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How “Cochin-chinè française "-or “ Basse Cochin-chine," as it is sometimes called — was acquired we have already explained. It is
It is now divided into four provinces, constituted out of the six wrested from Anam. A great delta, with little variety of surface, and covered with mangroves in places where the water is absorbed by the spongy soil, much of it liable to overflow by the rivers, in some places below the level of the sea, it forms an uninviting place of abode. Europeans, M. Maunoir informs us, never get acclimatised here, and children born of European parents usually die soon after birth. Hence a race of Creoles is not likely to grow up in CochinChina. The native women have, however, large families, and Anamites, it is often noted, recover from wounds which would be fatal to Europeans even in their own country. The vast plain which constitutes the area of the colony is so slight in its slope that the tide runs a long way inland, and so causes the borders of the rivers to be alternately covered with shallow water, and bare fetid mud-flats, exposed to the festering rays of the sun. Accordingly in this, a land of miasma, dysentery is the disease which, as in many other warm countries, shortens life. The majority of Europeans who die in Cochin-China succumb to it, and it is said that it frequently attacks them after their return to their native land. Cholera is also another epidemic of “Cochin-chine.” On the border of the rivers fevers are very common, in the forest country the “wood fever” not even sparing the natives, who can live unharmed in the middle of the rice swamps. Yet the excellent commercial position of the country-only second in this respect to Singapore—as a depôt, on the one hand, for the trade of the middle provinces of China, and on the other for Siam, Cambodia, and the Malay Islands, renders it of value to the French Government. The colony cannot—owing to the circumstances mentioned-ever be a colony in the sense that Algiers is, but only a place of trade, and accordingly the number of Europeans in the country is not much increasing. In 1873 an official census put the entire population at 1,487,200—49,500 of whom were Chinese, 82,700 Cambodians, and 1,114 Europeans, exclusive of officials and the garrison. The rest were Anamites, Chams, a warlike, gay, honest people of Arab origin, much intermarried with Chinese, Hindoos, endless crosses of whites with the natives, Anamites with the Hindoo, with the Malay, and with the Cambodian, and above all Min-huongs, a numerous and interesting people of mixed Anamite and Chinese origin. In 1876 another census put the whole population of the colony at 1,528,836.*
The capital of the country, as well as the chief "city,” is Saigon. In reality it is made up of three quarters.
The native town is devoted to a population of over 30,000 Anamites, Chinese, Malays, Tagals, and Hindoos. This is known as Cholen, and is at a distance of three miles from the European quarter, with which it is connected by a good road and by the “Grand Canal”-grand, as Mr. Thomson remarks, in name only, for its banks are overgrown with rank weeds, and the waters at high tide and M. Maunoir's article in the Encyclopædia Britannica with references. The last named, however, contains no allusion to the changes brought about by the treaty of 1874. In St. Martin's “L’Annce Geographique” will be found lists of books on the country; and in 1867 M. du Bocage published a bibliography of its literature.
* "Tableaux de la population, etc., des Colonies françaises pour l'année 1876" (1878).
are muddy, and at low tide mud. The Anamese towns are far from imposing, and the people who inhabit them are as little prepossessing as their frail huts. They bear the reputation of being the worst-built and least prepossessing of any of the natives of IndoChina. The Anamite's face is more Mongol-looking, his nose smaller and flatter, and bis person dirtier even than is usual among a people not fond of water as a detergent. The great width between his legs at the upper portion give his gait that curious swaggering “theatrical” appearance which enables any one at all acquainted with the Anamites to distinguish them among all the other races of Further India. It is also curious that the distance by which the big toe in this people is separated from the other toes has served—if any
confidence is to be placed in the Chinese annals-to distinguish them for untold ages; and the Sinetic chronicles affect to mention their neighbours as early as 2285 B.C. ! A vast portion of the poorer classes live in boats grouped together along the river bank, so as to form a floating village, or in huts built on piles, which raise the floor a few feet above the surface of the water, into which all the refuse is thrown. “The capitalist, if he proposes to build a river residence of this sort-one offering every advantage to a large family in search of cheerful society, a commanding view of the stream, good fishing close at hand, unencumbered by tolls and ground rent, and boasting a drainage system so unelaborated and cheap-has to launch out the sum of two dollars and a half, or twelve shillings, in the construction and decoration of the edifice. When built, the proprietor will let it on a repairing lease.” In Cholen the Chinese almost monopolise the trade, and though many of them settle permanently in the country, the majority return to China with the little fortune acquired by their frugal and not invariably honest ways. Choquan is a leafy village half-way between Saigon and Cholen, and the houses are so concealed by high hedges and foliage that Mr. Thomson remarks that he had several times passed through the heart of the hamlet before he was aware of the fact. The people here, indeed, love privacy; every prickle in the hedges that encompasses their dwellings is, to use the apt expression of the keen observer whose notes we have been drawing on, a token that the family within would rather be alone. Life is, indeed, in these sultry lands, one long dolce far niente, only occasionally interrupted by the mild necessity of getting something
Saigon proper—or the Government town (p. 157)—inhabited by the Government employés, is mainly built of brick, and possesses, among other institutions, an excellent botanical garden, and an interesting menagerie of the animals of the country. When the French first obtained possession of it the town was little better than a fishing village on the right bank of the Saigon river, twenty-five miles from the sea, and even yet the place does not at first sight predispose the visitor towards it.
A large town-ball and hotel in one is the object most prominent to the eye, while cafés, by no means very clean or comfortable, at which most of the residents seem to take their meals, are The streets are broad and macadamised with brick, and in two of them which run at right angles to the river are stone canals, up which come country boats to load and unload. Oil lamps make the darkness of night visible, and wide gutters—which give forth evil odours -drain the surface refuse away.
But there are no public squares, and unless the botanic gardens and the street facing the river, and lined with double rows of trees, are to be considered
as such, public promenades are equally marked by their absence. With the exception of a most imposing palace for the Governor, which contrasts strangely with its surrounding of bamboo huts in the midst of a tropical jungle, the public buildings of Saigon are in no way remarkable. There are, of course, a number of Roman Catholic chapels, and to aid the propaganda among the natives a large nunnery.
The trade of the place is not large. In 1876 the value of the imports of the whole colony was estimated at 61,814,000 francs, and the exports at 60,420,000 francs. But though there are a number of French houses, the English and Germans are the most active of the Saigon merchants; and, as usual in these parts of the East, the real work of the place is surrendered to the Chinese, who keep most of the small shops, and in some cases are also traders in a very considerable way of business. The French merchant enjoys life as well as life can be enjoyed in such a climate, and tries to make a little France about him. Hence, the cafés, the promenades, cards, dominoes, and a general addiction to fiddling, dancing, and pleasure, enter more than real business into his daily life. The English and Germans—for the Americans were not at the date of the latest accounts represented in Saigon—on the contrary, toil incessantly, hoping by harassing care, and sleepless nights passed in devising schemes for money-making, to heap up that competence which will enable them to pass as many years of their lives as possible in their native land. As for the natives, all this simply amuses them. The masters of the country, however, make the native chiefs responsible for their subjects; and hence rebellions against the French authority are much less frequent in Cochin-China than in most countries similarly situated—such as, for example, among the Chinese of Singapore, Penang, or the Malay Islands generally.
French is, of course, the language universally spoken in the town, and even the Anamites use it in their intercourse with foreigners. In Saigon—though the children of Europeans are usually sent home to complete their education, or, indeed, as soon after birth as practicable—there are in the town itself several good schools, largely attended by the Anamite and half-breed population. There is always a considerable naval and military force stationed here, and the police, who are chiefly Singapore Malays, are said to be very efficient. But though serious crime is not markedly common in the settlement, private morality is at the lowest ebb, and is, perhaps, in some respects
, hardly better than that which prevails in such Oriental settlements as Dilli, in Timor (Vol. IV., p. 254), though the politeness of the Saigon colonist—not always, it may be remarked, a gentleman of the best home-antecedents-glosses over the most revolting features of life in a country that has no domesticity. Mî-thô, Vinh-long, and Bassac are the capitals of the three other provinces of the same names. At Mi-thô there is a large citadel with a considerable French and Anamite garrison, a palatial government residence, with fine pleasure-grounds, and good roads bordered with young cocoa-nut trees. When Mr. Vincent visited the place a few years ago, there were several French stores in the town, a large brick cathedral in course of construction, two or three gun.boats anchored abreast of the town, and “ several important carriages in the streets.” Vinh-long is another town with a fort, and of the same character is Chaudoc. Ha-tien, in the Gulf of Siam, is an exceedingly unhealthy place, almost solely inhabited by Chinese
and Anamese. Ba-ria, at Cape St. Jacques, is a port chiefly of importance as a military station ; while Go-cong, in the midst of the great rice-fields to the south-west of Saigon, is the market-town of a purely agricultural district, almost solely inhabited by Anamese.
The French colony in Cochin-China it would be unfair to have judged either by a Frenchman or an Englishman. The one individual, if endowed with even a modicum of the Chauvinism of his amiable nation, will be certain to speak in inflated language of France in Asia; while, if politically indisposed to the Napoleonic dynasty, he might be inclined to anathematise Cochin-China as one of the evil works of the “ Decembrizeur." A Briton, on the other hand, is apt to sneer at this attempt to run rivalry with us in the East. But no suspicion of undue leaning can attach to the opinion of Mr. Vincent, an American. Yet this intelligent witness declares that Cochin - China is a failure, and is likely to continue so. After seeing “the healthy, growing, and usually paying colonies of the British Empire in the East," a visit to Saigon “ leaves a ludicrous impression indeed upon the mind of an observant, thinking, and reflecting traveller.” The Mekong River has proved useless as an outlet to the rich districts of Southern China, the furious cataracts and currents rendering it impossible of navigation for any great distance; while, as the reader is already aware, not much better fortune has attended our efforts to tap the country by way of the Irrawaddy. The Songkoi, which flows into the Gulf of Tonquin, is, however, navigable for nearly two hundred miles, and may aid in promoting the longed-for intercourse with the “celestial empire.'
Saigon, if not a pleasant place to live in, is happily an easy place to get away from. Steamers call in here from numerous ports east and west of it, and the traveller bound for India will have no difficulty in reaching some of the ports in the Bay of Bengal, either directly or by calling in at Singapore. From Saigon the voyager may sail to Singapore, and thence round the “Golden Chersonese,” with its island-dotted shore, through the Straits of Malacca, he will once more emerge into the open sea laving the shores of the mighty "land of the Hindoo ”—more familiarly known as India. a strange people—black men of many races and tongues and faith, “living under strange stars, writing strange characters from right to left,” and whose gods are not those of the white-faced islanders whose lot it is to be their masters. But the Englishman is no longer in a foreign land. For some time yet, shall travel in countries as little like Britain as any of those through which the reader has thus far been conducted. But wherever we go-among the languid millions of the great
He is among
* Carné : “ Travels in Indo-China and the Chinese Empire” (1872).