I was reading an article that a French military officer wrote in the early twentieth century about the various peoples who lived along the basin of the Sông Lô, or Rivière Claire, in the area of what is today northern Vietnam.

There are a couple of points about this article that I find interesting. First of all, it indicated that the Vietnamese (Annamites was the term he used) referred to themselves as “người An Nam” or as “Kinh.”


This is both interesting and frustrating. It is interesting because I have long been trying to find out when the term “Kinh” started to be used. I can’t find it in pre-20th-century sources in Hán or Nôm. So it is interesting to find it here.

However, it is also frustrating to find it here because the author indicates that the term “người An Nam” was also used, and I can’t find much evidence to support that point in pre-20th-century Hán or Nôm sources either. I can find the term mentioned here and there, but not a lot.

Annamites montagards

More interesting to me is what this author said about the Kinh who lived in this mountainous area. Basically what he says is that they had “gone native.” They lived in houses on stilts, carried their babies on their backs and wore turbans and belts in lively colors like the Montagnards (or mountain people) in the region.

Indeed, this author even referred to these Kinh who had gone native as “Annamites montagnards” (or Kinh mountain people), and he pointed out that they dispelled the myth that people like the Kinh and the Thái and Mán can’t get along.


[Commandant Bonifacy, “Les groupes ethniques du bassin de la Rivière Claire (Haut-Tonkin et Chine Méridionale),” Bulletins et Mémoires de la Société d’anthropologie de Paris V Série, tome 7 (1906) 296-330.