Abstract: Business and Politics under the Third Republic: The Network of Lyon Silk Merchants in Colonial Tonkin

Jean-François Klein


A concrete illustration of the possibilities of scholarship using the network paradigm is the ties woven by the silk merchants and men of finance of Lyon with the colonial administration of Tonkin. These ties were to transform this newly acquired French possession into a launching pad towards the markets of the neighboring Southern China. I start by explaining briefly how Ulysse Pila and Edouard Aynard, two liberal republicans of the Centre Gauche, would put to use not only their business ties but also their financial, political and family ones in order to attain their goals. More specifically, I discuss the political and financial pact they sealed with the Opportunist Paul Bert, newly named <i>Resident supérieur</i> of Annam-Tonkin, who needed capital to better develop the new French possession. Through this example, one can better see how a group of businessmen from Lyon elaborated a strategy to better control all commerce and industry in Tonkin. How did Aynard and Pila, in the context of the Depression and severe British competition, manage to mobilise traders, bankers, and manufacturers and interest them in a country in which nobody believed. Their agreement with Paul Bert reflects on a regional level, the alliance that was taking place on a national level between the Moderates of the <i>Centre Gauche</i> and the partisans of Léon Gambetta and of Jules Ferry. This, in turn, would form the base of what was to be known a decade later as the Colonial Party. This singular example illustrates the ties between the economical and political powers in what Jean Garrigues has named "The Republic of Businessmen." It also allows me to illustrate what I have defined as a "linocracy," in other words, the power of networks. It is in the flexibility and the possibility of regrouping individuals who share a common vision that networks find their strength. This force allowed those of Lyon to integrate their project of regional equipment (in Tonkin) in a vaster vision: the conquest of the Chinese market, a market that resulted from the globalisation of business and industry.