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Culture and Traditional of Vietnam

Vietnam's culture has developed over the centuries from indigenous ancient Dong Son culture with wet rice agriculture as its economic base. To some extent, the national culture can be seen as part of the Sinosphere, drawing on elements of Confucianism and Laoism in its traditional political system and philosophy. Vietnamese society is structured around làng (ancestral villages); all Vietnamese mark a common ancestral anniversary on the tenth day of the third lunar month. The influences of immigrant cultures – such as the Cantonese, Hakka, Hokkien and Hainan cultures – can also be seen, while the national religion of Buddism is strongly entwined with popular culture. In recent centuries, the influences of Western cultures, most notably French and American culture, have become evident in Vietnam.

Vietnam reveres a number of key cultural symbols, such as the Vietnamese dragon, which is derived from crocodile and snake imagery; Vietnam's National Father, Lạc Long Quân, is depicted as a holy dragon. The lạc – a holy bird representing Vietnam's National Mother, Âu Cơ – is another prominent symbol, while turtle and nghê (dog) images are also revered.

The characteristics of Vietnamese culture can be viewed as humanity (nhân nghĩa) and harmony (hòa). Vietnamese highly regard family value and community value.

In the modern era, the cultural life of Vietnam has been deeply influenced by government-controlled media and cultural programs. For many decades, foreign cultural influences were shunned, and emphasis was placed on appreciating and sharing the culture of communist nations such as the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba. However, since the 1990s, Vietnam has seen a greater exposure to Southeast Asian, European and American culture and media.

Music

Traditional Vietnamese music varies between the country's northern and southern regions. Northern classical music is Vietnam's oldest musical form, and is traditionally more formal. The origins of Vietnamese classical music can be traced to the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, when the Vietnamese captured a Chinese opera troupe. Central classical music shows the influences of the Champa culture with its melancholic melodies.

Literature

Vietnamese literature has a centuries-deep history. The country has a rich tradition of folk literature, based around the typical 6–to-8-verse poetic form named ca dao, which usually focuses on village ancestors and heroes. Written literature has been found dating back to the 10th-century Ngô Dynasty, with notable ancient authors including Nguyễn Trãi, Trần Hưng Đạo, Nguyễn Du and Nguyễn Đình Chiểu. Some literary genres play an important role in theatrical performance, like "hát nói" in ca trù. Some poetic unions have also been formed in Vietnam, such as the Tao Đàn. Vietnamese literature has in recent times been influenced by Western styles, with the first literary transformation movement – Thơ Mới – emerging in 1932.

Clothing

A key part of Vietnam's culture is the "áo dài", worn for special occasions such as weddings and religious festivals. White áo dài is the required uniform for girls in many high schools across Vietnam. Áo dài was once worn by both genders, but today it is mostly the preserve of women, although men do wear it to some occasions, such as traditional weddings.

Sport

The Vovinam and Bình Ðịnh martial arts are widespread in Vietnam, while soccer is the country's most popular team sport. Other Western sports, such as badminton, tennis, volleyball, ping-pong and chess, are also widely popular.

Cuisine

Vietnamese cuisine uses very little oil and many vegetables. The main dishes are often based on rice and soy sauce. Sugar, serrano peppers, lime and nuoc mam (fish sauce) are among the most common flavorings, as are mint and basil.

Traditional theatre

Cải lương: A kind of modern folk opera originating in South Vietnam, which utilizes extensive vibrato techniques. It remains very popular in modern Vietnam when compared to other folk styles.

Hát chèo: The most mainstream of theatre/music forms in the past, enjoyed widely by the public rather than the more obscure Ca trù which was favored more by scholars and elites.

Hát tuồng (also known as Hát bội): A theatre form strongly influenced by Chinese opera, it transitioned from being entertainment for the royal court to travelling troupes who performed for commoners and peasants, featuring many well-known stock characters.

Traditional dance

Vietnam has 54 different ethnics, each with their own traditional dance. Among the ethnic Vietnamese majority, there are several traditional dances performed widely at festivals and other special occasions, such as the lion dance.

In the imperial court there also developed throughout the centuries a series of complex court dances which require great skill. Some of the more widely known are the imperial lantern dance, fan dance, and platter dance, among others.

Water puppetry

Water puppetry theatre in Hanoi

Water puppetry is a distinct Vietnamese art which had its origins in the 12th century. In water puppetry, a split-bamboo screen obscures puppets which stand in water and are manipulated using long poles hidden beneath the water. Epic storylines are played out with many different characters, often depicting traditional scenes of Vietnamese life. Despite nearly dying out in the 20th century, it has been saved by efforts of preservation and is now largely seen by tourists to Vietnam.

Poetry

Legendary female poetess Hồ Xuân Hương (born during the end of the 18th century) composed much of her poetry in Chữ Nôm, and most of it has been translated into quốc ngữ for modern Vietnamese. Her poetry continues to be widely popular. Other poets such as the famous Mandarin official Duong Khue had some of his poetry adapted into songs that are still famous today, such as the Ca trù-genre song "Hồng hồng, tuyết tuyết".

Many Vietnamese poems, along with folk "literature" in general, tends to be much more of an oral tradition - as literacy (as it is defined today) in the past was restricted mostly to scholars and the elite.

Marriage

The traditional Vietnamese wedding is one of the most important of traditional Vietnamese occasions. Regardless of Westernization, many of the age-old customs practiced in a traditional Vietnamese wedding continue to be celebrated by both Vietnamese in Vietnam and overseas, often combining both Western and Eastern elements.

In the past, both men and women were expected to be married at young ages. Marriages were generally arranged by the parents and extended family, with the children having limited say in the matter. In modern Vietnam, this has changed as people freely choose their own marriage partners.

Depending on the tradition of specific ethnic groups, marriage includes various steps and related procedures, but generally there are two main ceremonies:

Lễ Ǎn Hỏi (betrothal ceremony): Some time before the wedding, the groom and his family visit the bride and her family with round lacquered boxes known as betrothal presents. The quantity of boxes must be an odd number. The presents include areca nuts, betel leaves, tea, cake, fruits, wine, other various delicacies and money. The presents are covered with red paper or cloth, and they are carried by unmarried girls or boys. Both families agree to pick a good date for the wedding.

Lễ Cưới (wedding ceremony): On the wedding day, the groom's family and relatives go to the bride's house to ask permission to for the groom to marry and take his bride to his house. Guests would be invited to come and celebrate the couple's marriage. The couple pray before the altar asking their ancestors for permission for their marriage, then to express their gratitude to both groom's and bride's parents for raising and protecting them.

Funeral ceremony

Wake

When a person passes away in Vietnam, the surviving family holds a wake or vigil that typically lasts about five to six days, but may last longer if the surviving family is waiting for other traveling relatives. The body is washed and dressed. A le ngam ham, or chopstick, is laid between the teeth and a pinch of rice and three coins are placed in the mouth. The body is put on a grass mat laid on the ground according to the saying, "being born from the earth, one must return back to the earth." The dead body is enveloped with white cloth, le kham niem, and placed in a coffin, le nhap quan. Finally, the funeral ceremony, le thanh phuc, is officially performed.

Funeral

The surviving family wear coarse gauze turbans and tunics for the funeral. There are two types of funeral processions:

Traditional: The date and time for the funeral procession, le dua tang, must be carefully selected. Relatives, friends, and descendants take part in the funeral procession to accompany the dead along the way to the burial ground. Votives are dropped along the way. At the grave site, the coffin is lowered and buried. After three days of mourning, the family visits the tomb again, le mo cua ma, or worship the opening the grave. After 49 days, le chung that, the family stops bringing rice for the dead to the altar. And finally, after 100 days, the family celebrates tot khoc, or the end of the tears. After one year is the ceremony of the first anniversary of the relative's death and after two years is the ceremony of the end of mourning.

Modern: Nowadays, mourning ceremonies follow new rituals which are simplified; they consist of covering and putting the dead body into the coffin, the funeral procession, the burial of the coffin into the grave, and the visits to the tomb.

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