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History of Vietnam

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In the first century BC, Vietnam’s recorded history began. However, Vietnamese dynasties did not begin until AD939, when Ngo Quyen defeated invading Chinese troops to establish the Ngo Dynasty, ending centuries of Chinese domination. The French imposed colonial rule in the latter nineteenth century.

The Japanese occupied Vietnam during World War II. After the Allies defeated Japan, the French-backed Vietnamese emperor, Bao Dai, attempted to assert political authority. An uprising (called the August Revolution) in Hanoi and other major northern cities forced the emperor to abdicate. The Viet Minh, who led the Communist-initiated, anti-French movement, took over rule. On 2 September 1945, Communist leader Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the entire nation’s independence, which France was unwilling to grant. Negotiations between France and the Viet Minh broke down in 1946, and the first Indochina war ensued. It culminated in France’s defeat in 1954at Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam’s northwest.

The 1954 Geneva Accord called for national elections in1956. The southern regime led by President Ngo Dinh Diem refused to recognize the accord. This refusal gave Communists in the south pretext for an uprising. Northern Communists first aided and then joined their southern comrades. Collectively called the Viet Cong, these troops fought under North Vietnam’s leadership. The Soviet Union and China backed North Vietnam. Supporting its containment policy (which opposed the spread of communism), the United States sent supplies and troops to help the south against the Viet Cong. The war spread to Laos and Cambodia. After years of fighting, U.S. and southern Vietnamese support for the war diminished. U.S. troops withdrew in 1972, and the southern regime in Saigon fell to the north in April 1975. Saigon’s name was officially changed to Ho Chi Minh City, but most Vietnamese still call it Saigon. Thousands of families fled; those remaining faced difficult years of poverty, repression, and international isolation.

In 1976, Vietnam’s north and south were officially reunited as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The United States refused to recognize the government and imposed a crippling economic embargo that lasted almost 20 years. After the “American War” (as the Vietnam War is known in Vietnam), troops under Cambodia’s leader, Pol Pot, repeatedly attacked southern Vietnam. In 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia, deposing the genocidal Pol Pot regime and installing a government(led by Hun Sen) loyal to Hanoi. China invaded northern Vietnam for a short time in 1979. Vietnam, exhausted by war and occupation, withdrew from Cambodia in 1989. In 2000, Vietnam and China finally formalized a border agreement.

The withdrawal from Cambodia allowed Vietnam to also seek renewed relations with the United States. Washington opened an office in Hanoi in 1991 to coordinate the search for U.S. soldiers missing in action and to pave the way to better relations. The United States lifted its trade embargo in 1994, and U.S. companies began to invest in Vietnam.

In the 1980s, Vietnam’s one-party government began introducing a series of wide-ranging reforms in an attempt to improve the nation’s economy and living standards. This program, known as doi moi (renovation), remains a key element of government policy today, seeking to encourage private enterprise, attract foreign investment, integrate Vietnam into the global economy, and transform Vietnam from an agricultural to an industrialized nation.


Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” CultureGrams World Edition. 2008.

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