Influences that have shaped
the way we think and behave
overview of the building blocks of Vietnam's cultural heritage
The roots of Vietnam’s culture are firmly bedded in a thousand
years of Chinese domination, but other influences have helped
to shape Vietnam’s intellectual achievements and way of
The early Dong
Son people, the original Viet people, brought sophisticated
mining, smelting and casting skill from their Mongolian
origins and left a legacy of magnificent bronze statues
The Champa Kingdom
also left its mark in the form of ornately carved sculptures
decorating their mysterious brick towers.
However, the impact
of other races and nations is dwarfed by that
of China. The Confucian code and Buddhism introduced during
their occupation of the country have dominated Vietnamese
life for two millennia, and will doubtless continue to do
so for centuries to come.
the differing cultures of Vietnam’s many smaller ethnic
groups, most of which have migrated into Vietnam comparatively
recently, the post-Chinese development of the culture of
the majority ‘Kinh’ people that constitute 85% of the population
can be divided into four phases. They are the long period
of dynastic rule, the French occupation, the years between
1945 and 1986, and the post ‘doi moi’ period.
The years of the Imperial Dynasties that ruled Vietnam from
the 10th to the 19th century were marked by wars and feuds
with neighbouring countries as the country expanded to the
south and consolidated its territory.
was little change under the Confucian administrative structures
inherited from the Chinese. The conservative nature of Confucianism
limited technological and cultural progress, making the
country highly vulnerable to the advanced military power
of the French.
The French colonialists brought European-style administration,
Christianity in the form of Catholicism, and implemented
the written version of Vietnamese that had been ignored
by the Vietnamese since its creation by a Jesuit monk in
the 17th century.
new forms of cultural expression, such as painting and prose,
established a European-style theatrical tradition, transferred
a different style of architecture and introduced European
However, by their
brutal suppression of the Vietnamese people, the colonialists
also created the social conditions that led to the rise
of communism and insurrection early in the twentieth century.
Ho Chi Minh’s declaration of independence in 1945 ushered
in a new era of social realism in which the purpose of culture
and all forms of artistic expression was to further the
country's revolutionary aspirations. Many traditional and
French-influenced artistic genres were suppressed.
of the USSR was considerable during this period. Russian
became the second language, large numbers of Vietnamese
people went to the Soviet countries to study, and new administrative
systems, economic structures, planning models and mass movements
based on examples in the Soviet Union were introduced.
By the early 1980's it had become glaringly obvious that
the USSR model of centralisation and collectivisation had
brought Vietnam to the brink of economic collapse and pariah
status among the international community.
In 1986, the Communist
Party Congress introduced ‘doi moi’- a programme of national
renewal involving opening up the country to the outside
world and embracing the concept of a market economy.
then, the reins have been loosened, and several traditional
and new forms of cultural expression are beginning to flourish.
Tourism, television and the Internet have hastened the rate
of change, but the brake of Confucianism has meant that
economic and cultural development has been slower than expected.
Confucian traditions have helped to insulate the country
from some of the more pernicious features of globalisation.
change is moving ahead relentlessly and the culture of Vietnam
is being reborn in a different guise. Vietnam’s large proportion
of young people will mature into a social and cultural milieu
completely unrecognisable to their elders.