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Phan Thanh Giản
Phan Thanh Gian.jpg
Phan Thanh Gian in Paris in 1863.
Date of birth: 1796
Place of birth: Ba Thanh village, Bien Hoa[1]
Date of death: 1867
Place of death: Cochinchina, Vietnam
Major organizations: Nguyen Dynasty
Religion: Confucianism
Footnotes: Negociator of the Treaty of Saigon. Ambassador to France. Governor.

Phan Thanh Giản (1796–1867) was a Grand Counsellor at the Nguyen court in Vietnam. He led an embassy to France in 1863, and committed suicide when France completed the invasion of Southern Vietnam (Cochinchina) in 1867.


Treaty of Saigon

Phan Thanh Gian was one of the foremost mandarins of the Nguyen court. He played a key role in negotiating the Treaty of Saigon with the French in 1862.[2][3] The negotiations led to the formal cession of Vietnamese territory that the French Expeditionary Corps had occupied in 1861 (the first parts of the future colony of Cochinchina): the provinces of Già Dinh, My Tho, Bien Hoa, and the Poulo Condore islands were ceded, and war reparations paid to the French.[4]

Because of his role in these negotiations, Phan Thanh Gian became rather unpopular, both with the Vietnamese population, and with the court of king Tu Duc.[2]

Embassy to France (1863)

In 1863, Phan Thanh Gian was sent by the king on an embassy to France to visit Napoleon III, in order to negotiate the return of the territories given to the French. Phan Thanh Gian was accompanied by Michel Duc Chaigneau (the son of Jean-Baptiste Chaigneau) on this embassy.[5] Phan Thanh Gian with a 70-strong embassy met with Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie in November 1863. Napoleon III, moved by Phan Thanh Gian's plea, accepted to return the provinces in exchange for a war indemnity, an agreement to station troops in Saigon, My Thau and Thu Dau Mot, and recognition of French military protection. The French Navy Minister Chasseloup-Laubat however, opposed to the return of Cochinchinese territory, threatened Napoleon III with his resignation and that of the whole cabinet, forcing him to order the cancellation of the agreement in June 1864[6]

Through his visit to France, Phan Thanh Gian obtained a first hand understanding of the level of advancement of France compared to Vietnam, was astonished at examples of technological innovation such as steam trains, and stated on his return to Vietnam that France's "wealth and strength are beyond description". Tu Duc only responded to this warning with admonitions of moral rectitude:[2]

"If faithfulness and sincerity are expressed
Fierce tigers pass by,
Terrifying crocodiles swim away
Everyone listens to Nghia (conscience)"


Upon his return, Tu Duc nominated Phan Thanh Gian governor of the remaining southern provinces.[2] When France invaded the rest of the southern territories in 1867, Phan Thanh Gian chose to avoid armed resistance and failed to defend the citadel of Vinh Long,[7] waiting for orders that never came, resigned from his position and took his own life through poisoning.[2]


Phan's family was of Sino-Vietnamese descent. His grandfather, Phan Thanh Tap was a native of Haicheng (near modern day Longhai, Fujian) in Zhangzhou prefectrure of Fujian province at the beginning of the 17th century due political sentiments against the ruling Qing government. Phan Thanh Tap migrated to Vietnam in the early 18th century, along with his family and relatives and settled in the village of Hoi Trung at Binh Dinh Province. Upon settling in Vietnam, he married a Vietnamese woman, Huynh Thi Ngoc, with whom his Phan's father, Thanh Ngan was born from this union. Phan Thanh Ngan began his career as a clerk to the Nguyen court. In 1798, Phan Thanh Ngan was appointed as the chief supplier for Phuc Anh's (Emperor Gia Long from 1802) navy and was sent on a diplomatic mission to Tourane, but was later shipwrecked at lost at sea.[1]

Phan's mother was also of Chinese descent; her great-great grandfather migrated to Vietnam from Fujian province during mid 17th century.[8] He had three sons, Phan Thanh Liem, Phan Thanh Tong and Phan Thanh Huong, of which the first two organised an armed rebellion against the French soldiers who had colonised Vinh Long and were later captured and killed.[9]

In popular culture

Temple of Phan Thanh Gian

Nowadays, Phan Thanh Gian is being venerated as a minor god among some people in southern Vietnam.

See also



  • Chapuis, Oscar (2000). The Last Emperors of Vietnam: from Tu Duc to Bao Dai. Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-31170-6.  
  • Choi, Byung Wook, Southern Vietnam Under the Reign of Minh Mạng (1820-1841): Central Policies and Local Response, SEAP Publications, 2004, ISBN 0877271380
  • Jamieson, Neil L. (1995). Understanding Vietnam. University of California Press. ISBN 0520201574.  
  • Nguyẽn, Phút Tán, A Modern History of Viet-nam (1802-1954), Nhà sách Khai-Trí, 1964
  • Tran, Nhung Tuyet; Reid, Anthony (2006). Việt Nam: borderless histories. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0299217744.  

Simple English

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