Date & time
Ho Chi Minh City is the biggest city in southern Vietnam. Histories of the city focus on District 1, or Saigon, from being a base for Vietnamese southward expansion, to a capital city of French Cochinchina and South Vietnam. The overwhelming bias towards Saigon assumes that, by having the longest history, it was representative of the greater metropolitan region. However, an equally old area existed alongside Saigon, following different historical developments. This is District 5, popularly known as Cholon.
My research asserts that Cholon's history as a separate urban area needs to be retrieved from being regarded merely as District 5. Understanding the history of Cholon's development and the contribution of its inhabitants has important implications for comprehending the origins and nature of urbanism in Vietnam and, more broadly, of river cities in Southeast Asia. The prime focus of the thesis is on the economic and social activities within the Cholon municipality between 1879 and 1930. The methodology involves undertaking a series of cross sections, or slices of Cholon history at significant dates —1879, 1896, 1923 and 1930 — to bring out key changes in the urban area's economic, political and social activities.
I argue that Saigon-centred narratives held a strong bias towards French or Vietnamese ethno-centric and state-centric perspective. Shifting the focus to Cholon allows a fuller picture of a local way of life: multi-ethnic, water-borne, mercantile cosmopolitanism. My MTR presentation focuses on the beginning of this urbanism, from the 1670s to 1879. This period covered the southward expansion of the Nguyen dynasty and the French early colonial decades, in which Cholon grew from a frontier settlement into a major urban centre.