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Dai Viet

Dai Co VietDinh dynasty9681054
Dai VietLy dynasty10541225
Dai VietTran dynasty12251400
Dai NguHo dynasty14001407
Chinese Interregnum14061428
Dai VietLe dynasty14271788
Dai VietTay Son Uprising17761802

The Vietnamese trace the origins of their culture and nation to the fertile plains of the Red River Delta in northern Vietnam. After centuries of developing a civilization and economy based on the cultivation of irrigated rice, in the tenth century the Vietnamese began expanding southward in search of new rice lands. Until the mid-nineteenth century, the Vietnamese gradually moved down the narrow coastal plain of the Indochina Peninsula, ultimately extending their reach into the broad Mekong River Delta. Vietnamese history is the story of the struggle to develop a sense of nationhood throughout this narrow, 1,500-kilometer stretch of land and to maintain it against internal and external pressures.

China was the chief source of Vietnam's foreign ideas and the earliest threat to its national sovereignty. As a result of a millennium of Chinese control beginning in about 111 BC, the Vietnamese assimilated Chinese influence in the areas of administration, law, education, literature, language, and culture. Even during the following nine centuries of Vietnamese independence, lasting from the late tenth century until the second half of the nineteenth century, the Chinese exerted considerable cultural, if not political, influence, particularly on the elite.

The last emperor of Dai Co Viet was Ly Thanh-tong (1054-72), the eldest son of his predecessor. He changed the name of the country to Dai Viet. The new kingdom, now called Dai Viet (replacing the Chinese name, Annam), made considerable political, economic, and cultural progress, it soon encountered problems with its neighbors to the south. In the 12th and 13th centuries, Dai Viet fought several wars against the Islamic, Indianized kingdom of Champa on the central coast. It also clashed with the Khmer (Cambodian) empire.

Freeing themselves from direct Chinese control in AD 938, they thereafter jealously guarded their independence by various means, at times holding off invading Chinese and Mongolian armies and at others, resorting to hard bargaining, the payment of tribute or the acceptance of nominal Chinese overlordship. Negotiating from weakness, they became adroit bargainers, expert in obtaining, through suppleness and patience the best terms u.ndera given circumstance. In their long resistance to Chinese domination, they came to regard China as the traditional enemy. This old antagonism profoundly affects their thinking and attitude, and many Vietnamese continue to see danger in any relationship with China.

The Chinese rule was followed by varying degrees of independence under a succession of Vietnamese emperors presiding over a powerful bureaucracy of the Chinese type. Revolts were numerous and, with brief periods of reassertsd Chinese control, one dynasty fell to be replaced by another but the outcome was always the transfer of authority without basic change in the socio-politica1 structure.

The Vietnamese are prone to regard themselves as peaceful people, but they assign high importance to valor and fighting ability in their survival as a nation. The heroes and heroines of their history are those who rebelled against invading armies from the north. To the prowess of their ancestors they attribute not only successful resistance to Chinese encroachment but also the extension of their territory to the present boundaries of Vietnam by victories over neighboring kingdoms to the south and west.

Because of powerful China to the north, and apart from defending themselves against occasional northern invaders, the main thrust of Vietnamese history usually has been directed southward, as epitomized in nam-tien (march southward). Aided by superior organizational skill and military techniques acquired from the Chinese, the people of the overcrowded Red River Delta moved down the coastline in search of more rice paddies. In the process they pushed the original settlers of the lowland coastal areas further back into the highlands to gain the fertile foothills for themselves. This process of southern expansion continued at the expense of the peoples of the Kingdom of Champa to the south of Hue and of Cambodia to the west until the Vietnamese acquired the fertile lands of the Mekong River Delta in the eighteenth century. Through the absorption of these peoples, who had been under the cultural influence of India, the Vietnamese came into contact with the Hindu civilization of India.

This pattern of expansion left an indelible imprint on the differing cultural orientation between the north-central section of the country on the one hand and the southern part of the country on the other. The people of the northern (Tonkin) and central (Annam) regions came to be regarded as keenly conscious of a traditional way of life. Those in the southern part (Cochin China) - perhaps because of their exposure to Indian influence -- were thought to be more eclectic and less tradition bound.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:35:40 ZULU