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Vietnam is heavily influenced by China.  They are considered to be a collectivist country due to their traditional values.  They are a communist state; which emphasizes collective group effort and equality among all people. It makes sense that Vietnam is a communist state considering what they value; which is traditional collectivist ideologies rooted in Confucucian ethics. Confucian ethics emphasizes group over individual.

The Beginning:  Hung Vuong was the founder of the Vietnamese nation and the first ruler of the Hung dynasty (2879-258 B.C.).  During this time, an important aspect of the culture was the irrigation of rice fields through an elaborate system of canals and embankments (Source 7 ).

Chinese Rule:  In 111 B.C. the Chinese conquered the Vietnamese and incorporated Vietnam into the Han Empire.  For almost 1000 years after this Vietnam was under Chinese rule.  Independent movements were only briefly successful but then they finally gained independence after being under Chinese rule for almost 10 centuries. An influential event in the solidification of Vietnamese identity occurred in 42 B.C.E. when China took control of Vietnam and designated it as its southern-most province. The Chinese then effectively began to rule Vietnam. China ruled the region for almost one thousand years, laying the foundation for the caution and ambivalence that Vietnamese have felt for centuries toward China. China’s influence has been far reaching. Even the Vietnamese dynasties that controlled Vietnam were heavily influenced by the Chinese in terms of political philosophy and organizational structure. The dynasties Ly, Tran, Le, and Vietnam's last dynasty, the Nguyen (1802–1945) “participated in the articulation of the uniqueness of Vietnamese society, culture, and history" (Source 7).

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French Rule: The French colonized Vietnam in the mid 1800s.  In 1885, France looked to take over Vietnam and in 1887 they did it.  The French started to integrate more Western ideals, education, and religion including, for the first time, introducing Christianity.  Their main exports were tobacco, indigo, tea and coffee.  The Modern Vietnam, as we know it today, was created from French colonialism. In 1882, France invaded northern Vietnam and forced the Vietnamese Emperor to accept the establishment of the French over central and northern Vietnam in 1883. This gave the French control over all of Vietnam. On August 19, 1945 an uprising occurred in which Vietnamese nationalists overthrew the Japanese administration then controlling Vietnam. On September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh officially established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The French attempted to gain back control over Vietnam by invading the country in December 1946. This turned into an eight-year war in which the Vietnamese nationalist forces, led primarily by the Vietnamese Communists, ultimately forced the French from the country in late 1954 (Source 7).

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Vietnam War:  After WWII, Vietnam gained independence but France still ruled the country until Ho Chi Mihn took over in 1954. In 1959, North Vietnam began and forced a policy to reunify the country, which led to outbreak of the American War in Vietnam in the early 1960s. This concluded on April 30, 1975 when North Vietnamese soldiers captured the city of Saigon and forced the surrender of the South Vietnamese government. On January 1, 1976, Vietnam became the Communist nation that it still is today. 

Among the major turning points of the Vietnam War was the Tet Offensive, which occurred on the Tet Holiday. The Tet Nguyen Dan or Tet holiday is the biggest and most sacred holiday of the year in Vietnam. Every year Vietnamese everywhere come together and celebrate the New Year. During the Vietnam War in 1968, the North Vietnamese used the Tet holiday as an element of surprise and launched a series of battles called the Tet Offensive. The North Vietnamese knew that they would catch the South celebrating the holiday and used it for the advantage. This marked the turning point of the Vietnam War (Sources 7, 11, and 25 ).

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Post 1975 and Contemporary Vietnam: Although there were many developments after 1975 including the establishment of new economic zones, distinctions between the north and the south remain. The French, who needed raw materials and a market for French manufactured goods, altered northern and southern Vietnam by undertaking a plan to develop the northern and southern regions separately. The South, was better suited for agriculture but was relatively poor in industrial resources, so it was designated to be developed agriculturally. The North, naturally had many mineral resources for industrialization, and therefore was selected as the region in which industrial development was to be concentrated. The development of exports--coal from the North, rice from the South--and the importation of French manufactured goods, however, stimulated internal commerce. A pattern of trade developed between the North and the South whereby rice from the South was exchanged for coal and manufactured goods from the North (Source 1).

In December 1986, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese returned from East-bloc nations (Soviet Union and Allies) they were no longer needed as cheap laborers. This effectively ended Soviet support of Vietnam. In early the 1990s, the Vietnamese standard of living was worse than before the Vietnam War (at the same time those of the other South East nations were flourishing economically). Economic stagnation resulting from bureaucratic and government inefficiencies, nationalization of industries, occupation of Laos and Cambodia (which drained resources), natural disasters, and a United States boycott were among the reasons why Vietnam struggled. However, change was near. Recently, economic growth has soared as a result in growth in foreign investments, commercial banks established, opening of private businesses, and privatization of industry. Political changes have not changed all that much but the gates are beginning to swing more open. In 1991, the Vietnamese government adopted a more open constitution. Vietnam’s future may lead to even more openness and may ultimately become a Democratic nation. As of right now democracy is seen as individualistic which goes against the collectivist traditional values of Vietnamese culture (Source 16).


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Cultural Portfolio Fall Semester 2007. See Cultural Portfolio Homepage here