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Vietnam Culture, Geography and History
Culture and Customs of Vietnam
Vietnam's ancient culture can be traced back centuries and over the years has been influenced in different ways by the Chinese, Khmer, French and American cultures. For most Vietnamese people, connection to family and community is paramount - whether they are from rural villages or living in the fast-paced cities. Most festivals and holidays are spent with the extended family - participating in rituals, feasting on special foods, giving symbolic gifts and paying respects to ancestors. Most Vietnamese people practice a form of religion that is an interesting mix of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, although there are also a large number of practicing Catholics living in Vietnam. Having endured the hardship that the Vietnam War brought in the 1960s and 1970s, most Vietnamese people are keen to get on with life, living with a sense of optimism and humility.
Geography and Environment of Vietnam
Occupying a long, thin part of the Indochinese peninsula, Vietnam shares borders with China, Laos and Cambodia. Much of Vietnam's terrain is mountainous, particularly the north and central highland regions. Although people still choose to live in the densely forested highland regions, most of Vietnam's population is concentrated in the cities of the low lying areas, where infrastructure is more easily built and the land is fertile. One of the 12 great rivers of the world, the Mekong, runs through Vietnam and has been responsible for wide-scale flooding. A system of canals and levees has been quite successful in redistributing the water during monsoons, and has helped to alleviate flooding in the Mekong Delta and surrounding areas.
History and Government of Vietnam
The land now known as Vietnam has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Archaeological finds suggest that structured societies were in existence from as early as the 1st millennium BC. Early society was mostly feudal and agriculture-based, with various dynasties overseeing different parts of Vietnam until the Chinese invasion of 111 BC, which saw the societies of Vietnam and China become intertwined. Various Chinese dynasties dominated the area for hundreds of years, although revolts finally led to Vietnam gaining self-autonomy in 905. By 938, this period of Chinese imperial domination came to a close and Vietnam entered into an age of independence.
During the 19th century, Vietnam came under the influence of French colonisers, who assumed control of Vietnam after the Sino-French War of 1884 and 1885. French Indochina was formed in 1887, and included parts of Vietnam, Cambodia and, later on, Laos. Although the French managed to suppress internal movements towards independence for many years, their control was finally relinquished in 1954 when Vietnamese forces overcame the French during the first Indochina War. Following this war, Vietnam was divided, with separate forces ruling the north (led by Ho Chi Minh) and the south (led by Ngo Dinh Diem, with support from the United States).
The second Indochina War created wide-scale devastation and turmoil for the people of Vietnam, leading to mass migration to other parts of the world as asylum seekers tried to escape the conflict that ravaged their homeland. By the 1980s Vietnam's economy had all but collapsed, leading to further waves of migration out of Vietnam. More recently, Vietnam has benefited from the free market economy that was set up in 1986. Vietnam's economy continues to expand, with agriculture and industry providing the backbone, and the tourism sector also contributing. Although many Vietnamese people live below the poverty line, there have been widespread improvements in literacy and health which hopefully will continue to improve in the years to come.
Vietnam at a glance
- Hanoi (population 3 million)
- 90.5 million
- (GMT+07:00) Bangkok, Hanoi, Jakarta
- Type A (North American/Japanese 2-pin), Type C (European 2-pin)
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