Piety and Power 12

Bearing Chinese credentials, Dupuis transported his guns and am¬munition to Yunnan in March 1873 and returned to Hanoi two months later with a cargo of tin and copper. He was preparing a similar excursion with a shipment of salt when the trouble started. A guild of local mandarins controlled the salt monopoly, and they blocked his departure. Dupuis and his crew of some two hundred armed Euro¬peans, Chinese and Filipinos promptly occupied a section of Hanoi, raised the French flag, and appealed to Saigon for aid. Tu Duc, en¬sconced in his palace at Hue, complained to Admiral Dupre that Du¬puis was violating Vietnam’s treaty with France.
Tonkin was in chaos at the time. The Taiping rebellion, which convulsed China for a decade, had been brutally quelled not long before, driving Chinese insurgents into Vietnam, where they plun-dered defenseless villages. Tu Duc had appealed to Chinese officials for help, but the soldiers they dispatched merely joined the bandits; the French referred to the Chinese regulars and outlaws alike as Black Flag pirates. Their killing and looting, combined with the plight of Dupuis, secretly delighted Admiral Dupre. A foothold near the Chinese frontier, he had written, was a “matter of life or death” for France’s future in Asia. Now he could achieve that aim. Employing the newly invented cable, he urged Paris to endorse immediate French intervention in Tonkin before the English, Germans or Americans arrived. And, with overweening optimism of the kind that would later beguile other foreign officers in Vietnam, he added: “Need no assistance. Can act with means at my disposal. Success assured.”
The government in Paris warned him against international reper¬cussions, such as Chinese intervention in Vietnam. But Dupre, ac¬complished in the art of the fait accompli, already had a covert plan built around Francis Gamier, whom he had summoned back from a trip to China for the purpose. Dupre sent Gamier and a few French troops to Hanoi, telling Tu Duc that they would evict Dupuis. But once in the city, where he could observe its weak defenses, Gamier dropped all pretense at diplomacy, joined forces with Dupuis and began issuing orders. He unilaterally declared the Red River open to foreign trade, and he lowered Vietnamese customs tariffs to suit Eu¬ropean merchants. When the city’s mandarins protested, he stormed the Hanoi Citadel. On the same day seventy-three years later, French warships would also seize on a commercial squabble to bomb Hai-phong, an action that sparked France’s final struggle to hold Indochina.
Gamier then fanned out to the east, his ranks reinforced by troops from Saigon as well as Vietnamese Catholics and dynastic foes of Tu Duc. Within a month, he had conquered the region between Hanoi and the sea, including the towns of Haiphong and Nam Dinh. But he suddenly fell victim to his own pride and courage. On December 21, 1873, attacked outside Hanoi by Black Flag mercenaries fighting for the Vietnamese, he impetuously rushed ahead of his men to lead a charge and crumpled under a hail of bullets. He was only thirty- five years old.
Proponents of imperialism revered Gamier as a martyr later in the century. But just after his death, his expedition aroused misgivings. Formerly enthusiastic, Saigon businessmen now called for caution, preferring to consolidate their economic gains in Cochinchina. The government in Paris, fearful of escalating costs and possible interna¬tional complications, ordered Dupre to withdraw the French force from Tonkin. But Tu Duc, having observed Garnier’s easy advances in Tonkin, was eager for a pact with France that would guarantee his rule over the region, however nominal it might be.
The man selected by Dupre to sign a new treaty was Paul Louis Philastre, a brilliant scholar who had been one of Garnier’s colleagues in the colonial civil service. He had translated Gia Long’s elaborate legal code from Chinese characters into French, a feat for which he was promoted to head the indigenous judicial administration. But he made a bigger impact as a rare and eloquent critic of his compatriots in Vietnam. Unlike Gamier, who believed in France’s mission to bring sweetness and light to the oppressed, Philastre asserted that the French themselves were the oppressors. He did not entirely reject the French presence but pleaded instead for respect for Vietnamese institutions and aspirations. In 1873, denouncing the imposition of French law in Vietnam, he wrote: “The extraordinary resistance, sometimes violent, sometimes passive in nature, day by day more hateful, which is op¬posed to us by all classes of the people, is stronger now than at any time since the conquest. We must open our eyes.”
Consistent with those sentiments, Philastre expelled Dupuis from Hanoi and evacuated the French force from Tonkin. Then, in Hue, he concluded a treaty with Tu Duc that finally confirmed France’s unconditional control over all of Cochinchina, opened the Red River to commerce, allowed the French to establish consulates in three Viet¬namese towns, and, among its other provisions, authorized them to help the emperor defend his territories against outside attack.
In conceding to the country’s partition, Tu Duc sacrificed the south in order to retain his tenuous hold on central and north Vietnam. Implicitly, though, he recognized a French protectorate over his regime, and that would be confirmed in a later pact. And he had ac¬knowledged direct French control over Cochinchina; this would complicate France’s negotiations with the Vietminh seventy years later.
Philastre’s flexibility seemed to Tu Duc to signal weakness. He immediately launched a campaign of retaliation against the Vietnamese Catholics who had fought for Gamier, destroying their villages and slaughtering them by the thousands. He also encouraged the Black Flag pirates and other bandits to harass traffic on the Red River, thus nullifying in practice his agreement to permit free trade along the waterway. And he counterbalanced the French by tightening his links to China, ceremonially paying tribute to Beijing and inviting Chinese troops into Vietnam to maintain order.

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