between 200 B.C. and A.D. 200, the intermingling of the Red River
Delta's early inhabitants resulted in a distinct Vietnamese people.
Virtually from the outset, the Vietnamese were ruled by the Chinese,
and they would continue to be until A.D. 938.
During the centuries of Chinese control over the Red River Delta,
two independent states rose to power in what is now central and
southern VietNam. From the first to the sixth centuries, the kingdom
of Funan held sway aver the Mekong Delta and the region that is
now Cambodia; the kingdom was over thrown by the Mon-Khmer, who
founded the Cambodian empire.
Along the coast of central VietNam, the kingdom of Champa ruled
from the late second century until the 15th, when it was conquered
by the Vietnamese, who expanded steadily southward after expelling
the Chinese. In the 17th and early 18th centuries, the Vietnamese
would wrest the Mekong Delta from Cambodia, essentially completing
the formation of their country.
Of the more than a dozen dynasties that have ruled independent
VietNam, three are considered "great." The first was
the Ly (1009-1225), whose rulers established Hanoi as their capital
in the year 1010, naming it Thang Long, the City of the Soaring
Dragon. (It was not until 1831 that the name Hanoi-City in a Bend
of the River-came into use.) The Ly built new roads, dikes, and
canals, and they vigorously promoted agriculture. In 1044 - 22
years before William the Conqueror invaded England the Ly founded
VietNam's first postal service.
The Ly dynasty ended in overthrow by the Tran, who established
the second great dynasty (1225-1400). In 1407, the Chinese reconquered
VietNam, but this time their rule lasted only two decades. In
1428, they were driven out by the Vietnamese hero who established
the third great dynasty, Le Loi. The Le dynasty, which held power
until 1524, introduced a series of remarkable reforms. Arts, literature,
and education were promoted. Large landowners were forced to distribute
their holdings to the land less. Legal reforms gave women nearly
equal rights with men.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, VietNam was split by warring
factions. Northern VietNam was ruled by the powerful Trinh Lords,
the south controlled by lords of the Nguyen line. In 1786, three
brothers, the Tay Son, briefly reunited the country, but even
as they fought to depose the Trinh and Nguyen lords, their empire
In 1802, one of the Nguyen lords defeated the Ay Son and proclaimed
himself Emperor Gig Long, establishing the last of Vietnam's dynasties.
The Nguyen made Hue their imperial capital, and they ruled from
there until the last Vietnamese emperor, Bao Dai, abdicated to
a delegation representing Ho Chi Minh in 1945.
VietNam's contacts with the West began as early as A.D. 166,
when Roman travelers passed through the Red River Delta. it wasn't
until much later, however, that there was any sustained Western
contact. By 1516, a number of Portuguese adventurers had arrived,
followed by missionaries and soldiers. Over the next century a
trading center and mission were established in the port of Faifo,
just south of present day Danang. The Portuguese were followed
by missionaries from Spain, italy, and France. Everyone seemed
intent on converting the Vietnamese, and in the process, cultivating
stronger trading ties, but no one had much luck in making a profit
from trade with the Vietnamese. The Dutch tried and failed, as
did the English.
The early French trading efforts foundered as well, but the
French never gave up. Off and on for nearly two centuries, the
French kept lurking around Indochina. From about 1850s on, French
abandoned diplomatic overtures and settled on a policy of conquest.
It would take them several decades, but by 1893 they had carved
out an Indocinese empire that included VietNam, Laos, and Cambodia.
The French then set about plundering the immense wealth of those
The exploitation visited on the Vietnamese by their French masters
created fertile conditions for the resistance movements that sprang
up over the years. Most of the resistance efforts were successfully
put down, but in 1925 a new movement was established by a man
calling himself Nguyen Ai Quoc, who in later years would take
the name Ho Chi Minh the bringer of light. Ho's VietNam Revolutionary
Youth League became the nucleus of the Vietnamese Communist Party.
In World War II, Ho formed the League for the Independence of
VietNam, or Viet Minh, which during its resistance to the Japanese
occupation of VietNam, received money and arms from the United
States through the O.S.S.
The American support of the Viet Minh led Ho to believe that
the United States would back his bid for an independent VietNam.
But after the war, the Allies allowed France to reoccupy Indochina,
setting the stage for the protracted guerrilla campaign that resulted
in France's ouster in 1954 and the subsequent partitioning of
VietNam into North and South. The recognition and support of South
VietNam by the United States would lead to the bloody conflict
that ended in 1975 when the Communists overran Saigon, proclaiming
an independent Socialist Republic of VietNam.