Emperor Bao Dai’s life covered four significant periods – as the Emperor of Annam, advisor to Ho Chi Minh, Chief of the Vietnam State and exile and burial in France.
During the French protectorate, Vietnam was divided into three regions – the north (Tonkin) with Hanoi as the capital, the centre (Annam) with Hue as the capital, and the south (Cochinchine) with its capital Saigon.
Together with Laos and Cambodia this region formed the so-called French Indochine. Bao Dai was the Emperor of Annam and was based in Hue; he remained the spiritual Emperor of the whole of Vietnam.
Vietnam’s last Emperor, Nguyen Vinh Thuy, came to the throne in 1926 as Bao Dai or “Keeper of Greatness” after the death of his father Emperor Khai Dinh in 1925. Educated in France he was not allowed to carry out the reforms he wished, and after the Japanese occupation declared the independence of the Empire of Vietnam on 11 March 1945.
However, the country was soon engulfed by the August Revolution led by the Communist Viet Minh and their leader Ho Chi Minh. Later in 1945 Bao Dai abdicated as Emperor and accepted the invitation of President Ho Chi Minh to be his advisor to the new government of the Vietnam Democratic Republic.
Bao Dai then left on a diplomatic mission to China and decided to stay in Hong Kong until 1949. With the start of the Indochina war, backed by the French State, he later returned to lead the Saigon-based State of Vietnam as the Chief of State. His capital was in Dalat and his administration covered the whole of the Central Highlands.
In 1955 he was overthrown in a rigged election by his U.S.-backed Prime Minister, Ngo Dinh Diem. He lived in exile in France until his death in a military hospital in Paris in 1997. Together with Emperor Duy Tan, Bao Dai is one of only two emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty not buried in Vietnam.