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Colony of France; constituent territory of French Indochina





Flag of France Flag used in 1946–1948
Cochin-China was the southern part of present-day Vietnam, shaded cyan
Capital Saigon
Languages French
Religion Buddhism
Roman Catholicism
Political structure Colony of France; constituent territory of French Indochina
Historical era New Imperialism
 •  Established 1862
 •  Merged with Tonkin and Annam to form the State of Vietnam 1949
 •  1868 65,478 km² (25,281 sq mi)
 •  1868 est. 1,214,141 
     Density 18.5 /km²  (48 /sq mi)
 •  1939 est. 4,484,000 
     Density 68.5 /km²  (177.4 /sq mi)
Currency French Indochinese piastre
Today part of  Vietnam
a. Population figure taken from P. Gubry, Population et développement au Viêt-nam (2000), p. 44.

Cochinchina (Vietnamese: Nam Kỳ, Khmer: កម្ពុជាក្រោម, Kampuchea Krom, French: Cochinchine) is a region encompassing the southern third of Vietnam whose principal city is Saigon or Prey Nokor in Khmer. It was a French colony from 1862 to 1954. The later state of South Vietnam was created in 1954 by combining Cochinchina with southern Annam. In Vietnamese, the region is called Nam Bộ. Historically, it was Gia Định (1779–1832), Nam Kỳ (1834–1945), Nam Bộ (1945–48), Nam phần (1948–56), Nam Việt (1956–75), and later Miền Nam. In French, it was called la colonie de Cochinchine.

In the 17th century, Vietnam was divided between the Trịnh lords to the north and the Nguyễn lords to the south. The northern section was called Tonkin by Europeans, and the southern part called Cochinchina by most Europeans and Quinam by the Dutch.

During the French colonial period, the label moved further south, and came to refer to the southernmost part of Vietnam, controlled by Cambodia in prior centuries, and lying to its southeast. Its capital was at Saigon. The two other parts of Vietnam at the time were known as Annam and Tonkin.


  • Background 1
  • 1558–1976 summary 2
  • Cochinchina Kingdom of the Nguyen Lords (1620-1774) 3
  • Colonial Cochinchina (1864–1949) 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7


The conquest of the south of present-day Vietnam was a long process of territorial acquisition by the Vietnamese. It is called Nam tiến (Chinese characters: 南進, English meaning "South[ern] Advance") by Vietnamese historians. Vietnam (then known as Đại Việt) nearly doubled its territory in 1470 under the great king Lê Thánh Tông, at the expense of Champa. The next two hundred years was a time of territorial consolidation and civil war with only gradual expansion south.

In 1516, Portuguese traders sailing from Malacca landed in Da Nang, Champa,[1] and established a presence there. They named the area "Cochim-China", borrowing the first part from the Malay Kuchi, which referred to all of Vietnam, and which in turn derived from the Chinese Jiāozhǐ, pronounced Giao Chỉ in Vietnam.[2] They appended the "China" specifier to distinguish the area from the city and the princely state of Cochin in India, their first headquarters in the Malabar Coast,[3]

As a result of a civil war that started in 1520, the Emperor of China sent a commission to study the political status of Annam in 1536. As a consequence of the delivered report, he declared war against the Mạc dynasty. The nominal ruler of the Mạc died at the very time that the Chinese armies passed the frontiers of the kingdom in 1537, and his father, Mạc Đăng Dung (the real power in any case), hurried to submit to the Imperial will, and declared himself to be a vassal of China. The Chinese declared that both the Lê dynasty and the Mạc had a right to part of the lands and so they recognised the Lê rule in the southern part of Vietnam while at the same time recognising the Mạc rule in the northern part, which was called Tunquin (i.e. Tonkin). This was to be a feudatory state of China under the government of the Mạc.

However, this arrangement did not last long. In 1592, Trịnh Tùng, leading the Royal (Trịnh) army, conquered nearly all of the Mạc territory and moved the Lê kings back to the original capital of Hanoi. The Mạc only held on to a tiny part of north Vietnam until 1667, when Trịnh Tạc conquered the last Mạc lands.

1558–1976 summary

The Nguyễn lords ruled the southern provinces of Vietnam from the city of Huế (in what was later called Annam by the French, though Annam historically refers to the northern part of modern Vietnam). The Tây Sơn dynasty also ruled the south but not from Saigon, instead they ruled from Đà Nẵng. Nguyễn Phúc Ánh ruled the united country of Vietnam from his ancestors’ capital of Huế. Cochinchina was never a single united administrative unit until the French seized it in the 1850s. Cochinchina was occupied by Japan during World War II (1941–45), but was restored to France afterwards. In 1955, after the First Indochina War, Cochinchina was merged with southern Annam to form the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam).

Cochinchina Kingdom of the Nguyen Lords (1620-1774)

In 1623, Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên, the lord of the (then) southern provinces of Vietnam, established a trading community at Saigon, then called Prey Nakor, with the consent of the king of Cambodia, Chey Chettha II. Over the next 50 years, Vietnamese control slowly expanded in this area but only gradually as the Nguyễn were fighting a protracted civil war with the Trịnh lords in the north.

With the end of the war with the Trịnh, the Nguyễn were able to devote more effort (and military force) to conquest of the south. First, the remaining Champa territories were taken; next, the areas around the Mekong river were placed under Vietnamese control.

At least three wars were fought between the Nguyễn lords and the Cambodian kings in the period 1715 to 1770 with the Vietnamese gaining more territory with each war. The wars all involved the much more powerful Siamese kings who fought on behalf of their vassals, the Cambodians. In the late 18th century, Vietnam was briefly unified under the Tây Sơn. These were three brothers, former peasants, who succeeded in conquering first the lands of the Nguyễn and then the lands of the Trịnh.

Final unification came under Nguyễn Phúc Ánh, a remarkably tenacious member of the Nguyễn noble family who fought for 25 years against the Tây Sơn and ultimately conquered the entire country in 1802. He ruled all of Vietnam under the name Gia Long. His son Minh Mạng reigned from 14 February 1820 until 20 January 1841 what was known to the British as Cochin China and to the Americans as hyphenated Cochin-China. In hopes of negotiating commercial treaties, the British in 1822 sent East India Company agent John Crawfurd,[4] and the Americans in 1833 sent diplomatist Edmund Roberts,[5] who returned in 1836.[6] Neither envoy was fully cognizant of conditions within the country, and neither succeeded.

Reported flag of French Cochinchina used before World War II
Flag of Cochinchina on 1 June - 31 October 1946.
Map of "Annam" drafted by Alexandre de Rhodes (1651) showing "Cocincina" (left) and "Tunkin" (right).

Gia Long's successors (see the Nguyễn dynasty for details) repelled the Siamese from Cambodia and even annexed Phnom Penh and surrounding territory in the war of 1831 to 1834, but were forced to relinquish these conquests in the war of 1841 to 1845.

Colonial Cochinchina (1864–1949)

For a series of complex reasons, the French government of Napoleon III, with the help of Spanish troops arriving from the Philippines (which was a Spanish colony at the time), decided to take over the southern part of Vietnam. In September 1858, France occupied Đà Nẵng (Tourane). On 18 February 1859, they conquered Saigon and three southern Vietnamese provinces: Biên Hòa, Gia Định and Định Tường; the Vietnamese government was forced to cede those territories to France in June 1862.

In 1867, the provinces of Châu Đốc, Hà Tiên and Vĩnh Long were added to French-controlled territory. In 1864 all the French territories in southern Vietnam were declared to be the new French colony of Cochinchina, which would be governed by Admiral Marie Jules Dupré from 1871 to 1874.

In 1887, it became part of the Union of French Indochina. Fifty-one Vietnamese rebels were executed following the 1916 Cochinchina uprising. In 1933, the Spratly Islands were annexed to French Cochinchina. In July 1941, Japanese troops were based in French Cochinchina (a de facto occupation). After the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, Cochinchina was returned to French rule.

1886 map of colonial Indochina

The Autonomous Republic of Cochinchina (République autonome de Cochinchine), a French puppet state, was proclaimed on his own initiative and in violation of the 6 March d'Argenlieu on 1 June 1946, whilst the Viet Minh leadership was in France for negotiations.[7] War between France and the Viet Minh followed (1946–54). Cochinchina was renamed the "Republic of South Vietnam" in 1947; the Provisional Central Government of Vietnam was established in 1948; and the State of Vietnam, with former emperor Bảo Đại as head of state, was established in 1949. The State of Vietnam was formed by merging Cochinchina with Annam and Tonkin. The Bảo Đại government received international diplomatic recognition in 1950. France and the Vietminh concluded the Geneva Accords in 1954. As a result of this agreement, the southern half of the French protectorate of Annam was merged with the State of Vietnam, with the resulting state commonly referred to as South Vietnam. Meanwhile, northern Annam and the protectorate of Tonkin were awarded to the Viet Minh. This area was afterwards known as North Vietnam.

See also


  1. ^ Li, Tana Li (1998). Nguyễn Cochinchina: southern Vietnam in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. SEAP Publications. p. 72.  
  2. ^ Reid, Anthony. Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce. Vol 2: Expansion and Crisis. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993. p211n.
  3. ^ Yule, Sir Henry Yule, A. C. Burnell, William Crooke (1995). A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases: Hobson-Jobson. Routledge. p. 34.  
  4. ^  
  5. ^  
  6. ^ Ruschenberger, William Samuel Waithman (24 July 2007) [First published in 1837]. A Voyage Round the World: Including an Embassy to Muscat and Siam in 1835, 1836 and 1837. Harper & brothers.  
  7. ^ Frederick Logevall Embers of War Random House 2012 p. 137

Further reading

  • Encyclopedia of Asian History, Volume 4 (Vietnam) 1988. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
  • Vietnam - A Long History by Nguyễn Khắc Viện (1999). Hanoi, Thế Giới Publishers
  • ArtHanoi Vietnamese money in historical context
  • WorldStatesmen- Vietnam

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