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Cochinchina (1858-1867)

Since the XVIIth Century the European powers, including France, had coveted the vast Chinese market and had attempted to establish themselves in the region. By the mid XIXth Century France had few strategic footholds in Asia, unlike Great Britain, which, moreover, had the benefit of favourable commercial treaties signed with China after the Opium Wars (1839-1860).

Anti-Christian persecution supplied the pretext for a military expedition launched in 1858, but the true objective of Napoleon III was to negotiate a commercial treaty with the Hué Court. Following the seizure of Tourane (Da Nâng) on the Annamite coast, and faced with the impossibility of marching on Hué, Admiral Rigaud de Genouilly decided to capture Saigon (17th February 1859), the empire’s rice granary. In spite of resistance from the local population, mandarins and imperial military forces with which the advance of the expeditionary corps was met, the Emperor of Annam, Tu Duc, was compelled to sign a treaty. On June 5th 1862 he ceded the provinces of Saigon, My Tho and Bien Hoa to France, as well as the Poulo Condore archipelago, later followed by three other provinces in the Mekong Delta: Vinh Long, Ha Tien and Chau Doc. They formed the link between Saigon and Cambodia, which had recently been placed under French protection. In 1867 the suicide of the mandarin and Viceroy of Mekong, Phan Thanh Gian, marked the end of the phase of conquest in Cochinchina. The fight against the French invasion, which continued until 1873, was marked by bloody repression.

French expansionism in Cochinchina presents an ambiguity: supported by the missionaries, naval officers and local merchants, it met with misgivings in certain political circles in mainland France where there was a degree of hostility to the expenditure incurred by a conquest whose immediate benefits appeared uncertain.