To become present-day Vietnam, this small country has experienced a complicated historical period. From conflict between feudal dynasties to cruel Chinese Domination as well as the division in Vietnam War with the invasion of the French and the U.S, all of which not only could defeat Vietnam, but also  has consolidated self-help and self-improvement of the Vietnamese.

The Early Days

Despite the appearance of the earliest human habitation of northern Vietnam about 500,000 years ago, Neolithic culture was found out around the same area until 10,000 years ago and engaged in primitive agriculture as early as 7000 BC. By about 3rd century BC, northern Vietnam had experienced a blossom of Bronze Age Dong Son culture with the fame of its drums.

Between the 1st and 6th centuries AD, southern Vietnam was part of the Indianised Cambodian kingdom of Funan, with the kingdom in Angkor Borei, near present-day Takeo. The Funanese was famous for its delicate art and architecture, especially the construction of a complicated system of canals both for transportation and the irrigation of rice. The main port city of Funan was Oc-Eo in the Mekong Delta, which was believed to see commercial trade between Funan and China, Indonesia, Persia and even the Mediterranean.

The Hindu Kingdom of Champa emerged around present-day Danang in the late 2nd century AD. Like Funan, it adopted Sanskrit as a sacred language and borrowed heavily from Indian art and culture. By the 8th century Champa had expanded southward, including morden-day Nha Trang and Phan Rang. The feisty Cham expanded territory toward the entire coast of Indochina, leading to a permanent war with the Vietnamese to the north and the Khmers to the south, squeezed between two great powers.

1000 Years of Chinese Domination

In the 2nd century BC, the Red River Delta saw the Chinese conquest. In the following centuries, China sent a large number of its own settlers, officials and scholars to Vietnam to impose a centralized state system.

Needless to say, local ruler didn’t accept it and the most famous resistance was the fight of The Trung Sisters (Hai Ba Trung) in AD 40. After the successful rebellion of Trung Sister against Chinese authorities, the sisters proclaimed themselves queens of an independent Vietnam. In AD 43, the Chinese counterattacked, the Trung Sisters threw themselves into the Hat Giang River, rather than suffer the ignominy of surrender. There were numerous small-scale resistances against Chinese rule – which was characterized by tyranny, forced labor and insatiable demands for tribute – from the 3rd to 6th centuries, but all were failed.

During this era, Vietnam became an important port on the sea route between China and India. The Chinese brought Confucianism, Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism to Vietnam, while the Indians introduced Theravada Buddhism. Monks came and carried the scientific and medical knowledge of these two great civilizations, that helped Vietnam have its own great doctors, botanists and scholars.

The early Vietnamese learned much from the Chinese, including the construction of dikes and irrigation works. These innovations helped make rice cultivation and paddy agriculture become the foundation of the Vietnamese way of life to this day. The rise of food leaded to the increase of population, forcing the Vietnamese to seek new lands. The ominous Truong Son Mountains prevented westward expansion, so the Vietnamese headed south.

Liberation from China

After the collapse of the Tang dynasty in China in the early 10th century, the Vietnamese launched a resistance against Chinese rule again. In 938 AD, popular patriot Ngo Quyen finally defeated the Chinese armies at a battle on the Bach Dang River, ending 1000 years of Chinese Rule, opening a new era for Vietnam.

Between the 11th and 13th centuries, Vietnamese independence was strengthened under Ly dynasty, founded by Ly Thai To emperor. During Ly dynasty, many enemies eyed Vietnam, among them the Chinese, the Khmer and the Cham but all were crushed. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese continued their expansion southwards and slowly consolidate control of the Cham kingdom.

After the successful invasion of Mongol Warriors into China in the mid-13th century, Kublai Khan planned to attack Champa and asked Vietnamese let them cross Vietnamese territory. The refusal of Vietnam gave them reason to push Vietnam ahead. However, the legendary general Tran Hung Dao defeated them in the battle of Bach Dang River, regardless of their seeming invulnerability.

China bites back

The Chinese took the control of Vietnam again in the early 15th century, stealing valued national archives and some of Vietnamese intellectuals to China – an irreparable loss to Vietnamese civilization. The Chinese controlled much of the country from 1407, imposing a regime of heavy taxation and slave labor.

Lam Son Uprising

In 1418, wealthy philanthropist Le Loi rallied the people and sparked the Lam Son Uprising against the Chinese. By the victory in 1428, Vietnam regained independence,  Le Loi became the first emperor of Le Dynasty, under name Le Thai To, opening a flames of nationalism almost six centuries later.

Le Loi and his successors launched a campaign to take over Cham lands to the south, wiping the kingdom of Champa from the map, and parts of eastern Laos were forced to kowtow to the might of the Vietnamese.

The coming of the Europeans

The first Portuguese sailors came ashore at Da Nang in 1516, followed by the blossom of Dominican missionaries. During the following decades, the Portuguese began to trade with Vietnam, establishing a commercial center alongside with the Japanese and Chinese at Faifo (present-day Hoi An). Consequently, Catholic Church had a greater impact on Vietnam than on any country in Asia, except for Philippines, ruled by the Spanish for 400 years.

During 17th and 18th centuries, Vietnam found itself divided into half. The North was ruled by Trinh Lord, then Le Kings later, while the South was ruled by Nguyen Lords. Although Nguyen Lord still paid tribute to the kings of the north, the Nguyen still carried on like an independent kingdom. Later, the Trinh Lords failed to conquer the Nguyen while the Nguyen expand their territory southwards again, absorbing the Khmer territories of the Mekong Delta.

Tay Son Dynasty

Tay Son Dynasty existed in Vietnamese history from 1778 to 1802, in the context of Trinh – Nguyen Civil War during 1533 and 1789.

In 1765, the Tay Son Rebels, led by the brothers Nguyen, erupted in the town of Tay Son near Quy Nhon.  Brothers Nguyen quickly controlled the whole of central Vietnam, then the south of Vietnam since 1783. Nguyen Lu became king of the South, while Nguyen Nhac was crowned king of central Vietnam.

Continuing their conquests, the Tay Son Rebels overthrew the Trinh Lords in the North. The Chinese took advantage of Vietnamese Civil War to attack Vietnam but be defeated by Nguyen Hue, the third brother or the Emperor Quang Trung, who was relinquished the throne by Nguyen Nhac in 1788. In 1789, Nguyen Hue had a historic victory against Chinese armies a Dong Da, which became another of the greatest hits of Vietnamese history.

However Nguyen Hue was suddenly passed away in 1792 while the successor – Quang Toan was only 9 years old. The new king was too young to become a powerful leadership. Consequently, in the South, Nguyen Anh, the rare survivor from the original Nguyen Lord gradually overcame the rebel. By 1802, Nguyen Anh had proclaimed himself Emperor Gia Long, beginning the Nguyen Dynasty. After Nguyen Anh captured Hanoi, Vietnam was official united for the first time in two centuries with the new capital city in Hue.

Nguyen Dynasty – the last Dynasty and occupation of the French & Japanese

The dynastic rule began with Gia Long ascending the throne in 1802, after ending the previous Tay Son Dynasty. Emperor Gia Long returned to Confucian values in the effort to consolidate his precarious position. His son, Emperor Minh Mang was also hostile to Catholicism, which he considered as a threat to Confucian tradition and banned Western influences.

The early Nguyen emperors continued the expansionist policies by pushing Cambodia westward into the mountains along a wide front and seizing huge areas of Lao territory as well as clashing with Thailand.

During its existence, the Empire was gradually absorbed by France during several decades. The Cochinchina Campaign in 1858 made the southern area of Vietnam occupied by the French. Following that, a series of unequal treaties was established. For instance, the occupied territory became a French colony in the 1862 Treaty of Saigon, then the 1862 Treaty of Hue gave French the right to enter Vietnamese ports. Finally, the 1883 and 1884 Treaties of Hue caused a protectorate over the remaining Vietnamese territory, dividing it into the Protectorates of Annam and Tonkin under only nominal Nguyen dynasty rule. They were in 1887 merged with Cochinchina and Cambodia to form French Indochina.

The Nguyen Dynasty still remained the formal Emperors of Annam and Tonkin within Indochina until World War II. Japan had occupied Indochina with French collaboration in 1940, but then overthrowing the French administration in 1945 as well as proclaiming independence for its constituent countries. The Empire of Vietnam under Emperor Bao Dai was a nominally independent Japanese puppet state over the last months of the war. It ended with Bao Dai’s abdication following the surrender of Japan and communist revolution by the anti-colonial Viet Minh in August 1945. This ended the 143 year rule of the Nguyen dynasty.

Vietnam War – the French & the U.S

1945 – World War II ended and France reoccupied the southern portion of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh took control of Northern Vietnam and declare independence.

1946 – The beginning of The French-Viet Minh War. The United State supported the French in an effort to prevent the spread of communism.

1954 – Thanks to the historical victory at Dien Bien Phu, the French signed Geneva Conference to set up peace in Vietnam again: Vietnam was divided into two countries: Communist Northern Vietnam and Southern Vietnam.

1960 – The establishment of Viet Cong, also known as National Liberation Front, became gradually a political organization in South Vietnam and Cambodia with its own army – the People’s Liberation Armed Forced of South Vietnam.

1961 – Advisors from the United States began to take a direct role in the war.

1965 – The first U.S. troops arrive in Vietnam.

1968 – Northern Vietnam launched the Tet Offensive, the U.S armies strengthen to attack the North of Vietnam.

1972 – Vietnam defeated B52 War, forcing the U.S negotiate in Paris.

27/1/1973 – A Peace Treaty was signed to establish peace in Vietnam and ended he Vietnam war with the withdrawal of The United States.

30/04/1975 – The 1975 Spring Offensive was the final North Vietnamese Campaign in the Vietnam War that led to capitulation of South Vietnam. Consequently South Vietnam was totally liberated.

02/07/1976 – The Sixth National Assembly was the first election following the reunification of the North and South. In this term, the National Assembly decided to adopt the name “The Socialist Republic of Vietnam” for the re-unified country.

1978: Vietnamese troops entered Cambodia to support this country defeat Khmer Rouge.

Vietnam Today

1986 – The 6th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam released economic reforms, which were called “Doi Moi” Policy.

1992 – A new constitution is adopted that allows for more economic freedoms.

1995 – Vietnam became a member of ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations). The United States and Vietnam establish full diplomatic relations.

2000 – U.S. President Bill Clinton makes a first official visit to Vietnam.

2007 – Vietnam joined the World Trade Organization (WTO).

 

Essential