Along with direct rule, the French brought their penal code to Vietnam. Goodwill largely motivated them, since Vietnamese law beheaded thieves and had adulterous women trampled to death by elephants. But French jurisprudence confused and convulsed Vietnam’s traditional legal system without creating a viable alternative. It could not handle subtle Vietnamese judicial nuances, such as refraining from pronouncing a defendant’s name in court lest he “lose face”. It also contributed to the erosion of Vietnamese society in which, according to Confucian tenets, the father arbitrated family altercations or called on a respected dignitary to mediate a dispute informally. Besides, French justice lost its credibility when colonial police could wantonly jail suspects for years without putting them on trial.

Stanley Karnow, “Vietnam: A History”.

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