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History of Vietnam


Chinese Colonization (200BC - 938AD)
Vietnamese Independence (950 - 1859)
French Colonization (1874-1954)
The French-Indochina War (1945-1954)
Civil War (1954-1975)
Vietnam since 1975

Chinese Colonization (200BC - 938AD)

From 200 BC to 100AD, many changes took place throughout China, northern Vietnam, and Southeast Asia as peoples migrated, and bases of power shifted and expanded. In China, as the Qin Dynasty lost power to the Han Dynasty in 206 BC, deposed members of the military and government began to trickle into Vietnam's Tonkin or Red River Delta. The people who arrived in this area brought their technology, language, and culture, beginning the Sinicization of Northern Vietnam which continued into the 20th century.

Northern Vietnam was officially annexed and colonized in 111BC by the Han Dynasty. Chinese historians described the Vietnamese people they encountered as barbarian and uncivilized. The Chinese colonists set out to reform Vietnamese culture along Chinese lines but village life did not change substantially. At first, the Chinese only established trading centers so they could conduct business from the coast of Vietnam. In about 100BC two Chinese-run prefectures, Giao Chi and Cuu Chan, were established in the Au Lac Kingdom in the Tonkin Delta.

The aristocracy of the Au Lac kingdom, the Lac Lords, initially accepted the Chinese and worked with them. They looked to the Chinese to help them in maintaining power over their own kingdoms. Unfortunately, this resulted in a loss of respect for the Vietnamese lords by their own people. The Vietnamese peasants turned to their own extended families for protection against the excesses of the Chinese and their rulers. Chinese colonization and pressure increased with the collapse of the Western Han Dynasty in 9AD which caused a large migration of Chinese aristocrats into Southern China and later into Vietnam. There was a massive immigration of scholars, officers, and wealthy Chinese and many local rulers were replaced by Chinese officials. Some of these officials married into the Vietnamese aristocracy, creating what became a major force in Vietnam-an educated class of Sino-Vietnamese, or people of mixed Chinese and Vietnamese origin. Chinese immigrants built schools and temples, and ordered the construction of major networks of canals, dikes, road ways, and bridges to facilitate the production of rice and the movement of people and natural resources. Gradually the Chinese population of the Tonkin Delta grew, and the two original prefectures were divided into seven, with Chinese prefects appointed for each area. In addition, soldiers from the Han Dynasty were granted land by the Chinese government and began to take up farming in Vietnamese villages.

This led to much discontent on the part of the Vietnamese villagers who made up the majority of the population. This discontent periodically grew and shrunk over the next 700 years, frequently erupting into major rebellions as peasants found their land allotments shrinking and their taxes increasing Eager Chinese immigrants were happy to buy up land on which the Vietnamese peasants could no longer pay taxes. Poor government and natural disasters added to the peasant suffering.

In 39AD, one of the first uprisings against Chinese rule was begun by two daughters of a Vietnamese aristocrat. The aristocrats of the Au Lac kingdom realized they were losing power to the Chinese and that their land was, in effect, governed and controlled by outsiders. Corrupt Chinese prefects, excessive taxation, and ethnic discrimination provoked the Vietnamese throughout the Lac kingdom. Trung Trac and her sister Trung Nhi, two daughters of a local Vietnamese ruler, gathered forces, united the people, and launched a rebellion which the Chinese government. For three years, they ruled the kingdom. During this time, Trung Trac proclaimed herself queen, re-established the original tax system and took steps to alleviate the poverty of the peasants. In 42 AD the Chinese defeated the sisters and retook control of North Vietnam. According to Chinese history, the Trung sisters were killed by Chinese soldiers, but Vietnamese history contends that, rather than surrender, the women drowned themselves in a river. The Trung sisters are still venerated as Vietnamese national heroines and patriots and their statues can be found in many temples.

In 248AD, another woman tried unsuccessfully to fight off the Chinese colonizers. Trieu Au, enlisted the help of the Chams from central Vietnam, and, aided by elephants trained in warfare, led a short rebellion. She is reported to have said:

I want to ride the stormy sea, subdue its treacherous waves, kill the sharks of the ocean, drive out the aggressors and repossess our land, undo the ties of tyranny and never bend my back to be the concubine of any man

Thus she rebelled not only against the Chinese colonization, but also against the changing roles of women in society. Under Chinese Confucianism, the position of women declined in several ways, the most significant being the adoption of the Chinese tradition of concubinage. Unfortunately, this rebellion did not stem the impact of Chinese Confucian ideas and the independence of Vietnamese women continued to decline.

During the 6th century AD, Chinese supervision over Vietnam relaxed somewhat due to the peaceful nature of the Chinese Emperor Wu who was a devout Buddhist and a patron of the arts. His lenience led to high levels of political infighting in China while in Vietnam local Chinese leaders, who no longer worried about supervision from China, were able to accumulate power. The misuse of this power led to a revolt against the tyrannical Chinese governor by Ly Bon, of Sino-Vietnamese ancestry. In 542, Ly Bon defeated the Chinese and established his own kingdom which he ruled until the Chinese retook the areas in 546. His followers continued to oppose Chinese rule with sporadic guerilla tactics until 603 when the Sui Dynasty (589-618) gained control in China and Vietnam. At that time, a new Vietnamese capital was established in present-day Hanoi, then known as Tong-binh.

In 618 the Tang Dynasty gained control of China and of Northern Vietnam, changing the name of the country to Annam (Pacified South) in 679 to reflect its status as a part of Southern China. During the T'ang period, a number of individuals tried to revolt against this new and more intrusive government. In 687, Ly Tu Tien and Dinh Kien led an insurrection. In 722, Mai Thuc Loan, also known as the Black Emperor, attempted to become emperor of Vietnam. With the help of Vietnamese neighbors, the Khmers and Chams, he was able to capture the capital for a short time. Further rebellions were started by Phung Hung during the period from 767 to 791 and Duong Thanh in 819 to 820. These rebellions preceded a period of anarchy which occurred both in China and Vietnam in the 10th century with the collapse of the Tang dynasty.

The most successful of these many rebellions was that of Ngo Quyen, who defeated the Chinese army in 939, proclaimed himself king, and established the capital of Vietnam at Co Loa. At Ngo Quyen's untimely death in 944, anarchy and civil war broke out in Vietnam, but the Chinese army was neither strong enough nor quick enough to retake the country. During the following 900 years Vietnam enjoyed a measure of political independence although Chinese thought and culture continued to play an important role in Vietnamese lifestyle and politics. This produced a unique blend of Chinese and Vietnamese cultures which shaped both traditional and modern Vietnam