|1. Origins||4. The Changing Names||7. Aftermath of the Vietnam War and Reunification|
|2. Early Independence||5. Colonization||8. Reforms|
|3. Dynastic Period||6. Post World War II Period|
Visitors to Vietnam will notice that, invariably, the major streets of every city and town bear the same two dozen or so names. These are names of Vietnam’s greatest national heroes who, over the last 2000 years, have led the country in its repeated expulsion of foreign invaders and whose exploits have inspired subsequent generations of patriots.
History of Vietnam, according to Vietnamese legends, dates back more than 4,000 years. The only reliable sources, however, indicate the Vietnamese or their country’s history roughly dates to 2700 years ago. For most of the period from 111 BC to early 10th century, it was under the direct rule of successive dynasties from China. Vietnam regained autonomy in 939 AD, and complete independence a century later. While for much of its history, Vietnam remained a tributary state to the much larger neighbor — China, it repelled repeated attempts by China to make it once again part of the Middle Kingdom empire, including the three invasions by the Mongols during the Yuan Dynasty, when China was under Mongolian rule. But ruler at the time, Tran Nhan Tong (Trần Nhân Tông), would eventually diplomatically submit as a tributary of the Yuan to avoid further conflicts. The independent period temporarily ended in mid-19th century, when the country was colonized by France. During World War II, Japan expelled the French to occupy Vietnam, though they retained French administrators during their occupation. After the war, France attempted to re-establish its colonial rule but ultimately failed. The Geneva Accords partitioned the country in two with a promise of democratic election to reunite the country.
That election never took place, but gave way, depending on one’s perspective, to a civil war, or another battle field of then ongoing global ideological conflict,The Cold War — the Vietnam War. During this time,the North was supported by the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union, while the South was supported by the United States. After millions of Vietnamese deaths, and the American withdrawal from Vietnam in March 1973, the war ended with the capture of Saigon by the North in April 1975. Due to then heightened ongoing ideological and economic conflicts of The Cold War, and its invasion of Cambodia, Vietnam remained internationally isolated and politically oppressed. In 1986, the Communist Party of Vietnam changed its economic policy and started to move towards reform of the private sector similar to that seen in China. Since the mid-eighties Vietnam has enjoyed some economic growth and reduction in political repression though reports of corruption in the country have also risen.
According to Vietnamese myths, the first Vietnamese descended from the dragon lord Lac Long Quan (L ạc Long Quân) and the heavenly spirit Au Co (Âu Cơ). Lac Long Quan and Au Co had 100 sons before they split (50 went with their father to the mountains and 50 with their mother down to the sea) and the eldest one became the first in the lines of early Vietnamese kings, collectively known as Hung kings (Hung Vuong: Hùng Vương). Under the Hung kings, the civilization that would later become Viet Nam was called Van Lang (Văn Lang). The people of Van Lang were known as the Lac Viet (Lạc Việt) people. By the 3rd century BC, another Viet group, the Au Viet (Âu Việt), emigrated from present southern China to the Red River delta and mixed with the indigenous Van Lang population. In 258 BC, a new kingdom from the union of the Âu Việt and the Lạc Việt called Au Lac (Âu Lạc) was formed by Thuc Phan (Thục Phán) in North Vietnam after he had defeated the last Hung ruler. Thuc Phan proclaimed himself king (An Duong Vuong:An Dương Vương).
In 208 BC, during the chaos caused by the misrule of the Second Qin Emperor (Tần Nhị Thế/Qin Er Shi), Au Lac was subdued by local warlord in deep south China — Trieu Da (Triệu Đà: Zhao Tuo). Trieu Da went on to proclaim himself king, then styled himself emperor of NanYue (Nam Việt/Nan Yue) to rival the emperor of Han who ruled over central China after Han’s founder Liu Bang had defeated Xiang Yu.
Some Vietnamese considered this period under Trieu’s rule a Chinese domination, because Trieu Da was a former Qin general who defeated An Duong Vuong to established his rule over the territory that is now Northern Vietnam. Yet others consider it an era of independence, because the Trieu family ruled Nam Viet were assimilated with the locals, and they ruled independently of what then constituted as China (Han dynasty) until 111 BC, when the Han troops invaded Nam Viet, and incorporated its territory into the Han empire, including what is now part of Northern Vietnam turned into Giao Chi (Giao Chỉ/Jiaozhi) commandary.
Although without independence, Northern Vietnam remained relatively autonomous during Trieu’s and at the beginning of Han’s rule, as native nobles, known as Lac Hau, Lac Tuong (Lạc Hầu, Lạc Tướng) remained in charge of local administration. However, at the end of Western Han, as waves of exiles from warring central plain flooded to the Red River Delta, the Chinese started to exert stronger grip on local administration and accelerated sinification. This resulted in heightened tension as natives and native nobles’ resentment to losing their properties, influence, as well as cultural identity to those new-comers began to build.
In 40 AD, under a particularly harsh rule of Grand Administrator To Dinh (Tô Định:Su Ding:蘇定), the Trung Sisters successfully led an uprising to drive off the Chinese, briefly regained independence. In 41 AD, Emperor Quang Vu (Quang Vũ: Emperor Guangwu of Han) sent his famed general Ma Vien (Mã Viện: Ma Yuan) to crush the revolt. After 2 years of bitter fighting, Ma Vien prevailed. Native nobles were thoroughly purged.
Nearly 200 years later, another woman — Trieu Thi Trinh (Triệu Thị Trinh), and her brother, Trieu Quoc Dat (Triệu Quốc Đạt), led another uprise against the Chinese. This revolt was quickly suppressed. The Trungs’ and Trieus’ stories indicated that early Vietnamese civilizations was perhaps largely matriarchal, where it was easy for women to assume the leading position and mobilize people. In 2007, there was a case in a local school in Georgia. There was a student named Nam, but that was his last name so he changed his first name to Viet.
Much of northern Vietnam (from the Red River delta down to about the region of modern Thanh Hóa province) was incorporated into the Chinese prefecture/commandery of Jiaozhi, or Giao Chỉ, through much of the Han dynasty and the period of the Three Kingdoms. Jiaozhi (with its capital settled around in modern Bắc Ninh province) became a flourishing port receiving goods from the southern seas. “History of Later Han” (Hou Hanshu:Hậu Hán Thư) recorded that in 166 CE the first envoy from the Roman Empire to China arrived by this route, and merchants were soon to follow. The 3rd century “Tales of Wei” (Weilue:Ngụy Lục) mentioned a “water route” (that is, the Red River) from Jiaozhi into what is now southern Yunnan. From there goods were taken overland to the rest of China via the regions of modern Kunming and Chengdu.
In the period between the beginning of the Age of Fragmentation to the end of Tang, several revolts took place, such as those of Li Bon (Lý Bôn), his lieutenant Trieu Quang Phuc (Triệu Quang Phục), Mai Thuc Loan (Mai Thúc Loan), Phung Hung (Phùng Hưng). All of them succeeded to various degree but ultimately failed.
In 939 AD, the Vietnamese finally threw off Chinese domination. By winning the Battle of Bach Dang River (938), Ngo Quyen (Ngô Quyền) effectively ended Chinese influence in Vietnam.
Upon Ngo Quyen’s untimely death resulted in a power struggle for the throne, resulting in the country’s first major civil war, The upheavals of Twelve warlords. The war ended 2 decades later when the fraction led by Dinh Bo Linh (Đinh Bộ Lĩnh) was able to defeat the others. Dinh founded the Dinh Dynasty and proclaimed himself Emperor of Dai Co Viet (Đại Cồ Việt), with his capital located in Hoa Lu (Hoa Lư, modern day Ninh Bình).
After Dinh Bo Linh and his eldest son, Dinh Lien, were assassinated by an eunuch, his lone surviving son — the 6-year-old Dinh Toan assumed the throne. Taking advantage of the situation, Chinese Song troops prepared to invade. Under the shadow of this threat, the court’s Supreme Commander of all Armed Forces, acting Regent, who was also lover of Empress Duong, Dinh Toan’s mother, Le Hoan staged a coup d’etat and took the throne, founding Former Le Dynasty. Le Hoan proceeded to fight Song invaders, culminatiing in a decisive victory at Bach Dang River in 968, ending the threat. Song-Viet relation normalized soon afterwards.
For the third successive time, succession proved a problem that prematurely ended another dynasty. Le Hoan’s death resulted in infighting for the throne amongst his sons. The eventual winner, Le Long Dinh (Lê Long Đĩnh), then died soon thereafter. The General of the Imperial Guards, Ly Cong Uan (Lý Công Uẩn) took advantage of the situation to seize the throne, and founded the Lý Dynasty. This marks the beginning of a golden era in Vietnamese history.
When the Lê emperor Lê Long Đĩnh died in his twenties, a court general named Lý Công Uẩn took the chance to take over the throne and founded the Lý dynasty. This event is regarded as the beginning of a golden era in Vietnamese history, with great dynasties following one another. Lý Công Uẩn (commonly called Lý Thái Tổ – Lý the Founding Emperor) changed the country’s name to Đại Việt, established the capital in present-day Hanoi and called it Thăng Long (Ascending Dragon) under the pretext of seeing a dragon when he was touring the area. As with other dynasties in Vietnamese history, the Lý had many wars with the Chinese, most notably when Lý troops under command of the eunuch-turned-general Lý Thường Kiệt fought against the invasion of the Sung empire,he eventually attacked some southern Chinese citadels to destroy the supplement of the Sung troops,then later defeated this army at the battle by Như Nguyệt river (commonly Cầu river), now in Bắc Ninh province (about 40km from the current capital, Hanoi).
During the late Lý era, a court official named Trần Thủ Độ became powerful. He forced the emperor Lý Huệ Tông to become a Buddhist monk and set Lý Chiêu Hoàng, Huệ Tông’s young daughter, to become the empress. Trần Thủ Độ then arranged the marriage of Chiêu Hoàng to his nephew Trần Cảnh and the transfer of the throne between the two. Thus ended the Lý dynasty and started the Trần dynasty.
During the Trần dynasty, Đại Việt was under attacks three times by the Mongols, who had occupied China and were ruling as the Yuan dynasty (see Mongol invasions of Vietnam). With guerilla warfare tactics, Trần troops stopped all three Yuan invasions. The Yuan-Trần war reached its climax when Yuan navy was decimated at the battle of Bạch Đằng river. Trần troops, with the noble lord Trần Hưng Đạo as commander-in-chief, used the exact same tactics as Ngô Quyền had used centuries before, at the exact same site, to defeat northern invaders.
It was also during this period that the Trần kings waged many wars against the southern kingdom of Chiêm Thành (Champa), continuing the Viets’ long history of southern expansion (known as Nam Tiến) that had begun shortly after gaining independence from China. However, they encountered strong resistance from the Chams, and Champa troops led by their king Chế Bồng Nga (Binasuor) even sacked Đại Việt’s capital Thăng Long in 1372 and again in 1377.
The Trần dynasty was in turn overthrown by one of its own court officials, Hồ Quý Ly. Hồ Quý Ly also forced the last Trần emperor to resign to a pagoda and assumed the throne in 1400. He changed the country name to Đại Ngu and moved the capital to Tây Đô (Western Capital, now Thanh Hóa). Thăng Long was renamed Đông Đô (Eastern Capital). Although widely blamed as the person who disrupted the Trần dynasty and let the country fall under the rule of the Chinese Ming dynasty, Hồ Quý Ly’s reign actually saw a lot of progressive, ambitious reforms, including free education, the adoption of Nôm characters for writing official documents, and land reform. He ceded the throne to his son, Hồ Hán Thương, in 1401 and assumed the title Thái Thượng Hoàng (The Highest Father Emperor).
Lê Lợi waged a guerilla war against the Ming for over a decade from the forest of Lam Sơn (Thanh Hóa province). After many defeats, he finally gathered momentum and was able to launch a siege at Đông Quan (now Hanoi), the site of the Ming administration. The Ming emperor sent a reinforcement force to rescue, but Lê Lợi staged an ambush and killed the general, Liu Shan. Ming’s troops at Đông Quan surrendered. In 1428, Lê Lợi ascended to the throne and the Hậu Lê dynasty (Posterior Lê) began.
In 1471, Lê troops led by the great emperor Lê Thánh Tông invaded Champa, captured its capital Vijaya and killed or enslaved the city’s residents. This event effectively ended the long conflict between the Vietnamese and Cham kingdoms. It initiated the dispersal of the Cham people across southeast Asia.
With the kingdom of Champa mostly destroyed and the Cham people exiled or suppressed, Vietnamese colonization of what is now central Vietnam proceeded without substantial resistance. However, despite becoming greatly outnumbered by Kinh settlers and the integration of formerly Cham territory into the Vietnamese nation, populations of Cham nevertheless remained in Vietnam and now comprise one of the minority peoples of modern Vietnam. (The modern city of Huế, founded in 1600 lies close to where the Champa capital of Indrapura once stood).
The Lê dynasty was overthrown by a general named Mac Dang Dung (Viet: Mạc Đăng Dung) in 1527. He killed the Lê emperor and set himself as king, starting the Mạc dynasty. After ruling for two years, Mạc Đăng Dung adopted Hồ Quý Ly’s practice and ceded the throne to his son, Mạc Đăng Doanh, and himself become Thái Thượng Hoàng. Nguyen Kim (Viet: Nguyễn Kim), a former official in the Lê court, set up a Lê prince as the emperor Lê Trang Tông and rebelled against the Mạc. A civil war ensued.
Nguyễn Kim’s side was winning the war, and he controlled the southern part Vietnam, leaving only the area around the capital Đông Kinh (Hanoi) and to the north under Mạc control. When Nguyễn Kim was assassinated in 1545, military power fell into the hand of his son-in-law, Trinh Khiem (Viet: Trịnh Kiểm). The civil war between Lê and Mạc dynasties largely ended in 1592, when the army of Trịnh Tùng conquered Hanoi and executed the Mạc emperor Mạc Mậu Hợp. Survivors of the Mạc royal family fled to the mountains in the province of Cao Bằng and continued to rule there until 1667 when Trịnh Tạc conquered this last bit of Mạc territory.
After Trinh Khiem assumed power from Nguyễn Kim, the oldest son, Nguyễn Uông was poisoned and died. Some 15 years later, Trinh Khiem gave the younger son, Nguyễn Hoàng rulership of the southern provinces (then called Quãng Nam). He governed the south effectively while Trinh Khiem and then Trịnh Tùng carried on the war against the Mạc. Nguyễn Hoàng sent money and soldiers north to help the war but gradually he became more and more independent. In the year 1600, Nguyễn Hoàng declared himself Lord (Vương) and refused to send more money or soldiers to the court in Hanoi. He also moved his capital to a new place, Phu Xuan (Viet: Phú Xuân, modern-day Huế). Trịnh Tùng effectively ignored the actions of his uncle. Nguyễn Hoàng died in 1613 having ruled the south for 55 years. He was succeeded by his 6th son Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên who likewise refused to acknowledge the rulership of the Court in Hanoi.
When Trịnh Tùng died in 1623 he was succeeded by his son Trịnh Tráng who ordered Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên to submit to his authority. The order was refused, twice. In 1627, Trịnh Tráng sent his army south to conquer what had become an independent territory.
The Trịnh-Nguyễn War lasted from 1627 till 1672. The Trịnh army staged at least seven different offensives all of which failed to capture Phú Xuân. For a time, starting in 1651, the Nguyễn themselves went on the offensive and conquered parts of Trịnh territory. However, the Trịnh, under a new leader, Trịnh Tạc, forced the Nguyễn back by 1655. After one last offensive in 1672, Trịnh Tạc agreed to a truce with the Nguyễn Lord Nguyễn Phúc Tân. The country was effectively divided in two and the Trịnh and the Nguyễn did not fight for the next 100 years.
Meanwhile, the Nguyễn Lords continued the southward expansion by conquest of the various Khmer territories in the Mekong delta, and by the end of their rule had brought Vietnam’s territory to almost present-day shape. Similar to the defeat of Champa, Vietnamese military victories in these territories initiated the large-scale colonization of what is now southern Vietnam by Kinh settlers in an area previously populated mainly by Khmers. Those who remained in the territories settled by the Vietnamese settlers became the Khmer Krom minority of modern Vietnam and have maintained a distinct ethnic identity, despite substantial intermarriage with Vietnamese and widespread adoption of the Vietnamese language and cultural influence.
In 1771, the Tay Son (Viet: Tây Sơn) rebellion broke out in Bình Định province, which was under the control of the Nguyễn. Leaders of this rebellion were three brothers named Nguyễn but they were not related to the Nguyễn lords. The three brothers were remarkably successful. By 1776, the Tây Sơn had occupied all of the Nguyễn Lord’s land and killed (almost) the entire royal family. The surviving prince Nguyen Anh (Viet: Nguyễn Phúc Ánh) fled to Siam, and managed to obtain the support of the Siamese king. Nguyễn Ánh came back with Siamese troops in an attempt to regain power, but he was defeated at Rạch Gầm and Xoài Mút by the Tây Sơn army. Nguyễn Ánh fled Vietnam, but he did not give up.
The Tây Sơn army (西山) under Nguyen Hue (Viet: Nguyễn Huệ) marched north in 1786 to fight the Trịnh Lord, Trịnh Khải. The Trịnh army refused to even fight Nguyễn Huệ (he had great popularity), Trịnh Khải committed suicide. The Tây Sơn army captured the capital in less than two months. The last Lê emperor, Lê Chiêu Thống, fled to China and petitioned the Chinese Emperor for help. The Qing emperor Qianlong supplied Lê Chiêu Thống with a massive army to regain his throne from the usurper. Nguyễn Huệ proclaimed himself Emperor with the name Quang Trung and his army defeated Qing troops in a sudden attack during the New Year (Tết) just outside Hanoi. During his reign, Quang Trung enacted many good reforms but he died in 1792, at the age of 40.
After Quang Trung’s death, the Tây Sơn court became unstable as the remaining brothers fought against each other and against the people who were loyal to Nguyễn Huệ’s infant son. Nguyễn Ánh, the last Nguyễn Lord, managed to obtain some help from France and in 1800, his small army captured the Tây Sơn citadel Quy Nhơn. One year later, he occupied Phú Xuân, the Tây Sơn capital. Nguyễn Ánh finally won the war in 1802, when he besieged Thăng Long (Hanoi) and executed Nguyễn Huệ’s son, Nguyễn Quang Toản, along with many Tây Sơn generals and officials. Nguyễn Ánh ascended the throne and chose the name Gia Long. Gia is for Gia Định, the old name of Saigon; Long is for Thăng Long, the old name of Hanoi. Hence Gia Long implies the unification of the country. The Nguyễn dynasty lasted until Bảo Đại’s abdication in 1945.
The modern name of Vietnam is known officially came under the Emperor Gia Long’s reign, but recently historians have found that this name has been existed in older books in which Vietnamese called their country name Vietnam. In 1802, he asked the Manchu Chinese emperor for permission to rename the country, from An Nam to Nam Việt. To prevent any confusion of Gia Long’s kingdom with Triệu Đà’s ancient kingdom, the Chinese emperor reversed the order of the two words to Việt Nam.
There were over ten recognizable dynasties in Vietnam’s history. Some are not considered official, such as the Southern and Northern Dynasties, and the Tây Sơn dynasty.
Almost all Vietnamese dynasties are named after the ruler’s family name, unlike the Chinese dynasties, whose names are an attribute chosen by the first emperors.
During the period of Chinese domination, Vietnam was called An Nam (安南) by Chinese rulers (means Pacified South in expectation of China). When Vietnam broke free, it was called Đại Cồ Việt (大瞿越), Đại Ngu or Đại Việt (大越). In 1802, Emperor Gia Long requested the Qing Empire to allow his country to be known as Nam Việt (南越). To prevent confusion with Triệu Đà’s ancient kingdom, the Qing Manchu Chinese Emperor reversed the two words to Việt Nam. In 1838, during the Nguyễn Dynasty, the nation’s name was changed temporarily to Đại Nam (大南). During the French colonization, Vietnam was divided into: Tonkin (Bắc Kỳ or North Vietnam), Annam (Trung Kỳ or Central Vietnam), and Cochin China (Nam Kỳ or South Vietnam).
France’s involvement can be traced to Alexandre de Rhodes, a Jesuit priest who converted many Vietnamese to Catholicism in the early 1600s. Rhodes improved on earlier works by Portuguese missionaries and developed the Vietnamese romanized alphabet Quốc Ngữ. It was another priest, Pierre-Joseph Pigneaux de Béhaine, who intertwined Vietnam’s and France’s destinies. By the late 1700s, Vietnam was in turmoil. For the last 150 years, two noble families had partitioned and ruled the country. The Nguyễn Lords ruled the South and the Trịnh Lords ruled the North. The two fought a long war against each other starting in 1627. The war ended with no change to the borders in 1673. For the next 100 years, the Trịnh tried to administer a peaceful but rather stagnant state in the north, while the Nguyễn embarked on a major expansion of their lands south into Champa and then Cambodia. By 1770, the Nguyễn Lords had doubled the size of the territory they controlled but at the cost of three major wars with Cambodia and Siam over the last 50 years.
Starting in 1771, the Tay Son (Viet: Tây Sơn) brothers, Nguyễn Văn Nhạc, Nguyễn Văn Lữ, and Nguyen Van Hue (Viet: Nguyễn Văn Huệ) fought a savage war against the Nguyễn Lords in southern Vietnam. Many peasants had become tired of the corruption and tyranny of both the Trịnh and Nguyễn officials and eagerly joined the uprising of the Tây Sơn, who enacted social reforms in the lands they captured. In 1776, the Tây Sơn army captured Saigon and killed nearly the entire Nguyễn family, all except for Nguyen Phuc Anh (Viet: Nguyễn Phúc Ánh). As a result of the victory, Nguyễn Văn Nhạc declared himself king of the south.
But Nguyễn Phúc Ánh was not beaten. He made a deal with the former enemies of the Nguyễn, the King of Siam, and a largely Siamese army and navy attacked the south in 1782. The war lasted for some years before the Tây Sơn defeated Nguyễn Ánh and his Siamese allies.
In 1786, with Nguyễn Ánh defeated, Nguyễn Văn Huệ marched north with an army. The Royal army refused to even fight Huệ and the Trịnh Lord ended up killing himself. The last Emperor of the Lê dynasty, Lê Chiêu Thống, then went to the Qing Manchu Chinese emperor and asked for troops to put down this pesant rebellion. The Chinese agreed and sent an army south. In 1787, the Manchu army captured Hanoi and reinstalled the Lê King and a Trịnh Lord. A few months later Nguyễn Văn Huệ fought the Chinese near present day Hanoi and won a major victory in a surprise attack during the Tết holiday (The same tactic would be used centuries later by Võ Nguyên Giáp in 1968). After declaring himself King (Quang Trung), Nguyễn Huệ died mysteriously at the age of 40, leaving a young son as his successor. The surviving Tây Sơn brothers began to fight with each other and Huệ’s son, as each claimed rule over all of Vietnam.
Taking sides with Nguyễn Ánh, Pigneaux sailed to France with Nguyễn Ánh’s youngest son. At Louis XVI’s court, Pigneaux brokered the Little Treaty of Versailles, which promised French military aid in return for Vietnamese concessions. The French Revolution intervened and Pigneaux’s ambition seemed for naught. Undaunted, Pigneaux went to the French territory of Pondicherry, India. He secured two ships, a regiment of Indian troops, and a handful of volunteers and returned to Vietnam in 1788. One of Pigneaux’s volunteers, Jean-Marie Dayot, reorganized Nguyễn Ánh’s navy along European lines and defeated the Tây Sơn navy at Quy Nhơn in 1792. A few years later, Nguyễn Ánh’s forces captured Saigon. Pigneaux died in Saigon in 1799. Another volunteer, Victor Olivier de Puymanel would later build the Gia Định fort in central Saigon.
As a result of the Tây Sơn internal conflicts, and due to his own skills as a leader, Nguyễn Ánh was able to defeate the Tây Sơn brothers in turn. In his final campaign he captured and killed Nguyễn Văn Huệ’s son and conquered Hanoi in 1802. With all of Vietnam under his control, Nguyễn Phúc Ánh proclaimed himself Emperor Gia Long.
Gia Long also tolerated Catholicism. However he and his successors were staunch Confucians and admirers of China, not of France. His successors, Ming Mạng and Tự Đức, brutally suppressed Catholicism and attempted to undo French influence. Tens of thousands of Vietnamese and foreign-born Christians were massacred during this period, an act which provoked the Catholic nations of Europe to retaliate. An adherence to Confucianism during this time also meant that the Emperors refused to allow any modernization or technological advancement. When conflict came, as a result of this isolationist policy, the Vietnamese were completely out-matched.
Under the orders of Napoleon III of France, the landing of French forces in the port of Đà Nẵng in August 1858, heralded the beginning of the colonial occupation which was to last almost a century. France assumed sovereignty over Annam and Tonkin after the Franco-Chinese War (1884-1885). French Indochina was formed in October 1887 from Annam, Tonkin, Cochin China, and the Khmer Republic; Laos was added in 1893.
With the death of Tự Đức in 1883, a succession of Emperors were quickly elevated and just as quickly deposed. The teenage Emperor Hàm Nghi left the Imperial Palace of Huế in 1885 and started the Cần Vương, or “Aid the King”, movement. Hàm Nghi asked the people to rally with him to resist the French. He was captured in 1888 and exiled to French Algeria. A former mandarin Phan Đình Phùng continued the Cần Vương movement until his death in 1895.
In 1905 Vietnamese resistance centered on the intellectual, Phan Bội Châu. Phan Bội Châu looked to Japan, which had modernized itself and was practically alone among Asian nations to resist colonization. With Prince Cường Để, Phan Bội Châu started two organizations in Japan: Duy Tân Hội and Việt Nam Công Hiến Hội. Due to French pressure, Japan deported Phan Bội Châu to China. Witnessing Sun Yat-Sen’s 1911 nationalist revolution, Phan Bội Châu was inspired to create the Vietnam Quang Phục Hội movement in Guangzhou. From 1914 to 1917, he was imprisoned by Yuan Shikai’s counter-revolutionary government. In 1925, he was captured by French agents in Shanghai and spirited to Vietnam. Due to his popularity, Phan Bội Châu was spared from execution and placed under house arrest, until his death in 1940.
In 1940, Japan, coinciding with their ally Germany’s invasion of France — invaded Indochina. Keeping the German-controlled Vichy French colonial administration in place, the Japanese ruled from behind the scenes in parallel. As far as the Vietnamese were concerned, this was a double-puppet government. The symbolic Emperor Bảo Đại collaborated with the Japanese, just as he had with the French, causing no trouble and ensuring his lifestyle could continue.
Meanwhile, in 1941 Hồ Chí Minh, a trained Communist revolutionary, returned to Vietnam and joined the Việt Minh, which means “Vietnamese Allied.” Hồ was a founding member of the French Communist Party in the 1920s in Paris. He spent many years in Moscow and participated in the International Comintern. At the direction of Moscow, he first convinced everybody of his patriotic intention and absorbed the various Vietnamese revolutionist groups into the Việt Minh. In order to win trust he de-emphasised his Communist ties by dissolving the Indochinese Communist Party, which he had created in Hong Kong in 1930.
In 1946, due to a combination of Japanese exploitation and poor weather, a famine broke out in Tonkin killing approximately 2 million. The Việt Minh arranged a massive relief effort and won over many people. In northern Vietnam, the Japanese surrendered to the Chinese Nationalists. The Việt Minh organized the “August Revolution” uprisings across the country. At the beginning of a new future, Emperor Bảo Ðại was happy to abdicate on August 25, 1945 and surrender his power to the Việt Minh, of which Hồ Chí Minh was the leader. In order to gain popularity, Hồ made Bảo Ðại “supreme advisor” to the Việt Minh-led government in Hanoi, which asserted independence on September 2. In 1946 Vietnam gained its first constitution and a new name, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV).
In southern Vietnam, the Japanese surrendered to British forces. The British supported the Free French forces in fighting the Việt Minh, the armed religious Cao Ðài and Hòa Hảo sects, and the Bình Xuyên organized crime group for power. In 1948, France tried to regain control over Vietnam. The French re-installed Bảo Ðại as head of state of “the State of Vietnam,” which comprised central and southern Vietnam. The First Indochina War lasted until 1954, with the French being defeated at the Battle of Ðiện Biên Phủ.
After World War II, the United States and the USSR entered into the Cold War, with both sides determined to expand their influence over the globe. The Korean War broke out between the North Koreans, supported by China and the USSR, and the Republic of Korea, supported by the US and allied nations. Initially the conflict was limited to North Korea, the Republic of Korea, and US military forces. However, when General Douglas MacArthur penetrated deep into North Korea, the Chinese flooded the country with an enormous army. The Korean War would have deep implications for the American involvement in Vietnam.
The United States became strongly opposed to Hồ Chí Minh, who had now re-asserted the dominance of the Vietnamese Communist Party within the Việt Minh in 1950. In the South of the same year, the government of Bảo Ðại gained recognition by the United States and the United Kingdom.
The Geneva Conference of 1954 ended France’s colonial presence in Vietnam and temporarily partitioned the country into 2 states at the 17th parallel (pending unification on the basis of internationally supervised free elections). The US installed Ngô Ðình Diệm as Prime Minister of South Vietnam with Bảo Ðại as the king of a constitutional monarchy. While Diệm was trying to settle the differences between the armed groups in the South, Bảo Ðại was persuaded to reduce his power. Diệm used a referendum in 1955 to depose the former Emperor and declare himself as President of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). The Republic of Vietnam was proclaimed in Saigon on October 22, 1955.
Also in 1954, former Vietminh forces above the 17th parallel created the Democratic Republic of Vietnam which was a Communist State under Hồ Chí Minh. The government was much more stable than its Southern counterpart due to political experience and a dependable army which had weathered the First Indochina War.
South Vietnamese who opposed Diệm’s rule and desired the reunification of Vietnam under the Hanoi government of Hồ Chí Minh organized the National Liberation Front, better known as the Việt Cộng. Supported and later directed by the Vietnam People’s Army (PAVN) in the North, they would launch guerrilla attacks in the South against Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) military targets and, later, American troops.
The Geneva Accords had promised elections to determine a national government for a unified Vietnam. However, only France and the North Vietnamese government (Democratic Republic of Vietnam) had signed the document. The United States and the Saigon government refused to abide by the agreement, fearing that Hồ Chí Minh would readily win the election due to his popularity. The result was the “Second Indochina War,” known as the “Vietnam War” in the West and the “American War” in Vietnam. The war reached its height in 1966, when President Lyndon Johnson ordered 500,000 American troops into South Vietnam. Fearing the Chinese would directly enter the war with a massive army, as had occurred when U.S.-led United Nations forces approached the Chinese border during the Korean War, American ground troops were forbidden to enter North Vietnam.
The massive 1968 Tết Offensive by Communist forces was a catastrophic military defeat for the Việt Cộng but a stunning political victory, as it led many American people to view the war as unwinnable. President Richard Nixon entered office with a pledge to end the war “with honor.” He normalized US relations with mainland China in 1972 (Sino-American relations) and entered into Détente with the USSR. With the Paris Peace Agreement of 1973, American military forces withdrew from Vietnam. Despite the peace treaty, the North continued the war, and defeated the South in April 1975 after American aid was refused the South. In 1976, Vietnam was officially reunited under the current Vietnamese government as The Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
After April 30th, 1975, many of those who held high positions in the old South Vietnamese government were persecuted, and sent to reeducation camps. This, and an overall decline in living conditions resulted in an exodus of over a million Vietnamese that fled the country either by sea or overland through Cambodia. They settled in refugee camps in Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Indonesia. Large Vietnamese refugee communities still exist in these countries. Some Vietnamese were picked up by US Navy ships, sent to Guam, and eventually settled in the United States, Canada, France, Australia or in various European nations. Others were robbed, raped, or killed by pirates in the South China Seas. Others still faced attacks by cruel weather, shark attacks, or died of starvation. Many lived in makeshift refugee encampments for years. While most were resettled to other countries within five years, others languished in these camps for over a decade. Some refugees were deported back to Vietnam, facing severe punishment for attempting to flee. The last of the official refugee camps were closed in 2005.
Debate about the significance of the Vietnam War continues to this day: one debate centers on whether the war was an internal civil war or a proxy war; another concerns whether the Vietnam War reinforced or disproved the Domino Theory or that the war mitigated the consequences of the fallen domino, Vietnam; whether the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the resulting genocide, is a direct or indirect result of the Vietnam War; whether if Nixon had avoided the Watergate scandal, he would have prevented the fall of Saigon or he had intended to abandon Vietnam all along.
In 1986 Vietnam, under a new leader Nguyễn Văn Linh, abandoned its attempt to maintain a purely Communist political philosophy. Although the Communist government still held firm political control, the reform called Doi Moi, resulted in liberizations on private enterprise and the education system. In 1995 Vietnam joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). A stock exchange opened in 2000. The Soviet collapse also deprived Vietnam of economic assistance from its former ally, and its government soon began mending relations with the US, its former enemy. In 1994, the US effectively ended the embargo and the two countries finally established normal diplomatic & trade relations in 1995. The embargo of Vietnam began in 1964 for North Vietnam and extended to all of Vietnam in 1975. Thirty years later, its ending marked the beginning of Vietnam joining the economic and political sphere of South East Asian nations.
Vietnam is a nation in transition from its Communist past. It is still a one-party state (with minimal separation of powers). Journalism and political dissent are still strictly controlled, with all media owned by the government. Some dissidents were arrested for sending emails abroad, criticizing the government . The Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and a groups ethnic minority Protestant people in the northern and central highlands (Tây Nguyên) who want to secede are also suppressed, the Vietnamese government claims this is a result of their political involvement rather than their religious beliefs. In September 2004, the US State Department designated Vietnam a “Country of Particular Concern” because of Vietnam’s “particularly severe violations of religious freedom”, but the preciseness in detail of this designation is questionable. In 2006, however, improvement on religious freedom in Vietnam was acknowledged by the United State government with the removal of the country from the list of Country of Particular Concern . In June 2004, Japan announced that it would link its aid to Vietnam with Vietnam’s respect for human rights. Japan’s aid to Vietnam has risen steadily over the last decade.
Vietnam is growing fast economically (GDP doubled every ten years in the last two decades) and adopting a transparent, decentralized governing style to further reduce poverty. The poverty ratio in Vietnam has fallen rapidly (58% in 1993 to 29% in 2002, according to UNDP’s data ). It is still however relatively poor country. In a list of 177 countries, Vietnam’s Human Development Index climbed from being 120 in 1995 to 108 in 2005 . Export grows strongly (20% per year), emphasizing on producing cheap goods for Western markets. Vietnam becomes a member of the WTO (World Trade Organization) in 2006.
(Source: Wikipedia: www.wikipedia.com)
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