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Tonkin (Vietnamese: Bắc Kỳ, historically Đàng Ngoài), also spelled Tongkin, Tonquin or Tongking, is the northernmost part of Vietnam, south of China's Yunnan and Guangxi Provinces, east of northern Laos, and west of the Gulf of Tonkin. "Tonkin" is a corruption of Đông Kinh (東京), the name of Hanoi during the Lê Dynasty. Locally, Tonkin is known as Bắc Kỳ, meaning "Northern Region". The name was later used for French protectorate of Tonkin, a constituent territory of French Indochina. Located on the fertile delta of the Red River, Tonkin is rich in rice production.
The area was called Văn Lang by Vietnamese ancestors at around 2000–100 BC. Evidence of the earliest established society other than the Đông Sơn culture in Northern Vietnam was found in the area of the Cổ Loa Citadel, the core of the ancient city of Cổ Loa, situated near the historical and present-day capital of Vietnam—Hà Nội. According to Vietnamese myths the first Vietnamese peoples descended from the Dragon Lord Lạc Long Quân and the Immortal Fairy Âu Cơ. Lạc Long Quân and Âu Cơ had 100 sons before they decided to part ways. 50 of the children went with their mother to the mountains, and the other 50 went with their father to the sea. The eldest son became the first in a line of earliest Vietnamese kings, collectively known as the Hùng kings (Hùng Vương or the Hồng Bàng Dynasty). The Hùng kings called the country, which was then located on the Red River delta in present-day northern Vietnam, Văn Lang. The people of Văn Lang were referred to as the Lạc Việt.
Lê Lợi (reigned 1428–33), a notable land owner in the Lam Kinh region, had a following of more than 1,000 people before rising up against the Chinese Ming regime. Following his victory he mounted the throne and established himself in the city of Thang Long ('Ascending Dragon') (former Cổ Loa, present Hà Nội). Thang Long was also called Đông Kinh (東京), meaning 'Eastern Capital'. (東京 is identical in meaning and written form in Chinese characters to that of Tokyo).
During the 18th and 19th century, Westerners commonly used the name Tonkin (from Đông Kinh) to refer to northern Vietnam, then ruled by the Trịnh lords (while Cochinchina was used to refer to Southern Vietnam, then ruled by the Nguyễn lords, and Annam, from the name of the former Chinese province) was used to refer to Vietnam as a whole).
After helping to unify Vietnam under the Nguyen Dynasty, the French Navy began its heavy presence in the Mekong Delta and later colonized the southern third of Vietnam including Saigon in 1867. During in the Sino-French War (1884–1885), Tonkin, then considered a crucial foothold in Southeast Asia and a key to the Chinese market, was invaded by the French. It was turned into a French protectorate and was gradually separated from the protectorate of Annam, with Vietnam being effectively separated into three parts.
During French rule, Hanoi was made capital of Tonkin and, in 1901, of the whole French Indochina. French colonial administration lasted until March 9, 1945, during Japanese occupation (1941-1945). Although French administration was allowed during Japanese occupation as a puppet government, Japan briefly took full control of Vietnam in March 1945 under the Empire of Vietnam and Tonkin became the site of the Vietnamese Famine of 1945 during this period. After the end of World War 2, Northern Vietnam became a stronghold for the communist Viet Minh. Hanoi was later reoccupied by the French and conflict between the Viet Minh and France broke out into the First Indochina War. From 1949, it was under the formal authority of the State of Vietnam. After the French defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in Western Tonkin in 1954, the communist state of North Vietnam was formed, consisting of Tonkin and northern Annam.
- Hữu Ngọc “Wandering through Vietnamese Culture”. Thé̂ giới publishers, 2004, reprinted April 2006 & 2008, 1 124 pp. ISBN 90-78239-01-8
- Forbes, Andrew, and Henley, David: Vietnam Past and Present: The North (History and culture of Hanoi and Tonkin). Chiang Mai. Cognoscenti Books, 2012. ASIN: B006DCCM9Q.
- Bruce McFarland Lockhart, William J. Duiker, The A to Z of Viêt Nam, Scarecrow Press, 2010, pages 40, 365-366
- Pierre Brocheux et Daniel Hémery, Indochine : la colonisation ambiguë 1858-1954, La Découverte, 2004, p. 78-81
- L'Indochine française pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, Jean-Philippe Liardet
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