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Annam Tributary to China

The name Annam is Chinese, from the term meaning south-pacifying, or an-nan campaign, during the Tang Dynasty. Although Annam gained its independence from China in 938 after the Tang collapsed, it remained a Chinese tributary state.

The Anglo-French campaign in China, which ended in the Treaties of Tientsin (1858), furnished a convenient opportunity for dispatching an expedition to the country. The result of this mission was the capture of the important city of Saigon, where the French established themselves in March 1859. In Indo-China the French had long laboured to found a great colony. In 1867 the kingdom of Annam, tributary to China, was compelled by the French to cede Cochin China at the mouth of the Mekon river. By a treaty made between France and Annam in 1874, the Red River, or Songkoi, was opened to trade together with the cities of Haiphong and Hanoi. This document assumed that the Annamese had the right to make a treaty without reference to their suzerain power, China. The object of the French was then, as it is now, to find a trade route to Yunnan and Szechuen from a base of their own, and it was hoped the Red River would furnish such a route. Tongking at the time, however, was infested with bands of pirates and cutthroats, conspicuous among them being an organisation called the Black Flags.

The Annamese government undertook by the treaty to restore order, and France had promised help. Some years having passed without any improvement, France, which meanwhile had kept a small guard at Haiphong, sent reinforcements (1882), nominally to assist the Annamese troops in putting an end to disorder. The Annamese officials, however, declined to receive them as friends, opposed their progress, and the expedition took the form of a military occupation.

China meanwhile began to take alarm at the near approach of a strong military power to her southern frontier. When the treaty of 1874, which gave France trading privileges, was communicated to her, she seems to have treated it with indifference. Now, however, she began to protest, claiming that Annam was a vassal state and under her protection. France took no notice of the protest; she found, however, that she had undertaken a very serious task in trying to put down the forces of disorder in Tongking. The Black Flags were, it was believed, being aided by money and arms from China, and as time went on, her troops were more and more being confronted with regular Chinese soldiers.

China saw the futility of protracting this state of warfare and demanded the conclusion of a treaty which would cede to them Tonkin. Already, a similar proposition had been brought forward at Peking by the French minister Bounce, who suggested that the portion of the province of Tonkin north of the Red river should remain tributary to China, while the portion south of the Red river should be ceded to France. In return, France was to defend Tonkin against all comers. The conclusion of this Treaty (December, 1882) was irregular. By tradition and law Annam was one of the dependencies of China, and the King therefore had no power to conclude a treaty without the concurrence of his suzerain. Its terms were no sooner communicated to the Tsungli Yamen [the Chinese office dealing with foreign states] than Prince Kung repudiated them.

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Page last modified: 03-04-2012 19:28:50 ZULU