The Archives' Tales:
Gender, Class and Colonial Migration Practices in Vietnam, 1897–1920
Focusing on issues of class and gender, this article examines the policies and practices of the French colonial government relating to French emigration to the Indochinese colonies of Cochinchina, Annam and Tonkin, that is what is now Vietnam, between 1897 and the early 1920s. Exploring the narratives emerging from the French colonial archives, especially the correspondence relating to the allocation of free passages to and from the colony, I argue that these practices did discriminate both in terms of class and gender. Further, because the prevailing aims of the administration were service to the empire and the protection both of its budget and of the status of the coloniser vis-à-vis the colonised, it is the issue of class and poverty rather than that of gender which eventually became an overriding concern both for the colonial administration and the colony's settlers, especially after 1908. The poor, the indigents or just those deemed at risk of becoming so were, as a result, in effect barred from the colony. Women, nevertheless, often without profession or sufficient means of their own and dependent on men for their subsistence and movements, were, in this context, often doubly disempowered as a result.
The period considered, 1897 to 1920, is part of the formative years of the colony and what Louis Malleret, writing in 1934 and dividing the colonial period up to the 1930s into three phases calls the 'period of adaptation.' It is a period of pacification and administrative and economic organisation following the phase of conquest started in 1859 and officially completed in 1897, whilst the early 1920s usher the third and 'bourgeois period.' It is also the period when the presence of women was still a question mark and before they started arriving in steady numbers.
In terms of archival sources, the files concerning free passage requests are of paramount importance. As Ann Laura Stoler has pointed out, in the absence of actual migration regulations they demonstrate who the government was prepared to subsidise. Although they do not give a full migration picture, they show, by default and in fact, which categories of people were welcome to Indochina. In terms of colonial perceptions and attitudes on the matter of colonial migration, the following sources have proven most useful: the Revue Indochinoise which published both the writings of leading colonists and government decrees; the publications of the Union Coloniale Française; and texts of advice written for prospective settlers.
Linking the general debate on the nature of the colony to immigration issues, I will first briefly define the categories and types of migrants who, in these formative years, were deemed desirable respectively by the colonial administration and the body of settlers. In a second section, and through the running narrative provided by their letters, I will compare this to the profile of the prospective migrants who applied for free passages, and to their expectations regarding the French government. In a third section, I will examine the practice of free passages allocations and its implications in terms of class and gender. Finally, I will draw some concluding remarks at both ideological and personal levels.
The debate about French migration to Indochina and the ideal migrant
Pierre Brocheux and Daniel Hémery have discussed exhaustively the ambiguous character of French colonisation in Indochina and the way different interest groups defined the needs of the nation and the colony. In doing so they have challenged the concept of homogeneity of purpose and actions of the colonial powers and the society it engendered. In particular, they have pointed out the debates and divergences of opinions between colonial administration and settlers. The particular debate about French migration to Indochina was itself linked to the debate about the nature of the colony and its variously-perceived labour, socio-political and ideological requirements.
For the French government, the colony would never be a colony of settlement, only a colonie d'exploitation. Besides the justification of civilising mission, the reasons for colonising Indochina were mostly strategic and economic. In this respect, Milton Osborne points out the speed with which the French set to work to extract wealth and labour from the country and its inhabitants. There was, in other words, no need for importing a proletariat into a colony populated with an abundant potential labour force with a reputation for hard work. In addition, given the fact that a large number of economic enterprises were run by the state, from matches, coal and railways to opium, and although the French government badly needed the French community to invest in its projects, initially there was no real need either for a large number of business people in the colony itself. In the early period this ideology did translate into numbers as, besides a small number of planters, traders and businessmen, only military personnel, and male civil servants occupied the country. In 1885, the military contingent was 42,000 strong whilst in 1897, for example, out of only 2158 French citizens in Cochinchina, two-thirds were civil servants. In this climate, and in spite of some rhetoric to the contrary, women, as Stoler argues, were not encouraged or helped beyond what would make their husband come. In 1865 there were eighty European women in Cochinchina, the most populated of the three regions, or about 7 per cent of a total European population of 577 people. In 1906, in the period considered here, women still constituted less than a third of a population of over 3,000 in Cochinchina. By comparison, by 1937, after fifteen years of reverse propaganda, they had reached 40 per cent of the 32,000-strong French population of Cochinchina, Annam, and Tonkin.
This went against the grain of the ideology and requirements of the élite of the colonial society. For Raoul Giret, writing in 1901 for instance, migrating to the colonies was the universal panacea which would fix all national ills, increase the influence of the French 'race' outside its borders, provide jobs and develop industry and commerce, as well as improve the defence of the colony. The business élite wanted more planters and entrepreneurs, and fewer civil servants. Men already in the colony needed families, and whilst the colonial government needed personnel to serve the empire, the dynamics of colonisation gave rise to the need for personnel to serve the colonisers. In this context, the usual debate as to whether women were necessary or detrimental to colonisation was obfuscated by practical, physical and emotional needs: needs for teachers, nurses, secretaries, seamstresses or cooks, but also wives for men's comfort. The larger picture involved the building of a 'proper' society, and the prevention of moral perdition and miscegenation. In other words, women would serve the empire indirectly by serving—and servicing—its men.
Women like Grace Corneau, a feminist of the time, also called women to the colonies in the name of adventure and opportunity. In a book published in 1900, Grace Corneau did argue that women and women alone could achieve 'the permanent establishment of man far from the mother country'. In that sense she put forward the none too feminist argument that women could establish a home 'as beautiful and comfortable as any metropolitan one' and in the process would become indispensable partners in the promotion of their husbands' success. In the same vein, she also cited the dearth of marriageable young women in the colony and wooed these with her claim that no young woman arriving in the colony would remain without a husband. She added that this was 'as good a way of colonising a country as any other.' On the other hand, Grace Corneau also advocated the colony as a place where independent and skilled women could earn a good living, and forcefully asserted that a woman with a trade was sure to succeed there. She cited seamstresses, milliners, actors, home tutors and piano teachers as the most in demand, but also advised women with some capital and initiative to ask for land concessions from the colonial government and run their own plantations.
For most writers in any case, desirable settlers were meant to be hard working, strong willed, resourceful, intelligent, of good morality and in good health. Desirable women should be nurturing and ready to maintain the French middle class moral standards vis-à-vis the coloniser. In terms of class, and although Raoul Giret accepted that there was some limited space for 'some serious element of the working class,' both the expenses required to settle and the nature of the colony excluded people without financial resources. Going further, Charles Robequain would write as late as 1939: 'It is not only useless, but dangerous as well, to maintain in the colonies a white proletariat which is ill-paid, dissatisfied and without prestige.' On this point both government and the settlers' elite were in agreement.
The requests for free passage: the real applicants
Apart from the routine applications of civil servants coming or going within the context of their travel allocations, the requests for free passage which landed in the Ministry for the Colonies or on the desk of the Governor General offered a different picture. In terms of numbers, interestingly, more women than men seemed to have applied. It must be noted, though, that a number of these women were included on their husband's application. They came from cities like Paris and Marseilles, and from the impoverished regions of France, especially Corsica. There was also a degree of fluidity between colonies, with the most adventurous, or the most desperate, shifting several times in their lives between Indochina and other colonies, especially Algeria, whilst some people migrated from China where they had originally settled for business.
Amongst applicants for free passages were stranded wives or widows of the colony's civil servants, with or without children. They were ex-settlers or soldiers from Indochina or other colonies. They were also doctors, pharmacists, nurses and midwives, teachers, seamstresses, restauranteurs, secretaries, servants and the equivalent of ticket of leave men. Some were just searching for luck, but many were desperate.
Their reasons were multiple. A large proportion of women were following their husbands, fiancés; or fathers or trying to be reunited with them. There were settlers who had travelled to France at their own expenses for family or health reasons, or families of public servants who had come to France for the same reasons outside their normal allocated leave passages or who had overstayed in France, thus officially forfeiting their free return passage. They now found themselves without means to return to the colonies and without means of support in France. Adele Bonnot for instance wrote in 1909 that she had come to Monaco to stay with her brother for health reasons but had now exhausted her resources. Her brother had married in the meantime which meant that she could stay with him no longer, and her father could not help. To cap it all, her husband, a temporary Public Works employee on low wages could not pay her passage. There were also retirees and widows who could not make it financially, healthwise or emotionally in France and wanted to 'go home' to Indochina. Madame Laurent, who also wrote to ask for a free passage back to the colony in 1909, was such a widow. In her letter of request for a free passage she recounted that her husband, a lower echelon public servant, had died in 1899. Herself a seamstress, she had come to France to look after her mother now deceased but now found herself without relations, pension or work whilst, she claimed, her health was deteriorating under the French climate. She desperately wanted to go back to Saigon where she had lived for nineteen years.
Some were looking for greener pastures after having suffered financial losses. Some, unemployed in France, were attracted by the prospect of a new life and jobs which could provide almost double the income of French salaries. This was particularly relevant to the period of economic crisis and general disillusionment following the First World War. Women were particularly hit at that time as they lost the jobs they had taken on during the war. Two of these, for instance, wrote in December 1918 that having lost the job they occupied at the arsenal of Toulouse, they wanted to move to Saigon where they had found work and the father of one of them was living. The public service was much sought after. There were also more adventurous people, and people with vision, but who could not afford the expense of the trip. Amongst them were nurses and midwives who applied from very early in the piece. One of them, perhaps aware of the obvious need for such an institution, proposed in 1901 to open a childbirth centre coupled with a teaching institution in Saigon. A great number, in any case, belonged to the lower class or disempowered group disenfranchised by the colonial government and the colonial elite alike.
Their letters of request were mostly respectful, and when possible, were backed by what they thought were useful recommendations or connections, especially from local lord mayors or members of parliament. Some, like Madame Laurent, were pleading bad health, and some, perhaps aware of the profile of the ideal settler, stressed good health and good morality, and struck a patriotic stance. The overwhelming feeling coming out of their letters of request, however, was that the government had a duty of care towards them. The reasons for this ranged from the specious to the reasonable as they invoked past family lines of serving officers or high public servants, political or aristocratic connections, a previous long service to the state, a duty well done during the First World War and the feeling that the colonial government owed something to the planters who had often gone through much hardship for the colonial enterprise, but were neglected compared to public servants. Above all there was the belief that they were owed a place in Indochina.
The government practice
The government, however, did not hold the same belief. The regulations concerning free passages summarise the French government's position and the way this position became increasingly rigid during this period. In a first move, the decree of 3 July 1897 put some order in a somewhat haphazard situation. It allowed free transport for military personnel and civil servants, wives and families of officers and civil servants, missionaries, holders of government scholarships and servants of high ranking officials. Officers, civil servants and their families, except for those of temporary agents, moreover, were allowed a return fare every three or five years to France or their colony of origin. There was a category 'immigrant,' which was reserved for people, in the words of the administration, 'proposing to do colonising work,' in other words, mostly potential planters planning to obtain land concessions. This was a somewhat shifting category which had the merit of providing some flexibility to what seemed like harassed officials. Indigents born in the colony, either of French or Vietnamese origin, were also allocated a return fare to the colonies, especially if they had families there. In the same way, French-born indigents could be, and indeed were, diligently and gladly repatriated to France if their case warranted it. In actual fact, the colonial government did not want the financial responsibility they entailed or the stain on the idealised image of the young and healthy colonial they represented. Planters, business people or employees of private firms did not rate as their passages was supposed to be paid by themselves or by their employer.
After 1908, however, the Colonial Bureau stops all funding allocated up to then to facilitate French nationals' immigration to the colonies, and the category immigrant effectively disappears. This is even occasionally invoked in refusals to requests for free passages when people are actually not migrating but returning to Indochina. Missionaries are not allowed free passages anymore either, and although indigents born in the colony are still officially entitled to free passages back to the colony when stranded in France, they are not always accorded one. Before this date, officials had seemed to be prepared to bend the rules to acknowledge connections, were favourable towards family reunions, and people in distress. The regulation on indigents born in the colony, sometimes loosely applied, was even extended on one occasion to a Spanish citizen, Luisa de Villareal. Born in Saigon in 1879, Luisa, in her own words, had gone to Villefranche, a French country town, to 'build a situation for herself' and live with her parents. She had not succeeded and found herself in total indigence and at the charge of some town people. Her request for passage was accepted on the strength of the recommendations of local notables, who politely hinted to the Ministry of the Colonies that indigent people were not welcome in Villefranche. By 1908, it was in Indochina that indigent people were no longer welcome and any hint of a soft touch from the colonial authorities disappeared completely after that date.
In terms of gender, the beginning of the period considered here lives up to the colonial government view of the colony as a military, administrative and extractive post of the empire and, under pretext of safety or lack of need, it was kept very much a boys' club. In 1897, for instance, a draft letter from the Governor General's cabinet stated that besides positions of primary school teachers and overseers at the opium factory, which in any case were reserved to widows and daughters of the colony's civil servants, there were no positions for women in Indochina and no provisions for their immigration. In the same way in 1901, the military bureau of the Governor General advised a midwife from Marseilles that there was no need for midwives since the hospital doctors were performing all deliveries and there were no provisions for such positions in the budget. That this flew in the face of a dire need for nurses and midwives already at that time was not even mentioned. By 1910, primary school teachers' positions were still at a premium as the bureau of the Governor General advised that there were no vacancies for those at the time. In 1904, summarising it all, the Governor General had bluntly stated in a letter to the French Society for the Immigration of Women, a branch of the Colonial Society, that 'Indochina did not have feminine immigration' and that the administration had already enough trouble rescuing women in financial difficulty without having to deal with more.
At that time in fact, and apart from wives of civil servants and high ranking officers, only nuns were really welcome as nurses in hospitals or as teachers. In 1904, moreover, widows and orphan daughters of civil servants officially obtained a priority which was already de facto theirs for women's positions in the civil service or in the monopolies of state, effectively cutting off potential female migrants from the metropole.
Gradually, nevertheless, under the sheer weight of the increasing requirements both of the administration and of the growing colonial population, the opposition to women's migration did disappear to the point where in the 1920s posters advocating migration to the colonies addressed both men and women. It is on the poor that the door was now slammed. Time and time again they were refused free passage, officially on the grounds there was not sufficient funding. The correspondence between the Governor General and the ministry for the colonies is more telling: As the Governor General wrote in 1909, 'The administration
has no interest in facilitating the entrance into Indochina of people without any resources and who, more often than not, would increase the already overly important number of indigents found in the colony.' This concerned not only people without resources at the time of their requests, but people deemed at risk of becoming so. As a result, inquiries were made, on people's morality and reputation, on their prospects or on their health. If found wanting or deemed not interesting, they were refused free passage to or back to the colony. This precluded family reunions too, as the colonial administration did not want to risk the burden of having to support or repatriate entire families instead of just one of its members. In 1909 for instance, the Governor General denied free passage back to Hanoi to Madame Achard and her three children to reunite with her husband. The children were born in the colony and were therefore officially entitled to such a passage. However, their father, an ex-artillery man, was in a bad financial situation after some failed business dealings. This was enough for the Governor General to categorically declare in a memo that he 'could not take the responsibility to ensure the arrival in Tongking of a woman and three children whose upkeep would inevitably become the charge of the colony'. From the letters sent to the administration, the hardship that resulted is not difficult to picture, even taking into account the exaggerations aimed at convincing officials.
In conclusion, the decision not to make Indochina a settlers' colony restricted immigration to people either deemed useful to the Empire's extractive project or to its élite white population. The local labour force made a white proletariat redundant in terms of cost, potential labour exploitation and resistance to local conditions. In a context where the dichotomy between lower and middle or upper class was congruent with that of colonised-colonisers, poor white were seen as a potential burden to the colonial administration and projected a negative image of the coloniser. In this sense, they were of no use in the colonial scheme and were not welcome in the colony. Services rendered in the past or high level connections might make a colonial officer try harder or shift the responsibility onto other administrations, but more often than not it was to no avail. For women, although in the long run there was to be no official gender discrimination, this often meant a double disempowerment. Working women, who in any case largely occupied subaltern positions, had to wait until the 1920s for their usefulness to be recognised, whilst the others not only depended financially on their male counterparts, but also on their potential for serving the empire, their good name, and even their health. In that sense, the archives relevant to free passages not only illustrate the discrepancies and points of encounters between settlers and the colonial administration. They also highlight the gap between official and unofficial political and administrative policies on the one hand, and the notion of common good and peoples' expectations of the role of the state on the other.
 Archives d'Outre Mer (AOM), Séries Géographiques, Indochine, Ancien Fonds (AF), esp. J 11; G70. These series are also classified under the category Nouveau Fonds. For instance J11 appears as NF carton 157. When the two classifications are available, the Ancien Fonds classification will be followed here.
 For Louis Malleret the period from the fall of Saigon to the French navy in 1859 to the end of the 1890s was the 'heroic period.' See Louis Malleret, L'exotisme Indochinois dans la littérature française depuis 1860, Paris : Larose Editeurs, 1934. See also Philippe Franchini, 'Saigon blanche, métisse, rouge,' in Saigon 1925–1945: De la 'Belle Colonie' à l'éclosion révolutionnaire ou la fin des dieux blancs, ed. Philippe Franchini, Paris: Editions Autrement, 1992, pp. 10–23, p. 13.
 Ann Laura Stoler, 'Rethinking Colonial Categories: European Communities and the Boundaries of Rule,' in Colonialism and Culture, ed. Nicholas B. Dirks, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992, pp. 319–52, especially pp. 331–34; Franchini, 'Saigon,' p. 18; Nikki Cooper, '(En)Gendering Indochina: Feminisation and Female Figurings in French Colonial Discourses,' in Women's Studies International Forum, vol. 23, no. 6, December 2000:749–59, p. 755.
 Stoler, 'Rethinking Colonial Categories,' p. 328. Concessions of land and attribution of civil servant positions were also strong indicators.
 See for example, Union Coloniale Française, 'Emigration des Femmes aux Colonies,' AOM Gouvernement General 7663; Grace Corneau, La femme aux colonies, Paris: Librairie Nilsson, 1900; Louis Cros, L'Indochine francaise pour tous – Comment aller, que faire en Indochine, Paris: Albin Michel, 1931. Touting the book on the front cover was the claim that this was a book for planters and capitalists [Livre du planteur et du capitaliste].
 Pierre Brocheux, and Daniel Hémery, Indochine, la colonisation ambigüe, 1858–1954, Paris XIII: Editions La Découverte, 2001 , especially pp. 181–82.
 Paul Doumer, L'Indo-Chine française (Souvenirs), Paris: Vuibert et Nony, 1905, p. 72.
 Milton Osborne, The French Presence in Cochinchina and Cambodia: Rule and Response (1859–1905), Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1969, p. 3.
 See for instance Charles Robequain, The Economic Development of French Indochina, London, New York, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1944 , pp. 33–41 for a detailed version of the tropes concerning the Vietnamese workforce.
 Doumer, L'Indo-Chine francaise, p. 72; Anon., 'Lettre à un député au sujet du Tonkin,' in Revue Indochinoise, 2e série, vol. 4, no.115, Hanoi, 31 décembre1900, p. 1259.
 Stoler, 'Rethinking Colonial Categories,' p. 328.
 Jean Bouchot, La naissance et les premières années de Saigon, ville Française, B.S.E.I., 1927, pp. 122–23; Robequain, The Economic Development of French Indochina, London, New York: Oxford University Press, 1940, p. 21 ff.) We must keep in mind, however, the fact that the category 'French' is a legal rather than ethnic category and was defined, in the colonial context, according to shifting criteria. See Stoler, 'Rethinking Colonial Categories' and Cooper, '(En)gendering Indochina,' p. 117, about the promotion of immigration to the colonies, for both men and women after 1920. This promotion, it must be said still mainly concerned civil servants.
 Raoul Giret, 'L'émigration française aux colonies,' I, in Revue Indochinoise, 28 janvier 1901, no. 119.
 Raoul Giret, summarising J.P. Piolet, 'La femme aux Colonies,' in Revue Indochinoise, no. 17, série 2, vol. 5, 14 janvier 1901, p. 25.
 Louis Imbert, the author of a text of advice to migrants bound to Cochinchina, cited in Brocheux et Hémery, Indochine, p. 176, believed that migrants to the colony should be married and that French women should go to the colonies 'to help, comfort, support her husband, to insure his well-being and his health.' See also Joseph Chaillet-Bert, AOM, 'L'Emigration des femmes aux colonies,' Gouvernement General, 7663.
 Giret, summarising Piolet, 'La femme aux Colonies,' p. 25.
 Corneau, La femme aux colonies, p. 14.
 Corneau, La femme aux colonies, p. 18.
 Corneau, La femme aux colonies, pp. 17–19.
 Corneau, La femme aux colonies, p. 19.
 Corneau, La femme aux colonies, pp. 12–13.
 Giret, 'L'émigration française, I, pp. 250–51.
 Giret, 'L'émigration française aux colonies (suite), in Revue Indochinoise, no 124, 4 mars 1901, p. 186.
 Robequain, The Economic development of French Indochina, p. 30.
 For example, the applications contained in AOM, Séries Géographiques, Indochine, AF, serie J11, from 1901 to 1915, concerned 58 men and 63 women.
 AOM, Séries Géographiques, Indochine, AF, série J11; See also Franchini, 'Saigon,' pp. 15–16.
 AOM, Séries Géographiques, Indochine, AF, série J11; personnel interview: Mme P., Paris 1992.
 AOM, Séries Géographiques, Indochine, AF, série J11, 1861–1915.
 AOM, Séries Géographiques, Indochine, AF, série J11 (11), Bonnot, 1909.
 AOM, Séries Géographiques, Indochine, AF, série J11 (11), Laurent, 1909.
 See for instance, 'Acte Officiel' du 16 septembre 1999, RI, no. 55, 2e série, vol. 2, 6 novembre 1899.
 AOM, séries géographiques, Indochine, NF, carton 15, dossier 142 (Py et Ferrand).
 Doumer, L'Indo-Chine française, p. 1.
 AOM, séries géographiques, Indochine, AF Y 06 (1), 1901; see also Y 07, 1897–1907.
 AOM, séries géographiques, Indochine, AF, J11 (9,10,11,12), 1901–1915.
 Revue Indochinoise, 20 October 1902, no. 209, p. 987.
 AOM, séries géographiques, Indochine, AF J11 (9), Blancsube, 1903.
 Revue Indochinoise, 20 October 1902, no. 209, p. 987.
 See for instance, AOM, séries géographiques, Indochine, AF J11 (11) Laurent.
 AOM, séries géographiques, Indochine, AF J11(11), Achard, 1909.
 AOM, séries géographiques, Indochine, AF J11(10), Villareal, 1905.
 AOM, séries géographiques, Indochine, AF J11(10), Villareal, 1905.
 AOM Gouvernement General, 7663, 'Emigration des Femmes aux Colonies,' Gouverneur General à Madame Custine, Présidente de la Société Française d'Emigration des Femmes, 1897. It is interesting to note that any mention of the opium factory disappeared in the final draft of the letter sent to Madame Custine.
 AOM, séries géographiques, Indochine AF Y 06 (3), Lambertin, 14 mai 1901.
 Corneau, La femme aux Colonies, pp. 33–34.
 AOM, séries Géographiques, Fonds Indochine, AF, I40, carton 154 (6).
 AOM, Gouvernement General, 7663, Emigration des Femmes aux colonies, Gouverneur General à Madame Custine, présidente de la Société Française d'Emigration des Femmes, 22 mars 1904.
 AOM, séries géographiques, Indochine, I 40 (7), Circulaire du Gouvernement General de l'Indochine, 30 avril 1904.
 For example, see Marguerite Duras, Un barrage contre le Pacifique, Paris: Gallimard, 1950, p. 23.
 AOM, séries géographiques, Indochine, AF, J11 (11), Casile, 1909.
 AOM, séries géographiques, Indochine, AF, J11 (11), Achard, 1909.