Culture and history info
About 2,000 years ago people in North Vietnam began growing rice in the Red River Valley. To irrigate their crops they built dykes and dug canals. They were forced to work together and so an organised kingdom emerged called Van Lang. However in the 2nd century BC the Chinese conquered the area.
The Chinese ruled northern Vietnam for more than 1,000 years and Chinese civilization had a great impact on the Vietnamese.
However in South Vietnam there was Indian influence. From the 1st century to the 6th century AD the southernmost part of Vietnam was part of a state called Funan.
In the middle of Vietnam an Indian influenced state called Champa arose in the 2nd century AD.
In North Vietnam the people resented Chinese rule and in 40 AD the Trung sisters led a rebellion. They formed an independent state. However in 43 AD the Chinese crushed the rebellion and the sisters killed themselves. The Chinese continued to rule North Vietnam until the 10th century. Finally in 938 a leader named Ngo Quyen defeated the Chinese at the battle of Bach Dang River and North Vietnam became an independent state.
In the 13th century the Mongols invaded Vietnam three times. In 1257 and 1284 they captured the capital but each time they soon withdrew. Then in 1288 the Vietnamese leader Tran Hung Dao routed the Mongols at the Bach Dang River.
However in the early 15th century China tried to regain control of North Vietnam. In 1407 they occupied the country but their rule was resisted. In 1418 Le Loi began the Lam Son Uprising. By 1428 the Chinese were driven out and Le Loi became the Emperor Le Thai To. Under his successors the central Vietnamese state of Champa became a vassal state of North Vietnam.
However in the early 16th century the power of the Le dynasty declined. During the 17th and 18th centuries two rival families effectively held power, the Trinh in the north and the Nguyen in the south. The Nguyen family conquered the Mekong Delta from the Khmer Empire.
In the 1770s a rebellion began in the town of Tay Son. Three brothers called Nguyen led it. Gradually they took territory from the Nguyen lords in the south and the Trinh lords in the north. By 1786 they were in control of the whole of Vietnam and one brother, Nguyen Hue made himself Emperor Quang Trung. In 1788 the Chinese intervened in Vietnam but the Vietnamese routed them at Dong Da.
However a Nguyen lord named Nguyen Anh escaped. He raised an army and from 1789 he pushed back the rebels. Nguyen Anh took Hanoi in 1802 and made himself Emperor Gia Long. Under him Vietnam became a strong united kingdom.
Meanwhile the Portuguese reached Vietnam by sea in 1516. In their wake came missionaries, first Dominicans then Jesuits and the Roman Catholic Church made some headway in Vietnam.
The French in Vietnam
In the late 19th century Vietnam became a French colony. However the French took over Vietnam in stages. In 1859 they captured Saigon. Finally in 1883 North and Central Vietnam was forced to become a French protectorate.
The French built infrastructure in Vietnam such as the Saigon to Hanoi railway. They also built roads and bridges. However the building was funded by heavy taxation. Naturally the Vietnamese wanted independence. The Communists spearheaded the struggle for independence. Ho Chi Minh founded the Revolutionary Youth League from the safety of China in 1925. In 1930 it became the Vietnamese Communist party.
In 1940 the Germans defeated France. Japan decided to take advantage of French weakness and they forced the French government to allow Japanese troops to occupy French Indo-China, although they left the French administration in place.
The Vietnamese Communists or Viet Minh fought the Japanese and by 1945 they controlled parts of North Vietnam. Meanwhile in March 1945 the Japanese took control of the administration of Vietnam and when Japan surrendered on 15 August 1945 they left a power vacuum.
Ho Chi Minh moved quickly to fill the vacuum. He called for an uprising called the August Revolution and the Viet Minh took control of most of Vietnam. On 2 September 1945 Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam independent.
However the great powers ignored the Vietnamese demand for independence. Under the terms of the Potsdam Conference Japanese troops south of the 16th parallel surrendered to the British. Those to the north surrendered to the Nationalist Chinese.
However the French army soon arrived in the south to take control from the British. In the north Chinese troops moved in. However Ho Chi Minh soon decided that the French were the lesser of two evils and he signed a treaty, which said that French troops should replace Chinese troops in North Vietnam for 5 years. In return the French promised to recognized Vietnam as a 'free state'.
However it soon became clear the French had no intention of giving up power in Vietnam and fighting broke out between them and the Viet Minh.
For eight years the Viet Minh fought a guerrilla war against the French. Finally in 1954 they surrounded a French army at Dien Bien Phu. After a siege lasting 57 days the French were forced to surrender. By then it was clear that the French could not win the war and both sides met at the Geneva Conference to end the war. They agreed that Vietnam would be temporarily divided at the 17th parallel and elections would be held by 20 July 1956. However no elections were held and the division of Vietnam became permanent.
In the north Ho Chi Minh introduced a Communist regime while in the south Ngo Dinh Diem became ruler. However in the early 1960s South Vietnam was rocked by demonstrations and in 1963 Diem was ousted in a coup.
Meanwhile in 1959 the North Vietnamese began a long guerrilla war to reunite Vietnam under Communist rule. The Northern Guerrillas were known as the Vietcong.
Gradually the USA became involved in the Vietnam War. As early as 1950 the US sent military advisers to South Vietnam. Financially they supported the French and later the South Vietnamese government.
Then in 1964 two US ships were supposedly subject to 'unprovoked' attacks by the North Vietnamese. First the Maddox was attacked. Two days later the Maddox and a ship called the C Turner Joy claimed they were both attacked. (It is doubtful if this attack ever took place).
The Americans then bombed the north and Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution allowing the president to take 'all necessary measures' to prevent 'further aggression'. As a result by December 1965 there were 183,000 US soldiers in Vietnam and by the end of 1967 there were nearly half a million. However the Vietcong continued their guerrilla war.
In January 1968 the Vietcong launched the Tet offensive in towns and cities across South Vietnam. They suffered heavy losses but afterwards the Americans gradually withdrew from Vietnam. In January 1973 they signed a ceasefire and the remaining American troops withdrew.
The South Vietnamese continued to fight the Vietcong alone. However in the early months of 1975 South Vietnamese resistance collapsed and on 30 April 1975 the North Vietnamese captured Saigon. Vietnam was reunited under Communist rule.
Then in the late 1970s the Khmer Rouge made attacks on Vietnam. So in 1978 the Vietnamese occupied Cambodia. They stayed until 1989.
Meanwhile in 1986 the Vietnamese government introduced market reforms. As a result the Vietnamese economy began to grow rapidly. In 1994 the USA lifted an economic embargo on Vietnam and in 1995 diplomatic relations were restored.
Today the Vietnamese economy is booming and Vietnam is becoming more and more prosperous. Tourism is an important industry in Vietnam. Furthermore a stock exchange opened in Vietnam in 2000.
Today the population of Vietnam is 94 million.
Cultures & custom
At present there are 54 different ethnic groups inhabiting Vietnam, in which Kinh (Viet) people make up nearly 90% of the whole population, and 53 other ethnic groups represent over 10%.
The Vietnamese nation was formed through a process of two major ancient cultures, the Chinese and the Indian. Thus a peculiar trait of Vietnam's culture was formed. As far as anthropology is concerned, the Vietnamese people have their origin in the Mongolid race, believed to be one of the major or races of the world and often found in northern and eastern Asia
Vietnamese or Tieng Viet is the national language of Vietnam, spoken by around 87 percent population as the first language. However, there are regional and intra-regional variations in dialect throughout the country.
The major religious traditions in Vietnam are Buddhism (which fuses forms of Taoism and Confucianism), Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism), Islam, Caodaism and the Hoa Hao sect. These are all tolerated, provided they do not threaten the Communist Party’s hold on power.
Customs & Habits
Worship of Ancestor Custom
A very popular belief among Vietnamese is the custom of the ancestor cult. In every household, an ancestor altar is installed in the most solemn location
Vietnamese believe that the soul of a dead person, even if dead for many generations, still rests along with their descendants on earth. The dead and living persons still have spiritual communion; in everyday life, people must not forget that what they enjoy and how they feel is the same for their dead relatives.
Villages – Guilds
The Vietnamese culture has always evolved on the basis of the wet rice civilization. Thus, the lifestyle of the Vietnamese population is closely related to its village and native lands
In Vietnamese society, people gather together to form villages in rural areas, and guilds in urban areas. Villages and guilds have been forming since the dawn of the nation. These organizations have gradually developed for the population to be more stable and closer
Customs of Chewing Betel and Areca Nuts and smoking thuoc lao
According to legends, chewing quid of betel and areca has been a custom since the Hung Vuong period and is connected to the antique legend of betel and areca
Let’s not forget to mention thuoc lao or strong tobacco. For women, betel can initiate various feminine conversation, but for men, thuoc lao is related to their joyfulness as well as the sadness in their lives.
Peasants always carry their dieu cay (pipe for smoking while ploughing the rice fields).
Getting married is an important event in a Vietnamese’s life. The procedure of the ancient wedding ceremony was very complicated. Current wedding ceremony procedures include the following steps: the search for a husband or wife, the proposal, the registration, and finally the wedding.
The sense of the dead is that of the final,” says a Vietnamese proverb, meaning that funeral ceremonies must be solemnly organized
Festival activities are living museums in which typical cultural values of the nation have been preserved for centuries. Festivals are events when people pay tribute to divinities that rendered merits to the community and the nation. Festivals are occasions when people come back to either their natural or national roots, which form a sacred part in their mind. Festivals represent the strength of the commune or village, the local region or even the whole nation. Worshipping the same god, the people unite in solidarity to overcome difficulties, striving for a happy and wealthy life. Festivals display the demand for creativity and enjoyment of spiritual and material cultural values of all social strata. Festivals become a form of education under which fine traditional moral values can be handed from one generation to the next in a unique way of combining spiritual characters with competition and entertainment games. Festivals are also the time people can express their sadness and worries in a wish that gods might bestow favors on them to help them strive for a better life.
Vietnamese water puppetry has a long history. The pond and lakes of the northern plains, where crowds gathered during festival and galas, become the lively stages for the water puppet shows. At a water puppet show, the audience watches boat races, buffalo fights, fox hunts and other rustic scenes amidst the beating of drums and gongs. The characters plough, plant rice seedlings, fish in a pond with a rod and line, scoop water with a bamboo basket hung from a tripod, etc. The show is interspersed with such items as a Dance by the Four Mythical Animals: Dragon, Unicorn, Tortoise, and Phoenix and Dance by the Eight Fairies, in which supernatural beings enjoy festivities alongside people of this world.
Cheo or Vietnamese Popular Theatre
Cheo is a form of stage performance that originated in the northern countryside. The word cheo means “lyrics of folk ballads, proverbs”.
Traditionally, cheo was composed orally by anonymous authors. Today's playwrights compose cheo along traditional lines. The characters in the plays sing time-tested popular melodies with words suited to modern circumstances. Human rights and the battle of good against evil are common themes. The joyfulness and optimism of cheo is expressed through humour and wit.
Cai luong is a kind of folk music that developed in the early 20th century. It was first played by amateurs in the south. Thanks to their soft voices, southerners sing cai luong very romantically
Classical Opera or Tuong
Tuong, also called hat boi in the south, is a stage performance that came about during the Ly-Tran dynasties and that became very popular nationwide during the following centuries. During the Nguyen dynasty, 19th century, tuong occupied a good position in the cultural lives of the royals. In tuong, space and time are captured by songs, dancing, and simple music.
Gongs or Cong-Chieng
Gongs are musical instruments made of alloy bronze, sometimes with gold, silver, or black bronze added to their composition. Gongs hold great significance and value for many ethnic groups in Tay Nguyen. The gongs play an important role in the lives of the inhabitants of Tay Nguyen; from birth until death, the gongs are present at all the important events, joyful as well as unfortunate, in their lives.
Nha nhac, Vietnamese Court Music - An Intangible Cultural Heritage
On November 7, 2003, UNESCO bestowed world heritage status on 28 relics of nations as masterpieces of oral and intangible heritage of humanity. Among the 11 masterpieces of Asia, nha nhac (royal music) represents the first intangible legacy of Vietnam to have been put on this list.
The UNESCO Council appraised Vietnamese royal music in the following terms: “Vietnamese royal music represents an elegant and refined music. It deals with the music performed in the imperial courts and on different anniversaries, religious festivals, and on such particular occasions. Of the different categories developed in Vietnam, only the royal music was national.”
Over time, the traditional "ao dai" has gone through certain changes. Long gowns are now carefully tailored to fit the body of a Vietnamese woman.
An elegant looking conical palm hat, which is traditionally known as a "non bai tho" (a hat with poetry written on it), is worn as part of a woman's formal dress. This traditional conical hat is particularly suitable for a tropical country such as Vietnam, where fierce sunshine and hard rain are commonplace.
Ao Ba Ba are the stereotypical black silk pajamas (although ao ba ba can be any color) worn by both men and women in the southern countryside, particularly the Mekong Delta. Ao Ba Ba is also worn in the cities, mostly by women. Look for them in the markets and on the street.
Traditional Fine art
Vietnam has 54 ethnic groups, each of which has its own traditional culture. The diversity of the ethnic groups is apparent in the many traditional and cultural Vietnamese treasures. These treasures include the various works of art found throughout the country, including sculpture, ceramic, painting, and casting, made from materials such as clay, stone, bronze, steel, wood, and paper.
Folk paintings are a combination of traditional cultural values with ancient artistic methods that have been created through the labour of past generations. There are two types of Vietnamese folk paintings, Tet (Lunar New Year Festival) paintings and worshipping paintings
The Vietnamese believe in ancestor worship and the deification of natural phenomena, both of which are reflected in the paintings.
Dong Ho Paintings
These paintings originated in the Red River Delta. Dong Ho paintings reflect people’s innermost feelings, wishes, and simple dreams. Because the paintings appeal to so many people, they are available throughout the country, from the village markets to the capital city
Sinh Village Paintings
Sinh Village Paintings, which come from Sinh Village, a suburb of Hue City, are well-known in the central region of Vietnam. Most Sinh Village paintings are used for worship, and they express the mystical, nature-based beliefs of the ancient Vietnamese.
In the realm of traditional art, Vietnamese sculpture has had a significant history of development. Vietnamese sculpture has been heavily influenced by the three traditional religions, Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism, which come from neighboring countries China and India. Examples of early Vietnamese sculpture can be found in common houses, temples, and pagodas
Vietnam is a country rich in handicraft products, thanks to the hard-working, dexterous, and creative qualities of the Vietnamese people.
For a very long time, handicraft products have been a source of cultural pride and a source of income for the people. As the varieties of handicraft are fully introduced, only a few typical items and their sources are mentioned here.
Woven tapestries and brocade handbags are unique works from the skilled hands of the ethnic women living in the Northwest regions, such as Cao Bang, Lao Cai.
Embroidered articles and silk products are famous from the regions of Van Phuc (Ha Tay), Nam Ha, Thai Binh, Hue, Dalat (Lam Dong).
Wool tapestries from Hanoi and Haiphong, and jute tapestries from Hung Yen, Haiphong, Hanoi and Thai Binh, are much sought after.
Ceramic and porcelain items have been produced in Vietnam for a long time. Ceramic and porcelain products glazed by traditional methods into beautiful art are well known in Bat Trang (Hanoi), Dong Trieu, Thanh Ha (Quang Ninh), and Haiphong. Copperware is fabricated by the skillful hands of coppersmiths in Ngu Xa (Hanoi), Dai Bai (Bac Ninh), Dong Son (Thanh Hoa).
Jewelry products and metalwork are concentrated in Hanoi, Thai Binh and Hung Yen, while stonework are mainly produced in Danang (Five Element Mountain Region).
Wood products and wood carvings can usually be found in Phu Xuyen (Ha Tay), Dong Ky (Bac Ninh), Haiphong, and Hue.
There are thousands of types of handicraft products. Some of these handicrafts have been internationally recognized and popularized, such as lacquerware. While lacquer artists produce a limited number of paintings and sculptures, lacquer crafts have been part of Vietnamese life in many forms: vases, boxes, interior decorating items, jewelry, and office products.
With about 2,000 years of history, Vietnamese products made by a community of handicraft artists, have established a firm and growing position in the domestic and international markets.
Influenced by the Chinese, chopsticks and spoons are used in Vietnam. Many foods (such as cakes) are wrapped in banana or coconut leaves. When eating with elders, younger Vietnamese always ask the elders to eat first.
A typical family meal
A typical Vietnamese meal (lunch or dinner) will include steamed rice; a soup dish to eat with rice, a meat or fish dish and a vegetarian dish (either stir fried or boiled).Vietnamese do not eat in separate servings, but the food is placed in the middle. Each member of the family has a small bowl and chopsticks with which they take food from the table throughout the meal.
Vietnamese noodles and cakes
Besides the typical meal with rice, Vietnamese cuisine has many different types of noodles and cakes (mostly made from rice). To name a few: beef soup noodles (pho), crab noodle (bun rieu), spring rolls (nem), sticky rice cake (chung cake)…
Food of three regions
Like everything else, Vietnamese food also differs geographically from location to location. North Vietnam’s food uses soy sauce, fish sauce and prawn sauce and has many stir fried dishes.
With harsh weather and less developed agriculture than the South, North Vietnamese tend to use less meat, fish and vegetables; and black pepper (instead of chili) to create spice. The taste is strict and less sweet, but more salty than in other regions.
Central Vietnam is distinct in its extreme spices and color of food. Hue’s cuisine, affected by royal cuisine once created for kings and queens, emphasized on quality and quantity – A meal constitutes of many complex dishes served only at small proportions.
Southern Vietnamese are heavily affected by Cambodia, Thai and Chinese cuisines (due to trade and immigrants). Southerners prefer sweet tastes (created by adding sugar or coconut milk) and spicy tastes (created by chili peppers).
A variety of dried fish and sauces originate from the South. Southerners prefer seafood and use simple cooking methods with larger and less servings.