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Do Vietnamese feel culturally closer to China, Korea and Japan than to their ASEAN neighbours?

16 Answers

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Vietnam’s policy was always based on “Nam tiến, Bắc hoà” (南進北和), meaning “to advance southward, while making peace with the North (China).” Because China was overwhelmingly powerful and the source of classical culture for Vietnam, Vietnam has always used the Chinese heritage as a weapon against its Southern neighbors.

It tried to impose Confucianism onto the Chams and Khmer in conquered territories. There was a law in the 19th century: Hán di hữu hạn (漢夷有限). Making distinction between Han and barbarians, in order to govern the conquered Champa and Cambodia territories.

So Vietnam has always identified more with the Sinosphere culture it possessed for thousands of years. As for feeling culturally close to ASEAN, this might change in the future but currently Vietnam’s identity is still very linked to its Sinosphere past. Although in ASEAN, Vietnamese feel culturally closest to Thailand.

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Definitely China.


Love Story of My Chau and Trong Thuy (A princess of the Au Lac country fell in love with a Qin dynasty prince - she betrayed her country and was killed by her father when discovered. She dropped feather along the way which allowed him to find her. He suicided when found her dead. This is apparently a quasi-historical tale)

Vietnamese as a cultural and ethnic identity is a fusion between Han Chinese and the indigenous inhabitants of the Red River delta.

After 1000 years of direct Chinese rule and another 1000 years of being in Imperial China’s sphere of influence, much of Vietnamese culture today has origin from Han Chinese culture.

Japan and Korea were also influenced by Han culture which means that Vietnamese do feel close to some aspects of their culture. But these two countries are far away from Vietnam so historically Vietnamese do not feel close to them and the feeling for them is not the same sense of familiarity.

Vietnamese don't feel much bonds for other Southeast Asian countries. Some who are into military or politics may feel close to Cambodia and Laos, but for the average Vietnamese they are just foreign countries who don't really affect their lives. Thailand has a very good reputation amongst Vietnamese and Vietnamese love Thai food, culture, people as well as travelling there for holidays. But Thai culture and Vietnamese culture are too different to feel a sense of closeness towards them.

Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia have no relation to Vietnam plus they are separated by sea so no reason why Vietnamese can feel close to them.

Singapore is grouped in the same category with Taiwan as a non-China Chinese country. They are lumped in with the Chinese world. Myanmar until recently is mostly unknown to Vietnamese.

Actually in the Vietnamese consciousness there are three groups of people:

Ta - Tây - Tàu

Ta = us (Vietnamese), Tây = Westerners, Tàu - Chinese

And as much as China get on Vietnamese nerves, Chinese culture is extremely familiar and close to Vietnamese. So much that as horrible as China is to Vietnam, it is still hard to reject Chinese culture. Vietnamese also feel more at ease and easy to socialise with Chinese (And I swear any Vietnamese who have studied overseas would understand this because it is so much easier to make friends with and talk to Chinese than other ethnicities) This is a very frustrating thing for most Vietnamese.

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Vietnamese not culturally closer to Korea and Japan than its SEA neighbor might have been an understatement. If you look closer there’s a lot of similarities. Like:

Vietnamese used clothings that resemble kimono in Japan like ao giao lanh(交領衣) before the 19th century.

Vovinam is heavily influenced by Chinese style of Gongfu , and elements of Japanese and Korean systems and it's a Vietnamese marial art.

You can also find Dong Son drums in South Korea. You can also find Joseon works of art in Saigon.

You can also find a Japanese bridge in Hoi An.

You can also find that a Vietnamese Prince called Ly Long Tuong fled Vietnam after his dynasty was destroyed and fled to Korea where he was welcomed with open arms and where he settled and created one large strand of the Korean surname "Lee".

You can also find that Syngman Rhee claimed Vietnamese descent.

You can also find that a Vietnamese princess was married to a Japanese trader called Araki Shutaro. You can also find Vietnamese ceramics in Kyushu.

You can also find ancient Chinese Bronze Artefacts in Central Vietnam. You can also find that the Vietnamese traders had close relations with Okinawan kingdoms.

You can find that Cantonese and Vietnamese pirates worked together and were seen as the same people by inland Chinese people.

You can find that no other dynasties have sent more emissaries and diplomats to Chinese dynastic courts than those of Vietnam and Korea, and the diplomats from Korea and Vietnam meets each other and has a very good relationship, even to use Classical Chinese poems to write about each other.

You can find that Trieu Da and Ly Nam De who both came from China were the first emperors of Vietnam after the Hung Vuong and An Duong Vuong. The same happened in Japan where people from continental China migrated to the Japanese islands in ancient times to mix with the local native ancient Japanese populations of the time, though in this case there was no conquest involved.

More recently, South and North Korea took an active role during the Vietnam war, North Korea sent a fighter squadron to North Vietnam to back up the North Vietnamese while the South Korea sent it troops to stop the communist and allied with the U.S. The number of troops from South Korea was much greater than those from Australia and New Zealand , and second only to the U.S. military force .

After the Vietnam War, the Korean left behind thousands of children of mixed Korean and Vietnamese descent and was accused of war atrocities.

Kango(Sino-Japanese) vs Han Viet(Sino-Vietnamese) 手(te) tay 脳(nō) não 目(me) mắt 公安(kōan) công an 蛍雪(keisetsu) cảnh sát 困難(konnan) khốn nạn /khốn khổ 結婚(ketsukon) kết hôn 宇宙(uchū) vũ trụ 歌手(kashu) ca sĩ 美人(bijin) mỹ nhân 安心(anshin) an tâm 安全(anzen) an toàn 古代 こだい(kodai) cổ đại(コーダイ) 注意 ちゅうい(chui) chú ý(チューイー) 留意 りゅうい(ryuui) lưu ý(ルウイー) 同意 どうい(doui) đồng ý(ドンイー) 悪意 あくい(akui) ác ý(アックイー) 意見 いけん(iken) ý kiến(イーキエン) 国歌 こっか(kokka) quốc ca(クオックカー) 愛国 あいこく(aikoku) ái quốc(アイクオック) 衣服 いふく(ifuku) y phục(イーフック) 管理 かんり(kanri) quản lý(クアンリー) 記念 きねん(kinen) kỷ niệm(キーニエム) 楽観 らっかん(rakkan) lạc quan(ラックアン) 観念 かんねん(kannen) quan niệm(クアンニエム) 天然 てんねん(tenen) thiên nhiên(ティエンニエン) 大路 だいろ(dairo) đại lộ(ダイロ) 暗殺 あんさつ(ansatsu) ám sát(アムサット) 観察 かんさつ(kansatsu) quan sát(クアンサット) 軍備 ぐんび(gunbi) quân bị(クアンビ) 改革 かいかく(kaikaku) cải cách(カイカック) 感動 かんどう(kandou) cảm động(カムドン) 独断 どくだん(dokudan) độc đoán(ドックドアン) 数 すう(suu) số (ソウ) 電気 でんき(denki) điện/điện cực 塗布 とふ(tofu) đậu hủ 語  ご (go) ngôn 国語 ごくご(gokugo) quốc ngôn 準備 じゅんび(juunbi) chuẩn bị 記憶 きおく(kioku) kí ức   国旗 こっき(kokki) quốc kì    変態(hentai) biến thái 回復(kaifuku) cải phục, khôi phục

動物(doubutsu) động vật 人物(jinbutsu) nhân vật 植物(shokubutsu) thực vật 失敗(shippai) thất bại

肛門(koumon) hậu môn

忍者(ninja) nhẫn giả

九尾(kuubi) cửu vĩ (From Naruto, nine tail fox) 日記(nikki) nhật ký 歴史(rekishi) lịch sử 多数(tasuu) đa số 大多数(daitasuu )đại đa số 文化(bunka) văn hóa 文学(bungaku) văn học 中学(chugaku) trung học 小学(shougaku) tiểu học 大学(daigaku) đại học

学生(gakusei) học sinh

生服(seifukku) sinh phục

同服(doufukku) dồng phục

征服(seifukku) chinh phục

音(音読み:on/om, 訓読み:oto) âm, âm thanh

山 onyomi is “さん” san simialar to Sino-Vietnamese’s sơn, while its kunyomi is ”やま” yama

Same thing can apply to 火 南 北 童 西 水

But all and all, Vietnamese can enjoy Thai or Khmer or Chinese culture as much any foreign culture, and vice versa.

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Yes . Though mostly to China only, but since Korea and Japan largely borrowed from China in the past so there are lots of similarities as well.

Just by the fact that Vietnam is the only eating culture using chopstick is enough to see why it’s not as part of ASEAN culturally.

Let alone other facts such that Vietnamese consume a huge amount of Chinese ancient and modern literature . In fact, ancient Chinese texts, specifically Tang dynasty ones, are mandatorily taught in school . If you are eligible to use VietnamAnswer (age 13 or above) then you should have learned in school (or will be learning in 1–2 years) Chinese poems in 9th grade . To name a few

Tĩnh dạ tứ (靜夜思) - Lý Bạch (English: Li Bai , Chinese: 李白)

Thu hứng (秋興) - Đỗ Phủ (English: Du Fu , Chinese: 杜甫)

Điểu minh giản (鳥鳴澗) - Vương Duy (English: Wang Wei , Chinese: 王維)

And to name a few popular Chinese texts that are not taught in school but most Vietnamese know

Xạ điêu anh hùng truyện (Simplified: 射雕英雄传, Traditional: 射鵰英雄傳) - Kim Dung (English: Jin Yong, Chinese: 金庸).

Tây Du Ký (Traditional: 西遊記, Simplified: 西游记) - Ngô Thừa Ân (English: Wu Cheng'en, Traditional: 吳承恩, Simplified: 吴承恩)

You name it.


Image source : Google

And, though to a lesser extent, Japanese literature is also taught in Vietnamese school curriculum . In grade 10th , Vietnamese kids learn of Bài cú (Japanese: 俳句 , English: Haiku ), a genre of Japanese poetry, where they would have to write essays on the work of Mát-su-ô Ba-sô (Japanese: 松尾芭蕉 , English: Matsuo Bashō ).


Image source : https://slidesplayer.net/slide/14921159/

There were even contests in writing Vietnamese poems in Haiku .

Disclaimer : English/Chinese/Japanese translations of names were blindly copied/pasted, so I can’t be sure if there’s a mistake.

Now tell me if there is any of the ASEAN literature will ever make it into Vietnamese’ minds.

The other thing is the similarity in languages. Take a look at the following video

To people saying Vietnam is culturally closer to ASEAN:

Because of the cultural identity, and the disputes between the two governments, it’s OK to feel uncomfortable being associated with China since Koreans and Japanese probably feel the same too. But saying Vietnam is culturally closer to ASEAN is obviously ignorance or you are not very well educated OR you are Khmer/Cambodian minorities then I could understand why.

Last thing I would like to say is historically Vietnamese have never held high regards of any of their southern/western neighbors, so it’s pretty unlikely that they will feel any closer to them.

Bonus : Student’s graffiti on picture of Lý Bạch (English: Li Bai , Chinese: 李白 ) in Vietnamese literature textbook.


And Mát-su-ô Ba-sô (Japanese: 松尾芭蕉 , English: Matsuo Bashō ) (thanks commenter Tran Minh Ngoc (陳明玉) ) playing as Yasuo (Da-sô) in League of Legends. LOL.


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I think that the question can be better separated into two parts: 1) Is the Vietnamese culture closer to that of China, Korea and Japan or that of our ASEAN neighbors and 2) how the people feel about the issue. Also, it is more fair to compare China alone and neighboring ASEAN countries, as the sheer geographical distance between Vietnam and Japan/Korea is too large for cultural diffusion to be effective.

1. Is the Vietnamese culture closer to that of China or that of our ASEAN neighbors? I believe that the balance is slightly tipped in favor of China. However, the long answer, as is the case with all long answers, is that it depends.

‘Culture’ is an incredibly broad concept, and even then China is by no means culturally homogeneous. Take the culinary culture for example: Chinese cuisine shows a fairly clear latitudinal gradation, and southern Chinese food is much more similar to Vietnamese food than the northern variety. That said, in terms of ‘similarity to Vietnamese food,’ Thai food clearly trumps most Chinese varieties. Thailand and Vietnam, having pretty much the same climatic conditions, use the same ingredients – spices, abundance of seafood – in our cooking. Even within Vietnamese cuisine itself, there are a lot of regional variations ( pho in different parts of the country can be quite different!). Southern cooking tends to use more fiery spices, which makes it more similar to Malaysian/Indonesian cooking than northern cooking is. (For my own sanity and peace of mind I shall end the discussion on food).

Pierrick Jaouen has offered fantastic discussion points above. Then again, we should note that China, being the Middle Kingdom behemoth, exerted immense influence over the surrounding countries over the last millennia. Large communities of Chinese immigrants and their descendants settle in ASEAN countries (today, people who identify with being racially Chinese are the vast majority in Singapore). All ASEAN cultures have some Chinese influence to a certain extent, but probably the geographical proximity, plus the lack of a need for sea travel, accounts for the stronger influence of Chinese culture in Vietnam than, say, in Malaysia or Indonesia. However, Chinese influence is certainly stronger in Singapore than in Vietnam. Again I’d like to emphasize the ‘latitudinal gradation’ factor. Southern dialects of Chinese (Hokkien, Cantonese – also the dialects spoken in Singapore/Hong Kong/Taiwan) are closer to the Vietnamese language than Mandarin is. Still, certain languages spoken in Laos and Cambodia are even closer than the Chinese dialects above. (Differences in scripts have little to do with the genetic differences between languages. Writing systems are, after all, rules to be agreed upon.) We do have a ton of loan words from Chinese dialects, but a good number of them are archaic words that feel like Shakespearean English.

French colonization is indeed much shorter than the perennial Chinese influence; however, it is more recent, and ‘what is closer up feels bigger.’ French influence is still very much evident in our architecture, school system, language (All our words for western food comes from the French: beurre, jambon, pate etc. Oops all roads lead to food.), among others.

2. How the people feel about the issue The average Vietnamese is fiercely nationalistic. We are absolutely thrilled to discover cultural links with other nations, but we prefer to think of ourselves as the one and only, different from the rest (This was probably a legacy of French colonization. Or the French might have learnt it from us.) If we have to make a choice as to which culture we are ‘closer’ to, I’d say the answer depends on the current sociopolitical milieu. Currently the situation in the (East Sea to us, South China Sea to the world) is getting pretty ugly, which I’m afraid tends to promote general dissociation with the Chinese culture. On the other hand, the biennial SEAGames sort of offers a topic for ASEAN countries to talk about together (never underestimate the bonding power of sports!).

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It’s definitely yes. Vietnam, Korea, Japan and China were influenced by the Huaxia civilisation.

A very intuitive, visual and simple example is the picture below - captioned portraits of ASEAN monarchs (19th - 20th century).


From left to right: Sultan Brunei, King Sisowath of Cambodia, Sultan Yogyakarta of Indonesia, King Sivavang Vong of Laos, Sultan Kedah of Malaysia, King Thibaw Min of Burma/Myanmar, Sultan Sulu of Philippines, Rama VI of Thailand.

And the last picture in the right corner: Emperor Khai Dinh of the Great Nam (Dai Nam/Viet Nam).

The monarch’s costumes in the above pictures somehow reflected that Vietnam is far different in terms of culture and civilsation to the rest of ASEAN nations.

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Think of the United States along with it's culture and history. Is the United States culturally more similar to Europe or is the United States culturally more similar to its immediate neighbors, Mexico and South America?

It's a complex answer. The answer lies in its history, genes and culture.

Culturally, genetically and historically, the Vietnamese people find their East Asian neighbors more akin. Geographically, Vietnam can be considered both East Asian and SE Asian depending on where the imaginary line is drawn. Analogously, the United States is culturally, historically and genetically European, but geographically part of the Americas.

If you look at Vietnam as a whole, then you would conclude that Vietnam is culturally more akin to its East Asian neighbors. Analogously, if you look at the United States as a whole, you would conclude that the United States is culturally more akin to Europe.

It's a complex answer indeed.

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Watch this video:

Koreans and a Japanese girl talking about Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese words that are similar

(Too bad they couldn’t find a Chinese person, otherwise that would be more interesting)!

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Please refer to my very detailed answer for this question: What country is culturally closest to China?

Please also refer to my pretty detailed answer for this question: What elements of Chinese culture were adopted by the Koreans, Vietnamese, and Japanese, and how did they adapt them to their circumstances?

Please also refer to my blogs, which show pictures of reconstructed Viet Phuc (Vietnamese clothing) of Nguyen dynasty , Restored Later Le dynasty , and Vietnamese government officials , and Vietnamese woman’s attires . My other posts which depict historical figures also have drawings of accurate Viet Phuc. Now compare them to Chinese Hanfu.




Vietnam is the Sinosphere . ASEAN is a group of cultures. Keep in mind that Southeast Asia is not 1 common culture. They’re merely a geographical location.

The Indosphere includes Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore.

However, Myanmar’s culture is influenced further by Thailand and China, with mixes of Theravada Buddhism. Brunei, on the other hand, is influenced by Malay and Islam.

Indonesia and Malaysia are mixtures of hundreds of different culture and religions.

Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia are the only ones that’s fully Indosphere.

Singapore is also a mixture, but is also highly Westernized.

Philippines is influenced by Spanish culture, so it’s culturally closer to Latin America and the Hispanic communities.

Meanwhile, Vietnam is solely Sinospheric with hints of French (colonization). However, Vietnamese traditional culture is still Sinospheric; French is merely modern culture.

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I am a Chinese living in Australia. When I first came to Australia, here weren’t many Chinese mainlanders. The Asian community is of mostly Vietnamese and Cantonese speakers.

To my surprise, I felt Vietnamese are just my kind only not speaking Chinese. The invisible connection is there.

As a young Chinese living alone in Australia back then, I received lots of “invisible help” from many Vietnamese people. When I say invisible, it means even after twenty years when I look back, I understand that I would not have received those extra help/like if I am not Chinese. These help to come from some extra discount in shops, extra offers to give me a ride home, extra smiles from Vietnamese girls, etc.

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