History of Vietnam and its French connection.

The history of Vietnam is ancient. This beautiful country has seen significant change over the millenium but close to a century of French rule has seen the legacy of French culture still in evidence today, some fifty years after their expulsion in 1954.

It is still evident in language, architecture, customs despite the major French influence in the history of Vietnam being diminished half a century ago.

Bordered on the west by Cambodia and Laos, the north by China, the east by the Gulf of Tonkin, and the south by the South China Sea, S-Shaped Vietnam in Asia, is a land of significant change.

History of Vietnam before the French

First known as Au Lac, founded by ancient kingdoms of Van Lang, so legend has it recorded Vietnam's origin.

Some time before 258 B.C., Kinh Duong Vuong ruled over the kingdom of Xich Quy which was much of what is called Vietnam today. The Hong Bang dynasty also ruled over parts of Tonkin and North Central Vietnam.

The land at that time was known as Van Lang. Later, An Duong Vuong ruled the kingdom which he named Au Lac, but was overtaken by Chinese General Tch'ao To, ruler of Nam Viet kingdom.

Tch'ao established the Trieu dynasty which is traditionally known to have lasted from 207 to 111 B.C.

Tch'ao renamed the country Giao Chi.

The Chinese began to inhabit the land in 111 B.C. changing the name to Annam.

In 906 A.D., after more than a thousand years of servitude, Annam won its independence from China.

The newly freed country changed its name to Dai Co Viet under the Ly Dynasty.

The people enjoyed independence and the country developed economically and culturally, gradually altering Chinese tradition.

In 1284 Kublai Khan's army invaded Dai Co Viet but was defeated.

The Ming Empire of China once seized the country again in 1407 and was driven out in 1428, but not before great impact of Chinese art and culture had been adapted.

Fighting for control between the two countries continued for nearly 400 years during a bloody period in the history of Vietnam.

Over the history of Vietnam it was renamed several times again. In 1820 when it was given the name it has today.

The French in the History of Vietnam

In 1858, sent by Napoleon III, the French began exploring and conquering the areas with plans to establish a military stronghold in Indochina.

It was the beginnings of 100 years of strong French influence in the history of Vietnam.

Saigon and the Mekong Delta were quickly occupied and French missionaries and merchants were sent, the missionaries replacing the Chinese alphabet with Latin.

Soon thousands of French were treading on the Oriental soil, bring the French language with them, and soon the Vietnamese were learning French as it was an official language.

In 1883, against strong native protests and revolts, the French overtook the capital city, Hanoi, and destroyed many Asian structures and erected neoclassical French-styled buildings.

The country was divided into three provinces, Cochin China, Annam and Tonkin.

Ignoring Vietnamese resistance, the French built schools, hospitals, dams, canals and railroads, raising enormous taxes which the Vietnamese could not afford.Economic conditions for the Vietnamese spiraled downward.

In 1930 Ho Chi Minh began organizing a Communist Party to make plans for independence.

Japan in the History of Vietnam

From 1940 to 1945, the Japanese seized the country from France, allowing France just minimal authority.

The emperor of northern and central Vietnam resigned and the Communist leader, Ho Chi Minh became leader.

During this time Ho Chi Minh's plans were ecoming somewhat successful until the French drove the rebels toward the north.

France, undaunted by defeat with Japan, retaliated in battle during the French-Indochina War, fighting for the next eight years.

In 1954 Vietnamese forces defeated the French in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. A new chapter in the history of Vietnam opened as the French chapter closed.

The Geneva Conference divided the country into two sections, North (Communist), led by Ho Chi Minh, and South (of Western influence) Vietnam, led by Bao Dai, later succeeded by Ngo Dinh

Diem who was strongly opposed to Communism. The Communist North, began to rebel against the South.

In 1963 Diem was killed by his own people and the Communist Party again infiltrated the South.

Civil war broke out which eventually brought in other nations, including the United States which became heavily involved.

The bloody battle ended in 1975, the South surrendering to the North, two years after the United States abandoned the conflict.

Vast numbers of South Vietnamese citizens fled the country in fear.

Although the civil war was ended, Vietnam advanced in combat to Cambodia from 1978 to 1989 fighting against, and defeating, the Khmer Rouge.

Today, the North and South, though stressfully reunited, have strived to keep peace. The last decade has seen a period of strong growth and increased prosperity in the history of Vietnam.

Saigon has been renamed as Ho Chi Minh City.

The French Influence today...

French influence can still be found in the social, economical and political makeup of the Vietnam people.

Outdoor French cafes and cinemas line the boulevards. Government buildings, opera houses, libraries and hotels reflect French architecture design.

In Hanoi, beautiful Colonial French houses still stand beside Oriental pagodas. Modern skyscrapers tower above them.

Art galleries line up with French-designed museums. Restaurants sport exquisite French cuisine.

Parks landscaped French-style are interspaced in the cities.

The well-to-do Vietnamese wears French clothes, drinks French wine (as opposed to the rice-based wines of Vietnam), and dines on French baguettes and croissants. Their children are sent to Paris for higher education.

The official language of Vietnam is Vietnamese, but the elite and educated still proudly speak in French.

The legal system derives from the French Civil Code, but the government is Communist, calling itself the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, its true title.

Nearly 82 million people reside in Vietnam.

Six percent are Roman Catholic primarily as a result of the French occupation.

Today, although Vietnam is no longer under French possession, France is involved in more than 100 projects covering administration, education, agriculture and tourism, making plans for near-future tram systems and an extensive satellite program.

The International French University and the French Culture Centre are located in Hanoi.

The cities and towns bustle with cars, motorbikes and bicycles.

Urban life is busy and crowded, but most of the country consists of farmland, rain forests and mystical mountain ranges.

Rice paddies in rural areas are common sights.

Contributed by Jan Michele

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