An interesting story of French vietnam colonization

I am preparing for IAS exam and read this in one of NCERT books and thus wanted to share with you all

Here is an interesting story i read today worth sharing. french colonised Vietnam in 19th century and a funny incident goes like…

french revolution


When the French set about creating a modern Vietnam, they decided to rebuild Hanoi. The latest ideas about architecture and modern engineering skills were employed to build a new and modern city. In 1903, the modern part of Hanoi was struck by bubonic plague. In many colonial countries, measures to control the spread of disease created serious social conflicts. But in Hanoi events took a peculiarly interesting turn.

The French part of Hanoi was built as a beautiful and clean city with wide avenues and a well-laid-out sewer system, while the native quarter was not provided with any modern facilities. The refuse from the old city drained straight out into the river or, during heavy rains or floods, overflowed into the streets. Thus what was installed to create a hygienic environment in the French city became the cause of the plague. The large sewers in the modern part of the city, a symbol of modernity, were an ideal and protected breeding ground for rats. The sewers also served as a great transport system, allowing the rats to move around the city without any problem. And rats began to enter the well-cared-for homes of the French through the sewage pipes. What was to be done?

To stem this invasion, a rat hunt was started in 1902. The French hired Vietnamese workers and paid them for each rat they caught. Rats began to be caught in thousands: on 30 May, for instance, 20,000 were caught but still there seemed to be no end. For the Vietnamese the rat hunt seemed to provide an early lesson in the success of collective bargaining. Those who did the dirty work of entering sewers found that if they came together they could negotiate a higher bounty. They also discovered innovative ways to profit from this situation. The bounty was paid when a tail was given as proof that a rat had been killed. So the rat-catchers took to just clipping the tails and releasing the rats, so that the process could be repeated, over and over again. Some people, in fact, began raising rats to earn a bounty.

Defeated by the resistance of the weak, the French were forced to scrap the bounty programme. None of this prevented the bubonic plague, which swept through the area in 1903 and in subsequent years. In a way, the rat menace marks the limits of French power and the contradictions in their civilising mission. And the actions of the rat-catchers tell us of the numerous small ways in which colonialism was fought in everyday life.

french Vietnam

Gaurav Kumar

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