ordered the persecution of missionaries and Christians in retaliation. However, only one Vietnamese Christian was killed as a result.

Under Thieu Tri's successor, Tu Duc (1847-83), the church suffered the longest and bloodiest persecution. It was also under his thirty-six-year reign that France invaded Vietnam, ending Vietnam's long independence on 6 June 1884, less than a year after Tu Duc's death (15 July 1883). These two facts must be kept together when studying the history of Vietnamese Christianity in the nineteenth century. Tu Duc's hostility towards Christians rose and fell in response to his perceptions of the threat that Christians were alleged to pose to the survival of his dynasty and kingdom, either in collaboration with the French invaders or in support of internal rebellions.

At first, Tu Duc's reign augured well for Vietnamese Catholics. Upon ascending the throne at the age of seventeen, he pardoned and released all Christians imprisoned for their faith. But their hopes were dashed a year later when Tu Duc issued a decree forbidding the ta dao, in which he accused Christians of abandoning ancestor worship and practising superstition. He ordered the killing of missionaries by having stones tied to their necks and thrown into the sea. Vietnamese priests were to be arrested for investigation and, if they did not renounce their faith, banished to dangerous regions, with the words ta dao branded on their cheek. The simple faithful, on the other hand, because of their ignorance, were not to be killed, imprisoned or exiled, but were still severely punished if they did not renounce their faith.

On 21 March 1851, Tu Duc issued another decree with more or less the same instructions. This time, besides reiterating that the ta dao forbade the veneration of ancestors, the Buddha and the spirits, he added that Christian priests preached about 'heaven and the holy kingdom' and that they encouraged their followers to die rather than renounce their faith by showing 'the picture of Christ crucified on the cross'. Moreover, not only foreign missionaries but also Vietnamese priests, as well as those who harboured missionaries, were now to be killed, irrespective of their age, by being cut into two pieces and thrown into the river.

In September 1855, following a revolt led by the sympathisers of the Hau Le dynasty against the Nguyen dynasty to which Christians were accused of having lent their support, Tu Duc promulgated a decree which not only commanded that missionaries and Vietnamese priests be decapitated, their heads displayed in public for three days and then thrown into the river, but also ordered the burning of churches and community houses and forbade public gatherings of Christians. In short, the decree ended, 'every means should be used to destroy the ta dao'.

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