Chiang Kai-shek and Vietnam in 1945

Last year I wrote a post (here) in which I tried to refute the idea that Hò Chí Minh said in the late 1940s that “I prefer to sniff French shit for five years than eat Chinese shit for the rest of my life (or some versions have ‘for a thousand years’).”

This statement was allegedly made in reference to Hồ Chí Minh’s agreement in 1946 to let French troops return to Tonkin, which had been occupied by Nationalist Chinese troops in 1945 that had arrived to disarm the Japanese.


At the end of World War II, the southern half of Vietnam was occupied by British forces which were also responsible for disarming the Japanese there.

Today I came across a cable (telegram) that was sent from the British (in Saigon, but via London) to the Australians in late December 1945. It states the following:

“The Political Adviser to the Allied Force Commander in Saigon reports that French authorities there have been advised by the French Ambassador at Changking [should be “Chungking” (i.e., Chongqing)] that Generalissimo Chian[g] Kai Shek has decided to withdraw Chinese forces in the near future though the date has not yet been fixed from that part of French Indo-China north of 16 degrees.”

So as early as December 1945, Chiang Kai-shek apparently already made it known that he would pull his troops out of Tonkin.


This report also states the following:

“Adviser learns that the Chinese government are still insisting vis-à-vis French authorities that Chinese Nationals should have the same rights in French Indo-China as the French Nationals. The French are particularly anxious to withhold the right of ownership of land and are reporting that they are unable to agree to Chinese demand since it is not possible to lay down in advance future policy of the Federation of French Indo-China.”

This is further proof that this alleged statement by Hồ Chí Minh that “I prefer to sniff French shit for five years than eat Chinese shit for the rest of my life” is a myth.

Chiang Kai-shek didn’t care about Vietnam. He had no desire to control that country, and there was no possibility that Hồ Chí Minh or anyone else in Vietnam was ever going to have to “eat Chinese shit” for the rest of their lives.


What Chiang Kai-shek did care about was the Chinese people and how the French treated them. He was angry that Chinese had been treated as second-class citizens by Westerners since the Opium Wars of the nineteenth century. He hated the extraterritoriality laws that Westerners had forced the Chinese agree to. And he wanted to make sure that nothing like this continued in the post-war era.

He knew that the French wanted to create some kind of Federation of French Indo-China in the future, and he was ok with that. He just wanted Chinese to have equal rights to reside and do business in that federation that French nationals did.

In other words, Chiang Kai-shek wanted Chinese to be treated as the equals of Westerners. As for Vietnam and the Vietnamese, my guess would be that he couldn’t have cared less.


So there is no “history of Chinese aggression” in anything Chiang Kai-shek said or did, nor did he reveal any “eternal Chinese desire” to assimilate Vietnam.

In the 1940s there was no chance that Hồ Chí Minh or anyone else in Vietnam was going to have to deal with the Chinese for the rest of their lives. The people that Chiang Kai-shek and Hồ Chí Minh were concerned with at that time were the French, and they both dealt with the French in their own ways.

[See NAA: A1838, 494/14 PART 1, China – Relations with Indo-China, 1945-1964, page 200.]


11 thoughts on “Chiang Kai-shek and Vietnam in 1945

  1. Chiang also didn’t care much about the local Taiwanese as well, the 228 incident and years of martial law can testify for that.

    1. “local Taiwanese” are not natives of Taiwan.

      The so called “native Taiwanese” are actually Han Chinese migrants of Hoklo and Hakka origin who migrated to Taiwan from Fujian province of mainland China during the Qing dynasty until 1895. “Taiwanese” is actually the same language as Minnan dialect in southern Fujian in mainland China.

      They number 85% of Taiwan’s population.

      The actual real natives of Taiwan are Austronesian Aboriginals and they are only 2% of Taiwan’s population.

      1. The “study” you cited was done by people with blatant pro-Taiwan independence political leanings.

        100% of the “mixing” with the native inhabitants consisted of Hoklo Han men seizing Plains Aboriginal native women as trophies after conquering the land from the Aboriginals. And that was only in Southern Taiwan.

        There was a massive surge of Hoklo migration from Fujian to Northern Taiwan in the 19th century of entire Hoklo families. They have no Aboriginal admixture at all and make up the majority of Hoklo.

        The local Plains Aboriginals essentially told the people behind the genetic studies to buzz off and stop trying to push a political agenda. The Plains Aboriginals are trying to resurrect their culture and don’t want to be used by Hoklo propagandists.

        The Mountain Aboriginals who make up the majority of the Aboriginal population did not mix with the Hoklo and most of them are traditional blood enemies of Hoklo and Hakka people. 90% of Mountain Aboriginals vote for the Kuomintang and hate the DPP.

      2. Melissa J. Brown wrote about Hoklo migration to Taiwan. Hoklo migrants to Northern Taiwan came in the 19th century and brought their entire families. They have zero Aboriginal admixture.

        The Southern Taiwan Hoklo seized Aboriginal woman from the Plains Aboriginals tribes. It was an entirely imperialistic, chauvinistic and detrimental relation to the Plains Aboriginals and not some “peaceful mixing”

        Thats why Mountain Aboriginals fought tooth and nail against Hoklos and still despise Hoklos to this day and vote for the Kuomintang and are against the pro-Taiwan Independence DPP which is Hoklo dominated. Its apparent that you don’t know any Aboriginals in person.

  2. Yea, I’m sure he was thinking about power first, but perhaps the Taiwanese were not “real” Chinese to him, since they had been living under Japanese rule.

    Your comment made me look up the “Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall,” because I knew that the name had been changed, but I couldn’t remember what exactly it had become. I guess it was the “National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall,” but now it has been changed back to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.”

    What is interesting though is that if you do a google search for “Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall,” the first page that comes up is the official page, and in the google search list it is still called the “National Taiwan Democracy Hall,” but when you click on that link, the actual page says “Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.”

    The man has left a very ambiguous legacy. . . 🙂

  3. Whenever I read about this episode in Vietnamese history, I’m reminded to think in a larger context. What were the realities of the world around southern China and Indo-China at the very end of World War Two… Much of China had been brutally occupied by the Japanese. Most of the former French-Indo-China had been also. The major war had just ended, the Japanese were being disarmed and going home. For China, there were the dual challenges of trying to overcome the massive trauma of that occupation and to rebuild the country as well as the renewed fighting with Mao’s communists. When considering all this, the latter part sticks out in my mind. Chiang Kai-sheck found himself in control of a nation in tatters- so from a social standpoint, a military standpoint and an economic one- to have some sort of ambition to occupy and colonize northern Vietnam while grappling with a civil war- would seem out of the question. That argument I can accept.
    Nevertheless, when thinking of how a Vietnamese leader would approach this unfolding reality- I still think it’s within reason that he might want to use some tough language to reinforce his own position to his followers that Vietnam had to be independent. Even when he surely knew the Chinese were agreeing to withdraw, would everyone else have that same confidence- while the troops were still there? Thinking in context- probably not, it’s politics, he needs to reassure them, and sound tough while doing it. He may not have made that exact statement, or what if he did and was just being humorous to a closed room of confidants? I don’t think that the Chinese leader’s motivations and challenges necessarily stands as proof of whether or not Ho Chi Minh said that phrase. The only real proof to me would be that one of the people at the alleged meeting refuted that phrase.

    1. Thanks for the comment. We also have HCM saying things like this:

      I think you are right in that there was a lot of uncertainty everywhere at that time. However, what the above blog post tries to point out is that it looks like there was uncertainty about who the overseas Chinese would show their allegiance to in a post-colonial world – a Vietnamese government in Hanoi or a Chinese government. Colonial rule had put that “Chinese question” on hold for many decades (certainly as long as most living people at that time could remember), but in a post-colonial world there was no guarantee that that situation would stay the same. This, I would argue, was a bigger long-term “Chinese threat” than CKS’s troops. And indeed, it did turn out to be a long-term “problem,” because once the PRC came to power, the ethnic Chinese in North Vietnam were treated as “Socialists brothers/sisters” and were not forced to assimilate. In the late 1970s this then backfired as there was no space anymore in Vietnam for “Chinese.”
      So what I’m trying to say is that there is more complexity to the “China issue” than a dichotomy between “the Vietnamese” and “the Chinese,” because you had “the Chinese in Vietnam” as well, and they have to be considered when we think about what people in the past may have or may not have said.

  4. HCMinh’s father was a confucean scholar . He himself was quite proficient in Han chinese characters and wrote many poems in literary Han style ( wenyan )
    The Chinese CP was godfather at the founding of the Vietnamese CP .. HCMinh had personal acquaintance with then Chinese communist leaders ,
    among them Chou en Lai

  5. I agree with the conclusions of this blog.

    In Barbara Tuchman’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Stilwell and the American Experience in China, she writes that Roosevelt, not wanting the French to return to Indochina, had offered Chiang Kai-Shek, in the Cairo Conference (1943) and again in Potsdam (July, 1945), the control of the entirety of Vietnam but Chiang had declined, arguing that he preferred Western “International Forces” to remain.

    1. Thank you very much for this comment. I have to say though that I’m always suspicious of Pulitzer Prize winning authors because many of these scholars who rapidly produce one book after another usually have a team of research assistants working for them, and this does not always lead to the best scholarship (it’s not an academic prize). So I thank you for pointing out a source that I (or anyone) should follow to delve deeper into this question. I think that it’s really important to see where these statements were made. Tuchman could be right, and I’ve heard these claims before, but I would like to see where her sources lead first. Thank you again though for pointing out where to start this search.

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