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Vietnam’s north-south gap in historical perspective: the economies of Cochinchina and Tonkin, 1900-1940

Merette, Sarah (2013) Vietnam’s north-south gap in historical perspective: the economies of Cochinchina and Tonkin, 1900-1940. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Recent estimates of Vietnamese GDP during the colonial era show a large gap between Tonkin and Cochinchina: per capita GDP in Tonkin was less than half the per capita GDP in Cochinchina from 1900 to 1940. The aim of this thesis is to understand this gap: its origins, nature and impact. Although most scholars of Vietnamese economic history acknowledged this gap, it has never been studied and only a few suggestions for its origin exist. In this thesis, we revisit these suggestions. Firstly, we establish that demographic differences certainly had an impact on the economic performance of the country, not only through an impact on potential yields but also through an impact on land and labour utilisation. Secondly, we show that the colonial policy did not explain the origin of the economic gap, but that it may have perpetuated circumstances that led to it. Next, we evaluate the nature of this gap: how did the productive sectors (agrarian, industrial and commercial) of the economies of Tonkin and Cochinchina differ? We find that production patterns differed markedly between Tonkin and Cochinchina. In Tonkin, diversification and production for the home market defined its production possibilities and its economic performance. In Cochinchina, specialisation and engagement with the international economy defined its production possibilities and economic performance. The regions' different production patterns were responsible for their different engagement with the international economy. Finally, we investigate the way in which the economic gap between the two regions affected the living standards of their populations. We find that despite a large GDP per capita gap, the living standards of the rural populations of Tonkin and Cochinchina differed only marginally. Even in the urban sectors where there was a significant gap between the two regions, it was only a fraction of the one suggested by GDP estimates.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2013 Sarah Merette
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
Sets: Departments > Economic History
Supervisor: Ma, Debin

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