Vietnamese Métis in 1863 Paris

In 1862, the Nguyễn Dynasty granted the French some land in the Mekong Delta, after it had been occupied by French and Spanish forces.

A year later the Nguyễn court sent the official, Phan Thanh Giản, to Paris to try to negotiate the return of that land. While Phan Thanh Giản was in Paris, he was photographed, probably making him one of the first Vietnamese to be photographed.

I was recently browsing through the wonderful digital collection that the Bibliothèque nationale de France has created, when I came across a work which has pictures of the other members of this embassy.

Much to my surprise, I found a picture of this woman here.

The citation accompanying this pictures is as follows: “Ambassade Cochinchinoise à Paris. 1863. Marie Vannier, 40 ans, née à Hué de Seu-Dong cochinchinoise, et de Mr Vannier, officier de la Marine Française, chevalier de la Légion d’honneur et grand Mandarin du roi d’Annam Gia Long.”

Gia Long had a group of Europeans who worked for him, and one of them, Mr. Vannier, apparently married a Vietnamese woman, Seu-Dong, and together they had a daughter, Marie.

They also had a son by the name of Michel: “1863. Michel Vannier, 51 ans, né à Hué de Sam-Diam cochinchinoise, et de Mr. Vannier, officier de la Marine Française, chevalier de la Légion d’honneur et grand Mandarin du roi d’Annam Gia-Long.”

Accompanying these two was then an elderly woman by the name of “Sam-Diam” who is described as a daughter of a Mandarin and “Vve” of Mr. Vannier. What does “Vve” stand for? If this was Mr. Vannier’s wife, then why is the mother of his children referred to as “Seu-Dong”? I’m confused (or my knowledge of French is too poor).

“Sam-Diam, 75 ans, Cochinchinoise née à Hué, fille de Mandarin et Vve de Mr. Vannier, ancien officier de la Marine Française, chevalier de la Légion d’honneur et grand Mandarin du roi Gia-Long; face.”

In any case, it is fascinating to see these métis, or mixed-blood, offspring participating on this diplomatic mission, but it also makes perfect sense. Such “cultural intermediaries” were essential.

Another form of “cultural intermediary” were Vietnamese Catholics, and some of these people also appear to have been part of this mission, such as Pédrô-Diếu an “Annamite” from Tonkin.

To view the complete set of pictures, and to see the source information, click on the link below:

http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b23001495/f49.planchecontact.r=Siam.langEN

10 thoughts on “Vietnamese Métis in 1863 Paris

  1. Vve may stand for “Vợ”? I ve seen some photos, they used congai and nhaque for “con gái”, “nhà quê”:)
    I think Mr. Vanier might have more than one wife as many Vietnamese Mandarin as this time

    1. If you read the other comment which a reader provided, it seems to refer to “widow.” However, I agree with you that it looks like this guy must have had more than one wife, as the widow’s name does not match the name of the mother of the two children. That said, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of mistakes in the information which is listed next to these pictures. So I’m not sure, but I’m guessing that he had more than one wife, and that this woman was not the mother of those children, but the only widow who was still alive in 1863.

  2. If all information listed next to these photographs are correct then Mr. Vanier had at least two wives: Mme. Siam-Dam, mother of Michel, and Mme. Seu-Dong, mother of Marie.

  3. Reading further, I believe that Jacques-Philippe Potteau might have had a mistake in identifying the mother of Marie Vanier. Salles, André (2006). Un Mandarin Breton au service du roi de Cochinchine mentioned Phillipe Vanier’s wife (Seo Dong) passed away in Lorient. And Mme. Seo Dong is the mother of all 7 chlidren with Mr. Vanier, including Michel and Vanier in the same digital collection that you have browsed at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Vũ Ngự Chiêu quoting 大南寔錄正編, Đại Nam thực lục chính biên (ĐNTLCB, I, 4: 1809-1820,1963:387) indicated that Vanier wife (Nguyễn Thị Sen) had paid a visit to Phan Thanh Gian on 23 October 23, 1863 (Phan Thanh Gian was in Paris at thí time). Thus Sam Dang, Madeleine Seo Dong and Nguyễn Thị Liên is one person, the only wife of Phillipe Vanier Nguyễn Văn Chấn. The Vanier family in that digital collection is not part ò the Phan Thanh Giản Embassy in France in 1863.

  4. I would like your help on providing all information you can provide on Doctor Lầu Màn Sâu (also written in the romanized way as Doctor “Lưu Nam Sao”). He built and owned that cinema PHILHARMONIQUE which is listed in your blog list of movie theaters in INDOCHINA 1951. This cinema is now called THANH LONG PUPPET THEATRE. Thank you in advance for any information you can provide.

    1. Thanks for pointing this out, but we lack a general term in English for “métis” that can express what that term is referring to in a way that does not also carry biases with it. I can think of a recent academic work on French Indochina that uses “mixed race” to translate “métis,” but “race” is another problematic term.

      Personally, my preferred term is the Hawaiian word “hapa” as that is used in a neutral sense. However, that term is not universally known in the English-speaking world.

      Finally, “Franco-Vietnamese” strikes me as anachronistic in that it brings in overtly positive values that did not exist at that time. “Vietnamese” did not refer to themselves as “Vietnamese” in the nineteenth century, nor did the French. And a term like Franco-Vietnamese with its implications of equality only became possible much later (in the late 20th century). I’d prefer a term that can be used for all situations and that is neutral. Again, we don’t have such a term.

  5. Hi again,
    Does anyone have information that is on Doctor Lầu Màn Sâu (also written in the romanized way as Doctor “Lưu Nam Sao”)? He was a very well known doctor in HANOI, North Vietnam back in the 1910s. He built and owned that cinema PHILHARMONIQUE in front of the famous HO HOAN KIEM, TURTLE LAKE. This theater is listed in your blog list of movie theaters in INDOCHINA 1951. This cinema is now called THANH LONG PUPPET THEATRE. Thank you in advance for any information you can provide.

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