French influence in Vietnam in the 19th century

In the 19th century, the French had a great influence in Vietnam in different aspects including; culture, religion, ethics, economy, politics and government and nationalistic aspirations of the Vietnamese. The French ruled Vietnam from approximately mid-late 1800’s until 1954 when Vietnam defeated the French. According by Edward Terry on the geocities website, the greatest influence in Vietnam was that of religion. Others may think differently, but this essay will explain how all different aspects had an impact on Vietnam and whether or not the French had a good or bad influence in Vietnam.

According to the textbook Contested Spaces by Thomas Cantwell, French colonialism had a negative influence on Vietnamese society.

The French had a huge impact on the Vietnamese culture. French culture strongly influenced Vietnamese food, language, some architecture etc. The French cuisine had a great influence in Vietnam as you can still find asparagus, white potato and French bread on menus in Vietnam. A Vietnamese breakfast would be a baguette, yogurt and orange juice, which are all typical French items.

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In the South, the influence was the greatest, so these things are most often found in southern Vietnam. Before the French came, the Vietnamese used Chinese characters but French missionaries introduced the Latin alphabet to replace that.

The Vietnamese written language doesn’t only use 26 characters like the English language, but many different with different accents. Actual Vietnamese words were hardly influenced by the French and it could be said that in the 19th century, the Vietnamese spoken language sounded just like the Chinese spoken language to people who couldn’t tell the difference.

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Even though the French language didn’t have a great impact on the Vietnamese spoken language, many well educated Vietnamese speak French. The French influence in Vietnamese culture wasn’t particularly bad or good. Even though, some may argue otherwise.

Vietnamese architecture wasn’t influenced strongly by the French but in the main cities such as Hanoi there can still be found the remnants of old French buildings. The French occupied the city so the majority of the buildings in the center like government buildings, offices, opera houses and big lodges were all made by the French.

As said before, some argue that the biggest influence the French had in Vietnam was that of religion. The Société des Missions Étrangeres (The society of foreign missionaries) claims that up until the year of 1841, 450 000 Vietnamese had changed their religion to Christianity. However, those statistics aren’t very reliable, because during the progress they might have killed twice as many people as that. Having said that, even up to today, Catholicism is the second most practised religion (after Buddhism) in Vietnam. Therefore there can be said that religion was one of the biggest influences the French had in Vietnam.

Vietnamese moral and ethical values were mostly influenced by the Chinese and the French didn’t have a great influence on Vietnamese ethics. The French might have brought in some Europeans habits, but the majority of the Vietnamese lived by Chinese ethics.

The French also had a great impact on the Vietnamese economy. The French opened banks in Vietnam but only to the benefit of the French. Looking at the economic influences the French had on Vietnam there can be said it was a bad influence for Vietnamese people. The French also introduced a wine tax in 1817 and since the national drink of Vietnam was rice wine, this had a great impact on the Vietnamese people. They controlled the rice wine manufacture, distribution and sale in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Local production was illegal.

Salt was also very important product to the Vietnamese. In 1897 Governor General Paul Doumer also introduced a salt tax. Salt could only be purchased from French outlets with a price 10 times larger than its original price. The French also took opium from Asia and introduced it in Europe. They started trading and by 1929 the whole of Indochina was producing approximately 80 tonnes of opium yearly. All of these things influenced the economy because there was more trading and people had to pay a lot of taxes on things that were free before. Looking at all of these things there can be said that the French did have a negative influence on the Vietnamese economy.

The French obviously had an effect on the Vietnamese government because they were ruling the Vietnamese. When they first arrived in Vietnam, they divided it in three different parts called; Bac Ky (Tonkin), Trung Ky (Annam) and Nam Ky (Cochin china), so they could gain control over each part at a time. While the French were in Vietnam the emperor remained a figure head with no real power. He could practice his activities with his court and initiated laws, and conducted ceremonies as long as they didn’t clash with the French policies and intentions. The French were in control over the government and therefore also the politics. As said before they introduced more taxes and with these taxes came new laws. According to the book: A short history of South east Asia by Church P., the Vietnamese imperial government had lost all capacity to control events.

Another thing that changed while the French were in Vietnam was that the Vietnamese became more nationalistic. The Vietnamese wanted independence from the French and had a very nationalistic attitude. The French being in Vietnam also started guerrilla warfare. The Vietnamese stood up against the French. Guerrilla warfare isn’t supported by the official military of the government but can be very organized. The French being in Vietnam flamed up their nationalistic aspirations.

There can be concluded that the French had a huge impact and influence in Vietnam on all different aspects of live and the country. In conclusion from analyzing these different things there can be said that the French mainly had a negative influence in Vietnam.

Bibliography: by Edward Terry Cantwell, Contested spaces Conflict in Indochina. McGraw Hill education, first edition 2003, NSW.

Church P. 2006, A short history of South East Asia, John Wiley & Sons, Singapore.

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French influence in Vietnam in the 19th century. (2016, Jul 30). Retrieved from

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