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Cộng Hòa Xã Hội Chủ Nghĩa Việt Nam
Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Flag of Vietnam Coat of Arms of Vietnam
(Flag) (Coat of Arms)
Motto: Independence, Liberty, Happiness

(Vietnamese: Độc lập, tự do, hạnh phúc)

Anthem: Tiến Quân Ca
Location of Vietnam
Capital Hanoi
21°2′ N 105°51′ E
Largest city Hồ Chí Minh City
Official languages Vietnamese
Government Communist single-party state
Trần Đức Lương
Phan Văn Khải
 - Declared
 - Recognized
From France
September 2, 1945
 • Total
 • Water (%)
329,560 km² (65th)
 • 2005 est.
 • 2000 census
 • Density
83,535,576 (13th)
253/km² (31st)
 • Total
 • Per capita
2005 estimate
$231.6 billion (39th)
$2,782 (131st)
Currency đồng(₫) (VND)
Time zone
 • Summer (DST)
Internet TLD .vn
Calling code +84

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam, or Vietnam (or Viet Nam), is a country in Southeast Asia. Situated in eastern Indochina, it borders China, Laos, Cambodia, and the South China Sea.

The name of the country comes from the Vietnamese Việt Nam, which is in turn a reordering of Nam Việt, the name of an ancient kingdom of the ancestral Vietnamese that covered much of today's northern Vietnam.



Main article: History of Vietnam

Vietnam's history has never been studied carefully. Vietnamese legends hold that native people populated and civilized the land more than 3,000 years ago. Chinese historical records tell of an indigenous people that existed about 2,500 years ago. Some historians, both in Asia and in the west, hold that the various peoples of today's Vietnam were brought together by a Qin Dynasty-era general who had been fed up with the despotic rule of the Qin Shi Huang (first emperor of China proper) and escaped to the "southern Yue [Viet] mountains" to set up his own kingdom. He and his soldiers conquered the land and established a civilized society modeled after ancient Chinese customs. Interestingly -- and puzzlingly -- this Chinese general adopted the native language (which probably sounded similar to southern Chinese dialects anyway) and married local women, who gave birth to sons that inherited the kingdom. Whether this is indeed historically true or not is still subject open to debate.

What is known for sure is that for most of the period from 207 BC to the early 10th century, it was under the rule of successive dynasties of China. Vietnam gained status as an independent state (as opposed to a Chinese province) in 939AD, and complete autonomy a century later. For much of its history, Vietnam remained a vassal state in the protective shadow of its much bigger northern neighbour, China. However, during the rule of the Tran Dynasty, it defeated three Mongolian attempts of invasion by the Yuan Dynasty which had conquered much of China proper. The independent period ended in mid-19th century, when the country was brutally colonized by France.

During World War II, Japan occupied Vietnam and used the country as a base to launch attacks against the rest of Indochina and India. When the war ended, France attempted to re-establish control but ultimately failed. The Geneva Accords subsequently divided the country into North Vietnam and South Vietnam, separated by a demilitarized zone.

During the Cold War, the North was supported by the People's Republic of China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics while the South was supported by the United States of America and other western countries. Tensions quickly escalated into the Vietnam War. The war continued until the Paris Peace Accords on January 27, 1973, which formally recognized the sovereignty of both sides.

American troops were withdrawn by March 29, 1973. By April 30, 1975, communist forces overtook South Vietnam and by 1976, Vietnam was officially unified under the North Vietnamese government as Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

In late 1978, Cambodian people, with the support of the Vietnamese Army, removed the Khmer Rouge from power. Only one month later, however, partially in retaliation, China launched a short-lived incursion into Vietnam: the Sino-Vietnamese War.


Main article: Politics of Vietnam

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is governed through a highly centralized system dominated by the Communist Party of Vietnam (Đảng Cộng Sản Việt Nam), which was formerly known as the Vietnamese Labor Party. The government is, in theory, independent from the party, but in practice it receives most of its directives from the party. Although there has been some effort to discourage membership in overlapping party and state positions, this practice continues. Senior Politburo members (Trần Đức Lương, Phan Văn Khải, Nguyễn Văn An, Nguyễn Tấn Dũng, Lê Hồng Anh and Phạm Văn Trà) concurrently hold high positions in the government.

There are no legal opposition parties in Vietnam, although a number of opposition groups do exist scattered overseas among exile communities within countries such as France and the United States. These communities have supported demonstrations and civil disobedience against the government. The most prominent are the Vietnamese Constitutional Monarchist League, People's Action Party of Viet Nam, Montagnard Foundation Inc. and the Government of Free Vietnam. The Government of Free Vietnam has claimed responsibility for a number of guerilla raids into Vietnam, which the government has denounced as terrorism.

Former political parties include the nationalist Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang of Nguyen Thai Hoc, the Can Lao party of the Ngô Đình Diệm government and the Viet Nam Duy Tan Hoi of Phan Bội Châu during the colonial period.

Vietnam is a member of the United Nations, La Francophonie, ASEAN, and APEC and has applied for membership to the World Trade Organization.


Main article: Provinces of Vietnam

Vietnam's capital (thủ đô, singular and plural) is Hanoi (Hà Nội). There are also four municipalities (thành phố trực thuộc Trung ương, singular and plural) existing at provincial level: Cần Thơ, Đà Nẵng, Hải Phòng, and Hồ Chí Minh City (Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh). Hồ Chí Minh City was formerly known as Saigon.

Besides the five cities, the country is divided into fifty-nine provinces (tỉnh, singular and plural): An Giang, Bắc Giang, Bắc Cạn, Bạc Liêu, Bắc Ninh, Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu, Bến Tre, Bình Định, Bình Dương, Bình Phước, Bình Thuận, Cà Mau, Cao Bằng, Đắk Lắk, Đắk Nông, Điện Biên, Đồng Nai, Đồng Tháp, Gia Lai, Hà Giang, Hải Dương, Hà Nam, Hà Tây, Hà Tĩnh, Hòa Bình, Hậu Giang, Hưng Yên, Khánh Hòa, Kiên Giang, Kon Tum, Lai Châu, Lâm Đồng, Lạng Sơn, Lào Cai, Long An, Nam Định, Nghệ An, Ninh Bình, Ninh Thuận, Phú Thọ, Phú Yên, Quảng Bình, Quảng Nam, Quảng Ngãi, Quảng Ninh, Quảng Trị, Sóc Trăng, Sơn La, Tây Ninh, Thái Bình, Thái Nguyên, Thanh Hóa, Thừa Thiên-Huế, Tiền Giang, Trà Vinh, Tuyên Quang, Vĩnh Long, Vĩnh Phúc, Yên Bái.


Map of Vietnam
Map of Vietnam

Main article: Geography of Vietnam

The country is approximately 331,688 square kilometers in area, which is slightly larger than New Mexico and slightly smaller than Germany. The topography consists of hills and densely forested mountains, with level land covering no more than 20 percent. Mountains account for 40 percent, hills 40 percent, and forests 75 percent. The northern part of the country consists of highlands and the Red River Delta. Phan Xi Păng, located in Lào Cai province, is the highest mountain in Vietnam (3143 m). The south is divided into coastal lowlands, Dai Truong Son (central mountains) with high plateaus, and the Mekong River Delta.

The climate is tropical and monsoonal; humidity averages 84 percent throughout the year. Annual rainfall ranges from 120 to 300 centimeters, and annual temperatures vary between 5°C and 37°C.

Land boundaries: Total: 4,639 km Border countries: Cambodia 1,228 km, China 1,281 km, Laos 2,130 km


Main article: Economy of Vietnam

In 1986, the Sixth Party Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam formally abandoned Marxist economic planning and began introducing market elements as part of a broad economic reform package called "đổi mới" ("Renovation").

In many ways, this followed the Chinese model and achieved similar results. On the one hand, Vietnam achieved around 8% annual GDP growth from 1990 to 1997 and continued at around 7% from 2000 to 2002, making it the world's second-fastest growing economy. Simultaneously, investment grew three-fold and domestic savings quintupled.

On the other hand, urban unemployment has been rising steadily in recent years due to high numbers of migration from the countryside to the cities, and rural unemployment, estimated to be up to 35% during nonharvest periods, is already at critical levels. Layoffs in the state sector and foreign-invested enterprises combined with the lasting effects of a previous military demobilization further exacerbated the unemployment situation. The country is attempting to become a member of the WTO. Vietnam, however, is still a relatively poor country with GDP of US$227.2 billion (est., 2004). This translates to US$2700 per capita. Inflation rate is estimated at 14% per year in 2004. This figure has been scaled down by the Government to 9.5% per annum to avoid the ‘double digit’ classification.

The spending power of the public has noticeably increased. The reason lies in the high property prices. In Hanoi, the capital, property prices can be as high as those in Tokyo or New York. This has amazed many people because GDP per capita of this city is around US$1,000 per annum. The booming prices have helped people with a little piece of land or a tiny apartment, by selling them, realise their dreams despite their low monthly income. Corruption, bribery and embezzlement committed by many government officials have pushed property prices even higher, as real estate investment is a popular form of money laundering.


Street scene in Haiphong
Street scene in Haiphong

Main article: Demographics of Vietnam

The Vietnamese government recognizes 54 distinct ethnic groups. The majority ethnic Vietnamese, also called Viet or Kinh, make up about 86 percent of the nation's population. They are concentrated largely in the alluvial deltas and in the coastal plains and have little in common with the minority peoples of the highlands, whom they have historically regarded as hostile and barbaric. A homogenous social group, the Viet exert influence on national life through their control of political and economic affairs and their role as purveyors of the dominant culture. By contrast, the ethnic minorities, except for the Khơ-me Crôm (Khmer Krom) and the Hoa (ethnic Han Chinese), are found mostly in the highlands that cover two-thirds of the national territory.


Predominantly Confucian and Mahayana Buddhist (esp. Mainstream Pure Land schools and Zen-inspired syncretists); with Roman Catholic, Protestant, Cao Đài, and Hoa Hao minorities. The largest Protestant churches are the Evangelical Church of Vietnam and the Montagnard Evangelical Church. Membership to Sunni and Bashi Islam are usually accredited to the ethnic Cham minority, but there are also a few ethnic Vietnamese adherents to Islam in the southwest.


According to official figures from the 1999 census of Vietnam, the largest ethnic minorities of Vietnam were:

  1. Tày: 1,477,514 people
  2. Thái: 1,328,725
  3. Mường: 1,137,515
  4. Khmer Krom: 1,055,174
  5. Hoa: 862,371

The Tay people live primarily in the mountains and foothills of northern Vietnam. Their language is a member of the Tai languages, belonging to the Central Tai subgroup and closely related to the Zhuang language of southern China.

Thái is a name used by Vietnamese authorities for a group of people also from the mountainous northern region of Vietnam and whom western linguists say actually speak separate languages: Tai Dam, Tai Dón, Tai Daeng, Tai Hang Tong, Tày Tac, and Tai Thanh. All these languages are closely related and belong to the Southwestern Tai subgroup of the Tai languages. This official "Thái" ethnicity should not be confused with the Thai people of Thailand. The Thai people of Thailand speak languages belonging to the Lao-Phutai branch of the Southwestern Tai subgroup, while the "Thái" of Vietnam speak languages belonging to the East Central branch of the Southwestern Tai subgroup. Although the Thái ethnicity is officially recognized in Vietnam, western linguistics do not recognize it and prefer to classify Tai Dam, Tai Dón, Tai Daeng, etc., as separate ethnic groups, in which case the Mường minority moves to second largest minority of Vietnam, Khmer Krom move to third position, and Hoa to fourth position.

The Mường live in the mountains of north central Vietnam and speak a Mon-Khmer language closely related to the Vietnamese language.

The Khơ-me Crôm (Khmer Krom) live in the fertile delta of the Mekong River in southern Vietnam and are ethnically the same as the Khmer people who make up the majority of the population of Cambodia. There is no consensus on the exact number of Khơ-me Crôm (Khmer Krom) living in Vietnam. The Vietnamese government reported 1,055,174 Khmer Krom at the 1999 census.

The Hoa (ethnic Han Chinese) are mainly lowlanders and, more specifically, urban dwellers. They speak predominantly Cantonese (known to the Vietnamese as Quảng Đông), but there are also speakers of Hakka (Khách Gia), Hokkien/Fujian (Phúc Kiến), Chaozhou, etc. Up to the 1979 Vietnamese census, the Hoa were the largest minority of Vietnam. However, since the North Vietnamese took over South Vietnam in 1975 many Hoa left Vietnam, especially in the 1980s, so that at the 1999 census the Hoa were only the fifth largest minority (or the fourth largest if the Thái are not considered as an homogenous ethnic group).

Beyond these five largest ethnic minorities, there 48 other minorities officially recognized by the Vietnamese government, giving a total of 53 minorities altogether. Many of these 53 minority groups only have a few thousand members or so. Vietnam also has a small number of racial Eurasians, people of Asian and Caucasian (white) parentage. Most of them are descendants of Vietnamese people mixed with either early French settlers or white American soldiers and personnel (or both), during the colonial period and Vietnam War. There are some who are racially mixed with blacks as well, another product during the Vietnam War from American soldiers. Mixed race individuals face the most discrimination in Vietnamese society and government, especially ones who are product of American soldiers (white or black) from the Vietnam War.

Officially, the ethnic minorities are referred to as "national minorities". The French used the name Montagnard (plural Montagnards, meaning "mountain people") to call all the minorities (except the Khmer Krom and the Hoa), no matter what their actual language. The name Montagnard is still sometimes used today. Sometimes, the name Montagnard is used specifically for the Mường ethnic group.

Human Rights NGOs point out the Vietnamese government's poor record with respect to ethnic minorities. In particular, the large Khơ-me Crôm (Khmer Krom) minority of southern Vietnam is denied elementary human rights in an effort by the Vietnamese government to Vietnamize the Khmer Krom, or force them to leave their native land and relocate to Cambodia. The Vietnamese government is afraid that the large native Khmer Krom population in the Mekong delta could allow Cambodia to officially claim back the fertile areas of the delta that were annexed by Vietnam more than 200 years ago. On the other hand, some in the Vietnamese government still pursue the centuries old policy of colonizing Khmer land, and it was reported that in the 1980s and 1990s some local Vietnamese officials have pushed the Cambodian-Vietnamese border several kilometers inside Cambodian territory, annexing tens of Cambodian villages, in violation of international treaties, thus further increasing the ethnic Khmer population inside Vietnam.

Further north, there have been reports of tensions with the Tày people due to the government sponsored relocation of ethnic Vietnamese from the lowlands to the highlands inhabited by the Tày and other minorities. Protests and demonstrations by highland minorities have been reported.

Percentage of ethnic Vietnamese

According to the 1999 census, ethnic Vietnamese (Kinh) numbered 65,795,718 and thus accounted for 86.2% of the total population of Vietnam.

In terms of land area, the ethnic Vietnamese inhabit a little less than half of Vietnam, while the ethnic minorities inhabit the majority of Vietnam's land (albeit the least fertile parts of the country).

The birth rate of the ethnic Vietnamese (and also the Hoa), which historically has been very high, decreased significantly since the 1980s and is now reaching much lower levels, comparable to the birth rates in Thailand or Malaysia. The birth rate of the minorities is still very high, comparable to birth rates in Cambodia or Laos.

As a result, the ethnic minorities are now growing at a faster rate than the ethnic Vietnamese, which means that the percentage of ethnic Vietnamese in the total population is slowly decreasing year after year. According to official figures, at the 1979 census the ethnic Vietnamese accounted for 87.4% of the total population. The figure was down to 86.9% at the 1989 census, and 86.2% at the 1999 census.


According to official figures, 86.2% of the population speak Vietnamese as a native tongue.

Various other languages are spoken by the several minority groups in Vietnam. The most spoken languages are: Tày (1.5 million), Muong (1.2 million), Khmer (1.05 million), Cantonese (870,000, this figure also includes speakers of other Chinese dialects), Nung (860,000), Hmong (790,000), and Tai Dam (700,000).

French, a legacy of colonial rule, is spoken by some (mostly older) Vietnamese as a second language. Russian- and to a much lesser extent Czech or Polish- is often known among "baby-boomers" whose families had ties with the Soviet bloc. In recent years, English has become a more popular language to learn and is increasingly used in business, among other things.

See also: List of ethnic groups in Vietnam


Main article: Culture of Vietnam

In its early history, Vietnamese writing used Chinese characters. In the 16th century, the Vietnamese developed their own set of characters called Chữ Nôm. The celebrated epic Kim Vân Kiều by Nguyễn Du is written in Chữ Nôm. During the French colonial period, Quốc Ngữ, the romanized Vietnamese alphabet representation of spoken Vietnamese, became popular and brought literacy to the masses. This had a profound effect on the political power in the country.

Due to Vietnam's long association with China, Vietnamese culture remains strongly Confucian with its emphasis on familial duty and harmony. Education is highly prized. Historically, passing the imperial Mandarin exams was the only means for ambitious Vietnamese to socially advance themselves. In the modern era, Vietnamese are trying to reconcile traditional culture with Western ideas of individual freedom, distrust of authority, and consumer culture.

The majority of Vietnamese are adherents to Mahayana Buddhism, influenced by Confucianism and Daoism, and with a strong emphasis on ancestor worship. Some critics say that the Vietnamese' second religion is superstition and fatalism, brought on by the decades of war.

Vietnam's cuisine and music have three distinct flavors, related to Vietnam's three regions: Bac 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, probably due to the region's relative prosperity. Vietnamese cuisine is based on rice, soy sauce, and fish sauce. Its characteristic flavor is sweet (sugar), spicy (serrano peppers), and flavored by a variety of mints.

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