Article

Of Rats, Rice, and Race: The Great Hanoi Rat Massacre, an Episode in French Colonial History

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Abstract

Cet article utilise une campagne de dératisation, montée à Hanoi en 1902 par l'administration coloniale, à explorer les limites du pouvoir de l'état dans la ville coloniale. Au début, les égouts municipaux d'Hanoi représentaient le sommet du modernisme et du rationalisme de la "mission civilisatrice" française. Mais les nombreux problèmes de santé, de travail, et de qualité de vie qui se produisaient ont bientôt révélé une crise profonde et surprenante qui confrontait l'administration coloniale. L'arrivée d'armées de rats dans les maisons de la communauté blanche en était la manifestation la plus évidente, la plus dangereuse, et la plus ennuyante, surtout quand la peste se déclarait dans le quartier européen. Quand les investigateurs ont compris que ces visiteurs sans invitation arrivaient par les égouts, l'état engageait des équipes d'indigènes pour les combattre, mais sans effet durable et avec des résultats inattendus. Cet épisode est révélateur des illusions, des hypocrisies, et des paradoxes du pouvoir colonial français.

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... The initial campaign appeared successful, as the workers killed staggering numbers of rats daily. June 12th, 1902, for instance, saw a total of 20,114 rats exterminated with numbers also in the tens of thousands in the days preceding and following (Vann 2003). After months of apparent failure to reduce the rat population, the colonial administration implemented a one-cent bounty for each rat tail presented to authorities. ...
... Why not require the entire rat corpse be presented? It was decided that the handing in of an entire corpse would present too great a "burden" for the already overworked municipal authorities (Vann 2003). ...
... Before too long, authorities realized that resourceful rat-catchers were trapping the rats, severing their tails, and releasing the rats back into the sewers where they could breed, providing the catchers with the next generation of profitable rat-tails. Even worse, health inspectors soon discovered an additional development in the Hanoi suburbs: rat farms springing up in direct response to the increased profitability of supplying rat-tails to the authorities (Vann 2003). Vann comments that, "Evidently this was not what the French had in mind when they encouraged capitalist development and the entrepreneurial spirit in Vietnam," (2003, 198). ...
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... Yet the rats only increased. It turned out the locals, being resourceful, set up rat farms [40]. When an expert needs to exercise judgement in an unpredictable environment, sustained incentives to maximize something just because it is measurable, typically distort best practice. ...
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... see Cacho and Hester 2011). However, bounty systems can easily be misused in multiple ways and frequently fail to meet their intended goals as a result of undesirable human behavioral responses that produce unexpected outcomes through the triggering of adverse incentives (Bulte et al. 2003;Vann 2003;Walker 2013;Chapman 2016). Attempts have been made to combine bounty programs with other mechanisms such as the development of commercial markets, again with limited evidence for effectiveness. ...
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... This is also mirrored in the international trade statistics, where the export of elasmobranch products (especially meat) increased dramatically since 2015. This "cobra effect" [61] whereby an attempted solution to a problem (i.e. overfishing of shrimp resources) actually makes the problem worse, and/or creates other unintended, problematic consequences (i.e. ...
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... This is because people or organisations game play to achieve the KPI, metric or benchmark, and thus it is no longer as useful as it was once thought to be. For example, a famous example included a bounty scheme that was created to reduce the number of rats in the community (Vann, 2003), and so people were asked to hand over rat tails as evidence that they killed some rats. The scheme was counterproductive since rats had been observed running around with no tails, and perhaps some people would have likely coordinated the reproduction of rats in order to collect more rat tails. ...
... "One can only imagine the frustration of the municipal authorities, who realized that their best efforts at dératisation had actually increased the rodent population by indirectly encouraging ratfarming. Evidently, this was not what the French had in mind when they encouraged capitalist development and the entrepreneurial spirit in Vietnam" (Vann (2003), p. 198, emphasis in the original). ...
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... Similar understanding goes by the name of the principleagent problem in economics and political science [36], and similar challenges exist in designing contracts in law [37]. Further, there are many historical examples of perverse incentives, where an incentive to solve one problem instead exacerbates it; for example, a French colonial program in Hanoi paid citizens for turning in rat tails, in hopes of exterminating rats, but it instead led to farming rats [38]. This consilience of evidence suggests that designing incentives is generally hard, and that humans are often overconfident about their ability to perform such a task well, failing to anticipate subtle loopholes instantiated by intuitive reward structures. ...
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... Scoperto lo stratagemma, i governatori avrebbero revocato il regolamento; i cobra, il cui allevamento era divenuto allora inutile, sarebbero stati liberati, finendo per aggravare il problema di partenza. La vicenda sarebbe, in realtà, priva di fondamento: tuttavia, una analoga (protagonisti i topi, non i cobra; i vietnamiti, non gli indiani; il governo coloniale francese, non quello britannico) è debitamente documentata dallo storico Michael Vann (2003). un valore esplicativo in sé» (Kuorikoski e Pöyhönen, 2012, p. 194). ...
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... Les mesures d'incitation au prélèvement offrant des primes à la capture doivent nécessairement être encadrées par la règlementation pour éviter de développer un caractère d'aubaine (dispersion des espèces et renforcement des populations). (Vann, 2003). Des primes à la queue de rat avaient été proposées par les autorités pour réduire les risques sanitaires liés aux pullulations de rats de cette époque (dont la peste). ...
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... The term perverse incentives refers to agency problems so severe that they yield outcomes in the opposite direction of the intentionthat is, more negative than positive. A prominent example is described by Vann (2003) as "the great Hanoi rat massacre." In 1902, Hanoi was facing the bubonic plague from rats that had spread throughout the city. ...
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... The government opted to purchase rat tails to curb the rat population. Eventually, tail-less rats began mysteriously appearing (Vann, 2003). ...
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No material resource and public good is more critical to sustaining urban life than water. During postwar reconstruction in Vietnam, planners showcased urban infrastructure as a spectacular socialist achievement. Water-related facilities, in particular, held the potential for emancipation and modernity. Despite East German–engineered systems, however, taps remained dry in socialist housing. Lack of water exposed existing hierarchies that undermined the goal of democratic infrastructure yet enabled new forms of solidarity and gendered social practice to take shape in response to the state's failure to meet basic needs. Infrastructural breakdown and neglect thus catalyzed a collective ethos of maintenance and repair as the state shifted responsibility for upkeep to disenchanted tenants. I track these processes in a housing complex in Vinh City, where water signified both the promises of state care and a condition of its systemic neglect. [materiality, infrastructure, socialist modernity, urbanization, decay, maintenance and repair, water, Vietnam]
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According to imperial writings, the Burmese were too close to animals, both physically and emotionally. It was claimed that some Burmese people had innate connections to animals, notably elephant-drivers with their elephants. British writers were also intrigued but disgusted by what they deemed to be inappropriate interactions with animals, recounting apocryphal tales of women breastfeeding orphaned non-human mammals. But despite these negative portrayals of human-animal relations, imperial texts also betray their authors' own material and sentimental ties to animals. Their adoration of their pets and their sufferance of pests both served to embed them in the colony. Using insights drawn from animal history, sensory history, postcolonial theory and historical geography, this article explores how these felt encounters with animals were mediated in colonial discourse. I argue that uncovering these hitherto overlooked affective colonial relationships with animals is necessary to contextualize histories that have primarily focused on the emergence of scientific and bureaucratic imperial representations of nature.
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This issue of Naval Postgraduate School Research focuses on meteorology. The school's Department of Meteorology is internationally recognized for its outstanding record of research and instruction. Perhaps less known is the important role the Department is playing in addressing and solving key meteorological challenges facing the Department of the Navy and the Department of Defense. The mastery of the Battlespace Atmospheric Environment is a necessary component for the successful implementation of SEA POWER 21. This article presents a review of some of the unique and valuable efforts undertaken by the faculty and students within the Department in support of SEA POWER 21. Readers are asked to consider the diverse ways in which atmospheric processes and phenomena impact military and naval operations. Weather challenges take on many forms as the U.S. military defends this nation. The impact of major storms on military operations is well known. In December 1944 during World War II, Typhoon Cobra struck the Pacific Fleet, which was operating in support of the invasion of the Philippines. Three ships were lost with practically all hands, 28 other ships sustained serious damage, and 790 officers and sailors were lost. During the same year, military planners found weather, ocean, and tidal conditions were the key elements in determining the day and time of the largest amphibious operation in history, the Normandy D-Day invasion. In the recent Operation Iraqi Freedom, the fierce sandstorm of March 25-27 brought military operations to a near standstill. The main article in this issue is "The Naval Postgraduate School's Department of Meteorology Addresses the Critical Role of Atmospheric Sciences for Sea Power 21 and National Security." The article is divided into three sections: "Meteorological Requirements and Contributions to Sea Strike," "Role of Weather in Sea Basing and Dominant Maneuver," and "Atmospheric Impacts on Sea Shield."
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This article looks at French Indochina, metropolitan France, and French West Africa from 1914 through 1946 to illustrate specific ways in which French colonial authority operated across the French empire. We look at how colonized people challenged the complex formal and informal hierarchies of race, class, and gender that French administrators and colonizers sought to impose upon them. We argue that both the French imperial prerogatives and colonized peoples' responses to them are revealed through directly comparing and contrasting various locales across the empire. Our case studies explore interracial families and single white women seeking compensation from the French in Indochina, black men de ning their masculinity, and Africans debating women's suffrage rights.
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