Translated from the original French web page Les Français en Indochine : combien sont-ils ?

Population census of the French in Indochina in 1937

Knowing what was accomplished, one can think they were very numerous. In reality, they were only a handful... A few tens of thousands at most before the outbreak of WW2 and among them, only a few thousands who contribute directly to the transformation of Indochina... Indochina never was a colony of population settlement and the data of the first methodical census in 1937 provided some precious information. These data and comments are extracts from the book "L'évolution économique de l'Indochine Française" by Charles Robequain, professor at the Sorbonne (1939).

How many were they?

I. The "Europeans and assimilated" were only circa 24.000 in 1913, 25.000 in 1921 and 42.345 in 1937.

Countries Total Population  Europeans + a      %     
Cochinchina 4,616,000 16,084 0.35%
Tonkin 8,700,000 18,171 0.21%
Annam 5,656,000 4,982 0.09%
Cambodge 3,046,000 2,534 0.08%
Laos 1,012,000 574 0.06%
Total and ratio 23,030,000 42,345 0.18%

Globally, all countries included, there was only 1 "Europeans and assimilated" for 544 inhabitants (1/544). The highest concentration was in Cochinchina (1 for 286 inhabitants) and the lowest in Laos (1 for 1763 inhabitants).

Only 574 Europeans in Laos !

The French were in reality much less numerous still, when one details more the very notion of "Europeans and assimilated".

French nationals by right of birth 36,134
French by naturalisation 2,746
Japanese 231
British 138
Americans 94
Others 2,311
Nationality undeclared 691
Total of "Europeans and assimilated" 42,345

II. So, the French nationals by birth were only 36,134 in 1937.

Places of birth   Men     Women    Total   
France 13,229 5,816 19,045
Indochina 7,552 7,886 15,438
Other French colonies 2,426 917 3,343
Other 3,245 1,174 4,519
Total 26,452 15,793 42,345

The Indians from [French] India were some one thousand. They were most concentrated in the towns in Cochinchina, and above all in Saigon where they practised the textiles trade, change and money loans.

Other French of the colonies came from La Réunion (Madagascar) and Antilles (French West Indies) (2,345 individuals).

Those who were born in Indochina are composed of half-bred (duly recognised by their parents), but also local women legally wed and who became naturalised at the age of 21 years old. In fact, the genuinely "Europeans" are therefore much less in number than the 42,345 individuals figure. They were in reality around 30,000.

The geographic origines of the French were not mentioned, but they were predominantly from France's southern départements and noticeably, Corsica. The [French] Britons were also relatively many in number. These origines must be taken into account for history : they participate in explaining some traits of the political behaviors and of the ecomomic activities.

The proportion of women had progressively augmented, thanks to the progress made in hygiene and comfort, and to the development of high mountain stations, to maritime voyages being rendered more easy, to fewer setbacks and restrictions from metropolitan France.

Indochina had tempted even some of those French female bachelors who had a profession : many had worked as teachers in schools. However, the number of women were much less than that of men, and even lesser among the "100% white" women.

The age pyramid showed a sharp hollow between 10 and 20 year old : although it was ever more perfectionned, the organisation of the schools in Indochina did not allow to retain all the French youths there. The parents would rather have their children in metropolitan France, where the ambiamce was "despise everything more favorable to their physical development, to their intellectual and moral formation".

Mortality :

In 1885, of a 12,000 men strong batallion landed in Tonkin, 1/3 of them succumbed to fever, or must be repatriated after a 4 or 5-month stay.

But then after, vaccins and serums have multiplied immunisations. The death rate which could be of 500 out of 1000 around 1885, went down to 200/1000 in 1904. It was still between 180 and 250/1000 in 1905 to 1930, which was a considerable number.

The assainissement works (cleaning up and purification) which were executed under the direction of the Institut Pasteur had much improved the situation of the urban centres which were then very unhealthy.

The professional activities :

Domains of activity Numbers       %      
Forests and agriculture 705 3.40%
Mines and Industries 1,172 5.70%
Transports 419 2.00%
Commerce 1,517 7.40%
Banks and insurances 249 1.20%
Professions libérales (the professionals) 1,795 8.80%
Armies et Marine 10,779 52.60%
Fonctionnaires (Civil servants) 3,873 18.90%
Total of individuals with a profession 20,509 100.00%

without a profession

Overall Total 42,345  

( The persons "without a profession" were essentially women and children.)

70% of the "Europeans and assimilated" who had declared a profession were fonctionnaires or military personnels, therefore almost 15.000 individuals ! Generally, the military personnels remain in their functions 2 years.

The fonctionnaires (civil servants) were more numerous (4,366) in 1914 and (4,836) in 1929, prior to the economic measures and the "indigenisation" of the functions after the 1929 crisis.

In the "professions libérales" (the professionals) category there were also 629 missionnaries (Catholics and Protestants).

Finally, there were a handful, just a few thousands of colonialists, permanently renewed with "fresh elements" coming from metropolitan France, who played a decisive role in the transformation of Indochina.

III. Other population who were present in Indochina : the Chinese.

The Chinese were much more numerous than the Europeans.

Countries Total Population     Chinese   %    
Cochinchina 4,616,000 171,000 3.70%
Cambodge 3,046,000 106,000 3.48%
Tonkin 8,700,000 35,000 0.40%
Annam 5,656,000 11,000 0.19%
Laos 1,012,000 3,000 0.30%
Total 23,030,000 326,000 1.42%


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