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Vietnam > Culture and festivals > History



The earliest traces of human presence in
Vietnam have been found in caves in several areas. Little
information is known about these cave dwellers, but their presence has been dated back at least 500,000 years. It wasn’t until 5,000 or 6,000 years ago that wet rice cultivation began to appear.  


The area that now includes Vietnam was called Viet by the Chinese Zhou dynasty (1050 to 249 BC). The first Vietnamese dynasty, heavily influenced by the Chinese, appeared around 500 BC.  Prior to the rise of the Ngo Dynasty in 928, the ruling influence was primarily Chinese. 


From that point forward, except for a few brief periods (most notably the Ming Dynasty in the early 15th century and the brief Mongol invasion in the mid-13th century), large portions of the country we now call Vietnam have been ruled by Vietnamese dynasties, albeit with significant Chinese influence.

Dynasties and historical events

Period            Dynasty Name                        Country Name 

500-257 BC Hung or Lac-Vuong kings                 Van Lang 

207-111 BC Trieu Dynasty                                  An Lac 

203-544 AD Early Chinese Han Dynasty             Giao Chi 

544-603       Early Ly Dynasty                            Van Xuan 

603-939       Chinese Tang Dynasty                     An Nam 

939-967       Ngo Dynasty Dai                             Viet 

968-1054     Dinh and successor dynasties          Dai Co Viet 

1054-1400   Later Ly and Tran Dynasties             Dai Viet 

1400-1407   Ho Dynasty                                     Dai Ngu 

1407-1428   Tran and Chinese Ming Dynasties     An Nam 

1428-1802   Le and Nguyen Dynasties                 Dai Viet 

1802           Emperor Gia Long                            Viet Nam 

1832           Emperor Minh-Mang and successors Dai Nam 

1858-1945   French Colonial Administration          North – Tonkin 

                                                                        Middle – Annam 

                                                                        South – Cochinchina 

1945-present Tran Trong Kim and successors      Viet Nam 



During the brief Ming Dynasty rule, the Vietnamese capital was, for the first time, located at Do Dong – present-day Hanoi. It was not until the founding of the Tay Su Dynasty in the late 18th century that the capital was moved to Hué. During the subsequent (and final) Nguyen Dynasty, from 1802-1945, the capital remained at Hué. 


It was during this period that the external borders of Vietnam aligned with what we see today. The emperors and their courtiers turned to Confucianism and away from the outside world, banning contact with foreigners. This left the country open to outside invasion and control. 

The French took control of present-day Vietnam in 1858, turning it into a vassal state, keeping the Nguyen emperors as puppets. By 1861 they took Saigon, and six years later controlled the entire southern part of Vietnam. At this time the French named their holdings Cochinchina and made it a French colony. By 1883 the remnants of Vietnam in the north had been annexed by the French. The center of the country was renamed Annam, and the North was renamed Tonkin.  

In 1887, Vietnam, plus Cambodia and Laos, were consolidated into a single colony called Indochina. The French exploited the area for its natural resources, and created a modernized society with working and “bourgeoisie” classes. 

They also changed the education system to follow the European style – infant, primary, and secondary programs. The French created a three-tiered structure that can still be seen today – the Vietnamese were the top tier so they got a halfway-decent infrastructure, the Cambodians were in the middle so they got a bit of infrastructure, and the Laotians were at the bottom and got next to nothing. 


The French used their Indochinese colonies, particularly Vietnam, as a source of soldiers and support workers in World War I. They put heavy demands on the country’s infrastructure with food and financial requirements.

For a short stretch in the early 20th century, Vietnamese aristocrats and intellectuals looked to Japan for support in efforts to take back control of their country. At the same time, a group of Vietnamese who had been exiled to China saw the results of Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s revolution in China (1911). They formed the Quoc Dan Dang Party to try and oust the French.  

Following World War I, Ho Chi Minh began his rise to prominence.  As World War II began, the Central Committee of the Indochinese Communist Party began to consolidate its goals and unify the various communist groups across the country. 

On September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh formally announced the formation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, with its capital in Hanoi. 

Thus began the 30-year struggle of North versus South Vietnam.  The French continued to control the southern portion of the country, based on the Geneva Agreement on Vietnam in 1954. This agreement partitioned the country at the 17th parallel.  The North had its capital in Hanoi, the South in Saigon.  

Over the next two decades, first the French and then the US governments provided military and economic support to the South Vietnamese rulers to try and prevent the communist takeover of the entire country.  

More information on the War, called the American War (of Aggression) by the North Vietnamese, is provided in a second section. 

In 1973, after almost 20 years of fighting, with over 50,000 Americans killed and several million Vietnamese killed or permanently displaced, the US signed the Paris Agreement and withdrew from Vietnam.  

On April 25th, 1975, Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese, and the entire country was “reunified” under communist rule, with its capital once again in Hanoi. 

Since the reunification, much of the devastation from 30 years of fighting has been repaired. At the same time South Vietnamese were trying to flee the country, refugees from other countries (particularly Pol Pot’s Cambodia), were trying to enter. The strain on the damaged infrastructure of the newly consolidated country was tremendous. 

The first 11 years following reunification were quite difficult, but since 1986 the government has put in place very liberal foreign investment policies to help rebuild and grow the country’s infrastructure. The government has also encouraged a version of free enterprise and liberalized land use policies to increase food production. As a result, the quality, quantity, and diversity of products, services, food, transport, and accommodation is surprisingly good. 

The long-term goals of the Vietnamese government include self-sufficiency in food production, expansion of exports and development of new markets, and transformation into an industrial country with a modern infrastructure. 

   Vietnam travel guide homepage 

   Cities and regions of Vietnam homepage 


See also : The Vietnam War - Timeline

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Vietnam Travel guide : Vietnam History