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Caodaism in times of war: spirits of struggle and struggle of spirits.

Scholars have generally viewed the advent of the nation-state in Vietnam through the secular lens of political party-struggle and international realpolitik. However, religious groups also constituted important forces on the twentieth-century Vietnamese socio-political landscape. During the late colonial period, the political discourse of the Cao Dai religion proved crucial to the social movements of a colonized people seeking emancipation.

Like such Chinese redemptive societies as Yiguandao (Way of unity) and Dejiao (Teaching of value), Caodaism aims at the union and reconciliation of West and East by bringing together in its eclectic theology Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism under the dominion of the Jade Emperor. As the census conducted in 1946 by the Caodaist bishop Tran Quang Vinh made clear (Louaas 2014, p. 84, citing SHD 10H4139, 1946), (1) Caodaism had developed in the two decades since its founding by a group of Vietnamese bureaucrats and landowners into a mass movement with more than 500,000 followers in Cochinchina. It represented a form of nationalist ideology with great appeal, whose expansion into the Vietnamese public sphere gave rise to local patron-client forms of organization. These latter systematically divided the faithful into different Caodaist "branches" or "ramifications" (chi phai). The schisms among these branches resulted in a collection of different power bases, political interests and strategies.

The prominence of Caodaist troops in Graham Greene's 1954 novel The Quiet American clouded the public image of Caodaism in the United States. Journalists and many members of the American public remembered it as the religion "with an army that was involved in terrorist attacks" (Hoskins 2015, p. 116). All ideologies and fantasies feed on fears (Delumeau 1978), and the situation of war sharpened the distinctive traits of this religious group. As Descola and Izard have noted (2002, p. 315), "Since it is a detour through collective violence, and since it produces exciting individual figures--alive or dead--war is one of the chief vehicles of societal change." Caodaist dignitaries were not immune to the violence of the Japanese Occupation (1941-45), the First Indochina War (1946-54) or the Second Indochina War or "Vietnam War" (1955-75). This violence shook both their pacifist theology and their values of "universal fraternity". This article addresses a series of questions relating to the impact of those conflicts on these dignitaries. How did they and their organizations and instruments of power propose to respond to the crisis that wartime violence represented? What were their wartime political strategies? What forms did their efforts to limit the danger and lack of security take? And, finally, what was their project for national unity?

The article begins by highlighting the most important traits of Caodaism and its interpretive framework for understanding war and religious conflict. It turns then to the Caodaist forces active in politics between 1940 and 1965, their range of action and the strategic, military and diplomatic decisions that they took during this turbulent period. The biographical approach has proved fruitful for the study of conflict in Indochina (see, for instance, Blagov 2001; Goscha 2004; Miller 2004; Tran My Van 2006; and Tran Thi Lien 2004). This article focuses on the lives of the important Caodaists Pham Cong Tac, Cao Trilu Phat, and Trim Van Que. In addition to tracing the paths that these charismatic figures followed, both in their personal lives and in relation to the communities to which they belong, the article considers their mental maps, actions and strategies --in political, religious and military terms. This consideration makes possible reflection on the three men's capacity to evaluate, channel, intensify and control the relationship between political and religious forces in the period. It also allows us to track the evolution of their ambitions and personalities in a "situation of war". (2) Although we can hardly hope to describe these biographical elements "in a pure state", we can nevertheless "identify a dominant modality" (Leclerc-Olive 1997, p. 59) that highlights "the nuances of character, the detours of their motives, the phases of their deliberation" (Veyne 1971, pp. 21-22), particularly in times of war.

Multiplicity has always characterized Caodaism, especially because of its division into denominations or branches and the localized clientelism of patron-client ties and nepotistic relationships and strategies of power (Jammes 2014, pp. 143-47). A decentred and multicentred approach to Caodaists--one that takes in some Caodaists who were not attached to the Tay Ninh Holy See-- brings to light subtle features of the Indochinese political spectrum and calls attention to often overlooked power relations, strategies and historical actors. The integration of these prominent Caodaists into the history of the strategic games of the period will serve as an implicit critique of the uni-or bipolar interpretive model prevalent in efforts to understand Caodaism. At the same time, emphasis on the progressive dispersal of Caodaists into multiple centres--which under the cover of the spirits and their orders adhered to diverse arguments and strategies in wartime (1946-65) --makes possible a fresh interpretation of the dynamic expansion of Caodaism.

Theological Foundations, Rituals and Spatial Ambitions

Caodaism has its own political vision of engagement--sometimes military engagement--with war. From the beginning of the Indochina Wars, its dignitaries evoked four foundational pillars of Caodaist identity: the mediumistic relationship to the dead (the number of which necessarily increases on battlefields); the utopian project of establishing a national religion; bio-governance in war (managing the military as well as dealing with the wounded and the bodies of the deceased, maintaining facilities to care for the unemployed and the displaced); and a neo-monarchist millenarianism.

The Hiep Thien Dai, or "Palace of the Alliance with Heaven", was an administrative division composed of mediums who played the role of intermediaries between men and the deities of the vast Caodaist pantheon. This legislative and spirit-medium centre facilitated the transmission of the theological canon to the faithful. The messages received during public or private seances responded to the need of attendees to "converse" with deceased loved ones and to understand their futures at a time of increasing uncertainty. Significantly, the dignitaries made use of these spirit-medium sessions to ask the spirits to validate their political or military orientations and decisions. Each Caodaist "branch" or denomination had its own "palace" responsible for disseminating spirit-medium teachings that responded to local needs. (3)

In contrast to the common understanding of Caodaism as a political-religious group confined to its original stronghold in the province of Tay Ninh, deeper study suggests that Caodaist ambitions played out over much vaster territories. By 1946, Caodaism comprised 741,971 followers in the whole of Indochina, of which 525,758 were in Cochinchina, 148,230 in Annam, 3,500 in Tonkin, and 59,283 in Cambodia--where a mission had been active since 1927. The province of Tay Ninh, situated in the rubber-producing northwestern region of Cochinchina, had the most devotees--90,843--followed by the provinces of My Tho with 58,249, Chau Doc with 42,759 and Long Xuyen, in the heart of the Mekong Delta, with 42,552 (Louaas 2014, p. 84, citing SHD 10H4139, 1946).

From 1926 onward, the Caodaists of the Tay Ninh denomination tried to realize the utopia of a religious state--whose borders corresponded to those of present-day Vietnam--with their Holy See (Toa Thanh, literally "holy throne") in the city of Hoa Thanh, Tay Ninh province, near the Cambodian border as its capital. The Tay Ninh Holy See would thus be part of a "Holy Land" (Thanh Did), mobilizing around universalist religious values to create new proto-state apparatuses. The idea of a "national religion" (quoc dao), which all Caodaist denominations adopted, comes from an oracular text from 1926 received by Tay Ninh Holy See. The text was addressed exclusively to the Vietnamese people and said that they were the chosen people responsible for the universal propagation of Caodaism from Tay Ninh, the symbolic and administrative centre of the religion (Due Nguyen 2000, p. 1575). This leitmotif is written not in Chinese characters but rather in the Romanized Vietnamese alphabet (quoc ngu), reinforcing the nationalist aspect of the message.

Because of its mass character and the high number of city dwellers among its dignitaries, Caodaism established a powerful network of social control over a part of the population of Cochinchina, and later of the Republic of Vietnam, known as the "rice bowl" of Vietnam. The religion shared with another religious movement in Cochinchina, Hoa Hao Buddhism, control over and regulation of access to the majority of the fertile lands of the South. In rural areas, it exerted its influence through social and philanthropic services managed by "charity agencies" (Co Quart Phuac Thieri) established in each Caodaist temple and by each denomination. (4) These services created and strengthened clientelistic ties between the rural masses, largely marginalized by the colonial economy or by war, and dignitaries who could offer physical and economic protection as well as religious merit. Welfare, economic infrastructure and logistics-- quasi-"social security agencies" (Blagov 1999, p. 96)--aimed at self-sufficiency in these essential services. For, in their numbers and high concentrations, Cao Dai believers were part of a strongly integrated and well-functioning apparatus.

The millenarianism of the Cao Dai proved especially important in providing meaning to the latent and sometimes real violence of wartime, mobilizing followers and faith-based armies comprising "bands of peasant soldiers and debtors" (Hill 1971, p. 326). Caodaism's eschatological thought places its followers at the beginning of a third and final cycle of the history of humanity, which prefigures the end of the world (Tan The). The Master Cao Dai is giving humanity one last chance to follow his teachings before his final judgment (Jammes 2014, pp. 107-18) and granting universal salvation to his followers.

The period of the Japanese Occupation (5) reveals the most about the simultaneous pro-independence, royalist and military positions of the Holy See and its Head of Mediums, Pham Cong Tac. Understanding his positions, to which we will return, allows us to grasp the reasons for the repressive measures taken against the Caodaists of Tay Ninh after 1975 (Jammes 2011 and 2014, pp. 233-46). The Tay Ninh denomination combined its neomonarchist position with a millenarian interpretation that by its very nature was prone to activation in times of war.

The salient identifying features of Caodaism mentioned above demonstrate varying degrees of intensity depending on the denominations and their dignitaries. I would like here to return to the "wartime paths" of several of them, which illustrate the complexity of the Caodaists' geopolitical and strategic decisions, and thus the difficulty that their opponents had in identifying potential Caodaist allies or enemies.

Pham Cong Tac: From Taking up Arms to Forced Diplomacy

Spirit-Mediumship in the Service of a Monarchist Project

Bom to a Catholic father and a Buddhist mother, Pham Cong Tac (1890-1959) (6) enrolled in the colony's most prestigious secondary school in Saigon, the Lycee Chasseloup-Laubat, at the age of sixteen. Caodaist lore has it that he wanted to leave for Japan the following year to join an insurgent group working against the French colonial government, the Phong Trao Dong Du ("Way to the East Movement", 1904-7). But the French Surete foiled him, and he never left Cochinchina. Forced to break off his studies, he worked at various jobs between 1910 and 1928, including as a secretary for the Saigon Customs Service. He was skilled at writing to criticize the abuses of the colonizers, with several newspapers and Western spiritualistic circles serving as his platforms (Jammes 2014, pp. 78-93,192). Pham Cong Tac was one of the first three spiritualist mediums of the religion. (7) Emerging as the most powerful medium after the death of Cao Quynh Cu in 1929, he put his audience in contact with Master Cao Dai and was one of the initiators of the Caodaist canon. As Head of Mediums and Defender of the Dharma (Ho Phap), Pham Cong Tac placed himself at the head of the apparatus to elect dignitaries and institutionalize the religion. Following the death of the Caodaist Pope Le Van Trung in 1934, with whom he functioned as the central dyad of temporal and spiritual power, Pham Cong Tac not only maintained his autonomy but also asserted his pre-eminence over all the other dignitaries. This assertion spurred the creation of many dissident Caodaist denominations.

Pham Cong Tac's nationalist project shines through not only in his sermons and in the oracles that he received from different spirits but also in the military and diplomatic initiatives that he undertook from the beginning of the 1940s onward. By that time the dismantling of the communist movement in Cochinchina had created space for Vietnamese religious organizations to convert and develop their proper nationalistic agenda (Werner 1981, p. 48; Guillemot 2010, p. 232). In an indication of ideological competition with the Viet Minh, several of Pham Cong Tac's sermons accused communist leaders of being non-religious, power-hungry and essentially responsible for the war (Werner 1981, p. 45). The Ho Phap thus feared the communists, whom he considered "immediate enemies with enough potential to destroy us [the Caodaists], physically and mentally to weaken the people, and to cause them [the people] to fight among themselves" (Pham Cong Tac 1970, p. 65). "Communism is nothing more than a bluff', the spirit of Joan of Arc told him in one of his mediumistic sessions. (8)

During the Japanese Occupation, spirit-mediumship activity in Tay Ninh and its production of oracles were noticeably linked to Prince Curong De's (1882-1953) return to Vietnam. (9) Curong De was--as a direct descendant of Emperor Gia Long (1802-20), the founder of the Nguyen dynasty--a pretender to the Vietnamese throne, but neither the present Nguyen rulers nor the French colonial regime recognized him. The programme of his Viet Nam Quang Phuc Hoi (Association for the Restoration of Vietnam, often referred to simply as the Phuc Quoc or "Restore the Nation" movement) aimed at national independence and constitutional monarchy following the Japanese model. Advocacy of this programme led to his being sentenced to death in absentia in 1913 and to his exile in Japan.

Pham Cong Tac did not hide the fact that he wanted to reinstate Curong De to national and political power. He would explain the model of power that he had in mind in an interview with Agence France-Presse on 18 August 1947:

Personally, I hope for the establishment of a central Vietnamese government and three local governments that enjoy relative autonomy, as in the eighteenth century. Constitutional monarchy seems to me to be the best form of government. Vietnam would thus remain faithful to tradition and would adapt its system of government to the democratic spirit of our times. (Louaas 2014, pp. 146M7, citing SHD 10H603, 18 August 1947)

In a 17 April 1947 letter to the French Overseas Minister Marius Moutet, Pham Cong Tac utterly rejected the possible establishment of a republic, arguing that,

The mass of the people is still a long way from understanding human and civil rights.... The establishment of a constitutional monarchy ... would be best suited to the legitimate aspirations of the Annamite people.... It would allow France to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to render unto the emperors of Annam the three ky [referring to Tonkin, Annam and Cochinchina] that constituted their kingdom. Besides, the crown of Annam was established with the help of Monseigneur Pigneau de Behaine, that is to say, with French spirit [avec le genie franqais], France is thus merely defending its own work. (Louaas 2014, p. 225, citing SHD 10H603, 17 April 1947)

Since 1935, Pham Cong T&c had maintained a "personal guard" or internal security force (bao the quart) devoted to Prince Curong De's return to Vietnam and then, in the 1940s, devoted to defending the Holy See of Tay Ninh against the communists (Dure Nguyen 2000, vol. 1, pp. 282-83; Tran My Van 2000, p. 12). Many Caodaists joined the prince's Phuc Quoc movement in the hopes of obtaining honours in the court that was to form around the new "Son of the Sky"--Prince Curong De, holy intermediary between the orders or oracles of the Sky (or of the Jade Emperor) and humans. Caodaist dignitaries hoped to become some of the trusted advisors to this utopian court at the head of a unified and independent Vietnam, with the mediums guiding the prince through their spirit-mediumship. The hierarchical pyramid structure of Caodaism was to stretch over the entirety of Vietnam, systematically spreading the social rules and religious norms of the Cao Dai doctrine to the entire population, establishing the basis of a new spiritual utopia (Jammes 2014, p. 125).

This intimate intertwining of religious and political aspirations persisted during the period of the Japanese Occupation. Some members of the new Japanese regime even lent their support to the Cao Dai. For example, Matsushita Mitsuhiro, the director of an import-export company named Dainan Koosi, was a friend of Curong De's who regularly routed letters and money to him in Japan (Tran My Van 1996, p. 183). However, the Japanese generally followed the example of their French predecessors in their relations with the Caodaists. Not fully trusting in his alliance with Caodaist leaders and "avoiding a mess [created] by too radical a change" (Namba 2012, p. 172), the Japanese may never have intended to place Curong De on the throne of Vietnam. As Namba writes, at the strategic level, Japan took advantage "of the existing French administration system and of its cooperation with the French authorities to minimize its total occupancy task, in preserving a strong base in an area free of wars in Southeast Asia in order to conduct the Pacific War" (ibid., p. 37). He continues,

For the time being, they chose to maintain French sovereignty in Indochina, as this allowed them to exploit the country's natural resources (natural rubber in particular) through the smooth functioning of an experienced and efficient colonial administration. A stable situation in Indochina would facilitate Japanese military operations and needs in Southeast Asian countries, by "providing military material, harbours for its troops coming from Japan and a relay base for its Navy", (ibid., p. 248)

Against the directions of his superiors in Tokyo, General Tsuchihashi Yuitsu, who served as governor general of Japanese-occupied Indochina from 9 March to 28 August 1945, took the decision to keep Bao Dai as emperor of Vietnam, trying to "avoid the outrageous excitement that would have occurred in the country if he had placed Cuong De on the throne" (Namba 2012, p. 42; Tran My Van 2006, p. 172). But it was not until 17 April 1947 that Pham Cong Tic officially announced his support for Bao Dai, who had abdicated on 25 August 1945. After several years of compromises with the Viet Minh, Bao Dai would return to a position of national leadership in 1949, not as emperor in a constitutional monarchy but as head of state in an independent country associated with the French Union. While they might have preferred the ascension of Cuong De to the imperial throne, the Caodaists and the Hoa Hao would nevertheless number among the few groups to take part in the reception ceremonies arranged in honour of the ex-monarch's return to Indochina.

The Quests and Requests of the "Holy Army" (10)

In the 1940s, the dignitaries of Tay Ninh raised their flag alongside those of the Axis Powers. They hoped that the victory of the Axis was to restore the dynasty of Cuong De and promulgate Caodaism as the religion of a constitutional monarchy. Faced with this propaganda, which intensified with Axis victories in the European and Pacific theatres, French authorities felt forced to intervene. Starting on 26 August 1940, they abruptly closed the Tay Ninh Holy See and a number of temples, (11) began the persecution of prominent Caodaist religious figures and laypeople, and confiscated contributions. The Caodaists for whom police were hunting sought the protection of the Japanese occupier (Miller 2004, pp. 436-37). But the visit of three Japanese diplomats to the Tay Ninh Holy See further aroused the suspicions of the French government. In June 1941, the French Surete entered the sanctuary and arrested Pham Cong Tac, accusing him of having announced the end of the colonial regime in his oracles. On 20 August 1941, French authorities sent him to the Nosy Lava prison on Madagascar with five other dignitaries. (12) In exile far from Indochina, these Caodaist prisoners could not count on their Japanese allies to help them escape or to force the colonial administration to release them (Louaas 2014, p. 76, citing CAOM 6 HCI 360, 13 November 1945).

On 27 September 1941, French soldiers occupied the central temple of Tay Ninh and set up barracks with six hundred men near the Holy See. Caught off guard by this crackdown, the local Japanese representatives, and disregarding Tokyo's position, quickly granted the interim Caodaist leader in Tay Ninh, the bishop Tran Quang Vinh (1897-1975), the status of civil attache and with it diplomatic immunity (Louaas 2014, pp. 49-50). In exchange, he raised a veritable pro-Japanese "Caodaist army" composed of 3,240 devotees who trained, worked and slept in Japanese shipyards in Saigon-Cholon, beyond the reach of French security forces. The Japanese also offered Caodaist leaders covert payments ranging from 200,000 to 3,500,000 piastres for each ship that they purchased (Namba 2012, pp. 106-7). On 9 March 1945, Tran Quang Vinh's Caodaist troops notably took part in the Japanese seizure of power that would temporarily end French sovereignty in Indochina. In the summer of 1945, with the Japanese surrender imminent, Tran Quang Vinh continued to call for Prince Cuong He's return, but now as supreme advisor to Emperor Bao Dai (Trim My Van 1996, p. 190).

On 10 October 1945, the new French Minister of the Colonies sent a message to High Commissioner Thierry d'Argenlieu, mentioning the possibility of making "political use" of the exiles on Madagascar by repatriating them to Indochina (Louaas 2014, p. 76, citing CAOM 6 HCI 360, 11 October 1945). French authorities had not, however, forgotten the Caodaists' participation in the Japanese coup of 9 March 1945. The Tay Ninh denomination was thus subject to a swift and violent crackdown. France's 5th Foreign Infantry Regiment arrived in Saigon on 3 October 1945, followed by General Philippe Leclerc in person (Bodinier 1987, p. 66). The heads of the Surete, spared by the post-war purges, returned to their posts and ransacked the main Caodaist temple in Saigon and arrested and executed five dignitaries on 15 and 16 October (Tran My Van 1996, p. 92). The tanks of Lieutenant-Colonel Jacques Massu's 2nd Armoured Division entered Tay Ninh on 8 November (Louaas 2014, p. 73, citing SHD 10H5938) and parked in front of the central temple (Larteguy 1986, p. 110).

The same period saw Tran Quang Vinh intercepted by the Viet Minh police on 9 October and locked up in a prison in Ca Mau. No longer able to count on the Japanese, Tran Quang Vinh had basically come to accept the idea of consensus with the Viet Minh to establish a common front against France. He aimed to maintain the independence of Caodaist troops in the face of the hegemonic tendencies of the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP), whose August seizure of power had to that point translated into a bloodbath. Starting in March 1945, even before the August Revolution, the ICP executed several thousand Caodaists in the central province of Quang Ngai (Guillemot 2010, pp. 228-29). The events also led to the imprisonment of Tran Quang Vinh in Ca Mau from October 1945 to January 1946, when he escaped (Savani 1954, p. 57). Finally giving in to the Caodaist demands, the Viet Minh in November 1945 authorized General Nguyen Van Thanh, a deputy to Tran Quang Vinh, to form two independent Caodaist military companies totalling four hundred soldiers--the Chi doi nos. 7 and 8 (Louaas 2014, p. 73).

It was not until 7 May 1946 that the Commissioner of the Republic in Cochinchina, Jean Cedile, decided to reverse course and pursue political collaboration with the Tay Ninh denomination, envisioning the return of Pham Cong Tac, the spiritual master of that denomination (see Louaas 2014, p. 109, citing CAOM 6 HCI 360). At that time the question of military collaboration was not yet on the table. Senior French officials mainly hoped to be able to make use of Caodaism as an instrument of public order, a network of informers and an electoral base that would support the independence of Cochinchina. (13)

In the span of two days, 7 and 8 May 1946, Jean Cedile pursued what might on the surface seem contradictory measures. He ordered both the repatriation of Pham Cong Tac to Indochina and the arrest of Tran Quang Vinh, with whom he was negotiating the surrender of the Caodaist troops. However, with these complex and precarious manoeuvres Cedile managed to secure an agreement, the Menage--Tran Quang Vinh agreement of 9 June 1946, that essentially provided for political collaboration. The Caodaists of Tay Ninh would officially recognize the autonomous Republic of Cochinchina and declare their support for it. Following this agreement, Tran Quang Vinh would remain one of the chief promoters of a decolonization process led by France. (14)

On his return from exile on 23 August 1946, Pham Cong Tac, both escorted and monitored by the French Surete, ratified the agreements made by his deputy (Louaas 2014, p. 119, citing CAOM 6 HCI 360, B.R. no. 9678) and publicly urged his fellow devotees to collaborate with France. Then, once the grip of the police had relaxed a bit, he adopted a more distant attitude to the French. The Viet Minh launched, in September 1946, a bloody campaign of repression against the Caodaists following the collapse of negotiations with the Head of Mediums (Guillemot 2010, p. 238, note 50);15 abductions and assassinations soon followed.

During this period the Caodaists of Tay Ninh placed themselves at the heart of the Cochinchinese political scene. On 26 November 1946, the French approved the assembly's nomination of the Caodaist Le Van Hoach (1896-1978), a French citizen, to lead the provisional government of the autonomous Republic of Cochinchina. He held that position from November 1946 until September 1947, appointing the Caodaist and French citizen Nguyen Van Tam (1895-1990) minister of defence. A man who was close to the non-communist nationalists of the Dai Viet Party (Guillemot 2010, p. 239) and who had been the police commissioner for the municipality of Can Tho during the period of direct Japanese rule between March and July of 1945, Le Van Hoach was reputed to be a "social advisor" (Bao Sank Quart) to Pham Cong Tac. (16) The two men reportedly worked together for the French-inspired Bao Dai Solution (Goscha 2011, pp. 53-55, 268-69).

At the same time, the dignitaries of the Holy See, hoping to increase the Caodaist sphere of influence and to protect their followers against the violence and abuses of the Viet Minh, asked the French to rearm them. The French high command was already beginning to recruit indigenous soldiers into regular units--with a total of five thousand soldiers in April 1946--and irregular units of "auxiliaries" (suppletifs). However, these early attempts at "yellowing" (jaunissement, a term used at the time) did not prove very effective on the ground, and the idea of "trying out the Caodaist experiment" (Louaas 2014, p. 149) slowly emerged. It was not until the Viet Minh offensive in Hanoi in December 1946 launched the First Indochina War that the French high command agreed to grant the Caodaists' requests. They acceded to this request with some apprehension, as a report from the summer of 1947 illustrates:

Caodaism is a dangerous opponent that constitutes, a priori, a state within a state. This is a risk that it would be futile to hide, but one that has to be taken. Our situation is not so bright that we can disregard the aid of anti-Viet Minh elements that have already proven themselves. (Louaas 2014, p. 193, citing SHD 10H4140, 22 July 1947)

The Pham Cong Tac-Fray (17) agreement of 8 January 1947 provided for the delivery of weapons to the Caodaists and for their participation in the "pacification" process in the province of Tay Ninh. (18) After many years of mistrust and a record of outright opposition in previous decades, this agreement initiated a long military alliance between the Holy See and France. Conversely, the Viet Minh, which had previously engaged in negotiations and collaboration with Caodaist followers, now began to intensify their offensive against them. One day before the finalization of the agreement, a directive from Ho Chi Minh, president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, had called for an escalation of fighting and acts of sabotage against the religious group. This operation to eradicate reactionary elements, orchestrated by General Nguyen Dinh in Cochinchina, would lead to at least several hundred deaths among the Caodaists (Guillemot 2010).

Armed, equipped and paid by the French authorities, the Caodaist Armed Forces (Forces Armees Caodaistes, or FACD) of fewer than two thousand soldiers, were integrated into the French army as irregular units of "auxiliaries" (Daches 1954, p. 274, drawing on Article 3 of the agreement of 8 January 1947). The mission of the outposts manned by these forces--which enjoyed great autonomy --was to defend the major trunk lines of communication, while their flying squads (brigades volantes) led a guerrilla counteroffensive against the Viet Minh. (19)

With Tran Quang Vinh as commander-in-chief, this "holy army", operational not least thanks to Japanese training, set up a headquarters that enjoyed relative autonomy in conducting military operations. Never meant to be a permanent institution, the FACD were meant to be dissolved "when their existence proved no longer necessary" (Daches 1954, p. 274, citing Article 1 of the agreement of 8 January 1947).

During 18-21 January 1947, battles between Viet Minh and Caodaist forces to the southeast of the Holy See firmly established a security perimeter around it. They led to a gradual increase in the number of soldiers (Louaas 2014, p. 188, citing SHD 10H4140, 18 January 1947) and a tactical adaptation on the part of the French, who gave the Caodaists an increasingly offensive mission. The growth in the number of Caodaist flying squads from twelve to thirty-eight and the diminution in the number of outposts manned by Caodaist forces from eighteen to thirteen testifies to this adaptation. Table 1 illustrates this evolution by providing data on the number of the Caodaist forces and the diversity of their units.

General Jean Etienne Valluy, High Commander of French troops in the Far East (Troupes francaises en Extreme-Orient, or TFEO), justified the military alliance with the Caodaists in a letter to his French generals dated 22 November 1947:

It is a matter of forming regular units that come from ethnic, religious, or political groups whose spiritual support runs contrary to the Viet Minh ideology. It is thus appropriate to give these groups great leeway in their organisation and their operating procedures by simply putting them in the context of a general mission or that of a territorial area. (Bodinier 1987, p. 317, citing SHD 10H165, 22 November 1947) (43)

Although some brigades were based in the Mekong Delta--and specifically in the provinces of Bac Lieu, Ben Tre and Thu Dau Mot--recruitment, arming, training and orders remained under the direction of Tay Ninh and of Tran Quang Vinh and Pham Cong Tac. The Caodaists maintained a school for officers and an armoury. The Holy See took advantage of its freedom of action to restore the old "royal guard", now called the "holy guard", or Co thanh ve, and intended to protect Pham Cong Tac (Daches 1954, p. 236).

Tran Quang Vinh and Pham Cong Tac also centralized control over military police units, the information services, (44) the parachutists, (45) the gendarmerie (46) and the secret police (47) (Louaas 2014, pp. 213-15). From the Holy See's nationalist perspective, the mission of these services was both to fight the Viet Minh and to keep the Holy See itself informed about the intentions and activities of the French in each province; they were to modify their tactics accordingly (Bodinier 1987, p. 212, citing CAOM 6 HCI 360, 1 December 1948).

A Failed Military Project, Exile and Pacifism

In the period leading to the French withdrawal from Indochina in 1954, Caodaist soldiers had lost nearly all motivation to fight against the Viet Minh. Desertions were on the rise. Faced with this crisis and a series of disillusioning turns during the preceding decade, the Head of Mediums took direct command of Caodaist troops in 1953, inspiring a new expansion of this military structure. He suggested that this army could serve as a model for an "international army" acting as "an agent of universal peace" (Pham Cong Tac 1970, p. 24).

The Caodaist army held most of the 215 French outposts in Tay Ninh province, with the Holy See as its headquarters. It comprised some 65,000 men in 1954, a total that fell to 15,000 men when the French surrendered. According to Werner (1981, p. 45) and Blagov (2001, p. 98), this Caodaist army served as an instrument that protected the immediate interests, and specifically the economic ones, of the Holy See of Tay Ninh: the collection of taxes, a monopoly on the cassava trade and the management of an agricultural credit bureau and various companies in the wood, tile and brick sectors. Accumulated profits allowed the Holy See to finance its economic and religious projects in the other provinces of Cochinchina. Caodaist forces "protected" about half of the rural population of the South during the First Indochina War (Werner 1980, p. 108), in a role that contributed to a new proto-religious-state apparatus. The defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu on 7 May 1954 and the ensuing negotiations between the French government and Ho Chi Minh in Geneva inevitably involved the future of Caodaism in Vietnam. Pham Cong Tac was part of a Caodaist delegation to Paris to meet with French President Rene Coty and to defend the interests of Caodaism. He apparently also met Pham Van Bong, the minister of foreign affairs in Ho Chi Minh's government, on 21 July 1954, the eve of the Geneva conference (Tran My Van 2000, p. 21). On his return from France, Pham Cong Tac's priority was to restore political stability in Caodaist-controlled territories. His anti-communist and anti-Catholic tone changed after the departure of the French, the partition of Vietnam and the rise to power of the Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem (1901-63) in the South.

In his quest for a "Third Force", Ngo Dinh Diem explored various tactics; he considered using Cuong De, Bao Bai, Catholic networks and others, for instance. This quest in turn stimulated new political alliances and caused new splits within Caodaism. Trinh Minh The (1920-55) emerged as one of the new Caodaist dissidents. Originally from Tay Ninh, he had received training from the Kempeitai. He is also the only historical character identified by his or her real name in Graham Greene's novel (Hoskins 2015, p. 116). A true military leader, he maintained a fierce independence in the face of orders coming from the Holy See of Tay Ninh, despite his belief in Caodaist principles (Blagov 2001; Goscha 2011, p. 255).

The Unity Congress (Dai hoi Doan ket) of 5-6 September 1953, conceived by Ngo Dinh Diem's brother Ngo Dinh Nhu and Nguyen Ton Hoan of the Dai Viet Party to denounce the policies of Bao Dai, saw the religious forces of the South--the Caodaists and the Hoa Hao--affirm their loyalty to the ex-emperor. Their stance effectively defeated Diemist efforts to build a coalition (Miller 2004, pp. 452-53). The fact that Pham Cong Tac himself travelled to Tokyo in 1954 to retrieve Cuong De's ashes and bring them back for a commemorative ceremony in Tay Ninh further complicated this situation (Tran Quang Vinh 1972, p. 192), as with this gesture Pham Cong Tac explicitly showed that he felt loyalty to Cuong De, and therefore not fully to Ngo Dinh Diem.

Faced with the difficulties of integrating the religious organizations' military apparatuses into the American-funded southern army (Werner 1981, p. 53), Ngo Dinh Diem pressured the Cao Dai religious army to surrender to his regime in 1955. He purged pro-French elements from his army, destroyed the military power of Caodaism and Hoa Hao Buddhism in the Mekong Delta and launched an effective crackdown on the rackets of the Dinh Xuyen in the region of Saigon.

Pham Cong Tac's exile to Phnom Penh, after Diemist troops had occupied the Holy See of Tay Ninh, did not stop the persecution. Between 1956 and 1958, Saigon forces arrested some 3,400 Caodaists. Many of them died in prison. Reeling from the crackdowns, the Caodaists of Tay Ninh deferred their project of autonomy. With the Caodaist army now disbanded, many of its soldiers joined the Viet Minh side against which they had hitherto fought or the government forces of Ngo Dinh Diem. According to Werner (1981, p. 54), 5,000 to 6,000 Caodaist soldiers went into hiding.

From Phnom Penh, Pham Cong Tac presented himself as an advocate for human rights, peace, unity and neutrality for Vietnam, and for "the real path of peace", to borrow the title of his book {Con duang hda binh chcm thuc, 1966). He presented his ideas in a series of conferences and press releases, and he tirelessly called on foreign authorities not to concern themselves with the internal affairs of his country. On 26 March 1956, he composed letters to Ngo Dinh Diem, Ho Chi Minh, the president of the French Republic, the secretary-general of the United Nations and the heads of state of the major powers and of Asian countries, asking them specifically to work for "Peace, Happiness, and Democratic Freedoms for the benefit of the Vietnamese People" (Pham Cong Tic 1966).

We would be wrong, however, to see this as a reversal of Pham Cong Tac's position. For he had made pacifist remarks delivered to General Duminy on 2 January 1947, barely six days before establishing the Caodaist Armed Forces.

How to resolve the problem of pacification without risking the loss of human lives? Must pacification rely on military force (the force of destruction) or on the system of government pressure, for these methods have failed miserably and have outlived their purpose.... We must try to change tactics, and the only tactic that looks promising is that of following the path of Reason. (Louaas 2014, p. 225, citing SHD 10H4144, 2 January 1947)

This tightrope walk--between a subversive tone and an outstretched hand--fed the wartime "transactional dynamics" (Zinoman and Kulik 2014, p. 187) contingent on the conflict's evolution in a given time and place. It also illustrates the structural and tactical contours of Pham Cong Tac's plans for Caodaist accession to power and the realization of a nationalist utopia under a constitutional monarchy with advisory mediumship. At the heart of the centripetal and the centrifugal dynamics--towards, respectively, centralization and dispersion--of the utopian programme of the Tay Ninh denomination, "military factors affect[ed] their balance, thus largely determining the territorial distribution of political power" (Andreski 1968, p. 75) and putting Caodaism on a competitive playing field with the Viet Minh.

In 1958, Pham Cong Tac rejected Ngo Dinh Diem's offer to allow him to "return safely" to Tay Ninh, objecting that the latter had not accepted his request for the release of all the Caodaist prisoners. He died on 17 May 1959 in Phnom Penh, where his body was mummified. On his deathbed, Pham Cong Tac related a final wish: "It is only when our dear country is truly united in a spirit of peace and neutrality, in line with the path that I've followed my whole life, that our devotees can bring my remains to the Holy See of Tay Ninh". His body would not be repatriated to Tay Ninh until December 2006 (Jammes 2009).

Cao Trieu Phat: The Career of a Viet Minh Caodaist Leader

The diffusion of the story of the mythic figure of Pham Cong Tac into all political and religious arenas, the constant reminders of his pro-Cuong Be and anti-colonial political struggle, and the many accounts of the military and the diplomatic conflicts that confronted him threaten to overshadow the actions of Caodaists who did not adhere to his decisions.

Among those latter, the case of Cao Trieu Phat deserves special emphasis because it resists any simplification of the Caodaist political project and of the ideological and rhetorical diversity offered by Caodaism. His career among the Caodaists, like the political decisions that he took, is unique. His story is nevertheless illustrative of the project of societal reform animating the Caodaism of Pham Cong Tac.

Cao Trieu Phat (48) was bom on 17 April 1889--in the hamlet of VTnh Hinh, the village of VTnh Lai, Bac Lieu province--to a family of wealthy Sino-Vietnamese landowners. His grandfather Cao Can Thiet was of Teochew origin; he had arrived in Cochinchina at the age of eighteen and married a Vietnamese woman. Their son, Cao Minh Thanh (1860-1919), was the chief of the Bac Lieu province and an activist for Prince Cuang De's and Phan Boi Chau's "Association for the Restoration of Vietnam" (Phan Van Hoang 2001, p. 29). Cao Trieu Phat graduated from the Lycee Chasseloup-Laubat in 1910. After a period of work at the Saigon court (1910-12), he took a job as the secretary and translator of a judicial mandarin (Ty Niet) in Bac Lieu province (ibid., p. 31).

In 1914, during the First World War, Cao Trieu Phat volunteered to go to France and taught French and Vietnamese to the most illiterate of his compatriots enrolled in the French army (ibid., p. 35). In 1917, Cao Trieu Phat received initiation into a Bordeaux freemasons' lodge, "the Frank Knights of Scotland and United Solidarity" (Dalloz 2002, pp. 48-49). Two years later, his father passed away, and he decided to stay in France and develop his social network among the French and Vietnamese intelligentsia and political leaders in France. He met the famous Vietnamese nationalist Phan Chau Trinh, who had also enlisted in the French army (Phan Van Hoang 2001, p. 36). He also took the opportunity to meet regularly with leaders of the Confederation Generate du Travail (CGT, General Confederation of Labour), the main left-wing trade union organization in France (ibid., p. 35). He apparently joined the Ligue des droits de l'Homme (Human Rights League), whose members sought to defend the rights of the "indigenes" by --among other things--promoting their religious freedom (ibid., p. 38; Jammes 2014, pp. 179-82).

Cao Trieu Phat began a political career after his return to Vietnam in the summer of 1922. He founded the Indochinese Labour Party (dang Lao Dong Dong Duong) in November 1926 (Phan Van Hoang 2001, pp. 49-57). He also became a political columnist for two newspapers that the French would ban in 1929, L'Ere nouvelle ("The New Era") and Nhut Tan Bao ("The First Modern Newspaper") (ibid., pp. 58-65). In 1930 he was elected to the Cochinchinese Board of Administration (Hoi dong quan hat Nam Ky), an advisory parliamentary council, but his party disappeared the following year. It was at this time that he turned to Caodaism, to which he converted on 30 April 1932 at the Thai Duong Minh temple in Bac Lieu. He took the religious name of Thuan Dat--"He who succeeds in a spirit of harmony".

Cao Trieu Phat had good reason to be familiar with the Cao Dai religion. In 1926 his younger sister Cao Thi Khiet (1895-1920) joined the Caodaist pantheon as the incarnation of the ninth immortal (cuu nuong) surrounding the Golden Mother of the Jasper Pond (Dieu Tri Kim Mau), a major divinity alongside Master Cao Dai. The Tay Ninh hierarchy apparently desired to immortalize the spirit of this twenty-five-year-old girl to catch the attention of her brother, already well known as a political leader. At the same moment, the Constitutionalist Party also courted him (Phan Van Hoang 2001, p. 45); among its leadership were men who were freemasons (Bui Quang Chieu), Caodaists (Nguyen Phan Long) or both (Duong Van Giao) (see Jammes 2014, pp. 174-81). Moreover, the Caodaists' call for the freedom of religious and missionary activity enjoyed the support of many members of the Human Rights League-- Paul Monet, Gabriel Gobron, Henri Guemut, Felicien Challaye, R.A. Lortat-Jacob and others--who were potentially colleagues and even friends of Cao Trieu Phat (Jammes 2014, p. 180). It was not until the defeat of his political party in 1932, however, that he joined Caodaism.

As a man of Chinese descent, Cao Trieu Phat took part in the Chinese religious milieu of Cochinchina, in which the Minh Su-- a network of Xiantiandao temples (Tien Thien Dao in Vietnamese, "Way of the Former Heaven"), originating in Guangdong province, China--holds a prominent place. Some offshoots of the Minh Su--the Minh Ly, Minh Thien, and others--later appeared in Vietnam in the early twentieth century and adopted the cosmology, theology, eschatology and the spirit-writing practice of the Xiantiandao tradition (Jammes 2010, pp. 358-60). Cao Trieu Phat figured as one half of a powerful dyad that also included the Minh Su medium Tran Dao Quang (1870-1946), who joined the Holy See of Tay Ninh but quickly distanced himself and chose to lead his own branch. Working with Cao Trieu Phat, this branch attempted to organize networks of Cao Dai and Minh spirit-writing groups. These networks offered the two men religious and political leadership that was national in scope (Jammes 2014, pp. 166-68).

Well aware that the economic crisis that Indochina had confronted since 1930 had weakened not only the Holy See of Tay Ninh (Meillon 1985, p. 172) but also his own position as a landowner, Cao Trieu Phat founded the Minh Chon Dao ("Way of Enlightened Truth") Caodaist denomination with Tran Dao Quang. The denomination became known as the one closest to the communist cause. The peasants working on Cao Trieu Phat's plantations--estimated to comprise some five thousand hectares--converted to Caodaism following their boss. He received personal theological and political orders from the spirits during the mediumistic seances. (49)

In 1936 the Indochinese Communist Party began to consider consolidating the "progressive" nationalist groups, including the Caodaists, into a united front. Cao Trieu Phat's familial networks and clientelistic ties in Bac Lieu province interested the Viet Minh, which found a powerful ally in him. Unlike the leadership of the Tay Ninh denomination, Cao Trieu Phat was drawn to the idea of joining forces--political and religious--to throw off the colonial yoke.

Cao Trieu Phat's ambitions went beyond the province of Bac Lieu. During a seance held on 14 February 1937 at the Holy See of Minh Chan Dao, both Cao Trieu Phat and Tran Dao Quang were said to have received the order to propagate Caodaism in Annam and thus to develop diplomatic ties with the court of Hue. Through these entreaties they hoped to avoid prohibitions on Caodai proselytism. Le Tri Hien (1879-1943), a Caodaist at the imperial court who served as Quang loc tu khanh (Chief of the Feasts and Offerings), assisted them with this task. The son of Minh Sir adepts, he played a prominent role in federating the Minh groups in Annam (Thanh Long n.d., pp. 109-12; Hue Nhan 2008, pp. 488-90). Cao Trieu Phat also met Pham Quynh (1894-1945), Emperor Bao Dai's minister of education and the chief of the Imperial Cabinet during the First World War in France, where they served as translators (Thanh Long n.d., pp. 169, 174; Hue Nhan 2008, p. 487). Both Cao Trieu Phat and Pham Quynh were also freemasons and members of the League of Human Rights. They may have, at least at the time, shared a close conception of independence derived from anti-colonial activists in France, combining Eastern and Western ideas and involving close ties with revolutionaries in northern Vietnam. In May 1938, Cao Trieu Phat and Tran Bao Quang opened the Trung Thanh temple in Tourane (Da Nang), gathering Caodaists from up to eighty Caodaist temples across the country.

On 10 July 1940, Marshal Petain assumed full power in metropolitan France, and on the same day Governor Rene Veber of Cochinchina decided to close the pro-communist temples of the Minh Chon Dao denomination (Verney 2012, pp. 276-77). In 1941, Cao Trieu Phat became a member of the provincial committee of the Communist Party--illegal since 1939--in Bac Lieu and vice-president of the provincial Committee of National Liberation (Uy Ban Giai phong dan toe). He began at this time his efforts to establish Caodaist scout troupes for male and female youths (Doan Thanh nien Bao due) (50) and to unite the Caodaist denominations. On 24 June 1945 he became president of the "unified association of the eleven Caodaist denominations" (Cao Bai Hiep Nhut 11 Phai), which excluded the Tay Ninh branch. The French crackdown of October and November 1945, following the departure of the Japanese and bolstered by the arrival in force of Lieutenant-Colonel Massu's 2nd Armoured Division of 1,050 men, hampered Cao Trieu Phat's activities. This division launched the re-conquest of Cochinchinese cities and Viet Minh strongholds, and its forces targeted and ransacked the Holy See of the Minh Chon Dao Caodaist denomination (Louaas 2014, p. 61).

Cao Trieu Phat officially joined the Viet Minh in August 1945 and became president of the Committee of National Liberation in Bac Lieu province. The Holy See of the Minh Chon Dao denomination served as the headquarters of the communist resistance in this southern province. At the start of 1946, under French military pressure, Cao Trieu Phat withdrew into his Holy See and at the same time established a provincial base of resistance and the headquarters of the Communist Party's central committee there. On 6 January, this pro-Viet Minh committee in Bac Lieu elected him as a deputy of the National Assembly of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, just before the intensification of combat against French troops which saw the bombing of the Holy See of Minh Chon Dao (Hue Nhan 2008, p. 591). On 8 November 1946 the denomination joined the Viet Minh front. Between 1947 and 1954, Cao Trieu Phat served as an advisor to its Resistance and Administrative Committee for the South (Uy ban Hanh chinh khang chien Nam Bo) and joined the Lien Viet Committee for the South (Uy Ban Lien Viet Nam Bo)-- a southern offshoot of the Association of United Vietnamese People (Hoi Lien hiep Quoc dan Viet Nam) created by Ho Chi Minh to group all patriotic and non-communist individuals and to broaden the association's popular base and legitimacy. (51)

On 14 October 1947, Cao TriSu Phat created a "Unified Association of the Twelve Caodaist Denominations for Patriotic Salvation" (Hoi Cao Dai Cuu Quoc 12 phai Hop Nhut), with the ambition of forming a Caodaist-Communist patriotic front against the colonialist invaders (Phan Van Hoang 2001, pp. 136-47). Two communist vice-presidents of the new association assisted him: Nguyen Ngoc Nhirt, son of the Caodaist Pope of the Ben Tre province, and Nguyln Van Kham, a member of the Tien Thien denomination. Furthermore, some dissidents from the Tay Ninh branch joined the association. They included the cardinal-medium Cao Hue Chuong--son of one of the three founding Cao Dai mediums, Cao Quynh Dieu--and also Tran Dai Khai and Hoang Minh Vien. The latter was in charge of the Unified Association's finance and the communication departments (Jammes 2014, p. 410). In representing the "resistant Caodaists" or the "Caodaists of National Salvation" (Savani 1954, p. 181), Cao Trieu Phat thus offered an armed alternative to the Menage-Tran Quang Vinh agreements.

On 21 July 1954, following the Geneva Conference, Cao Trieu Phat summoned all of the pro-Viet Minh Caodaist dignitaries to Ca Mau, a marshy region difficult for French troops to enter. He had decided to travel to the North. Weak and old, he travelled by air on 17 September 1954, and he met President Ho Chi Minh three days later. On the first day of the lunar year At Mui, 24 January 1955, he organized a Caodaist ceremony in Hanoi in what would later become a temple that remains active today. (52) On 9 September 1956, Cao Trieu Phat died in Hospital B 303, and the Ho Chi Minh government organized a solemn funeral. In 1983, one of his descendent brought his ashes to the family altar at 4 Dang Tat Street, Tan dinh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City.

Tran Van Que and the Politico-Esoteric Posture: Unity is Strength in Wartime

The last case addressed in this article is that of Tran Van Que (1902-80), an important actor in the shadows of the history of Caodaism. His story is virtually absent from studies of the subject, even though his actions had a lasting impact on the Caodaist political scene and the internal affairs of the religion. (53) This Caodaist devotee had become a mathematics teacher at the Lycee Petrus-Ky in Saigon, a breeding ground for activists of all stripes. He was involved from the very beginning in the struggle against schism among Caodaists. The secondary literature has all too often highlighted the countless internal schisms of Caodaism as an intrinsic weakness. But Tran Van Que saw in those schisms an opportunity to join forces and develop new strategies to counter colonial power and to distance himself from the military activities of Tay Ninh.

Born north of Saigon in Phuoc Long, Long Thanh district, Bien Hoa province, in 1902, Tran Van Que was of Kinh--that is, Viet--descent. He joined the Pedagogical School (truong Sir Pham) of Saigon in 1919 and graduated in 1923. Two years later, he passed the entrance exam for the science faculty of the Eastern Pedagogical School (truong cao dang Su Pham Dong Duong) in Hanoi. He graduated in 1928 and returned to Saigon, where he taught at the Lycee Petrus-Ky high school for sixteen years. It seems that it was primarily there that he discovered the Cao Dai religion and its nationalist project. He met fellow teachers Pham Van Tuoi and Thai Van Thau, two mediums of the Holy See of Tay Ninh. He also encountered two former students from that school, Cao ST Tan and Nguyen Buu Tai--both dignitaries at the Cau Kho temple, a branch more focused on esoteric production in the form of spirit mediumship and exegesis. Already at that time, dissent existed between that temple and the directives of the Holy See of Tay Ninh. The Tay Ninh and Cau Kho groups would each try, through their respective use of mediumship, to convince Tran Van Que to join Caodaism, as he did in August 1929 (Jammes 2014, p. 263).

Tran Van Que swore his oath to the Phu Hoi temple in his native province. But he regularly worshipped at the Cau Kho temple, in District One of Saigon. The oracles that his colleagues and fellow mediums Pham Van Tuai and Thai Van Thau received at the Holy See of Tay Ninh demonstrated their desire to have Tran Van Que join the Tay Ninh Holy See and leave the dissident temple of Cau Kho. In the early 1930s, troubled by the schisms within the religion among the Chieu Minh Vo Vi, Cau Kho, Minh Chon Dao, Tien Thien and Thong Thien Dai temples, Tran Van Que decided to try to unite the denominations. He began working with others on this project of a lifetime, joining with the constitutionalist, spiritualist and publicist Nguyen Phan Long (1889-1960). (54) This group also supported the political project of a unified Vietnam in the form of a constitutional monarchy. In 1943, Tran Van Que took part in the Caodaist medical doctor and spirit medium Truong Ke An's "Vietnamese Patriotic Federation", which enjoyed Japanese support. The French had banned this organization, whose purpose was to bring about Prince Cuong De's return to Vietnam, and Tran Van Que was sentenced to twenty years in prison. Following an amnesty in 1945, he returned to Saigon, where he continued his political activities. He took part in Tran Trong Kim's pro-Japanese government of 17 April-23 August 1945 as minister of national planning and became vice president of the Administrative Committee of the Resistance (Uy ban khang chien hanh chanh) in his native province of Bien Hoa, serving under President Hoang Minh Chau. In May 1947, Trin Van Que was one of the leaders of the National Front of Vietnam (Viet Nam Mat tran Quoc gia Lien hiep)--a non-communist, nationalist rival to the Viet Minh. In March-April 1948, he met the Emperor Bao Dai on a trip to Hong Kong (Jammes 2014, pp. 264-65).

In 1948, Tran Van Que returned to the Holy See of Tay Ninh and for a time endorsed Pham Cong Tac's secret ambition to implant Caodaism in the North of the country (Le Quang Tin 1956). Two friends from the Cau Kho temple supported him in this project: the teacher Nguyen Buru Tai and the freemason doctor Cao ST Tan. With their support, Tran Van Que stayed in the North between 1949 and 1952.

This precise moment, 1952, was in fact a turning point for the religious project of reunification. Bringing all of the Caodaist denominations together had become a necessary precondition to calling for an autonomous Caodaist territory or for specific privileges when the victors in the ongoing conflict ultimately divided the territory. Uniting the maximum number of Caodaist denominations into a common front could prove the basis for a strong position in political talks, thanks to Caodaism's training structures and its masses of devotees. On his return to Saigon, Tran Van Que easily fitted back into the political and religious circles of the South, defending the Caodaist reunification project. Indeed, he was named deputy for government research and reform to the Caodaist Prime Minister Nguyen Van Tam, who served from June 1952 to December 1953. (55) At the same time, he, Nguyen Buru Tai and Phan Khac Suru (1905-70)--a future president of the Republic of Vietnam (1964-65)--founded the Caodaist Gathering Centre (Cao Dai Qui Nhurt) in the Minh Tan temple. This temple is a spirit medium cenacle and an offshoot of Chinese redemptive societies (Jammes 2014, pp. 257-62). Tran Van Que took the religious name of Hue Lucmg, or "Perfect Goodness".

In August 1955, Tran Van Que went to Kyoto, Japan, to take part in the International Congress of Religions, at which he spoke in the name of "all" Caodaists. The next year, he took part in founding the Missionary Centre of Central Vietnam (Co Quan Truyen Giao Cao Dai Trung Viet) in Da Nang. Proclaimed archbishop (phoi su), he assumed the presidency of this centre of intense mediumistic activities, and the received oracles would serve his political and religious ambitions. They especially supported his 1957 networking mission to Cao Dai temples in Phu Yen, Binh Dinh, Quang Ngai, Quang Nam and Thua Thien provinces (Le Anh Dung 2004). He then came back to Saigon in 1961, giving some lectures on Vietnamese history at the Faculty of Letters of the University of Saigon.

As a continuation of the Buddhist protests in Saigon against the government of Ngo Binh Diem during mid-1963, the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam was founded on 3 January 1964 to influence the country's religious and political scenes. From then on, southern Buddhists extended their missionary and educational activities by building pagodas and by founding the Buddhist Van Hanh University, where Trin Van Que lectured on Vietnamese history. However, the training of monks could not fulfil the southern Buddhists' ambition to see Vietnamese Buddhism become an organized, centralized and hierarchical church along the lines of the Catholic Church, or even of Caodaism, and Vietnamese Buddhism soon experienced a number of schisms. Tran Van Que's launch of the Caodaist ecumenical group Ca Quan Pho Thong Giao Ly Dai Bao (CQPTGLDD), the "Centre for Diffusing the Doctrine of the Great Way", (56) in 1965 clearly reflected this period of urban political and religious crisis in the Republic of Vietnam and efforts to unify sectarian forces in response.

During its mediumistic sessions, the CQPTGLDD was said to have received the "celestial or holy mission" (sic mang thieng lieng) and "grace" (thien an ban an) to propagate a single unique doctrine, and thus to unify the discourses and ritual practices of Caodaists from all denominations. Restoring a fraternal union of the various denominations before the end of the world (Tan The) would guarantee salvation for each of those denominations. At its inception, this centre developed different strategies for proselytizing, in particular the creation of an educational centre for practising mediumship and training missionaries (giao si) (Jammes 2014, pp. 229-30, 413-18).

Tran Van Que created this centre while the Second Indochina War was raging. Its millenarian discourse took on a particular meaning in the context of the war, lending more weight to its project of unification. One may also understand the project in relation to the political situation of the Republic of Vietnam, which exacerbated divisions among Caodaist denominations. Furthermore, between 1964 and 1965, the Republic of Vietnam had a Caodaist President, Phan Khac Sun, who was fully involved in the unification project with his fellow devotee Tran Van Que.

In 1965, Tran Van Que received the order from the spirits to take up the reins of the CQPTGLDD, together with his friend Ambassador Do Van Ly (1910-2008). (57) During a seance, the spirit of Le Van Duyet, the southern military hero who fought to unify the Vietnamese people in 1802 under the Nguyen dynasty, sanctioned the opening of the Saigon-based CQPTGLDD (Hoskins 2015, p. 135). In October 1968, Tran Van Que established the "Association of Caodaist Culture" (Hoi Van Hoa Cao Dai), with the help of followers from the independent temple named Tam Tong Mieu (Temple of the Three Doctrines, also known as the "Holy Association of the Enlightened Reason", Minh Ly thanh hoi) and from the Missionary Centre of Central Vietnam. A medium from Central Vietnam, Tran Thai Chan, or Dong Tan (born in 1934), became head of the association. In its early stages the association took the form of a circle of professors, businessmen and students who were either Caodaists or interested in Caodaism. The goal of their meetings was the study and propagation of "Caodaist culture" throughout the world, to ensure that its philosophy, theology and literature became part of the worldwide university curriculum (Oliver 1976, pp. 111-14). The mediumistic activity of Dong Tan and of the other groups around Tran Van Que mentioned above fed this project with oracles, providing the faithful with theological clarifications, pieces of poetry and other materials. The Association of Caodaist Culture conducted its activities in partnership with the Co Quan Pho Thong Giao Ly Cao Dai Giao Viet Nam, but this collaboration collapsed in 1975 with the change of regime in the South. In 1975, Dong Tan left Vietnam to live with his children in Australia (Dong Tan 1998).

In 1973, at the Holy See of the Caodaist denomination from central Vietnam (hoi thanh truyen giao Trung Viet), a mediumistic message appointed Tran Van Que to the rank of chanh phoi su, "principal archbishop". After 1975, he organized clandestine spirit medium seances with the objective of training mediums and ensuring the continuous production of oracles for the coming generation. Joint seminars between the Caodaists' ecumenical centre in Saigon, the Minh Ly esoteric cenacle in Cholon and the missionary centre in Da Nang focused largely on ensuring their monopoly of the mediumistic and missionary activities in central and southern Vietnam and in overseas Vietnamese communities (Jammes 2010, pp. 364-67). Tran Van Que died on 21 November 1980.


The brief biographies traced above demonstrate the fruitlessness of limiting one's attention to one specific Cao Dai denomination while investigating the relationship between war and religion in Vietnam and of delimiting Caodaism, along with its devotees and religious activities, with a category defined by the canon of such a denomination. The cases studied here attest to the presence of actors in contingent alignment with various factions and their relational flexibility, which allowed for a broad diffusion of the theological vision of Caodaism as well as its development and spread via spirit-mediumship in a multiplicity of centres in wartime southern and central Vietnam.

These biographies highlight both the political ambition of religious leaders and the means that they and their religious institutions employed to assert positions of power in the face of the appropriative tendencies of other denominations and of political powers that included the colonial state, the Communist Party, the Japanese army and the government of the Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem. It goes without saying that the wartime situation resulted in new patterns of collaboration--more or less ephemeral--that reflected the balance of power and the evolution of military strategies. The form of rule of which these Caodaist dignitaries and militants made use to exercise their power included administrative, religious and sometimes military leverage. They applied this leverage with their personal charisma, which might take on a clientelistic quality, as in the case of Cao Trilu Phat; that of a military leader, as with Tran Quang Vinh and Trinh Minh The; that of intense spirit medium activity, as in the cases of Tran Van Que and Pham Cong Tac; or even assumed a messianic quality, as with Pham Cong Tac.

Restoring these hidden people to the front row of the theatre of geopolitical operations necessarily complicates the readability of the conflicts that affected southern Vietnam during the twentieth century. It suggests a perspective distant from a binary or bipolar understanding, from a story of the hammer against the anvil. The engagement of religions in warfare is a function of factors beyond those of ideology or dialectic opposition, and the work of, for instance, Kalyvas and Kocher (2007) or Hickey (1982) demonstrates both the micro- and macro-foundations of American strategy in the Vietnam conflict. A French military report from 6 January 1947, two days before the "Caodaist army" returned to service, offers a particularly good reflection of France's clear-sightedness concerning the double-edged sword of collaboration with the fundamentally nationalist, theocratic and missionary Caodaists.

Creating a kind of theocracy that would extend over the three ky and subsequently over Indochina--that seems to be Caodaism's objective.... Once firmly established, it would have a worldly power that would put it at the forefront of Cochinchinese powers.... But it is clear that that power could very well turn against France and take up independence and the unification of Vietnam. (Louaas 2014, p. 165, citing SHD 10H4139, 6 January 1947)

For the French, as for the Japanese before them, the establishment of the "Caodaist army" in the broad sense of the term was risky, but it nevertheless allowed them to guide operations while staying outside the theatre of conflict. They could subcontract certain security activities to armed ethnic or confessional groups, who in turn fed the "civil" dimension of the Indochinese conflict. One cannot then see Caodaism's military engagement as the vehicle of a "war of religion" or a matter of a "holy army". It was, rather, part of a "religious civil war" in which religious traditions played a central role (Toft 2007, p. 97) and in which actions had political, military, economic and territorial bases.

This article develops a grid of intelligibility for wartime Caodaism, one that is both differentiated and diverse. A mass of political currents and discourses intertwine and embody a "cultural nationalism" (Werner 1981, p. 57) (58) whose polymorphous nature official historiography has covered up and erased. The Tay Ninh Holy See was not able to gain universal allegiance, and many Caodaist branches gained theological and political control and influence in local contexts. The article also demonstrates the tension between short-term tactical choices, such as allying with the Viet Minh or the French, and long-term goals, such as promoting the unity of Caodaist branches and preparing Vietnamese people for a millenarian age of salvation. In contrast, the plurality of commitments and strategies invites the researcher to avoid hasty schematizations, and rather to take into account the division of Caodaism into denominations and its localized clientelism. These factors caused specific forms and relations of power to take root in Vietnamese history.

Attention to the position of actors not attached to the Holy See of Tay Ninh in the geostrategic games of the time undermines interpretive models that see Caodaism's political activities as either unipolar and thus monopolized by the Holy See of Tay Ninh or bipolar and thus a matter of competition between the Holy See of Tay Ninh and the Viet Minh. The epistemological challenge here is to recognize the strategic game leading to Vietnamese independence within a multiplicity of forces and even a situation of "multipolarity". (59) A conception of a systematic multilateralism allows one to visualize a bundle of interests, strategies and actions in situations that were themselves undergoing evolution. Polycentrism and movement are part and parcel of the multipolarity of power relations. In perpetual crises of legitimacy, the Caodaists' political positions analysed in this article echoed the reality of many Caodaist organizational centres competing with one another to mobilize the masses and play a regional or national political role.

The strategies that emanated from the religious centres broadened the theatre of conflict and the actors involved. In addition to the religion's internal modes of structuration, we can see the pressure of the external political authorities--the Viet Minh, the communists, the Republic of Vietnam, the Japanese, the French--that followed strategies of either centralization and a unipolar stability of collaboration or decentralization and a strategy of division in order to rule, in a constantly changing context. In the doctrinal, strategic, operational, economic and tactical contexts, several security dilemmas emerged very clearly, in a system of actors with interests that were not linear but plural, and that were constantly adapting to the historical context.

DOI: 10.1355/sj31-1g


The author wishes sincerely to thank Kareem James Abu-Zeid for his translation work on the first draft of this paper. The revised manuscript profited from the thoughtful criticisms and comments of Christopher E. Goscha, Phi Van Nguyen, Irvin Louaas, Pascal Bourdeaux, Elise DeVido, Joshua Gedacht and the two reviewers for SOJOURN. Any errors contained herein are mine.


(1.) This census also included children. Until the period of American influence over the Republic of Vietnam, such statistics remained uncertain because of the lack of a general census of the whole population and of the religious and ethnic communities within it. For more on the political-military stakes of a census of the religious forces in Cochinchina, and those of Hoa Hao Buddhists in particular, see Bourdeaux (2004).

(2.) I use this description to draw a distinction between my work and the "polemology" of Gaston Bouthoul (polemologie meaning the "science of conflict", not to be confused or conflated with the term "polemical"). His polemological studies focus on the "phenomenon of war" (Bouthoul 1991, p. 37), the factors behind peace and war (demography, economics, social factors and others) and the psychological and material conditions of collective violence (ibid., pp. 7-17). See Guillemot (2010) for an application of Bouthoul's theory to Indochina.

(3.) For ethnographic evidence, see Jammes (1998 and 2005).

(4.) These bodies could take on different aspects according to local needs and capacities. They could thus help needy devotees (the disabled, orphans, the sick and the destitute) and manage the use of forests, rice fields and businesses.

(5.) In 1941 the Japanese occupied French Indochina, but they left the French administration in place until March 1945. At that time, some Caodai troops supported the Japanese in overthrowing the French.

(6.) Here I make use of the biographical elements in Tran My Van (2000) and the hagiographies produced by the Holy See of Tay Ninh (1954), Le Quang Tan (1991) and Due Nguyen (2000). See Jammes (2014, pp. 191-222).

(7.) This group of younger Vietnamese civil servants had been tipping tables and practising with the Ouija board. They were openly influenced for a while by spiritualism--Western attempts to communicate with the souls of the dead--which was popular in France as spiritisme in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

(8.) On 24 February 1934, Joan of Arc's spirit would also say not to expect anything "from abroad", and teach that communism was "a huge exploitation of the credulity of enslaved peoples. It is a balm that soothes suffering, but does not heal it.... Internationalism is merely a trench of the army of capitalists" (Recueil des messages spirites, 1962, pp. 90-91).

(9.) For Cuong He's positions, see Trang Liet (1957). For his negotiations with the Caodaists of Tay Ninh, refer to the studies by Tran My Van (2006), Tran My Van and Meyers (2006) and Jammes (2014, pp. 209-12).

(10.) The "archaeology" of this army draws on Jammes and Louaas (2016).

(11.) The total was some fifteen temples according to Savani (1954, p. 51).

(12.) Do Quang Hien, Thai Van Gam, Ngoc Trong Thanh, Tran Van Phan and Tran Duy NghTa. The first two would die there.

(13.) The H6 Chi Minh-Sainteny agreement (6 March 1946) provided for a referendum on the question of the independence of Cochinchina. But Admiral Thierry d'Argenlieu did not wait for the referendum to announce the autonomy of the Republic of Cochinchina (1 June 1946).

(14.) On 23 May 1948, he became deputy secretary of national defence in the provisional government of southern Vietnam, then the minister of the armed forces in the first government of Tran Van Hun. In August 1951 he would return to the Holy See, but his rival Trinh Minh The would hold him prisoner until May 1954 (Trim Quang Vinh 1997; Goscha 2011, p. 458). For an overview of Trinh Minh The's strategy, see Jammes and Louaas (2016).

(15.) Starting in November 1945, the head of the Nam Bo committee, Nguyen Binh, was responsible for unifying the resistance and incorporating armed religious groups into the Viet Minh cause. Although Nguyen Binh did not join the ICP until February 1947, his loyalty to Ho Chi Minh and to his communist friend Tran Huy Lieu had always been unwavering (Goscha 2004, p. 331).

(16.) Savani (1954, p. 128). Le Van Hoach would become rector of the Caodaist University in 1973.

(17.) Here I am referring to one Lieutenant Colonel Fray, head of the French liaison mission.

(18.) It was not until 31 August 1947 that the commander-in-chief of the Troupes Francaises en Indochine du Sud (French troops in southern Indochina, TFIS), General Pierre Boyer de La Tour du Moulin, authorized the armed intervention of the Caodaists outside of the central zone of Cochinchina: six flying squads in Ca Mau, and four more in the Thu Dau Mot sector. See Louaas (2014, p. 194, citing SHD 10H4140, 31 August 1947 by Boyer de La Tour). The latter, a promoter of the "politics of sects", would also work with the Hoa Hao and the Binh Xuyen in June 1948.

(19.) Two major trunk lines in particular: those linking Tay Ninh to Saigon by roads no. 22 and no. 1 and by the Saigon River (to Thu Dau Mot city, by roads no. 13 and no. 14).

(20.) That is to say, the "White Berets", the "Local Japanese", and "Internal Troops of Fighters for the Good Cause".

(21.) SHD 10H4144, 15 May 1946 (actually on 15 June 1946), citing Louaas (2014, p. 102).

(22.) My estimate based on Louaas (2014, pp. 130-31).

(23.) Bodinier (1987, p. 70) and Louaas (2014, p. 142).

(24.) Ibid. On 14 November 1946 this army was renamed the "Republican Guard of Cochinchina". It comprised a mere 2,600 men, though it is unclear whether it included Caodaist "volunteers".

(25.) Estimate by Daches (1954, p. 281).

(26.) This intelligence service was equipped and sponsored by the French (Louaas 2014, p. 153, citing SHD 10H4140, 8 January 1947).

(27.) My estimate according to figures provided by Daches (1954, p. 281) and Louaas (2014, p. 189).

(28.) Louaas (2014, p. 203, citing SHD 10H4140, 4 April 1947).

(29.) Louaas (2014, p. 144), based on the SHD archives (file 10H4140 on Caodaist troops).

(30.) Estimate by Louaas (2014, p. 185, based on SHD 10H4140).

(31.) Louaas (2014, p. 210, citing SHD 10H4140, 20 June 1947). This Caodaist estimate seems to include both staff and simple informants and probably pertains only to the Tay Ninh denomination.

(32.) Louaas (2014, p. 192, citing SHD 10H4140, 22 July 1947).

(33.) My estimate according to figures provided by Daches (1954, p. 281) and Louaas (2014, pp. 173, 189).

(34.) My estimate according Daches (1954, p. 281) and Louaas (2014, pp. 192-94, citing SHD 10H4140, 31 August 1947 by Boyer de La Tour).

(35.) Estimate by Louaas (2014, p. 194).

(36.) Evaluation of Caodaist forces by the Viet Minh, see Louaas (2014, p. 197, citing SHD 10H4140, 21 June 1947).

(37.) Bodinier (1987, p. 212, citing CAOM 6HCI360, 1 December 1948).

(38.) Ibid.

(39.) CAOM 6 HCI 360, 1 December 1948 (citing Bodinier 1987, p. 212).

(40.) Werner (1981, p. 44, citing Commander Savani).

(41.) Werner (1981, p. 44, citing Commander Savani).

(42.) Estimate by Daches (1954, p. 262).

(43.) The Mobile Units of the Defense of Christendom (UMDC), commanded by Second Lieutenant Jean Leroy, would make their tentative appearance at the end of 1947 (officially 1 September 1948) to offset the withdrawal of a battalion of Algerian infantry on the island of An Hoa (in the province of Ben Tre) and to counter the growing influence of the "sects" (see Leroy 1977).

(44.) They were charged with various tasks, such as espionage, counterespionage, infiltration, arresting Viet Minh agents and deserters. Its head was Colonel Nguyen Van Kiet, formerly the sergeant of an infantry unit and head of Pham Cong Tac's personal guard. The officer in charge of the Saigon sector reported to Captain Nguyen Van Cat, a former student at the Police Forensic Science School of Paris.

(45.) Sent to Ba Ria in April 1947 but decommissioned on 1 July, the Caodaist parachutists were ultimately assigned to protect the rubber plantation of the Terre Rouge company in the Tay Ninh province (Louaas 2014, p. 214, citing SHD 10H4140, 26 November 1947).

(46.) Lieutenant Nguyln Thai, translator until the end of 1946 for the Nipponese deserters during their training in Kempeitai techniques, became the head of the Caodaist gendarmerie in 1948, "to monitor soldiers' discipline, ensure security on holidays, and interrogate enemy prisoners" (Louaas 2014, p. 189).

(47.) They were in charge of gathering information on the Viet Minh in the Tay Ninh province.

(48.) For his biography, I have made use of information provided by the chronicler Phan Van Hoang (2001) and by the Caodaist historians Dure Nguyen (2000, pp. 755-57), Hanh Son (1973), Huynh Tam (1990) and Hue Y (2000). For a synthesis of this information, see Jammes (2012 and 2014).

Jeremy Jammes is an Associate Professor in the Institute of Asian Studies, Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Jalan Tungku Link Gadong, BE1410, Brunei Darussalam;

(49.) Cao Trieu Phat was not the only landowner to use his paternalist control over the peasant masses to found a Caodaist denomination. Other examples include Nguyen Van Ca and his Minh Chon Ly denomination in My Tho and Nguyen Ngoc Tuong and his Ban Chinh Dao denomination in Ben Tre.

(50.) Caodaist youth, like other communities in Vietnam, participated in scouting. Tay Ninh also had its Youth Association of the Great Way (Dai Dao Thanh Nien Hoi) from 1963 to 1965, just like the Ben Tre denomination (Binh Hoa temple). In Vietnam, as elsewhere overseas, scouting activities --together with the semi-military training structure of Caodaist youth organizations and the modes of socialization and the rituals of initiation that these activities entail--politicized the everyday routines and community memory of these young devotees. This first Caodaist scouting troop was made of men between eighteen and thirty-five years old and women between sixteen and thirty years old (Hue Nhan 2008, pp. 476-77).

(51.) However, "the Lien Viet remained a classic Leninist front organization designed to increase national support for the DRV [Democratic Republic of Vietnam] and isolate the opposition" (Goscha 2011, p. 275).

(52.) At 48 Hoa Ma Street.

(53.) With regard to his biography, I have referred to the biographies compiled by Chinh Dao (1997, p. 547) and Due Nguyen (2000), as well as to an article published in Germany in the Cao Dai Giao Ly Dai Cuong [The great Caodai doctrine] magazine and then on the website of the Thien Ly Buu Toa temple (Le Anh Dung 2004; Dat Tuong 2007). A series of interviews allowed me to clarify some of the more obscure parts of his biography.

(54.) Emperor Bao Dai named Nguyen Phan Long prime minister of the State of Vietnam (1949-55) from January to April 1950.

(55.) Nguyen Van Tam, originally from Tay Ninh, was more precisely president of the Council of South Vietnam from 25 June 1952 to 19 December 1953. He had previously been defence minister in Le Van Hoach's cabinet in November 1946, then director general of the national police and of security (1950), minister of public security (February 1951) and interior minister (March 1952) in the three cabinets of Tran Van Huu, who relied on him to tackle Saigon's urban warfare (Goscha 2011, pp. 336-37).

(56.) Cong-Quynh Street, 1st District, Ho Chi Minh City.

(57.) Do Van Ly served as the Republic of Vietnam's Ambassador to the United States until 1963. At the same time he converted to Caodaism (Hoskins 2015, pp. 132-34).

(58.) That is to say, the nationalist dimension is presented outside the context of a political party.

(59.) Multipolarity is "characterised by the coexistence of more than two poles of power. It is in opposition to an unstable unipolarity as well as to a bipolarity that would guarantee an equilibrium of power" (Courmont and Mottet 2013, p. 16).


Archival Sources

Documents from Centre d'Archives d'Outre-Mer (CAOM), Aix-en Provence, France

6 HCI 360 Lettre au haut-commissaire de France pour l'Indochine, no. 12561, signe N. Laurent, directeur des affaires politiques, ministere des Colonies [Letter to the High Commissioner of France for Indochina, by N. Laurent, director of political affairs], 11 October 1945.

6 HCI 360 Rapport au haut-commissaire de France en Indochine (conseiller politique), no. 423 S.G., signe le chef d'escadron Buis, directeur de la police et de la surete generate en Indochine, Saigon [Report to the High Commissioner of France in Indochina, by Buis, director of the police and of the general security forces in Indochina], 13 November 1945.

6 HCI 360 Lettre au haut-commissaire de France, signe Jean H. Cedile, commissaire de la republique en Cochinchine, direction des affaires politiques, no. 1205-D.S.A.P., Saigon [Letter to the High Commissioner of France by Cedile], 7 May 1946.

6 HCI 360 B.R. no. 9678, signe Pauwels, chef de la surete federate en Cochinchine, secte caodaique de Toy Ninh, service de la surete, subdivision 1, Saigon [Intelligence report signed by Pauwels, head of federal security in Cochinchina, on the Cao Dai sect of Tay Ninh], 23 August 1946.

6 HCI 360 Note au conseiller politique, signe Perrier, directeur de la police et de la surete federates, no. 18873, objet: activites au sein de la secte caodaique de Tayninh--declarations de M. Nguyen Xuan Quang, Saigon [Note to the political advisor by Perrier, Contents: activities of Tay Ninh Caodaist sect, testimony of Mr Nguyen Xuan Quang], 1 December 1948.

Documents from Service Historique de la Defense (SHD) [Historical Service of the Defence], Vincennes, France

10H165 Dossier no. 1, Lettre aux generaux Bodet, Perrier, Satan, Lorillot, Le Bris, de Latour, a l'amiral Badet et au colonel Marchand, signe le general de corps d'armee Valluy, commandant superieur des T.F.E.O, cabinet du general, no. 519/C.A.B./S.P. Saigon [File 1, Letter to Generals Bodet, Perrier, Salan, Lorillot, Le Bris, de Latour, to Admiral Badet, and to Colonel Marchand, by Valluy], 22 November 1947.

10H603 Dossier relations franco-vietnamiennes, Lettre a M. Marius Moutet, ministre de la France d'Outremer a Paris, signe Pham Cong Tac, Saint-Siege de Tayninh, no. 312 [Letter from Pham Cong Tac to the French Overseas Minister Marius Moutet], 17 April 1947.

10H603 Dossier relations franco-vietnamienne, Agence France-Presse, Informations quotidiennes, edition du matin, no. 696, entretien avec Pham Cong Tac [File on Franco-Vietnamese relations, AFP, interview with Pham Cong Tac], 18 August 1947.

10H4139 Dossier no. 1 <<historique--documents--etudes>>, recensement de Tran Quang Vinh [File no. 1, "background history, documents, and studies", census from Tran Quang Vinh], 1946.

10H4139 Dossier no. 1 << historique, documents, etudes >>, Le caodaisme, PO lieutenant-colonel Nemo, T.F.I.S., etat-major, 2e bureau, no. 200/2.S., Saigon [File no. 1, "background history, documents, and studies", Caodaism, by Lieutenant Colonel Nemo, TFIS], 6 January 1947.

10H4140 Dossier S.R.K.O., Note de service, signe le general de division Nyo, commandant les T.F.I.S., T.F.I.S., E.M., 2e Bureau, no. 1973, Saigon [File on the SRKO, by General Nyo, Commander of TFIS], 8 January 1947.

10H4140 Dossier troupes caodaistes, Lettre au lieutenant commandant le quartier de Toy Ninh, signe le lieutenant-colonel Fray, chef de la mission de liaison et de controle a Toy Ninh, S.P 5936 [File on Caodaist troops by Lieutenant-Colonel Fray, head of the liaison and control mission in Tay Ninh], 18 January 1947.

10H4140 Dossier troupes caodaistes, note no. 831/C.F.R., pour le chef de la surete federate en Cochinchine, signe Marcel Bazin, controleur de la surete, chef du controle federal des recherches, activite religieuse, secte caodaique de Tay Ninh, Saigon [File on Caodaist troops, by Marcel Bazin, supervisor of the French security forces], 4 April 1947.

10H4140 Dossier SRKO, Lettre au commandant supreme des armees caodaistes au Saint-Siege de Tay Ninh, signe Bui Hung Ban, chef de l'information du caodaisme, cabinet de l'information du caodaisme, no. 173, Saigon [File on the S.R.K.O. by Bui Hung Ban, Caodaism's chief information officer, Caodaist information bureau], 20 June 1947.

10H4140 Dossier troupes caodaistes, B.R. no. 7616/2S, signe le general de brigade de Latour, commandant des T.F.I.S.: evaluation par les vietminh des forces caodaistes, source: tres sure, S.P. 50295 [File on Caodaist troops, by general de Latour: evaluation of Caodaist forces by the Viet Minh, source very safe], 21 June 1947.

10H4140 Dossier troupes caodaistes, fiche pour le general, au sujet de Farmement des caodaistes, T.F.E.O., T.F.I.S., etat-major, 2e bureau

[File Caodaist troops, sheet for the General, on the subject of arming the Caodaists, TFEO, TFIS, headquarters, 2nd bureau], 22 July 1947.

10H4140 Dossier troupes caodaistes, document No.1893/3, objet: brigades caodaistes et partisans, signe le general de brigade de Latour, commandant les troupes frangaises en Indochine du Sud, T.F.I.S., 3e bureau, S.P. 50295 [File on Caodaist troops, by Brigadier General Boyer de La Tour, commander of French troops in southern Indochina], 31 August 1947.

10H4140 Dossier troupes caodaistes, Journal de Saigon, 2e bureau des T.F.I.S. [File on Caodaist troops, Journal de Saigon], 26 November 1947.

10H4144 Dossier no. 6 ralliements. Traduction d'un document envoye par Nguyen Thanh Minh, chef du Chi dpi no. 8, a un chef Viet Minh [File no. 6 'Rallying.' Translation of a document sent by Nguyen Thanh Minh, leader of Chi dpi no. 8, to a Viet Minh], 15 May 1946.

10H4144 Lettre au general Duminy, commandant superieur des troupes frangaises de la Cochinchine a Saigon, signe le pape caodaiste, cabinet, no. 160, Saint-Siege de Tay Ninh [Letter to General Duminy, Fligh Commander of the French troops of Cochinchina in Saigon, by the Caodaist pope], 2 January 1947.

10H5938 Dossier liste des telegrammes du 8 novembre 1945 au 27 decembre 1945, telegrammes no. d'ordre 3, 4 et 5 [File list of telegrams from 8 November 1945 to 27 December 1945], 8 November 194527 December 1945.

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"The Caodaist Army" before and during the First Indochina
War (1943-54)

                 Type of Caodaist
Date             Brigades         Number of Men    Details

1943             Pro-Japanese     3,240            Bach Mu Doan, Hei
                 militias                          Ho, and Noi img
                                                   nghia binh (20)

Beginning        Chi doi nos. 7   ca. 400          Commanded by Nguyen
of 1946          and 8 (pro-                       Van Thanh Half are
                 Viet Minh in                      armed (21)

June 1946        Security group   80 (estimate)    Officers (ca. 50)
(dissolution)    of the Tay Ninh  (22)             and 30 armed
                 central temple                    followers (security

17 September     "Caodaist        5,174            To join "the
1946             volunteers"                       Cochinchinese
                 (Tran Quang                       national army" being
                 Vinh's                            formed (with an
                 proposition)                      objective of 15,000
                                                   soldiers) (23)

November 1946    "Caodaist        7,596            To join "the
                 volunteers"                       Cochinchinese
                 (Tran Quang                       national army" being
                 Vinh's                            formed (24)

8 January 1947   FACD (Caodaist   1,970            16 outposts (of 60
                 Armed Forces)                     men each, half of
                                                   whom are armed) and
                                                   6 flying squads (of
                                                   60 men each) Some
                                                   outposts are placed
                                                   in key areas (100-
                                                   150 men) (25)

8 January 1947   SRKO (Caodaist   Unknown          Equipped and funded
                 intelligence                      by the French
                 service) (26)                     authorities

29 January       FACD             2,330 (27)       16 outposts (of 60
1947                                               men each, half of
                                                   whom are armed) and
                                                   12 flying brigades
                                                   (of 60 men each)

4 April 1947     Total number of  6,405 (28)       An estimate of the
                 armed Caodaist                    FACD, SRKO,
                 followers                         parachutists and
                 (estimate by                      self-defence groups
                 Bazin, French

April 1947       Parachutists     200 (29)

May 1947         Caodaist         1,000-1,100
                 self-defence     militiamen (30)
                 groups from

20 June 1947     Caodaist         5,000
                 information      followers (31)

July 1947        Caodaist         2,500
                 self-defence     militiamen (32)
                 groups from

30 July 1947     FACD             2,570 (33)       16 outposts (of 60
                                                   men each, half of
                                                   whom are armed) and
                                                   22 flying squads (of
                                                   60 men each)

30 August 1947   FACD             3,410 (34)       18 outposts (of 60
                                                   men each, half of
                                                   whom are armed) and
                                                   34 flying squads (of
                                                   60 men each), of
                                                   which 10 units are
                                                   authorized to
                                                   intervene outside
                                                   the central zone of
                                                   Cochinchina (6 in Ca
                                                   Mau, 4 in Thu Dau

October 1947     FACD             3,534 (35)       38 flying squads and
                                                   13 outposts

21 June 1948     FACD             3,300 (36)

December 1948    Caodaist secret  50 (37)          Province of Tay Ninh


December 1948    Caodaist         50 (of which     Holy See of Tay Ninh
                 gendarmerie      15 armed) (38)   (15 armed gendarmes)

December 1948    Caodaist holy    400 (of which    Defence of the Tay
                 guard (Co Thanh  200 armed) (39)  Ninh temple and of
                 Ve)                               Pham Cong TSc

December 1948    Total number of  10,000 (40)      Est. of the FACD,
                 armed Caodaist                    SRKO, parachutists,
                 followers                         self-defence groups,
                                                   holy guard, police,

January 1954     Total number of  65,000 (41)      Ibid. (215 outposts)
                 armed Caodaist

June 1954        Total number of  15,000 (42)      Ibid. (215 outposts)
(French          armed Caodaist
capitulation)    followers
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Author:Jammes, Jeremy
Publication:SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia
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Geographic Code:9VIET
Date:Mar 1, 2016
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