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Le dictionnaire

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OVERSEAS CHINESE

As elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Vietnam is home to a large Chinese popula-tion. Chinese immigrants had long traded in Vietnamese ports such as Haiphong, Hoi An, and Saigon-Cholon. Chinese immigration was most concentrated in southern Vietnam, where the Chinese contributed to urban and agricultural development and foreign trade. To administer the Chinese, the Nguyen dynasty had divided the Chinese population into bangs or congregations according to their place of origin, mainly in southern China. In all, there were five bangs for the Chinese originating from Guangdong, Chaozhou, Fujian, Hainan, and one for the Hakka.

The French maintained this system and accelerated Chinese immigration in order to develop their colonial economy and industry. In 1879, there were some 45,000 Chinese living in Cochinchina. In 1921, the French counted around 156,000. Over the next 30 years, Chinese immigration increased significantly in French Indochina. According to French statistics from 1950, some 600,000 Chinese resided permanently in southern Vietnam, mainly in the city of Saigon-Cholon. Some 70,000 Chinese lived in Tonkin, mainly along the Sino-Vietnamese border and in the port of Haiphong. Cambodia had between 150,000 and 200,000 Chinese and a few thousand Chinese lived in Laos.

Most but not all of the Chinese remained in or moved to the cities during the war. It is hard to determine the exact number of Chinese residing in zones controlled by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) during the Indochina War at any one time. The DRV probably administered directly some 20,000 to 40,000 Chinese, mainly in the south and in areas located along the Sino-Vietnamese border in the north. These overseas Chinese fell theoretically under the direction of the Bureau of Chinese Affairs in the DRV’s Ministry of the Interior. On the regional level, by the late 1940s, the provincial Resistance and Administrative Commitees had begun to organize the overseas Chinese in the south via the Bureau of Overseas Chinese Affairs (Phong Hoa Kieu Vu Nam Bo).

With the communist victory in China in 1949, the DRV intensified its efforts from 1950 to win over the support of the overseas Chinese and organize them more firmly under the DRV’s control. On orders from the north, southern Vietnamese communists issued directives calling for closer collaboration with the local Chinese in the war against the French. In 1950, the head of the People’s Republic of China’s overseas Chinese affairs called on the Chinese in Southeast Asia “to unite closely with all the revolutionary peoples” and to aid the local national liberation movements of the countries in which they resided. On the ground, though, the results were mixed at best. The DRV had trouble finding cadres capable of speaking the various Chinese dialects. These local Chinese populations, often living in semi-autonomous bangs, were not always keen on cooperating with the DRV in the war against the French. In many cases, the Republic of China consulates in Hanoi and Saigon had a much stronger presence among Chinese congregations than the DRV and sometimes the French.

On 4 December 1950, following high-level discussions with the Chinese communists, the Indo-chinese Communist Party (ICP) issued guidelines concerning the “overseas Chinese question” (ve van de Hoa Kieu o Viet Nam). This document accorded equal rights to overseas Chinese living in Vietnamese territories. Although the ICP spoke of all of Vietnam, the new policy would apply to overseas Chinese living in DRV territories, meaning but a small proportion of the overall populations concentrated in Hanoi, Haiphong and above all Saigon-Cholon, all under Franco-Associated State of Vietnam control. The ICP did not require the overseas Chinese to become national citizens of the DRV. Chinese living in Vietnam also received authorization to create and run their own schools, use their own language, and publish their own newspapers in Chinese. Most important was mobilizing the Chinese in Vietnam, especially in the enemy zones where they were most numerous, against the French.

In July 1950, the DRV created a special administrative organization for the Chinese, called the General Association of the Liberation of the Overseas Chinese of Nam Bo (Tong Hoi Giai Lien Nam Bo Hoa Kieu). In 1952, Vietnamese communists issued follow up guidelines to the 1950 ones. It reiterated the government’s commitment to guaranteeing in legal terms the rights of Chinese living in Vietnamese territories on the same level as Vietnamese citizens. This document also repeated the government’s commitment to allowing Chinese living in DRV territories to take part in Vietnamese politics and state administration. The problem was that many Chinese feared that by joining DRV associations they would lose pre-existing Chinese associations and would be eventually required to adopt DRV citizenship. The 1952 document reiterated the party and government’s commitment to respecting their Chinese citizenship (to the People’s Republic of China). This document also targeted for the first time the need to mobilize the Chinese working class in colonial Vietnamese cities. Lastly, Chinese traders were important commercial intermediaries for the DRV’s war economy, essential to trading clandestinely with the rice markets of Saigon-Cholon. The Sino-Viet Minh rice trade was particularly profitable from 1946 to 1948. In 1948 alone, the Viet Minh in the south earned 500 million piastres from their rice exports from the Transbassac region, sold mainly through Saigon-Cholon markets thanks to Chinese go-betweens. Chinese traders also helped the Viet Minh import needed goods from the French zones and even as far away as Hong Kong. In 1952, DRV agents in Cambodia generated a minimum of 12 million piastres from the pepper trade in Kampot Province – run almost exclusively by the Chinese for centuries. See also GROUPEMENTS ADMINISTRATIFS CHINOIS RÉGIONAUX; KHMER KROM; MINORITY ETHNIC GROUPS; OVERSEAS VIETNAMESE IN THAILAND; PAYS MONTAGNARD DU SUD (PMS); PHẠM ĐÀN.