Chopstick Cinema

Celeste Heiter's Adventures in Asian Food & Film

A little background info on Vietnamese history & culture

The history of Vietnam is long and culturally varied, with colonialism playing a major role in the country?s development. Its earliest beginnings are centered around a lineage of legendary kings who inhabited the Red River Valley in a kingdom known as Au Lac. Under the rule of Kinh Duong Vuong the upper kingdom spread north to the Blue river; South to what would later become Hue, west to Sseutch'ouan, and east to the sea, while the lower kingdom under the rule of the Bang dynasty occupied Tonquin and the North-Central region. The first recorded history began in 257 BC with the reign of An Duong Vuong (257-208 BC). Chinese general Tch'ao To (Trieu Da) reigned over the Nan-yue (Nam Viet) kingdom and founded the Trieu dynasty.

In 111 BC, under the rule of the Han Dynasty, China conquered the northern part of present-day Vietnam, and later changed the name of the region to Annam. The Chinese language and alphabet, and the ideology of Confucianism were introduced, along with many elements of Chinese culture such as music, art, and architecture. The new regime was met with great resistance, the most notable of which was the revolt of 39 AD when two sisters, both widows of Vietnamese aristocrats, led an uprising. The elder sister, Trung Trac even ruled over an independent state, but was vanquished by the Chinese in 43 AD.

The Vietnamese people continued to revolt against Chinese rule, until the year 939, when Vietnamese forces under the leadership of Ngo Quyen defeated the Chinese occupation and declared itself an independent state. By the 11th century, the Ly dynasty was established, and ruled for more than 200 years. And although the Chinese influence had left its thumbprint on the country, during that time, the Vietnamese culture flourished once again, with a reaffirmation of its legendary heroes. The economy remained primarily agrarian, with the land divided among the nobility into a feudal system.

The Ly Dynasty was succeeded by the Tran Dynasty, which lasted from 1225 to 1400. However, China continued its attempts to conquer Vietnam from the north, while the kingdom of Champa was a continual menace from the south. Vietnamese forces eventually conquered Champa and took control of the Mekong Delta with an eye toward conquering the bordering nation of Cambodia.

Le Loi ascended the throne as the first emperor of the Le dynasty, which lasted for about 100 years. But its power began to decline in the 16th century, when the court was divided by two rival families, the Trinh and the Nguyen. The nation was subsequently divided, with the southern region awarded to the Nguyen family.

By the 18th century, European explorers and merchants had already begun to infiltrate Southeast Asia, and French missionaries began getting involved in local politics when French missionary Pierre Pigneau de Behaine raised a mercenary army to help Nguyen Anh seize the throne, with Pigneau's motive being to gain trade and missionary access to Vietnam. When the new government did not fulfill those hopes and began persecuting existing missionaries in Vietnam, Emperor Napoleon III launched a naval action in 1858, forcing the imperial court to accept a French colonial protectorate.

Although there was tension and resentment among the Vietnamese people, the French occupation of Vietnam was met with little resistance. Throughout the 19th century, the French brought about many economic improvements, however the working class suffered from low wages and poor living conditions. By the turn of the 20th century, reformist parties had begun to form, and in 1930, Ho Chi Minh formed the Indochinese Communist party.

During World War II, Japan placed Vietnam under military occupation, which limited the power of the French colonial rulers. During this time, the Communist Party also organized the League for the Independence of Vietnam, known as The Vietminh. When Japan surrendered to Allied Forces in 1945, the Vietminh rose up and declared an independent republic in Hanoi. They were met with strong resistance from Emperor Bao Dai of the Nguyen Dynasty, in alliance with the French, who together drove the Vietminh forces north. After a year of failed negotiations, a war erupted that lasted for almost eight years. In a decisive battle at the French fortress of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the Vietminh emerged victorious, bringing about a surrender on the part of the French and South Vietnamese forces. A treaty was drafted in Geneva, dividing Vietnam at the 17th parallel. A clause in the treaty made provisions for a national election in 1956 to reunify the country.

In the north, the Communist Party continued to grow in power, while in the Saigon, to the south, a new anti-Communist regime was led by President Ngo Dinh Diem. When Diem refused to hold elections prescribed by the treaty, and attempted to subdue Communist influences in the south, the U.S. offered diplomatic support. However, his political policies were not popular among the people of South Vietnam, and in late 1963, Diem was overthrown by members of his own army.

Fearing an opportunity for Communist North Vietnamese forces to prevail, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson sanctioned the bombing of North Vietnam and the placement of U.S. troops in South Vietnam. The Vietnam conflict continued throughout the remainder of Johnson?s administration and into the presidency of Richard Nixon. Ho Chi Minh died in 1969 and was succeeded by Le Duan. Growing futility in the Vietnam conflict, and vociferous anti-war protests on the domestic front brought about the gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops throughout the early 1970?s. By 1973, a peace treaty had been drafted, which provided for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops and an agreement for Vietnam to hold national elections.

The treaty did not last however, and in 1975, the Communists launched a renewed military offensive. The Thieu regime in the south collapsed within six weeks, and on April 30, 1975 the Communists seized power in Saigon, renaming it Ho Chi Minh City. In 1976, the South was reunited with the North in the new Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Conflict continued with the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1979, in which the Khmer Rouge government was replaced by a pro-Vietnamese government. Throughout the 1980?s, Vietnam stationed troops in both Cambodia and Laos, most of which had been removed by the end of the decade. The post-war economy was unstable for several years thereafter, however economic reforms, including the removal of government price controls and trade embargos, the allowance of private enterprise and foreign investment, and the re-establishment of international diplomatic relations has led to the eventual recovery of Vietnam as a flourishing, independent Asian nation.