Plantation labour : rubber planters and the colonial state in French Indochina, 1890-1939.
This thesis provides a different interpretation and new insights on Vietnam's social and economic
history through a study of Indochina's rubber planters and migrant contract labour up to 1939. A
different reading of available material and use of new sources, such as Michelin Archives,
Archives of the Colonial Union, the Comité de l'Indochine, Nam Dinh and Hanoi's local Archives,
supplemented by interviews with former rubber plantation workers, have been used to clarify
obscure points and advance grasp of a subject that is yet to be fully and objectively studied.
Apart from arguing that the role of the colonial state over labour was more than just a response to
planter demands for assistance, I also postulate that labour supplying areas were neither
overpopulated, invariably poor nor were recruits hapless. Rich agricultural lands, mineral
resources, modem industry in parts of Tonkin, numerous craft industries, together with the all
supportive Vietnamese Commune, provided Tonkin's peasants with varied means of subsistence.
At the same time, I have argued that forced recruitment of labour was not practical or rational,
especially in Northern Indochina, where the French colonial administration was superimposed on
an existing, through somewhat reformed, traditional administrative structure. Recruits generally
knew their recruiters and were aware of what they signed for. In many instances when their rights
were violated, they complained.
In short, what this work does is to question, on the basis of old and new material, some of the
assumptions held on rubber planters and contract migrant labour and provides a more specific
discussion of issues such as, the fractious nature of Indochina's rubber planters, the role of
government officials in labour supplying areas, the age of recruits, their areas of origin, the
proportion of female labour recruits and patterns of outward migration, aspects that have so far
only been considered in general terms or simply ignored.