Nationalism--organized political movements which had as their goal the restoration of their country's independence. More moderate nationalist movements appeared in those countries with liberal colonial governments while more radical nationalist movements developed in countries with repressive colonial governments.
Nationalism in Southeast Asia developed from three sources: 1, indigenous religions; 2, western education; and 3, contact with social radicals such as socialists and communists.
Indigenous Religions In Burma the earliest nationalist movement was led by Buddhists who established the Young Man's Buddhist Association in 1906. They wanted to revitalize Buddhism in Burma, reducing Western influence.
In Indonesia, Muslims were the first to organize a nationalist political party, Sarekat Islam (1912). Sarekat Islam sought to bring all Indonesian Muslims together under its banner of reformist Muslim ideas. It was the first mass political party to appear in Southeast Asia.
Western Education In Burma the new Western educated elite worked with Buddhist monks and with other Burmese. In 1935 students at the University of Rangoon formed the Dobayma Asiyone, the "We Burman" society. The members of the Dobayma Asiyone called themselves "Thakins" (Master). Many Thakins, Aung San, U Nu, and Ne Win, would become political leaders in independent Burma.
In the Philippines the Western educated leaders first fought against Spain, but later worked with the United States.
In Malaya, educated Malays were brought into the civil service. Throughout the colonial period, they worked closely with their British rulers.
In Indonesia a small group of Indonesians, educated in Dutch schools, formed the P.N.I., the Indonesian Nationalist party, in 1927. The party was forced underground by the Dutch and its leaders exiled.
In Indochina, nationalist activity was confined to Vietnam. Many Western educated Vietnamese were encouraged to identify with the French. Others formed small, generally moderate, political groups, but these organizations were never allowed to become important.
Social Radicals The communists in Burma tended to be badly split. They have had little impact on Burmese society.
The P.K.I., the Indonesian Communist Party, was founded in 1920. Its major impact came after independence, in the 1950s and early 1960s. It was destroyed by the Indonesian army in 1965.
Despite French repression, the Vietnamese communists became the leading nationalists, taking control of the nationalist movement in the 1930s.
Nationalism was a successful activity in Southeast Asia. All of the countries in the region were independent by 1965, and, in most cases, nationalist leaders were the first of the region's independent heads of state.
The French in Vietnam The French were never able to come to a compromise with Vietnamese nationalism. Their rule was unusually repressive. Political parties, even moderate ones, would be broken up and their leaders jailed. Experiments with local advisory councils would be canceled. Any protests met with prompt response and was often accompanied by the removal of Vietnamese from government positions and a reduction in educational opportunities.
Over time, Vietnamese political parties moved left. The moderates were driven out by the French.
The left was able to survive because it was able to move underground and because its leaders could escape across the border to China. At times the leaders of the left were imprisoned by the Chinese, at other times they received Chinese support.
During the Second World War Japan was able to occupy Indochina through a treaty with the pro-German Vichy government in France. France was allowed to continue to administer the country and to prohibit natonalist activity.
Vietnamese nationalists sought refuge in China. At first the Chinese ignored the Vietnamese communists. But their need for intelligence about Japanese activities in Vietnam led the Chinese to release Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap from jail. They set up an intelligence network in Vietnam behind Japanese lines. The two men returned to Vietnam as intelligence agents for the Allies (China and the United States).
In 1945 events moved quickly. Two major Vietnam wars had their origin in this period.
March 9, 1945. Japan mounted a coup against the French. The Japanese encouraged the Emperor Bao Dai to organize a government under Japanese sponsorship.
August 14, 1945. Japan surrendered to the Allies in Tokyo. Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap moved to take control over Hanoi and Hue. A United Front government was set up in Saigon.
August 25, 1945. The Emperor Bao Dai abdicated to Ho. Ho Chi Minh then formed a provisional government with himself as its president.
September 2, 1945. Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam independent.
September 12, 1945. British troops arrived in Saigon to receive the surrender of the Japanese and to find out what was happening in Vietnam.
September 22, 1945. The British freed the French troops who had been imprisoned by the Japanese.
September 24-25, 1945. The Vietnamese turned against the French and began to fight.
In accord with the agreements drawn up by the Allies, China was to occupy the northern half of Vietnam and to receive the surrender of the Japanese. The Chinese occupied the north from mid-September 1945 to March 1946. The Chinese sought to use the occupation to gain concessions from the French. They did not interfere with Ho Chi Minh's efforts to set up a government in the north.
Negotiations broke down between Ho and the French over the return of the French to Hanoi. French troops moved into Hanoi in December 1946 as the war spread throughout Vietnam.
In 1949 the Chinese Communist Party won the civil war in China. The United States, fearing communist expansion, increased its assistance to France. The Vietnamese communists were now in a position to obtain aid from both the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China.
In March 1954 the French lost the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in northwestern Vietnam. They finally agreed to negotiate with the communists.
At the Geneva Conference in 1954, Vietnam, and the two other countries of Indochina gained their independence. A military truce line was set up at the 17th parallel in preparation for elections for the reunification of Vietnam.
South Vietnam, with the backing of the United States, refused to allow the elections to take place. After a few years of relative peace and reconstruction, the communists decided to renew military activities with the goal of unifying the country.