Organized Panel Session
The coal mines of northern Tonkin are often portrayed as the economic engine for French Indochina. Coal mining also goes into the historiography of modern Vietnam as one of the most exploitative industries whose brutal treatment of its workers turned itself into the breeding ground for nationalist and communist movements. But there was another side of the coal industry that few people notice- its underground economy of illicit trades and crimes. Drawing from business and police reports located at different colonial archives including those of the Société française des charbonnages du Tonkin(S.F.C.T)- the largest French coal mining company in Indochina, this paper seeks to reveal a thriving, complex and intersected world of criminal activities involving the theft, smuggling and trafficking of dynamite, detonators, cement and other valuable materials. An investigation into these crimes’ perpetrators, their motives and relationships exposes the dynamic and plural power structure within the mines that transcended the racial, professional and social boundaries at the time. Their stories also contribute to a fuller understanding of a fluid frontier mining landscape where its inhabitants sought creative ways to beat the system and where a network of illicit trades could engender political and economic changes.
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