Vietnam History


The people that settled in the region of what is now know as Vietnam are a fusion of different races, languages and cultures. Just as in other areas of Southeast Asia, the Indochina Peninsula became a final destination for the migrations of many different people, which included speakers of Tai, Mon-Khmer, and Austronesian languages. The Vietnamese language itself is indicative of the cultural mix of the Vietnamese people, borrowing elements from Mon-Khmer, Tai, Austronesian languages as well as infusions of Chinese terminology. 

Their pre-history consisted of two sophisticated Bronze Age cultures from 2000 B.C. to the first century, The Phung-nguyen and the Dong Son. The south became part of the Indianised kingdom of Funan, which was supplanted by the Hindu kingdom of Champa. The Tai-speaking peoples that migrated from the Yunnan region in China settled in Tonkin and Annam, the northern and central regions of Vietnam. Their dis- tinct tribal groupings were known as the Tai Dam (Black Tai), Tai Deng (Red Tai), Tai Khao (White Tai), and the Nung. 

According to legend the founder of Vietnam was Hung Vuong, the first ruler of the Hung dynasty (2879 – 258 B.C.) in the kingdom of Van Lang. In Vietnamese my- thology, Lac Long Quan (Lac Dragon Lord) came to the Red River Delta from the sea and taught the people how to cultivate rice. Hung Vuong was his eldest son with the Chinese immortal Au Co. Vietnamese scholars associate the Hung dynasty with the Dong Sonian culture. After the last Hung king was overthrown, the kingdom was conquered by the Chinese Qin dynasty. Shortly after the Qin was replaced by the Han dynasty in China and the Qin military commander, Trieu Da, unwilling to accept the new rulers combined all the territories under his control into the kingdom of Nam Viet. Viet was the term for all the people on the fringes of the Han Empire so Nam Viet meant Southern Viet. Although he was originally a conqueror, Vietnamese historians consider Trieu Da as a defender of their homeland against the Han Chinese. After his death the Han incorporated Nam Viet into the Han Empire. This was the beginning of a thousand years of Chinese rule that resulted into the Sinicization of the Vietnamese culture. One positive aspect of this was the adoption of a Confucian bureaucratic, family and social structure since it gave them the strength to resist the Chinese domination in later centuries.

With the break up of the Han dynasty in China, a former Han official in charge of the region around the present city of Hue, established his own kingdom. Gradually coming under Indian cultural influence, this became the kingdom of Champa. It was originally a decentralized country made up of four states. The Cham people were of Malayo- Polynesian ethnicity with a maritime tradition and a powerful fleet that was used for commerce and piracy. They were finally united in 400AD but would continue to be attacked by the Chinese, Java from the south, the Khmer Empire in the west and later the Vietnamese kingdom in the north over the years. 

Toward the end of the first millennium, the Chinese were finally driven out of Vietnam. The first great dynasty of Vietnam was the Ly dynasty with its capital in Dai La (Hanoi). The dynasty would have to endure repeated invasions from China as well as the Khmer and Champa kingdoms from the south. The kingdom was then known as Dai Viet with it capital in present day Hanoi. This was the first stable Vietnamese dynasty and would adopt many of the characteristics that were found in later Vietnamese states. They would adopt Buddhism as their state religion, promote literature and art, and pattern their administration after the Chinese. The Ly would also begin to spread their influence southward into to the territory controlled by the Champas. The Ly dynasty was replaced by the Tran dynasty through an arranged marriage. The Tran are best known for repelling repeated attacks by the powerful Mongol Empire of Kublai Khan and they would continue the southward expansion into Champa. Insurrections by the peasant class caused the downfall of the Tran dynasty and an ambitious general seized the throne and instituted a number of reforms. These reforms were unpopular with the feudal lords who appealed to the Ming dynasty in China to help restore the Tran. The Ming reasserted Chinese control over Vietnam and administer the county as a province of China. During this time much of the cultural and governmental influence on Vietnam can be attributed to the Ming. However, because of its location on the South China Sea and contact with merchants from other cultures as well as the Indianized Champa and Khmer kingdoms served to counterbalance the Chinese influence.

Le Loi is credited with defeating the Chinese army and establishing the Le dynasty, considered to by the greatest and longest lasting dynasty of Vietnam. The greatest Le ruler, Le Thanh Tong, would permanently subjugate Champa and institute the formation of the Hong Duc legal code. The legal code was based on Chinese law but featured the recognition of the higher position of women in Vietnamese society. Later Le rulers would come under the control of ambitious family magnates. The two families, the Nguyen and the Trinh, would ruler in the name of the Le crown but had effectively divided the country into north and south while trying to depose one another.

Three Tay Son brothers would lead a peasant rebellion and bring an end to the weaken Le dynasty along with the Trinh and Nguyen families. The country was united once again with each of the three brothers controlling a section of the country. A nephew of the last Nguyen lord, Nguyen Anh, managed to escape and appealed to the French for assistance. Nguyen Anh began to win back portions of the south controlled by the youngest and weakest Tay Son brother. With French support he would finally succeed in taking control of the rest of the country. As the new ruler, he adopted the name of Gia Long and change the name of the country to Nam Viet although the Chinese would insist on inverting the name to Viet Nam. 

The French presence in Vietnam increased in the form of traders, missionaries, diplomats and naval personnel and they were beginning to where out their welcome. The rulers made attempts to curb the French influence to which the French responded with an invasion force without any effort to negotiate a treaty. It was their rationalization that it was their duty to bring the benefits of a superior culture to the less fortunate in Asia. By the end of the 19th century, the French had established the Indochinese Union which was comprised of the colony of Cochinchina (the southern part of Vietnam and the protectorates of North and Central Vietnam, renamed Tonkin and Annam respectively, as well as Cambodia and Laos.

The French objectives, as with most of the colonial administrations in Southeast Asia, was to exploit the region without regard for the Vietnamese people. This gave rise to nationalism and independence movements in many different forms. Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese Communist party were able to succeed where others had failed because he was able to meld the forces of urban nationalism with the peasant rebellion. Unlike their former Union Indochinois neighbours Cambodia and Laos, Vietnam was not given its independence from the French. They had to fight two long wars against the French and then the United States before an independent united Vietnam was achieved in 1975.