Imperial Heights: Dalat and the Making and Undoing of French Indochina

Imperial Heights: Dalat and the Making and Undoing of French Indochina

Imperial Heights: Dalat and the Making and Undoing of French Indochina

Imperial Heights: Dalat and the Making and Undoing of French Indochina

Synopsis

Intended as a reminder of Europe for soldiers and clerks of the empire, the city of Dalat, located in the hills of Southern Vietnam, was built by the French in an alpine locale that reminded them of home. This book uncovers the strange 100-year history of a colonial city that was conceived as a center of power and has now become a kitsch tourist destination famed for its colonial villas, flower beds, pristine lakes, and pastoral landscapes. Eric T. Jennings finds that from its very beginning, Dalat embodied the paradoxes of colonialism--it was a city of leisure built on the backs of thousands of coolies, a supposed paragon of hygiene that offered only questionable protection from disease, and a new venture into ethnic relations that ultimately backfired. Jennings' fascinating history opens a new window onto virtually all aspects of French Indochina, from architecture and urban planning to violence, labor, métissage, health and medicine, gender and ethic relations, schooling, religion, comportments, anxieties, and more.

Excerpt

Cities have received relatively little attention in the history of the French empire in general and that of colonial Indochina in particular. True, Philippe Papin and William Logan have provided us with excellent overviews of Hanoi, and Vietnamese scholars such as Tran Huy Lieu, Tran Van Giau, and Dang Phong have penned engaging accounts of Hanoi and Saigon through the centuries. However, one searches in vain for an account of the colonial city—its social, political, cultural, and economic dynamics, as well as its postcolonial transformations.

With Imperial Heights: Dalat and the Making and Undoing of French Indochina, Eric Jennings provides just such a study. Rather than focusing on Saigon or Hanoi, Jennings gives us the first detailed account of the city of Dalat from its colonial conception in the late nineteenth century to its national promotion as a major tourist destination today. This city, located in the cool highlands of lower central Vietnam, was home to the first French hill stations, where colonizers came to seek relief from the stifling tropical heat. Such stations existed in various parts of the colonial world, and scholars (including Jennings himself) have written widely on their sociopolitical significance. Imperial Heights is the first examination of the French equivalent in Indochina. and a remarkably rich history it is, including in the later years. Dalat was the city Vichy wanted to turn into the political capital of Indochina, the place where Governor General Jean Decoux lived during World War II. During the Indochina conflict, Bao Dai ran the Associated State of Vietnam from there, and the city

Eric T. Jennings, Curing the Colonizers: Hydrotherapy, Climatology, and French Colonial Spas,
Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2006.

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