The region now known as Vietnam has been inhabited since Paleolithic times or the Old Stone Age (300,000 – 500,000 years). In the Neolithic Age (New Stone Age), Hoa Binh – Bac Son cultures (about 10,000 BC) had witnessed the development of agriculture and animal husbandry, including even the technique of paddy rice cultivation.
The Vietnamese as an ethnic group had been formed and developed early in the Red River and Ma River Delta situated in northern part of the present-day Vietnam. Generations to generations, people moved from highland and mountainous areas to the plains, developed new lands for cultivation. They constructed a system of irrigation dams and dykes to tame the mighty Red River, the river that brought about several devastating floods every year. It is the process of continuous labor to control water – to fight against flood, storm and drought, to build up irrigation dams and canals for agricultural cultivation that formed the paddy rice civilization and the commune culture.
In the Bronze Age, a unique and distinct civilization had been formed that reached a high level in technical skill as well as art – the brilliant Dong Son culture. The recent ethnological, historical and archaeological studies and researches have asserted the existence of the Hung Kings’ period in Van Lang Kingdom (later Âu Lạc Kingdom) about 1000 years BC. In 200 BC, Âu Lạc Kingdom was invaded and annexed into the giant empire of the Han feudalism in the north. Nevertheless, the ten-century domination of Chinese feudalism could not assimilate Vietnamese culture and break the Viet people’s brave resistance.
The legendary Hồng Bàng Dynasty of the Hùng kings is considered the first Vietnamese state, known in Vietnamese as Văn Lang. In 257 BC, the last Hùng king was defeated by Thục Phán, who consolidated the Lạc Việt and Âu Việt tribes to form the Âu Lạc, proclaiming himself An Dương Vương. In 207 BC, a Chinese general named Zhao Tuo defeated An Dương Vương and consolidated Âu Lạc into Nanyue. However, Nanyue was itself incorporated into the empire of the Chinese Han Dynasty in 111 BC.
For the next thousand years, Vietnam remained mostly under Chinese rule. Early independence movements, such as those of the Trưng Sisters and Lady Triệu, were only temporarily successful, but the region did become independent as Vạn Xuân under the Anterior Lý Dynasty between 544 and 602 AD. By the early 10th century, Vietnam had gained autonomy, but not independence, under the Khúc family.
In 938 AD, the Vietnamese lord Ngô Quyền defeated the Chinese forces of the Southern Han state at Bạch Đằng River and regained independence after a millennium of Chinese domination. Renamed as Đại Việt (Great Viet), the nation enjoyed a golden era under the Lý and Trần Dynasties. During the rule of the Trần Dynasty, Đại Việt repelled three Mongol invasions. Meanwhile, Buddhism flourished and became the state religion.
In the 10th century AD, the Vietnamese had won their freedom and built up an independent state named Dai Viet. The country was under the ruling of many national feudal dynasties, among which the most important ones are the Ly Dynasty (11th and 12th century), the Tran Dynasty (13th and 14th century), the Le Dynasty (15th, 16th and 17th century) with their centralized administration, strong army forces and a highly developed economy and culture. During this period, Vietnam as a nation had to ceaselessly fight against the vicious conquering conspiracies of Chinese and Mongolian feudal empires. Vietnam’s long and tough struggles of resistance against the invasions of the Song (11th century), the Yuan or the Mongols (13th century), the Ming (15th century) had acquired glorious victories. Vietnam became stronger, all its ethnic groups became more united and the country moved into a new prosperous period after each struggle.
Dong Son culture which was enriched by the influence of Chinese culture developed from centuries to centuries in a framework of an independent state. Buddhism and Confucianism entered Dai Viet and brought with them many popular cultural features and distinct forms. Nonetheless, Vietnam still preserved its own language and a highly developed agricultural civilization.
In the 17th and 18th century, feudalism in Vietnam was considerably weakened. Peasants ceaselessly rose up in revolts that led to the Tay Son movement (1771-1802). Tay Son overthrew all regional feudal lordship that divided the country into two parts, united the country and chased away the Qing (Manchus) invaders from China, simultaneously implemented many social and cultural reforms. However, with foreign aid, Nguyen Anh soon took over the ruling power and the Nguyen Dynasty was established, which was the last royal dynasty in Vietnam.
Struggle for National Liberation
In the middle of 19th century (1858), French colonialists began to invade Vietnam. The incompetent government of the Nguyen gradually gave in and from 1884; French colonists established a protectorate and a colonial government that controlled the whole territory of Vietnam. In the early days, resistant movements of the Vietnamese people under the leadership of intellectual patriots like the literate, cultured people and scholars broke out everywhere, but they all failed in the end.
Nguyen Ai Quoc, who later became President Ho Chi Minh, traveled abroad to find the way to save the country. He laid the foundations for the Vietnam Communist Party, which was founded on February 3rd 1930. Under the leadership of the Communist Party, the Vietnamese people rose up against French colonization and Japanese occupation, organized the Great National Uprising in August 1945 and established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on September 2nd 1945.
Being confronted with aggressive schemes and intervention of France and the United States, the newly born Democratic Republic of Vietnam had to carry out the thirty-year war of resistance. The coming back of French aggressive troops had resulted in the nine-year war of resistance (1945-1954) which ended by the famous victory of Vietnam in Dien Bien Phu and the 1954 Geneva Agreement on Vietnam. According to this Agreement the country was temporarily partitioned into North Vietnam and South Vietnam by the 17th parallel, which should be reunified within two years (1956) through a general election held all over Vietnam. The northern part of Vietnam (the Democratic Republic of Vietnam with its capital Hanoi) was placed under the control of the Vietnam Workers’ Party. The southern part (the Republic of Vietnam), which was controlled by a pro-French administration and later, a pro-American administration, had its capital in Sai Gon. The Sai Gon government used all its forces to prevent the election, suppressed and killed former participants in the resistance movement. The situation led to the national movement fighting for peace and unification of the country. The Sai Gon government could not suppress the aspiration of all Vietnamese people to unify the country, especially since the National Front for Liberation of South Vietnam was established on 20th December 1960.
In order to maintain the Sai Gon regime, the United States increased its military aid to the Sai Gon government. Particularly, in the middle of the ’60s, half-million American troops and their allied troops were sent to South Vietnam in direct military intervention. From 5th of August 1964, they started bombarding North Vietnam. In spite of that, following president’s Ho Chi Minh’s teaching “Nothing is more precious than independent and freedom”, the Vietnamese people bravely and firmly stood up and won numerous victories in the northern as well as southern part of the country. In 1973, Washington had to sign the Paris Agreement on the restoration of peace in Vietnam and the withdrawal of all American troops from Vietnam.
In the spring of 1975, the patriotic armed forces of Vietnam swept across the country in the great general offensive and overthrew the Saigon government. The southern part of Vietnam was liberated and the country was united as one. On 25th April 1976, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was renamed into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, which governs both northern and southern parts in its territory. In 1977, Vietnam became a member of the United Nations.
After many years of prolonged war, the country was heavily devastated. In the 1975 – 1986 periods, Vietnam had to cope with innumerable difficulties. The aftermath of war, social evils, the mass flow of refugees, war at the southwest border against the genocidal policies of Pol Pot government in Cambodia, the dispute at the northern border, the isolation and embargo from the United States and Western countries, plus continual natural calamities put Vietnam before tremendous tough challenges. Moreover, those difficulties became more severe due to subjective reasons such as hastiness and impatience, and voluntarism in rebuilding the country regardless of specific actual conditions. Early in the 80s, Vietnam witnessed the most serious ever socio-economic crisis, the inflation rate rose up to a record 774.7% in 1986.