University of Paris VII, Denis Diderot, Paris, France, faculty and head of the department of history.
(Editor) Robert Aarsse, and others, Histoire de l'Asie du Sud-Est: révoltes, réformes, révolutions, Presses Universitaires de Lille (Lille, France), 1981.
(With Daniel Hémery) Indochine, la colonisation ambiguë: 1858-1954, Découverte (Paris, France), 1994, revised edition, 2001.
The Mekong Delta: Ecology, Economy, and Revolution, 1860-1960, Center for Southeast Asian Studies (Madison, WI), 1995.
(With others, and managing editor) Du conflit d'Indochine aux conflits indochinois, Complexe (Brussels, Belgium), 2000.
Contributor to L'Indochine Française, 1940-1945, edited by Paul Isoart, Presses Universitaires de France (Paris, France), 1982. Managing editor, with G. Boudarel and D. Hémery, Guide de recherches sur le Vietnam: Bibliographies, archives et bibliothèques de France, Editions L'Harmattan (Paris, France), 1983.
Pierre Brocheux is an historian who has specialized in southeastern Asia, especially Vietnam and the area formerly known as French Indochina. He has published several histories of the region that cover topics ranging from economics and agriculture to demographic changes, politics, and the Vietnam War. Collaborating with Daniel Hémery in Indochine, la colonisation ambiguë: 1858-1954, Brocheux tackles the complex subject of French colonialism in Indochina. With the main emphasis being the period before 1945, Brocheux and Hémery spend more time on Vietnam than other parts of the former French-controlled region, while noting that the region's political evolution was influenced by many diverse peoples and not just the result of France imposing its rule on the area. "It looks at French colonization not only as a process imposed and improvised from the outside but also the result of internal dynamics within Indochinese societies, the convergence between global trends and local changes, and the interaction then cohabitation between colonisers and colonized," reported Nguyen Manh Hung in Pacific Affairs. "It further points out that French colonization, however exploitative and oppressive, did make a positive contribution to the modernization of the colonized societies." The result is a "sympathetic look at French colonization without losing sight of the heavy burden that the peoples of Indochina had to bear." Van Nguyen-Marshall similarly commented in another Pacific Affairs article: "This approach, which shatters the older binary depiction of a monolithic and oppressive colonizing power versus a united indigenous nationalist movement, has become in the last two decades the accepted norm in colonial studies." While Nguyen-Marshall admitted that, told from the view of the native population, the French rule "may not have been at all ambiguous," he concluded: "Despite these reservations, this is a solid work of research that will be valuable for both experts and students."
In The Mekong Delta: Ecology, Economy, and Revolution, 1860-1960, Brocheux, who spent part of his childhood in Vietnam, discusses the importance of the fertile region and the Mekong River, which is an important tributary for Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. The delta lands are fragile, too, however, and subject to environmental and agricultural disasters. It is "likely to be an area that we need to understand more fully," Joakim Öjendal observed in a review for MekongRiver.org. "Pierre Brocheux has given us an instrument for doing just that, and from this point of view, his study is extremely timely." But the critic regretted that the work "lacks interpretation, analysis and perhaps a hypothesis on which Brocheux could test his material. Tellingly, the introduction and the conclusion are but a few pages each, in spite of the fact that there is an overwhelmingly rich information base to dig from. This becomes somewhat frustrating as there is no reason to believe that Brocheux lacks this capacity." Öjendal still insisted: "Having said that, this work must be considered as a major contribution to the factual knowledge of life in the Mekong Delta in this particular period, and although it may be lacking a more thorough analysis, the reader is free to make his or her own conclusions." Benoit de Treglode more enthusiastically asserted in the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies that "Brocheux skillfully analyzes the manner in which the fusion of the region's ecological, ethnical and historical elements create a social space distinct from those which existed in the north and the center of the country."
More recently, Brocheux's biography of the founder of modern Vietnam was translated as Ho Chi Minh: From Revolutionary to Icon. Researching the life of Ho is a task full of roadblocks. The Vietnamese government has censored or otherwise altered many of the records about their esteemed late leader's life, while many records of Ho's days in Europe as a young man have been lost as well. Even the details of Ho's life that are available are often contradictory, such as his birth date, which ranges from 1890 to 1903, depending on the source. In Brocheux's book, Ho is depicted as a charismatic and idealistic leader who becomes caught up in the communist rule he helped establish, ultimately making him "a tragic figure," as a Publishers Weekly writer reported. The reviewer felt that "Brocheux's account is too brief and haphazard" to be very revealing, but other critics were more impressed. Patti C. McCall called the biography a "fascinating account" in Library Journal, while on the Asia by the Book Web site Janet Brown concluded that "this biography is dense with historical and political background. Yet the man shines through the thicket of facts, with his wit and his poetry making Ho alive on the page…. Pierre Brocheux brings out a concise but skillful portrait from history's obscuring layers of sainthood and demonization."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, December, 1996, Mark W. McLeod, review of The Mekong Delta: Ecology, Economy, and Revolution, 1860-1960, p. 1599.
Journal of Asian Studies, November, 1995, John K. Whitmore, review of Indochine, la colonisation ambiguë: 1858-1954, p. 1147; August, 1996, David Hunt, review of The Mekong Delta, p. 779.
Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, September, 1996, Philippe Papin, review of Indochine, la colonisation ambiguë, p. 405; September, 1997, Benoit de Treglode, review of The Mekong Delta, p. 463; February, 2003, Anne Raffin, review of Indochine, la colonisation ambiguë: 1858-1954, p. 192; October, 2004, review of Viêt Nam Exposé: French Scholarship on Twentieth-Century Vietnamese Society, p. 573.
Journal of Third World Studies, fall, 1995, Robert Lawless, review of The Mekong Delta.
Library Journal, February 15, 2007, Patti C. McCall, review of Ho Chi Minh: A Biography, p. 127.
Pacific Affairs, spring, 1996, Nguyen Manh Hung, review of Indochine, la colonisation ambiguë: 1858-1954; summer, 1996, Hy V. Luong, review of The Mekong Delta; fall, 2001, Alexander Woodside, review of Ho Chi Minh; fall, 2002, Van Nguyen-Marshall, review of Indochine, la colonisation ambiguë: 1858-1954.
Publishers Weekly, December 18, 2006, review of Ho Chi Minh: From Revolutionary to Icon, p. 53.
Asia by the Book,http://weblogs.thingsasian.com/tablogs/page/asiabook/ (July 8, 2007), review of Ho Chi Minh: A Biography.
MekongRiver.org,http://www.mekongriver.org/ (September 25, 2007), Joakim Öjendal, review of The Mekong Delta.
New York Sun Online,http://www.nysun.com/ (April 25, 2007), Carl Rollyson, "The Many Lives of Ho Chi Minh."