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a region encompassing the northernmost 40,340 square miles of present-day Vietnam
"Tonkin" is a Western corruption of Dong Kinh, the name of Hanoi (the largest city in the region) during the Le Dynasty. Locally, the region is known as Bac Ky, meaning "Northern Region." The name "Tonkin" was later used for the protectorate established by France in the 19th century.
Many rivers enter Tonkin from the Chinese province of Yunan, including the Red and Noire. Both empty into the Gulf of Tonkin through a number of deltaic streams. The region is mountainous in the north and west, the greatest height rising to 10,310 feet. Much of the region is covered by forests. Rainfall over the region varies from 60 to 100 inches a year, with most of it falling between May and January.
Previously loosely associated with Annam, Tonkin became a province of that empire in 1801. In 1873 French forces captured Hanoi, giving as a reason the interference of Tonkinese and Chinese rebels with the dispatch of military stores to Yunnan. Tonkin officially came under French protection in 1884, and became part of the Union of French Indochina in 1887. In 1897 the viceroy of the Annamese Emperor was withdrawn from Tonkin, and French rule became virtually complete. In 1902 the capital of French Indochina was moved from Saigon to Hanoi.
Although Japan occupied Tonkin during World War II, France continued to administer the region as its colony. The region became a stronghold for Communist-backed nationalists (Viet Minh) after the war, and conflict between the Viet Minh and France broke out into the First Indochina War. Tonkin came under the formal authority of the State of Vietnam in 1949. In 1954, Tonkin and the northern half of Annam became the communist state of North Vietnam.
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This page was last updated on April 12, 2017.