Write a note on (a) What was meant by the ‘civilizing mission’ of the colonisers?


Write a note on

(a) What was meant by the ‘civilizing mission’ of the colonisers?

(b) Huynh Phu So.


(a) Unlike other colonisers, the French colonisers did not aim only for economic exploitation of their colonies. The French colonising mission was also driven by the idea of a ‘civilising mission’. Just as the British had done in India, the French claimed that they would introduce modern, civilised life to the Vietnamese.

The French believed that like all other Europeans it was their duty to civilise the colonies even if this meant destruction to local cultures, religion and traditions.

Kipling called it white man’s burden. It was thought that it might be possible only if the advanced countries established their colonies over the backward and uncivilised people.

(b) Huynh Phu So :

After the occupation of Vietnam, the French tried to reshape the social and cultural life of the people. Vietnam’s religious beliefs were a mixture of Buddhism, Confucianism, and local practices. Christianity was intolerant of this easy-going attitude of the Vietnamese and viewed the Vietnamese tendency to revere the supernatural as something to be corrected.

However, the religious beliefs among the peasantry were shaped by a variety of syncretic traditions i.e., aiming to bring together different beliefs and practices seeing their essential unity rather than difference.

These traditions combined Buddhism and local beliefs. The policy of the French gave rise to many movements. Some supported the French but others inspired movements against colonial rule.

One such movement was founded by Huynh Phu So. It was Hoa Hao. He performed miracles and helped the poor. His criticism against useless expenditure had a wide appeal. He also opposed the sale of child brides, gambling and the use of alcohol and opium. The French tried to suppress the movement. He was declared mad and was called the Mad Bonze. They sent him to a mental asylum. But the doctor who had to prove that he was insane became his follower. In 1941, even the French doctors declared that he was sane. The French authorities, however, exiled him to Laos. Many of his followers were sent to concentration camps.

Political parties often drew upon their support but they could neither control nor discipline their followers. Yet the significance of such movement in arousing anti-imperialist sentiments should not be underestimated.

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