The history of Vietnam is one of the longest to be found in any country, with archaeological excavations revealing a past that goes back almost as far as earth’s recorded time. To study this extensive history in detail would take you, the reader literally years, thus I have cut it down, deleted some of the less important periods and have concentrated on those I feel will be of more interest to the general traveller considering visiting this fascinating and beautiful country.
The country has seen both prosperous times as well as years of slumber. Evolving over literally thousands of years Vietnam and its progressive expansions have always been under constant pressure from her powerful neighbour, China and throughout the county’s history, China features very strongly.
Vietnam has her own legends concerning the origins of the race but according to the history books the Vietnamese first
appeared as one of many scattered peoples living in what is now South China and Northern Vietnam just before the beginning of the Christian era.
According to local tradition, the small Vietnamese kingdom of Au Lac, located in the heart of the Red River valley, was founded by a line of legendary kings who had ruled over the ancient kingdom of Van Lang for thousands of years. Archaeological findings indicate that the early peoples of the Red River delta area were among the first East Asians to practice agriculture and by the first century BC had achieved an advanced level of civilization.
The Chinese Influence In 221 BC the Ch'in dynasty in China conquered the neighbouring states and became the first to rule over a united China. The Ch'in Empire, however, did not survive the death of its founder, Shih Huang Ti and this was soon felt by Vietnam.
The Chinese commander in the south built his own kingdom, Nam Viet (South Viet; Chinese, Nan Yüeh); the young state of Au Lac was included. In 111 BC, Chinese armies conquered Nam Viet and included it in the growing Han Empire. This conquest had fateful consequences for the future course of Vietnamese history.
Chinese rulers attempted to include Vietnam politically and culturally into the Han Empire. Administrators were brought in to replace the local rulers and political systems along Chinese lines were imposed. Confucianism became the official ideology. The Chinese language was introduced as the official language and Chinese script as the writing. Chinese art, architecture and music also influenced Vietnamese history.
Vietnamese resistance to rule by the Chinese was fierce but ineffectual and the Vietnamese during these times had a fondness for murdering anyone in power, including their families that weren’t popular, a practice that continued up until the 1600’s.
The most famous early revolt took place in AD 39, when two widows of local aristocrats, the Trung sisters, led an uprising against foreign rule. The revolt was briefly successful and the older sister, Trung Trac, established herself as ruler of an independent state. Chinese armies returned to the attack, however, and in AD 43 Vietnam was re-conquered.
Independence The Trung sisters' revolt was the first in a series of uprisings that took place during the thousand years of Chinese rule in Vietnam. In 939, Vietnamese forces under Ngo Quyen took advantage of chaotic conditions in China and set up an independent state. Ngo Quyen's death a few years later prompted a period of civil strife, but in the early 11th century the first of the great Vietnamese dynasties was founded.
Under the astute leadership of several dynamic rulers, the Ly dynasty ruled Vietnam for more than 200 years, from 1010 to 1225. The rise of this dynasty encouraged a feeling of patriotism among the Vietnamese despite the retention of many of the political and social laws that had been introduced during Chinese rule.
Confucianism continued to provide the foundation for the political institutions of the state. The Chinese civil service examination system as the means of selecting government officials was retained and eventually not just men of noble background, but the general public could sit the test. The educational system continued to follow the Chinese model and young Vietnamese were schooled in the Confucian classics and grew up conversant with the ideas that had shaped Chinese history.
Vietnamese society, however, filtered through and native forms of expression continued to flourish. At the village level, social laws and lifestyle reflected native Vietnamese traditions more than Chinese.
The Ly Dynasty Primarily an agricultural state, most of the land was divided among the nobility. Some landholding
farmers also existed, however, and powerful monarchs frequently attempted to protect this class by limiting the power of feudal lords and dividing up their large estates. The Vietnamese economy though was not based solely on agriculture. Commerce and manufacturing thrived, local crafts appeared in regional markets throughout the area and trade grew.
Change and Expansion The Ly dynasty and its successor, the Tran from 1225-1400 helped Vietnam become a powerful nation in Southeast Asia. China though, still wanted to control the Red River delta and when the Mongol dynasty came to power in the 13th century, the armies of Kublai Khan attacked Vietnam in an effort to re-instate it into the Chinese Empire. The Vietnamese resisted and after several battles sent them back across the border.
While the Vietnamese continued to fight the forces from the north an area of equal and growing concern lay to the south. For centuries, the Vietnamese state had been restricted to the area around the Red River valley. Tension between Vietnam and the kingdom of Champa, the seafaring state along the central coast, began shortly after the restoration of Vietnamese independence.
The Cham occupied the capital near Hanoi but were gradually driven further south. Finally, in the 15th century, Vietnamese forces captured the Cham capital south of present-day Da Nang. The following generations continued their drive south wiping out the remnants of the Cham Kingdom closed in on the Mekong delta.
Here it came up against, the Khmer Empire, the most powerful state in the region. By the late 16th century, however, its
strength had dwindled and it offered little resistance to Vietnamese encroachment. By the end of the 17th century, Vietnam had occupied the lower Mekong delta and began to advance to the west, threatening to transform the disintegrating Khmer state into a protectorate.
The Le Dynasty The Vietnamese advancement to the south coincided with yet more trouble in the north. In 1407 Vietnam again suffered under the hands of the Chinese. For twenty years, the Ming dynasty tried to get Vietnam back, but in 1428, resistance forces under the rebel leader Le Loi won hands down and restored Vietnamese independence once more.
Le Loi became the first emperor of the Le Dynasty that maintained power for more than a hundred years. Then in the 16th century it began to decline again. Power then went to two rival clans, the Trinh and the Nguyen. When the former became dominant, the Nguyen were granted leadership in the south, subsequently dividing Vietnam into two separate areas.
By the late 18th century, the Le dynasty was near collapse. Nearly all the paddy fields were controlled by powerful lords, this in turn made the peasants angry which then led them to revolt and in 1789 Nguyen Hue, the ablest of the Tay Son brothers, a powerful family at the time revolted, briefly restoring Vietnam to united rule.
Like many of his Vietnamese predecessors Nguyen Hue died shortly after ascending the throne; a few years later Nguyen Anh, one of the heirs to the Nguyen house in the south, defeated the Tay Son armies. He became Emperor Gia Long and established a new dynasty in 1802.
The French Pierre Pigneau de Behaine, a French missionary, raised a mercenary force to help Nguyen Anh seize the throne in the hope that the new emperor would provide France with trading and missionary privileges. The Nguyen dynasty, however, was suspicious of French influence.
Roman Catholic missionaries and their Vietnamese converts were then persecuted, and a number executed during the 1830’s. Religious groups in France demanded action from the government in Paris and eventually Emperor Napoleon III sent naval expedition in 1858 which he hoped would force the Vietnamese and the court to accept a French protectorate.
The first French attack at Da Nang Harbour failed to achieve its objectives, but a second further south was more
successful and in 1862 the court at Hue agreed to cede several provinces in the Mekong delta, later called Cochin China, to France. In the 1880s the French returned to the offensive, launching an attack on the north. After severe defeats, the Vietnamese accepted a French protectorate over the remaining territory of Vietnam.
French colonial rule met with little resistance. The national sense of identity, however, had not been destroyed and anti-colonial sentiment soon emerged. Poor economic conditions contributed to hostility towards these new rulers and despite the French occupation having brought improvements in transportation, communications, commerce and manufacturing, colonialism brought little improvement in livelihood to the masses.
In the countryside, peasants struggled to survive, paying exorbitant taxes as well as working hard in the fields. Workers in factories, coal mines and on rubber plantations laboured in abysmal conditions for low wages. By the 1920’s, nationalist parties began to demand reform and independence. In 1930 the revolutionary Ho Chi Minh formed an Indochinese Communist party.
World War Until World War II started in 1939, such groups laboured without success. In 1940, however, Japan demanded and received the right to place Vietnam under military occupation, restricting the local French administration to figurehead authority.
The Communists seized the opportunity and organized the Vietminh Front that prepared to launch an uprising at the war's end. The Vietminh (League for the Independence of Vietnam) emphasized moderate reform and national independence rather than specifically Communist aims.
When the Japanese surrendered to the Allies in August 1945, Vietminh forces arose throughout Vietnam and declared the establishment of an independent republic in Hanoi. The French, however, were unwilling to concede independence and in October drove the Vietminh and other nationalist groups out of the south. For more than a year the French and the Vietminh sought a negotiated solution, but the talks, held in France, failed to resolve differences and war broke out in December 1946.
The French leave The conflict lasted for nearly eight years. The Vietminh retreated building up their forces while the French formed a rival Vietnamese government under Emperor Bao Dai, the last ruler of the Nguyen dynasty. Unfortunately Vietminh forces lacked the strength to defeat the French and were forced to restricted their activities to guerrilla warfare.
Emperor Bao Dai
In 1953 and 1954 the French fortified a base at Dien Bien Phu. After months of siege the Vietminh overran the fortress in a decisive battle. As a consequence, the French government could no longer resist the pressure at home and in June 1954 agreed to end the war. They divided the country at the 17th parallel, with the Vietminh in the North and the French and their Vietnamese supporters in the South. To avoid permanent partition, a political protocol was drawn up, calling for national elections to reunify the country two years after the signing of the treaty.
The Socialist Republic of Vietnam Today, the socialist republic of Vietnam is the unification of North and South Vietnam. Vietnam has established friendly diplomatic relations with many countries in the world.
In 1990 the European Union established official diplomatic relations with Vietnam. In 1992 Vietnam signed a 1976 ASEAN agreement on regional amity and cooperation, regarded as the first step towards ASEAN membership, which occurred in 1996. Vietnam established diplomatic relations with South Korea in 1992, the United States removed a trade embargo in 1994 and in 1995 Vietnam and the United States agreed to exchange low-level diplomats. By 1997, the two countries had established full diplomatic relations.
Peace has settled for the first time in many years and suddenly the country is reaping the rewards. Tourism is slow but beginning to boom and the economy improves almost daily. It has become the country of new discoveries and adventures with a potential that is only now showing it’s shy and beautiful face to the rest of the world.