August Revolution

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The August Revolution (Vietnamese: Cách mạng tháng Tám), also known as the August General Uprising (Vietnamese: Tổng Khởi nghĩa tháng Tám), was a revolution launched by Ho Chi Minh's Việt Minh (League for the Independence of Vietnam) against French and the Japanese Empire colonial rule in Vietnam, on August 19, 1945.

Within two weeks, forces under the Việt Minh had seized control of most rural villages and cities throughout the North, Central and South Vietnam, including Hanoi, where President Hồ Chí Minh announced the formation of the Provisional Democratic Republic, Huế, Saigon, except in townships Móng Cái, Vĩnh Yên, Hà Giang, Lào Cai, Lai Châu.[1] However, according to Vietnamese document, Việt Minh, in fact, seized control of Vietnam.[2] On September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnamese Independence. The August Revolution sought to create a Việt Minh unified regime for the entire country.

August 19 is considered as the unofficial Victory over Japan Day in Vietnam.

Historical background[edit]

French colonialism[edit]

French colonial rule[edit]

Vietnam was a French colony from 1858 until the Japanese coup d'état in 1945. By 1897, the French had created the Federation of Indochina, with Vietnam divided for convenience into the separately ruled territories of Tonkin, Annam, and Cochin China, plus newly acquired Cambodia and Laos.[3] To justify their imperial domination, the French claimed that it was their responsibility to help undeveloped regions in Asia become civilized. Without French intervention, they asserted, these places would remain backward, uncivilized, and impoverished. In reality, French imperialism was driven by the demand for resources: raw materials and cheap labour.

It is generally agreed that French colonial rule was politically repressive and economically exploitative. The Vietnamese struggle against French colonialism was almost a century old at the end of World War II.[4] Incursions by missionaries, gunboats, and diplomats in the 19th century had set off repeated periods of resistance because of the loyalty of the people to the Vietnamese monarchy and Confucian values.[4] From the beginning of the French occupation of Vietnam, thousands of poorly-armed Vietnamese reacted to foreign control by various rebellions. One of the famous rebellions is called Cần Vương movement(English: Aid-the-King), which was a large-scale Vietnamese insurgency between 1885 and 1889 against French colonial rule.

In 1917, an eclectic band of political prisoners, common criminals and mutinous prison guards seized the Thái Nguyên Penitentiary, the largest penal institution in northern Tonkin.[5] The extraordinary regional and social diversity of its force makes the Thái Nguyên uprising a compelling prequel to the modern nationalist movements of the 1930s. Although all of the rebellions failed, the rebels remained a powerful symbol of resistance for generations.[citation needed]

Development of nationalist movements[edit]

During the colonial period, the French transformed Vietnamese society. Education and national industry were promoted, which had the unintended effect of stimulating the development of nationalist movements.

In the north, the anticolonial nationalist movement was dominated by communism after Hồ Chí Minh created the Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth League in 1925. On February 3, 1930, a special conference was held in Hong Kong under the chairmanship of Hồ Chí Minh, and the Vietnamese Communist Party was then born. In October, following a Comintern directive, this name was changed to Indochinese Communist Party (ICP). Until the party was officially disbanded by Hồ Chí Minh in November 1945, it held a leading position in the Vietnamese anticolonial revolution.[6]

Ho Chi Minh went by many names during his rise to power, including Nguyen Tat Thanh "Nguyen Who Will Be Victorious," Nguyen O Phap "Nguyen Who Hates the French" and Nguyen Ai Quoc "Nguyen Who Loves His Country".[4] The changes were used to further his cause of uniting the citizens and encouraging them to rebel. Ho Chi Minh means "Ho Who Aspires To Enlightenment".

In the south, the anticolonial nationalist movement was more complicated than in the north. The Cao Đài was the first of southern Vietnam's three most influential politico-religious organizations to emerge in the colonial era. Officially founded by colonial civil servant Ngô Văn Chiêu in 1926, it would grow to be the largest of the region's politically oriented religious entities, and in many ways the most powerful. More than a decade later, in 1939, Prophet Huynh Phu So introduced another politico-religious organization into southern Vietnam's anticolonial milieu by founding the Hòa Hảo.

His alleged miracle cures, preaching, and carrying out acts of extreme charity for the poor made Prophet Huynh Phu So, by the end of 1939, attract tens of thousands of adherents to the new Hòa Hảo organization. The third politico-religious organization called Bình Xuyên, can be traced back to the early 1920s, but Bình Xuyên did not become a truly organized political force until the end of the Second World War. All three organizations were major anticolonial powers in southern Vietnam.[7]

World War II and the Japanese occupation[edit]

Japanese occupation and 1945 coup[edit]

Before 1945, France and Japan had uneasily ruled Vietnam together for over four years.

In September 1940, just months after France capitulated to Germany, Japanese troops took advantage of French weakness to station troops in northern Vietnam for the purpose of cutting off the supply route to the southern flank of the China Theatre. From 1940 to March 1945, the French retained their administrative responsibilities, police duties, and even their colonial army in exchange for allowing Japanese troops and material to pass through Indochina. By 1943, however, there were signs that the Japanese might lose the war. The United States had begun the island-hopping sweep through the South Pacific. A seaborne Allied landing in Indochina and an overland attack from China became real threats to the Japanese. In addition, an upsurge of Gaullist sentiment in Indochina after Charles de Gaulle returned to Paris at the head of the French Provisional Government in September 1944 added to Japanese concerns.[8]

In the evening of March 9, 1945, the Japanese forces attacked the French in every center and removed the French from administrative control of Indochina. In less than 24 hours, the major part of the French armed forces throughout Indochina was put out of combat. The entire French colonial system, which had been in existence for almost 87 years, came tumbling down. Practically all French civil and military leaders were made prisoners, including Admiral Decoux.[9]

After the Japanese removed the French from administrative control in Indochina, they made no attempt to impose their own direct control of the civilian administration. Concerned primarily with the defense of Vietnam against an Allied invasion, the Japanese were not interested in Vietnamese politics although they also understood the desirability of a certain degree of administrative continuity. It was to their advantage to install a Vietnamese government that would acquiesce in the Japanese military presence. With that in mind, the Japanese persuaded the Vietnamese emperor, Bảo Đại, to co-operate with Japan and to declare Vietnam independent of France. On March 11, 1945, Bảo Đại did just that by abrogating the Franco-Vietnamese Treaty of Protectorate of 1883. Vietnam's new "independence," however, rested on the government's willingness to co-operate with Japan and accept the Japanese military presence.[10]

Opportunity for Vietnamese nationalists[edit]

From March to August 1945, Vietnam enjoyed what was called a "fake independence." In the aftermath of the coup, the Japanese most definitely wanted to minimize internal change in Indochina,[11] which would have adversely affected their military objectives. The Trần Trọng Kim Cabinet was, from all available evidence, a government only in name and ruled over no state in fact. Indochinese affairs were still in the hands of the Japanese.

If the March 9 coup was a disaster for the French, it was an opportunity for Vietnamese nationalists. In fact, it marked a turning point in the Vietnamese revolution. Freed from French repression, which had continued unabated in the early phase of the Japanese occupation, Vietnamese revolutionaries had much greater freedom of movement.

In May 1941, Hồ Chí Minh formed the Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh (League for the Independence of Vietnam), or Việt Minh for short, at the Eighth Plenum of the Indochinese Communist Party at Pác Bó in northern Vietnam. The Việt Minh encouraged the creation of "national salvation associations" and adopted guerrilla warfare as the cornerstone of its revolutionary strategy. After the coup, the Japanese were content to control the large cities and leave the countryside to the Vietnamese. The Việt Minh, in particular, took advantage of the situation to strengthen their power. During the five months of the Japanese interlude, the Việt Minh carried out propaganda activities and organizational work in the Vietnamese countryside to prepare for the anticipated popular insurrection.

However, the Việt Minh was not the only political organization to anticipate an opportunity. In fact, after the brief storm of bullets of March 9, political parties, groups, and associations were formed throughout Vietnam.[12] In the south, because of the weak status of the communist movement, the Việt Minh failed to take the leadership of the movements during the preparation for insurrection. Several politico-religious organizations mentioned above rapidly expanded their power. In the early of summer 1945, Hòa Hảo leaders opened talks with the heads of other southern nationalist groups in the south, including the Cao Đài and the Trotskyists, to fight for and defend an independent Vietnam when the war ended.[13]

Blasting fuse: devastating famine[edit]

The famine of 1944–45 was another issue of utmost importance during the Japanese interlude. The famine was caused by both artificial and natural factors.

During the war, the Japanese had forced many rice farmers to grow other crops. As a result, rice production decreased, especially in the north, where crops had often been supplemented in the past by shipments from the south. Now, however, Japanese troops consumed the surplus from the south or converted it to fuel for military vehicles. Terrible flooding in the spring of 1945 added to the misery. Starving peasants flocked to the cities or died passively in the countryside.[14][15]

The devastation contributed to the crisis of authority in the country. Neither the French nor the Japanese took effective measures to alleviate the famine, and Kim's government could do nothing without Japanese consent. The misery and anger combined to foster a new interest in politics, especially among the younger generation, which the Viet Minh turned to its advantage.

During the famine, the Việt Minh conducted raids on Japanese granaries and the rice storage facilities of Vietnamese landlords. In the long run, the Việt Minh thus increased popular support, highlighted the impotency of Kim's government and intensified popular feelings against the French and Japanese. The Việt Minh succeeded in creating People's Revolutionary Committees all over the north. The committees were to take over local administration when the Việt Minh launched the general insurrection.[16]

August Revolution[edit]

In the North[edit]

When the Japanese surrendered on August 15, the Việt Minh immediately launched the insurrection that they had already prepared for a long time. 'People's Revolutionary Committees' across the countryside took over administrative positions, often acting on their own initiative, and in the cities, the Japanese stood by as the Vietnamese took control.[17] On the morning of August 19, the Việt Minh took control of Hanoi, seizing the northern Vietnam in the next few days.

Tran Trong Kim's government had resigned earlier, on August 13, yielding to Hồ Chí Minh's new Vietnamese Provisional Government. Hồ Chí Minh offered Bảo Đại a position as supreme advisor. Hồ Chí Minh declared independence for the newly-established Democratic Republic of Vietnam, headquartered in Hanoi, on September 2, 1945.[citation needed]

In the South[edit]

However, while the people celebrated their victory in the north, the Việt Minh faced various problems in the south, which was politically more diverse than the north. The Việt Minh had been unable to establish the same degree of control in the south as in the north. There were serious divisions in the independence movement in the south, where the Việt Minh, Cao Đài, Hòa Hảo, other nationalist groups and the Trotskyists competed for control.[18]

On August 25, the communists established a Provisional Executive Committee with Tran Van Giau at its head. The committee took over public administration in Saigon but followed Allied orders for the Japanese to maintain law and order until Allied troops arrived.[19]


Lê Trọng Nghĩa, who took part in the August Revolution in Hanoi and later became the head of the Intelligence Department for both the Communist Party and the military, said about the events in Hanoi: 'The government did not hand over power or collapse, the Việt Minh made the decision to destroy what was there, the entire administration. We were bold. Approaching the Japanese, harnessing the energy around the popularity of the Democratic Party to influence the outcome of the people’s uprising, and using our covert operatives within the puppet apparatus to collapse things within'.[20]


Allied occupation and Việt Minh consolidation[edit]

Just as Hồ Chí Minh and the Việt Minh had begun to extend DRV control to all of Vietnam, the attention of his new government was shifting from internal matters to the arrival of Allied troops. At the Potsdam conference in July 1945, the Allies divided Indochina into two zones at the 16th parallel, attaching the southern zone to the Southeast Asia command and leaving the northern part to Chiang Kai-shek's China to accept the surrender of the Japanese.

The occupation period proved to be a great challenge for Ho Chi Minh and the ICP. When British forces from the Southeast Asia Command arrived in Saigon on September 13, they brought along a detachment of French troops. The acquiescence of British occupation forces in the south allowed the French to move rapidly to reassert control over the south of the country, where its economic interest were strongest, DRV authority was weakest and colonial forces were the most deeply entrenched.[21]

However, in the north, the occupation period became the critical opportunity for the Việt Minh to consolidate and triumph over domestic rivals. On August 20, Chiang Kai-shek gave orders for the Chinese First Front Army, under the command of General Lu Han of Yunnan, to cross into Vietnam to accept the surrender of the Japanese 38th Army. The Chinese, unlike the British in the south, refused to prepare the way for an immediate French return; to maintain order in Hanoi and keep the city functioning, they allowed the Vietnamese Provisional Government to remain in control.With that breathing space, Hồ Chí Minh was able to maneuver against and then to eliminate his domestic rivals, thus strengthening Việt Minh control over northern Vietnamese politics.

March 6 Franco-Vietnamese Accord[edit]

As southern Vietnam's disunited resistance forces struggled to push back French advances, Hồ Chí Minh and the DRV started to negotiate with France in the hope of preserving national independence and to avoid war.[22] In March 1946, the two sides reached an accord.

Instead of obtaining French recognition of Vietnamese "independence," Hồ Chí Minh agreed to his government being weakly identified as a "free state" within the Indochinese Federation under the French Union. For their part, the French agreed to two provisions that they had no intention of honouring. French troops north of the 16th parallel were limited to 15,000 men for a period of five years, and a referendum was to be held on the issue of unifying the Vietnamese regions. The agreement entangled the French and Vietnamese in joint military operations and fruitless negotiations for several months.

However, the status of southern Vietnam was the sticking point. The March accord, which called for a referendum to determine whether the south would rejoin the rest of the country or remain a separate French territory, left the fate of former Cochin China in flux.

First Indochina War[edit]

The preliminary accord was but the first step toward an intended overall and lasting agreement. Southern Vietnam's future political status had to be negotiated. From June to September 1946, Hồ Chí Minh met with French representatives in Vietnam and France to discuss that and other issues. Unfortunately, almost immediately after the signing of the March 6 accord, relations began to deteriorate. Negotiations at Dalat and then at Fontainebleau broke down over the issue of the fate of southern Vietnam. As talks failed to bring results, both sides began to prepare for a military solution. Provocations by both French and DRV troops led to the outbreak of full-scale guerrilla war on December 19, 1946. Nearly one year after the August Revolution, the DRV and France were fighting the First Indochina War.[23]


  1. ^ William 1983, p. 39.
  2. ^ "Cách mạng tháng Tám - kỷ nguyên mới của dân tộc Việt Nam | Chính trị | Vietnam+ (VietnamPlus)". VietnamPlus. August 11, 2015.
  3. ^ Lockard 2009, p. 104.
  4. ^ a b c Hunt, Michael H. (2016). The World Transformed 1945 to Present. New York, New York: Oxford University Press. p. 123. ISBN 978-0-19937102-0.
  5. ^ Zinoman 2000, p. 57.
  6. ^ Huynh 1971, p. 770.
  7. ^ Chapman 2013, p. 15-17.
  8. ^ Worthing 2001, p. 47.
  9. ^ Huynh 1971, p. 764.
  10. ^ Worthing 2001, p. 49.
  11. ^ Huynh 1971, p. 765.
  12. ^ Huynh 1971, p. 767.
  13. ^ Chapman 2013, p. 23-27.
  14. ^ Marr 1995, p. 126-127.
  15. ^ Tonnesson 2010, p. 292-293.
  16. ^ Tonnesson 2010, p. 312-315,321-322.
  17. ^ Worthing 2001, p. 52.
  18. ^ Duiker 1981, p. 113.
  19. ^ Worthing 2001, p. 80.
  20. ^ Morris, Virginia and Hills, Clive. Ho Chi Minh's Blueprint for Revolution, In the Words of Vietnamese Strategists and Operatives, McFarland & Co Inc, 2018, p. 93.
  21. ^ Chapman 2013, p. 30-31.
  22. ^ Chapman 2013, p. 31.
  23. ^ Worthing 2001, p. 170.

Works cited[edit]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]