Vietnam Brief History

By | November 2, 2021

The formerly relatively closed country was opened to tourists in the early 1990s and has since become a popular destination.

Vietnam has a long and interesting history, which many may not think of because it usually associates the country with bloody wars. First the long colonization of the French and then the tragic Vietnam War.

According to Commit4fitness, the small country, just under a third of Sweden’s area, is now rising after the wars and has invested heavily in the tourism industry. Vietnam has beautiful nature, traces of interesting ancient culture and fascinating minority peoples. The people are friendly and it is relatively easy to travel on your own.

I have now visited Vietnam twice. The first time was in connection with a trip to the province of Yunnan in China and the second in connection with a trip along the Mekong River that began in northern Thailand, further through Laos and Cambodia ending in southern Vietnam.

Vietnam history in brief

As early as 10,000 BC, a society based on hunting, fishing, and rice cultivation began to emerge in the area now known as Vietnam. The Don Son culture, a Bronze Age culture, can be traced to the 13th century BC. It reached its peak in the 300s BC. At the end of the 200s, China tried to conquer Vietnam and in 112 BC succeeded, which meant that Vietnam for 1,000 years became a Chinese empire. During this period, a nationalism was born that characterized the country’s leaders to this day. The Chinese were expelled from Vietnam, after several previous insurgency attempts, in 938.

After this, the country grew into a strong feudal state which, however, had to defend itself against new Chinese attacks. Despite the attacks, they succeeded in expanding the empire to the south and subjugated the Hindu Champarike, which was located in present-day central Vietnam. At the end of the 18th century, the Vietnamese conquered what is today the southernmost part of the country, which at that time belonged to the Cambodian Empire. After the civil war in the 18th century, the southern leader Nguyen Anh succeeded in conquering the whole country. In 1802 he was crowned emperor and made Hue the capital.

In the 1850s, France intervened militarily in Vietnam on the pretext of pursuing missionaries, and in 1867 the whole of southern Vietnam had been colonized. In 1885, the whole country was recognized as a French protectorate. In 1902, Vietnam merged with the French possessions of Laos and Cambodia into the Indochinese Union. The Vietnamese people were subjected to severe colonial pressure.

Indochina’s Communist Party was founded in 1930 at a congress in Hong Kong by, among others, Ho Chi Minh. In the early 1930s, a communist uprising was crushed in a very brutal way.

During World War II, the Japanese occupied Vietnam, but allowed the French to continue to rule the region. Together, they pursued a ruthless policy and exploited the country, leading to the loss of two million lives. However, the People’s Front of the Communist Party, Viet Minh, opposed the occupying forces. Ho Chi Minh, who has lived abroad since 1911, returned to Vietnam to lead the resistance struggle, which was successful. At the end of the war, Viet Minh took control of much of the country, and on September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

However, the victorious powers of World War II had decided in advance that Vietnam would be temporarily divided along the 16th parallel. The northern part would go to the nationalist Chinese and the southern British. With the help of the British, the French returned to southern Vietnam. To get rid of the national Chinese, Ho Chi Minh accepted that the French would also return to the north of the country for five years in exchange for Vietnam being recognized as an independent state within the French empire.

Following general elections in January 1946, the Viet Minh government formed. Relations with the French were very strained and in November, the same year, war broke out. The Chinese supported the Viet Minh and the United States the French.

By 1953, the Viet Minh had taken control of most of northern Vietnam, and the victory at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954 defeated the French.

Following the French capitulation, an international conference was launched in Geneva on the future of Vietnam and that the country, temporarily, would be divided along the 17th parallel. A government appointed by the French would rule in the south and in the north the Communists would rule. General elections were to be held in July 1956. For 300 days, people were free to move across the border.

In South Vietnam, the US-backed Ngo Din Diem became Prime Minister and later also President. He introduced dictatorship and the promised general election never took place.

In the following years, tensions between North and South Vietnam increased. At the initiative of North Vietnam, the National Liberation Front (FNL) was formed in 1960. Developments in the northern and southern parts of the country went in completely opposite directions. In the north, harsh communist reforms were introduced with the support of the Soviet Union and China. In the south, a corrupt capitalist economy developed.

The first American military came to Vietnam in 1950 as an adviser to the French. With the increased risk of a communist takeover in the south, the American presence of then-US President John Kennedy was expanded in 1961. The Diem-led regime intensified its efforts to gain access to guerrilla activities, which expanded. His ruthless policies received no support from the Americans, but they supported a coup against him in 1963. In connection with this, Diem was assassinated. After further military coups, General Nguyen Van Thieu became President of South Vietnam in 1965.

The South Vietnamese army had no major success in the war against the guerrillas. US President Lyndon Johnson wanted to send combat units in support, but had Congress against him. With a North Vietnamese “attack” on an American warship in the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964, the president got the arguments he lacked. In fact, the American ship had been on a spy mission in North Vietnamese waters. While waiting for the right opportunity to get the Congress’ permission to send troops to Vietnam, a ready-made proposal had been ready for several months, they just wanted to wait for the right opportunity. (An unacceptable tactic used by the United States several times, most recently against Iraq, which only affects innocent people.) The American force was now rapidly built up and in March 1968 amounted to more than 500,000 soldiers.

In 1965, the United States began bombing North Vietnam in an attempt to stop support for the FNL. In South Vietnam, the United States tried to crush the FNL by destroying guerrilla-controlled areas, including through chemical warfare. The success of the United States and the South Vietnamese troops did not materialize, however, which is why the FNL and the North Vietnamese troops conquered a large number of cities in early 1968 during the so-called “Tea Offensive”. However, the offensive was repulsed with heavy losses on both sides. However, it opened the eyes of the Americans who realized that the Vietnam War would be difficult to win. Opinion in the United States and in many other parts of the world continued to vigorously question the war and its insanity. As a result, President Lyndon Johnson did not run for re-election. North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh died in 1969.

Under President Richard Nixon, the number of US troops was reduced and the Paris peace talks were extended to a conference with participants from South Vietnam and the FNL. But at the same time, the war spread to Cambodia and Laos when the United States tried to bomb the “Ho Chi Minh Trail”, the North Vietnamese supply line.

In the spring of 1972, North Vietnam launched a new offensive. It responded to the United States by resuming bombing of North Vietnam and mining North Vietnamese ports. The bombings of Hanoi and Haiphong at Christmas 1972 resulted in protests around the world but had the intended effect on the United States. North Vietnam was forced to sign a peace agreement in Paris on January 27, 1973.

After losing more than 58,000 troops, the United States left Vietnam, the death toll of Vietnamese was staggering. The war continued on a small scale until April 1975, when it ended with the escape of South Vietnamese President Thieu on April 21 and the capture of Saigon by the North Vietnamese on April 30.

Vietnam history, modern


Elections to an All-Vietnamese parliament were held in April
On 2 July, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was founded.
After reunification, northern Vietnam was given responsibility for heavy industry, while the south was primarily responsible for food supply and light industry. The industries that existed in the south were largely nationalized

1977-1978 Agriculture was collectivized


In the spring, the Communist Party ran a socialization campaign in the south. The Chinese were mainly affected in the big cities, which dominated the business world. At least 400,000 Vietnamese, mostly of Chinese descent, fled the country, often in overloaded boats. Later, the UN succeeded in persuading the new regime to allow at least another 350,000 people to leave the country in a safer way. Even today, former Saigon government officials are forced to support themselves by pedaling cyclo (a form of bicycle taxi) or selling tickets


Vietnamese forces invade Cambodia (Kampuchea) due to confrontations by the Khmer Rouge. The Vietnamese install a sound regime in the country. Chinese forces invade northern Vietnam in

In the early 1980s, Vietnam was isolated from the Western world by a boycott led by the United States to orient itself toward the Soviet Union. The country’s economy was bottoming out


At the party congress, reform work was initiated and the investment in heavy industry was toned down in favor of the production of food and other basic goods. The failure of the planned economy meant that the system was relaxed from within. Out in the provinces, a market system began to emerge. Privately grown food was sold on a free market. The state plans were changed in the direction of consumer goods


The strong inflation, which during the year reached over 700%, helped to accelerate the reforms. The reform line, called doi moi (renewal), was strengthened at the Sixth Party Congress in 1986, which was marked by strong internal criticism of inefficiency and corruption. The party got a reform-minded general secretary from the south, Nguyen Van Linh. In the economic field, devaluations were carried out, lending was tightened and subsidies were abolished, which reduced inflation.


Nguyen Van Linh was succeeded as general secretary by the more conservative Do Muoi

1992 The country shows its first trade surplus!


Do Muoi’s successor General Le Kha Phieu was elected Secretary – General in December. He pursued a conservative policy aimed at preserving and preferably strengthening the Communist Party’s political control, while liberalizing the economy following the Chinese pattern.

During the last years of the 1990s, there were several signs of division within the party leadership. Prime Minister Phan Van Khai seemed to stand for a more pro-reform line than the party’s general secretary Le Kha Phieu. There was uncertainty within the party about how far the reforms could be allowed to go. At the same time as private enterprise was released and agricultural land was practically privatized, the party said no to most political reforms.

Vietnam Brief History