A history of the Indochina Times (Đông-Pháp Thời-Báo)

dong-phap-thoi-bao-indochina-times

On April 4, 1923, Nguyễn Kim Đính received authorization to launch the Indochina Times (Đông-Pháp Thời-Báo). The application process officially went through the Superior Council of Indochina, although the authorization was given on a personal basis after the local governor and the head of the Sûreté (sở liêm phóng or sở mật thám) had given their support. Despite tacit requirements that only French citizens could create and run newspapers, Đính was for a long time the first “native French subject” formally granted ownership of a quốc ngữ newspaper. 

Born into a modest family from the southern province of Gia Định, he moved to Saigon, where he worked as a minor civil service clerk at public works. In 1913 he entered the world of journalism as a manager and soon became an owner. His experiences at Matters of Agriculture (Nông Cổ Mín Đàm), Public Opinion (Công Luận Báo), and later French-language papers like L’Écho Annamite and La Tribune Indochinoise —where he was director—made him one of the most influential, behind-the-scenes figures in the 1920s’ Vietnamese press scene. A businessman more than a journalist, Đính worked with his wife, Thanh Thị Mâu, who owned a profitable publishing business. Published by Mâu’s printing house, Indochina Times first ran three thousand copies per issue; the large-format, four-page paper came out three times a week.

From May 1923 to December 1924: Hồ Biểu Chánh as a prominent contributor  

The first period in the paper’s history, which began in May 1923, featured the same editing team that had worked at Public Opinion. Under the nominal directorship of Hồ Văn Hiền, Hồ Văn Trung (Hồ Biểu Chánh) directed the editorial line. Even Nguyễn Chánh Sắt appeared as an occasional contributor. The paper innovated by relying on a wide network of local “correspondents” in the provinces, who, together with a number of women journalists who appeared only under their pen names, supplied much of the newspaper’s content at a lower cost than regular columnists. With Đính in managerial control and Trung in editorial, the Indochina Times became a well-tooled commercial operation that, even in this early period of the press, demonstrated the extent to which business and political interests could converge. 

Hồ Văn Trung (pen name: Hồ Biểu Chánh)

Two main editorials covered the front page, and installments of one or two novels were featured on the second and third pages. Poetry was prominent. The paper published regular sections such as a women’s editorial column and an open forum. As with other Vietnamese-language papers except the Southern Economic Journal (Nam Kỳ Kinh Tế Báo), coverage of international and national current events was sparse. Like other quốc ngữ newspapers, a moralizing tone often charged with self-criticism prevailed. Editorials by Hồ Văn Hiền, Lê Sum, and Hồ Văn Trung developed themes such as “patience,” “critical spirit,” “modesty,” “fear,” and “customs.” Rooted in the belief in self-improvement and self-teaching, which is traditional in Confucian thinking, this tendency was very powerful among southern writers of that time. Articles addressed sociocultural issues, some with political significance: the cultural “unity” (sự thống nhất) of the three kỳ (the three sections of Vietnam artificially divided by the French), the local notables’ corrupt behavior toward the common people, agricultural development, and anti-Chinese feelings. Anti-government sentiment sometimes showed through, although the nationalist tone remained limited to general terms. Sûreté documents reveal that, during periods of social crisis, Nguyễn Kim Đính played a perilous double game. These maneuvers, nonetheless, enabled the Indochina Times to avoid censorship. Among other quốc ngữ organs, the Indochina Times established itself as a good-quality newspaper. 

From Jan 1925 to Jul 1926: Trần Huy Liệu as editor-in-chief

Created in May 1923, the Indochina Times succeeded in retaining its influence and independence without suffering a single suspension. This achievement was due to good management by the newspaper’s owner and director, Nguyễn Kim Đính. After Hồ Văn Trung’s initial editorship (May 1923–December 1924), Đính made some changes to his editing team and replaced Trung with a newcomer from Tonkin, Trần Huy Liệu, who served in that position from January 1925 to July 1926.

Under Liệu, the Indochina Times brought the political press in Vietnamese to an unprecedented level of quality. The young journalist showed that a paper in quốc ngữ could be at least as effective as French-language newspapers. A set of circumstances came together that proved propitious for quốc ngữ journalism. With the appointment of the socialist Varenne as governor general in May 1925, the Vietnamese press experienced a relaxation of the restrictions that had been imposed on them. Later, a succession of events put the Indochina Times at the forefront of political activity. The relative absence of other political newspapers in Vietnamese or in French also contributed to the paper’s prominence. The new editing team comprised young activists who represented the broader audience that Liệu wanted to reach. In 1924, Bùi Công Trừng [pen name Sông Hương (Perfumed River)] left his native Annam to go to Saigon. A close associate of Liệu, he began writing for the Indochina Times in June 1925. Along with his boss, Trừng joined the Annam Youth Party in March 1926 (a month earlier Liệu had sent him to interview Phan Bội Châu in Huế). Bùi Thế Mỹ joined the team in March 1926. Originally from the Annam province of Quảng Nam, Mỹ went to Saigon in 1923. Like Trừng, he began his professional career as a teacher at Nguyễn Phan Long’s private school. Mỹ also contributed to L’Écho Annamite and was among the founding group of Young Annam. Perhaps through this circle he met Liệu and thereafter began writing for the Indochina Times. Liệu’s choice of editorial composition reflected a transition from public debate limited to issues in Saigon to discussion that was national in scope. This had been perceptible with La Cloche Fêlée, and now, with Indochina Times, the southern metropolis was developing into the center from which political ideas spread to other parts of the country.

Bùi Công Trừng

The son of a scholar from Nam Định province, Liệu was a talented writer whose family training in Sino-Vietnamese literary studies more than compensated for his Franco-Vietnamese education, which included only primary superior education (up to 13 years old). He came to Saigon in September 1924, looking for work with a quốc ngữ journal. When he failed to find work, he agreed to collaborate with Lâm Hiệp Châu on an illegal brochure, Iron Pen (Ngòi Bút Sắt). He also contributed to Nguyễn Háo Vĩnh’s Southern Economic Journal. Recognizing Liệu’s talent and pugnacity, Nguyễn Kim Đính offered him the position of editor in chief of the Indochina Times in January 1925. Đính wanted to take a firmer stance against the colonial authorities, a personal decision motivated more by commercial opportunism than strong political conviction and calculated to cater to the increasingly antigovernment feelings among educated Vietnamese. 

Liệu’s directorship of the editorial policy of the Indochina Times can be divided into two distinct sequences. The first began in early 1925 and lasted until September of that year. During this time he and his colleagues wrote about general issues with little direct bearing on current political developments. During the second phase of his editorial activity, which lasted through the spring 1926 movement, the Indochina Times became the flagship of the anticolonial campaign. 

Writing under the pen name Nam Kiều, Liệu developed a straightforward journalistic style that stood in stark contrast to the moralizing tone characteristic of most quốc ngữ newspapers. Liệu’s articles, like those by Nguyễn An Ninh, represented a series of manifestos that set forth a coherent political and moral vision. He, too, sought to establish a personal relationship with his readers. His style and opinions were not those of a romantic articulating his enthusiasm and doubts but rather the expression of strong convictions that he wished to advocate publicly, regardless of obstacles and the public reaction. His subjects ranged from the necessity of wearing traditional clothing in daily life, to philosophical matters such as freedom and truth. Whereas Ninh’s literary knowledge was eclectic. Liệu’s influences were primarily Chinese sources, although he could quote dif cult French authors like René Guénon, with his critical assessment of Western “modernity” and its lack of spirituality. Liệu’s writing was rich and dense with a tendency toward expressive incantation. He lacked a command of French and did not use the Westernized semantic structure favored by Ninh. 

Imbued with traditional Sino-Vietnamese moral teaching, Liệu set forth a clear agenda in his articles—cultural self-renewal, not acculturation or Westernization, as a prerequisite to political change. He believed the writer journalist’s role was critical to the success of cultural modernization. Although he advocated this position more assertively than his predecessors, his belief was not outlandish. His subjects were vast. He called for the reform of literature, advocating an increase in the use of quốc ngữ and the development of a wider vocabulary. He wrote about philosophical-moral concepts such as freedom, honesty, and indifference, which he tied to the urgent need for collective salvation. Liệu defined freedom (tự do) as having two opposite meanings. One he called “demon freedom” (con ma tự do), which appeals to selfishness and the need for immediate self-gratification. Often misleading, it lures people away from true freedom, which Liệu called “godly freedom” (thần tự do), which can be attained only through a moral act of individual social responsibility. 

Trần Huy Liệu

Of those public figures invested in social responsibility, Liệu focused particularly on writers and journalists. Apprentice writers (người học trò) needed to rid themselves of their predecessors’ tendency to blindly study and repeat old knowledge without thinking critically. This passive attitude, characteristic of the traditional mandarins (quan), had made them unwilling to learn from the outside and left them ill-disposed to produce a new corpus of knowledge. He urged the new generation of “intellectuals” (người trí thức) to write what they have “deep in their hearts” (tâm huyết). They needed to be true to themselves and be prepared to speak the truth against all odds, threats, and dangers. Writers and journalists should avoid getting too close to power or to interest cliques. He recognized that such a task would be challenging and would no doubt attract trouble and criticism.

Liệu’s writings contained two contradictory conceptions within Vietnamese society at the time. Journalists who wrote in quốc ngữ were often associated with corrupt practices such as blackmail or with having a pompous style. Liệu and Ninh promoted a new attitude: an organic tie between the writer-journalist and public opinion. To ensure that readers would respect the writer’s noble activity, Liệu assigned himself the task of unmasking usurpers and fake activists, whom he accused of being “parasites” (con rệp). He violently denounced the “hypocrisy” and “opportunism” of many of his compatriots. He sanctimoniously attacked “fake Europeans” (Tây giả) and Vietnamese who were trying to imitate the French, warning that the Vietnamese risked losing their cultural identity “like the people of the Philippines.” He urged his compatriots to regain their self-esteem as individuals and as Vietnamese. In addition, he directly addressed Vietnamese readers, whom he wanted to be aware of the difficulty of running a newspaper. He believed that it was their social responsibility to support genuine writing in their efforts to bring about national modernization. He targeted translators, who had a responsibility for what they chose to translate. By running a section titled “Critique of the Press,” Liệu set out to identify those he believed were betraying their social responsibility. 

In his enthusiasm, Trần Huy Liệu often appeared intolerant of journalistic approaches different from his own. He attacked others in the field, and heated exchanges ensued. In March 1925 he found himself embroiled in a bitter argument with the editors of the New Era (Nhựt Tân Báo) after he accused them of “opportunism” (chủ nghĩa cơ hội). In another row five months later, Hùynh Văn Chính of Annamite Voice (La Voix Annamite) accused Nguyễn Kim Đính, the director of the Indochina Times, of having encouraged “a group of troublemakers from the North” to behave as if they were “censors of public morality.” 

Liệu engaged in contemporary debates about Vietnamese social values. He argued that fidelity and devotion between men and women had declined with the introduction of Western values of selfishness; sports provided an important means by which the Vietnamese “race” could regain its pride; Vietnamese music should modernize while preserving its traditional character; and New Year (Tết) celebrations were too excessive—what he called “New Year-ism” or chủ nghĩa chơi xuân. On other occasions he praised the social role that traditional customs like New Year celebrations, ancestor worship, and proverbs could play in building national spirit when they were rid of false beliefs and superstitions. He advocated conserving the base of Chinese morality, free from conformism and conservatism, and embracing progressive Western ideas. 

Rather than address the colonial authorities, Liệu published articles about world leaders whom he felt exemplified the moral and the spiritual in their political lives. Like Nguyễn An Ninh, he did not seek to establish dialogue with the regime since he did not recognize it as historically legitimate. He made no reference to the Saigon municipal elections when they took place in April 1925. On the appointment of Varenne, whom Liệu seemed to favor so long as he remained “faithful to Jaurès’s socialism,” the editor in chief requested only an end to censorship of the quốc ngữ press. In contrast to the more libertarian director of La Cloche Fêlée, Liệu openly called for a charismatic figure to lead the national movement and save the country. News of the death of Chinese president Sun Yat Sen in March 1925 appealed to his imagination. Indochina Times published Dr. Sun’s life story in full. In the article Liệu compared the Chinese nationalist leader to Buddha and Confucius. Liệu thereafter inaugurated the practice of publishing biographies of great political figures. An account of the life of Phan Bội Châu appeared in September, while the old leader was on trial. After Phan Châu Trinh’s death in March 1926, Liệu composed a long obituary. He favored these figures of change and rejected Lenin and his international revolutionism. Nonetheless, he would later embrace Marx’s materialist interpretation of history. 

The growing influence of the Indochina Times was reflected in the tensions between its team and the colonial authorities and conservative newspapers. In the aftermath of the Saigon port affair, Governor Cognacq allowed the pro-government Nguyễn Văn Của, the owner of Lục Tỉnh Tân Văn (Six Provinces Gazette)—and the secret owner of Công Luận Báo (Public Opinion)—to launch a press campaign against Indochina Times . Anxious to expand his own business against a dangerous competitor, Của capitalized on the close relationship he had built with the authorities during the Saigon port af air. He allowed Công Luận Báo to spread rumors that Nguyễn Kim Đính was involved in a French secret society (hội kín), possibly the Freemasons. Đính responded by accusing Công Luận Báo of trying to ruin the credibility of “the only opposition newspaper.” Such a campaign, he wrote, was obviously orchestrated by Cognacq himself. 

The tumultuous first half of 1926 dramatically affected the Indochina Times’ editorial line. Liệu stopped writing articles on general and abstract topics. Although the paper still covered issues of sociocultural interest, its editorials were increasingly directed toward action. He had been among the seventy people who had met secretly on March 20, 1926, to found the Annam Youth Party. Liệu now led the paper to the forefront of events, turning it into a “militant” sheet. Taking advantage of the easing of censorship, on February 5, Liệu directed a column at Varenne, bluntly calling upon him to abandon censorship of the quốc ngữ press. 

The time had come to replace cultural transformation with concrete action. On March 17, on the expected return of Bùi Quang Chiêu, Liệu solemnly urged the Vietnamese public to welcome the Constitutionalist leader at the Saigon pier. He addressed “intellectuals, youth, women, workers and capitalists,” urging them to overcome their doubts and to seize the “opportunity” (cơ hội). He asked shopkeepers to close their stores as a sign of solidarity. 120 Building his role as a national leader, the young journalist incited the public to unite and to take their patriotic responsibility seriously. 

Four days later, on March 21, Liệu called for the creation of a nationwide “General Party” on the model of Sun Yat Sen’s Kuomintang. In contrast to more moderate leaders like Nguyễn Phan Long, Liệu made it clear that he lacked confidence in Varenne’s ability to carry out thorough reform without pressure from the Vietnamese public:

No more hesitation. No more reflection. Seize the opportunity offered by Bùi Quang Chiêu’s return. On this day, there will be enough people of all walks of life to launch a unified party that will soon expand to Tonkin and to Annam. This is the best way to help the government (Varenne) and thereby the aspirations of the people for the future. 

Within a week, the political situation reached a climax. Nguyễn An Ninh was arrested, Phan Châu Trinh died, and Bùi Quang Chiêu returned to Saigon. On March 29 the regime censored all articles about Ninh’s arrest. Liệu wrote a solemn tribute to Trinh. 

An article appeared in the paper’s next issue calling for freedom for the Vietnamese people with or without French support. A correspondent named Nguyễn Hoảng from the southern city of Cao Lãnh had taken up the political appeal initiated by Liệu. The time had passed for “arrangements.” The Vietnamese wished to enjoy the same rights as other free people, including that of self-rule (tự trị). The article concluded with an ultimatum: unless their expectations were met, Vietnamese would have to achieve freedom by their own means. The Indochina Times breached not only the self-imposed restraint induced by the threat of censorship but also a political taboo. It was not simply that the question of independence was addressed openly. Of significance was that the article claimed the right to act against colonial legality. The paper did not allow room for the Constitutionalists or other parties to compromise with the colonial regime. 

Bùi Quang Chiêu

Liệu’s presence, as seen in signed columns, became rarer after the events of spring 1926. This silence may have reflected a growing difference of opinion with his boss, Nguyễn Kim Đính. According to Sûreté reports, he wrote a letter to Cao Văn Chánh, the publisher of L’Essor indochinois, severely criticizing Đính. This may have led to Liệu’s removal as editor in chief. Other political considerations were involved, as Đính had reproached Liệu for his intemperate conduct toward the authorities and the danger such action presented for his business interests. In the wake of the political events of March 1926, Đính clearly supported the more moderate line followed by Bùi Quang Chiêu. After four months of near silence, Liệu announced his decision to abandon journalism altogether. He blamed censorship as the main reason for his move. The condition of an intellectual was hard, he wrote. He compared his situation with that of Phan Bội Châu; he said that a “silkworm” (con tằm) could still continue its task and that, by resigning, he did not intend to give up political action.

To Trần Huy Liệu, the Indochina Times owed its reputation as the main opposition newspaper of its time and a respected defender of the activist movement. At a political meeting held in January 1926, the Sûreté noted that the public had proclaimed it as “the people’s newspaper.” Indeed, in one year its readership had doubled, with ten thousand copies regularly printed; in comparison, the total number of printed Saigon newspapers, in both Vietnamese and French, did not exceed twenty-five thousand (this latter figure represents, however, a 100 percent increase in distribution in just two years). Liệu’s editorial talent and his ability to capitalize on the urgency of the political context explain this large circulation. The quốc ngữ newspaper was now a part of the daily life of a larger portion of the population. In the case of Indochina Times, an increasing number of young people and women from all over Vietnam constituted the paper’s readership. Liệu’s editorials and the paper’s coverage of the 1926 events in Saigon forged their political education. 

Later in his life Liệu dismissed his early political role as tainted by naïveté. Still, because of his enthusiasm and uncompromising stance, his stint at the Indochina Times turned out to be a significant episode that fostered public involvement by many of his young compatriots. Like Nguyễn An Ninh two years earlier, Liệu became a political model. The position of chủ bút, or editor in chief, became very popular, especially among the younger generation. Ironically, it was when both Ninh and Liệu had realized the political limits of their activity as journalists that this form of action came to be regarded as a noble expression of political commitment.

With the changes initiated by Nguyễn An Ninh at Cloche Fêlée and Trần Huy Liệu at Indochina Times, Vietnamese politics acquired an unprecedented energy characterized by the two men’s uncompromising determination to address its fundamental questions. Their convictions made the terms of Saigon’s political debate more dramatic and confrontational. They led the formation of a new generation of Vietnamese journalists who rejected the political compromise with the colonial power that had satisfied the Constitutionalists. These young radicals saw their action as independent of the strategies pursued within the colonial legal framework. They followed a style of journalism that was exclusively political in form and content. 

Trần Huy Liệu’s editorship at Indochina Times had profound effects on the long-term evolution of Vietnamese political expression. He swept away the traditional inhibitions of the quốc ngữ press. Although newspapers in Vietnamese continued to be subjected to censorship and other restrictions, journalists no longer saw them as insurmountable obstacles to independent political expression. The massive mobilization of readership that followed the spring 1926 events foretold new developments in political activism that included mass publishing in quốc ngữ. With La Cloche Fêlée and its imitators, which all appealed directly to the young and French-educated segments of the Vietnamese public, newspapers could no longer simply reflect the range of opinions and strategies of its journalists but also had to address the increasing diversity of public opinion. Within the Saigon newspaper village (làng báo chí), a new division appeared between newspapers used for political education and discussion and newspapers intended principally as instruments of immediate disruption and mobilization. Saigon’s sphere of public debate was undergoing a fundamental transformation in its political purpose.

From August 1926 to October 1927

Following Trần Huy Liệu’s departure, the total print run had dropped from 10,000 to 6,000 copies. A year later, circulation returned to 10,000, where it stayed until early 1928. Public demand for qualitative information soared and pushed up Indochina Times’ print runs. Yet, like most other newspapers, it was in constant financial straits. The colonial administration’s practice of intercepting mail and harassing readers resulted in a large number of unpaid subscriptions. A newly assertive censorship regime and a range of aggressive antipress legal provisions added to the difficulties. Increased competition among newspapers was another factor. From mid-1926 to early 1929, at least eight new quốc ngữ magazines and newspapers appeared or reappeared, making it difficult for any one paper to claim to represent a unified Vietnamese voice against the colonial order.

Đông Hồ – Lâm Tấn Phác

After Liệu’s departure in August, the paper became less confrontational, a policy favored by its owner, Nguyễn Kim Đính, who had become an open supporter of the Constitutionalists and of Bùi Quang Chiêu’s newly founded La Tribune Indochinoise. A southern entrepreneur-journalist who sought to reconcile his politics with his business interests, Đính was, however, open to new experiments. His appointment of Bùi Thế Mỹ as editor in chief signaled Indochina Times’ new direction. Formerly a teacher at Nguyễn Phan Long’s private school, Mỹ was writing for L’Écho Annamite when he met Liệu in January 1926 in the Annam Youth Party. Another new face at Indochina Times was the southern poet and journalist Lâm Tấn Phác, better known by his pen name, Đông Hồ, who enjoyed national recognition for his poetry in quốc ngữ. His editorials were devoted to issues of language, education, and literature. Throughout his time at Indochina Times, he ran an experimental private school, the School of Intellectual and Moral Learning (Trí Đức Học Xá), in the southwestern part of Cochinchina. Another contributor was Lê Trung Nghĩa. In spring 1926 the young drawing teacher was expelled from the Bến Tre primary school for supporting students who were mourning Phan Châu Trinh. The incident led to his start in political journalism as a cartoonist. He drew for La Tribune Indochinoise and Indochina Times and later the Constitutionalist-leaning newspaper Southern Flame (Đuốc Nhà Nam). The use of political sketches on the front page of a quốc ngữ newspaper was a new and powerful instrument of political journalism. Some of Nghĩa’s caricatures of political adversaries—the conservative director of L’Impartial, de la Chevrotière, Governor Cognacq, or the pro-government Lê Quang Trinh—helped to demystify for the public personalities associated with the colonial regime. 

The political stance of the post–Trần Huy Liệu Indochina Times was that of a close alignment with the moderate opposition. In the August 18, 1926, issue, an article signed by Nguyễn Kim Đính, titled “The Constitutionalist Party” (“Lập Hiến Đảng”), praised Bùi Quang Chiêu as the natural leader of the Vietnamese opposition. In preparation for the October Colonial Council elections, Bùi Thế Mỹ wrote numerous articles calling on readers to support the program of French-Vietnamese collaboration advocated by the party. The Indochina Times provided information on organizations close to Chiêu, like the association of people originating from the Bến Tre region . From October 1926 until the middle of 1927 the newspaper followed a campaign initiated by La Tribune Indochinoise and L’Écho Annamite in favor of the creation of a Vietnamese bank, as advocated by the economist Lê Văn Gông. As late as August 1927 the newspaper was still reporting to its readers on the Constitutionalist Party congress, which had convened in Paris under the chairmanship of a lawyer with French citizenship, Dương Văn Giáo. Like L’Écho Annamite, however, the Indochina Times was pressed to provide a forum for a diverse range of opinions. It published speeches presented at the Mutual Education Society of Cochinchina and opinions from national political figures such as Huỳnh Thúc Kháng and Phan Bội Châu. A pamphlet by Trần Huy Liệu, titled “Model of Patriotism” (“Tấm Gương Ái Quốc”), in which he continued to advocate the Chinese strategy of one unified “national party,” was serialized in August and September 1926. 

During this period the newspaper introduced an important innovation in the quốc ngữ press—the interview. It was not necessarily overtly political, as seen, for instance, in the literary interview of the southern novelist and journalist Hồ Biểu Chánh (pen name for Hồ Văn Trung) on the release of his latest novel, Tiền Bạc (Money). The newspaper also advocated social issues in a true constitutionalist way by calling on rich Vietnamese to meet their patriotic responsibilities by contributing to causes such as scholarships for poor students to study in France. In the August 2, 1926, issue Nguyễn Phan Long chose Indochina Times to denounce the system of tax cards for the poor, which had given rise to a large group of people without official records. Local political events such as the authorities’ forced closure of the radical opposition newspaper New Century (Tân Thế Kỷ) and the subsequent protests in April and May 1927 were covered in detail by the Indochina Times.

Diệp Văn Kỳ

Indochina Times’ transformation as a journal d’information accelerated dramatically in September 1927, when the retour de France Diệp Văn Kỳ bought the majority stake in the newspaper. Born in 1894 to the former court interpreter Diệp Văn Cương and a princess of royal blood, Kỳ had a doctorate in law from the University of Paris and had served as the vice president of the Constitutionalist Party in France in 1925. As a result of his father’s naturalization he also had French citizenship. He was one of the rare Saigon journalists of his generation to have acquired higher education in both the traditional Vietnamese and the Western educational systems. After failing the 1918 examination session in Huế, he left for Paris in 1920 for further schooling. Upon his return in 1926, Kỳ’s father-in-law, the wealthy landowner Lê Quang Hiên from Sa Đéc, financed the acquisition of his own political newspaper. Originally sympathetic to the Constitutionalists, he astutely positioned himself more clearly to the Left as Vietnamese politics shifted toward radical opposition. He was a savvy journalist-entrepreneur who wanted to map out his own political path. Fearing his intentions, Sûreté agents closely monitored Kỳ’s efforts to buy Indochina Times. They rightly suspected the young man of devising a broad political plan that involved a newspaper, a publishing house called Nhà xuất bản Bảo Tồn [(National) Preservation Printing House], a public reading room or library, and a team of dedicated activists. Having failed to buy Indochina Times in an earlier bid or to acquire a permit for a new paper, Kỳ struck a deal with Đính on September 6, 1927, for the huge sum of twenty thousand piastres for co-directorship of the latter’s paper. The transaction was the biggest ever for a quốc ngữ newspaper, and Kỳ found it necessary to mortgage eight of his father-in-law’s houses in Saigon. The deal attested to the recognized economic and social significance of the press, particularly for an independent title boasting a substantial readership. The government’s restrictive policy toward quốc ngữ newspapers also meant that only a few licensed titles were available, hence the high price Đính was required to pay. In addition, Indochina Times had a reputation for editorial integrity and political independence. Đính remained manager and legal owner of the paper, while Kỳ worked as publisher until the paper’s closure in December 1928.

(from Philippe M.F. Peycam, The Birth of Vietnamese Political Journalism Saigon 1961-1930, Columbia University Press, 2012)

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