Local Administrators and the Nguyễn Dynasty’s Suppression of Christianity during the Reign of Minh Mạng, 1820–1841

May 1, 2014 | 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM

Makino Motonori (Chief Curator, Toyo Bunko Museum; Senior Research Fellow, Toyo Bunko; HYI Visiting Scholar)
Chair and Discussant: Hue-Tam Ho Tai (Kenneth T. Young Professor of Sino-vietnamese History, Department of History, Harvard University)

This talk offers insight into sociopolitical relations between the Christian community and the local bureaucracy of North Vietnam under the reign of Minh Mạng (1820-1841) of the Nguyễn dynasty. The Apostolic Vicariate of Western Tonkin on which this talk focuses had the largest Christian population in Vietnam at that time, and had been under the administration of the French catholic mission, “Société des Missions Étrangères de Paris (MEP)” since the middle of the 17th century. The core of this Christian community was situated in the provinces of Nam Định and that of Nghệ An.

Before the formation of the Nguyễn dynasty in 1802, the anti-Christian policies of the former North Vietnamese dynasties were enforced differently in the two provinces. In general, the local authority of Nam Định severely suppressed Christianity and its communities at the request of the central government. Conversely, that of Nghệ An secretly protected the Christians and clergy while appearing to put anti-Christian legislation into operation.

Through the analysis of documents conserved in the archives of the MEP and the chronicle of the Nguyễn dynasty, this talk proves that such a dual tendency continued under the reign of Minh Mạng. This contradicts previous studies in this area that consider Minh Mạng’s policy of persecution against Christians to have been comprehensively executed throughout Vietnam. Although a severe policy of persecution against Christians was executed under the reign of Minh Mạng, the Christian society survived in North Vietnam. This talk makes clear that the resilient Christian community in Nghệ An played a vital role in the continuing existence of Christian society in North Vietnam.