In 20000 BC, before the first history was recorded in writings, there had
been already among people the legends and mythology about the origin of
mankind and stories about the beginning of formation of Viet nation from
HUNG VUONG. These are stories on HONG BANG dynasty, on offspring of dragon
and fairy, bag of hundred eggs, eighteen kings of Hung Vuong dynasty, Son
Tinh - Thuy Tinh's conflict, Thanh Giong's victory over An foreign aggressors,
folk of betel and areca nuts, "banh chung banh day", watermelon ..... All
these legends together can be regarded as a folk history comprising mythology
characteristic as well as core of history in memory and tradition through
many ages of people. Most of history of a nation of the world, with or without
writing, is penetrated with treasure of folk and legends.
In era of TRAN (1226-1400) and LE (1428-1527), these historic legends were
firstly collected and compiled by the contemporary authors' view. The two
symbolic works of this aspect were Viet Dien U Linh by Ly Te Xuyen with
a foreword in 1329, and Linh Nam Trich Quai by Tran The Phap in around end
of Tran, then edited by Vu Quynh and Kieu Phu in Le era with prologue in
The Vietnamese have attempted to give their country a history as hoary as
China's. According to one of the numerous legends concerning the origin
of their state, a Vietnamese prince named LAC LONG QUAN came to Northern
Viet Nam from his home in the sea. He married a princess from the mountain,
AUCO, who is also described as the wife of a Northern Intruder (Chinese?),
on the top of Mount Tan Vien, sometimes around 2800 BC Instead of the commonplace
results of a union, the princess laid 100 eggs - when they hatched, a son
emerged from each of them. Afterward, the reason why the parents separated
was told like this : The father someday told the mother because they were
from different origin, he was dragon from the sea, she was lady fair from
the mountain, and they couldn't live together. Therefore, the mother led
half the progeny across the northern mountains, and became the ancestors
of the Muong. While the remaining fifty followed the father to the sea and
became ancestors of the Vietnamese. The most valiant of the sons was chosen
to be the first of the eighteen HUNG VUONG kings. Lac Long Quan, a prince
of the sea, and Au Co, a princess of the mountains, are regarded by the
Vietnamese as their primal ancestors. Does this imply that the Vietnamese
were originally of the Malay-Polynesian, sea-oriented race coming to terms
with the Mongolians of the Southern Chinese plains?
Tai lieu tham khao: Lich su Viet Nam & Trials and Tribulations
of a Nation
Since the foundation of the first kingdom of the Viet, some 3,000 years
ago, and the first Viet Chuong or Lac Viet kingdom in North Viet Nam 2,400
years ago, the name has been changed several times, depending on historical
Viet Nam has been successively known asÖ
Hung or Lac dynasty
3 BC-203 AD
Han dynasty [first part]
Han dynasty [second part]
Dai Co Viet
Ly and Tran dynasties
Le and Nguyen dynasties
First national government
Viet Su Luoc is a work in Tran era mentioning about the formation of Van
Lang, for the first time. In 15th century, Nguyen Trai gave affirmation
on position of Van Lang in Hung Vuong dynasty in the first geography-history
text of the nation. Ngo Si Lien especially brought Hung Vuong era into
official history of Viet Nam under the title of "Hong Bang Dynasty" in
addenda chapter of his Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu.
The "Hung Era" is rightly termed "legendary" by most historians inasmuch
as no eighteen kings or generations could have spanned the nearly two
millennia of prehistoric development in the Tonkin delta. Possibly, the
Dong Son period was related to HUNG VUONG dynasty because the displacement
of the economic and social leadership of primitive agricultural practices
by a monarchial apparatus responsible for the building and maintenance
of an irrigation system of dykes and canals, providing against nature's
vagaries of drought as well as floods caused by excessive rise in the
water level of the rivers.
The new state based on the irrigation system in the region of the three
rivers in Upper Tonkin must have produced excess wealth, requiring protection
against predatory enemies from the exposed borders to the North and the
South. Therefore the need for extensive use of bronze technology for various
weaponry. By the Dong son period, the kingdom of VAN LANG extended to
Hunan in Southern China. The capital was moved to Vinh Phu where the three
rivers - Song Da (Black River), Song Ma (Red River) and Song Chay meet.
What led to the fall of the HUNG rulers of VAN LANG, known to us partly
through the Dong son cultural remains, cannot be established by historical
evidence. By 300 BC, it seems the people in the region of Kwangtung and
Tonkin were divided into AU VIET, namely, Vietnamese of the highlands
and LAC VIET, Vietnamese of the plains. AN DUONG VUONG, about whom also
not much is known, politically united them into the kingdom of AU LAC.
It is not clear whether the AU LAC people were partly descendants of VAN
LANG or whether they were the Viets, "real" ancestors of the Vietnamese
people, migrated from their habitat in Lower Yangtse around 300 BC under
pressure from Han Chinese southward into Tonkin delta. Most scholars by
now, accept that the Vietnamese are not descended from one single racial
group, that they are instead a racial mixture of Austro-Indonesian and
After Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu. the formation of Viet Nam in Hung Vuong
era was affirmed in the course of history of nation, but still in a doubtful
status. The knowledge level and method of studying and examining history
in Middle age did not allow the historians of the current time prove the
existence of a long pre-historic time ago. This situation was prolonged
in a century from the beginning of Le dynasty to Nguyen dynasty.
In French colony, this viewpoint on Hung Vuong era still existed. In his,
Viet Nam Su Luoc, Tran Trong Kim has reserved a chapter for "Hong Bang
dynasty" however gave these remarks : "The historians only collected the
traditional legends, which were deity and fairy tales, non-natural", and
"the story of Hong Bang dynasty was possibly not true". Besides the works
with traditional view, there were a number of studies of European, especially
French scholars. On the other hand, the legendary nature of the document
confused the historians at that time. Even Ngo Si Lien, who must both
agreed to the existence of the Hung Vuong era and also showed caution,
when he writes : "Let simply narrate the old story to transmit suspicions'.
Once furthermore, the formation of Van Lang of Hung Vuong was also recorded
by Viet Su Luoc, the oldest history of Viet Nam that in Trang Vuong of
Chu Dynasty (696-681 BC). In Gia Ninh there was a stranger, by his magic
won over the tribals, declared himself Hung Vuong, and set the capital
at Van Lang giving his kingdom the name Van Lang, with simple and good
custom, and used the method of knots tying in his administration. His
crown was transferred in 18 offspring, all declared himself as Hung Vuong.
It was unknown that based on what document the author of Viet Su Luoc
gave the above affirmation. But the formation of a primitive state of
Van Lang, in about 7th century BC, that was the beginning of Dong Son
period, was suitable to results of to-day researches, and agreed with
by many historians.
Based on the division into two Giao Chi (North Viet Nam), and Cuu Chan
(Northern Central Viet Nam) prefectures in later times, and local differences
of the two regions recounted in old bibliology, archeological documents,
someone pointed out a hypothesis stating that at least two allies of tribes
in North Viet Nam and Northern Central Viet Nam had participated in the
process of formation of Van Lang and constituted the Lac Viet tribes.
The government is still very simple. Hung Vuong is the head of Van Lang.
In Hung Vuong title, Vuong (a Chinese word, meaning King) is clearly to
be added by later-time historians because of the concept of the head of
a state should be the King (if not the King, should be the Emperor), as
for Hung, a Chinese phonetic transcription from a very old Vietnamese
term. In Muong language, there is term kun in lang kun indicating the
eldest son of the first family in line of descent who ruled the Muong.
In Mong-Khmer and Thai language, as Xinh-mun, Kho-mu, Khang, Thai, Lao...,
there is a term khun indicating the chief of tribe, the leader; in Mun-da
language the term khunzt indicates the first person in the family or any
organization of the society. Probably, the word Hung is the Chinese phonetic
transcription of an ancient Vietnamese which is synonymous and homonymous
with kun, khun, khunzt ... to address the chief of tribe, the leader.
This title showed us that Hung Vuong was originally the chief of Van Lang
tribe- the strongest one, with its domain in both sides of Song Hong (River)
from Ba Vi Mount to Tam Dao Mount, and played the role of the chief coordinator
with the central duty of unifying all the other tribes, then became chief
of state. He was assisted by Lac Hau (civilian chiefs).
In Viet Su Luoc, we were also told about a series of significant legends
relate to this period. Lord Lac Long Quan married Au Co, who bore him
100 sons. One day he said to his wife: "I am a dragon, you are a fairy.
We can't remain together". He took 50 of his sons with him to the plains
and coastal regions, while the others followed their mother to the mountains.
One of Lac Long Quan's sons inherited his throne and was the founder of
a dynasty of 18 rulers known as the Hung kings. Legends put the beginning
of the Hung dynasty as early as 4,000 years ago.
The reign of Hung Vuong was hereditary and lasted for 18 kings. The number
18 in Hung Vuong story was brought in question with doubt by a lot of
historians who proposed many different explanations. Traditionally, many
numbers have only symbolic meaning not mathematical one. The number 18
as well as 9 and all its multiple (36, 991, 999... ) often imminently
mean a lot, many, or a great quantity. Is it reasonably that 18 kings
of Hung Vuong means many reigns of kings, lasts for long time.
Van Lang was composed of 15 "bo"(administrative division), and according
to Viet Su Luoc, these "bo" were originally 15 tribes. Each "bo" was headed
by Lac Tuong (military chiefs), or according to a number of legend and
mythological tradition, these functionaries were also named bo chua, bo
tuong, phu dao ( meaning chief of tribes). As phu dao term was also a
Chinese word phonetically transcribed from old Viet as dao in Muong language,
tao in Tay-Thai language, po tan in Gia-rai language, mo tao in E-de language,
bo dao in Ra-glai language, ba dao in Ba-na language, pa tao in Cham language,
and together had a same meaning chief of tribe, leader or chief of a region.
If "bo" is tribe, we can say exactly "phu dao" or "lac tuong" is chief
of tribe, then became the chief of regional tribe of Van Lang under Hung
to be continued . . .
The Vietnamese first appeared in history as one of many scattered peoples
living in what is now South China and Northern Viet Nam just before the
beginning of the Christian era. According to local tradition, the small
Vietnamese kingdom of Au Lac, located in the heart of the Red River valley,
was founded by a line of legendary kings who had ruled over the ancient
kingdom of Van Lang for thousands of years. Historical evidence to substantiate
this tradition is scanty, but archaeological findings indicate that the
early peoples of the Red River delta area may have been among the first
East Asians to practice agriculture, and by the 1st century BC they had
achieved a relatively advanced level of Bronze Age civilization.
In 221 BC the Ch'in dynasty in China completed its conquest of neighboring
states and became the first to rule over a united China. The Ch'in Empire,
however, did not long survive the death of its dynamic founder, Shih Huang
Ti, and the impact of its collapse was soon felt in Viet Nam. In the wreckage
of the empire, the Chinese commander in the south built his own kingdom
of Nam Viet (South Viet; Chinese, Nan YŁeh); the young state of Au Lac
In 111 BC, Chinese armies conquered Nam Viet and absorbed it into the
growing Han Empire. The Chinese conquest had fateful consequences for
the future course of Vietnamese history. After briefly ruling through
local chieftains, Chinese rulers attempted to integrate Viet Nam politically
and culturally into the Han Empire. Chinese administrators were imported
to replace the local landed nobility. Political institutions patterned
after the Chinese model were imposed, and Confucianism became the official
ideology. The Chinese language was introduced as the medium of official
and literary expression, and Chinese ideographs were adopted as the written
form for the Vietnamese spoken language. Chinese art, architecture, and
music exercised a powerful impact on their Vietnamese counterparts.
Vietnamese resistance to rule by the Chinese was fierce but sporadic.
The most famous early revolt took place in AD 39, when two widows of local
aristocrats, the Trung sisters, led an uprising against foreign rule.
The revolt was briefly successful, and the older sister, Trung Trac, established
herself as ruler of an independent state. Chinese armies returned to the
attack, however, and in AD 43 Viet Nam was reconquered.
The Trung sisters' revolt was only the first in a series of intermittent
uprisings that took place during a thousand years of Chinese rule in Viet
Nam. Finally, in 939, Vietnamese forces under Ngo Quyen took advantage
of chaotic conditions in China to defeat local occupation troops and set
up an independent state. Ngo Quyen's death a few years later ushered in
a period of civil strife, but in the early 11th century the first of the
great Vietnamese dynasties was founded. Under the astute leadership of
several dynamic rulers, the Ly dynasty ruled Viet Nam for more than 200
years, from 1010 to 1225. Although the rise of the Ly reflected the emergence
of a lively sense of Vietnamese nationhood, Ly rulers retained many of
the political and social institutions that had been introduced during
the period of Chinese rule. Confucianism continued to provide the foundation
for the political institutions of the state. The Chinese civil service
examination system was retained as the means of selecting government officials,
and although at first only members of the nobility were permitted to compete
in the examinations, eventually the right was extended to include most
males. The educational system also continued to reflect the Chinese model.
Young Vietnamese preparing for the examinations were schooled in the Confucian
classics and grew up conversant with the great figures and ideas that
had shaped Chinese history.
Vietnamese society, however, was more than just a pale reflection of China.
Beneath the veneer of Chinese fashion and thought, popular mostly among
the upper classes, native forms of expression continued to flourish. Young
Vietnamese learned to appreciate the great heroes of the Vietnamese past,
many of whom had built their reputation on resistance to the Chinese conquest.
At the village level, social mores reflected native forms more than patterns
imported from China. Although to the superficial eye Viet Nam looked like
a "smaller dragon," under the tutelage of the great empire to the north
it continued to have a separate culture with vibrant traditions of its
The Economy Under the Ly Dynasty
Like most of its neighbors, Viet Nam was primarily an agricultural state,
its survival based above all on the cultivation of wet rice. As in medieval
Europe, much of the land was divided among powerful noble families, who
often owned thousands of serfs or domestic slaves. A class of landholding
farmers also existed, however, and powerful monarchs frequently attempted
to protect this class by limiting the power of feudal lords and dividing
up their large estates.
The Vietnamese economy was not based solely on agriculture. Commerce and
manufacturing thrived, and local crafts appeared in regional markets throughout
the area. Viet Nam never developed into a predominantly commercial nation,
however, or became a major participant in regional trade patterns.
Under the rule of the Ly dynasty and its successor, the Tran (1225-1400),
Viet Nam became a dynamic force in Southeast Asia. China's rulers, however,
had not abandoned their historic objective of controlling the Red River
delta, and when the Mongol dynasty came to power in the 13th century,
the armies of Kublai Khan attacked Viet Nam in an effort to reincorporate
it into the Chinese Empire. The Vietnamese resisted with vigor, and after
several bitter battles they defeated the invaders and drove them back
across the border.
While the Vietnamese maintained their vigilance toward the north, an area
of equal and growing concern lay to the south. For centuries, the Vietnamese
state had been restricted to its heartland in the Red River valley and
adjacent hills. Tension between Viet Nam and the kingdom of Champa (see
Champa, Kingdom of), a seafaring state along the central coast, appeared
shortly after the restoration of Vietnamese independence. On several occasions,
Cham armies broke through Vietnamese defenses and occupied the capital
near Hanoi. More frequently, Vietnamese troops were victorious, and they
gradually drove Champa to the south. Finally, in the 15th century, Vietnamese
forces captured the Cham capital south of present-day Da Nang and virtually
destroyed the kingdom. For the next several generations, Viet Nam continued
its historic "march to the south," wiping up the remnants of the Cham
Kingdom and gradually approaching the marshy flatlands of the Mekong delta.
There it confronted a new foe, the Khmer Empire, which had once been the
most powerful state in the region. By the late 16th century, however,
it had declined, and it offered little resistance to Vietnamese encroachment.
By the end of the 17th century, Viet Nam had occupied the lower Mekong
delta and began to advance to the west, threatening to transform the disintegrating
Khmer state into a mere protectorate.
The Le Dynasty
The Vietnamese advance to the south coincided with new challenges in the
north. In 1407 Viet Nam was again conquered by Chinese troops. For two
decades, the Ming dynasty attempted to reintegrate Viet Nam into the empire,
but in 1428, resistance forces under the rebel leader Le Loi dealt the
Chinese a decisive defeat and restored Vietnamese independence. Le Loi
mounted the throne as the first emperor of the Le dynasty. The new ruling
house retained its vigor for more than a hundred years, but in the 16th
century it began to decline. Power at court was wielded by two rival aristocratic
clans, the Trinh and the Nguyen. When the former became dominant, the
Nguyen were granted a fiefdom in the south, dividing Viet Nam into two
separate zones. Rivalry was sharpened by the machinations of European
powers newly arrived in Southeast Asia in pursuit of wealth and Christian
By the late 18th century, the Le dynasty was near collapse. Vast rice
lands were controlled by grasping feudal lords. Angry peasantsóled by
the Tay Son brothersórevolted, and in 1789 Nguyen Hue, the ablest of the
brothers, briefly restored Viet Nam to united rule. Nguyen Hue died shortly
after ascending the throne; a few years later Nguyen Anh, an heir to the
Nguyen house in the south, defeated the Tay Son armies. As Emperor Gia
Long, he established a new dynasty in 1802.
A French missionary, Pierre Pigneau de Behaine, had raised a mercenary
force to help Nguyen Anh seize the throne in the hope that the new emperor
would provide France with trading and missionary privileges, but his hopes
were disappointed. The Nguyen dynasty was suspicious of French influence.
Roman Catholic missionaries and their Vietnamese converts were persecuted,
and a few were executed during the 1830s. Religious groups in France demanded
action from the government in Paris. When similar pressure was exerted
by commercial and military interests, Emperor Napoleon III approved the
launching of a naval expedition in 1858 to punish the Vietnamese and force
the court to accept a French protectorate.
The first French attack at Da Nang Harbor failed to achieve its objectives,
but a second farther south was more successful, and in 1862 the court
at Hue agreed to cede several provinces in the Mekong delta (later called
Cochin China) to France. In the 1880s the French returned to the offensive,
launching an attack on the north. After severe defeats, the Vietnamese
accepted a French protectorate over the remaining territory of Viet Nam.
Colonial Rule and Resistance
The imposition of French colonial rule had met with little organized resistance.
The national sense of identity, however, had not been crushed, and anticolonial
sentiment soon began to emerge. Poor economic conditions contributed to
native hostility to French rule. Although French occupation brought improvements
in transportation and communications, and contributed to the growth of
commerce and manufacturing, colonialism brought little improvement in
livelihood to the mass of the population. In the countryside, peasants
struggled under heavy taxes and high rents. Workers in factories, in coal
mines, and on rubber plantations labored in abysmal conditions for low
wages. By the early 1920s, nationalist parties began to demand reform
and independence. In 1930 the revolutionary Ho Chi Minh formed an Indochinese
Until World War II started in 1939, such groups labored without success.
In 1940, however, Japan demanded and received the right to place Viet
Nam under military occupation, restricting the local French administration
to figurehead authority. Seizing the opportunity, the Communists organized
the broad Vietminh Front and prepared to launch an uprising at the war's
end. The Vietminh (short for Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh, or League for
the Independence of Viet Nam) emphasized moderate reform and national
independence rather than specifically Communist aims. When the Japanese
surrendered to the Allies in August 1945, Vietminh forces arose throughout
Viet Nam and declared the establishment of an independent republic in
The French, however, were unwilling to concede independence and in October
drove the Vietminh and other nationalist groups out of the south. For
more than a year the French and the Vietminh sought a negotiated solution,
but the talks, held in France, failed to resolve differences, and war
broke out in December 1946.
The Expulsion of the French
The conflict lasted for nearly eight years. The Vietminh retreated into
the hills to build up their forces while the French formed a rival Vietnamese
government under Emperor Bao Dai, the last ruler of the Nguyen dynasty,
in populated areas along the coast. Vietminh forces lacked the strength
to defeat the French and generally restricted their activities to guerrilla
warfare. In 1953 and 1954 the French fortified a base at Dien Bien Phu.
After months of siege and heavy casualties, the Vietminh overran the fortress
in a decisive battle. As a consequence, the French government could no
longer resist pressure from a war-weary populace at home and in June 1954
agreed to negotiations to end the war. At a conference held in Geneva
the two sides accepted an interim compromise to end the war. They divided
the country at the 17th parallel, with the Vietminh in the North and the
French and their Vietnamese supporters in the South. To avoid permanent
partition, a political protocol was drawn up, calling for national elections
to reunify the country two years after the signing of the treaty.
After Geneva, the Vietminh in Hanoi refrained from armed struggle and
began to build a Communist society. In the southern capital, Saigon, Bao
Dai soon gave way to a new regime under the staunch anti-Communist president
Ngo Dinh Diem. With diplomatic support from the United States, Diem refused
to hold elections and attempted to destroy Communist influence in the
South. By 1959, however, Diem was in trouble. His unwillingness to tolerate
domestic opposition, his alleged favoritism of fellow Roman Catholics,
and the failure of his social and economic programs seriously alienated
key groups in the populace and led to rising unrest. The Communists decided
it was time to resume their revolutionary war.
The Viet Nam War
In the fall of 1963, Diem was overthrown and killed in a coup launched
by his own generals. In the political confusion that followed, the security
situation in South Viet Nam continued to deteriorate, putting the Communists
within reach of victory. In early 1965, to prevent the total collapse
of the Saigon regime, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson approved regular intensive
bombing of North Viet Nam and the dispatch of U.S. combat troops into
The U.S. intervention caused severe problems for the Communists on the
battlefield and compelled them to send regular units of the North Vietnamese
army into the South. It did not persuade them to abandon the struggle,
however, and in 1968, after the North's bloody Tet offensive shook the
new Saigon regime of President Nguyen Van Thieu to its foundations, the
Johnson administration decided to pursue a negotiated settlement. Ho Chi
Minh died in 1969 and was succeeded by another leader of the revolution,
Le Duan. The new U.S. president, Richard Nixon, continued Johnson's policy
while gradually withdrawing U.S. troops. In January 1973 the war temporarily
came to an end with the signing of a peace agreement in Paris. The settlement
provided for the total removal of remaining U.S. troops, while Hanoi tacitly
agreed to accept the Thieu regime in preparation for new national elections.
The agreement soon fell apart, however, and in early 1975 the Communists
launched a military offensive. In six weeks, the resistance of the Thieu
regime collapsed, and on April 30 the Communists seized power in Saigon.
See also Viet Nam War.
The Socialist Republic of Viet Nam
In 1976 the South was reunited with the North in a new Socialist Republic
of Viet Nam. The conclusion of the war, however, did not end the violence.
Border tension with the Communist government in Cambodia escalated rapidly
after the fall of Saigon, and in early 1979 the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia
and installed a pro-Vietnamese government. A few weeks later, Viet Nam
was itself attacked by its Communist neighbor and erstwhile benefactor,
China. In the mid-1980s, about 140,000 Vietnamese troops were stationed
in Cambodia and another 50,000 troops in Laos. Viet Nam substantially
reduced its forces in Laos during 1988 and withdrew virtually all its
troops from Cambodia by September 1989.
Within Viet Nam, postwar economic and social problems were severe, and
reconstruction proceeded slowly. Efforts to collectivize agriculture and
nationalize business aroused hostility in the south. Disappointing harvests
and the absorption of resources by the military further retarded Viet
Nam's recovery. In the early 1990s the government ended price controls
on most agricultural production, encouraged foreign investment, and sought
to improve its foreign relations. In 1990 the European Community (now
the European Union) established official diplomatic relations with Viet
Nam. The country signed a peace agreement with Cambodia in 1991 and shortly
thereafter restored diplomatic relations with China. The peace agreement
also forged the way for strengthening relations with the members of the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In 1992 Viet Nam signed
a 1976 ASEAN agreement on regional amity and cooperation, regarded as
the first step toward eventual ASEAN membership. Also in 1992, Viet Nam
established diplomatic relations with South Korea. The United States removed
a trade embargo in 1994, and in 1995 Viet Nam and the United States agreed
to exchange low-level diplomats, although full diplomatic relations (which
involve opening embassies and appointing ambassadors) have not yet been