shiraishi, Takashi and Furuta, Motoo (Ithaca: Translation Series, Cornell South East Asia Program, 1992), pp. 954.

47 Decoux, J., A la barre de L'Indochine. Histoire de mon Gouvernement General en Indochine (1940–1945) (Paris: Librairie Plon, 1949), p. 482.

48 Ibid., p. 15.

49 Ducoroy, Maurice, Ma Trahison en Indochine (Paris: Editions Internationales, 1949), p. 91.

50 Anh, Nguyen The, Viet-Nam Thoi Phap Do Ho (Saigon: Lua Thieng, 1970), p. 351.

51 See My-Van, Iran, “Japan and Vietnam's Caodaists: A Wartime Relationship”, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 27,1 (03 1996): 186–87; Dao, Ly Chanh, “Do dau ma co quan doi Cao Dai”, Van Hoa (09 1987): 27.

52 Vinh, Tran Quang, Lich Su Dao Cao Dai trong thoi ky Phuc Quoc 1940–1946 (Saigon: the author, 1967), pp. 3033; Ky Pho Do, Dai Dao Tarn, Hoi Ky Tran Quang Vinh va Lich Su Quan Doi Cao Dai (Washington: Thanh That, 1997), pp. 218–22.

53 Kim, Tran Trong, Mot Con Gio Bui (Saigon: Vinh Son, 1969), pp. 1820; Devillers, Philippe, Histoire du Vietnam de 1940 à 1952 (Paris: Edition du Seuil, 1952), pp. 9293.

54 Chieu, Vu Ngu, The Other Side of the 1945 Vietnamese Revolution (Houston: Van Hoa, 1996), p. 28.

55 Ky Pho Do, Dai Dao Tarn, Hoi Ky, p. 213.

56 Liem, Le Hieu, Bo Tac Huynh Phu So (Danville, CA: Vien Tu Tuong Phat Hoc, 1995).

57 Marr, David, “Vietnam 1945: Some Questions”, Vietnam Forum 6 (Summer-Fall 1985): 159.

58 For information about the famine, see Anh, Nguyen The, “La Famine de 1945 au Nord-Viet-Nam”, Vietnam Forum 5 (Winter-Spring 1985): 81100; Duong, Bui Minh, “Japan's Role in the Vietnamese Starvation of 1944–1945”, Modem Asian Studies 29 (03 1995): 573618; Nguyen The Anh, “Japanese Food Supplies and the 1945 Great Famine in Indochina” and Furuta, Motoo, “A Survey of Village Conditions during the 1945 Famine in Vietnam”, in Food Supplies and the Japanese Occupation of Southeast Asia, ed. Kratoska, Paul H. (Houndmills and London: Macmillan Press, 1998), pp. 208226 and 227–37; Van Tao, and Motoo, Furuta, Nan Doi Nam 1945 o Viet Nam (Hanoi: Vien Su Hoc, 1995), pp. 190.

59 Thuoc, Hoang Trong, Thi Ca Cham Biem Trao Long Viet Nam (Saigon: Khai Tri, 1969), p. 395.

60 Mai, Thieu, Nguoc Gio (Sydney: But Nhom Huong Viet, 1987), pp. 128–29.

61 For information on the Japanese preparation of the coup, see Nitz, Kiyoko Kurusu, “Japanese Military Policy towards French Indochina during the Second World War: the Road to the Meigo Sakusen (March 9, 1945)”, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 14,2 (09 1983): 328–53.

62 Shiraishi, Masaya and Furuta, Motoo, “Two Features of Japan's Indochina Policy during the Pacific War”, in Indochina in the 1940s and 1950s, ed. Shiraishi, and Furuta, , pp. 5586.

63 Decoux, , A la barre de l'Indochine, p. 335.

64 Nam, Nguyen Ky, Hoi Ky 1925–1964 (Saigon: Dan Chu Moi, 1964), vol. 2, pp. 124–28.

65 Dai, Bao, Con Rong Viet Nam- Hoi Ky 1913–1987 (Nguyen Phuoc Toe Xuat Ban, 1990), pp. 157–59.

66 Ibid., p. 162.

67 See Masaya Shiraishi, “The Background to the Formation of the Iran Trong Kim Cabinet in April 1945: Japanese Plans for Governing Vietnam”, in Indochina in the 1940s and 1950s, ed. Shiraishi and Furuta, pp. 113–41.

68 Diem had served as a Minister of the Interior and General Secretary in a joint Franco-Vietnamese Reform Committee in Bao Dai's cabinet, but had resigned on 1 Sept. 1933 to avoid becoming a puppet of the colonialists.

69 Dai, Bao, Con Rong Viet Nam, p. 165.

70 Hoe, Pham Khac, Tu Trieu Dinh Hue Den Chien Khu Viet Bac (Hanoi: Nha Xuat Ban Ha Noi, 1983), p. 26; Hammer, Ellen J., The Struggle for Indochina (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1966), p. 48.

71 Luu, Pham Van, Bien Co Chinh Tri Viet Nam Hien Dai (Melbourne: Centre for Vietnamese Studies, 1994), vol. 1, p. 25.

72 Dai, Bao, Con Rong Viet Nam, p. 165.

73 Smith, Ralph B., “The Japanese in Indochina and the Coup of March 1945”, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 8,2 (09 1977): 288.

74 Kim, Tran Trong, Mot Con Gio Bui, p. 53; Kim referred to Yokoyama as “Yokohama”.

75 Dai, Bao, Con Rong Vietnam, p. 169.

76 Ibid., pp. 169–70.

77 For detailed information on the Tran Trong Kim government, see Lockhart, Bruce M., The End of the Vietnamese Monarchy, Lac Viet Series 15 (New Haven: Yale Center for International and Area Studies, 1993), pp. 135–53; and Chieu, Vu Ngu, The Other Side, pp. 3451.

78 Kim, Tran Trong, Mot Con Gio Bui, pp. 8188.

79 Brocheux, Pierre, “L'occasion favourable, 1940–1945”, in L'Indochine Française, ed. Isoart, Paul (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1982), pp. 166–67; Devillers, Philippe, Histoire du Vietnam, p. 138.

80 In 1930 Ho had helped form the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) along Marxist-Leninist lines. For Ho's Appeal made on the occasion of the founding of the ICP, see Ho Chi Minh on Revolution, Selected Writings, 1920–1966, ed. Fall, Bernard B. (New York: The New American Library, 1967), pp. 129–31. The Viet Minh, an abbreviation for Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh (Vietnam Independence League) was formed in May 1941 at the Indochinese Communist Party's Eighth Plenum. Its slogan was “national liberation”. However, from its inception until the March 1945 coup, the League's operations were significantly curbed owing to systematic French repression. Its main bases were restricted to a few small areas in the Northwest. Beginning in June 1945, operations from the newly created headquarters in Tan Trao, under Ho's leadership, were intensified with the establishment of a “Committee for National Liberation of Vietnam” together with a liberation zone centred around the Northern provinces.

81 For further details of this episode see Marr, David G., Vietnam 1945: The Quest for Power (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); Tønnesson, Stein, The Revolution of 1945: Roosevelt, Ho Chi Minh and de Gaulle in a World at War (London: SAGE, 1991), pp. 114–55.

82 See Patti, A., Why Vietnam?: Prelude to America's Albatross (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), pp. 102, 127–29. Major A.K. Thomas, who led an OSS team, was dropped into Ho's secret zone. The team helped train Viet Minh soldiers and supplied them with the latest model rifles.

83 For more information, see Marr, David, Vietnamese Tradition on Trial (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), pp. 368–71, 408409.

84 Trinh, Ung, Viet-Nam Ngoai Giao Su (Saigon: Van Dan, 1970), p. 132.

85 Hoe, Pham Khac, Tu Trieu Dinh Hue, p. 70.

86 Kim, Tran Trong, Mot Con Gio Bui, pp. 9294.

87 Dai, Bao, Con Rong Viet Nam, p. 186.

88 The author's own parents were present on this occasion. They often wondered what eventually happened to Cuong De.

89 Marr, David, “Vietnam: Harnessing the Whirlwind”, in Asia: The Winning of Independence, ed. Jeffrey, Robin (London: The Macmillan Press, 1981), p. 190.

90 Kim, Tran Trong, Mot Con Gio Bui, p. 12.

91 Yoji, Akashi, “Japan and ‘Asia for Asians’”, in Japan Examined: Perspectives on Modern Japanese History, ed. Wray, H. and Conroy, H. (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1983), p. 323.

Japan through Vietnamese Eyes (1905–1945)

  • Tran My-Van (a1)

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