The Historical Roots of Contemporary Vietnam
- Patricia PelleyPatricia PelleyDepartment of History, Texas Tech University
Contemporary Vietnam is the product of many factors, but several moments in particular stand out. Nam tiến, meaning “Southern Advance,” refers to the migration of people from the Red River Delta, the traditional heartland of Vietnamese civilization, to what are now the central and southern parts of the country. As a result of this process, which unfolded over hundreds of years, two regional polities emerged: Đàng Ngoài (literally “Outer,” meaning northern) and Đàng Trong (literally “Inner,” meaning southern). During the Lê Dynasty (1428–1788), members of two clans began to wield executive power: the Trịnh family in Đàng Ngoài and the Nguyễn family in Đàng Trong. Throughout this period, new social, cultural, and economic patterns also appeared. In the late 18th century Tây Sơn rebels subdued the Trịnh and Nguyễn lords (chúa) and caused the Lê Dynasty to collapse. Instituting the pattern of north–south political unity, the Tây Sơn established the template for monarchs of the Nguyễn Dynasty (1802–1945) and for communist revolutionaries in the 20th century. During the French colonial occupation (1862–1954), colonists thoroughly refashioned the natural and built environments and created new economic realities. By dividing the country into three administrative units—the protectorate of Tonkin (northern Vietnam), the protectorate of Annam (central Vietnam), and the colony of Cochinchina (southern Vietnam)—the colonists further amplified regional identities. The French occupation also directly led to the First Indochina War and clearly contributed to the Second. After Northern Vietnamese (and their allies) defeated Southern Vietnamese (and their allies), a new united national polity emerged: the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, with the Vietnamese Communist Party in command. At the conclusion of both Indochina Wars significant numbers of Vietnamese fled the country. To a striking degree, the ideological differences that divided Vietnamese in earlier decades are still evident in contemporary times.