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Indochina (Cochinchina)

Last modified: 2003-04-19 by phil nelson
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[Cochinchina, 1946-1948] by Jaume Ollé

In the 1st through 5th centuries, most of southeast Asia was dominated by Funan, which included most of present Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and the Mekong delta region of Vietnam. Funan was supplanted around the 6th century by Chenla. Annam was a small coastal strip in north Vietnam and southern China, and south of it Champa controlled a coastal strip in central Vietnam.

Pressure from China pushed Annam southwards, and in turn Annam pushed Champa south to roughly modern central South Vietnam. Around the 12th century the Khmers emerged as a great empire controlling all the lower Mekong, leaving Sukhothai as a small version of modern Siam and Laos. The Khmer Empire collapsed after Siam seized Angkor in 1431.

The Khmers (Cambodia) thereafter found themselves pinched between their more powerful neighbours Siam and Annam. In the late 18th and early 19th century, much of Cambodia was partitioned between Siam and Annam. In 1844 what was left of Cambodia became a protectorate of Siam.

Around the 15th-16th century the Kingdom of Luang Prabang emerged along the upper and middle Mekong River. Vientiane and the middle Mekong broke away in 1707. Both Luang Prabang and Vientiane came under Siamese suzerainty in 1778. During most of its existence, Laos (Luang Prabang and Vientiane) remained disputed between Siam and Annam. Laos did not re-emerge as a distinct and separate entity until the French declared a protectorate over this disputed region in 1893.

Annam expanded further southward into Champa in the 16th-17th centuries, and into the Mekong Delta in the 18th century. Annam (with capital at Hue) seized Saigon in 1776. I'm not sure when, but north Annam and the Mekong delta region became separate entities as Tongking and Cochinchina respectively. Annam reunited the whole region (equivalent to modern Vietnam) with the creation of the Vietnamese Empire in 1802, but Cochin, Annam, and Tongking remained separate administrative regions.

France annexed Cochin in 1862 and 1867, with their capital at Saigon. Cambodia became a French protectorate in 1863, and Siam gave up its claims to the area in 1867. The French then made protectorates of Annam and Tongking in 1884, and united the whole lot into the Union Indochinoise in 1887 (with the capital still at Saigon). Laos joined this union when it became a French protectorate in 1893. After a confrontation with France, Siam ceded large chunks of its territory which France patched on to northern Cambodia and Laos in 1907.
T.F. Mills, 19 October 1997

Until the Khmer Cochin region (greater Mekong delta) was annexed by Annam (in 1698 and 1731), Annam was actually known as Cochin to Europeans. Cochin was a Portuguese corruption of "Ko-chen", whose meaning is unknown. -China was tacked on to Cochin to distinguish it from Cochin in India.

"Indochina" as a name was proposed for the region in the early 19th century by Scottish poet and orientalist John Leyden, because it lay between India and China -- and perhaps because it had in its early history been dominated by those superpowers.

Here are some more notes on the formation of the region:

  • Tonkin (dong kinh = eastern capital) was the original Annamese state (capital at Hanoi) in 939, and remained subject to China until independence in 1428. Annam (an nam = peace of the south) was dynastically divided into Tonkin, Annam and Cochin in the 16th century and reunited in 1802.
  • Funan and Champa were Indian states. Champa was founded in 192 and largely annexed by Annam in 1472.
  • After WWII Cochinchina was briefly re-formed as a French Overseas Territory (1946-49) before joining Vietnam. "Viet" was the name of an old Chinese principality. (So, South Vietnam was "south Viet south", but that wasn't actually its official name.)
T.F. Mills, 20 October 1997


[Cochinchina] by Jorge Candeias

The Cochinchinese flag that shown is a late XIXth century flag. As you know, the Indochinese Union was made of 5 entities: 1 colony (Cochinchina) and 4 protectorates (Tonkin, Annam and Paracel Islands, Cambodia, Laos). Is this flag the official flag of the Colony of Cochinchina? Do you have any info about its status? and last question: as there are known flags for Cochinchina, Annam, Cambodia and Laos, there must have been one for Tonkin. Does anyone know something about a Tonkinese flag during French rule?
Pierre Gay, 13 December 1998

The Cochinchina flag was in fact an ensign. Seems that was an older ensign of the Anam Emperors: yellow (as China) with serrated ribbon. The serrated ribbon seems to be wrong interpreted from far observation or descriptions, and converted in many triangles (they are reported somewhat as grey-blue, green, maroon, and black; and now in blue). But after the establishment of the protectorate the ensign was little (or never) used in Cochinchina, and disappeared also in Anam before c. 1885. Afterwards, there was no flag for Cochinchina colony (like no flag for French colonies). Tonkin was a vice-kingdom of Anam. Perhaps the viceroy used his own standard but that is not know for me. I believe that no specific flag for Tonkin was never reported.
Jaume Ollé, 13 December 1998

Annam, French Protectorate

[Annam - Vietnam] by Jaume Ollé

[Annam - Vietnam, Protectorate] by Jaume Ollé

The Empire of Anam was under French protection since 1886. I've seen an old state flag, that was yellow with two "eastern" (chinese or annamite) write-characters in black. After 1886 the yellow flag included the french tricolor in the canton. The national flag was three horizontal strips yellow, red, and yellow (Proportion 1:2:1).
Jaume Ollé - 23 September 1997