Vietnam is a country in Southeast Asia, and used to be part of the former French Indochina, which also included Laos, and Cambodia. The country is known for its sandy beaches, island resorts, serene river deltas, peaceful Buddhist pagodas, endless rice paddy fields, friendly people, and bustling cities.
- Total area: 331.991 km2 (65th)
- Population: 93 million (13th)
- Capital: Hanoi
- Largest city: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
- Official languages: Vietnamese
- Official scripts: Vietnamese
- Ethnic groups: 54 (Viet people: 86%)
- GDP per capita: $2,321
- Currency: dong (VND)
- Time zone: Indochina Time (UTC+07:00)
- Drives on the: right
- Calling code: +84
- Internet TLD: .vn
Archaeological excavations showed the existence of humans in Vietnam was as early as the Stone Age. Upright Man fossils dating to around 500,000 BC have been found in caves in Lang Son province, northern Vietnam.
The wet-rice cultivation, and bronze casting in the Red River Delta led to the flourishing of the Dong Son Culture by about 1000 BC, which is notable for its elaborate bronze drums. At this time, the early Vietnamese kingdoms of Van Lang appeared.
Van Lang is considered the first Vietnamese state, ruled by Hung kings of the Hong Bang dynasty, from 2879 BC. In 207 BC, what is now northern Vietnam was conquered by the Chinese, and remained mostly under Chinese rule for the next thousand years.
Trung Sisters and Lady Trieu’s early independence movements were only temporarily successful. The country got a longer period of independence under the Anterior Ly dynasty between 544 AD and 602 AD. And in early 10th century, Vietnam gained autonomy, but not sovereignty, under the Khuc family.
In 938 AD, the Vietnamese Lord Ngo Quyen defeated the Chinese at Bach Dang River and achieved full independence for Vietnam after a millennium of Chinese domination. The country was then renamed Great Viet, and enjoyed a golden era under the Ly and Tran dynasties. Meanwhile, Buddhism became the state religion, and Great Viet repelled three Mongol invasions.
From 1407 to 1428, Vietnam was again dominated by the Chinese, and gained independence by Le Loi, the founder of the Le dynasty. During this time, Vietnam dynasties reached their zenith, especially during the reign of Emperor Le Thanh Tong.
Vietnam started to expand to the south from 11th century, conquered the kingdom of Champa and parts of the Khmer Empire in the next centuries. From the 16th century onwards, Vietnam experienced a civil war between the northern Trinh Lords and the southern Nguyen Lords. During this time, the Nguyen expanded southern Vietnam into the Mekong Delta, annexing the Central Highlands and the Khmer lands.
In 1789, the brother of Tay Son established a new dynasty after ending the division of the Vietnam, thought their rule was defeated by the French supported Nguyen Anh, the remnants of the Nguyen lords. Nguyen Anh quickly unified Vietnam, and established the Nguyen dynasty, taking the ruling name Gia Long.
French Indochina (1862–1945)
In 1958, French fired Danang, the coastal province in central Vietnam. Quickly taking the advantage of slow and weak react of the Nguyen dynasty, French took control of Saigon and other nearly areas. By 1884, the entire Vietnam came under the French rule, and was formally integrated into French Indochina, which included Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, in 1887.
For the next 58 years, the French imposed significant political and cultural changes in Vietnam, including western education, Roman Catholicism, French architects…
During the French Indochina, the royalist Can Vuong (Aid the King) movement, from 1885, against French colonial rule to install the boy emperor Ham Nghi as the leader of an independent Vietnam, gradually faded out by 1889 after murdering around a third of Christian population in Vietnam that time.
Though ignored increasing calls for Vietnam’s independent to develop a plantation economy to promote the export of tobacco, indigo, rubber, tea and coffee…, the French maintained full control of Vietnam until World War II.
In 1940, the war in the Pacific led to the Japanese invasion of French Indochina, the Japanese Empire was allowed to station its troops in Vietnam while permitting the pro-Vichy French colonial administration to continue. The Japanese exploited Vietnam’s natural resources to support its military campaigns, leading the Vietnamese to the famine in 1945, which caused up to two million deaths.
First Indochina War (1946 – 1954)
In 1945, Viet Minh – a nationalist liberation movement founded in 1941 by Ho Chi Minh, proclaimed a provisional government when the Japanese surrendered. Viet Minh quickly took over Hanoi and declared Vietnam Independence on September 2, 1945, while the French remained control in other parts of Vietnam. In the same year, the French came back to north Vietnam to restore its colonial rule, Viet Minh began a guerrilla war against the French, which known as First Indochina War and lasted until May 1954.
When the French and Vietnamese loyalist were defeated by Viet Minh in 1954, the Geneva Conference dissolved the French Indochina and separated the loyalist forces from the Viet Minh at the 17th parallel. After 1954, Democratic Republic of Vietnam was formed in the north and Emperor Bao Dai State of Vietnam formed in the south. During the 300-day period of free movement, almost a million Catholics moved south, fearing persecution by the communists.
The Geneva Accords stipulated that Vietnam would be reunited at a national election in 1956. But Ngo Dinh Diem, the State of Vietnam’s Prime Minister, toppled Bao Dai in a fraudulent referendum organized by his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu, and proclaimed himself president of the Republic of Vietnam in 1955.
Vietnam War (1954 -1975)
From 1954, the communist government launched a land reform program all over the north, which executed some 30,000 wealthy farmers and landowners. In 1960, the Soviet Union and North Vietnam signed treaties for further Soviet military support.
In the South, the pro-Hanoi southerners began guerrilla fighting and formed National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, which known as Vietcong, to overthrow Diem’s government. Ngo Dinh Diem went about crushing political and religious opposition, imprisoning or executing tens of thousands people.
In 1963, Ngo Dinh Diem’s crackdown on Buddhist’s demonstrations led to the collapse of his relationship with the United States, Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Ngu were assassinated by CIA. After Diem’s death, General Nguyen Van Thieu took control and became the next president of the south.
To aid their puppet government in the south, the US increased military advisers, and created the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident as a pretext to involve in ground combat operations since 1965, following with sustained bombing raids over the north.
With all the material aid from Soviet Union and China, north Vietnam sent leadership and support to Vietcong in the south by using the Ho Chi Minh trails, which run through Laos and Cambodia. In the 1968 Tet Offensive, Vietcong generally attached 43 targets in south Vietnam. Though the attach failed militarily, it shocked the American public and quickly turned the US opinion against the Vietnam War.
Facing an increasing casualty count, rising domestic opposition to the war, and growing international condemnation, the US began withdrawing troops from the late 1968. This process also entailed an unsuccessful effort to strengthen and stabilize South Vietnam.
Following the Paris Peace Accords in 1973, all American combat troops were withdrawn by 29 March 1973. In the late 1974, North Vietnam captured the province of Phuoc Long and started a full-scale offensive in the south, culminating in the Fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975 and ended the war.
On 2 July 1976, North and South Vietnam were merged to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The war left Vietnam devastated, with the total death of about 3 million people.
Reunification & Reforms (1976 – present)
During the first 10 years after the war, the Communist Party of Vietnam embarked on mass campaign of collectivization of farms and factories. This caused economic chaos and resulted in triple-digit inflation, while national reconstruction efforts progressed slowly.
There were about 1 million South Vietnamese sent to reeducation camps, with an estimated 165,000 prisoners dying, and another 50,000 died performing hard labor in “New Economic Zones”. As a result, millions of people fled the country in crudely built boats, creating an international humanitarian crisis, hundreds of thousands died at sea.
In 1978, Vietnam sent troops to Cambodia to help fight against the Khmer Rough, who had been attacking Vietnamese border villages.
The action made the Chinese launch a brief incursion into northern Vietnam in 1979, which caused Vietnam to rely even more heavily on Soviet economic and military aid.
From 1986, the party new general secretary, Nguyen Van Linh, implemented a series of free-market reforms – known as Doi Moi (Renewal) – which carefully managed the transition from a planned economy to a “socialist-oriented market economy”. The government start encouraging private ownership of farms and factories, economic deregulation and foreign investment, while maintaining control over strategic industries.
As a result, the Vietnam’s economy achieved strong growth in agricultural and industrial production, construction, exports and foreign investment. However, these reforms have also caused a rise in income inequality and gender disparities.
Vietnam is located on the eastern Indochina Peninsula between the latitudes 8° and 24°N, and the longitudes 102° and 110°E. It covers a total area of approximately 331,210 km2 (127,881 sq. mi), making it almost the size of Germany.
At its narrowest point in the central of the country, Vietnam is as little as 50 kilometers (31 mi) across, though it widens to around 600 kilometers (370 mi) in the north. Vietnam’s land is mostly hilly and densely forested, with level land covering no more than 20%. Mountains account for 40% of the country’s land area, and tropical forests cover around 42%.
Southern Vietnam is divided into coastal lowlands, the mountains of the Annamite Range, and extensive forests. Comprising five relatively flat plateaus of basalt soil, the highlands account for 16% of the country’s arable land and 22% of its total forested land. The soil in much of southern Vietnam is relatively poor in nutrients.
Vietnam’s culture has developed over the centuries from indigenous ancient Dong Son culture with wet rice agriculture as its economic base. Some elements of the national culture have Chinese origins, drawing on elements of Confucianism and Taoism in its traditional political system and philosophy. Vietnamese society is structured around lang (ancestral villages), in which the national religion of Buddhism is strongly entwined with popular culture. In recent centuries, the influences of Western cultures, most notably France and the United States, have become evident in Vietnam.
The traditional focuses of Vietnamese culture are humanity and harmony; family and community values are highly regarded. Vietnam reveres a number of key cultural symbols, such as the Vietnamese dragon, which is derived from crocodile and snake imagery; Vietnam’s National Father, Lac Long Quan, is depicted as a holy dragon. The lac – a holy bird representing Vietnam’s National Mother, Au Co – is another prominent symbol, while turtle and horse images are also revered.
In the modern era, the cultural life of Vietnam has been deeply influenced by government-controlled media and cultural programs. For many decades, foreign cultural influences – especially those of Western origin – were shunned. However, since the 1990s, Vietnam has seen a greater exposure to Southeast Asian, European and American culture and media.