Alternate History

French Indochina (Twilight of a New Era)

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Indochinese Union
Union Indochinoise (French)
Liên bang Đông Dương (Vietnamese)

Timeline: Twilight of a New Era

OTL equivalent: French Indochina
Flag of Colonial Annam Armoiries république française
Territorial flag of Indochinese Union (flown along the French flag) National emblem of the French Republic and French Union since 1935
Capital Saigon (1887–1901), Hanoi (since 1902)
Largest city Saigon
Other cities Hanoi, Haipong and Phnom Penh
French (official) and Vietnamese (co-official and lingua franca)
  others Khmer and Lao
Secular state
  others Mahayana Buddhism,, Taoism, Confucianism, Roman Catholic, Cao Dai and Hoa Hao.
Ethnic Groups
Vietnamese (Kinh), Khmer and Loa
  others Montagnard (or Degar), Chinese, Thai and European
Government colonial federation (colonies and protectorates)
President of French Republic
Governor General
Area 750.000 km²
Population 21.599.582 (1935 est.) 
Established 1887
Currency French Indochinese piastre (1885-1925), Franc d'outre-mer (FOM, 1925)
Organizations French Union

French Indochina (French: Indochine française; Vietnamese: Đông Dương thuộc Pháp, frequently abbreviated to Đông Pháp) is part of the French Union in southeast Asia. It borders in the north with China, British Burma to the northwest, Thailand to the west, to the southwest the Gulf of Thailand, and the South China Sea, referred to as East Sea (Vietnamese: Biển Đông), to the east.

French Indochina is a federation of three Vietnamese regions, Tonkin (North), Annam (Central), and Cochinchina (South), as well as Cambodia, formed in 1887. Laos was added in 1893 and Kwang-Chou-Wan in 1900. The capital was moved from Saigon (in Cochinchina) to Hanoi (Tonkin) in 1902.

Government of Indochina

Initially Indochina was under the direction of a Governor General, appointed by the French Government. Under his direction were the French colony of Cochinchina and the protectorates of Tonkin, Annam, Laos and Cambodia. Each one under the direction of a Resident-Superior or Governor named by the Governor General.

Indochine française

Map of French Indochina

After the Yen Bai mutiny of 1930, the central government pushed for a reform of the colonial governance and a limited autonomy of Indochina. Part of the revolt came from the parallel structure in the administration. Native and French, the last one supervising the former. This created a tension between colonial and local interest, such has the lack of knowledge of many French administrators of Vietnamese language. Also the necessity considering that the zones of former Vietnam, during the mutiny, had given a large local support to it.

The 1932 reform of Indochina established the Governor General named for a term of 5 years, renewal for another term. An elected Territorial Assembly serves in an advisory function and approves or modifies the budget. The colony of Cochinchina and protectorates of Tonkin, Annam where reformed. Each one is under the direction a Territorial Governor, named by the Governor General. They are assisted by an elected Territorial Council. All the Assemblies are elected by two separate electorates: Natives and French for a term of 5 years.

The protectorates of Cambodia and Laos maintain their autonomy under the direction of their monarchs, assisted by a Resident-Superior and Provincial Residents, all named by the Governor General. The protectorates however have to enact their own constitutions that must limit the executive powers of the monarchs. Vietnamese is made the co-official language in the administration, local government, justice courts and education in all Indochina. Khmer and Lao are only co-official in Cambodia and Laos.

The Territory of Kwang-Chou-Wan (1898-1936) was under the supervision of the Territorial Governor of Tonkin, who named its Administrator. Chinese and French where the co-official languages.

By means of the reform, the public administration is wrap up in one common civil service under the direction of the Governor General, whose enrollment is made by means of examinations and merit.

With the end of the protectorates of Tonkin and Annam in 1932, the Emperor of Vietnam (Nguyễn Dynasty) had only a symbolic role. Under reserve orders, the Governor General was instructed to keep a regal expenditure from public funds for the lavish lifestyle of the Nguyễn Dynasty. This as one of the means to keep them out of state functions. The monarchs of Cambodia and Lao where rewarded for their loyalty during the Yen Bai mutiny (1930) in keeping their internal autonomy.


Vietnamese Nationalism, a constant source of unrest and surveillance by French authorities resurged after the Versailles Treaty. A delegation traveled to France and at the French at the Versailles Peace Conference presented a list of demands to the colonial authorities. These included representation in the French parliament, freedom of speech, and release of political prisoners. These demands where ignored and several Nationalist and Communist organizations sprang up in Vietnam.

The most enduring and organized parties that surged were the Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang (VNQDD) and the Indochinese Communist Party (PCI, Vietnamese: Đảng Cộng sản Đông Dương) which was transformed from the old Vietnamese Communist Party (Việt Nam Cộng sản Đảng).

Vietnamese Nationalism after the Yen Bai mutiny of 1930, become more modeled and a mirror of power struggles in China. The Chinese KMT support the VNQDD, and Chinese Communist the PCI. Both VNQDD and PCI decided to create a political base within the peasantry. This was to prove instrumental in the later success of the VNQDD. A more collaborationist line followed parties like the Vietnamese Constitutional Association (ACV).

The French also organized their own political parties following the divisions and affiliation of the ones in the French Metropolis.

Different was the political development in Cambodia and Laos. The fear of domination by the Vietnamese encouraged the formation of nationalist parties that became the political vehicles of the established rulers. These parties were pro-loyalist, pro-French and reformist in their outlook. However some follow more independentist and nationalist stance that also merged with local Buddhism and/or millenarian visions.

Economy of Indochina

The currency was French Indochinese piastre (1885-1925) issued by the Banque de l'Indochine. After the monetary reform of 1925, the currency is the Franc d'outre-mer (FOM, 1925) issued by the caisse centrale de la France d'outre-mer (CCFOM). Although devoid of its main function, the Banque de l'Indochine expanded its operations and office in the rest of Indochina, China and Asia. Becoming one of the principal investment banks and one main financial institutions for foreign trade in this area of the World. Economic development and promotion of trade is helped by the Agence économique de l'Indochine (AEI). A public concern that provides information, propaganda and credit.

The main agricultural production of Indochina is rice, rubber plantations, indigo, tea and coffee. Also important is mining, cigarette manufacturing, breweries and distilleries. The funding and promotion of the AEI has helped in establishing iron and steel works in Hanoi-Haiphong and Saigon. Fishing and related industries are also important in the South China Sea and in the Mekong river and delta.

In 1935 it was started the construction of Transindochinese (Transindochinois) railroad, initially running from Saigon to Hanoi, later extended to Phnom Penh.

Divsion and territories of French Indochina

French indochina

French Indochina (division)

Name Capital Status Coofficial languages Flag Area (km²) Population
Tonkin Hanoi Colony (Territorial Governor) French and Vietnamese Flag of Colonial Annam 115,700 8,700,000
Annam Hué Colony (Territorial Governor) French and Vietnamese Flag of Colonial Annam 147,000 5,656,000
Cochinchina Saigon Colony (Territorial Governor) French and Vietnamese Flag of Colonial Annam 64,700 4,616,000
Cambodia Phnom Penh Protectorate (Resident-Superior) French, Vietnamese and Khmer Flag of Cambodia under French protection 181,035 1,500,000
Laos Vientiane Protectorate (Resident-Superior) French, Vietnamese and Lao Flag of French Laos 236,800 700,000
Territoire de Kouang-Tchéou-Wan (also spelt Guangzhouwan or Kwangchowan) Fort Bayard (Zhanjiang) Territory under supervision of Tonkin (Administrator) from 1898 to 1936 French and Chinese Flag of Colonial Annam 1,300 209,000 (1939)

Armed forces of French Indochina

The armed forces, before 1926, mainly consisted of the French Army and Troupes Coloniales (mainly the Tonkinese Rifles) has auxiliary force.

After the reform of 1926, the armed forces comprised:

  • Marine nationale, organized has the Indochinese Fleet;
  • French Army of Indochina;
  • Forces d'outre-mer françaises (former Troupes Coloniales) divided in Troupes de marine (army) and Service aéronautique d'outre-mer (air force)
  • Gendarmerie de Indochinoise (GdI), in the 1930s Cambodian and Laotian gendarmes were formed as an auxiliary units of the GdI.

The Yen Bai mutiny of 1930, where local Vietnamese army units joined the rebellion, prompted a purge of officers corps and reforms. These included transfer of service men far away from native provinces, intensification of recruitment of non Vietnamese (European, Cambodian, Lao and ethnic minority Montagnard people), use of Vietnamese has language of command, Vietnamese language skills of French officers, reform of military tribunals, and improvement on means of gathering intelligence.

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