Table of Contents in the Asian Legal Encyclopedia

Annam in Asia


Annam, or Anam, a country of south-eastern Asia, now forming a French protectorate, part of the peninsula of Indo-China. (See Indo-China, French). It is bounded N. by Tongking, E. and S.E. by the China Sea, S.W. by Cochin-China, and W. by Cambodia and Laos. It comprises a sinuous strip of territory measuring between 750 and 800 m. in length, with an approximate area of 52,000 sq. m. The population is estimated at about 6,124,000 (in 1910).


Annam is ruled in theory by its emperor, assisted by the “comat” or secret council, composed of the heads of the six ministerial departments of the interior, finance, war, ritual, justice and public works, who are nominated by himself. The resident superior, stationed at Hué, is the representative of France and the virtual ruler of the country. He presides over a council (Conseil de Protectorat) composed of the chiefs of the French services in Annam, together with two members of the “comat”; this body deliberates on questions of taxation affecting the budget of Annam and on local public works. A native governor (tong-doc or tuan-phu), assisted by a native staff, administers each of the provinces into which the country is divided, and native officials of lower rank govern the areas into which these provinces are subdivided.

The governors take their orders from the imperial government, but they are under the eye of French residents. Native officials are appointed by the court, but the resident superior has power to annul an appointment. The mandarinate or official class is recruited from all ranks of the people by competitive examination. In the province of Tourane, a French tribunal alone exercises jurisdiction, but it administers native law where natives are concerned. Outside this territory the native tribunals survive. The Annamese village is self-governing. It has its council of notables, forming a sort of oligarchy which, through the medium of a mayor and two subordinates, directs the interior affairs of the community—policing, recruiting, the assignment and collection of taxes, &c.—and has judicial power in less important suits and crimes.

More serious cases come within the purview of the an-sat, a judicial auxiliary of the governor. An assembly of notables from villages grouped together in a canton chooses a cantonal representative, who is the mouthpiece of the people and the intermediary between the government and its subjects. The direct taxes, which go to the local budget of Annam, consist primarily of a poll-tax levied on all males over eighteen and below sixty years of age, and of a land-tax levied according to the quality and the produce of the holding.

In 1904 the sum allocated to the expenses of the court, the royal family and the native administration, the members of which are paid by the crown, was £85,000, the chief remaining heads of expenditure being the government house and residencies (£39,709), the native guard (£32,609) and public works (£24,898).

Education is available to every person in the community. The primary school, in which the pupils learn only Chinese writing and the precepts of Confucius, stands at the base of this system. Next above this is the school of the district capital, where a half-yearly examination takes place, by means of which are selected those eligible for the course of higher education given at the capital of the province in a school under the direction of a doc-hoc, or inspector of studies. Finally a great triennial competition decides the elections. The candidate whose work is notified as très bien is admitted to the examinations at Hué, which qualify for the title of doctor and the holding of administrative offices.

The education of a mandarin includes local history, cognizance of the administrative rites, customs, laws and prescriptions of the country, the ethics of Confucius, the rules 63 of good breeding, the ceremonial of official and social life, and the practical acquirements necessary to the conduct of public or private business. Annamese learning goes no farther. It includes no scientific idea, no knowledge of the natural sciences, and neglects even the most rudimentary instruction conveyed in a European education. The complications of Chinese writing greatly hamper education. The Annamese mandarin must be acquainted with Chinese, since he writes in Chinese characters. But the character being ideographic, the words which express them are dissimilar in the two languages, and official text is read in Chinese by a Chinese, in Annamese by an Annamese.

The chief towns of Annam are Hué (pop. about 42,000), seat both of the French and native governments, Tourane (pop. about 4000), Phan-Thiet (pop. about 20,000) in the extreme south, Qui-Nhon, and Fai-Fo, a commercial centre to the south of Tourane. A road following the coast from Cochin-China to Tongking, and known as the “Mandarin road,” passes through or near the chief towns of the provinces and forms the chief artery of communication in the country apart from the railways (see Indo-China, French).


The ancient tribe of the Giao-chi, who dwelt on the confines of S. China, and in what is now Tongking and northern Annam, are regarded by the Annamese as their ancestors, and tradition ascribes to their first rulers descent from the Chinese imperial family. These sovereigns were succeeded by another dynasty, under which, at the end of the 3rd century b.c., the Chinese invaded the country, and eventually established there a supremacy destined to last, with little intermission, till the 10th century a.d. In 968 Dinh-Bo-Lanh succeeded in ousting the Chinese and founded an independent dynasty of Dinh. Till this period the greater part of Annam had been occupied by the Chams, a nation of Hindu civilization, which has left many monuments to testify to its greatness, but the encroachment of the Annamese during the next six centuries at last left to it only a small territory in the south of the country. Three lines of sovereigns followed that of Dinh, under the last of which, about 1407, Annam again fell under the Chinese yoke. In 1428 an Annamese general Le-Loi succeeded in freeing the country once more, and founded a dynasty which lasted till the end of the 18th century.

During the greater part of this period, however, the titular sovereigns were mere puppets, the reality of power being in the hands of the family of Trinh in Tongking and that of Nguyen in southern Annam, which in 1568 became a separate principality under the name of Cochin-China. Towards the end of the 18th century a rebellion overthrew the Nguyen, but one of its members, Gia-long, by the aid of a French force, in 1801 acquired sway over the whole of Annam, Tongking and Cochin-China. This force was procured for him by Pigneau de Béhaine, bishop of Adran, who saw in the political condition of Annam a means of establishing French influence in Indo-China and counterbalancing the English power in India. Before this, in 1787, Gia-long had concluded a treaty with Louis XVI., whereby in return for a promise of aid he ceded Tourane and Pulo-Condore to the French. That treaty marks the beginning of French influence in Indo-China.

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica (1911)


See Also

Further Reading

Legrand de la Liraye, Notes historiques sur la nation annamite (Paris, 1866?); C. Gosselin, L’Empire d’Annam (Paris, 1904); E. Sombsthay, Cours de législation et d’administration annamites (Paris, 1898).

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