Jules Ferry and the Renaissance of French Imperialism

By Thomas F. Power Jr. | Go to book overview

Chapter Seven
EMPIRE AND WAR IN INDO-CHINA

The most famous colonial affair of Jules Ferry's second Ministry was the extension of a French protectorate over Annam and its province of Tonkin in Indo-China. Together with Tunisia, this acquisition is Ferry's greatest claim to fame as an empire-builder, for Tonkin and Annam were striking additions to the existing French possessions in Cochin-China and Cambodia. Rich prizes of imperialist rivalries in the Far East, they were not easily won, especially since Tonkin involved France in a war with China.

French interests in and claims to the parts of Indo-China adjacent to the French colonies of Cochin-China and Cambodia long antedated Jules Ferry. As in other colonial theaters, so here there were a few established economic ties, some missionary activity, and, more important, an aggressive spirit on the part of colonial administrators. Again the familiar pattern of Ferry's imperialist activities recurs: when he came to office there was an old French claim to the area and a military expedition all ready to move against the native rulers. Ferry lost no time in ordering the expedition to proceed. During two years thereafter—that is, throughout his second Premiership, he was engaged in military operations in the Far East. This particular colonial venture dominated his overseas policies. It was the most costly of all his projects. In the end it proved successful for France but provided the military reverse which brought about Ferry's personal defeat and sent him to political limbo.

French Indo-Chinese holdings were revived only under Napoleon III, for the older French establishments in Annam and Cambodia had withered away early in the nineteenth century. The Second Empire's hope that Cochin-China and Cambodia1 would give access up the Mekong River to reputedly wealthy Southwestern China2 proved illusory. In the next decade interest shifted North to Annam's province

____________________
1
After a military demonstration against Annam, that kingdom ceded to France in 1862, the provinces of Saigon, Mitho, and Bianhoa in Cochin-China. Three more provinces West of these were seized in 1867, but no settlement was made with the Annamites. The province of Cambodia was annexed in 1863.
2
Roberts, op. cit., II, 422.

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