Retrospective

01

Dec
2021

The Treaty of 1874

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During the late 1860s and early 1870s, Tu Duc, having lost possession of what had become French Cochinchina in the south, also lost control over the upland hinterland of the Red River plain, while his authority in the lowlands shrank to a few garrisoned administrative centers, primarily Hanoi, Son Tay, Bac Ninh, Hai Duong, Hon Gai, Nam Dinh, and Ninh Binh. Adding to the long-term trend of increasing insubordination and insurrection that characterized Tu Duc’s entire reign was the turmoil and disaffection among officialdom produced by Tu Duc’s effort to end his anti-Christian policy in accordance with the Treaty of Saigon.  Anti-Christian sentiment was strong in officialdom and Christians were vulner- able targets for anger over loss of the south. Tu Duc’s efforts to avoid further  complications with the French by enforcing religious provisions of the treaty led to a diminution of respect for him among local officials who viewed Christians as French partisans. The exam riots of 1864 and the coup attempt of 1866 were but the most visible demonstrations of growing dissatisfaction with his leadership. In 1866 and again in 1868, Tu Duc disciplined officials in Nghe An and Ha Tinh  for their anti-Christian activities. Similar but less publicized episodes of punish- ing officials and calming tensions between Christians and local officials occurred  with increasing frequency in the Red River plain. Meanwhile, the leaders of upland peoples in the northern mountains slipped out of Hue’s control. Many of them allied with private Chinese armies that crossed the border from Guangxi. The most important of these armies was led by Liu Yongfu (1837–1917), a Hakka Chinese from Guangxi who grew up in poverty and came of age in the 1850s when the Taiping Rebellion erupted in Guangxi and spread north into the Yangtze River basin. He joined elements of  the rebel movement that remained in Guangxi and rose to a position of leader- ship. After the death of the Taiping leader in 1864, Qing forces gradually  reasserted their control over the territories held by insurgents, and some local strongmen in the south led their followers across the Sino-Vietnamese border to seek their fortunes in the uplands of northern Vietnam, where opium and precious metals were produced. Most of these men rallied under the yellow flags of Huang Chungying (d. 1876). Huang Chungying allied himself with the chieftains of the upland minority peoples and established a reputation for being in defiance of both Qing and Hue authorities. Liu Yongfu’s army, flying black flags, was smaller but more disciplined than the yellow flag army. He impressed Vietnamese officials by defeating an array of rebellious local chieftains and obtained a commission from Hue to pacify the uplands. In 1868, he expelled Huang Chungying from Lao Cai, on the Red River at the Yunnan border. The Qing general sent at the request of Hue to subdue the yellow flag army was impressed by this, and Liu Yongfu subsequently received a Qing commission to assist in suppressing Huang Chungying. Huang Chungying was eventually defeated and killed by a combined Sino-Vietnamese operation in which Liu Yongfu played a prominent part during 1875–1876. Meanwhile, Liu Yongfu, based at Lao Cai, gained control of the lucrative commerce on the Red River between Yunnan and Hanoi. In the late 1870s, he established a secondary base of operations at Hung Hoa to protect the Red River from remnants of the yellow flag forces who had moved west into Laos as well as from the red and striped banner forces comprised of rebels in Yunnan that shifted into northern Laos after being defeated by Qing armies. In the early 1870s, a French merchant adventurer named Jean Dupuis (1829– 1912) appeared in the midst of the relatively lawless situation in northern Vietnam and provoked an episode that demonstrated the impotence of the Hue court and revealed contradictions between French authorities in Saigon and the new republican government in Paris. Dupuis had gone to China in 1861 to seek his fortune in trade. In 1868 he met members of the French Mekong River expedition as they made their way from the upper Mekong in Yunnan to the coast at Shanghai. From them he learned of the likelihood that the Red River was navigable from Yunnan to the sea. In 1869, he traveled to Yunnan and took orders for an arms shipment from the Qing officials then engaged in fighting a rebellion in that province. In 1871, he revisited Yunnan and reconnoitered part- way down the Red River to verify that it was navigable all the way to the  lowlands. At the beginning of 1872, he was in Paris. Although the new Third Republic government was just emerging from the disorders of the Franco-Prussian War and the suppression of the Communards, he obtained permission from the Ministry of War to purchase a consignment of arms to sell to China. Also, the Ministry of the Navy promised to send a letter to Cochinchina authorizing  assistance to facilitate his travel from Saigon to Hue in order to obtain Vietnam- ese approval to traverse the Red River. He was soon back in Asia where in Hong  Kong he assembled a small flotilla and a force of around 175 men, twenty-five of them Europeans and the rest Asian, mostly Chinese. When the arms shipment arrived from Europe, he went to Saigon where a letter from Paris on his behalf was waiting. The governor was absent, but the presiding official passed him to a naval captain about to depart on a survey of the Vietnamese coast. The captain advised Dupuis to forget about going to Hue, for, in his view, dealing with the officials at the Vietnamese court was nothing but an aggravating waste of time. He advised Dupuis to simply take his shipment up the Red River, assuring him that Vietnamese authorities would not be able to stop him. Dupuis took this advice and hastened back to Hong Kong. A few weeks later he and his flotilla rendezvoused with the captain who showed him how to get into the Red River from the sea. In December, he arrived at Hanoi. Vietnamese authorities were taken aback by the appearance of this small but well-armed force and could not prevent Dupuis from fortifying a district in Hanoi with the support of the Chinese merchant community. Leaving most of his men at Hanoi, Dupuis proceeding upriver with part of his cargo. He arrived in Yunnan, delivered his merchandise, and was back in Hanoi by April with a shipment of precious metals along with 150 Qing soldiers provided by the governor of Yunnan. He was arranging to return to Yunnan with a shipment of salt when Nguyen Tri Phuong arrived to take charge of the situation in Hanoi. Nguyen Tri Phuong stiffened the resistance of Vietnamese officials to Dupuis’  seemingly uncontrollable activities. Dupuis set himself in defiance of the Viet- namese government, and a state of hostilities ensued between him and Nguyen  Tri Phuong. Tu Duc sent an appeal to Saigon, complaining that Dupuis was lawlessly violating existing agreements. Marie Jules Dupré (1813–1881) was the governor at Saigon from 1871 to 1874. He was a career naval officer who had participated in the earliest phase of French operations at Saigon and was an ardent exponent of expanding French control over all of Vietnam. At the same time, he was under strict instructions from the government in Paris to avoid any expansion of French involvement in Vietnamese affairs. The government of the Third Republic, still suffering the effects of defeat by Prussia and of the ensuing civil war in the streets of Paris, had  no appetite for new colonial adventures. Dupré was caught between his instruc- tions and his personal inclinations. Not wanting to ruin his career by being  insubordinate, he sent a message to Dupuis instructing him to submit to the Vietnamese authorities. Dupuis cleverly replied that if the French did not seize the Red River route to China then the British, or the Germans, or even the Chinese would move in. The prospect of this so frightened Dupré that he sent money to sustain Dupuis and decided to depute someone he could trust to sort out the confrontation in Hanoi. He turned to a young naval officer named Marie Joseph François Garnier (1839–1873). Garnier had been on the staff of Admiral Charner and had subsequently served as the administrator of Cholon under Bonard and La Grandière. It was at Garnier’s urging that the Mekong expedition was initiated in 1866. He was a member of the expedition and assumed command of it when the leader died in Yunnan. His  outstanding qualities of leadership, despite his youth, were demonstrated in bring- ing the expedition out through China from Yunnan via the Yangtze River. His  encounter with Dupuis at that time alerted Dupuis to the idea of opening trade with  Yunnan on the Red River. Garnier returned to France and fought in the Franco- Prussian War. In the summer of 1873, he was honeymooning in China when he  received an urgent summons from Dupré. He arrived in Saigon in August and, after conferring with Dupré, was soon on his way to Hanoi with 170 men. What passed between Dupré and Garnier is not exactly clear, but presumably they entertained expectations similar to those expressed by the captain who had advised Dupuis and guided him into the Red River the previous year. A common opinion among the French in Cochinchina was that the Vietnamese were incapable of any serious  resistance. As for Paris, Dupré apparently gambled that the attitude of the metro- politan government could be moved by a fait accompli.  Tu Duc and Nguyen Tri Phuong imagined that Garnier had arrived to escort Dupuis out of the country by force. Instead, Garnier allied with Dupuis and began to issue commands contradicting the public announcements of Nguyen Tri Phuong. Events moved quickly to a military confrontation. In addition to the few French troops who had arrived with Garnier, Dupuis had about 500 men under arms with up-to-date weapons, including the 150 Qing soldiers from Yunnan as well as men he recruited from the local Chinese community and deserters from the Qing army that had entered the country from Guangxi to suppress the yellow banner forces. In the Hanoi citadel, Nguyen Tri Phuong had around seven thousand soldiers, but their weapons were outdated. In late November, Garnier attacked the citadel and it quickly fell. Nguyen Tri Phuong was wounded and died. During the next three weeks, Garnier’s men raced on river steamboats from one place to another and easily took possession of nearly all the Vietnamese administrative centers in the Red River plain between Hanoi and the sea.  Although the Spanish missionaries held aloof, most French missionaries cooper- ated with Garnier, and many Vietnamese Christians assisted the French with  supply and reconnaissance, as auxiliary militia, and in setting up local adminis- trations. While French missionaries and Vietnamese Christians were prominent  in assisting Garnier, they constituted a relatively small minority of the Vietnam- ese who rallied in support of the invaders. The reservoir of dissidents who had  provided manpower to the series of Le pretenders in previous years also responded to Garnier. Hoang Ta Viem (1820–1909), the husband of one of Minh Mang’s daughters, was in command of the Vietnamese fortress at Son Tay, about forty kilometers upriver from Hanoi. Another senior Vietnamese official in the region was Ton That Thuyet (1839–1913), a descendent of the seventeenth-century ruler Nguyen Phuc Tan, who was rising to the top echelon of influence at Tu Duc’s court. These two men called upon Liu Yongfu for help. Hoang Ta Viem had previously established a close and friendly relationship with Liu Yongfu. Liu Yongfu moved his men downriver and was in the vicinity of Hanoi by mid December. The yellow flag forces, not yet subdued, were inclined to support the French against the black flags, but were too slow to have any effect on the situation. Considering that the black flag soldiers were his most serious adversaries, Garnier was determined to demonstrate his mastery over them at the earliest opportunity. When they appeared at the western gates of Hanoi, Garnier impetuously led a sally against them, but was ambushed and killed. Saigon had just been linked to Paris by undersea cable, and news of Garnier’s activities quickly reached men in the metropolitan government and they directed Dupré to put an end to the affair. Dupré’s gamble had failed. There was no way for him to temporize, to let events take their course, to wait for the surface mails to shuttle across the seas, giving time for a fait accompli to gain momentum. His instructions from Paris to stop Garnier were unmistakable and promised disgrace if he did not immediately comply. He turned to a young naval officer and colonial administrator with a reputation as a serious scholar of Vietnamese culture, Paul Louis Felix Philastre (1837–1902).

Philastre had arrived in Vietnam with Charner in 1861. He was soon fluent in Vietnamese and learned to read Chinese characters. Dupré sent him north with authority to terminate the French adventure on the Red River. He arrived in Hanoi shortly after Garnier’s death and moved quickly to restore Tu Duc’s officials to their posts and to redeploy the French soldiers back to Cochinchina. He sent Dupuis packing with a strong rebuke. A new agreement was subsequently negotiated, known as the Treaty of 1874, which superseded the 1862 Treaty of Saigon.

The Treaty of 1874 appeared to stabilize and deepen the Franco-Vietnamese relationship, but in fact it became a source of misunderstanding and frustration to both sides. The Vietnamese obtained the French evacuation of the north, which was Tu Duc’s main concern. For their part, the French obtained formal Vietnamese acknowledgment of their 1867 annexation of the three western provinces of Cochinchina, which Hue had previously refused to grant. The freedom of missionaries and the protection of Christians were guaranteed. Although some local magistrates countenanced a wave of reprisals against the Christians who had supported Garnier’s brief conquest in the north, Tu Duc discouraged this because he wanted to provide no excuse for the return of French soldiers. The most serious anti-Christian activities occurred not in the Red River plain but in Nghe An and Ha Tinh, where a large Christian population had existed since the early seventeenth century and where the Confucian-educated literati were particularly anti-Christian and anti-French. Ton That Thuyet was eventually sent to calm those two provinces.

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