Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-x

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xiv

I love to read the acknowledgments section, as it tells me a history of the book that I am about to read. But this section is like the visible tip of an iceberg: it represents just a small number of the people who have contributed to, and provided necessary distraction from, the writing of this book.
My book would not have been possible without the generous financial support of centers, foundations, and universities. Grants from the Center for...

Abbreviations in the Text

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pp. xv-xx

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Introduction

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pp. 1-20

The story of Alexandre Yersin (1863–1943) is an unlikely place to start a story about rubber. Born in Switzerland, Yersin trained as a medical researcher in Paris before heading to the French colonies in Asia in 1890, where he gained fame for his role in the discovery of the plague bacillus in Hong Kong. In 1895, he established a laboratory in the coastal town of Nha Trang, which became one of the three branches of the Pasteur Institute in French Indochina (Cambodia, Laos, Tonkin, Annam, and Cochinchina). He also explored the...

Part I. Red Earth, Gray Earth

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pp. 21-22

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Chapter One. Civilizing Latex

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pp. 23-56

From the rice deltas of Southeast Asia to the swampy southern coasts of the United States, the spread of industrial agriculture during the nineteenth century revolutionized the world. In Southeast Asia, European capital, Chinese trading networks, and indigenous labor converted the great river deltas of the Mekong, the Chaophraya, and the Irrawaddy from biodiverse swamps and mangrove forests into vast monocultures of rice and sugar. Mining, forestry, and fisheries likewise expanded in size and intensity of activity. Similar forces...

Part II. Forests without Birds

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pp. 57-58

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Chapter Two. Cultivating Science

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pp. 59-91

On a Sunday in the spring of 1933, a group of agricultural engineers traveled to the gray earth soils of southern Indochina. Among other places, the engineers visited the Ông Yêm research station experimental field, where their guides showed them the agricultural history of the past four decades. This experimental field was one of the earliest in Indochina, and occupied a band of homogenous gray earth that sloped down from RC 13 to a small stream. Halfway down the slope, water emerged from a layer of impermeable clay that allowed...

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Chapter Three. Managing Disease

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pp. 92-129

In the 1910s and 1920s, thousands of workers migrated from the Red River Delta and coastal provinces such as Thái Bình or Quy Nhơn to eastern Cochinchina to seek employment in the newly established hevea plantations. The typical migrant was male and came from a village with scant rice-growing land or one that had recently been struck by a devastating storm or drought. While skeptical of the calls for rubber tappers, or perhaps tricked by a recruiter, this man had little choice to pass up the chance for a few years of food...

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Chapter Four. Turning Tropical

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pp. 130-166

Pierre Gourou (1900–99), one of the founders of French tropical geography, spent many years in Indochina. Gourou was based in Tonkin, his full-time teaching job leaving him little opportunity to visit the southern region. He also preferred to study traditional Vietnamese society, which he viewed as the rice-growing Kinh villages of the Red River Delta. Like many intellectuals of his day, Gourou felt uneasy about cultural mixing, and while he did not openly criticize the colonial project, he tended to ignore some of its most...

Part III. Rubber Wars

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pp. 167-168

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Chapter Five. Maintaining Modernity

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pp. 169-205

At the end of World War II, the rubber industry faced several formidable challenges, including the reversion of plantation land to scrub forests, the destruction and loss of equipment, and, most importantly, the dispersal of its workforce. Before the war, the industry had yielded over 60,000 metric tons of rubber annually, but by the end of the war, production had ceased almost completely. At the end of 1945, rubber harvesting in Cochinchina and Cambodia resumed, and in 1954 output exceeded prewar levels. This achievement...

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Chapter Six. Decolonizing Plantations

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pp. 206-244

In 2008, I sat down with Phạm Ngộc Hồng, an eighty-one-year-old Vietnamese man from Nam Định, who had started working on a Michelin plantation and later managed a section of a SIPH plantation. As we discussed the history of rubber in Việt Nam, Hồng recalled a recruitment poem called “Cái nhà mộ phu” (Recruitment office), dating from the early 1950s:...

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Chapter Seven. Militarizing Rubber

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pp. 245-279

By the end of the Vietnam War, concepts of governance based on management of the relationship between people and their environment had entered the Vietnamese vocabulary. In January 1975, Phan Quang Đán, a South Vietnamese politician who had trained at Harvard’s School of Public Health, selfpublished a book titled The Republic of Vietnam’s Environment and People. In the epigraph to the book, cited above, Đán calls into question the artificial division between humans and their environments. In a more political vein, he...

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Conclusion

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pp. 280-286

In 2001, General Trần Tử Bình (1907–67), probably best known for his role in the worker strikes on Michelin’s Phú Riềng plantation in 1930, was posthumously awarded the Hồ Chí Minh medal for service to the nation. Six years later, in 2007, the Labor Publishing House reprinted Bình’s famous memoir Phú Riềng Đỏ, which has been translated into English as The Red Earth. Bình’s recent glorification is representative of how the colonial rubber plantation experience lives on in official Vietnamese memory. It is a memory that equates...

Notes

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pp. 287-344

Bibliography

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pp. 345-388

Index

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pp. 389-406