Year published :2016

Pages :352 pp., illustrated

Size :15x23 cm

Rights :Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam

ISBN: 9788776941598

Mobile Citizens: French Indians in Indochina, 1858–1954


By Natasha Pairaudeau

352 pp., Illustrated, 2016

When France laid claim to the territories which became French Indochina, its beleaguered trading posts on the east coast of India gained a new purpose, sending Indians to help secure and administer its newest possessions and to assist in their commercial expansion. The migrants were among those peoples of France’s overseas empire who gained the rights of French citizens following the French Revolution. This volume explores the consequences of their arrival in Indochina just as France was testing a new approach to its colonised peoples, an approach less enamoured with the idea of colonial citizenship and more racially ordered.

This book offers an analysis of the fate of Republican ideals as they travelled between different parts of the French Empire and raised contentious issues of citizenship which engaged Indians, French authorities, and Vietnamese reformers in debate. It considers too the distinctive French colonial social order that was shaped in the process. A lively story, it is at the same time an important addition to scholarship on the French empire, on colonial society in Vietnam specifically, and on migration to Southeast Asia.

About the Author

Natasha Pairaudeau is a Research Associate at the Centre for History and Economics, University of Cambridge, and a Bye Fellow of Murray Edwards College. She worked for many years conducting research in Vietnam’s uplands as a social development consultant before undertaking a PhD in history at the University of London (SOAS). Her broad research interests include migration and its role in spurring social and political change, sub-imperial systems, inter-ethnic relations, and the dynamics of citizenship, race and status in colonial systems. Her focus is on modern South and Southeast Asia. In addition to her long-standing interest in Indochina’s Indian migrant communities, her research projects include a study of transnational family life in British Burma and French Indochina, a history of migrant Indian milkmen, and a project tracing the lives of Burmese royal exiles in French Indochina.


  • First in-depth study of the Indian presence in French Indochina.
  • Provides a lively account of complexity and conflicts over citizenship within the French empire.
  • Offers a new perspective on the rise of inter-Asian migration from the late nineteenth century.

What Others Are Saying

In Mobile Citizens, Natasha Pairaudeau has produced a path-breaking book. Not only does she tell the fascinating story of the Indian community in colonial Indochina for the first time, but she also shows how the Indians moved within the French empire and used citizenship to their advantage as they did. While the size of the French Indian community in Indochina was small, by focusing on these ‘mobile citizens’ Pairaudeau says some very big things about imperial citizenship, intercolonial movements and interactions, and provides new insight into how empires work. It is an important book, and a very readable one.—Christopher Goscha, Professor of International Relations, Université du Québec à Montréal

This is a remarkable work—its originality lies not only in its unusually wide geographical span, dealing with a hitherto unexplored web of 19th- and 20th-century diasporic connections linking India with French-ruled Vietnam/Indochina, but also in its deft interweaving of thematic concerns.—Susan Bayly, Professor of Historical Anthropology, University of Cambridge

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