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Vietnam (Vietnamese: Việt Nam), officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, is the easternmost nation on the Indochinese Peninsula. It borders China to the north, Laos to the northwest, and Cambodia to the southwest. On the country's east coast lies the South China Sea. With a population of over 85 million, Vietnam is the 13th most populous country in the world. The country is listed among the "Next Eleven" economies; according to government figures GDP, growth was 8.17% in 2006, the second fastest growth rate among countries in East Asia and the fastest in Southeast Asia.
The area now known as Vietnam has been inhabited since Paleolithic times, with some archaeological sites in Thanh Hoa Province reportedly dating back several thousand years. Archaeologists link the beginnings of Vietnamese civilization to the late Neolithic, early Bronze Age, Phung-nguyen culture, which was centered in Vinh Phu Province of contemporary Vietnam from about 2000 to 1400 BCE By about 1200 BCE, the development of wet-rice cultivation and bronze casting in the Ma River and Red River plains led to the development of the Dong Son culture, notable for its elaborate bronze drums. The bronze weapons, tools, and drums of Dongsonian sites show a Southeast Asian influence that indicates an indigenous origin for the bronze-casting technology. Many small, ancient copper mine sites have been found in northern Vietnam. Some of the similarities between the Dong Sonian sites and other Southeast Asian sites include the presence of boat-shaped coffins and burial jars, stilt dwellings, and evidence of the customs of betel-nut-chewing and teeth-blackening.
The legendary Hồng Bàng Dynasty of the Hùng kings is considered by many Vietnamese as the first Vietnamese state, known as Văn Lang. In 257 BCE, Thục Phán defeated the last Hùng king and consolidated the Lạc Việt tribes with his Âu Việt tribes, forming Âu Lạc and proclaiming himself An Dương Vương. In 207 BCE, a Chinese general named Zhao Tuo defeated An Dương Vương and consolidated Âu Lạc into Nanyue. In 111 BCE, the Chinese Han Dynasty consolidated Nanyue into their empire.
For the next thousand years, Vietnam was mostly under Chinese rule. Early independence movement such as those of the Trưng Sisters and of Lady Triệu were only briefly successful. It was independent as Vạn Xuân under the Anterior Ly Dynasty between 544 and 602. By the early 10th century, Vietnam had gained autonomy, but not independence, under the Khúc family.
In 939 CE, a Vietnamese lord named Ngô Quyền defeated Chinese forces at the Bạch Đằng River and gained independence after 10 centuries under Chinese control. Renamed as Đại Việt, the nation went through a golden era during the Lư and Trần Dynasties. During the rule of the Trần Dynasty, Đại Việt repelled three Mongol invasions of Vietnam. Following the brief Hồ Dynasty, Vietnamese independence was briefly interrupted by the Chinese Ming Dynasty, but was restored by Lê Lợi, the founder of the Lê Dynasty. Feudalism in Vietnam reached its zenith in the Lê Dynasty of the 15th century, especially during the reign of Emperor Lê Thánh Tông. Between the 11th and 18th centuries, the Vietnamese expanded southward in a process known as nam tiến (southward expansion). They eventually conquered the kingdom of Champa and part of the Khmer Empire.
Towards the end of the Lê Dynasty, civil strife 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 reinstalled, but with no actual power. Power was divided between the Trịnh Lords in the North and the Nguyễn Lords in the South, who engaged in a civil war for more than a hundred years. The civil war ended when the Tây Sơn brothers defeated both and established their new dynasty. However, their rule did not last long and they were defeated by the remnants of the Nguyễn Lords with the help of the French, who established the Nguyễn Dynasty.
Vietnam's independence ended in the mid-1800s, when the country was colonized by the French Empire. The French administration imposed significant political and cultural changes on Vietnamese society. A Western-style system of modern education was developed, and Christianity was introduced into Vietnamese society. Developing a plantation economy to promote the exports of tobacco, indigo, tea and coffee, the French largely ignored increasing calls for self-government and civil rights. A nationalist political movement soon emerged, with leaders such as Phan Boi Chau, Phan Chu Trinh, Emperor Ham Nghi and Ho Chi Minh calling for independence. However, the French maintained dominant control of their colonies until World War II, when the Japanese war in the Pacific triggered the invasion of Indochina. The natural resources of Vietnam were exploited for the purposes of Japan's military campaigns into Burma, the Malay Peninsula and India.
In the final years of the war, a forceful nationalist insurgency emerged under Ho Chi Minh, committed to independence and communism. Following the defeat of Japan, nationalist forces fought French colonial forces in the First Indochina War that lasted from 1945 to 1954. The French suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu and shortly afterwards withdrew from the country. The countries that fought the Vietnam War divided the country at the 17th parallel into North Vietnam and South Vietnam during the Geneva Accords.
The communist-held North Vietnam was opposed by the United States which had sided with the French colonists in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Disagreements soon emerged over the organizing of elections and reunification, and the U.S. began increasing its contribution of military advisers. The disputed Gulf of Tonkin Incident was the immediate reason the U.S. cited for its military assault on North Vietnamese military installations and the gradual deployment of more than 500,000 troops into South Vietnam. U.S. forces were soon embroiled in a guerrilla war with the Viet Cong, the insurgents who were indigenous to South Vietnam. North Vietnamese forces unsuccessfully attempted to overrun the South during the 1968 Tet Offensive and the war soon spread into neighboring Laos and Cambodia, both of which the United States bombed.
The extent of the U.S. bombing of Cambodia has become known only recently. "In 1975, Pol Pot's genocidal Khmer Rouge forces took power in Cambodia after a massive U.S. bombing campaign there. New information reveals that Cambodia was bombed far more heavily during the Vietnam War than previously believed — and that the bombing began not under Richard Nixon, but under Lyndon Johnson." Maps and a database of bombing by the U.S. Air Force of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam was created from data the United States provided in an effort to help locate unexploded ordnance left behind during the U.S. carpet bombing of the region.
With its own casualties mounting, the U.S. began transferring combat roles to the South Vietnamese military in a process the U.S. called Vietnamization. The effort had mixed results. The Paris Peace Accords on January 27, 1973 formally recognized the sovereignty of both sides. Under the terms of the accords all American combat troops were withdrawn by March 29, 1973. Limited fighting continued, but all major fighting ended until the North once again sent troops to the South on April 30, 1975. South Vietnam briefly became the Republic of South Vietnam, under military occupation by North Vietnam, before being officially reunified with the North under communist rule as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on July 2, 1976.
Upon taking control, the Vietnamese communists banned other political parties, arrested people believed to have collaborated with the U.S. and sent them to reeducation camps. The government also embarked on a mass campaign of collectivization of farms and factories. Reconstruction of the war-ravaged country was slow and serious humanitarian and economic problems confronted the communist regime. Millions of people fled the country in crudely-built boats, creating an international humanitarian crisis. In 1978, the Vietnamese Army invaded Cambodia to remove the Khmer Rouge from power. This action worsened relations with China, which launched a brief incursion into northern Vietnam in 1979. This conflict caused Vietnam to rely even more heavily on Soviet economic and military aid.
In a historic shift in 1986, the Communist Party of Vietnam implemented free-market reforms known as Đổi Mới (Renovation). With the authority of the state remaining unchallenged, private ownership of farms and companies, deregulation and foreign investment were encouraged. The economy of Vietnam has achieved rapid growth in agricultural and industrial production, construction and housing, exports, and foreign investment. It is now one of the fastest growing economies in the world. See Economy section for more detail.
Government and politics
The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is a single-party state. A new state constitution was approved in April 1992, replacing the 1975 version. The central role of the Communist Party was reasserted in all organs of government, politics and society. Only political organizations affiliated with or endorsed by the Communist Party are permitted to contest elections. These include the Vietnamese Fatherland Front, workers and trade unionist parties. Although the state remains officially committed to socialism as its defining creed, the ideology's importance has substantially diminished since the 1990s. The President of Vietnam is the titular head of state and the nominal commander in chief of the military of Vietnam, chairing the Council on National Defense and Security. The Prime Minister of Vietnam is the head of government, presiding over a council of ministers composed of 3 deputy prime ministers and the heads of 26 ministries and commissions.
The National Assembly of Vietnam is the unicameral legislature of the government, composed of 498 members. It is superior to both the executive and judicial branches. All members of the council of ministers are derived from the National Assembly. The Supreme People's Court of Vietnam, which is the highest court of appeal in the nation, is also answerable to the National Assembly. Beneath the Supreme People's Court stand the provincial municipal courts and the local courts. Military courts are also a powerful branch of the judiciary with special jurisdiction in matters of national security. All organs of Vietnam's government are largely controlled by the Communist Party. Most government appointees are members of the party. The General Secretary of the Communist Party is perhaps one of the most important political leaders in the nation, controlling the party's national organization and state appointments, as well as setting policy.
The Vietnam People's Army is the official name for the three military services of Vietnam, which is organized on the lines of China's People's Liberation Army. The VPA is further subdivided into the Vietnamese People's Ground Forces (including Strategic Rear Forces and Border Defense Forces), the Vietnam People's Navy, the Vietnam People's Air Force and the coast guard. Through Vietnam's recent history, the VPA has actively been involved in Vietnam's workforce to develop the economy of Vietnam, in order to coordinate national defense and the economy. The VPA is involved in such areas as industry, agriculture, forestry, fishery and telecommunications. The total strength of the VPA is close to 500,000 soldiers. The government also organizes and maintains provincial militias and police forces. The role of the military in public life has steadily weakened since the 1980s.
The capital of Vietnam is Hanoi (it had served as the capital of French Indochina and North Vietnam), and the largest and most populous city is Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon). Vietnam is subdivided into 59 provinces and 5 province-level cities, which are further subdivided into districts and municipalities. Provincial governments are expected to be subordinate to the central government. Often, the Vietnamese government groups the various provinces into eight regions:Northwest, Northeast, Red River Delta, North Central Coast, South Central Coast, Central Highland, Southeast, Mekong River Delta.
Geography and climate
Vietnam extends approximately 331,688 km² (128,066 sq mi) in area. The area of the country running along its international boundaries is 4,639 km (2,883 mi). The topography consists of hills and densely forested mountains, with level land covering no more than 20%. Mountains account for 40% of the area, with smaller hills accounting for 40% and tropical forests 42%. The northern part of the country consists mostly of highlands and the Red River Delta. Phan Xi Păng, located in Lào Cai province, is the highest mountain in Vietnam at 3,143 m (10,312 ft). The south is divided into coastal lowlands, Annamite Chain peaks, extensive forests, and poor soil. Comprising five relatively flat plateaus of basalt soil, the highlands account for 16% of the country's arable land and 22% of its total forested land.
The delta of the Red River (also known as the Sông Hồng), a flat, triangular region of 3,000 square kilometers, is smaller but more intensely developed and more densely populated than the Mekong River Delta. Once an inlet of the Gulf of Tonkin, it has been filled in by the enormous alluvial deposits of the rivers over a period of millennia, and it advances one hundred meters into the Gulf annually. The Mekong delta, covering about 40,000 square kilometers, is a low-level plain not more than three meters above sea level at any point and criss-crossed by a maze of canals and rivers. So much sediment is carried by the Mekong's various branches and tributaries that the delta advances sixty to eighty meters into the sea every year.
Vietnam has a tropical monsoon climate, with humidity averaging 84% throughout the year. However, because of differences in latitude and the marked variety of topographical relief, the climate tends to vary considerably from place to place. During the winter or dry season, extending roughly from November to April, the monsoon winds usually blow from the northeast along the China coast and across the Gulf of Tonkin, picking up considerable moisture; consequently the winter season in most parts of the country is dry only by comparison with the rainy or summer season. The average annual temperature is generally higher in the plains than in the mountains and plateaus.
The Vietnam War destroyed much of the economy of Vietnam. Upon taking power, the Government created a command economy in the nation. Collectivization of farms, factories and economic capital was implemented, and millions of people were put to work in government programs. For many decades, Vietnam's economy was plagued with inefficiency and corruption in state programs, poor quality
and underproduction and restrictions on economic activities and trade. It also suffered from the trade embargo from the United States and most of Europe after the Vietnam War. Subsequently, the trade partners of the Communist blocs began to erode. In 1986, the Sixth Party Congress introduced significant economic reforms with market economy elements as part of a broad economic reform package called "đổi mới" (Renovation). Private ownership was encouraged in industries, commerce and agriculture. Vietnam achieved around 8% annual GDP growth from 1990 to 1997 and continued at around 7% from 2000 to 2005, making it the world's second-fastest growing economy. Simultaneously, foreign investment grew threefold and domestic savings quintupled. Manufacturing, information technology and high-tech industries form a large and fast-growing part of the national economy. Vietnam is a relative new-comer to the oil business, but today it is the third-largest oil producer in Southeast Asia with output of 400,000 barrels per day. Vietnam is one of Asia's most open economies: two-way trade is around 160% of GDP, more than twice the ratio for China and over four times India's (source: The Economist)
Vietnam is still a relatively poor country with GDP of US$280.2 billion (est., 2006, source: Economist Intelligence unit). This translates to ~US$3,300 per capita. Inflation rate was estimated at 7.5% per year in 2006. The spending power of the public has noticeably increased. Deep poverty, defined as a percent of the population living under $1 per day, has declined significantly and is now smaller than that of China, India, and the Philippines. As a result of several land reform measures, Vietnam is now the largest producer of cashew nuts with a one-third global share and second-largest rice exporter in the world. Vietnam has the highest percent of land use for permanent crops, 6.93%, of any nation in the Greater Mekong Subregion. Besides rice, key exports are coffee, tea, rubber, and fishery products. However, agriculture's share of economic output has declined, falling as a share of GDP from 42% in 1989 to 20% in 2006, as production in other sectors of the economy has risen. According to the CIA World Fact Book, the unemployment rate in Vietnam is one of the lowest in the world at 2%, trailing behind only Azerbaijan, Cuba, Iceland, Andorra and Liechtenstein. Among other steps taken in the process of transitioning to a market economy, Vietnam in July 2006 updated its intellectual property legislation to comply with TRIPS. Vietnam was accepted into the WTO on November 7, 2006. Vietnam's chief trading partners include Japan, Australia, ASEAN countries, the U.S. and Western European countries.
The modern transport network of Vietnam was originally developed under French rule for the purpose of raw materials harvesting, and reconstructed and extensively modernized following the Vietnam War. The road system is the most popular form of transportation in the country. Vietnam’s road system includes national roads administered by the central level; provincial roads managed by the provincial level; district roads managed by the district level; urban roads managed by cities and towns; and commune roads managed by the commune level.
Bicycles and motorcycles remain the most popular forms of road transport in Vietnam's cities, towns, and villages. Public bus operated by private companies is the main long distance travel means by many people. Traffic congestion is a serious problem in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City as the city's roads struggle to cope with the booming numbers of automobiles. There are also more than 17,000 kilometers of navigable waterways, which play a significant role in rural life owing to the extensive network of rivers in Vietnam.
Recent census estimates the population of Vietnam at beyond 84 million. Vietnamese people, also called "Viet" or "Kinh", account for 86.2 percent of the population. Their population is concentrated in the alluvial deltas and coastal plains of the country. A homogeneous social and ethnic majority group, the Kinh exert political and economic control. There are more than 54 ethnic minorities throughout the country, but the Kinh are purveyors of the dominant culture. Most ethnic minorities, such as the Muong, a closely related ethnic of the Kinh, are found mostly in the highlands covering two-thirds of the territory . The Hoa (ethnic Chinese) and Khmer Krom are mainly lowlanders. The largest ethnic minority groups include the Hmong, Dao, Tay, Thai, Nung.
According to official figures, 86.2% of the population speak Vietnamese as a native language. In its early history, Vietnamese writing used Chinese characters. In the 13th century, the Vietnamese developed their own set of characters called Chữ nôm. The celebrated epic Đoạn trường tân thanh (Truyện Kiều or The Tale of Kieu) by Nguyễn Du was written in Chữ nôm. During the French colonial period, Quốc ngữ, the romanised Vietnamese alphabet representation of spoken Vietnamese, which was developed in 17th century by Jesuit Alexandre De Rhodes and several other catholic missionaries, became popular and brought literacy to the masses.
Various other languages are spoken by the several minority groups in Vietnam. The most common of these are Tày, Mường, Khmer, Chinese, Nùng, H'Mông. The French language, a legacy of colonial rule, is still spoken by some older Vietnamese as a second language, but is losing its popularity. Russian — and to a much lesser extent Czech or Polish — is sometimes known among those whose families had ties with the Soviet bloc. In recent years, Chinese, Japanese and English have become the most popular foreign languages, with English study being obligatory in most schools.
For much of Vietnamese history, Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism have strongly influenced the religious and cultural life of the people. About 86% of Vietnamese practice Buddhism even though they do not practice on a regular basis. About 7% of the population are Roman Catholic. Christianity was introduced by French colonists, and to a lesser extent during the presence of American forces. There is a substantial following of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism amongst the Cao Đài, and Hoa Hao communities. The largest Protestant churches are the Evangelical Church of Vietnam and the Montagnard Evangelical Church.
Vietnam has great reservation towards Roman Catholicism. This mistrust originated during the French colonial time when several members of the Catholic church had collaborated with the French colonists as espionage agents to suppress the Vietnamese independence movement. Membership of Sunni and Bashi Islam is usually accredited to the ethnic Cham minority, but there are also a few ethnic Vietnamese adherents of Islam in the southwest. The Vietnamese government has been criticized for its religious violations. However, due to recent improvements in freedom of religion, the United States government no longer considers Vietnam a Country of Particular Concern.
Vietnam has an extensive state-controlled network of schools, colleges and universities. General education in Vietnam is imparted in 5 categories: Kindergarten, elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and college/university. Courses are taught mainly in Vietnamese. A large number of public schools have been organized across cities, towns and villages with the purpose of raising the national literacy rate. There are a large number of specialist colleges, established to develop a diverse and skilled national workforce. A large number of Vietnam's most acclaimed universities are based in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Facing serious crises, Vietnam's education system is under a holistic reform launched by the government. In Vietnam, education from age 6 to 11 is free and mandatory. Education above these ages is costly, therefore many families can't afford to send their children to school.
Over thousands of years, the culture of Vietnam has been strongly influenced by neighboring China. Due to Vietnam's long association with China, Vietnamese culture remains strongly Confucian with its emphasis on filial duty. Education and self-betterment are highly valued. Historically, passing the imperial Mandarin exams was the only means for Vietnamese people to socially advance themselves.
In the socialist era, the cultural life of Vietnam has been deeply influenced by government-controlled media and the cultural influences of socialist programs. For many decades, foreign cultural influences were shunned and emphasis placed on appreciating and sharing the culture of communist nations such as the Soviet Union, China, Cuba and others. Since the 1990s, Vietnam has seen a greater exposure to Southeast Asian, European and American culture and media.
One of the most popular Vietnamese traditional garments is the "Áo Dài", worn often for special occasions such as weddings or 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 worn mainly by females, except for certain important traditional culture-related occasions where some men do wear it.
Vietnamese cuisine uses very little oil and many vegetables. The main dishes are often based on rice, soy sauce, and fish sauce. Its characteristic flavors are sweet (sugar), spicy (serrano peppers), sour (lime), umami (fish sauce), and flavored by a variety of mint and basil.
Vietnamese music, is slightly different according to three regions: Bắc or North, Trung or Central, and Nam or South. Northern classical music is Vietnam's oldest and is traditionally more formal. Vietnamese classical music can be traced to the Mongol invasions, when the Vietnamese captured a Chinese opera troupe. Central classical music shows the influences of Champa culture with its melancholic melodies. Southern music exudes a lively laissez-faire attitude.
Football (soccer) is the most popular sport in Vietnam. Sports and games such as badminton, tennis, ping pong, and chess are also popular with large segments of the population. Volleyball, especially women volleyball, is watched by a fairly large number of Vietnamese. The (expatriate Vietnamese) community forms a prominent part of Vietnamese cultural life, introducing Western sports, films, music and other cultural activities in the nation.
Vietnam is home to a small film industry, but the works from its counterparts in South Korea, Hong Kong, France, the U.S. enjoy greater popularity and circulation.
Among countless other traditional Vietnamese occasions, the traditional Vietnamese wedding is one of the most important. Regardless of westernization, many of the age-old customs in a Vietnamese wedding continue to be celebrated by both Vietnamese in Vietnam and overseas, often combining both western and eastern elements.
The Voice of Vietnam is the official state-run radio broadcasting services that cover the nation. Vietnam Television is the national television broadcasting company. As Vietnam moved toward a free-market economy with its doi moi measures, the government has relied on the print media to keep the public informed about its policies. The measure has had the effect of almost doubling the numbers of newspapers and magazines since 1996 . Vietnam is putting considerable effort into modernization and expansion of its telecommunication system, but its performance continues to lag behind that of its more modern neighbors.
Vietnam's number of visitors for tourism and vacation has increased steadily over the past ten years. About 3.56 million international guests visited Vietnam in 2006, an increase of 3.7% from 2005. The country is investing capital into the coastal regions that are already popular for their beaches and boat tours. Hotel staff and tourism guides in these regions speak a good amount of English.
References and bibliography