Kinda looks like an angry giant worm doesn't it? note
"Việt Nam, Hồ Chí Minh, Việt Nam, Hồ Chí Minh..."
—For your own good, make sure you're in Vietnam before singing it to a Vietnamese.(because not every Vietnamese-like people, outside Viet Nam, are not political radicals.)
Vietnam, officially known as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (Vietnamese: Cộng hòa Xã hội chủ nghĩa Việt Nam
), if you want to get formal. No, not the war
, but the S-shaped country that hugs the east coast of Indochina. South of China
, east of Thailand
. Historically part of East Asia
(although it was Southeast Asian before Chinese influence), it is now starting to resemble its Southeast Asian neighbors again in terms of economy and culture.
Some notable cities and towns include:
- Hanoi (Hà Nội) - the capital and second largest city of around 6 million heads, with quite a few lakes and an atmospheric old quarter as its primary trademarks. Hanoi recently celebrated its 1000th anniversary. Often represented by the One Pillar Pagoda, and sometimes referred to as Thăng Long ("Ascending Dragon"), the most iconic among its older names.
- Ho Chi Minh City - the number one economic hub and the largest city. Founded as Gia Định in 1690, Saigon is rather young by Vietnamese standards. Its actual population, immigrants included, is somewhere near 10 million. Downtown clearly shows French urban planning with wide boulevards flanked by imposing colonial buildings. Ben Thanh Market can be used as a shorthand for Saigon, and the city has acquired a new phallic symbol◊ of late: Bitexco Financial Tower - the first true and completed skyscraper of Vietnam, designed by an American studio in New York.
- Huế, once seat of Vietnam's last royal dynasty. It has a small Forbidden City modeled faithfully after the one in Peking. Has a reputation for courtliness and old-fashioned classical elegance.
- Nha Trang - a coastal resort town popular with local Vietnamese, returning overseas Vietnamese and non-Viet foreigners alike. Home to beautiful beaches that now seem being ruined by spurious, uncontrolled development.
Hanoi and Saigon are two among the five municipal cities, and currently they are joined by Hải Phòng (quite close to the famed Halong Bay), Đà Nẵng (a deep-water port in Central Vietnam) and Cần Thơ (de-facto capital of the Mekong Delta). There are also 59 other provinces.
Vietnamese people have a creation myth involving Lạc Long Quân, the Dragon Lord of Lac Viet. Having battled monsters here and there
, he settled down
with Âu Cơ, the fairy princess
of Âu Việt. She gave birth to a sac with 100 eggs inside, which hatched into 100 children. Because of the couple's insurmountable differences, their marriage didn't work out and they had to split the family. Half the kids would follow their father to the sea where he ought to live, the rest stayed with Âu Cơ in the dry, hilly land and founded a kingdom. And thus
resulted the Bách Việt people, Văn Lang the first Viet nation and the first known divorce in Vietnamese history
. Modern Vietnamese still call themselves "con rồng cháu tiên", or "children of the dragon, grandchildren of fairies''. Pretty convenient if you want to forge a common identity for a genetic goulash.
Myths aside, Vietnam identifies itself with a Bronze Age culture called Đông Sơn, which is best known for its intricate decor motifs on bronze drums. It was from this culture that the state of Văn Lang allegedly arose, and if there's any truth in the creation myth, the dragon-fairy marriage can be interpreted as an alliance of highland and lowland tribes, the seed for what would eventually become Vietnam. Văn Lang was succeeded by Âu Lạc, which in turn was conquered by the Eastern Han Dynasty of China in 111 BC. The following millennium
saw Chinese domination over Vietnam, interspersed by rebellions. (Some of them were led by women
, as expected from a matriarchal culture). But also thanks to the Hans, it's from this point onward that the history of Vietnam was at least recorded.
In 938 AD, a Vietnamese Lord named Ngô Quyền finally defeated the Chinese, and reclaimed independence. The following centuries saw a golden age for the nation, with culture flourishing under the rule of the Lý and Trần dynasties. The change in the family in rule was often because the descendants of the family became gradually worse in both moral and control of the country. Nevertheless, Vietnam still grew quite a bit. Buddhism took over Confucianism as the state religion. Vietnam also was able to repel the Mongol invasions around the 13th century (pretty good, eh?).
Vietnam's independence was interrupted for a short period of 20 years in the early 15th century, but was restored by Lê Lợi, who would go down Vietnamese history to become one of its greatest national heroes, with legends and myths surrounding his battles and rule over Vietnam. It was during this period that Vietnam reached its zenith, with firm establishment of the law and government, and was a crucial period in its expansion towards the south, which was controlled by the Khmer Empire and is now South Vietnam of today.
However, as the Lê dynasty weakened, civil strife became frequent in Vietnam, resulted in civil war and multiple changes of dynasties. A stability sort of was reestablished when Quang Trung defeated the two warring dynasties of that time, repelled the Siamese and Chinese invaders, and founded the Tây Sơn Dynasty. However, with his mysterious death, it fell, and the Nguyễn Dynasty rose in its place. Although many consider the fall of Tây Sơn a premature end of something that could have been glorious
, peace still stood. For a while.
In the nineteenth century, the French invaded.The Nguyễn's control was gradually eroded by the French, and eventually, after a series of fighting, France took control of Vietnam and surrounding countries to establish French Indochina. It began to westernize the country, establishing French as the official language in education and government, and gradually converting the old Chinese-like Nôm
writing system to the alphabet as seen today. It established a plantation economy that would exist until today, with focus on tobacco, tea, coffee... Ostensibly though, the Nguyễn Dynasty was still in control, but that didn't fool anyone. Waves of nationalist movements emerged, with leaders usually who studied in foreign countries and came back to push for political freedom. However, resistances were quickly broken. The French maintained control over Vietnam...
...until World War II, when Japan invaded French Indochina in 1941. Of course, France sucked at that period, and Japan soon took over. The Japanese, being what they were back at that period, exploited Vietnam's resources without qualms to fight the British colonies nearby, which would later cause the Vietnamese Famine of 1945, which killed 10% of the population back then (2 million). 1941 was also the year where the Việt Minh
was established, which was a communist and nationalist liberation movement, led by Ho Chi Minh of course. Following the defeat of Japan in WWII, Viet Minh quickly took over Hanoi and proclaimed a provisional government, and which started playing the French and Japanese off against each other before trying to defeat them both.
Eventually, the Japanese won out, overthrew the current government, and retained an iron hold over Indochina in the face of Communist, Chinese, and Western Allied attempts to liberate the region... until the Japanese surrendered.
Yet, unlucky for Vietnam, it didn't get any chance to enjoy its hard-earned peace, because this is where things got complicated.
The Western Allies and Chinese moved into Indochina to round up the remaining Japanese, and with the former came the French. Originally created to fight the Japanese forces and restore its rule over Indochina, the French Far East Expedition Corps landed and proclaimed the restoration of French control just as the Viet Minh started coming out of the woodwork, with Ho Chi Minh declaring independence on the 2nd of September, 1945.
In spite of attempts to defuse the situation, war started between the two sides on November 1946. The Viet Minh were backed up by China and Soviet Russia abroad and a wide coalition of lesser nationalist and left-wing Indochinese rebel groups who banded together to fight the French, while the French Union were supported by the US, UK, and the Netherlands as well as Indochinese loyalists. Both sides fought extensively and greatly, with the Viet Minh suffering greater losses but with greater manpower. The Siege of Điện Biên Phủ
in March-May 1954 became a historic battle, caused by a blunder by the French, who didn't expect the Vietnamese to have heavy artillery and to be able to move those weapons in difficult terrain. The French lost around 23,000 of its personnel (captured or killed), which was a third of its total strength. A ceasefire was negotiated and the Geneva Accords were agreed to, which dissolved French administration over Vietnam and withdrew French personnel. However, it also split the country into two part, North and South Vietnam, with North Vietnam under Communist rule of Ho Chi Minh, and South Vietnam under the rule of Bảo Đại, the current descendant of the Nguyễn Dynasty (they're still existing? Yeah). And thus, the background for The Vietnam War
was set up. Please go to the page for further explanation of the period.
Anyway, after the War, Vietnam was still screwed. Massive economic problems followed the collectivization of farms and factories (the communist state took over private ownership of them and declared they belonged to the State, without appropriate repayment). Of course, the rationing of food and goods were followed, since people got the same amount of stuff however hard they worked, they couldn't be bothered to work anymore. Those who remained working produced useless goods that people never wanted to pay for, and inflation followed like a tornado, TRIPLE-DIGIT
. There was also humanitarian problems, with the communists trying to prosecute those who supported the previous government. Anyway, massive number of people fled the country in crudely built boats, becoming the Vietnamese Boat People that are distributed around Australia, United States and other countries today.
There were also periods of war. The Khmer Rouge massacred quite a lot of Vietnamese and razed the villages bordering them. In 1978, it removed the Khmer Rouge from power and ruled over Cambodia until 1989. China wasn't pleased, so the following year (1979), it launched a brief invasion into North Vietnam (the Sino-Vietnamese War). After the war with China, the northern border became a site of constant artillery duels and cross-border skirmishes until the end of the Cold War.
The history is followed in the Politics and Economy part.
Politics and Economy
In 1986, when destitute Vietnam was near the verge of collapse, a progressive faction in the Communist party rose to power and implemented a course of economic reform called Renovation
, similar to what Deng Xiaoping did to China eight years earlier. Vietnam thus ceased to be a Commie Land
in the strict sense of the term, and nowadays it's a young market economy with rather shaky macroeconomic conditions, dictated by a one-party regime which is in fact an oligarchy. Their relatives (or even themselves) are Corrupt Corporate Executives
of the very keystone corporations in Vietnam, while the people working for the government for paycheck are unabashedly obstructive bureaucrats
Government propaganda still centers on Marxism-Leninism, but of course, In Name Only
. As in the case of China, most people can be described as "apolitical" - if you're not a supporter of the regime, that's the only safe way to go about it.
The high growth rate of the economy, among the highest on Earth, is accompanied by pretty rampant inflation
, and as of 2010, getting worse. Fun fact: Previously, to combat this threat, the beloved and glorious
government decided to cut down the official interest rate
- because in their logic, doing so would ease the borrowing costs for companies (especially for government-controlled companies), which should lead to a lower price level
. Hilarity Ensues
Vietnam has a love-hate relationship with its big Northern neighbor slash
traditional enemy China. On one hand, its regime looks up to the PRC as the last remaining ideological reassurance. Yet, relations between the two have never been truly friendly. The Sino-Vietnamese war of 1979 is still remembered, and sorest points of contention nowadays include possession of the Spratly and Paracel Islands and China's taking over bauxite mining activities in Vietnam, not to mention long-standing border disputes. All seems to fuel the fear that China is about to take over the world
, or at least Asia, and she would start with Vietnam.
Relations with the US are likewise uneasy but have been normalized at a surprising rate since 1986, and now ended up even more cordial than with China, in spite of Washington's constant criticism on the state of human rights in Vietnam. Whether Vietnam will open its military port at Cam Ranh to American port calls is a matter of debate, but it's obvious that Vietnam is looking for a counterweight to the growing China threat. With The New Russia
swept aside, who could be better suited for the job than that superpower that messed up this land just 35 years ago
? Nice tightrope Vietnam's walking there.
The Vietnamese flag
The flag was adapted from that of North Vietnam, the victor of The Vietnam War
. Its red field symbolizes blood as well as communism in general, while the yellow five-pointed star represents the union of workers, peasants, intellectuals, youths and soldiers in building solidarity in Vietnam.
Those living where the anti-communist diaspora has a strong presence might see Vietnamese people display instead the flag of the former South Vietnam, left, now officially "The Vietnamese Heritage and Freedom Flag" in some states of America. Do so in Vietnam and you will run into serious trouble with the law and the regime, for obvious reasons. Similarly, the socialist republic flag is an excellent Flame Bait
to the South Vietnamese diaspora. In short, both can put you in grave danger
if you display them in the wrong place.
From a combined population of around 50 million in 1975, Vietnam now has almost 90 million people
. To counter the high growth rate somewhat, there's a two-child-limit imposed on your family if you work for the government; exceed that and be fired.
As a result, two-thirds of the population has no memory of the Vietnam War, which explains why Vietnam has moved on so easily.
There are officially 54 ethnic groups that call Vietnam home, but over 80% of Vietnam's population is made up of lowland Viets, or Kinh people, so if you ever meet a Vietnamese, chances are you're meeting a Kinh.
The next largest group is the Hoa, or Chinese Vietnamese. Like Chinese Malaysians and Chinese folks elsewhere in Southeast Asia, most of them are descended from people in Southern China who emigrated two or three centuries ago. Close to half of the Hoa fled Vietnam during the flare-up between Vietnam and China in 1979 to escape the violent hatred towards ethnic Chinese, but many still remain till this day. For this reason, they're much better presented in overseas communities than in Vietnam itself. In Southern parts of the country they are known colloquially as "Tàu" people, short for "Ba Tàu", meaning "three-shippers" - as the tale goes, they first came here on three big ships which formed distinctive silhouettes against the horizon. Quite a lot of Hoas take offence to this word, unless you're a Hoa yourself
There are also indigenous lowland people in the South and South-Central of Vietnam, like the Chams, an Austronesian people, and the Khmers. Their ancestors boasted prosperous Indianized kingdoms in the past, but their slow decline in the face of ever-southbound Viets has reduced them to insignificant minorities, in both influence and number.
Culture and Language
Vietnamese uses the Latin alphabet rather than scripts like Chinese or Japanese, though it used to use written classical Chinese until the 13th century when a different system, but still quite similar to Chinese writing system, called chữ Nôm
was invented. Chữ Nôm
developed until it was used extensively in 17th - 19th century. Although Vietnamese was the native language, education and government used Chinese as the official language. Around 17th century, an alphabet system was developed in order to facilitate trade from Western countries, by a French priest called Alexander de Rhodes. As the French invaded Vietnam in the late 19th century, French gradually replaced Chinese as the official language in education and government. Alphabet system pervaded the country, and Chinese scripts were gradually abolished. After gaining independence from France, Vietnam officially decided to use the alphabet as its writing system.
Vietnamese, like many other Asian languages, features tones in its phonology. There are only five tones, level
. The good thing about Vietnamese phonology is that there is nothing such as exceptions. The rules are rigid. Consonant, vowel, diphthong or triphthong sound the same in every word, hence it is only the matter of recognizing them. If you can recognize and remember all of the possible consonants and vowels (and diphthongs and triphthongs), which aren't that many, then reading a word out loud is just a matter of combining them together. Grade One in Vietnam is spent learning all those possible consonants, vowels, diphthong and triphthong. On the other hand, the tones might pose difficulties for foreign speakers - they almost can never get them right. Since reading a word out loud is quite easy, so is spelling - though some diphthongs/triphthongs might sound the same like ân
in the South. In the North, the distinction is pretty obvious to familiar ears.
There is a bit of differences in Vietnamese spoken by Northern Vietnamese (around Hanoi), North-Central Vietnamese (between Hue and Hanoi), Central Vietnamese (around Hue) and Southern Vietnamese (around Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon), not only in the accents (which are quite distinct and readily recognizable by foreigners) but also in vocabulary and grammar, to the point where they might be considered as separate dialects. To talk in details will be too much for Tv Tropes, but generally, Southern Vietnamese will be sloppier in pronunciation and grammar than Northern Vietnamese (like comparing American English with British English for example). The North-Central and Central Vietnamese, well, good luck with that. The basic vocabulary and the accent are so distinct that even native speakers from the North and the South will have considerable
difficulty in understanding them, or might not understand them at all if they speak rapidly (which leads to many, many jokes involving Central Vietnamese speakers by the way, to the point that the accent is considered inherently funny). The distinct difference in Central Vietnamese might be explained by the fact that the region was settled much earlier comparing to the South and able to developed a distinct dialect. The region is also much more conservative, and emigration and immigration are rare which prevents the dialect to be influenced or influence the Northern and Southern counterparts. Northern Vietnamese is considered as the official form, and is presented in textbooks, political propagandas, literature and music, however, outside of Vietnam, Southern variation will often be heard instead (because most refugees from Vietnam came from the South, and overseas students are often from the South because it is richer than the other two regions). Within regions, there are also further variations.
A few phonetic peculiarities will be listed here. Like l
in Japanese, some Northern Vietnamese speakers will mess up between l
, but not for the same reason. l
are supposed to be distinct in Vietnamese, but because of the Northern accent, sometimes they switch place, with the l
sounds like n
and vice versa. Depending on the province, tr
, etc. can also be pronounced very similarly or with little difference.
A few strange consonants and vowels are ng, nh, ă, ư, ơ...
<More to come>
Vietnamese cuisine is perhaps most distinct from other countries in that they use a lot of fresh, green vegetables and herbs. Almost every single meal will include some form of fresh vegetables or herbs, either as clear soup, or stir-fried, or uncooked. A typical Vietnamese meal will include rice, a fish/meat/seafood dish, soup, fish sauce or soy sauce, vegetables (often uncooked) and often some kind of relishes, such as pickled white cabbage, pickled garlic..., which tend to differ between regions. All dishes apart from a bowl of rice are communal and to be shared, like a Japanese or Chinese meal.
Fish is often the cheapest and eaten the most, then 'river' food (as opposed to seafood) and then pork. Chicken is more expensive, and often eaten on special occasions. Beef is the most expensive, and more often than not only eaten in restaurants rather than at home. There is also a wide range of vegetarian foods based on tofu, with many types of tofu, allowing for very creative vegetarian meals that can replace normal meals permanently if a person so wishes.
Vietnamese - notably Hanoian - cuisine is also known for its desserts and treats, such as multiple types of chè (congee), cốm (young rice, a Hanoi specialty in the fall, wrapped in lotus leaves thus giving it an unique flavor) and more rice-based sweet/savory treats than you can imagine. Heck, Hanoians have officially elevated snacking (ăn quà) into an art! (But then again, native Vietnamese do joke that they've elevated swearing and insulting to an art, too...)
There are regional variations in Vietnamese cuisine. Northern Vietnamese are often not bold with flavor, orienting towards a light and balanced flavors for most of its meal, consequently, these meals are often considered as bland by the Southern and Central people. Northern Vietnamese produce many signature dishes of Vietnam, such as phở
. Central Vietnamese food is often readily recognized by its spiciness and very elaborate meals, representing its royal past. Southern Vietnamese food are often vibrant with flavor and tend to be sweet. There is also a widespread use of coconut milk, and sauces like fish sauces or soy sauces. Phở
regional variations often represented general regional variations. Northern phở
flavor is quite mild, and Northern Vietnamese do not put in much additions like vegetables or sauces, Central phở
is often quite spicy whereas Southern phở
will opt for a sweet taste, with a lot of vegetables and sauces additions. Phở
outside of Vietnam often is the Southern variation.
Vietnam (and the Vietnamese Diaspora) in Media:
- A lot of movies from Vietnam that you have probably never heard of
- Vũ Ngọc Đãng's Lost In Paradise, or Hot Boy Nổi Loạn và Câu Chuyện Về Thằng Cười, Cô Gái Điếm Và Con Vịt.
- The 2007 martial arts period piece, The Rebel or Dòng Máu Anh Hùng.
- Tran Anh Hung's Vietnam Trilogy
- French movies like Indochine and L'Amant that take place in early 20th century Vietnam.
- Then flash forward about 40 years and you have The Quiet American.
- Vietnamese criminal activities in Australia are dealt with in Aussie flicks like Romper Stomper and Little Fish, starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett respectively.
- Nam Le and Anh Do have written about the journey to Australia by boat.
- Once Upon A Time In Cabramatta is an acclaimed SBS documentary about the Vietnamese community in the Sydney suburb of Cabramatta.
- The 2006 film Ultra Violet features Vietnamese people in a sci-fi/fantasy setting perhaps for the very first time.
- Vietnam sent representatives to the Monaco Cup, a world baking competition in Yakitate Japan.
- The "Vietnam Special" Top Gear episode deserves special mention.
- For works concerning The Vietnam War, please see that page.
- Ho Chi Minh, pretty much a god to Vietnamese people.note
- Ngo Dinh Diem, the US-backed president of South Vietnam and Minh's opposite number, later assassinated by one of his own generals during a coup (caused by Diem's oppressive actions towards non-Christians, he was a devout Roman Catholic) near the end of the Vietnam War
- Vo Nguyen Giap, Ho's most trusted lieutenant.
- Ngo Bao Chau, a mathematician at the University of Chicago who won the 2010 Fields Medals.
- Elly Tran Ha, an American-born Vietnamese teen model, who is quite well-endowed for an Asian. Notable in that she frequently appears on advertisements for porn sites, even though she has not even posed nude.
- Duong Nguyet Anh, a chemical engineer, Director of Science and Technology of Naval Surface Warfare Center, U.S. Department of Defense, responsible for the creation of Thermobaric Weapon and a National Security Medallist.
- Philipp Rösler, physician, former Federal Minister of Health of Germany. He was born in Vietnam and adopted by a German couple when he was still an infant.
- Le Duc Tho, a Vietnamese diplomat and politician who negotiated the Paris Peace Accord (which ended direct involvement of America in Vietnam War) with Henry Kissinger and won a Nobel Peace Prize along with Kissinger for it. He chose to decline the Prize however, stating that there was still no peace in his country.
- Eugene Huu-Chau Trinh, a biochemist and astronaut, Director of the Physical Sciences Research Division in the Biological and Physical Research Enterprise at NASA.
- Nam Le, a Vietnamese-born Australian writer, winner of the 2008 Dylan Thomas Prize for his book "The Boat".
- Minh Le, Vietnamese-Canadian, software engineer, co-creator of the Half-life mod Counter-Strike.
- Carol Huynh, Vietnamese-Canadian, 2008 Summer Olympics Gold Medallist for woman wrestling.
- Katsuni, half French, half Vietnamese pornographic actress.
- Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son, a chess player who attained grandmaster rank at the age of 14.
- Thuy Trang, an actress best remembered as the original Yellow Power Ranger.
- Johnny Tri Nguyen, Vietnamese-born American martial arts actor and stuntman who has appeared in movies like The Rebel and Tom Yum Goong
- Anh Do, a Vietnamese-born comedian who has become a successful media personality in Australia.
- Natalie Tran, the Sydney-based Vietnamese-Australian YouTube phenomenon and TV personality behind Community Channel. The Most Viewed YouTuber in Australia.
- Luke Nguyen, a Vietnamese-Australian celebrity chef.
- Michelle Phan, a Vietnamese-American makeup artist/guru YouTuber.
- Nguyen Ha Dong, an indie game developer and maker of Flappy Bird.