Nation of SE Asia. A narrow, elongated midsection links the N and S parts of this country that extends for 1,000 miles down the E coast of Indochina. The geographical spread of the country has led to recurring power struggles between its northern and southern regions.
Vietnamese history is legendary before 208 b.c., when a renegade Chinese general founded the kingdom of Nam Viet, covering much of S China and as far S as present Da Nang. In 111 b.c. China reconquered Nam Viet and renamed it Giao Chi and later Giao Chau. In the south, Funan and Champa were founded in the first and second centuries a.d. Funan was conquered by the Khmers from Cambodia, in the eighth century. Champa retained its independence but constantly clashed with its northern neighbor, Vietnam.
From 111 b.c. to a.d. 939 Vietnam, then the northern part of the current nation, was ruled by China. The downfall of the powerful Tang dynasty of China in 907 led to the end of Chinese rule. The Chinese were decisively defeated in 939, and an independent state was formed. The country was unstable until the accession of the Ly dynasty from 1004 to 1225. The Ly rulers called the country Dai Viet, rejecting the Chinese name of Annam, and set up a centralized agricultural state. Dai Viet prospered, but constant attacks by Champa and Cambodia harassed the country. The Tran dynasty, from 1225 to 1400, continued the policies of the Ly and preserved the nation’s sovereignty in the face of continued Champa pressure and a renewed Chinese threat from Kublai Khan. In 1257, 1284, and 1287 enormous invasions by the Mongol Empire were repulsed.
The Tran dynasty was ousted in 1400, and rule passed to a new dynasty, the Le. Vietnam prospered, and a growing population made territorial expansion desirable. Champa was conquered and absorbed in 1471, and the Mekong River delta region was wrested from the declining Cambodian Khmers by 1757, stretching Vietnam’s length to 1,000 miles. During this time the country twice underwent civil wars, pitting rulers of the S and N against each other, and Vietnam was effectively divided until a civil war lasting from 1772 to 1802 reunited the country under Emperor Gia Long. Military assistance from France was instrumental in Gia Long’s assumption of power, and he retained many French advisers in his court. His successor was violently anti-Western and persecuted Christian missionaries and their converts, killing several and setting the stage for French military intervention. In 1857 Napoleon III decided that the time was right for Vietnam’s conquest. After initial reverses, the French army and fleet overcame resistance, and by 1867 France was the undisputed master of the southern part of the country, which they called Cochin China; they referred to the center and north as Annam. Attempts to conquer Annam in 1873 failed, and it took 10 years to mount a successful invasion. After the bombardment of Hue in 1883, Tonkin and Annam became French colonial possessions. In 1887 Vietnam was included with Cambodia in France’s Indochinese Union.
The early years of French rule in Vietnam were marked by rebellion, but with the arrival of governorgeneral Paul Doumer in 1897 firm control was established, and what became known as French Indochina was run with the sole aim of profitable exploitation.
Nationalist sentiment remained strong in Vietnam, and consistent though poorly organized acts of resistance and terror harried the French. In 1930 the Indochinese Communist Party took the forefront of resistance under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh. During World War II the Vichy French ran Vietnam as a Japanese possession, but Ho Chi Minh formed an effective fighting opposition known as the Viet Minh.
After the surrender of Japan, Ho proclaimed Vietnamese independence. The French rejected this and recaptured the south. The First Indochinese War, from 1946 to 1954, lasted until the French were beaten at Dien Bien Phu and agreed, in a conference at Geneva, to the temporary partition of the country at the 17th parallel into a communist north and anticommunist south.
With aid from the United States South Vietnam built up a huge military and police apparatus to cope with continuing communist pressure. Starting in 1965, 3,500 U.S. troops entered into direct combat against the communists. By 1968, more than 510,000 U.S. soldiers were fighting against North Vietnam and the guerrilla Vietcong. Tremendous bombing and devastation against both military and civilian targets by the United States were fruitless and met with increased and eventually successful opposition from the U.S. public. From 1970 to 1973 negotiations brought about the withdrawal of all U.S. troops. In 1975 the South Vietnamese government in Saigon fell, and the country became reunified under communist rule. Since then the country has been attempting a slow reconstruction and has continued to meet with hostility in China, the United States, and southeast Asia, especially since its military intervention in Kampuchea in 1978, which continued with the aid of the USSR, a long ally of communist Vietnam.
In the late 1980s changes in national leadership resulted in a policy reorientation toward privatization and efforts to attract foreign investment. In 1991, Do Muoi was chosen as party leader; and relations with China were normalized. By the early 1990s Vietnam had liberalized some of its economy, but continued to exert strong government controls otherwise. In 1994 the U.S. ended its embargo, and in 1995 extended full recognition to Vietnam. Vietnam was admitted to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1995. In 1997, Le Kha Phieu became party leader as Vietnam’s economy was affected by the Asian financial crisis of 1997–98, and the country was forced to devalue its currency. China and Vietnam signed a treaty settling border disputes in 1999, and another demarcating their territorial waters in the Gulf of Tonkin in 2000. In 2001 Nong Duc Manh, an economic moderate, was selected as party leader. The government has continued to move forward slowly on economic reforms.
Vietnam is perhaps most famous for the wars fought between 1945 and 1975, and then the flight of refugees from the fighting. Those wars were won by the Communist government of North Vietnam that first won Independence from the French and then defeated the American backed South Vietnamese regime. These wars made the places of Dien Bien Phu, Hanoi, and Saigon famous. However when the Communists won total control of the country they restricted the rights of foreigners to travel to and throughout Vietnam.
Although the Communists are still in charge of the country they had to open up their land to tourists to earn valuable income to carry on after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The main tourist attractions are the capital Hanoi and the former Saigon, which was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. Some tourists come to visit the places made famous by the Vietnam War including the two main cities as well as the underground hideaways and tunnels that the Viet Cong constructed to survive American bombing. The best advise to tourists is to confine where they travel to the areas approved by the government.
Though the Vietnamese government has allowed reforms it still aims to control the tourist trade as it does not want travelers to undermine it's Authority over the population.