Vietnam has a legendary history dating back 4000 years and a recorded history dating back more than 2000 years. The first Vietnamese tribes are believed to have originated from southeast of the Yangtze River and from the Canton region of present-day China. The Vietnamese ancestral race, the Viet, was recognized in ancient Chinese accounts as a distinct ethnic group that inhabited the southern territory. At this time in antiquity, China was divided into small, independent nations that were perennially and incessantly at war with one another. The Viet gradually migrated southward, to the north of present-day Vietnam to avoid the vicissitudes of war, the conflicts between these different Chinese ethnic states or kingdoms.
First Dynasty and Sovereignty
As they moved ever further south, the Viet race and culture integrated with other ethnic groups and mountain peoples that were already established in the Red River delta of northern Vietnam. Most researchers agree that the Dông Son civilization (from the 7th century BCE to the 2nd century AD) gave birth to the first state in the history of Vietnam: the Van Lang - Âu Lac kingdom. Its Hùng kings founded the Hồng Bàng dynasty, which came to an end in 258 BCE.
The millennia-long history of this country includes episodes, totalling over a thousand years, under the domination of the Chinese Empire. The turning point for Vietnamese sovereignty came in 938 AD when Ngo Quyen defeated the Chinese and won independence for Vietnam. The country was then ruled by a succession of dynasties including the Lý, Trần, Lê and the Nguyễn (last imperial dynasty). In dodging sinization, influence from its giant and expansionist neighbor, the Vietnamese people spread further into what is now central and southern Vietnam. This long secular process, called Nam Tiến, the "March to the South," occurred from the 10th to the 18th century, at the expense of the Champa Kingdom and the Khmer Empire.
At the beginning of 16th century, European Catholic missionaries (Portuguese, French) arrived in this region of south-east Asia. Following in the wake of 17th century, under the pretext of protecting their missionaries, the French colonial empire resorted to decades of diplomatic and military intervention against Vietnamese rulers and people. In 1867, France succeeded in establishing “Indochina” (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) and kept Vietnam under its protectorate for nearly 100 years. The French colonization of Vietnam ended after their defeat at the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954 by the Viet Minh (political and paramilitary organization for the political independence of Vietnam), which was created in 1941 by the Communist Party of North Vietnam. Despite the colonial period and France’s role in Vietnamese contemporary history, France has enriched the country's culture and modern national identity in diverse ways.
The Cold War severely impacted Vietnam when the United States, the leader of the western democracies swept into southern Vietnam to replace France, its long-time ally. Following the Geneva Treaty of 1954, Vietnam became divided at the 17th parallel north into two antagonistic states. The U.S. supported South Vietnam regime to counter the growing communist influence of North Vietnam backed by the former USSR and China. This global political cold war exerted by foreign superpowers led to the country's last civil war, which North Vietnam won. The US armed forces abandoned Vietnamese soil and the country reunited in 1975. Hanoi remained the capital of the country, and Saigon became Ho Chi Minh City in 1976.
The reunification of the country and consolidation of the now-national communist regime initially coincided with more than a decade of diplomatic isolation. But once united and settled, the nation began to rise from its ashes, to rebuild itself, increasing trade and relations with the rest of the world. In 1986, the leaders of the only governing party introduced a reform policy called Renewal (Đổi Mới) with the goal of creating a "socialist-oriented market economy." Thus began Vietnam’s transformation into a dynamic and emerging country. In 1989, the communist bloc of Eastern Europe collapsed sending shockwaves to the rest of its communist (Marxist-Leninist) allies. In addition, in 1994, President Bill Clinton of the U.S. lifted the 19-year-old American trade embargo against Vietnam.
Faces of Vietnam
Opening to the World
These historic, world political events catalyzed changes in Vietnam's internal affairs and foreign policies. They accelerated the Vietnamese government's willingness to adapt, to adopt the market economy. Vietnam has since made diplomatic initiatives to increasingly collaborate with trading partners from other countries. Thanks to continuous and bold reforms over the past two decades, the economic growth and progress has been remarkable! Vietnam is one of the fastest-growing and most dynamic of the world's economies and has increasingly integrated into the global market. As of today, the country remains a Socialist Republic, but one with a development strategy based on openness and economic diversification.