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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Rebellion and Rule under Consular Optics: Changing Ways of Seeing the China-Vietnam Borderlands, 1874–1879


This article contributes to the continuing discussion concerning the changing relationships between China and its neighbors in the nineteenth century. Focusing on Vietnam, a country within the metaphorical framework of the “tribute system,” it analyzes the complex range of relationships in the borderlands during the 1870s. Following the establishment of French consular offices in northern Vietnam, rebellions, counterinsurgency, communities, and commerce in the borderlands fell under a new kind of official gaze, one that ultimately provided self-serving justification to advocates of French imperialism in Southeast Asia. As emblems of foreign influence, French consulates soon became elements in factional struggles that unfolded within the Vietnamese bureaucracy over the role of China in Vietnam, the employment of surrendered bandits as officials, and borderlands administration. Keywords: borderlands, frontiers, French imperialism, rebellion, Nguyễn Vietnam, French Indochina, Qing Empire, Li Yangcai, Alexandre de Kergaradec, Black Flags, Liu Yongfu, Yellow Flags, Hoàng Kế Viêm

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