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Vietnam origin and History

The name Việt Nam is a variation of "Nam Việt", a name that can be traced back to the Trieu dynasty of the 2nd century BC. The word Việt originated as a shortened form of Bách Việt, a word applied to a group of peoples then living in southern China and Vietnam. The form "Vietnam" is first recorded in the 16th-century oracular poem Sấm Trạng Trình. The name has also been found on 12 steles carved in the 16th and 17th centuries, including one at Bao Lam Pagoda in Haiphong that was carved in 1558. Between 1804 and 1813, the name was used officially by Emperor Gia Long. It was revived in the early 20th century by Phan Boi Chau's Viet Nam Vong Quoc Su (History of the Loss of Vietnam), and later by the Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang (Vietnamese Nationalist Party). The country was usually called Annam until 1945, when Emperor Bao Dai changed the official name back to Việt Nam. Since the use of Chinese characters was discontinued at this time, the alphabetic spelling of Vietnam is now official.

Pre-Dynastic era

The region now known as Vietnam has been inhabited since Paleolithic times, with some archaeological sites in Thanh Hóa Province purportedly dating back several thousand years. Archaeologists have linked the beginnings of Vietnamese civilization to the late Neolithic-early Bronze Age Phung Nguyen culture, which was centered in what is now Vĩnh Phúc Province between 2000 and 1400 BC.

By about 1200 BC, the development of wet-rice cultivation and bronze casting in the Ma River and Red River floodplains led to the development of the Dong Son culture, notable for its elaborate bronze drums. The bronze weapons, tools, and drums of Dong Son sites show a Southeast Asian influence that indicates an indigenous origin for the bronze-casting technology.

A Dong Son bronze drum

Many ancient copper mine sites have been found in northern Vietnam. The Dong Son sites share many similarities with other Bronze Age Southeast Asian sites, including the presence of boat-shaped coffins, burial jars, and stilt dwellings, and evidence of the customs of betel-nut-chewing and teeth-blackening.

Dynastic era

The legendary Hồng Bàng Dynasty of the Hùng kings is considered the first Vietnamese state, known in Vietnamese as Văn Lang. In 257 BC, the last Hùng king was defeated by Thục Phán, who consolidated the Lạc Việt and Âu Việt tribes to form the Âu Lạc, proclaiming himself An Dương Vương. In 207 BC, a Chinese general named Zhao Tuo defeated An Dương Vương and consolidated Âu Lạc into Nanyue. However, Nanyue was itself incorporated into the empire of the Chinese Han Dynasty in 111 BC.

For the next thousand years, Vietnam remained mostly under Chinese rule. Early independence movements, such as those of the Trưng Sisters and Lady Triệu, were only temporarily successful, but the region did become independent as Vạn Xuân under the Anterior Lý Dynasty between 544 and 602 AD. By the early 10th century, Vietnam had gained autonomy, but not independence, under the Khúc family.

The Imperial City in Huế

In 938 AD, the Vietnamese lord Ngô Quyền defeated the Chinese forces of the Southern Han state at Bạch Đằng River and regained independence after a millennium of Chinese domination. Renamed as Đại Việt (Great Viet), the nation enjoyed a golden era under the Lý and Trần Dynasties. During the rule of the Trần Dynasty, Đại Việt repelled three Mongol invasions. Meanwhile, Buddhism flourished and became the state religion. Following the brief rule of the Hồ Dynasty, Vietnamese independence was briefly interrupted by the Chinese Ming Dynasty, but was restored by Lê Lợi, the founder of the Lê Dynasty. The Vietnamese dynasties reached their zenith in the Lê Dynasty of the 15th century, especially during the reign of Emperor Lê Thánh Tông (1460–1497). Between the 11th and 18th centuries, Vietnam expanded southward in a process known as nam tiến ("southward expansion"), eventually conquering the kingdom of Champa and part of the Khmer Empire.

From the 16th century onwards, civil strife and frequent political infighting engulfed much of Vietnam. First, the Chinese-supported Mạc Dynasty challenged the Lê Dynasty's power. After the Mạc Dynasty was defeated, the Lê Dynasty was nominally reinstalled, but actual power was divided between the northern Trịnh Lords and the southern Nguyễn Lords, who engaged in a civil war for more than four decades before a truce was called in the 1670s. During this time, the Nguyễn expanded southern Vietnam into the Mekong Delta, annexing the central highlands of Tay Nguyen and the Khmer lands in the Mekong Delta.

The division of the country ended a century later when the Tây Sơn brothers established a new dynasty. However, their rule did not last long, and they were defeated by the remnants of the Nguyễn Lords, led by Nguyễn Ánh and aided by the French. Nguyễn Ánh unified Vietnam, and established the Nguyễn Dynasty, ruling under the name Gia Long.

French colonisation

Vietnam's independence was gradually eroded by France – aided by large Catholic collaborator militias – in a series of military conquests between 1859 and 1885, after which the entire country became part of French Indochina. The French administration imposed significant political and cultural changes on Vietnamese society. A Western-style system of modern education was developed, and Roman Catholicism was propagated widely in Vietnamese society. Most of the French settlers in Indochina were concentrated in Cochinchina – the southern third of Vietnam – based around the city of Saigon.

Developing a plantation economy to promote the export of tobacco, indigo, tea and coffee, the French largely ignored increasing calls for Vietnamese self-government and civil rights. A nationalist political movement soon emerged, with leaders such as Phan Boi Chau, Phan Chu Trinh, Phan Dinh Phung, Emperor Hàm Nghi and Ho Chi Minh fighting or calling for independence. However, the royalist Can Vuong was defeated in the 1890s after a decade of resistance, and the 1930 Yen Bai mutiny of the Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang was put down easily. The French maintained control of their colonies until World War II, when the war in the Pacific led to the Japanese invasion of French Indochina in 1941.

With the defeat of France in Europe in 1940, the French Third Republic was replaced by the Vichy Regime, to which the colony remained loyal. Heavily dependent on Nazi Germany, Vichy France was forced to surrender control of French Indochina to Germany's ally, Japan. The natural resources of Vietnam were exploited for the purposes of the Japanese Empire's military campaigns into the British Indochinese colonies of Burma, the Malay Peninsula and India. The Japanese occupation was a key cause of the Vietnamese Famine of 1945, which caused around two million deaths, equivalent to as much as 10% of the contemporary population.

The First Indochina War eventually led to the expulsion of the French in 1954, leaving Vietnam divided politically into two states, North and South Vietnam. Conflict between the two sides intensified, with heavy foreign intervention, during the Vietnam War, which ended with a North Vietnamese victory in 1975.

After the war, Vietnam was unified under a Communist government, but was politically isolated and economically backward. In 1986, the government initiated a series of economic and political reforms, which began Vietnam's path towards integration into the world economy. By 2000, it had established diplomatic relations with most nations. Its economic growth has been among the highest in the world since 2000, and according to Citigroup, such high growth is set to continue. Vietnam has the highest Global Growth Generators Index among 11 major economies, and its successful economic reforms resulted in it joining the World Trade Organization in 2007. However, the country still suffers from relatively high levels of income inequality, disparities in healthcare provision, and poor gender equality. 

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