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The Colonial Bastille

The Colonial Bastille: A History of Imprisonment in Vietnam, 1862-1940

Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: 1
Pages: 370
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  • Book Info
    The Colonial Bastille
    Book Description:

    Peter Zinoman's original and insightful study focuses on the colonial prison system in French Indochina and its role in fostering modern political consciousness among the Vietnamese. Using prison memoirs, newspaper articles, and extensive archival records, Zinoman presents a wealth of significant new information to document how colonial prisons, rather than quelling political dissent and maintaining order, instead became institutions that promoted nationalism and revolutionary education.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92517-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Maps and Tables
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. MAPS
    (pp. x-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xix-xx)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Just as idealized accounts of the Long March have played an important role in the political culture of Chinese communism, prison narratives from the French colonial era figure prominently in the Vietnamese Communist Party′s official account of its rise to power.¹ After the foundation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) in 1954, scores of Party leaders published revolutionary memoirs (hoi ky cach mang) recounting their roles in the ″transformation of imperialist jails into revolutionary schools″ during the interwar years.² Throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s state publishing houses collected and anthologized a huge body of communist prison poetry from...

  8. 1 The Origins of the Ill-Disciplined Prison
    (pp. 13-37)

    The establishment of a colonial prison system in French Indochina during the nineteenth century coincided with the emergence of the modern penitentiary in Europe and the United States. Unlike eighteenth-century prisons, which were largely custodial, modern Western penitentiaries endeavored to modify inmate behavior through a series of coercive and corrective practices that historians of modern punishment, following Michel Foucault, commonly refer to as disciplinary power.⁴ As Michael Ignatieff puts it, the modern penitentiary embodied the notion of ″confinement as a coercive education … the idea of recasting the character of the deviant by means of discipline.″⁵

    Although the structure and...

  9. 2 The System: Fragmented Order and Integrative Dynamics
    (pp. 38-71)

    The chaotic and irregular character of the prison system in Indochina reflected the fragmented and decentralized nature of the French colonial state. In spite of periodic attempts to rationalize and homogenize administration within the five territories that came to make up the Indochinese Union, the state bureaucracies of Annam, Tonkin, Cochin China, Cambodia, and Laos retained considerable autonomy until the end of the colonial era. As a result, prisons in each territory functioned within their own distinct legal, bureaucratic, and financial frameworks. Moreover, the system included different kinds of institutions, each of which followed its own staffing policies and internal...

  10. 3 The Regime: Surveillance, Forced Labor, and Total Care
    (pp. 72-97)

    Life inside the colonial prison was powerfully shaped by three factors: the conduct of the guards, the conditions of forced labor, and the quality of food and health care. Indeed, it was innovations in these three areas (in addition to architectural changes) that marked the transition to a modern prison system in nineteenth-century France. In the utopian visions of French prison reformers, the role of the guard corps in the modern penitentiary was to instruct and educate inmates. The forced-labor regime was intended to help them internalize industrial discipline. And food and medical care were supposed to provide a healthy...

  11. 4 Prisoners and Prison Society
    (pp. 98-135)

    Some three decades ago, Michelle Perrot bemoaned the fact that prisoners had ″disappeared from their own history″ and urged historians to rectify this neglect by investigating the ″daily life of this group″ at ″its most hidden level.″¹ Although scholarly research on the history of the prison has since expanded rapidly, a preoccupation with strategies and discourses of institutional domination has discouraged historians from following Perrot′s advice.² As a consequence, prisoners rarely appear in histories of the prison except when rising in revolt. This chapter attempts to take up Perrot′s challenge by offering a rough sociological sketch of the inmate population...

  12. 5 Colonial Prisons in Revolt, 1862–1930
    (pp. 136-157)

    Just as colonial and metropolitan prisons exhibited significant disparities in their structure, functioning, and administrative orientation, they also provoked remarkably different levels of collective resistance. Historians of French prisons have found little documentary evidence of large-scale prisoner revolts. Indeed, Michelle Perrot observes that the nineteenth-century archive of the French prison system ″conveys an impression of calm″ and ″nothing that would qualify as an ′event.′″¹ In regard to the colonial prison in Indochina, on the other hand, the archival record is nothing if not eventful.

    Between 1862 and 1930, episodes of collective violence such as riots and mass uprisings occurred regularly...

  13. 6 The Thai Nguyen Rebellion
    (pp. 158-199)

    Between the pacification of Tonkin in the late 1880s and the Depressionera revolts of 1930–31, the Thai Nguyen rebellion was the largest and most destructive anticolonial uprising in French Indochina. On August 31, 1917, an eclectic band of political prisoners, common criminals, and mutinous prison guards seized the Thai Nguyen Penitentiary, the largest penal institution in northern Tonkin. From their base within the penitentiary, the rebels stormed the provincial arsenal and captured a large cache of weapons. They then seized a series of strategic buildings in the town and executed French officials and Vietnamese collaborators. In anticipation of a...

  14. 7 Prison Cells and Party Cells: The Indochinese Communist Party in Prison, 1930–1936
    (pp. 200-239)

    The early 1930s marked a turning point in the history of the Indochinese prison. An upsurge of anticolonial activity at the start of the decade triggered a flood of communists, nationalists, secret-society members, and radicalized workers and peasants into the prison system. In addition to exacerbating a host of existing administrative problems, this influx of politicized prisoners transformed the nature of inmate opposition to the prison regime. In place of the everyday forms of resistance and sporadic outbursts of violence that inmates had initiated in the past, jailed activists formed mutual aid networks, organized political indoctrination campaigns, printed clandestine prison...

  15. 8 Prisons and the Colonial Press, 1934–1939
    (pp. 240-266)

    During the second half of the 1930s, colonial prisons came under constant scrutiny in the Indochinese press. Between 1934 and 1939, newspapers featured thousands of stories about overcrowded dormitories, wretched food, filthy living conditions, and the physical brutalization of prison inmates.To amplify the voices of the inmates themselves, editors printed their letters, excerpted their diaries, and commissioned them to write memoirs upon release. Not only did the vast proliferation of prison coverage provoke public outrage at the colonial administration but it checked the power of prison officials and provided a measure of protection for the inmate population. It also put...

  16. 9 The Prisoner Released
    (pp. 267-296)

    The period from 1936 to 1939 witnessed a dramatic expansion of anticolonial politics in Indochina. It was reflected in the rise of labor activism, the flowering of the radical press, the growth of the Communist Party, the formation of hundreds of popular Action Committees, and a campaign to establish an Indochinese Congress. While this explosion of political activity was facilitated by the electoral victory of the Popular Front, it was carried out by thousands of former political prisoners, many of whom were released collectively from Indochinese prisons during the second half of 1936. These liberations were the result of a...

  17. Epilogue
    (pp. 297-302)

    During World War II, the colonial prison resumed its role as a focal point of anticolonial activism. At the start of the war, an aborted communist rising in Cochin China precipitated a police crackdown on political activists even more extensive than the one that devastated the anticolonial movement during the early 1930s.¹ As a result, the colonial prison population soared to its highest levels ever. Whereas the system held an average of 21,000 prisoners between 1936 and 1939, the number jumped to over 26,000 in 1940 and peaked at just under 30,000 in 1942.² This figure surpassed the previous high...

  18. Glossary
    (pp. 303-310)
  19. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 311-330)
  20. Index
    (pp. 331-351)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 352-352)