SAIGON (1954-1960)/ 2. Historical Context: Warfare and Migration
Vietnam experienced a prolonged period of warfare since the 1946 to the 1970s. To understand the issue of refugees, it is crucial to grasp the timeline of these military conflicts. The warfare can be summarised into the following periods.
First Indochina War (1946-1954)
The First Indochina War is a war between the Viet Minh (Vietnamese Communists) Forces and the French colonists Forces. While Viet Minh Forces, led by Ho Chi Minh, aims to seize control of the nation after the Japanese’s surrender after WWII, the French hoped to restore their colonial rule upon Indochina. The two sides, hoping to end the prolonged war with negotiation, participate in the Geneva Conference in 1954. The French ceased its colonial rule in Indochina and a national election for an united Vietnam is scheduled at 1956.
Second Indochina War (Vietnam War)
After the Geneva Conference, Vietnam was partitioned into two countries. In the North is the Democratic Republic of Vietnam led by the Viet Cong, while Republic of Vietnam, led by Ngo Dinh Diem is in the South. Although the two countries enjoyed a short period (i.e. 5 years) of temporary peace, The national election that was scheduled at 1956 did not happened. The two states continually engaged in small scale conflicts in the late 50s, as they are building their political support within the country. Subsequently, these small-scale conflicts escalated into full-scale warfare, under the influence of foreign support and internal political unrest in South Vietnam. In a broader context, the Vietnam War is classified by historians as a “proxy war”, which is supported by the two superpowers (US and Soviet Union) behind the scene, in the attempt to increase their international influence.
Such a prolonged period of warfare have significant influence on the country’s urbanisation pattern; the majority of the country’s population lived in the urban area. According to Goodman and Franks (1974):
“ Urbanisation has been Vietnam’s substitute for social change and political mobilisation in the countryside. By changing the location of the population, urbanisation as contributed to making political mobilisation unnecessary. While far more effective than government programs in providing the population with security, urbanisation has also insulated the population from the war and its politics.”1
Migration to urban area (specifically Saigon) have different patterns as well. During the 1950s, refugees are more likely to come to Saigon with their local leaders from the North, who would remain in charge and determined their location of settlement.2 The social structure of these communities remained intact as they were transplanted to suburb Saigon at that time, creating a sudden influx of population. Such influx into Saigon is also evident according to the United Nation’s statistics. (Figure 2)
This is different comparing to the migrants who came in different periods. Migrants from 1930-40s, who were mainly industrialists from North Vietnam or even Southern China, resettled to Saigon to avoid warfare (Saigon is mostly unscathed by the WWII) and later the Communist regimes.3 Migrants in the 60s, who were mainly motivated by the threat of an incipient war4. These migrants were often more scattered and arrived Saigon as families, hence a more steady increase in urban population. From these analysis of migration patterns, we chose to study the refugees’ influx in the late 1950s as we view it as a more influential and defining event to urban Saigon.
- Goodman, Allen, and Franks, Lawrence. Between War and Peace: A Profile of Migrants to Saigon. The Asia Society-SEADAG, 1974, pp. 2
- Goodman and Franks, 1974, pp. 3-4
- Bogle, James E.. Dialectics of Urban Proposals for the Saigon Metropolitan Area.The United States Agency for International Development, 1972. pp. 12
- Goodman and Franks, 1974, pp. 3-4