Unfortunately, this was an all-too fleeting state of affairs as the 1944 Allied invasion of France quickly resulted in the downfall of the Vichy regime and the Japanese no longer had any reason to tolerate the French presence in Indochina. Likewise, with the war situation going so bad for Japan, Tokyo was desperate to enlist more pan-Asian support for their war effort and the standard strategy for this was portraying the war not as “Axis vs. Allies” but as a racial war of Asians vs. Caucasians, an anti-colonial struggle to eradicate the forces of western civilization in East Asia. In 1945 Japan was well into their existing plan to supplant the French in Indochina and encourage the nations under French rule to rise up and fight alongside Japan or, as was more actually the case, to support and sacrifice for the Japanese war effort against the western powers. The Japanese had a pretender to the Vietnamese throne, an anti-French prince who had long resided in Japan, ready to go if he was needed but they preferred to work with the existing authorities if that was possible so as to avoid unnecessary infighting.
|Imperial Japanese Army in Saigon|
|Flag of the Empire of Vietnam|
This was the guerilla movement led by the shadowy, Marxist, revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, at the time still better known by his previous alias Nguyen Ai Quoc (‘Nguyen the Patriot’) and, because they promised to rescue downed Allied pilots and opposition to Japan, which also enjoyed the support of the American OSS, forerunner of the modern CIA. This cost them very little as there were few American pilots that needed rescuing and the Japanese were clearly about to lose the war anyway. They denounced the new regime as stooges pandering to an Asian master in place of a European one and, given that Japan had dismantled the French colonial military establishment, they had no reason to fear it. Their reach and influence spread rapidly throughout the few months that the Empire of Vietnam existed. Each passing week brought Japan closer to defeat and the nominally independent Vietnamese empire closer to total isolation and inevitable collapse.
|Emperor Bao Dai|
|Japanese surrender in Saigon|
|The King's Knight|
More demands came in from various revolutionary groups and committees demanding the Emperor’s abdication and on August 23, at the last cabinet meeting the Emperor would preside over, it was decided that Bao Dai would abdicate, handing power over to the Vietminh in exchange for a guarantee that the lives and property of the Nguyen Dynasty would be respected. The Emperor also wanted an orderly transfer of power with a formal ceremony to mark the occasion and for the imperial flag to fly one last time. When Phan Khac Hoe returned with word that the Vietminh accepted this arrangement, he found the palace resembling an odd sort of temple, echoing with the Buddhist prayers of the Dowager Empress-Mother and her attendants and the Catholic prayers of the Empress Nam Phuong and her attendants. The same day the end of the imperial system was announced at a huge gathering in the local sports stadium. By the following day, perhaps because there was no longer an immediate threat of violent mobs storming the “Great Within”, Emperor Bao Dai began to have second thoughts and many members of his family urged him to cancel the agreement but, neither the Emperor nor any of those who objected, could come up with a viable alternate plan.
|A Vietminh demonstration in 1945|
Tran Huy Lieu, Deputy Chairman of the National Liberation Committee, was sent down from Hanoi to Hue to accept the abdication of the Emperor in a formal ceremony. He left early on August 27 but did not arrive in Hue until August 29, stopping frequently along the way to give speeches to assembled crowds of locals, though some clearly did not understand the scale of the changes taking place, speaking of a “new dynasty” or asking who exactly was going to be the new emperor. When he did arrive, Lieu informed the court that the government intended to care for the dynastic tombs and temples but that the Imperial Family would have to vacate the palace, keeping only their personal effects, as all property would be confiscated by the revolutionary government. He did agree to raise the imperial flag one last time prior to lowering it forever and the imperial court allowed their cortege to pass through the central gate to the Holy Citadel, an honor traditionally reserved only for the Emperor, the French Governor-General and the representative of the Emperor of China previously.
|Bao Dai in traditional regalia|
That simple ceremony marked the end of the traditional monarchy in Vietnam. In the aftermath, Emperor Bao Dai, from that point known as “Citizen Vinh Thuy” received a message inviting him to Hanoi to serve as “Supreme Councilor” to the new government, an offer he was advised not to refuse, particularly considering the uncertainty that still remained regarding the dynasty. He and his family would be leaving but what would become of the Dowager Empress and the other wives of the previous monarch, Emperor Khai Dinh, who wished to remain in the “Great Within” which was their only home? There was even a wife of the Emperor’s grandfather, Emperor Dong Khanh, still living there. Their fate was still uncertain and they were entirely at the mercy of the new regime. Emperor Bao Dai, for his part, would go to Hanoi and take up his post with the new government but learned very quickly that it was an empty position and that the supposedly nationalist coalition of the Vietminh was nothing more than a front for the Communist Party. At the first available opportunity, a diplomatic mission to China, he would abandon the regime and take up residence in Hong Kong where he would remain until being restored as “Chief of State” by the French.
|Communist display of the event|