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Vietnam's history spans 20,000 years, beginning with the Hoabinhians. The Red River valley witnessed the birth of Vietnamese states in 2879 BC. The Đông Sơn culture emerged around 700 BC. Vietnam thrived with the Dongsonian and Sa Huynh cultures. Chinese rule, uprisings, and Indian influences shaped its destiny. Dynasties, wars, and foreign interventions left their mark. Ultimately, Vietnam became a republic, shaped by its extraordinary past.

Prehistoric period - Ancient Migration and Ethnolinguistic Diversity

  • Holocene Vietnam: Early Settlement and Cultivation

    During the Late Pleistocene period, around 65,000 years ago, early anatomically modern humans settled in Mainland Southeast Asia, including Vietnam. These resourceful hunter-gatherers, known as the Hoabinhians, gradually spread across Southeast Asia, resembling present-day Munda people and Malaysian Austroasiatics. However, over time, the Hoab

    inhians were absorbed by the East Eurasian-looking population, accompanied by the expansion of Austroasiatic and Austronesian languages.

    As Vietnam's history progressed, Tibeto-Burman and Kra-Dai speaking populations thrived, followed by the emergence of Hmong-Mien speaking communities. Consequently, the modern ethnic groups in Vietnam bear witness to the amalgamation of Eastern Eurasian and Hoabinhian genetic traits.

  • The Cham People: Austronesian Influences

    The Cham people, originating from Austronesian roots, settled in present-day central and southern coastal Vietnam for over a millennium, starting from the 2nd century AD. Meanwhile, the southernmost region of modern Vietnam, encompassing the Mekong Delta and its surroundings, played a significant role as part of the Austroasiatic Proto-Khmer – and Khmer principalities, including Funan, Chenla, the Khmer Empire, and the Khmer kingdom. The Austronesian influence left an enduring impact on the cultural landscape of Vietnam.

  • Vietnam's Agricultural Villages and Vibrant Life

    Nestled on the southeastern edge of monsoon Asia, ancient Vietnam boasted abundant natural resources, including high rainfall, humidity, heat, favorable winds, and fertile soil. This ideal combination nurtured an extraordinary agricultural landscape, marked by the bountiful growth of rice, diverse plants, and wildlife. With over 90 percent of the population residing in agricultural villages, the people of Vietnam developed a way of life centered around harmony with nature and one another.

    In addition to rice cultivation, fishing and hunting played crucial roles in supplementing the main food source. Villagers relied on their expertise in managing floods, transplanting rice, and harvesting to ensure a successful agricultural cycle. The cohesive village life cherished many enjoyable aspects, such as a minimalistic approach to material possessions, a deep appreciation for music and poetry, and a harmonious coexistence with nature.

Ancient Period - Vietnam's Rich History (c. 500–111 BC)

  • Đông Sơn Culture and the Magnificence of Hồng Bàng Dynasty

    Exploring Southern China and the Baiyue (c. 200 BC)

    In the realm of Vietnamese legends, which dates back to the 14th-century book Lĩnh nam chích quái, a captivating tale unravels. According to this folklore, the tribal chief Lộc Tục (c. 2919 – 2794 BC) assumed the title of Kinh Dương Vương, thereby establishing the illustrious Xích Quỷ state in 2879 BC. This momentous event marks the inception of the Hồng Bàng dynastic period. However, contemporary Vietnamese historians contend that the actual emergence of statehood in the Red River Delta occurred during the latter half of the 1st millennium BC. Kinh Dương Vương was succeeded by Sùng Lãm (c. 2825 BC – ?), and this marked the beginning of a royal lineage known as the Hùng Kings. Renaming their land Văn Lang, they ruled over 18 generations of monarchs. The administrative system of the time comprised offices such as military chief (lạc tướng), paladin (lạc hầu), and mandarin (bố chính). The dawn of the Copper Age in Southeast Asia is closely associated with the abundance of metal weapons and tools discovered in various Phung Nguyen culture sites in northern Indochina. Moreover, around 500 BC, the advent of the Bronze Age was confirmed with the remarkable discovery at Đông Sơn. Vietnamese historians often attribute the flourishing Đông Sơn culture to the realms of Văn Lang, Âu Lạc, and the Hồng Bàng dynasty. The Lạc Việt community, native to the region, developed an exceptional industry of bronze production, processing, and the creation of tools, weapons, and exquisite Bronze drums. These drums, with their symbolic significance, were intended for religious and ceremonial purposes. The craftsmen who shaped these objects possessed remarkable skills in melting techniques, employing the Lost-wax casting technique, and honed their mastery in composition and execution of intricate engravings.

    The Legend of Thánh Gióng: A Hero's Triumph

    Immersed in legend, the tale of Thánh Gióng recounts the heroic journey of a youth who leads the Văn Lang kingdom to victory against the Ân invaders from the north. His indomitable spirit saves the nation, propelling him straight to the heavens. Clad in iron armor, riding an armored horse, and wielding an iron sword, his image alludes to a society that had achieved remarkable strides in metallurgy. Similarly, An Dương Vương's Legend of the Magic Crossbow, a weapon capable of unleashing thousands of bolts simultaneously, suggests the extensive utilization of archery in warfare. For over 2,000 years, the Hồng River Delta has housed around 1,000 traditional craft villages—a testament to the enduring spirit of Vietnamese industrial and economic prowess. Embedded in the fabric of these villages is an unbroken culture of reverence for the legendary spirits, exemplified by the countless small, family-run manufacturers who have preserved their ethnic heritage through the production of intricate goods, the construction of temples, and the observance of ceremonies and festivals.

  • The Rise of Nanyue (180 BC–111 BC)

    In 207 BC, Zhao Tuo, a former general of the Qin dynasty, founded an independent kingdom in the Guangdong/Guangxi region along China's southern coast. This kingdom, known as Nam Việt or Nanyue, was ruled by the Zhao dynasty, with Zhao Tuo assuming the title of "King of Nanyue." Over time, he expanded his dominion by closing the borders, conquering neighboring districts, and proclaiming himself a commandant of central Guangdong. In a momentous clash, he triumphed over King An Dương Vương and annexed Âu Lạc in 179 BC. Vietnamese historians have expressed differing opinions regarding this period. While some perceive Zhao Tuo's reign as the commencement of Chinese domination due to his Qin dynasty background, others maintain that it remains an era of Vietnamese independence, asserting that the Zhao family assimilated into the local culture and ruled independently from the Han Empire. At one point, Zhao Tuo even declared himself Emperor, equal in stature to the Han Emperor reigning in the north.

    Through the annals of time, Vietnam's ancient past resonates with the legacy of civilizations that flourished and thrived. From the remarkable Đông Sơn culture to the grandeur of the Hồng Bàng dynasty and the triumphs of the Âu Lạc kingdom, each chapter etches its mark on the tapestry of Vietnam's rich history. As we delve deeper into the annals of time, we shall encounter the diverse threads that intertwine to create the vibrant and enduring fabric of this magnificent nation.

  • Vietnam's Agricultural Villages and Vibrant Life

    Nestled on the southeastern edge of monsoon Asia, ancient Vietnam boasted abundant natural resources, including high rainfall, humidity, heat, favorable winds, and fertile soil. This ideal combination nurtured an extraordinary agricultural landscape, marked by the bountiful growth of rice, diverse plants, and wildlife. With over 90 percent of the population residing in agricultural villages, the people of Vietnam developed a way of life centered around harmony with nature and one another.

    In addition to rice cultivation, fishing and hunting played crucial roles in supplementing the main food source. Villagers relied on their expertise in managing floods, transplanting rice, and harvesting to ensure a successful agricultural cycle. The cohesive village life cherished many enjoyable aspects, such as a minimalistic approach to material possessions, a deep appreciation for music and poetry, and a harmonious coexistence with nature.

Chinese Rule - Vietnam Under Chinese Dominion (111 BC–AD 938)

  • First Chinese Domination (111 BC–AD 40)

    In 111 BC, the Han dynasty launched an invasion of Nanyue, establishing new territories that divided Vietnam into distinct regions. These regions included Giao Chỉ (now known as the Red River delta), Cửu Chân (stretching from Thanh Hóa to Hà Tĩnh), and Nhật Nam (from Quảng Bình to Huế). While Chinese governors and officials held prominent positions, the Vietnamese nobles from the Hồng Bàng period, known as Lạc Hầu and Lạc Tướng, still retained influence in certain highland areas. During this period, Vietnam saw the introduction of Buddhism from India through the Maritime Silk Road, while Taoism and Confucianism spread through Chinese influence.

  • The Rebellion of the Trưng Sisters (40–43)

    In February AD 40, the Trưng Sisters led a successful revolt against Han Governor Su Ding (Vietnamese: Tô Định) and reclaimed control over 65 states, including modern-day Guangxi. Trưng Trắc, fueled by her husband's murder at the hands of Su Dung, initiated the uprising alongside her sister, Trưng Nhị. Trưng Trắc eventually ascended to the position of Queen (Trưng Nữ Vương). In 43 AD, Emperor Guangwu of Han dispatched the renowned general Ma Yuan (Vietnamese: Mã Viện) with a large army to suppress the rebellion. After a long and arduous campaign, Ma Yuan successfully quelled the uprising, leading to the tragic suicide of the Trưng Sisters to evade capture. To this day, the Trưng Sisters are revered in Vietnam as national symbols of Vietnamese women.

  • Second Chinese Domination (43–544)

    Drawing lessons from the Trưng rebellion, subsequent Chinese dynasties, including the Han, implemented measures to diminish the power of Vietnamese nobles. The Vietnamese elites underwent education in Chinese culture and politics. A prefect of Giao Chỉ named Shi Xie ruled Vietnam as an autonomous warlord for forty years and was posthumously deified by later Vietnamese monarchs. Shi Xie pledged his loyalty to the Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms era of China. This period marked a significant development in Vietnamese history. According to Stephen O'Harrow, Shi Xie can be considered "the first Vietnamese." Almost two centuries passed before the Vietnamese attempted another revolt. In 248, a woman named Triệu Thị Trinh, also known as Lady Triệu (Bà Triệu), led a rebellion against the Wu dynasty. However, this uprising, like its predecessor, was ultimately unsuccessful. Eastern Wu dispatched Lu Yin and 8,000 elite soldiers to suppress the rebels. Through a combination of threats and persuasion, he managed to pacify the uprising. According to the Complete Annals of Đại Việt, Lady Triệu had long hair that reached her shoulders and rode into battle on an elephant. Despite months of warfare, she was eventually defeated and chose to end her life.

  • Early Cham Kingdoms (192–7th century)

    In 192, a significant revolt by the Cham people took place in present-day Central Vietnam. The Chinese dynasties referred to this uprising as Lin-Yi (Lin village; Vietnamese: Lâm Ấp). The Cham successfully established an independent kingdom, marking the beginning of the Early Cham Kingdoms. The Cham civilization flourished in the region, with its capital located at Indrapura (present-day Đồng Dương, near modern-day Da Nang). The Early Cham Kingdoms traded with various regional powers and developed a unique culture influenced by Indian and Southeast Asian civilizations.

  • Funan Kingdom (68–627) - Emergence of the Indianized Powerhouse

    The Funan Kingdom, an Indianized kingdom in Southeast Asia, rose to prominence in the early 1st century AD. Led by Queen Liǔyè and her husband Kaundinya, Funan became a major economic power in the region. Its capital city, Óc Eo, attracted merchants and craftsmen from China, India, and even Rome. Funan is considered the first Khmer state and was known for its multiethnic composition. The kingdom maintained diplomatic relations with China until it was possibly conquered by the kingdom of Zhenla in 627, marking the end of Funan.

  • Revolts against Chinese Rule and the Van Xuan Kingdom (544–602)

    During the Chinese Age of Fragmentation and the Tang dynasty, several revolts against Chinese rule occurred. Notable among them were those led by Lý Bôn and Triệu Quang Phục. The Van Xuan kingdom, led by Lý Bôn and later Triệu Quang Phục, emerged as an independent entity for nearly half a century, from 544 to 602. However, it was eventually reconquered by the Sui dynasty.

  • Golden Age of Cham Civilization and Wars with Angkor Empire (7th century–1203)

    The Cham civilization, centered in the Lam Ap kingdom with its capital in Simhapura, experienced a golden age. The Cham benefited from maritime trade routes between the Middle East, China, and the Indonesian islands. The kingdom became wealthy and attracted attention from the Chinese Empire. However, it faced invasions from the Sui Empire in 605, which temporarily overpowered the Cham and looted their sanctuaries. King Sambhuvarman of Lam Ap quickly reasserted independence, leading to the unified period of Champa from 629 onwards. The Cham controlled spice and silk trade routes and engaged in piracy and raiding. The Cham also engaged in wars with the Khmer Empire, with conflicts spanning three centuries. The Khmer Empire invaded Champa, and tensions escalated further. Cham king Jaya Indravarman IV launched a surprise attack on the Khmer capital, followed by the emergence of Jayavarman VII in Cambodia, who defeated the Cham in 1203. The Cham prince Angsaraja proclaimed Jaya Paramesvaravarman II and restored Cham independence in 1220. The Cham also expanded their commerce to the Philippines during this period.

  • Third Chinese Domination (602–AD 905) - Annam, Trade, and Political Fragmentation

    During the Tang dynasty, Vietnam was known as Annam. Annam thrived as a trading outpost, receiving goods from the southern seas. The region had a water route called the Red River, connecting Annam to southern Yunnan in China. The capital of Annam, Tống Bình or Songping (today Hanoi), was a major settlement in the southwest region. However, disturbances in Annam allowed the Yunnanese and local allies to launch the Siege of Songping in 863, capturing the capital. Chinese jiedushi Gao Pian recaptured the city in 866 and renamed it Daluocheng. Annam was later renamed Tĩnh Hải quân and became autonomous under the rule of local Vietnamese governors.

  • Autonomous Era (905–938) - Towards Independence

    Starting from 905, Tĩnh Hải circuit, ruled by local Vietnamese governors, operated as an autonomous state. They paid tributes to the Later Liang dynasty for political protection. In 923, the Southern Han invaded Jinghai but was repelled by Vietnamese leader Dương Đình Nghệ. In 938, General Ngô Quyền, Dương Đình Nghệ's son-in-law, defeated the Southern Han fleet in the Battle of Bạch Đằng. Ngô Quyền proclaimed himself King Ngô and established a monarchy government in Cổ Loa, marking the beginning of Vietnam's independence.


    Khúc clan 923 CE

The Monarchical Period: From Ancient Kings to Imperial Dynasties (938-1862)

Vietnam's Monarchical Period was marked by stability, village autonomy, and a centralized administrative system. The sovereign held political authority limited to the village level, while educated mandarins managed governance. The society focused on harmony, influenced by Buddhism, and land reforms prevented the concentration of power. Literary traditions were limited to the upper classes, and agriculture was the main economic activity. However, progress in social, cultural, and technological aspects was hindered by a conservative approach.

  • First Dai Viet Period

    Ngô, Đinh, & Early Lê Dynasties (938–1009)

    In 938, Ngô Quyền declared himself king, but his reign lasted only six years before his untimely death. His demise led to a power struggle for the throne, resulting in the Twelve Warlords' upheaval. This major civil war, known as "Loạn Thập Nhị Sứ Quân," took place from 944 to 968. Eventually, Đinh Bộ Lĩnh, leading a clan, emerged victorious over the other warlords, unifying the country. Đinh Bộ Lĩnh established the Đinh dynasty and proclaimed himself Đinh Tiên Hoàng (Đinh the Majestic Emperor). He renamed the country from Tĩnh Hải Quân to Đại Cồ Việt (Great Viet) and made Hoa Lư, in modern-day Ninh Bình Province, the capital. To prevent future chaos, Đinh Tiên Hoàng introduced strict penal codes. Additionally, he formed alliances by granting the title of Queen to five influential women from prominent families, with Đại La becoming the new capital.

    In 979, Emperor Đinh Tiên Hoàng and his crown prince, Đinh Liễn, were assassinated in a coup led by a general named Lê Hoàn. Lê Hoàn took power and established the Early Lê dynasty, also known as the Anterior Lê dynasty. Under his reign, stability was restored, and the country experienced relative peace and prosperity. Lê Hoàn successfully repelled several invasions from China's Southern Han dynasty and strengthened the defense of the country.

    Lê Hoàn's successor, Lê Đại Hành, continued his father's policies and expanded Vietnamese territory through military campaigns. During this period, Vietnam reached its peak territorial extent, including parts of present-day Laos and Cambodia. The Early Lê dynasty witnessed advancements in administrative reforms, such as the division of the country into administrative units called "phủ" and the establishment of a military system known as the "Bộ Đội."

    Lý Dynasty (1009–1225)

    The Lý dynasty, founded by Lý Thái Tổ, marked a significant shift in Vietnamese history. Lý Thái Tổ abolished the traditional system of aristocratic titles and implemented a merit-based system, where positions in the government were awarded based on scholarly achievements and competence. This move aimed to reduce the influence of noble families and establish a more efficient and meritocratic bureaucracy.

    Under the Lý dynasty, Confucianism became the dominant ideology and had a profound influence on Vietnamese society. Education and the civil service examination system gained importance, and the ruling elite consisted of scholar-officials who excelled in Confucian studies. The dynasty saw the flourishing of literature, poetry, and the arts, with many notable scholars and poets emerging during this period.

    The Lý dynasty faced several challenges, including conflicts with the Song dynasty in China and internal power struggles. Despite these challenges, the dynasty successfully defended Vietnamese independence and expanded its influence in the region. Lý Thái Tổ's successors continued his policies and further strengthened the central government's control over the provinces.

    Trần Dynasty (1225–1400)

    The Trần dynasty was founded by Trần Thái Tông, who successfully overthrew the Lý dynasty in 1225. The Trần rulers faced constant threats from the Mongol Empire, which was expanding its territory under the leadership of Kublai Khan. Vietnam experienced multiple invasions by the Mongols in the 13th century, known as the Mongol Invasions of Vietnam. Despite being outnumbered and facing formidable opponents, the Trần dynasty managed to repel the Mongol invasions and maintain Vietnamese independence.

    The Trần rulers implemented military reforms and adopted guerrilla warfare tactics to counter the Mongol forces. These strategies, combined with the resilience and determination of the Vietnamese people, played a crucial role in the successful defense against the Mongol Empire. The Tran dynasty's resistance to the Mongols has been celebrated as a symbol of national unity and bravery.

    During the Trần dynasty, Buddhism gained popularity and became an integral part of Vietnamese culture. The Trần rulers themselves were devout Buddhists and promoted the construction of pagodas and the spread of Buddhist teachings. The dynasty witnessed the rise of influential Buddhist scholars and the development of Vietnamese Buddhism.

    Hồ Dynasty (1400–1407) and the Later Lê Dynasty (1428–1788)

    Following the fall of the Trần dynasty, a brief period of instability ensued, and the Hồ dynasty emerged as the ruling power. However, their reign was short-lived, lasting only seven years before they were overthrown by the forces of the Ming dynasty of China. The Later Lê dynasty, established in 1428, successfully expelled the Ming forces and restored Vietnamese independence.

    The Later Lê dynasty marked a period of territorial consolidation and cultural development. Vietnamese society became more centralized under the rule of the Lê monarchs, who implemented administrative reforms and expanded the civil service examination system. During this period, Vietnam experienced significant cultural achievements in literature, art, and architecture.

    The Later Lê dynasty faced challenges from regional factions and external threats, particularly from the expansionist policies of the Nguyễn lords in the south. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Vietnam experienced a period of political fragmentation known as the "Tây Sơn Rebellion." The Tây Sơn rebels, led by three brothers, successfully overthrew the Later Lê dynasty and established their rule for a brief period.

    Nguyễn Dynasty (1802–1945)

    The Nguyễn dynasty, founded by Nguyễn Phúc Ánh, marks the last imperial dynasty in Vietnamese history. Nguyễn Phúc Ánh successfully defeated the Tây Sơn rebels and reunified Vietnam under his rule. He established the capital in Huế and took the title Gia Long.

    Under the Nguyễn dynasty, Vietnam experienced significant cultural and economic developments. The country opened itself to trade with Western powers, leading to the growth of commerce and the emergence of a wealthy merchant class. The Nguyễn rulers implemented modernization efforts and introduced reforms in education, infrastructure, and administration.

    However, the Nguyễn dynasty also faced challenges from foreign powers, particularly during the colonial era. France gradually increased its influence over Vietnam, culminating in the colonization of the country in the late 19th century. Resistance movements against French colonial rule emerged, with figures like Phan Đình Phùng and Hồ Chí Minh playing prominent roles.

    In 1945, following World War II and the defeat of Japan, Hồ Chí Minh declared Vietnam's independence and established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. This marked the end of the Nguyễn dynasty and the beginning of a new era in Vietnamese history, characterized by the struggle for independence and the subsequent division of the country.

    Champa Kingdom (1220 - 1471)

    During the period of 1220 to 1471, Champa, a kingdom in present-day Vietnam, faced various challenges. After regaining independence from Khmer domination in 1220, Champa encountered invasions from the north by the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese launched multiple attacks, plundering the Cham capital and capturing Cham concubines and women. The Mongol Yuan Empire also posed a threat, demanding Cham submission but facing resistance. In 1285, the Cham king sent an ambassador to the Yuan Emperor, and a Cham king married a Vietnamese queen in 1306, resulting in Dai Viet gaining two northern provinces. However, conflicts between Champa and Dai Viet continued, leading to Champa becoming a Vietnamese vassal state and later regaining independence temporarily. Champa reached its peak under the strong rule of King Po Binasuor, who defeated Vietnamese invaders and nearly unified Vietnam. However, in 1390, Po Binasuor was killed by Vietnamese forces, marking the end of Champa's rising period. Champa experienced subsequent periods of peace and conflicts, including a civil war among Cham princes. The kingdom was weakened, and in 1471, Dai Viet conquered Champa, resulting in the loss of thousands of lives and the absorption of Champa into the Vietnamese Empire.

    Resistance and the Quest for Independence in 4th Chinese domination (1407-1427) 

    In 1407, Chinese Ming troops invaded Đại Ngu (Vietnam) under the pretext of helping to restore the Trần monarchs. They captured the Hồ family, who were ruling at that time. Vietnam, already weakened by internal conflicts and wars with Champa, succumbed to the Ming conquest. Vietnam was directly annexed as a province of China, and the Chinese imposed their cultural assimilation policies on the Vietnamese. However, Vietnamese nationalism had already grown strong, and resistance against the Chinese occupation emerged. Led by Trần Quý Khoáng, the resistance initially gained some advances but eventually suffered a defeat in 1413 due to internal conflicts within their ranks. The Ming occupation was harsh, but it only fueled the Vietnamese people's determination to fight for their independence

  • Restored Dai Viet Period (1428–1527)

    Later Lê Dynasty – Primitive Period (1427–1527)

    During the years 1427 to 1527, the Later Lê dynasty marked a significant period in the history of Vietnam. It all began in 1418 when Lê Lợi, the son of a wealthy aristocrat from Thanh Hóa, spearheaded the Lam Sơn uprising against the Ming occupation. Despite facing initial setbacks, Lê Lợi's movement gained momentum, thanks to strategic advice from Nguyễn Trãi. In September 1426, the Lam Sơn rebels, armed with cannons, emerged victorious in the Battle of Tốt Động – Chúc Động, defeating the Ming army south of Hanoi [#101]. Following this triumph, Lê Lợi's forces laid siege to Đông Quan, the Ming capital, and ultimately forced their surrender. In total, the Lam Sơn rebels vanquished a staggering 200,000 Ming soldiers.

    In 1428, Lê Lợi established the independent state of Vietnam under his Lê dynasty. The country was renamed Đại Việt, and the capital was moved back to Thăng Long, which was renamed Đông Kinh. The Lê kings implemented land reforms to revive the economy after the war and embraced Confucianism as their guiding ideology. In 1483, the Hồng Đức code, a comprehensive set of laws influenced by Confucian principles, was introduced. Notably, it also included progressive rules, such as the recognition of women's rights. Art and architecture during the Lê dynasty were heavily influenced by Chinese styles, distinguishing them from the previous Lý and Trần dynasties. Additionally, the Lê dynasty actively promoted historical documentation through national mapping and the writing of Đại Việt's history by Ngô Sĩ Liên.

    Vietnamese Expansion and the Dispersal of Cham People

    Driven by overpopulation and land shortages, Vietnam embarked on a southward expansion. In 1471, Dai Viet troops, led by King Lê Thánh Tông, invaded Champa and successfully captured its capital, Vijaya. This conquest marked the decline of Champa as a powerful kingdom, leading to the dispersal of the Cham people across Southeast Asia. While smaller Cham states survived for some time, Vietnamese colonization of central Vietnam faced little resistance. Despite integration into the Vietnamese nation, the majority of Cham people chose to remain in Vietnam, and they continue to be an important minority in modern Vietnam. Vietnamese armies also raided the Mekong Delta, taking advantage of the weakened Khmer Empire's inability to defend its territories. The city of Huế, founded in 1600, now stands near the former Champa capital of Indrapura. Lê Thánh Tông's military campaigns extended westwards into the Irrawaddy River region in present-day Burma. However, Dai Viet's fortunes declined swiftly after his death, with a failing economy, natural disasters, and internal rebellions plaguing the country. European traders and missionaries, primarily Portuguese, arrived in Vietnam during this period and began spreading Christianity from 1533 onwards.

  • Decentralized Period (1527–1802)

    Mạc and Restored Lê Dynasties

    In 1527, the Lê dynasty was overthrown by Mạc Đăng Dung, a military commander. This marked the beginning of the Mạc dynasty, which ruled from 1527 to 1592. However, their authority was limited to the northern part of Vietnam, and the south remained under the control of the Lê dynasty. Internal conflicts and struggles for power weakened both dynasties, and by the late 16th century, the Trịnh lords in the north and the Nguyễn lords in the south emerged as powerful regional forces. The Trịnh lords ruled over the northern part of Vietnam from their capital in Hanoi, while the Nguyễn lords controlled the southern territories from their capital in Huế.

    Trịnh–Nguyễn Rivalry and the Division of Vietnam

    The Trịnh–Nguyễn rivalry dominated the political landscape of Vietnam during this period. The two factions engaged in numerous military campaigns and political maneuvering to gain control over the entire country. As a result, Vietnam was divided into two separate regions: the Trịnh-controlled northern region and the Nguyễn-controlled southern region. This division lasted for more than two centuries, from the late 16th century to the early 18th century. Despite the political division, both regions experienced significant economic and cultural development during this time.

    Tây Sơn Dynasty (1778–1802)

    The Tây Sơn revolution began in 1771 when the three brothers Nguyễn Nhạc, Nguyễn Lữ, and Nguyễn Huệ led a revolt against the oppressive rule of the Nguyễn lord. The Tây Sơn rebels gained support from peasants, workers, ethnic minorities, and the Chinese merchant class. By 1776, they had captured all of the Nguyễn Lord's territory and nearly wiped out the royal family. The surviving prince, Nguyễn Ánh, sought help from Siam (Thailand) and returned with Siamese troops to reclaim power but was defeated. However, Nguyễn Ánh did not give up.

    In 1786, Nguyễn Huệ led the Tây Sơn army northward and defeated the Trịnh Lord, Trịnh Khải, capturing the capital in a short time. Nguyễn Huệ proclaimed himself Emperor Quang Trung and successfully repelled a massive invasion by the Qing Empire in 1788. During his reign, Đại Việt (Vietnam) was divided into three political entities, with Nguyễn Nhạc ruling the center of the country, Emperor Quang Trung ruling the north, and Nguyễn Ánh establishing a base in the south.

    Nguyễn Ánh, with the support of the French, Chinese, Siamese, and Christians, made significant gains in the south, capturing Quy Nhon in 1799 and Phú Xuân (Huế) in 1801. In 1802, he seized Thăng Long (Hanoi) and executed Nguyễn Quang Toản, the son of Emperor Quang Trung, along with other Tây Sơn royals, generals, and officials. Nguyễn Ánh proclaimed himself Emperor Gia Long, unifying the country under the Nguyễn dynasty, which lasted until 1945.

    The Tây Sơn period inspired great Vietnamese literary works, including the epic poem "The Tale of Kiều" by Nguyễn Du and the poems "Song of a Soldier's Wife" by Đặng Trần Côn and Đoàn Thị Điểm, as well as the satirical and erotic poems of Hồ Xuân Hương.


    Battle of Thọ Xương river between Tây Sơn and Quing army in December, 1788

  • Unified Vietnam Period (1802–1862)

    Nguyễn Dynasty (1802–1945)

    After establishing the Nguyễn dynasty in 1802, Nguyễn Ánh and his successors pursued different policies regarding Western influence. Nguyễn Ánh tolerated Catholicism and employed European advisors, but subsequent emperors like Minh Mạng, Thiệu Trị, and Tự Đức became more conservative and suppressed Catholicism. They adopted a 'closed door' policy and perceived Westerners as a threat. The Nguyễn emperors faced uprisings and rebellions, which were often used by France as a pretext for intervention. Trade with the West also declined during this time. Despite these challenges, the Nguyễn dynasty continued some constructive activities, such as infrastructure development, legal reforms, healthcare initiatives, and exerting influence over Cambodia and Laos.

    Relations with China were characterized by a hierarchical tributary system, as documented in a 2018 study. The Vietnamese court recognized its unequal status and prioritized domestic stability and relations with neighboring kingdoms.

    French Invasions and Decline

    The French colonial empire had a significant presence in Vietnam during the 19th century, driven by the protection of Catholic missionaries and the expansion of French influence. In 1858, Napoleon III ordered an attack on Đà Nẵng (Tourane), leading to significant damage but no foothold. The French then captured Gia Định (Ho Chi Minh City) in 1859 and expanded their control over the Mekong Delta, establishing Cochinchina as a colony.

    In subsequent years, French troops landed in northern Vietnam (Tonkin) and captured Hà Nội twice. Although facing resistance from local forces, the French managed to maintain control. The Nguyễn dynasty surrendered to France through the Treaty of Huế in 1883, marking the beginning of the colonial era (1883–1954). France established French Indochina, which included Annam, Tonkin, Cochinchina, Cambodia, and Laos. Cochinchina became a colony, Annam remained a protectorate under Nguyễn rule, and Tonkin was governed by French officials with Vietnamese participation.

(to be continued)