The Great Hanoi Rat Massacre of 1902 Did Not Go as Planned
IN 1897, PAUL DOUMER ARRIVEDin Hanoi, Vietnam. A 40-something French government worker fresh off a big professional failure—he resigned as minister of finance after his scheme for a new income tax failed—Doumer had a new job to try his hand at. He’d been appointed the Governor-General of French Indochina, a group of colonies in Southeast Asia that included what is now Vietnam.
Doumer set about outfitting Indochina—and especially Hanoi, the capital—with modern infrastructure befitting property of France. By the turn of the century, a typical colonist in Hanoi lived on a wide avenue lined with trees. Home was a spacious villa with many rooms and fine European things—including, notably, a toilet.
Imagine the dismay, then, when rats began emerging from the drains.
It turns out that when Doumer’s colonial government laid more than nine miles of sewage pipe beneath Hanoi, it inadvertently created nine miles of cool, dark rodent paradise, where the pests could breed without fear of predators. And when they got hungry, the rats had direct access to the city’s ritziest real estate via a subterranean superhighway. Under the streets of French Hanoi, rats multiplied exponentially—and then skittered to the surface. More