Carte du Delta du Tonkin Executé au Dépot de la Guerre d’après les travaux des Officiers du Corps Expéditionnaire.
Dépot de la Guerre
Published 1885, Paris
Size: 35.75” X 33.5”
Booklet 6.5” X 9.75”
A rare and very important map of the Delta of Tonkin in Northern Vietnam that includes the important cities of Tuyen Quan, Hong Hoa, Sontan, Thaï-N Guyen, Bac Ninh, Lang-Son, Quang-Yen, Hai Phon, Ninh Binh, Nam-Dinh, Hong Yen, and of most importantly, Hanoï. Tonkin is an eponym for the Northern region of Vietnam that was under French control as a protectorate from 1884 to 1954.
The importance of this map, with its insert depicting the state of the telegraphic system of the region, is related to the fact that it was produced during the Sino-French War (1884–1885). Although the French were in in Vietnam as early as 1862 when they annexed Cochinchina, the Sino-French War pitted French forces against a weakened China, as a result of the outcome of the Treaty of Hué of 1884 which allowed France to consolidate its power in Indochina and to set up a Northern protectorate in the Detla of Tonkin, a crucial foothold in Southeast Asia and a way to access the Chinese market. Although Vietnam was originally separated into three protectorates under French rule, the capital of Tonkin, Hanoi, would eventually become the capital of all of Indochina which included Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam when this political entity was formed on October 17, 1887.
As such, it is argued that an integral part of a European colonial power’s ability to conquer and control a foreign territory is its ability to properly map the area under its control.
Marie de Rugy goes on to state that:
“Geography plays a dominant role in the relations between knowledge and power, for it can appear as the science of imperialism par excellence. Upon their arrival in colonial territories—or territories in the process of being colonized—Europeans discovered spaces and populations previously unknown to them and which they had to confront. In order to identify this terra incognita, they conducted so-called “scientific” explorations, which involved description, comparison and measurement, as well as bringing back notes, sketches, and samples…
Military staff, scholars, or colonial civil servants led ethnographic surveys and gathered information from the population, resulting in regional monographs. This was notably the case in Tonkin during the years 1894-1897 and 1903-1904, when officers received very precise instructions regarding the questions they should ask and the form of reports to be provided to the administration…”
Therefore, this map is of crucial importance in the study of colonial cartography as well as being part of the early European influence in Southeast Asia that led to geo-political conflict well into the 20th Century.
(Sources: Marie de Rugy Geography in the Colonial Context.)