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Bao Dai, Emperor of Vietnam

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Last Emperor of Vietnam, the 13th and last Emperor of the Nguyễn Dynasty, born Prince Nguyễn Vinh Thuy on October 22, 1913 in Huế[?], died July 30, 1997.

After being educated in France, he became Emperor in 1925 (crowned in 1926) but was not able to escape French control of his government — Vietnam was part of French Indochina. In 1940 during World War II, coinciding with their ally Germany’s invasion of France, the Japanese invaded Indochina. While they did not eject the French administration, the Japanese directed policy from behind the scenes in a parallel of Vichy France. As far as Bảo Đại and the Vietnamese were concerned, this was now a kind of double-puppet government. This arrangement lasted until March 9, 1945 when the French were overrun and Bảo Đại had little option but to switch allegiance to Japan.

The Japanese surrendered to the Allies in August 1945, and the Communist Viet Minh under Hồ Chí Minh aimed to take power. Due to the Japanese associations, Hồ was able to persuade Bảo Đại to abdicate on August 25, 1945, handing power to the Việt Minh — an event that greatly enhanced Hồ’s legitimacy in the eyes of the Vietnamese people. Bảo Đại was appointed “supreme adviser” in the new government in Hanoi, which asserted independence on September 2.

As his country descended into violence — rival Vietnamese factions clashing with each other and with the French — Bảo left the country after a year in the “advisory” role, living in Hong Kong and China. The French persuaded him to return in 1949 as leader and Emperor. But the war between the French colonial forces and the Việt Minh continued, ending in 1954 shortly after a major victory for the Việt Minh at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.

The USA, nervous since the war of Hồ Chí Minh’s communism, became strongly opposed to the idea of a Vietnam run by Hồ after his government of the north, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, in 1950 gained recognition from the Soviet Union and China. In the south in the same year, the French formed a rival Vietnamese government under Bảo Đại in Saigon which was recognized by the United States and Great Britain, but did not enjoy wide popular support.

The 1954 peace deal between the French and the Việt Minh involved a Chinese-inspired, supposedly temporary partition of the country into North and South. Bảo Đại had intentions to to take full control of South Vietnam, and from his home in France appointed the religious nationalist Ngô Đình Diệm as Prime Minister. However, in 1955 Diệm used a referendum to remove the Emperor and took control of the South himself, managing to win American support.

Bảo Đại took no further major part in Vietnamese politics and died in a military hospital in Paris in 1997. He was interred in the Cimetière de Passy, Paris.


See also: North VietnamSouth VietnamVietnamVietnam War



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