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Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Cong Hoa Chu Nghia Viet Nam


FLAG: The flag is red with a five-pointed gold star in the center.

ANTHEM: Tien Quan Ça (Forward, Soldiers!).

MONETARY UNIT: The dong (d) is a paper currency of 10 hao and 100 xu. There are coins of 1, 2, and 5 xu, and notes of 5 xu, 1, 2, and 5 hao, and 1, 2, 5, and 10 dong. d1 = $0.00006 (or $1 = d15,855) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard, but some traditional measures are still used.

HOLIDAYS: Liberation of Saigon, 30 April; May Day, 1 May; Independence Day, 2 September. Movable holidays include the Vietnamese New Year (Tet).

TIME: 7 pm = noon GMT.


Situated on the eastern coast of mainland Southeast Asia, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) has an area of 329,560 sq km (127,244 sq mi), extending 1,650 km (1,025 mi) ns and 600 km (373 mi) ew. Comparatively, the area occupied by Vietnam is slightly larger than the state of New Mexico. At its narrowest, Vietnam is only 50 km (31 mi) across. The nation is bordered on the n by China, on the e by the Gulf of Tonkin, on the e and s by the South China Sea, on the sw by the Gulf of Thailand, and on the w by Cambodia and Laos, with a total land boundary of 4,639 km (2,883 mi) and a coastline of 3,444 km (2,140 mi). Before unification, which was proclaimed on 3 July 1976, Vietnam was divided in two by the 17th parallel. To the south was the Republic of Vietnam (RVN), also known as South Vietnam; to the north, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), also known as North Vietnam.

Vietnam, China, the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan, and Malaysia claim all or part of the Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands, located in the South China Sea roughly 600 km (350 mi) east of Ho Chi Minh City and 400 km (250 mi) east of Da Nang, respectively. The Paracel Islands are known in Vietnamese as the Hoang Sa archipelago, and the Spratlys as the Truong Sa. Both archipelagoes are reportedly surrounded by rich undersea oil reserves, and are productive fishing grounds. China has occupied the Paracel Islands since 1974, when Chinese troops drove a South Vietnamese garrison from the western islands. Vietnam occupies six of the Spratlys, and has unsuccessfully engaged in negotiations with Malaysia and the Philippines over the remainder. Periodic clashes between Chinese and Vietnamese naval forces have taken place in the vicinity of both island groups.

Vietnam's capital city, Hanoi, is located in the northern part of the country.


Vietnam has been described as a carrying pole with a rice basket hanging from each end. The description is a fitting one, for a single mountain chain, the Annam Cordillera (in Vietnamese, Truong Son), extends along Vietnam's western border from north to south, connecting two "rice baskets," which are formed by the densely populated Red River Delta of the Tonkin region in the north and the rich Mekong River Delta in the south. Over two-thirds of the entire population of the country lives in the two lowlying delta regions, both of which are composed of rich alluvial soils brought down from the mountainous regions of southern China and mainland Southeast Asia. The remainder of the population lives along the narrow central coast, in the hilly regions of the Central Highlands north of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), or in the mountains north and west of the Red River Delta. The highest mountain peak is Fan Si Pan (3,143 m/10,312 ft), near the northern border.


Vietnam is entirely located in the tropical belt lying between the equator and the Tropic of Cancer. While there are slight variations in temperature, depending on the season and the altitude, the primary seasonal changes are marked by variations in rainfall.

In the north, the rainy season extends from mid-April to mid-October; the city of Hanoi has a mean annual rainfall of 172 cm (68 in), and in the mountains, annual rainfall sometimes exceeds 406 cm (160 in). Daily temperatures fluctuate considerably in the Red River Delta region, particularly in the dry season, when the thermometer may drop as low as 5°c (41°f) in the region of Hanoi. During the rainy season, the average temperature in Hanoi is about 30°c (86 f).

The south is more tropical; temperatures in Ho Chi Minh City vary only from 1833°c (6491°f) throughout the year. Temperatures in the Central Highlands are somewhat cooler, ranging from a mean of about 17°c (63°f) in winter to 20°c (68°f) in summer. The rainy season extends from early May to November, with annual rainfall averaging about 200 cm (79 in) in lowland regions. The typhoon season lasts from July through November, with the most severe storms occurring along the central coast. Typhoons in this region frequently lead to serious crop damage and loss of life.


The mountainous regions of Tonkin, as well as the Annam Cordillera, are characterized by tropical rain forest broken by large areas of monsoon forest. In the higher altitudes of the far northwest there are pine forests. Shifting cultivation has resulted in many sections of secondary forest. Tropical grasses are widespread, and there are mangrove forests fringing parts of the Red River Delta and in the Ca Mau peninsula, which juts into the Gulf of Thailand. Tropical evergreen forests predominate in the south, with extensive savanna in the southwest.

Deer and wild oxen are found in the more mountainous areas. Two of the seven new species of mammals identified worldwide in the 20th century can be found in a nature reserve in the northwest corner of Vietnam. They are the giant muntjac (a barking deer) and the Vu Quang ox. As of 2002, there were at least 213 species of mammals, 262 species of birds, and over 10,500 species of plants throughout the country.


During the Vietnam war, massive bombing raids and defoliation campaigns caused severe destruction of the natural foliage, especially in the Central Highlands in the south. In addition, dioxin, a toxic residue of the herbicide known as Agent Orange, had leached into water supplies. Over 50% of the nation's forests have been eliminated. However, reforestation projects have begun in some areas of the country.

The nation has 367 cu km of renewable water resources with 87% of annual withdrawals used for farming activity and 10% used for industrial purposes. As of 2002, only 67% of the rural population had access to improved water sources.

Salinization and alkalinization are a threat to the quality of the soil, as are excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers. Environmental damage has also been caused by the slash-and-burn agriculture practiced by nomadic tribal peoples in the Central Highlands and in the mountainous regions in the north. The government is engaged in a program to introduce modern farming practices to these populations.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 41 types of mammals, 41 species of birds, 24 types of reptiles, 15 species of amphibians, 23 species of fish, and 145 species of plants. Endangered species include the tiger, elephant, Sumatran rhinoceros, Thailand brow-antlered deer, kouprey, river terrapin, Siamese crocodile (probably extinct), estuarine crocodile, Javan rhinoceros, and the pileated, crowned, and caped gibbons. The Vietnam warty pig has become extinct.


The population of Vietnam in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 83,305,000, which placed it at number 13 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 7% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 29% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 100 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 1.3%. The government viewed this rate as too high, despite the significant success of family planning programs in reducing the fertility rate from 3.7 births per woman in 1990 to 2.9 in 2005. The projected population for the year 2025 was 103,187,000. The population density was 251 per sq km (650 per sq mi).

The UN estimated that 26% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 3.21%. The capital city, Hanoi, had a population of 3,977,000 in that year.


The 1954 partition of Vietnam resulted in the exodus of over 820,000 refugees, the majority of them Catholics, from the northern part of the country. Most eventually settled with government assistance in the Central Highlands or on the outskirts of the capital city of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). During the same period, about 80,000 Viet-Minh troops and their dependents moved from the south to the north.

The Vietnam war caused severe disruption of living patterns in both the north and the south. In the north, intensive US bombing of major industrial cities led to a dispersal of the population from urban areas, while a government-sponsored program resulted in the resettlement of nearly one million Vietnamese from crowded areas in the Delta to less densely populated regions in upland areas of the country. In the south, migration was primarily from the countryside to the cities, as millions of peasants fled their villages to escape the effects of the war or to seek employment in the affl uent cities of Saigon and Da Nang. At the end of the war in 1975, nearly one-half of the population lived in urban areas, many in refugee camps on the edges of the major cities.

After seizing control of the south in 1975, the Hanoi regime announced a new program that called for the resettlement of over 10 million Vietnamese into less crowded areas of the country by the end of the century. Many were to be moved from refugee camps in the south to new economic zones established in the Central Highlands or along the Cambodian border. Although the zones were unpopular because of poor living conditions, between the end of the war and 1981, nearly 1.5 million Vietnamese were resettled into new areas. The overall aim was to disperse the entire population into several hundred "agro-industrial districts" that would provide the basis for development of an advanced Socialist economy. Since 1981 another 2.1 million have been resettled.

In addition to this migration within the country, since the war there has been a substantial outflow of Vietnamese fleeing to other countries. About 150,000 were evacuated from the south in the final weeks of the war, many of them eventually settling in the United States. There were 593,213 people of Vietnamese ancestry in the United States in 1990. In 1978, a new exodus began after the government nationalized all private trade and manufacturing in the country. During 197887, an estimated one million Vietnamese fled by sea to other countries in Southeast Asia, or overland to China. Many later resettled in Australia, France, the United States, and other countries. From 197984, 59,730 persons emigrated legally through the US Orderly Departure Program; this program was suspended by the Vietnamese government in 1986 but later resumed, with 57,000 emigrating to the United States in 1993 alone. In 1984, the United States started a program that offered asylum to Vietnamese political prisoners and all Asian-American children. This program was restarted in September 1987. Between 1975 and 1984, about 554,000 persons, known as the "boat people," emigrated illegally. In 1992, Vietnam signed agreements with the United Kingdom providing for the forcible repatriation of almost all the 55,700 "boat people" remaining in Hong Kong. The major refugee community was in China, which was harboring 285,500 Vietnamese of Chinese ancestry at the end of 1992.

As of 1997, 3,000 Vietnamese remained in Hong Kong. By 1999, some 110,000 nonrefugee boat people had returned to Vietnam. In 2004, there were 2,630 refugees in Vietnam and 13 returned refugees. In that same year there were 299,280 Vietnam refugees in China, 21,776 in Germany, 12,382 in the United States and 9,132 in France. Additionally, in that same year over 4,500 Vietnamese sought asylum in 8 countries. In 2005, the net migration rate was estimated as -0.43 migrants per 1,000 population. The government views the emigration level as too low, but the immigration level as satisfactory.


About 8590% of the population of the SRV is composed of ethnic Vietnamese. The racial origins of the Vietnamese are obscure, although many scholars believe they represent a mixture of Australoid peoples who lived in mainland Southeast Asia during the Stone Age with Mongoloid peoples who migrated into the area from southern China.

In addition to the ethnic Vietnamese, there are 53 other ethnic groups living in the SRV. Many, like the Tay, the Thai, the Nung, the Rhadé, and the Jarai, are nomadic tribal peoples living in the mountainous areas of the Central Highlands and along the Sino-Vietnamese border. The overseas Chinese (Hoa) are descendants of peoples who migrated into the area in recent centuries. The Cham and the Khmer are remnants of past civilizations that controlled the southern parts of the country.

The largest ethnic minority in the country is the ethnic Chinese, numbering more than two million. The next largest minority group is the Montagnards (mountain people) of the central highlands. The Khmer Krom (Cambodians) number at about 600,000 people, primarily living along the Cambodian border and at the mouth of the Mekong River. Other sizable minority groups are the Muong, the Tay, Meo, Man, and Cham.


The official language of the SRV is Vietnamese (Quoc ngu). A tonal language, it bears similarities to Khmer, Thai, and Chinese, and at least one-third of the vocabulary is derived from Chinese. Formerly, Vietnamese was written in Chinese characters, but under French rule a Romanized alphabet originally developed by Roman Catholic missionaries in the 17th century was adopted as the standard written form of the language. Most of the minority groups have their own spoken languages, and some have their own writing systems, but all children in the SRV receive instruction in the national language. Other languages include Chinese, English, French, Khmer, and the tribal languages of Mon-Khmer and Malayo-Polynesian.


The dominant religious belief was Buddhism; however, many believers practice a mixture of Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, sometimes called Vietnam's "Triple Religion." Though 50% of the population is nominally Buddhist, the government Office of Religious Affairs estimates that only 11% of the population are practicing Buddhists. Like many Asian peoples, the Vietnamese also practice spirit worship, a form of religious belief that was particularly prevalent among the tribal peoples.

Christianity was first brought to Vietnam in the 17th century by Roman Catholic missionaries sponsored by the French, the Spanish, the Portuguese, or the papacy. Eventually, however, propagation of the Christian faith was forbidden by the imperial court and Catholicism could only be practiced in secret. French priests were especially active in provoking the French decision to conquer Vietnam in the 19th century. Under French rule, Christianity prospered, and when Vietnam restored its independence in 1954, there were more than two million Catholics in the country, a population that increased to between six and seven million in 1998. Estimates indicate that 810% of the population are Roman Catholics. There are anywhere between 421,000 to 1.6 million Protestants in the country. About 65,000 people are Muslim, primarily Sunni. About 54,000 people are Hindu, most of whom are ethnic Cham. The Baha'i Faith claims a membership of between 6,000 and 8,000 people.

Two millenarian religious sects, the Cao Dai and the Hoa Hao, have became popular among peasants and townspeople in the Mekong Delta. Both religions are based in part on Buddhism. The Cao Dai claim a membership of about four million. The Hoa Hao have a membership of about 1.3 million.

Since reunification in 1975, religious activities have been restricted, although freedom of religion is formally guaranteed in the 1980 constitution. All religious groups must register with the government, a process established by the government as a means of monitoring and controlling religious activities. The government offers official recognition to some Buddhist, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, and Muslim organizations, a designation which offers some freedom to operate openly throughout the country; however, these groups must still receive government approval for all operations, including the appointment of church leaders.


The war wreaked massive damage on Vietnam's transportation network, especially its railways, roads, and bridges. Further damage occurred during the Chinese invasion in 1979, after which direct rail and air connections with China were severed. The nation's truck fleet is ancient and seriously lacking in spare parts. Most goods move by small barges or sampans along the countless waterways. The length of inland navigable waterways totals about 17,702 km (11,000 mi), of which 29% is navigable year-round by vessels with less than a 1.8 m draft. Major ports such as Haiphong in the north and Da Nang in the south, are frequently clogged with goods because many of the stevedoresoften overseas Chinesehave fled abroad. In 2005, Vietnam had a merchant fleet of 194 ships of 1,000 GRT or more, totaling 1,170,621 GRT.

Recognizing its importance to economic growth, the government is making a major effort to improve the transportation network. The railroads are to be expanded. As of 2004, Vietnam's railway system totaled 2,600 km (1,615 mi) of standard, narrow and dual gauge track, of which 2,169 km (1,347 mi) was narrow gauge, 178 km (111 mi) was standard gauge, and 253 km (157 km) dual gauge.

There were an estimated 24 airports as of 2004, of which 23 (as of 2005), had permanent-surface runways. The nation's air fleet remains primitive, as the national airline (Hang Khong Vietnam) uses Soviet passenger liners built in the 1950s. In 2003, about 4.553 million passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international flights. There were 93,300 km (57,977 mi) of roads in the country in 2001, but only 23,418 km (14,552 mi) were paved. There were an estimated 101,100 passenger cars, 144,600 commercial vehicles in 2003. The main route from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City badly needs improvement. In 1997, the government authorized the construction of a new north-south highway, the largest infrastructural project ever undertaken in Vietnam. The construction will take at least 15 years, utilizing 10 days of mandatory labor from almost every citizen between the ages of 18 and 45.


During the first millennium bc, the Lac peoples, the ancestors of the modern-day Vietnamese, formed a Bronze Age civilization in the vicinity of the Red River Delta in northern Vietnam. The Lac were primarily rice farmers, although those living in mountain valleys occasionally practiced the slash-and-burn agriculture now prevalent among nomadic tribes in the Central Highlands and the mountainous regions in the north. In the 3rd century bc, the Vietnamese kingdom of Van Lang was conquered by a Chinese military adventurer who incorporated the Red River Delta area into his own kingdom in southern China. A century later, Vietnam was integrated into the expanding Chinese empire. During 1,000 years of Chinese rule, Vietnamese society changed significantly as it was introduced to Chinese political and social institutions; Chinese architecture, art, and literature; and the Chinese written language. In ad 939, during a period of anarchy in China, Vietnamese rebels restored national independence.

During the next several hundred years, the Vietnamese Empire, then known as Dai Viet (Great Viet), gradually developed its own institutions and expanded steadily to the south. Under two great dynasties, the Ly (10091225) and the Tran (12251400), the Vietnamese fended off periodic attempts by China to resubjugate Vietnam, while gradually expanding southward at the expense of their southern neighbor, Champa. In the early 15th century, Chinese rule was briefly restored, but a national uprising led by Le Loi led to the expulsion of the Chinese and the formation of an independent Le Dynasty (14281788). Under the Le, expansion to the south continued, and the entire Mekong River Delta came under Vietnamese rule during the 17th century. But expansion brought problems, as a weakened Le court slipped into civil war between two princely families, the Trinh in the north and the Nguyen in the south.

The division of Vietnam into two separate political entities came at a time when European adventurers were beginning to expand their commercial and missionary activities into East and Southeast Asia. In 1771, a major peasant revolt led by the Tay Son brothers destroyed the Nguyen and the Trinh and briefly united the entire country under Emperor Nguyen Hue, ablest of the Tay Son. But a prince of the defeated Nguyen house enlisted the aid of a French Roman Catholic bishop and raised a military force that conquered the Tay Son and reunited the country under a new Nguyen Dynasty (18021945). When the founding emperor, Gia Long, died in 1820, his son Minh Mang refused to continue the commercial and missionary privileges granted by his predecessor to the French. In 1858, French forces attacked near Saigon and forced the defeated Vietnamese Empire to cede territory in the area to the French, which became the colony of Cochin China. In 1884, France completed its conquest of the country, establishing a protectorate over central and northern Vietnam (now renamed Annam and Tonkin). In 1895, the three sections of Vietnam were included with the protectorates of Laos and Cambodia into a French-ruled Indochinese Union.

The first Vietnamese attempts to resist French rule were ineffectual. Western-style nationalist movements began to form after World War I, and an Indochinese Communist Party, under the leadership of the veteran revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, was formed in 1930. After the collapse of France in World War II, Japan forced the French administration to accept a Japanese military occupation of Indochina. During the joint French-Japanese rule, Communist forces under the umbrella of the Viet-Minh Front began to organize for a national uprising at the end of the war. In March 1945, the Japanese, nearing defeat, disarmed the French and seized full administrative control over French Indochina. At the same time, the Japanese set up a puppet government, with Bao Dai, the figurehead emperor of Vietnam, as nominal ruler. Shortly after Japan surrendered to Allied forces in August 1945, Viet-Minh forces, led by the Indochinese Communist Party, launched the nationwide August Revolution to restore Vietnamese independence. On 2 September, President Ho Chi Minh declared the formation of an independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) in Hanoi. Under the Potsdam agreements, Nationalist Chinese troops occupied all of Indochina north of the 16th parallel, while British troops occupied the remainder of the old Indochinese Union. Chinese commanders permitted the Viet-Minh to remain in political control of the north, but the British assisted the French to restore their authority in the south.

In March 1946, the French and the DRV signed a preliminary agreement (the Ho-Sainteny Agreement) recognizing Vietnam as a "free state" in the new French Union. The agreement also called for a plebiscite in Cochin China to permit the local population in that colony to determine their own future. During the summer of 1946, French and Vietnamese negotiators attempted without success to complete an agreement on the future of Vietnam. In September, Ho Chi Minh signed a modus vivendi calling for renewed talks early in 1947, but military clashes between Vietnamese and French troops in the DRV led to the outbreak of war in December 1946. The Franco-Viet-Minh war lasted nearly eight years, ending in July 1954 after a successful siege of the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu by Viet-Minh forces. According to the Geneva agreement signed on 21 July, Vietnam was temporarily partitioned along the 17th parallel, pending general elections to bring about national reunification. North of the parallel, the DRV began to build a Socialist society, while in the south, an anti-Communist government under the Roman Catholic politician Ngo Dinh Diem attempted with US aid to build a viable and independent state. In the summer of 1955, Prime Minister Diem refused to hold consultations with the DRV on elections called for by the Geneva accords. On 26 October, Diem proclaimed the Republic of Vietnam (RVN), with its capital at Saigon. In a referendum held three days earlier, Diem had defeated ex-Emperor Bao Dai, and in 1956, Diem became president of the RVN under a new constitution written with US support. With the Geneva accords thus abrogated, Vietnamese guerrillas, supported by the DRV, initiated low-level political and military activities to destabilize the Saigon regime. Their efforts were assisted by Diem's own shortcomings, as he brutally suppressed all political opposition and failed to take effective measures to bring to an end the unequal division of landholding in South Vietnam.

In December 1960, revolutionary forces in the south formed a National Liberation Front (NLF) to coordinate political activities against the Diem regime. Guerrilla activities by the People's Liberation Armed Forces (known in the United States as the Viet-Cong) were stepped up, and Hanoi began to infiltrate trained cadres from the north to provide leadership to the revolutionary movement. Despite increasing economic and military assistance from the United States, the Diem regime continued to decline, and in November 1963, Diem was overthrown by a military coup waged with the complicity of US president John F. Kennedy's administration, which had watched in dismay as Diem had alienated Buddhist elements by his open favoritism toward Roman Catholics. A Military Revolutionary Council, led by the popular southern general Duong Van (Big) Minh, was formed in Saigon. General Minh promised to continue efforts to defeat the insurgency movement in the south but was unable to reverse the growing political anarchy in Saigon. Early in 1964, he was replaced by another military junta. During the next 15 months, a number of governments succeeded each other, while the influence of the NLF, assisted by growing numbers of regular troops that were infiltrating from the north, steadily increased in the countryside. By early 1965, US intelligence was warning that without US intervention, South Vietnam could collapse within six months.

Beginning in February 1965, US president Lyndon Johnson took two major steps to reverse the situation in South Vietnam. American combat troops were introduced in growing numbers into the south, while a campaign of heavy bombing raids was launched on military and industrial targets in the north. In Saigon, the political situation stabilized with the seizure of power by a group of army officers led by Nguyen Van Thieu and Nguyen Cao Ky. Encouraged by the United States, the new military regime drafted a constitution, and in elections held in September 1967, Gen. Thieu was elected president of the country. By 1967, US troop strength in South Vietnam had reached over 500,000, while US air strikes over DRV territory were averaging about 100 sorties a day. The Hanoi regime attempted to match the US escalation by increasing infiltration of North Vietnamese military units into the south, but under the sheer weight of US firepower, the revolution began to lose momentum, and morale was ebbing.

On 30 January 1968, in an effort to reverse the military decline on the battlefield and encourage the growing popular discontent with the war in the United States, Hanoi launched the Tet Offensive, a massive effort to seize towns and villages throughout the south. The attempt to seize Saigon or force the collapse of the Saigon regime failed to achieve its objective, but the secondary aim of undermining support for the war in the United States succeeded. President Johnson canceled plans to increase the US military commitment and agreed to pursue a political settlement. To bring about negotiations with Hanoi, a complete bombing halt was ordered on 1 November, just before the US presidential election that brought Richard M. Nixon to office as the new Republican president. President Nixon announced a policy of "Vietnamization," according to which US forces would be gradually withdrawn and the bulk of the fighting in the south would be taken over by RVN forces. On 30 April 1970, in order to destroy enemy sanctuaries beyond the South Vietnamese border, US and South Vietnamese forces invaded neutral Cambodia. The invasion backfired, however, stimulating the rise of revolutionary activities by the Hanoisupported Cambodian Communist movement and arousing protests in the United States that the war was being expanded. The withdrawal of US military forces continued, and in March 1972, the DRV attempted to test the capability of the South Vietnamese forces by launching a direct offensive across the 17th parallel. The "Easter Offensive" succeeded in capturing the provincial capital of Quang Tri, but further gains were prevented by the resumption of US bombing raids.

By this time, both sides were willing to compromise to bring the war to an end; on 26 October 1972, the DRV announced that secret talks between US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and its representative, Le Duc Tho, had produced a tentative agreement. Hanoi agreed to recognize the political authority of President Nguyen Van Thieu in Saigon, while the United States agreed to complete the withdrawal of US forces without demanding the removal of existing North Vietnamese troops in the south. The negotiations briefly ran aground in late autumn, leading President Nixon to order an intensive bombing assault on the DRV, but the talks resumed in early January, and the Paris Agreement was formally signed on 27 January 1973.

The Paris Agreement and the withdrawal of US forces by no means signaled the end of the conflict. Clashes between revolutionary forces and South Vietnamese units continued in the south, while provisions for a political settlement quickly collapsed. In January 1975, North Vietnamese forces in the south launched a major military offensive in the Central Highlands. When South Vietnamese resistance in the area disintegrated, further attacks were launched farther to the north, and by late March the entire northern half of the country was in North Vietnamese hands. President Thieu resigned on 21 April, but his successor, General Duong Van Minh, was unable to achieve a negotiated settlement. The capital of the RVN, Saigon, was occupied by North Vietnamese troops on 30 April. Thus ended a war in which some 2,000,000 Vietnamese and more than 56,000 Americans were killed and an estimated 4,000,000 people were injured. In the DRV, US bombing was estimated to have destroyed 70% of the industrial plants; in the RVN, more than four million were homeless. During the 195074 period, total US economic and military aid to Vietnam was $23.9 billion (including $16.1 billion in direct military aid), representing the largest bilateral assistance program in modern history. Chinese aid to the DRV (according to intelligence estimates) probably averaged over $200 million a year. No complete figures are available on the extent of Soviet assistance to the DRV, but some scholars estimate it at about $1 billion annually.

During the next 15 months, the DRV moved to complete national reunification of north and south. Nationwide elections for a new National Assembly were held on 25 April 1976. On 24 June, the first Assembly of the unified country met and proclaimed the establishment on 2 July of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV), with its capital remaining at Hanoi. In December, the Communist Party, known as the Vietnamese Workers' Party since 1951, was renamed the Vietnamese Communist Party. The NLF was dissolved into a nationwide Fatherland Front for the entire country. The nation's Communist leadership, with Le Duan the general secretary of the Communist Party and Pham Van Dong the prime minister, remained unchanged, while loyal members of the revolutionary movement in the south were given positions of prominence at the national level. Ton Duc Thang, figurehead president of the DRV after the death of Ho Chi Minh in 1969, remained in that position until his death in 1980.

Economic reconstruction and the building of a fully Socialist society proved more difficult than reunification. Nationalization of industry and collectivization of agriculture had been achieved in the north in the late 1950s, but the south proved more resistant to official efforts to end private enterprise after 1975. When the regime attempted to destroy the remnants of capitalism and private farming in the south in 1978, thousands fled, and the economy entered a period of severe crisis. Its problems were magnified by the outbreak of war with China. In December 1978, Vietnamese forces had invaded neighboring Kampuchea (known as Cambodia until 1976 and again from 1989) to overthrow the anti-Vietnamese government of the revolutionary Pol Pot. A pro-Vietnamese government was installed in early January 1979. China, which had been supporting Pol Pot to retain its own influence in Southeast Asia, mounted a punitive invasion of North Vietnam in February 1979. After a short but bitter battle that caused severe casualties on both sides, the Chinese forces withdrew across the border. China, however, continued to support guerrilla operations led by Pol Pot against the government in Kampuchea.

During the 1980s, the SRV attempted to recover from its economic crisis. Party leaders worked out a compromise permitting the survival of a small private sector while maintaining a program of gradual Socialist transformation. With the death of Le Duan in June 1986, a new leadership emerged under General Secretary Nguyen Van Linh at the Sixth National Party Congress. This leadership promised a new "openness" in political affairs and a policy of economic renovation (doi moi) to improve the livelihood of the population. A strong conservative coalition of party leaders seriously reduced Linh's effectiveness as they stressed the dangers of political liberalization and slowed the pace of economic reform. In March 1988 Prime Minister Pham Hung died, and Linh's choice of a conservative replacement, Do Muoi, was a clear concession to these groups.

Economic recovery continued to be difficult due to a serious lack of investment capital, resources, and technical skills. The SRV's internal problems were compounded by the continuing dispute with China. To protect itself from Chinese intimidation, Hanoi had formed a military alliance with the USSR and was deeply dependent upon Soviet economic assistance. The continuing civil war in Kampuchea also represented a steady drain on the SRV's slender resources and prevented foreign economic assistance, particularly from the United States. In December 1988 the constitution was amended to remove derogatory references to the United States, China, France and Japan, as an attempt to improve international relations. In August 1991 Do Muoi resigned as prime minister. His successor Vo Van Kiet favored free-market reforms. A new constitution was adopted by the National Assembly in April 1992. A general election took place in July 1992 and, for the first time, independent candidates were allowed to present themselves, but neither of the two deemed qualified were elected. On 23 September 1992, the National Assembly elected Lu Duc Anh as president and reelected Vo Van Kiet as prime minister.

In January 1989 the first direct talks between Vietnam and China since 1979 resulted in Vietnam's agreement to withdraw its troops from Cambodia by the end of September 1989 and China's agreement to end aid to the Khmer Rouge guerrillas once the Vietnamese withdrawal was achieved. Later, Vietnam insisted that the withdrawal was contingent on the end of all foreign military aid to factions opposing Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. Hanoi hoped to use the September 1989 withdrawal of its troops from Cambodia as leverage for improved relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Japan, and the West. On 23 October 1991 a Cambodian peace agreement was signed, paving the way for Vietnam's eventual entry into ASEAN, which occurred in 1995.

The Soviet economic assistance on which Vietnam had depended, withered away with the collapse of the USSR, although technical help from Russia remains important. With the loss of major Soviet aid, Vietnam's relations with the West began to warm considerably. In June 1992, Vietnam announced that all South Vietnamese officials had been released from reeducation camps, a US-mandated prerequisite for lifting its embargo against Vietnam. As a result, on 3 February 1994 President Bill Clinton lifted the US trade embargo against Vietnam. At the time Clinton lifted the embargo, there were still 2,238 US servicemen listed as missing. Vietnam agreed to cooperate with their recovery to the "fullest possible extent." Vietnam and the United States established full diplomatic relations in 1995.

In October 1991 Vietnam agreed to accept the forced repatriation of Vietnamese refugeesknown as boat peoplewho were designated economic migrants, not seekers of political asylum. The boat people were in camps around Asia from 197594. The "comprehensive plan of action" adopted by the UN High Commission for Refugees in 1989 reduced the number of boat people fleeing Vietnam. In 1994, the Commission decided that all those still living in camps were to be repatriated.

During the 1990s, Vietnam stepped up its efforts to attract foreign capital from the West and regularize relations with the world financial system. At the same time, the country struggled with its intention not to descend too deeply into Western style consumerism, as demonstrated in 1996, when the government, while continuing to court foreign investment, banned consumer-goods advertising in foreign languages. That move angered Western investors and free-market Vietnamese, but marked the beginning of a countrywide attempt to purge society of overt Western decadence. Analysts attributed the drive to the aging hard-line leadership who looked at the doi moi reforms with intense skepticism.

After joining ASEAN in 1995, Vietnam began reframing its trade laws and began instituting legal reforms aimed at codifying its sometimes capricious statutory system. During 1995, a significant year in Vietnam's opening up to the world, the Communist Party held two meetings to discuss the establishment of a law-based civil society to replace the decades-old system of rule by fiat. In this spirit, the National Assembly passed a series of laws aligning the country with international standards on copyright protectionneeded for World Trade Organization (WTO) membershipand other areas. An extensive document, called the Civil Code, was passed containing 834 articles ostensibly granting the Vietnamese people greater civil liberties. Other measures were decidedly investor-unfriendly, such as Prime Minister Kiet's decree that no more land would be turned over from rice production to industrial use. Subsequently, Vietnam's foreign investment rate slid from a peak of $8.6 billion in 1996, to just $1.4 billion in 1999.

In June 1996, the Communist Party held its eighth congress, its first full congress since 1991. Much was expected from the congress in light of the country's ambiguous and, at times, conflicting moves toward openness and reform over the 12 years of doi moi. The congress returned to power the aging leadership, granting additional five-year terms to General Secretary Do Muoi, President Le Duc Anh, and Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet. The Party issued decrees in favor of continued economic reform and international investment, but balked at the kind of market liberalization most internationalist investors perceive as necessary to the creation of a viable economy.

After the long war between the Communists and the United States, 30 April 2000 marked Vietnam's reunification. Celebrations of the occasion, with military parades and a carnival atmosphere, were followed by the 6 May funeral of former prime minister Pham Van Dong. One of the original troika leading Vietnam during the struggle against France and the United States, Dong (born in 1906) had been an influential, unswerving Communist conservative. It remains to be seen whether the inevitable winnowing of Vietnam's "gerontocracy" will result in significant liberalization.

Severe, violent unrest in the countryside during 1997 led to punishment of rural officials for corruption, and increased awareness of agricultural concerns. As much as 80% of Vietnam's population lives in farming communities. Expressions of rural discontent continued to emerge, even in the form of peasant anticorruption protests in the streets of Ho Chi Minh City.

As aftereffects of the 1997 Asian economic crisis stunted the growth of Vietnam's economy, the country remained poor at the beginning of the 21st century. In spite of strides in rice production, literacy and education, unemployment outpaces economic growth. Rural infrastructure languishes, and the urban gap between a rich elite and struggling masses is enormous. Socialist rhetoric and retrenchment failed to heal the divide, which also exists between North and South. Some effort has been made to recognize Party officials from the South, such as early 2000s appointment of Truong Tan Sang, who had been Ho Chi Minh City's Party head, to lead the Party's economic commission. The reformists within the Party have never been completely marginalized, only outmaneuvered by the old-time Marxists. Retired General Tran Do's open criticism of corruption and other failures of the system resulted in his expulsion from the Party in January 1999. General Tran Do endured other forms of harassment, but it was not as severe as that meted out to other dissidents, due to his revered war veteran, communist faithful, status. He died on 9 August 2002.

Issues of importance relevant to Vietnam's reintegration into the international system have included the status of Vietnamese refugees; border and troop withdrawal disputes with Cambodia, Thailand, and the People's Republic of China; conflicts over the Spratly and Paracel island groups in the South China Sea; conflicts with the United States over the recovery of the remains of US soldiers missing-in-action (MIA); and Vietnamese cooperation in a diplomatic settlement in Cambodia.

Trade between the United States and Vietnam was normalized in December 2001. Vietnam initially did not want to be perceived by China as overly friendly with the United States, and the Party elite was reluctant to embark on the economic overhaul that the United States demands. Nevertheless, trade relations between the United States and Vietnam grew steadily in the first decade of the early 21st century. United Airlines began servicing Vietnam in 2004. By April 2005, around the time of the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, the United States had become Vietnam's largest export market. Trade between the two countries totaled $6.4 billion by 2004, compared with $451 million in 1995. Stronger trade ties helped Vietnam's economy grow considerably. The World Bank, for instance, had rated 58% of Vietnam's population as poor in 1993; by 2002, that figure stood at 29%. Through the mid-1990s into the early 21st century, the country's economy grew at an annual 7.4% rate.

A May 2000 report, "Vietnam: Silencing of Dissent" by Human Rights Watch, detailed ways in which those expressing views counter to the Party line are subjected to "harassment and intimidation," although it noted that Vietnam has fewer actual political prisoners than in the past. The US government (particularly members of Congress) remains critical of Vietnam's human rights policies, including arbitrary arrest and detention of citizens. In contradiction to assertions of commitment to the cause of human rights, authorities continued to severely limit freedom of speech, press, assembly and association, workers' rights, and rights of citizens to change their government.

Print and broadcast media remain firmly state-dominated. In January 2002, the Communist Party ordered the seizure and destruction of unauthorized books written by leading dissidents. The arrival of Internet access in Vietnam began to provide a means for free expression, although so far Internet content is government monitored. In August 2001, the government passed a decree that imposed stricter regulations on Internet cafes and imposed fines for illegal Internet usage, while opening up provision of Internet services to privately owned businesses, including foreign companies. The government controlled the operation of the sole Internet access provider. In August 2002, the government proposed severe penalties for Internet cafe owners who allow customers to visit antigovernment or pornographic websites. There were approximately 4,000 Internet cafes in 2002.

The controversy between the People's Republic of China and Vietnam over the control of the Spratly and Paracel archipelagoes in the South China Sea dates to the early part of the 20th century. After the Vietnam War, when oil supplies became an issue, the dispute intensified, leading to numerous armed clashes between China and Vietnam. Vietnam, China, the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan, and Malaysia claim all or part of the Spratly and Paracel archipelagoes. These competing claims have broad geopolitical implications regarding oil reserves, fishing rights, rights of passage for ships, prevention of nuclear dumping, and security in the region. In 1995, China occupied Mischief Reef, on an island in the area claimed by the Philippines and later that year China signed an agreement with a US oil exploration firm to drill for oil in waters claimed by Vietnam. As a member of ASEAN, Vietnam took its complaint to that body. In March 1997, a meeting of the ASEAN ambassadors was convened in Hanoi and the regional bloc emerged united in opposition to China's move against what they officially recognized as Vietnam's legal territory, marking the first time the ASEAN nations stood up in defiance of Beijing. Vietnam staked its own claim to the islands when it fired on a Philippines jet in 2002. Although the disputes over the islands remained unresolved as of early 2003, all of the claimants except for Taiwan agreed to resolve the dispute eventually through peaceful means.

At the ninth Party congress held in April 2001, reform-minded National Assembly chairman Nong Duc Manh was chosen as General Secretary to replace the unpopular Le Kha Phieu, who was increasingly seen as an obstacle to Vietnam's modernization. In 2002, the Party revised its rules to allow members to engage in private business. At the meeting of the National Assembly in July 2002, Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and General Secretary Nong Duc Manh, among others, identified corruption as one of the government's main challenges. By September, more than 100 government officials had been arrested, more than 50 police officers had been suspended from duty, and two members of the Central Committee were expelled from the Party for dealings with Nam Cam, a crime figure involved in drug, prostitution, and protection rackets.

In National Assembly elections held on 19 May 2002, approximately 700 candidates competed for 498 seats, some of whom were independents. However, a government body, the Fatherland Front, was responsible for screening candidates. No opposition parties contested the vote. In July 2002, President Tran Duc Luong was reappointed for a second term by the National Assembly, which also reappointed Prime Minister Phan Van Khai for a second five-year term. The next presidential election was to be held in 2007.


The Communist Party-controlled government of Vietnam has ruled under four state constitutions. The first was promulgated in 1946, the second in 1960, the third in 1980, and the fourth in 1992.

The 1946 constitution of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), adopted shortly before the war with the French, was never fully implemented because of wartime conditions. On 1 January 1960, a new constitution was promulgated, instituting a largely presidential system to capitalize on Ho Chi Minh's considerable prestige. In the Republic of Vietnam (RVN), formerly South Vietnam, two constitutions were promulgated. The first, by the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem was introduced in 1956. The second was put forth when Nguyen Van Thieu was elected president in 1967. Like the DRV constitution, it created a modified presidential system, with a cabinet responsible to the legislative branch. Following the fall of the RVN in 1975, the north moved quickly toward national reunification. A nationwide National Assembly was elected in April 1976, and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was proclaimed in early July. In December 1980, the SRV adopted a new constitution for the entire country. The new charter, more doctrinaire than its predecessors, described Vietnam as a "proletarian dictatorship" led by the Communist Party, and called for an early transition to full Socialist ownership. The highest state authority was the National Assembly. Members were elected for five-year terms by universal adult suffrage at age 18. The Assembly appointed the Council of Ministers (a cabinet of 33 ministers), the chairman of which ranked as premier. The Council of State (12 members in 1987) served as the collective presidency of Vietnam, elected by the National Assembly from among its own members and accountable to it.

In 1992 a new constitution was adopted by the National Assembly. Like the 1980 constitution it affirmed the central role of the Communist Party, stipulating that the party must be subject to the law. In support of a free-market economy, constitutional protection of foreign investment was guaranteed. However, land remained the property of the state, with individuals or enterprises entitled to the right to long-term leases that can be inherited or sold. The newly created position of president replaced the Council of State; the president has the right to appoint a prime minister subject to the approval of the National Assembly. The National Assembly, with a maximum of 400 members, retained legislative power. Members are elected to five-year terms by universal adult suffrage. As of 2002, there were 498 members of the National Assembly. The next election was to take place in 2007.


The government of the SRV is a de facto one-party state ruled by the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP). The Vietnamese Communist Party is the political successor to the Indochinese Communist Party, created in 1930 and formally dissolved in 1945. From 1945 until 1951, the party operated in clandestine fashion, until it emerged once more as the Vietnamese Workers' Party at the Second National Congress in 1951. The party assumed its current name in 1976, shortly after the unification of the country into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

The Communist Party is administered through an assembly of national delegates. National party conventions elect a Central Committee to guide party affairs between sessions of the national convention. The Central Committee in turn elects the Politburo, the highest policy making body, and a secretariat to direct day-today party operations.

The Fatherland Front is the linear successor of the Viet-Minh Front, formed in 1941 to provide the Communist Party with a broad organization to unify all elements in Vietnam against the French colonial regime. The Fatherland Front was formed in North Vietnam in 1955 as a device to mobilize the population to support the regime's goals. A similar organization, the National Liberation Front (NLF), was established in South Vietnam in 1960 by Nguyen Huu Tho to provide a political force in favor of national reunification. After the fall of the RVN in 1975, the NLF was merged into the Fatherland Front.

Under the RVN government, development of a political party system in the Western sense never passed the rudimentary stage. President Thieu, who headed the People's Alliance for Social Revolution, tried to consolidate anti-Communist political organizations in the RVN through a multiparty National Social Democratic Front, but formal political organizations were weak and plagued with religious and regional sectarianism. Wartime conditions and the lack of a national tradition of political pluralism were additional factors preventing the rise of a multiparty system. All such parties were abolished after the fall of Saigon in 1975.

In the SRV, elections for national and local office are controlled by the Communist Party and the state. In the July 1992 general elections 601 candidates contested 395 National Assembly seats. For the first time independent candidatesnot Communist Party members or endorsed by organizations affiliated with the Partywere permitted to contest seats, although they did require Party approval in order to present themselves. Two candidates qualified, but neither was elected. In 1996, the Communist Party held its eighth congress, at which it was widely expected a new generation of leaders would be inaugurated; but, again the aging hard-line leaders were given another five-year term in office as the country struggled with the consequences of 12 years of economic reform and increased international openness. In 1998's national elections, the first three "self-nominated" candidates (not proposed by the Party or the Fatherland Front) managed to gain seats in the 450-member National Assembly. Women held 26% of seats in the National Assembly as of May 2000, but have not yet risen to the top echelons of the Party. At the ninth party congress held in April 2001, National Assembly chairman Nong Duc Manh was chosen as general secretary, which was seen as a step toward reform. In the 19 May 2002 elections for the 498-member National Assembly, some independents competed for seats, although the Fatherland Front was responsible for approving them. No opposition parties contested the vote. The Communist Party took 90% of the vote (447 seats): the other 10% (51 seats) was won by candidates who are not Party members but were approved by the Party.


Vietnam is divided into 59 provinces (tinh ), and five municipalities (thu do )Can Tho, Da Nang, Hanoi, Haiphong, and Ho Chi Minh Cityall administered by the national government. Districts, towns, and villages are governed by locally elected people's councils. Council candidates are screened by the party. Council members' responsibilities include upholding the constitution and laws and overseeing local armed forces units. The councils in turn elect and oversee executive organs, called people's committees, to provide day-to-day administration. The entire system functions in a unitary fashion, with local organs of authority directly accountable to those at higher levels.


The judicial system of the SRV parallels that of the former DRV. The highest court in Vietnam is the Supreme People's Court, whose members are appointed for five-year terms by the National Assembly on the recommendation of the president. In addition, there are local people's courts at each administrative level; military courts; and "special courts" established by the National Assembly in certain cases. Law enforcement is handled by the People's Organs of Control; the president, or procurator-general, of this body is appointed by the National Assembly.

Although the constitution provides for the independence of judges and jurors, there is close control of the entire governmental system by the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) and a judicial selection process which favors appointment of jurists supportive of the VCP. Prison sentences are frequently imposed through administrative procedures without the protections of procedural due process or judicial review.

Trials are generally open to the public. Defendants have the right to be present at the trial, to have an attorney, and to crossexamine witnesses. The legal system is based on communist legal theory and French civil law. Rising crime, including violent robbery and extortion, in the cities, plus endemic corruption and smuggling, provide challenges for under-funded law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system.


Since reunification in 1975, Vietnam has continued to maintain a strong military presence. As of 2005, the armed forces had 484,000 active personnel. Of that figure, the Army had about 412,000 personnel, the People's Air Force 30,000 members and the Navy an estimated 15,000 personnel, in addition to 27,000 naval infantry troops. Reserves numbered between three and four million. The Army's primary armament included 1,315 main battle tanks, 620 light tanks, 100 reconnaissance vehicles, 300 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 1,380 armored personnel carriers and over 3,040 artillery pieces. The Navy's major units included two tactical submarines, six frigates, five corvettes 37 patrol/coastal vessels and 15 mine warfare ships. The People's Air Force had 221 combat capable aircraft that included 204 fighters, in addition to four fixed wing antisubmarine aircraft, 26 attack and 13 antisubmarine warfare helicopters. Paramilitary forces include an estimated 40,000 member Border Defense Corps and local rural and urban militia units with more than five million members. The defense budget in 2005 totaled $3.47 billion.


Vietnam was admitted to the United Nations on 20 September 1977. The nation belongs to ESCAP and several nonregional specialized agencies, such as the World Bank, IAEA, the FAO, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNCTAD, and the WHO. Vietnam is also a member of the Asian Development Bank, APEC, ASEAN, the Colombo Plan, and G-77. The country has observer status in the WTO. Vietnam is part of the Nonaligned Movement.

In environmental cooperation, Vietnam is part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification.


Wet-rice agriculture is the most important segment of the Vietnamese economy. Approximately 65% of the workforce is engaged in agriculture. While agriculture has continued growth, transforming Vietnam from a net importer 15 years ago into the second-largest exporter of rice, industry has grown even faster. Industry in 2005 accounted for 40.9% of GDP, services 38.1%, and agriculture 21%. The most diversified area in Southeast Asia in terms of mineral resources, Vietnam is well endowed with coal, tin, tungsten, gold, iron, manganese, chromium, and antimony. Foods, garments, shoes, machines, cement, chemical fertilizer, glass, tires, oil, coal, steel, and paper are the main industrial products. Most of the nation's mineral resources are located in the north, while the south is a major producer of rice and tropical agricultural products, such as rubber, coffee, and tea. The war took its heaviest economic toll on Vietnam's infrastructure, which even in the best of times was far from adequate to afford access to and mobilization of the country's agricultural and industrial resources. Further setbacks came in the late 1970s. In 1976, the regime announced a five-year plan, calling for rapid industrialization and Socialist transformation by the end of the decade. According to official sources, in 1978 floods destroyed 3 million tons of rice, submerged over 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) of cultivated land, and killed 20% of all cattle in the affected areas along the central coast. The termination of all Chinese aid in the same year, followed by the Chinese attack on the north in FebruaryMarch 1979, dealt the economy further blows. Vietnam's economy had already been weakened by the military effort in Kampuchea (known as Cambodia until 1976 and again after 1989) and by the suspension of food aid from the EC (now EU), the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand because of objections to Vietnam's refugee policies. Reportedly, the country came close to general famine in 1979.

In 1979, faced with serious shortages of food and consumer goods, Vietnamese leaders approved a new program granting incentives for increased productivity and delaying the construction of farm collectives in the southern provinces. During the 198185 five-year plan, emphasis was placed on agriculture and the production of consumer goods. Economic performance improved in the early 1980s, with the growth rate estimated at about 10% annually. Price inflation, however, became a major problem, averaging 700% in 198687.

Policy changes were introduced incrementally with economic liberalization preceding consideration of political liberalization. On 3 February 1994 US President Clinton lifted the trade embargo against Vietnam that had been in place for 33 years. The reforms helped Vietnam's economy to grow at a rate of 9% a year during most of the 1990s and by almost 10% in 1996. Growth in the industrial sector was especially strong at over 12% annually between 1988 and 1997. In Hanoi, the increased presence of a foreign community spurred the availability of western-style restaurants and bars, hotel and airport renovation and upgrading, accessible public telephones, and advertising of consumer goods. However, with the onset of the Asian financial crisis in 1997, growth, which was 8.2% for the year in 1997, dropped to 3.5% in 1998 and 4.5% in 1999. Growth increased to 6.8% in 2000, to 6.9% in 2001, 7% in 2002, 7.2% in 2003, and 8.4% in 2005. The pace of growth was projected to be impressive in 200607, aided by solid growth in industry, but was forecast to decline slightly from the seven-year high reached in 2005.

Unemployment grew during the 1990s to an estimated 25% in 1995. Several factors contributed to Vietnam's growing unemployment: natural increases in the population; monetary and other adjustments for hyperinflation, which intensified the unemployment problem by limiting growth in some sectors of the economy; the return of demobilized troops from Cambodia; repatriation of refugees; workers laid off from state enterprises; and returning guest workers. However, with capital investment, this labor force could be turned into a resource for growth in labor-intensive manufacturing, considering the low wage base in Vietnam, the high skills levels, and high motivation. The unemployment rate was estimated at 6.1% in 2003, and at 2.4% in 2005. Inflation, which jumped from 3.1% in 1997 to 7.9% in 1998, moderated to 4.1% in 1999, and was at negligible levels in 2000 (-1.7%) and 2001 (0.8%). By 2005, the inflation rate stood at 8%, and had averaged 4.4% over the 200105 period. The Party leadership is concerned about persistent unemployment and underemployment, the widening gap between rich and poor, and increases in bankruptcy, prostitution, and corruption.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Vietnam's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $251.8 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $3,000. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 7.6%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 8%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 21% of GDP, industry 40.9%, and services 38.1%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $2.700 billion or about $33 per capita and accounted for approximately 6.9% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $1,769 million or about $22 per capita and accounted for approximately 4.5% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Vietnam totaled $25.36 billion or about $312 per capita based on a GDP of $39.2 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 5.2%. In 2001 it was estimated that approximately 49% of household consumption was spent on food, 15% on fuel, 4% on health care, and 18% on education. It was estimated that in 2002 about 28.9% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


Vietnam's labor force was estimated at 44.03 million in 2005. As of 2003, the nation's occupational breakdown was as follows: agriculture (including forestry and fishing) 59.7% of the labor force; industry 16.4%; and the services sector 23.9%. Unemployment in 2005 was estimated at 2.4%.

As of 2002, Vietnamese workers were not free to form or join independent unions. The government-controlled Trade Union Federation of Vietnam (VGCL) is the sole labor organization, and all workers automatically become members of the union of their workplace. In 2001, the VGCL had four million members throughout the country, including 95% of all public sector employees, 90% of workers in state-owned enterprises, and 70% of private sector workers. Strikes are prohibited at enterprises that serve the public or are important to the national economy or defense, and the Prime Minister decides what enterprises come under that definition. Most strikes occur against foreign enterprises.

The minimum age for full-time employment is 18, with special provisions for those between 15 and 18 years of age. However, many children work in violation of this law, especially in the informal economy. The Labor Law requires the government to set a minimum wage, which was $30 per month for foreign-investment joint ventures in 2002. Outside of these enterprises the minimum was set at $12 per month. Working hours are set by law at eight hours per day with a mandatory 24-hour rest period per week. Working conditions are slowly improving.


Nearly 67% of the labor force of the SRV derives its livelihood from agriculture; arable land in 2003 was 8,980,000 hectares (22,190,000 acres). In 2004, there were 32,961 farms with sown crops and 22,759 with perennial crops.

Only about 15% of the land in the north is arable, and 14% of it is already under intensive cultivation. Agriculture in the north is concentrated in the lowland areas of the Red River Delta and along the central coast to the south. The Mekong Delta, among the great rice-producing regions of the world, is the dominant agricultural region of the south. Excess grain from the area is shipped to the northern parts of the country. Annual food-grain production averaged 20 million tons in the early 1990s, reaching 39.6 million tons in 2004.

Rice, the main staple of the Vietnamese diet, occupies 94% of arable land. In the north, two and in some cases three crops a year are made possible through an extensive system of irrigation, utilizing upward of 4,000 km (2,500 mi) of dikes. Single-cropping remains the rule in the south, where heavy rains fall for six months of the year and virtually no rain at all during the other six months. The southern region's extensive network of canals is used mainly for transport and drainage, although some irrigational use was attempted under the RVN government. Rice production between 1975 and 1980 was adversely affected by bad weather and the regime's attempt to promote collectivization, but it began to rebound during the early 1980s. In 1980, 11.7 million tons of paddy rice were produced; output rose to 16.2 million tons in 1985 and to 19.2 million tons in 1990. Production totaled 36.1 million tons in 2004.

Other crops include corn, sorghum, cassava, sweet potatoes, beans, fruits, and vegetables. In 2004, estimated production (in thousands of tons) was sugarcane, 15,880; corn, 3,453; groundnuts in shell, 451; and soybeans, 252. Rubber, formerly a major crop and a leading source of foreign exchange, was grown mostly on large plantations organized under the French colonial regime. As a result of the Vietnam war, practically all of the large plantations in the "redlands" area in the south were shut down, and damage to the trees was severe. In 1975, the SRV announced that rubber workers had resumed the extraction of latex from hundreds of thousands of rubber trees on plantations north and northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, most of which had lain fallow for years. Rubber production was given high priority by the Hanoi regime and increased from 40,000 tons in 1975 to an estimated 400,000 tons in 2004. Other industrial and export crops produced in Vietnam include coffee, tea, tobacco, pepper, and jute. In 2004, 834,600 tons of coffee (second in the world after Brazil), 108,000 tons of tea, 95,700 tons of pepper, 14,000 tons of jute, 27,000 tons of tobacco, and 825,700 tons of cashews (first in the world) were harvested.

Agriculture in the north has reached an advanced stage of collectivization. A land-reform program completed in 1956 distributed 810,000 hectares (2,002,000 acres) to 2,104,000 peasant families. The share of the Socialist sector in agricultural land increased from 1% in 1955 to 95% in 1975. By 1977, the north had 15,200 agricultural cooperatives and 105 state farms.

In the south, rapid collectivization began in 1978, when the regime announced a program to place the majority of southern farmers in low-level cooperative organizations by the end of the 197680 five-year plan. Popular resistance was extensive, however, and by 1981, less than 10% of the rural population was enrolled in full-scale collectives and a roughly equal number in lowlevel, semi-Socialist production solidarity teams and production collectives.

In an effort to make collectivization more palatable, the regime announced a "household contract" system, permitting members of cooperatives to lease collective land in return for an agreed proportion of total output. This system apparently encouraged many peasants to join cooperative organizations, and the regime announced in mid-1986 that collectivization at the low level had been "basically completed" in the south, with 86.4% of the rural population enrolled in some form of collective organization. In 2003, of the 7,694 agricultural cooperatives throughout Vietnam, only about 25% were in the south.


The most important aspect of animal husbandry in the SRV remains the raising of draft animals, mainly water buffalo. Lack of feed, shelter, and technical guidance and an inability to control disease combine with the legacy of war damage to hinder the growth of this sector. Increasing the livestock is now a major priority of the Hanoi regime. The sizes of herds in 2005 (with 1975 figures in parentheses) was as follows: hogs, 27,000,000 (8,800,700); buffalo, 2,950,000 (2,193,000); and cattle 5,250,000 (1,485,000). Vietnam also had an estimated 1,200,000 goats, 111,000 horses, 195 million chickens, and 50 million ducks in 2005. Meat production totaled 2,740,000 tons in 2005, with pork accounting for 77%; poultry, 14%; buffalo and other meat, 9%.


Fresh and dried fish and fish sauce (known as nuoc mam) are major ingredients of the Vietnamese diet, and fishing is an important occupation. Shrimp, lobster, and more than 50 commercial species of fish are found in Vietnamese waters. Ha Long Bay, the major fishing area of the north, is particularly rich in shrimp and crayfish. Fish also abound in Vietnam's rivers and canals. In 2004, Vietnam had 20,071 vessels engaged in offshore fishing.

The fishing industry was severely depleted after the Vietnam War, when many fishermen (often overseas Chinese) fled the country. The government has increased marine production into a major export industry. In 2003, ocean production was estimated at 1,896,277 tons, and inland production was estimated at 738,111 tons. Exports of fish products were valued at $2.2 billion in 2003. Vietnamese aquaculture primarily produces cyprinids and prawns. In 2004, there were 35,424 fish farms covering 904,900 hectares (2,236,000 acres), 70% in marine or brackish water, primarily for shrimp. That year, farmed shrimp production totaled 290,200 tons. The government estimates the value of aquaculture at d33 trillion, or 66% of the total output value of fishing in 2004.


In 2004, forests covered 37% of the total land area of Vietnam, consisting of 9.9 million hectares (24.5 million acres) of natural forest and 2.27 million hectares (5.61 million acres) of planted forest. Important forestry products include bamboo, resins, lacquer, quinine, turpentine, and pitch. Depletion of forests, however, has been serious, not only through US defoliation campaigns in the south during the war, but also because of the slash-and-burn techniques used by nomadic tribal groups in mountainous areas. Planted forests are mainly found in the northeast, where they serve as watershed protection and supply materials for the mining and paper industries. In 1998, the government began a reforestation program which aims to increase the forest cover by 5 million hectares (12.3 million acres) by 2010.

The damaged areas are recovering faster than anticipated, although reforestation has been slow and some regions are faced with sterility and erosion. Official policy emphasizes the replacement of natural forests with export crops such as cinnamon, aniseed, rubber, coffee, and bamboo. Roundwood production was estimated at 30,597,000 cu m (1.08 billion million cu ft) in 2004, with 86% used as fuel wood. Vietnam has become a world-class producer of wooden furniture, with exports rising from $200 million in 2000 to nearly $1.5 billion in 2005.


Vietnam had a wide variety of important mineral resources, but the mining sector was relatively small and undeveloped. The principal reserves, located mainly in the north, were bauxite, carbonate rocks, chrome, clays, anthracite coal, copper, natural gas, gemstones, gold, graphite, iron ore, lead, manganese, mica, nickel, crude petroleum, phosphate rock (apatite), pyrophyllite, rare earths, silica sand, tin, titanium, tungsten, zinc, and zirconium. Coal dominated the mining sector, and, along with carbonate rocks, crude petroleum, and phosphate rocks, was produced in large quantity. Iron reserves were estimated at 520 million tons, and apatite reserves, 1.7 billion tons. Bauxite mines in the Central Highlands Province (Lam Dong) were capable of producing 1.7 million tons per year of ore. Mining and quarrying contributed 6.1% to gross domestic product (GDP) in 2003. Also among leading industries were the production of cement, chemical fertilizer, oil, coal, and steel; crude oil was its top export commodity. Vietnam's movement toward a free market has resulted in increased international trade.

Estimated production outputs in 2004 included: chromium ore (gross weight), 150,000 metric tons, up from 120,000 metric tons in 2003; ilmenite (gross weight), 200,000 metric tons, unchanged from 2003; mined zinc, 40,000 metric tons, down from 45,000 metric tons in 2003; mined tin, 3,500 metric tons, up from 2,100 metric tons in 2003; gold, 2,000 kg, unchanged from 2003; lime, 1.5 million tons; and silica sand, 63 million tons, unchanged from 2003. Vietnam also produced barite, bauxite, bentonite, hydraulic cement, chromium, kaolin clay, refractory clay, construction aggregates, copper, fluorspar, gemstones, granite, graphite, ilmenite, iron ore, lead, lime, marble, nitrogen, phosphate rock, pyrite, pyrophyllite, rare earths, salt, silica sand, sulfur, building stone, and zirconium. Most chromite, ilmenite, and zirconium, and some granite, kaolin, salt, and silica sand, was exported. No tungsten was reported produced from 2000 through 2004. Asian Mineral Resources started two diamond drilling programs at nickel deposits. The mining industry comprised state-owned companies, several state-and-foreign mining and mineral-processing company joint ventures, many small-scale local government-owned mining companies, local governmentprivate mining company joint ventures, and local private miners.


Vietnam has the potential to become a regional supplier of oil and natural gas.

As of 1 January 2005, Vietnam had proven oil reserves of 600 million barrels, according to the Oil and Gas Journal. However, that total is seen as increasing as exploration continues to move forward. In 2004, oil production was estimated at 403,000 barrels per day. With domestic consumption in 2004 estimated at 210,000 barrels per day, Vietnam that year became a net oil exporter. In 2004, net oil exports totaled an estimated 193,000 barrels per day.

Vietnam also has reserves of natural gas, estimated by the Oil and Gas Journal, as of 1 January 2005, at 6.8 trillion cu ft. However, it is expected that the country's actual reserves may total as much as 10 trillion cu ft. As of 2002, Vietnam consumed all the natural gas it produced. In that year, output of natural gas and domestic consumption each totaled an estimated 79.8 billion cu ft.

Vietnam also has coal reserves of 165 million short tons, most of which is anthracite coal. In 2002, coal production totaled an estimated 14.4 million short tons. In that year, demand for coal totaled an estimated 9.1 million short tons, making the country a net exporter of coal. Exports of coal that year totaled 5.3 million short tons.

Vietnam's electric power generating capacity in 2002 totaled 8.323 million kW, of which 4.195 million kW of capacity was came from conventional thermal plants. Hydroelectric plants accounted for the remaining 4.128 million kW. Electric power output in 2002 totaled 34.558 billion kWh, of which 16.542 billion kWh came from conventional thermal plants and 18.016 billion kWh, from hydroelectric plants. In the same year, consumption of electricity totaled 32.139 billion kWh.

Control over the Spratly Islands remains a contentious issue between Vietnam, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, and Malaysia. The reefs, many of which are partially submerged, lie atop an oil field containing an estimated 17 billion barrels of oil.


Most heavy and medium industry is concentrated in the north, including the state-owned coal, tin, chrome, and other mining enterprises; an engineering works at Hanoi; power stations; and modern tobacco, tea, and canning factories. The industrial sector in the south is characterized by light industry and consumer goods industry, including pharmaceuticals, textiles, and food processing, although there are some large utilities and cement works. Much of the industrial sector in the north was badly damaged by US bombing raids during the war. In the south, the private sector was permitted to continue in operation after 1975, but all industry and commerce above the family level was nationalized in March 1978. The results were disastrous, and the regime now permits the existence of a small private sector, mainly in the area of consumer goods and other light industry. The results have been generally favorable; industrial production in the 1980s increased at an average annual rate of 9.5%. During the 1990s, industrial production grew by about 12% per year. Industry accounted for 40.9% of GDP in 2005, up from 28% in 1995. Industrial gross output increased by 15.2% in 2005. Leading industrial sectors are food processing, garments, shoes, machine building, mining, cement, chemical fertilizers, glass, tires, oil, coal, steel, and paper.

Food processing and packaging accounts for 40% of total export turnover. The average annual growth rage has been about 11%.

VINATEX (Vietnam National Textiles and Garment Corporation), the largest Vietnamese corporation in the textile sector, planned to invest $900 million in the period 2001 to 2005, made up of $700 million in the textiles sector and $200 million in material and accessories sectors, for equipment upgrades. In January 2005, the WTO abolished world textile quotas, and Chinese exports to the United States and EU soared: both the United States and EU during the course of 2005 reimposed certain quotas to protect their textile industries, thus putting a slight curb on the flow of Chinese goods. Although this policy bode well for developing Southeast Asian textile exporters, as competition with China was eased, Vietnam in 2005 was not yet a member of the WTO and thus still faced quotas on its exports to the United States, which it was trying to fill. But because its wages are lower than China's, Vietnam in the long term must pursue strategies to save its clothing industry once it enters a quota-free world.

Vietnam exports about $3 billion worth of footwear a year, its third-largest export earner after crude oil and textiles. In 2004, Vietnam was Asia's third-largest oil producer, with crude oil production averaging 403,300 barrels per day.

Vietnam's rubber sector has been growing at about 15% a year with an output of 300,000 tons of dried latex. Plans are to invest about $100 million in the period 2001 to 2010 in building/expanding 11 latex plants. Construction has been one of the driving forces of economy, growing at 15% a year. The construction sector consists of about 3,500 companies, including 270 foreign invested enterprises.

Vietnam has a large-scale wood processing industry with a nation-wide network of some 760 state-managed wood processing units. There are also over 200 local enterprises, more than 50 joint ventures and close to 1,200 small scale production units. In the early 2000s, the market for metal-working machinery and equipment was some $45 million of which 90% was imported.

The state-dominated industrial sector, which accounts for about 45% of the country's GDP, is still marked by inefficiency and low productivity and has retarded the growth of the private sector. This is due the low level of development, characterized by obsolete plants and machinery, shortages of capital, raw materials, energy and transport, and a command-style economic system. Vietnam's assets include low wages, good skill levels, and a motivated work force.

The government owns an estimated 6,000 state-owned enterprises (SOEs): the majority of nonagricultural enterprises. Most of these SOEs reflect the inefficiencies of parastatals, including debt, obsolete equipment and practices, and poor labor. In 1997, the government organized 2,000 SOEs into 88 conglomerates, accounting for 80% of the state sector and further monopolizing the industrial sector. Foreign investment, while welcome, is hard pressed to find opportunities outside of the Vietnam government's reach. In 2003, the first auction of a state-owned enterprise (SOE) took place, which resulted in the sale of the Hai Phong Agricultural Mechanical Engineering Company for $300,000 to a private Vietnamese company. The auction was financed by the Australian government.


Science and technology have been one of the key weak spots in the Vietnamese economy and were targeted for significant growth during the second five-year plan (197680). Vietnam's leading learned societies are the Union of Scientific and Technical Associations (founded in 1983) and the General Association of Medicine (founded in 1955), both in Hanoi. The State Commission for Science and Technology supervises research at the universities and institutes attached to the Ministry of Higher Education; the Institute of Science organizes research at other institutions. All research institutes are attached to government ministries.

Courses in basic and applied sciences are offered at Cantho University (founded in 1966), the Hanoi University of Technology (founded in 1956), the University of Hanoi (re-founded 1956), the University of Ho Chi Minh City (founded in 1977), Ho Chi Minh City Pedagogical University of Technology (founded in 1962), and various colleges. In 1996, the Hue College of Sciences (formerly the University of Hue) had 10 departments and a large library.

In 1985, total expenditures on research and development amounted to 498 million dong. In the period 19902001, there were 274 researchers engaged in research and development per million people.


Since 1979, the government has permitted the existence of a private commercial sector, mainly in southern cities as Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang. Most private businesses are small shops and restaurants. In 1991, private enterprise and company laws were adopted by the National Assembly. It is estimated that private businesses account for 70% of domestic trade. Consumer items, durable, and nondurable goods, are available in greater abundance.

Wholesalers in Vietnam consist of state-owned trading companies and private local wholesalers. The retail sector in Vietnam is undergoing rapid transformation, as new sales outlets and merchandising techniques have emerged. In the major urban areas, several Western-style mini-markets and privately-owned convenience stores have opened. Showrooms and service centers for electronics, appliances, and industrial goods offer wholesale and retail sales. In 1996, the Saigon Superbowl opened in Ho Chi Minh City as Vietnam's first entertainment and retail center. Outside of the largest cities, retail outlets consist of family-operated market stalls or small street-front shops. There is still a strong "gray market" of smuggled goods. A value-added tax applies to most goods and services. Advertising appears in many forms. The government has restricted the use of foreign imagery in outdoor advertising by placing limitations on foreign language, landscapes, and models.

Business hours are usually Monday through Friday between 8 am and 5 pm, with a midday break between noon and 1:00 pm. Those hours pertain to government offices as well. Commercial offices are also open on Saturdays from 8 to 11:30 am. Banks are open until 3 or 4 pm weekdays and until 11:30 am on Saturdays. Shops and restaurants are open into the evenings and on Sundays.


Beginning in 1980, emphasis was placed on the development of potential export commodities such as cash crops, marine products, and handicrafts, while imports were severely limited. To promote trade expansion with Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong, several export-import firms were set up in Ho Chi Minh City under loose official supervision. The results were favorable but the experiment aroused distrust among communist party leaders, and the freewheeling enterprises were integrated into a single firm strictly supervised by the government.

The economic reforms of the late-1980s, including currency devaluation, adoption of a flexible exchange rate system, and lifting restrictions on foreign trade, contributed to the rapid growth in exports in the early 1990s. The US lifting of economic sanctions in 1994 pushed the volume of foreign trade even further upwards. Investments in Vietnam are contributing to the development and expansion of tourism. Vietnam joined the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) in 1995, committing itself to tariff reductions among member nations. In 1999, the economy recorded its smallest trade deficit in recent memory as exports climbed 23% while imports increased only 2.1%. In 2001, a US-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA) was concluded, which, by 2004, had resulted in a fourfold increase in bilateral trade between the two countries. Since 2001, the government has moved toward economic liberalization and international integration in order to modernize the economy and produce more competitive, exportdriven industries.

Import commodities include petroleum and steel products, motor vehicles and tractors, tires, foodstuffs, raw cotton, sugar, and grain. The most important export commodities for Vietnam are crude petroleum, footwear, and apparel. Other exports include rice, shellfish, and coffee.

In 2004, Vietnam's major exports, in percentage terms, were: crude oil (22.1% of total exports); textiles and garments (17.1%); and footwear (10.5%). Primary imports included: machinery and equipment (17.5% of total imports); refined petroleum (11.5%); and steel (8.3%). Vietnam's leading markets in 2004 were: the United States (20.3% of total exports); Japan (13.7%); China (8.5%); and Australia (7%). The leading suppliers were: China (14.1% of total imports); South Korea (11.9%); Japan (11.3%); and Singapore (11.2%).

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 16,706.1 19,745.5 -3,039.4
United States 2,453.2 458.6 1,994.6
Japan 2,437.0 2,504.6 -67.6
China 1,518.3 2,158.8 -640.5
Australia 1,328.4 286.3 1,042.1
Singapore 961.1 2,533.5 -1,572.4
Other Asia nes 817.7 2,525.3 -1,707.6
United Kingdom 571.6 166.5 405.1
Korea, Republic of 468.7 2,279.6 -1,810.9
Iraq 439.9 439.9
France-Monaco 439.4 299.2 140.2
() data not available or not significant.
Current Account -604.0
     Balance on goods -1,054.0
         Imports -17,760.0
         Exports 16,706.0
     Balance on services -750.0
     Balance on income -721.0
     Current transfers 1,921.0
Capital Account
Financial Account 2,090.0
     Direct investment abroad
     Direct investment in Vietnam 1,400.0
     Portfolio investment assets
     Portfolio investment liabilities
     Financial derivatives
     Other investment assets 624.0
     Other investment liabilities 66.0
Net Errors and Omissions -1,038.0
Reserves and Related Items -448.0
() data not available or not significant.


A traditional merchandise trade deficit is partially offset by an inflow of foreign money. This inflow, however, has made the Vietnamese currency overvalued (some argue by as much as 2030%) and was seen to be hurting exports by driving up the cost of goods. The 1998 financial crisis reflected the culmination of this overvaluation, which was remedied by 1999 with low import levels, and smaller investment figures. Vietnam is the world's second-largest rice exporter after Thailand, exporting 5.2 million tons of rice in 2005. In recent years, Vietnam has received an increase in foreign loans, aid, and direct investment. Vietnam's foreign debt stood at $19.17 billion in 2005.

In 2004, the value of merchandise exports increased by some 27% to $25.6 billion. However, merchandise imports increased to $31.1 billion, up from $24.9 billion in 2003, resulting in a merchandise trade deficit of $5.5 billion in 2004, compared with $4.7 billion in 2003 and $2.5 billion in 2002. The current-account balance averaged -1.6% of GDP over the 200105 period.


The State Bank of Vietnam, created in 1951, was the central bank of issue for the DRV, with numerous branches throughout the territory and an extensive agricultural and industrial loan service; in 1976, it became the central bank of the SRV. Foreign exchange is regulated by the Foreign Trade Bank. The Bank for Agricultural Development provides loans to the agricultural and fishing sectors.

Financial chaos became a constant threat during the final years of the RVN. The National Bank of Vietnam (NBV), established in 1954, was the sole authority for issuing notes, controlling credit, and supervising the formation of new banks and changes in banking establishments.

In early May 1975, shortly after the fall of Saigon, the new revolutionary regime announced the temporary closure of all banks in the south, although the RVN piaster continued to circulate as the only legal tender. Two months later, the National Bank of Vietnam was reopened under new management. Stringent regulations were announced to control inflation and limit currency accumulation. All private Vietnamese and foreign banks were closed in 1976. By then, the Hanoi regime had ordered a complete withdrawal from circulation of the RVN currency and its replacement by the dong, in use in the north.

Since the banking reorganization of July 1988, but particularly since 1992, Vietnam has moved to a diversified system in which state-owned joint-stock, joint-venture, and foreign banks provide services to a broader customer base. The first foreign representative bank office arrived in 1989. In 1992, foreign banks were granted permission to open full commercial branches. The government set up the Bank for the Poor in 1995, and gave it the task of lending to "the poor living in underprivileged areas." As of December 1998, in addition to four state-owned commercial banks, there were numerous joint-stock banks, foreign bank branches, joint-venture banks and foreign banks with representative offices. Foreign banks only recognize three of the joint-stock banks as viable partners, however.

The state banks still dominate the system, state enterprises are still the main borrowers, and their lending is still predominantly short-term because of the skewed interest rate structure. These banks are the Bank of Foreign Trade (Vietcombank), the Vietnam Industrial and Commercial Bank (Incombank), the Vietnam Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (BARD), and the Vietnam Bank for Investment and Development (BIDV).

Two banking decrees, issued in October 1990 and governing respectively commercial banks, credit cooperatives and other financial institutions, and the State Bank, aimed to regulate the financial system more strictly. Credit cooperatives had to be licensed by the State Bank rather than by local People's Committees. The first decree also gave the state commercial banks greater autonomy, and permitted them to compete with each other and to seek capital from sources other than the state. The second decree introduced new instruments through which the State Bank could control the banking sector, including open-market operations and varying reserve requirements and discount rates.

Despite these changes, the banking system is in poor health. Public confidence in the system remains low. Only 4% of all potential holders of accounts have actually opened one. There were only 10,000 bank accounts in the entire country of 80 million people in 2002. As of 2002, the Vietnam banking system had gained little international confidence, although international audit standards are beginning to be implemented. Loan fraud investigations and low loan liquidity have brought bank finances under scrutiny. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $7.6 billion. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $17.1 billion. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 4.8%.

In July of 2000, the Vietnam Stock Exchange opened its doors for the first time.


Before May 1975, life and property insurance coverage was available in the RVN from three small Vietnamese insurance companies and through local representatives of about 70 French, UK, and US insurance firms. By the end of 1975, all private insurance facilities had ceased to operate, and the Vietnam Insurance Co., established in the DRV in 1965, had become the nation's lone insurance firm. In 1981, the main types of insurance offered were motor vehicle, personal accident, hull and cargo, offshore exploration, aviation, and third-party risk. In Vietnam, third-party automobile insurance and employers' liability are compulsory.

In 1997, other insurance companies operating in Vietnam were Hochiminh Insurance Co., Nha Rong Joint-Stock Insurance Co., Petrolimex Joint-Stock Insurance Co., Petrovietnam Insurance Co. (PVIC), Vietnam National Reinsurance Co., and the Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance Co. As of 2002, foreign insurers were allowed in Vietnam, thus opening up the market. In 2003, the value of all direct insurance premiums written totaled $550 million, of which life insurance premiums accounted for $331 million. In 2001, Bao Viet was the country's leading nonlife and life insurer, with gross written nonlife premiums of $75.5 million and gross written life insurance premiums of $102.4 million.


The main sources of monetary revenue are income taxes, the sale of SOE's, and customs taxes. Annual deficits are financed by foreign aid. Monetary policy reforms enacted since 1988 helped end the hyperinflationary spiral of the 1980s. Aid from the former Soviet Union, formerly Vietnam's most prominent donor, was greatly reduced after the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. Foreign investment peaked in 1995 after the United States declared an end to

Revenue and Grants 102,223 100.0%
     Tax revenue 81,363 79.6%
     Social contributions
     Grants 5,300 5.2%
     Other revenue 15,560 15.2%
Expenditures 117,180 100.0%
     General public services 76,515 65.3%
     Public order and safety
     Economic affairs 8,210 7.0%
     Environmental protection
     Housing and community amenities
     Health 4,175 3.6%
     Recreational, culture, and religion
     Education 16,030 13.7%
     Social protection 12,250 10.5%
() data not available or not significant. f = forecasted or projected data.

economic sanctions, but quickly receded thereafter. Implementation of a VAT in 2000 was expected to increase revenue.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Vietnam's central government took in revenues of approximately $11.6 billion and had expenditures of $12.9 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$1.3 billion. Public debt in 2005 amounted to 75.5% of GDP. Total external debt was $19.17 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2001, the most recent year for which it had data, budgetary central government revenues were d102,223 billion and expenditures were d117,180 billion. The value of revenues was us$7 million and expenditures us$8 million, based on a market exchange rate for 2001 of us$1 = d14,725 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 65.3%; economic affairs, 7.0%; health, 3.6%; education, 13.7%; and social protection, 10.5%.


Individual income is subject to a progressive tax ranging from 040%. Individuals realizing capital gains from the right to use land or the transfer of a house are subject to a progressive tax with a top rate of 60%.

The main corporate tax rate is 28%. In addition, companies deriving income from land use rights are subject to a surtax from ranging from 1025%. Capital gains incurred by companies by the sale of fixed assets are taxed at the corporate rate. Gains stemming from the sale of shares in a foreign-invested company are taxed at a 25% rate. There is no tax on dividends, although income from interest and/or royalties are each subject to a 10% withholding rate.

Other taxes include capital transfer taxes, land and housing taxes, a natural resources tax, technology transfer fees, import and export duties. There are also special consumption taxes applied to tobacco products, spirits, beer, and other items ranging and which range from 15100%. Vietnam also imposes a value-added tax (VAT) with a standard rate of 10% and which covers all goods and services. Exports however are exempt.


All imports must be authorized by one of the state trading corporations. Customs duty is generally charged on imports and exports, with many exemptions and duty reductions available (including imports related to an aid program and goods to be used for security, national defense, scientific and educational training, or research purposes). Tariff rates are divided into three categories according to the import source country's trade relationship with Vietnam: ordinary rates apply to goods imported from countries that have not exchanged normal trade relations (NTR) agreements with Vietnam; preferential rates apply to goods from countries that have exchanged NTRs with Vietnam; and special preferential rates apply to goods from countries that have made special trade arrangements with Vietnam. Ordinary tariff rates are about 50% higher than preferential rates. Special preferential rates vary by country. There are also special consumption taxes (mostly on luxury goods) of up to 100%, a value-added tax (VAT) of 0%, 5%, 10% and 20%, and import quotas.

In 1994, the United States lifted its trade embargo on Vietnam and in 1995 the two countries established formal relations. Vietnam is a member of ASEAN and its free trade area (AFTA).


France was the dominant foreign investor in Indochina before World War II. Resident Chinese, however, played a major role in rice milling, retailing, and other activities (and continued to do so in the south through the early 1970s). Following the 1954 partition agreement, the French economic position in the DRV was completely liquidated, and the participation of private foreign investors in the DRV economy was prohibited. The RVN government encouraged the introduction of private capital. In March 1957, a presidential declaration provided guarantees against nationalization and expropriation without due compensation, temporary exemption from various taxes, and remittance of profits within existing regulations. Despite these efforts, because of wartime conditions, relatively little new private foreign investment was attracted to the country, apart from a few ventures by US and Japanese interests. In 1977, the SRV issued a new investment code in an effort to attract private foreign capital to help develop the country. However, because of stringent regulations and a climate of government suspicion of private enterprise, the 1977 code attracted little enthusiasm among potential investors. Only the USSR and France made sizable investments, although Japan subsequently laid the foundation for future investment by bank loans. Beginning in 1984, the regime began to encourage the formation of joint ventures and announced that preparations were under way for a new foreign investment code.

In 1987 the National Assembly passed a liberalized investment law seeking to improve the overall investment climate and emphasize the development of export industries and services. The Vietnamese investment laws were much more liberal than those of other countries in Southeast Asia. The code permitted wholly owned foreign enterprises in Vietnam, levied low taxes on profits, allowed full repatriation of profits after taxes, and guaranteed foreign enterprises against government appropriation. The law also encouraged oil exploration. Factors hindering performance of foreign investors are bureaucracy, lack of management expertise, smuggling and corruption, and an underlying distrust and uncertainty on the part of officialdom.

In early 1994 the government announced three proposals intended to improve the investment environment and increase foreign trade: expedited decisions on small investment projects; the elimination of the requirement for import-export licenses for many commodities; and reduced list of industries that would be off limits to foreign investors. Foreign investments were allowed in insurance companies and brokerages, and reinsurance between companies. Under amendments to the Foreign Investment Law in 1996 more authority over investment licensing was given to local governments.

Total foreign direct investment (FDI) approvals from 1988 to June 2002 amounted to $38.58 billion, but the total disbursed was a little over $20 billion, about 52% of approved FDI. Since the 1994 reduction of restrictions, however, actual inflows of FDI have averaged about 70% of the approvals. After the Asian financial crisis, the level of inflow decreased by about $900 million a year. From 1998 to 2000, the annual average inflow was $1.7 billion. The main cause of the decline was reduced investments from other Southeast Asian countries. As of 2003, it was estimated that FDI projects produced 13% of the country's GDP, including 36% of industrial production. As of 1999, Singapore was the largest foreign investor with $5.9 billion of total investments approved by the Vietnam government between 1988 and 1999 (only $2 billion actualized). Other major investors included Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, France, the British Virgin Islands, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom. The Vietnamese government controls both upstream and downstream oil and gas industries, but since 1998 foreign investment has been permitted. In 2001, the consortium that included Conoco, the Korean National Oil Company (KNOC), SK Corporation of South Korea, and Geopetrol of France made a major find of oil in the Cuu Long Basin. In 2002, the Japan Vietnam Petroleum Comany (JVPC) made its first sizeable discoveries. JVPC is the operator in the joint venture. and holds a 46.5% share.

Vietnam's encouragement of foreign investment includes its ability to attract and utilize large amounts of foreign capital, both in the form of FDI and ODA (official development assistance). As of 2006, Vietnam did not allow significant foreign portfolio investment. For the 200105 period, the government set targets for FDI at $11 billion in disbursements from existing and newly licensed foreign investments and for approximately $10 to $11 billion in ODA disbursed by foreign donors for a total of $21 to $22 billion from foreign sources. These levels of FDI and ODA were designed to maintain a GDP growth rate of 7.5% per year. By December 2004, Vietnam had attracted nearly $46 billion in investment commitments since the country was opened to foreign investment in 1988, 58% of which had been disbursed.

Vietnam's primary investors in 2004, in terms of licensed capital, were, in order: Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, the British Virgin Islands, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, China, and the United States.

There is little information on Vietnam's direct investment abroad, but according to the government, as of the end of 2004 Vietnam had invested in 113 projects worth about $226 million in Russia, Singapore, Laos, Japan, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Tajikistan, the Middle East, the United States, Uzbekistan, and Taiwan.


With the defeat of the RVN forces in April 1975, Vietnam faced the task of restoring its infrastructure, damaged by the war, while working toward the goal of a technologically advanced society. Long-range planning centered on the second five-year plan (197680), which called for major emphasis on heavy industry and rapid agricultural growth. Due to factors including unfavorable weather, decreased foreign aid, and high military expenditurescombined with managerial inefficiencythe plan was a disaster. Industrial production grew by only 0.6% and agriculture by 1.9%. The third five-year plan (198185) was more modest in its objectives. Emphasis was placed on agricultural development and the promotion of consumer goods, with industrial development in the background. Socialist transformation remained a high priority, although a less rapid rate of change was expected than during the previous five years. Although the goals of the new plan were more realistic than those set for its predecessor, its success was limited. Growth figures in industry (9.5%) and agriculture (4.9%) improved significantly over the previous five years. Production remained spotty in key areas, however, and problems of mismanagementprimarily by the state sectorproliferated.

The fourth five-year plan (198690) continued the previous plan's emphasis on agricultural growth and expansion of exports and light industry. Efforts to promote Socialist transformation were to continue, but at a gradual pace and "by appropriate forms." Development aid continued to come primarily from the former USSR and other CMEA countries. In 1978, the SRV became fully integrated into the CMEA planning and development structure, and its five-year plans were coordinated with those of its CMEA partners. Planned Soviet outlays for the 198690 period totaled some $1113 billion. This aid and trade waned with the decline of the USSR, with the full cutoff occurring in 1991. The SRV's new economic emphasis, doi moi (renovation) was instituted by Nguyen Van Linh following the sixth national party congress (1986). His plan included policy and structural reforms for a market-based economic system: price decontrol (liberalized prices), currency devaluation, private sector expansion through decollectivization of agriculture (food production), legal recognition of private business, new foreign investment laws, autonomy of state enterprises, business accounting methods, devolution of government decision-making in industry to enterprise level, and limiting government participation to macroeconomic issues. Implementation of these policies was achieved with varied success.

Inflation policy and agricultural reform resulted in immediate increases in rice production. Vietnam changed from a net importer of rice to the third major rice exporter after Thailand and the United States. It was the second-largest world rice exporter in 2005.

Industry has replaced agriculture as the main engine of the economy, and by 2005 accounted for 40.9% of GDP. Agriculture remains important, however, accounting for about 21% of GDP and about 65% of the labor force. A privatization program in the early 1990s met with resistance from conservative politicians, companies, and from foreign investors. Conservatives feared that privatization undermined the economic basis of socialism, and foreign investors were wary of poor investments with meager legal underpinnings. Opposition from managers who would lose a "free hand," and employees whose jobs might be replaced by new equipment also arose. In 1994 the director and deputy director of the textile company that was the flagship for this privatization program were dismissed for alleged corruption.

US president Bill Clinton's lifting of the 30-year-old trade embargo in 1994 opened the way for waiting American companies to do business in Vietnam. International assistance during the mid-1990s was from the World Bank for education and agricultural reforms, the Japan Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund for infrastructure programs, the United Kingdom for soft loans, technical training and refugee resettlement, and from the Asian Development Bank. A continuation of reforms promoting foreign investment and minimizing the state's role in the economy moved slowly in the late 1990s due to political corruption and inefficiencies.

The Asian financial crisis negatively affected investor confidence in the region, severely reducing Vietnam's main focus of economic development. A complete overhaul of the financial regulatory system is still necessary in order to stimulate the economy. Vietnam's increasing integration in regional and international economic organization should impel more competitive production methods. At the end of 2001, Vietnam concluded a bilateral trade agreement with the United States, and it is on the path toward accession to the World Trade Organization.

Vietnam by 2006 had largely overcome the negative effects of the Asian financial crisis, with GDP growth ticking along at 7.4% over the 200105 period, despite the global economic slowdown of 200103. Vietnam must work to promote job creation to keep up with the country's high population growth rate. The government has made progress in reducing poverty: as of 1993, the World Bank declared 58% of the population to be poor, and by 2002, that had fallen to 29%. Nevertheless, the poor remain concentrated in remote, rural districts populated mainly by ethnic minorities, which are areas least touched by the government's reform program. Cities are growing faster than the countryside. Other economic challenges remain, in terms of strengthening the financial sector and the legal framework and reforming state-owned enterprises. Diseases like SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and avian flu, had not made a severe dent in the economy by 2005. Small businesses are booming: by the end of 2002, more than 50,000 new companies had been established. However, Vietnam has few midsized private firms between these small family firms and large exporters backed by foreign investors.


A social security plan provides old age, disability and survivorship benefits, as well as worker's injury and medical insurance. All private and public sector employees with employment contracts of at leave three months are covered. Pensions are funded by 5% of employee wages, 10% of employer payroll, and government contributions. Maternity benefits are payable at 100% of wages for 120 days, and are also available to women who adopt a newborn baby. Workers' compensation is provided according to the level of disability.

Women have full legal rights under law, but are subject to various forms of social discrimination. Few women are found in senior management or high level government positions, but business and the public sector nevertheless employ many women, and they are an important part of the economy. Women also generally receive lower wages than their male counterparts. Domestic violence against women is common, and women tend to stay in abusive marriages rather than confront the stigma of divorce.

The human rights record is poor, and there are continuing reports of arbitrary detention and the mistreatment of detainees during interrogation. In 2004, the restrictions on the Internet were increasing, with the government closely monitoring activity. Human rights organizations are not permitted to operate in Vietnam.


Wars in Vietnam since 1946 have undermined much of the progress made by the DRV, RVN, and SRV in the health field. Damage to urban hospitals in the north was especially severe. A 1976 World Health Organization report indicated the dimensions of that destruction: 24 research institutes and specialized hospitals, 28 provincial hospitals, 94 district hospitals, and 533 community health centers; all destroyed mainly as the result of US bombing. Three decades of intermittent war has also had a devastating effect on health conditions in the south.

The incidence of tuberculosis, which had been largely controlled rose again in the late 1990s. Commonly reported diseases in Vietnam were diarrheal disease, malaria, and tuberculosis. Venereal and paravenereal diseases were said to have affl icted one million persons in the south (about 5% of the total population) and, WHO claimed, 80% of RVN soldiers. Opiate addiction affected about 500,000 persons. The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.40 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 220,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 9,000 deaths from AIDS in 2003.

During the early 1980s, foreign visitors routinely reported observing severe cases of malnutrition and shortages of medical equipment and supplies. While conditions have generally improved as agricultural production has increased, most Vietnamese continue to live at the minimum level of subsistence. In February of 1996, Vietnam was considering fortification of foods with iron and vitamin A. In 1995, the Vietnamese government issued the National Plan of Action for Nutrition (19952000), which aimed to eliminate food insecurity, reduce malnutrition, and reduce micronutrient deficiencies. About 39% of all children under 5 were classified as malnourished in 2000.

Vietnam reported life expectancy in 2005 to be 70.61 years and infant mortality to be 25.95 per 1,000 live births. Maternal mortality was 160 per 100,000 live births. As of 2002, the crude birth rate and overall mortality rate were estimated at, respectively, 20.9 and 6.1 per 1,000 people. Immunization rates for children up to one year old were tuberculosis, 96%; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 95%; polio, 95%; and measles, 96%.

Family planning services were provided to 2,157,000 people in 1992. An estimated 75% of married women (ages 15 to 49) were using contraception in 2003. Abortion is available on request. Vietnam's fertility rate in 2000 was 2.2, down nearly 2% from the previous 5-year period.

In 2004, the country had an estimated 53 physicians, 56 nurses, and 18 midwives per 100,000 people. About 97% of the population had access to health care services. Approximately 56% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 73% had adequate sanitation. Total health care expenditure was estimated at 4.8% of GDP.


Housing is a serious problem in Vietnam, particularly in urban areas of the north where war damage has caused overcrowding and lack of resources has hampered efforts to resolve the problem. By 1986, housing had become a critical problem in Hanoi, particularly in the central sections of the city, where per capita living space was reduced to four sq m. Large flats are gradually being erected in the suburbs to ease the problem. In the meantime, many families live in temporary quarters built directly on the sidewalk or attached to other buildings. Housing is less a problem in the countryside, where many farm families have begun to take advantage of a rising standard of living to build new houses of brick and stone. Similarly, in the south, housing is available to meet the requirements of the population because building construction had continued at a relatively high level during the war years.

At the 1999 census, about 12.8% of the housing stock were permanent houses, 50.4% were semipermanent, 14.1% were built with a durable wood frame, and 22.7% were temporary houses. The average living area per household (excluding temporary housing) was 47.9 sq m; the average living space per person was 10.4 sq m. About 13% of all households had clean tap water, 10.1% used rain water as a main water source, and 54.9% used some type of filter system or hygienic well. Only 16.4% of all households used a flush toilet. About 77.8% of all households used electricity.


After 1975, the educational system in the south was restructured to conform to the Socialist guidelines that had been used in the DRV. The 12-year school cycle was reduced to 10 years, and the more than 20,000 teachers in the south were among those subjected to "reeducation." By 1976, some 1,400 tons of textbooks printed in the DRV had been shipped to the south, and the books used previously under the RVN were destroyed. In addition, more than 1,000 formerly private schools in the south were brought under state control.

Education is free at all levels, and five years of primary education is compulsory. Seven years of secondary school is offered through two cycles of four plus three years. Students progress to the upper level only through completion of an entrance examination. Vocational studies are also offered at the upper secondary level. The academic year runs from September to June.

In 2001, about 43% of children between the ages of three and five were enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2001 was estimated at about 95% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 62% of age-eligible students. It is estimated that about 95.5% of all students complete their primary education. The student-toteacher ratio for primary school was at about 25:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 26:1.

There are about 90 colleges and three universities in the SRV. The major university is in Hanoi. In 2003, it was estimated that about 10% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in tertiary education programs. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 90.3%, with 93.9% for men and 86.9% for women.

As of 1999, public expenditure on education was estimated at 2.8% of GDP.


The École Française d'Extrême-Orient once maintained an extensive research library in Hanoi, which was transferred intact to the DRV; it is now the National Library, housing about one million volumes. The bulk of the present collection has been added since 1954 and includes a substantial number of Russian titles. The General Scientific Library in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly the National Library) maintains a collection of over 800,000 volumes. Vietnam National University at Hanoi Library holds 1.4 million volumes.

The collections of the Musée Louis-Finot, an archaeological and cultural museum established by the French in Hanoi, were transferred intact to the DRV. These collections, now part of the Historical Museum, contain artifacts and related material from archaeological discoveries in Thanh Hoa and Yen Bay, including a 2,500-year-old burial boat and an excellent array of bronze implements. Hanoi's National Art Gallery includes a folk-art collection and Vietnamese Bronze Age artifacts. Notable also is the Museum of the Revolution, grouping memorabilia of Vietnam's struggle for independence from the French since the early 1900s. The Army Museum, housed in the Hanoi Citadel, contains a collection of weapons and documents concerning the Indochina war. The Vietnamese Fine Arts Museum (1966) houses exhibits on the decorative and applied arts, and folk and modern art. The architecture of religious edifices and former Vietnamese imperial structures reflect the country's cultural heritage. The Ho Chi Minh City Museum, founded in 1977, has a section devoted to the revolution and another to ancient arts.


Vietnam's postal, telegraph, and telephone services are under the Ministry of Communications. The country made significant progress in upgrading its telecommunications system in the 1990s: all provincial switchboards have been digitized and fiberoptic and microwave transmission systems have been extended from the major cities to the provinces. However Vietnam still lags behind its Southeast Asian neighbors. In 2003, there were an estimated 54 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were approximately 34 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

Hanoi has a strong central broadcasting station, the Voice of Vietnam, boosted by local relay transmitters. Since 1975, almost the entire country has been blanketed by a wired loudspeaker system. Radio programs beamed abroad include broadcasts in Chinese, English, French, Japanese, Spanish, Thai, Bahasa Indonesia, Russian, Khmer, and Lao, and there are special broadcasts to mountain tribes. Television was introduced into the RVN in 1966, and an extensive service, reaching some 80% of the population, was in operation by the early 1970s. A pilot television station was inaugurated in the DRV in 1971. Many of the major cities now have television stations, all under the guidance of the Ministry of Information, which replaced the State Committee for Radio and Television in 1987. As of 1999, there were 65 AM and 7 FM radio stations. In 1998, there were seven television stations. In 2003, there were an estimated 109 radios and 197 television sets for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were 9.8 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 43 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were 10 secure Internet servers in the country in 2004.

Most newspapers in the south were shut down by the PRG in 1975, but some papers that had been sympathetic to the NLF/DRV cause were allowed to continue publication. All press is strictly controlled by the Ministry of Culture and Information. Principal Vietnamese dailies (with their affiliation and estimated 2002 circulation) are: Nhan Dan (Communist Party, 200,000), Quan Doi Nhan Dan (army, 60,000), Hanoi Moi (Communist Party, 35,000), and Saigon Giai Phong (Communist Party, 100,000). The Englishlanguage Saigon Times was established in 1995.

Even though the constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, the government places major restrictions and regulations on all media and prison time for violators is not uncommon.


The principal mass organization is the Fatherland Front, which merged in January 1977 with the National Liberation Front and with the Vietnam Alliance of National, Democratic, and Peace Forces. The Fatherland Front draws up single slates of candidates in all elections and seeks to implement the political, economic, and social policies of the Communist Party.

Other organizations that form part of the Fatherland Front are the Peasant Union, with some five million members; the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union, with four million members; and the Vietnamese Women's Union, with 11.4 million members. Industrial and commercial enterprises are represented by the Chamber of Commerce of the SRV in Hanoi.

There are some professional organizations that also serve to promote education and research in specific fields, such as the Chemical Society of Vietnam and the Vietnam Medical Association. There are several charitable organizations, primarily those representing aid from other countries or other major international organizations, such as the Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity.


Vietnam possesses a number of historic and scenic areas of interest to tourists. In the north, the beauty of Ha Long Bay, with its countless grottoes and rock spits jutting vertically into the sea, is well known. Hanoi itself, with its historical monuments, its lakes and pagodas, and its extensive French colonial architecture, is extremely picturesque. Hotel facilities are improving in the larger areas and in some resorts.

In 1986 and 1987, the government made plans to expand international and domestic airline service, double hotel capacity in the major cities, simplify the complicated visa restrictions, and grant shore leave passes to passengers on cruise ships stopping at Vietnamese ports. As a result of these measures, tourism grew rapidly. From 20,000 tourists in 1986, visitor arrivals rose to 450,000 in 1992 and 1,715,637 in 1997. In 2000, about 2,140,000 foreign visitors arrived in Vietnam. That year there were 66,700 hotel rooms with 120,800 beds and an occupancy rate of 50%. All visitors need visas and must register with the government within 48 hours of arrival.

In 2005, the US Department of State estimated the cost of staying in Ho Chi Minh City at $182 per day. Travel costs in Hanoi were estimated at $176 per day.


Important figures in Vietnamese history include the sisters Trung Trac and Trung Nhi, national heroines who led a revolt (ad 4043) against China when that nation was imperial master of Tonkin and North Annam; Ngo Quyen, who regained Vietnamese independence from China in 938; Tran Hung Dao, who defeated the forces of Kublai Khan in 1288; Emperor Le Loi, national hero and brilliant administrator, in whose reign the Vietnamese legal code was promulgated in 1407; Emperor Gia Long (d.1820), who reunified Vietnam in the early 19th century; and Le Van Duyet (17631832), a military leader who helped the emperor to unify the country.

Phan Boi Chau (18751940) was Vietnam's first modern nationalist and, like China's Sun Yat-sen, is claimed by Vietnamese Communists and nationalists alike as their spiritual leader. Ho Chi Minh ("The Enlightener"), born Nguyen That Thanh (18901969), was a man of many other pseudonyms. Ho Chi Minh (18901969) was a founding member of the French Communist Party in 1920 and founded the Vietnamese Communist Party in 1930. Often referred to as "Uncle Ho," he was president of the DRV from 1945 until his death. General Vo Nguyen Giap (191275), a professor of history turned strategist, organized the first anti-French guerrilla groups in 1944, led the Viet-Minh in its eight-year struggle against France, and defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu; subsequently he served as minister of defense, commander in chief of the army, and vice-premier of the DRV. Truong Chinh ("Long March," 190688), the DRV's foremost Communist thinker, was secretary-general of the Vietnamese Communist Party from 1940 until 1956, when he was purged from his post for having mismanaged the land reform; exonerated shortly thereafter, he was president of the Council of State (198187). Pham Von Dong (19082000), a member of the nobility, joined the Vietnamese revolutionary movement at its inception and became minister of foreign affairs in 1954, premier of the DRV in 1955, and premier of the SRV in 1976; he resigned in 1987. Le Duan (190786), first secretary of the Communist Party, presided over Vietnam's reunification and the formation of the SRV. Le Duc Tho (191190), a member of the Communist Party Politburo but with no post in the government, was the DRV's chief negotiator in talks that led to the 1973 Paris Peace Agreement; for his role, Le shared with US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize.

Prominent political figures in the formation of the RVN included Bao Dai (Nguyen Vinh Thuy; b.France, 191397), who had served as nominal emperor of Annam under the Japanese and had attempted to form a unified national government after the war, and Ngo Dinh Diem (190163), who served as president of the RVN from its founding on 26 October 1955 until his overthrow and death in November 1963. Nguyen Cao Ky (b.1930), an RVN air force commander, took control of the government in the coup of June 1965. General Nguyen Van Thieu (19232001) was elected president of the RVN in the elections of September 1967 (with Ky as his vice presidential running mate), an office he retained until the RVN's defeat in 1975. Both Thieu and Ky left the country in 1975, Thieu taking up residence in Taiwan and Ky in the United States. The new leadership in the south, following the 1975 NLF victory, was headed by Pham Hung (191288), chairman of the southern wing of the Communist Party since 1967; Huynh Thanh Phat (191389), the PRG premier, who later became a member of the Council of State; and Nguyen Thi Binh (b.1927), the PRG's foreign affairs minister who had headed the NLF delegation at the Paris talks and who also became a Council of State Member. Pham Hung became premier of the SRV in 1987, and Vo Chi Cong (b.1913?) became president of the Council of State. Nguyen Van Linh (191598) became general secretary of the Communist Party in December 1986.

The 13th-century writer Nguyen Si Co is regarded as one of the first truly Vietnamese authors; he is best known for his collection titled Chieu Quan Cong Ho. Other leading literary figures are two 15th-century poets, Ho Huyen Qui and Nguyen Binh Khien; the latter's collection, Bach Van Thi Tap, is a classic of Vietnamese literature. Nguyen Du (17651820) wrote a famous novel in verse, Kim Van Kieu. Hoang Ngoc Phach, who wrote the romantic novel To Tam (1925), is credited with the introduction of Western literary standards into Vietnamese literature. Duong Thu Huong (b.1947) is a contemporary Vietnamese author and political dissident; her first two books were published in Vietnam, but subsequent novels were only published abroad.


Vietnam has no territories or colonies.


Altbach, Philip G. and Toru Umakoshi (eds.). Asian Universities: Historical Perspectives and Contemporary Challenges. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.

Ashwill, Mark A. Vietnam Today: A Guide to a Nation at a Crossroads. Yarmouth, Me.: Intercultural Press, 2005.

Kelley, Michael. Where We Were in Vietnam: A Comprehensive Guide to the Firebases, Military Installations, and Naval Vessels of the Vietnam War. Central Point, Oreg.: Hellgate Press, 2002.

Kerkvliet, Benedict J. The Power of Everyday Politics: How Vietnamese Peasants Transformed National Policy. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2005.

Lockhart, Bruce M. and William J. Duiker. Historical Dictionary of Vietnam. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 2006.

Moise, Edwin E. Historical Dictionary of the Vietnam War. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2001.

Olson, James Stuart. Where the Domino Fell: America and Vietnam, 1945 to 1995. 2nd ed. New York: St. Martin's, 1996.

SarDesai, D. R. Vietnam, Past and Present. 4th ed. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2005.

Slabey, Robert M. (ed.). The United States and Vietnam from War to Peace: Papers from an Interdisciplinary Conference on Reconciliation. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland and Co., 1996.

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Region: Southeast Asia
Population: 78,773,873
Language(s): Vietnamese, Chinese, English, French, Khmer, Mon-Khmer, Malayo-Polynesian
Literacy Rate: 93.7%
Compulsory Schooling: 5 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 3.0%
Libraries: 578
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 10,431,337
  Secondary: 6,642,350
  Higher: 509,300
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 113%
  Secondary: 47%
  Higher: 7%
Teachers: Primary: 324,431
  Secondary: 226,491
  Higher: 23,522
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 32:1
  Secondary: 29:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 111%
  Secondary: 46%

History & Background

Vietnam's nearly 1300-mile long coastline uncoils in the shape of an "S" from China's border to the southeastern extremity of mainland Southeast Asia. It is bordered on the north by China, to the west by Laos and Cambodia, and to the east and south by the South China Sea. Vietnam extends unevenly at widths ranging from 31 to 310 miles and covers an area of 127,300 square miles.

Vietnam's two fertile alluvial basins, the Red River in Tongking and the Mekong in the south, have inspired the image of the Vietnamese peasant carrying a pair of rice baskets suspended at the end of a pole. The two deltas, covering only a quarter of the land area, supports almost 80 percent of the country's population, which was estimated at 76,000,000 people in 2000. Vietnam ranks seventh in Asia and twelfth in the world in its size for population. The female population is larger, at 52 percent. In general, the population is young, with 80 percent of the people born after 1945; the population below 15 years of age accounts for 45 percent. Vietnamese citizens between the ages of 16 and 60, who comprise the bulk of the workforce, account for 48 percent of the population, while the elderly population (aged 61 and older) accounts for only 6.5 percent. Infant mortality has gone down significantly since 1975, standing at 48 per 1,000 in the year 2000.

The Tongking Delta has long reached the point of optimum agricultural expansion; its cultivable land has benefited from a 2000-year-old irrigation system based on an intricate network of dams and canals. It is the cradle of Vietnam's history and culture. Until the fifteenth century, Vietnam was limited to a little south of the Tongking Delta. Pressures on land have historically led to expansion in Central and South Vietnam through the extinction of the Champa kingdom in Central Vietnammost of it in 1471 and the remnant in 1720. It wrested the Mekong delta from Cambodia in the eighteenth century, thereby reaching its present borders of Vietnam. The two rich deltas made Vietnam one of the world's leading rice exporters in the twentieth century. (That status was lost during the decades of conflict from 1940 to 1975, but it was restored in the late 1980s.) In the last quarter of the twentieth century, extensive reserves of petroleum and natural gas, believed by some experts to be the largest in the world, were also found.

Approximately 80 percent of the population lives in rural areas, mostly in the river delta areas and along the coast. Ethnically, an overwhelming majority of the population, 85 percent, are Vietnamese or Kinh, a mixture of non-Chinese Mongolian and Austro-Indonesian stock, who moved into Tongking Delta from Kweichow, Kwangsi, and Kwantung areas of China beginning around the third century B.C. Minority communities in Vietnam, comprising roughly 11,000,000 people in 2000 A.D. included more than 50 diverse tribes, living mostly in the northwest mountains and in the central highlands where the French lumped many of them together as montagnards or mountain people. There are some 35,000 to 40,000 Chams, descendants of a once mighty Cham kingdom (second to fifteenth century A.D.) who fled to central highlands, and about 660,000 Khmers in South Vietnam. There are also 1,000,000 Hoa or Chinese, who migrated at different times in history, most of them during the French rule and with French encouragement, to Vietnam in the nineteenth century. The Chinese are concentrated in Quang Ninh province in North Vietnam and in Cholon, the twin city of Ho Chi Minh City in the south. Many of them were relocated in the New Economic Zones following the reunification of Vietnam. An estimated 250,000 of them migrated across the northern border to China and to other countries as "boat people" during the period of hostile relations between Vietnam and China.

Few countries have attracted international attention for so long as Vietnam did in the third quarter of the twentieth century. The world witnessed a small country of relatively short and wiry people with only conventional weapons and without the use of airpower holding a superpower at bay and emerging victorious. Historians will debate for a long time whether the Vietnamese were inspired by visions of world communism or those of narrow nationalism. Communist Vietnam's wars with the fraternal Communist states of Cambodia and China in the late 1970s raised serious questions whether communism had ever been a dominant motivation among the Vietnamese masses during the severe conflict with the Americans in the Second Indochina War (1964-1975).

Vietnamese nationalist identity was fostered by long periods of struggle against alien domination, first the Chinese rule for 1050 years from 111 B.C. to 939 A.D. and from 1407 to 1428 A.D. and in modern times by a century of French rule that ended in 1954. Vietnamese historians have emphasized the existence of a thriving indigenous culture, notably the Dongson culture (700-300 B.C.) predating the Chinese rule and the numerous expressions of Vietnamese "nationalism" in the form of anti-Chinese revolts, some of them successful in punctuating the Chinese rule. One of the revolts was led by two Trung sisters, who ruled as joint queens for two years in the first century A.D. A disproportionately large Chinese force crushed the revolt, and the two sisters jumped in the river Day to commit suicide.

During the long centuries of their rule, the Chinese imposed their culture and institutions on their Vietnamese subjects, notably Confucianism, which provided the basis for the political order, the social hierarchy, and the value system. It also formed the core of the curriculum for their civil service examination system. It took several years to gain proficiency in the Chinese script (characters), and to master the literature, philosophy, and law that were mostly based on Confucian scholarship and were needed to pass the triennial examinations that were offered at three levels corresponding to the district, provincial, and imperial levels. Success in the examinations brought bureaucratic appointment of a mandarin along with high prestige in the society and land grants from the government.

Even after the overthrow of the Chinese rule, the Vietnamese emperors continued with the study of Confucianism and the conduct of the civil service examinations. During the last quarter of the eleventh century A.D., the Ly rulers established an elaborate apparatus to promote the Confucian cult at the court; these included a Confucian Temple of Literature and the Han-Lin Academy for Study in Confucianism at the highest level. In 1076 A.D., the Quoc Tu Giam (National College) was opened to teach Confucianism to children of the royal family and nobility. Only scholars well-versed in Confucianism could pass the civil service examinations. In 1089, the Ly Emperor fully adopted the Chinese model of hierarchical bureaucracy, creating nine levels of civil and military officials. In 1397, Emperor Tran Thuan Tong opened public schools right down to the district level. In the following century, during the rule of Emperor Le Thanh Tong (1460-1497), the number of such schools multiplied substantially to enable the children of the common people to study Confucianism and prepare them to take the civil service examinations. Besides the relatively smaller number of government schools at the nation's capital and the capital cities of the provinces and districts, there were a large number of private schools, financed and managed by the people at village and commune levels. Thus, despite fears that China would dominate Vietnam politically, the Vietnamese rulers deliberately set their nation on a course of Sinicization (change through Chinese influence) through adoption of Confucianism.

Parallel to and sometimes overlapping the civil service examinations, a system of conferring academic degrees developed over the centuries. Thus, from the beginning of the thirteenth century, a degree called thi hoi, which according to Vietnamese experts, roughly equaled the western Master of Arts degree, was conferred. From the fourteenth century onwards, a higher degree, thi dinh, equivalent to a doctorate, was awarded. The best among the holders of the doctorate were called trang nguyen. At Van Mieu (Temple of Literature) in Hanoi, there are 83 steles bearing the names of 1,036 "doctors" who had won the highest academic distinction from 1442 to 1779. The Vietnamese emperors held the civil service examinations in Tongking until 1915 and in Hue until 1918.

Along with continuing Confucian learning, some Vietnamese emperors developed pride in Vietnamese culture and promoted the development of an independent literature in the Vietnamese language. In the fourteenth century A.D., a form of writing called Chu Nom, which represented a radical modification of the Chinese Chu Han, developed. In the middle of the seventeenth century, a Jesuit, Alexandre de Rhodes, developed Quoc Ngu, a Romanized phonetic script with diacritical marks to help catechism and compile a Vietnamese-Latin-Portuguese dictionary. The French rulers encouraged Quoc Ngu, which progressively replaced the Chinese as well as Chu Nom methods of writing. After World War I, a group called Tu Luc Van Doan (Self-Reliance Literary Club) reformed Quoc Ngu by standardizing six tone signs and three vowel signs, making it easier to learn the script and the language. It is this form that has been adopted by the Vietnamese governments since 1945.

As in China, the Vietnamese people have always given education a high priority and held educated people in high respect. Vietnamese mandarins, Confucian scholars who had passed the examinations, were, as a rule, regarded as social, intellectual, and cultural leaders In the period just before the French rule began in the nineteenth century, Vietnam had an estimated 20,000 schools with a very high literacy rate. At the end of the French rule, literacy was estimated at around 10 percent, a measure of the neglect of education under the alien Western rule.

For purposes of administration, the French divided Vietnam into trois pays or three countries. Tongking in the north with Hanoi as center was technically a protectorate though, in practice, it was as directly ruled as was Cochin-China or South Vietnam centered on Saigon (renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1975), which was given the status of a colony. In the center of the country was Annam, with Hue as the seat of the imperial Nguyen family, which was allowed nominally to rule with the help of a traditional council of mandarins. Hanoi became the seat of the French governor-general of Indochina, including Lao and Cambodia. Beginning the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the French introduced a dual policy aimed at the eventual acculturization of its colonial subjects: the higher-level policy of "assimilation" for Cochin-China and the transitional-level policy of "association" for Tongking and Annam. There was a very high percentage of Frenchmen in the administration as well as in the educational establishment of Cochin-China, where Confucianism disintegrated faster than in the other two areas. Those who collaborated with the French regime in business and administration saw benefits of acquiring a French education in Vietnam and France. These included a large number of Catholics, who received preferential treatment from their ruling co-religionists.

While in France, many Vietnamese improved in their self-esteem as they successfully competed with Frenchmen in studies. They also learned about the disparity in the French profession of liberty, equality, and fraternity and their government in the colonies where these values were conspicuous by their absence. Some of the Vietnamese ex-patriates in France like Ho Chi Minh got acquainted with radical ideologies including Marxism-Leninism. Many of those who returned to Vietnam with university degrees found their avenues of employment blocked by French nationals. Not surprisingly, the anti-colonial movements, whether communist or noncommunist, were led by such frustrated educated young men who developed an identity for Vietnam as a whole condemning the French concept of trois pays as a deliberate myth to divide the colonial subjects and make it easy for the French to rule over them.

Inspired by the victory of Japan over Russia in 1905, many Vietnamese, among them a future eminent leader of the nationalist movement, Phan Boi Chau, went to Japan for higher studies. In northern Vietnam, an anti-colonial movement manifested itself in the form of a "free schools" movement, the most notable of these being the Dong Kinh Free School, which opened in Hanoi in 1907. The school's founders openly declared that education would be a means to "regain national autonomy." It quickly became a movement attracting more than 1,000 students; besides regular education, it promoted agricultural and commercial cooperatives and became a center for raising funds to send students to China and Japan for higher studies. The movement reflected the thinking of China's modernizers such as Kang Yu-wei, who had advocated in the beginning of the twentieth century a combination of tradition and Western sciences and Western literature as a means of strengthening nationhood of a people. The French colonial authorities quickly smothered the movement by closing the Dong Kinh School in less than one year of its opening.

However, the French reacted to the development by establishing a Franco-Vietnamese or Franco-Native school system of its own, not so in pursuance of its proclaimed goal of a civilizing mission but to combat the incipient growth of nationalism through Vietnamese traditional education. Thus far, the French had established schools in three cities of Hanoi, Hue, and Saigon not for the benefit of the colonial subjects, but for the children of French residents of Indochina. Very few Vietnamese children, mostly from Francophile families, would be admitted if they passed the prerequisite examinations for admission to lycees (grammar schools). By the early twentieth century, children of Vietnamese civil servants and business collaborators outnumbered the French children in the lycees because often the latter failed to pass the examinations.

In 1906, the French appointed the Council for the Improvement of Native Education, which met periodically in Hanoi. Its deliberations clearly indicated that the French school system would be developed in Vietnam as a response to the indigenous bid to establish their own system, with their own interpretations of Western civilization. The Council's recommendations eventually led to a Code of Public Instruction in December 1917. Under it, new Franco-Vietnamese schools were opened in the main cities and towns of Vietnam. In 1924, in a move that would exclude all other educational systems, the government enacted strict laws that required all educational institutions to follow a common curriculum, to use only French and Vietnamese (not Chinese) in the Quoc Ngu script, and to employ only government-certified teachers. All schools, public and private would be subject to inspection by the Inspector of Public Instruction. The curriculum in the schools for French children would be different from that followed by the Franco-Vietnamese schools. The Vietnamese schools were the most affected by this law, which led to the closure of 1,835 Vietnamese traditional schools.

The educational system introduced by the French rulers in Vietnam in 1917 consisted of 13 years of education: 3 years of elementary school in Vietnamese in the Romanized Quoc Ngu script; 3 years of primary education in French; 4 years of vocationally-oriented primary superior education in French; and 3 years of French-language secondary education leading to an Indochinese baccalaureate. The enrollment in schools was about 15 percent of the school-age children. Of them, 90 percent were in elementary classes where the teaching was in Vietnamese, elementary math, moral education, hygiene and/or drawing, and manual labor. The remaining 10 percent were in primary through secondary university education. The first university was established in 19l9.

While the emphasis at the elementary level was chiefly on learning Vietnamese, at the primary and secondary levels, it was on learning French and literature. There was hygiene and practical science but no hard sciences; math was only for 2 hours of a 27-hour school week, history for one half hour, and moral education and physical education were about 2 hours each. The emphasis was on teaching about Vietnam, not about France or other parts of the world, the intention being to expose the population to more than a simplistic life and agricultural pursuits. The French neglected education of their subjects in Vietnam focusing primarily on the economic exploitation of the country, a principle source of exports of rice and rubber.

After 1917, the French made some half-hearted efforts to introduce education also at the higher level. Thus, a number of colleges were opened. Before 1917, there was only one, namely, the College of Medicine and Pharmacy opened in 1902. In 1917, the Teacher Training College was started. In 1918, four were added: the College of Veterinary Medicine, the College of Law and Administration, the College of Agriculture and Forestry, and the College of Civil Engineering. In 1923-1924, three more were opened: the College of Literature, the College of Experimental Sciences, and the College of Fine Arts and Architecture. Yet as Pham Minh Hac observed, the education offered in these mostly two-year institutions was more like that offered in vocational education. Beginning in 1919, the first pre-university level courses in physics, chemistry, and natural sciences were taught. It was beginning in 1924 that the first batch of students for the degree in medicine was enrolled. Most institutions needed to wait until the establishment of the University of Indochina, to which most colleges were affiliated, in 1940. And it was later, during the course of the war when the pro-Vichy and pro-Japanese regime prevailed, that the college education was upgraded to the degree level in Law, Agriculture, Civil Engineering, and the Sciences. In l954, when the French were forced to quit Vietnam, there was only one university in the country and 14 secondary schools. Only 10 percent of the primary-school-age children enrolled in the so-called Franco-Vietnamese schools.

The severe suppression by the French of the noncommunist nationalist movement in 1930 gave scope for the Indochina Communist Party (ICP), which was also suppressed but survived because of their superior underground organization. Taking advantage of the wartime conditions, Ho Chi Minh brought Communists and noncommunists alike under an anti-Japanese front, the Viet Minh (short for Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi or Vietnamese Independence League), which received assistance, financial and military, from the Allies, including the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor of the CIA, in their fight both against Japan and Japanese-supported pro-Vichy French regime in Vietnam. Taking advantage of the interregnum between Japan's withdrawal and the arrival of the Allied forces, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) on September 2, 1945, with a program that was liberal but totally devoid of communism. In the following year, Ho entered into an agreement with the French, allowing them to return temporarily on certain conditions, an agreement soon violated by the French bombardment of the port of Haiphong, which commenced the First Indochina War (1946-1954). After the birth of NATO and the establishment of the People's Republic of China, the conflict became increasingly a part of the global Cold War between Communist and anti-Communist forces. The Viet Minh, by then led by the ICP, emerged victorious at Dien Bien Phu in May, 1954. The Geneva Peace Agreements that followed in July, temporarily divided Vietnam at the seventeenth parallel, with the provision for elections two years later for the reunification of the country. The DRV in the north became a communist regime; in the south, the government was led by Ngo Dinh Diem, who received massive U.S. assistance including military in the capacity of "advisers." In 1955, South Vietnam declared itself a separate sovereign republic and was recognized among others by the United States, United Kingdom, and France.

Frustrated by the pro-Catholic, anti-Buddhist, authoritarian regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, badly advised by his brothers and a sister-in-law, Madame Nhu, a strong anti-government movement developed under the National Liberation Front (NLF), which was dominated by the southern communists who were soon to be assisted by the DRV. The assassination of the Ngo brothers in 1963 brought several revolving-door governments led by the military and assisted by the United States.

The Second Indochina War (1964-1973), called "The American War" by pro-Communist and Communist Vietnamese, adversely impacted both the halves of Vietnam, resulting in a loss of 3,000,000 Vietnamese lives, and causing long-term damage to the environment. It brought physical and emotional devastation far more in the south than in the north, creating large-scale demographic changes as large numbers of rural population moved for security to towns and cities, inducting hundreds of thousands of youngsters, who should have been in schools, into prostitution and pimping. The war's end in 1975 marked a communist victory and led to the reunification of the country in the following year, for the first time in a century, this time under Hanoi's domination. Saigon's name was changed to Ho Chi Minh City.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

The Constitution of 1946, proclaimed soon after the birth of the DRV, included free and compulsory education in the national language, Vietnamese. It also provided for educational rights to all its citizens, specifically guaranteeing equal access to it for women and minorities. The same principles were reiterated in the Constitutions of 1960 and 1976. The DRV noted that 90 percent of the population was illiterate. In the first Cabinet meeting held the day after the proclamation of the DRV, Ho Chi Minh said: "An ignorant nation is a weak nation. That's just why I propose that we should start an anti-illiteracy campaign considering illiteracy an enemy as dangerous as foreign aggressions and famine and the improvement of the people's intellectual level an urgent task of the time." Despite the preoccupation with the First Indochina War (1946-1954), the DRV or the Viet Minh made 8,000,000 people in the territories under its control literate before the French pull-out in 1954. During the conflict, the Viet Minh made every effort to keep the schools running; plans were prepared for scientific and technical education to meet the reconstruction needs of the country after the French left. By the end of the l950s, the DRV claimed that 94 percent of the population of North Vietnam was literate, thus completely reversing the dubious French legacy in the ability of the people to read and write. In the period before 1954, in the Viet Minh-held territories, the education system was changed from the French system of 12 years to a system of 9 years.

In August 1956, two years after the partition of the country, the DRV promulgated its "general education" policy. It announced a unified school system consisting of 3 levels totaling 10 years of general education: level I of 4 years from grades 1 to 4; level 2 of 3 years from grades 5 to 7; and level 3 of 3 years from grades 8 to 10. The teaching periods per week in level 1 remained at 17 to 19, the same as before; they were extended at levels 2 and 3 from 20 to 29 and from 21 to 30, respectively. After completing lower middle school, students could enter vocational secondary schools or they could go on to regular upper middle school and receive the secondary school leaving certificate.

The government then linked education to the demands of the economy, which required skilled workers in large numbers. Therefore, it gave special attention to training of teachers and technicians through short-term courses. It established the Hanoi Polytechnic Institute and encouraged students to take up short-term vocational and technical courses leading to diplomas in mechanical, civil and electrical engineering, and industrial food technology. The government also reorganized the Franco-Vietnamese University into the University of Hanoi and, between 1954 and 1975, the DRV opened 20 technical and professional schools to cater to a variety of fields such as agriculture, communications, construction, fine arts, geology, hydraulic engineering, international relations, mining, music, and physical education and sport. It also established 5 pedagogical institutes (three in Hanoi and one each in Vinh and Viet Ba) for teacher-training.

The minimum requirement for admission to all of these institutions of higher education was the secondary school leaving certificate. Some institutions had their own competitive entrance tests; those who did not show high merit could compensate by producing evidence of civilian or military work experience. Only about 35 to 40 percent of those eligible to apply would get admission.

Educational SystemOverview

A point of commonness between the two halves of Vietnam was the importance given to education. The Constitution of 1967 provided equal access to all citizens to education, made basic education free and compulsory, and declared that "talented persons who do not have the means will be given aid and support to continue their studies." Facing the high percentage of illiteracy, the government conducted an active literacy campaign. Enrollment at the primary level was increased from 441,000 students in 1954 to more than 2,500,000 in 1973, nearly 85 percent of the children in the age group from 6 to 11.

Unlike in North Vietnam, the education system in the South continued along the lines laid by the French, the former colonial rulers. It offered a series of examinations with considerable wastage at every stage. Thus, only about 60 percent of those who took the examination at the end of the fifth grade would qualify to enter the secondary school. Many of these did not enter the secondary school; only about 25 percent did. Of the secondary school students, only about 40 percent passed the first baccalaureate examination at the end of the eleventh grade; only 40 percent of those who took the second baccalaureate examination at the end of the twelfth grade passed. Consequently, only an estimated 20 percent of those in the secondary school age group of 12 to 17 remained in school.

The National Education Conference in 1964 was a landmark for introducing changes in the education system. First, South Vietnam was divided into four categories based on economic and cultural differences: the Mekong Delta, central highlands, coastal regions, and the capital. Separate curricula were devised to suit these differences. Secondly, it was recognized that the old French system emphasizing memorization did not promote thinking and analysis; therefore, the pedagogical faculty at the University of Saigon and 11 specially selected schools were brought together to devise a curriculum that would incorporate industrial arts for males, home economics for females, and business education for both. Analysis and problem-solving techniques were emphasized. A new center was created in the Ministry of Education to produce newer kinds of educational materials all the way from elementary to secondary levels.

Progressively from the late 1950s, French suffered as a language of instruction and importance. Just as in the north, Vietnamese replaced it as the medium of instruction. With the growth of American influence and the increasing use of English in U.S.-South Vietnam military interaction and international business, English became the most popular option at the secondary and higher education levels. By the time South Vietnam came under communist rule in 1975, more than 80 percent of the students took English as their modern language option. From the mid-1960s, the national institutes in administration, agriculture, and technologyas well as the community collegesadopted American models for their curriculum, faculty development, teaching methodologies, and physical equipment.

As in the North, the South Vietnamese attached considerable importance to the education of their children. Those who could afford the cost preferred to send their wards to private schools, which absorbed as many students as the state-run schools. The elementary education lasting five years was compulsory.

Unlike in the communist North Vietnam, there were private schools run by the Catholic Church, nondenominational private schools, and those run by the Chinese community numbering more than 1,000,000 centered in Saigon's twin city, Cholon. Although the Chinese schools were officially required to teach only in Vietnamese, in practice, they did so only in Chinese. They followed the curriculum of the educational system in Taiwan and took examinations conducted by the education board there for graduation.

The secondary school took seven years of education split into two cycles of four and three years. The first cycle provided general education after which the students could choose to specialize in any one of the four options: experimental science, science and mathematics, modern humanities, and classical humanities. At the end of the two cycles, students took the government-administered national examination and, upon passing it, received the school leaving certificate. After two years of the second cycle, students could opt for a three-year cycle of vocational/technical education.

Following the fall of Saigon in 1975, South Vietnam was integrated with the system obtaining in the north and the entire country renamed the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV). As part of the task of reconstruction in the south, the new government dispersed the population of the cities, which had been a haven for millions of those who had fled the bombardment of the villages during the war. Several millions were relocated in the New Economic Zones on the Cambodia border or in the central highlands. Large numbers of prostitutes, estimated by the World Health Organization at 400,000, and pimps were included in this rehabilitation program.

From 1975 till the major economic reforms of 1986, Vietnam followed socialist policies of high command economy and political centralization, extending the collectivization of agriculture to South Vietnam and nationalizing of all economic and industrial enterprises including foreign enterprises. Between 1980 and 1885, the government adopted half-hearted liberal measures including family-based contract systems and promoting state-private joint enterprises. The economic stagnation continued until l986 when the proponents, within the Vietnamese Communist Party, of economic liberalization along the lines followed by China came to power. The new policy, styled doi moi (politics of renovation) led to the abandonment of centralized planning in favor of decision-making by factory managers in terms of equipment, production targets, and sources of finance. Major incentives were provided to attract foreign investment in all sectors except defense. The collapse of Marxism in the Soviet Union and East European countries accelerated the process toward a state-managed market economy but without concomitant liberalization in the political process.

The doi moi policies registered spectacular economic gains in the growth in GDP, in savings and investment rates, and exports. They brought in large amounts of foreign investment, liberalized the banking structure, and made the currency stable. These measures, among others, led to the lifting of the economic embargo by the United States and made loans and grants by the IMF, World Bank, and Western donors possible.

Preprimary & Primary Education

After the reunification of the two Vietnams in 1976, the government extended the crèche system functioning in the Viet Cong-held areas to the rest of South Vietnam. A southern division of the Commission for the Protection of Mothers and Children Ministry was created. In 1987, the care for education of preschool age children in the entire country was integrated into the "Young Shoot" education and was brought directly under the Ministry of Education and Training. Two years later, the government established the Commission of Child Care with, from 1991, a member of the Cabinet as Chairman of the Commission. In 1996, the Eighth Congress of the Party specifically urged the government to provide "young shoot" education for all 5-year-olds by 2000 to prepare them for entry into grade 1. A further target was announced to provide "young shoot" education to all in the age group of 3 months to 5 years by the year 2020.

The importance the government gives to preschool education is reflected in the "Objectives and Plans for Preschool Education" issued in 1990 by the Ministry of Education. The broader objectives of the "Young Shoot" education as stated in the Ministry's circular include: "promoting initial elements of the personality of a Vietnamese citizen, refraining from any imposition or constraint, showing love for children and respecting their personality, and taking the mother-daughter-like sentiments between nurses and children as a decisive factor." It must further aim at achieving "a harmonious combination between care, maintenance, and education so as to secure an all-round development of children."

The content of children's education in crèches and infant schools, as outlined by the Ministry, includes: education about "movements and sensations;" observation of the environment around them (natural and social); moral education and shaping of personality; personal hygiene and "environmental hygiene;" and physical education. In terms of preparation for first grade, the infants should be introduced to the Vietnamese language and "approach to literature;" music and "rhythmic movements;" and mathematics. Significantly, the objectives include giving scientific knowledge of children's education and health to the parents.

There are two kinds of facilities for preschool education in Vietnam, officially called "regular forms" and "irregular forms." Regular forms have crèches for children from 3 to 36 months of age and infant "young shoot" schools for children from 3 to 5 years of age. Some of the facilities combine crèches and infant schools. The crèches are divided into sections according to the children's age and named after their diet. Thus, the 3- to 13-month-old group is called the "flour-fed" group; the 13- to 18-month-old group is called the "soupfed" group; the 19- to 24-month-old group is named the "wet boiled rice-fed" group; and the 25- to 36-month-old group is called the "rice-fed" group.

In the urban areas, the crèches typically operate 10 hours a day, including a lunch and a nap. Some facilities operate in two shifts of a half-day each and there are still others which adjust to shifts in factories. In the rural areas, most crèches operate seasonally, enabling peasant men and women to tend to agriculture without having to worry about caring for their infants.

The infant "young shoot" schools are divided into 3 sections according to age: the 3-year-old small infant group, the 4-year-old medium infant group, and the 5-year-old elder infant group. They operate on the same pattern as crèches, adjusting to labor shifts and rural seasonal work. Since 1996, the Ministry of Education has insisted that the 5-year-olds attend a minimum of 36 weeks as a preparation to first grade.

Irregular forms involve informal but regular arrangements between a child-keeping group and the families sending their children there. Except for the 5-year-old children, preparing for admission to first grade, the program in the irregular forms is fairly flexiblethough guidelines for running them are provided by the Ministry of Education. The classes for the 5-year-olds must provided education for 36 sessions of about 150 minutes each.

There are about 13,000 crèches providing education to about 600,000 children from 3 months to 3 years of age. There are about 85,000 teachers in the crèches with a 7.5:1 student-teacher ratio. The budget allocation from the Ministry of Education to the crèches amounted to 5.3 percent of the total, which was 40.0 percent higher than what is given to infant schools. Infant schools are receiving less attention than before from the government; there are about 7,000 infant schools in Vietnam with about 75,000 teachers and a student enrollment of children from 3 to 6 years, numbering 1,600,000, giving a student-teacher ratio of 21.3:1. The infant schools receive only about 3 percent of the Ministry of Education's budget.

The number of infant schools has remained fairly constant since the liberalization of 1986. Thus, in 1986-1987, there were 6,117 schools with 76,059 teachers and 1,768,938 students. A decade later, In 1995-1996, there were 7,213 schools with 75,034 teachers and 1,931,611 children enrolled. In general, crèches and infant schools attached to large government enterprises function wellas do the schools attached to large private sector companies particularly where foreign investment or management is involved. Those in the delta areas function better than those catering to tribal minorities or mountainous areas.

Following the economic liberalization in 1986, government subsidies especially to crèches and child-minding groups have declined. The Ministry of Education continues to inspect all facilities but is less insistent on standards in all but infant classes for 5-year-olds. In 2000 there were about 800,000 children in infant schools for 5-year-olds, which accounted for 50 percent of all the other infant classes combined. Though the Ministry's interest in preschool education itself (except for 5-year-olds) has declined, the government has stepped up its health program in crèches and infant schools through more regular health check-ups and vaccination programs. Also, the Ministry of Education has upgraded its program of educating young parents in the areas of child care and health and education.

Despite the sincere efforts on the part of the government, the care of children in preschool stage is unsatisfactory. In this respect, the government has served well in being its own critic. The annual reports of the Ministry of Education and Training blame the deficiencies on insufficient budget allocations noting that, in 1996, as many as 46 percent of the children below the age of 6 suffered from malnutrition; crèches lacked enough numbers of trained nurses or "child-minders," so the hygiene conditions in the preschool facilities were generally poor and too often the children were "left to play by themselves with a few toys." The Ministry of Education has also deplored the tendency to include in the preschool teaching information suitable to primary education level. It urges greater efforts to develop skills in language and independent thinking among the infants. Furthermore, the government would like to "achieve coordination with families in cultivating in children humane sentimentsthe foundation of personality" and "concrete manifestations of a polite behavior in family and towards teachers and friends."

Most primary education in Vietnam since 1975 has been provided through the public system. Officially, it is compulsory and free, though in practice, students are charged sizable fees for various services; parents are encouraged to make "voluntary contributions" toward construction and major purchases. The basic cycle of primary and secondary education consists of 5 years of primary school, 4 years of lower secondary school, 3 years of upper secondary school, and 2 to 6 years of higher or professional education. Those who do not go for higher education join the secondary/vocational school or enter the labor force.

In keeping with the economic liberalization since 1986, there has emerged a non-public system that includes semi-public, private, and community schools. It parallels the country's move from a centrally-planned system to a market economy. The economically comfortable families prefer to send their children to semi-public or private schools. A World Bank study in late 1998 concluded that willingness to spend on education increased as household incomes rose and that given the marginally small cost of switching from public to private schools, it was not surprising that the number of private schools has increased rapidly.

In 1997, there were 11,683 primary schools and 2,093 "basic general" schools, which combined primary and lower secondary level classes. To alleviate the financial stringency, the government encouraged joint efforts by the state and the people in the construction of school buildings, in all communes and hamlets. Such joint efforts extended to "voluntary contributions" from parents toward other costs as well. In most cases, the extra income thus generated is allowed to be kept by the schools for supplementing the teachers' meager salaries and for the purchase of the much-needed equipment.

In keeping with the pattern in Communist societies, school children are infused with a spirit of loyalty to the state, placing the good of the state above the good of the individual or the family. As the Ministry of Education states: "The aim of primary education [perhaps applicable to all levels] is to cultivate in pupils a need for and an interest in study and the collective life, and give shape to good feelings, knowledge, attitudes and habits. These are initial bases required for the gradual promotion of ideals and ethics of the new Vietnamese man." There is no elaboration of what these "ideals and ethics" mean. These are defined by the Communist Party from time to time, often at the prestigious meetings of the Party Congress that take place every few years.

The Ministry of Education outlines the curriculum of primary education under five headings: education in the world outlook, ideology, politics, law, ethics, and behavior; cultural and scientific education; labor and vocational education; physical education and hygiene; and aesthetics. The Ministry requires the schools to teach each of these subjects under three rubrics: knowledge, skills, and attitude.

The "Teaching Plan" approved by the Ministry of Education on May 16, 1986, for all five years of primary education is split into two categories: seven subjects and four kinds of activities. The subjects are: Vietnamese language, mathematics, ethics, nature and society, labor, art, and physical education. In 1991, two subjects were added by splitting art into fine arts and songs (music) and physical education into physical education and gymnastics. The activities include: collective activity by groups of five students, salute to the national flag, mid-class relaxation, gymnastics, and meetings to discuss subjects of general and political interest. All these subjects and activities were taught weekly as one lesson each except for the following: the Vietnamese language was to be taught in 12 lessons out of a total of 22 in first grade, tapering to 8 lessons out of 23 in fifth grade; mathematics from 3 lessons in first grade, increasing to 5 in fifth grade; nature and society from l lesson in first grade to 3 in the fourth and fifth grades; and labor from 1 lesson in first grade to 3 in fifth grade. In its annual reports, the Ministry, however, laments that while this is an ideal plan, the paucity of funds, unavailability of adequate number of teachers, and poor infrastructure have limited the teaching in most primary schools only to 4 subjects, namely, Vietnamese language, mathematics, ethics, and nature and society. In December 1996, the Communist Party's Central Committee resolved that by the year 2000, all primary schools would be required to teach all nine subjects in the "Teaching Plan." It proved to be yet another instance when the government's performance has fallen short of the Party's lofty wishes.

Based on the objectives of education and the teaching plan, the Ministry of Education gets textbooks and teachers' books prepared and published. Beginning in the school year of 1981-1982, it launched a scheme to publish what it called "reformed books" for one grade of primary education each year. Thus, every five years, a cycle of book replacement for the 5-year primary education would be completed. This helps revision and upgrading of the content of the textbooks not only in terms of information but also in terms of what the Party thinks are the changing needs of the society. Three such cycles have been completed. There was substantial revision in the first two cycles but very little in the third.

Enrollment and attendance in primary schools in the 1990s was on the increase in most provinces, with the national average being 80 percent. The number of children attending the first grade was as high as 98 to 99 percent in the two delta regions. The national average was brought down by the mountainous provinces where the figure dropped to 60 to 70 percent. The statistics show that in some provinces, the enrollment of children in grade 1 exceeded 100 percent of the children in that age group because the government made primary education compulsory in 1994, compelling those aged 6 to 11 years who had failed to attend primary schools in the past to do so. Another consequence is that there are a number of children far above the normal age of six in first grade.

In 1996, there were 10,200,000 students in primary schools of whom 4,860,000 million were females. There has been a steady number of entrants at about 2,000,000 students every year, rising from 2,062,507 in 1986-1987 to 2,348,655 in 1995-1996. In 1996, there were 298,407 teachers at the primary level, of whom 224,955 were women, with a student-teacher ratio of approximately 30:1. There were 11,683 primary schools and 2,093 basic general schools, which included primary education. In 1996, the government claimed that there was a primary school facility in every commune down to each hamlet throughout the country.

About 50 percent of the students at the primary level complete the 5 years of primary education. There is no automatic promotion and there are those who fail a class. The numbers of repeaters at the primary level rose from 8.46 percent in 1986-1987 to 12.35 percent in 1991 but dropped progressively to 6.91 percent in 1996. The dropout rate fell from 11 percent in 1989 to 5 percent in 1995.

Those who pass the fifth grade receive a diploma of primary education. They have the option of taking a general examination conducted by the provincial office of education. Until 1996-1997, there were national competitions in the Vietnamese language and mathematics for which there would be between 400 and 500 prizes. These were abandoned in favor competition for the title "excellent pupil of primary school." About three-quarters of all the students in the primary division enter the lower secondary schools.

Secondary Education

At the secondary school level, those who repeat the class are charged twice the "fee" as the regular entrants. Each secondary school is permitted to enroll 25 percent of repeating students. The difference in fee is used to increase teachers' salaries, clearly an incentive to teachers to allow more students in their classes. A teacher is permitted to add up to 300,000 Dongs (about US$300) per month in this way to his/her income. There are some secondary schools in the private sector that justify the high fees they charge on grounds that they prepare the students better for entrance to universities and to other institutions of higher learning.

In 1996, there were 4,312,074 students at the lower secondary level, of whom a little less than 50 percent, or 2,016,094, were females. The annual intake dropped from 1,066,259 in 1987-1988 to a low of 842,242 in 1991-1992 increasing steadily to 1,476,130 in 1995-1996. There were 2,093 combined primary/lower secondary level schools, while there were 701 schools where the junior and senior level facilities were combined.

Because of paucity of funds available for construction of school buildings, many schools operate two or even three shifts. In 1996, there were 154,416 teachers at the lower secondary level, of whom 106,953 were women, with an overall student-teacher ratio of about 29:1. The effectiveness of teaching and the growing socio-economic importance of education was reflected in the percentage of repeating and dropout students falling dramatically from 5.08 percent in 1986 to a meager 0.50 percent in 1996. In 1996, there were 701 senior secondary schools, which included junior secondary schools, and an additional 644 senior secondary schools exclusively for tenth through twelfth grade, with a total of 1,019,480 students, of whom 457,793 were females. There was an increase of 10 percent over the previous decade.

However, just as at the lower secondary level, the number of students at the senior secondary level also dropped: from 917,593 to 522,735 in 1991-1992, rising steadily thereafter to 1,0l9,480 in l995-1996. In the latter year, there were 39,398 teachers at the senior secondary school level, of whom 19,663 were women, with a student-teacher ratio of 25:1. The percentage of repeaters as well as dropouts at the senior secondary level dropped dramatically in the 1990s: repeaters dropped from 4.55 percent in 1985-1986 to 1.35 percent in 1993-1994 while dropouts declined from 10.07 percent over the same period.

At the time of the end of the French rule in 1954, Vietnam was very weak in the study of technology. The French colonial masters had opened only four applied technology schools in the country. After 1945, in the areas under the control of the Viet Minh or DRV, eight secondary schools provided vocational education. After 1954, the DRV energetically pursued training technicians and workers through two kinds of facilities: regular secondary vocational schools and "craft-teaching" schools. The Second Indochina War (1964-1975) spurred a demand for skilled workers both in North Vietnam and in the areas controlled by the Viet Cong in the South. By 1975 before the reunification of the country, the communist-controlled Vietnam had 186 secondary vocational schools with about 70,000 students with an almost equal number of craft-teaching schools.

Vocational/technical training has been very crucial for the reconstruction of Vietnam. Since 1975, there has been a growing need, never adequately met, of skilled workers and technicians in numerous government enterprises and, since the economic liberalization of 1986, in private sectors as well. Besides the regular vocational/technical secondary schools, in-service training programs are conducted by state farms, regional centers, government enterprises, and a variety of government agencies including the military. Three-year courses as well as evening and correspondence classes are offered to working peopleincluding qualified workers, Communist Party personnel, and members of mass organizations. After the completion of such three-year programs, they may be admitted to higher level technical schools. The experience with in-service programs was found wanting and, therefore, the trend since l986 has been to increase the short-term, six-month programs in regular vocational schools.

Before the reunification of the country, North Vietnam had entered into a number of agreements with socialist countries such as the Soviet Union (up to the late 1980s), China, and Eastern European countries for technical and scientific cooperation. Before 1975, some selected workers from the North and, after 1975, from all of Vietnam were sent to these countries for training in factories, technical schools, and universities. Some of them worked in those countries for periods of time in lieu of payment of debts incurred by Vietnam mostly during the war. Under the same programs, experts from the socialist countries spent periods of time in Vietnamese facilities to train workers.

The secondary vocational schools as well craft-teaching schools/centers have prospered. In 1995-1996, there were 253 regular secondary vocational schools with an enrollment of 69,057 while the craft-teaching schools/centers numbered 174 with an enrollment of 79,488. The vocational schools have focused on training in economics, education, culture, and health and art, while the craft-teaching schools train students in "practical" arts.

Basic general school graduates, who after 3.0 to 3.5 years of education receive a diploma that is considered on par with non-vocation secondary school graduates, receive education in four "Groups": general knowledge group, comprised of politics, foreign languages, physical education, military education, economics, production organization, mathematics, and informatics; basic technical knowledge group, comprised mainly of electrical technology; professional technical knowledge group, involving more advanced education in electrical systems like power plants and transformers and industrial electrical equipment; and practice group, involving hands-on experience.

Before 1990, when a major reorganization of vocational education was undertaken by the Ministry of Education, there were some 390 crafts taught by an unaccounted number of vocational schools and craft-teaching centers. In that year, the Ministry ordered many of these closed and ordered many others to merge to make them viable units, in terms of physical facilities, equipment, and funding. In 1990, there remained 242 craft teaching schools, 119 of them under the central government and 123 under provincial and municipal management. The process of integration of schools continued bringing the total number of craft-teaching schools further down to 174 by 1995-1996. The craft-teaching schools were divided into six categories: industry, agriculture/forestry/fisheries, construction, mechanics/driving, commercial services or business, and others. Most of these schools offer a diploma after two to three years of training. Students in these schools are admitted at two levels: those who have completed the ninth grade general education and those who have completed the senior secondary education (twelfth grade). The former group takes two years for completion of a course in simple crafts and an additional year for complicated ones; the latter group takes one year for simple crafts and an additional year for the complicated ones. All students in the craft schools go through an integrated program that includes Vietnamese language and literature, a foreign language, mathematics, physics, chemistry, politics, ethics, physical education, technology, and craftsmanship. The details of the curriculum are adjusted to suit the craft "as required by the society at a specific stage of socioeconomic development."

Besides the regular network intended to train workers in the different crafts, some 200 centers were opened in the 1990s in the district capitals throughout the country to provide short-term courses for those who were already holding jobs in the general labor category but who wanted to qualify themselves in a specific craft. The government has indicated that such centers will grow in size and numbers to add large numbers of semi-qualified workers to fill the burgeoning demand for such labor from the industry.

Higher Education

Students passing the national examination at the end of the two cycles of secondary school were eligible for admission to institutions of higher education in arts, sciences, and law. The other faculties and specialized institutions had their own entrance examinations.

South Vietnam was handicapped in 1954 for lack of a university. Between 1954 and 1973, several universities were opened both in the public and private sectors. In 1955 the first university, the National University of Vietnam, was established in Saigon with the help of a large number of anti-communist, mostly Catholic, students and faculty of the Franco-Vietnamese University in Hanoi, who chose to move to the south. Before 1954, a medical school and law faculty in Saigon were affiliated to the Franco-Vietnamese University of Hanoi In 1957, and the National University was renamed the University of Saigon. Other public universities were established at Hue (l957 and Can Tho (1966). These universities benefited from the University of Saigon faculty, who traveled regularly to Hue and Can Tho to teach there. The government also established three professional institutions: the National Institute of Technology (1957), which offered a four-year degree program in engineering-civil, electrical, industrial, and mechanical-and a three-year diploma for technicians; the National Agricultural Center (1959), which offered a degree program in agriculture, forestry, and animal husbandry; and the National School of Administration, which offered a three-year diploma program in public administration, economics, and finance as well as an advanced three-year graduate program in public administration.

The government also encouraged establishment of universities, mostly sectarian, in the private sector. The University of Da Lat in the central highlands (l958) established by President Diem's archbishop brother and Minh-Duc University in Saigon (1970) were Catholic universities; the University of Van-Hanh in Saigon (1964) was Buddhist. The University of Cao Dai, and the University of Hoa Hao, were established in 1971 by the followers of those sects. In 1973, the year peace agreements were signed in Paris, the government opened a major institution, the Thu-Duc Polytechnic University in Saigon. Finally, the government established three community colleges at Da Nang, Nha Trang, and Thu Duc, which trained people in technical skills. The training of teachers at the primary and lower middle level schools was handled by five pedagogical institutions including two run by Catholics; secondary school training was the responsibility of the universities.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

Education policy in Vietnam is determined at the national level by the Ministry of Education and Training, which is the main body in charge of education in the whole country. It issues directives to officials in the educational establishment in the whole country on how the laws and ordinances approved by the National Assembly and/or the government are to be implemented. The Ministry draws annual and five-year plans for educational development and submits them to the government, which then presents them to the National Assembly for approval. The Ministry is divided into general departments and departments responsible for specific branches of study. The former includes finance, planning, organization and personnel, international relations, and science and technology. The departments for specific studies include: the "Young Shoot" education, primary education, secondary education, secondary vocational education and craft-teaching, higher education, and post-graduate studies. The Ministry is also in charge of inspection of education facilities and evaluation of teaching at all levels.

Although the Ministry of Education is in charge of formulating policies, in effect, several other governmental agencies and the communist party apparatus are also involved. Thus, the Central Committee and the Polit-bureau of the Communist party of Vietnam decide the "line and strategic orientation" for education. The Party was involved in making the initial strategic shifts in education policy at all important stages of reform. The National Assembly discusses the details of the policies as approved by the Party's top leadership. All the important laws and decrees are issued in the name of the National Assembly. Sometimes, the government appoints a "National Committee" to be in charge of implementation of major education drives such as the one established in 1989 for the eradication of illiteracy or universalization of primary education. The drive resulted in the legislation of 1991, which made primary education universal. The Committee included representatives of 11 ministries and various mass organizations of peasants, women, and youth who would galvanize the support of their members for the government programs. Indicative of the importance of education in Vietnam was the establishment in 1997 of the National Education Council under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister.

Until 1987, there were four separate ministries at the national level in charge of education. In that year, they were consolidated into two ministriesthe Ministry of General Education and the Ministry for Higher, Technical and Vocational Education. In 1990, there came a major reorganization and the merging of the entire management of education into one management behemoth, namely, the Ministry of Education and Training. It has 15 divisions, including the central office of the Ministry, planning and finance, personnel, inspection, international cooperation, preschool education, primary and secondary education, technical and vocational education, postgraduate (graduate) education, in-service and complementary education, physical education, sport, and science and technology.

While the Ministry of Education and Training is directly responsible for higher education, it leaves the routine administration including personnel, finance, and organization at "young shoot," primary, secondary, vocational, and craft-teaching schools to provincial, district, and community level officials and people's committees at those levels. District offices have two main divisions: inspection and management and facilities. In the case of vocational and craft-teaching schools, all these agencies work with those departments of the central government that deal with industrial enterprises in the public and private sectors.

In general, the Ministry of Education confines itself to formulation of objectives, planning, new programs, inspection, and examinations held at the end of the secondary education. It also concerns itself in the areas of teacher training in specific fields such as music and painting, gymnastics, sports, and technology. It also declares from time to time which crafts need emphasis in the crafts schools and vocational education. The general control of the Ministry of Education over the entire educational apparatus in the country is maintained significantly by its authority to release funds for salaries of teachers and scholarships at all levels of education. As for higher education, the Ministry of Education is directly responsible for the two national universities in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and three regional universities in Thai Nguyen, Hue, and Da Nang, and a number of colleges: Hanoi University of Technology, Hanoi National Economy College, Can Tho University, Hanoi University of Foreign Languages, Trade College, Hanoi Open University, Ho Chi Minh City Open University, and International Post-Graduate Schools. The Ministry also is in charge of some "national programs" such as construction of boarding schools for ethnic minorities, upgrading the teacher training schools, and international cooperation programs such as the World Bank's program for primary education. There are some 25 other colleges under the management of other ministries. Thus, the Hanoi Medical College is managed by the Ministry of Health; the College of Culture and the Hanoi Conservatoire under the Ministry of Culture; the water Conservancy College under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development; and the College of Gymnastics and Sports under the General Department of Gymnastics and Sports.

Despite the proclaimed priority to education, the financial allocations to education fall far short of the requirements. In general, the national government finances the full cost of higher and vocational education and a quarter of the expenses on preschool, primary, and secondary education. Even so, with the increasing allocation for education from 8.9 percent in 1990 to around 12.0 percent of the total national budget in 2000, Vietnam's education budget compares well with the education budgets of most developing countries. The trend is toward increasing such allocations at the national, as well as at the provincial and district levels. The bulk of the allocations are, however, absorbed by salaries of teachers and other personnel estimated at 75 to 80 percent of the Ministry's budget, with only about 20 percent available for construction, equipment, and new programs. As mentioned before, a substantial part of the costs of construction of school structures at the primary level is met through "volunteer contributions" from parents. Students also contribute toward "incidental expenses" of different kinds through special fees.

Nonformal Education

A survey made in 1990 showed that there were slightly more than 2,000,000 illiterates in the country in the age bracket of 15 to 35 years and 2,100,000 children in the age group of 6 to 14 years who had either never attended primary school or had dropped out after a very brief exposure. Illiteracy was very high among the "socially and economically underdeveloped areas" particularly in the mountainous areas, central coast, offshore islands, and some parts of the Mekong Delta. The mountainous areas had 747,300 illiterates or about 39 percent of the total while the Mekong delta had 650,639 or 33 percent. The literacy programs, which are not part of the school programs, include in-service, complementary and vocational education programs. These are offered or financed by different governmental agencies as well as by voluntary organizations such as the Youth Union and the Women's Union, which are recognized by the government as being representative of those sectors of the society.

As a result of the massive drive undertaken by the government during 1990-1995 to combat illiteracy, some 1,723,320 illiterates attended classes. Of them, 805,223 persons learned to read and write, and the balance finished education up to first or second grade. Every year in that period, 220,000 to 280,000 people attended literacy classes; 50 to 60 percent became literate and 60,000 to 100,000 moved on to post-literacy classes. In 1996, the National Committee for Illiteracy Eradication claimed that 27 provinces and cities with 7,760 communes and wards out of a total of 10,219 had eradicated illiteracy taking the percentage of literacy in the nation from 88 percent in 1990 to 91 percent in 1996. This meant that 34 provinces still had a number of illiterates. In the mountainous provinces, only 1,403 out of 2,676 (52.4 percent) communes were able to eradicate illiteracy; in the Mekong Delta, only 970 of 1,598 communes reached the goal. Therefore, in 1996, a timetable was drawn up whereby 9 provinces would be helped to eradicate illiteracy in 1997, some 13 others in 1998, then 4 in 1999, and the remaining 8 in 2000, thereby eradicating illiteracy completely in all of Vietnam.

At the same time, the government claimed in 1996 that Vietnam had exceeded the norm for illiteracy eradication set by the International Conference in Jomtien (Thailand) in March 1990 that, by the year 2000, some 80 percent of the 6- to 11-year-old children should be attending primary school and 50 percent of the illiterates in 1990 will have learned to read and write. Except for some mountainous provinces and remote areas, Vietnam claimed it had met and even exceeded those goals. The government was, however, concerned that in 1996, there were still some 1,400,000 illiterates in the country. It ascribed the problem to the fact that every year about 1,000,000 children who do not enroll in primary school get added to the ranks of the illiterates.

Teaching Profession

One out of five in the state labor force of about 4,000,000 people is in the teaching profession. In 1995-1996, there were 298,407 teachers at the primary level, of whom 70.72 percent were females; 154,416 junior secondary level teachers, with 83.88 percent females; 39,398 senior secondary teachers, of whom 93.31 percent were females; 25,562 vocational education teachers, of whom 51.8 percent were females; and 34,117 college, university, and professional school faculty in higher education, of whom 19.4 percent were women.

Although the respect and the high social status of teachers has been steadily maintained by government and society in Vietnam, the teachers' salaries are not as high. The nation celebrates November 20 as "Vietnam Teachers' Day" with great enthusiasm. Teachers' Day is also appropriately used by the Ministry of Education as well as academic establishments at the provincial, district, and commune levels to bestow varied honors like "Outstanding Teacher" or "People's Teacher" or for distribution of badges recognizing the deserving teachers for their meritorious services. Because of the low salaries, however, the profession fails to attract the best minds particularly at the primary and lower secondary school levels. Moreover, the salaries, in general, have failed to keep up with the inflation rate. For instance, a university teacher's average salary in 1985 was equivalent to 191.4 pounds of rice (the staple food of the Vietnamese); by late 1991, it purchased only 74.8 pounds. Teachers often need to hold more than one job.

It is no wonder, therefore, that there is a shortage of teachers to the extent of 120,000 for preschool, primary, and secondary education in Vietnam. Among the teachers working in schools, there are large numbers of inadequately qualified and untrained teachers. Only one-third of primary school teachers have received training, and only about one-half of lower secondary school teachers are qualified to teach at that level. The requisite qualification for primary school teachers is graduation from senior secondary schools (twelfth grade) and 2 years of study in a teachers' training school or three years' training after graduation from lower secondary school (tenth grade). For lower secondary teachers, it is three years training after graduation from senior secondary school (twelfth grade). Teachers of senior secondary schools require four years in teacher's training college following the twelfth grade. Teachers in the infant schools and kindergartens are expected to undergo training for two years after graduation from junior secondary schools or for one year after finishing the senior secondary school.

Teacher training in Vietnam at the primary and lower secondary school levels is largely the responsibility of the provincial administration. Thus, there are 31 junior teacher training colleges in the provincial capitals, while there are only 8 colleges of that level run by the central government. Of the latter, three train teachers for the kindergarten and infant schools, one of the training of music and painting teachers and one for the training of sports and gymnastics teachers. Some of these facilities at the central and provincial levels are multi-level, training teachers from preschool to lower secondary levels. Teacher training at the senior secondary is normally the responsibility of the 10 national teacher training colleges or of the departments of education in the universities.


Despite the requisite qualifications and training prescribed by the Ministry of Education, a large number of schools have at least part of its teaching staff without adequate training or qualifications. This is particularly so in the mountainous and remote areas, where city and townbred senior school graduates are reluctant to serve. The same is true for many primary schools where, as stated before, there is a serious shortage of teachers. The enrollment in the primary schools across the country has outpaced the numbers of qualified persons willing to enter the teaching profession at that level.

By the end of the last century, U.S.-Vietnam relations had come full-circle with the establishment of full diplomatic relations in 1995 between the two former foes, admission of Vietnam (with U.S. support) as a full member of the pro-West Association of Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN), the bilateral trade greement between Vietnam and the United States, and a four-day visit by President Clinton to Vietnam in November 2000. Academically significant was Clinton's choice of the University of Hanoi as the venue for his major address and his mention of the increasing academic ties between the United States and Vietnam, notably the Education Abroad Program of the University of California in Hanoi.


Asian Development Bank. Report and Recommendation of the President to the Board of Directors on a Proposed Loan to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam for the Vocational and Technical Education Project. Manila, November 1998.

DeFrancis, John Frances. Colonialism and Language Policy in Vietnam. The Hague: Mouton, 1977.

Elliott, David W., et al. Vietnam: Essays on History, Culture, and Society. New York: Asia Society, 1985.

Nguyen Thi My Huong, Patricis, Ed. Language in Vietnamese Society: Some Articles by Nguyen Dinh Hoa. Carbondale, IL: Asia Books, 1980.

Pham, Minh Hac. Vietnam's Education, The Current Position and Future Prospects. Hanoi: The Gioi Publishers, 1998.

Education in Vietnam: 1945-1991. Hanoi: Ministry of Education and Training of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, l994.

Sloper, David, and Can Le Thac, eds. Higher Education in Vietnam, Change and Response. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.

Woodside, Alexander. "The Triumphs and Failures of Mass Education in Vietnam." Pacific Affairs, 56, No.3. fall 1983.

D. R. SarDesai

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The Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Major Cities:
Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Haiphong, Da Nang, Hué

Other Cities:
Dalat, Nha Trang, Qui Nhon


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report 1999 for Vietnam. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


VIETNAM is a land of beautiful plains, mountains, and coastline and the site of a once-powerful and rich civilization. Throughout history, Vietnam has been invaded and occupied by various foreign powers. Many Americans were unfamiliar with Vietnam until the mid-1960s, when the Untied States became embroiled in a conflict between Communist North Vietnam and non-Communist South Vietnam. The United States, an ally of South Vietnam, launched a series of air strikes against North Vietnam in 1965 and sent the first group of combat troops to South Vietnam during that same year. Over the next several years, the United States became increasingly involved in the conflict. By 1969, 543,000 American combat troops were serving in Vietnam. From 1965-1973, the United States and its South Vietnamese allies fought many bitter and bloody battles against the powerful North Vietnamese Army. On January 27, 1973, the United States and North Vietnam signed a peace agreement which allowed the United States to withdraw its troops from Vietnam. The last American troops left Vietnam on March 29, 1973. The United States involvement in the Vietnam War claimed the lives of 58,000 Americans. The war between North Vietnam and South Vietnam resumed in early 1974, with the North Vietnamese quickly gaining the upper hand. The South Vietnamese army, suffering from high casualties and a lack of ammunition and spare parts, was soon defeated. On April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese Army troops entered Saigon, South Vietnam's capital, to accept the surrender of the South Vietnamese government. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam, created from the former Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), was established as a new nation in July 1976.

Relations between the United States and Vietnam have been deeply strained since the war. Following the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, the United States imposed an economic embargo against Vietnam which prevented trade between the two countries or American business investment in Vietnam. The demise of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 deprived Vietnam of vital export markets and economic aid and prompted the Vietnamese to seek new economic ties with the United States. Throughout 1992 and early 1993, the United States and Vietnam have begun negotiations to relax or lift the American embargo and establish diplomatic relations. The United States has stated that it will not lift the embargo until the fate of American servicemen missing since the Vietnam War is known. The Vietnamese government has agreed to cooperate in this endeavor.



Hanoi is the capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and has a rapidly increasing population of approximately 3,000,000. It is located in the north of the country along the Red River. It is in an alluvial plain approximately 150 kilometers from the coast and is surrounded by rural countryside consisting largely of rice paddies.


Electricity in Hanoi is 220v/50-cycle AC (with two round pin electrical plugs). Voltage regulators are recommended for most appliances, especially computers, as electrical power in Hanoi is unstable and prone to voltage fluctuations, which could damage sensitive electronic equipment. Small UPS (uninterrupted power supply) units and a full range of transformers are available on the local market.


Fresh meat and dairy products are not considered safe, as the Vietnamese have no adequate inspection system and processing facilities are often crude. However, a number of employees do consume meat and seafood purchased from the local open-air markets without any health problems. Imported seafood and meat, primarily from Australia and New Zealand, are always available fresh or frozen at, of course, a much higher price. Long life UHT milk (whole, low fat and skim) from New Zealand, powdered milk, and butter are readily available.

Most other basic foodstuffs are available in the supermarkets and delicatessens. The limited selection of Western fruits and vegetables varies from season to season. Principal items which must be imported are traditional holiday foods, ethnic foods, dietary products, baby foods, cereals (those locally available are often stale), snack foods, sports drinks, and treats for children and pets. Personal care and cleaning products are generally available, but U.S. products or equivalents are sometimes scarce and sell at twice the average U.S. price. Seldom will you find a wide selection of products available at one location. Thus, from time to time, you will need to shop around before you find a certain item on your grocery list.

There is also a duty free shop operated by the Vietnamese Government for foreign officials, amply stocked with a variety of canned sodas, liquor, a limited variety of food items, and small appliances.


By and large, dress in Hanoi is very similar to that in the U.S. for both business and recreational activities. A word of warning-even though the temperature may not indicate it, winters in Hanoi can be very chilly. Include some warm jackets, sweaters, scarves and hats in your luggage. Also, bring an adequate supply of dress and sports shoes for everyone.

Women: There are a number of reputable women's clothing shops, which sell off the rack or made to order clothes in a variety of material.

Supplies and Services

Stock up on toiletries, particularly sunscreen lotion and mosquito repellent, paper and plastic products, vitamins, makeup, prescription medicines, and cooking and baking spices and seasoning.

Dry cleaning is good and relatively inexpensive. Shoe repairs are fair. You can get a replacement battery for your watch, but it won't last more than 6 months. Men can get their hair cut on the streets with a head and shoulder massage thrown in for less than $2. Women's hair cuts range from $3 to $20. There are several good unisex beauty shops in town with both Vietnamese and "international" hair stylists offering a complete range of services. Automobile servicing is good, especially for Japanese cars. Picture framing is good and inexpensive.

Domestic Help

Below are examples of staff responsibilities and average salaries (as of January 1999). Salaries are stated in U.S. dollar equivalents and usually are paid in U.S. dollars. Domestic employees usually put in a 6-day workweek. At the higher end of the salary range are staff who speak good English, demonstrate initiative, and have several years experience working for Westerners. Giving your staff a "TET bonus"-equivalent to one month's salary is standard practice in Vietnam. Locally employed domestics do not live in.

Cook/Housekeeper : $120-220 per month. Plans the meals with you; shops for food; supervises any work done in your house; supervises other household staff; keeps a kitchen account book; does the laundry; and cleans the house.

Maid: $100-120 per month. Cleans the house; washes dishes; irons clothes; may prepare meals on the cook's day off; may do some marketing. It is possible to have part-time domestic help for one-two days per week for well under $100/month.

Nanny: $100-120 per month. Takes care of the children. May help with some light cooking and general housecleaning if the family is small.

Driver: $100-130 per month. Acts as chauffeur. Purchases the gas and oil. Keeps your car in good operating condition. May also tend the garden and help out during social functions.

Day/Night Watchmen: $75-80 per month. Screens visitors and guards your house.

Religious Activities

Hanoi has a large Catholic cathedral, but the regular services are only in Vietnamese and French. However, a nondenominational Christian service in English is held every Sunday at 10:30 a.m. on the Van Phuc Diplomatic Compound. Protestant services in English are conducted every Sunday in the Daewoo Hotel. Islamic services are held every Friday. Jewish services are not available.


United Nations International School (UNIS). Children from kindergarten (prep-1) through grade 12 attend the United Nations International School. Student enrollment for the 19992000 school year is 346. The curriculum does not follow any specific national system, but is similar to American elementary and middle school programs. The school has based its curriculum on that used by the United Nations School in New York, as a lead-in to the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program. Currently more than half of the 49 full-time teachers are American or Canadian. The high school is fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and the European Council of International Schools. All instruction is in English. Students are not required to wear uniforms.

Address: Lower School 2C Van Phuc Kim Ma Road, Hanoi Tel: (84-4) 823-0820 Fax: (84-4) 846-1285. Upper School, Hanoi Amsterdam Giang Vo, Hanoi Tel: (84-4) 823-4910 or 823-5782 Fax: (84-4) 846-3635. E-mail: [email protected]

Hanoi International School (HIS): In its third year of operation, HIS offers an academic program to meet the individual needs of students from pre-school through high school. The Pre-School program for 3 and 4-year-olds offers a balanced day of free and structured play, storytime, and directed group time. The school's International Baccalaureate (IB) program is divided into IB Early-Years (kindergarten to fifth grade), IB Middle-Years (grades six to ten), and the two-year pre-university IB diploma curriculum (grades eleven to twelve). The school year begins in October and ends in June. All students speak and study in English. The newlyrenovated campus includes a library, computer center, science laboratory, music room, sports facilities and playing fields. HIS has an international staff of 13 full-time and 7 part-time teachers from the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia.

Address: (Local) Lieu Giai Street Hanoi, Vietnam Tel: (84-4) 832-7379 Fax: (84-4) 832-7535. In the U.S., PO. Box 2876, Reston, Virginia 20195 No E-mail.

Morning Star International Kindergarten (MSIK): Opened in 1995, MSIK is a bilingual/multicultural education center for children ages 15 months to 5 years old. The teaching staff encourages the kids to develop basic skills in learning through playing and to develop confidence in themselves and their heritage. The regular year begins in early September and ends in mid June. The summer program begins in June and ends in late August. Lunch is served at 11:30 a.m. Snacks are available both in the morning and in the afternoon.

Located in the Thanh Cong area, the campus facility includes a number of large sunlit air-conditioned rooms and a spacious outdoor area. A variety of playground equipment and indoor activity materials are provided for recreation and learning.

Schedule Options: 2-1/2 to 5 years old. Full Time, Full Day, Monday to Friday 8:00a.m. to 4:00p.m.; Full Time, Half Day, Monday to Friday 8:00a.m. to 12:30p.m.

15 months to 2-1/2 years old. Full Time, Monday to Friday 9:00a.m. to 12:00p.m; Part Time, Monday, Wednesday, Friday 9:00a.m. to 12:00p.m.

Address: G 6 Thanh Cong Ba Dinh District Hanoi, Vietnam Tel: (84-4) 831-0879 Fax: (84-4) 835-0955. E-mail: [email protected] Home page:

Lycee Francais Alexandre Yersin : Recognized by the French Ministry of National Education and operated in collaboration with the French Embassy in Hanoi, the French International School of Hanoi (FISH) provides an academic curriculum in French for pre-school to high school aged children. FISH has a teaching staff of 35. Enrollment for the 1998-99 school year was approximately 300 (which includes 31 nationalities with the majority being French). Classrooms are large and fully air-conditioned. The cafeteria offers a choice of Vietnamese or Western food. The kindergarten has a well-equipped playground with flowers and trees. The new school building houses a gymnasium, two state-of-the-art laboratories, a well equipped library, and a research and information center with multimedia computer equipment.

Classes begin in September and finish around June 20.

Address: Truong Phap Quoc Te Ptth Hanoi Amsterdam Giang Vo, Hanoi Vietnam. Tel: (84-4) 843-6779 Fax: (84-4) 823-2023 E-mail: [email protected] or [email protected].

Special Educational Opportunities

Language training is available through a number of local resources.

The Hanoi Fine Arts Institute offers instructions in a variety of art mediums, including Vietnamese lacquer ware and the application of water-color on silk.

UNIS offers a number of evening courses. You can study art, learn a foreign language, play tennis, do aerobics, surf the Internet, and lots more.


Tennis: There are plenty of tennis courts in Hanoi, but the demand still exceeds the supply, unless you are able to play during the week in the daytime. Most courts are in good condition and adequately-maintained. Court surfaces are either hard or carpeted. There are, unfortunately, no indoor tennis facilities. Bring a supply of shoes and socks, tennis balls, strings, grips, etc. Tennis equipment and clothes are locally available, but there isn't much of a selection and what is acceptable is more expensive than in the U.S. Court fees vary between $3 and $5 during the day, with evening hours (5:00-10:00 p.m.) at double rates. If you provide the string, you can get your racquet restrung in Hanoi for $1.00. Most Vietnamese tennis coaches will charge $10/hour. All service apartments, major hotels, and some of the diplomatic missions have tennis courts.

Golf: About 35km west of Hanoi is Kings Island-a scenic 18-hole golf course. The golf club is situated at the base of Ba Vi National Park and is surrounded by historic temples and pagodas, natural caves, waterfalls, hiking trails, hot springs, and ethnic minority villages. A new highway to the course is almost finished, making it about an hour's drive from Hanoi on Highway #11. Facilities include a swimming pool, tennis courts, a fully-stocked pro shop with golf club and shoe rentals, and a clubhouse which serves both Asian and Western food. Membership fee is US $15,000. Special package day tours allow non-members to play for $55 during the week and $80 on the weekend.

Swimming: Most of the larger hotels and service apartments have swimming pools. The schools do not. Avid swimmers usually join a health club with swimming privileges included in the package. One of the larger hotels in the city has the only indoor swimming pool with a retractable roof.

Bowling: There are three large bowling centers. One is located in a hotel just across from the U.S. Embassy (24 lanes) and another is within walking distance. A game costs $3.00 and bowling shoes rent for $1.00.

Health Clubs: Virtually every hotel and apartment complex has an exercise room with state-of-theart equipment, showers, saunas, and whirlpools. Annual fees range from $550-1200.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

Several scenic and historic sights, including national parks and pagodas, can be done via a day trip from Hanoi. Although road conditions and traffic flow are steadily improving, travel can be a bit uncomfortable and stressful, due to poor road conditions. There are also several craft villages within a one-hour drive from Hanoi to view paper making, snake farming, noodle-making, and silk weaving. Also a popular attraction are the nearby factories for making costume jewelry, ceramics, lacquer ware and crystal.

Halong Bay: A five hour drive from Hanoi, Halong Bay is considered by many to be one of the most scenic areas in Asia. The bay consists of hundreds of small islands filled with caves and grottoes full of stalactites and stalagmites. Cat Ba, one of the largest islands in Halong Bay, is home to one of Vietnam's national parks and includes a large seven acre freshwater lake in the center of the island.

Sapa: Built originally as a hill station, Sapa now is one of Vietnam's major tourist attractions in the northernmost part of the country. By road (and some of it very bumpy), Sapa is a 12-14 hour scenic drive from Hanoi. For those travelers who prefer a more comfortable, faster ride up north, the overnight train from Hanoi to Sapa and back is perfectly safe and hassle free. During the weekend, you can mingle with the colorfully dressed hill tribe people (mostly women) who come into Sapa to peddle their home-made garments and textiles. Using Sapa as a base, you can also hike to several minority tribe villages, while taking in the panoramic view of Vietnam's Hoang Lien Mountains.

Vietnam is a photographer's paradise. Camera shops are everywhere. Film can be developed inexpensively in a couple of hours.


There are enough Western restaurants in town to titillate the gourmet's taste buds, ranging from traditional French cuisine to nouveau California fare. There are also some very good Asian restaurants for Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese food. For fast-food lovers, Hanoi offers several restaurants/delis for pizzas, hamburgers and hotdogs, and sub-sandwiches. Hanoi even has a Baskin-Robbins ice cream store.

American Club: The American Community Association (ACA) supervises the operations of the American Club and the Video Club. Patrons and their guests can enjoy an informal meal in the air-conditioned restaurant/bar area or outdoors in the bamboo pavilion. Also on the premises are areas set up for a variety of sports, including darts, billiards, badminton, basketball, and sandlot volleyball. Next to the pavilion is a newly-constructed playground for the younger children. Membership is open to all Embassy employees (American and Vietnamese) and to the expatriate business and diplomatic community ($60 for singles/$100 for families). An additional $50 fee is charged to join the Video Club, which offers a good selection of movies for both adults and children at a rental fee of $1.00 per tape.

Social Activities

American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham): The largest business group in Vietnam, AmCham offers opportunities to help international corporations operate and thrive here. There are 230 members in the Hanoi Chapter and 300 in HCMC. Through its committees, AmCham adopts positions on a variety of general business issues in Vietnam. These committees work on such issues as reducing tax burdens for U.S. companies, individuals and their staff. Efforts have also been made to improve access to foreign exchange and to reduce bureaucracy and red tape in business dealings with the Vietnamese Government. Both the chapters in Hanoi and HCMC host a number of working luncheons with keynote speakers throughout the year. AmCham also organizes social activities, including an annual formal dinner/dance.

The Hanoi International Women's Club (HIWC): Open to all foreign women, the Club has approximately 325 members. The IWC promotes goodwill between the host country and the expatriate community through its annual Christmas Charity Bazaar and work throughout the year with local orphanages and rural support systems. The IWC also organizes monthly luncheons, coffee mornings, and orientation programs for newcomers. A non-profit organization, the annual membership fee is $10 (which basically covers the cost of sending out the IWC monthly newsletters).

International Business Women's Club: A fledgling group of Hanoi's working women-expatriate and Vietnamese-exchange thoughts and network during an informal luncheon meeting once a month.

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is Vietnam's largest city and river port, covering an area of 761 square miles on the Right Bank of the Saigon River, stretching from the shores of the South China Sea to within a couple miles of the Cambodian border. With a teeming population of 6 million, it is also the economic capital and cultural trendsetter of Vietnam. There are 22 districts (15 urban and 7 rural) with 75% of the population in the urban districts. Only a few degrees above the Equator, the city has a tropical, monsoon climate with an average annual temperature of 83°F.

April is the hottest month with an average temperature of 86°F. There are two seasons-rainy (from June to November) and dry (from December to April). Average number of rainy days annually is 159, with 90% of the rainfall occurring in the rainy season.


The information on food in Hanoi generally applies also to HCMC. There is, however, a wider selection of fruits and vegetables available in HCMC, due to the proximity of HCMC to Dalat, where most of the fruits and vegetables are cultivated.


See Hanoi for general information on clothing, but note that HCMC does not have a cold season.

Religious Activities

Houses of worship are available for Buddhists, Catholics, Muslims, and Protestants, but services for most are conducted in Vietnamese. Protestant worshipers can attend services in English on Sunday conducted for foreigners only. There is also a small international Jewish community that observes Jewish holidays. Our Lady Cathedral has a bilingual Vietnamese-English Mass on Sunday mornings.


Fundino Kids Club (FKC): FKC provides high quality, innovative childcare and recreation for children 1 to 5 years old. The eye-pleasing, up-beat Clubhouse and grounds are all on one level and colorfully and cleverly decorated with lots of primary colors using a dinosaur theme. There are currently 52 kids enrolled, including one physically handicapped and one developmentally-disabled child. All students are required to wear the Club uniform-T-shirt with a Fundino dinosaur emblem and denim shorts. Fundino's staff consists of 3 full-time expatriate teachers (one with special education training) and 8 Vietnamese assistants. Indoor facilities include a large floor and wall-padded playroom for the tots, a small kitchen for lunch and snacks, a library, and individual rooms for art, music, reading, computer and dance instruction. The spacious outdoor area includes an elaborate playground and wading pool for the older kids. FKC is open after hours to their kids as well as non-registered children, e.g. older siblings who attend other schools. Parents can sign up a child as a "Club Member" and pay a $5.00 fee (which covers cost of general program, food and drink). Fundino's also caters birthday parties and special events.

Class Schedule: Play & Learn and Mums & Bubs (younger kids attended by a parent or nanny pay a reduced fee) operate Monday through Friday, except for Vietnamese Public Holidays.

Play & Learn 8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. (Age 2-3yrs and 3-5yrs) Mums & Bubs 8:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. (Age 1-2yrs) 1:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m. Address: 11B Nguyen Gia Thieu, Ward 6 District 3, HCMC. Tel: 930-0514 Fax: 930-0513 E-mail: none.

Saigon South International School (SSIS): This is a pre-kindergarten through 6th grade, coeducational school located in District 7 (the industrial zone). SSIS is the only school in HCMC which provides an American-based curriculum, with modifications made to accommodate the school's non-American population. In its first year of operation, the school currently shares a building and spacious school grounds with two other schools (Vietnamese and Japanese). Even though the three schools occupy the same campus, they do operate autonomously. Shared facilities include a library media center, a swimming pool, two playgrounds, and a grass soccer field. Students are required to wear uniforms. Potable water is available on campus. However, students must bring their lunches, snacks and beverages to school. At the moment, SSIS does not have any programs for children with special needs.

Address: Phu My Hung Corp. Saigon South Parkway Tan Phu Ward, District 7, HCMC Tel: (84-8) 872-8410 Fax: (84-8) 872-5580 E-mail: none.

Class Schedule: Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m.

International School Ho Chi Minh City (IS): Operating in two locations, the Senior Campus for grades 2 through 11 (grade 12 was added for the 1999-2000 term) is located in An Phu. The Junior Campus for pre-school to grade 1 is in District 3. The combined teaching staff totals 59 expatriate and 3 Vietnamese teachers for approximately 350 students. IS is a privately-owned co-educational, non-denomi-national institution. It operates an international curriculum with the International Baccalaureate diploma program offered in grades 11 and 12. All students (except for grade 11) are required to wear uniforms. Lunch can be purchased from the School's canteen. For recess the School provides its students with nutritional snacks. Potable drinking water is available on both campuses.

Senior Campus Address: 649A Vo Truong Toan St., An Phu, Thu Duc, HCMC Tel: (84-8) 898-9100 Fax: (84-8) 887-4022 E-mail: none.

Junior Campus Address: 236 bis Nam Ky Khoi Nghia St., District 3, HCMC. Tel: (84-8) 822-5858 Fax: (84-8) 823-0000 E-mail: none.


Tennis: All major hotels and service apartments have either hard or carpeted tennis courts. However, the current supply does not meet the demand, unless you can play during the daytime. Sports center and service apartment court fees range from $3.00 (before 5:00 p.m.) to $5.00 (after 5:00 p.m.). Hotels charge $6.00 and $12.00, respectively. Tennis pro fees range between $5-$8/hour.

Golf: There are three excellent golf clubs in the area. Dong Nai (18-hole) is approximately 1-1/2 hour drive from the city. The other two-Song Bei (18-hole) and Thu Duc (36-hole) are approximately a 45-minute drive. All three golf facilities have a clubhouse with a restaurant. Weekend greens fees are $85, with weekday specials starting at $45. Caddies are available at all three clubs. A fourth golf club-Saigon South (9-hole) opened for business in 1999.

Bowling: There are several bowling centers scattered around the city. Fees are the same as in Hanoi.

Swimming: With year-round temperatures in the mid-80s, swimming and/or lounging around the pool can be a great stress reliever. Having said that, you will still, however, need earplugs or a Walkman to deafen the cacophony of round-the-clock street and construction noise.

Jogging and biking: Unfortunately, the city's hazardous traffic conditions preclude all but the foolhardy from jogging and biking safely anywhere in town. Joggers and bikers are relegated to the safe interior facilities of health centers or travelling some distance outside the city.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

Hoi An: A 45-minute ride outside of Danang, Hoi An was once a prosperous trading town frequented by the Japanese, Portuguese, Dutch, French and Chinese, Hoi An is now a quaint, artistic tourist attraction. For architecture buffs, there are a number of well-preserved historic sites in Hoi An over 200 years old, including private homes, chapels, temples, pagodas, bridges and tombs. For the shoppers, Hoi An has lots of art and craft shops, streetside cafes, a large outdoor market, and quality garment tailors who can produce quality dresses, trousers and shirts quickly at very reasonable prices.

Dalat: Approximately 6 hours by road or one hour by plane from HCMC, Dalat enjoys year round spring weather. Dalat offers something for everyone. There is an 18-hole golf course, botanical gardens, ancient palaces and pagodas, and a large central market full of fresh vegetables, fruits and flowers. After a hearty meal, you can walk along small paths behind waterfalls or in the streets of the French Quarter up on the hill.

Hue: The former capital of Vietnam prior to WWII, Hue is surrounded by a large number of historic Imperial landmarks. Hue is a 2-hour plane ride from HCMC and is probably the largest city in Vietnam with the least amount of street traffic. Visitors to Hue can safely explore the inner city on foot. Cyclos can be used to tour the Forbidden Purple City and the Citadel. Bicycles or motor scooters can be rented from hotels for the short trips to the numerous Imperial tombs and pagodas.

Nha Trang: This sleepy little resort town has beautiful sandy white beaches with turquoise water, small outer-lying islands and coral reefs to explore, and the best fresh fruit milkshakes and ice cream in Vietnam. You can navigate around town by foot, cyclo, bicycle or motor scooter without a hassle. Nha Trang is a one-hour plane ride from HCMC.


HCMC has a larger variety of restaurants than Hanoi, including fast food chains (KFC and Jollibee), TexMex, European, Indian, and Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai) cuisine. There are also numerous nightclubs (some with live jazz ensembles), discos, and, of course, karaokes. A couple of the numerous video rental stores in the city stock movies in English. HCMC also has three large water parks and an 18-hole miniature golf course near the airport.

Social Activities

American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham): See Hanoi section.

Saigon International Women's Club (SIWC): The Saigon Chapter has approximately 600 members. (See Hanoi International Women's Club for activities.).


Vietnam's third largest city, Haiphong, is located in northern Vietnam approximately 10 miles from the Gulf of Tonkin. The city is one of Vietnam's major ports and a principal industrial city. Industries in Haiphong produce a number of products, including glass, cement, cotton, and chemicals. The city's location near the Gulf of Tonkin has led to the development of a large fishing industry. Haiphong was heavily bombed from 1965 to 1972 by American warplanes, but much of the damage has been repaired. In 1992, Haiphong had a population of approximately 783,000.

Recreation and Entertainment

Recreational activities in and around Haiphong are somewhat limited. The city offers many opportunities for souvenir shopping. Markets and stores in Haiphong sell pearl jewelry, brass figurines, carpets, and products made of buffalo horns and tortoise shells. The prices for many of these souvenirs is very reasonable. Other souvenirs can be purchased in the nearby village of Bao Ha. Villagers in Bao Ha are noted for their exquisite wood carvings of religious figures, lions, dragons, and buffalo. These carvings are very well-made and reasonably priced.

Haiphong has two primary tourist attractions. The Hang Kenh Communal House is one of the city's most interesting architectural structures. It is composed of over 500 intricate wood sculptures. Also, the 300-year-old Du Hang Pagoda is open to visitors. It is considered Haiphong's finest example of Vietnamese temple architecture. The Du Hang Pagoda contains a beautifully carved altar and several interesting statues of Buddha. A stone stelae (tablet) in the pagoda lists the names of those who have served as caretakers for the pagoda over the centuries.

For tourists who enjoy sand and surf, the Do Son Beach is a pleasant place to visit. Located approximately 13 miles southeast of Haiphong, Do Son Beach is a popular resort for Vietnamese and foreigners alike. It has miles of beautiful sandy beaches and several nice hotels.

Da Nang

Da Nang is located in central Vietnam and is the country's fourth largest city. The city became the site of a major American military base during the Vietnam War. Today, Da Nang is one of Vietnam's largest ports. Several industries are located in Da Nang. These industries produce beverages, machinery, and textiles. The city is a transportation hub for central Vietnam. Roads and railways link Da Nang with Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. In 1993, Da Nang had a population of approximately 383,000.


Da Nang has many attractions that are of interest to visitors. Among the most interesting sites are the Marble Mountains. The Marble Mountains consist of five hills composed of marble. According to local traditions, these five hills represent the five elements of the universe (water, fire, metal, wood, and earth). Several caves containing Buddhist Shrines are located on the largest of the Marble Mountains, Thuy Son. These shrines, each of them unique, are open to visitors. Tours of the caves are conducted daily. Located near the Marble Mountains is China Beach (Non Nuoc Beach). This beach was a favorite relaxation and picnic spot for American soldiers during the Vietnam War.

Da Nang's Cham Museum is well worth a visit. This museum contains sculpture from the fourth through fourteenth centuries. Each room of the museum is dedicated to sculpture and artifacts from a particular period in Vietnamese history. An English-language booklet explaining the origin and history of the museum's artifacts is available from tour guides.


Opportunities for entertainment in Da Nang are rather sparse. Several restaurants in the city serve good traditional Vietnamese or French cuisine. Vegetarian dishes can be found at food stalls in the city. Da Nang has many shops and handicraft markets that fulfill the needs of most souvenir shoppers. Many tourists enjoy visiting Cho Con, Da Nang's central market. Among the products available to customers include flowers, household items, fruit, stationary, and ceramics. Bamboo handicrafts, rugs, and wood carvings, sold in Da Nang, make excellent souvenirs. Nightclubs are available in downtown Da Nang. On occasion, the city's Municipal Theatre offers performances of classical Vietnamese drama.


The city of Hué is situated on the Huong River in central Vietnam. Huéserved as the capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945. Today, it is one of Vietnam's educational, religious, and cultural centers. The city was heavily damaged during the Vietnam War when it was a major focus of the North Vietnamese Tet offensive in 1968. Although many priceless treasures, buildings, museums, and shrines were destroyed, some of the damage has been repaired. Huéexperiences a very hot and dry climate, particularly during the summer. From September to April, the city receives heavy rainfall. Huéhad a population of approximately 220,000 in 1992.


Huéoffers extensive opportunities for sight-seeing. Tourists may visit the Forbidden Purple City. This palace was used exclusively by emperors and their families. The entire complex was practically leveled during the Tet Offensive of 1968, but parts of the building's library have been reconstructed. Located near the Forbidden Purple City, the Thai Hoa Palace is a beautiful structure which escaped damage during the war and is open to visitors. Constructed in 1805, the Thai Hoa Palace has an ornate red lacquer ceiling with gold inlays.

The Imperial Museum is well worth a visit. Although many priceless artifacts were destroyed during the Vietnam War, some of the museum's treasures survived without damage. Among the items on display are furniture, clothing, and a sedan chair used by Vietnamese emperors.

Huéwas the final resting place of seven Vietnamese emperors. As a result, many tombs are located in the city. Most of the tombs contain not only the remains of the emperor, but also an altar containing some of the personal treasures possessed by the emperor and a temple for personal devotions. One of the most impressive of all tombs is the Tomb of Minh Mang. This tomb has beautiful architecture and magnificent stone carvings. Another tomb, the Tomb of Khai Dinh, is frequently visited by tourists. Although the exterior of the tomb is unimpressive, the interior contains magnificent frescoes made of colorful glass and ceramic fragments. The Tomb of Khai Dinh also contains a bronze statue of the emperor adorned in royal clothing.


Western-style entertainment in Hué is very limited. Most entertainment activity centers around shopping in the city's huge Dong Ba Market. A wide variety of products are available at this market, including the large conical hats that are worn by many Vietnamese. Hué's Gold and Silver Trade Department sells beautiful gold and silver handicrafts.

Several restaurants serving traditional Vietnamese, French, and vegetarian cuisine are located in Hué. Good food is also available at food stalls throughout the city. The prices of food in Hué is very reasonable.


The city of DALAT is located in the central highland region of southern Vietnam. Dalat is situated in a forested region amid beautiful lakes and waterfalls. It enjoys a pleasant, cool climate, with a rainy season between July and October. The city is noted for its fresh vegetables, strawberry jam, candied plums, wine, artichokes, tea, and tropical flowers and is a popular tourist destination. Coffee, rubber, and tea plantations near the city are an important contributor to the local economy. Dalat is the home of a major university. Road and air connections link Dalat with Ho Chi Minh City. Dalat has an estimated population of 125,000.

NHA TRANG is situated at the mouth of the Cai River in southeastern Vietnam. The city's location near the South China Sea has led to its development as a major port city. Fishing is the primary industry in Nha Trang and the city is noted for its excellent seafood. The region near Nha Trang is very fertile and supports the growth of coffee, coconuts, sesame seeds, and cashew nuts. These agricultural products are exported through the city's port. Tourists are attracted to Nha Trang's beautiful, sandy beaches and the coastal waters are conducive to snorkeling, fishing, and scuba diving. The city is connected by road, air, and rail with Ho Chi Minh City. Nha Trang had a population of roughly 221,000 in 1992.

The city of QUI NHON is located in central Vietnam and is an important port city. Qui Nhon has very few industries, the largest of which are salt evaporation and fishing. The city offers weekly flights to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. In 1992, Qui Nhon had a population of 163,400.


Area and Geography

Like a dragon floating in the sea, Vietnam winds its way some 1,030 miles up from the South China Sea to the Gulf of Tonkin, with its head caressing the border of China to the north and its back resting snugly against her Southeast Asian neighbors Laos and Cambodia-to the west. The total land area of Vietnam covers about 128,000 square miles (larger than Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina combined). Vietnam's main cities, for population and importance, are Hanoi, Haiphong, Hue, and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).

Vietnam's northern terrain is mostly mountainous or hilly, with some highland areas covered by a thick green blanket of jungle (about half the total land area). The Red River Delta and coastal plains in the lowland part of the North are heavily populated and intensively cultivated (almost entirely by rice fields). Although much of this Delta Region is seasonally flooded, a complex network of dikes and levees help to prevent serious flood damage.

The southern part of Vietnam is dominated by the estuary of the Mekong River system and is low, flat, and frequently marshy. The rich soil in the Mekong Delta is the most fertile in the country. Areas immediately north and east of Ho Chi Minh City in the Mekong Delta are much more varied-with lowlying tropical rain forest, upland forest, and the rugged Annamite Mountain chain.

Vietnam is largely a tropical monsoon country. In the north, a hot rainy season prevails from May to September. The average temperature in Hanoi is about 86°F during this period, with very high humidity. Due to the lack of proper drainage, flooding caused by heavy rainfall and/or typhoons can create hazardous conditions to one's health and property. Flooded streets slow down traffic and provoke accidents. Houses and furnishings can suffer as a result of leaky roofs and other sources of water damage. Food supplies are also affected. During the cooler, dry season in the north from December to March, the average temperature is 68°F, with overnight minimums sometimes around 40°-42°F. Due to the lack of heating in most shops and offices during the dry season, it will feel considerably colder.

In the south, Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta experience a year-round tropical climate with daily temperatures normally exceeding 88°F. The rainy season in Danang and Hue in the center of the country lasts from October to March.


In 2000 Vietnam's rapidly growing population was estimated at nearly 80 million, making it the twelfth most populous country in the world. The population makeup is roughly 85% ethnic Vietnamese, 3% ethnic Chinese, and the remaining 12% a mixture of over 50 ethno-linguistic groups, including Khmer, Cham and Muong. The largest single minority group-the Chinese-live mostly in the Cho Lon District of Ho Chi Minh City and other large cities. Viet-nam's infant mortality rate is 36/1000. Life expectancy for males is 63 years and 67 years for females.

Vietnam has one of the most complex ethno-linguistic mixes in all of Asia. Aside from the Kinh or Vietnamese, the rest of the country's 54 nationalities inhabit the Central Highlands and the mountainous regions in the north. The official language is Vietnamese-a hybrid of Mon-Khmer, Tai and Chinese. English is increasingly favored as a second language. In addition to English, many Vietnamese officials and businessmen speak some French, Russian or Chinese.

The predominant religion practiced by 90% of the Vietnamese is Mahayana Buddhism, which is often referred to as a way of life or a philosophy rather than a religion. It advocates moderation in all facets of life and sees material objects as standing in the way of greater happiness. Buddhists believe in reincarnation, with the actions of your current life determining the role of your next life.

By living simply and selflessly, a person will be reincarnated many times over. This continues over many lifetimes until the soul reaches a stage of eternal happiness-nirvana. Other religions practiced in Vietnam are Confucianism, Taoism, Catholicism, Animism, Cao Daism, and Islam.


The Vietnamese family unit (particularly in the rural areas) is patriarchal in nature with strong familial ties. It is not unusual to find three or four generations living in the same household. Personal names are written with the family name first, middle name second, and the first name last. It is common practice to address people by their first names, e.g. a woman by the name of Nguyen Anh Tuyet would be addressed as "Miss Tuyet."

Observing the following local customs will help keep you from embarrassing yourself with the Vietnamese. Crossing your index and middle finger (our way of wishing it were so) is considered to be a lewd gesture. Direct eye contact is seen as a sign of disrespect. Touching someone, especially on the head, is not welcomed. Motioning for someone to come with your palm up is considered rude. Handing a pair of chopsticks or a toothpick to someone is considered bad luck. And, last but not least, the Vietnamese (like most other Asians) do not like to "lose face." When they don't understand a request or question, they will still respond affirmatively so as not to lose face. Although they might disagree, they will nod affirmatively just to avoid confrontation. The Vietnamese are not prone to show their emotions in public.

Public Institutions

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) is a one-party state controlled by the Vietnamese Communist Party, with the Political Bureau (Politburo) as the central organ of the Party. Its national flag is red with a large yellow star in the center. The Party's constitutionally mandated leading role and the occupancy of nearly all the senior Government positions by Party officials ensures the primacy of Politburo guidelines. The National Assembly (chosen in quadrennial elections) elected non-Party members for the first time in 1997. But, despite some increased activism, it remains largely controlled by the Party. Party intrusion into Government operations has diminished somewhat, allowing Government officials to have more latitude in implementing policy. The Party and State have also diminished their intrusion into the daily lives of the people.

Vietnam's administrative bodies are divided into the following four levels: 1) central; 2) provincial and municipal (Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang, and Haiphong); 3) quarters (urban) and districts (rural); and 4) precincts (urban) and communes (rural). Vietnam has 61 provinces, 3 municipalities under central government control, one special zone, urban quarters and rural districts, and urban precincts and rural communes. All these different levels have a fair degree of independence in implementation of policy and administration of local resources.

There are a number of "mass organizations." The Women's Union (approximately half of the total labor force), the Farmer's Union, and the Youth Union are called on to represent the interests of various sectors of the Vietnamese public and serve as a political link between the people and the Communist Party on the one hand, and the Party and Vietnamese Government on the other. The Vietnam Fatherland Front, an umbrella organization under the Communist Party, coordinates and oversees the activities of these mass organizations. The Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) represents the commercial interests of both state-owned industries and the private sector and informally advises the Vietnamese Government on economic policy.

Vietnam obtained membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in July 1995 and in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in November 1998. The SRV also belongs to the following international organizations: The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), UN Development Program (UNDP), UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), WHO (World Health Organization), World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), ADB (Asian Development Bank), INTELSAT, Mekong Committee, Nonaligned Movement, and the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council. Vietnam also has observer status in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

Arts, Science and Education

The art scene in Vietnam reflects the perception of a people surrounded by a rich cultural heritage who at the same time are striving to stake their place in the modern world. There are dozens of art galleries in Hanoi-many with high-quality paintings available, but just as many with trendy commercialized "souvenir" artwork churned out for the tourist trade. Other popular art forms include ceramics, religious wood carving sculptures and lacquer ware. Hanoi's Art Museum contains a smattering of work from different eras but probably does not have as good a collection as some of the private galleries. Also of interest are Hanoi's History Museum which contains artifacts from 1,000 years ago and the recently opened Ethno-logical Museum.

The capital city of Hanoi is sometimes referred to as "Asia's architectural pearl," with its mixture of traditional Southeast Asian/Chinese Art Deco and French Colonial styles. Juxtaposed among these quaint and pastel-colored turn of the century houses and office buildings are the recently constructed hotels and high-rise buildings of shiny steel and glass. There is an international movement-Friends of Vietnam's Heritage-actively engaged in preserving the architecture of the past in the face of the temptation to tear it down to build more commercial enterprises.

The Opera House is one center of culture in Hanoi. It is the home of the Hanoi Symphony Orchestra. International cultural groups also perform at the Opera House or at Hanoi's Music Conservatory. There are several smaller theaters for traditional Vietnamese opera ("cheo") and water puppet performances.

Although the quality of education has improved significantly here, Vietnam's reputation as a highly educated country exceeds the reality. Vietnam's population is probably better educated than other countries enduring similar levels of economic development. But, for the most part, the academic curriculum in this country still focuses on rote memory and "the one right answer." Since economic reforms officially began in 1986, literacy levels have fallen due to families, particularly in the rural areas, pulling their children out of the classroom to earn money. Schools operate on double and sometimes triple shifts, meaning very little actual classroom time for many students. Educational facilities are frequently inadequate. Oftentimes families cannot afford the fees for attending school beyond the very basic levels.

The National University has many branches, the most prestigious of which is located in Hanoi. The SRV is striving to improve its comparatively low level of technological knowledge, particularly in the field of computer science.

Initiated in Vietnam in 1992, the Fulbright Program enrolls some 30 Vietnamese officials, scholars and professionals annually in graduate programs at leading American universities. Last year the program began funding American graduate student research in Vietnam. This year's Fulbright agenda included placing American lecturers at seven Vietnamese universities to teach and consult in various disciplines. In addition, there is a Fulbright run program in HCMC, which trains mostly provincial level officials in economic decision-making.

Commerce and Industry

After a decade of political isolation brought on by its invasion of Cambodia, Vietnam began to open its doors in 1986, seeking both to enter the marketplace and participate in the international community. As in China, reforms started with the agricultural sector and an opportunity for farmers to hold land for extended periods of time and decide on what crops to plant and how to sell much of what they produced. The "doi moi" (renovation) reforms also tried to create an atmosphere to attract foreign investment.

Agriculture, especially wet-rice cultivation, accounts for nearly 30% of overall production and employs the great majority of the population.

Important cash crops include coffee, rubber, tea, and mulberry (for silk production). Vietnam has significant deposits of crude oil and natural gas lying mainly off the southern coast, as well as coal and limestone. Other minerals are present, but not in marketable quantities, using locally available technology. Sixty per cent of the industrial sector is still in the hands of state-owned companies. The country's main exports are garments, textiles, crude oil, rice, seafood products, coffee, footwear, and other agricultural products. Export of light manufactured goods, especially textiles, foot-wear, and processed foods, is growing in importance. Major imports include petroleum products, industrial machinery, vehicles, consumer electronics, telecommunications equipment, fertilizers, and pharmaceuticals.

European and Asian investors came first, and remain among Vietnam's top ten investors even today. The U.S. trade embargo was not lifted until February 1994, after a long period in which the U.S. sought to strengthen Vietnamese commitments to cooperate on the humanitarian MIA issue. Vietnam also focused on re-establishing both regional and international ties, establishing diplomatic relations with over 100 countries. As a member of ASEAN, Vietnam committed itself to the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) as a part of the requirements for further economic reforms and tariff reductions.

Vietnam's reform process had already slowed by 1997, due to a two-year process in which Vietnam moved from a generation of 80-year-old leaders to a government and party led by men in their sixties. The new leadership pledged to continue the reform process and has not rolled back any of the earlier reform policies. But they have yet to move past the earlier stages of reform to attack the inefficiencies of a State-run system, preferring instead to sustain a lower level of growth while maintaining basic social stability and control by the Communist party.

The initial boom in foreign investment began to create the trappings of modernity in larger cities like Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). Hanoi, Haiphong, Hue and Danang got new hotels, taxi cabs and the start of a tourism industry. The hotel boom, most notably in Hanoi and HCMC, became a bust in 1997-98 when the over supply of three, four, and five-star facilities tumbled room rates. Unfortunately, this did not fill Hanoi's 3,000 new, higher-end hotel rooms because tourist levels had already begun to fall as a result of the Asian financial crisis. This crisis has also taken a deep bite out of foreign investment levels, which have been declining since 1996. By the end of 1997, U.S. investment in Vietnam reached $1.4 billion, putting us seventh behind the French and a host of regional countries with significantly more money invested than the U.S. Two-way trade at about $700-800 million is a fraction of its potential because of the absence of normal trade relations (formerly called MFN or most favored nation status).

Negotiation of a bilateral trade agreement has been a priority for the U.S. and Vietnam since the opening of our respective embassies in August 1995 and the commitments of then Secretary of State Christopher and Foreign Minister Cam to concentrate next on economic normalization. Movement has been slow, following the U.S. presentation of a draft agreement in April 1997. However, both sides remain committed to moving forward.

Another area of mutual interest, which has yet to be realized, is the negotiation of a Civil Aviation Agreement. Thus far, U.S. proposals have not been viewed favorably by the SRV in civil aviation negotiations. On the positive side, however, we have concluded a copyright agreement, providing reciprocal protection to published works, and are hoping to conclude a counter-narcotics agreement and a framework for science and technology cooperation.



Having your own car or recreational van will add a great deal of convenience and independence to your life. Retaining a full-time driver is highly recommended, particularly if you have school-aged children with extracurricular activities and active social lives. A valid U.S. driver's license is required to obtain a local driver's permit. (International driver's licenses are not valid in Vietnam.) Please note that you may not import a vehicle over four years old.

Driving in Vietnam is stressful and requires a great deal of care and vigilance to avoid accidents. Most people do not obey standard rules of the road. Traffic moves on the right, but operators sometimes do not stay on their own side of the road. There are very few traffic lights or stop signs. In principle, the bigger you are, the more right of way you have. Another basic rule of thumb for driving in Vietnam: Those behind need to watch out for those in front or alongside. If you plan on operating a motorcycle or riding a bicycle, bring a sturdy helmet. Department of Transportation approved helmets provide excellent protection; however, some people find that the limitation of peripheral vision from a full face helmet is not always a good trade off in Vietnam given the need to watch for lane intrusion from all directions. An open-faced helmet or even a bicycle helmet may be appropriate, but riding bareheaded is not.

Virtually everyone in HCMC owns a motor scooter and operates it like there's no tomorrow. With this seemingly endless stream of motor vehicles, HCMC is, without a doubt, one of the noisiest cities in the world. At first glance, one might think HCMC's mostly straight and perpendicular roads would be safer to navigate than Hanoi's winding streets, but one quickly realizes that havoc reigns supreme down south. People make U-turns wherever they please. Motor scooters dodge in and out pushing your nerves to the limit. If that weren't enough, the motor scooter operators drive significantly faster and are terrifyingly more reckless than in Hanoi. And, if the speed doesn't get to you, the abundant exhaust fumes will.


Taxis are plentiful and the taxi drivers usually understand enough English to take you where you want to go. Cities still have many cyclos or pedicabs you can use for short distances and/or more scenic rides. There are also "hugging" motor scooter rides available for the more adventuresome traveler (riding behind a Vietnamese on a 100cc Honda Dream).


Using local buses is not recommended. They are not only crowded and uncomfortable, but are also considered unsafe for most foreigners. Trains in Vietnam only service coastal cities. Not only are they limited in service, but they run slowly on a narrow gauge track and, except for a special group of cars used from Hanoi to Sapa in the northwest highlands, are uncomfortable, unsafe, and noisy. Vietnam Airlines and its sister company, Pacific Airlines, monopolize the domestic air service, and enforce a double-tier price structure, which subsidizes Vietnamese travelers' fares. Suffering financial difficulties, Vietnam Airlines sometimes cancels flights without notice, often leaving passengers stranded.


Telephone and Telegraph

Local and international telephone service is available and reliable. International direct dial service is excellent. A 3-minute call to the U.S., however, costs approximately $15 (one of the highest rates in the world). Direct calls from the U.S. can be received in Hanoi and cost approximately $1.50 per minute.

Radio and TV

The Vietnamese Government operates two radio stations, which broadcast classical music, traditional Vietnamese music, the news in Vietnamese, and American pop music a couple of hours per day.

There are four Vietnamese television channels. With the significant increase in the expatriate population during the past couple of years, installation of satellite dishes on detached houses and service apartments has brought a myriad of international television channels to Vietnam, including but not limited to-CNN, CNBC, MTV, and Hong Kong's Star World and Star Sports (which show selected British, Australian and American programs). Other channels available come from China, France, Australia, Indonesia, India and Malaysia. In Hanoi, one can obtain cable service from Vietnam TV for an initial fee of $250.00 and a monthly fee of about $30.00.

In HCMC, the following cable channels can be viewed in all major hotels and service apartments: CNN, CNBC, DIS, HBO, MTV, TNT, National Geographic and the Cartoon Network. Other channels come from Australia, France, Japan, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the UK. Radio stations play both Vietnamese and Western music.

Locally purchased televisions and VCRs use the NTSC PAL system. Both PAL-system and multi-system televisions and VCRs are available here at reasonable prices.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals

Personnel are advised to bring reading material from home because English language books and magazines are scarce. Moreover, what little supply of English language material is available in Vietnam costs two to three times what we would pay in the U.S.

The local print and broadcast media are run by the Communist Party and Government of Vietnam. Reporting of local developments is therefore heavily controlled and coverage of international events is limited.

E-mail and Internet services have recently become available but can also be censored. Because of power outages, service is often unreliable and subject to interruptions.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

The medical care available in Vietnam does not meet U.S. standards. Anything involving broken bones or other surgical procedures will entail a medevac. Medevac patients are flown either to Bangkok, Hong Kong or Singapore.

There are three medical facilities in Hanoi approved by the U.S for minor medical treatment: Dr. Kot's Clinic, AEA International, and the Hanoi International Hospital. In HCMC the three approved medical facilities are: AEA International, Columbia-Gia Dinh Clinic, and Dr. Vannort's Clinic. All of the above medical facilities have a number of qualified foreign doctors on staff who speak English. While each can treat routine illnesses and stabilize trauma, they are not full service medical facilities. Dentists are also available in Hanoi and HCMC and the caliber of general dental care is considered good.

Community Health

Tap water is not considered safe to drink. Bottled water can always be purchased in most restaurants and grocery stores. Consuming ice made from unfiltered water poses a risk when having refreshments outside the home.

All fruits and vegetables eaten raw should be thoroughly cleaned using an acceptable washing/soaking procedure. Reports by several Western doctors have noted that Vietnamese farmers rely heavily on DDT and night soil.

The sewage system is inadequate and in many places within the cities totally nonexistent. And, since the majority of Vietnamese homes in the city do not have indoor plumbing, it is not uncommon to see the Vietnamese using trees and walls as urinals, or to see the children use runoff channels in the street next to the sidewalks as toilets. Spitting, nose picking and nose blowing on the sidewalk are also common. During the rainy season, the aforementioned practices are even more of a health hazard due to flooding on the streets and sidewalks.

Shopkeepers and residents place garbage in small piles outside in anticipation of the evening garbage collector, who then hauls away the debris in an open cart. Oftentimes, people can be seen sitting along the streets sifting through a day's collection of garbage to recover recyclable material. A neighborhood site serves as the pickup point for the city's garbage trucks.

Preventive Measures

Be aware of both the medical and physical health hazards in country. Try to avoid exposure to mosquitoes and/or use mosquito repellent. Mosquitoes are the most common transmitter for dengue fever, malaria and Japanese encephalitis. Recurring parasitic infestations (e.g. worms) are a problem. Individuals usually suffer some form of intestinal disorder (from mild to severe) within a few weeks after arrival in Vietnam. Diseases prevalent in Vietnam include tuberculosis, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, hepatitis, STDs, and malaria. Inoculation against cholera and taking malaria suppressants are not necessary. Children should have the normal variety of immunizations, including the three-shot rabies preventive series and a tetanus booster. Local pharmacies are known to carry contraband or counterfeit medication. Bring at least a 3-month supply of medicine for chronic conditions and arrange for regular renewal of supplies to be sent through mail.

Contact lenses and solutions are available in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, though they may be difficult to find. With increasing pollution levels, those using extended wear lenses may find them inappropriate. If you wear eyeglasses, however, it is advisable to bring an extra pair. Larger (men's) size frames are not available and frame styles are quite limited. Acceptable eye care services are available in Bangkok, Hong Kong or Singapore.

Pickpocketing and handbag/camera snatching are common occurrences (much more so in HCMC than in Hanoi), particularly before the Lunar New Year-late January/early February. Fortunately, most of these petty crimes are economic and non-violent in nature. Should you be the unfortunate victim of such petty crimes, it is wise not to resist. Stolen cameras, wallets and handbags can be replaced; they are not worth risking life and limb.

While most people are more concerned with threats of infectious disease, traumatic injuries resulting from automobile or motorcycle accidents are the greatest hazard. Be sure to bring a sturdy helmet if you intend to ride either a bicycle or motor scooter in Vietnam.


Passage, Customs & Duties

The most direct route to Vietnam from the U.S. is by air over the Pacific. Getting to Hanoi usually requires an overnight in Bangkok or Hong Kong to connect planes.

U.S. passports are valid for travel in Vietnam. Visas are required and should be obtained from a Vietnamese Embassy or Consulate before traveling to Vietnam. Visas may be issued for one or multiple entries but are usually valid for only one entry. Visas are generally valid for one month, but increasing numbers of travelers have been successful in having their visas renewed after their arrival in Vietnam for up to three months. Entry into and exit from Vietnam is sometimes restricted to a specific port of entry.

U.S. citizens are cautioned that the Vietnamese immigration regulations require foreigners entering Vietnam to carry out only the activity for which the visas were issued. Change of purpose requires permission from the appropriate Vietnamese authority in advance. U.S. citizens whose stated purpose of travel is tourism but who engage in religious proselytizing have had religious materials confiscated and have been expelled from Vietnam.

No shots are required for entering Vietnam unless you are coming from a country that has had an outbreak of cholera, smallpox, or yellow fever.

Current entry requirements as well as other information may be obtained from the Vietnamese Embassy, 1233 20th Street, Suite 400, NW, Washington, DC 20036, telephone 202-861-0694 or 2293, Fax 202-861-1297, Internet home page:; the Vietnamese Consulate General, 1700 California Street-4th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94109, telephone 415-922-1577, or from a travel agent who organizes travel to Vietnam. Overseas inquiries may be made at the nearest Vietnamese Embassy

U.S. citizens have been detained after traveling in areas close to the borders with Vietnam's neighbors. These areas and other restricted areas are not always marked, and there are no warnings about prohibited travel. Travelers should avoid such areas unless written permission is obtained in advance from local authorities

U.S. citizens living in or visiting Vietnam are encouraged to register in person or via telephone with the consular section of the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi or the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Vietnam.

The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi is located at 6 Ngoc Khanh, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Vietnam, telephone: (84-4) 831-4590; after hours emergency telephone number: (84-4) 772-1500; fax: (84-4) 831-4578, Internet home page: The consular section's business hours are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. The Embassy's Consular Section provides the full range of services for U.S. citizens (passport services, consular reports of birth abroad, notarial services) and non-immigrant visa services (except K-1 fiancee visas).

The U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City is located at 4 Le Duan, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Socialist Republic of Vietnam, telephone: (84-8) 822-9433, fax: (84-8) 822-9434, Internet home page The Consulate General's business hours are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. The Consulate General provides the full range of consular services for U.S. citizens and the full range of immigrant and non-immigrant visa services. All immigrant visa processing in Vietnam, including visas for adopted children and fiance/e visas, is conducted solely at the Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City.

Callers from the U.S. should note that Vietnam is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time and 11 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time.


Pets can be brought into Vietnam. All animals must have a certificate of health issued by a veterinarian, including certification of inoculation against rabies dated between one to six months before the pet's arrival at post. Currently, no quarantine is required. Pets are usually brought in as excess baggage at the traveler's expense, rather than as cargo, to avoid long airport delays and expensive handling charges. You should notify post via telegram or fax prior to arrival to obtain an import permit. Competent veterinary services are available in Hanoi and HCMC. A limited variety of dogs, cats and birds are available in the local marketplace at very reasonable prices. Hanoi even has a bona fide pet store.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures

The monetary unit is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). There are no coins. Paper notes bear the portrait of Ho Chi Minh with the smallest note at VND 100 and the largest at VND 50,000. The rate of exchange fluctuates. In November 1999 it was VND 14,040 to US$1. The Vietnamese use the international metric system of weights and measures. Gasoline and other liquids are sold by the liter, cloth by the meter, and food and other weighted items by the kilogram. Distance and speed are measured in kilometers.

Taxes, Exchange, and Sale of Property

There is a 10% VAT on all locally purchased items.


Jan.1 New Year's Day

Feb. 3 Communist Party Foundation Day

Jan/Feb Tet Nguyen Dan*

Mar. 8 Women's Day

Mar. 26 Youth Day

Apr. 30 Victory Day

May 1 Labor Day

May 19 Ho Chi Minh's Birthday

June 1 Chioldren's Day

July 27 Memorial Day (war martyrs)

Sept 2 Vietnamese National Day

Sept. 28 Confucious Birthday

Nov 20 Teacher's Da

Dec. 22 Army Day



These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country.

Balaban, John. Remembering Heaven's Face. New York: Poseidon Press, 1991.

Becker, Elizabeth. America's Vietnam War: A Narrative History. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1992.

Cohen, Barbara. The Vietnam Guidebook. Houghton Mifflin: Boston, 1994.

Crawford, Ann Caddell. Customs and Culture of Vietnam. Charles E. Tuttle Co., Rutland, Vermont & Tokyo, Japan.

Davidson, Phillip B. Vietnam at War: The History, 1946-1975. Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1988.

Downie, Sue. Down Highway One. Asia 2000: Hong Kong, 1993.

Downs, Frederick. No Longer Enemies, Not Yet Friends: An American Soldier Returns to Vietnam. New York: W.W. Norton, 1991.

Hammer, Mitchell R., ed. The Vietnam Experience. Worthington, OH: Renaissance Publications, 1991.

Jacobsen, Karen. Vietnam. Chicago, IL: Children's Press, 1992.

Kurnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. McDonald, Stuart. Vietnam For Travellers by Travellers. McPhersons Printing Group, Australia, 1995.

Maurer, Harry. Strange Ground: Americans in Vietnam, 1945-1975. New York: Avon Books, 1990.

Nepote, Jacques. Vietnam: Land of the Ascending Dragon. Passport Books: Lincolnwood, IL, 1992.

Nguyen Thi Thu-Lam. Fallen Leaves: Memoirs of a Vietnamese Woman from 1940-1975. New Haven, CT: Yale University Southeast Asia Studies, 1989.

SanDesai, D.R. Vietnam: The Struggle for National Identity. 2nd ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992.

Seiple, Robert, and Gregg Lewis. A Missing Peace. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1992.

Sharma, Ritu. Vietnam. New York: Apt Books, 1988.

Storey, Robert. Vietnam: A Travel Survival Kit. Lonely Planet Publications: Australia, 1993.

Tai, Hue-Tam H. Radicalism & the Origins of the Vietnamese Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.

Taylor, Keith W. The Birth of Vietnam. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1991.

Timberman, Thomas M.E. Vietnam: The No BS Business Guide. LOI, Inc., 1994.

Vo Nhan Tri. Vietnam's Economic Policy since 1975. Brookfield, VT: Ashgate Publishing Co., 1990.

Wang, Diane, and Steve Clark. Report from Vietnam & Kampuchea. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1991.

Wiegersma, Nancy. Vietnam: Peasant Land, Peasant Revolution. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988.

Wintle, Justin. Romancing Vietnam. Penguin Books: London, 1992.

Young, Marilyn. The Vietnam Wars 1945-1990. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.

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Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Cong Hoa Xa Hoi Chu Nghia Viet Nam



Vietnam is bordered on the north by China and to the west by Laos and Cambodia. To the east is the South China Sea (called "Eastern Sea" by the Vietnamese). The country's shape and size is often compared to a bamboo pole with loads at the end (north and south). In the central part of the country Vietnam is only 40 kilometers (25 miles) across. The total land area of Vietnam is 329,569 square kilometers (127,247 square miles), making it slightly larger than New Mexico. It has a long coast of 3,444 kilometers (2,140 miles). Its 2 major cities are the capital Hanoi in the north and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in the south. Other major cities are the ancient capital of Hue in central Vietnam, the coastal cities of Danang and Haiphong, and Dalat in the central highlands.


Vietnam, in terms of population, is the second largest country in Southeast Asia after Indonesia. Its current population was estimated to be 79,939,014 in July 2001, making it the 13th largest country in the world. This compares with a population of 52,741,766 in 1979, 64,411,713 in 1989, and 75,355,200 in 1996. It has one of the higher population densities in the world, at 242.6 persons per square kilometer (628 per square mile). Vietnam has a little less than one-third of the population of the United States in an area that is only 3.5 percent as large.

The current population growth rate is estimated to be 1.45 percent (2001). If this growth rate were to persist into the future, the Vietnamese population would double to approximately 160 million by the year 2051. The Vietnamese woman on average currently has 2.49 children. In recent years, Vietnam has had considerable success in lowering both its population growth rate and fertility rate. Vietnam has a relatively young population with 32 percent of the population under 15.

The population of Vietnam has considerable diversity, with 54 ethnic nationalities. However, 85 to 90 percent of the population are Vietnamese. The second largest ethnic group is Sino-Vietnamese, concentrated in the Ho Chi Minh City area. Among the most numerous of other ethnic nationalities are the Tay-Thai Group (1,200,000), Khmer (1,000,000), Hmong (558,000), and the Cham (99,000).


Vietnam is one of the world's poorest countries, having suffered from years of war (1940-89) that damaged its economy and basic infrastructure . Thus, economic development is the nation's highest priority. It is still largely an agricultural economy, with 72 percent of its workforce engaged in that sector. Much of the country is made up of mountains and forests, with only 17 percent of its land arable.

Vietnam has a long history dating back to around 2879 B.C. when the first Viet state called Va-n Lang was founded. Later there was a state called Âuąc (257 B.C.-208 B.C.) and then a subsequent state called Nam Viêt (207 B.C.-39 A.D.). Almost 1,000 years of Chinese domination followed, until 939 A.D. when an independent Ngô Dynasty was established.

In terms of Vietnamese economic history, 5 themes are important. The first is the continual Vietnamese struggle to free itself from foreign domination, starting with roughly 1,000 years of Chinese rule, threats from the Mongols, and then external domination by the French, Japanese, and the United States. The second theme is the struggle against natural disasters such as floods and typhoons. Reflective of this struggle are the huge dikes protecting the capital, Hanoi, from possible flooding by the Red River. A third theme is nam tiên (expansion to the south), the need for additional land and territory, given the high population density of Vietnam. Through this process the Vietnamese moved south over time and took over lands which were once part of the Kingdom of Champa (1471) and the area of what is now southern Vietnam was once part of the Khmer Empire. Thus, the Vietnamese came to control both the rich Red River delta in the north and the Mekong River Delta in the south.

A fourth theme relates to Chinese cultural and intellectual influences, particularly in the cities. Close to 1,000 years of Chinese domination left an indelible influence on Vietnam, its culture, customs, and language. This influence has direct relevance to Vietnamese education and potential for human resource development. Unlike its Southeast Asian neighbors such as Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, Vietnam is part of the Confucian world, as are Japan, Korea, and Singapore. Part of this cultural heritage is the great importance attached to learning and special respect for teachers, scholars, and mentors. A fifth theme is the importance of village life as the heart of Vietnamese culture and related wet rice cooperative culture. It is impossible to understand Vietnam without understanding its villages and their rich cultural traditions.

Vietnam historically had a royal system with imperial dynasties. The imperial capital of Vietnam was in central Vietnam in Hue. In 1858, France invaded Vietnam, capturing Saigon in 1861. By 1884 France controlled all of Vietnam, occupying 3 areas of the country known as Cochin-China (in the south), Annam (in the central region), and Tonkin (in the north). In 1887, France established the colony of Indochina, which included Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Vietnam was the power center of the colony and the French trained the Vietnamese to help them administer the colony "backwaters" in Laos and Cambodia. The local populations in Laos and Cambodia both resented this practice. As in Cambodia, the French co-opted the imperial leaders and used them in their colonization process.

France's interest in Vietnam was economically motivated and the French thought that the Mekong River could be a gateway to the huge China market. Unfortunately, the Mekong turned out not to be a navigable river. To generate profits to run its Indochinese colony, the French introduced a plantation economy to facilitate rubber extraction and exports. Land alienation (transferring ownership to another) was the cornerstone of economic exploitation under the colonial government. The French also introduced consumer goods such as opium, alcohol, and cigarettes to generate revenues to support the running of their Vietnamese colony. The French film Indo-chine provides dramatic visual images of life (economic and social) during the French colonial period. Various rebellious movements against the French emerged and the French were extremely harsh in punishing those Vietnamese for their disloyalty.

During the Second World War, Vietnamese nationalists and revolutionaries cooperated with the West in fighting against Japanese occupation. On December 2, 1945, nationalist leader Ho Chi Minh declared an independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam and was hoping for U.S. support of the new regime. Instead, the French decided to reassert their colonial authority in Vietnam, resulting in the first Indochina War from 1946 to 1954, which eventually led to the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in May, 1954. The Geneva Accords of 1954 then resulted in Vietnam being temporarily divided into North and South Vietnam at the 17th parallel. The United States opposed 1956 national elections called for by the Geneva Accords, which could have led to the peaceful unification of Vietnam under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh. Instead the south-north division persisted and eventually the U.S. war in Vietnam ensued (1959-75) with tremendous destruction and loss of life in many areas of Vietnam. Vietnam was eventually unified with the "fall of Saigon" on April 30, 1975.

For its first eleven years after unification, Vietnam became a fully socialist , state-planned economy with agricultural collectivization. Its international economic relations were almost entirely with the Eastern bloc countries such as the USSR, which provided most of its economic assistance. In December 1979, the Vietnamese army invaded Cambodia to remove the hated Khmer Rouge regime, led by Pol Pot. For the next 10 years, the Vietnamese army became bogged down in Cambodia fighting the Khmer Rouge insurgents who retreated to the remote jungles of west and northwestern Cambodia. Viet-nam's Cambodian adventure proved an adverse economic drag on the economy as well. Finally, Vietnam agreed to remove its troops from Cambodia in 1989 as part of a Cambodian peace process. Thus, the modern Vietnamese economy has really known only 12 years of peace, coming since the end of the Cambodian conflict in 1989.

In December 1986, at the Sixth National Party Congress, a new policy of doi moi (economic renovation) was introduced. This was a Vietnamese version of what the Soviets called perestroika. It basically used free-market mechanisms as a strategy to improve the economy and its productivity, and, in particular, to provide greater incentives for economic effort and performance. Prior to the introduction of this new economic policy, the economy was plagued by economic stagnation and excessive, triple-digit inflation . Vietnam's war-torn economy had multiple and extensive economic problems that required a fundamental rethinking of the economic system. Central to the economic renovation was also a commitment to reduce the large size of the state sector and state-owned-enterprises (SEOs). In 1988, the socialist cooperative method of agriculture was abandoned. While under the current economic system all land is still owned by the state, individuals can have long-term leases on land for their and their descendants' use.

With the new doi moi policy, the Vietnamese economy began to demonstrate impressive macroeconomic (economic system as a whole) performance in the 1990s. With the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Vietnam also opened its economy internationally, with dramatic increases in both international investments in Vietnam and international economic assistance. Still, a major stumbling block was the U.S. trade embargo , which was finally lifted in 1994. That was followed by Vietnam's joining the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1995, and later the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC).

While the 1997 Asian economic crisis hurt the Vietnamese economy, the Vietnamese economy had much more immunity to this crisis than many neighboring economies, primarily because Vietnam did not have a stock market, nor an internationally traded currency. Also, rather than being part of the "Baht Zone" (areas with close economic interconnections with Thailand), Vietnam was partially a dollarized economy with strong economic links to greater China, an area showing greater currency stability during the Asian economic crisis.

Also, the 2001 global slump in the high technology sector has had minimal impact on Vietnam since it is producing more basic manufacturing/industrial products at the lower end of the technology scale, such as garments and footwear. Thus, Vietnam in 2001 had one of the highest economic growth rates (7.1 percent) in the world. In October 2001, the U.S. Congress finally approved the bilateral trade bill with Vietnam. This provides an important new opening for Vietnam to export to the large U.S. market and eventually to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). Vietnam has suggested the goal of becoming an industrialized country by the year 2020.


Vietnam remains a one-party state with complete domination by the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). Vietnam has a unicameral National Assembly whose 450 members are elected every 5 years. As in neighboring Laos, non-party members may compete for seats in the National Assembly. In the last election for the National Assembly in 1997, 92 percent of those elected were CPV members. Economic policies are primarily determined by the Party Politburo, Central Committee of the Party, Party Congresses (every 5 years), and the National Assembly. Some argue that debates within these bodies represent a diverse spectrum of views and perspectives that may even be broader than within the United States' own two-party Congress, where both parties are often fairly close in terms of basic ideology. With Vietnam trying to maintain a socialist political system and an increasingly capitalistic economic system, there is considerable space for divergence of policy perspectives, particularly with respect to how fast economic reforms should proceed.

As an example of an area in which government policy has changed in accord with the doi moi policy in the 1990s, the government opened the door for privatization in the higher education sector. The government realized that it did not have the economic resources to meet the growing social demand for higher education. The result was the emergence of a number of private universities. As of 2001, 82,902 students (approximately 8.9 percent of all Vietnamese college students) were studying in private universities or colleges.

Most of the government's tax revenues come from the following: sales tax (60 percent), taxes on profits (20 percent), license fees (10 percent), and property taxes (6.5 percent). Tax collection among non-state enterprises tends to be rather small. In Vietnam, local governments lack the capability to raise revenue through taxes. The customs department collects import-export taxes and the General Taxation Department (GTD) collects other taxes through its branches in the various provinces and districts of the country. Local governments are allowed to keep taxes collected in excess of specified targets. This provides an excellent incentive for local authorities to enforce tax collections.


As the result of years of war, Vietnam's infrastructure is weak, but steadily improving. In the French colonial period, a 1,730-kilometer (1,075-mile) rail system was developed which connected Saigon to Hanoi, and the port city of Haiphong to Yunnan, China. Later in the 1950s, the Chinese assisted with the development of a rail link between Hanoi and Guangxi Province in China. All of these lines were badly damaged during the wars. Total railway length is 2,652 kilometers (1,650 miles), and many tracks need renovation. In 1999, it took 32 hours to travel by rail from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam has 93,300 kilometers (57,977 miles) of highways, 25 percent of which are paved. However, many of the paved roads are in poor condition. Notable improvements have occurred in recent years. For example, there is now an excellent highway from Hanoi to the International Airport and the road from Hanoi to Haiphong and Ha Long Bay is being steadily improved, as is Highway Number One, which links Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. A considerable amount of international economic assistance is being used to upgrade Vietnam's weak road infrastructure.

Vietnam's major ports are Haiphong (in the north), Da Nang (central region) and Ho Chi Minh City (in the south). To supplement these, additional ports have been developed at Cua Lo, Quy Nhon, and Nha Trang. Vietnam has 2 international airports (Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City) and 32 local airports. Travel to distant remote provinces is often done by air.

With Vietnam's rapid economic development in the 1990s, energy demand has been increasing at about 20 percent per year, frequently outstripping supplies of electricity. In 1999, Vietnam generated 22.985 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity, of which 47.1 percent was from fossil fuels and 52.3 percent from hydroelectric power. In the future, Vietnam could import electricity from Laos, which has great hydroelectric potential.

While Vietnam's telecommunications system has steadily improved, it remains inadequate. There were only 2.6 million conventional phone lines in 2000 and 730,155 cellular phones for a population of approximately 80 million. Vietnam has 101 radio stations, 7 television stations, and 5 Internet service providers. It is estimated that there

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Vietnam 4 107 47 N/A 2 0.3 6.4 0.00 100
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
China N/A 333 272 40.0 19 1.6 8.9 0.50 8,900
Thailand 63 232 236 10.1 32 2.5 21.6 4.49 800
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

are 8.2 million radios, 3.57 million televisions, and 121,000 Internet users in Vietnam in 2000. Internet service in Vietnam tends to be slow and expensive.


The economic structure of Vietnam has changed a great deal since the end of warfare in the country in 1989, with agriculture declining in importance from 40.8 percent of GDP in 1989 to 27.1 percent in 1999. Industry has gained proportionally in importance, growing from a percentage contribution of GDP in 1989 of 22.9 percent to 36.7 percent in 1999. During this period, the contribution of the services sector remained virtually unchanged at 36 percent. The annual growth rates of these sectors show similar trends, with agricultural growth rates averaging 3.9 percent since 1995, while industrial sector growth rates averaged 11.4 percent over the same period. These changes reflect the impact of the doi moi economic renovation policy.

Despite these structural changes, Vietnam remains an agricultural economy in terms of employment. Around 72 percent of Vietnam's labor force , or approximately 28 million individuals, is engaged in agriculture.

With its doi moi reform policy and the goal of reducing the size of the public sector , as of the late 1990s the state sector employed only 9 percent of Vietnam's labor force of 39 million. In the industrial sector, about 25 percent of all employees were working in the state sector. In the commercial service sector, state employment consisted of only 13 percent of employment in 1997.

The Vietnamese service sector is comprised primarily of those in government work (including teachers), a growing modern retail trade sector, small-scale retail shops, a growing tourist industry, and an expanding finance/banking sector.


Despite its limited amount of arable land, Vietnam's agricultural economy has demonstrated impressive success, particularly in the 15 years since the introduction of doi moi. The shift to the use of market mechanisms and price incentives contributed significantly to this success. Vietnam has not only achieved self-sufficiency in rice production, but is now a major global food exporter and is the world's third leading exporter of rice, competing actively with Thailand and the United States in this global market. Between 1988 and 1997, total food production in Vietnam increased 50 percent. This extraordinary agricultural success not only contributed positively to Vietnam's foreign exchange earnings, but also contributed to a reduction in the incidence of poverty.

In addition to rice, Vietnam has had success with other agricultural cash crops . In recent years Vietnam has become a major exporter of both groundnuts and cashew nuts. The export of cashew nuts in 1997 brought in US$125 million. Also, Vietnam has become Asia's second largest producer of robusta coffee, and coffee is now Vietnam's second leading agricultural export. Other important export crops are rubber and tea.


With its long coastline, Vietnam has an active fishing sector. Most of its catch is marine fish (94 percent). Many of Vietnam's marine products are being exported to countries such as Japan, and marine products now represent 9.2 percent of Vietnam's total exports (in terms of value).


Deforestation remains a major problem in Vietnam. In 1943, 44 percent of Vietnam was forests. By 1995, the forest area of Vietnam had declined to 23 percent. During the U.S. war in Vietnam, 5 percent of the forest was destroyed, and 50 percent was damaged. Deforestation has also been caused by uncontrolled logging, agricultural expansion caused by population growth, slash-and-burn agriculture, and the use of forest wood for firewood. To reverse this pattern of deforestation, the government has introduced 18 forest farming projects and a system of designated national parks.


During the colonial period, the French did not promote the development of Vietnamese industry in order to keep it from competing with their own industries. In the period following 1954, socialist northern Vietnam used a Soviet-type economic system emphasizing the development of Vietnamese heavy industry by the state sector. In the capitalist south, the emphasis was on the development of light industry such as the assembly of small-scale consumer goods. By the 1980s, a unified Vietnam was shifting to an emphasis on greater light industry to meet the basic needs of the population.


The 1990s saw the emergence of Vietnam as a major player in 5 key manufacturing sectors: textiles, footwear and garments, agro-processing, electric and electronic industries, and automobile and motorcycle assembly. For example, Nike is now sourcing significant production of both footwear and apparel in Vietnam, and this has caused controversy related to alleged sweatshop conditions. On the improved road from Hanoi to Haiphong, there is a new Ford Motor Assembly plant; 45 different models of cars are now being assembled in Vietnam. Among the companies investing in car assembly production, in addition to Ford, are Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Isuzu, Daihatsu, Suzuki, and several Korean auto companies. There are a total of 14 joint ventures in the emerging Vietnamese automobile industry. In Vietnam, there is a huge domestic market for motorcycles, the major mode of transportation for Vietnamese living in urban areas. Twenty percent of this huge demand is now being met by the local assembly. Vietnam's electronics assembly manufacturing sector also grew rapidly in the 1990s. Among the major international investors were Daewoo, Hitachi, and Phillips. The assembly of television sets almost tripled to a level of 364,000 in 1998.

Steel and cement production were also given high priority, primarily as a strategy for reducing or eliminating steel and cement imports. Another important new manufacturing area is plastics. Given its impressive oil and gas resources, this is a natural industry for Vietnam to develop.


With Vietnam's rapid industrialization and urbanization, there has been a dramatic increase in energy needs. To respond to this need and to avoid frequent power shortages, Vietnam has completed a number of hydroelectric power projects to generate increased electricity. Among the new power stations and plants are Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Da Nhim, Tri An, Hoa Binh, YALY, and Thamco. Many of these are in the south, to serve the growing manufacturing sector in the Ho Chi Minh/Saigon area. The goal of the government is to achieve a generating capacity of 33 billion kWh by 2002. The government also has a goal of providing electricity to 80 percent of rural households by the year 2005.


Mineral resources were a major factor attracting the French to Vietnam. Vietnam has commercially viable reserves of coal, iron ore, bauxite, chromite, copper, titanium, zinc, gold, apatite, and gemstones. However, other than coal many are underexploited. In 1996, Vietnamese coal exports were worth US$115 million. Vietnam also mines unrefined salt and phosphate rock.


Vietnam has now become a player in the international petroleum industry. In 1998, its petroleum exports were worth US$2.1 billion. It has potentially huge offshore oil and natural gas deposits in the South China Sea (known in Vietnam as the Eastern Sea), many of which remain unexplored. Though the international Law of the Sea has articulated elaborate rules for determining claims to the natural resources of the oceans, numerous disputed island groups in the South China Sea (such as the Spratlys) have led to considerable controversy. Nations such as Vietnam, China, Brunei, the Philippines, and Taiwan claim rights to these vast reserves of oil and natural gas. Several international oil companies are active in Vietnam, trying to profit from the nation's oil wealth. The Russians are active in this arena as well, in a joint venture with Vietnam, Vietsovpetro. Vietnam also plans to build oil refineries.


The 1990s has seen a construction boom in Vietnam in areas such as infrastructure (highway and bridge construction and renovation), hotel construction for the emerging tourist industry, office and apartment buildings for Vietnam's growing modern service sector, factory construction for the emerging manufacturing sector, and improved residential dwellings for occupancy or rent. Ho Chi Minh City now has many impressive, modern new high-rises. Also visible are many renovated and/or new Buddhist pagodas and Catholic churches, especially in the south. Funding for such religious projects has often come from remittances from overseas Vietnamese.



Subsequent to the introduction of the doi moi economic reform in 1986, in 1988 financial reforms began. Spun off from the State Bank of Vietnam (the country's central bank) were 2 new commercial banks: the Agricultural Bank of Vietnam (VBA) and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of Vietnam. Prior to the economic reforms, most bank lending in Vietnam was to state-owned enterprises (SOEs). However, by 1995 38 percent of credit went to the non-state sector. The newly created Agricultural Bank took an active role in expanding credit to farm households, reaching approximately 7 million households in 1995. The government subsidized lending rates. The central bank also continues to subsidize state commercial banks. Technically, the central bank is responsible for monitoring all financial sector organizations, though its implementation of this mandate has been weak.


Integral to the doi moi economic reforms was a downsizing of the government sector of the economy. There has been, for example, considerable demobilization of the Vietnamese army, especially after the end of the Cambodian conflict. By 1991, state enterprise employment represented only 6.2 percent of all employment. After initially reducing the size of the state sector in terms of employment, this sector has leveled off, and this part of the economy no longer is an engine to generate new employment.


Vietnam has considerable tourism potential and in 1998 it had 1,520,100 visitors. The country features multiple attractions, including the historical sites related to the war, majestic Ha Long Bay in the north, the ancient imperial capital of Hue, the former seaport of Hoi-an, attractive beach resorts, adventure tourism in the remote northwest, and the delightful central highlands. A Vietnam-U.S. joint venture in Dalat has produced a world-class golf course and club in the center of Dalat. Viet-nam's tourism infrastructure has improved significantly in recent years, with the building of many new hotels and the remodeling of others, such as the famous Continental Hotel in Saigon. The new roads to the International Airport in Hanoi and to Ha Long Bay also reflect the commitment to improve the tourism infrastructure.

Vietnam's tourism, however, is constrained by cumbersome visa requirements and an emphasis on the building of expensive up-scale hotels in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Tourist development in the Vung Tau beach area near Saigon will work well for domestic tourism, but will not attract international tourists, since it is competing with destinations such as Bali and Phuket. An area of considerable potential is Vietnam's possible collaboration with Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Burma in promoting joint tourism. Visitors to majestic Angkor Wat in Cambodia, for example, could also include Vietnam in their itinerary, or visitors to the world heritage site at Ha Long Bay, could include Luang Prabang, Laos, in their itinerary.


In Vietnamese urban areas there has been a rapidly growing small-scale retail sector and large informal economy . Much of this sector involves the retail sale of a wide variety of consumer products and services. They range, for example, from the large and formal Saigon Bowl to vendors selling fruits and vegetables on the streets. It is common to even find barbers setting up shop on a sidewalk using a wall to hang their mirrors. Unfortunately, exact data are not available on the exact size and scope of the informal sector, but it is substantial and largely unmeasured.


Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, most of Vietnam's trade was with the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. Since 1991, the country's

Trade (expressed in millions of US$): Vietnam
Exports Imports
1994 4054 5825
1995 5448 8155
1996 7255 11144
1997 9184 11592
1998 9360 11494
1999 N/A N/A
SOURCE: United Nations. Monthly Bulletin of Statistics (September 2000).

trade has diversified significantly. It has also expanded dramatically, reflecting an internationalization of the Vietnamese economy. In 1999, exports plus imports divided by GDP reached the level of 84.5 percent, a useful indicator for the level of internationalization of an economy.

Though Vietnam has consistently had trade deficits , the amount has narrowed with the boom in Vietnamese exports. For example, in 1989 exports were only 73.7 percent of imports. In 1999, exports had risen to be 98.9 percent of imports. With the passage of the bilateral trade law with the United States in October 2001, and the granting of most-favored nation status to Vietnam, there is potential for Vietnam soon to become a net exporter with a positive trade balance.

In terms of value (stated in US$), Vietnam's leading exports from January to September 2000 were: crude oil (2,471.8 million); textiles and garments (1,355.4 million); marine products (1,017.7 million); rice (531.5 million); computers and computer parts (460 million); coffee (384.1 million); handicrafts (185.4 million); fruits and vegetables (149.4 million); pepper (137 million); and diverse other products (2,603.5 million). Leading imports for the same period were: machinery, equipment, and other small parts (1,793.6 million); petroleum products (1,472.4 million); textiles and leather materials (941.3 million); iron and steel (577.1 million); electronic parts (520.3 million); motorcycles and parts (478.3 million); fertilizers of all kinds (373 million); plastic products (359.8 million); fabrics (234.4 million); chemical products (225.1 million); and miscellaneous other imports (4,004.8 million).

In terms of trading partners, based on data for the same period Vietnam's leading export markets were: Japan (18 percent), China (9.7 percent), Australia (8 percent), Singapore (6.5 percent), the United States (5.3 percent), Taiwan (5.2 percent), Germany (5.0 percent), the Philippines (4.0 percent), the United Kingdom (3.4 percent), and the Netherlands (2.8 percent). These data clearly indicate how successful Vietnam has been in diversifying its export markets, which tends to minimize risk. In terms of imports, Vietnam purchased the most from the following countries: Singapore (18.8 percent), Japan (14.5 percent), Taiwan (12.4 percent), South Korea (11.6 percent), China (8.2 percent), Thailand (4.9 percent), Hong Kong (4.8 percent), the United States (2.6 percent), Malaysia (2.5 percent), and Indonesia (2.3 percent). Thus, in terms of trade deficit, Vietnam has the most important trade imbalances with Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Hong Kong. In terms of favorable trade balances, Vietnam is doing well with the United States, Germany, and the Philippines. Trade with Japan and China appears fairly balanced.

Despite Vietnam's trade expansion and its membership in ASEAN, the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTFA), and APEC, its trade regime remains restrictive by international standards. This policy is obviously a legacy of the system of central planning. With the final conclusion of the bilateral trade law with the United States in October, 2001, Vietnam is obliged to relax various economic restrictions and obstacles which should pave the way for Vietnam's entry to the World Trade Organization.

Related to Vietnam's balance of payments , the country was extremely fortunate to have Russia agree to forgive 85 percent of its US$11 billion debt, accumulated during the Soviet period. It is only necessary for Vietnam to pay Russia US$1.7 billion over the next 23 years with only 10 percent in hard currency , and the rest being commodities or other products. In 1999, Vietnam's total external debt was US$11.142 billion, according to the World Bank. Its debt service payments as a percent of its export earnings was a manageable 13.7 percent.


The central bank is responsible for monetary policy . During recent years, its performance in terms of keeping inflation low and the currency relatively stable has been impressively successful. For example, the inflation rate for the year 2001 is estimated to be 0.6 percent. Inflation in Vietnam since 1996 has normally been around 5 percent

Exchange rates: Vietnam
new dong (D) per US$1
Jan 2001 14,530
Jan 2000 14,020
Dec 1998 13,900
Dec 1996 11,100
1995 11,193
Oct 1994 11,000
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

or less and has not exceeded 10 percent. While the Vietnamese dong has dropped in value in recent years, the decreases have been much less than in other Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Laos, the Philippines, and Indonesia. In the last 7 years, the dong has declined by only a total of 32 percent, from 11,000 dong to the dollar in 1994 to 14,530 dong to the dollar in January 2001.


In 1999, average GNP per capita in Vietnam was only US$370, giving Vietnam the rank of 170th in the world on this indicator. This statistic, however, is quite misleading, since it does not reflect differential costs of living in different countries and societies. It is much more meaningful to think in terms of GNP per capita being 5,365,000 dong and then to assess what can be purchased locally with that amount of income. The World Bank has made such adjustments and the estimated GDP per capita (in terms of purchasing power parity ) is a much higher $1,950. In 1998, it was estimated that 37 percent of the population was living below the poverty line, though this estimate seems too high and may not adequately reflect local purchasing power.

Rapid economic development in Vietnam has not been accompanied by worsening income distribution, as is common in many other countries at this stage of development. One reason for this outcome is the commitment of the government of Vietnam to target basic and key services to alleviate poverty, spread literacy, and improve health for individuals in all provinces in all areas of the country. A significant portion of revenues generated in the richer provinces are redistributed to poorer, more disadvantaged provinces. Such a policy reflects the government's commitment to prevent large regional disparities and social injustices. However, some researchers have found increasing gender inequality.

A major economic problem facing the Vietnamese economy is the large number of individuals who are unemployed or underemployed . This problem is exacerbated (made worse) by several factors: the improvement of agricultural productivity and limited land for expansion has driven farmers off the land; the reduction in the

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Vietnam N/A N/A 183 206 331
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
China 138 168 261 349 727
Thailand 863 1,121 1,335 2,006 2,593
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.
Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Vietnam
Lowest 10% 3.6
Lowest 20% 8.0
Second 20% 11.4
Third 20% 15.2
Fourth 20% 20.9
Highest 20% 44.5
Highest 10% 29.9
Survey year: 1998
Note: This information refers to expenditure shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita expenditure.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

size of the state sector; and Vietnam's historically rapid population growth rate and young population. Despite the excellent macroeconomic success of the economy in the 1990s, it is insufficient to generate adequate numbers of jobs for new entrants to the labor force. Also, over the next several years state-owned enterprises are expected to reduce employees as part of Vietnam's continuing economic reform process. In July 2001, a freeze on the establishment of new state companies was announced. The unemployment rate in 1995 was estimated to be an extremely high 25 percent. In 1996, an estimated 2 million rural residents migrated to the cities in search of employment (approximately 7 percent of the nation's work-force). The National Assembly has set a strategic target to create 1.4 million new jobs. The major source of new jobs will be from private sector development.


Vietnam has in place an extremely progressive national labor law which is designed to regulate working conditions. The major challenge is to ensure that the labor law is being properly and appropriately implemented. The high visibility of Nike, Inc., which decided to add Vietnam as an important site to source its production of footwear and apparel, generated considerable controversy in the United States, especially among activist labor rights groups such as the Workers' Rights Consortium. Accusations of sweatshop conditions and negligible pay were made by a number of journalists.

Actually, Nike's dynamic and creative marketing strategy has enabled the company to expand its production to a country that desperately needs expanded job opportunities. Unfortunately, the subcontractors (Korean and Taiwanese) producing for Nike in Vietnam were without question guilty in some instances of certain abuses and violated Vietnam's labor law. Managers found guilty of such abuses were deported. Though salaries in the Vietnamese garment, textile, and footwear factories are extremely low by U.S. standards, this additional income is often pooled in an extended family context and contributes importantly to families' economic welfare. With companies such as Nike active in Vietnam, in 1998 Vietnam was able to export US$1.4 billion worth of footwear overseas.

Those unable to find formal employment in the Vietnamese economy must seek income-generating activities in the informal economy. Conditions in the informal economy vary rather dramatically, depending on the activity involved. Some informal sector jobs provide individuals with far more freedom and independence than if they were working in a formal factory setting. In other instances, work in the informal economy can be rather humiliating, such as those involved in "begging" tourists to buy their souvenirs, for example. Unfortunately, an illegal commercial sex industry has emerged in Vietnam, especially in the Ho Chi Minh City area. Undereducated, unemployed women can be vulnerable to such an industry. Primarily as the result of the growth of this industry, it is estimated that approximately 100,000 Vietnamese have HIV/AIDS.


2879 B.C. Va-n Lang becomes the first emperor of Vietnam, known as the Va-n Lang Kingdom.

Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Vietnam 49 7 15 4 18 6 2
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
China N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Thailand 23 8 5 3 13 11 37
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
aExcludes energy used for transport.
bIncludes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

111 B.C. TO 939 A.D. Vietnam is under Chinese rule.

939. Vietnam becomes independent of China.

13THa CENTURY. Vietnam repels Mongol forces of Kublai Khan 3 times.

15TH CENTURY. Vietnam repels Ming China's attempt to control the country.

1801. The beginning of the unified reign of Emperor Gia Long, and the beginning of the Nguyen Dynasty.

1858. France begins its invasion of Vietnam, capturing Saigon in 1861. Eventually French control extends beyond Vietnam to all of Indochina.

1924. Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh leaves for southern China where he establishes the first Marxist organization to promote revolution in Indochina.

1930. Formation of Indochinese Communist Party in Hong Kong.

1941. Ho, after extensive overseas travel, returns to Vietnam to establish the Viet Minh, a revolutionary organization.

1945. On 2 September, Ho announces the birth of Vietnam as an independent, unified nation.

1946-1954. Vietnam fights a war against the French, while the United States provides military and financial aid to the French. In 1954, the French are defeated at Dien Bien Phu by the Viet Minh. Vietnam is later divided at the 17th parallel into North and South Vietnam, with the United States providing aid to the pro-capitalist South Vietnam and opposing the communist North Vietnam.

1959-73. The American war in Vietnam begins, with the United States siding with South Vietnam against North Vietnam. The United States finally leaves the country in 1973.

1975. Following the fall/liberation of the South Vietnamese city of Saigon, the 2 Vietnams are united as the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam on 30 April.

1977. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is admitted to the United Nations.

1978. Vietnam invades Cambodia and overthrows the Pol Pot regime, which leads to prolonged civil war in Cambodia between Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge forces and the Vietnamese-installed government in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.

1986. New doi moi economic policy calls for economic liberalization and the use of market forces and mechanisms.

1989. Vietnam withdraws its troops from Cambodia.

1994. The United States lifts its economic embargo against Vietnam.

1995. Vietnam is accepted as the 7th member of ASEAN.

1995. U.S. president Bill Clinton announces the normalization of relations with Vietnam. Clinton visits Vietnam in 2000.

2001. In October, a Bilateral Trade Agreement between the United States and Vietnam is approved by the U.S. Congress.


There is considerable debate about the economic future of Vietnam. Pessimists focus on the country's inadequate physical infrastructure and its powerful state bureaucracy which makes doing business in Vietnam complex and difficult. They also point to persisting ambiguities in Vietnam's evolving legal structure and issues of corruption. These obstacles are normally more of an obstacle for those from the West than those from other Asian countries such as China, Taiwan, and Thailand.

In contrast, there are many reasons to be optimistic about Vietnam and its economic future. First, Vietnam has the good fortune of having access to Pacific ports and being strategically and centrally located near China, India, and Indonesia, all among the world's largest countries. These are potentially huge markets for possible Vietnamese exports.

Second, with its Confucian traditions, Vietnam has demonstrated a strong commitment to education and human resource development. The country's overall literacy rate is an impressively high 93.7 percent. Already, Vietnamese students are performing well in the Scientific Olympics in areas such as math and science. On several key educational indicators, Vietnam has equaled or surpassed Thailand, despite having a much weaker educational infrastructure. Vietnam may have the highest quality labor relative to cost of any country in the world.

Third, Vietnam shares a number of common characteristics with Japan and now seems in a number of ways similar to Japan during its post-war phase of development, though, of course, Vietnam does not have the industrial pre-war base that Japan had. Both countries had their infrastructures destroyed in war, and both were highly motivated to rebuild their societies and economies after suffering from war. The demographics of Japan and Vietnam are similar, with high population density and a relatively small portion of arable land, necessitating the ability to use limited space productively and creatively. Eventually Vietnam's population will be larger than that of Japan. Thus, like Japan it has important economies of scale and related people resources.

Fourth, Vietnam has excellent tourism potential which can be a valuable source of foreign exchange. It also benefits from substantial and increasing international remittances of overseas Vietnamese. Fifth, in fighting the Chinese, the French, and then the United States, the Vietnamese demonstrated impressive courage, determination, flexibility, and creativity. These traits bode well for the entrepreneurial potential of Vietnam.

Finally, the October 2001 approval by the U.S. Congress of a trade agreement between the 2 countries will provide Vietnam with greatly improved export access to the large U.S. market for a wide variety of products. Here there is also a parallel with the earlier economic history of Japan.


Vietnam has no territories or colonies.


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Gerald Fry




Vietnamese dong. One dong equals 10 hao and 100 xu. There are no coins in Vietnam. Only banknotes are used, and there are notes of 5,000, 10,000, 50,000, and 100,000 dong. While U.S. dollars are commonly accepted in Vietnam, the government policy is to foster the use of the local dong currency.


Crude oil, marine products, rice, coffee, rubber, tea, garments, and shoes.


Machinery and equipment, petroleum products, fertilizer, steel products, raw cotton, grain, cement, and motorcycles.


US$154.4 billion (2000 est.).


Exports: US$14.3 billion (2000 est.). Imports: US$15.2 billion (2000 est.).

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Nuoc Cham (Dipping Sauce) .................................... 171
Pho Bo (Beef Noodle Soup)....................................... 172
Coconut Custard....................................................... 174
Canh Bi Ro Ham Dua (Braised Pumpkin) ................... 174
Banh Chuoi Nuong (Banana Cake)............................ 175
Caphe (Vietnamese Coffee)....................................... 176
Soda Chanh (Lemon Soda) ....................................... 176
Spring Rolls............................................................... 177


Vietnam is a long, narrow country in Southeast Asia. China borders it to the north; Cambodia, Laos, and the Gulf of Thailand to the west; and the South China Sea (which the Vietnamese call "the East Sea") to the east. Covering a total of 327,500 square kilometers (126,500 square miles), Vietnam is approximately the same size as Italy and Japan.

The geography of Vietnam plays an important role in the country's cuisine. Rice, the mainstay of the Vietnamese diet, is grown throughout the country but particularly in the Red River delta in the north and Mekong River delta in the south. In fact, the Vietnamese people say that their country resembles a bamboo pole (the narrow central region) with a basket of rice at each end.

Although three-quarters of the land in Vietnam is hilly or mountainous, the long seacoast and many inland waterways provide fish and other aquatic species that are staples in the Vietnamese diet. Vietnamese cuisine varies somewhat by region, with Chinese influences (such as stir fries, noodles, and use of chopsticks) in the north, as well as Cambodian (Khmer) and French influences in the south.

Climate affects the availability of ingredients, which in turn affects the types of dishes that dominate a particular region. During the winter months in the north, families gather around a big bowl of seasoned broth and cook vegetables and meat in it for sustenance and warmth. A fish dish called cha ca, which is cooked in a similar fashion, is also quite common. The charcoal brazier (small barbecue-like heat source) that keeps the broth boiling sits on the table and keeps the entire family warm.

In the south, where the climate is conducive to a long growing season and where more ingredients are available, the typical diet contains a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. In the south, sugar and sugarcane are used more often than in the north. A popular dish in the south is cha tom (shrimp wrapped in sugarcane). Reflecting the tropical climate, foods in the south are cooked for a shorter length of time than in the north. In the north, there are many stirfries and slow-cooking stews whereas in the south most foods are quickly grilled or eaten raw.

Vietnam is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with a rapidly growing population, estimated in 2000 to be 76 million people. As the population increases, more land is cleared for agriculture. Estimates in 2001 indicated that less than 20 percent of the land remained forested and 40 percent was considered useless for growing crops. Farmers trying to clear land quickly burn the vegetation to make way for crops. They then overuse the land until it is no longer fertile or suitable for crops. This type of farming, known as shifting cultivation (or "slash and burn"), is practiced most often in the north and in other countries around the world.

Too much fishing has depleted the number of fish in the waters surrounding Vietnam, and the coastal marine environment is also threatened by oilfield development in the south.

Safe drinking water is another problem in Vietnam. According to UNICEF, only 45 percent of Vietnam's inhabitants have access to safe drinking water and only 29 percent have access to adequate sanitation. In recent years, the government and other organizations have begun programs to slow the pace of environmental degradation by educating citizens about sanitation and sustainable agriculture practices.


Neighbors have influenced the Vietnamese people in regards to what they eat and how they cook. People from Mongolia who invaded Vietnam from the north in the tenth century brought beef with them. This is how beef became part of the Vietnamese diet. Common Vietnamese beef dishes are pho bo (Beef Noodle Soup) and bo bay mon (Beef Cooked Seven Ways). The Chinese who dominated Vietnam for 1,000 years taught the Vietnamese people cooking techniques such as stir frying and deep frying, as well as the use of chopsticks. In the south, neighboring Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand introduced such ingredients as flat, Cambodianstyle egg noodles, spices, chili, and coconut milk.

Beginning in the sixteenth century, explorers and traders introduced foods such as potatoes, tomatoes, and snow peas. When the French colonized Vietnam (18581954), they introduced foods such as baguettes (French bread), pâté, coffee with cream, milk, butter, custards, and cakes. In the 1960s and 1970s (Vietnam War era), the U.S. military introduced ice cream to Vietnam when it contracted with two U.S. dairies to build dozens of ice cream factories.


Plain rice (com trang ) is at the center of the Vietnamese diet. Steamed rice is part of almost every meal. The Vietnamese prefer long-grain white rice, as opposed to the short-grain rice more common in Chinese cooking. Rice is also transformed into other common ingredients such as rice wine, rice vinegar, rice noodles, and rice paper wrappers for spring rolls.

Rice is also used to make noodles. There are four main types of rice noodles used in Vietnamese cooking. Banh pho are the wide white noodles used in the quintessential Vietnamese soup, pho. Bun noodles (also called rice vermicelli) look like long white strings when cooked. Banh hoi are a thinner version of bun noodles. In addition, there are dried glass, or cellophane, noodles (mien or bun tao ) made from mung bean starch.

Just as essential to Vietnamese cuisine as rice and noodles is nuoc mam, a salty fish sauce that is used in most Vietnamese recipes (just as salt is used in most Western dishes). Nuoc mam is produced in factories along the coast of Vietnam. Anchovies and salt are layered in wooden barrels and then allowed to ferment for about six months. The light-colored, first-drained sauce is the most desirable. It is also the most expensive and reserved primarily for table use. Less expensive nuoc mam is used in cooking. When shopping for nuoc mam, one should look for the words ca com on the label, which indicates the highest quality.

The most popular condiment is nuoc cham (dipping sauce), which is as common in Vietnam as ketchup is in North America. Saucers filled with nuoc cham are present at practically every meal, and diners dip everything from spring rolls to meatballs into it. The recipe that follows can be adjusted to suit individual tastes by using more or less red pepper and nuoc mam. Nuoc cham is quite simple to make and will keep in the refrigerator for up to 30 days. A few spoonfuls over a bowl of plain rice can be considered an authentic Vietnamese peasant meal.

Nuoc Cham (Dipping Sauce)


  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon distilled white vinegar
  • ½ cup nuoc mam (fish sauce), available at Asian markets
  • ½ cup fresh lime juice
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ cup sugar


  1. In a small bowl, soak the red pepper flakes in the vinegar for 1015 minutes.
  2. In a second bowl, combine the fish sauce, lime juice, garlic, and sugar.
  3. Stir in 1½ cups boiling water and the pepper-vinegar mixture.
  4. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool. Serve at room temperature.
  5. Store in a jar in the refrigerator for up to 30 days.

Fish and other aquatic animals, such as squid and eel, are central to the Vietnamese diet. Beef, pork, and chicken are also important, but are consumed in smaller quantities. The unique flavorings in Vietnamese cooking are created with a variety of spices and seasonings, including mint leaves, parsley, coriander, lemon grass, shrimp, fish sauces (nuoc nam andnuoc cham ), peanuts, star anise, black pepper, garlic, shallots, basil, rice vinegar, sugar, green onions, and lime juice. To provide a contrast in texture and flavor to the spicy meat components of a meal, vegetables are often left raw and cut into small pieces (usually cut at an angle, or julienne), especially in the south. Cool, crunchy foods include cucumbers and bean sprouts. The typical Vietnamese meal includes meat and vegetables, either eaten with chopsticks and rice or rolled into rice paper or (red) leaf lettuce and dipped into an accompanying sauce. Traditional preparation techniques are determined by eating habits, geography, and economics.

Pho bo (Beef Noodle Soup) is the signature dish of Vietnamese cuisine. It is often eaten for breakfast, purchased from sidewalk vendors on the way to work or school. Pho bo is also a common home-cooked meal, and it is a fun dish to prepare for a group. Seated around a table with dishes of ingredients in the center, each person is given a bowl of spicy beef broth. Then, each selects his or her vegetables and noodles to add to the broth. No two bowls of pho bo are alike.

Dessert is not as common in Vietnam as it is in North America, except perhaps for a piece of fresh fruit. One exception is sweet coconut custard, which might follow a celebratory meal.

Food Words in Vietnamese

pho (fol) = soup

bo (ball) = beef

ga (gaw) = chicken

gao (gow) = uncooked rice

com (gum) = cooked rice

nuoc mam (nook mum) = fish sauce

bun (poom) = noodles

cuon (coom) = salad or lettuce

Pho Bo (Beef Noodle Soup)

Broth ingredients

  • 3 cans beef broth (low-salt suggested)
  • 2 carrots, julienne
  • 4 slices fresh ginger, chopped
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 3 Tablespoons fish sauce

Accompaniments ingredients

  • ½ pound roast beef (may be purchased from a deli), sliced into very thin bite-sized strips
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups fresh bean sprouts
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 bunch fresh basil, coarsely chopped
  • 2 or more chilies, sliced at a diagonal
  • 2 limes, cut into wedges
  • 1 package rice noodles, cooked


  1. Make broth by pouring contents from three cans of broth into a large saucepan.
  2. Add carrots, ginger, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, garlic, and peppercorns.
  3. Simmer covered for 20 minutes.
  4. Add fish sauce and simmer about 5 more minutes.
  5. Strain by pouring through a colander.
  6. To serve, arrange the following on a platter: beef, onion, bean sprouts, cilantro, basil, chilies, lime wedges, and noodles.
  7. Ladle the broth into bowls, and serve.
  8. Each person chooses items from the platter to add to his or her bowl of broth.

Coconut Custard


  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


  1. Beat eggs, sugar, coconut milk, and vanilla until frothy.
  2. Pour into ramekins (small baking cups).
  3. Place in a steamer over boiling water.
  4. Cover and cook about 20 minutes or until set. Chill.

Serves 4.


Of the many influences that China has had on Vietnam, the most profound is probably the introduction of Buddhism. The widespread practice of Buddhism in Vietnam has led to the development of one of the world's most sophisticated style of vegetarian cooking (an chay ), particularly in the coastal city of Hue, which is home to many Buddhists.

On the first and middle days of each lunar month (the full moon and a sliver moon), many Vietnamese do not eat meat, seafood, chicken, or eggs. On these days, the street vendors have numerous vegetarian dishes available. Following is a recipe for a traditional Buddhist vegetarian dish.

Canh Bi Ro Ham Dua (Braised Pumpkin with Coconut Milk)


  • 2 cups peeled and cubed pumpkin (¾-inch cubes)
  • 2 cups thin coconut milk
  • 2 cups cubed sweet potato (¾-inch cubes)
  • ½ cup wood ear or shiitake mushrooms
  • ¼ cup thick coconut cream
  • ½ raw peanuts, soaked in warm water
  • ½ cup thinly sliced zucchini
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Salt, to taste
  • Fresh cilantro leaves


  1. In a deep saucepan, bring coconut milk and pumpkin to a boil.
  2. Cook for about 10 minutes, until pumpkin is half done (still too firm to be easily pierced with a knife).
  3. Add the sweet potatoes and mushrooms.. Reduce heat and simmer until sweet potatoes are tender.
  4. Add thick coconut cream, peanuts, and zucchini. Bring to a boil again, then remove from heat. Season with salt and sugar.
  5. Serve garnished with fresh cilantro leaves.

Tet Nguyen Dan (often referred to simply as Tet) is the Lunar New Year, perhaps the most important holiday of the year. The New Year does not fall on the same date every year, although it is always in January or February. The official holiday lasts three days, but it is often celebrated for a full seven days. In many ways, the Tet "holiday season" is not unlike the December "holiday season" in North America.

Tet Nguyen Dan literally means "first morning of the first day of the new period." It is believed that the course of these few days determines the events of the coming year. People stop quarreling; children vow to behave; and families make special efforts to gather together. Prior to the celebration, homes are cleaned and painted and decorated with yellow hoa mai (peach blossoms. Many Tet traditions concern Tao Quan, the Spirit of the Hearth or the Kitchen God. It is believed that the Kitchen God leaves the household during Tet to report on the family to the Emperor of Jade. (Cleaning is avoided during Tet, so good luck will not be "swept away.") New clothes are purchased, and old debts are repaid. Many superstitions and traditions revolve around Tet, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year. One such belief is that when a watermelon is cut open, the redder the flesh, the more luck the family will have in the upcoming year. Families construct a Cay Neu (New Year's tree) from a bamboo pole stripped of its leaves except a few at the top and then decorated with red paper. (Red is believed to ward off evil.) The Cay Neu stands in front of their homes to protect them from evil spirits while Tao Quan is away.

Families prepare and partake in feasts that include such rare treats as sup bao ngu (abalone soup) and canh vay ca (shark's fin soup). People carry gifts of food to family and friends. The following recipe for banana cake might be considered the Vietnamese equivalent of fruitcake.

Banh Chuoi Nuong (Banana Cake)


  • 1¼ pounds ripe banana, sliced on the diagonal
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 7 slices white bread
  • 2 Tablespoons melted butter


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. In a mixing bowl, sprinkle ½ cup of the sugar over the sliced bananas. Set aside.
  3. In a saucepan, cook ½ cup of the sugar in the coconut milk until dissolved; then stir in the vanilla.
  4. Soak the bread in this sweetened coconut milk.
  5. Grease a 12-square-inch nonstick baking pan and arrange of the bananas on the bottom.
  6. Cover with half of the soaked bread, more bananas, another layer of bread, and then finish with bananas. Drizzle the melted butter on top.
  7. Cover with foil and bake for one hour. Allow to stand for 12 hours before cutting.
  8. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Serves 16 to 20.


Vietnamese meals are rarely divided into separate courses. Rather, all the food is served at once and shared from common dishes set out on a low table. The family sits on mats on the floor, and each person has a rice bowl, chopsticks, and soup spoon. Family members use the narrow end of the chopsticks to bring food to the mouth and the wide end to serve from the common dishes. Certain foods, such as spring rolls, are picked up and eaten out of the hand. Most meals include soup, a stir-fry or other main dish, a light salad, and a variety of side dishes.

Snacks are often purchased from street vendors. Popular handheld snacks include spring rolls or pork meatballs on a stick. These foods and pho (beef noodle soup) are the equivalent of fast food in Vietnamese cities. Also common between meals are sweet fruits and ice cream, introduced during the Vietnam War era (1960s and 1970s). Another "imported" snack food is a baguette with pâté, a holdover from the years when Vietnam was a colony of France.

Tea (che ortra ) is the most common beverage in Vietnam. It is common practice to prepare enough tea for the whole day first thing in the morning because traditional Vietnamese hospitality dictates that one must be able to serve tea immediately if unexpected visitors drop by. Tea is served before and after meals, but not during. Vietnamese prefer green (unfermented) tea, but the black tea more familiar to Westerners is available in cities.

Although most Vietnamese prefer tea, coffee is grown in Vietnam and is readily available in cities. Served both hot and cold, caphe is a well-known Vietnamese beverage consisting of coffee with sweetened condensed milk (recipe follows). Fresh coconut milk is another popular drink that is widely available from street vendors, who simply cut the top off a young coconut and then serve it with a straw. A particularly refreshing beverage on a hot day is soda chanh (lemon soda).

Caphe (Vietnamese Coffee)


  • ½ cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 to 4 cups hot, strongly brewed French-roast coffee


  1. Pour 2 Tablespoons of condensed milk into the bottom of each of four clear glass coffee cups.
  2. Slowly fill each cup with the coffee, making sure not to disturb the layer of milk at the bottom. Serve immediately.
  3. Each person stirs his/her own milk into the coffee before drinking.
  4. For iced coffee, pour the condensed milk into the bottom of four tall glasses.
  5. Fill the glasses to overflowing with ice cubes, then slowly pour in the coffee.

Serves 4.

Soda Chanh (Lemon Soda)


  • For simple syrup:
  • 2 cups sugar (to make 1 cup simple syrup)
  • 2 cups water
  • For soda:
  • ½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Ice cubes or crushed ice
  • 6 cups sparkling water or club soda


  1. To make the simple syrup, combine 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water in a saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Continue cooking without stirring for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is clear and the consistency of light syrup.
  4. Remove pan from heat and allow to cool completely.
  5. Either use immediately or pour into a clean, dry jar and refrigerate, covered tightly, until ready to use. Makes about 2½ cups.
  6. To make lemon soda: In a pitcher, combine 1 cup simple syrup and lemon juice. Stir to mix well.
  7. Fill six glasses with crushed ice; then pour ¼ cup of lemon syrup in each glass. Fill the rest of the way with sparkling water, stir, and serve immediately.

Serves 6.

In southern Vietnam, it is impolite for visitors to refuse a meal. If guests are not hungry, they may excuse themselves by explaining that they have eaten very recently, and then sit down with the hosts and keep them company during the meal. Polite guests will take a small amount so as not to insult their hosts.

In northern Vietnam, the situation is reversed. Invitations to join someone for a meal should always be refused unless they have been repeated many times. This custom most likely stems from the fact that, historically, people in the north did not have enough food to feed an extra mouth. Even though invitations are extended out of courtesy, a guest is expected to refuse them.

Vietnamese city dwellers frequently eat meals outside the home. For example, pho bo is available on almost every street corner in the morning, and there are spring rolls or pork meatball kabobs later in the day. The cost of meals outside the home can vary widely depending on the type of establishment in which they are purchased. A street vendor meal (the Vietnamese equivalent of "fast food") might cost US$1 to 2, whereas a meal in a sit-down restaurant ranges from US$4 to 8 per person. At the most exclusive restaurants, an elaborate meal could run as high as US$40 per person.

A typical "lunchbox" type item in Vietnam would be spring rolls, which can be prepared in advance and wrapped in plastic wrap to be eaten out of hand later.

Spring Rolls


  • 3 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons honey
  • 1 pound pork tenderloin, trimmed
  • 1½ pound medium shrimp
  • ½ pound rice vermicelli (Bun noodles)
  • 2 heads Boston lettuce
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and shredded
  • ¾ fresh mint leaves, shredded
  • ¾ cup fresh cilantro leaves, shredded
  • 35 round rice paper wrappers (8-in diameter)


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together soy sauce, garlic, and honey.
  3. Place the pork tenderloin in a foil-lined baking pan. Pour the soy sauce-garlic marinade over the meat and turn to coat.
  4. Roast about 35 minutes or until the pork is thoroughly cooked.
  5. Allow to cool; then slice into 1½-inch-long strips.
  6. Poach the shrimp in boiling water until pink; then peel, slice in half lengthwise, and devein. Set aside.
  7. Heat water in a saucepan to cook the rice vermicelli. Soften the vermicelli in hot water; then cook until just tender.
  8. Rinse under cold water and drain. Set aside.
  9. Separate the lettuce leaves; rinse, dry, and remove the tough center ribs.
  10. In a large bowl, toss together the pork, rice vermicelli, carrots, mint, and cilantro.
  11. Fill a roasting pan with hot water.
  12. Dip one rice paper wrapper into the hot water; then place it on a dishtowel.
  13. Arrange a lettuce leaf on the lower third of the wrapper; then spoon 2 Tablespoons of the pork filling onto the lettuce.
  14. Fold the bottom edge over the filling and tuck in the sides.
  15. Place 2 shrimp halves, cut side down, on top; then roll up into a tight cylinder.
  16. As the spring rolls are completed, place them on a serving platter and cover with a damp towel to keep them from drying out.
  17. These can be prepared ahead of time and wrapped in plastic wrap until ready to eat.

Serves 15 to 35.


Vietnam's population is growing rapidly, and the farmers must work hard to produce enough food. Vietnam produces about 25 million tons of rice per year, making it the world's third-largest exporter of this commodity (after Thailand and the United States). Agricultural products include rice, corn, potatoes, soybeans, coffee, tea, bananas, poultry, pork, fish, cashews, and sugarcane.

Socio-economics determines how much protein is in the Vietnam diet. The poorest Vietnamese eat less beef, pork, fish, and poultry than do the upper classes. Consequently, iron-deficiency anemia and other dietary deficiencies are more common among the rural poor. City dwellers tend to fare better economically and are more likely to have access to refrigeration, safe drinking water, and sanitation.


Ferro, Jennifer. Vietnamese Foods and Culture. Vero Beach, FL: Rourke Press, 1999.

Halvorsen, Francine. Eating Around the World in Your Neighborhood. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998.

Jeys, Kevin, Emily Kendrick, and Taran March, Eds. Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos Handbook. Chico, CA: Moon Publications, 1996.

Robinson, Daniel. Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia: A Travel Survival Kit. Berkeley, CA: Lonely Planet Publications, 1991.

Shalant, Phyllis. Look What We've Brought You from Vietnam: Crafts, Games, Recipes, Stories, and Other Cultural Activities from Vietnamese Americans. 2nd ed. New York: J. Messner, 1998.

Tran, Diana My. The Vietnamese Cookbook. Sterling, VA: Capital Books, 2000.

Trang, Corinne. Authentic Vietnamese Cooking: Food from a Family Table. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Web Sites

Embassy of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in the United States. [Online] Available (accessed July 17, 2000).

Vietspace. [Online] Available (accessed July 17, 2000). VNN Media. "Vietnam News Network." [Online] Available (accessed July 17, 2000).

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Vietnam (vēĕt´näm), officially Socialist Republic of Vietnam, republic (2005 est. pop. 83,536,000), 128,400 sq mi (332,642 sq km), Southeast Asia. Occupying the eastern coastline of the Southeast Asian peninsula, Vietnam is bounded by China on the north, by Laos and Cambodia on the west, and by the Gulf of Tonkin and the South China Sea on the east and south. The capital is Hanoi and the largest city is Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.

Land and People

The northern and western sections of Vietnam are dominated by the mountains of the Annamese Cordillera, continuations of the mountains of the Chinese provinces of Yunnan and Guangxi to the north. The mountains reach elevations of more than 8,000 ft (2,440 m), and contain a notable plateau known as the Central Highlands (alt. 600–1,600 ft/180–490 m), which, although sparsely populated, contains rubber, coffee, and tea plantations. East of the Annamese Cordillera in the north is an alluvial plain drained by the Red River and other streams that empty into the Gulf of Tonkin. South of the Red River delta are the Central Lowlands, a narrow, coastal strip where short, often torrential rivers, flowing from west to east, form fertile deltas. The alluvial plain of the Mekong River delta forms the southern portion of the country. The country has a tropical monsoon climate, modified by local conditions.

The population is concentrated in the two main river deltas. The Vietnamese account for more than 85% of the population. They speak an Annamese-Muong language (see Southeast Asian languages). The approximately 50 minority groups in the highlands include the Muong, Tai, Hmong, Dao, Sedong, Jarai, Bahnar, Rhade, Cham, and smaller groups. There is a significant population of Cambodians (Khmers) near the Cambodian border and at the mouth of the Mekong River. There are large numbers of Chinese in the urban centers, although many fled after South Vietnam was defeated by the North and after a border clash with China in 1979.

A mix of Buddhism, Confucianism, and traditional local beliefs and Roman Catholicism are the most widely practiced religions. Although the Communist government has discouraged religious practice, it is tolerated within the context of government-regulated Buddhist and Catholic groups, and since the 1990s traditional worship at Buddhist temples has been encouraged. Protestant evangelical churches (found mainly among ethnic minorities) and other unregulated groups are actively suppressed. Vietnamese is the official language, and English is increasingly favored as a second language. French, Chinese, Khmer, and languages of the various minority groups are also spoken.


Agriculture still employs a majority of the population (though it produces a smaller share of the GDP than industry and services), and rice is by far the leading crop. The Mekong and Red river deltas are among the world's greatest rice-growing regions, the former benefiting from heavy rainfall and rich alluvial soil and the latter notable for its elaborate network (c.2,700 mi/4,350 km) of dikes, dams, canals, and locks that provide irrigation and flood control. Soybeans, peanuts, bananas, corn, and sweet potatoes are secondary food crops, and coffee, cotton, tea, pepper, cashews, and sugarcane are among the cash crops. Fishing and aquaculture comprise an important industry, and marine products are a major export, especially shrimp. Rubber is also important. Timber resources are still substantial, particularly in the north, but deforestation resulting from highland resettlement, shifting cultivation, and commercial cutting is an increasingly serious problem.

Most of the country's mineral resources are in the north. Vietnam produces large amounts of coal as well as having sizable deposits of phosphates, manganese, bauxite, chromate, and other metal ores. Substantial offshore oil and gas deposits exist in southern waters, and crude oil is an important export; petroleum products are refined as well. Vietnam's industrial development was hampered by more than three decades of war, but as a result of economic reforms that began in the late 20th cent. and accelerated in the early 21st cent., there has been considerable industrial development. Important industries include food processing; machine building; mining; and the production of clothing, steel, chemical fertilizers, glass, tires, oil, and mobile phones. The tourism industry is also significant. The major exports are crude oil, marine products, rice, coffee, rubber, tea, mobile phones, garments, and shoes. The main imports are machinery and equipment, petroleum products, fertilizer, steel, cotton, grain, and motorcycles. Vietnam's main trading partners are China, Singapore, the United States, Japan, and South Korea.


Vietnam is governed under the constitution of 2013. The president, who is the head of state, is elected by the legislature for a five-year term. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is appointed by the president. The unicameral legislature consists of the 500-seat National Assembly, whose members are popularly elected for five-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into 59 provinces and five municipalities. Vietnam's Communist party is the only legal political party.


European Contacts

The early history of Vietnam is that of Tonkin, Annam, and Cochin China. The first Europeans to arrive were the Portuguese in 1535. Dutch, French, and English traders came in the 17th cent., at which time missionaries entered the area, winning many converts to Roman Catholicism. The persecution of missionaries and of their Vietnamese converts by the ruler of Vietnam was a factor prompting French conquest in the 19th cent. The French captured Saigon in 1859, and after a period of warfare, organized (1867) the colony of Cochin China. In 1884, France declared protectorates over Tonkin and Annam; in 1887 it merged Tonkin, Annam, and Cochin China with Cambodia to form a union of Indochina, to which Laos was added in 1893.

Nationalism and Foreign Occupation

A nationalist movement arose in Vietnam in the early 20th cent. and gained momentum during the Japanese occupation in World War II. The Japanese allowed the French Vichy administration to continue as a figurehead power until Mar., 1945, when they ousted it and established the autonomous state of Vietnam (comprising Tonkin, Annam, and Cochin China) under the rule of Bao Dai, the emperor of Annam. The Bao Dai government quickly collapsed, and at the end of World War II, the Viet Minh party (the League for the Independence of Vietnam, a coalition of nationalist and Communist groups), headed by Ho Chi Minh, established a republic with its capital at Hanoi.

The Chinese Nationalists, who occupied N Vietnam for seven months after the war (in accordance with a decision made at the Potsdam Conference), did not challenge Ho's power. The French attempted to reassert their authority in Vietnam following the war, and the British, who occupied S Vietnam, permitted French troops to land and assisted them in suppressing native resistance. In Mar., 1946, France signed an agreement with Ho Chi Minh, recognizing Vietnam as a free state within the Indochina federation and the French Union. French troops were then permitted to replace the Chinese in the north. However, differences immediately arose over whether Cochin China was included in the independent state of Vietnam; in June, 1946, France supported the establishment of a separate republic of Cochin China.

War with France

Fighting broke out (Nov., 1946) between Vietnamese and French troops in Haiphong, and French ships shelled the city, killing some 6,000 civilians. The next month the Viet Minh attacked the French at Hanoi, ushering in the prolonged and bloody guerrilla conflict that became known as the French Indochina War (1946–54). In an attempt to win popular support, the French in 1949 reinstalled Bao Dai as the ruler of Vietnam, of which Cochin China was then recognized to be a part.

Spurred by the Communist takeover of mainland China, which brought Chinese Communist forces to the northern border of Indochina by Dec., 1949, France concluded a treaty (ratified Feb., 1950) granting Vietnam independence within the French Union. The new state was promptly recognized by the United States, Great Britain, and other states; meanwhile the Ho regime was recognized by the USSR, Communist China, and other Soviet allies. Except for Thailand (which recognized Bao Dai), the states of Southeast Asia held aloof from both regimes.

Bao Dai failed to win the general support of the Vietnamese, many of whom saw him as a French puppet. Thousands of non-Communists joined the Viet Minh, and the war reached an eventual stalemate, with the French controlling the cities and a few isolated outposts and the Viet Minh occupying most of the countryside. France formally asked U.S. aid for the Bao Dai regime in Feb., 1950. By 1954, the United States was paying about 80% of the French war costs in Vietnam. The French military situation deteriorated rapidly in early 1954 as Viet Minh forces closed in on Dienbienphu, upon which the French had staked the defense of the Red River delta. Dienbienphu fell in May, and at the Geneva Conference of 1954, France had to accept disadvantageous terms for an armistice. The truce agreement was signed by representatives of the French Union and of the Viet Minh forces.

Two Vietnams

As a temporary expedient after the Vietnamese defeat of French forces, Vietnam was divided into two parts along a line approximating the 17th parallel (lat. 17°N). North Vietnam, where the Viet Minh were the strongest, went to the Communist government of Ho Chi Minh, while South Vietnam was placed under the control of the French-backed government of Bao Dai. Freedom of movement between the two areas was to be permitted for a period of 300 days, thereby facilitating the regroupment of Communist forces in the north and non-Communist forces in the south. During this period some 900,000 people, many of whom were Catholics or individuals fleeing the land reform program initiated by the Ho Chi Minh government, migrated south. The unification of the country under one government was to be effected through general elections, later scheduled for July, 1956. These elections, which were considered likely to favor the Communists, were never held; the South Vietnamese government refused to participate on the grounds that it had not signed the Geneva agreements and was therefore not bound by them.

A few months after the partition of Vietnam in 1954, South Vietnam withdrew from the French Union and thus attained complete sovereignty. In a referendum held in Oct., 1955, the electorate deposed Bao Dai as chief of state and approved the establishment of a republic with Ngo Dinh Diem as president. The republic, proclaimed on Oct. 26, 1955, was recognized as the legal government of Vietnam by the United States, France, Great Britain, and other Western powers. Diem was faced with a war-torn economy and serious political chaos as numerous factions and individuals vied for power. He suppressed the Cao Dai, a religious sect with its own private army (the Binh Xuyen), and the Hoa Hao, an occultist religious group, both of which opposed him. But his authoritarian policies—rigid press censorship, interference with elections, restriction of opposition parties, and mass arrests—drew increasing criticism.

North Vietnam, meanwhile, continued to be dominated by Ho Chi Minh, who maintained good relations with both China and the USSR, receiving enormous aid from both countries while skillfully protecting the independence of his country. A three-year economic rehabilitation program (1958–60) and a five-year plan (1961–66), financed with Soviet and Chinese aid, were aimed at improving both industry and agriculture. Electric power production was increased fifteenfold, new mineral deposits were located, mining operations were expanded, and many new industries were established, especially in Hanoi and Haiphong. Also constructed were a large iron-and-steel complex at Thai Nguyen, a chemical combine at Viet Tri, and a textile complex at Nam Dinh. Much national effort was also devoted to the support of Communist insurgents in South Vietnam (the Viet Cong), who operated under the leadership of the National Liberation Front, an organization alleged to be indigenous to South Vietnam.

The Vietnam War

By late 1961, the Viet Cong had won control of virtually half of South Vietnam with little local opposition. The United States increased its military and economic aid to combat the Communist threat and at the same time put pressure on President Diem for democratic reforms. In Apr., 1961, Diem was reelected president, but many voters boycotted the election. Resentment against the government was dramatized by the Buddhist crisis, which erupted in May, 1963, as a result of government persecution. A number of self-immolations by Buddhist monks followed. Large antigovernment demonstrations provoked police shootings, mass arrests, and more repressive government measures. These actions, along with the increasing loss of territory to the Viet Cong, prompted Diem's own military commanders to resort to a coup (Nov. 1, 1963), in which Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu (who headed the secret police), were murdered. A period of great political instability followed, with frequent changes in government, mounting disorders, and continued religious unrest (both Buddhist and Catholic).

In 1964 regular units of the North Vietnamese army began infiltrating into South Vietnam by way of what came to be known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. The guerrilla conflict expanded into open warfare. The United States, deeply committed to the support of the non-Communist government of South Vietnam, became increasingly involved militarily, sending troops and then engaging in systematic bombing (see Vietnam War). The U.S. bombing of North Vietnam began after two U.S. destroyers were reportedly attacked (Aug., 1964) by North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. The bombing was directed at military and industrial targets and extended to Hanoi and Haiphong.

In June, 1965, a military junta came to power with Gen. Nguyen Van Thieu as chief of state and Air Vice Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky as prime minister. Their regime was strengthened by the capture (1966) of Buddhist rebel strongholds in Da Nang and Hue. A new constitution (approved Mar., 1967) provided for a strong executive and a bicameral legislature. In Sept., 1967, Thieu and Ky were elected president and vice president respectively. The problems they faced were aggravated by the rapidly accelerating war. Heavy fighting in the rural areas forced thousands of people to seek refuge in the cities, where serious overcrowding ensued. Heavy damage was sustained in the Tet offensive of early 1968, especially in Hue and in the Saigon area.

Later in 1968 the United States, in response to increasing pressure by the American public, began a policy of "de-escalation." In Mar., 1968, raids north of latitude 19°N were halted to promote peace negotiations, and in Nov., 1968, all bombing ceased. Peace talks between the United States and Hanoi were begun in Paris. During this time, South Vietnam had become increasingly dependent upon U.S. aid, which reached massive proportions, and the presence of U.S. troops, whose numbers peaked at almost 550,000 in 1969 dislocated the traditional agricultural economy. Peace talks made little headway, and in early 1970 U.S. "protective action" air strikes against military installations south of latitude 19°N were resumed, as well as air strikes against North Vietnamese forces in Laos and Cambodia.

In Oct., 1971, President Thieu of South Vietnam was reelected for another four-year term; he ran unopposed as other candidates, fearing a rigged election, refused to participate. In his second term President Thieu faced serious problems. The gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops, which had begun in 1969, adversely affected the economy, bringing a severe recession. At the same time, the endless war fed a raging inflation. In Apr., 1972, in response to a major Communist drive from North Vietnam, the United States reinstituted mass bombings throughout the country; Haiphong harbor and six other North Vietnamese ports, as well as rivers and canals, were mined and effectively closed to shipping. Heavy, concentrated air strikes (as many as 340 a day) continued, with one temporary halt (Oct. 24–Dec. 18), until Dec. 30, 1972, inflicting enormous damage.

The country's industrial plant was destroyed, transportation lines were cut, and many non-military targets—including the extensive system of dikes in the Red River delta and numerous residential areas—were hit. Morale nevertheless remained high; damaged transportation facilities were constantly repaired, and "ant tactics" kept supplies laboriously moving from China. Despite the declaration of a cease-fire in Jan., 1973, fighting continued. While the fighting prevented any attempt at economic recovery in the south, North Vietnam was able to begin reconstruction with foreign aid, and in less than a year the shipyards at Haiphong, the iron- and steelworks at Thai Nguyen, and many small factories were again in operation. In 1974, South Vietnam came into direct conflict with China, which seized the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

President Thieu gradually assumed dictatorial powers; he abolished local self-government, restricted the press, arrested thousands of suspected Viet Cong sympathizers, and increased the number of executions. Mass protest demonstrations (Oct., 1974) in Saigon caused Thieu to reorganize his cabinet in an attempt to quiet the opposition. In early 1974 the constitution was amended to permit him to seek a third term in 1975, at the same time increasing that term from four to five years. During 1974 Thieu decided to abandon military defense of outlying areas, which were becoming increasingly difficult to hold without the U.S. presence. In Jan., 1975, the North Vietnamese began a major offensive, and the repeated withdrawal of South Vietnamese troops quickly enabled the North Vietnamese forces to gain a decisive advantage. By April President Thieu resigned and fled to Taiwan, the remaining government of South Vietnam surrendered, and the North Vietnamese entered Saigon without opposition.

A Reunified Nation

In June, 1976, the country was officially reunited. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Vietnam expanded its control of Southeast Asia by invading Cambodia (where it toppled the regime of Pol Pot and installed a Vietnamese-backed government) and also by establishing a military presence in Laos. These actions alienated Vietnam from China, its long-time ally, and generally worsened its international relations. In 1979, Vietnam and China fought a brief, but intense border war. Vietnam succeeded in establishing close ties with the Soviet Union during this period, a necessity in consideration of the severe economic difficulties caused by the war. Despite substantial aid from the Soviet Union, Vietnam continued to experience economic problems, exacerbated by a U.S. trade embargo. Economic hardship prompted the flight of great numbers of refugee boat people.

In the late 1980s changes in national leadership resulted in a policy reorientation toward privatization and efforts to attract foreign investment. In 1991, Do Muoi was chosen as party leader; Vo Van Kiet became premier and Le Duc Anh became president. Relations with China were normalized the same year. By the early 1990s the country had experienced limited success in revitalizing its economy, although there was no corresponding attempt to introduce political liberalization. In 1994 the United States ended its embargo, in response to Vietnamese cooperation in the search for missing American servicemen. A U.S. liaison office was opened in Hanoi early in 1995, and in July the United States extended full recognition to Vietnam. Also in 1995, Vietnam was admitted to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

In 1997, Le Kha Phieu took over as general secretary of the Communist party; Phan Van Khai, an economic reformer, became premier, and Tran Duc Luong was chosen as president. Vietnam's economy was affected by the Asian financial crisis of 1997–98, and the country was forced to devalue its currency. China and Vietnam signed an agreement settling disputes concerning their shared land border in 1999, and the following year demarcated their territorial waters in the Gulf of Tonkin. In 2000, Vietnam and the United States signed an agreement designed to normalize trade relations between the two countries.

Le Pha Phieu was replaced as party leader in 2001 by Nong Duc Manh, a moderate regarded as more receptive to further economic reform. There was speculation that Manh, an ethnic Tai, was chosen in part to help ease ethnic tensions that had sparked violence in the Central Highlands. The government continued to move forward slowly on economic reforms, largely out of necessity, but by 2010 the economy, despite its growth, was hampered by its dependence on relatively inefficient state-run companies and by the effects of the 2008 global financial crisis. Manh was reappointed party leader in 2006, and Nguyen Tan Dung, a southerner with experience in Vietnam's security forces, and Nguyen Minh Triet, the party chief for Ho Chi Minh City, became premier and president, respectively.

Manh retired in 2011 and was succeeded as party leader by Nguyen Phu Trong, the former chairman of the National Assembly; Truong Tan Sang, a southerner and high-ranking party leader, became president the same year. Tensions with China increased in 2011 over economic interests in the South China Sea, where China was more confrontational in asserting its extensive claims. The revision of the constitution in 2013 (effective 2014) was notably mainly for continuing the role of state-owned companies in the economy and further entrenching the Communist party's political power. In May, 2014, confrontations at sea between Vietnamese and Chinese vessels over Chinese oil exploration in the South China Sea led to anti-Chinese riots and attacks on Chinese- and Taiwanese-owned factories.


See C. Bain, Vietnam: The Roots of Conflict (1967); J. F. Cairns, The Eagle and the Lotus: Western Intervention in Vietnam, 1847–1968 (1969); P. Gheddo, The Cross and the Bo-tree: Catholics and Buddhists in Vietnam (1970); D. G. Marr, Vietnamese Anticolonialism, 1855–1925 (1971); W. Duiker, Vietnam since the Fall of Saigon (rev. ed. 1985); G. M. Kahin, Intervention: How America Became Involved in Vietnam (1986); S. Karnow, Vietnam (2d rev. and upd. ed., 1997); F. Logevall, Choosing War (1999, repr. 2001) and Embers of War (2012); M. P. Bradley, Imagining Vietnam and America: The Making of Postcolonial Vietnam, 1919–1950 (2000); D. Lamb, Vietnam, Now (2002); B. Hayton, Vietnam: Rising Dragon (2010).

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In both ancient and modern Vietnam, the family is considered the foundation of society. Grounded in Confucianism, the traditional patriarchal family was viewed as the basic social institution in which the welfare of the extended family outweighed the individual interests of any member. For Ho Chi Minh, the nation's revolutionary hero, the security of the state was rooted in the stability of the family. "It is correct to pay great attention to the family, because many families added together make up a society" (Himmelstrand 1981, p. 23). Ho's views were also clearly implanted in the constitution of the young Vietnamese republic in 1946. "The family is the cell of society. The State protects marriage and the family," reads Article 64 (Constitution of the Republic of Vietnam 1946, p. 26). Thirteen years later, the National Assembly adopted the first major piece of legislation related to marriage and families. It marked the beginning of four major reforms, discussed below.

Gender Equity and the Marriage and Family Law of 1959

The Marriage and Family Law of 1959 was, in many respects, recognition that women, as well as men, played a major role in defeating the French colonialists in 1954. In placing greater emphasis on gender equity, the 1959 Act contained four major provisions. First, for the first time in Vietnamese history, arranged marriages were abolished, and both men and women were granted the freedom to make their own decisions. Second, polygamy was declared illegal, and monogamy was adopted as the official form of Vietnamese marriage. Third, equality between men and women was to be practiced both in the home and in society in general. Fourth, the basic rights of women and children, such as freedom from abuse and oppression in the home, were to be protected.

Of the four provisions, however, the first two proved most successful. That is, by 1962 the proportion of arranged marriages fell in North Vietnam from more than 60 percent to less than 20 percent of all marriages. Today, the rate is near zero. A similar pattern emerged regarding polygamy. Except in a few rural areas where it may be difficult to apply the law, it is virtually nonexistent (Good-kind 1995).

The most difficult provisions to implement, however, were the latter two (Thanh-Dam Truong 1996). Both gender equity and the protection of children within families proved ongoing challenges for Vietnamese policy makers.

Although the Marriage and Family Law of 1959 focused primarily on the issue of gender equity, there was no mention of age requirements for marriage, nor was there any discussion of policies regarding cohabitation, rights and obligations of married partners, parental responsibilities, or divorce procedures. But new social forces were afoot over the next twenty-seven years that helped shape an entirely new set of marriage and family laws. By 1986 the Vietnamese population was young, growing, and reproducing rapidly. Industrialization was pulling younger villagers toward cities and away from their extended families. Concerns over rising divorce rates in other developing Asian countries, and demands among teenagers for greater independence, drove Vietnamese policy makers toward major reforms of marriage laws in the mid-1980s.

The 1986 Law on Marriage, Parental Responsibility, and Divorce

The National Assembly passed the second major piece of legislation regarding marriage on December 29, 1986. The 1986 Law on Marriage and the Family, consisting of ten chapters and fifty-seven articles, is far more detailed than the 1959 law it replaced. Chapters I through III stipulate who may or may not marry, what are the specific obligations of married partners, and what rights and responsibilities they may have as a married couple. Men cannot marry until age twenty; women cannot marry until age eighteen. Cohabitation is illegal. Vietnamese from different ethnic or religious groups are permitted to intermarry, and those who are mentally ill, have a venereal disease, or are blood relatives, are prohibited from doing so.

With respect to obligations, married couples are required to abide by Vietnam's two-child family policy ("Husband and wife shall have the obligation to implement family planning") to raise their children in a wholesome manner ("a duty to make their children useful to society"), and to not ill treat spouses, children, or parents (The 1986 Law on Marriage and the Family, Chapter I, Articles 2 and 4).

A more interesting component of the 1986 code is found in Chapter IV, Article 27, which identifies intergenerational responsibilities within families. "Grandparents shall be bound to support and educate under-age grandchildren if they become orphans" (The 1986 Law on Marriage and the Family, Chapter IV, Article 27). Similarly, adult grandchildren have a duty to support their grandparents if the latter have no surviving children. Primarily because of decades of war, concern for orphans and isolated elderly runs deep in Vietnamese society.

Perhaps in anticipation of a problem in the future, the 1986 Law on Marriage and the Family includes a fairly lengthy chapter on divorce law. No-fault divorce is not possible; couples must document efforts to reconcile their differences and, to protect pregnant women, husbands cannot file for divorce until one year after the birth of the child. With respect to custody issues, Vietnamese law fluctuates between the "best interest of the child" on one hand and "the tender years' doctrine" on the other. Much depends on the age of the child. That is, nursing infants are consigned to the care of their mothers (the tender years' doctrine). The fate of older children is determined by the best interests of the child test.

The 1986 Law on Marriage and the Family was a direct response to, and coincided with, the major economic reforms that were converting the nation from state-sponsored socialism to free-market capitalism. To keep pace with major economic and social changes, specific laws were passed to clarify the obligations and responsibilities of married partners, identify specific responsibilities of parenthood, and reform existing divorce laws. What remained an unknown, however, was the extent to which these marriage reforms had an impact on Vietnamese families. This concern produced the 1994 Decree on Marriage and the Family.

Concern over Outside Influences: The 1994 Decree

The Vietnamese Ministry of Justice issued a special decree in 1994 that had two primary objectives: One, to clarify those sections of the existing codes that were confusing, and two, to focus on any potentially harmful influence foreigners may have on Vietnam's families. The latter point is not surprising in light of the recent growth in international trade and the corresponding increase in foreign visitors. The decree, issued on September 30, 1994, consists of seven chapters and forty-one articles.

Chapters I through III of the Decree pertain primarily to the regulation of marriage, with specific regulations concerning marriages between Vietnamese and foreigners. In short, any marriage on Vietnamese soil falls under Vietnam's marriage codes. Marriages performed outside the country must be approved by the Chairman of Vietnam's provincial People's Committee if one or both parties wish to reside in the country.

Perhaps even more indicative of Vietnam's concern about foreign influences is the government's effort to control foreigners' access to the nation's children. In 1992 the Council of Ministers issued temporary regulations on the adoption of Vietnamese children by foreigners, limiting such adoptions to Vietnamese children who are orphaned, abandoned, disabled, and are being institutionally cared for by government authorities (Council of Ministers 1992). Just two years later these temporary regulations were made permanent and expanded to include rules that restricted the teaching or tutorship of Vietnamese children by foreigners (The 1994 Decree on Marriage and the Family). In short, by actions set forth in the 1994 Decree, foreigners will be restricted by law in their attempt to either adopt or tutor Vietnamese children.

The 1994 Decree on Marriage and the Family clearly illustrates Vietnam's concern about the potential negative impact of outside influences on its families. On one hand, policy makers have pushed hard to modernize, and thus become more competitive in global markets. On the other hand, they are concerned that the traditional Vietnamese family, what Ho Chi Minh referred to as the "cell of society," will become endangered. According to this argument, a weak family structure will produce a weak nation. Thus, it is not surprising that Vietnam, in looking toward the future, is constantly evaluating its status with respect to family policy and putting in place new laws designed to protect families and stabilize society. It was within that context that additional revisions of national marriage and family laws were adopted in 2000.

The Revised Marriage and Family Law of 2000

On June 9, 2000, the Vietnamese National Assembly adopted the Marriage and Family Law of 2000. Consisting of thirteen chapters and 110 articles, the law revised the marriage and family code of 1986. Striving to preserve traditional values within progressive reforms, the new law recognized that a woman could have a child without a husband, forbade marriage between a foreigner and Vietnamese for mercenary reasons, and declared wife-beating and child abuse illegal. Prior to 2000, the law on these categories was either nonexistent or vague.

Article II addressed the emerging phenomenon of cohabitation. Under the 1986 statue, such living arrangements were illegal. However, the 2000 reforms stipulated that although cohabitation between unmarried couples was no longer considered a criminal act, neither would such arrangements be recognized as equal to marriage between a husband and wife. Other provisions of Article II clarify divorce procedures, encourage gender equity within marriage (including treatment of sons and daughters), and emphasize the equal treatment of children born within and out of wedlock.

Other additions to Vietnamese marriage and family law contained in the 2000 reforms recognize the existence and importance of extended families. Article V clarifies relations between grandparents, nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters, and other family members. Chapter VI addresses support obligations, and Chapter IX spells out the responsibilities of guardianship within intergenerational households.

Clearly, Vietnam has displayed a willingness to adapt its family policies to a rapidly changing social landscape. Today, with a population of more than 70 million people, half of whom were born after 1975 when the war with the United States ended, Vietnam serves as a fascinating case study of a developing nation struggling with modernization. After being subjected to centuries of colonial rule, thirty years of civil conflict, two major wars against modern Western powers, and a complicated reunification process that began in the mid-1970s, a major law was passed in 1986 that produced a deliberate shift from state-sponsored socialism to free-market capitalism. Clearly, the nation's families were affected by these developments, and specific marriage and family laws were adopted to reflect these historical influences. It is likely that more reforms will follow.

See also:Asian-American Families; Confucianism; Ethnic Variation/Ethnicity


council of ministers (1992). "decision of the council ofministers on temporary regulations on the adoptions by foreign people of vietnamese children orphaned, abandoned, and disabled living in feedinginstitutions managed by the labor, invalids, and social affairs authorities." hanoi: council of ministers, socialist republic of vietnam, no. 145-hbdt, april 29, 1999.

goodkind, d. (1992). "rising gender inequality in vietnam since reunification." pacific affairs 68(3):342–359.

himmelstrand, i. (1981). women in vietnam. stockholm,sweden: swedish international development authority's policy development and evaluation division.

kaufman, j., and sen, g. (1993). "population, health, andgender in vietnam: social policies under the economic reforms." in the challenge of reform in indochina, ed. b. ljunggren. harvard institute for international development. cambridge, ma: harvard university press.

thanh-dam truong. (1997). "uncertain horizons: thewomen's question in vietnam revisited." working paper series no. 212. the hague: institute of social studies.

tran xuan nhi. (1995). "vietnam's families." in worldwidestate of the family. tashknet, ed. a. gafurov. uzbekistan: institute of strategic and interregional studies.

turley, w. (1993). "political renovation in vietnam: renewal and adaptation." in the challenge of reform in indochina, ed. b. ljunggren. harvard institute for international development. cambridge, ma: harvard university press.

vietnam government (1986). the 1986 law on marriage and the family. hanoi: the socialist republic of vietnam.

vietnam government (1994) "decree of the governmentstipulating the procedure of marriage, adoption of illegitimate children, adoption of children, and tutorship of children between vietnamese citizens and foreigners." hanoi: the socialist republic of vietnam, no. 184/cp, november 30, 1194.

vietnam government (2000). the revised marriage andfamily law of 2000. hanoi: the national assembly, june 9, 2000.

wisensale, s. (1999). "marriage and family law in achanging vietnam." journal of family issues fall (20):5–16.

wisensale, s. (2000). "family policy in a changingvietnam." journal of comparative family studies 31(1):79–92.

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vietnam population news. (2000). "changes in marriage and family concepts in vietnam." n. 15, april-june 2000. available from


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The Vietnamese cuisine has been described as one of the most colorful and diverse in the world. The country's geography, climate, and history all play influential roles in creating its culinary range. The Vietnamese often describe their country as resembling a shoulder pole laden with two rice baskets. In fact, both the northern Red River delta and the southern Mekong River delta are rice-producing regions. The long coastline, rivers, and tributaries have ensured the place of seafood throughout the country, while the distinctive climates and cultures found in the North, Middle, and South, along with Vietnam's mountain-lowland ecologies have produced regional variation in the diet. Finally, Vietnam's relations with China (which controlled it for a thousand years, beginning in 111 B.C.E.), its Southeast Asian neighbors, India, France, and the United States have affected what the Vietnamese have chosen to eat, or been forced to eat, throughout their history.

Food Beliefs

Philosophy. Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism play an important role in Vietnamese food beliefs, but rural pragmatics are part of even the most cosmopolitan individual's belief system. According to Vietnamese from the countryside, there are two important qualities in food: quantity and taste. The elderly and guests, including spiritual ones, also require more prestigious food than is commonly eaten by everyone else. While the majority of Vietnamese profess a belief in Buddhism, relatively few adhere to Buddhist dietary prohibitions against meat and alcohol. The foods preferred in ancestor worship, and usually placed on an altar with incense and wine, were chicken and rice. These are the same foods that are served to company when possible. Pork is usually served at feasts.

Science. The Vietnamese regard two distinct health systems as scientific: Western medicine as practiced by the French and Westerntrained physicians, and thuoc bac, literally "northern medicine," but colloquially "Chinese medicine." According to most sources, thuoc bac incorporates Chinese and Indian (Ayurvedic) traditions, and was possibly influenced by the humoral pathology of the classical Greek physician Galen (129199 C.E.). In this frame of reference, health reflects a balance of two basic elements, am (the Chinese yin )often translated as "cold"and duong (Chinese, yang ), or "hot." Ill health is the disequilibrium of these forces brought about by incorporating too much am or duong in the body. Foods share these designations, and can either upset the balance through deficit or overindulgence, or be used therapeutically.

A Vietnamese interpretation of the life cycle is that following childbirth, the mother and infant are both cold. As the infant develops, he or she becomes warmer. This warmth peaks in adolescence (teenagers are the hottest), and then the adult begins to cool down, maintaining neutrality (the desired state) through maturity. The body becomes cool again in old age. Foods are recommended according to these life stages. Immediately following birth, for example, the mother is given hot foods and treatments (which are shared with the infant through breast milk). Infants and young children, while frequently troubled by cold illnesses such as diarrhea and stomachache, are naturally warm, with a tendency toward rashes, fevers, and constipation. Adults can acquire hot or cold illnesses that need to be counterbalanced by treatments and diet. The elderly tend to be cold, and frequently require therapeutic warming. Cigarette smoking used to be advocated for the elderly (the Vietnamese term for tobacco is thuoc la, or "medicinal leaves").

As is true in all humoral systems, the food's temperature has little to do with its qualities of am and duong, boiled water being the exception (water boiled, then cooled, is warming, whereas cool water is cold. Ice is hot!). Most green vegetables are considered cooling; fatty foods such as meat, sugary foods, and red or orange fruits (such as papaya, mango, or watermelon) are considered heating.

A Vietnamese Meal

The majority of Vietnamese cuisine is relatively simple, relying on fresh fish, vegetables, fruit, and steamed white rice. Rice is so important in the diet that the words used to enquire if someone has eaten are an com roi, or, "eaten rice yet?" Fish sauce (nuoc mam ) made from fermented anchovies is used much like soy sauce in Chinese cuisine. Few Vietnamese dishes do not include a drop or two, and Vietnamese have often subsisted on little more than fish sauce on rice, when they were lucky enough to have rice.

A typical Vietnamese meal requires rice, soup (with greens), a fried dish of fish, meat, or vegetables, and fish sauce on the side for additional flavoring. This meal would be prepared in sufficient quantity that it would be consumed for lunch and dinner. The primary factors normally taken into consideration when preparing a meal include the number of people needing to eat, their ages and associated needs (according to the theory of am and duong ), taste preferences, cost of the foods, and ease of preparation.

The Vietnamese like to eat three meals a day, with breakfast often consisting of a thick rice soup (chau ) like the Chinese congee, bread products, or foods identical to those consumed at other times of the day. The Vietnamese appreciate coffee, preferring a dense, slow-dripped preparation mixed with sweetened, condensed milk. Noodles (with or without soup); fresh or dried fruits; salted, roasted seeds; dried squid; and just about any salty, chewy food makes up the snack world.

Tea, various infusions of seeds or herbs (particularly lotus roots or seeds), soft drinks, and beer (usually drunk with ice) are consumed throughout the country, with beer (including the artisanal variety bia hoi ) edging out the other drinks in terms of popularity among men in the South. Everyone drinks water, preferably rainwater collected in large earthenware jars. Water is also consumed from local ponds and streams, although much of it carries a heavy parasitic load.

Holiday Food

While rice is the "pearl of heaven," plain cooked rice is not a prestige food. Celebratory foods gain their prestige because of the limited availability of their ingredients or the difficulty of their preparation. Often rice flour cooked into sheets is the basis for delicate preparations, or pounded rice is used to make sumptuous cakes filled with bean paste, pork, or other delicacies. The principal holiday is Tet, the Vietnamese lunar New Year; it usually occurs in February. A child's first birthday (at which time he or she is considered to be two years old) is celebrated to mark survival of the perilous first year of life, when many infants die. Foods common in Vietnamese restaurants in the United States, such as cha gio, which require a lot of preparation, are normally reserved for Tet and first-year celebrations. Coca-Cola (seemingly the only U.S. contribution to Vietnamese cuisine) or beer are the accompanying beverages of choice. Urban birthday meals include colored rice cakes and purchased French layer cake with frosting. And the urban way of celebrating a wedding is to take the entire extended family and other guests to a Chinese restaurant. There eight to ten courses of meat, fish, and poultry, and very little rice, are served.

Regional Variation

The North of Vietnam, with its colder climate and proximity to China, is the home of pho, the famous beef broth with noodles and thin slices of meat. Accompanying herbs such as mint, basil, green onions, and bean sprouts grow in the northern climate. Grilled meat and stir-frying are more common food-preparation methods here. There are fewer vegetables and fruits available.

Central Vietnam has an important historical heritage that adds chili peppers, other spices and characteristic presentation style to the cuisine. A "kingly" table consisted of many small dishes instead of a common bowl, which is the "common" (and ubiquitous) way to serve the family. The cuisine of Hue, the ancient capital, is also more seasonal than in the North or South, reflecting not only the availability of vegetables, fruits, fowl, and seafood, but the humoral qualities of people at this time of year as well as the food. The sweet pudding chè, usually made with beans or lotus seeds, hails from this region.

The South's hot and humid climate produces a year-round, changing supply of vegetables, fruits, and livestock. The South is also the social pressure cooker of Vietnam, with a fourteenth-century origin as an Indianized Khmer region, followed by Vietnamese sovereignty in the eighteenth century. The French occupied the region from the nineteenth through the middle of the twentieth century, when the Vietnamese took power again. Dishes such as bánh xèo have been described as a Vietnamese crepe, or an Indian dhosa, depending on how far back in time the form is thought to have originated. Curries, asparagus, avocado, little white potatoes, French bread, and mayonnaise all make their way to the table in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). Many dishes combine fish with vegetables or sour fruits, such as tamarind or pineapple. And "pâté" can refer to anything from a mixture of ground pork used to fill the famous Vietnamese spring roll (cha gio ) to a shrimp paste spread on French bread.

The hill tribes of Vietnam, such as the Hmong, are fewer in number today due to their collaboration with South Vietnamese and U.S. forces during the Vietnam War; many were evacuated to the United States at the end of the war. Tribal groups, however, respect national borders less than altitude, and move somewhat freely between Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. They practice slash-and-burn agriculture, raise and consume pigs, and prefer glutinous (sticky) rice, which can be eaten with the fingers, to the long-grain variety preferred by lowlanders, which is always consumed in a small bowl with chopsticks. They trade the products of poppies (seeds; opium) and their renowned silverwork and embroidery for food products from the lowland areas.

It is impossible to not mention that millions of Vietnamese, highland and lowland alike, have known starvation throughout their history. Vietnam's struggle with the Chinese, with the French, with Japanese occupiers at the end of World War II, and with the Americans have resulted for varying periods in outright food shortages or broken distribution systems. Ho Chi Minh was able to gain support for his version of communism in part because of inequalities in the rice trade and widespread hunger in the North. The colonial system introduced many French delicacies to urbanites, but the rural poor subsisted on what they could grow on rented plots or fish from the irrigation canals of the plantations on which they worked for minimal wages.

Global economic downturns aside, Vietnam in the early twenty-first century appears to be well on the way to a stable economy. North-South differences in cuisine are still distinctive, even though the country has been unified since 1977. The hotel restaurant training school in Hanoi is bustling with noontime clients daily, with avocados and French onion soup prominent on the menu. Tens of thousands of Vietnamese now live outside the country, with most settled in the United States, Australia, France, and Canada. Expatriate Vietnamese have brought their cuisine to these countries, where it continues to evolve, incorporating a few local items into the rich Vietnamese culinary inventory.

See also Buddhism ; China ; Fasting and Abstinence: Buddhism and Hinduism ; Rice .


Fishman, Claudia. "Vietnamese Families in Philadelphia, an Analysis of Household Food Decisions and Dietary Outcomes for Vietnamese Women and Children Living in Philadelphia: 19801984." Dissertation in Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania. University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Mich., 1986.

Fishman, Claudia, R. Evans, and E. Jenks. "Warm Bodies, Cool Milk: Conflicts in Post Partum Food Choice for Indochinese Women in California." Social Science Medicine, 1988, 26(11):11251132.

Ha, D. B. An Uong va Suc Khoe (Nutrition and Health ). Garden Grove, Calif.: VCP Printing, 1981.

Hickey, Gerald C. Village in Vietnam. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964.

Manderson, L., and M. Mathews. "Vietnamese Behavioral and Dietary Precautions during Pregnancy." Ecol. Food and Nutr. (1981): 11:18.

Sterling, Richard. Vietnam (World Food series). Hawthorne, Victoria, Australia: Lonely Planet, 2000.

Tran, V. "Nutritional Value and Composition of Foodstuffs of the Diet of the Vietnamese Rural Adult." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 24 (1971): 38.

Claudia C. Parvanta

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Vietnam Antiwar Movement

Vietnam Antiwar Movement. Though the first American protests against U.S. intervention in Vietnam took place in 1963, the antiwar movement did not begin in earnest until nearly two years later, when President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered massive U.S. military intervention and the sustained bombing of North Vietnam. In the spring of 1965, “teach‐ins” against the war were held on many college campuses. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) organized the first national antiwar demonstration in Washington; 20,000 people, mainly students, attended.

As the war expanded—over 400,000 U.S. troops would be in Vietnam by 1967—so did the antiwar movement, attracting growing support off the campuses. The movement was less a unified army than a rich mix of political notions and visions. The tactics used were diverse: legal demonstrations, grassroots organizing, congressional lobbying, electoral challenges, civil disobedience, draft resistance, self‐immolations, political violence. Some peace activists traveled to North Vietnam. Quakers and others provided medical aid to Vietnamese civilian victims of the war. Some G.I.s protested the war.

In March 1967, a national organization of draft resisters was formed; the Resistance would subsequently hold several national draft card turn‐ins. In April 1967, more than 300,000 people demonstrated against the war in New York. Six months later, 50,000 surrounded the Pentagon, sparking nearly 700 arrests. By now, senior Johnson administration officials typically encountered demonstrators when speaking in public, forcing them to restrict their outside appearances. Many also had sons, daughters, or wives who opposed the war, fueling the sense of besiegement. Prominent participants in the antiwar movement included Dr. Benjamin Spock, Robert Lowell, Harry Belafonte, and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Encouraged by the movement, Senator Eugene McCarthy announced in late 1967 that he was challenging Johnson in the 1968 Democratic primaries; his later strong showing in New Hampshire was seen as a major defeat for Johnson and a repudiation of his war policies.

The Johnson administration took numerous measures to the antiwar movement, most notably undertaking close surveillance and tarnishing its public image, sending speakers to campuses, and fostering pro‐war activity. Many administration officials felt foreign Communists were aiding and abetting the movement, despite the failure of both the Central Intelligence Agency and the FBI to uncover such support.

In 1965, a majority of Americans supported U.S. policies in Vietnam; by the fall of 1967, only 35 percent did so. For the first time, more people thought U.S. intervention in Vietnam had been a mistake than did not. Blacks and women were the most dovish social groups. Later research found that antiwar sentiment was inversely correlated with people's socioeconomic level. Many Americans also disliked antiwar protesters, and the movement was frequently denounced by media commentators, legislators, and other public figures.

By 1968, faced with widespread public opposition to the war and troubling prospects in Vietnam, the Johnson administration halted the bombing of North Vietnam and stabilized the ground war. This policy reversal was the major turning point. U.S. troop strength in Vietnam would crest at 543,000.

The antiwar movement reached its zenith under President Richard M. Nixon. In October 1969, more than 2 million people participated in Vietnam Moratorium protests across the country. The following month, over 500,000 demonstrated in Washington and 150,000 in San Francisco. Militant protest, mainly youthful, continued to spread, leading many Americans to wonder whether the war was worth a split society. And other forms of antiwar activity persisted. The Nixon administration took a host of measures to blunt the movement, mainly mobilizing supporters, smearing the movement, tracking it, withdrawing U.S. troops from Vietnam, instituting a draft lottery, and eventually ending draft calls.

Two long‐standing problems continued to plague the antiwar movement. Many participants questioned its effectiveness, spawning dropouts, hindering the organization of protests and the maintenance of antiwar groups, and aggravating dissension over strategies and tactics. And infighting continued to sap energy, alienate activists, and hamper antiwar planning. The strife was fanned by the U.S. government, but it was largely internally generated.

In the spring of 1970, President Nixon's invasion of Cambodia and the Kent State shootings (followed by those at Jackson State) sparked the greatest display of campus protest in U.S. history. A national student strike completely shut down over 500 colleges and universities. Other Americans protested in cities across the country; many lobbied White House officials and members of Congress. Over 100,000 demonstrated in Washington, despite only a week's prior notice. Senators John Sherman Cooper and Frank Church sponsored legislation (later passed) prohibiting funding of U.S. ground forces and advisers in Cambodia. Many labor leaders spoke out for the first time, and blue‐collar workers joined antiwar activities in unprecedented numbers. However, construction workers in New York assaulted a group of peaceful student demonstrators, and (with White House assistance) some union leaders organized pro‐administration rallies.

Despite worsening internal divisions and a flagging movement, 500,000 people demonstrated against the war in Washington in April 1971. Vietnam Veterans Against the War also staged protests, and other demonstrators engaged in mass civil disobedience, prompting 12,000 arrests. The former Pentagon aide Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. Meanwhile, the morale and discipline of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam was deteriorating seriously: drug abuse was rampant, combat refusals and racial strife were mounting, and some soldiers were even murdering their own officers.

With U.S. troops coming home, the antiwar movement gradually declined between 1971 and 1975. The many remaining activists protested continued U.S. bombing, the plight of South Vietnamese political prisoners, and U.S. funding of the war.

The American movement against the Vietnam War was the most successful antiwar movement in U.S. history. During the Johnson administration, it played a significant role in constraining the war and was a major factor in the administration's policy reversal in 1968. During the Nixon years, it hastened U.S. troop withdrawals, continued to restrain the war, fed the deterioration in U.S. troop morale and discipline (which provided additional impetus to U.S. troop withdrawals), and promoted congressional legislation that severed U.S. funds for the war. The movement also fostered aspects of the Watergate scandal, which ultimately played a significant role in ending the war by undermining Nixon's authority in Congress and thus his ability to continue the war. It gave rise to the infamous “Huston Plan”; inspired Daniel Ellsberg, whose release of the Pentagon Papers led to the formation of the Plumbers; and fed the Nixon administration's paranoia about its political enemies, which played a major part in concocting the Watergate break‐in itself.
[See also Bombing of Civilians; Peace and Antiwar Movements; Vietnam War: Domestic Course.]


Kirkpatrick Sale , SDS, 1973.
Fred Halstead , Out Now!, 1978.
Nancy Zaroulis and and Gerald Sullivan , Who Spoke Up?, 1984.
Todd Gitlin , The Sixties, 1987.
Charles DeBenedetti with and Charles Chatfield , An American Ordeal, 1990.
Tom Wells , The War Within, 1994.

Tom Wells

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Official name: Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Area: 329,560 square kilometers (127,244 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Fan-si-pan (3,143 meters/10,312 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 7 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 1,650 kilometers (1,025 miles) from north to south; 600 kilometers (373 miles) from east to west

Land boundaries: 4,639 kilometers (2,883 miles) total boundary length; Cambodia 1,228 kilometers (763 miles); China 1,281 kilometers (796 miles); Laos 2,130 kilometers (1,324 miles)

Coastline: 3,444 kilometers (2,140 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Vietnam is a long, narrow country at the eastern edge of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. Its area of 329,560 square kilometers (127,244 square miles) is slightly greater than that of New Mexico.


Vietnam has no territories or dependencies.


Most of the southern part of the country is warmer than the north. The average annual temperature in Ho Chi Minh City is 27°C (81°F), compared with 23°C (74°F) in Hanoi. Although the Central Highlands are situated in the south, they are cooler because of their higher elevation. The average annual temperature at Da Lat, in the highlands, is 21°C (70°F). Average annual rainfall ranges from 172 centimeters (68 inches) in Hanoi to more than 406 centimeters (160 inches) in the mountains. Violent typhoons strike the central coastal region between July and November.


Vietnam has four major topographic divisions: the Red River Delta in the north; the Mekong Delta in the south; the Annamese Cordillera, a mountain system that spans nearly the entire length of the country; and the central lowlands, a narrow coastal plain between the mountains and the sea in the middle of the country.


Vietnam is bordered on the northeast by the Gulf of Tonkin, on the southeast by the South China Sea, and on the southwest by the Gulf of Thailand.

Seacoast and Undersea Features

Coral reefs surround Vietnam's coastline and those of its offshore islandsalong more than 90 percent of the entire coastal length.

Sea Inlets and Straits

The Gulf of Tonkin, which borders Vietnam on the northeast, and the Gulf of Thailand, to the southwest, are both inlets of the South China Sea.

Islands and Archipelagos

Vietnam has a number of offshore islands in Ha Long Bay to the north, in the South China Sea to the east, and near the Mekong River Delta in the south. The largest of the islands in the north is Cat Ba, with an area of 355 square kilometers (137 square miles).

Coastal Features

Vietnam's S-shaped coastline is heavily indented at the mouth of the Mekong River in the south, with another major indentation at Haiphong Harbor on the Red River Delta in the north. There are moderate indentations at the mouths of other rivers along the coast. A narrow line of sand dunes fringes much of the shore along the northern half of the coastal plain.


There are many small lakes scattered across Vietnam; however, most of the country's lakes and waterfalls are found in the Central Highlands. Ho Tay (West Lake), located in western Hanoi, is one of Vietnam's largest lakes, and one of the few in the northern part of the country.


The Red River, located in the far north, has a total length of about 1,167 kilometers (725 miles). Its two major tributaries are the Song Lo and the Black River. The 4,506-kilometer-(2,800-mile-) long Mekong is one of the great rivers of the world. From its source in the high plateau of Tibet, it flows through China, Laos, and Cambodia, where it branches out at the capital, Phnom Penh, before reaching the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam. The southern branch, the Song Hau Giang, flows directly to the sea; the larger northern branch splits into four parts about 80 kilometers (50 miles) before reaching the sea. In addition to Vietnam's two major rivers, a number of shorter rivers and streams rise in the Annamese Cordillera and flow to the sea.


There are no deserts in Vietnam.


The low, level plain of the Mekong Delta rises no higher than 3 meters (10 feet) above sea level at any point. The smaller Red River Delta in the north is a flat, triangular region. Vietnam's central lowlands consist of a narrow coastal strip along the eastern slopes of the Truong Son Mountains. The southern portion of the Central Highlands rises to elevations of over 914 meters (3,000 feet) in many places. The hill city of Da Lat is in the center of this area.


Mountains account for three-fourths of Viet-nam's terrain. The Annamese Cordillera has two major branches. One projects southward from Yunnan Province in China, extending along the country's entire border with Laos and separating the Red River Basin from that of the Mekong River. The northern portion of this branch, called the Hoang Lien Mountains, includes Vietnam's highest peak, Fan-si-pan (3,143 meters/10,312 feet). The southern part, called the Truong Son, extends along Vietnam's boundary with Laos and part of its boundary with Cambodia until it reaches the Mekong Delta. Its peaks range in height from about 1,524 meters (5,000 feet) to 2,597 meters (8,521 feet). The second major branch of Viet-nam's mountains, sometimes referred to as the Northern Highlands, extends along the border with China, terminating in a series of islands northeast of Haiphong in the Gulf of Tonkin.


There are a number of caves in the limestone karst surrounding Lake Ba Be. The best known is the Puong Grotto.


Within the wider, southern portion of the Truong Son Mountains is a plateau area known as the Central Highlands.


Vietnam has a network of dikes to control river flooding, as well as an extensive system of intersecting channels and canals in the Mekong Delta. The nation's largest reservoir is at the Hoa Binh hydroelectric plant in the north. Between the 1940s and 1960s, Vietnamese rebelsfighting first against the French and later against the United Statesbuilt the Cu Chi Tunnels northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. These tunnels once extended for 250 kilometers (155 miles) all the way to the Cambodian border, and they constituted an underground city.


At its narrowest point, Vietnam is only 50 kilometers (31 miles) wide.



Hunt, Christopher. Sparring with Charlie: Motorbiking Down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. New York: Anchor Books, 1996.

Maitland, Derek. Insider's Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia Guide. Edison, NJ: Hunter Publishing, 1995.

Warmbrunn, Erika. Where the Pavement Ends: One Woman's Bicycle Trip Through Mongolia, China, and Vietnam. Seattle: Mountaineers Books, 2001.

Web Sites

Lonely Planet: Destination Vietnam. (accessed April 14, 2003).

Vietnam National Administration of Tourism. (accessed April 14, 2003).

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Socialist Republic of Viet Nam
Region (Map name): Southeast Asia
Population: 78,773,873
Language(s): Vietnamese,Chinese,English,French,Khmer,Mon-Khmer,Malayo-Polynesian
Literacy rate: 93.7%

The Vietnamese government strictly regulates media in that country. The ruling Communist party expects all media to disseminate party doctrines in an effort to educate the population in addition to swaying international perceptions of Vietnam. The Ministry of Culture directs the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) Central Committee's Propaganda and Training Department to shape national and local media.

The Vietnam War disrupted media which was restored and expanded after North and South Vietnam were unified in 1976. More than 350 newspapers, magazines, and journals are printed in Vietnam. The Vietnam News Agency (VNA) is the official government wire service that releases and receives news to and from Vietnamese and international media. The daily Vietnam News Agency is an English language press release that contains items the government considers most significant for distribution. The VCP's primary national newspaper is Nhân Dân (People's Daily ), published at Hanoi. This newspaper was established in 1946 by Ho Chi Minh, and is the official print media of the VCP Central Committee. Each four-page newspaper features transcripts of party speeches and articles written by party leaders that discuss the government and economic and cultural developments. All government and party workers are required to read Nhân Dân, which has a circulation of almost half a million.

Tap Chi Cong San (Communist Review ) is a monthly government journal discussing political theory which is designed for both domestic and international readership. Originally published from 1955 to 1977 as Hoc Tap (Studies ), Tap Chi Cong San contains party news and circulates to several hundred thousand readers. Other nationally distributed newspapers include Nguoi Viet Daily News, Tap Chi Cong Doan (Trade Union Review ) andPhu Nu Vietnam (Vietnamese Women ). The Quan Doi Nhân Dân (People's Army ) is a four-page periodical circulated daily except Sunday to approximately one million military forces to notify them of training procedures. Trí Tuê Viêt Nam is published in Ho Chi Minh City, and the Federation of Trade Unions' weekly Lao Dong and Thoi Báo Kihn Tê Viêt Nam are issued at Hanoi. The magazineQuê Huong is published weekly. National periodicals also focus on specific topics such as science, art, business, sports, and technology.

In addition to national papers published in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, many local newspapers circulate. Each of Vietnam's administrative areas has newspapers which report regional news and local party committee information instead of national accounts. Smaller newspapers are frequently printed in the language of minority tribes.

Some newspapers are published in foreign languages for ethnic populations, such as Chinese residents, as well as for international distribution. The Saigon Times Daily ( is an English newspaper published in Ho Chi Minh City. Informado El Vjetnamio (Information on Vietnam ) is printed in Esperanto.

The Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries produces periodicals to showcase Vietnam globally. Most of these periodicals were established when Vietnam was French Indochina. The cultural monthly Vietnam Courier, created in 1962, and Vietnamese Studies, started in 1965, are published in English and French. Vietnam Pictorial is a monthly publication founded in 1959 that features illustrations depicting Vietnamese life with text in several languages.

Ëài Tieng nói Viêt Nam (The Voice of Vietnam) has broadcast internationally from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in twelve languages as well as minority dialects since 1986. Hanoi has at least five radio broadcast sites, and AM and FM radio stations are located in other parts of Vietnam, broadcasting to 8 million radios. The Central Television network was established in 1970 and has expanded the number of television stations and channels available in Vietnam. Transmissions are broadcast to 2.5 million televisions.

Since the mid-1980s, Vietnamese journalists have sought and achieved more freedom of expression. They especially want to distribute more factual reports based on investigative methods and to include voices representing the diversity of the Vietnamese people. These journalists seek to print accurate public opinion of Vietnamese policies. The Vietnam Journalists' Association encourages media professionalism. Vietnamese authorities often order the detention of reporters who disobey state rules and print anticommunist, pro-reform, and human rights material, which the government views as reactionary. People are sometimes arrested and jailed without receiving trials. Their writing equipment and files are usually confiscated. Journalist Doan Viet Hoat was imprisoned in labor and re-education camps from 1976 to 1989 and 1990 to 1998 because his underground newsletter Dien Dan Tu Do (Freedom Forum ) criticized the Vietnamese government and promoted democracy. Reporters Le Chi Quang and Tran Khue were jailed in March 2002 for publishing internet articles critical of Vietnam's government.


Cima, Ronald J., ed. Vietnam: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division Library of Congress, 1989.

Kudlak, Michael. "50 Years, 50 Press Freedom Heroes." IPI Report 6 (2000): posted at

Marr, David, ed. Mass Media in Vietnam. Canberra: Department of Political and Social Change, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University, 1998.

Elizabeth D. Schafer

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331,689sq km (128,065sq mi)



capital (population):

Hanoi (1,372,800)


Socialist republic

ethnic groups:

Vietnamese 87%, Tho (Tay), Chinese (Hoa), Tai, Khmer, Muong, Nung


Vietnamese (official)


Buddhism 55%, Christianity (Roman Catholic 7%)


Dong = 10 hao = 100 xu

Republic in se Asia. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam occupies an S-shaped strip of land in Southeast Asia. The coastal plains include two densely populated river delta regions: in the n, the Red River delta is the site of Hanoi and Haiphong; in the s, the Mekong delta contains Ho Chi Minh City. Inland, the Annam Cordillera forms much of the boundary with Cambodia. In the nw the highlands extend into Laos and China.

Climate and Vegetation

Vietnam has a tropical climate. The summer months are hot and wet, with monsoon winds. The driest months, January to March, are cooler. Forests cover c.30% of Vietnam and include teak and ebony trees. About 17% of the land is farmed. There are some mangrove swamps.

History and Politics

In 111 bc, China seized Vietnam, naming it Annam. In 939, it became independent. In 1558, it split into two parts: Tonkin in the n, ruled from Hanoi; and Annam in the s, ruled from Hué. In 1802, with French support, Vietnam was united as the Empire of Vietnam, under Nguyen Anh. In 1859, the French seized Saigon, and by 1887 had formed Indochina from the union of Tonkin, Annam, and Cochin China.

Japan conquered Vietnam during World War 2, and established a Vietnamese state under Emperor Bao Dai. After the war, Bao Dai's government collapsed, and the nationalist Viet Minh, led by Ho Chi Minh, set up a Vietnamese republic. In 1946, the French tried to reassert control and war broke out. Despite aid from the USA, the Viet Minh defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu. In 1954, Vietnam divided along the 17th Parallel – with North Vietnam under the communist government of Ho Chi Minh, and South Vietnam under the French-supported Bao Dai. In 1955, Bao Dai was deposed and Ngo Dinh Diem was elected president. Despite his authoritarian regime, many western countries recognized Diem as the legal ruler of Vietnam. North Vietnam, supported by China and the Soviet Union, extended its influence into South Vietnam, mainly through the Viet Cong. The USA became increasingly involved in what they perceived to be a fight against communism. The conflict escalated into the Vietnam War (1954–75). In 1975, after the withdrawal of US troops, Ho Chi Minh's nationalist forces overran South Vietnam and it surrendered.

In 1976, the reunited Vietnam became a socialist republic. In 1979, Vietnam helped overthrow the Khmer Rouge government in Cambodia. In 1989, it withdrew from Cambodia. In 2001, the Communist Party elected Nong Duc Manh as secretary general.


Vietnam is a low-income developing country (2000 GDP per capita, US$1950). Its economy improved in the late 1980s and 1990s with the introduction of free-market reforms, known as Doi Moi. In 1995, it joined ASEAN. Agriculture employs 67% of the workforce. The main crop is rice, of which it is the world's fifth-largest producer. Other crops include bananas, coffee, groundnuts, and rubber. Vietnam also produces oil, phosphates, coal, and natural gas. In 2001, it signed a trade agreement with the United States.

Political map

Physical map


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Culture Name



Identification. The name Vietnam originated in 1803 when envoys from the newly founded Nguyen dynasty traveled to Beijing to establish diplomatic relations with the Chinese court. The new emperor had chosen the name Nam Viet for his kingdom. The word Viet he derived from the traditional name for the Vietnamese imperial domain and its people in what is now northern and central Vietnam. Nam (south) had been added to acknowledge the expansion of the dynasty's domain into lands to the south. The Chinese objected to this new name because it was the same as an ancient state that had rebelled against Chinese rule. They therefore changed it to Viet Nam. Vietnamese officials resented the change and it did not attain public acceptance until the late 1800s.

The story of the origin of Vietnam's name captures several prominent themes that have run throughout the nation's history. As the usage of Viet indicates, the Vietnamese have for centuries had a sense of the distinctiveness of their society and culture. However, as the inclusion of Nam shows, the land they inhabit has expanded over time, and also has its own internal divisions into northern, central, and southern regions. Additionally, as evidenced by the name change, their history has been profoundly influenced by their contact with other, often more powerful, groups.

Vietnam today stands at a crossroads. It has been at peace for over a decade, but since the 1986 introduction of the "Renovation" or Doi Moi policy that began dismantling the country's socialist economy in favor of a market economy, the country has experienced tremendous social changes. Some have been positive, such as a general rise in the standard of living, but others have not, such as increased corruption, social inequality, regional tensions, and an HIV-AIDS epidemic. The Communist Party still exercises exclusive control over political life, but the question of whether Vietnam will continue its socio-economic development in a climate of peace and stability remains uncertain at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Location and Geography. Vietnam occupies approximately 127,243 square miles (329,560 square kilometers), an area roughly equivalent to New Mexico, and is situated between 8 and 24 degrees latitude and 102 and 110 degrees longitude. It borders China in the north, Laos in the northeast and center, and Cambodia in the southwest. Its 2,135 miles (3,444 kilometers) of coastline run from its border with Cambodia on the Gulf of Thailand along the South China Sea to its border with China. The delineation of Vietnam's borders has been a focus of dispute in the post1975 period, notably the ownership disputes with China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Malaysia over the Spratly Islands; and with China and Taiwan over the Paracel Islands. Recent progress has been made settling land border disputes with China and Cambodia. The Vietnamese culturally divide their country into three main regions, the north (Bac Bo ), center (Trung Bo ), and south (Nam Bo ), with Hanoi, Hue, and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) serving as the main cities of each region. Hanoi, the site of the former capital of one of the country's earliest dynasties, has been the capital of the unified Vietnam since 1976.

Vietnam contains a wide-variety of agro-economic zones. The river deltas of Vietnam's two great rivers, the Red River in the north and the Mekong in the south, dominate those two regions. Both deltas feature irrigated rice agriculture that depends on the annual monsoons and river water that is distributed through immense and complicated irrigation systems. Irrigated rice agriculture is also practiced in numerous smaller river deltas and plains along the country's coast. Vietnam's western salient is defined by the mountainous Annamite Cordillera that is home to most of the country's fifty-four ethnic groups. Many of these groups have their own individual adaptations to their environments. Their practices include hunting and gathering, slash and burn agriculture, and some irrigated rice agriculture. The combination of warfare, land shortages, population surpluses, illegal logging, and the migration of lowlanders to highland areas has resulted in deforestation and environmental degradation in many mountainous areas. The country is largely lush and tropical, though the temperature in the northern mountains can cool to near freezing in the winter and the central regions often experience droughts.

Demography. The current population is approximately seventy-seven million composed almost exclusively of indigenous peoples. The largest group is the ethnic Vietnamese (Kinh ), who comprise over 85 percent of the population. Other significant ethnic groups include the Cham, Chinese, Hmong, Khmer, Muong, and Tai, though none of these groups has a population over one million. Expatriates of many nationalities reside in urban areas. The country's two largest population centers are Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, but over 75 percent of the population lives in rural areas. The country's birth rate, estimated to increase at 1.37 percent per year, has led to rapid population growth since the 1980s with approximately 34 percent of the population under 14 years of age.

Linguistic Affiliation. Vietnamese is the dominant language, spoken by an estimated 86.7 percent of the population. It is a tonal Mon-Khmer language with strong Chinese lexical influences. The six-toned dialect of the central Red River delta region, particularly around Hanoi, is regarded as the language's standard form, but significant dialectical variations exist between regions in terms of the number of tones, accents, and vocabulary. Dialectical differences often serve as important symbols of regional identity in social life. As the official language, Vietnamese is taught in schools throughout the country. Since the 1940s, Vietnamese governments have made great progress in raising literacy rates and approximately 90 percent of the adult population is literate. During the twentieth century the country's elite have mastered a variety of second languages, such as French, Russian, and English, with the latter being the most commonly learned second language today. Linguists estimate that approximately eighty-five other languages from the Austro-Asiatic, Austronesian, Daic, Miao-Yiao, and Sino-Tibetan language families are indigenous to the country. These range from languages spoken by large numbers of people, such as Muong (767,000), Khmer (700,000), Nung (700,000), Tai Dam (over 500,000), and Chinese (500,000), to those spoken by only a few hundred people, such as O'Du, spoken by an estimated two hundred people. Many minority group members are bilingual, though not necessarily with Vietnamese as their second language.

Symbolism. The Vietnamese government extensively employs a number of symbols to represent the nation. These include the flag, with its red background and centered, five-pointed gold star; a variety of red and gold stars; the image of Ho Chi Minh; and representations of workers and soldiers. Images and statues of the latter, wearing green pith helmets and carrying weapons, are common in public places. Images of Ho are ubiquitous, adorning everything from currency to posters on buildings to the portraits of him commonly found hanging in northern Vietnamese homes. Ho was a strong advocate of national unity and referred to all Vietnamese as "children of one house." Other commonly visible symbols are the patterns of seabirds and other figures featured on Dong Son drums. These drums, manufactured by early residents of northern Vietnam in the first and second millennia b.c., represent the nation's antiquity. Since Vietnam began developing its tourist industry in the late 1980s, a number of other images have become commonplace, such as farmers in conical hats, young boys playing flutes while riding on the back of buffalo, and women in ao dai, the long-flowing tunic that is regarded as the national dress.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Many Vietnamese archeologists and historians assert that the origins of the Vietnamese people can be reliably traced back to at least the fifth or sixth millennium b.c. when tribal groups inhabited the western regions of the Red River delta. A seminal event in the solidification of Vietnamese identity occurred in 42 b.c.e. when China designated the territory as its southern-most province and began direct rule over it. China would rule the region for almost one thousand years, thereby laying the foundation for the caution and ambivalence that Vietnamese have felt for centuries toward their giant northern neighbor. The Vietnamese reestablished their independence in 938. The next thousand years saw a succession of Vietnamese dynasties rule the country, such as the Ly, Tran, Le, and Vietnam's last dynasty, the Nguyen (18021945). These dynasties, though heavily influenced by China in terms of political philosophy and organizational structure, participated in the articulation of the uniqueness of Vietnamese society, culture, and history. This period also saw the commencement of the "Movement South" (Nam Tien )in which the Vietnamese moved south from their Red River delta homeland and gradually conquered southern and central Vietnam. In the process, they displaced two previously dominant groups, the Cham and Khmer.

The modern Vietnamese nation was created from French colonialism. France used the pretext of the harassment of missionaries to begin assuming control over Vietnam in the 1850s. By 1862 it had set up the colony of Cochinchina in southern Vietnam. In 1882 it invaded northern Vietnam and forced the Vietnamese Emperor to accept the establishment of a French protectorate over central and northern Vietnam in 1883. This effectively brought all of Vietnam under French control. The French colonial regime was distinguished by its brutality and relentless exploitation of the Vietnamese people. Resistance to colonial rule was intense in the early years, but weakened after the late 1890s. The situation began to change dramatically in the late 1920s as a number of nationalist movements, such as the Indochinese Communist Party (formed in 1930) and the Vietnam Nationalist Party (formed in 1927), became more sophisticated in terms of organization and ability. Such groups grew in strength during the turmoil of World War II. On 19 August 1945 an uprising occurred in which Vietnamese nationalists overthrew the Japanese administration then controlling Vietnam. On 2 September 1945 Ho Chi Minh officially established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The French attempted to reassert control over Vietnam by invading the country in December 1946. This launched an eight-year war in which the Vietnamese nationalist forces, led primarily by the Vietnamese Communists, ultimately forced the French from the country in late 1954. Vietnam was divided into North and South Vietnam for the next twenty-one years. During this period the North experienced a socialist revolution. In 1959 North Vietnam began implementing its policy to forcibly reunify the country, which led to outbreak of the American War in Vietnam in the early 1960s. This concluded on 30 April 1975 when North Vietnamese soldiers captured the city of Saigon and forced the surrender of the South Vietnamese government. On 1 January 1976 the Vietnamese National Assembly declared the establishment of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, thereby completing the reunification of the Vietnamese nation.

National Identity. National identity is a complex and contentious issue. One of the most basic components is the Vietnamese language. Many Vietnamese are tremendously proud of their language and its complexities. People particularly enjoy the rich opportunities for plays on words that come from its tonal nature and value the ability to appropriately use the countless number of adages and proverbs enshrined in the language. Vietnamese also have an attachment to their natural world. The expression "Vietnamese land" (dat Viet), with its defining metaphors of mountains and rivers, encapsulates the notion that Vietnamese society and culture have an organic relationship to their environment. Another important component of national identity is the set of distinctive customs such as weddings, funerals, and ancestor worship that Vietnamese perform. These are subject to a great deal of regional and historical variation, but there is a perceived core that many regard as uniquely Vietnamese, especially the worship of patrilineal ancestors by families. Vietnamese food, with its ingredients and styles of preparation distinct from both China and other Southeast Asian nations, also defines the country and its people.

Contemporary national identity's contentiousness derives from the forced unification of the country in 1975. Prior to this, the northern sense of national identity was defined through its commitment to socialism and the creation of a new, revolutionary society. This identity had its own official history that celebrated such heroes as Ho Chi Minh and others who fought against colonialism, but rejected many historical figures associated with the colonial regime, the Nguyen dynasty, and what it regarded as the prerevolutionary feudal order. South Vietnamese national identity rejected Communism and celebrated a different set of historical figures, particularly those that had played a role in the Nguyen dynasty's founding and preservation. After unification, the government suppressed this history and its heroes. The northern definition of national identity dominates, but there remains alternate understandings among many residents in the southern and central regions.

Ethnic Relations. Vietnam is home to fifty-four official ethnic groups, the majority of which live in highland areas, although some large groups such the Cham or Chinese live in lowland or urban areas. Since the mid-1980s, relations between ethnic groups have generally been good, but conflict has been present. The most frequent problem is competition for resources, either between different highland groups or between highland groups and lowland groups that have settled in the midlands and highlands. Some minority group members also feel discriminated against and resent governmental intrusion in their lives. The government, which at one level supports and celebrates ethnic diversity, has had complicated relations with groups it fears might become involved in anti-government activities. This has been the case with several highland groups in northern and central Vietnam, the ethnic Chinese, many of whom fled Vietnam at the time of the Vietnam War and China's brief border war in 1979, and expatriate Vietnamese who have returned to Vietnam.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Vietnam's cities carry the architectural traces of the many phases of its history. The city of Hue, capital of the Nguyen dynasty, features the Citadel and other imperial structures, such as the mausolea of former emperors. In 1993 UNESCO designated the Citadel and other imperial sites as a part of their World Heritage List and have subsequently begun renovations to repair the extensive damage they received in the 1968 Tet Offensive. The French left behind an impressive legacy of colonial architecture, particularly in Hanoi, Hue, and Saigon. Colonial authorities meticulously planned these cities, creating wide, tree-covered avenues that were lined with impressive public buildings and private homes. Many of these structures still serve as government offices and private residences. Following the division of the country in 1954, South Vietnam saw an increase in functional American-style buildings, while North Vietnam's Eastern Bloc allies contributed to the construction of massive concrete dormitory housing. The 1990s brought an array of new architectural styles in the cities as people tore down houses that had for years been neglected and constructed new ones, normally of brick and mortar. New construction has removed some of the colonial flavor of the major cities.

City residents often congregate to sit and relax at all hours of the day in parks, cafes, or on the street side. The busiest locations during the day are the markets where people buy fresh meat, produce, and other essentials. Religious structures such as Christian churches, Buddhist temples, and spirit shrines are often crowded to capacity on worship days. Almost all lowland communities have structures dedicated to the war and revolution. These range in size from a large monument for war dead in Hanoi to the numerous cemeteries and cenotaphs for the war dead in towns and villages across the nation. These sites only commemorate those who fought for the victorious north, leaving those who served the south officially uncommemorated.

Vietnamese rural villages feature a variety of architectural styles. Village residents in lowland river deltas usually live in family compounds that feature one or more rectangular-shaped houses made of brick and mortar. Compounds often have large open areas on the ground for drying rice. Village homes are normally built extremely close to each other, creating nuclear or semi-nuclear settlements surrounded by agricultural fields. Historically, villages planted dense stands of bamboo around their communities to define their boundaries and protect them from trespassers, though these are disappearing. In poor areas, such as in the central provinces of Nghe An and Quang Binh, many families still live in thatched houses. Regardless of their type, the main entrance to most homes is in the center of the long side, directly before the family ancestral altar. Kitchens, regarded as women's spaces, are on the side. Lowland villages have a variety of sacred spaces, such as Buddhist temples, spirit shrines, lineage halls, and the communal house (a sacred structure that houses the village guardian spirit's altar). These spaces normally have behavioral restrictions such as prohibitions against entry while in a polluted state to protect their sacredness. Highland minority groups often live in either thatched houses or in houses raised on stilts. Many of these houses maintain discrete spaces defined by age or gender.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Rice is the dietary staple which most people eat three meals a day. Rice is usually consumed jointly by family members. The common practice is to prepare several dishes that are placed on a tray or table that people sit around. Individuals have small bowls filled with rice, and then take food from the trays as well as rice from their bowls with chopsticks. Vietnamese often accompany these main dishes with leafy vegetables and small bowls of salty sauces in which they dip their food. Popular dishes include sauteed vegetables, tofu, a seafood-based broth with vegetables called canh, and a variety of pork, fish, or meat dishes. A common ingredient for cooked dishes and the dipping sauces is salty fish sauce (nuoc mam ). Another important family practice is the serving of tea from a small tea pot with small cups to guests. Northern cuisine is known for its subtle flavors, central cuisine for its spiciness, and southern cuisine for its use of sugar and bean sprouts. Diet varies with wealth; the poor often have limited amounts of protein in their diets and some only have the means to eat rice with a few leafy vegetables at every meal.

The major cities feature restaurants offering Vietnamese and international cuisines, but for most Vietnamese, food consumed outside of the home is taken at street-side stalls or small shops that specialize in one dish. The most popular item is a noodle soup with a clear meat-based broth called pho. Many Vietnamese regard this as a national dish. Other foods commonly consumed at these sites include other types of rice or wheat noodle soups, steamed glutinous rice, rice porridge, sweet desserts, and "common people's food" (com binh dan ), a selection of normal household dishes. There are no universal food taboos among Vietnamese, although some women avoid certain foods considered "hot," such as duck, during pregnancy and in the first few months after giving birth. The consumption of certain foods has a gendered dimension. Dishes such as dog or snake are regarded as male foods and many women avoid them. Some minority groups have taboos on the consumption of certain food items considered either sacred or impure.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Food consumption is a vital part of ritual celebrations. Historically, villagers held feasts after the conduct of rites dedicated to village guardian spirits, but revolutionary restrictions on resource consumption in these contexts has largely eliminated such feasts. Feasts held after weddings and funerals remain large and have increased in size in recent years. The most popular feast items are pork, chicken, and vegetable dishes served with rice. Liberal amounts of alcohol are also served. In the countryside this usually takes the form of locally-produced contraband rice spirits, while feasts in the cities often feature beer or imported spirits. Feasts are socially important because they provide a context through which people maintain good social relations, either through the reciprocation of previous feast invitations or the joint consumption of food. Other important occasions for feasting are the death anniversaries of family ancestors and the turning of the Lunar New Year or Tet. Many of the foods served on these occasions are similar, although the latter has some special dishes, such as a square of glutinous rice, pork and mung bean cake called banh trung. These feasts are comparatively smaller and, unlike the weddings and funerals, generally are confined to family members or close friends.

Basic Economy. Despite efforts at industrialization after 1954, agriculture remains the foundation of the economy. The 1998 Vietnam Living Standards Survey showed that over 70 percent of the total population engaged in farming or farm-related work. Vietnam imports few basic agricultural commodities, and the majority of the items people consume are grown or produced in Vietnam.

Land Tenure and Property. The Vietnamese government, in line with socialist ideology, does not legally recognize private land ownership. Since the early 1990s, the government has made moves to recognize de facto land ownership by granting individuals long-term leaseholds. This trend received more formal recognition with the passage of the 1998 Land Law. Control over land is extremely contentious. With the recent growth of a market economy, land has become an extremely valuable commodity, and many cases of corrupt officials illegally selling land-use rights or seizing it for personal uses have been reported. Ambiguities in the law and the lack of transparent legal processes exacerbate tensions and make land disputes difficult to resolve.

Commercial Activities. Agricultural and manufactured products are sold both retail and wholesale. Cities, towns, and villages all feature markets, most of which are dominated by petty traders, normally women. The most commonly sold commodities are foodstuffs and household items such as salt, sugar, fish sauce, soaps, clothing, fabric, tableware, and cooking implements. Major purchases such as household appliances, bicycles, or furniture are often made in specialty stalls in larger markets or in stores in towns and cities. Currency is used for most transactions, but the purchase of real estate or capital goods requires gold. The number of open market wage-laborers has increased in recent years.

Major Industries. Industrial output is evenly split between the state-owned, private, and foreign sectors. Since the late 1980s, Vietnam has actively promoted foreign investment, resulting in a very rapid growth in output by that sector. International corporations have been most active in mining, electronics assembly, and the production of textiles, garments, and footwear, usually for export. Corruption and an unclear legal system have severely limited Vietnam ability to attract additional foreign investment since the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Vietnamese state-owned factories produce a number of commodities for local consumption, such as cigarettes, textiles, alcohol, fertilizer, cement, food, paper, glass, rubber, and some consumer appliances. Private firms are still relatively small in size and number, and are usually concentrated in agricultural processing and light industry. Many complain that state interference, an undeveloped commercial infrastructure, and a confusing and ineffective legal system inhibit their growth and success.

Trade. Vietnam's international trade relations have grown considerably since the early 1990's. Major exports include oil, marine products, rubber, tea, garments, and footwear. The country is one of the world's largest exporters of coffee and rice. It sells most of its rice to African nations. Its largest trading partners for other commodities include Japan, China, Singapore, Australia, and Taiwan.

Division of Labor. Vietnamese of all ages work. As soon as they are able, young children begin helping out around the house or in the fields. Men tend to perform heavier tasks, such as plowing, construction, or heavy industrial work while women work in the garment and footwear sectors. Individuals with post-secondary school educations hold professional positions in medicine, science, and engineering. The lack of a post-secondary education is generally not a barrier to occupying high-ranking business or political positions, though this had begun to change by the late 1990s. National occupational surveys show that only slightly more than 16 percent of the population is engaged in professional or commercial occupations, while just under 84 percent of the population is engaged in either skilled or unskilled manual labor.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. The vast majority of the contemporary Vietnamese population is poor. The average annual earnings in the 1990s for a family is estimated at $370. There has been an increase in social stratification based upon wealth, particularly in urban areas where some individuals, often with links to business or the government, have become very wealthy. Another important axis of stratification is the distinction between mental and manual labor. Given the recent origin of this wealth-based stratification and the widespread poverty, these groups have yet to congeal into clearly-defined classes.

Symbols of Social Stratification. The most prominent contemporary symbols of social stratification are consumer goods. Two of the most common symbols are the possession of a motorcycle, particularly one of Japanese manufacture, and a mobile phone. Other items include refrigerators, televisions, video players, gold jewelry, and imported luxury goods, such as clothing or liquor. Some individuals also assert their status through large wedding feasts. For the very wealthy, automobiles, foreign travel, and expensive homes are important status symbols. Many of the poor ride bicycles, wear old and sometimes tattered clothing, and live in thatched homes.

Political Life

Government. Vietnam is a socialist republic with a government that includes an elected legislature, the national assembly, a president as head of state, and a prime minister as head of government. However, real political power lies with the Vietnamese Communist Party. Party members hold virtually all executive and administrative positions in the government. The party's Fatherland Front determines which candidates can run in elections and its politburo sets the guidelines for all major governmental policy initiatives. The most powerful position in the country is the Communist Party general secretary. Other important positions are the prime minister, the president, the minister of public security, and the chief of the armed forces. Women and members of Vietnam's ethnic groups are nominally represented in the government. One of the most sensitive issues the government faces is balancing regional interests.

Leadership and Political Officials. The Communist Party pressures its members to serve as examples of political virtue. The image they employ as their ideal leader is Ho Chi Minh. Ho was a devoted revolutionary who lived a life of simplicity, avoided corruption, behaved in a fair and egalitarian manner, and put the nation and revolution above his own personal interests. Party members and others often invoke the numerous moral adages coined by Ho during his life as a benchmark for social and political morality. Ho's popularity is greatest in the north. Residents of other regions sometimes have more ambivalent feelings about him.

Local political officials often are caught between two conflicting sets of expectations regarding their behavior. As party members, they are exhorted to follow the official line and disregard their own interests, but relatives and members of their communities often expect them to use their positions to their advantage; thus nepotism and localism are, at one level, culturally sanctioned. Officials must balance these two sets of demands, as moving too far in one direction can lead to criticism from the other.

The Vietnamese revolution eliminated the extremely inegalitarian forms of interaction such as kowtowing or hierarchical terms of address that had existed between commoners and officials. Most Vietnamese address officials with respectful kinship terms, such as "older brother" (anh ) or "grandfather" (ong ), or in rare cases as "comrade" (dong chi ). Events in the late 1990s, notably several uprisings in rural areas in 1997, have demonstrated that the people's respect for the party and its officials has declined, largely as a result of the highhandedness and corruption of many officials. However, significant alternative political movements have not emerged.

Social Problems and Control. Vietnam has enjoyed a large measure of stability since the late 1970s, but its government today faces a number of significant social problems. Its greatest concern has been unrest in rural areas brought on by official malfeasance and land disputes. The government is also concerned about relations with religious groups in the south, particularly Catholics, Cao Dai, and Hoa Hao, who have demonstrated against the government since the 1990s. Another source of concern is smuggling and the production of counterfeit commodities. Three problems that have increased dramatically in urban areas during the 1990s have been theft, prostitution, and drug abuse. Many who engage in the latter two activities are often from the poorest segments of the population. Official corruption associated with the drug trade and sex industry are another significant problem.

Vietnam has a legal system supported by a police force, a judicial and a security system. Yet, many Vietnamese feel that the system does not work, particularly with regard to its failure either to punish high-ranking offenders or to prevent the wealthy from bribing their way out of being punished for illegal activities. The former is often made possible by the extremely low salaries received by public officials. People also feel that the state deals more severely with political dissidents than many civil and criminal offenders. While there is a limited police and security presence in rural communities, the tightly-packed living spaces and ubiquitous kinship relations hinder the conduct of many crimes. If possible, local officials often prefer to settle disputes internally, rather than involve higher authorities. Public skepticism regarding the police and judicial system is a source of concern for the government.

Military Activity. The People's Army of Vietnam has roughly 484,000 active members with three to four million in the reserves. Over the past decade the military has cut its forces considerably, though recent estimates are that military expenditures constitute an amount equivalent to approximately 9 percent of the GDP ($650 million). Since its withdrawal from Cambodia in 1989, the military has not been engaged in any large-scale conflicts, but its forces have been involved in numerous small skirmishes with the Chinese and Cambodians over border disputes.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

The Vietnamese government has a strong commitment to social welfare and social change, particularly health improvements, poverty alleviation, and economic development. It is also concerned with providing assistance to war invalids and the families of war dead. Numerous offices at all levels of government are dedicated to these goals, but their efforts are severely constrained by a lack of funding. As a result, the implementation of many such policies is carried out with the assistance of international donors and organizations. Several governments including those of Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Japan, have provided significant assistance.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

The international nongovernmental organization presence is significant, ranging from various organizations of the United Nations that conduct a wide variety of projects across the country, to small groups that work in only one community. The programs they finance and implement include poverty alleviation, infectious disease control, contraception, educational assistance, and water purification, among others.

The development of civil society in Vietnam is still in its nascent stages, thus there are as of yet few indigenous nongovernmental associations that play a significant role in social life. Two types that appear to be gaining importance are patrilineages and religious or ritual organizations, such as local Buddhist Associations or Spirit Medium Associations. Some official organizations such as the Communist Party's Elderly Association that has a presence in villages throughout the country play an important role in organizing funerals and assisting the elderly.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. In prerevolutionary Vietnam the "public" (ngoai ) domain was the male domain while the "domestic" (noi ) domain was for women. This pattern still largely remains with women performing most of the essential tasks for running the household such as cooking, cleaning, going to market, and caring for children. Outside the home, women dominate the business of petty trading which is a common sideline to earn money in many families. In urban areas women are often secretaries or waitresses, occupying lower level service positions. In general, men perform the majority of public activities, particularly business, political office or administration, and occupations that require extended periods away from home, such as long-distance truck driving. Men also control the most prestigious religious roles such as being a Buddhist monk or Catholic priest. While both men and women engage in all phases of agricultural production, the physically demanding activities of plowing and raking are mostly performed by men.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Vietnamese revolutionary policies endorse the principle of gender equality, but its realization in social life has been incomplete. Men dominate official positions, the Communist Party, business, and all other prestigious realms of social life. Women play a strong role within their families, a point made in the reference to the wife as the "general of the interior" (noi tuong ). The position and status of women has improved significantly since 1950, but lower literacy rates, less education, and a smaller presence in public life indicate that their inferior status remains.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Marriage is an expected rite of passage for the attainment of adulthood. Almost all people marry, usually in their late teens or early twenties. According to Vietnamese law, arranged marriage and polygamy are illegal. Young people can court freely, but many women are careful not to court too openly for fear of developing a negative reputation. Many Vietnamese regard the development of romantic love as an important component in deciding to marry, but many will also balance family considerations when making their decision. Vietnamese prefer to marry someone of equal status, though it is better for the husband to be of slightly higher status. Such considerations have become more significant in recent years as wealth differentials have grown. Vietnamese law allows both men and women to ask for a divorce. Divorce rates have increased, particularly in urban areas, but many women are reluctant to divorce because remarriage is difficult for them.

Domestic Unit. The common pattern for the domestic unit is to have two or three generations living together in one home. In some urban settings, particularly if the family resides in government allocated housing, the household might only include two generations, while some homes in the countryside have up to five generations. Residence in most homes is organized around the male line. Authority within the household is exercised by the eldest male, although his wife will often have an important say in family matters. Sons stay in the parent's home, and after marriage their brides move in with them. The eldest son will usually remain in the home, while younger sons might leave to set up their own household a few years after marriage. Women of all generations tend to such matters as cooking, cleaning, and caring for children, though these responsibilities tend to fall on the younger wives.

Inheritance. The general custom is for the eldest son to inherit the parental home and the largest portion of the family property, particularly land. Younger sons will often inherit some land or other items, such as gold. In rare cases daughters receive small items. Many parents like all of their children to receive something in order to prevent discord. If a person dies without a pre-stipulated arrangement, Vietnamese law requires an equal distribution of property among the next of kin.

Kin Groups. Patrilineages are the most important kin groups. At birth, children become members of their father's patrilineage and are forbidden from marrying anyone of that patrilineage within five degrees of relation. Most rural villages have several patrilineages whose members live amongst each other. Patrilineages generally do not exercise a dominant role in social life, although lineage members often meet to conduct commemorative rites for their ancestors. Many highland groups have matrilineages and different rules regarding marriage.


Infant Care. Vietnamese infants are in constant contact with others. People hold children and pass them around throughout the day. During the night infants sleep with their parents in the parents' bed. Infant care is largely the responsibility of female family members. Mothers play the primary role, although in cases when they must be away, older relatives help care for the children. Older siblings often help out too. People talk and play with infants, calm them when they cry, and always try to make them smile and laugh.

Child Rearing and Education. Adults take a generally indulgent attitude toward children until they reach the age of five or six. At that point, they become more strict and begin more serious moral instruction. The general moral message is for children to learn to "respect order" (ton ti trat tu ), a reference to knowing their inferior position in society and showing deference to their superiors. Parents also emphasize the importance of filial piety and obedience to the parents. A good child will always know its inferior place and yield to its seniors. As they get older, the moral socialization of girls is more intense than that of boys. Girls are expected to display a number of feminine virtues, particularly modesty and chastity. Schools continue the instruction of these moral themes, but given that the majority of Vietnamese do not study beyond primary school, they are not a significant site for moral socialization.

Higher Education. Higher education is very prestigious, a tradition that dates back to the competitive examination system to become an official in the precolonial period. Many families want their children to attend university, but such an option is beyond reach for the majority of the population, particularly those in rural or highland areas.


Polite behavior is highly valued. One of the most important dimensions of politeness is for the young to show respect to their elders. In everyday life, younger people show this respect by using hierarchical terms of address when interacting with their seniors and parents regularly instruct their children on their proper usage. Younger people should also be the first to issue the common salutation chao when meeting someone older, should always invite their seniors to begin eating before they do, ask for permission to leave the house, announce their arrival when they return, and not dominate conversations or speak in a confrontational manner with their seniors. Prerevolutionary practices demanded that juniors bow or kowtow to their seniors, but the revolution has largely eliminated such practices. Many elders today feel that the revolution produced a general decline in politeness.

People of the same gender often maintain close proximity in social contexts. Both males and females will hold hands or sit very close together. People of different genders, however, especially if they are not married or related, should not have physical contact. In general woman are expected to maintain greater decorum than men by avoiding alcohol and tobacco, speaking quietly, and dressing modestly. In many public spaces, however, people often avoid standing in queues, resulting in a chaotic environment where people touch or press up against one another as they go about their business.


Religious Beliefs. The Vietnamese government recognizes six official religions: Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, and two indigenous religious traditions that emerged during the colonial period, Cao Dai and Hoa Hao. The Mahayana tradition of Buddhism is dominant in Vietnam, and over 70 percent of Vietnamese consider themselves at least nominally Buddhist. The constitution technically allows for the freedom of religion, but this right is often constrained, particularly with regard to any religious activities that could become a forum for dissent. All religious organizations are technically overseen by the Communist Party's Fatherland Front, but opposition, notably from the Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, and some Buddhist sects, has been present.

Denominational variations aside, the core of religious practice for almost all Vietnamese is the worship of spirits. The most important spirits are the souls of the ancestors. Almost all families have altars in their homes where they perform rites for family ancestors, especially on the deceased's death anniversaries and the Lunar New Year. Many Vietnamese also perform or participate in rites for their village guardian spirits, spirits associated with specific locations, spirits of deceased heroes, or the Buddha or different Boddhisatvas, particularly Avalokitesvara. Some Vietnamese believe that spirits have the ability to bring good fortune and misfortune to human life. Revolutionaries strenuously objected to such thinking because they felt that it prevented the Vietnamese from becoming masters of their own destinies. Today, acceptance of ideas of supernatural causality is more common among women, while some men, particularly those with party or military backgrounds, reject such ideas.

Religious Practitioners. Each of the main religious traditions has its own set of practitioners such as Christian priests, nuns, and ministers, Buddhist monks and nuns, Islamic clerics, and Cao Dai and Hao Hao priests. Vietnamese society also features spirit priests, Taoist masters, spirit mediums, diviners, and astrologers. The three former specialists have the ability to interact with the spirit world in order to learn the spirits' desires and persuade or coerce them to behave in particular manners. They are usually consulted to help the living cure illness or end a pattern of misfortune. Spirit priests and Taoist masters are usually men who study religious texts to learn their specialty. Most mediums are women, many of whom become mediums after a crisis or revelatory experience. Diviners and astrologers have the ability to predict the future. Diviners make their predictions through a range of divinatory rites or by reading faces or palms. Astrologers make their calculations based on the relationship between the date and time of a person's birth and a wider set of celestial phenomena. Many people consult one of the latter two specialists when planning a new venture, such as taking a trip or starting a business.

Rituals and Holy Places. The most important ritual event in Vietnamese society is the celebration of the Lunar New Year (Tet Nguyen Dan ) when families gather to welcome the coming of the new year and pay their respects to family ancestors. The first and fifteenth of every month in the twelve month lunar year are also important occasions for rites to ancestors, spirits, and Buddhist deities. Other common days for rites are the death anniversaries of family ancestors, historical figures, or Buddhist deities; the fifteenth of the third lunar month when family members clean ancestral graves; and the fifteenth of the seventh lunar month, which is Vietnamese All Soul's Day. Vietnamese conduct rites in a variety of sacred spaces. These include family ancestral altars, lineage halls, a variety of shrines dedicated to spirits, communal houses that hold the altars of village guardian spirits, temples of Buddhist or other affiliations, Christian churches, and mosques. The country also has many shrines and temples that hold annual festivals that pilgrims and interested visitors attend, often from great distances. Among the more famous are the Perfume Pagoda in the north, the Catholic shrine at La Vang in the center, and the Cao Dai Temple in the south.

Death and the Afterlife. The vast majority of Vietnamese hold that a person's soul lives on after death. One of the most important moral obligations for the living, especially the deceased's children, is to conduct a proper funeral that will facilitate the soul's movement from the world of the living to what Vietnamese refer to as "the other world" (gioi khac ). This transfer is vital because a soul that does not move to the other world is condemned to becoming a malevolent wandering ghost, while the soul that does move can become a benevolent family ancestor. There is a great deal of variation regarding the conduct of funeral rites, but they share this common goal.

The other world is regarded as identical to that of the living. To live happily there, the dead depend on the living to provide them with essential items. At a minimum this includes food, though some also send money, clothing, and other items. Family members deliver these items through mortuary rituals, especially those performed annually on the deceased's death anniversary. All rituals associated with death have a tremendous moral significance in Vietnamese society.

Medicine and Health Care

The Vietnamese, like residents of other poor, tropical countries, suffer from a wide range of maladies, including parasitic, intestinal, nutritional, sexually transmitted, and respiratory diseases. In 1999, the average life expectancy at birth was 65.71 years for men and 70.64 years for women. The major endemic diseases include malaria, hepatitis A, and hepatitis B. Other diseases present are HIV-AIDS, syphilis, gonorrhea, measles, typhoid, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, cholera, leprosy, and tuberculosis. Since the early 1990s, the Vietnamese government, with assistance from international organizations, has achieved tremendous successes in reducing malaria fatalities and also in eliminating polio. However, some infectious diseases have begun reemerging in recent years, particularly tuberculosis, and the number of HIV-AIDS cases has also grown significantly. Many infectious diseases are associated with poverty and the poor often suffer the most severe consequences.

The Vietnamese revolution created improvements in the quality and availability of health care. The government constructed hospitals in urban areas and health clinics in rural communities where patients were required to pay only minimal fees. Many of the larger facilities were constructed with international assistance. These programs helped reduce infant mortality and the frequency of many infectious diseases, but many of these advances were unevenly spread throughout the country as many poor highland areas continued to receive inadequate care. Budgetary restrictions held back overall health improvements. Many facilities today do not have adequate resources to function and have begun charging patients higher fees. Many specialists have also left rural areas for better opportunities in cities. These changes have put adequate health care out of reach of many Vietnamese.

One of the greatest strains on the contemporary medical system is HIV-AIDS, the first Vietnamese case of which was reported in 1990. Experts estimate that the disease has affected over 165,000 Vietnamese. The government has launched effective education and awareness programs to combat the spread of the disease so Vietnam has not experienced an epidemic as severe as other Asian countries. The two groups most heavily affected by the disease have been prostitutes and intravenous drug users. HIV-AIDS is a largely stigmatized disease due to its association with perceived immoral behavior. Many sufferers seek to conceal their infection, producing a significant difference between the 20,000 officially reported cases and the expert estimates of over 165,000 cases. There are several hospitals devoted to the care of HIV-AIDS patients, but a lack of adequate funding prevents the majority of patients from receiving the most advanced and effective treatments.

The treatment of illnesses illustrates the diverse medical systems that coexist in Vietnam. The most commonly consulted, particularly in urban areas, is western biomedicine with its reliance on surgery and pharmaceuticals. For most Vietnamese, biomedicine is the first resort in cases of acute illness or bacterial or viral infections. With chronic illness, many will first try biomedical treatments, but if these fail, they will turn to herbal treatments. Vietnam has two main herbal traditions: Chinese herbal medicine (thouc bac or "northern drugs") and Vietnamese herbal medicine (thuoc nam or "southern drugs"). Both traditions have substantial similarities, particularly in their theories that illness results from humoral imbalances in the body, yet the treatments prescribed in the latter rely more on herbal remedies available in Vietnam. In some cases people use biomedical and alternative treatments in a complementary manner. Many Vietnamese comment that herbal medicines are more effective in the long run because they deal with the true cause of illness whereas biomedicine only treats the symptoms. Members of different highland communities also employ biomedical and herbal remedies to treat illness, but the poverty of many communities makes access to the former difficult.

The Vietnamese have a range of indigenous healers, such as spirit mediums or other spirit specialists, who are consulted in cases of prolonged physical or mental illness. These healers believe that disease and misfortune are caused by spirits or other malevolent entities. The techniques they employ involve contacting the spirit world, finding and identifying the offending spirit, and determining what is needed to end the spirit's torments. The government strongly opposes and criticizes these specialists, but they remain active throughout the country.

Secular Celebrations

Vietnam's socialist government has created a range of secular celebrations to glorify official history and values. Official holidays include: Labor Day (1 May), National Day (2 September), and Teacher's Day (19 November). Other important dates are War Invalids' and Martyrs' Day (27 July), and the anniversaries of the founding of the Communist Party (3 February), Ho Chi Minh's birth (19 May), and the August Revolution (19 August). Perhaps the most sensitive official holiday for Vietnam's people is Liberation Day (30 April) that commemorates the South Vietnamese government's surrender. The government heavily promotes the significance of these dates, but financial limitations often make their celebration rather low-key.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. Vietnam's socialist government places a strong emphasis on the arts, particularly because it regards them as a prime vehicle for the propagation of socialist values. All of the main artistic forms such as theater, literature, cinema, and painting have state-controlled organizations that artists are encouraged if not forced to join. The government at times severely constrains the direction of artistic development through censorship, control over printing, and the presence of party members in artistic organizations. This has not prevented a minor artistic renaissance, particularly in literature, since the late 1980s. Some artists find ways to insert critical messages into their work. Many artists struggle financially because of the recent dramatic reductions in government subsidies for the arts, the absence of adequate protection for copyrights, and the fickle tastes of a public that sometimes prefers imported films, music, and literature. Artists, especially painters, who can produce for expatriates or the tourist market, have the greatest freedom to pursue their craft.

Literature. Vietnam has a vibrant literary tradition dating back many centuries. Elite mandarins and scholars in the premodern period composed sophisticated poetry. Many poems from earlier eras such as Nguyen Du's The Tale of Kieu or Nguyen Dinh Chieu Luc Van Tien are regarded as literary masterpieces. Along with these traditions, the Vietnamese also maintained a rich oral legacy of songs, poems, and morality tales people still recite today. Prose fiction became popular under colonial rule in the first half of the twentieth century. Writers of this period such as those of the "Self-Reliance Literature Group" (Tu Luc Van Doan ) developed the role of author as social critic. The socialist authorities kept literature under tight control for several decades to ensure that it was in accord with the officially prescribed "socialist realist" canon that described the virtues of the working class and the revolution. Since the late 1980s, Vietnam has experienced a literary revitalization with the publication of numerous works that present war, and revolution, and their consequences in a critical light. The work of several such authors, including Bao Ninh, Duong Thu Huong, and Nguyen Huy Thiep has attracted an international audience.

Graphic Arts. A number of indigenous graphic art traditions remain popular. These include lacquerware, ink block prints, and ceramics, all of which employ distinctive themes developed by Vietnamese artists. Historically, specialist families or villages have produced these items for local sale, though some objects such as ceramics were sold throughout the country and abroad. Painting has become more popular in urban areas since the colonial period. All of these forms are displayed in museums and, with the exception of paintings, are sold in local markets as well as galleries or shops in major cities.

Performance Arts. The most popular performance arts in Vietnam have historically been a variety of musical theater traditions, all of which continue to be performed by government-organized troupes. The main forms included the courtly tradition of classical opera (hat tuong ); reform theater (hat cai luong ); an innovative tradition that emerged in the Mekong Delta in the early twentieth century; and hat cheo, a rural folk tradition. The former tradition has been in decline for several decades. Reform theater is popular in the south, and hat cheo in the north. Most performances take place in theaters usually in urban areas. Troupes struggle financially and perform less frequently than before the revolution. The French introduced Western drama to Vietnam, but its popularity has never matched musical theater. Musical performances, either of traditional musical forms or contemporary popular music, are also popular. Radio and television have become a common way to listen to or watch the whole range of performance arts.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

The Vietnamese government has a strong commitment to the development of the physical and social sciences. Officially sponsored universities and research institutes have specialists in most major disciplines such as biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, anthropology, sociology, psychology, and economics. Many specialists have received training abroad, either in the former Eastern Bloc nations or in advanced capitalist nations. Despite this commitment, the overall state of the physical and social sciences is poor due to a lack of funding that hinders the construction of adequate research facilities such as laboratories or libraries, constrains the training of adequate numbers of specialists, and keeps scientists' pay extremely low.


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CHAM 191

About 87 percent of the population of Vietnam is composed of ethnic Vietnamese. In addition to the ethnic Vietnamese, there are fifty-three other ethnic groups living in Vietnam. Many are nomadic tribal peoples living in mountainous areas. The Cham and the Khmer are remnants of past civilizations that controlled the southern parts of the country. For more information on the Khmer, see the chapter on Cambodia in Volume 2.

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