Most people will be aware of Vietnam's late 20th century history, but there is much more to Vietnam's history than just the Vietnam War.
There is archaeological evidence to suggest human inhabitation several thousand years ago. By 1200BC, agricultural progress had led to wet rice growing and the making of bronze, evidenced by the number of bronze weapons, tools and drums found in the Red River plains.
In 111 BCE, the Chinese Han Dynasty consolidated Nanyue (now the northern part of Vietnam) into their empire and for the next 1,000 years Nanyue was under Chinese rule. By 938 AD, Nanyue had regained its independence and was then ruled by a number of successive imperial dynasties.
Between the 11th and 18th centuries, Nanyue expanded to the south conquering the kingdom of Champa and part of the Khmer Empire. The final dynasty, the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945), united the country into what we know today as Vietnam.
During the Nguyen Dynasty, Vietnam's capital was in the ancient Imperial City of Hue, which contains Vietnam's Forbidden City believed to modelled on that of Beijing. Unfortunately, the Forbidden City was almost completely destroyed during the Tet Offensive in 1968, but much remains to be seen in this important historic city.
The last emperor, Bao Dai abdicated in 1945 and handed power to the French-led puppet government. France had been eroding Vietnam's independence since 1859 and in 1885 the whole country became part of French Indo-China.
The French forced significant political and cultural changes on Vietnamese society. A Western-style system of education was developed, and Christianity was promoted widely in Vietnamese society. the French largely ignored increasing calls for self-government and civil rights.
An independence and resistance movement began to grow. In 1941, Japan invaded and conquered French Indo-China and this saw the emergence of the Viet Minh, a communist, nationalist liberation movement led by Ho Chi Minh, seeking independence from France as well as to oppose the Japanese occupation.
When the Japanese were defeated in 1945, Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam independent, but the French didn't accept this, leading to war, which lasted until 1954. A cease fire was agreed and Vietnam was separated into South and North.
In the late 50s, the pro-Hanoi Vietcong began a guerrilla campaign to overthrow the government of South Vietnam, which they considered to be a colonial government in disguise. The USA, concerned by the spread of communism in S.E. Asia send "advisors" to help the South. By 1968, full USA troop action was being taken against the Vietcong.
Ho Chi Minh died in 1969 and never saw the victory he sought, but he is still revered among the Vietnamese as their liberator. His body is preserved in the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in central Hanoi. Long lines of people wait every day to file past him and pay their respects. Next to the mausoleum is the Ho Chi Minh Museum depicting where he lived and worked.
Throughout Vietnam are museums dedicated to remembering the war. In Ho Chi Minh City, is The War Remnants Museum, a must see for anyone interested in late 20th century history. In central Vietnam, in Quang Ngai province, lies the village of My Lai, scene of one of worst atrocities of the war. Mai Lai Massacre Memorial site has been built to remember the hundreds of innocent villagers shot by US troops. In Ho Chi Minh City, tourist can visit the many tunnels built by the Viet Cong under what was then Saigon. The 75-mile (121 km)-long complex of tunnels at Củ Chi has been preserved by the government of Vietnam, and turned into a war memorial.
The war lasted until April 1975, when all American personnel were withdrawn and Saigon fell to the Vietcong.
Today Vietnam is at peace for the first time in many, many years. You can visit Indochina Odyssey Tours to get more information about this.
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