The history of Vietnam begins around 2,700 years ago. Successive dynasties based in China ruled Vietnam directly for most of the period from 111 BC until 938 when Vietnam regained its independence. Vietnam remained a tributary state to its larger neighbor China for much of its history but repelled invasions by the Chinese as well as three invasions by the Mongols between 1255 and 1285. King Trần Nhân Tông later diplomatically submitted Vietnam to a tributary of the Yuan to avoid further conflicts. The independent period temporarily ended in the middle to late 19th century, when the country was colonized by France (see French Indochina). During World War II, Imperial Japan expelled the French to occupy Vietnam, though they retained French administrators during their occupation. After the war, France attempted to re-establish its colonial rule but ultimately failed. The Geneva Accords partitioned the country in two with a promise of democratic election to reunite the country.
However, rather than peaceful reunification, partition led to the Vietnam War, a civil war and a major part of the Cold War. During this time, the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union supported the North while the United States supported the South. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, After millions of Vietnamese deaths and the American withdrawal from Vietnam in March 1973, the war ended with the fall of Saigon to the North in April 1975. The reunified Vietnam suffered further internal repression and was isolated internationally due to the continuing Cold War and the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia. In 1986, the Communist Party of Vietnam changed its economic policy and began reforms of the private sector similar to those in China. Since the mid-1980s, Vietnam has enjoyed substantial economic growth and some reduction in political repression, though reports of corruption have also risen.
Evidence of the earliest established society other than the Đông Sơn culture in Northern Vietnam was found in Cổ Loa, the ancient city situated near present-day Hà Nội. According to Vietnamese myths the first Vietnamese peoples descended from the Dragon Lord Lạc Long Quân and the Immortal Fairy Âu Cơ. Lạc Long Quân and Âu Cơ had 100 sons before they decided to part ways. 50 of the children went with their mother to the mountains, and the other 50 went with their father to the sea. The eldest son became the first in a line of earliest Vietnamese kings, collectively known as the Hùng kings (Hùng Vương or the Hồng Bàng Dynasty). The Hùng kings called the country, which was then located on the Red River delta in present-day northern Vietnam, Văn Lang. The people of Văn Lang were referred to as the Lạc Việt.
Văn Lang was thought to be a matriarchal society, similar to many other matriarchal societies common in Southeast Asia and in the Pacific islands at the time. Various archaeological sites in northern Vietnam, such as Đông Sơn have yielded metal weapons and tools from this age. Most famous of these artifacts are the large bronze drums, probably made for ceremonial purposes, with sophisticated engravings on the surface, depicting life scenes with warriors, boats, houses, birds and animals in concentric circles around a radiating sun at the center.
Many legends from this period offer a glimpse into the life of the people. The Legend of the Rice Cakes (Sự Tích Bánh Dày Bánh Chưng) is about a prince who won a culinary contest; he then wins the throne because his creations, the rice cakes, reflect his deep understanding of the land's vital economy: rice farming. The Legend of Giong (Thánh Gióng), copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, about a youth going to war to save the country, wearing an iron armor, riding an armored horse, and wielding an iron staff, showed that metalworking was sophisticated. The Legend of the Magic Crossbow (Sự Tích Nỏ Thần), about a crossbow that can deliver thousands of arrows, showed extensive use of archery in warfare.
By the 3rd century BC, another Viet group, the Âu Việt, emigrated from present-day southern China to the Red River delta and mixed with the indigenous Van Lang population. In 258 BC, a new kingdom, Âu Lạc, emerged as the union of the Âu Việt and the Lạc Việt, with Thục Phán proclaiming himself "King An Dương Vương". At his capital Cổ Loa, he built many concentric layers of walls around the city for defensive purpose. These walls, together with skilled Âu Lạc archers, kept the capital safe from invaders for a while. However, it also gave rise to the first story of espionage in Vietnamese history, which resulted in the downfall of king An Dương Vương.
In 207 BC, an ambitious Chinese warlord named Triệu Đà (Chinese: Zhao Tuo) defeated king An Dương Vương by having his son Trọng Thủy (Chinese: Zhong Shi) act as a spy after marrying An Dương Vương's daughter. Triệu Đà annexed the kingdom of Âu Lạc into his domain in present-day Guangdong, southern China, then proclaimed himself king of a new independent kingdom, Nam Việt (Chinese: 南越, Nan Yue). Trọng Thủy, the supposed crown prince, felt deeply remorseful and drowned himself in Cổ Loa because his wife was killed in the war.
Some Vietnamese consider Triệu's rule a period of Chinese domination, since Triệu Đà was a former Qin general. Others consider it an era of Việt independence as the Triệu family in Nam Việt were assimilated to local culture. They ruled independently of what then constituted China (Han Dynasty). At one point, Triệu Đà even declared himself Emperor, equal to the Chinese Han Emperor in the north.
Period of Chinese domination (111 BC – 938 AD)
In 111 BC, Chinese troops invaded Nanyue and established new territories, dividing Vietnam into Giao Chỉ (Chinese: 交趾 pinyin: Jiaozhi, now the Red river delta); Cửu Chân from modern-day Thanh Hoa to Ha Tinh; and Nhật Nam, from modern-day Quang Binh to Hue. While the Chinese were governors and top officials, the original Vietnamese nobles (Lạc Hầu, Lạc Tướng) still managed some highlands.
In 40 AD, a successful revolt against harsh rule by Han Governor Tô Định (蘇定 pinyin: Sū Dìng), led by the two noble women Trung Trac and her sister Trung Nhi, recaptured 65 states (include modern Guangxi), and Trung Trac became the Queen (Trưng Nữ Vương). In 42 AD, Emperor Guangwu of Han sent his famous general Mã Viện (Chinese: Ma Yuan) to quell the revolt. After a torturous campaign, Ma Yuan defeated the Trung Queen, who committed suicide. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, To this day, the Trung Sisters are revered in Vietnam as the national symbol of Vietnamese women. Learning a lesson from the Trung revolt, the Han and other successful Chinese dynasties took measures to eliminate the power of the Vietnamese nobles. The Vietnamese elites would be coerced to assimilate into Chinese culture and politics. However, in 225 AD, another woman, Trieu Thi Trinh, popularly known as Lady Trieu (Bà Triệu), led another revolt which lasted until 248 AD.
During the Tang dynasty, Vietnam was called Annam (Giao Châu), until the early 10th century AD. Giao Chỉ (with its capital around modern Bac Ninh province) became a flourishing trading outpost receiving goods from the southern seas. "History of Later Han" (Hậu Hán Thư, Hou Hanshu) recorded that in 166 AD the first envoy from the Roman Empire to China arrived by this route, and merchants were soon to follow. The 3rd-century "Tales of Wei" (Ngụy Lục, Weilue) mentioned a "water route" (the Red River) from Jiaozhi into what is now southern Yunnan. From there, goods were taken overland to the rest of China via the regions of modern Kunming and Chengdu.
At the same time, in present-day central Vietnam, there was a successful revolt of Cham nations. Chinese dynasties called it Lin-Yi (Lin village). It later became a powerful kingdom, Champa, stretching from Quảng Bình to Phan Thiet (Bình Thuận).
In the period between the beginning of the Chinese Age of Fragmentation to the end of the Tang Dynasty, several revolts against Chinese rule took place, such as those of Lý Bôn and his general and heir Triệu Quang Phục; and those of Mai Thúc Loan and Phùng Hưng. All of them ultimately failed, yet most notable were Lý Bôn and Triệu Quang Phục, whose Anterior Lý Dynasty ruled for almost half a century (544 AD to 602 AD) before the Chinese Sui Dynasty reconquered their kingdom Vạn Xuân.
Early independence (938 AD – 1009 AD)
Early in the 10th century, as China became politically fragmented, successive lords from the Khúc family, followed by Dương Đình Nghệ, ruled Giao Châu autonomously under the Tang title of Tiết Độ Sứ (Virtuous Lord), but stopping short of proclaiming themselves kings.
In 938, the kingdom of Southern Han sent troops to conquer autonomous Giao Châu. Ngô Quyền, Dương Đình Nghệ's son-in-law, defeated the Southern Han fleet at the Battle of Bach Dang River (938). He then proclaimed himself King Ngô and effectively began the age of independence for Vietnam.
Ngô Quyền's untimely death after a short reign resulted in a power struggle for the throne, the country's first major civil war, The upheavals of Twelve warlords (Loạn Thập Nhị Sứ Quân). The war lasted from 945 AD to 967 AD when the clan led by Đinh Bộ Lĩnh defeated the other warlords, unifying the country. Dinh founded the Đinh Dynasty and proclaimed himself First Emperor (Tiên Hoàng) of Đại Cồ Việt (Hán tự: 大瞿越; literally "Great Viet Land"), with its capital in Hoa Lư (modern day Ninh Bình). However, the Chinese Song Dynasty only officially recognized him as Prince of Jiaozhi (Giao Chỉ Quận Vương). Emperor Đinh introduced strict penal codes to prevent chaos from happening again. He tried to form alliances by granting the title of Queen to five women from the five most influential families.
In 979 AD, Emperor Đinh Bộ Lĩnh and his crown prince Đinh Liễn were assassinated, leaving his lone surviving son, the 6-year-old Đinh Toàn, to assume the throne. Taking advantage of the situation, the Chinese Song Dynasty invaded Đại Cồ Việt. Facing such a grave threat to national independence, the court's Commander of the Ten Armies (Thập Đạo Tướng Quân) Lê Hoàn took the throne , founding the Former Lê Dynasty. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, A capable military tactician, Lê Hoan realized the risks of engaging the mighty Chinese troops head on; thus he tricked the invading army into Chi Lăng Pass, then ambushed and killed their commander, quickly ending the threat to his young nation in 981 AD. The Song Dynasty withdrew their troops yet would not recognize Lê Hoàn as Prince of Jiaozhi until 12 years later; nevertheless, he is referred to in his realm as Đại Hành Emperor (Đại Hành Hoàng Đế). Emperor Lê Hoàn was also the first Vietnamese monarch who began the southward expansion process against the kingdom of Champa.
Emperor Lê Hoàn's death in 1005 AD resulted in infighting for the throne amongst his sons. The eventual winner, Lê Long Đĩnh, became the most notorious tyrant in Vietnamese history. He devised sadistic punishments of prisoners for his own entertainment and indulged in sexual activities. Toward the end of his short life – he died at 24 – Lê Long Đĩnh became so ill that he had to lie down when meeting with his officials in court.
Independent period of Đại Việt (1010 AD – 1527 AD)
When the king Lê Long Đĩnh died in 1009 AD, a Palace Guard Commander named Lý Công Uẩn was nominated by the court to take over the throne, and founded the Lý dynasty. This event is regarded as the beginning of a golden era in Vietnamese history, with great following dynasties. The way Lý Công Uẩn ascended to the throne was rather uncommon in Vietnamese history. As a high-ranking military commander residing in the capital, he had all opportunities to seize power during the tumultuous years after Emperor Lê Hoàn's death, yet preferring not to do so out of his sense of duty. He was in a way being "elected" by the court after some debate before a consensus was reached.
Lý Công Uẩn, posthumously referred as Lý Thái Tổ, changed the country's name to Đại Việt (Hán tự: 大越; literally "Great Viet"). The Lý Dynasty is credited for laying down a concrete foundation, with strategic vision, for the nation of Vietnam. Leaving Hoa Lư, copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, a natural fortification surrounded by mountains and rivers, Lý Công Uẩn moved his court to the new capital in present-day Hanoi and called it Thăng Long (Ascending Dragon). Lý Công Uẩn thus departed from the militarily defensive mentality of his predecessors and envisioned a strong economy as the key to national survival. Successive Lý kings continued to accomplish far-reaching feats: building a dike system to protect the rice producing area; founding Quốc Tử Giám, the first noble university; holding regular examinations to select capable commoners for government positions once every three years; organizing a new system of taxation; establishing humane treatment of prisoners. Women were holding important roles in Lý society as the court ladies were in charge of tax collection. The Lý Dynasty also promoted Buddhism, yet maintained a pluralistic attitude toward the three main philosophical systems of the time: Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. During the Lý Dynasty, the Chinese Song Dynasty officially recognized the Đại Việt monarch as King of Giao Chỉ (Giao Chỉ Quận Vương).
The Lý Dynasty had two major wars with Song China, and a few conquests against neighboring Champa in the south. Most notable Song-Lý battle took place on Chinese land in 1075 AD. Upon learning that a Song invasion was imminent, the Lý army and navy (about 100,000 men) under the command of Lý Thường Kiệt, Tông Đản used amphibious operations to preemptively destroy three Song military installations at Yong Zhou, Qin Zhou, and Lian Zhou in present-day Guangdong and Guangxi, and killed 100,000 Chinese. The Song Dynasty took revenge and invaded Dai Viet in 1076 CE yet Song troops were held back at the Battle of Như Nguyệt River (commonly Cầu river), now in Bắc Ninh province (about 40 km from the current capital, Hanoi). As neither side could win, the Lý Dynasty proposed a truce, which the Song Dynasty accepted.
Toward the end of the Lý Dynasty, a powerful court minister named Trần Thủ Độ forced king Lý Huệ Tông to become a Buddhist monk and Lý Chiêu Hoàng, Huệ Tông's young daughter, to become queen. Trần Thủ Độ then arranged the marriage of Chiêu Hoàng to his nephew Trần Cảnh and eventually had the throne transferred to Trần Cảnh, thus begun the Trần Dynasty. Trần Thủ Độ viciously purged members of the Lý nobility; some Lý princes escaped to Korea, being thought to be the first political exiles in Vietnamese history (see Lý Long Tường).
Although Trần Thủ Độ had purged members of Lý nobility, most Trần kings ruled the country in similar manner to the Lý kings. Noted Trần Dynasty accomplishments include the creation of a system of population records based at the village level, the compilation of a formal 30-volume history of Đại Việt (Đại Việt Sử Ký) by Lê Văn Hưu, and the rising in status of the Nôm script, a system of writing for Vietnamese language. The Trần Dynasty also adopted a unique way to train new kings: as a king aged, he would relinquish the throne to his crown prince, yet holding a title of August Higher Emperor (Thái Thượng Hoàng), acting as a mentor to the new Emperor.
During the Trần Dynasty, Đại Việt repelled three invasions (in 1257 AD, 1284 AD, and 1288 AD) by the Mongols under Kublai Khan, who had occupied China and founded the Yuan dynasty (see Mongol invasions of Vietnam). Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, The key to Đại Việt's successes was to avoid the Mongols' strength in open field battles and city sieges (the Trần court abandoned the capital and the cities), then countered them decisively at their weak points, which were battles in swampy areas (such as Chương Dương, Hàm Tử, Vạn Kiếp) and on rivers (such as Vân Đồn and Bạch Đằng). The Mongols also suffered from tropical diseases and loss of supplies to Trần army's raids. The Yuan-Trần war reached its climax when retreating Yuan fleet was decimated at the Battle of Bach Dang (1288). The military architect behind Dai Viet's victories was Commander Trần Quốc Tuấn, more popularly known as Trần Hưng Đạo.
It was also during this period that the Trần kings waged many wars against the southern kingdom of Champa, continuing the Viets' long history of southern expansion (known as Nam Tiến) that had begun shortly after gaining independence from China. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, Often, they encountered strong resistance from the Chams. Champa troops led by king Chế Bồng Nga (Cham: Po Binasuor or Che Bonguar) killed king Trần Duệ Tông in battle and even laid siege to Đại Việt's capital Thăng Long in 1377 AD and again in 1383 AD. However, the Trần Dynasty was successful in gaining two Champa provinces, located around present-day Hue, through the peaceful means of the political marriage of Princess Huyền Trân to a Cham king.
Ming occupation and the rise of the Le dynasty
The Trần dynasty was in turn overthrown by one of its own court officials, Hồ Quý Ly. Hồ Quý Ly forced the last Trần king to resign and assumed the throne in 1400. He changed the country name to Đại Ngu (Hán tự: 太虞) and moved the capital to Tây Đô, Western Capital, now Thanh Hóa. Thăng Long was renamed Đông Đô, Eastern Capital. Although widely blamed for causing national disunity and losing the country later to the Chinese Ming Dynasty, Hồ Quý Ly's reign actually introduced a lot of progressive, ambitious reforms, including the addition of mathematics to the national examinations, the open critique of Confucian philosophy, the use of paper currency in place of coins, the investment in building large warships and cannons, and land reform. He ceded the throne to his son, Hồ Hán Thương, in 1401 and assumed the title Thái Thượng Hoàng, in similar manner to the Trần kings.
In 1407, under the pretext of helping to restore the Trần Dynasty, Chinese Ming troops invaded Đại Ngu and captured Hồ Quý Ly and Hồ Hán Thương. The Ho dynasty came to an end after mere 7 years in power. The Ming occupying force annexed Đại Ngu into the Ming Empire after claiming that there was no heir to Trần throne. Almost immediately, Trần loyalists started a resistance war. The resistance, under the leadership of Trần Quĩ, at first gained some advances, yet as Trần Quĩ executed 2 top commanders out of suspicion, a rift widened within his ranks and resulted in his defeat in 1413.
In 1418, a wealthy farmer, Lê Lợi, led the Lam son revolution against the Ming from his base of Lam Sơn (Thanh Hóa province). Overcoming many early setbacks and with strategic advices from Nguyễn Trãi, Lê Lợi's movement finally gathered momentum, marched northward, and launched a siege at Đông Quan (now Hanoi), the capital of the Ming occupation. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, Ming Emperor sent a reinforcement force, but Lê Lợi staged an ambush and killed the Ming commander, Liễu Thăng (Chinese: Liu Sheng), in Chi Lăng. Ming troops at Đông Quan surrendered. The Lam son revolution killed 300000 Ming soldiers. In 1428, Lê Lợi ascended to the throne and began the Hậu Lê dynasty (Posterior Lê). Lê Lợi renamed the country back to Đại Việt and moved the capital back to Thăng Long.
The Lê Dynasty carried out land reforms to revitalize the economy after the war. Unlike the Lý and Trần kings, who were more influenced by Buddhism, the Lê kings leaned toward Confucianism. A comprehensive set of laws, the Hồng Đức Code was introduced with some strong Confucian elements, yet also included some progressive rules, such as the rights of women. Art and architecture during the Lê Dynasty also became more influenced by Chinese styles than during the Lý and Trần Dynasty. The Lê Dynasty commissioned the drawing of national maps and had Ngô Sĩ Liên continue the task of writing Đại Việt's history up to the time of Lê Lợi. King Lê Thánh Tông opened hospitals and had officials distribute medicines to areas affected with epidemics.
In 1471, Le troops led by king Lê Thánh Tông invaded Champa and captured its capital Vijaya. This event effectively ended Champa as a powerful kingdom, although some smaller surviving Cham kingdoms still lasted for a few centuries more. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, It initiated the dispersal of the Cham people across Southeast Asia. With the kingdom of Champa mostly destroyed and the Cham people exiled or suppressed, Vietnamese colonization of what is now central Vietnam proceeded without substantial resistance. However, despite becoming greatly outnumbered by Kinh (Việt) settlers and the integration of formerly Cham territory into the Vietnamese nation, the majority of Cham people nevertheless remained in Vietnam and now considered one of the key minorities in modern Vietnam. (The modern city of Huế, founded in 1600 lies close to where the Champa capital of Indrapura once stood). In 1479, king Lê Thánh Tôn also campaigned against Laos and captured its capital Luang Phrabang.
Divided period (1528–1802)
The Lê dynasty was overthrown by its general named Mạc Đăng Dung in 1527. He killed the Lê emperor and proclaimed himself emperor, starting the Mạc Dynasty. After defeating many revolutions for two years, Mạc Đăng Dung adopted the Trần Dynasty's practice and ceded the throne to his son, Mạc Đăng Doanh, and became Thái Thượng Hoàng.
Meanwhile, Nguyễn Kim, a former official in the Lê court, revolted against the Mạc and helped king Lê Trang Tông restore the Lê court in the Thanh Hóa area. Thus a civil war began between the Northern Court (Mạc) and the Southern Court (Restored Lê). Nguyễn Kim's side controlled the southern part of Đại Việt (from Thanhhoa to the south), copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, leaving the north (including Đông Kinh-Hanoi) under Mạc control. When Nguyễn Kim was assassinated in 1545, military power fell into the hands of his son-in-law, Trịnh Kiểm. In 1558, Nguyễn Kim's son, Nguyễn Hoàng, suspecting that Trịnh Kiểm might kill him as his brother to secure power, asked to be governor of the far south provinces (around present-day Quảng Bình to Bình Định). He governed the south effectively while Trịnh Kiểm, and then his son Trịnh Tùng, carried on the war against the Mạc. Nguyễn Hoàng sent money and soldiers north to help the war but gradually he became more and more independent.
The civil war between the Lê/Trịnh and Mạc dynasties ended in 1592, when the army of Trịnh Tùng conquered Hanoi and executed king Mạc Mậu Hợp. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, Survivors of the Mạc royal family fled to the northern mountains in the province of Cao Bằng and continued to rule there until 1667 when Trịnh Tạc conquered this last Mạc territory. The Lê kings, ever since Nguyễn Kim's restoration, only acted as figureheads. After the fall of the Mạc Dynasty, all real power in the north belonged to the Trịnh Lords.
In the year 1600, Nguyễn Hoàng also declared himself Lord (officially "Vương", popularly "Chúa") and refused to send more money or soldiers to help the Trịnh. He also moved his capital to a new place, Phú Xuân (modern-day Huế). Nguyễn Hoàng died in 1613 after having ruled the south for 55 years. He was succeeded by his 6th son, Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên, who likewise refused to acknowledge the power of the Trịnh, yet still pledged allegiance to the Lê king.
Trịnh Tráng succeeded Trịnh Tùng, his father, upon his death in 1623. Tráng ordered Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên to submit to his authority. The order was refused twice. In 1627, Trịnh Tráng sent 150000 troops southward in an unsuccessful military campaign.
The Trịnh-Nguyễn War lasted from 1627 until 1672. The Trịnh army staged at least seven offensives, all of which failed to capture Phú Xuân. For a time, starting in 1651, the Nguyễn themselves went on the offensive and attacked parts of Trịnh territory. However, the Trịnh, under a new leader, Trịnh Tạc, forced the Nguyễn back by 1655. After one last offensive in 1672, Trịnh Tạc agreed to a truce with the Nguyễn Lord Nguyễn Phúc Tần. The country was effectively divided in two.
The Trịnh and the Nguyễn maintained a relative peace for the next hundred years, during which both sides made significant accomplishments. The Trịnh created centralized government offices in charge of state budget and producing currency, unified the weight units into a decimal system, established printing shops to reduce the need to import printed materials from China, opened a military academy, and compiled history books.
Meanwhile, the Nguyễn Lords continued the southward expansion by the conquest of the remaining Cham land. Việt settlers also arrived in the sparsely populated area known as "Water Chenla", which was the lower Mekong Delta portion of Chenla (present-day Cambodia). Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, Between the mid-17th century to mid-18th century, as Chenla was weakened by internal strife and Siamese invasions, the Nguyễn Lords used various means, political marriage, diplomatic pressure, political and military favors,... to gain the area around present day Saigon and the Mekong Delta. The Nguyễn army at times also clashed with the Siamese army to establish influence over Chenla.
In 1771, the Tây Sơn revolution broke out in Quy nhơn, which was under the control of the Nguyễn Lord. The leaders of this revolution were three brothers named Nguyễn Nhạc, Nguyễn Lữ, and Nguyễn Huệ (not related to the Nguyễn lords). By 1776, the Tây Sơn had occupied all of the Nguyễn Lord's land and killed (almost) the entire royal family. The surviving prince Nguyễn Phúc Ánh (often called Nguyễn Ánh) fled to Siam, and obtained military support from the Siamese king. Nguyễn Ánh came back with 50000 Siamese troops to regain power, but was defeated at the Battle of Rạch Gầm–Xoài Mút and almost killed. Nguyễn Ánh fled Vietnam, but he did not give up.
The Tây Sơn army commanded by Nguyễn Huệ marched north in 1786 to fight the Trịnh Lord, Trịnh Khải. The Trịnh army failed to defend and Trịnh Khải committed suicide. The Tây Sơn army captured the capital in less than two months. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, The last Lê emperor, Lê Chiêu Thống, fled to China and petitioned the Chinese Qing Emperor for help. The Qing emperor Qianlong supplied Lê Chiêu Thống with a massive army (about 200000 men) to regain his throne from the usurper. Nguyễn Huệ proclaimed himself Emperor Quang Trung and defeated Qing troops (with 100000 men) in a surprise 7 day campaign during the lunar new year (Tết). During his reign, Quang Trung envisioned many reforms but died by unknown reason on the way march south in 1792, at the age of 40.
During the reign of Emperor Quang Trung, Đại Việt was actually divided into 3 political entities. The Tây Sơn leader, Nguyễn Nhạc, ruled the Central of the country from his capital Qui Nhơn. Emperor Quang Trung ruled the North from the capital Phú xuân Huế. In the South, Nguyễn Ánh, assisted by many talented recruits from the South, captured Gia Định (present day Saigon) in 1788 and established a strong base for his force.
After Quang Trung's death, the Tây Sơn Dynasty became unstable as the remaining brothers fought against each other and against the people who were loyal to Nguyễn Huệ's infant son. Nguyễn Ánh, sailed north in 1799, capturing Tây Sơn's stronghold Qui Nhơn. In 1801, his force took Phú Xuân, the Tây Sơn capital. Nguyễn Ánh finally won the war in 1802, when he sieged Thăng Long (Hanoi) and executed Nguyễn Huệ's son, Nguyễn Quang Toản, along with many Tây Sơn generals and officials. Nguyễn Ánh ascended the throne and called himself Emperor Gia Long. Gia is for Gia Định, the old name of Saigon; Long is for Thăng Long, the old name of Hanoi. Hence Gia Long implied the unification of the country. The Nguyễn dynasty lasted until Bảo Đại's abdication in 1945. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, As China for centuries had referred to Đại Việt as Annam, Gia Long asked the Chinese Qing emperor to rename the country, from Annam to Nam Việt. To prevent any confusion of Gia Long's kingdom with Triệu Đà's ancient kingdom, the Chinese emperor reversed the order of the two words to Việt Nam. The name Vietnam is thus known to be used since Emperor Gia Long's reign (but recently historians have found that this name had existed in older books in which Vietnamese called their country Vietnam).
The Period of Division with many tragedies and dramatic historical developments inspired many poets and gave rise to some Vietnamese masterpieces in verse such as the epic poem The Tale of Kieu (Truyện Kiều) by Nguyễn Du, Song of a Soldier's Wife (Chinh Phụ Ngâm) by Đặng Trần Côn (Chinese script version) and Đoàn Thị Điểm (Nôm version), and a collection of satirical, erotically charged poems by the female poet Hồ Xuân Hương.
19th century and French colonization
Flag of Colonial Annam. The West's exposure in Vietnam dates back to 166 BC th the arrival of merchants from the Roman Empire, 1292 with the visit of Marco Polo, and the early 1500s with the arrival of Portuguese and other European traders and missionaries. Alexandre de Rhodes, a French Jesuit priest, improved on earlier work by Portuguese missionaries and developed the Vietnamese romanized alphabet Quốc Ngữ in Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanam et Latinum in 1651.
Between 1627 and 1775, two powerful families had partitioned the country: the Nguyễn Lords ruled the South and the Trịnh Lords ruled the North. The Trịnh-Nguyễn War gave European traders the opportunities to support each side with weapons and technology: the Portuguese assisted the Nguyễn while the Dutch helped the Trịnh.
In 1784, during the conflict between Nguyễn Ánh, the surviving heir of the Nguyễn Lords, and the Tây Sơn Dynasty, a French Catholic Bishop, Pigneaux de Behaine, sailed to France to seek military backing for Nguyen Anh. At Louis XVI's court, Pigneaux brokered the Little Treaty of Versailles, which promised French military aid in return for Vietnamese concessions. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, The French Revolution broke out and Pigneaux's plan failed to materialize. Undaunted, Pigneaux went to the French territory of Pondicherry, India. He secured two ships, a regiment of Indian troops, and a handful of volunteers and returned to Vietnam in 1788 . One of Pigneaux's volunteers, Jean-Marie Dayot, reorganized Nguyễn Ánh's navy along European lines and defeated the Tây Sơn at Qui Nhơn in 1792. A few years later, Nguyễn Ánh's forces captured Saigon, where Pigneaux died in 1799. Another volunteer, Victor Olivier de Puymanel would later build the Gia Định fort in central Saigon.
After Nguyễn Ánh established the Nguyễn Dynasty in 1802, he tolerated Catholicism and employed some Europeans in his court as advisors. However, he and his successors were conservative Confucians who resisted Westernization. The next Nguyễn emperors, Ming Mạng, Thiệu Trị, and Tự Đức brutally suppressed Catholicism and pursued a 'closed door' policy, perceiving the Westerners as a threat. Tens of thousands of Vietnamese and foreign-born Christians were persecuted and trade with the West slowed during this period. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, These acts were soon being used as excuses for France to invade Vietnam. Actually, the early Nguyễn Dynasty accomplished almost everything the previous great Vietnamese dynasties did (like building roads, digging canals, issuing a legal code, holding examinations, sponsoring care facilities for the sick, compiling maps and history books, exerting influence over Cambodia and Laos, etc), except those feats were not enough in the new age of science, technology, industrialization, and international trade and politics. The Nguyễn Dynasty is usually blamed for failing to modernize the country in time to prevent French colonization in the late 19th century.
Under the orders of Napoleon III of France, French gunships under Rigault de Genouilly attacked the port of Đà Nẵng in 1858, causing significant damages, yet failed to gain any foothold. De Genouilly decided to sail south and captured the poorly defended city of Gia Định (present-day Saigon). From 1859 to 1867, French troops expanded their control over all 6 provinces on the Mekong delta and formed a French Colony known as Cochin China. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, A few years later, French troops landed in northern Vietnam (which they called Tonkin) and captured Hà Nội twice in 1873 and 1882. The French managed to keep their grip on Tonkin although, twice, their top commanders, Francis Garnier and Henri Riviere were ambushed and killed. France assumed control over the whole of Vietnam after the Franco-Chinese War (1884-1885). French Indochina was formed in October 1887 from Annam (Trung Kỳ, central Vietnam), Tonkin (Bắc Kỳ, northern Vietnam), Cochin China (Nam Kỳ, southern Vietnam, and Cambodia, with Laos added in 1893. Within French Indochina, Cochin China had the status of a French Colony, Annam was a Protectorate where the Nguyen Dynasty still ruled in name, and Tonkin had a French Governor yet local governments were run by Vietnamese officials.
After Gia Định fell to French troops, many Vietnamese resistance movements broke out in occupied areas, some led by former court officers, such as Trương Định, some by peasants, such as Nguyễn Trung Trực, who sunk the French gunship L'Esperance using guerilla tactics. In the north, most movements were led by former court officers and lasted quite long, with Phan Đình Phùng until 1895 and Hoàng Hoa Thám until 1911. Even the teenage Nguyễn Emperor Hàm Nghi left the Imperial Palace of Huế in 1885 and started the Cần Vương, or "Save the King", movement, trying to rally the people to resist the French. He was captured in 1888 and exiled to French Algeria. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, Decades later, 2 more Nguyễn kings, Thành Thái and Duy Tân were also exiled to Africa for having anti-French tendencies.
In the early 20th century, Vietnamese patriots realized that they could not defeat France without modernization. Also, having been exposed to Western philosophy, they aimed to establish a republic upon independence, departing from the royalist sentiments of the Cần Vương movements. Japan served as a perfect example that modernization could help an Asian country to defeat a powerful European empire (Russia - see Russo-Japanese War). Thus emerged two parallel movements of modernization:
The first was the Đông Du ("Go East") Movement started in 1905 by Phan Bội Châu. Phan Bội Châu's plan was to send Vietnamse students to Japan to learn modern skills, so that in the future they could lead a successful armed revolt against the French. With Prince Cường Để, Phan Bội Châu started 2 organizations in Japan: Duy Tân Hội and Việt Nam Công Hiến Hội. Due to French pressure, Japan later deported Phan Bội Châu to China.
Phan Chu Trinh, who favored a peaceful, non-violent struggle to gain independence, led the second movement Duy Tân ("Modernization"). He stressed the need to educate the masses, modernize the country, foster understanding and tolerance between the French and the Vietnamese, and a peaceful transition of power.
The early part of the 20th century also saw the growing in status of the Romanized Quốc Ngữ alphabet for the Vietnamese language. Vietnamese patriots realized the potential of Quốc Ngữ as a useful tool to quickly reduce illiteracy and to educate the masses. The traditional Chinese scripts or the Nôm script were seen as too cumbersome and too difficult to learn. The use of prose in literature also became popular with the appearance of many novels; most famous were those from the literary circle Tự Lực Văn Đoàn.
However, as the French suppressed both movements, and after witnessing revolutions in China and Russia, Vietnamse revolutionaries began to turn to radical paths. Phan Bội Châu created the Vietnam Quang Phục Hội in Guangzhou, planning armed resistance against the French. In 1925, French agents captured him in Shanghai and spirited him to Vietnam. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, Due to his popularity, Phan Bội Châu was spared from execution and placed under house arrest until his death in 1940. In 1927, the Việt Nam Quốc Dân Đảng, modeled after the Guomingtang in China, was founded. In 1930, the party launched the armed Yên Bái Uprising in Tonkin which resulted in its chairman, Nguyễn Thái Học and 12 other leaders captured and executed by the guillotine.
Marxism was also introduced into Vietnam with the emergence of three separate Communist parties (Indochinese Communist Party, Annamese Communist Party, Indochinese Communist Union) and later a Trotskyist movement led by Tạ Thu Thâu. The Comintern sent Nguyễn Ái Quốc to coordinate the unification of the parties into the Vietnamese Communist Party in 1930, in Hongkong, with Trần Phú as the first Secretary General. Later, copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, the party changed its name to Indochinese Communist Party as Comintern, under Stalin, did not favor nationalistic sentiments. Nguyễn Ái Quốc was a leftist revolutionary living in France since 1911. He participated in founding the French Communist Party and in 1924 traveled to the Soviet Union to join the Communist International (Comintern). Through the late 1920s, he acted as a Comintern agent to help build Communist movements in Southeast Asia. During the 1930s, the Vietnamese Communist Party was nearly wiped out under French suppression with the execution of top leaders such as Trần Phú, Lê Hồng Phong, and Nguyễn Văn Cừ.
In 1940, during World War II, Japan invaded Indochina yet kept the Vichy French colonial administration in place as a Japanese puppet. In 1941 Hồ Chí Minh, formerly known as Nguyễn Ái Quốc, arrived in northern Vietnam to form Việt Minh Front (short for Việt Nam Độc Lập Đồng Minh Hội). Việt Minh Front was supposed to be an umbrella group for all parties fighting for Vietnam's independence, yet it was dominated by the Communist Party. Within Vietnam, Việt Minh had a very modest armed force, which worked with the American OSS to collect intelligence on the Japanese. From China, other non-Communist Vietnamese parties also joined Việt Minh and established armed forces with backing from the Guomingtang.
First Indochina War (1945 – 1954)
In 1944-1945, millions of Vietnamese starved to death in the Japanese occupation of Vietnam.
In early 1945, due to a combination of Japanese exploitation and poor weather, a famine broke out in Tonkin killing between 1 and 2 million people. In March 1945, Japanese occupying forces ousted the French administration in Indochina. Emperor Bảo Đại of the Nguyễn Dynasty nominally declared Vietnam independent, but Japanese retained true control.
In August 1945, the Japanese surrendered to the Allies, creating a power vacuum in Vietnam. The Việt Minh launched the "August Revolution" across the country to seize government offices. Emperor Bảo Ðại abdicated on August 25, 1945, ending the Nguyễn Dynasty. On September 2, 1945 Hồ Chí Minh declared Vietnam independent under the new name of Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) and held the position of Chairman (Chủ Tịch).
In southern Vietnam, British forces landed in Saigon to disarm the Japanese in October and decided to restore order,which they did. The British commander South east Asia, Lord Mountbatten, sent over 20,000 troops of the 20th Indian division under General Douglas Gracey to occupy Saigon. The first soldiers arrived on 6 September and increased to full strength over the following weeks. In addition they re-armed Japanese prisoners of war (known as Gremlin force) The British began to withdraw in December of 1945, but this was not completed until June of the following year. The last British soldiers were killed in Vietnam in June 1946. Altogether 40 British and Indian troops were killed and over a hundred were wounded. Vietnamese casualties were 600. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, They were followed by French troops trying to re-establish their rule. In the north, Chiang Kaishek's army entered Vietnam, also to disarm the Japanese, followed by the forces of the non-Communist Vietnamese parties, such as Việt Nam Quốc Dân Đảng and Việt Nam Cách Mạng Đồng Minh Hội. In 1946, Vietnam had its first National Assembly election, which drafted the first constitution, yet its situation was very precarious: the French tried to regain power by force; some Cochin-Chinese politicians formed a seceding government of Cochin-China (Nam Kỳ Quốc); the non-Communist and Communist forces were killing each other. Stalinists purged Trotskyists. Religious sects and resistance groups formed their own militias. The Communists eventually suppressed all non-Communist parties but failed to secure a peace deal with France.
In 1947, full scale war broke out between Viet Minh and France. Realizing that colonialism was coming to an end worldwide, France fashioned a semi-independent State of Vietnam, within the French Union, with Bảo Đại as Head of State. Meanwhile, as the Communists under Mao Zedong took over China, Viet Minh began to receive military aid from China. Beside supplying materials, Chinese cadres also pressured the Vietnamese Communist Party, copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, then under First Secretary Trường Chinh, to emulate their brand of revolution, unleashing a purge of "bourgeois and feudal" elements from the Viet Minh ranks, carrying out a ruthless and bloody land reform campaign (Cải Cách Ruộng Đất), and denouncing "bourgeois and feudal" tendencies in arts and literature. Many true patriots and devoted Communist revolutionaries in the Viet Minh suffered mistreatment or were even executed during these movements. Many others became disenchanted and left the Viet Minh. The United States became strongly opposed to Hồ Chí Minh. In the 1950s the government of Bảo Ðại gained recognition by the United States and the United Kingdom.
The Việt Minh force grew significantly with China's assistance and in 1954, under the command of General Võ Nguyên Giáp, launched a major siege against French bases in Điện Biên Phủ. The Việt Minh force surprised Western military experts with their use of primitive means to move artillery pieces and supplies up the mountains surrounding Điện Biên Phủ, giving them a decisive advantage. On May 7 1954, French troops at Điện Biên Phủ, under Christian de Castries, surrendered to Viet Minh. On July 1954, the Geneva Accord was signed between France and Viet-Minh, paving the way for France to leave Vietnam.
Second Indochina War (1954 – 1975)
The Geneva Conference of 1954 ended France's colonial presence in Vietnam and temporarily partitioned the country into 2 states at the 17th parallel (pending unification on the basis of internationally supervised free elections). Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, Ngô Ðình Diệm, a former mandarin with a strong Catholic and Confucian background, was selected as Premier of Bảo Đại's State of Vietnam. While Diệm was trying to settle the differences between the various armed militias in the South, Bảo Ðại was persuaded to reduce his power. Diệm used a referendum in 1955 to depose Bảo Đại and declare himself as President of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). The Republic of Vietnam (RVN) was proclaimed in Saigon on October 22, 1955. The United States began to provide military and economic aid to the RVN, training RVN personnel, and sending U.S. advisors to assist in building the infrastructure for the new government.
Also in 1954, Vietminh forces took over North Vietnam according to the Geneva Accord. Two millions North Vietnamese civilians emigrated to South Vietnam to avoid the imminent Communist regime. At the same time, Viet Minh armed forces from South Vietnam were also moving to North Vietnam, as dictated by the Geneva Accord. However, some high ranking Viet Minh cadres secretly remained in the South to follow the local situation closely. The most important figure among those was Lê Duẩn.
The Geneva Accord had promised elections to determine the government for a unified Vietnam. However, as only France and Viet Minh (Democratic Republic of Vietnam) had signed the document, the United States and Ngô Đình Diệm's government refused to abide by the agreement, fearing that Hồ Chí Minh would win the election due to his war popularity, and would establish Communism in the whole of Vietnam. Ngô Đình Diệm took some strong measures to secure South Vietnam from perceived internal threats. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, He eliminated all private militias from the Bình Xuyên Party and the Cao Đài and Hòa Hảo religious sects. He kept a tight lid on revolutionary parties emigrating from the North, causing one of their leaders and famous writer, Nguyễn Tường Tam to commit suicide while awaiting trial in jail. Diệm also acted aggressively to root out Communist agents still remaining in the South. He formed the Cần Lao Nhân Vị Party, mixing Personalist philosophy with labor rhetorics, modeling its organization after the Communist Party, although it was anti-Communist and pro-Catholicism. Another controversial policy was the Strategic Hamlet Program, which was effective in fencing the Communists out of the villages, yet became unpopular as it limited the villagers' freedom and altered their traditional way of life.
In 1960, at the Third Party Congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party (renamed Labor Party on the surface since 1951), Lê Duẩn arrived from the South and strongly proposed the use of revolutionary warfare to topple Diệm's regime, unifying the country, and build Marxist-Leninist socialism. Despite some elements in the Party opposing the use of force, Lê Duẩn won the seat of First Secretary of the Party. As Hồ Chí Minh was aging, Lê Duẩn virtually took the helm of war from him. The first step of his war plan was coordinating a rural uprising in the South (Đồng Khởi) and forming the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF) toward the end of 1960. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, The figurehead leader of the NLF was Nguyễn Hữu Thọ, a South Vietnamese lawyer, yet the true leadership was the Communist Party hierarchy in South Vietnam. Arms, supplies, and troops came from North Vietnam into South Vietnam via a system of trails, named the Ho Chi Minh Trail, that branched into Laos and Cambodia before entering South Vietnam. At first, most foreign aid for North Vietnam came from China, as Lê Duẩn stayed distant to the "revisionist" policy of the Soviet Union under Nikita Khrushchev. However, under Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet Union picked up the pace of aid and provided North Vietnam with heavy weapons, such as T-54 tanks, artillery, MIG fighter planes, surface-to-air missiles, etc.
Meanwhile, in South Vietnam, although Ngô Đình Diệm personally was respected for his Confucian and Catholic virtues, many of his government associates abused power and even tried to promote Catholicism over other religions. This perceived religious partiality sparked protests from the Buddhist community. The most famous case was of Venerable Thích Quảng Đức, who burned himself to death to protest. Although most Western media often wrongly reported that Thích Quảng Đức was protesting the war, and Communist propaganda tried to portray the Venerable as a patriotic fighter, his official letter to Diệm only aimed to convince the President to act impartially to all religions and to rule wisely for the sake of the countrỵ. To the Venerable, the act of self burning was not a political suicide mission but a tradition of utmost self sacrifice for the benefit of others. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, However, Diệm's government mishandled the issue, causing protests to spread widely. In the United States, the Kennedy administration became worried that the problems of Diệm's regime were undermining the US's anti-Communist effort in Southeast Asia. Thus, on November 1 1963, with secret blessing from the US, South Vietnamese generals led by Dương Văn Minh overthrew Ngô Đình Diệm and killed both him and his brother, Ngô Đình Nhu, who was also his official advisor.
Between 1963 and 1967, South Vietnam became extremely unstable as no government could keep power for long. The Communist-run NLF expanded their operation and scored some significant military victories. In 1965, the US, then under President Lyndon Johnson, decided to send troops to South Vietnam to secure the country and started to bomb North Vietnam, assuming that if South Vietnam fell to the Communists, other countries in the Southeast Asia would follow, in accordance with the Domino Theory. Other US allies, such as Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, and Taiwan also sent troops to South Vietnam. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, Although the American-led troops succeeded in containing the advance of Communist forces, the presence of foreign troops, the widespread bombing over all of Vietnam, and the social vices that mushroomed around US bases upset the sense of national pride among many Vietnamese, North and South, causing many to become sympathetic to North Vietnam and the NLF.
In 1967, South Vietnam managed to have a National Assembly and Presidential election with Lt. General Nguyễn Văn Thiệu being elected to the Presidency, bringing the government to some level of stability. However, in 1968, the NLF launched a massive and surprise Tết Offensive (known in South Vietnam as "Biến Cố Tết Mậu Thân" or in the North as "Cuộc Tổng Tấn Công và Nổi Dậy Tết Mậu Thân"), attacking almost all major cities in South Vietnam over the Vietnamese New Year (Tết). NLF and North Vietnamese forces even captured the city of Huế, after which many mass graves were found with victims being executed for having relations with the South Vietnamese government or the US (Thảm Sát Tết Mậu Thân). However, at the end, the NLF forces were pushed out of all cities in South Vietnam and nearly decimated. In subsequent major offensives in later years, copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, North Vietnamese regulars with artillery and tanks took over the fighting. In the months following the Tet Offensive, an American unit massacred civilian villagers, suspected to be sheltering Viet Cong (NLF guerillas), in the hamlet of My Lai in Central Vietnam, causing an uproar in protest around the world.
In 1969, Hồ Chí Minh passed away and wished to be cremated. However, the Communist Party embalmed his body for public display and built the Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum on Ba Đình Square in Hà Nội, in the style of Lenin's Mausoleum in Moscow.
Although the Tết Offensive was a catastrophic military defeat for the Việt Cộng, it was a stunning political victory as it led many Americans to view the war as unwinnable. President Richard Nixon entered office with a pledge to end the war "with honor." He normalized US relations with mainland China in 1972 (Sino-American relations) and entered into détente with the USSR. Nixon thus forged a new strategy to deal with the Communist Bloc, taking advantage of the rift between China and the Soviet Union. A costly war in Vietnam begun to appear less effective for the cause of Communist containment. Nixon proposed "Vietnamization" of the war, with South Vietnamese troops taking charge of the fighting, yet still receiving American aid and, if necessary, air and naval support. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, The new strategy started to show some effects: in 1970, South Vietnamese troops (ARVN) successfully conducted raids against North Vietnamese bases in Cambodia (Cambodian Campaign); in 1971, ARVN made an incursion into Southern Laos to cut off the Ho Chi Minh Trail (Operation Lam Son 719), yet the operation failed as most high positions captured by ARVN paratroopers were overrun by North Vietnamese troops; in 1972, ARVN successfully held the town of An Lộc against massive attacks from North Vietnamese regulars and recaptured the town of Quảng Trị near the DMZ during the Easter Offensive.
At the same time, Nixon was pressuring both Hanoi and Saigon to sign the Paris Peace Agreement of 1973, for American military forces to withdraw from Vietnam. The pressure to Hanoi materialized with the Christmas Bombings in 1972. In South Vietnam, Nguyễn Văn Thiệu vocally opposed any accord with the Communists, but was threatened with withdrawal of American aid.
Despite the peace treaty, the North continued the war as had been envisioned by Lê Duẩn and the South still tried to recapture lost territories. In the U.S., Nixon resigned after the Watergate scandal. South Vietnam was seen as losing a strong backer. Under U.S. President Gerald Ford, the Democratic-controlled Congress became less willing to provide aid to South Vietnam.
In 1974, South Vietnam also fought and lost the Battle of Hoàng Sa against China over the control of the Paracel Islands in South China Sea. Neither North Vietnam nor the U.S. interfered.
In early 1975, North Vietnamese military led by General Văn Tiến Dũng launched a massive attack against the Central Highland province of Buôn Mê Thuột. South Vietnamese troops previously anticipated attack against the neighboring province of Pleiku, and were caught off guard. President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu ordered the moving of all troops from the Central Highland to the coastal areas, as with shrinking American aid, South Vietnamese forces could not afford to spread too thin. However, due to lack of experience and logistics for such a large troop movement in such a short time, the whole South Vietnamese 2nd Corps got bogged down on narrow mountain roads, flooded with thousands of civilian refugees, and was decimated by ambushes along the way. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, South Vietnamese First Corp near the DMZ was cut off, received conflicting orders from Saigon on whether to fight or to retreat, and eventually collapsed. Many civilians tried to flee to Saigon via land, air, and sea routes, suffering massive casualties along the way. In early April 1975, South Vietnam set up a last ditch defense line at Xuân Lộc, under commander Lê Minh Đảo. North Vietnamese troops failed to penetrate the line and had to make a detour, which the South Vietnamese failed to stop due to lack of troops. President Nguyễn văn Thiệu resigned. The power eventually went to Dương Văn Minh.
Dương Văn Minh led the coup against Diệm in 1963. By the mid 1970s, he had leaned toward the "Third Party" (Thành Phần Thứ Ba), South Vietnamese elites who favored dialogues and cooperation with the North. Communist infiltrators in the South tried to work out political deals to let Dương Văn Minh ascend to the Presidency, copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, with the hope that he would prevent a last stand, destructive battle for Saigon. Although many South Vietnamese units were ready to defend Saigon, and in the Mekong Delta, the ARVN 4th Corp was still intact, Duong Van Minh ordered a surrender on April 30 1975, sparing Saigon from destruction. Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese fled the country by all means: airplanes, helicopters, ships, fishing boats, barges, etc. Most were picked up by the U.S. Seventh Fleet in the South China Sea or landed in Thailand. The seaborne refugees came to be known as "boat people". In a famous case, a South Vietnamese pilot, with his wife and children aboard a small Cessna plane, miraculously landed safely without a tailhook on the aircraft carrier USS Midway.
In restrospect, during this period, North Vietnam was a Socialist state with a centralized command economy, an extensive security apparatus to carry out Dictatorship of the Proletariat, a powerful propaganda machine that effectively rallied the people for the Party's causes, a superb intelligence system that infiltrated South Vietnam (spies such as Phạm Xuân Ẩn climbed to high government positions), and a severe suppression of political opposition. Even some decorated veterans and famed Communist cadres, such as Trần Đức Thảo, Nguyễn Hữu Đang, Trần Dần, Hoàng Minh Chính, were persecuted during the late 1950s Nhân Văn Giai Phẩm events and the 1960s Trial Against the Anti-Party Revisionists (Vụ Án Xét Lại Chống Đảng) for speaking their opinions. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, Nevertheless, this iron grip, together with consistent support from the Soviet Union and China, gave North Vietnam a militaristic advantage over South Vietnam. North Vietnamese leadership also had a steely determination to fight, even when facing massive casualties and destruction at their end. The young North Vietnamese were idealistically and innocently patriotic, ready to commit utmost sacrifice for the "liberation of the South" and the "unification of the motherland".
South Vietnam, meanwhile, was a young state aspiring to be a democracy in Western style. It created democratic institutions such as popular elections for the National Assembly and the President, the freedom of the press, the right to protest, etc. Its economy was based on free enterprises. However, most of these institutions were rendered greatly ineffective by corrupt yet powerful politicians and high ranking military officers. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, Most of the technocrats that ran the government, the low ranking officers, and the soldiers were often apathetic to politics, unlike their heavily indoctrinated counterparts in the North. The political and military systems in the South were also vulnerable to Communist infiltration, while it was almost impossible to do the reverse to North Vietnam. During the existence of South Vietnam, nevertheless, South Vietnamese learned many American practices that became useful for the country even many decades later, such as in the fields of economics, business and public management, and infrastructure management. These skills would help the southern part of the country to become the "locomotive" of the national economy in many years to come.
Socialism after 1975
After April 30th, 1975, unlike the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the Vietnamese Communists did not commit a "blood bath", but most government officials and military personnel were sent to reeducation camps. Nevertheless, many North Vietnamese soldiers and cadres began to realize that they had been indoctrinated into thinking that the South Vietnamese people were utterly poor and exploited by the imperialists and foreign capitalists and treated like slaves. Contradictory to what they were taught, they saw an abundance of food and consumer goods, fashionable clothes, plenty of books and music; things that were hard to get in the North.
Despite some early successes, the Vietnamese Communists made many serious long-term mistakes and caused an overall decline of the country over many years.
In 1976, Vietnam was officially unified and renamed Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRVN), with its capital in Hà Nội. The Vietnamese Communist Party dropped its front name "Labor Party" and changed the title of First Secretary (used by China) to Secretary General (used by the Soviet Union), with Lê Duẩn remained Secretary General. The National Liberation Front was dissolved. The Party emphasized development of heavy industry and collectivization of agriculture. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, Over the next few years, private enterprises were seized by the government and their owners often being sent to the New Economic Zone to clear land. The farmers were coerced into state-controlled cooperatives. Transportation of food and goods between provinces was deemed illegal except by the government. Within a short period of time, Vietnam was hit with severe shortage of food and basic necessities. The Mekong Delta, once a world-class rice-producing area, was threatened with famine.
In foreign relations, the SRVN became increasingly aligned with the Soviet Union by joining the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), and signing a Friendship Pact, which was in fact a military alliance, with the Soviet Union. Tension between the SRVN and People's Republic of China mounted as Vietnam moved closer to the Soviet Union (China's rival) and got into conflict with Cambodia (China's ally). The SRVN was also embargoed by the U.S. and its allies.
Many of those who held high positions in the old South Vietnamese government and military, together with influential people in the literary and religious circles, were sent to reeducation camps, which were actually hard labor prison camps. The inhumane conditions and treatment in the camps caused many inmates to remain bitter against the Communist Party decades later.
The SRVN government implemented a Stalinist dictatorship of the proletariat in the South as they did in the North. The network of security apparatus (Công An) controlled every aspect of people's life. Censorship was strict and ultra-conservative, with most pre-1975 works in the fields of music, art, and literature being banned. All religions had to be re-organized into state-controlled churches. Any negative comments toward the Party, copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, the government, Uncle Ho, or anything related to Communism might earn the person the tag of Phản Động (Reactionary), with consequences ranging from being harassed by police, expelled from school or workplace, to being sent to prison. Nevertheless, the Communist authority failed to suppress the Black Market, where food, consumer goods, and banned literature could be bought at high prices. The security apparatus also failed to stop a nationwide clandestine network of people planning to escape the country. In many cases, the security officers of some whole districts were bribed and even got involved in organizing the escape schemes.
These living conditions resulted in an exodus of over a million Vietnamese secretly fleeing the country either by sea or overland through Cambodia. For the people fleeing by sea, their wooden boats were often not sea-worthy, packed with people like sardines, and lacked sufficient food and water. Many got caught or shot at by the Vietnamese coast guards, many perished at sea due to boats capsizing, storms, starvation, and thirst. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, Another major threat was the Thai pirates in the Gulf of Siam, who robbed, raped, and murdered the boat people viciously. In many cases, they massacred the whole boat. Often, they gang raped the women for days then sold them into prostitution. The people who crossed Cambodia faced equal dangers with mine fields, and the Khmer Rouge and Khmer Serei guerillas, who also robbed, raped, and killed the refugees.
The Vietnamese refugees who survived reached UNHCR camps in Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Indonesia. Some famous camps were Bidong (Malaysia), Galang (Indonesia), Bataan (the Philippines), Songkla (Thailand). While most refugees were resettled to other countries within five years, others languished in these camps for over a decade. In the 1990s, refugees who could not find asylum were deported back to Vietnam. Communities of Vietnamese refugees emerged in the US, Canada, Australia, France, West Germany, and the UK. The refugees often sent relief packages packed with necessities, such as medicines, fabrics, toothpaste and soap, dried food, etc., to their relatives in Vietnam to help them survive. Very few would send money as it would be exchanged far below market rates by the Vietnamese government.
In late 1978, following repeated raids by the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia into Vietnamese territory, Vietnam sent troops to overthrow Pol Pot. The pro-Vietnamese People's Republic of Kampuchea was created with Heng Samrin as Chairman. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge allied with non-Communist guerilla forces led by Norodom Sihanouk and Son Sann to fight against the Vietnamese forces and the new Phnom Penh regime. Some high ranking officials of the Heng Samrin regime in the early 1980s resisted Vietnamese control, resulting in a purge that removed Pen Sovan, Prime Minister and Secretary General of the Cambodian People's Revolutionary Party. The war lasted until 1989 when Vietnam withdrew its troops and handed the administration of Cambodia to the United Nations. The Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, on a positive note, helped stop the genocide of millions of Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge (see Khmer Rouge and Cambodia under Pol Pot).
In early 1979, China invaded Vietnam to supposedly "teach Vietnam a lesson" for the invasion of Cambodia and the supposed persecution of the Hoa people. The Sino-Vietnamese War was brief, but casualties were high on both sides.
Vietnam's third Constitution, based on that of the USSR, was written in 1980 . The Communist Party was stated by the Constitution to be the only party to represent the people and to lead the country.
In 1980, cosmonaut Phạm Tuân became the first Vietnamese and the first Asian to go into space, traveling on the Soviet Soyuz 37 to service the Salyut 6 space station.
During the early 1980s, a number of overseas Vietnamese organizations were created with the aim of overthrowing the Vietnamese Communist government through armed struggle. Most groups attempted to infiltrate Vietnam but eventually were eliminated by Vietnamese security and armed forces. Most notable were the organizations of Hoàng Cơ Minh from the US, Võ Đại Tôn from Australia, and Lê Quốc Túy from France. Copy at www.vietnambiketours.com, Hoàng Cơ Minh was killed during an ambush in Laos. Võ Đại Tôn was captured and imprisoned until his release, in the 1990s, due to diplomatic pressure. Lê Quốc Túy escaped to France after many of his comrades were arrested and executed. Lê Quốc Túy later died in France from poison.
Throughout the 1980s, Vietnam received nearly $3 billion a year in economic and military aid from the Soviet Union (USSR) and conducted most of its trade with the USSR and other COMECON (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance) countries. Some cadres, realizing the economic suffering of the people, began to break rules and experimented with market-oriented enterprises. Some got punished for their feats, but years later would be hailed as visionary pioneers.