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Emperor Bao Dai

Born Prince Nguyen Vinh Thuy on Oct. 22, 1913, he was given the imperial name Bao Dai (which is pronounced bah-oh dye and means or "Protector of Grandeur" or "Keeper of Greatness" "Preserver of Greatness") on his succession as Emperor in 1926. Boa Dai ascended the throne in 1925 at the age of 12 on the death of his father, Emperor Khai Dinh, but did not return to Viet Nam until 1932 after he had completed his education in France. He returned home to the imperial city of Hue in 1932, assuming the ceremonial duties of the 13th Emperor of the Nguyen dynasty.

Some Vietnamese attempted to advance the cause of national liberation through reforms from above. They looked to the young Emperor Boa Dai as their best hope. Bao Dai was greeted with enthusiasm by the Vietnamese, who expected that he would be able to persuade the French to install a more liberal regime. Boa Dai attempted to reign as a constitutional monarch, according to the terms oithe treaty of 1884 establishing the protectorate, and he strove to modernizethe ancient imperial administration at Hue. Among his young collaborators was Ngo Dinh Diem, governor of the Phan Thietarea in Binh Thuan Province, who was given the portfolio of minister of the interior and appointed head of the secretariat of a Vietnemese-French commission which was charged with the responsibility of implementing Bao Dai's reform proposals. When it became obvious that the French had no intention of granting real power to the Vietnamese administration and would make noconcessions toward unification of the country, the youthful emperor appeared to lose interest, and Ngo Dinh Diem resigned his official position.

The Japanese coup of 09 March 1945 caught the Viet Minh by surprise. But if the Japanese thought the removal of the French would win over the Viet Minh, they were soon disabused of that notion. The Viet Minh publicly objected to the Japanese coup, seeing it as a substitution of one colonial master for another. The Japanese viewed the Viet Minh dissatisfaction as sour grapes at being left out of the action. The investiture of Bao Dai in Hue and the cabinet under Pham Quynh was greeted by opposition, public meetings, and demonstrations in Hanoi organized partly by the Viet Minh. So serious was this opposition that Bao Dai dissolved his cabinet on 19 March 1945 and installed a new one under Tran Trong Kim, an academic of modest nationalist tendencies with no stomach for thesnakepit of Indochinese politics.

Within two days of the Japanese acceptance of the Potsdam declaration, the Viet Minh began to take power in the cities of Indochina. In Hanoi, a Political Action Committee was formed to facilitate cooperationwith Bao Dai's government." By 23 August 1945, Hue was solidly Viet Minh, as was Saigon, where the Executive Committee of the South Vietnam Republic was established. The Viet Minh seized the government buildings in Hanoi on the 19th.

Bao Dai, apparently convinced that a united and independent nation offered the only possibility of preventing the return of French control, decided to abdicate. Recogniting only the nationalist character of the Viet Minh movement and assuming that it had Allied support, he abdicated. in its favor on August 25, 1945 ; and handed over his imperial seal and others ymbols of office to representatives of the newly proclaimed Provisional Government of the Republic of Vietnam.

Pleas by Ho Chi Minh and Emperor Bao Dai to Truman, Charles De Gaulle, Stalin, and British prime minister Atlee to forestall the French return went unanswered. French forces were permitted to land in the North. Bao Dai, who had been acting as high counselor to Ho Chi Minh, was sent on a "good will" mission to China where he remained in exile, thus eliminating the possibility that he might provide a rallying point for groups not thoroughly aligned with the Viet Minh.

Negotiations with France continued for two years, but by June 1949 France finally approved of limited independence for "the State of Vietnam" within the French Union. Bao Dai was coaxed home by the French, who saw him as a possible alterative to Ho Chi Minh, whose guerrillas were then at war with the French colonial army. In February 1950, Great Britain and the United States recognized the State of Vietnam headed by the ex-emperor Bao Dai as the legitimate government. France concluded agreements with Laos and Cambodia simiiar to that with Viet Nam, the three countries became the Associate States of Indochina and were accorded diplomatic recognition by more than 30 other nations.

Bao Dai assumed the role of chief of state, and returned to Vietnam with the titles of Premier and -- again -- Emperor. In its efforts to win popular support, the Bao Dai regime was unsuccesstul. Bao Dai left major decisions to his French-backed advisers, preferring to spend time with his many mistresses at his hunting lodge in the highlands of central Vietnam. His administration was marked by the institutionalization of corruption, prostitution, smuggling, racketeering, and drug trafficking through his association with the Binh Xuyen gang in Saigon.

The principal nationlists (including Ngo Dinh Diem) failed to unite behind him, since they claimed that the French did not offer real independence. Confronted with a choice between French colonialism and the Communist-led nationalist movement, many Vietnamese, attracted by its appeal for independence and unity, tended to side with the Viet Minh organization. In the meantime; Ho Chi Minh rid his coalition government of the moderates and nationalists whom he had accepted earlier and showed himself to be completely Communist. In March 1951 the Indochinese Communists Party (dissolved in 1945) was revived as the Workers Party (Dang Lao Dong).

Cessation of the Indochina War in 1954 left the Associated States of Indochina divided into four countries: Cambodia, Laos, North Viet Nam and South Viet Nam. The Chief of State, Bao Dai, called on Ngo Dinh Diem, to form a government, but although in office, he lacked control, especially over the army. After a time, Diem brought the army under control. Diem turned his attention to his own status and called for a referendum to al1ow Vietnamese to choose between Diem and Emperor Bao Dai. A referendum was ordered for October 23, 1955. Diem's bid to replace Bao Dai was successful. Official Vietnamese government records showed that 91.8 percent of the voting population participated and that 98.2 percent of the voters chose to replace Bao Dai with Diem.

Bao Dai played almost no role in his homeland thereafter, choosing instead a life in Paris and along the Riviera that centered around golf, bridge tournaments and women. Bao Dai, the last Emperor in a line that held the throne in Vietnam for a century and a half, died on August 2, 1997 in France, where he spent nearly half of his life in exile.



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