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Cycles of Empowerment? The Bicycle and Everyday Technology in Colonial India and Vietnam

  • David Arnold (a1) and Erich DeWald (a2)

In recent years, discussion of technology in the nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century colonial world has moved away from earlier insistence on the centrality of imperial agency and the instrumentality of empire's technological “tools” of conquest and exploitation. There has been a broad shift from diffusionist preoccupations with a one-way traffic in “technology transfers” that privileged Euro-American innovation and entrepreneurship, to consideration of the “social life of things” within the colony. This has corresponded with a move away from understanding technology through European representations of machines as the measure of the imperial self and colonized other, to rethinking technology's role in reconfiguring social hierarchies and cultural practices in colonized or semi-colonized non-Western societies. Without ignoring empire's importance in facilitating change or restricting the socio-economic parameters within which innovative technologies might operate, there has been a growing tendency to identify colonialism as a conduit for technological modernity rather than its primary embodiment. The colony is understood as a locally constituted, rather than merely imperially derivative, site for engagement with techno-modernity and its discontents. Scholars now commonly eschew emphasis on the implanting of “big technologies” such as railroads, telegraphs, steamships, modern weaponry, major irrigation works, and electrification systems (capital-intensive, often state-managed technologies that figured proudly in the rhetoric of imperial achievement), in favor of the ways in which these were understood, assimilated, and utilized by local agency. There has also been growing interest in small-scale, “everyday technologies,” from the sewing machine, wristwatch, and radio, to the typewriter, camera, and bicycle. Colonial regimes were unable to monopolize or disinclined to control these, and they passed with relative ease into the work-regimes, recreational activities, social life, and cultural aspirations of colonized and postcolonial populations.

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1 Headrick Daniel R., The Tools of Empire: Technology and European Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981).

2 Headrick Daniel R., The Tentacles of Progress: Technology Transfer in the Age of Imperialism, 1850–1940 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988); MacLeod Roy and Kumar Deepak, eds., Technology and the Raj: Western Technology and Technical Transfers to India, 1700–1947 (New Delhi: Sage, 1995); Godley Andrew, “The Global Diffusion of the Sewing Machine, 1850–1914,” Research in Economic History 20 (2001): 145.

3 Appadurai Arjun, ed., The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

4 Adas Michael, Machines as the Measure of Men: Science, Technology, and Ideologies of Western Dominance (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989); Mrázek Rudolf, Engineers of Happy Land: Technology and Nationalism in a Colony (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002); Moon Suzanne, Technology and Ethical Idealism: A History of Development in the Netherlands East Indies (Leiden: CNWS Publications, 2007); Dikötter Frank, Things Modern: Material Culture and Everyday Life in China (London: Hurst, 2007); Kerr Ian J., “Representation and Representations of the Railways of Colonial and Post-Colonial South Asia,” Modern Asian Studies 37, 2 (2003): 287326.

5 Headrick, Tools of Empire; see also Krige John, ed., “Choosing Big Technologies”, special issue of History and Technology 9, 14 (1992).

6 For the significance of the “everyday” in the lives of colonial subjects, see Erica J. Peters, “Negotiating Power through Everyday Practices in French Vietnam, 1880–1924,” PhD thesis, University of Chicago, 2000.

7 On bicycles, see van Dijk Kees, “Pedal Power in Southeast Asia,” in van der Putten Jan and Cody Mary Kilcline, eds., Lost Times and Untold Tales from the Malay World (Singapore: NUS Press, 2009), 268–82.

8 See MacKenzie especially Donald and Wajcman Judy, eds., The Social Shaping of Technology: How the Refrigerator Got Its Hum (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1985); Bijker Wiebe E., Hughes Thomas P., and Pinch Trevor J., eds., The Social Construction of Technological Systems: New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1987); Bijker Wiebe E., Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs: Towards a Theory of Sociotechnical Change (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1995).

9 On the “creative capacity” of users to shape technology in all of its phases, see Oudshoorn Nelly and Pinch Trevor, eds., How Users Matter: The Co-Construction of Users and Technology (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003).

10 Hunt Nancy Rose, A Colonial Lexicon of Birth Ritual, Medicalization and Mobility in the Congo (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999). Bicycles figure repeatedly as “signifying objects” in Hunt's account, as emblems of modernity, facilitators in the movement of people and ideas, and bearers of postcolonial technological nostalgia.

11 Harootunian Harry, History's Disquiet: Modernity, Cultural Practice, and the Question of Everyday Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000).

12 “Vietnam” refers here collectively to the three predominately ethnic Vietnamese regions of French Indochina: Tonkin, Cochinchina, and Annam. These areas were administratively distinct, governed either as a colony (Cochinchina) or as protectorates (Annam and Tonkin), but for brevity's sake we use the term “colony” throughout.

13 Computed from Annual Statement of the Sea-Borne Trade and Navigation of British India (Calcutta: Superintendent of Government Printing, India), for the relevant years. Figures up to 1937 include Burma.

14 This was not invariably the case with modern technologies: typewriters, for example, came largely from the United States.

15 Bertho-Lavenir Cathérine, La roue et le stylo: Comment nous sommes devenus touristes (Paris: Odile Jacob, 1999); Harp Stephen L., Marketing Michelin: Advertising and Cultural Identity in Twentieth-Century France (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001).

16 On the French imperial customs regime, see Brocheux Pierre and Hémery Daniel, Indochine: La colonisation ambiguë, 1858–1954 (Paris: La Découverte, 2001 [1994]), 134–75; Murray Martin J., The Development of Capitalism in Colonial Indochina, 1870–1940 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980); André Dumarest, “Fiscalité en Indochine 1920–1953,” 1953, Centre des Archives d'Outre-Mer (hereafter CAOM), Aix-en-Provence, Agence FOM, carton 222, dossier 256.

17 “Rapport au sujet des bicyclettes importées en Indochine,” 9 Aug. 1926, Vietnam National Archives Centre II (hereafter VNA-II), Ho Chi Minh City, Goucoch IB.30/035 (6).

18 For a typical report on the informal economy, see “La concurrence chinoise menace l'économie indochinoise,” Le Courrier de Haïphong, 12 Oct. 1934.

19 “L'Opinion du marché,” Le Courrier de Haïphong, 7 July 1938.

20 “Rapport au sujet des bicyclettes,” 29 Nov. 1926, VNA-II, Goucoch IB.30/035 (6).

21 “L'automobile en Indochine,” Les Annales Coloniales, Nov. 1929.

22 Report on the Industrial Survey of the Ludhiana District (Lahore: Superintendent, Government Printing, Punjab, 1942), 73.

23 Ministry of Commerce, Government of India, Report of the Indian Tariff Board on the Continuation of Protection to the Bicycle Industry (Delhi: Manager of Publications, 1949), 8. About forty-four thousand bicycles were being made in India by 1945: Report of the Indian Tariff Board on the Bicycles Industry (Bombay: Government Central Press, 1946), 4.

24 “Sen-Raleigh Industries of India Limited: New 30-Acre Factory at Asansol,” c. 1950, Raleigh Archives, Country Records Office, Nottingham, DD/RN/11/1/15. Tube Investments of Birmingham established a rival factory near Madras in 1951, making one hundred thousand bicycles a year under the name “Hercules-India.”

25 Advertisements for “Hind Cycles,” stressing their Indian manufacture, appeared in the government magazine The March of India, in 1954–1955, with claims that a third of the 2.1 million bicycles in use in India by that date were made by this Bombay firm.

26 Letter, Manager of the Maison Berset in Hanoi to the office of the Governor-General of Indochina, 16 May 1931, CAOM, Fonds du Gouvernement Général de l'Indochine, dossier 41353. A similar prejudice existed in India against both Japanese- and Indian-made machines. Harold Bowden, in “The Past Sixty Years” (undated typescript, Raleigh Archives, DDRN 7/2/12), dismissed Japanese bicycles in the 1920s and 1930s as “merely a cheap imitation of British designs.” For prejudice against Indian-made bicycles, see Report of the Indian Tariff Board (1946), 5.

27 An advertisement in the Allahabad Pioneer of 15 March 1905 (p. 6) offered a men's and a women's bicycle for sale without restriction, but added with respect to a pony and trap, “No native need apply.”

28 On the advertising of bicycles in the Indian press, see Choudhury Ranabir Ray, Early Calcutta Advertisements, 1875–1925 (Bombay: Nachiketa Publications, 1992). For the incorporation of the motif of the bicycle, along with sewing machines, cars, and airplanes, into domestic decoration, see Cooper Ilay, The Painted Towns of Shekhawati (Ahmedabad: Mapin Publishing, 1994).

29 “Xe đạp dành cho người Annam,” Tiếng Dân, 12 Apr. 1932. On the increasingly complex, cross-cultural advertising strategies employed by Western firms in the colonies by the 1930s, see Burke Timothy, Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women: Commodification, Consumption, and Cleanliness in Modern Zimbabwe (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996); Jain Kajri, “New Visual Technologies in the Bazaar: Reterritorialisation of the Sacred in Popular Print Culture,” Sarai Reader 03: Shaping Technologies (Delhi: Sarai Programme, 2003), 4457.

30 See any edition of Phụ Nữ Tân Van or Thần Chung for 1929; and advertisements in the pamphlet Vu Dung Thi-Le, Đánh máy chữ [Using typewriters] (Hanoi: Thuy Ky, 1938).

31 See “Khoa học thường thức: xe đạp” [Science basics: bicycles], Phụ Nữ Tân Văn, 26 Dec. 1926. This series ran for several years and featured many different technologies.

32 See the advertisements for bicycles by the British-owned stores Addisons and Spencers in Madras Mail, 2 Jan. 1896: 12.

33 On the outcome of a legal dispute concerning the sale of cheap imported bicycles between Sen and Pandit and Oakes & Co., see Calcutta Weekly Notes 24 (1919): 155–72.

34 In 1896, a Singer “A” bicycle, costing the princely sum of Rs 260 in cash, could be purchased for seven monthly payments of Rs 39-8-0: Madras Mail, 2 Jan. 1896: 33. In the nineteenth century, the Indian rupee was worth 2 shillings (a tenth of a pound sterling); by the mid-1920s its value had fallen to about 1 shilling and 6 pence.

35 Like setting up a rice-mill, opening a bicycle shop became an important manifestation of local entrepreneurship in small-town and village India by the 1960s, including among castes and communities not traditionally engaged in trade: Dandekar Hemlata C., Men to Bombay, Women at Home: Urban Influence on Sugao Village, Deccan, Maharashtra, India, 1942–1982 (Ann Arbor: Michigan Papers on South and Southeast Asia, 1986), 42, 192, 197.

36 Asylum Press Almanack and Directory of Madras and Southern India, 1928 (Madras: Chakravarthi, 1928), A-11. Madras had forty cycle importers, dealers, and repairers (ibid., 965), while Delhi by 1935 had sixteen, either near Chandni Chowk in the old city or around Connaught Place: Delhi Directory, 1935 (n.p.), 62.

37 The Raleigh Archives contain a photograph, perhaps from the 1940s, of cycle-dealers displaying adult and children's bicycles on a street in Gwalior in central India: Turning Back the Pages of Raleigh Cycles of Nottingham (Nottingham: Nottinghamshire County Council, 2008), 25.

38 Annuaire de Hanoï, 1932 (n.d.). For an early (and sardonic) comment by a French colon on the multiple Vietnamese uses of the pavement, see “Cyclistes nocturnes,” Avenir du Tonkin, 24 July 1908.

39 Two such schools in Saigon, the Ecole pratique d'industrie and the Ecole des mécaniciens asiatiques, had great difficulty retaining students for the full term of their studies. After a short time there, Vietnamese pupils absconded to begin their own careers, considering themselves sufficiently educated to become mechanics. Reports also complained of truancy problems among students at the Ecole de Haïphong: one such report is “Ecole des mécaniciens asiatiques, examens de passage et de sortie,” 30 June 1923, VNA-II, VI.A/8/316.

40 Report on the Municipal Administration of Calcutta, 1906–07, pt. III, 17; Administrative Report of the Corporation of Madras, 1914–15, app. V, 202.

41 Government of India, Home (Public), F 115, 1925, National Archives of India, New Delhi. In the 1940s the Posts and Telegraphs Department was the largest government purchaser of bicycles: Report of the Indian Tariff Board (1949), 3.

42 “Etat de proposition d'attribution de l'indemnité de bicyclette,” 7 Mar. 1950, VNA-II, VB.55/166.

43 Report of the Police Administration in the United Provinces, 1918, 22.

44 Report of the Police Administration in the Punjab, 1936, 9.

45 Report on the Administration of the Police of the Madras Presidency, 1937, 55; 1938, 58. On cycle thefts and detection, see idem., 1933, 51; 1939, 54; 1948, 35.

46 Annual Report on the Police of the City of Bombay, 1940, 5.

47 “Les voleurs de bicyclettes,” L'Echo Annamite, 9 July 1921.

48 Not all were necessarily Indian. See Molony J. Chartres, A Book of South India (London: Methuen, 1926), 2829, for a Dalmatian Slav, originally a diver on the city harbor works, who became a bicycle repairer and seller.

49 In the 1920s a Calcutta firm offered for sale a locally made “patent water cycle.” The only practical use for this machine appears to have been duck-shooting: Bombay Chronicle, 24 Dec. 1926: 11.

50 Leonard Woolf relates how, around 1910, as a colonial official in Ceylon, he visited a hill station on the island: a servant carried his bicycle up to a mountain peak, and Woolf freewheeled downhill for miles before being met in the plains below by another servant with his horse: Woolf L., An Autobiography, Volume 1, 1880–1911 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), 233.

51 Cox Edmund, My Thirty Years in India (London: Mills and Boon, 1909), 238.

52 Slater Gilbert, Southern India: Its Political and Economic Problems (London: Allen and Unwin, 1936), 40, 50, 54, 93.

53 Le Blanc Robin M., Bicycle Citizens: The Political World of the Japanese Housewife (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999). In Thompson's Edward novel An Indian Day (London: Alfred A. Knopf, 1927), only a missionary, John Findlay, rides a bicycle in the countryside; the Indian Civil Service officer, Vincent Hamar, cycles from home to the magistrate's court, making longer journeys by car (ibid., 79–80, 165–67, 237).

54 Owens Patricia, ed., An American Memsahib in India: The Letters and Diaries of Irene Mott Bose, 1920–1951 (Putney, London: British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia, 2006), 177, 179.

55 Scott Paul, The Jewel in the Crown (London: Granada, 1973 [1966]), 34, 41, 152–53, 447–48.

56 “L'entrainement du touriste à bicyclette,” L'Avenir du Tonkin, 14 July 1907.

57 “Les statuts de notre organization,” Bulletin de l'Union indigène du cyclisme (Hanoi, 1912): n.p. [This was the first issue of a journal that, as was common, never saw a second issue.]

58 Cycling was by no means the only sport conceived as a means of individual and national renovation and awakening. See Larcher-Goscha Agathe, “Sports, colonialisme et identité nationales: Premières approches du “corps à corps colonial” en Indochine (1918–1945),” in Bancel Nicolas, Denis Daniel, and Fates Youssef, eds., De l'Indochine à l'Algérie: La jeunesse en mouvement des deux côtés du miroir colonial, 1940–1962 (Paris: La Découverte, 2003), 1531; Jennings Eric T., Vichy in the Tropics: Pétain's National Revolution in Madagascar, Guadeloupe, and Indochina, 1940–1944 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), 130–61; Marr David G., Vietnamese Tradition on Trial, 1920–1945 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), 7982.

59 For many middle-class Indians the bicycle was simply a cheap and convenient means of getting to and from work. See, for example, Felton Monica, A Child Widow's Story (New Delhi: Katha, 2003 [1966]), 53.

60 Bagchi Mani, Sudhir Kumar Sen: Jiban-charit (Calcutta: Academy Printing Works, 1964), 1920. We thank Indira Chowdhury for translating this Bengali biography.

61 On this image and attempts to counter it, see Rosselli John, “The Self-Image of Effeteness: Physical Education and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Bengal,” Past & Present 86 (1980): 121–48.

62 Darukhanawala H. D., Parsis and Sports and Kindred Subjects (Bombay: H. D. Darukhanawala, 1935), 372–73. For Parsi cyclists in New York, see Bombay Chronicle, 2 June 1938: 4.

63 Kulke Eckehard, The Parsees in India: A Minority as Agent of Social Change (Delhi: Vikas, 1974), 110.

64 “Discussion with G. Ramachandra,” 21–22 Oct. 1924, Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 25 (New Delhi: Government of India, Publications Division, 1967), 247–55; Ray Prafulla Chandra, Life and Experiences of a Bengali Chemist, vol. 1 (Calcutta: Chuckervertty, Chatterjee & Co, 1932), 404–48.

65 Quỳnh Phạm, “Mười ngày ở Huế [Ten days in Huế],” Nam Phong 10 (1918): 198222, quote 204; “Du lịch là gì? [What is tourism?],” Tiếng Dân, 24 Aug. 1927. Quỳnh's rebuke was, characteristically, delivered in the course of a travelogue recounting a car journey from Hanoi to Huế.

66 “Les jeux olympiques de Hué,” France-Annam, 4 Mar. 1938; “Tuần lễ thể thao ở Huế [Huế's week-long sports festival],” Tràng An Báo, 4 Mar. 1938.

67 “Vì sao Trung-kỳ ta không có ngôi sao thể thao? [Why does our Central Province not have sports stars?],” Tràng An Báo, 18 Mar. 1936.

68 Edgerton David, The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 (London: Profile Books, 2006).

69 E.g., Vân Thế Hội, “Parlons un peu du coolie-xe,” L'Echo Annamite, 10 July 1920; “Vấn đề xe kéo [The rickshaw problem],” Tràng An Báo, 20 June 1937. The most extensive attempt to eliminate hand-pulled rickshaws was that of the “Commission de suppression des pousse-pousse en Cochinchine”: see Report, 19 Sept. 1937, VNA-II, Goucoch, VI.A/8/186.

70 On the growing use of cycles and cycle-rickshaws in village and small-town India by the 1970s, see Wiser William H. and Wiser Charlotte Viall, Behind Mud Walls, 1930–1960 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), 244–45.

71 “The Barber's Trade Union,” in Anand Mulk Raj, Selected Short Stories (New Delhi: Penguin, 2006), 716.

72 Bagchi, Sudhir Kumar Sen, 89.

73 Dube Siddharth, In the Land of Poverty: Memoirs of an Indian Family, 1947–97 (London: Zed Books, 1998), 1314; Freeman James M., Scarcity and Opportunity in an Indian Village (Menlo Park, Calif.: Cummings Publishing Co, 1977), 99100. Karen B. Leonard, in her 1962 fieldwork at a village twenty miles from Delhi, noted an “untouchable” villager who cycled daily to the capital to work as a sweeper (personal communication with David Arnold, 13 May 2010).

74 Gough Kathleen, Rural Society in Southeast India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 391. There are parallels here to the way in which horse riding was once considered a privilege confined to Indian elites, and hence its adoption by subaltern groups a mark of defiance: Guha Ranajit, Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983), 6768.

75 E.g., Bijker, Of Bicycles, 40.

76 Dandekar, Men to Bombay, 42.

77 Rohner Ronald P. and Chaki-Sircar Manjusri, Women and Children in a Bengali Village (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1988), 47.

78 Bijker, Of Bicycles, 45.

79 In India, it was believed dangerous for young women to ride bicycles for fear they would lose their virginity by rupturing their hymens: Gough, Rural Society, 170.

80 “Em gái hiện đại tập xe đạp [A modern young girl learns to cycle],” Tràng An Báo, 30 Apr. 1935; “Con gái tập xe đạp ở Nghệ An [Girls learning to cycle in Nghệ An],” Tiếng Dân, 30 May 1928. See del Testa's David analysis of woodcuts in “Automobiles and Anomie in French Colonial Indochina,” in Robson Kathryn and Yee Jennifer, eds., France and “Indochina”: Cultural Representations (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2005), 6377. On the bicycle as an element in the global iconography of the “modern girl,” see Weinbaum Alys Eve et al. , eds., The Modern Girl around the World: Consumption, Modernity and Globalization (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), 124, 147–73, 194–219.

81 Bảo Hòa wrote candidly about women in Vietnamese society: “Vấn đề phụ nữ ở nước ta [The woman question in our country],” Tiếng Dân, 26 Oct. 1928. For recent work on her, see Hy Trương Duy, ed., Nữ sĩ Huỳnh Thị Bảo Hòa: Người phụ nữ viết tiểu thuyết đầu tiên [Female artist Huỳnh Thị Bảo Hòa: the first female novelist] (Đà Nẵng: Nhà Xuất Bản Văn Học, 2002).

82 See Garnier's public statements in Procès-verbal, 11 Feb. 1920, VNA-II, Goucoch VI.A/8/291.

83 Report of the Indian Police Commission, 1902–03 (Simla: Government Central Printing Office, 1903), 56.

84 Such changes were not unopposed. In 1923, when the Madras government decided to replace the Rs 25 horse allowance for police sub-inspectors with a Rs 5 bicycle allowance, the inspector-general complained, in vain, that this would be “a severe blow to the efficiency and well-being” of rural sub-inspectors: Report of the Administration of the Police of the Madras Presidency, 1923, 7.

85 Madras Judicial, Government Order 47, 12 Jan. 1912, Tamil Nadu Archives, Chennai.

86 Quarterly Indian Army List for January 1, 1911, 539, 554, 572, 577, 578. Most, if not all, of these cycle units had disappeared by 1920. The rationale for the use of bicycles as a “useful accessory to modern warfare” is discussed in India, Home (Municipalities), 1902, nos. 31–33, National Archives of India.

87 Hitchcock R. H., A History of the Malabar Rebellion, 1921 (Madras: Superintendent, Government Press, 1925), 3738.

88 For two compelling pieces of reportage on the everyday realities of technology in the local workings of state power, see “La poste rurale en Annam,” L'Avenir du Tonkin, 19–21 July 1907; “Le problème de la poste en pleine compagne,” L'Echo Annamite, 31 May 1921. Also “Compte-rendu sur l'organisation de la poste rurale dans le Quảng Trị,” 4 Sept. 1931, Vietnam National Archives Centre IV (hereafter VNA-IV), Đà Lạt, Résidence Supérieure d'Annam, dossier 2523; Report by the director of the PTT in Nghệ An submitted to the Résident Supérieur d'Annam, 11 Nov. 1929, VNA-IV, Résidence Supérieure d'Annam, dossier 2775; Letter concerning the postal network in southern Annam, director of the PTT in Tuy Hòa to the Résident Supérieur, 16 Oct. 1933, VNA-IV, Résidence Supérieure d'Annam, dossier 2899.

89 On the use of this concept in the context of modern India, see Fuller C. J. and Bénéï Véronique, eds., The Everyday State and Society in Modern India (London: Hurst, 2001); Corbridge Stuart, Williams Glyn, Srivastava Manoj, and Véron René, Seeing the State: Governance and Governmentality in India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

90 Administrative Report of the Corporation of Madras, 1906–07, app. I, table IV-F, p. 81.

91 Administrative Report of the Corporation of Madras, 1931–32, 16; 1932–33, 18; 1934–35, 16.

92 See letters to this effect from various constables in the file titled “Accidents d'autos voitures administratives: Voitures immatriculées dans autres pays circulés en Annam. Plaques de bicyclettes,” 1934, VNA-IV, Résidence Supérieure d'Annam, dossier 3144.

93 Unfair taxes on bicycles and other everyday goods deemed to be “luxury” commodities by the authorities feature repeatedly in the “wishes” collected from ordinary people, many of them rural, as part of the Commission Guernut, an extensive inquiry in 1937 into the lives of imperial subjects under the Popular Front government. “Voeux des peoples,” 1937, Centre des Archives d'Outre-Mer, Commission Guernut, carton 22, dossier Ba. See also Long Ngo Vinh, Before the Revolution: The Vietnamese Peasants under the French (New York: Columbia University Press, 1973), 6181.

94 See the minutes of a commission responsible for considering such a scheme in Saigon in 1922: Procès-verbal, 13 Apr. 1922, VNA-II, Goucoch, VI.A/8/303 (1–2).

95 For example, see the description of accidents in: “La route mandarine de Tourane à Hué,” Bulletin des Amis du Vieux Hué, Jan.–Mar. 1920: 1–135; “Vấn đề giao thông [The traffic problem],” Tràng An Báo, 20 June 1937; “Tai nạn nông thôn [Rural accident],” Tiếng Dân, 15 Oct. 1931.

96 Newspapers with anti-colonial proclivities such as Ánh Sáng [Light] used nearly every accident to criticize elite abuses of authority, from the emperor Bảo Đại to the Résident Supérieur of Annam. This was especially true after the emperor critically wounded a poor old farmer while speeding along a rural road on the way from his villa in the hill-station Đà Lạt to the imperial capital Huế. See “Đức Bảo-Đại cho ông Hồ-đắc-Cung 300p [His Highness Bảo Đại gives old man Hồ Đắc Cung $300],” Ánh Sáng, 23 May 1935; “Xe ô-tô đức Bảo-đại cán một ông già [His Highness Bảo Đại's car runs over an old man],” Ánh Sáng, 14 Sept. 1935. Colon and more moderate newspapers tended to report accidents while lampooning ignorant poor and rural road users. See “La circulation à Hanoi,” Le Courrier d'Haïphong, 10 July 1887; “Voeux d'un automobiliste,” L'Avenir du Tonkin, 22 Apr. 1912; “Les chemins dans nos compagnes,” L'Echo Annamite, 18 Nov. 1920.

97 Report on the Administration of the Police of the Madras Presidency, 1937, 58.

98 Pedestrians and cyclists were held responsible for nearly 50 percent of the accidents in the Madras Presidency in 1937, according to the inspector-general of police, “and the necessity for instilling road sense” had become “a very urgent need” (ibid., 27).

99 Report on the Administration of the Police of the Madras Presidency, 1939, 63.

100 See the report on “Mesures à prendre pour éviter les accidents survenus sur les routes du Tonkin,” 6 Jan. 1937, Vietnam National Archives Centre I (hereafter VNA-I), Hanoi, Résidence Supérieure du Tonkin, dossier 4243. See also the file from several years earlier with letters from the Société de Secours Mutuels des chauffeurs indigènes en Cochinchine demanding a lowering of the license fee and a reduction in the number of licenses: Letter, president of the society to the Governor-General, 9 Jan. 1934, CAOM, Fonds du Gouvernement Général de l'Indochine, dossier 45683. By way of comparison, in that year a laborer of the Distilleries de l'Indochine in Hanoi made $0.35 per day, a middling Vietnamese functionary in that company earned $37 per month and a room in the Hôtel de la Rotonde in Hanoi cost $3 per night. Prices respectively taken from tables of representative wages in Mairie de Hanoi, dossiers 3715 and 3001; and a table concerning the cost of living in Hanoi, Résidence Supérieure du Tonkin, dossier 41355, all VNA-I.

101 E.g., “Các điều lệ đi trên đường [Traffic regulations],” Trung Kỳ Nam Giới, 15 Nov. 1931.

102 Postal note from the office of the Résident Supérieur du Tonkin to all provincial governors, 29 Mar. 1937, VNA-I, Résidence Supérieure du Tonkin, dossier 4246.

103 Việc Giao-thông trong thành phố. Những điều cần thiết cho trẻ em đi xe đạp trong đường phố [City traffic: some indispensable facts for children cycling in city streets] (Hanoi: Tòa Thị Chính, 1951). The persistent attempts to educate children as well as adults in India in “road sense” are evident from the Illustrated Weekly of India, for example the issues of 9 August 1936, and 2 January 1938.

104 Another example is the camera; see Pinney Christopher, The Coming of Photography in India (London: British Library, 2008).

105 See Lynch Owen M., The Politics of Untouchability: Social Mobility and Social Change in a City of India (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969), for a photograph, facing page 98, showing a portrait of B. R. Ambedkar mounted on a bicycle. The role of modern technologies—the motor-car, telephone, and camera, as well as the bicycle—has hardly been noticed in the conduct of political agitation in India, but there are suggestive indications in Krishnadas , Seven Months with Mahatma Gandhi: Being an Inside View of the Indian Non-Co-operation Movement of 1921–22 (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1951), 122–53.

106 Statesman (Calcutta), 29 Dec. 1928.

107 Sanghatana Stree Shakti, “We Were Making History”: Life Stories of Women in the Telengana People's Struggle (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1989), 106, 181–97.

108 Chen Patrick, “The Bicycle in War: Vietnam 1945–1975,” in Ritchie Andrew and van der Plas Rob, eds., Cycle History 12: Proceedings of the Twelfth International Cycling History Conference, San Remo/Pigna, Italy, 25–28 September 2001 (San Francisco: Cycle Publishing and Van der Plas Publications, 2002), 7681.

109 Report of the Indian Tariff Board (1946), 3.

Acknowledgments: The authors wish to thank the Economic and Social Research Council in the United Kingdom for the research grant “Everyday Technology in Monsoon Asia, 1880–1960” that made researching and writing this article possible, as well as the anonymous readers for Comparative Studies in Society and History for their valuable comments.

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
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