Historian and VBC Director Todd DePastino presents the third in his series on Vietnam’s history and culture, focusing this week on the French colonization of the region in the 19th and 20th centuries.
France sought access to Vietnam for its raw materials and foreign markets, things needed for France’s growing industrial economy. The French also sought to stamp out Vietnam’s indigenous culture and replace it with French customs and ideals.
For example, they banned the use of the term “Vietnam” and instead referred to it as “French Indochina,” encompassing Cambodia and Laos also.
But the most catastrophic impact of the French was on the daily lives of the Vietnamese peasants. These peasants’ entire existence revolved around growing rice, one of the most labor intensive staple crops in the world. The demands of rice cultivation are so distinct, they even encourage a particular consciousness, one centered on the relations of the collective—the village—rather than the individual. Peasant rice farmers also depend on stable prices and predictable markets, neither of which the French provided when they integrated Vietnam into the global commodity markets.
Under French rule, the price of rice plummeted, and millions of Vietnamese peasants found themselves unable to pay rent, purchase a water buffalo, or buy tools, medicine, and other supplies they couldn’t make themselves.
All the social and technical arrangements peasants had painstakingly upheld for generations to keep their villages intact and their families alive had all been disrupted, to devastating effect.
The result was not only poverty, homelessness, and starvation, but revoluition.
Join us for conversation about the history of Vietnam and how it impacted the American experience there.