LA COCHINCHINE – Introduction

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Assoc. Prof. Hung Nguyen Manh PhD.

    La Cochinchine or Nam Ky [Nam Kỳ], the vast region of South Viet Nam, was one of the targets for the French expeditionary corps on the way of their conquest in the late 19th century. This compound word consists of two elements: Cochin or Cocin designates Chaochi (ancient Viet Nam) and Chine derived from Qin (one dynasty in China during the Warring States period) indicates its contiguous location to China. Yet, another hypothesis attributes this name to Cochin, a tributary of the Mekong river (or Kohchin or Cửu Long), which flew across Thuy Chan Lap [Thuỷ Chân Lạp] (Water Chenla) and where Nam Ky [Nam Kỳ] inhabitants resided.

    In the 15th century, European seafaring explorers would stop at the Mekong delta to buy food and fresh water. It can be said that Nam Ky [Nam Kỳ] was a kind of “Silk Road” on rivers, very’ favorable for watercourse commercial transactions. The European explorers also called it Chochi or Cochin to differentiate it from the Cochin in India.

    At some point in Viet Nam’s history, Cochinchine was used for designating Dang Trong [Đàng Trong], and Tonkin for Dang Ngoai [Đàng Ngoài]. Meanwhile, Viet Nam [Việt Nam], Laos and Cambodia were designated under the collective name of “Indochina”. This term caused confusion in many foreigners’ perception of the Far East when they designed their course of expedition because it refers to both India and China. Moreover, foreigners would question themselves why Viet Nam was divided into two parts: Dang Trong [Đàng Trong] and Dang Ngoai [Đàng Ngoài] and the region between them, where the roy’al capital was located, was called An Nam [An Nam]. Under French domination, they were named Bac Ky [Bắc Kỳ], Nam Ky [Nam Kỳ] and Trung Ky [Trung Kỳ] respectively.

    Even Nam Ky [Nam Kỳ], a region experiencing many political ups and downs, has been called differently in the course of history: Gia Dinh [Gia Định] (1779-1832); Nam Ky [Nam Kỳ] (1834-1945); Nam Bo [Nam Bộ] (1945-1948); Nam Phan [Nam Phần] (1948-1956); Nam Viet [Nam Việt] or Mien Nam [Miền Nam] (1956-1975); or the Phuong Nam [Phương Nam] region at the present.

    This book entitled La Cochinchine describes the history, economy, culture and tourism of the immense land in the Cửu Long river delta or otherwise named Nam Ky Luc Tinh [Nam Kỳ Lục Tỉnh]. In the early 20th century; Nam Ky [Nam Kỳ] became a colony of France and was ruled by Governor D. Cognacq. His name appears on the book cover as testimony to the intangible cultural value of the book itself.

     The book starts with the speech made by Indochina’s Governor General Alexandre Varenne on 11th October 1925 at St-Gervais. This man was viewed by part of the then French intelligentsia as a sociologically-minded politician. The speech seems to introduce a model of humanist-imbued ruling so as to make the book more accessible to the political circle in Paris rather than in Viet Nam [Việt Nam].

    Yet, the book does not contain any’ details about the author, Marcel Bemanose (1884-1952). From the archives, we have found that he was an official, a cultural consultant for many Governors of Nam Ky [Nam Kỳ] and Governors General of Indochina, and he left some research works on Indochina.

    We should also mention Photo NadalSaigon [Sài Gòn], an Indochinese history hunter, whose photos made this book a truly picture history of Nam Ky [Nam Kỳ].

    La Cochinchine was first published by Photo Nadal House in 1925 with a print-run of 400 numbered copies. The copy we use for this edition is numbered 319 and includes 436 brass engravings made by the same House.

    Despite upheavals over the last 100 years, the book La Cochinchine has been kept as a memento at the family of scholar Trương Ngọc Tường from Cai Lậy, Tiền Giang. Now it has been republished by Xưa & Nay (Past & Present) Magazine and Hong Duc [Hồng Đức] Publishers in French and English languages in the original format, yet added with a Vietnamese translation. Readers will find in it memoirs of the early 20th century colonial Nam Ky [Nam Kỳ] region.

    It is a great honor for me to introduce the book to readers at the request of Xưa & Nay Magazine.

◊ Source: LA COCHINCHINE – Marcel Bernanoise – Hong Duc [Hồng Đức] Publishers, Hanoi, 2018.
◊ Bold and italicized Vietnamese words are enclosed inside quotation marks – set by Ban Tu Thu.

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