In present-day Vietnam there were three major state
formation in ancient times. The Mekong Delta in the south
was part of the Funan kingdom, which collapsed in the 500s
AD, then became part of the Buddhist Khmer kingdom of
Angkor, with its center in present-day Cambodia. Until the
18th century, the Mekong Delta was essentially populated by
The middle part of our Vietnam today was the center
of Champa, which is mentioned in Chinese sources from the
20th century AD Champa was first Hindu, later Buddhist.
After the downfall of the kingdom in the 17th century, many
Chams turned to Islam.
The Red River's participation in the north was the center
of the third state formation, which throughout its history
has been characterized by contact and conflict with China.
At the time of Confucius and Laozi (the 5th century BCE),
when there were several warring states around Chang Jiang
(Yangtze) and Huang He (Yellow River), the Red River Delta
also had its own state, Au Lac, ruled by the mythical Hung
The king. In Vietnamese national storytelling, they appear
as Vietnam's founders. They should have been based on an
older culture, the Dong Son culture, which is known from
archaeological finds of large bronze drums.
In the last two centuries BCE, when the Chin Dynasty
gathered the warring states and the Han Dynasty took over
the kingdom, Au Lac also collapsed. The Red River Delta then
(111 BCE) became a province in the Middle Kingdom.
Chinese influence and independence
the northern part of present-day Vietnam was conquered by
China in the first century BCE This was the beginning of the
Chinese dominion that lasted for over 1,000 years.
The Chinese influence left a lasting mark on Vietnamese
society. China had a superior culture and civilization. The
Chinese improved agriculture by building irrigation systems
and metal plows and introduced new technology in mining.
They built roads and canals. North Vietnam was gradually
characterized culturally by the Chinese. The Confucian
doctrine and the Chinese administrative system were
Under Chinese rule, northern Vietnam became the most
advanced civilization in Southeast Asia. China wanted to
make the Vietnamese into Chinese. But although the
Vietnamese adopted the most important aspects of Chinese
culture and civilization, they never accepted the Chinese
During this period, the history of North Vietnam is
characterized by constant rebellion against Chinese
political dominance. But North Vietnam was never "Confutianized"
in the same way as China. The Buddhist element was stronger.
In the central parts of Vietnam, the Hindu influence was
strong, as was the case in Kampuchea, which had dominion
over the whole of southern Vietnam. North Vietnam became
independent in the ninth century after defeating the Chinese
In the 1500s, the Vietnamese expansion began south.
population growth led to a shortage of arable land. The
southern part of Vietnam was fertile but sparsely populated.
Saigon was conquered approx. year 1700, and by the end of
the 1700s, Vietnam is today under one rule, with the
exception of the southernmost part of South Vietnam, which
was first conquered in 1840.
But this fierce expansion created new problems. The
highly centralized administration in North Vietnam could be
difficult to maintain over this vast area. The southern area
sought to free itself. Civil war broke out, and during
periods Vietnam was divided into two states, roughly along
the dividing line that became the temporary border between
North and South Vietnam. For further development, it was
important that South Vietnam never came under the firm
centralized control of the central power such as North
Vietnam. The local governors of South Vietnam had
The Chinese-dominated social system that prevailed in
North Vietnam was consolidated as early as the 1100s. The
emperor had absolute power. His power attributed to him a
"mandate from heaven". The country was governed by an office
of mandarins who were only responsible to the emperor.
Similar to China, Mandarins were recruited through an exam
system based on Confucian principles. In principle, everyone
could become officials, but only the wealthy could afford
the long schooling that was a prerequisite for passing the
There was no military caste with political influence, nor
an aristocracy with independent political power. No merchant
class or any property-owning middle class threatened
Mandarin’s power position. The larger landowners were kept
in check by regular redistributions of the land.
South Vietnam never developed the tenacious community
structure that prevailed in North Vietnam. The conquest of
South Vietnam was complete by the end of the 1700s. 100
years later, Vietnam was colonized by France. Unlike North
Vietnam, South Vietnam had received strong civilization and
cultural impetus from Hinduism, and the area was part of
Kampuchea for a long time. The landlords had a stronger
position in South Vietnam. This difference between North and
South Vietnam was reinforced by the French conquest.