ABSTRACT

It is now a little over a hundred years since Vietnam had its first, major impact on Western politics. On 31 March 1885, three days after reports of a French military disaster in Tonkin had reached Paris, the French government fell. Thus ended the ministerial fortunes of Jules Ferry, already known as 'Ie Tonkinois'; but this setback to the Tonkin expedition, while it had helped to bring down his government, had done nothing to diminish the importance of this, the most northerly part of Vietnam. 'Marseilles and Toulon', Ferry proclaimed, 'would be defended quite as much in the China seas as in the Mediterranean.' And, in justifying the strategic importance of France's colonial possessions, and in calling his fellow countrymen to greatness, he declared, 'Nations, in our time, are great only according to the activity they develop; it is not by the peaceful extension of institutions that they are great any more . . . . Extension without acting, without becoming involved in the affairs of the world ... is to abdicate, and in a shorter time than you would believe possible to descend from the first rank to third or fourth'.