1902 Encyclopedia > Tonkin (Tongking)

Tonkin, Vietnam
(also known as: Tongking; Tong-king; etc.)




TONG-KING, TUNG-KING, TONQUIN, or, as it is called by the Annamese, DONG-KING, consists of that portion of Annam between 18° N. lat. and the frontiers of the Chinese provinces of Kwang-se and Yun-nan, with an area of 60,000 square miles. On the W. it is bounded by the Tran-ninh range, which forms the limit of the Lao states, and on the E. by the sea. In shape it resembles, roughly speaking, an isosceles triangle, having its apex at its juncture with Annam and its base along the Chinese boundary. The name Tong-king, "the eastern capital," was originally applied to Hanoi, but was eventually adopted as that of the whole country. It is the same word as TOKIO (q.v.).

Geographically Tong-king is divided into three well-defined areas. First, there is the delta of the Song-koi ("Red river") and its affluents, which, beginning at Sontay, widens out into the low lands which constitute the most fertile district in Tong-king, and within which are situated the principal cities of the country. Here is grown the rice which constitutes 39 per cent. of the total exports from Tong-king, and which is reckoned in the Hong-Kong market to be equal in quality to the rice from Siam and superior to that from Cochin China. During the rainy season this part of the country, with the exception of the embankments, is under water, but notwithstanding this the climate is fairly healthy, and the prevalence of fever and dysentery is not so great as might be expected. From the delta northward and westward rise plateau districts, while westward of 103° E. long. there stretches a forest region about which very little is known, but which is said by the natives to be inhabited only by savages and wild beasts.

Politically the country is divided into sixteen provinces, of which the following seven are in the delta mentioned:— Bac-ninh, Sontay, Hanoi, Hai-Dzuong, Hung-yen, Nam-Dinh, and Ninh-Binh. Five provinces constitute the upland districts, viz., Cao-Banh, Lang-son, Thai Nguyen, Tuyen-Kwan, and Kwang-yen; while the forests form the province of Hung hoa. The main geographical feature in the country is the Song-koi, which, taking its rise near Tali Fu, in Yun-nan, enters Tong-king at Lao-kai ("the Lao boundary"), and flows thence in a south-easterly direction to the Gulf of Tong-king. It was this river which mainly in the first instance attracted the French to Tong king, as it was believed by the explorers that, forming the shortest route by water to the rich province of Yun-nan, it would prove also to be the most convenient and expeditious means of transporting the tin, copper, silver, and gold which are known to abound there. This belief has, however, proved fallacious. The upper course of the stream is constantly impeded by rapids, the lowest being about 30 miles above Hung-hoa. Beyond this point navigation is impracticable during the dry season, and at all other times of the year goods have to be there transferred into flat-bottomed boats built for the purpose. Within the limits of Yun-nan the navigation is still more difficult. Near Sontay the Song-koi receives the waters of the Black river, the Clear river, and other streams, and from that point divides into a network of waterways which empty themselves by countless outlets into the sea.

Hanoi, the capital, is a fine city, and stands on the right bank of the Song-koi, at a distance of 80 miles from the sea. The commercial town extends along the water face for a distance of a mile and a half, while behind it stands the citadel, which encloses within its walls the palace, the treasury, the court of justice, the royal pagoda, the prison, the barracks, public offices, and official residences. Embroidery and mother-of-pearl work are the principal industries of Hanoi, which never has been and probably never will be a great commercial centre. But, notwithstanding this, the population is said formerly to have numbered 150,000, a number which has of late years probably been reduced by at least one-third.

Next in importance to Hanoi is Nam-Dinh, on one of the lower branches of the Song-koi. It is the centre of an extremely rich silk and rice district, and was before the war a great resort of Chinese merchants. But the chief place of trade is Hai-phong, on the Song-tam-bac Canal, 14 miles from the sea. This is the port of Tong-king, and its trade represents the foreign commerce of the country. In 1880, the last year of anything like normal trade, goods were imported to the value of 5,467,315 francs, and the exports amounted to 7,507,528 francs. Of the imports 34 per cent. consisted of English cotton goods and yarn, 21 per cent. of opium, 11 per cent. of Chinese medicines, 9 per cent. of Chinese water-pipe tobacco, 5 per cent. of tea, and 20 per cent. of miscellaneous goods. From 97 to 98 per cent. of these goods came from Hong-Kong. Saigon furnished about 1/2 per cent., and rather more than 2 per cent. represented the trade from Annam and elsewhere. The exports were in the following proportions:— rice, 39 per cent.; raw silk and silk piece goods, 21; tin, 16; lacquer oil, 6; and miscellaneous goods, 18. Of these 79 per cent. were shipped to Hong-Kong, 16 per cent. went to Saigon, and the remaining 5 per cent. were distributed among the coast ports.

The mineral wealth of the country is doubtless considerable, though so little has been done in the direction of working it that it is impossible to form any idea of its richness. According to Major-General Mesny, there are nourishing gold-fields in seventeen districts, while silver and copper mining occupies a great deal of native and Chinese labour. Only very small quantities of these minerals, however, are produced in evidence.

The population of Tong-king is estimated at about 12,000,000, and consists of Tong-kingese, Chinese, and an admixture of Lao from beyond the western frontier. The Tong-kingese belong to the Indo-Chinese stock. They are taller and a finer people than the Annamese, and they are more frivolous and excitable than their northern neighbours, the Chinese. Their intelligence is, generally speaking, of a very low order; they are dirty in their habits; and their natural timidity serves to make them deceitful. As traders they show little enterprise, and are quite unable to compete with the Chinese, into whose hands the commerce had, before the arrival of the French, entirely fallen. Their spoken language is allied to the Cambodian, while Chinese forms the medium of literary communication.

The Chinese records carry the history of Tong-king as far back as the 22d century B.C., but, as the data are neither well authenticated nor particularly interesting, we need not dwell upon them. There is, however, one mention of Tong-king, or Yueh, as it was then called, in the 12th century B.C., which acquires importance from the fact that ambassadors from that country are said to have arrived at the Chinese court, bringing with them "south-pointing chariots." These are supposed by some to have been mariner’s compasses, but it is difficult to pronounce any opinion on a statement so obscure. During the reign of Che Hwang-te (218 B.C.), the emperor who made himself famous by building the Great Wall of China and burning the books, a Chinese army invaded Tong-king and captured the town of Luliang, possibly the modern Hanoi. The occupation, however, was only temporary, and it was not until the rise to power of the Han dynasty that any serious attempt was made to subjugate the country. At that time a Chinese general, Chaou T’o, who had established a principality consisting of the two modern provinces of Kwang-tung and Kwang-se, with his capital at Canton, invaded Tong-king, but was defeated and driven out of the country by the ruler, An-yang, whose victories were achieved mainly by the help of a foreign "divine mechanic." This man, whoever he may have been, seems to have been thrown aside after serving his immediate purpose; and, having thus deprived himself of his right hand,. An-yang fell an easy victim when attacked by a second army sent by Chaou T’o. On the subjugation of the empire by the Han sovereign, Chaou T’o’s principality was absorbed with the rest, and in 116 B.C. Tong-king became a dependency of China.

But this connexion brought no peace to the country, and for centuries rebellion followed on rebellion. A particular uprising in the 1st century is noticeable from two sisters, Chêng Tsêh and Cheng Urh, leading the rebel forces against the Chinese garrisons, with such success that the celebrated Ma Yuen had to be sent against the malcontents. After an arduous campaign Ma dispersed the rebels and captured and executed the two sisters, thus putting an end to the rebellion. The next fourteen centuries furnish a perpetual record of wars and rumours of wars, the disconnected narrative of which is generally uninteresting and sometimes unintelligible. In 1427 Li Loi acquired the throne, as so many of his predecessors had done, by violent means, but, unlike them, he established some degree of peace and order in the land. In the following century, however, the spirit of revolt broke out, and one of his successors owed the maintenance of his throne to the skill of his general Nguyen Dzo, on whom the title of hereditary viceroy was consequently conferred. This viceroy gradually assumed the supreme authority in the district under his control and virtually separated Tong-king from Annam, holding the first under his own sway and leaving the southern portion of the country to the roi fainéant. In this disunited condition the two countries remained during the 17th century and part of the 18th, till a successor of Nguyen invaded Annam, captured the imperial city of Hue, and dethroned the king, Gia Long, who fled to Siam. The Siamese sovereign entertained the fugitive with hospitality, but declined to help him to recover his throne. It happened, however, that at this time (1787) the Jesuit establishment of Bangkok was presided over by Bishop Pigneaux de Betaine, who thought he saw in the political condition of Annam a means of establishing the power of France in the eastern portion of Indo-China. With tins object he proposed to Gia Long that he should accompany him to Paris to enlist the aid of Louis XVI. for the recovery of his throne. This the king declined to do, but as a compromise he sent his eldest son. The young prince was cordially received by Louis, before whom the bishop laid the following reasons for the interference of France on behalf of Gia Long. "The balance of political power in India appears at the present moment to be largely in favour of the English, and one may be justified in looking upon it as a matter of no little difficulty to restore the equilibrium. In my opinion the establishment of a French colony in Cochin China will be the surest and most efficacious means to the end. . . . The most certain way of damaging the English in India is to ruin, or at any rate to weaken, her commerce in time of peace. Being situated nearer to China, we should undoubtedly absorb much of her trade . . . In time of war it would be still more easy to stop all commerce between China and any hostile nation. . . . From such a coign of vantage it would be easy to interfere with the designs which the English evidently have of extending their frontier more to the east."





The embassy resulted in a treaty with Gia Long, by which the French king engaged to restore that monarch to his throne on condition that he accepted the virtual protectorship of France over Annam. But even before the initial steps towards the fulfilment of this contract could be carried out, the political uprising which finally brought the French king to the scaffold made all interference in the East impossible. In these circumstances the bishop determined to raise a sufficient force from the French and other adventurers who then frequented India and the neighbouring countries, and, with an army so recruited, he landed in Annam. The Annamese resistance was of the feeblest kind ; the usurper’s power was broken at the first encounter, and Gia Long once again ascended his throne. As a reward for the services thus rendered to him, he extended a liberal protection to the Roman Catholic missionaries and their converts, and engaged French officers to fortify his towns and to drill his troops. He soon found, however, that his new allies had more ambitious designs than could be satisfied by doing him service. He therefore withdrew his countenance from them, and emphasized his displeasure by leaving his throne away from his eldest son, who had pleaded his cause in Paris, and by giving it to his youngest son. This change of policy told, as was natural, with greatest force on the missionaries and their converts in the interior of the country. From 1833 to 1839 eleven missionaries were put to death, and thousands, it is said, of the native Christians suffered martyrdom. Neither change of sovereign nor varying circumstances brought any relief to the persecuted Christians, until in 1859 the French Government determined to intervene on their behalf. In that year Admiral Rigault de Genouilly took Saigon by assault, and was attempting to open negotiations with the king of Annam, when the outbreak of the China war compelled him to satisfy himself with holding the captured town. So soon, however, as the Peking treaty was signed, the French resumed active operations in the neighbourhood of Saigon and took possession of the provinces of Mitto and Bienhoa in Cochin-China. These victories led to the conclusion of a treaty with the king, Tu Duc, which, however, did not prevent the French from adding the provinces of Kinh-luong, Chandoc, and Ha-tien to their acquired territory.

Having thus firmly established themselves in Annam, they began to turn their attention to Tong-king, attracted by the reported richness of its mineral wealth. They found a ready pretext for interfering in its affairs in the disturbances arising from the invasion of its northern provinces by the disbanded followers of the Tai-ping rebels. Acting on the protectorship which they professed to exercise over all the territories of Tu Due, they proposed to him that a joint expedition composed of French and Annamese troops should be sent to quell the disturbances. On Tu Due declining to accede, the French admiral was on the point of starting "to protect" Tong-king, when as before the outbreak of war put an end to the enterprise. The events of 1870 forbade any advance in the direction of Tong-king, but the return of peace in Europe was once more the signal for the renewal of hostilities in the East. The appearance of Garnier’s work on his expedition up the Mekong aroused again an interest in Tong-king, and the reported wealth of the country added the powerful motive of self-interest to the yearnings of patriotism. Already M. Dupuis, a trader who in the pursuit of his calling had penetrated into Yun-nan, and had thus discovered that the higher waters of the Song-koi were navigable, had visited Hanoi with a small force of desperadoes, and was attempting to negotiate for the passage up the river of himself and a cargo of military stores for the Chinese authorities in Yun-nan. Meanwhile Captain Senez appeared from Saigon, having received instructions to open the route to French commerce. But to neither the trader nor the naval officer would the Tong-kingese lend a favourable ear, and in default of official permission Dupuis determined to force his way up the river. This he succeeded in doing, but arrived too late, for he found the rebellion crushed and the stores no longer wanted.

On his return to Hanoi, Dupuis found that the opposition of the authorities had gathered strength during his absence. His arrival served to restore the position of the French, and, not wishing to make an open attack upon them, the Tong-kingese general wrote to the king, begging him to induce the governor of Saigon to remove the intruder. An order was thereupon issued calling upon Dupuis to leave the country. This he declined to do, and, after some negotiations, Garnier with a detachment was sent to Hanoi to do the best lie could in the difficult circumstances. Garnier threw himself heart and soul into Dupuis’s projects, and, when the Tong-kingese authorities refused to treat with him except on the subject of Dupuis’s expulsion, he attacked the citadel on November 20, 1873, and carried it by assault. Having thus secured his position, he sent to Saigon for reinforcements, and meanwhile sent small detachments against the five other important fortresses in the delta (Hang-yen, Phu-ly, Hai-Dzuong, Ninh-Binh, and Nam-Dinh), and captured them all. The Tong-kingese now called in the help of Liu Yung-fu, the leader of the "Black Flags," who at once marched with a large force to the scene of action. Within a few days he recaptured several villages near Hanoi, and so threatening did his attitude appear that Garnier, who had hurried Lack after capturing Nam-Dinh, made a sortie from the citadel. The movement proved a disastrous one, and resulted in the death of Garnier and of his second in command, Balny d’Avricourt.

Meanwhile the news of Garnier’s hostilities had alarmed the governor of Saigon, who, having no desire to be plunged into a war, sent Philastre, an inspector of native affairs, to offer apologies to the king of Annam. When, however, on arriving in Tong-king Philastre heard of Garnier’s death, he took command of the French forces, and at once ordered the evacuation of Nam-Dinh, Ninh-Binh, and Hai-Dzuong,—a measure which, however advantageous it may have been to the French at the moment, was most disastrous to the native Christian population, the withdrawal of the French being the signal for a general massacre of the converts. In pursuance of the same policy Philastre made a convention with the authorities (February 6, 1874), by which he bound his countrymen to withdraw from the occupation of the country, retaining only the right to trade at Hanoi and Hai-phong, and agreed to put an end to Dupuis’s aggressive action. On the 15th of March a treaty was signed at Saigon.





For a time affairs remained in statu quo, but in 1882 Le Myre de Villers, the governor of Saigon, sent Rivière with a small force to open up the route to Yun-nan by the Song-koi. With a curious similarity the events of Garnier’s campaign were repeated. Finding the authorities intractable, Rivière stormed and carried the citadel of Hanoi, and then, with very slight loss, he captured Nam-Dinh, Hai-Dzuong, and other towns in the delta. And once again these victories brought Liu Yung-fu and his Black Flags into the neighbourhood of Hanoi. As Garnier had done, so Rivière hurried back from Nam-Dinh on news of the threatened danger. Like Garnier also he headed a sortie against his enemies, and like Garnier he fell a victim to his own impetuosity.

In the meantime the Annamese court had been seeking to enlist the help of the Chinese in their contest with the French. The tie which bound the tributary nation to the sovereign state had been for many generations slackened or drawn closer as circumstances determined, but never had it been entirely dissevered, and from the Annamese point of view this was one of the occasions when it was of paramount importance that it should be acknowledged and acted upon. With much more than usual regularity, therefore, the king despatched presents and letters to the court of Peking, and in 1880 lie sent a special embassy, loaded with unusually costly offerings, and with a letter in which his position of a tributary was emphatically asserted. Far from ignoring the responsibility thrust upon him, the emperor of China ordered the publication of the letter in the Peking Gazette. The death of Rivière and the defeat of his troops had meanwhile placed the French in a position of extreme difficulty. The outlying garrisons, with the exception of Nam-Dinh and Hai-phong, were at once withdrawn to Hanoi, and that citadel was made as secure as circumstances permitted. The Black Flags swarmed round its walls, and the reinforcements brought by Admiral Courbet and General Bouet were insufficient to do more than keep them at bay. So continued was the pressure on the garrison that Bouet determined to make an advance upon Sontay to relieve the blockade. After gaining some trifling successes, he attacked Vong, a fortified village, but he met with such resistance that, after suffering considerable loss, he was obliged to retreat to Hanoi. In the lower delta fortune sided with the French, and almost without a casualty Hai-Dzuong and Phu-Binh fell into their hands. These successes led to an ultimatum being sent to the king of Annam, in which were demanded the fulfilment of the treaty of 1874 and the acceptance of the protectorate of France over the whole of Annam, including Tong-kin. This document met with no favourable reception, and, as at this moment a reinforcement of 7000 men arrived from France, Courbet, determining to supersede diplomacy by arms, appeared with his fleet before Hue. He found that, though Tu Duc was dead, his policy of resistance was maintained, and he therefore stormed the city. After a feeble defence it was taken, and the admiral concluded a treaty with the king (August 25, 1883), in which the French protectorate was fully recognized, the king further binding himself to recall the Annamese troops serving in Tong-king, and to construct a road from Saigon to Hanoi.

Though this treaty was exacted from the king under pressure, the French lost no time in carrying out that part of it which gave them the authority to protect the country, and on the 1st September Bouet again advanced in the direction of Sontay. But again the resistance he met with compelled him to retreat, after capturing the fortified post of Palan. The serious nature of the opposition experienced in these expeditions induced the French commanders to await reinforcements before again taking the field. Meanwhile, on the determination to attack Sontay becoming known in Paris, the Chinese ambassador warned the ministry that, since Chinese troops formed part of the garrison. he should consider it as tantamount to a declaration of war. But his protest met with no consideration. On the arrival of reinforcements an advance was again made; and on the 16th December, after some desperate fighting, Sontay fell.

The immediate object of the French commanders was at this time to make themselves secure in the delta, and to inflict such chastisement on the Black Flags and their allies as would prevent their disturbing the peace of the garrisons. This could not be attained so long as Bac-Ninh remained in the hands of the enemy. Generals Négrier, Brière de l’Isle, and Millot accordingly marched against the town, and began to shell it. But it was already deserted, and Millot entered the gates without striking a blow. Thus, while one part of the programme was fulfilled to the letter, the other part, which was to have sealed the fate of the garrison, failed conspicuously. In these circumstances it was thought advisable to push on along the great north-eastern road to China; and Négrier advanced about 30 miles towards Lang-son, captured a village there, and then returned to Bac-Ninh.

Meanwhile Brière de l’Isle followed up that portion of the Bac-Ninh garrison which had escaped along the northern road in the direction of Thai-Nguyen. He captured the fort of Yen-Te, and marched on to Thai-Nguyen, where, as on so many occasions, there was a great display of martial ardour so long as the French were beyond firing distance, but the discharge of a few shells completely discomfited the defenders, who fled out of the north gate as the French marched in at the south. As Brière de l’Isle had positive orders not to hold the town, he burnt some of the buildings, and evacuated it. The Chinese troops immediately returned, and again were driven out a month later, only to return again on the withdrawal of the French. Once more, however, a column was sent against the city, which on this occasion was burnt to the ground.

The whole of the lower delta was thus made secure in the hands of the French. Hung-Hoa (a town about 15 miles north-east of Sontay) and Tuyen-Kwan (a fortified place about 40 miles farther north) both fell before the invaders, but from both the garrisons escaped practically unscathed.

In the meantime M. Fournier, the French consul at Tientsin, had been negotiating for peace, so far as China was concerned, with Li Hung-chang, and on May 17, 1884, had signed and sealed a memorandum by which the Chinese plenipotentiary agreed that the Chinese troops should evacuate the northern provinces of Tong-king "immédiatement." This expression was undeniably vague, and the French general in Tong-king, impatient of delay, in June dispatched Colonel Dugenne at the head of a strong force to occupy Lang-son. The expedition was badly arranged; the baggage train was far too unwieldy; and the pace at which the men were made to march was too quick for that scorching time of the year. They advanced, however, within 25 miles of Lang-son, when they suddenly came upon a Chinese camp. An irregular engagement commenced, and, in the pitched battle which ensued, the Chinese broke the French lines, and drove them away in headlong flight. This brought the military operations for the season to a close.

During the rainy season fevers of all kinds became alarmingly prevalent, and the number of deaths and of men invalided was very large. In the meantime, however, an expedition, led by Colonel Donnier, against the Chinese garrison at Chu, about 10 miles south-east from Lang-kep, was completely successful ; and in a battle fought near Chu the Chinese were defeated, with a loss of 3000 killed, the French loss being only 20 killed and 90 wounded. In the skirmishes which followed the French were generally victorious, but not to such a degree as to warrant any enlargement of the campaign.

The arrival in January 1885 of 10,000 men having brought up the force under Briére de 1’Isle to 40,000, he ordered an advance towards Lang-son. The difficulties of transport greatly impeded his movements, still the expedition was successful. On the 6th February three forts at Dong-Song, with large supplies of stores and ammunition, fell into the hands of the French. Three days’ heavy fighting made them masters of a defile on the road, and on the 13th Lang-son was taken, the garrison having evacuated the town just before the entrance of the conquerors. With his usual energy Négrier pressed on in pursuit to Ki-hea, and even captured the frontier town of Cua-ai. But Brière de 1’Isle had now to hurry back to the relief of Tuyen-Kwan, which had been attacked by a Chinese force, and Négrier was left in command at Lang-son. The withdrawal of Brière de 1’Isle’s division gave the Chinese greater confidence, and, though for a time Négrier was able to hold his own, on the 22d and 23d of March he sustained a severe check between Lang-son and Thatke, which was finally converted into a complete rout, his troops being obliged to retreat precipitately through Lang-son to Than-moi and Dong-Song. Brière de l’Isle reached Tuyen-Kwan on the 3d of March, and found the Black Flags and Yunnan braves strongly posted on the side of an almost inaccessible pass. After having sustained a succession of attacks for eighteen days, and seven actual assaults, the delight of the garrison at seeing Brière de l’Isle’s relieving force may be imagined. It was while matters were in this position that Sir Robert Hart succeeded in negotiating peace between the two countries. By the terms agreed on (April 6, 1885), it was stipulated that France was to take Tong-king under its protection and to evacuate Formosa. The Chinese undertook at the same time to expend 80,000,000 francs on the construction of roads in South China.

The future fortunes of the colony must depend greatly on the administrative ability of the governors selected to rule over it. The death of Paul Bert was in this respect a great loss to Tong-king.

See France and Tong-King, by J. G. Scott, 1885; Tonkin, by C. B. Norman, 1884 ; Tungking, by W. Mesney, 1884. (R. K. D.)



The above article was written by Robert Kennaway Douglas, Keeper of Oriental Printed Books and MSS. at the British Museum; Professor of Chinese, King's College, London; China Consular Service, 1858; Assistant in charge of Chinese Library, British Museum, 1865; author of The Language and Literature of China; Confucianism and Taoism; China; A Chinese Manual; and The Life of Li Hung-Chang.




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