History

Photo: Vietnamese Temple

History


The Kingdom of Funan

In the 1st century of Christian reckoning the kingdom of Funan establishes itself in the Mekong delta, which today is Vietnamese territory. The founders of this kingdom have probably been Indian immigrants. In subsequent centuries Funan develops into a seafaring merchant power without expanding into a state with a large land area.

It is strategically well located to become a trading power as in those days ships travelled almost exclusively close to the coastline and the land tip of the Mekong delta was an important stopover on the sea route between China and the Malay realms on the Malay Peninsula, on Sumatra and on Java.

In the 6th century the kingdom of Funan dissolves. An important reason for the decline of Funan is the improved seafaring technology allowing ships to stray farther from the coasts. Funan is conquered by the kingdom of Champa, which has established itself to the North of Funan.

The Kingdom of Champa

In the 2nd century of Christian reckoning, the kingdom of Champa establishes itself in the area modern-day Danang. It is founded by the people of the Chams, who are ethnically not related to the Vietnamese but probably have immigrated from an area today belonging to Indonesia. While the kingdom of Funan to the South of Champa was hardly influenced by China, the kingdom of Champa, during the 1,600 years of its history, repeatedly suffers Chinese overlordship.

Apart from that, Champa has to balance between two immediate neighbours stronger in numbers of population and in military terms: Vietnam to the North and the realm of the Khmer (Cambodians) to the South. Like Funan, the kingdom of Champa principally is a seafaring merchant power ruling over only a small land area.

In 1471 the armies of the Vietnamese Le Dynasty conquer the kingdom of Champa. About 60,000 Champa soldiers are slain, another 60,000 are abducted into Vietnamese slavery. The kingdom of Champa is reduced to a small area around the present-day Vietnamese city of Nha Trang.

When in 1720 a new attack by Vietnamese armies threatens the kingdom of Champa, the entire nation of the Cham emigrates to the Southwest, into an area north of lake Tonle Sap in present-day Cambodia.

During the Cambodian Khmer Rouge reign of terror from 1975 to 1979, some 100,000 of 250,000 Chams die or are killed.

Vietnamese Dynasties

In 1010 the first Vietnamese Ly Dynasty emperor who is independent from China establishes himself in Thang Long (present-day Hanoi). Before that, for more than 1,000 years, the Vietnamese core land (the delta of the Red River, flowing into the Tonkin Bay of the South China Sea) was either just a Chinese province or ruled by Vietnamese dynasties more or less accepting Chinese overlordship.

During these more than 1,000 years, when China more or less directly ruled over the Vietnamese, but also after Vietnamese dynasties had gained independence, China influenced Vietnamese culture and government structures enormously. The basic foundations of the Vietnamese culture and its government structures are the teachings of Confucius (551-479 B.C.). Vietnamese dynasties and the Vietnamese emperors' courts, in architectural as well as political matters, follow the structural examples of Beijing; well into the 20th century official Vietnamese publications used Chinese script.

In 1471, after the Vietnamese empire had slowly expanded to the South in previous decades, an army of the Vietnamese Le Dynasty conquers the kingdom of Champa with its center in the present-day Danang area. The kingdom of Champa is reduced to a small state around Nha Trang.

In the 18th century the Vietnamese expand farther to the South into the Mekong delta, an area that until then had been settled by Khmers (Cambodians). The Khmers are pushed to the West into an area roughly covering present-day Cambodia.

Colonial Times

In 1859 French troops conquer Saigon. The French intervention was triggered by the persecution of Christians in the Vietnamese empire, which started in the 30's of the 19th century. The first European missionary executed in the Vietnamese capital of Hué was Frenchman François Isidore Gagelin. He was publicly strangled. Between 1848 and 1860, 25 European priests, some 3,000 Vietnamese priests and more than 30,000 Vietnamese Catholics are executed.

In 1862 the Vietnamese emperor Tu Duc surrenders South Vietnam to the French, who set up their colony of Cochin China. Apart from that, Emperor Tu Duc has to assure an end to the persecution of Christians.

In 1883 France forces the yet uncolonialized part of Vietnam to accept the status of a French protectorate. Administratively the French divide the country into the colony Cochin China (in the South) and the protectorates Annam (central Vietnam) and Tonkin (North Vietnam).

In September 1940, after the conquest of France by German armies, Japanese troops occupy Indochina without meeting any resistance. Officially the word is that the French colonial power leaves all military installation for the Japanese to use; in response the French colonial administration remains in office. Therefore the years of World War II mean less war activity and destruction for Vietnam than, for instance, the fiercely contended Southeast Asian states of Burma and the Philippines.

With the Japanese capitulation on August 14, 1945, World War II ends in East Asia. France attempts to establish herself again as colonial power in Vietnam.

The Vietnam Wars

On September 2, 1945 in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh publicly declares Vietnam independent. While in South Vietnam the communist Viet Minh engage the French colonial administration in a guerrilla war, starting right after the declaration of independence, Ho Chi Minh, in his position as leader of the independence movement in North Vietnam, decides to negotiate with France. His reason: at that time there are more than 180,000 nationalist Chinese troops in North Vietnam; the Viet Minh in North Vietnam feel not strong enough to conduct their liberation war simultaneously against the French colonial forces and the Chinese troops.

In 1946, after the French had rebuilt their colonial administration in Vietnam, Chinese nationalists agree on a retreat of Chinese troops from Vietnam. This being accomplished, the Viet Minh increase their attacks against French colonial forces and installations in both South and North Vietnam. While the French succeed in keeping the cities under their control, the countryside is increasingly ruled by the Viet Minh.

On November 20, 1953, the French colonial forces install a garrison of 16,000 troops in Dien Bien Phu, a broad valley in the rough mountains along the border of North Vietnam and Northern Laos. From Dien Bien Phu the French intend to control the border region between the two countries. This is deemed necessary because the Viet Minh provide the communist movement in Laos, Pathet Lao, with arms.

The French military believed the valley of Dien Bien Phu, 19 kilometres long and 13 kilometres wide, to be safe from attacks by the Viet Minh. Nevertheless, in the following weeks and months Vietnamese troops under General Giap prepare to attack Dien Bien Phu. With the help of up to 200,000 porters, the Viet Minh manage to transport heavy artillery up the mountains surrounding the valley of Dien Bien Phu.

In March 1954 the Viet Minh commence their attack on the French garrison of Dien Bien Phu. On May 7, 1954, they conquer the French command center; 9,500 French colonial troops surrender. It is one of the gravest defeats in the history of the French colonial forces.

More than 20,000 Viet Minh and more than 3,000 French were killed in the battle for Dien Bien Phu. In the war between the Viet Minh and the French, which overall lasted for nine years, up to one million civilians, 200,000 to 300,000 Viet Minh and some 95,000 French colonial troops lost their lives.

On July 20, 1954 in Geneva, negotiators of the Viet Minh and France agree on the division of Vietnam into two states: a communist North Vietnam and a capitalist South-Vietnam.

In the years 1959-1963 the communist government of North Vietnam, after first having assumed that the communist guerrillas of South Vietnam could topple the Diem government by themselves, steers a course of escalating military confrontation. More than 40,000 North Vietnamese guerrilla infiltrate the South and provide the South Vietnamese communists with arms and ammunition transported on the Ho Chi Minh Trail on Laotian and Cambodian territory.

In 1961, newly elected US president Kennedy sends the first 100 military advisors and a special unit of 400 soldiers to Vietnam. In the following year the US increase the presence of their troops in Vietnam to 11,000 soldiers.

On August 2, 1964, two American cruisers are fired at by North Vietnamese patrol boats in the Bay of Tonkin. The US insist that the cruisers had been in international waters and use the incident as an excuse to bomb targets in North Vietnam for the first time. Only in 1971 it becomes known that the two American warships had violated the territorial waters of North Vietnam.

In March 1965 the US Airforce starts Operation Rolling Thunder, the wide-scale American bombardment of North Vietnam. During the following three-and-a-half years more than twice as many bombs are dropped over North Vietnam than were dropped during the entire World War II.

To reduce the exposure of industrial installations and the country's population, North Vietnam responds with a total decentralization of its economy and the evacuation of large numbers of people from the cities.

At the peak of the Vietnam War, in 1968, the US have about half a million soldiers in Vietnam. Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, the Philippines and Thailand together sent another 90,000 troops. The South Vietnamese army at that time counts about 1.5 million men.

The National Liberation Front under communist leadership, named Vietcong by the US, opposes this contingent with 400,000 troops.

On February 1, 1968, the forces of the National Liberation Army begin their large-scale Tet offensive against targets in 105 South Vietnamese cities. Even though the Vietcong are repulsed successfully everywhere except in Hué, and even though the Vietcong suffer tremendous losses, the Tet offensive is considered the turning point of the Vietnam War.

For the US, the Tet offensive effects a change of attitude. After the Tet offensive the US government is no longer primarily interested in winning the war, but rather looks for ways to back out of it without loosing too much of its reputation as a great military power.

The US Operation Rolling Thunder, the carpet bombardments of North Vietnam by the US airforce, ends in October 1968. The US begin to withdraw troops from Vietnam.

In 1969 in Paris, the US, South Vietnam, North Vietnam and the Vietcong start negotiating a full withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam.

In 1972, before the negotiations of Paris bring any results, the US reduce their troops in Vietnam to less than 100,000.

March 30, 1972 sees a communist spring offensive, not by the Vietcong but by conventional North Vietnamese troops crossing the demarcation line (the 17th degree of northern latitude) to invade South Vietnam. Intensive bombardments by American fighter planes force the North Vietnamese troops to retreat.

On January 27, 1973, a cease-fire agreement is signed in Paris and becomes effective that day. In March 1973 the last American troops leave Vietnam.

About two years later, North Vietnamese and Southern communist forces begin a large-scale offensive with the declared aim of a total victory over the South Vietnamese state. Only a few weeks later, on April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese troops occupy Saigon and thus bring three decades of war to an end.

United Vietnam

Initially for fear of political persecution, later because of the difficult economic situation in Vietnam, increasing numbers of so-called boat people flee the country. Often they use boats definitely not fit to cross oceans.

According to international estimates at least one third of the boat people die during their flight - either because their boats capsize and sink, or because of insufficient provisions on board. Pirates pose an additional problem. They capture a refugee vessel, rob all possessions, rape the women and finally kill all people on board and sink the boat.

In 1979 alone, more than 270,000 boat people flee from Vietnam. In the first six months of that year, the Malaysian Coast Guard forces more than 40,000 Vietnamese boat people on 267 ships to leave Malaysian territorial waters and to return to the open sea, where the refugees, including children, are left to their fate, which, more often than not, means death.

On December 25, 1978, after a series of transgressions at the Cambodian-Vietnamese border, Vietnamese armies invade Cambodia. On January 7, 1979, Vietnamese troops occupy Phnom Penh. A Vietnam-friendly government is installed, Heng Samrin, a Khmer Rouge guerrilla who before had fled to Vietnam, is declared president.

The new Cambodian government is not recognized by Western countries. In 1989 Hanoi recalls the Vietnamese troops from Cambodia.

At its 6th party congress in 1986, and after a decade-long economic crisis, the Communist Party of Vietnam decides on a far-reaching program of economic reforms aiming to introduce a liberal economy. Since then the economic structures of Vietnam have become more and more capitalistic, although the Communist Party still remains the sole political power of the country.

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