Tran Trong Kim

Infobox President
name=Tran Trong Kim

order=Prime Minister of the Empire of Vietnam
imagesize= 125px
term_start=17 April 1945
term_end=23 August 1945
birth_place=Ha Tinh
death_date=death date and age|1953|12|2|1883|1|1|df=y
death_place=Da Lat
profession= Scholar, teacher

Trần Trọng Kim (1883–1953) was a Vietnamese scholar and politician who served as the Prime Minister of the short-lived Empire of Vietnam, a puppet state created by Imperial Japan in 1945. This came after Japan had seized direct control of Vietnam from the French colonial forces during the Second World War.

Early years

Kim was born in Dan Pho,Dommen, p. 85.] Ha Tinh Province in northern central Vietnam in 1883. At the time, French Indochina had just been formed after the colonization of Vietnam, and Ha Tinh was part of the central region which had been become a French protectorate under the name of Annam. In the immediate decade afterwards, the province was the scene of guerrilla movement led by Phan Dinh Phung that attempted to expel the French authorities. This movement was particularly popular in the Nghe An-Ha Tinh region, which had boasted a long line of nationalist icons.Marr, pp. 50–68.]

Nevertheless, the movement was crushed and when Kim grew up, he intially studied in Hanoi at schools reserved for the ruling elite. He then worked in the public service of the French administration. Kim’s early career was as an interpreter, serving in Ninh Binh in northern Vietnam, which was known as the protectorate of Tonkin. In 1905, Kim was sent to France as an employee of a private company. In 1908, he won a scholarship from the Ecole Coloniale (Colonial School) to begin his training as a teacher at the Ecole Normale of Melun (Seine-et-Marne). Kim returned to Vietnam in September 1911, commenced his career as a teacher in Annam, and slowly rose in the educational hierarchy. By 1942, he had risen to become an inspector of elementary public instruction in Tonkin.Chieu, p. 301.] He wrote many works on pedagogy and also started a review on the topic. Kim was also a freemason.Hammer, p. 48.]


In contrast to his low-key career as an education official, Kim was widely known as a scholar for a collection of textbooks published in Romanized Vietnamese (quoc ngu), especially for his writings on Confucianism, Buddhism, and Vietnamese history.

His two best known works were Việt Nam Sử Lược ("A Brief history of Vietnam"), published in 1920 and Nho giáo ("Confucianism"), published in 1929–1933.McHale, p. 77.] In the first book, Kim emphasised the Chinese influence on Vietnamese society.McHale, p. 48.] The latter book dealt with examining Confucianism in China and its impact on Vietnam. Kim strongly praised Confucianism and his book provoked much intellectual debate on the philosophy's place in Vietnamese society.McHale, pp. 77–79.] The book was seen as link between previous generations of scholars who were brought up under the Confucian examination system of pre-French Vietnam and the later generations who grew up under the French system.McHale, p. 80.] Việt Nam Sử Lược remains in print today.

Due to his reputation in literary circles, Kim was a leading figure in the Buddhist and Confucian associations and in 1939 he was appointed to the Chamber of People's Representatives in Tonkin. He was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honour and listed in a French publication in 1943 that profiled prominent figures in French Indochina.

World War II

After the outbreak of the Second World War, Japan continued its military conquest of Asia. It invaded and annexed Indochina into its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in 1940-1941.

As France had fallen to Nazi Germany, the colonial administration in Vietnam of Admiral Jean Decoux was loyal to the Axis collaborationist Vichy France of Marshal Petain.

As Vichy France was nominally allied to Japan, the French administration was left in charge of the day to day affairs of French Indochina, with the Japanese overseeing them.

In the early 20th century, Japan was also seen by many Vietnamese as a promoter of Asian nationalism, and many Vietnamese nationalists had travelled to Vietnam in an attempt to further the Vietnamese independence movement.

During the period, Kim was approached by several Japanese experts in Vietnamese studies. These contacts, together with his ties to a progressive organisation in Hanoi, made Kim politically suspect to the Decoux administration. When Decoux implemented his second major purge of pro-Japanese Vietnamese in the autumn of 1943, Kim was reported to be on the list of the Surete (Criminal Investigation Department). On October 28, 1943, Japanese agents escorted Kim to the Kempeitai (military police) office in Hanoi an put him under protection. There, Kim was joined by Duong Ba Trac, a co-editor on a dictionary that was currently being written. According to Kim's account, Trac persuaded him to co-sign a letter applying for an evacuation to Singapore. At the beginning of November, the Japanese escorted them to Saigon. After briefly living at the Kempeitai office, they became the guests of Dai Nan Koosi, a Japanese business firm owned by Matsushita Mitsuhiro, which was known as a front for intelligence operations.

Return to Vietnam

On January 1, 1944, Kim and Trac boarded a Japanese vessel headed for Singapore. According to Ellen Hammer, the French threat to Kim appeared "to have been a wholly illusory French menace". After spending just over a year on the island, and following Trac's death from lung cancer in December 1944, Kim was transferred to Bangkok. Three months later, on March 30, 1945, he was unexpectedly recalled to Saigon by the Japanese to be consulted on "history". This came after Captain Michio Kuga from the Japanese Army's liaison office in Saigon was flown to Bangkok for talks.Shiraishi and Furuta, pp. 138–139.]

By this stage, the Liberation of Paris in August 1944 and the fall of Vichy France meant that Japan could no longer depend of the French colonial administration to cooperate. As a result, they assumed direct control of Indochina by deposing the French in a coup on March 9, and declared Vietnam to be independent under the newly created Empire of Vietnam with Bao Dai, who was Vietnam’s titular monarch, as its head of state. Japan however, maintained military control. Bao Dai was then charged with selecting a prime minister and a cabinet. It was believed that Bao Dai sent a message to Ngo Dinh Diem, who was then living under Japanese protection in Saigon, asking him to form a government. However, the message never arrived, and this was put down to Japanese concerns that Diem would seek to govern independently rather than toe the Japanese line. [Hammer, pp. 48–49.]

Arriving in Saigon, he met with General Kawamura, Chief of Staff of the Japanese Garrison Army (38th Army), and Lieutenant Colonel Hayashi Hidezumi, Kawamura’s chief of political affairs. Kawamura told Kim that he was one of the "notables" invited by Emperor Bao Dai to consult in Hue on the creation of the new independent government. During this time, Kim also met with Diem for the first time, finding out that he had not been included on the Japanese shortlist.

According to his own account, Kim accepted the invitation to talk with Bao Dai because Hoang Xuan Han, a young friend, was also on the emperor's list. Kim departed Saigon on April 2, and arrived in Hue three days later. On April 7, Bao Dai held a personal meeting with Kim, and at first Kim refused to accept the prime ministerial post. Kim said that he was too old, was an independent with no party political infrastructure, as well as his lack of prior involvement in politics. However, Kim prolonged his stay for further negotiations and finally agreed to form a new government on April 16. The following day, Kim submitted his proposed cabinet consisting of ten ministers. With the exception of one nominee who refused his cabinet post, the others arrived in the capital by late April or early May to take office).

Most of his cabinet members had been trained in French schools but were regarded as nationalists although they were not regarded as anti-French. Kim's regime was quickly endorsed by the Dai Viet Quoc Dan Dang and the Viet Nam Phuc Quoc Dong Minh Hoi, two nationalist political parties. The Phuc Quoc were connected to Phan Boi Chau and Cuong De, two leading anti-colonial activists from the early 20th century who championed cooperation with Japan and pan-Asianism to expel French colonialism.


Kim only had the chance to rule for five months, and most of his policies were not implemented before the Vietminh seized power following the Japanese collapse at the end of the Second World War. After his government collapsed, Kim returned to his research and academic work.

Kim's actions have caused a debate as to whether he was a Japanese puppet. Milton Sacks and John T. McAlister regard him as such, although others, such as Truong Buu Lam, regard Kim and his cabinet as a group of apolitical technocrats.Shiraishi and Furuta, p. 113.]



*cite book |last=Motoo Furuta |first=Takashi Shiraishi|year=1992 |title=Indochina in the 1940s and 1950s: Translation of Contemporary Japanese Scholarship on Southeast Asia |publisher=SEAP Publications |isbn=0877274010
*cite book |last=McHale |first=Shawn |year=2004 |title=Print and Power: Confucianism, Communism, and Buddhism in the Making of Modern Vietnam |publisher=University of Hawaii |isbn=0824826558
*cite journal |author= Vu Ngu Chieu |year=1986 |month=February |title=The Other Side of the 1945 Vietnamese Revolution: The Empire of Viet-Nam |journal=Journal of Asian Studies |volume=45 |issue=2 |accessdate= 2007-11-02

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