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Vietnam's History/Background

Legend has it that Vietnam began with a mountain fairy, Au Co, and the dragon king, Lac Long Quan.  Mother Au Co had 100 eggs, all of which hatched and were sons. The dragon king left his mountain fairy and took with him 50 sons back to the sea, while Au Co took the other 50 sons and returned to the mountains.  Until 1945, a dragon was symbolic of the ruler and with kings having a dragon tattooed to their upper thighs until 1293.  Since the sons were hatched, the mountain tribe Muong is linked to them, especially since their totem is a bird, while the dragon totem is supposed to protect the Kinh from water dangers.


Vietnam's early history includes Chinese takeover, and the Vietnamese responded to it by resisting Chinese rule.  Incredibly, the first serious revolt was started by the widow of a killed Chieftain and her sister, the Trung Sisters in A.D. 39.  Although their uprising was initially successful , four years later the Chinese re-entered the Red River Delta and recaptured the Vietnamese.

Although the following uprisings were for the most part unsuccessful, by the year 939, when the situation in China was chaotic, Ngo Quyen led a Vietnamese rebellion that was successful against the forces occupying his local area.   With the Chinese defeat, Ngo Quyen established the Ngo Dynasty which didn't have a long existence.  When Quyen died five years later in 944, the dynasty collapsed and a lot of civil unrest followed.  



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A new dynasty, Ly dynasty, was founded in 1010 by Ly Thai To and continued on through to 1225.  The Ly leaders didn't establish new political and social establishments, since they liked the Chinese methods to control and mobilize.   An example of this can be seen in the adoption of the Confucian method of choosing government officials.  It had a strong army and was the foundation of the Vietnamese culture and art.  The Ly dynasty ended peacefully in 1225 with the 8-year-old empress giving power to her new husband, a Tran.

The Vietnamese weren't satisfied with their landholdings, so they started looking at the Champa Kingdom, which resulted in bitter rivalry for land.  After many years of conflict the Vietnamese were victorious in capturing the capital and essentially destroyed the kingdom, while continually moving south.  In it's march south, it came across the Khmer kingdom, which at one time had been the most powerful state in the mainland.  Due to the kingdom's weak state in the 16th century, the Vietnamese were successful in taking over the lower Mekong Delta.

Vietnam went through ups and downs for the next several hundred years with internal rivalry, Chinese occupation, and European traders as well as missionaries.  There was religious persecution of many religions, even those with traditional beliefs.  The French protested the persecution of their missionaries and converts and asked their government to take action.  Napoleon III, the French emperor, launched several attacks on Vietnam in order to make their presence known and accepted.  After many relentless attacks, the Vietnamese allowed the French to rule over some of the Vietnamese territory.

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In the hopes the French would go home, the emperor wouldn't allow his subjects to openly defy the French, but things didn't get better only worse.  The Vietnamese were exploited, heavily taxed and worked essentially as slave labor (little pay).  When Ho Chi Minh (Nguyen Tat Thanh) began the Indochinese Communist Party in 1930, it was the beginning of a power struggle between the French and the Vietnamese.

In 1945, the Viet Minh established a capital at Hanoi and called Vietnam an independent republic in a struggle known as the August Revolution.  The French wouldn't accept this declaration and refused to concede.  After negotiations failed, war broke out when the Viet Minh attached the French in Hanoi.  For the next 8 years, the First Indochina War continued, with the US getting itself involved.  The government the French had set up with Bao Dai, the last emperor of the Nguyen dynasty, failed when he (Bao Dai) abdicated the throne in lieu of Ho Chi Minh.  The US sent aid to the French as a result, due to concerns over the spread of communism while the Viet Minh turned to Communist China for help.  Not much happened for the next three years, but the French grew tired of the situation and were defeated in an attack by the Viet Minh in 1954.

The result of this, and ensuing peace talks, was that Vietnam was divided into two sections, a Communist North, and a non-Communist South.  This was contrary to what the US wished for, which was continued warfare.  But for the next five years, things were relatively quiet except the the US was supplying South Vietnam with financial and military aid in an attempt to overthrow the Viet Minh.  In the North the National Liberation Front was formed, and a year later the People's Liberation Armed Forces (Viet Cong) was established.  

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The United States sent troops into Vietnam in 1965, and by 1969 the number of troops had almost tripled to over 500,000.  On January 30, 1968, the North Vietnamese attacked over 100 cities and town during the traditional Tet holiday.  This surprise attack, known as the Tet Offensive, was a turning point in the war.  With a presidential change in America, the plans for Vietnam changed as well.  The US gradually withdrew their troops while supporting the South Vietnamese military in attempts to defend themselves.  With the troops withdrawn and a compromise reached between the North and South, all seemed to be going well.

The Communists Vietnamese were not finished, in April 1975, Saigon fell after months of a military offensive.  By 1976, the two divisions were reunited as a Socialist Republic of Vietnam.  Since Ho Chi Minh's death in 1969, Le Duan had been the head of the Communist Party and he quickly started plans to promote the party.  This was not to be due to the extensive damage caused by war and an economy that was in upheaval.

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The situation in Cambodia was such that Vietnam couldn't ignore it, particularly the fact that Pol Pot wanted power over lands that had been in Cambodia's power centuries previously.  Since an agreement couldn't be reached between the two, Vietnam attempted to overthrow the Cambodian government and set up one that was favorable to them.  It was successful but a struggle with China caused them to stay in Cambodia to protect the newly established government.

The Vietnamese soon realized that changes needed to occur to improve their economic situation.  So in 1986, an economic renovation was started to stimulate the economy.  Part of the plan called for a mixed economy that encouraged foreign investment.  By the end of the '80's, Vietnamese had withdrawn all their troops from Cambodia in a effort to improve foreign relations.  It was a success because the US withdrew their economic embargo against Vietnam in 1994, with diplomatic relations re-established the following year.  Vietnam joined the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) with other non-Communist governments in 1995 as well.

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