Class 10 History

Nationalism in Indo China: Colonial Education and Rat Hunt

Dilemma of Colonial Education

The French wanted to civilize the Vietnamese by imposing the ‘modern’ European culture on them. They also wanted to educate the local people so that a large workforce could be created for clerical jobs. They did not want to impart a better education as they were afraid that more education could lead to awakening among the local people which could prove dangerous for the colonial rulers. So, full access to French education was denied to the Vietnamese.

Talking Modern

The elites in Vietnam were highly influenced by the Chinese culture. It was important for the French to counter this influence. They systematically tried to dismantle the traditional education system and established French schools for the Vietnamese. But replacing the Chinese language (which was used by the elites) was very difficult.

Some French policymakers wanted the use of French as the medium of instruction. They wanted to build an Asiatic France which could be solidly tied to the European France.

Some other policymakers wanted Vietnamese to be taught in lower classes and French in the higher classes. There was a provision to award French citizenship to those who learnt French and acquired the French culture.

There was a deliberate policy of failing the students in the final year of French classes. This was done to prevent the local from qualifying for the better-paid jobs. The school textbooks glorified the French and justified colonial rule. The Vietnamese were shown as primitive and backward who were only capable of manual labour.

Looking Modern

Looking modern (as per the French) meant aping the western culture. Short haircut was encouraged, while Vietnamese traditionally kept long hair.

Resistance in Schools

Teachers and students did not blindly follow what was written in the curriculum. There could be open opposition as well as silent resistance. When the number of Vietnamese teachers increased in the lower classes, it was no longer possible to control what was being actually taught.

The schools proved to be fertile ground for developing the feeling of nationalism among the Vietnamese. By the 1920s, students began to form political parties and to publish nationalist journals. The Party of Young Annan (political party) and Annanese Student (journal) are some examples.

The imposition of French education and culture backfired as the Vietnamese intellectuals felt a threat on their own culture.

Hygiene, Disease and Everyday Resistance

The city of Hanoi was built by using modern engineering and architecture. A beautiful city was built for the colonial masters. It had wide avenues and well laid out sewer system. The irony was that the sewer system; which was being touted as the symbol of hygiene became the perfect breeding ground for rats and led to the plague epidemic in Hanoi.

The Rat Hunt

To stop the spread of plague, as rat hunt was started in 1902. Vietnamese workers were hired for the task and were paid for each rat being caught. People began to catch rats in thousands. The payment was done when a tail of a rat was shown as a proof that a rat had been killed. Many people began just clipping the tails and collecting the bounty. Many people even began to raise rat to earn more. This incident showed that at some juncture even the superior power of a colonial master fails and even the weak can assume a very strong bargaining position.