History of Vietnam: From 3rd BC to 21st Century

Enveloped in the pristine beauty of lush mountains, mysterious caves and amber beaches is the country of Vietnam, whose virgin charms are more than enough to draw you towards itself. But what is more intriguing than its unique landscape is its history, which is a testament to its struggle, perseverance and final victory over a number of opposing forces. Home to many ancient civilisations and dynasties, the chronicle of Vietnam is multi-faceted.

History of Vietnam
Dong Sun Drum (Source)

The Timeline of Vietnam Begins

Vietnam is flanked by mountains towards the north and west, the sea towards the east and by the Red River Delta on the south. Being naturally protected against invaders, Vietnam was the cradle to some of the most preliminary agricultural practices. Bronze Age saw Dong Son culture enhancing the Vietnamese civilisation to new heights. Famous for their embellishes drums, this culture flourished around the 3rd B.C. Vietnam remained immune to any foreign invasions before it was overthrown by the Chinese sometime around the 2 B.C. Hence began a series of Chinese dynasties namely Han, Liang, Sui, Tang and southern Han. The inundation of the Chinese into Vietnam spelt doom for the endemic cultures and language. However, the  Chinese also brought along Confucianism, Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism to Vietnam which went onto become an integral part of the new Vietnamese culture. Chinese domination acted as a seed for the Funanese and Cham dynasties. South Vietnam saw a growing Indian influence in the form of the state of Champa in the 2nd century. The evidence of these dynasties exists in the country in the form of magnificent monuments such as My Son Sanctuary and Cham towers among many others. Chinese domination was present in Vietnam sometime until the 10th century when the battle of Bach Dang in 938 demolished their rule.  The flag bearer of the Vietnamese victory was a leader named Ngo Quyen, and post the war; North Vietnam became an independent state. Subsequent attempts by the Chinese were successfully quashed.

History of Vietnam
Cham Towers Source

Vietnam Post The Chinese

1438 saw the rise of a certain Le Loi, who brought along the Lam Son uprising. By 1428, Le Loi gained supreme control over Vietnam, and his successors forged the Le Empire by combining Northern Vietnam and the southern state of Champa. However, their influence decreased over time, and by the 18th century, two powerful households began to show great promise. These were the Nguyens in the south and the Trinh family in the north. At this moment, something unexpected happened. A third candidate by the name of Nguyen Brothers took the town of Tay Sonby storm, and their rebellion began taking shape. Gradually, they overtook the northern and southern states and after a brief reign paved the way for foreign rulers, namely the Portuguese and the French.

History of Vietnam
A portrait of Le Loi (Source)

Vietnam Under French

The French managed to colonise the whole of Vietnam by the end of the 19th century. They achieved this in a series of steps that began with the capture of Saigon in 1859. Eventually, North and Central Vietnam were forced to concede to the French, after which they assumed absolute control over the country. They levied heavy taxes on the locals in exchange for infrastructure such as railway, bridges and roads and naturally, this caused a great unrest among the people. In a bid to achieve independence, communist leader Ho Chi Minh founded the Revolutionary Youth League which went on to become the Vietnamese Communist Party. Vietnamese Communists or Viet Minh held a significant role in what was to be the Second World War.

History of Vietnam

Second World War and Vietnam

Tide turned when the Japanese defeated the French during the World War, and they forced the French Government to allow Japanese troops into the French Indo-China territory. Viet Minh put up a valiant fight against the Japanese and by 1945they controlled parts of Northern Vietnam. An unattended seat of power was created in Vietnam when the Japanese surrendered on 15 August 1945, bringing the Second World War to an end. Ho Chi Minh seised the opportunity and called upon the Viet Minh to work together and soon most of the country was under his control. On  2 September  1945, Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam to be an independent state.

History of Vietnam
Japanese troops in Vietnam (Source)

Vietnam's Struggle For Freedom

Vietnam's struggle for independence suffered a severe setback when the terms of the Potsdam Conference had Japanese forces in the south surrender to the British, while the Northern troops surrendered to the Chinese. The French did not take to this kindly and inundated the south to reclaim their position from the British. In response to that, Chinese moved in the North, and the state was once again looking into a disturbance. Ho Chi Minh rose to the occasion and signed a treaty with the French stating that they must replace the Chinese troops in the North. In exchange, the French assure 'free state' status for Vietnam. This turned out to be an insidious move on the French's part as they showed no initiative towards granting Vietnam independence. In response to this betrayal, Ho Chi Minh led a guerrilla army against them and finally cornered them in 1954 in Dien Bien Phu. After a siege that lasted 57 days, the French were forced to surrender. Both the sides met at the Geneva Conference, where it was convened that Vietnam would be temporarily divided into two parts until the election is held in July of 1956. However, no elections were held, and Vietnam was indefinitely divided into northern and southern territories. 

History of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh (Source)

The Vietnam War and Independent Vietnam

At the end of World War II in 1945, the League for the Independence of Vietnam (the Viet Minh) was created that took control of North Vietnam, forming the Democratic Republic of Vietnam with the capital of Hanoi. Meanwhile, Vietnam’s former colonist France supported Emperor Bao Dai, and the state in South Vietnam with the capital of Saigon was established by 1949. After a treaty was signed in 1954, the country was officially split. With its division into two, different forces overtook control in the two halves of Vietnam. The north was under the control of Ho Chi Minh who introduced a communist regime while the south came under the rule of Dinh Dien. This resulted in a divided Vietnam – though both sides favoured unification, Bao Dai was in favour of a capitalist, westernised Vietnam while the Viet Minh wanted a communist state. However, the division of the nation did not sit well with Ho Chi Minh, and he once again began a war to reunite Vietnam under the communist rule.

South Vietnam had the support of the United States of America who feared that, if Vietnam fell to communism, a “domino effect” would take place throughout Southeast Asia. Under new leader Ngo Dinh Dien and US President Eisenhower, South Vietnam had a repressive regime that tortured and executed communist sympathisers. Gradually they began attacking the northern state while the Vietcong continued their guerilla warfare. In response to the attack from the US, the Northern regime launched attacks on the south after which the US backed away from the Vietnamese land. The south, however, still resisted the northern forces but was finally defeated when the communists captured Saigon. For over a decade, many battles were fought between the two sides. The US government, along with other countries like Thailand and Australia, aided South Vietnam by providing financial aid and military support.

History of Vietnam, the Vietnam War
A Description of the Vietnam War as seen in the Punchbowl National Cemetery (Source)

The war stopped only in April 1975 when the US withdrew its troops and the government of South Vietnam fell. Their capital city of Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City after the leader of the Viet Minh. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam was created in 1976. Because of the war, over 2 million Vietnamese were killed, 3 million Vietnamese were wounded, the country’s infrastructure was destroyed and their economy left in shambles. This was the first war to be televised, and the Vietnam War (as it came to be called) led to the introduction of new firearms and biological warfare.

History of Vietnam
Declaration of Vietnam's independence (Source)

Vietnam was finally united as one, and an independent state was formed. There were some attacks by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s which were successfully countered by the Vietnamese. The blood, sweat and tears of the Vietnamese people finally bore fruit and Vietnam began building itself up right from the beginning. Today, Vietnam is a popular tourist destination with its struggle evident in its air, which is perhaps a mark of the grit of its people.

This post was published by Vishakha Srivastava

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