Vietnamese famine of 1945

Last updated
Vietnamese Famine of 1945
Nạn đói Ất Dậu
Country French Indochina
Total deaths600,000—2,000,000

The Vietnamese famine of 1945 (Vietnamese : Nạn đói Ất Dậu – famine of the Yiyou Year) was a famine that occurred in northern Vietnam in French Indochina during World War II from October 1944 to late 1945, which at the time was under Japanese occupation from 1940 with Vichy France as a puppet government. Between 400,000 and 2 million people are estimated to have starved to death during this time. [1] [2] The demographics vary from French estimates of 600,000-700,000 dead, to official Vietnamese numbers of 1,000,000 to 2,000,000 victims.


According to a 2018 study, the primary cause of the famine were typhoons that reduced the availability of food, Japan's occupation, American attacks on the Vietnamese transport system, and French colonial administration hindered an effective famine alleviation response. [3]


Vietnamese villagers attacking a rice warehouse built by Japanese forces during the Japanese occupation, 1945 Rob the rice warehouse at Vietnam 1945.jpg
Vietnamese villagers attacking a rice warehouse built by Japanese forces during the Japanese occupation, 1945

The famine had many causes. The direct cause was the effects of World War II on French Indochina. The involvement of France and Japan in Vietnam caused detrimental effects to the economic activities of the Vietnamese. In 1944, after US bombing cut off supplies of coal from the north to Saigon, the French and Japanese used rice and maize as fuel for power stations. According to diplomat Bui Minh Dung, "the Japanese occupation of Vietnam was the direct cause, in the final analysis, of several other factors, in turn affecting the famine, but their military efforts together with their economic policy for the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere per se seem to have systematically played a role considerably greater than any other factors in the Vietnamese starvation." [2]

The mismanagement of the French administration in Vietnam was the indirect cause. The French reformed the economy to serve the administration and to meet the needs of war because they had been being invaded themselves. Natural causes included natural disasters such as droughts and floods, which destroyed northern crops.

The crop failures of 1943–45 were compounded by lack of dike maintenance following US bombing of the north and the catastrophic rainfall of August-September 1944, causing flooding and loss of rice plants.

French colonial administration

After the Great Depression in the 1930s, France returned to its policy of economic protectorate and monopolized the exploitation of natural resources of French Indochina. The people in French Indochina had to increase the economic value of the area by growing cash crops in place of lower-value agricultural produce, but only the French, a small minority of Vietnamese and Hoa and some people in the cities benefited.

A similar poor harvest as in the famine had happened in 1937, but the administration had managed to counter it by prepared food reserves and a series of public works projects for poor farmers, akin to the American New Deal. [2]

World War II

When the war started, France was weakened. In East Asia, Japan began to expand and viewed French Indochina as a bridge into Southeast Asia and a means to isolate and further weaken the Nationalist government of China. In mid-1940, Metropolitan France was occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan increased pressure on France and entered French Indochina that September. Vietnam was pulled into a wartime economy, with France and Japan competing in administration. Japanese troops forced farmers to grow jute, instead of rice, thus depriving them of needed food, but France had already started the same policy to a smaller degree. The land set aside for growing staple crops such as maize and potatoes was decreased to make land for growing cotton, jute, and other industrial plants. Because of the decreased land available for growing, harvests of staple crops decreased considerably. Crops were also exported to Japan.

The militaries of both France and Japan forcibly seized food from farmers to feed their troops. By 1941, there were 140,000 [4] Japanese troops in French Indochina in addition to the Vichy French forces. During the occupation the Allies made frequent air strikes against roads, warehouse and transportation facilities, which made the transport of rice from the south to the north extremely difficult. In the meantime, the puppet Vichy French civilian administration was dysfunctional and unable to distribute remaining food stocks to areas where needed. In March 1945, the Japanese ousted the Vichy administration and replaced it with the Japanese-sponsored Empire of Vietnam, headed by Trần Trọng Kim. While this new government increased efforts to alleviate the famine, the inadequate food supply and the hoarding of food by the Imperial Japanese Army made their efforts futile.

Natural disasters

In northern Vietnam, a drought and pests caused the winter-spring harvest of 1944 to decrease by 20%. Then, a flood during the harvest season caused the crisis to occur, which led to famine in 1945.


Severely malnourished village children in Hai Hau, Nam Dinh Province, August 1945. Impoverished villagers suffered the most from the famine, with various sources estimating the number of people starving to death at approximately one to two million. Famine in Vietnam, 1945 (6).jpg
Severely malnourished village children in Hải Hậu, Nam Định Province, August 1945. Impoverished villagers suffered the most from the famine, with various sources estimating the number of people starving to death at approximately one to two million.

The exact number of deaths caused by the 1944–1945 famine is unknown and is a matter of controversy. Various sources estimate between 400,000 and 2 million people starved in northern Vietnam during this time. In May 1945, the envoy at Hanoi asked the northern provinces to report their casualties. Twenty provinces reported that a total of 380,000 people starved to death and 20,000 more died because of disease. In October, a report from a French military official estimated half a million deaths. Governor General Jean Decoux wrote in his memoirs A la barre de l'Indochine that about 1 million northerners had starved to death. Modern Vietnamese historians estimate between 1 and 2 million deaths. Ho Chi Minh, in his Proclamation of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on September 2, 1945, used a figure of 2 million.

In March 1945 the Viet Minh (a communist-controlled common front fighting for the independence of Vietnam) urged the population to ransack rice warehouses and to refuse to pay their taxes. Between 75 and 100 warehouses were consequently raided. The rebellion against both the effects of the famine and the authorities that were seen as responsible for it bolstered the Viet Minh's popularity which helped it recruit many members at the time.[ citation needed ]

See also

Related Research Articles

French Indochina Federal state in Southeast Asia

French Indochina, officially known as the Indochinese Union from 1887 and the Indochinese Federation after 1947, was a grouping of French colonial territories in Southeast Asia.

Bảo Đại Vietnamese emperor

Bảo Đại, born Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy, was the 13th and final Emperor of the Nguyễn dynasty, the last ruling family of Vietnam. From 1926 to 1945, he was Emperor of Annam. During this period, Annam was a protectorate within French Indochina, covering the central two-thirds of the present-day Vietnam. Bảo Đại ascended the throne in 1932.

Việt Minh National independence coalition 1941->51.

Việt Minh was a national independence coalition formed at Pác Bó by Hồ Chí Minh on May 19, 1941. The Việt Nam Độc Lập Đồng Minh Hội had previously formed in Nanjing, China, at some point between August 1935 and early 1936 when Vietnamese nationalist parties formed an anti-imperialist united front. This organization soon lapsed into inactivity, only to be revived by the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) and Hồ Chí Minh in 1941. The Việt Minh established itself as the only organized anti-French and anti-Japanese resistance group. The Việt Minh initially formed to seek independence for Vietnam from the French Empire. The United States supported France. When the Japanese occupation began, the Việt Minh opposed Japan with support from the United States and the Republic of China. After World War II, the Việt Minh opposed the re-occupation of Vietnam by France and later opposed South Vietnam and the United States in the Vietnam War. The political leader and founder of Việt Minh was Hồ Chí Minh. The military leadership was under the command of Võ Nguyên Giáp. Other founders were Lê Duẩn and Phạm Văn Đồng.

Tonkin northern part of Vietnam, to the west of the Gulf of Tonkin

Tonkin, also spelled Tongkin, Tonquin or Tongking, is an exonym referring to the region of North Vietnam. During the 17th and 18th centuries, this term referred to the domain Đàng Ngoài under Trịnh lords' control, including both the Northern and Thanh-Nghệ regions, north of the Gianh River. From 1884 to early 1945, this term was used for the French protectorate of Tonkin, composed of only the Northern region.

Nguyễn dynasty Imperial dynasty in Vietnam

The Nguyễn dynasty or House of Nguyễn was the last imperial family of Vietnam. Their ancestral line can be traced back to the beginning of the Common Era. However, only by the mid-sixteenth century the most ambitious family branch, the Nguyễn Lords had risen to conquer, control and establish feudal rule over large territory.

First Indochina War 1946-1954 war between French Union and Hồ Chí Minhs forces

The First Indochina War began in French Indochina on December 19, 1946, and lasted until July 20, 1954. Fighting between French forces and their Việt Minh opponents in the south dated from September 1945. The conflict pitted a range of forces, including the French Union's French Far East Expeditionary Corps, led by France and supported by Bảo Đại's Vietnamese National Army against the Việt Minh, led by Hồ Chí Minh and the People's Army of Vietnam led by Võ Nguyên Giáp. Most of the fighting took place in Tonkin in northern Vietnam, although the conflict engulfed the entire country and also extended into the neighboring French Indochina protectorates of Laos and Cambodia.

August Revolution National revolution by Viet Minh(1941-51).

The August Revolution, also known as the August General Uprising, was a revolution launched by Ho Chi Minh's Việt Minh against French and the Japanese Empire colonial rule in Vietnam, on August 14, 1945.

The Indochina Wars were a series of wars fought in Southeast Asia from 1945 to 1991, between communist Indochinese forces against mainly French, South Vietnamese, American, Cambodian, Laotian and Chinese forces. The term "Indochina" originally referred to French Indochina, which included the current states of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. In current usage, it applies largely to a geographic region, rather than to a political area. The wars included:

Paul Mus was a French author and scholar. His studies focused on Viet Nam and other South-East Asian cultures.

Jean Decoux Governor General of French Indochina

Jean Decoux was a French navy Admiral, who was the Governor-General of French Indochina from July 1940 to 9 March 1945, representing the Vichy French government.

French was the official language of Vietnam from the beginning of French colonial rule in the mid-19th century until independence under the Geneva Accords of 1954, and maintained de facto official status in South Vietnam until its collapse in 1975.

Japanese invasion of French Indochina battle

The Japanese invasion of French Indochina was a short undeclared military confrontation between Japan and France in northern French Indochina. Fighting lasted from 22 to 26 September 1940, simultaneous with the Battle of South Guangxi in the Sino-Japanese War.

Japanese <i>coup détat</i> in French Indochina

The Japanese coup d'état in French Indochina, known as Meigō Sakusen, was a Japanese operation that took place on 9 March 1945 towards the end of World War II. With Japanese forces losing the war and the threat of an Allied invasion of Indochina imminent, the Japanese were concerned about an uprising against them by French colonial forces.

Trần Trọng Kim Vietnamese Prime Minister

Trần Trọng Kim, courtesy name Lệ Thần, was a Vietnamese scholar and politician who served as the Prime Minister of the short-lived Empire of Vietnam, a state established with the support of Imperial Japan in 1945 after Japan had seized direct control of Vietnam from the Vichy French colonial forces during the Second World War. He was an uncle of Bui Diem.

Rice production in Vietnam in the Mekong and Red River deltas is important to the food supply in the country and national economy. Vietnam is one of the world's richest agricultural regions and is the second-largest exporter worldwide and the world's seventh-largest consumer of rice. The Mekong Delta is the heart of the rice-producing region of the country where water, boats, houses and markets coexist to produce a generous harvest of rice. Vietnam's land area of 33 million ha has three ecosystems that dictate rice culture. These are the southern delta, the northern delta and the highlands of the north. The most prominent irrigated rice system is the Mekong Delta. Rice is a staple of the national diet and is seen as a "gift from God".

North Vietnam 1945–1976 country in Southeast Asia

North Vietnam, officially the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), was a state in Southeast Asia from 1945 to 1976.

War in Vietnam (1945–1946) Prelude to the Indochina Wars

The War in Vietnam, codenamed Operation Masterdom by the British, and also known as Nam Bộ kháng chiến by the Vietnamese, was a post–World War II armed conflict involving a largely British-Indian and French task force and Japanese troops from the Southern Expeditionary Army Group, versus the Vietnamese communist movement, the Viet Minh, for control of the southern half of the country, after the unconditional Japanese surrender.

French Indochina in World War II events in French Indochina during World War II

In the northern-hemisphere summer of 1940 Germany rapidly defeated the French Third Republic, and colonial administration of French Indochina passed to the French State. In September 1940 Japanese troops first entered parts of Indochina; and in July 1941 Japan extended its control over the whole of French Indochina. The United States, concerned by Japanese expansion, started putting embargoes on exports of steel and oil to Japan from July 1940. The desire to escape these embargoes and to become self-sufficient in resources ultimately contributed to Japan's decision to attack on December 7, 1941 the British Empire and simultaneously the USA and at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii). This led to the USA declaring war against Japan on December 8, 1941. The US then joined the British Empire, already at war with Germany since 1939, and its existing allies in the fight against the Axis powers.

1940–1946 in French Indochina

1940—1946 in French Indonesia focuses on events that happened in French Indonesia during and after World War II and which influenced the eventual decision for military intervention by the United States in the Vietnam War. French Indonesia in the 1940s was divided into five protectorates: Cambodia, Laos, Tonkin, Annam, and Cochinchina. The latter three made up Vietnam. In 1940, the French controlled 23 million Vietnamese with 12,000 French soldiers, about 40,000 Vietnamese soldiers, and the Sûreté, a powerful police force. At that time, the U.S. had little interest in Vietnam or French Indochina as a whole. Fewer than 100 Americans, mostly missionaries, lived in Vietnam and U.S. government representation consisted of one [consul] resident in Saigon.

Tonkin (French protectorate) French protectorate

Tonkin, or Bắc Kỳ (北圻), was a French protectorate encompassing modern Northern Vietnam.


  1. Charles Hirschman et al. "Vietnamese Casualties During the American War: A New Estimate" Archived June 20, 2010, at the Wayback Machine . Population and Development Review (December 1995).
  2. 1 2 3 Gunn, Geoffrey (2011) ‘ The Great Vietnamese Famine of 1944-45 Revisited’, The Asia-Pacific Journal, 9(5), no 4 (31 January 2011).
  3. HUFF, GREGG (2018). "Causes and consequences of the Great Vietnam Famine, 1944–5". The Economic History Review. doi: 10.1111/ehr.12741 . ISSN   1468-0289.
  4. Reid, Anthony (2015). A history of Southeast Asia : critical crossroads. John Wiley & Sons. p. 323. ISBN   978-1118513002 . Retrieved 24 September 2018.