Bảo Đại

Bảo Đại (Vietnamese: [ɓa᷉ːw ɗâːjˀ], Hán tự: , 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, the last ruling family of Vietnam.[2] From 1926 to 1945, he was emperor of Annam, which was then a protectorate in French Indochina, covering the central two thirds of the present-day Vietnam. Bảo Đại ascended the throne in 1932.

Emperor Bảo Đại
Emperor of Vietnam
Reign8 January 1926 – 25 August 1945
PredecessorKhải Định
SuccessorMonarchy abolished
Chief of State of Vietnam
Reign13 June 1949 – 26 October 1955
PredecessorPosition created
Nguyễn Văn Xuân
(as head of the provisional government)
SuccessorNgô Đình Diệm
(as president of the Republic of South Vietnam)
BornNguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy ()
(1913-10-22)22 October 1913
Doan-Trang-Vien Palace, Huế, French Indochina
Died30 July 1997(1997-07-30) (aged 83)
Val-de-Grâce, Paris, France
(m. 1934⁠–⁠1963)

Hoàng Phi Ánh
Bùi Mộng Điệp
Christiane Bloch-Carcenac
(m. 1972⁠–⁠1997)
Bảo Long (1934–2007), Phương Mai (1937–2021), Phương Liên (1938), Phương Dung (1942), Bảo Thắng (1943–2017).
Phương Thảo (1946), Phương Minh (1949–2012), Bảo Ân (1953), Bảo Hoàng (1954–1955), Bảo Sơn (1957–1987), Phương Từ (1955), Patrick-Édouard Bloch-Carcenac (1958).
Era dates
Bảo Đại () (1926–1945)
HouseNguyễn Phúc
FatherKhải Định
MotherHoàng Thị Cúc
ReligionRoman Catholic
Mahayana Buddhism
SignatureEmperor Bảo Đại's signature

The Japanese ousted the Vichy French administration in March 1945 and then ruled through Bảo Đại, who renamed his country "Vietnam". He abdicated in August 1945 when Japan surrendered. From 1949 to 1955, Bảo Đại was the chief of state of the State of Vietnam (South Vietnam). Viewed as a puppet ruler, Bảo Đại was criticized for being too closely associated with France and spending much of his time outside Vietnam. He was eventually ousted in a referendum in 1955 by Prime Minister Ngô Đình Diệm, who was supported by the United States.

Early lifeEdit

Bảo Đại was born on 22 October 1913 and given the name of Prince Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy (阮福永瑞) in the Palace of Doan-Trang-Vien, part of the compound of the Purple Forbidden City in Huế, the capital of Vietnam. He was later 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 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.[citation needed]

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. On 8 January 1926, he was made the emperor after his father's death and took the era name Bảo Đại ("Protector of Grandeur" or "Keeper of Greatness").[3][4] He did not yet ascend to the throne and returned to France to continue his studies.[4]


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 Catholic family. She was subsequently given the name Nam Phương. The couple had five children: Crown Prince Bảo Long (4 January 1936 – 28 July 2007), Princess Phương Mai (1 August 1937 – 16 January 2021), Princess Phương Liên (born 3 November 1938), Princess Phuong Dung (born 5 February 1942), and Prince Bảo Thắng (9 December 1943 – 15 March 2017). Although Bao Dai later had additional children with other women, these are the only ones listed in the clan genealogy.[1]


Nam Phương was granted the title of empress in 1945. The Vietnamese public thought highly of her and resented the various women who made her jealous. By one count, Bảo Đại had relationships with eight women and 13 children. Those named "Phương" are daughters, while those named "Bảo" are sons.[5]

Name Title Issue Note
Nguyễn Hữu Thị Lan Empress Nam Phương Crowned Prince Bảo Long (1934–2007)

Princess Phương Mai (1937–2021)

Princess Phương Liên (b. 1938)

Princess Phương Dung (b. 1942)

Prince Bảo Thắng (1943–2017)

The emperor's first wife. "Nam Phương" translates as "southern virtue."
Bùi Mộng Điệp Thứ phi (secondary consort) Phương Thảo (b. 1946)

Bảo Hoàng (1954–1955)

Bảo Sơn (1957–1987)

Called thứ phi phương Bắc ("virtuous northern concubine").
Lý Lệ Hà Mistress Won Vietnam's first beauty contest in 1938 in Hà Đông. She publicly dated Bao Dai in Hanoi in 1946. The couple later lived together in Hong Kong, according to her account.[6]
Variously called Huang Xiaolan, Hoàng Tiểu Lan, Jenny Woong, and Trần Nỷ Mistress Phương An Mixed Chinese-Vietnamese Hong Kong actress who had an affair with Bao Dai 1946 when he was in Hong Kong.[5]
Lê Thị Phi Ánh Thứ phi Phương Minh (1949–2012)

Bảo Ân (b. 1953)

Sister-in-law of Prime Minister Phan Văn Giáo
Vicky Mistress Phương Từ (1955) This daughter by a French woman has "a half European Asian beauty."[5]
Christiane Bloch-Carcenac Mistress Patrick-Edouard Bloch-Carcenac (b. 1958) Affair occurred in 1957–1970
Monique Baudot Imperial princess

Empress Thái Phương

Second wife. She was a French citizen whom Bao Dai married in 1972.

Independence and abdicationEdit

In 1940, during the second World War, coinciding with their ally Nazi Germany's invasion of France, Imperial Japan took over 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 communist Hồ Chí Minh) aimed to take power in a free Vietnam. Due to his popular political stand against the French and the 1945 famine, 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.[7] Bảo Đại was appointed the "supreme advisor" to Hồ's Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) in Hanoi, which asserted its independence on 2 September 1945. The DRV was then ousted by the newly formed French Fourth Republic in November 1946.[8]

Imperial standard


Return to power and Indochina WarEdit

Bảo Đại spent nearly a year as "supreme advisor" to the DRV, during which period Vietnam descended into armed conflict between rival Vietnamese factions and the French. He left this post in 1946 and moved to Hong Kong, where the French and Việt Minh both attempted unsuccessfully to solicit him for political support.[9]

Eventually a coalition of Vietnamese anti-communists (including future South Vietnamese leader Ngô Đình Diệm and members of political/religious groups such as the Cao Dai, Hòa Hảo, and VNQDĐ) formed a National Union and declared to support Bảo Đại on the condition he would seek independence for Vietnam. This persuaded him to reject Việt Minh overtures and enter into negotiations with the French. On 7 December 1947, Bảo Đại signed the first of the Ha Long Bay Agreements with France. Despite ostensibly committing France to Vietnamese independence, it was considered minimally binding and transferred no actual authority to Vietnam. The agreement was promptly criticized by National Union members, including Diệm. In a possible attempt to escape the resulting political tension, Bảo Đại travelled to Europe and commenced on a four-month pleasure tour which earned him the sobriquet "night club emperor". After persistent efforts by the French, Bảo Đại was persuaded to return from Europe and sign a second Ha Long Bay Agreement on 5 June 1948. This contained similarly weak promises for Vietnamese independence and had as little success as the first agreement. Bảo Đại once again travelled to Europe whilst warfare in Vietnam continued to escalate.[9]

After months of negotiations with French President Vincent Auriol, he finally signed the Élysée Accords on 9 March 1949, which led to the establishment of the State of Vietnam with Bảo Đại as Chief of State. However, the country was still only partially autonomous, with France initially retaining effective control of the army and foreign relations. Bảo Đại himself stated in 1950: "What they call a Bảo Đại solution turned out to be just a French solution... the situation in Indochina is getting worse every day".[9]

As Diệm and other hardcore nationalists were disappointed in the lack of autonomy and refused high government posts, Bảo Đại mainly filled his government with wealthy figures strongly connected to France. He then spent his own time in the resort towns of Da Lat, Nha Trang, and Buôn Ma Thuột, largely avoiding the process of governing. All this contributed to his reputation as a French puppet and a rise in popular support for the Việt Minh, whose armed insurgency against the French-backed regime was developing into a full-fledged civil war. Nonetheless, in 1950 he attended a series of conferences in Pau, France where he pressed the French for further independence. The French granted some minor concessions to the Vietnamese, which caused a mixed reaction on both sides.[9]

In addition to the increasing unpopularity of the Bảo Đại government, the communist victory in China in 1949 also led to a further revival of the fortunes of the Việt Minh. When China and the Soviet Union recognized the DRV government, the United States reacted by extending diplomatic recognition to Bảo Đại's government in March 1950. This and 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. Despite this, the war between the French colonial forces and the Việt Minh started to go badly for the French, culminating in a major victory for the Việt Minh at Điện Biên Phủ. This led to the negotiating of a 1954 peace deal between the French and the Việt Minh, known as the Geneva Accords, which partitioned Vietnam at the 17th parallel. The north side was given to the DRV, with the State of Vietnam receiving the south. Bảo Đại remained "Head of State" of South Vietnam, but moved to Paris and appointed Ngô Đình Diệm as his prime minister.[9][10]

Second removal from powerEdit

At first, Ngô Đình Diệm exercised no influence over South Vietnam: the Việt Minh still had de facto control of somewhere between sixty and ninety percent of the countryside (by French estimates), whilst the rest was dominated by the various religious sects. Meanwhile, the new capital of Saigon was under the total control of criminal group Bình Xuyên. According to Colonel Lansdale, it had paid Bảo Đại a "staggering sum" for control of local prostitution and gambling and of Saigon's police force.[9]

Regardless, Diệm's forces embarked on a campaign against the Bình Xuyên, with fighting breaking out in the streets on 29 March 1955. In an attempt to protect his clients, Bảo Đại ordered Diệm to travel to France, but he was disobeyed and Diệm eventually succeeded in pushing his opponents out of the city. Using a divide and conquer strategy, Diệm then employed a mixture of force and bribery to sway the remaining religious sects to his side.[9]

Now with a broad range of support, a new Popular Revolutionary Committee (formed by Diệm's brother Ngô Đình Nhu) was able to call for a referendum to remove Bảo Đại and establish a republic with Diệm as president.[9] The campaign leading up to the referendum was punctuated by personal attacks against the former emperor, whose supporters had no way to refute them since campaigning for Bảo Đại was forbidden.[11]

In any case, the 23 October referendum was widely condemned as being fraudulent, with the official results showing an implausible result of 98.9% in favor of a republic, while there was also evidence of widespread ballot box stuffing: the number of votes for a republic exceeded the total number of registered voters by 155,025 in Saigon, while the total number of votes exceeded the total number of registered voters by 449,084, and the number of votes for a republic exceeded the total number of registered voters by 386,067.[11]

Bảo Đại was removed from power, with Diệm declaring himself president of the new Republic of Vietnam on 26 October 1955.

Life in exileEdit

In 1957, during his visit to Alsace region, he met Christiane Bloch-Carcenac with whom he had an affair for several years. The relationship with Bloch-Carcenac resulted in the birth of his last child, Patrick-Edward Bloch-Carcenac, who still lives in Alsace in France.[12][13]

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.[citation needed]

As a result of these meetings, Bảo Đại publicly spoke out against the presence of American troops in 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 California and Texas 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.[14]

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

Bảo Đại died in a military hospital in Paris, France, on 30 July 1997. He was interred in the Cimetière de Passy.


In popular cultureEdit

  • Bảo Đại was portrayed by actor Huỳnh Anh Tuấn in the 2004 Vietnamese miniseries Ngọn nến Hoàng cung (A Candle in the Imperial Palace)[citation needed].
  • On 13 May 2017, a watch owned by Bảo Đại, a unique Rolex ref. 6062 triple calendar moonphase watch made for him while he was working in Geneva, became one of the most expensive watches ever sold, selling for a then record price of US$5,060,427 at a Phillips auction in Geneva.[15][16]

Bảo Đại coinsEdit

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 văn inscription on the reverse, medium cast piece with no reverse inscription, and small struck piece. All were issued in 1933.


  • In 1945 when the Japanese colonel in charge of the Hue garrison told Bảo Đại that he had (in line with the orders of the Allied commander) taken measures ensuring the security of the Imperial Palace and those within it against a possible Việt Minh coup, Bảo Đại dismissed the protection declaring "We do not wish a foreign army to spill the blood of our people."[17]
  • He explained his abdication in 1945 saying "We would prefer to be a citizen of an independent country rather than Emperor of an enslaved one."[17]
  • When, after World War II, France attempted to counter Hồ Chí Minh's popularity and gain the support of the U.S. by creating a puppet government with him, he said "What they call a Bảo Đại solution turns out to be just a French solution."[18]
  • In a rare public statement from France in 1972, Bảo Đại appealed to the people of Vietnam for national reconciliation, saying "The time has come to put an end to the fratricidal war and to recover at last peace and accord."[19]


National honoursEdit

Foreign honoursEdit

Reign symbolsEdit

Symbols created and / or used during the reign of Bảo Đại
Symbol Image Description
Emperor of the Nguyễn dynasty
8 imperial seals created for Emperor Bảo Đại.[20]   See Seals of the Nguyễn dynasty.
Personal standard of emperors Khải Định and Bảo Đại   Flag ratio: 2:3.
Personal coat of arms of Bảo Đại.   The coat of arms of the Nguyễn dynasty, but with the Hán (Chinese) characters "保大" written on the paper scroll.
Bảo Đại Thông Bảo
  The last cash coins issued by a government in both Vietnam and the world.
Bảo Đại Bảo Giám
  A series of silver coins bearing his reign era.
Chief of State of Vietnam
Seal as the chief of state of Vietnam.   A seal with the inscriptions "Quốc-gia Việt-Nam", "Đức Bảo Đại - Quốc-trưởng" written in Latin script and "保大國長" in seal script.
Personal standard   Flag ratio: 2:3. Influences:  


  1. ^ a b Bao Dai had two sons and three daughters, according to the genealogy of the Nyugen Phuc clan. Only his children by Nam Phuong are listed. His obituary in The Independent says he had two sons and two daughters while the New York Times says two sons and four daughters. (''Nguyễn Phúc tộc thế phả, 1995, p. 330).
  2. ^ 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"
  3. ^ Chapman, Jessica M. (September 2006). "Staging democracy: South Vietnam's 1955 referendum to depose Bao Dai". Diplomatic History. 30 (4): 687. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7709.2006.00573.x.
  4. ^ a b Currey, Cecil B. (2011). Tucker, Spencer C. (ed.). The encyclopedia of the Vietnam War : a political, social, and military history (2nd ed.). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. pp. 94-95. ISBN 9781851099610.
  5. ^ a b c Viet, Dan, "vua Bảo Dại co bao nhieu vọ con?," Nghệ Thuật Xưa
  6. ^ "'Gái quê' thành vũ nữ đa tình nức tiếng", Người đưa tin, January 17, 2013.
  7. ^ Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History p162 "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."
  8. ^ 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."
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h United States. Department of Defense (1971). The Pentagon papers : the Defense Department history of United States decisionmaking on Vietnam / 1. 1. Mike Gravel. Boston: Beacon Pr. ISBN 0-8070-0527-4. OCLC 643945604.
  10. ^ Interview with Ngô Đình Luyến. WGBH Media Library and Archives. 31 January 1979.
  11. ^ a b Direct Democracy
  12. ^ oral communication (Patrick-Edward Bloch-Carcenac) and sections of the "Dernières Nouvelles d'Alsace" (D.N.A), n°. 264 of 10 nov. 1992 and from 7 August 2007.
  13. ^ "RENAISSANCE DE HUE – Site de maguy tran – pinterville" (in French). Archived from the original on 20 March 2015.
  14. ^ D. Fineman (1997). A Special Relationship: The United States and Military Government in Thailand, 1947–1958. University of Hawaii Press. p. 111. ISBN 9780824818180.
  15. ^ "ROLEX Ref. 6062". Philipps.
  16. ^ Naas, Roberta. "Bao Dai Rolex Sells For More Than $5 Million At Phillips Auction, Setting A New World Record". Forbes. Retrieved 23 November 2018.
  17. ^ a b D. G. Marr (1997). Vietnam 1945: The Quest for Power. London, England: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520212282.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ P. Shenon (2 August 1997). "Bao Dai, 83, of Vietnam; Emperor and Bon Vivant". The New York Times.
  20. ^ VietNamNet Bridge (10 February 2016). "No royal seal left in Hue today. VietNamNet Bridge – It is a great regret that none of more than 100 seals of the Nguyen emperors are in Hue City today". VietNam Breaking News. Retrieved 8 March 2021.

Further readingEdit

  • Anh, Nguyên Thê. "The Vietnamese Monarchy under French Colonial Rule 1884-1945." Modern Asian Studies 19.1 (1985): 147-162 online.
  • Chapuis, Oscar. The Last Emperors of Vietnam: From Tu Duc to Bao Dai (Greenwood, 2000).
  • Chapman, Jessica M. "Staging democracy: South Vietnam's 1955 referendum to depose Bao Dai." Diplomatic History 30.4 (2006): 671–703. online
  • Hammer, Ellen J. "The Bao Dai Experiment." Pacific Affairs 23.1 (1950): 46–58. online
  • Hess, Gary R. "The first American commitment in Indochina: The acceptance of the 'Bao Dai solution', 1950." Diplomatic History 2.4 (1978): 331–350. online
  • Lockhart. Bruce McFarland (1993). The End of the Vietnamese Monarchy. Lac Viet Series. 15. New Haven, CT: Yale Center for International and Area Studies. ISBN 9780938692508.
  • Szalontai, Balázs. "The 'Sole Legal Government of Vietnam': The Bao Dai Factor and Soviet Attitudes toward Vietnam, 1947–1950." Journal of Cold War Studies (2018) 20#3 pp 3-56. online

Other languagesEdit

  • Bảo Đại's memoirs have been published in French and in Vietnamese; the Vietnamese version appears considerably longer.
  • Bảo Đại (1980). Le dragon d'Annam (in French). Paris: Plon. ISBN 9782259005210.
  • Bảo Đại (1990). Con rong Viet Nam: hoi ky chanh tri 1913–1987 (in Vietnamese). Los Alamitos, CA: Nguyen Phuoc Toc (distributed by Xuan Thu Publishing). OCLC 22628825.

External linksEdit

Photos of Bảo Đại's summer palacesEdit

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
Preceded by
Khải Định
Head of the House of Nguyen Phuc
8 January 1926 – 30 July 1997
Succeeded by
Bảo Long