High Resolution Photos of Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City HCMC (Saigon)
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Vietnam (Vietnamese: Việt Nam), officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (Vietnamese: Cộng hòa xã hội chủ nghĩa Việt Nam), is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea to the east. With a population of over 86 million, Vietnam is the 13th most populous country in the world.
The people of Vietnam regained independence and broke away from China in AD 938 after their victory at the battle of Bạch Đằng River. Successive dynasties flourished along with geographic and political expansion deeper into Southeast Asia, until it was colonized by the French in the mid-19th century. Efforts to resist the French eventually led to their expulsion from the country in the mid-20th century, leaving a nation divided politically into two countries. Fighting between the two sides continued during the Vietnam War, ending with a North Vietnamese victory in 1975.
Emerging from this prolonged military engagement, the war-ravaged nation was politically isolated. The government’s centrally planned economic decisions hindered post-war reconstruction and its treatment of the losing side engendered more resentment than reconciliation. In 1986, it instituted economic and political reforms and began a path towards international reintegration. By 2000, it had established diplomatic relations with most nations. Its economic growth had been among the highest in the world in the past decade. These efforts culminated in Vietnam joining the World Trade Organization in 2007 and its successful bid to become a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council in 2008.
Việt Nam (Vietnamese pronunciation: vjə̀tnam) was adopted as the official name of the country by Emperor Gia Long in 1804. It is variation on 'Nam Việt,' (南越, Southern Việt) a name for the country used in ancient times. In 1839, Emperor Minh Mạng renamed the country Đại Nam ('Great South'). In 1945, the nation's official name was changed back to 'Vietnam'. The name is also sometimes rendered as 'Viet Nam' in English.
The area now known as Vietnam has been inhabited since Paleolithic times, and some archaeological sites in Thanh Hoa Province purportedly date back several thousand years. Archaeologists link the beginnings of Vietnamese civilization to the late Neolithic, Early Bronze Age, Phung-nguyen culture, which was centered in Vinh Phuc Province of contemporary Vietnam from about 2000 to 1400 BCE. By about 1200 BCE, the development of wet-rice cultivation and bronze casting in the Ma River and Red River plains led to the development of the Dong Son culture, notable for its elaborate bronze drums. The bronze weapons, tools, and drums of Dongsonian sites show a Southeast Asian influence that indicates an indigenous origin for the bronze-casting technology. Many small, ancient copper mine sites have been found in northern Vietnam. Some of the similarities between the Dong Sonian sites and other Southeast Asian sites include the presence of boat-shaped coffins and burial jars, stilt dwellings, and evidence of the customs of betel-nut-chewing and teeth-blackening.
The legendary Hồng Bàng Dynasty of the Hùng kings is considered by many Vietnamese as the first Vietnamese state, known as Văn Lang. In 257 BCE, the last Hùng king lost to Thục Phán, who consolidated the Lạc Việt tribes with his Âu Việt tribes, forming Âu Lạc and proclaiming himself An Dương Vương. In 207 BCE, a Chinese general named Zhao Tuo defeated An Dương Vương and consolidated Âu Lạc into Nanyue. In 111 BCE, the Chinese Han Dynasty consolidated Nanyue into their empire.
For the next thousand years, Vietnam was mostly under Chinese rule. Early independence movements such as those of the Trưng Sisters and of Lady Triệu were only briefly successful. It was independent as Vạn Xuân under the Anterior Ly Dynasty between 544 and 602. By the early 10th century, Vietnam had gained autonomy, but not independence, under the Khúc family.
In 938 CE, a Vietnamese lord named Ngô Quyền defeated Chinese forces at the Bạch Đằng River and regained independence after 10 centuries under Chinese control. Renamed as Đại Việt, the nation went through a golden era during the Lý and Trần Dynasties. During the rule of the Trần Dynasty, Đại Việt repelled three Mongol invasions. Buddhism flourished and became the state religion. Following the brief Hồ Dynasty, Vietnamese independence was momentarily interrupted by the Chinese Ming Dynasty, but was restored by Lê Lợi, the founder of the Lê Dynasty. Vietnam reached its zenith in the Lê Dynasty of the 15th century, especially during the reign of Emperor Lê Thánh Tông (1460–1497). Between the 11th and 18th centuries, the Vietnamese expanded southward in a process known as nam tiến (southward expansion). They eventually conquered the kingdom of Champa and part of the Khmer Empire.
Towards the end of the Lê Dynasty, civil strife engulfed much of Vietnam. First, the Chinese-supported Mạc Dynasty challenged the Lê Dynasty's power. After the Mạc Dynasty was defeated, the Lê Dynasty was reinstalled, but with no actual power. Power was divided between the Trịnh Lords in the North and the Nguyễn Lords in the South, who engaged in a civil war for more than four decades. During this time, the Nguyễn expanded southern Vietnam into the Mekong Delta, annexing the Champa in the central highlands and the Khmer land in the Mekong. The civil war ended when the Tây Sơn brothers defeated both and established their new dynasty. However, their rule did not last long and they were defeated by the remnants of the Nguyễn Lords led by Nguyen Anh with the help of the French. Nguyen Anh unified Vietnam, and established the Nguyễn Dynasty, ruling under the name Gia Long.
Western colonial era
Vietnam's independence was gradually eroded by France in a series of military conquests from 1859 until 1885 when the entire country became part of French Indochina. The French administration imposed significant political and cultural changes on Vietnamese society. A Western-style system of modern education was developed, and Christianity was propagated widely in Vietnamese society. Most of the French settlers in Indochina were concentrated in Cochinchina (southern third of Vietnam whose principal city was Saigon). Developing a plantation economy to promote the exports of tobacco, indigo, tea and coffee, the French largely ignored increasing calls for self-government and civil rights. A nationalist political movement soon emerged, with leaders such as Phan Boi Chau, Phan Chu Trinh, Phan Dinh Phung, Emperor Ham Nghi and Ho Chi Minh calling for independence. However, the French maintained control of their colonies until World War II, when the Japanese war in the Pacific triggered the invasion of French Indochina in 1941. This event was preceded by the establishment of the Vichy French administration, a puppet state of Nazi Germany then ally of the Japanese Empire. The natural resources of Vietnam were exploited for the purposes of the Japanese Empire's military campaigns into the British Indochinese colonies of Burma, the Malay Peninsula and India.
First Indochina War
In 1941, the Viet Minh a communist and nationalist liberation movement emerged under Ho Chi Minh, to seek independence for Vietnam from France as well as to oppose the Japanese occupation. An estimated 2 million Vietnamese, or 10% of the population then, died during the Vietnamese famine of 1944–45. Following the military defeat of Japan and the fall of its Empire of Vietnam in August 1945, Viet Minh occupied Hanoi and proclaimed a provisional government, which asserted independence on 2 September. In the same year the Provisional French Republic sent the French Far East Expeditionary Corps, which was originally created to fight the Japanese occupation forces, in order to pacify the liberation movement and to restore French rule. On November 20, 1946, triggered by the Haiphong Incident, the First Indochina War between Viet Minh and the French forces ensued, lasting until 20 July 1954.
Despite fewer losses - Expeditionary Corps suffered 1/3 the casualties of the Chinese and Soviet-backed Viet Minh - during the course of the war, the French and Vietnamese loyalists eventually suffered a major strategic setback at the Siege of Dien Bien Phu, which allowed Ho Chi Minh to negotiate a ceasefire with a favorable position at the ongoing Geneva conference of 1954. Colonial administration ended as French Indochina was dissolved. According to the Geneva Accords of 1954 the forces of former French supporters and communist nationalists were separated south and north, respectively, with the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone, at the 17th parallel, between. A Partition of Vietnam, with Ho Chi Minh's Democratic Republic of Vietnam in North Vietnam, and Emperor Bao Dai's State of Vietnam in the South Vietnam, was not intended by the 1954 Agreements, and they expressly forbade the interference of third powers. Counter to the counsel of his American advisor, the State of Vietnam Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem toppled Bao Dai in a fraudulent referendum organised by his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu, and proclaimed himself president of the Republic of Vietnam. The Accords mandated nationwide elections by 1956, which Diem refused to hold, despite repeated calls from the North for talks to discuss elections.
Vietnam War, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, Buddhist crisis, Role of United States in the Vietnam War, ARVN, Vietcong, Ho Chi Minh Trail, and Operation Menu
In July 1955, South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem rejected the nationwide elections agreed to by France and North Vietnam at the Geneva Conference of 1954. The pro-Hanoi Vietcong began a guerrilla campaign in the late 1950s to overthrow Diem's government, which an official Vietcong statement described as a 'disguised colonial regime'.
In 1963, Buddhist discontent with Diem's pro-Catholic discrimination erupted following the banning of the Buddhist flag and the Hue Vesak shootings. This resulted in a series of mass demonstrations known as the Buddhist crisis. With Diem unwilling to bend, his brother orchestrated the Xa Loi Pagoda raids. As a result, America's relationship with Diem broke down and resulted in coup that saw Diem killed.
Diem was followed by a series of military regimes that often lasted only months before being toppled by another. With this instability, the communists began to gain ground. There were more than a dozen governments before the pairing of Nguyen Cao Ky and Nguyen Van Thieu took control of a junta in mid-1965. Thieu gradually outmanoevred Ky and cemented his grip on power in fraudulent elections in 1967 and 1971.
To support South Vietnam's struggle against the communist insurgency, the US began increasing its contribution of military advisers. US forces became embroiled in ground combat operations in 1965 and at their peak they numbered more than 500,000. Communist forces attacked most major targets in South Vietnam during the 1968 Tet Offensive, and although their campaign failed militarily, it shocked the American establishment, and caused them to think that the communists could not be defeated. Communist forces supplying the Vietcong carried supplies along the Truong Son Road, which passed through Laos and Cambodia. The US president authorized Operation Menu, a SAC bombing campaign in Laos and Cambodia, which he kept secret from the US Congress.
Its own casualties mounting, and facing opposition to the war at home and condemnation abroad, the U.S. began withdrawing from ground combat roles according to the Nixon Doctrine; the process was subsequently called Vietnamization. The effort had mixed results. The Paris Peace Accords of 27 January 1973, formally recognized the sovereignty of Vietnam 'as recognized by the 1954 Geneva Agreements'. Under the terms of the accords all American combat troops were withdrawn by 29 March 1973. Limited fighting continued, before the north captured the province of Phuoc Long in December 1974 and started a full-scale offensive, culminating in the Fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. South Vietnam briefly come under the nominal rule of a Provisional Revolutionary Government while under military occupation by North Vietnam. On 2 July 1976, North and South were merged to form a Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Upon taking control of the bomb-ravaged country, the Vietnamese communists banned all other political parties and forced public servants and military personnel of the Republic of Vietnam into re-education camps. The government also embarked on a mass campaign of collectivization of farms and factories. Reconstruction of the war-ravaged country was slow, and serious humanitarian and economic problems confronted the communist regime. Millions of people fled the country in crudely built boats, creating an international humanitarian crisis. In 1978, the Vietnamese army invaded Cambodia (sparking the Cambodian-Vietnamese War) which removed the Khmer Rouge from power. This action worsened relations with China, which launched a brief incursion into northern Vietnam (the Sino-Vietnamese War) in 1979. This conflict caused Vietnam to rely even more heavily on Soviet economic and military aid.
Doi Moi (renovation)
At the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam in December 1986, reformers, upset by the lack of economic progress after the Vietnam War, replaced the 'old guard' with new leadership. The reformers were led by 71 year old Nguyen Van Linh, who became the party's new general secretary. Linh was a native of northern Vietnam who had served in the south both during and after the war. In a historic shift, the reformers implemented free-market reforms known as Đổi Mới (renovation), which carefully managed the transition from a command economy to a Socialist-oriented market economy. With the authority of the state remaining unchallenged, private ownership of farms and companies engaged in commodity production, deregulation and foreign investment were encouraged while the state maintained control over strategic industry. The economy of Vietnam subsequently achieved rapid growth in agricultural and industrial production, construction and housing, exports and foreign investment.
Government and politics
The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is a single-party state. A new state constitution was approved in April 1992, replacing the 1975 version. The central role of the Communist Party was reasserted in all organs of government, politics and society. Only political organizations affiliated with or endorsed by the Communist Party are permitted to contest elections. These include the Vietnamese Fatherland Front, worker and trade unionist parties. Although the state remains officially committed to socialism as its defining creed, the ideology's importance has substantially diminished since the 1990s. The President of Vietnam is the titular head of state and the nominal commander in chief of the military of Vietnam, chairing the Council on National Defense and Security. The Prime Minister of Vietnam Nguyen Tan Dung is the head of government, presiding over a council of ministers composed of 3 deputy prime ministers and the heads of 26 ministries and commissions.
The National Assembly of Vietnam is the unicameral legislature of the government, composed of 498 members. It is superior to both the executive and judicial branches. All members of the council of ministers are derived from the National Assembly. The Supreme People's Court of Vietnam, which is the highest court of appeal in the nation, is also answerable to the National Assembly. Beneath the Supreme People's Court stand the provincial municipal courts and the local courts. Military courts are also a powerful branch of the judiciary with special jurisdiction in matters of national security. All organs of Vietnam's government are controlled by the Communist Party. Most government appointees are members of the party. The General Secretary of the Communist Party is perhaps one of the most important political leaders in the nation, controlling the party's national organization and state appointments, as well as setting policy.
The Vietnam People's Army (VPA) is the official name for the combined military services of Vietnam, which is organized along the lines of China's People's Liberation Army. The VPA is further subdivided into the Vietnamese People's Ground Forces (including Strategic Rear Forces and Border Defense Forces), the Vietnam People's Navy, the Vietnam People's Air Force and the Vietnamese People's Coast Guard. Through Vietnam's recent history, the VPA has actively been involved in Vietnam's workforce to develop the economy of Vietnam, in order to coordinate national defense and the economy. The VPA is involved in such areas as industry, agriculture, forestry, fishery and telecommunications. The total strength of the VPA is close to 500,000 officers and enlisted members. The government also organizes and maintains provincial militias and police forces. The role of the military in public life has steadily been reduced since the 1980s.
In its 2004 report on Human Rights Practices, the U.S. Department of State characterized Vietnam’s human rights record as “poor” and cited the continuation of “serious abuses.” According to the report, the government has imposed restrictions on freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association.
The current Vietnamese foreign policy is: 'Implement consistently the foreign policy line of independence, self-reliance, peace, cooperation and development; the foreign policy of openness and diversification and multi-lateralization of international relations. Proactively and actively engage in international economic integration while expanding international cooperation in other fields. Vietnam is a friend and reliable partner of all countries in the international community, actively taking part in international and regional cooperation processes.'
As of December 2007, Vietnam has established diplomatic relations with 172 countries. Vietnam holds membership of 63 international organizations such as the United Nations, ASEAN, NAM, La Francophonie, WTO and 650 non-government organizations.
Provinces of Vietnam
Vietnam is divided into 58 provinces (known in Vietnamese as tỉnh, from the Chinese 省, shěng). There are also 5 centrally controlled municipalities existing at the same level as provinces (thành phố trực thuộc trung ương).
The provinces are further subdivided into provincial municipalities (thành phố trực thuộc tỉnh), townships (thị xã) and counties (huyện), and then, subdivided into towns (thị trấn) or communes (xã).
The centrally controlled municipalities are subdivided into districts (quận) and counties, and then, subdivided into wards (phường).
Geography and climate
Geography of Vietnam
Vietnam is approximately 331,688 km² (128,066 sq mi) in area (not including Hoang Sa and Truong Sa islands), larger than Italy and almost the size of Germany. The perimeter of the country running along its international boundaries is 4,639 km (2,883 mi). The topography consists of hills and densely forested mountains, with level land covering no more than 20%. Mountains account for 40% of the area, with smaller hills accounting for 40% and tropical forests 42%. The northern part of the country consists mostly of highlands and the Red River Delta. Phan Xi Păng, located in Lào Cai province, is the highest mountain in Vietnam at 3,143 m (10,312 ft). The south is divided into coastal lowlands, Annamite Chain peaks, extensive forests, and poor soil. Comprising five relatively flat plateaus of basalt soil, the highlands account for 16% of the country's arable land and 22% of its total forested land.
Topography of Vietnam.
The delta of the Red River (also known as the Sông Hồng), a flat, triangular region of 15,000 km2 (5,792 sq mi), is smaller but more intensely developed and more densely populated than the Mekong River Delta. Once an inlet of the Gulf of Tonkin, it has been filled in by the enormous alluvial deposits of the rivers over a period of millennia, and it advances one hundred meters into the Gulf annually. The Mekong delta, covering about 40,000 km2 (15,444 sq mi), is a low-level plain no more than three meters above sea level at any point and criss-crossed by a maze of canals and rivers. So much sediment is carried by the Mekong's various branches and tributaries that the delta advances sixty to eighty meters into the sea every year.
Because of differences in latitude and the marked variety of topographical relief, the climate tends to vary considerably from place to place. During the winter or dry season, extending roughly from November to April, the monsoon winds usually blow from the northeast along the China coast and across the Gulf of Tonkin, picking up considerable moisture; consequently the winter season in most parts of the country is dry only by comparison with the rainy or summer season. The average annual temperature is generally higher in the plains than in the mountains and plateaus and in the south than in the north. Temperatures in the southern plains (Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta) varies less, going between 21 and 28 °C (70 and 82.5 °F) over the course of a year. The seasons in the mountains and plateaus and in the north are much more dramatic, and temperatures may vary from 5 °C (41 °F) in December and January to 37 °C (98.6 °F) in July and August.
Vietnam has two World's Natural Heritage sites: Halong Bay and Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park and 6 World's biosphere reserves including: Can Gio Mangrove Forest, Cat Tien, Cat Ba, Kien Giang, Red River Delta, Western Nghe An.
According to chapter 1 of the 2005 National Environmental Present Condition Report, 'Biodiversity Subject of Vietnam Environment Protection Agency', in terms of species diversity Vietnam is one of twenty five countries considered to possess a high level of biodiversity, and is ranked 16th in biological diversity (having 16% world's species) (page 9). 15,986 flora were identified, of which 10% are endemic (p9). Statistics indicate that there are 307 nematodes, 200 oligochaeta, 145 acarina, 113 springtails, 7750 insects, 260 reptiles, 120 amphibians, 840 birds and 310 mammals of which 100 birds and 78 mammals are endemic (p9,10). Vietnam also has 1438 fresh water microalgae (9,6% species in the world) (Table 1.2, p9). It is also noted that there are 794 aquatic invertebrates and 2458 sea fish (p10,11). In recent years, there have been 13 genera, 222 species, and 30 taxa of flora newly described, and 6 mammals have been discovered such as the saola, giant muntjac, Edwards's Pheasant, Tonkin Snub-nosed Langur, livistona halongensis, geothelphusa vietnamica, and others (frame 1.4, p11,12). In agricultural genetic diversity, Vietnam is one of the world's twelve original cultivar centers (p13). The Vietnam National Cultivar Gene Bank is preserving 12,300 cultivars of 115 species (p14).
In chapter 4 of that report, it is said that the Vietnamese government spent 49.07 million USD for preserving biodiversity in 2004 (p71) and has established 126 conservation areas including 28 national parks (p73).
Economy of Vietnam
Historically, Vietnam has been an agricultural civilization based on wet rice cultivating. The Vietnam War destroyed much of the economy of Vietnam. Upon taking power, the Government created a planned economy for the nation. Collectivization of farms, factories and economic capital was implemented, and millions of people were put to work in government programs. For a decade, united Vietnam's economy was plagued with inefficiency and corruption in state programs, poor quality and underproduction and restrictions on economic activities and trade. It also suffered from the trade embargo from the United States and most of Europe after the Vietnam War. Subsequently, the trade partners of the Communist blocs began to erode. In 1986, the Sixth Party Congress introduced significant economic reforms with market economy elements as part of a broad economic reform package called 'đổi mới' (Renovation), resulting in a Socialist-oriented market economy. Private ownership was encouraged in industries, commerce and agriculture. Vietnam achieved around 8% annual GDP growth from 1990 to 1997 and continued at around 7% from 2000 to 2005, making it the world's second-fastest growing economy. Simultaneously, foreign investment grew threefold and domestic savings quintupled. Manufacturing, information technology and high-tech industries form a large and fast-growing part of the national economy. Vietnam is a relative newcomer to the oil business, but today it is the third-largest oil producer in Southeast Asia with output of 400,000 barrels per day (64,000 m3/d). Vietnam is one of Asia's most open economies: two-way trade is around 160% of GDP, more than twice the ratio for China and over four times India's.
Vietnam is still a relatively poor country with an annual GDP of US$280.2 billion at purchasing power parity (2006 estimate). This translates to a purchasing power of about US$3,300 per capita (or US$726 per capita at the market exchange rate). Inflation rate was estimated at 7.5% per year in 2006. Deep poverty, defined as a percent of the population living under $1 per day, has declined significantly and is now smaller than that of China, India, and the Philippines.
As a result of several land reform measures, Vietnam is now the largest producer of cashew nuts with a one-third global share, the largest producer of black pepper accounting for one-third of the world's market and second largest rice exporter in the world after Thailand. Vietnam has the highest percent of land use for permanent crops, 6.93%, of any nation in the Greater Mekong Subregion. Besides rice, key exports are coffee, tea, rubber, and fishery products. However, agriculture's share of economic output has declined, falling as a share of GDP from 42% in 1989 to 20% in 2006, as production in other sectors of the economy has risen. According to the CIA World Fact Book, the unemployment rate in Vietnam is 4.3%. Among other steps taken in the process of transitioning to a market economy, Vietnam in July 2006 updated its intellectual property legislation to comply with TRIPS. Vietnam was accepted into the WTO on November 7, 2006. Vietnam's chief trading partners include China, Japan, Australia, ASEAN countries, the U.S. and Western European countries.
Quân Đội Nhân Dân Việt Nam, The Vietnam People's Army (VPA), is the official collective term for the armed forces of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The VPA consists of the Vietnam People's Ground Forces, Vietnam People's Navy, Vietnam People's Air Force, and Vietnam People's Coast Guard.
The modern transport network of Vietnam was originally developed under French rule for the purpose of raw materials harvesting, and reconstructed and extensively modernized following the Vietnam War. The road system is the most popular form of transportation in the country. Vietnam’s road system includes national roads administered by the central level; provincial roads managed by the provincial level; district roads managed by the district level; urban roads managed by cities and towns; and commune roads managed by the commune level.
Bicycles, motor scooters and motorcycles remain the most popular forms of road transport in Vietnam's cities, towns, and villages although the number of privately owned automobiles is also on the rise, especially in the larger cities. Public bus operated by private companies is the main long distance travel means for many people. Traffic congestion is a serious problem in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City as the cities' roads struggle to cope with the booming numbers of automobiles.
The nation has seven developed ports and harbors at Cam Ranh, Da Nang, Hai Phong, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Gai (Halong City), Qui Nhon, and Nha Trang.
There are also more than 17,000 km of navigable waterways, which play a significant role in rural life owing to the extensive network of rivers in Vietnam.
In 2009, Vietnam and Japan had signed a deal to built a high speed railway using Japanese technology. Vietnamese high speed engineers were sent to Japan to take high speed course from March to November. Since 2006, Vietnam had sent 100 high speed operator to take courses in Japan so they can operate it once it completed. The railway will be 1,630-km-long express route and contain a total of 26 stations, including Hanoi and Thu Thiem terminus in Ho Chi Minh city. It will help reduce the travel time between the country’s two largest cities to under 10 hours. Using the planned technology (Shinkansen), the railway will be designed for trains to travel at a maximum speed of 360 km per hour. However, the consultant joint venture recommended running trains at a maximum of 320 km per hour using Fastech 360s trains. As scheduled, the railway lines from Hanoi to central Vinh and from central Nha Trang to Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam will be laid during the 2010-2015 period. From 2015-2020, construction will begin on the routes between Vinh and Nha Trang and between Hanoi and the northern mountainous provinces of Lao Cai and Lang Son.
Recent census estimates the population of Vietnam at beyond 84 million. Vietnamese people, also called 'Viet' or 'Kinh', account for 86.2% of the population. Their population is concentrated in the alluvial deltas and coastal plains of the country. A homogeneous social and ethnic group, the Kinh exert political and economic control. There are more than 54 ethnic minority groups throughout the country, but the Kinh are purveyors of the dominant culture. Most ethnic minorities, such as the Muong, a closely related ethnic of the Kinh, are found mostly in the highlands covering two-thirds of the territory. Before the Vietnam War, the population of the Central Highlands was almost exclusively Degar (over 40 hill tribal groups), until Diem's governments enacted a program of settling Kinh in indigenous areas. The Hoa (ethnic Chinese) and Khmer Krom are mainly lowlanders. The largest ethnic minority groups include the Hmong, Dao, Tay, Thai, and Nung. From 1978 to 1979, some 450,000 ethnic Chinese left Vietnam.
The people of Vietnam speak Vietnamese as a native language. In its early history, Vietnamese writing used Chinese characters. In the 13th century, the Vietnamese developed their own set of characters called Chữ nôm. The celebrated epic Đoạn trường tân thanh (Truyện Kiều or The Tale of Kieu) by Nguyễn Du was written in Chữ nôm. During the French colonial period, Quốc ngữ, the romanized Vietnamese alphabet used for spoken Vietnamese, which was developed in 17th century by Jesuit Alexandre De Rhodes and several other Catholic missionaries, became popular and brought literacy to the masses.
Various other languages are spoken by several minority groups in Vietnam. The most common of these are Tày, Mường, Khmer, Chinese, Nùng, and H'Mông. The French language, a legacy of colonial rule, is still spoken by some older Vietnamese as a second language, but is losing its popularity. Vietnam is also a full member of the Francophonie. Russian - and to a much lesser extent German, Czech, or Polish - is sometimes known among those whose families had ties with the Soviet bloc. In recent years, English is becoming more popular as a second language. English study is obligatory in most schools. Chinese and Japanese have also become more popular.
Religions of Vietnam
For much of Vietnamese history, Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism have strongly influenced the religious and cultural life of the people. About 85% of Vietnamese identify with Buddhism, though not all practice on a regular basis. About 8% of the population are Christians (about six million Roman Catholics and fewer than one million Protestants, according to the census of 2007). Christianity was introduced first by the Portuguese and the Dutch traders in the 16th and 17th centuries, then further propagated by French missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries, and to a lesser extent, by American Protestant missionaries during the presence of American forces during the 1960s and early 1970s, largely among the Montagnards of South Vietnam. The largest Protestant churches are the Evangelical Church of Vietnam and the Montagnard Evangelical Church. Two thirds of Vietnam's Protestants are ethnic minorities.
Vietnam is deeply suspicious and wary of Roman Catholicism. This mistrust originated during the 19th century when some Catholics collaborated with the French colonists and in helping French priests in uprisings against the emperors. Furthermore, the Catholic Church's strongly anti-communist stance have made it an a government enemy. The Vatican Church is banned and only government-controlled organisations are permitted. Relationship with the Vatican, however, has improved in recent years. Membership of Sunni and Bashi Islam, a small minority faith, is primarily practiced by the ethnic Cham minority, though there are also a few ethnic Vietnamese adherents in the southwest. The communist government rejects criticism that it does not allow religious freedom.
The vast majority of Vietnamese people of Asian religions practice Ancestor Worship.
From the articles of Religions by country, Religion in Vietnam and Demographics of Vietnam; 85% is nominal/secular Buddhists including predominant 83% East Asian Buddhist or 'Triple religion' (80% of people are worship the mixture of Mahayana Buddhism mainly, Taoism, Confucianism with Ancestor Worship; 2% Hòa Hảo with 1% of some new Vietnamese-Buddhist sects as Tứ Ân Hiếu Nghĩa, Pure Land Buddhist, etc) and 2% Theravada Buddhism, mainly among Khmer people but the census of Government showed that only over 10 million people have taken refuge in the Three Jewels; 8% Christians (7% Catholics and 1% Protestants); 3% Caodaism; 2.5% Tribal animism; less than 70 thousand Muslims (mainly Cham people); small Hindu communities (over 50 thousand people) and a small number of Baha'is and Jews.
Vietnam has an extensive state-controlled network of schools, colleges and universities but the number of privately run and mixed public and private institutions is also growing. General education in Vietnam is imparted in 5 categories: Kindergarten, elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and college / university. Courses are taught mainly in Vietnamese. A large number of public schools have been organized across cities, towns and villages with the purpose of raising the national literacy rate which is already among the highest in the world. There are a large number of specialist colleges, established to develop a diverse and skilled national workforce. A large number of Vietnam's most acclaimed universities are based in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Facing serious crises, Vietnam's education system is under a holistic reform launched by the government. In Vietnam, education from age 6 to 11 is free and mandatory. Education above these ages is not free, therefore some poor families may find it hard to come up with the tuition for their children without some forms of public or private assistance. Regardless, school enrollment is among the highest in the world and the number of colleges and universities increased quite dramatically in recent years, from 178 in 2000 to 299 in 2005.
Science and technology
Historically, Vietnamese scholars did not practice 'science' in its generally accepted meaning, but many academic fields were well-developed, especially social sciences and humanities. It has at least ten centuries of commentary and analytic writings. Among the best known works are those of 'Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư' - of Ngô Sĩ Liên. Writings that deal with geography, nature, customs and people were also written such as 'Dư địa chí' by Nguyễn Trãi. In mathematics, arithmetics and geometry has been taught in schools since the 15th century, using the famous textbook: 'Đại thành toán pháp' by Lương Thế Vinh. Lương Thế Vinh also introduced the notion of zero while Mạc Hiển Tích had used the term 'số ẩn' (unknown/secret/hidden number) to refer to negative numbers even earlier. In the later centuries, much knowledge was collected into encyclopedias such as 'Vân đài loại ngữ' by Lê Quý Đôn and 'Lịch triều hiến chương loại chí' by Phan Huy Chú.
Vietnam is an agricultural civilization based on wet rice cultivation with ancient Dong Son culture as one of its defining aspects. The major stimulation of Vietnamese culture's development comes from indigenous factors, with Chinese and Indian influence serving to further enrich it. Through history, Cham culture and the cultures of other minority ethnic groups in Vietnam have been integrated with Vietnamese culture in correlated effects.
The official spoken and written language of Vietnam is Vietnamese.
In the socialist era, the cultural life of Vietnam has been deeply influenced by government-controlled media and the cultural influences of socialist programs. For many decades, foreign cultural influences were shunned and emphasis placed on appreciating and sharing the culture of communist nations such as the Soviet Union, China, Cuba and others. Since the 1990s, Vietnam has seen a greater exposure to Southeast Asian, European and American culture and media.
One of the most popular Vietnamese traditional garments is the 'Áo Dài', worn often for special occasions such as weddings or festivals. White Áo dài is the required uniform for girls in many high schools across Vietnam. Áo Dài was once worn by both genders but today it is worn mainly by females, except for certain important traditional culture-related occasions where some men do wear it.
Vietnamese cuisine uses very little oil and many vegetables. The main dishes are often based on rice, soy sauce, and fish sauce. Its characteristic flavors are sweet (sugar), spicy (serrano peppers), sour (lime), nuoc mam (fish sauce), and flavored by a variety of mint and basil.
Vietnamese music varies slightly in the three regions: Bắc 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 attitude.
Football (soccer) is the most popular sport in Vietnam. Sports and games such as badminton, tennis, ping pong, and chess are also popular with large segments of the population. Volleyball, especially women's volleyball, is watched by a fairly large number of Vietnamese people. The (expatriate Vietnamese) community forms a prominent part of Vietnamese cultural life, introducing Western sports, films, music and other cultural activities in the nation.
Vietnam is home to a small film industry.
Among countless other traditional Vietnamese occasions, the traditional Vietnamese wedding is one of the most important. Many of the age-old customs in a Vietnamese wedding continue to be celebrated by both Vietnamese in Vietnam and overseas, often combining both western and eastern elements.
Vietnam's media sector is controlled by the government to follow the official communist party line, though some newspapers are relatively outspoken. The Voice of Vietnam is the official state-run radio broadcasting service that covers the nation. It also broadcasts internationally via shortwave, renting transmitters in other countries and provides broadcasts from its website. Vietnam Television is the national television broadcasting company. As Vietnam moved toward a free-market economy with its Đổi mới measures, the government has relied on the print media to keep the public informed about its policies. The measure has had the effect of almost doubling the numbers of newspapers and magazines since 1996. Vietnam is putting considerable effort into modernization and expansion of its telecommunication system, but its performance continues to lag behind that of its more modern neighbors.
Vietnam's number of visitors for tourism and vacation has increased steadily over the past ten years. About 3.56 million international guests visited Vietnam in 2006, an increase of 3.7% from 2005. The country is investing capital into the coastal regions that are already popular for their beaches and boat tours. Hotel staff and tourism guides in these regions speak a good amount of English.
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