Bao Dai

Full Name
Nguyen Vinh Thuy

Date of Birth
22 October 1913

Place of Birth
Hue, Annam

01 August 1997

Bao Dai, the last emperor of Viet Nam, was born in Hue in 1913 as Prince Nguyen Vinh Thuy.1 He initially studied under Chinese tutors before moving to France at the age of nine to continue his education. After his father’s death three years later Thuy was crowned the 13th sovereign of the Nguyen dynasty and adopted the title Bao Dai (“Guardian of Greatness”). However, rather than assuming his royal duties the young emperor chose to return to Paris and handed the thrown over to a regency council.

In 1932, aged 19 and after a decade in France, Bao Dai returned to Hue and formally took the throne. Though he initially had ideas for both social and economic reform, the French administration limited the emperor’s powers and encouraged his pursuit of a champagne lifestyle.

Following the Japanese overthrow of the French regime in March 1945 Bao Dai was installed as head of an independent Vietnamese state under Japanese aegis. However, after only five months he was forced to abdicate by the Viet Minh, who seized upon the power vacuum created by the Japanese surrender and created a provisional government. After brief period as Supreme Political Advisor to Ho Chi Minh’s Communist regime he returned to Paris via Hong Kong.

French Indochina War
In the wake of the outbreak of the Franco-Viet Minh war in December 1946 Bao Dai became the focus of French efforts to find an alternative leader to Ho Chi Minh. Though initially cautious the former Emperor entered into negotiations and signed preliminary accords in 1947 and 1948. In March 1949 he signed the Elysee Agreement that established the Associated State of Vietnam with himself as chief of state, but left the French in control of the Vietnamese Armed Forces and foreign affairs. The agreement’s limited independence prompted many strong nationalists, including Ngo Dinh Diem, to refuse government posts and undermined Bao Dai’s credibility.

Following the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954 and after five years of lethargic rule, the Chief of State finally convinced Diem to become Prime Minister. However, within eighteen months Bao Dai was dethroned after achieving only 2% of the vote in a head-to-head referendum with Diem for Chief of State. He subsequently went into exile on the French Riviera and though he occasionally made political pronouncements he continued to enjoy a playboy style existence. Bao Dai died in a military hospital in Paris in 1997 aged 83.

1. Bao Dai was the son of Khai Dinh, Emperor of Annam.

Related Books
The Last Emperors of Vietnam: From Tu Duc to Bao Dai by Oscar Chapuis ( affiliate link)
Tells the story of French interaction with Vietnam and the neighboring region, which began with the seizure of Cochin-China and Tonking in the 19th century under Emperor Tu Duc and ended with their defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

Hue, the Forbidden City: His Majesty Emperor Bao Dai by Philippe Lafond ( affiliate link)
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