General issues: French colonial federation 1887-1949
Country name on general issues: Indo-Chine, Indo-Chine Française, Indochine
- Regional issues: Annam, Cambodia 1936
- Indochinese offices in China:
- General issues 1902-1905
- Canton 1901-1919, Chungking 1902-1919, Hoihow 1901-1919, Kwangchow 1906-1945, Mengtz 1906-1919, Pakhoi 1906-1919, Yunnanfu 1906-1919
Currency: 1 Franc = 100 Centimes 1887-1919, 1 Piaster = 100 Cent 1919-1949
Population: 15 076 000 in 1900, 34 086 000 in 1949
Political history French Indochina
Shaping French Indochina
French Indochina is located in southeastern Asia and is a federation of French territories. The federation is formed in 1887 and, at that time, consisted of: Cambodia, a French protectorate since 1863; Cochin China, formerly part of Vietnam and a French colony since 1864; and Annam and Tonkin, also part of Vietnam and French protectorates since 1874 and 1885 respectively. In 1893, Laos becomes a French protectorate and joins the federation. Finally, in 1900, Kwangchow, a French leased territory in China, is added to the federation. The territories of Cambodia and Laos are further enlarged at the expense of Thailand in 1904 and again in 1907. Within the federation parts of Laos are transferred to Annam and Cambodia in 1904. The French would have been interested in enlarging their territories in Southeastern Asia even further, possibly to include all of Thailand. France and Great Britain, however, eventually agree to have Thailand as an independent buffer state between their colonial possession in southeastern Asia.
Within the federation, Cochin China and Kwangchow are under direct French colonial administration. In the protectorates the local rulers remain in power. In Annam and Tonkin the emperor of Vietnam, in Cambodia the king of Cambodia and in Laos the king of Luang Prabang in the north and the prince of Champasak in the south. The local rulers only have nominal power though, the real power lies with the French colonial administration.
World War II
In WWII, French Indochina is occupied by Japan between 1940 and 1941. Thailand – allied to Japan – occupies the territories it has ceded to France in 1904 and 1907. The Japanese largely leave the French colonial administration – loyal to the Vichy regime – in place. In 1945, Japan establishes – as it does elsewhere – the nominally independent kingdom of Cambodia and empire of Vietnam. In Laos the king refuses cooperation with the Japanese when the Japanese try to establish an independent kingdom. In 1945, China invades Laos and Vietnam, as one of the Allies to supervise the Japanese capitulation and retreat. In exchange for the withdrawal of the Chinese troops, France cedes its extraterritorial rights in China and thus Kwangchow in 1945 is returned to China.
The road to independence
In Cambodia and Laos, French colonial rule is restored after the withdrawal of the Japanese and the Chinese. The territories occupied by Thailand are also returned to France. Cambodia and Laos gradually move towards independence. Cambodia becomes a kingdom in association with France in 1949 and in 1953 gains full independence. Laos follows suit and becomes a kingdom in association with France in 1949, to become fully independent in 1954.
In Vietnam, French colonial rule is restored in the south of the country. A few steps towards independence lead to the establishment of the State of Vietnam in 1949, a republican state in association with France with the Vietnamese emperor as head of state. In the north of the country, the communist Vietminh have been active, since 1941, in the fight against the Japanese. After the capitulation of Japan, the independent democratic republic of Vietnam is proclaimed, led by Ho Chi Minh. When the Chinese withdraw from Vietnam in 1946, the French move north to restore French rule in this part of Vietnam also. This signals the start of the First Indochina War which will last from 1946 to 1954. At the start of the war, the French are successful and regain large parts of the north. In the end, though, the Vietminh triumph over the French. The Geneva Agreements end the First Indochina war in 1954. The French relinquish their claims on Indochina and Vietnam is partitioned. In the north the democratic republic of Vietnam is recognized as the legitimate power and in the south the State of Vietnam. In everyday speech these are called North and South Vietnam. With the Geneva Agreements, French Indochina ceases to exist.
Postal history French Indochina
The first stamps used in French controlled southeastern Asia are the general issues for the French colonies that are used in Cochin China from 1863. In 1886, stamps are issued by the French specifically for Cochin China, in 1888 for Annam & Tonkin. The first issue for French Indochina is a provisional issue. It is one stamp issued in Saigon, an overprint on one of the general issues for the French colonies, the overprint reading ‘Indo-Chine 1889’, a new face value and the initials of the governor and postmaster of Saigon. The first definitives are issued in 1892. Regional issues have appeared in 1936 for Annam and Cambodia. During the occupation by Japan in WWII, the issues from the French colonial administration remain in use. The last issue from French Indochina is dated 1949. The stamps of French Indochina are used until, in 1951, they are superseded by the issues of Cambodia, Laos and South Vietnam. In North Vietnam, the Vietminh administration has issued stamps for use in the areas it controlled since 1945.
Michel notes that British offices have existed for a short time in Haiphong and Hanoi.
Indochinese offices in China
The French have been opening offices abroad in imperial China since 1867. This being the result of the extraterritorial rights granted by the Chinese Empire to a number of foreign nations. In 1900, a number of these offices in southern China is subordinated to the postal administration of French Indochina. The first stamps issued for these offices are overprints on stamps of Indochina, the overprint reading ‘Chine’ and a new face value in Chinese. From 1901, stamps are issued for the individual offices in China. These are overprints on issues of French Indochina, the overprint being the name of the office. Only for Kwangchow, definitives were designed and issued as of 1939.
The transliteration from Chinese to French was different than from Chinese to English. A more detailed look at the stamps issued for the individual offices learns the following:
- Canton: French transliteration = Canton, stamps issued 1901-1919
- Chungking: French transliteration = Tchongking or Tch’ong K’ing, stamps issued 1902-1919
- Hoihao: French transliteration = Hoi Hao or Hoi-Hoa, stamps issued 1901-1919
- Kwangchow: French transliteration = Kouangtschéou or Kouang-Tschéou, stamps issued 1906-1944
- Mengtz: French transliteration = Mongtze or Mong-Tseu, stamps issued 1906-1919
- Pakhoi: French transliteration = Packhoi, Pak Hoi or Pak-Hoi, stamps issued 1906-1919
- Yunnafu: French transliteration = Yunnansen, Yunnan-Fou or Yunnanfou, stamps issued 1906-1919
All French offices were closed in 1922, including those administered by French Indochina. An exception is Kwangchow that remains open until 1945.