One period of Vietnamese history that I find fascinating is World War II. During the War, Vietnam was occupied by the Japanese, but for most of the war the Japanese left the French in power.
France, however, had been occupied by the Germans, so the French colonial officials in Indochina during the war were part of a collaborating government known as Vichy France.
Vichy France was led by Philippe Pétain, a military man and authoritarian. He sent Admiral Jean Decoux to Indochina to promote his authoritarian agenda and to try to keep the Japanese from gaining influence among the Vietnamese.
One of the ways Decoux tried to do this was by promoting the monarchy, but that did not go well.
This passage from Christopher Goscha’s Vietnam: A New History captures the tenor of the times well:
“Like [Pierre Marie Antoine] Pasquier and [Albert] Sarraunt [two earlier governor generals who tried to promote and strengthen the monarcy] Decoux approved of the resurrection of a monarchical government based in Hue and made Pham Quynh Minister of the Interior. But once again this project went nowhere, not least because the Confucian ‘son of heaven’ was uninterested and not prepared to be a dupe.
“Bao Dai kept Decoux at bay, avoiding imperial tours designed to increase his ‘prestige’ among the people. More importantly, the monarchy had no chance of success as a counter-revolutionary device as long as the French refused either to unite the kingdom they had truncated or to endow its indigenous sovereign with some semblance of power.” (201)
After reading this passage I came across a small booklet that the National Library of France has digitized called Hymnes & pavillons d’Indochine (Anthems and Flags of Indochina). This booklet was printed in Hanoi in December of 1941 and it contained “anthems” from Indochina. The first anthem in this booklet was, not surprisingly, “La Marseillaise,” and that was followed by anthems from An Nam, Cambodia and Luang Prabang.
The anthem from An Nam was called “Đăng Đàn” (Ascending the Altar). Between information I’ve come across on the Internet and what historian of Vietnamese music Jason Gibbs wrote in an article entitled “The Music of the State: Vietnam’s Quest for a National Anthem” (Journal of Vietnamese Studies 2.2, 2007) it’s clear that no one is 100% sure about how this anthem emerged, but it would appear that it was created over the course of the 1920s and 1930s as first Emperor Khải Định and then Emperor Bảo Đại sought to create “modern” (Western-style) music for their courts.
Then in 1941 we can see that the French tried to promote this anthem. Hymnes & pavillons d’Indochine contains the words and music for “Đăng Đàn.”
Looking around on YouTube, I can see that there is a “traditional” song by this name, but the “Đăng Đàn” in the Hymnes & pavillons d’Indochine is clearly a Western-style anthem.
So what did it sound like? I wanted to know so I time today trying to re-create it. . .
What I created is probably not completely accurate, but it should be close. I started with a drum roll. That is not in the musical score, but it seems like the type of thing that would introduce an anthem, so I included it.
So for anyone who wants to get a feel for what it might have been like when the Vichy French were trying to promote the monarchy in Vietnam during World War II, let us imagine ourselves at some ceremony where a proud Governor General Decoux is standing next to a bored Emperor Bảo Đại.
They stand at attention as “La Marseillaise” is played, and then they listen to this:
Finally, here are the lyrics and a rough English translation of the lyrics.
Kìa. . . núi vàng bể bạc,
Có sách Trời, sách Trời, định phần:
Một dòng ta
Gầy non song vững-chặt,
Đã ba ngàn mấy trăm năm.
Bắc Nam cùng một
Nhà con Hồng cháu Lạc.
Màu gấm hoa càng đượm.
Rạng vẻ dòng-giống Tiên-Long.
Ấy công gây dựng,
Từ xưa đã khó-nhọc,
Nhờ công dày-nặng,
Lòng trung-quân đã sẵn.
Cố yêu nhau, với nhau một niềm
Nguyện Nhà Việt Nam muôn đời thạnh-trị.
Hail. . . the golden mountains and silver sea,
That the Celestial Book, the Celestial Book has designated.
Our line on its own has
Established a country, strong and stable,
For more than three thousand years.
North and South are all one
Family descended from the Hồng and Lạc
Educated on civility:
They are ever more beautiful than brocade
And bring glory to the Immortal-Dragon line.
The work to build the country,
Has always been arduous,
But loyalty has always been present.
Let us love each other and maintain a single wish,
That Vietnam will enjoy prosperity forever.