‘Dragons of Annam’
The French and three emperors in Vietnam
in Banished potentates
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In the nineteenth century, the French were seeking an outpost in Southeast Asia to compete with the well established British, Dutch and Spanish, and at the end of the 1850s, gunboat diplomacy secured a foothold in Saigon. French occupation of Hué sparked four years of armed resistance in Annam and Tonkin that targeted the foreigners and Vietnamese Christians, the Can Vuong movement. From the emperor's hideout, an imperial edict was issued in Ham Nghi's name and under his seal. French residents of Vietnam appeared little troubled by the tempests. The French nevertheless maintained support for the throne in Hué, though with the sovereign reduced to virtual impotence. The circumstances of the exile of Ham Nghi in the 1880s, Thanh Thai in 1907 and Duy Tan in 1916 illustrate the difficult coexistence of a paramount colonial power and a vassal 'protected' monarchy.

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