Friday, September 23, 2011


flags will stream in Paris, the colour of our country will brighten all the world. In
these days, we will have no need to fear our slavery any more, and we will have only
to watch and protect the other countries."25)
In this passage Phan BOi Chau testified the hope that his country would escape
from the present weakness, join the strongest nations of Europe, America and the Far
East, and become the chief of a Southeast Asian league and the protector of France.
In order to transform the weak into the strong, it would be necessary to follow the
Japanese example. The Japanese had been successfully strengthening themselves for
the past forty years.26)
This article was written In 1907, two years after Phan BOi Chau left his country
for Japan, but he must have nourished the same expectation before he left for Japan.
Thus it was Social Darwinism that led him and his comrades to be interested in a
strong Japan, and not in the other weak nations.
2 The Desire for Armed Struggle through Foreign Aid
The most prominent element which Phan BOi Chau carried over from his predecessors,
the leaders of Van Than - Can Vu'o'ng movent, was the idea of resistance by
force. He was strongly impressed with the bravery and heroism of the armed struggle
against the French during the 1880's.27) And he expressed his willingness to join this
struggle by attempting to organize a small band of guerrillas in 1885.28)
After the heroic movement of Phan Dlnh Phung was completely defeated, Phan
BOi Chau nourished his admiration for the Van Than - Can Vu'o'ng movement, although
he was compelled to live quietly in his home village for more than 10 years. As late
as 1901 he decided to carry out his plan for seizing by force the provincial capital in
Ngh~ An. He and his comrades planned the insurrection hoping to mobilize like-minded
individuals and revive anti-French armed resistance which had faded after the death of
Phan Dlnh Phung.29) Of course it was inevitable that their plot failed like the revolts
of lettres in the 19 th century. Yet it is noteworthy that he started his career as a
politician and a nationalist by attempting to organize an armed revolt. Thus he
25) Nghien CU'u Lich Sif:, no. 78, p. 32.
26) In this context, we can compare Liang Ch'i Ch'ao's words which he described in Jih-pen-kuo-shi
Hou-hsu (8 :$::OOiitt&Ff:, 1897); "During 30 years, Japan turned misfortune into happiness, and
changed herself from the weak into the strong. Thus she got the Ryukyus and she annexed
27) In 1883, at an age of 16 years, Phan B¢i CMu wrote an appeal "Binh Tay Thu Bac", on the
occasion of the French attack on North Vietnam. After his failure in organizing small band
(1885), he also wrote a pamphlet "Song Tuat L\lc" in 1886, in which he praised two revolts
which occurred in 1874 and 1886. His admiration for the Van Than-Can Vuong movement was
testfied to in his Vi?t Nam Vong Quac Su' (Tao Ban, Saigon), originally written in 1905.
In it he described the martial exploits of the nineteenth century leaders.
28) Phan B¢i CMu, Ng1fc Trung Thu', pp.13-14.
29) Ibid., pp. 15-33. Phan B: i Chl\u, T1f' Phan, pp.26 ff. and The Nguy~n, Phon Bt)i CMu, (Tan
Vi~t, 1956), pp.13-22.
M. SHIRAISHI: Phan Boi Chau and Japan
inherited the fighting spirit of his predecessors. He also inherited the IODO-year
tradition of resistance against aggressors.30)
But in spite of their willingness for armed struggle, Phan BOi Chau and his
comrades, as well as their predecessors, were realistic enough to recognize that they
were militarily inferior to the enemy, the French.3D How did they understand their
inferiority? Like the brilliant nationalists in the 19th century, Phan Boi Chau's group
felt this deficiency stemmed mainly from a lack of weapons. It is natural that those
who believed in armed struggle as the only way to resolve their problems were
concerned about a sufficient supply of arms. But they fully realized that they could
not get enough weapons within Vietnam to fight the French.
Phan Boi Chau said in his memoire:
"(At the time of our ancestors' resistance against the Chinese aggressors), once we
grasped the weapons and appealed to the whole country, big waves soundly surged.
However, today the situation is not as it was. With the invention of guns, the spear
and sword are of no use any more. We can do nothing at all, even with our individual
bravery. The weapons of the French are one thousand times better than ours In
brief, the biggest difficulty thwarting the plan of our party is none other than that of
Writing about this difficulty more concretely, he said:
"All the arsenals in our country are occupied by French troops. If we become
interested in guns, we will be severely punished Although we want to import
arms from abroad, it is impossible because all the ports in our country are closely
watched by French officials."33)
It was not only Phan BOi Chau and his comrades, but also his predecessors who
realized they were inferior to the French and lacked the means to resist them.
Therefore they tried to resolve this difficulty by seeking foreign aid. Some leaders of
the Van Than - Can VU'o'ng movement sent delegates or went themselves to China for
that purpose.34,) Phan BOi Chau's group approached Japan for the same reason.
30) For example, Phan B¢i CMu wrote in "Hai Ngoiili Huyet Thu''' (Japanese translation in Vietnam
Bokoku-shi, hoka), "We had defeated the Mongolian troops, checked the invasion of Ngo, and
shattered the army of Ch'ing. I can not understand why our people have lost their traditional
nationalist spirits."
31) We can find the following passage in the appeal of Nguy~n Quang Bich, one of the leaders of
revolts of the 19th century. "As long as you boast about your strength, your skills, we will
continue to refuse to give up our failures, our weaknesses." See David Marr, op. cit., p. 71. and
Truong Bun Lam, Patterns of Vietnamese Response to Foreign Intervention, (Yale Univ., 1967),
32) Phan B¢i Ch4u, Nglf-c Trung Thu', pp.26-27.
33) Ibid., p.27.
34) It is well known that Ton ThiH Thuyet, the most important adviser for King Ham Nghi, went
to China in order to ask her help. So did other leaders, such as Nguy~n Quang Bieh, Nguy~n
Thi~n Thui[lt.
Thus it was military aid, especially in the form of weapons, that Phan BQi Chau
sought first after his arrival in Japan.
At this point we should note that Phan BQi Chau did not look for aid from
countries with absolute monarchies, like China, but from a country with a constitutional
monarchy, Japan. This shift of focus was stimulated by the Chinese reformists'
disappointment with contemporany China and their preference for Japan and for
constitutionalism. Later it was also stimulated by the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese
War. In brief, this change showed the coming of a new age in the history of
Vietnamese nationalism. Though Phan BQi Chau and his comrades owed a great deal
to the nationalist movements which preceded them, they also had to arm themselves
with new ideas and visions which fulfilled the requirements of the times.
3 The Yellow race vs. the Whites
Soon after he arrived in Japan, Phan BQi Chau wrote a letter to Shigenobu Okuma
(*~mffi) (1905). In this letter, he insisted that Japan should help Vietnam, which
was occupied by the French. And he listed two reasons for his appeal to Japan. The
first was that the Great Empire of Japan was a country of the same race, the same
characters, and the same continent as Vietnam, and she was a leading power in Asia.
The second reason was that the French, aiming at Southern China, surely would conspire
with the Russians, aiming at Nothern China, and then would move from their base in
Vietnam to Canton, Kwangsi, Taiwan, and the Ryukyus. Then they would pose a
great threat to Japan.3r
The first reason was phrased in terms of a Japanese duty to rescue the Vietnamese.
And the second appealed to Japanese interests in maintaining her sphere of influence.36)
Here Phan BQi Chau connected the idea of solidarity among the yellow peoples against
the whites, with the reality of power politics in the international field.
Perhaps he was truely convinced of this kind of solidarity. But behind it, he also
had an ulterior motive for advocating Pan-Asianism. At the time of the Russo-Japanese
War, the French were in alliance with the Russians. He may have heard of the Triple
Intervention and the Russo-French alliance. So Phan BQi Chau's group drew a map of
the international power configuration in Asia. They knew that Japan was opposing
Russia, and thought that therefore Japan was also opposing France. Of course, the
French were an adversary of the Vietnamese. According to Phan BQi Chau, Japan and
35) 36) "Hai V~n Ki¢n Ngo~i Giao Dau Ti~n cua Phan B<)i Chliu," translated by Chti'ong Thliu in
Nghien Cu:u Lich Su', no. 90.
We do not know enough to determine whether this argument thoroughly formulated before
his arrival in Japan or if it was shaped and influenced by the Japanese Pan-Asianists' and/or
Liang Ch'i Ch'ao's opinions after his arrival.
M. SHIRAISHI: Phan Boi Chau and Japan
Vietnam thus had common enemies, Russia and This is why he believed
that the Vietnamese could be allied with the Japanese.
In one sense Phan B¢i Chau's expectation of foreign aid was based on his
understanding of international relations. Throughout his life, he continued to seek help
from every country that seemed to be opposed to France. At first it was Japan, and
later it was Germany and nationalist China, and finally it was Soviet Russia. Frequently
he changed his political ideas in order to comply with the desires of his possible
patronage countries. As long as he sought the aid of Imperial Japan, he was a PanAsianist
and a Constitutional Monarchist. When he tried to ally with republican
China, he was a revolutionist and a republican democrat. And later he seemed to
sympathize with socialism when he tried to contact the Soviet embassy in Peking. In
his life, he had only one goal. This was to dri ve the French out of his country and
rebuild an independent nation.38) For this goal, he could easily accept any idea which
would assure him of foreign aid.39)
In conclusion, at the time of the Russo-Japanese War, in the eyes of Phan B¢i Chau
the cause of Pan-Asianism and the interest of Japan and Vietnam in the field of power
politics were consistent and harmonious with one another. By declaring the solidarity
of the yellow race against the whites, Phan B¢i Chau expressed his hope for solidarity
between Japan and Vietnam against Russia and France.
IV Phan's

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