Mobile Citizens

French Indians in Indochina, 1858–1954

Natasha Pairaudeau

  • Published: 2016
  • Pages: 352 pp.
  • Illustrated
  • Series: NIAS Monographs
  • Series number: 129
Available from NIAS Press worldwide
ISBN Hardback: 978 87 7694 158 1, £65 (June 2016)
ISBN Paperback: 978 87 7694 159 8, £25 ()

About the book

• First in-depth study of the Indian presence in French Indochina.
• Provides a lively account of complexity and conflicts over citizenship within the French empire.
• Offers a new perspective on the rise of inter-Asian migration from the late nineteenth century.

When France laid claim to the territories which became French Indochina, its beleaguered trading posts on the east coast of India gained a new purpose, sending Indians to help secure and administer its newest possessions and to assist in their commercial expansion. The migrants were among those peoples of France’s overseas empire who gained the rights of French citizens following the French Revolution. This volume explores the consequences of their arrival in Indochina just as France was testing a new approach to its colonised peoples, an approach less enamoured with the idea of colonial citizenship and more racially ordered.
 This book offers an analysis of the fate of Republican ideals as they travelled between different parts of the French Empire and raised contentious issues of citizenship which engaged Indians, French authorities, and Vietnamese reformers in debate. It considers too the distinctive French colonial social order that was shaped in the process. A lively story, it is at the same time an important addition to scholarship on the French empire, on colonial society in Vietnam specifically, and on migration to Southeast Asia.

About the author

Natasha Pairaudeau is an independent Cambridge-based scholar. She conducted research in Vietnam’s uplands as a social development consultant before undertaking a PhD in history at the University of London (SOAS, 2009). Her broad research interests include migration and its role in spurring social and political change, with a focus on South and Southeast Asia. In addition to her long-standing interest in Indochina’s migrant Indians, her research projects include studies of intermarriage and transnational family life in Southeast Asia, and specific histories of free migration to the region (Indian milkmen in Southeast Asia, Cambodia’s Shan gem miners).  She is currently at work on a project tracing the exile and political intrigues of the Burmese Prince Myingun in India and Indochina.

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by Haydon Cherry
From journal: Journal of Global History
Unconnected arches
by Pierre Brocheux
From journal:
Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient, 2017, Vol.103, p.543-545

“Natasha Pairaudeau gives us a solid and nuanced demonstration, based on a very large body of documentation (archives and periodicals) that she consulted in France, Vietnam and Pondicherry, and enriched by interviews with the descendants of certain families of “renouncers”. With this chapter on intra-imperial migrations, the author opens a new perspective for the historiography of the French Empire.”

by Subramanian, Lakshmi, Professor of History Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata
From journal: Journal of Vietnamese Studies
Vol. 12, No. 4

“Pairaudeau’s book is remarkable in terms of its imagination and archival research. It examines the predicaments of subjects, whose history in the context of competing imperial enterprises has not been told; it moves away from the overstudied British empire to look at the French one; it sets up a much-needed dialogue between histories of citizenship regimes in South and Southeast Asia, thus introducing a comparative perspective; and it shatters conventional assumptions about plural society and lack of local agency.”

by Robert Aldrich, The University of Sydney
From journal:
Asian Studies Review, 2018, Vol. 24

“Pairaudeau’s very readable and fascinating book is a model of comprehensive research in archives in Vietnam, France and other countries, enriched by thoughtful consideration of old and new theories of colonial history. Her deep knowledge of French, Indian and Vietnamese history is manifest, and she deftly weaves biographical details and anecdotes about individual Indians into the general narrative.”

by Somaiah, Chand
From journal: Contemporary South Asia
Volume 27, 2019 – Issue 3

“Over eight chapters there is discussion over citizenship statuses, (un)official privileges, rights and expectations thus exposing inherent contradictions within the French colonial system. [..] Pairaudeau effectively shows how both analytic lenses of the plural society and racial discourse which has come to dominate discussions on the configuring of colonial societies is lacking.”

by Nguyễn Thị Điểu
From journal:
H-France Review Vol. 17 (July 2017), No. 120

“Pairaudeau’s work adopts a transnational approach that links the Indian subcontinent to Indochina and specifically to Cochinchina, while remaining cognizant of the metropole’s inherent causality. [..] It is difficult to find significant flaws with such a richly detailed and abundantly documented work based on tri-lingual archival research and numerous interviews on several continents.”

by Ruhanas Harun, National Defence University of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur
From journal: Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society

“This book tells the story and history of Indian migrants to Indochina during the French colonial period. France was the colonial power in the three Indochinese states of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam; its dominance over Indochina ended with its defeat by the North Vietnamese military at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. […] This book, which is based on the author’s doctoral thesis, is highly readable, both for specialists and laymen. Well researched and richly detailed in analysis, it is a remarkable piece of work on Indian migrants in Vietnam, a subject hitherto little unexplored. In all, Natasha Pairaudeau’s Mobile Citizens provides a valuable contribution to the understanding of the functioning of the French colonial order in Vietnam. A thoroughly enjoyable read.”

by Kirsten W. Endres, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle/Saale, Germany
From journal:
Aseasuk News no. 60 Autumn 2016

“The book does an excellent job in weaving together the nitty-gritty of archival sources to present an intricate and coherent historical analysis of the Indian presence in French Indochina.”

“Mobile Citizens is a much-awaited contribution to the colonial history of Vietnam and, more broadly, of Southeast Asia that will be of interest to a wide range of academics and students working in multiple disciplines on issues of citizenship, migration, and identity.”