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Indochina - Expo Paris 1900

Indochina at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1900
Architect(s) : MM. du Houx de Brossard, Alexandre Marcel, Decron, Maréchal

It was almost a small Indo-Chinese city which had been built at Trocadero, on the inspiration of the Governor General, Mr. Paul Doumer, whose administration is so fruitful, so full of happy results for the colony to which he devotes, without counting the cost, all his intelligence, all his energy, all his incredible working power.

The general idea that the governor had had was to give exactly the feeling of the administrative, economic and moral unity of our great Asian territory which owes its definitive form to him today. M. Paul Doumer was assisted in the execution of this beautiful plan by his delegates, Messrs Pierre Nicolas, commissioner, and Jean Suricaud, deputy commissioner, helped by a commission composed of distinguished architects such as Messrs. du Houx de Brossard, Alexandre Marcel, Decron, Maréchal, architects, Louis Dumoulin, Paul Merwart, painters of the Navy and the Colonies, Lesuire, honorary resident, Blanchet, director of the Cochinchina river messengers, Denis Guinaut and Henri Armand, secretaries of the Indo-Chinese exhibition.

This commission, which was placed under the high direction of Mr. Jules Charles-Roux, delegate of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Colonies, and of Mr. Saint-Germain, senator, deputy director of the colonial exhibition, showed a very appreciated activity and taste.

In order to satisfy the wish of Mr. Doumer, there was no exhibition or special buildings from Cochinchina, Cambodia, Tonkin, etc. There was only one exhibition, the one of the French colonial exhibition. There was only an Indo-Chinese exhibition, divided by type of product or object, in palaces or pavilions which were the faithful representation of the most curious specimens of Far Eastern architecture, found in the different provinces which together form the colony of Indo-China today.

This exhibition included five main buildings or groups of buildings, Tonkinese, Cambodian and Laotian houses, plus an annexed building intended to house the natives outside the Exhibition enclosure, as required by the General Commissariat. These buildings were as follows:

1° The Product Palace

(Messrs Maréchal and Decron, architects), a reproduction of the great pagoda of Cholon (Cochinchina), intended to receive the agricultural and industrial products of the whole of Indo-China, i.e. Tonkin and Annam, Cochinchina as well as Laos, Cambodia and the Chinese territory of Kouang-Tchéou-Ouan, recently acquired by France, and which was placed under the authority of the Governor General of Indo-China in January 1900.

Here is an enumeration of the main products and objects that appeared there:
Varieties of rice, paddy (husked rice), rice alcohol, teas, coffees, cinnamon, pepper, star anise, gums, benzoin, cocoa, wax, honey, sugar cane, indigo, dye wood, rattan and bamboo objects, silk, crepons, cotton, peanut oils, ramie, lacquers, terracotta, pottery, tobacco, mats, weapons, copper, tin, musical instruments, dolls, cars, photographs, etc.

It was also in this pagoda that the models of the great iron bridges and works of art of Indo-China ordered in France by the Governor General were placed.

On the bare wall surfaces were the plans of the monuments being completed. Large-scale plans by M. Paul Merwart, painter of the Colonies, showed in perspective the four largest cities of Indo-China: Saigon, Hanoi, Hué and Pnôm-Penh, as well as two large original wall maps representing,
one, the progress made since the conquest in the reconnaissance of our Indo-Chinese empire (itinerary of the explorers), the other, the distribution, over the whole territory, of the economic products, the communication routes, etc.

2° The Palace of Arts (M. du Houx de Brossard, architect) was the representation of the Palace of Coloa (Tonkin). The rooms of this building contained the products of the industrial arts of Indo-China. There were also showcases for art objects from all Indo-Chinese countries.
The galleries contained drawings, engravings, illustrated books, paintings, umbrellas, fans, screens, wrought tortoiseshell, wrought silk, embroidery, furniture, tableware, lacquered, sculpted and inlaid objects, wrought feathers, decorated earthenware and porcelain, gold, silver, pewter, bronze, wickerwork, costumes, harness, ivories, enamels, weapons, etc. It was in the inner courtyards of this palace that the Ramie congress, one of the most important, was held during the Exhibition.

3° The Pavillon des Forêts (M. du Houx de Brossard, architect) was a copy of a rich Annamite house in Thudaumot (Upper Gochinchina), with its sculpted partitions. It contained the products of the forests of all the Indo-Chinese provinces: bamboos, rattans, gô, rushes, dau, sao, cam-laï, cam-xé, trac, teak, boloï, fishing and hunting instruments, various traps, horns and skins.

4° The Pnom (which means hill) and the Pagoda of the Buddhas (M. Alexandre Marcel, architect), a Cambodian reconstruction, extended to the Trocadero, over an area of 2,000 square metres.

The pagoda and the Pyramids (conical domes in the shape of bells) which decorate the hill of Pnôm-Penh (Cambodia) had been reproduced on this artificial hill.

In the subsoil of this mound, a vast reinforced concrete cave was dug, which was one of the most remarkable and daring works of the World Fair.

The vaults of this cave seemed to rest on high pillars whose decoration, borrowed from the ancient Brahmanic and Buddhist temples of the Khmers, recalled the famous underground temples of Ellora in India. From the interior, one could see a whole series of dioramas by M. Louis Dumoulin, painter of the Navy, representing curious views taken throughout Indo-China, the rue Catinat, in Saigon; the banks of the Mekong, in Mytho; the tomb of Tu-Duc, in Hué; the bay of Along and finally the dioramic view of a construction site of the Pont-Doumer, in Hanoi, one of the most important works of art undertaken in the colony.

In this same room, a sophisticated cinematograph gave the illusion of Indo-Chinese life, with its animation and its particular character.

The Governor General had wanted these attractions to be absolutely accessible to all, free of charge, and that, moreover, no payment should be required from visitors to the Indo-Chinese exhibition.

The vast galleries leading to this underground hall were occupied by the Pavie mission's exhibition.

M. Pavie, having brought back the costumes of most of the Indo-Chinese populations, had the task of executing, from photographs, thirteen life-size figures, in wax, and representing types, men, women, and children, of the lesser-known populations of the countries he had visited. He had dressed them in their original clothes and had assembled them into a very interesting group. The location chosen for this installation in the crypt, lit by electricity, gave the scene it formed a strange and striking character.

The characters represented were

1° A group of inhabitants of Muong-Sing, a small country in the north of Laos, where our frontier borders on China, Siam and the English possessions of Burma, and of which there had been much talk when there had been talk of making it a sort of Tampon State;
2° A young Méo girl (the Méos are nomadic mountain people established in Upper Laos, Yun-han, etc.);
3. Two Yaos women (the Yaos are also mountain people from the same regions);
4° A Pou-Thaïe woman, from the country of Test de Luang-Prabang;
5° A woman from Luang-Prabang;
6° A Kha-Kho woman (north of Laos);
7° A young girl from Lue (north of Laos);
8° A Laotian woman.

Various fabrics were placed between the hands of the characters; they were those woven by the women in all the Laotian and Cambodian regions.

A panoply, above the group, showed weapons, jewellery, instruments and household objects of all kinds. This collection was rightly one of the great successes of the Colonial Exhibition.

An immense terrace, from which the view extended over the whole panorama of the Exhibition, dominated the artificial hill, the Pnôm; it was on this terrace, which was reached by a monumental staircase, that the great conical pyramid rose, its golden spire soaring 47 metres, and the delightful royal pagoda of Pnom-Penh served as a special exhibition of objects relating to religious art: Buddhist and Brahmanic figures, statues, incense vases, incense burners, altar tables, pagoda models, decorated and perfumed candles, pankas, sentences, inlaid crosses and all the objects of the different cults of Indo-China.

On the mound of the hill, visitors could see, in a graceful Laotian hut, the little white elephant "Chéri", sent by Mr Doumer to the Museum. The director of this establishment had kindly agreed to entrust to the Indo-China commissariat, at the request of the Governor General, this pachyderm considered sacred by the Thai people. Around this reconstruction, Annamese, Laotian and Cambodian houses were grouped.

5° The Indo-Chinese theatre (M. du Houx de Brossard, architect), granted to a colonist from Indo-China, was set up with great luxury. On this stage, the contractor gave performances by indigenous troops from the Hué court and especially ballets performed by Cambodian dancers from the court of King Norodom.

Finally, it should be remembered that the Indo-China exhibition had an extension outside the Universal Exhibition grounds. Indeed, an elegant building had been erected by the indefatigable architect of the Indo-China Commission, Mr. du Houx de Brossard, in the middle of the trees, rue du Docteur-Blanche, in Passy. This installation had already been occupied by the Annamites, Cambodians, Laotians and Chinese, art workers, who had come in their hundreds to work on the construction and decoration of the various buildings, until they had made room for the natives who had come to take part in the Indo-China exhibition. This vast Indo-Chinese aggregation could contain two to three hundred natives, divided into large, spacious and airy rooms. Separate accommodation was reserved for the natives accompanied by their wives and children.

In this enclosure, a veritable Indo-Chinese village, we had a lively representation of the life of these peoples taken from life. All the races of Indo-China could be seen intermingling.
They acted in common and merged together without being confused: it was a living image of the unity of our domain in its so picturesque local diversity.

To sum up, the Indo-Chinese exhibition included in its palaces and pavilions: 1° the products of the soil and subsoil; 2° the products of the industrial arts; 3° the products of the forests; 4° the most beautiful specimens of Cambodian and Annamite architecture, the reproduction of monuments, major public works, cities, temples, dwellings, sites and types of the colony, giving an animated synthesis of life and progress in all parts of the Indo-Chinese Union.

Religious art, which has such a large place in the Far East, since its manifestations are intimately connected by laws and traditions with official and public life, had its special representation.

The work of the explorers was highlighted, and the results of the great Pavie mission, so laborious and fruitful, were, as we have seen, the subject of a complete exhibition.

Finally, the life of the natives of the various races was naturally and truly reproduced in the centre where they were grouped and reunited at Passy.

One could therefore be convinced that the Indo-Chinese exhibition was complete and varied. It formed a unique whole, like the colony itself.
On the spot, one could get to know the colony from every angle. Its domes, dominating the hill, reaching up to the sky, illuminated by the sun, attracted all eyes.
the sun, attracted all eyes; it was enough to open one's eyes. At the Trocadero, one could say of our beautiful colony, according to a famous saying: "Indo-China is like the sun, blind who does not see it! It was permissible to add: "He who does not admire it is a sceptic! And we have hardly seen any of these sceptics. The work of Mr. Paul Doumer and his collaborators was judged and praised as it deserved.

The future of Indo-China, in the hands of an administrator such as Mr. Paul Doumer, looks very bright. It is interesting to guide the efforts of the traders and industrialists of the metropolis towards a country. This is what was done at the Universal Exhibition; this is what will be shown by a few figures which it is worth reproducing here.

Here is what the metropolitan import trade does or can do:
The principal articles of import are: fabrics 18,923,821 francs, of which 9,907,091 francs are imported from France and the surplus from abroad. Dyed cotton fabrics occupy the first place, written cottons the second; printed cottons come from abroad; other cotton articles, hosiery, confections, etc., almost exclusively from France.

The importation of linen and especially jute fabrics must be an encouragement to the cultivation of jute in Indo-China. No woolen fabrics. Silk fabrics, like jute bags, are all of Asian origin.
Unbleached cotton yarns: 6,241,000 francs, almost exclusively from English India; sewing threads, linen, hemp, etc., also.
Stones, marbles, mineral fuels: 9,100,378 francs.
Metal works: 8897877 francs.
Metals: 8,294,600 francs; except for gold leaf, 3,283,500 francs, which comes from Hong Kong, all metal imports come from the metropolis.
Beverages: ordinary red wine in barrels, 2,465,913 francs; ordinary red wine in bottles, 211,419 francs; ordinary white wine in barrels, 34,890 francs; ordinary white wine in bottles, 1,895 francs; champagne, 239,540 francs; vermouth, 45,073 francs; absinthe, 165,770 francs; bitter Picon, 33,990 francs; other liqueurs, 88,284 francs

Colonial commodities: the first rank is occupied by metropolitan sugars, 2,173,000 fr. Foreign sugars are prohibited.
As far as Y industry in Indo-China is concerned, it must be noted that the Chinese element is competing with the labour of our Annamites.

However, Annam and Tonkin, for example, produce themselves, with Annamite labour, the major part of the objects used or employed for housing, furnishing, clothing, food, etc., of the natives of all classes.

The houses of the wealthy are built of brick and covered with tiles made in the country. The carvings in solid wood are made with rare skill; likewise, stone and marble are skilfully carved. Excellent lime is made from shells. The furnishings are locally made and bear the stamp of their origin. Bells, bells, gongs, tam-tams, parasols, palanquins, fans, spears, swords, mats, blinds, doors, pottery, earthenware, porcelain, and rough pottery are almost always made in the country. In Cochinchina, there are several factories of these large varnished pots, with lids, in which the natives keep water, oil, nuoe-mam, etc. Kaolin and local minerals are often used to make these household utensils.

Although cotton clothes are almost all imported from France or abroad, in some regions they weave their clothes on very simple looms and dye them with cunao or indigo. They spin and weave silk.

Bracelets, necklaces, rings and earrings are made by indigenous jewellers. Sandals and shoes are made on site. Food products, pasta, salt in considerable quantities, salted fish and nuoc-mam, preserves, rice brandy, brown sugar, molasses, oils of all kinds can even be exported. The paper industries are also familiar to the Annamites to the extent of their intellectual and financial means.

As for the European industries, one of the main ones, especially in Tonkin, is the coal industry.

The silk industry is, after the mining industry, the one that should perhaps be developed the most, because of the French market. It is certain that Tonkin silk, suitably spun, gives a product more or less equal to that of China, and, consequently, can be remunerative.

The establishment of jute spinning and weaving mills is also desirable if we want to compete with India, both locally and in France.

Copper foundries, brickworks and tile factories have expanded greatly. In Annam, rice husking, oil extraction, cotton ginning, jute and tobacco preparation are indigenous industries that Europeans could profitably undertake. In Cochinchina, the same phenomenon occurs.
happens. Only two out of five hulling factories, a rice beer brewery, an ice factory, a soap factory, a silk reel and a laundry are left in European hands. Wadding and abaca should give rise to a remunerative industry everywhere.

However, these industries are relatively undeveloped, despite the skill of the workers and the good taste of the people. The Annamites lack capital and consumption is not high enough to provoke the development of production. But any European who wishes to perfect a local industry or to create a new one is sure to find as many workers as he will need and should have no worries about the results of the technical education that will be given to them.

©Paul Gers - 1900