“Of Rats, Rice and Race: The Great Hanoi Rat Massacre” an episode in French Colonial History”

 “Of Rats, Rice and Race: The Great Hanoi Rat Massacre” an episode in French Colonial History”

The tale “Of Rats, Rice and Race”, within this instance may better be better titled “Of Ignorance, Administration and Prejudice.” As through the anecdote of the “The Great Hanoi Rat Massacre”, such themes emerged in abundance, in light of the infestation of rats within the French community in colonial Hanoi. The arrival of the French in Vietnam symbolised a growing mission “to develop, modernize and control the seemingly backward societies ..of Asia.”[1] Under ideals held by the mission civilisatrice, French administrators had taken it open themselves to guide and steer “backwards” Asian populations onto a course of civilisation. Such was attempted so boldly within the city of Hanoi, where “an impressive transformation and the creation of an urban space devoted to luxury” had arisen.[2] However, such an impressive beginning would soon serve to highlight the stark limitations of French administrations control within the region as “the normalization of French life in the city was an illusion.”

 

As through a consequence this illusory control, of that which Michael G. Vann has argued that this served to prove the misunderstandings of French administrators as to local culture and further knowledge of the region, in comparison with their “backwards” subjects. As upon investigation, the breeding source of such infestation originated however within the colonial sewer system, a staple of the colonial administration. Thus, crucially “the sewer system of which the colonial administration was so proud, was making the traditionally native issue of rat infestation a white issue.”[3] The ignorance with which the French employed ideas towards disease and infestation was further consolidated through their attempt to solve the rat infestation issue, which backfired when local Vietnamese “rat catchers” would remove the tail of the rat in order to reap the monetary reward, thus tricking their so called superiors into a belief that the problem was being handled.

 

This anecdote serves to represent wider themes such as the role which ignorance and ideas surrounding race played in French colonial administration’s civilising mission within Asia. Serving as clear example as to how “French control of the city, the environment and the Vietnamese was tenuous at best and illusory at worst.”[4]

 

Bibliography

 

Vann, Michael G. “Of Rats, Rice, and Race: The Great Hanoi Rat Massacre, an Episode in French Colonial History.” French Colonial History 4 (2003): 191-203. doi:10.1353/fch.2003.0027.

 

[1] Michael, G. Vann, “Of Rats, Rice and Race: The Great Hanoi Rat Massacre, an Episode in French Colonial History.” French Colonial History 4 (2003): p.191.

[2] Ibid.,p.192.

[3] Ibid.,p.196.

[4] Ibid.,193.

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