Bảo Đại

In the Vietnamese name below, Nguyễn Phúc is the surname.
Bảo Đại
Emperor of Vietnam

Bảo Đại
Emperor of Vietnam
Reign 8 January 1926 – 25 August 1945
Predecessor Khải Định
Successor Ho Chi Minh
(as President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam)
Bảo Long
(as Heir-apparent)
Chief of State of Vietnam
Reign 13 June 1949 – 26 October 1955
Predecessor Position created
Nguyễn Văn Xuân
(as Head of Provisional government)
Successor Ngô Đình Diệm
(as President of the Republic of Vietnam)
Born (1913-10-22)22 October 1913
Doan-Trang-Vien Palace, Huế, French Indochina
Died 30 July 1997(1997-07-30) (aged 83)
Val-de-Grâce, Paris, France
Burial Passy Cemetery
Spouse Nam Phương (m. 1934–63)
Hoàng Phi Ánh
Bùi Mộng Điệp
Christiane Bloch-Carcenac
Monique Baudot (m. 1972–97)
Issue Bảo Long (1936-2007)
Phương Mai (b.1937)
Phương Liên (b.1938)
Phương Dung (b.1942)
Bảo Thắng (b.1943)
Phương Thảo (b.1946)
Phương Minh (1949-2012)
Bảo Ân (b.1953)
Bảo Hoàng (1954-1955)
Bảo Sơn (1957-1987)
Phương Từ
Patrick-Edward Bloch
Full name
Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy
Era dates
Bảo Đại (1926–1945)
House Nguyễn dynasty
Father Khải Định
Mother Hoàng Thị Cúc
Religion Buddhism, Catholicism

Bảo Đại (Chữ Nôm: 保大, lit. "keeper of greatness", 22 October 1913 – 30 July 1997), born Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy, was the 13th and final emperor of the Nguyễn Dynasty, which was the last ruling family of Vietnam.[1] From 1926 to 1945, he was emperor of Annam. During this period, Annam was a protectorate within French Indochina, covering the central two-thirds of the present-day Vietnam. Bảo Đại ascended the throne in 1932.[2]

The Japanese ousted the Vichy-French administration in March 1945 and then ruled through Bảo Đại. At this time, he renamed his country "Vietnam". He abdicated in August 1945 when Japan surrendered. From 1949 until 1955, Bảo Đại was the chief of state of the State of Vietnam (South Vietnam). Bảo Đại was criticized for being too closely associated with France and spending much of his time outside of Vietnam. Prime Minister Ngô Đình Diệm eventually ousted him in a fraudulent referendum vote in 1955.

It has been widely held that Vietminh or Ho Chi Minh founded the independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam alone. However, Stanley Karnow in Vietnam: A History argued that "Nothing has reinforced the Vietminh cause more than the mercurial Bao Dai's decision to abdicate. For his gesture conferred the 'mandate of heaven' on Ho, giving him the legitimacy that, in Vietnamese eyes, had traditionally resided in the emperor."

Early life

Bảo Đại was born Prince Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy in the Palace of Doan-Trang-Vien, part of the compound of the Purple Forbidden City in Huế, the capital of Vietnam. He later was given the name Nguyễn Vĩnh Thụy. His father was Emperor Khải Định of Annam. His mother was the Emperor's second wife, Tu Cung, who was renamed 'Doan Huy' upon her 1913 marriage. She held various titles over the years that indicated her advancing rank as a favored consort until she eventually became Empress Dowager in 1933. Vietnam had been ruled from Huế by the Nguyễn Dynasty since 1802. The French government, which took control of the region in the late 19th century, split Vietnam into three areas: the protectorates of Annam and Tonkin and the colony of Cochinchina. The Nguyễn Dynasty was given nominal rule of Annam.

At the age of nine, Prince Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy was sent to France to be educated at the Lycée Condorcet and, later, the Paris Institute of Political Studies. In 1926 he was made the emperor after his father's death and took the name Bảo Đại ("Protector of Grandeur" or "Keeper of Greatness"). He did not ascend to the throne given his age and returned to France to continue his studies.


Bảo Đại
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese Bảo Đại
Birth name
Vietnamese alphabet Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy

On 20 March 1934, age 20, at the imperial city of Huế, Bảo Đại married Marie-Thérèse Nguyễn Hữu Thị Lan (died 15 September 1963, Chabrignac, France), a commoner from a wealthy Vietnamese Roman Catholic family. She was subsequently given the name Nam Phương (Direction of South). The couple had five children: Crown Prince Bảo Long (4 January 1936 – 28 July 2007), Princess Phương Mai (born 1 August 1937), Princess Phương Liên (born 3 November 1938), Princess Phuong Dung (born 5 February 1942), and Prince Bảo Thắng (born 9 December 1943). She was granted the title of Empress in 1945.

Bảo Đại and his followers on accession
Prince Vĩnh Thụy.

Bảo Đại had five other wives, three of whom he wed during his marriage to Nam Phương:

One of his concubines was a dancer from Hanoi, Lý Lệ Hà.

Independence and abdication

Main article: Empire of Vietnam

In 1940, during the second World War, coinciding with their ally Germany's invasion of France, the Japanese invaded French Indochina. While they did not eject the French colonial administration, the occupation authorities directed policy from behind the scenes in a parallel of Vichy France.

The Japanese promised not to interfere with the court at Huế, but in 1945, after ousting the French, coerced Bảo Đại into declaring Vietnamese independence from France as a member of Japan's "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere"; the country then became the Empire of Vietnam. The Japanese had a Vietnamese pretender, Prince Cường Để, waiting to take power in case the new emperor's "elimination" was required. Japan surrendered to the Allies in August 1945, and the Viet Minh under the leadership of Hồ Chí Minh aimed to take power in a free Vietnam. Due to his recent Japanese associations, Hồ was able to persuade Bảo Đại to abdicate on 25 August 1945, handing power over to the Việt Minh — an event which greatly enhanced Hồ's legitimacy in the eyes of the Vietnamese people. Bảo Đại was appointed "supreme advisor" to Hồ's Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Hanoi, which asserted its independence on 2 September 1945, but was ousted by the French in November 1946.[3]

Return to power and Indochina War

As Vietnam descended into armed conflict — rival factions clashed with each other and also with the remaining French — Bảo Đại left Vietnam after a year in his "advisory" role, living in both Hong Kong and China. The French persuaded him to return in 1949 to serve as "head of state" (quốc trưởng), not as "emperor" (Hoàng Đế). He soon returned to France, however, and showed little interest in the affairs of his own country when his own personal interests were not directly involved.

The communist victory in China in 1949 led to a revival of the fortunes of the Việt Minh. The United States extended diplomatic recognition to Bảo Đại's government in March 1950, soon after communist nations recognized Hồ's government. The outbreak of the Korean War in June led to U.S. military aid and active support of the French war effort in Indochina, now seen as anti-communist rather than colonialist.

But the war between the French colonial forces and the Việt Minh continued, ending in 1954 shortly after a major victory for the Việt Minh at Điện Biên Phủ. The 1954 peace deal between the French and the Việt Minh, known as the Geneva Accords, involved a partition of the country into northern and southern zones. Bảo Đại moved to Paris, but remained "Head of State" of South Vietnam, appointing Ngô Đình Diệm as his prime minister.[4]

Second removal from power

In 1955, Diệm called for a referendum to remove Bảo Đại and establish a republic with Diệm as president. The campaign leading up to the referendum was punctuated by personal attacks against the former emperor. His supporters had no way to refute them, as campaigning for Bảo Đại was forbidden. The October 23 referendum was widely reckoned as fraudulent, showing an implausible 98% in favor of a republic. As it turned out, the official results showed that the total number of votes for a republic exceeded the total number of registered voters by some 380,000—an obvious sign of fraud.[5]

Life in exile

Bảo Đại's burial place in the Cimetière de Passy, Paris

In 1957, during his visit to Alsace region, he met Christiane Bloch-Carcenac with whom he had an affair for several years. This relationship gave birth to his last child, Patrick Edward Bloch, who still lives in Alsace in France.[6]

In 1972, Bảo Đại issued a public statement from exile, appealing to the Vietnamese people for national reconciliation, stating, "The time has come to put an end to the fratricidal war and to recover at last peace and accord". At times, Bảo Đại maintained residence in southern France, and in particular, in Monaco, where he sailed often on his private yacht, one of the largest in Monte Carlo harbor. He still reportedly held great influence among local political figures in the Quảng Trị and Thừa Thiên provinces of Huế. The Communist government of North Vietnam sent representatives to France hoping that Bảo Đại would become a member of a coalition government which might reunite Vietnam, in the hope of attracting his supporters in the regions wherein he still held influence.

As a result of these meetings, Bảo Đại publicly spoke out against the presence of American troops on the territory of South Vietnam, and he criticized President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu's regime in South Vietnam. He called for all political factions to create a free, neutral, peace-loving government which would resolve the tense situation that had taken form in the country.

In 1982, Bảo Đại, his wife Monique, and other members of the former imperial family of Vietnam visited the United States. His agenda was to oversee and bless Buddhist and Caodaiist religious ceremonies, in the Californian and Texan Vietnamese-American communities.

Throughout Bảo Đại's life in both Vietnam and in France, he remained unpopular among the Vietnamese populace as he was considered a political puppet for the French colonialist regime, for lacking any form of political power, and for his cooperation with the French and for his pro-French ideals. The former emperor clarified, however, that his reign was always a constant battle and a balance between preserving the monarchy and the integrity of the nation versus fealty to the French authorities. Ultimately, power devolved away from his person and into ideological camps and in the face of Diem's underestimated influences on factions within the empire.[7]


Bảo Đại died in a military hospital in Paris, France, on 30 July 1997. He was interred in the Cimetière de Passy. After his death, his eldest son, Crown Prince Bảo Long, inherited the position of head of the Nguyễn Dynasty.

Bảo Đại coins

The last cash coin ever produced in the world bears the name of Bảo Đại in Chinese characters.There are three types of this coin. Large cast piece with 10 van inscription on the reverse, medium cast piece with no reverse inscription, and small struck piece. All were issued in 1933.



Throughout the course of Vietnam's history, emperor Bảo Đại remains one of the most controversial political figures. This is due to the nature of the power struggles during his time, where "true" history was written and rewritten with political agenda, it is rather difficult to find a "true" neutral view on Bảo Đại. Most of the texts that documented Bảo Đại used in some of the reading material above are rather biased and one-sided and based on other sources that are biased and one-sided. Before finishing this article, readers should consider a few things:

Independence and abdication:

Return to power and Indochina War


Collaboration, an ordinary word that we use to describe the action people of working together to produce or create something. But in any discussions about that time period of Vietnam, when used with Bao Dai, and only Bao Dai, it suddenly means a degrading, traitorous act of atrocity. Not Ngô Đình Diệm, not Hồ Chí Minh, not any other patriotic leaders, just Bảo Đại. One can’t help but wonder why. Was it because he took a jab at the American pride by accepting the offer that Japanese, an enemy of the U.S., presented to him to secure the independence of his country? Suddenly Bảo Đại, or anybody for that matter, became "the collaborator", "the traitor", the antagonist because he shook hand with the enemy of the United States? Was this a standardized American view of him? But wait a minute, one might ask, wasn’t the United States also an ally of the French, the "enslaver" of the Vietnamese people? Irony aside, how "neutral" is this "American view" of Bảo Đại? And what if he refused the Japanese offer? Would the propaganda headlines say: "Bảo Đại, the French warden, denies his people of independence"? What would any of us do in his place?

Let us discuss about the relationship between the Japanese and Vietnam. The Japanese were seen as an "enemy" to many who wrote about Vietnam during this time period, and it usually stops there. But in fact, the involvement of the Japanese in Vietnam was much more complex than that.

The ties between Vietnam and Japan can be dated back to many centuries ago. In the seventeenth century, the Japanese Shogunate authorized the establishment a few Japanese trade towns in Faifo and Tourane, Annam (Vietnam). It was mostly trade relations until after the Meiji Restoration period, there was a movement called "minzoku kaiho" ("liberation of people") which attempted to draw attention to the French Indochina. In 1874, Sone, a Japanese 1st lieutenant, started "Koa-Kai" [Pro-Asia Society], which focused on establishing national policy guidelines toward Annam, in resentment to the aggression of the French toward the people of Annam.[14]

Many Vietnamese nationalists, including Phan Bội Châu, also looked to Japan as a country of interest. Many other nationalists, including Phan, also moved to Japan to study. The nationalist movements in Vietnam also received a reciprocal interest from the Japanese. When the Japanese military made its entry into the border of Tonkin, North Vietnam, in 1940, they brought along a number of Vietnamese nationalists who then organized a series of revolts against the French. It was the Japanese who helped facilitate many of the nationalist movements in Vietnam through the shell of many of their trade establishments such as Sawayama Trading Co, Taiwan Takushoku Co., etc.

Many of the Vietnamese nationalists, some of whom were hunted by the French, came to the Japanese for shelter and assistances, including Dương Bá Trạc (Đại Việt faction), Trần Trọng Kim, Lê Toàn (Ái Quốc faction), Nguyễn Xuân Chữ, Trần Văn Lai, and most notable of all, Ngô Đình Diệm.[15] So, it is suffice to say under the eyes of these Vietnamese nationalists, Japan was an ally, to some, the "saviors", and certainly to the Japanese themselves, the "liberators". So then, why was Bảo Đại singled out?

And the Vietnamese communists, were they not part of the Komintern, an international faction? Was Hồ Chí Minh not answering to the chair in Soviet Russia? Were Hồ and his administration really nationalists when they denied the people their rights to freedom? How about Hồ and China? Were Hồ and his administration really nationalists when they blatantly declared that Spratly and Paracel Islands, which were under the control of the Republic of Vietnam, belong to China?[16]


National Honours

Foreign Honours



  1. Nghia M. Vo Saigon: A History 2011 – Page 277 "Bảo Đại was born in 1913, the 13th and last monarch of the Nguyễn dynasty. He ruled from 1926 to 1944 as emperor of Annam and emperor"
  2. Royal Ark
  3. David G. Marr Vietnam: State, War, Revolution, 1945-1946 p20 "The royal mandarinal hierarchies for education, administration, and justice were abolished, while Mr. Vĩnh Thụy (formerly Emperor Bảo Đại) was appointed advisor to the DRV provisional government."
  4. Interview with Ngô Đình Luyến. WGBH Media Library and Archives. 31 January 1979.
  5. Direct Democracy
  6. oral communication (Patrick Edward Bloch) and sections of the "Dernières Nouvelles d'Alsace" (D.N.A), n°. 264 of 10 nov.1992 and from 7 August 2007. {{url = http://www.maguytran-pinterville.com/vietnam/renaissance-de-hue/}}
  7. D. Fineman (1997). A Special Relationship: The United States and Military Government in Thailand, 1947–1958. University of Hawaii Press. p. 111. ISBN 9780824818180.
  8. 1 2 D. G. Marr (1997). Vietnam 1945: The Quest for Power. London, England: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520212282.
  9. H. R. McMaster (1998). Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam. New York, NY: HarperCollins. ISBN 9780060929084.
  10. P. Shenon (2 August 1997). "Bao Dai, 83, of Vietnam; Emperor and Bon Vivant". New York Times.
  11. Frédéric Mitterrand "Du côté de chez Fred": Interviews de Bao Dai
  12. 1 2 Trần, Trọng Kim. Một cơn gió bụi. ISBN 1941848168.
  13. S.M. Bao Dai (1980). Le Dragon D' Annam. Plon.
  14. Kiyoko Kurusu Nitz "The Japanese and Vietnamese Nationalism"
  15. Nishikawa Kansei "Betomamu no Nihonjin"
  16. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1958_diplomatic_note_from_phamvandong_to_zhouenlai.jpg

Further reading

Bảo Đại's memoirs have been published in French and in Vietnamese; the Vietnamese version appears considerably longer.

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Emperor Bảo Đại.

Photos of Bảo Đại's summer palaces

Bảo Đại
Born: 22 October 1913 Died: 30 July 1997
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Khải Định
Emperor of Vietnam
8 January 1926 – 25 August 1945
Political offices
Preceded by
Nguyễn Văn Xuân
as president
Head of State
13 June 1949 – 30 April 1955
Succeeded by
Ngô Đình Diệm
Titles in pretence
Loss of title
Emperor of Vietnam
25 August 1945 – 30 July 1997
Succeeded by
Bảo Long
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