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The Dawn of Vietnam


Ancient Vietnamese inhabited the country as far as 30 000 years ago. Late in the Old Stone Age, between 20 000 BC and 8000 BC, they are thought to have appeared in most areas of Vietnam.

In the Bronze age, Vietnamese society was diversified into three cultural groups: Early DongSon (beginning of the Hung Vuong dynasty), Pre-SaHuynh and the third group that dwelled along the Dong Nai river delta, in the South East of Vietnam.

The Early Iron Age saw the convergence of many early-divided groups into one, the Dong Son culture. Tools, weapons and objects were made of Iron and Bronze in this period. The cultural and social highlight of those days was a bronze drum, with ornaments artistically engraved.


Van Lang Kingdom (2879 BC - 258 BC)

Early in the Bronze Age, the Vietnamese settlers were made up mainly of two ethnic tribes: Lac Viet in the northern highland and the Red river delta, and Au Viet in Viet Bac, the northern Vietnam. The tribes living closely later integrated into a larger mixed group.

Van Lang was the most powerful tribe among all Lac Viet groups. It was the leader of this tribe that eventually unified all the Lac Viet groups to found the Van Lang kingdom, ruled by King Hung (Hung Vuong). The Van Lang kingdom corresponds to the present part of Vietnam from the border with China in the north to the river Gianh in Quang Binh province. The Hung dynasty produced 18 kings, each of whom ruled the Van Lang kingdom for many years.


Au Lac Kingdom (258 BC - 207 BC)

The Van Lang kingdom lasted from around the first millennium BC to the 3rd century BC. The Hung dynasty was subsequently overthrown by a neighboring king, Thuc Phan, in 258 BC. He established the new kingdom of Au Lac, crowned himself King An Duong Vuong and built his capital at Phuc An in the village of Co Loa, located west of Hanoi. The remains of the Co Loa Citadel, which was built during the An Duong Vuong period, can still be seen today.                                    

The Co loa Citadel today

In 221 BC, Tan Thuy Hoang, King of the Chinese Tan empire, invaded Au Lac, only to be defeated by An Duong Vuong in 208 BC. Fifty years later, In 179 BC, Trieu Da, king of Nam Viet, a country within the Tan empire, conquered the Au Lac kingdom and annexed the Au Lac to his Nam Viet country. The subsequent years saw much conflict between Trieu Da and the Han emperors of China. Finally, in 111 BC, Nam Viet was conquered and incorporated into the Chinese empire. As a result, the northern feudalist took turns to dominate Vietnam over the next eleven centuries, establishing their harsh regime and dividing the country into administrative regions and districts with unfamiliar names like Giao Chi, Giao Chau or An Nam.


Champa Kingdom (192-1471)

In the South-Central Vietnam, the Pre-Sa Huynh culture evolved during the Iron Age. Tribespeople in this group lived between Thua Thien and the Dong Nai River Delta.

The Sa Huynh culture was founded by the ancestors of the Cham, who established the Champa Kingdom in the 2nd century. The kingdom was founded when the people of Tuong Lam district rose up to overthrow the Chinese domination in AD 192 and established an independent kingdom of which the territory extended from Quang Binh province to Quang Nam province now. By the 8th century Champa had expanded southward to include what is now Binh Thuan province. The kingdom experienced times of great prosperity in 2nd-3rd centuries and 6th-8th centuries. In other times, the kingdom had destructive wars with neighboring countries and was integrated totally into Vietnamese territory in 15th century. Far south, a small Cham state survived until 1720, when the King and his people flew once again before the Vietnamese forces moved south towards Cambodia.

The Gia Rai Temple

The Cham was heavily Indianized through commercial relations with India and through immigration of Indian literati and priests. The Cham legacies left are Hindu-like temples which can be found scattered around the Central Region of Vietnam. The Cham now have become one of 54 groups of people in Vietnam with the population of around 123000 people.



Vietnam in resistance against China (111 BC - 939 AC)

Hai Ba Trung or the Trung sisters (40 - 43)

Trung Trac and Trung Nhi were the daughters of a Lac Lord from Tay Vu, a city located on the Red River northwest of the modern capital, Hanoi. Trung Trac, the elder sister, married Thi Sach, an aristocrat from the nearby Chu Dien.

In 39 AD, Thi Sach was arrested and executed for complaining about taxes imposed by the Chinese prefect Su Ting. To avenge his death, Trung Trac and Trung Nhi led a rebellion against the Chinese. With an army of 80,000 people, the Trung sisters drove the Chinese out and reclaimed the territory extending from Hue to southern China. After the victory, Trung Trac declared herself queen "Trung Vuong". She established her royal court in Me-linh (Hong River plain). During her rule, Trung Trac abolished the hated tribute taxes levied by the Chinese, and attempted to restore a simpler form of government, one more in line with traditional Vietnamese values.

Hai Ba Trung

The victory was short-lived, however. In 43 AD, under the command of General Ma Vien, the Chinese defeated Trung Trac and reclaimed the territory. Abandoned by most of their followers and refusing to surrender, the Trung sisters drowned themselves in the Hat River.

Known collectively in Vietnamese folklore as Hai Ba Trung, the Trung sisters are admired as the first Vietnamese patriots. They are often depicted as riding war elephants to battle.


Ba Trieu - Trieu Thi Trinh or the Joan of Arc of Vietnam (222 - 248)

Trieu Thi Trinh, known as Ba Trieu or Trieu Au was orphaned at a young age and lived with her brother Trieu Quoc Dat in Son Trung Village, Trieu Son District, in what is today Thanh Hoa province of Vietnam.

At the age of 20, Trieu Thi Thinh established a military camp in the jungle to wage a war against the Chinese oppression. When her brother tried to discourage her military aspirations, she supposedly responded with: "I will not resign myself to the lot of women, who bow their heads and become concubines. I wish to ride the tempest, tame the waves, kill the sharks. I have no desire to take abuse."

With that, Trieu Thi Thinh recruited and raised an army of at least a thousand men and women. Before she turned twenty-one, she and her army had already fought and won more than thirty major battles against the Chinese. In the freed territory, Trieu Thi Trinh established her own administration and kept it independent for several months.

Ba Trieu

She dressed herself in golden armor and rode her war elephant into battle at the head of her ragged but defiant army. Faced with the armed might of the Chinese, Trieu Au stood little chance. The Vietnamese were outnumbered with poor weapons and no military experience but still they fought for the principle of freedom and in reverence to the bravery of Trieu Au. In 248, several months into battle, Trieu Au and the Vietnamese army was crushed by the Chinese after a valiant struggle. In traditional fashion, Trieu An refused to accept defeat and drowned herself in a river. She was twenty-three when she died.


Ly Bi and the Van Xuan Kingdom (542- 602)

Ly Bi, the leader of a successful revolt in 543 against the Liang dynasty (502-556), was himself descended from a Chinese family that had fled to the Red River Delta during a period of dynastic turbulence in the first century AD. Ly Bi declared himself the emperor of Van Xuan kingdom (kingdom of 'many thousand Springs') and organized his imperial court at Long Bien (outside present-day Hanoi). Ly Bi was killed in 547, but his followers kept the revolt alive for another fifty years, establishing what is sometimes referred to in Vietnamese history as the Earlier Ly dynasty.


Mai Thuc Loan - Mai Hac De (722)

Mai Thuc Loan, also known Mai Hac De (Black King), was a rebel leader who led revolt against the Chinese rule in 722.

At that time, the Tan Dynasty took control of China. They imposed a new iron-fist type of dictatorship on Vietnam, changed Vietnam's name to An Nam and forced people to pay severe taxes. Although people worked very hard, they still could not meet the Chinese demand. One day, unable to see others suffered from hunger and torture, Mai Thuc Loan called out to all people to stand up against the Chinese.

His followers were at first local skilled hunters and farmers. Eventually, people from all over came to join the troop. The army resided in Hung Son. They then took over the Hoan Chau District. One of the talented and knightly figure to join forces with Mai Thuc Loan was Mountain District Chief of Ba Vi, Phung Hap Khanh. Before long he defeated the Chinese and took over 32 districts. After Mai Thuc Loan captured the capital with the help of the Chams and Khmers, he proclaimed himself emperor.

Fall of 722, China sent its new forces to put Vietnam again under its domination. Mai Thuc Loan was defeated. He withdrew to the side of Hung Son Mountain. Here, Mai Thuc Loan set up the last defense and fought to the his last breath.

Because of his dark skin, people called him Mai Hac De - meaning The Black King. Though his victory to free Vietnam from Chinese's domination did not last, Mai Thuc Loan is still considered one of Vietnam's greatest heroes.


Phung Hung - Bo Cai Dai Vuong (767 - 791)

Phung Hung was born in Duong Lan province (present-day Ba Vi, Ha Noi). His father is Phung Hap Khanh, a talented Mountain District Chief to has joined forces with Mai Thuc Loan's revolt.

At that time, Tan Dynasty ruled China. Tan emperor commanded Cao Chinh Binh and his army to administer An Nam. Cao Chinh Binh made demands to the Viet people in the form of high tributary payments.

Seeing Viet people suffering under the cruelties of Chinese rulers, Phung Hung, along with his 2 brother, Phung Hai and Phung Dinh, rallied their troops to fight against the Chinese. Thousands people all around responded to his call joining the army. Cao Chinh Binh tried to defeat Phung Hung's army, but he failed so many times during 20 years long. In 791, Phung Hung devided his followers into 5 groups to attack Chinese army and regained control of Tong Binh province after 7 days fighting. Phung Hung took over An Nam and reigned the land for 7 years. After he passed away, his son Phung An inherited his throne. To honor his father, Phung An proclaimed Phung Hung "Bo Cai Dai Vuong".

Phung An succeeded the throne for another 2 years. The Chinese then resumed their efforts, sending Trieu Xuong to retake An Nam.



Vietnam in the Independent Dynasties (939 - 1884)


Ngo Quyen (939 - 944)

Ngo Quyen was the son of a provincial officer and a native of the western Red River Delta. When Duong Dinh Nghe defeated the Southern Han in 931, he wedded one of his daughters to Ngo Quyen and gave him command of Ai Province.

In 937, Duong Dinh Nghe was assassinated by one of his generals, Kieu Cong Tien. After killing the traitor, Ngo Quyen assumed responsibility for the country's affairs. In 938, aware that the Southern Han, led by Prince Hoang Thao were attacking through the Bach Dang River, Ngo Quyen devised a battle plan that would use the tide to their advantage. At low tide, he ordered his men to embed thousands of iron-tipped stakes along the mouth of the Bach Dang River. When the tide was high enough to conceal the stakes, Ngo Quyen sent his men out in small boats to lure the enemy. After a few rounds of battle, they feigned defeat and retreated into the Bach Dang River. Eager to capture them, the Han followed.

The Bach Dang battle in 938

As the Han's ships crossed the thorny bed and the water level begin to recede, Ngo Quyen ordered his men to turn back. Realizing that they were being trapped, the Han dropped their pursuit and fled in the opposite direction. By the time they reached the mouth, the tide was low enough to expose the sharp stakes, which assisted by gravity (dragging the ships down), broke through the hulls and impaled their ships. Ngo Quyen's army attacked vigorously, killing thousands of Hans and Prince Hoang Thao.

The Han Emperor was coming to his son's aid when he received news of his son's demise. He broke down in sorrow and instructed his army return to China. With Vietnamese independence restored in 939 A.D., Ngo Quyen crowned himself Emperor. He set up the Ngo Dynasty and established the Capital at Co Loa. He passed away on January 18, 944, at the age of 45, having ruled the country for only five years.


Dinh Bo Linh (968-980)

Dinh Bo Linh was the founder of the Dinh dynasty and a significant figure in the restoration of Vietnamese independence in the tenth century.

Growing up in a local village Dinh Bo Linh became a local military leader. From this anarchic era, the first independent Viet Nam emerged. Faced once more with the threat of a powerful China, Dinh Bo Linh, tried to find ways to reunify the country. On the death of the last Ngo King in 963, he seized power and based the capital in his home province at Hoa Lu. To consolidate his legitimacy, he married a member of the Ngo family.

At first, Dinh Bo Linh had been careful to avoid antagonizing the Southern Han Empire. But in 966 he adopted the title of Emperor (Hoang De) and declared his independence from the Chinese rule. Under the name of Dinh Tien Hoang De, he founded the Dinh Dynasty and called his kingdom Dai Co Viet. Well aware of the new Chinese Song dynasty's military might, Dinh Bo Linh obtained a non-aggression treaty of the country's independence in exchange for tributes payable to the Chinese every three years. This arrangement with China was carried out until the 19th Century and ended after the advent of French colonization.

Seven years later, however, he pacified the new Sung Dynasty by sending a tribute mission to demonstrate his fealty to the Chinese Emperor, who subsequently recognized the Vietnamese ruler as An Nam Quoc Vuong (King of Annam).

Dinh Bo Linh energetically reformed the administration and the armed forces to strengthen the foundation of the new Vietnamese state. He established a royal court and a hierarchy of civil and military servants. He instated a rigorous justice system and introduced the death penalty to serve as a deterrent to those who threatened the new order in the kingdom.

However, Dinh Bo Linh's reign did not last long. In 980 a palace guard killed both Dinh Bo Linh and his eldest son Dinh Lien in their sleep. He was succeeded by his six-year old son. In the meantime, the Chinese Emperor wanted to take advantage of the young King sending their army to attack Dai Co Viet. In the crisis, Le Hoan, a general in Dinh Bo Linh's army, dethroned the child of Dinh, and proclaimed himself King, called the Early Le Dynasty state.


Le Hoan - Le Dai Hanh (981-1009)

Le Hoan crowned himself King Le Dai Hanh in 980 and retained the capital in Hoa Lu. His 25 year reign was marked by foreign wars. The Tan Dynasty in China had hoped to take advantage of the instability in Vietnam by launching an invasion of its ex-dependency but Le Hoan defeated the Chinese armies in 981 and obtained official Chinese recognition of Vietnamese independence.

He devoted a great deal of energy to developing the road network in order to better administer the country's different regions. However, the local forces were still reluctant to toe the line to the central authority and mounted a succession of revolts.

Le Hoan

On the domestic scene, he relied to a considerable degree on his sons, several of whom he appointed as governors of key provinces. Le Hoan died in 1005, leading to a fratricidal strife among his heirs. The victor himself died two years later, leaving an infant son as successor. The Tien Le dynasty eventually collapsed after the death of one of Le Dai Hanh's heirs in 1009.


Ly Cong Uan and the Ly Dynasty (1009-1225)

Ly Cong Uan became a famous general in the Le Court when he was still very young. After the death of emperor Le Long Dinh (Le Ngoa Trieu) in 1010, Ly Cong Uan was raised by the Court and brought to the throne. He styled himself Ly Thai To and became the first Ly Emperor. In 1010, Ly Thai To moved the capital from Hoa Lu to Dai La (presently Hanoi). In 1054 the Lys re-named the country Dai Viet (Viet the Great).

During the Ly dynasty, Buddhism flourished as the national religion. Buddhist masters, who acted as supreme advisors, assisted the Ly kings in their rule. Several Ly Kings - Thai Tong, Anh Tong and Cao Tong - led the Buddhist sects of Thao Duong and founded some 150 monasteries in the region of Thang Long. Buddhism became a kind of state religion as members of the royal family and the nobility made pilgrimages, supported the building of pagodas, sometimes even entered monastic life, and otherwise took an active part in Buddhist practices.

Ly Thai To Statue

The education was in the first step. In 1070 a National College was founded to educate future mandarins. The Van Mieu (Temple of Literature) was established in 1076. In 1075, the first examination was held to choose the talents. Examinations for public office were made compulsory, and literary competitions were held to determine the grades of officials. Minor officials were chosen by examination for the first time in 1075, and a civil service training institute and an imperial academy were set up in 1076. In 1089 a fixed hierarchy of state officials was established, with nine degrees of civil and military scholar officials.

At the beginning of 1077, taking the opportunity that King Ly Nhan Tong was still a 7-year-old child, the Chinese Tan emperor sent 100,000 soldiers to invade Vietnam. They never succeeded as their army were defeated at the Cau river by General Ly Thuong Kiet.

During the Ly dynasty, the Vietnamese began their long march to the south at the expense of the Cham and the Khmer. Le Hoan had sacked the Cham capital of Indrapura in 982, whereupon the Cham established a new capital at Vijaya. The capital was captured twice by the Vietnamese, and in 1079 the Cham were forced to cede to the Ly rulers their three northern provinces. Soon afterwards, Vietnamese peasants began moving into the untilled former Cham lands, turning them into rice fields and moving relentlessly southward, delta by delta, along the narrow coastal plain.


The Tran Dynasty (1225-1440)

In 1225 the Tran family replaced the Ly dynasty by arranging a marriage between one of its members and the last Ly monarch, an eight-year-old princess. Under the Tran dynasty (1225-1400), the country prospered and flourished as the Tran rulers carried out extensive land reforms, improved public administration, and encouraged the study of Chinese literature.

The Tran, however, are best remembered for their defense of the country against the Mongols and the Cham. By 1225, the Mongols controlled most of northern China and Manchuria and were eyeing southern China, Vietnam, and Champa. In 1257, 1284, and 1287, the Mongol armies of Kublai Khan invaded Vietnam, sacking theThang Long capital (renamed Hanoi in 1831) on each occasion, only to find that the Vietnamese had anticipated their attacks and evacuated the city beforehand. Disease, shortage of supplies, the climate, and the Vietnamese strategy of harassment and scorched earth tactics foiled the first two invasions. The third Mongol invasion, of 300,000 men and a vast fleet, was also defeated by the Vietnamese under the leadership of General Tran Hung Dao. Borrowing a tactic used by Ngo Quyen in 938 to defeat an invading Chinese fleet, the Vietnamese drove iron-tipped stakes into the bed of the Bach Dang River (located in northern Vietnam in present-day Ha Bac, Hai Hung, and Quang Ninh provinces), and then, with a small Vietnamese flotilla, lured the Mongol fleet into the river just as the tide was starting to ebb. Trapped or impaled by the iron-tipped stakes, the entire Mongol fleet of 400 craft was sunk, captured, or burned by Vietnamese fire arrows. The Mongol army retreated to China, harassed en-route by Tran Hung Dao's troops.

Marshal Tran Hung Dao

The fourteenth century was marked by wars with Champa, which the Tran reduced to a feudatory state by 1312. Champa freed itself again by 1326 and, under the leadership of the Cham hero Che Bong Nga, staged a series of attacks on Vietnam between 1360 and 1390, sacking the capital Thang Long in 1371. The Vietnamese again gained the upper hand following the death of Che Bong Nga and resumed their southward advance at Champa's expense. Despite their earlier success, the quality of the Tran rulers had declined markedly by the end of the fourteenth century, opening the way for exploitation of the peasantry by the feudal landlord class, which caused a number of insurrections.


Ho Qui Ly and the Ho Dynasty (1400 - 1407)

Le Qui Ly was born in 1400 to the Ho family with the name Ho Qui Ly. He took up the Le's last name when Le Huan adopted him. Le Qui Ly was cousin to the Queen, Le Thi, and served as a minister during the Tran Dynasty.

Taking advantage of his proximity to the King, Le Qui Ly shrewdly maneuvered his way to power. When King Tran Due Tong passed away in 1377, Le Qui Ly seized control and founded the Ho Dynasty, after his ancestral name, Ho. He ruled the country for a year before sharing the throne with his son, Ho Han Thuong.

During their reign, the Hos reorganized and reinforced the army. They revised taxes, placed restrictions on land ownerships, and opened ports to trading, taxing traders as well. They also established a new fiscal system which replaced coins with bank notes and introduced the extension of royal appointments to their servants. Convinced that administrators needed to be well versed, the Hos modified the competitive examination system to demand more practical knowledge of peasant life, mathematics, history, Confucian classics and literature. They also took measures to reform the legal system and establish medical services.

In the mean time, well aware that Ho had usurped the throne, the Chinese Ming Emperor sent 5,000 soldiers into the country to uproot the new king and reclaim Viet territory. With the pretext of helping the movement faithful to the Tran Dynasty, the Ming army assisted the rebels in bringing down the Ho Dynasty. In 1407, they succeeded and the Ming gained control of the Viet territory.

The Ming administered the country as if it were a province of China and ruled it harshly for the next twenty years. The forced labor of its people was used to exploit Vietnam's mines and forests solely for China's enrichment. Taxes were levied on all products including even salt. Under the Ming, Vietnamese cultural traditions, including the chewing of betel nut, were forbidden, men were required to wear their hair long and women to dress in the Chinese style. Vietnamese Buddhism was replaced at court by Ming-sponsored neo-Confucianism. However, the Ming's attempts to supplant popular Vietnamese religious traditions with an officially sponsored form of Buddhism were not very successful.


Le Loi and the Le Dynasty (1428 - 1443)

Le Loi, one of Vietnam's most celebrated heroes, is credited with rescuing the country from the Ming domination in 1428. Born in a wealthy landowning family, he served as a senior scholar-official until the advent of the Ming, whom he refused to serve.

The population was by this time in a state of general rebellion against the Minh Dynasty, and revolts broke out throughout the North in support of Le Loi. Le Loi styled himself as Binh Dinh Vuong and raised his flag against the Chinese. Le Loi had time to consolidate his forces while the Chinese were occupied with quelling people's rebellions everywhere.

In 1427, Le Loi organized a mock defeat to fool the Chinese reinforcements. Lured into the trap, the Chinese general was ambushed and beheaded, and the rest of his army was defeated in later battles of the same year. After a decade of gathering a resistance movement around him, with tremendous help of his advisor Nguyen Trai, Le Loi and his forces finally defeated the Chinese army in 1428. Rather than putting to death the captured Chinese soldiers and administrators, he magnanimously provided ships and supplies to send them back to China. Le Loi then ascended the Vietnamese throne, taking the reign name Le Thai To and establishing the Le dynasty (1428-1788). He changed the country name from An Nam to Dai Viet and started reconstructing the teritory after the devastation caused by the war.

Le Loi

The greatest of the Le dynasty rulers was Le Thanh Tong (1460-97), who reorganized the administrative divisions of the country and upgraded the civil service system. He ordered a census of people and landholdings to be taken every six years, revised the tax system, and commissioned the writing of a national history. During his reign he accomplished the conquest of Champa in 1471, the suppression of Lao-led insurrections in the western border area, and the continuation of diplomatic relations with China through tribute missions established under Le Thai To. Le Thanh Tong also ordered the formulation of the Hong Duc legal code, which was based on Chinese law but included distinctly Vietnamese features, such as recognition of the higher position of women in Vietnamese society than in Chinese society. Under the new code, parental consent was not required for marriage, and daughters were granted equal inheritance rights with sons. Le Thanh Tong also initiated the construction and repair of granaries, dispatched his troops to rebuild irrigation works following floods, and provided for medical aid during epidemics. A noted writer and poet himself, he encouraged and emphasized of the Confucian examination system.

Trinh-Nguyen Partition and the Advent of the Europeans (1527 - 1770)

The degenerated Le dynasty, which endured under ten rulers between 1497 and 1527, in the end was no longer able to maintain control over the northern part of the country, much less the new territories to the south. The weakening of the monarchy created a vacuum that the various noble families of the aristocracy were eager to fill.

In 1527 Mac Dang Dung, a scholar-official who had effectively controlled the Le for a decade, seized the throne, prompting other families of the aristocracy, notably the Nguyen and Trinh, to rush to the support of the Le. An attack on the Mac forces led by the Le general Nguyen Kim resulted in the partition of Vietnam in 1545, with the Nguyen family seizing control of the southern part of the country as far north as what is now Thanh Hoa Province. The Nguyen, who took the hereditary title 'chua' (lord), continued to profess loyalty to the Le dynasty. By the late sixteenth century the Trinh family had ousted the Mac family and had begun to rule the northern half of the country in the name of the Le dynasty.

The Trinh, who, like the Nguyen, took the title 'chua', spent most of the seventeenth century attempting to depose the Nguyen. In order to repulse the invading Trinh forces, the Nguyen in 1631 completed the building of two great walls, six meters high and eighteen kilometers long, on their northern frontier. The Trinh, with 100,000 troops, 500 elephants and 500 large junks, were numerically far superior to their southern foe. The Nguyen, however, were better equipped, having by this time acquired Portuguese weapons and gunpowder, and, as the defending force, had the support of the local people. In addition, the Nguyen had the advantage of controlling vast open lands in the Mekong Delta, wrested from the Khmer, with which to attract immigrants and refugees from the north. Among those who took up residence in the delta were an estimated 3,000 Chinese, supporters of the defunct Ming dynasty, who arrived in 1679 aboard fifty junks and set about becoming farmers and traders. The Nguyen, aided by the Chinese settlers, succeeded in forcing the Khmer completely out of the Mekong Delta by 1749.

After major offensives by the Trinh in 1661 and 1672 foundered on the walls built by the Nguyen, a truce in the fighting ensued that lasted nearly 100 years. During that time, the Nguyen continued its southward expansion into lands held, or formerly held, by the Cham and the Khmer. The Trinh, meanwhile, consolidated its authority in the north, instituting administrative reforms and supporting scholarship. The nobility and scholar-officials of both north and south, however, continued to block the development of manufacturing and trade, preferring to retain a feudal and peasant society, which they could control.

The seventeenth century was also a period in which European missionaries and merchants became a serious factor in Vietnamese court life and politics. Although both had arrived by the early sixteenth century, neither foreign merchants nor missionaries had much impact on Vietnam before the seventeenth century. The Portuguese, Dutch, English, and French had all established trading posts in Pho Hien by 1680. Fighting among the Europeans and opposition by the Vietnamese made the enterprises unprofitable, however, and all of the foreign trading posts were closed by 1700.

European missionaries had occasionally visited Vietnam for short periods of time, with little impact, beginning in the early sixteenth century. The best known of the early missionaries was Alexandre de Rhodes, a French Jesuit who was sent to Hanoi in 1627, where he quickly learned the language and began preaching in Vietnamese. Initially, Rhodes was well-received by the Trinh court, and he reportedly baptized more than 6,000 converts; however, his success probably led to his expulsion in 1630. He is credited with perfecting a Romanized system of writing the Vietnamese language (quoc ngu), which was probably developed as the joint effort of several missionaries, including Rhodes. Quoc ngu was used initially only by missionaries; classical Chinese or 'chu nom' (Vietnamese scripts) continued to be used by the courts and governments. After being expelled from Vietnam, Rhodes spent the next thirty years seeking support for his missionary work from the Vatican and the French Roman Catholic hierarchy as well as making several more trips to Vietnam.

Alexander de Rhodes

The stalemate between the Trinh and the Nguyen families that began at the end of the seventeenth century did not, however, mark the beginning of a period of peace and prosperity. Instead the decades of continual warfare between the two families had left the peasantry in a weakened state, the victim of taxes levied to support the courts and their military adventures. The widespread suffering in both north and south led to numerous peasant revolts between 1730 and 1770. Although the uprisings took place throughout the country, they were essentially local phenomena, breaking out spontaneously from similar local causes. Some of these movements enjoyed limited success for a short time, but it was not until 1771 that any of the peasant revolts had a lasting national impact.


The Tay Son Dynasty (1771-1802)

The Tay Son Uprising (1771-1802), which ended the Le and Trinh dynasties, was led by three brothers from the village of Tay Son in Binh Dinh Province. The brothers, who were of the Ho clan (to which Ho Quy Ly had belonged), adopted the name Nguyen. The eldest brother, Nguyen Nhac, began an attack on the ruling Nguyen family by capturing Quang Nam and Binh Dinh provinces in 1772. The chief principle and main slogan of the Tay Son was "seize the property of the rich and distribute it to the poor." In each village the Tay Son controlled, oppressive landlords and scholar-officials were punished and their property redistributed. The Tay Son also abolished taxes, burned the tax and land registers, freed prisoners from local jails, and distributed the food from storehouses to the hungry. As the rebellion gathered momentum, it gained the support of army deserters, merchants, scholars, local officials, and bonzes.

In 1773 Nguyen Nhac seized Qui Nhon, which became the Tay Son capital. By 1778 the Tay Son had effective control over the southern part of the country, including Gia Dinh (later Saigon). The ruling Nguyen family were defeated and executed by the Tay Son brothers, with the exception of Nguyen Anh, the sixteen-year-old nephew of the last Nguyen lord, who escaped to the Mekong Delta. There he was able to gather a body of supporters and retake Gia Dinh. The city changed hands several times until 1783, when the Tay Son brothers destroyed Nguyen Anh's fleet and drove him to take refuge on Phu Quoc Island. Soon thereafter, he met with French missionary bishop Pigneau de Behaine and asked him to be his emissary in obtaining French support to defeat the Tay Son. Pigneau de Behaine took Nguyen Anh's five-year-old son, Prince Canh, and departed for Pondichery in French India to plead for support for the restoration of the Nguyen. Finding none there, he went to Paris in 1786 to lobby on Nguyen Anh's behalf. Louis XVI ostensibly agreed to provide four ships, 1,650 men, and supplies in exchange for Nguyen Anh's promise to cede to France the port of Tourane (Da Nang) and the island of Poulo Condore. However, the local French authorities in India, under secret orders from the king, refused to supply the promised ships and men. Determined to see French military intervention in Vietnam, Pigneau de Behaine himself raised funds for two ships and supplies from among the French merchant community in India, hired deserters from the French navy to man them, and sailed back to Vietnam in 1789.

In the meantime, by 1786 the Tay Son had overcome the crumbling Trinh dynasty and seized all of the north. The Tay Son made good their promise to restore the Le dynasty, at least for ceremonial purposes. The three Nguyen brothers installed themselves as kings of the north, central, and southern sections of the country respectively, while continuing to acknowledge the Le emperor in Thang Long. In 1788, however, the reigning Le emperor fled north to seek Chinese assistance in defeating the Tay Son. Eager to comply, a Chinese army of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) invaded Vietnam, seized Thang Long, and invested the Le ruler as "King of Annam." That same year, the second eldest Tay Son brother, Nguyen Hue, proclaimed himself Emperor Quang Trung. Marching north with 100,000 men and 100 elephants, Quang Trung attacked Thang Long at night and routed the Chinese army of 200,000, which retreated in disarray. Immediately following his victory, the Tay Son leader sought to reestablish friendly relations with China, requesting recognition of his rule and sending the usual tributary mission. With victory over the Chinese king Quang Trung finally united the country for the first time in 200 years.

Quang Trung stimulated Vietnam's war-ravaged economy by encouraging trade and crafts, ordering the re-cultivation of fallow lands, reducing or abolishing taxes on local products, and resettling landless peasants on communal lands in their own villages. Quang Trung also established a new capital at Phu Xuan (near modern Hue), a more central location from which to administer the country. He reorganized the government along military lines, giving key posts to generals, with the result that military officials for the first time outranked civilian officials. Vietnamese replaced Chinese as the official national language, and candidates for the government posts were required to submit prose and verse compositions in Chu nom rather than in classical Chinese.

Quang Trung

Quang Trung died suddenly in 1792 at age 39, and was succeeded by his ten-year old son, Canh Thinh. By this time, Nguyen Anh and his supporters had won back much of the south from Nguyen Lu, the youngest and least capable of the Tay Son brothers. When Pigneau de Behaine returned to Vietnam in 1789, Nguyen Anh was in control of Gia Dinh. In the succeeding years, the bishop brought Nguyen Anh a steady flow of ships, arms, and European advisers, who supervised the building of forts, shipyards, cannon foundries and bomb factories, and instructed the Vietnamese in the manufacture and use of modern armaments. Nguyen's cause was also greatly aided by divisions within the Tay Son leadership, following the death of Quang Trung, and the inability of the new leaders to deal with the problems of famine and natural disasters that wracked the war-torn country. After a steady assault on the north, Nguyen Anh's forces took Phu Xuan in June 1801 and Thang Long a year later.


The Nguyen Dynasty (1802 - 1858)

In June 1802, Nguyen Anh adopted the reign name Gia Long to express the unifying of the country--Gia from Gia Dinh (Saigon) and Long from Thang Long (Hanoi). As a symbol of this unity, Gia Long changed the name of the country from Dai Viet to Viet Nam. In his drive for control and order, Gia Long instituted a law code, which followed very closely the Chinese Qing dynasty (1644-1911) model. Under the Gia Long code, severe punishment was meted out for any form of resistance to the absolute power of the government. Buddhism, Taoism, and indigenous religions were forbidden under the Confucianist administration. Traditional Vietnamese laws and customs, such as the provisions of the Hong Duc law code protecting the rights and status of women, were swept away by the new code. Land reforms and taxes reduced or abolished under the Tay Son were introduced again under the Nguyen dynasty. Although 'chu nom' was retained as the national script by Gia Long, his son and successor Minh Mang, who gained the throne upon his father's death in 1820, ordered a return to the use of Chinese ideographs.

Tu Duc

The influence of missionaries was perceived as the most critical issue during the Nguyen dynasty. The French Societe des Missions Etrangeres reported 450,000 Christian converts in Vietnam in 1841. The Vietnamese Christians were for the most part organized into villages that included all strata of society, from peasants to landowners. The Christian villages, with their own separate customs, schools, and hierarchy, as well as their disdain for Confucianism, were viewed by the government as breeding grounds for rebellion--and in fact they often were. A series of edicts forbade the practice of Christianity, forcing the Christian communities underground. An estimated ninety-five priests and members of the laity were executed by the Vietnamese authority during the following quarter of a century.

In response, the missionaries stepped up their pressure on the French government to intervene militarily and to establish a French protectorate over Vietnam. During this period, French traders became interested in Vietnam once more, and French diplomats in China began to express the view that France was falling behind the rest of Europe in gaining a foothold in Asia. Commanders of a French naval squadron, permanently deployed in the South China Sea after 1841, also began to agitate for a stronger role in protecting the lives and interests of the missionaries. Given tacit approval by Paris, naval intervention grew steadily. In 1847 two French warships bombarded Tourane (Da Nang), destroying five Vietnamese ships and killing an estimated 10,000 Vietnamese troops. The purpose of the attack was to gain the release of a missionary, who had, in fact, already been released. In the following decade, persecution of missionaries continued under Emperor Tu Duc, who came to the throne in 1848. While the missionaries stepped up pressure on the government of Louis Napoleon (later Napoleon III), which was sympathetic to their cause, a Commission on Cochinchina made the convincing argument that France risked becoming a second-class power by not intervening.



Vietnam under French Rule (1858-1945)


French Invasion (1858)

By 1857 Louis-Napoleon had been persuaded that invasion was the best course of action, and French warships were instructed to take Da Nang without any further efforts to negotiate with the Nguyen authority. Da Nang was captured in late 1858 and Gia Dinh (Saigon and later Ho Chi Minh City) in early 1859. Vietnamese resistance and outbreaks of cholera and typhoid forced the French to abandon Tourane in early 1860. Meanwhile, fear was growing in Paris that if France withdrew the British would move in. French business and military interests increased their pressure on the government for decisive action. Thus in early 1861, a French fleet of 70 ships and 3,500 men reinforced Gia Dinh and, in a series of bloody battles, gained control of the surrounding provinces. In June 1862, Emperor Tu Duc signed the Treaty of Saigon agreeing to French demands for the cession of three provinces around Gia Dinh (which the French had renamed Saigon).

The French navy was in the forefront of the conquest of Indochina. In 1863 Admiral De La Grandiere, the governor of Cochinchina (as the French renamed Nam Bo), forced the Cambodian king to accept a French protectorate over that country, claiming that the Treaty of Saigon had made France heir to Vietnamese claims in Cambodia. In June 1867, the admiral completed the annexation of Nam Bo by seizing the remaining three western provinces. The following month, the Siamese government agreed to recognize a French protectorate over Cambodia in return for the cession of two Cambodian provinces, Angkor and Battambang, to Siam. With Cochinchina secured, French naval and mercantile interests turned to Tonkin (as the French referred to Bac Bo). The 1873 storming of the citadel of Hanoi, led by French naval officer Francis Garnier, had the desired effect of forcing Tu Duc to sign a treaty with France in March 1874 that recognized France's "full and entire sovereignty" over Nam Bo, and opened the Red River to commerce. In an attempt to secure Bac Bo, Garnier was killed and his forces defeated in a battle with Vietnamese regulars and Black Flag forces. The latter were Chinese soldiers, who had fled south following the Taiping Rebellion in that country and had been hired by the Hue court to keep order in Bac Bo.

In April 1882, a French force again stormed the citadel of Hanoi, under the leadership of naval officer Henri Riviere. Riviere and part of his forces were wiped out in a battle with a Vietnamese-Black Flag army, a reminder of Garnier's fate a decade earlier. While Garnier's defeat had led to a partial French withdrawal from Bac Bo, Riviere's loss strengthened the resolve of the French government to establish a protectorate by military force. Accordingly, additional funds were appropriated by the French Parliament to support further military operations, and Hue fell to the French in August 1883, following the death of Tu Duc the previous month. A Treaty of Protectorate, signed at the August 1883 Harmand Convention, established a French protectorate over North and Central Vietnam and formally ended Vietnam's independence. In June 1884, Vietnamese scholar-officials were forced to sign the Treaty of Hue, which confirmed the Harmand Convention agreement.

By the end of 1884, there were 16,500 French troops in Vietnam. Resistance to French control, however, continued. A rebellion known as the Can Vuong (Loyalty to the King) movement formed in 1885 around the deposed Emperor Ham Nghi and attracted support from both scholars and peasants. The rebellion was essentially subdued with the capture and exile of Ham Nghi in 1888. Scholar and patriot Phan Dinh Phung continued to lead the resistance until his death in 1895. Although unsuccessful in driving out the French, the Can Vuong movement, with its heroes and patriots, laid important groundwork for future Vietnamese independence movements.


Phan Boi Chau And Phan Chu Trinh

While the bulk of mandarins served the puppet emperors of the French, some began to question their role in colonial Vietnam. "Who lost Vietnam?" first arose as a burning question among the disaffected mandarins, who looked to the past for inspiration, while simultaneously looking to the modern West for knowledge to create a resistance movement. Two strains of thought emerged.

Phan Boi Chau, who believed that a strong emperor with the help of the Chinese and Japanese could defeat the French, represented the first. His thinking at first was essentially feudal in outlook and aimed at restoring the power of the emperor supported by his mandarins in an independent Vietnam. Constantly hounded by the French surété, Phan Boi Chau had to live in exile until he was arrested in 1925 at the age of 58. Tens of thousands of Vietnamese followed his trial and were angered by the death sentence that was handed down to him by French judges. It was later commuted and he died under house arrest in 1940.


Phan Boi Chau 
Phan Chu Trinh

Phan Chu Trinh represented a second current of emerging Vietnamese nationalism. He was the son of a rich landowner. Early in his life he rallied to the side of dissident Emperor Ham Nghi. Later he accompanied Phan Boi Chau to Japan, where he broke with Chau over the question of Japan’s real intentions toward Indochina. He returned to Vietnam and opened a modern school to teach children of both sexes. He railed at the French for their hypocrisy. Phan Chu Trinh uncompromisingly opposed the old order in Vietnam. In his best-known work, a letter to French governor general Paul Beau in 1906 seeking French support for institutional reform in Vietnam, Phan Chu Trinh was intensely critical of French colonial rule. But he reserved his harshest scorn for the traditional mandarinate whose obscurantism and petty jealousies, he believed, had prevented the emergence of reforms necessary for the transformation of Vietnam into a dynamic society. In the wake of the anti-colonial protests in 1908, the French closed his schools, arrested him and sentenced him to death, but French colonial officials found his vision of reform radical enough that his death sentence was commuted to life in prison in Poulo Cordone (Con Dao). Released from prison after three years, Phan Chu Trinh symbolized resistance to the French for many educated Vietnamese. When he died in 1926, 60 000 people marched in his funeral procession.


Ho Chi Minh and the Indochinese Communist Party - Dang Cong San Dong Duong (1930)

While Phan Boi Chau and Phan Chu Trinh inspired many people who would later come to be involved in nationalist politics, their political movements remained small. The main reason for this was that their politics appealed to a very thin layer of educated middle class Vietnamese. According to historian David Marr, "The 20th century history of Vietnam must be understood within the context of fundamental changes in political and social consciousness among a significant segment of the Vietnamese populace in the period of 1920". The major beneficiary of this would be the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP), led by Ho Chi Minh, that combined the struggle against imperialism with a social base among the peasantry, intellectuals and to a smaller degree, the working class.

Born Nguyen Sinh Cung in Kim Lien village, Nghe An Province in May 1890, Ho Chi Minh was the son of Nguyen Sinh Sac (or Huy), a scholar from a poor peasant family. Following a common custom, Ho's father renamed him Nguyen Tat Thanh at about age ten. Ho was trained in the classical Confucian tradition and was sent to secondary school in Hue. After working for a short time as a teacher, he went to Saigon where he took a course in navigation and in 1911 joined the crew of a French ship. Working as a kitchen hand, Nguyen Tat Thanh traveled to North America, Africa, and Europe. While in Paris from 1919-23, he took the name Nguyen Ai Quoc (Nguyen the Patriot).

In 1919 he attempted to meet with United States President Woodrow Wilson at the Versailles Peace Conference in order to present a proposal for Vietnam's independence, but he was turned away and the proposal was never officially acknowledged. During his stay in Paris, Ho was greatly influenced by Marxist-Leninist literature, particularly Lenin's Thesis on the National and Colonial Questions (1920), and in 1920 he became a founding member of the French Communist Party. He read, wrote, and spoke widely on Indochina's problems before moving to Moscow in 1923 and attending the Fifth Congress of the Communist International, also called the Comintern, in 1924.

In late 1924, Ho arrived in Guangzhou, where he spent the next two years training more than 200 Vietnamese cadres in revolutionary techniques. His course of instruction included study of Marxism-Leninism, Vietnamese and Asian revolutionary history, Asian leaders such as Gandhi and Sun Yat- sen, and the problem of organizing the masses. In 1925 Ho founded the Viet Nam Thanh Nien Cach Mang Dong Chi Hoi (Revolutionary Youth League) in Guangzhou.

On June 17, 1929, the founding conference of the first Indochinese Communist Party (ICP--Dang Cong San Dong Duong) was held in Hanoi under the leadership of a breakaway faction of Thanh Nien radicals. The party immediately began to publish several journals and to send out representatives to all parts of the country for the purpose of setting up branches. A series of strikes supported by the party broke out at this time, and their success led to the convening of the first National Congress of Red Trade Unions the following month in Hanoi. Other communist parties were founded at this time by both supporting members of Thanh Nien and radical members of yet another party revolutionary with no direct tie with the Comintern, called the New Revolutinary Party or Tan Viet Party. At the beginning of 1930, there were actually three communist parties in French Indochina competing for members. The establishment of the ICP prompted remaining Thanh Nien members to transform the Communist Youth Leaque into a communist party - the Annam Communist Party (ACP, Annam Cong San Dang), and Tan Viet Party members followed suit by renaming their organization the Indochinese Communist League (Dong Duong Cong San Lien Doan). As a result, the Comintern issued a highly critical indictment of the factionalism in the Vietnamese revolutionary movement and urged the Vietnamese to form a united communist party. Consequently, the Comintern leadership sent a message to Ho Chi Minh, then living in Siam, asking him to come to Hong Kong to unify the groups. On February 3, 1930, in Hong Kong, Ho presided over a conference of representatives of the two factions derived from Thanh Nien (members of the Indochinese Communist League were not represented but were to be permitted membership in the newly formed party as individuals) at which a unified Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) was founded, the Viet Nam Cong San Dang. At the Comintern's request, the name was changed later that year at the first Party Plenum to the Indochinese Communist Party, thus reclaiming the name of the first party of that name founded in 1929.


Establishment of the Viet Minh

In early 1940, Ho Chi Minh returned to southern China, having spent most of the previous seven years studying and teaching at the Lenin Institute in Moscow. In Kunming he reestablished contact with the ICP Central Committee and set up a temporary headquarters, which became the focal point for communist policymaking and planning. After thirty years absence, Ho returned to Vietnam in February 1941 and set up headquarters in a cave at Pac Bo, near the Sino-Vietnamese border, where in May the Eighth Plenum of the ICP was held. The major outcome of the meeting was the reiteration that the struggle for national independence took primacy over class war or other concerns of socialist ideology. To support this strategy, the League for the Independence of Vietnam (Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi, Viet Minh for short) was established. In this new front group, which would be dominated by the party, all patriotic elements were welcomed as potential allies. The party would be forced in the short term to modify some of its goals and soften its rhetoric supporting, for example, the reduction of land rents rather than demanding land seizures. Social revolution would have to await the defeat of the French and the Japanese. The Eighth Plenum also recognized guerrilla warfare as an integral part of the revolutionary strategy and established local self-defense militias in all villages under Viet Minh control. The cornerstone of the party's strategy was the melding of the forces of urban nationalism and peasant rebellion into a single independence effort.

In order to implement the new strategy, two tasks were given priority: the establishment of a Viet Minh apparatus throughout the country and the creation of a secure revolutionary base in the Viet Bac border region from which southward expansion could begin. This area had the advantages of being remote from colonial control but accessible to China, which could serve both as a refuge and training ground. Moreover, the Viet Bac population was largely sympathetic to the ICP. Viet Minh influence began to permeate the area, and French forces attempted, but failed, to regain control of the region in 1941. The liberation zone soon spread to include the entire northern frontier area until it reached south of Cao Bang, where an ICP Interprovincial Committee established its headquarters. A temporary setback for the Communists occurred in August 1942, when Ho Chi Minh, while on a trip to southern China to meet with Chinese Communist Party officials, was arrested and imprisoned for two years by the Kuomintang. By August 1944, however, he had convinced the regional Chinese commander to support his return to Vietnam at the head of a guerrilla force. Accordingly, Ho returned to Vietnam in September with eighteen men trained and armed by the Chinese. Upon his arrival, he vetoed, as too precipitate, a plan laid by the ICP in his absence to launch a general uprising in the Viet Bac within two months. Ho did, however, approve the establishment of armed propaganda detachments with both military and political functions.

As World War II drew to a close, the ICP sought to have the Vietnamese independence movement recognized as one of the victorious Allied forces under the leadership of the United States. With this in mind, Ho returned again to southern China in January 1945 to meet with American and Free French units there. From the Americans he solicited financial support, while from the French he sought, unsuccessfully, guarantees of Vietnamese independence. On March 9, 1945, the Japanese gave the French an ultimatum demanding that all French and Indochinese forces be placed under Japanese control. Without waiting for the French reply, the Japanese proceeded to seize administrative buildings, radio stations, banks, and industries and to disarm the French forces. Bao Dai, the Nguyen ruler under the French, was retained as emperor, and a puppet government was established with Tran Trong Kim, a teacher and historian, as prime minister. Japan revoked the Franco-Vietnamese Treaty of Protectorate of 1883, which had established Indochina as a French protectorate, and declared the independence of Vietnam under Japanese tutelage.



Independent Vietnam since the August Revolution (1945)


The August Revolution (1945)

By June 1945, in the provinces of the Viet Bac, the Viet Minh had set up people's revolutionary committees at all levels, distributed communal and French-owned lands to the poor, abolished the corvee, established 'quoc ngu' classes, set up local self-defense militias in the villages, and declared universal suffrage and democratic freedoms. The Viet Minh then established a provisional directorate, headed by Ho Chi Minh, as the governing body for the liberated zone, comprising an estimated one million people.

On August 13, 1945, the ICP Central Committee held its Ninth Plenum at Tan Trao to prepare an agenda for a National Congress of the Viet Minh a few days later. At the plenum, convened just after the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, an order for a general uprising was issued, and a national insurrection committee was established headed by ICP general secretary Truong Chinh. On August 16, the Viet Minh National Congress convened at Tan Trao and ratified the Central Committee decision to launch a general uprising. The Congress also elected a National Liberation Committee, headed by Ho Chi Minh (who was gravely ill at the time), to serve as a provisional government. The following day, the Congress, at a ceremony in front of the village dinh', officially adopted the national red flag with a gold star, and Ho read an appeal to the Vietnamese people to rise in revolution.

By the end of the first week following the Tan Trao conference, most of the provincial and district capitals north of Hanoi had fallen to the revolutionary forces. When the news of the Japanese surrender reached Hanoi on August 16, the local Japanese military command turned over its powers to the local Vietnamese authorities. By August 17, Viet Minh units in the Hanoi suburbs had deposed the local administrations and seized the government seals symbolizing political authority. Self-defense units were set up and armed with guns, knives, and sticks. Meanwhile, Viet Minh-led demonstrations broke out in Hanoi. The following morning, a member of the Viet Minh Municipal Committee announced to a crowd of 200,000 gathered in Ba Dinh Square that the general uprising had begun. The crowd broke up immediately after that and headed for various key buildings around the city, including the palace, city hall, and police headquarters, where they accepted the surrender of the Japanese and local Vietnamese government forces, mostly without resistance. The Viet Minh sent telegrams throughout Tonkin announcing its victory, and local Viet Minh units were able to take over most of the provincial and district capitals without a struggle. In Annam and Cochinchina, however, the Communist victory was less assured because the ICP in those regions had neither the advantage of long, careful preparation nor an established liberated base area and army. Hue fell in a manner similar to Hanoi, with the takeover first of the surrounding area. Saigon fell on August 25 to the Viet Minh, who organized a nine-member, multiparty Committee of the South, including six members of the Viet Minh, to govern the city.

On August 28, the Viet Minh announced the formation of the provisional government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) with Ho Chi Minh as president and minister of foreign affairs. Vo Nguyen Giap was named minister of interior and Pham Van Dong minister of finance. In order to broaden support for the new government, several non-communists were also included. Emperor Bao Dai, whom the communists had forced to abdicate on August 25, was given the position of high counselor to the new government. On September 2, half a million people gathered in Ba Dinh Square to hear president Ho Chi Minh read the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence, based on the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. After indicting the French colonial record in Vietnam, he closed with an appeal to the victorious Allies to recognize the independence of Vietnam.

In 1946 elections Ho Chi Minh was formally elected as the president of the DRV, while candidates supported by the Viet Minh won 300 seats in the National Assembly. In early March, however, the threat of the imminent arrival of French troops in the north forced Ho to negotiate a compromise with France. Under the terms of the agreement, the French government recognized the DRV as a free state with its own army, legislative body, and financial powers, in return for Hanoi's acceptance of a small French military presence in northern Vietnam and membership in the French Union. Both sides agreed to a plebiscite in Cochinchina. The terms of the accord were generally unpopular with the Vietnamese and were widely viewed as a sell-out of the revolution. Ho Chi Minh, however, foresaw grave danger in refusing to compromise while the country was still in a weakened position. Soon after the agreement was signed, some 15,000 French troops arrived in Tonkin, and both the Vietnamese and the French began to question the terms of the accord. Negotiations to implement the agreement began in late spring at Fontainbleau, near Paris, and dragged on throughout the summer. Ho signed a modus vivendi (temporary agreement), which gave the Vietnamese little more than the promise of negotiation of a final treaty the following January, and returned to Vietnam.


First Indochina War (1946-1954)

The growing frequency of clashes between French and Vietnamese forces in Haiphong led to a French naval bombardment of that port city in November 1946. This incident and the arrival of 1,000 troops of the French Foreign Legion in central and northern Vietnam in early December convinced the young Vietnam country that they should prepare for war. On December 19, the French demanded that the Vietnamese forces in the Hanoi area disarm and transfer responsibility for law and order to French authority. That evening, the Viet Minh responded by attacking the city's electric plant and other French installations around the area. Forewarned, the French seized Gia Lam airfield and took control of the central part of Hanoi, as full-scale war broke out. By late January, the French had retaken most of the provincial capitals in northern and central Vietnam. Hue fell in early February, after a six-week siege. The Viet Minh, which avoided using its main force units against the French at that time, continued to control most of the countryside, where it concentrated on building up its military strength and setting up guerrilla training programs in liberated areas.

Ho Chi Minh taking leave of the the French President, Georges Bidault, 1946,
after France recognized the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the North


In the South the Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN, Trung Uong Cuc Mien Nam) was formed, headed by Le Duan. By late 1948, in the north, however, the political and military situation had begun to improve for the Vietnamese. The Viet Minh had increased the number of its troops to more than 250,000 and, through guerrilla activities, its army had managed to retake part of the Viet Bac as well as a number of small liberated base areas in the south.

In 1948, the French responded to the growing strength of the Viet Minh by granting nominal independence to all of Vietnam in the guise of the Associated State of Vietnam within the French Union. The terms of the agreement made it clear, however, that Vietnam's independence was, in reality, devoid of any practical significance. The new government, established with Bao Dai as chief of state, was viewed by most Vietnamese, including Ngo Dinh Diem (president of South Vietnam, 1955-63), as a puppet for the French.

The United States recognized the Associated State of Vietnam in early 1950, but this action was counterbalanced a few days later with the recognition of the DRV by the new People's Republic of China. In March, Ho Chi Minh signed an agreement with Beijing that called for limited assistance to Hanoi. Shortly thereafter, Moscow also formally recognized the DRV, and the Viet Minh became more openly affiliated with China and the Soviet Union. In February 195l more than 200 delegates, representing some 500,000 party members, gathered at the Second National Party Congress of the ICP, held in Tuyen Quang Province, and renamed the ICP the Vietnam Workers' Party (VWP, Dang Lao Dong Viet Nam), the delegates elected Ho Chi Minh as party chairman and Truong Chinh as general secretary.


Dien Bien Phu

With China's promise of limited assistance to the DRV, the Viet Minh military strategy concentrated on the liberation of Bac Bo and consigned Nam Bo to a lower priority. By autumn of 1950, the Viet Minh had again liberated the Viet Bac in decisive battles that forced the French to evacuate the entire border region, leaving behind a large quantity of ammunition. From their liberated zone in the northern border area, the Viet Minh were free to make raids into the Red River Delta. The French military in Vietnam found it increasingly difficult to convince Paris and the French electorate to give them the manpower and materiel needed to defeat the Viet Minh. For the next two years, the Viet Minh, well aware of the growing disillusionment of the French people with Indochina, concentrated its efforts on wearing down the French military by attacking its weakest outposts and by maximizing the physical distance between engagements to disperse French forces. Meanwhile, political activity was increased until, by late 1952, more than half the villages of the Red River Delta were under Viet Minh control.

The newly appointed commander of French forces in Vietnam, General Henri Navarre, decided soon after his arrival in Vietnam that it was essential to halt a Viet Minh offensive underway in neighboring Laos. To do so, Navarre believed it was necessary for the French to capture and hold the town of Dien Bien Phu, sixteen kilometers from the Laotian border. In November 1953, the French occupied the town with paratroop battalions and began reinforcing it with units from the French military post at nearby Lai Chau.

During that same month, Ho Chi Minh indicated that the DRV was willing to examine French proposals for a diplomatic settlement announced the month before. In February 1954, a peace conference to settle the Korean and Indochinese conflicts was set for April in Geneva, and negotiations in Indochina were scheduled to begin on May 8. Viet Minh strategists, led by Giap, concluded that a successful attack on a French fortified camp, timed to coincide with the peace talks, would give Hanoi the necessary leverage for a successful conclusion of the negotiations.

Accordingly, the siege of Dien Bien Phu began on March 13, by which time the Viet Minh had concentrated nearly 50,000 regular troops, 55,000 support troops, and almost 100,000 transport workers in the area. Chinese aid, consisting mainly of ammunition, petroleum, and some large artillery pieces carried a distance of 350 kilometers from the Chinese border, reached 1,500 tons per month by early 1954. The French garrison of 15,000, which depended on supply by air, was cut off by March 27, when the Viet Minh artillery succeeded in making the airfield unusable. An elaborate system of tunnels dug in the mountainsides enabled the Viet Minh to protect its artillery pieces by continually moving them to prevent discovery. Several hundred kilometers of trenches permitted the attackers to move progressively closer to the French encampment. In the final battle, Viet Minh soldiers took control of the perimeter defenses, then turned on the main encampment. The French garrison surrendered on May 7.

The following day, peace talks on Indochina began in Geneva, attended by the DRV, the Associated State of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, France, Britain, China, the Soviet Union, and the United States. In July a compromise agreement was reached consisting of two documents: a cease-fire and a final declaration. The ceasefire agreement, which was signed only by France and the DRV, established a provisional military demarcation line at about the 17°N parallel and required the re-groupment of all French military forces south of that line and of all Viet Minh military forces north of the line. A demilitarized zone (DMZ), no more than five kilometers wide, was established on either side of the demarcation line. The cease-fire agreement also provided for a 300-day period, during which all civilians were free to move from one zone to the other, and an International Control Commission, consisting of Canada, India, and Poland, to supervise the ceasefire . The final declaration was endorsed through recorded oral assent by the DRV, France, Britain, China, and the Soviet Union. It provided for the holding of national elections in July 1956, under the supervision of the International Control Commission, and stated that the military demarcation line was provisional and "should not in any way be interpreted as constituting a political territorial boundary." Both the United States and the Associated State of Vietnam, which France had recognized on June 4 as a "fully independent and sovereign state," refused to approve the final declaration and submitted separate declarations stating their reservations.


Second Indochina War (1954-1975)

The Geneva Agreements were viewed with doubt and dissatisfaction on all sides. The United States had dissociated itself from the final declaration, although it had stated that it would refrain from the threat or use of force to disturb the agreements. President Eisenhower promised United States support for the Southern Vietnam, and American advisors began arriving to train South Vietnamese army troops. By early 1955, Diem had consolidated his control by moving against lawless elements in the Saigon area and by suppressing the religious sects in the Mekong Delta. He also launched a "denounce the communists" campaign, in which, according to one account, 25,000 communist sympathizers were arrested and more than 1,000 killed. In August 1955, Diem issued a statement formally refusing to participate in consultations with the DRV, which had been called for by the Geneva Agreement to prepare for national elections. In October, he easily defeated Bao Dai in a seriously tainted referendum and became president of the new Republic of Vietnam.

By 1959 some of the 90,000 Viet Minh troops that had returned to the North following the Geneva Agreements had begun filtering back into the South to take up leadership positions in the insurgency areas. Mass demonstrations, punctuated by an occasional raid on an isolated post, were the major activities in the initial stage of this insurgency. Communist-led uprisings launched in 1959 in the lower Mekong Delta and Central Highlands resulted in the establishment of liberated zones, including an area of nearly fifty villages in Quang Ngai Province. In areas under Communist control in 1959, the guerrillas established their own government, levied taxes, trained troops, built defense works, and provided education and medical care. In order to direct and coordinate the new policies in the South, it was necessary to revamp the party leadership apparatus and form a new united front group. Accordingly, COSVN, which had been abolished in 1954, was reestablished with General Nguyen Chi Thanh, a northerner, as chairman and Pham Hung, a southerner, as deputy chairman. On December 20, 1960, the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam, informally called the National Liberation Front (NLF, Mat Tran Dan Toc Giai Phong Mien Nam), was founded, with representatives on its Central Committee from all social classes, political parties, women's organizations, and religious groups, including Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, the Buddhists, and the Catholics. In order to keep the NLF from being obviously linked with the VWP (Dang Lao Dong Viet Nam) and the DRV (Democratic Republic of Vietnam), its executive leadership consisted of individuals not publicly identified with the Communists, and the number of party members in leadership positions at all levels was strictly limited. Furthermore, in order not to alienate patriotic noncommunist elements, the new front was oriented more toward the defeat of the United States backed Saigon government than toward social revolution.


The Fall of Ngo Dinh Diem

In response to increased United States involvement, all communist armed units in the South were unified into a single People's Liberation Armed Force (PLAF) in 1961. These troops expanded in number from fewer than 3,000 in 1959 to more than 15,000 by 1961, most of whom were assigned to guerrilla units. Southerners trained in the North who infiltrated back into the South composed an important element of this force. Although they accounted numerically for only about 20 percent of the PLAF, they provided a well-trained nucleus for the movement and often served as officers or political cadres. By late 1962, the PLAF had achieved the capability to attack fixed positions with battalion-sized forces. The NLF was also expanded to include 300,000 members and perhaps 1 million sympathizers by 1962. Land reform programs were begun in liberated areas, and by 1964 approximately 1.52 million hectares had been distributed to needy peasants, according to Communist records. In the early stages, only communal lands, uncultivated lands, or lands of absentee landlords were distributed. Despite local pressure for more aggressive land reform, the peasantry generally approved of the program, and it was an important factor in gaining support for the liberation movement in the countryside. In the cities, the Workers' Liberation Association of Vietnam (Hoi Lao Dong Giai Phong Mien Nam), a labor organization affiliated with the NLF, was established in 1961.

Diem grew steadily more unpopular as his regime became more repressive. Harassment of Buddhist groups by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam ( ARVN) in early 1963 led to a crisis situation in Saigon. On May 8, 1963, ARVN troops fired into a crowd of demonstrators protesting the Diem government's discriminatory policies toward Buddhists, killing nine persons. Hundreds of Buddhist bonzes responded by staging peaceful protest demonstrations and by fasting. In June a bonze set himself on fire in Saigon as a protest, and, by the end of the year, six more bonzes had committed self-immolation. On August 21, special forces under the command of Ngo Dinh Nhu raided the pagodas of the major cities, killing many bonzes and arresting thousands of others. Following demonstrations at Saigon University on August 24, an estimated 4,000 students were rounded up and jailed, and the universities of Saigon and Hue were closed. Outraged by the Diem regime's repressive policies, the Kennedy administration indicated to South Vietnamese military leaders that Washington would be willing to support a new military government. Diem and Nhu were assassinated in a military coup in early November, and General Duong Van Minh took over the government.


Escalation of the War and The Tet Offensive

With the completion of the so-called Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos, the number of troops in the People's Army of Vietnam - the army of North Vietnam (PAVN) - infiltrated into the South began to increase. ARVN control was limited mainly to the cities and surrounding areas, and in 1964 and 1965 Saigon governments fell repeatedly in a series of military and civilian coups.

In August 1964, following the reputed shelling of United States warships in the Gulf of Tonkin off the North Vietnamese coast, the United States Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave president Johnson the power "to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression". Moscow pledged increased military support for Hanoi, and the NLF set up a permanent mission in Moscow.

By mid-1966 United States forces, now numbering 350,000, had gained the initiative in several key areas, pushing the PAVN force out of the heavily populated zones of the south into the more remote mountainous regions and into areas along the Cambodian border. Revolutionary forces in the South, under the command of General Nguyen Chi Thanh, responded by launching an aggressive campaign of harassment operations and full-scale attacks by regiment-sized units.

In elections held in South Vietnam in September 1967, former generals Nguyen Van Thieu and Nguyen Cao Ky were elected president and vice president, respectively. A number of popular candidates, including Buddhists and peace candidates, were barred from running, and newspapers were largely suppressed during the campaign. Even so, the military candidates received less than 35 percent of the vote, although the election took place only in areas under the Saigon government's control. When proof of widespread election fraud was produced by the defeated candidates, students and Buddhists demonstrated and demanded that the elections be annulled.

In mid-1967 Hanoi decided that the time was ripe for a general offensive in the rural areas combined with a popular uprising in the cities. The primary goals of this combined major offensive and uprising were to destabilize the Saigon regime and to force the United States to opt for a negotiated settlement. In October 1967, the first stage of the offensive began with a series of small attacks in remote and border areas designed to draw the ARVN and United States forces away from the cities.

On January 31, 1968, the full-scale offensive began, with simultaneous attacks by the communists on five major cities, thirty-six provincial capitals, sixty-four district capitals, and numerous villages. In Saigon, suicide squads attacked the Independence Palace (the residence of the president), the radio station, the ARVN's joint General Staff Compound, Tan Son Nhat airfield, and the United States embassy, causing considerable damage and throwing the city into turmoil. Most of the attack forces throughout the country collapsed within a few days, often under the pressure of United States bombing and artillery attacks, which extensively damaged the urban areas. Hue, which had been seized by an estimated 12,000 PAVN troops who had previously infiltrated the city, remained in the North hands until late February.


Peace Negotiations

In 1967, with American troop strength in Vietnam reaching 500,000, protest against U.S. participation in the Vietnam War had grown stronger as growing numbers of Americans questioned whether the U.S. war effort could succeed or was morally justifiable. Opposition to the war, meanwhile, was mounting in the United States and the rising cost of men and resources was beginning to take its toll on both sides. They took their protests to the streets in peace marches, demonstrations, and acts of civil disobedience. Despite the country's polarization, the balance of American public opinion was beginning to sway toward "de-escalation" of the war.

The Tet offensive emphasized to the Johnson administration that victory in Vietnam would require a greater commitment of men and resources than the American people were willing to invest. On March 31, 1968, Johnson declared a halt to the bombing of North Vietnam (except for a narrow strip above the DMZ), and urged Hanoi to come to peace talks.

The United States and North Vietnam agreed to enter into preliminary peace talks in Paris in 1968. However, almost as soon as the talks were started, they stalled. Hanoi and Washington had each presented demands that were unacceptable to the other side. The DRV had called for an immediate and unconditional halt to the bombing of the north, and the United States had demanded the removal of PAVN troops from the South. When President Lyndon Johnson turned over the presidency to Richard Nixon eight months into the talks, the only thing the two sides had agreed on was the shape of the conference table, and each side had preferred to postpone negotiations until it had achieved a position of strength on the battlefield.

Following the Tet Offensive, the North Vietnam attempted to maintain their momentum through a series of attacks directed mainly at cities in the delta. Near the DMZ, some 15,000 PAVN and PLAF troops were also thrown into a three-month attack on the United States base at Khe Sanh. A second assault on Saigon, complete with rocket attacks, was launched in May. Through these and other attacks in the spring and summer of 1968, the Hanoi kept up pressure on the battlefield in order to strengthen their position in a series of four-party peace talks scheduled to begin in January 1969 (that called for representatives of the United States, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, and the National Liberation Front to meet in Paris). In June 1969, the NLF and its allied organizations formed the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam (PRG), recognized by Hanoi as the legal government of South Vietnam.

In March 1971 the ARVN suffered a decisive defeat in an operation mounted against the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. In negotiations there was some flexibility, as Washington offered a unilateral withdrawal of United States forces provided Hanoi stopped its infiltration of the South; and Hanoi countered by agreeing to a coalition government in Saigon along with a United States troop withdrawal and to a cease-fire following the formation of a new government. The main point of debate was the retention of President Thieu as head of the South Vietnamese government, which Washington demanded and Hanoi rejected.

To break the deadlock, the North Vietnam again applied the strategy of a general offensive and uprising. Accordingly, the so-called Easter offensive was launched beginning on March 30, 1972, with a three pronged attack across the DMZ through the A Shau Valley. The following day they attacked the city of Kontum and the provinces of Binh Dinh and Phuoc Tuy, threatening to cut South Vietnam in two. A few days later, three PAVN divisions attacked Binh Long Province along the Cambodian border, placing the capital, An Loc, under siege. In May the North Vietnam captured Quang Tri Province, including the capital, which was not recaptured by the ARVN until September. By that time, Quang Tri city had been virtually leveled by United States air strikes.

Although the Easter offensive did not result in the fall of the Saigon government, it did further destabilize the government and reveal the ARVN's weaknesses. The costs were great on both sides, however, and by October both Hanoi and Washington agreed to come back to the negotiation. Two key issues, however, had locked both parties. Washington wanted all northern troops out of South Vietnam; Hanoi refused any provisional South Vietnamese government that involved its leader, Nguyen Van Thieu.

In February 1970, national security advisor Henry Kissinger began one-on-one meetings with North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho outside Paris while the formal peace process continued in the city. Still, little progress would be made until the summer of 1972.

Kissinger assured the North that their troops would be able to remain in the South after the cease-fire. Kissinger also backed down on the U.S. support of the Thieu regime by agreeing to an electoral commission made up of neutralists, North Vietnam and members of the Saigon government that would oversee the political settlement in the South. In return, the North withdrew its condition of Thieu's removal, and agreed the future flow of Vietnamese troops to the South would stop.

By October 1972, a tentative cease-fire agreement was reached. The accord called for the simultaneous withdrawal of U.S. troops and freedom for American POWs, to be followed by a political settlement of South Vietnam's future. Washington would extend postwar economic assistance to help Vietnam rebuild its destroyed infrastructure. On October 22, Nixon suspended all bombing north of the twentieth parallel and four days later Kissinger proclaimed that "peace was at hand."

The celebration was premature. Nguyen Van Thieu, who had not been consulted during the negotiations, demanded changes that infuriated Hanoi, and talks broke off on December 13. Nixon, caught between a stubborn ally and a tough enemy, took action. He promised Thieu $1 billion in military equipment that would give South Vietnam the fourth largest air force in the world and assured Thieu that the United States would re-enter the war if North Vietnam did not abide by the peace. They were promises that Thieu had no reason to doubt; Nixon had just won a landslide election and the Watergate affair was nearly invisible on the political landscape.

As for the stick, Nixon resolved to punish the North. During 12 days of the most concentrated bombing in world history, called the Christmas bombing, American planes flew nearly 2,000 sorties and dropped 35,000 tons of bombs against transportation terminals, rail yards, warehouses, barracks, oil tanks, factories, airfields and power plants in the North.

Contradictory to President Nixon's expectation, in two short weeks, the US lost 26 aircrafts and 93 air force men. On December 29, the US announced a halt to the bombing above the 20th parallel, and peace talks resumed in Paris on January 8, 1973. After six days of conferring, Kissinger and Tho met once again on January 23, 1973, and, on that evening, President Nixon announced over nationwide television that agreement on all terms for a formal cease-fire had finally been reached.

The peace agreement was formally signed on January 27, 1973. On January 27, in Paris, delegations representing the United States, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, and the Provisional Revolutionary Communist Government of South Vietnam signed an Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam. The cease-fire officially went into effect on January 28. It closely resembled what had been agreed back in October of the previous year.

In the Paris Peace Accord (1973), Kissinger and Le Duc Tho agreed that :

          * South Vietnamese communists (NLF) would participate in South's government.
          * NVA troops could remain in positions in the South.
          * US would halt bombing of North Vietnam.
          * Thieu government could remain in power for the time being.

Kissinger later justified the accord by saying, "We believed that those who opposed the war in Vietnam would be satisfied with our withdrawal, and those who favored an honorable ending would be satisfied if the United States would not destroy an ally". America's longest war was over.


The Final Campaign

Although the terms of the peace agreement were less than the North Vietnam had hoped for, the accords did permit them to participate in the new government legally and recognized their right to control certain areas. Most important, the removal of United States forces gave them a welcome breathing space, allowing them to concentrate on political efforts. Meanwhile, the Saigon government faced serious difficulties, including the negative effect on the economy of the withdrawal of United States forces and a critical refugee problem. During the course of the war, several million Vietnamese had been evacuated or had fled from their villages to find safety and jobs in urban areas. Most of these remained unemployed and, together with militant Buddhist groups, the Cao Dai, and the Hoa Hao, represented a sizable wellspring of discontent with the Thieu government.

In early 1974, the North Vietnam launched a campaign to regain the territory they had lost since the cease-fire. Raids were conducted on roads, airfields, and economic installations; the flow of supplies and equipment from the North was stepped up; and a 19,000-kilometer network of roads leading from the DMZ in Quang Tri Province to Loc Ninh, northwest of Saigon, was completed. By summer the PAVN forces were moving cautiously forward, seizing vulnerable areas in the Central Highlands and in the provinces around Saigon. There was no direct response from the United States, and the resignation of Nixon in August convinced Hanoi that further United States intervention was unlikely. ARVN forces continued to deteriorate, suffering high casualties and facing a lack of ammunition and spare parts.

The VWP leadership met in October to plan a 1975 military offensive concentrating on the Cambodian border area and the Central Highlands. The taking of the Phuoc Long province capital, Phuoc Binh (now in Song Be Province), in early January was followed by a surprise attack in March on Ban Me Thuot, the largest city in the Central Highlands. President Thieu ordered ARVN units at Pleiku and Kontum to leave the highlands and withdraw to the coast to regroup for a counter attack on Ban Me Thuot. The ARVN strategic withdrawal became a rout, however, because PAVN units had already cut the main roads to the coast and fleeing civilians clogged the secondary roads as panic ensued.

By the end of March, eight northern provinces had fallen to the PAVN forces, including the cities of Hue and Da Nang. Buoyed by this stunning victory, the party leadership directed the commander of revolutionary forces in the South, General Van Tien Dung to prepare for an offensive against Saigon. In early April, PAVN and PLAF troops moved south and began an encirclement of the capital. On April 20, after ten days of stiff resistance, the ARVN Eighteenth Division, stationed thirty kilometers north of Saigon, finally crumbled under the attack of three PAVN divisions. With Saigon in a state of panic, Thieu resigned the following day and was replaced by Vice President Tran Van Huong. Duong Van Minh, thought to be more acceptable to the North, took over the presidency on April 28.

PAVN tank entered the Presidential Palace on the 30th April 1975

The North Vietnam refused to negotiate, however, and fifteen PAVN battalions began to move toward Saigon.On April 30, the PAVN forces entered the capital, and Duong Van Minh ordered ARVN troops to lay down their arms, ending thirty years of the country struggle for her independence from the afternoon President Ho Chi Minh first declared Vietnam as an independent nation in 2nd September 1945.