Thái Nguyên uprising

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The rising in Thái Nguyên (Vietnamese: Khởi nghĩa Thái Nguyên) in 1917 in was the "largest and most destructive" anti-colonial rebellion in French Indochina between the Pacification of Tonkin in the 1880s and the Nghe-Tinh Revolt of 1930–31.[1]



In August 1917, Vietnamese prison guards mutinied at the Thai Nguyen Penitentiary, the largest one in the region. The rebels, consisting an eclectic band of political prisoners, common criminals and mutinous prison guards seized weapons captured from the provincial arsenal and took control of the town.[2] The rebels came from over thirty provinces and according to estimates, involved at some point roughly 300 civilians, 200 ex-prisoners and 130 prison guards.[3] The uprising saw the collaboration between political prisoner Luong Ngoc Quyen and the prison guard Sergeant Trinh Van Can. Luong Ngoc Quyen was a prominent political prisoner who was the eldest son of the reformist mandarin Luong Van Can and the first Vietnamese participant in the Eastern Travel Movement founded by the anti-colonial activist Phan Boi Chau. Trinh Van Can had local experience of the area and had been contemplating an uprising for years.[4]

At the start of the uprising, the rebels established a fortified perimeter and executed French officials and local collaborators. On the second day, the rebels went out to the streets of Thai Nguyen and called for a general uprising as they announced a proclamation appealing to the population for support.[5] The rebels were able to control the prison and the town’s administrative buildings for six days. On the seventh day of the occupation, French government reinforcements expelled the rebels from the city.[6] According to French reports 107 were killed on the colonial side and fifty-six on the anticolonial, including Luong Ngoc Quyen.[7] Although they were only able to hold the city for five days, French forces were not able to pacify the surrounding countryside until six months later, leaving many casualties on both sides.[8] Trinh Van Can committed suicide in January 1918 and he was accorded legendary status after.[9]

The Thai-Nguyen uprising could be considered as an important transition within the history of anticolonialism in French Indochina as it was different from the earlier ‘traditional’ anticolonial efforts that were organised locally and led by scholar-gentry whose followings were limited to members of their own lineage and villages.[10] After the Thai-Nguyen uprising, Vietnamese anti-colonialism acquired a new dimension. Education had affected more people, more Vietnamese students were educated overseas and Vietnamese nationalism became political and "urban".[11] The middle class in Vietnam assumed a bigger role in political initiative and nationalist political parties such as Việt Nam Quốc Dân Đảng (VNQDĐ) and communist parties like Communist Party of Indochina and others began to emerge and establish themselves in Vietnamese political scene and history.


  1. ^ Zinoman, Peter (2000). "Colonial Prisons and Anti-colonial Resistance in French Indochina: The Thai Nguyen Rebellion, 1917". Modern Asian Studies 34: 57–98. doi:10.1017/s0026749x00003590. 
  2. ^ Zinoman, p.57
  3. ^ Zinoman, p.65
  4. ^ Hodgkin, Thomas. Vietnam: The Revolutionary Path. London: Macmillan, 1980.
  5. ^ The English translation of the proclamation can be found in Lâm, Truong Buu. Colonialism Experienced: Vietnamese Writings on Colonialism, 1900-1931. Ann Arbor, Mich: University of Michigan, 2000.
  6. ^ Lâm, Truong Buu. A Story of Việtnam. Denver, CO: Outskirts Press, 2010.
  7. ^ Hodgkin, pg.213
  8. ^ Zinoman, pg.57
  9. ^ Hodgkin, pg.214
  10. ^ Zinoman, p.58
  11. ^ Lâm, pg.157