Bao Dai

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Bảo Đại, born in Hue, (1913[1]-1997[2]), under French colonial rule of Indochina, was Emperor of Annam (1932-1945), and Head of State of French Indochina until replaced by Ngo Dinh Diem after the Geneva Accords. During the Second World War, he worked with the Vichy French and the Japanese, abdicated in 1945,[3]acted as a political advisor to Ho Chi Minh in 1949, and returned as Head of State under French Union control. After appointing Diem the Prime Minister, he left Vietnam in 1955.

His names are complex. A member of the Nguyen Dynasty, he was born to his father, King Khai Din, as Prince Nguyen Vinh Thuy. After his abdication, the Communist government called him "citizen" Vinh Thuy. In 1949, when he returned as head of a coalition, he was, again, known as Bao Dai.


Following the Japanese assumption of power in March 1945, they created a government under Bao Dai. He invited Ngo Dinh Diem to become Prime Minister but, after receiving no response, turned to Trang Trong Kim and formed a cabinet of French-trained but nationalist ministers. [4]

His authority extended only to Tonkin and Annam; the Japanese simply replaced the former French officials in Cochin China; Cao Dai and Hoa Hao members also gained power there.


Bao Dai participated in discussions about a provisional government, in which he might be an acceptable, if not ideal, Head of State. The new government, established with Bao Dai as Head of State, was viewed critically by nationalists as well as communists. Most prominent nationalists, including Ngo Dinh Diem, refused positions in the government. Many went into voluntary exile. [5] He refused to recognize coalition movements, such as Dan Xa Dang in Cochinchina.


Under French sponsorship in July, Bao Dai was named, in the Elysee Agreements, to head a provisional government, creating Vietnam from the Indochinese regions of Tonkin (north), Annam (central) and Cochinchina (south). Bao Dai said of it, "it is not a Bao Dai solution...but just a French solution." Among the many problems were that the non-Communist groups had too many conflicting ties, such as the VNQDD with the Chinese Kuomintang; the Constitutionalists, Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, and Binh Xuyen with France; the Dai Viet with Japan. Given this factionalism, the Viet Minh, accurately or not, enjoyed support as an uniquely Vietnamese faction.[6]


Over the objections of Ho Chi Minh, on 29 January 1950, France's National Assembly granted autonomy to the State of Vietnam, which the U.S. accepted on February 1, rejecting Ho's claim. [7]

He created a strongly French-oriented government. While he may have been sympathetic to Vietnamese nationalism, his upbringing had been French. [8] He took no active role in government and spread his time among resorts. An American diplomat said of him,

Bao Dai, above all, was an intelligent man. Intellectually, he could discuss the complex details of the various agreements and of the whole involved relationship with France as well as or better than anyone I knew....He allowed himself to be sold by the French on an erroneous instead of a valid evolutionary concept, and this suited his own termperament. ... He would go through depressive cycles, and when he was depressed, he would dress himself in Vietnamese clothes instead of European ones, and would mince no words about the French. His policy, he said to me on one of these dour occasions, was one of "grignotage," or "nibbling," and he was painfully aware of it. The French, of course, were never happy that we Americans had good relations with Bao Dai, and they told him so. Unfortunately, they also had some blackmail on him, about his relationship with gambling enterprises in Saigon and his love of the fleshpots.

Not only could he not gain support in the countryside, but not even of honest nationalists, one of such as Phan Quang Dan, later an opposition leader under Ngo Dinh Diem.


The head of the U.S. economic mission to Vietnam, Robert Blum, said

The situation in Indochina is not satisfactory and shows no substantial prospect of improving, that no decisive military victory can be achieved, that the Bao Dai government gives little promise of developing competence and winning the loyalty of the population . . . and that the attainment of American objectives is remote

It became clear Bao Dai was simply outside the flow of power.


  1. Patti, Archimedes L. A (1980). Why Viet Nam?: Prelude to America's Albatross. University of California Press. , p. 477
  2. Shenon, Philip (August 2, 1997), "Bao Dai, 83, of Vietnam; Emperor and Bon Vivant", New York Times
  3. Bao Dai (October 1, 1945), Abdication of Bao Dai, Emperor of Annam
  4. {Hammer, Ellen J. (1955), The Struggle for Indochina 1940-1955: Vietnam and the French Experience, Stanford University Press, p. 481
  5. Globalsecurity, First Indochina War
  6. Harrison, James P. (1982), The Endless War, originally Free Press, Columbia University reissue, Harrison, p. 120
  7. , Chapter I, "Background to the Crisis, 1940-50," pp. 1-5, The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 1
  8. Sec1, Chapter 2, "U.S. Involvement in the Franco-Viet Minh War, 1950-1954". Section 1,, The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 1, pp. 53-75