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Protectorate of France; constituent territory of French Indochina







Flag of France

Tonkin was located in present-day northern Vietnam, shaded orange
Capital Ha Noi
Languages French, Vietnamese
Religion Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism
Political structure Protectorate
Historical era New Imperialism
 •  Established 1884
 •  Disestablished 1949
Currency French Indochinese piastre
Today part of  Vietnam
Map of Vietnam showing the conquest of the South over 900 years

Tonkin (Vietnamese: Bắc Kỳ, historically Đàng Ngoài), also spelled Tongkin, Tonquin or Tongking, is the northernmost part of Vietnam, south of China's Yunnan and Guangxi Provinces, east of northern Laos, and west of the Gulf of Tonkin. "Tonkin" is a corruption of Đông Kinh (東京), the name of Hanoi during the Lê Dynasty. Locally, Tonkin is known as Bắc Kỳ, meaning "Northern Region". Located on the fertile delta of the Red River, Tonkin is rich in rice production.


  • History 1
    • Tonkin (French protectorate) 1.1
  • Administration 2
  • Gallery 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • External links 6


The area was called Văn Lang by Vietnamese ancestors at around 2000–100 BC. Evidence of the earliest established society other than the Đông Sơn culture in Northern Vietnam was found in the area of the Cổ Loa Citadel, the core of the ancient city of Cổ Loa, situated near the historical and present-day capital of Vietnam—Hà Nội. According to Vietnamese myths the first Vietnamese peoples descended from the Dragon Lord Lạc Long Quân and the Immortal Fairy Âu Cơ. Lạc Long Quân and Âu Cơ had 100 sons before they decided to part ways. 50 of the children went with their mother to the mountains, and the other 50 went with their father to the sea. The eldest son became the first in a line of earliest Vietnamese kings, collectively known as the Hùng kings (Hùng Vương or the Hồng Bàng Dynasty). The Hùng kings called the country, which was then located on the Red River delta in present-day northern Vietnam, Văn Lang. The people of Văn Lang were referred to as the Lạc Việt.

Lê Lợi (reigned 1428–33), a notable land owner in the Lam Kinh region, had a following of more than 1,000 people before rising up against the Chinese Ming regime. Following his victory he mounted the throne and established himself in the city of Thang Long ('Ascending Dragon') (former Cổ Loa, present Hà Nội). Thang Long was also called Đông Kinh (), meaning 'Eastern Capital'. (東京 is identical in meaning and written form in Chinese characters to that of Tokyo).[1][2]

Tonkin (French protectorate)

After helping to unify Vietnam under the Nguyen Dynasty, the French Navy began its heavy presence in the Mekong Delta and later colonized the southern third of Vietnam including Saigon in 1867. Central Vietnam later became the French protectorate of Annam and French influence in the Indochina Peninsula strengthened. After victory in the Sino-French War (1884–1885), Tonkin came under French sovereignty and all of Vietnam was governed by the French. During the French colonial administration, Vietnam was administratively divided into three different territories: Tonkin (in the north), Annam (in the center), and the colony of Cochinchina (in the south). These territories were fairly arbitrary in their geographic extent as the vast majority of the Vietnamese regarded their country as a single land and minor resistance to French rule continued over the next 70 years to achieve an independent state.

During French rule, Hanoi was made capital of Tonkin and, in 1901, of the whole French Indochina. Cities in Tonkin saw significant infrastructure and economic development under the French, such as the development of the port of Haiphong and construction of the Trans-Indochinois Railway linking Hanoi to Saigon. Under French economic plans, mines yielding gold, silver, and tin as well as the farming of rice, corn, and tea powered Tonkin's economy. The imports included rice, iron goods, flour, wine, opium and cotton goods. Industrialization later led to the opening of factories producing textiles and china for export throughout the French Empire. French cultural influence on Tonkin was also significant as French became the primary language of education, government, trade and media and heavy Catholic missionary activity resulted in almost 10% of the population identifying as Catholic by the 1940s. Prominent buildings in Hanoi were also constructed during the period of French rule, such as the Hanoi Opera House and the Hanoi University of Technology. By 1940, the total population of Annam was estimated at around 8 million.[3]

French colonial administration lasted until March 9, 1945, during Japanese occupation (1941-1945). Although French administration was allowed during Japanese occupation as a puppet government, Japan briefly took full control of Vietnam in March 1945 under the Empire of Vietnam and Tonkin became the site of the Vietnamese Famine of 1945 during this period.[4] At the end of the war, the north of Vietnam (including Tonkin) saw a sphere of influence by China while the south was briefly occupied by the British for French forces to regroup and regain control. Harry Truman at the Potsdam Conference, stated an intention to hand the region back to French rule, a sharp contrast to Franklin D. Roosevelt's strong opposition to colonialism and commitment to support the Viet Minh. However, after the Japanese withdrew from Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Ba Đình Square. Hanoi was later reoccupied by the French and conflict between the Viet Minh and France broke out into the First Indochina War. After a French defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in Western Tonkin in 1954, the communist state of North Vietnam was formed, consisting of Tonkin and northern Annam.


Tonkin was a component of French Indochina. It was a de facto French colony despite being a protectorate on paper. The British Naval Intelligence Division wrote during World War II that "at first the native political organization was maintained, but in 1897 the office of viceroy, representing the king of Annam in Tonkin, was abolished, and since then other changes have further weakened the influence of the native government."[5] Tonkin was administered by a French resident similar to those in Annam, Laos, and Cambodia, but he had much greater authority because of the absence of any indigenous administration.[6] A conseil du protectorat composed of important officials and representatives from the chambers of agriculture and commerce, assisted the resident in performing his duties. There was also an advisory council made up of Vietnamese.[7]

Tonkin was made up of 23 provinces, subdivided into phu or huyen, cantons, and communes.[8] Local administration was in the hands of Vietnamese mandarins, although they were appointed by the resident rather than the emperor as in Annam.[9] The smallest unit of administration, the commune, was overseen by two councils: the toc bieu, and the mandarin-dominated ky muc with the authority to veto decisions of the toc bieu.[10] Hanoi and Haiphong had municipal councils appointed by the governor-general of Indochina.[11]


See also


  1. ^ Hữu Ngọc “Wandering through Vietnamese Culture”. Thé̂ giới publishers, 2004, reprinted April 2006 & 2008, 1 124 pp. ISBN 90-78239-01-8
  2. ^ Forbes, Andrew, and Henley, David: Vietnam Past and Present: The North (History and culture of Hanoi and Tonkin). Chiang Mai. Cognoscenti Books, 2012. ASIN: B006DCCM9Q.
  3. ^ Le Vietnam compte à lui seul cinquante quatre ethnies, présentées au Musée Ethnographique de Hanoi.
  4. ^ L'Indochine française pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, Jean-Philippe Liardet
  5. ^ Naval Intelligence Division, 203-204.
  6. ^ Ibid.
  7. ^ Ibid.
  8. ^ Ibid.
  9. ^ Ibid.
  10. ^ Ibid.
  11. ^ Ibid.

External links

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