The decade following the end of World War II saw the rise of the Bình Xuyên as a formidable military and political force. How did the Bình Xuyên emerge as local sovereigns? Eschewing the predominant “criminal” framework that has dominated our understanding of the group’s ascent, this article shows that competition to court the Bình Xuyên between the southern DRV and the French-sponsored Vietnamese governments as well as power struggles within those same state entities strengthened the Bình Xuyên’s local power. This pattern of interstate and intrastate competition in the early years of the First Indochina War laid the foundation for the group’s contentious relationship with its nominal Franco-Vietnamese patrons after its ralliement in 1948.

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