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INDOCHINA BEFORE PAVIE

Initial contacts : XVII-XVIII centuries

The French presence in the Indochinese peninsula dates back to the XVIIth Century. It was based on both religious and commercial interests and relied on the presence of missionaries, notably the hugely influential Society of Foreign Missions, which was established in Paris in 1658. With a view to counterbalancing the Dutch and English influence in Asia, in 1680 France negotiated a monopoly over the trade of spices with Siam. However, following the failure of two ambassadorial missions sent by Louis XIV in 1685 and 1687, this country became closed to the Europeans until the end of the XVIIIth Century.

The role of the missionaries, who had close ties with the local populations, was behind the military intervention by France in Cochinchina in the south of the Indochinese peninsula. Nguyen Anh, the king of Annam, found himself in difficulties after the Tay Son revolt (1771-1802). Pigneau de Béhaine, the missionary Bishop of Adran, offered him the support of the French army, in exchange negotiating a treaty signed in 1787. The port of Tourane and the island of Poulo Condore were ceded to France, as well as the exclusive right of trade with Cochinchina. Thanks to the personal assistance of Pigneau de Béhaine and troops who rallied to his cause, Nguyen Anh succeeded in uniting the kingdom of Dai Viet (now Vietnam) in 1802 and became emperor under the name of Gia Long. The new Nguyen Empire consisted of Cochinchina in the south, Annam in the centre and Tonkin in the north. With the death of the Francophile ruler, Gia Long, in 1820, the Hué Court broke off all diplomatic and commercial relations with France, despite the establishment of numerous Christian communities. It was not until the second half of the XIXth Century and the start of the expansionist policies of the Second Empire that the Indochinese peninsula once again became the subject of attempts to conquer it.