Bao Dai, the Khai-Dinh, the Emperor of Vietnam, was born in Hue on October 22, 1913. Educated in France, Bao Dai succeed his father as emperor on November 6, 1925. He reigned under the Regency of Ton-Thai Han until he came of age in September 1932.
In September 1940, the Japanese army invaded Indochina. With Paris already occupied by Germany, the French troops decided it was not worth putting up a fight and they surrendered to the Japanese.
When the Japanese surrendered to the Allies after the dropping of atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the Vietminh was in a good position to take over the control of the country. The following month, Ho Chi Minh announced the formation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Unknown to the Vietminh, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin had already decided what would happen to post-war Vietnam at a summit-meeting at Potsdam. They had agreed that the country would be divided into two, the northern half under the control of the Chinese and the southern half under the British.
Bao Dai went into exile in Hong Kong in March 1946. After signing an accord recognizing Vietnamese national unity within the French Union, he was allowed to return in June 1948. The following year, the French installed Bao Dai as Head of State.
The French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954. French casualties totaled over 7,000 and a further 11,000 soldiers were taken prisoner. The following day, the French government announced that it intended to withdraw from Vietnam. The following month, the foreign ministers of the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, and France decided to meet in Geneva to see if they could bring about a peaceful solution to the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.
After much negotiation the following was agreed: (1) Vietnam would be divided at the 17th parallel; (2) North Vietnam would be ruled by Ho Chi Minh; (3) South Vietnam would be ruled by Ngo Dinh Diem, a strong opponent of communism; (4) French troops would withdraw from Vietnam; (5) the Vietminh would withdraw from South Vietnam; (6) the Vietnamese could freely choose to live in the North or the South; and (7) a General Election for the whole of Vietnam would be held before July 1956, under the supervision of an international commission.
People in Vietnam were unhappy with Ngo Dinh Diem. In October 1955, the South Vietnamese people were asked to choose between Bao Dai and Ngo Dinh Diem for the leadership of the country. Colonel Edward Lansdale suggested that Diem should provide two ballot papers, red for Diem and green for Bao Dai. Lansdale hoped that the Vietnamese belief that red signified good luck, while green indicated bad fortune, would help influence the result.
When the voters arrived at the polling stations they found Diem's supporters in attendance. One voter complained afterwards: "They told us to put the red ballot into envelopes and to throw the green ones into the wastebasket. A few people, faithful to Bao Dai, disobeyed. As soon as they left, the agents went after them, and roughed them up... They beat one of my relatives to pulp."
After his defeat Bao Dai went into exile and lived for the next forty years in France. Bao Dai died in Paris on July 31, 1997.