What is Vietnam? What makes you a Vietnamese?

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What is Vietnam? What makes you a Vietnamese?

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Thank you very much to Honghao Bi who sent me this question! In my opinion, for thousand years Vietnam has always been a formidable village fortress , where all kinds of invaders, colonists, expansionists and interventionists met their graves. From Chinese expansionists, French colonists, American interventionists to the Khmer Rouge genocidists, all were decisively defeated beneath the wall of this unconquerable fortress.

Historically, like other agricultural civilizations in ancient times (Chinese civilization along the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers, Indian civilization along the Indus and Ganges Rivers), the country of Vietnam rose itself from the Red River Delta, where the village civilization and cultural traditions have been preserved and strongly consolidated for thousand years.


Fig. 1. A typical old village in Northern Vietnam, a peaceful place in the peace time but a redoubtable military fortress during the wartime.

It was called the “wet rice civilization” , with the constructions of the remarkable system of dykes and waterworks along the Red River Delta since the era of Đông Sơn Culture (1000 BC to 1 BC) , which ensured the agricultural production and food security of the country. The village was indeed the cell of the Vietnamese society. There were a thousand of small villages located along the Red River Delta, each village was virtually a military fortress , with thick layers of bamboos as its impregnable walls. Inside, the village had its own local government and military system. A thousand village definitely formed a giant and formidable fortress: Vietnam.


Fig. 2. A French military map indicates the 03 villages of Thượng Thọ, Mậu Thịnh and Mỹ Khê (Thanh Hóa Province) during the Siege of Ba Đình (1886–1887) . They were indeed the typical military fortresses with thick bamboo layers and flooded rice paddy fields. Source: J. Masson, “Souvenirs de l'Annam et du Tonkin” (Paris, 1903), p. 217.

The “wet rice civilization” was far superior in comparison with nomadic cultures in ancient time . In fact, the nomadic cultures were not constructive and productive by its constant wars and unstoppable looting for food and shelters. This was also the answer why a lot of nomadic cultures were decisively defeated or automatically absorbed into the Vietnamese society, such as the Mongols invasions of Vietnam throughout the XIII century .


Fig. 3. The Battle of Bạch Đằng River in 1288, which put the end to the Third Mongol invasion of Vietnam (1287–1288) .

At that time, the Mongols faced an infinite series of “fighting villages”, or a series of natural military fortresses that they could not conquered. Hence, the invaders had to fight an “infinity war” against the village resistance, while the Royal Army of Trần Dynasty had enough time to regroup, strike back and subsequently smashed the invading forces not only one but three times, even when the Mongol Empire was the most powerful empire on Earth at that time.


Fig. 4. French marines in the Battle of Gò Công during the “Cochinchina Campaign” in Southern Vietnam (1863).

When the French colonists came to Vietnam for the first time (1858–1862), they also met the fierce resistance from Vietnamese villages and its citizens. Léopold Pallu de la Barrière (1828–1891), a French naval officer , described what he experienced about how the Vietnamese villagers reacted:

Original French text:

“Le fait est que le centre de résistance était partout , subdivisé à l'infini, presque autant de fois qu'il y avait d'Annamites. Il eût été plus juste de considérer c haque paysan qui liait une botte de riz comme un centre de résistance . C'est l'inconvénient de ces luttes sur un territoire, où l'ennemi peut vivre et se cacher.”

(Histoire de l'expédition de Cochinchine en 1861, Paris, 1888, p. 245)

English translation:

“The fact is that the center of resistance was everywhere, infinitely subdivided, almost as many times as they were divided into the individual Annamites. It would have been fairer to consider each villager who is carrying a bunch of rice as a center of resistance . This is the disadvantage of these struggles on a territory, where the enemy can live and hide.”

(History of the Cochinchina Expedition in 1861, Paris, 1888, p. 245)


Fig. 5. Aftermath of the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ (1954), which put the end of French colonialism in Vietnam.

His words undoubtedly rang true, like the warning shots to other colonists and imperialists. The French colonists failed to understand what is the true meaning of a Vietnamese village, so they were kicked out of Vietnam even after 80 years of domination .

During the 1960s, the American interventionists also repeated the mistakes of the Chinese imperialists, the Mongolian invaders and the French colonists by waging a destructive war against the villages of Vietnam. Modern weapons such as rockets, napalm bombs and the agent orange could easily burnt the Vietnamese villages down to the ground.


Fig. 6. Destruction of a village in Vietnam by napalm bombs during the Vietnam War.

However, what they did not expect was even when the Vietnamese village was disappeared from the surface of the Earth, again it rose itself from the underground , beneath the Earth. The Củ Chi and Vĩnh Mốc Tunnels in Vietnam are two perfect examples . From the underground villages, generations of Vietnamese continued the fight against the foreign invaders until the final victory in 1975 .


Fig. 7. “Operation Frequent Wind” or the tragic U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam (1975).

To summarize what is Vietnam or why Vietnam has always been a formidable village fortress, it should be better to let Professor Paul Mus (1902–1969) , a notable French sociologist who spent all of his youth in Vietnam, also author of the famous book “ Viet-Nam: Sociologie d'une guerre ”, explain to you :

“Throughout Vietnamese history they had catastrophes: they had Chinese, Mongolian invasions...where whole provinces were destroyed. You are not the first people who destroyed villages in Vietnam, unfortunately. And so, they are used to that, and it's a great tradition that the village is not lost, even when it disappears from the surface of the ground. Because the village is down below, down below with the tradition, down below with the people, the ancestors who have made the country, literally. The country is hand-made. There is not one square foot, I would say, a square thumb of the earth, that has not been built as it is by the peasantry in the past. And this survives. And when, will it after 100 years a village comes back. The descendants of a village come back to the village, they find the village and the village starts again.”


Fig. 8. “And when, will it after 100 years a village comes back. The descendants of a village come back to the village, they find the village and the village starts again.”

With my answer today, I hope you readers will know the real meaning of “what is Vietnam”. Once again, thank you very much for reading my answer and best regards.


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What is Vietnam? What makes you a Vietnamese?

I am not a scholar of culture, history or language ...

I am Vietnamese, born and living in Vietnam, having been on the other side of life for a few years

There are many ways to answer the questions about Vietnam. However, I would like to answer this question because I am Vietnamese.

What is Vietnam?


Vietnam is an independent country.

Official name: Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Location: Southeast Asia

Ha Noi capital

Area: 331,210 km²

Population: 95.54 million (2017)

Time zone: Vietnam Standard Time (UTC + 07: 00)

Main Language: Vietnamese

Vietnam has 54 ethnic groups, of which the Kinh ethnic group has about 86%.

Besides the Kinh, there are other ethnic groups (Chinese, Cham and Khmer, Thai, Muong,...)

( https://vi.wikipedia.org )

What makes you a Vietnamese?


Vietnamese nationality

Love the country of Vietnam, love Vietnamese, love the language of Vietnam.

Not only wish to die in the land of Vietnam. After death, also wish to be buried in the land of Vietnam.

Wherever you go, whatever you do, you cannot forget Vietnam's traditional Tet holiday

Love peace, always desire to live in peace and love

The above are some basic elements but not all.

If someone does not have Vietnamese nationality, no black hair; yellow skin, but with the above factors, you are already Vietnamese

Vietnamese people live in Vietnam and around the world. If someone is far from their homeland and always wants to know what Vietnam is, what makes a Vietnamese, pelase listen to the song “ XIN CHAO VIET NAM!” (Hello Viet Nam!).

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Vietnam is a country. I suggest you try Google first before any asking.


What makes me a Vietnamese?

By birth on the native land, by Vietnamese parents.

Both of my parents can Google for something they don’t know about.

My grand parents also can Google for “Vietnam”, and they are dead.


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Vietnam is a country on planet earth with a roughly-defined border, a government and a lot of people, most of whom call themselves Vietnamese.

Vietnamese is a label that a person can claim to have. Whether the government of Vietnam accepts that label is another matter. Many “Vietnamese” living in USA, for example, cannot get a Vietnamese passport because the government of Vietnam says otherwise.

A person may claim several labels at the same time. For example, one can claim to be both Vietnamese and Australian.

Semantics aside, to me a Vietnamese is a person who has deep love for the country and most of the people who claim to be Vietnamese, whether inside Vietnam or outside. (It’s not possible to love all the Vietnamese people.)

From this deep love, one reads news about Vietnam and the Vietnamese, and tries to do something good for them.

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A country is known of when it has impressive distinctive characteristics. I myself analysed Vietnam national identities through elite speeches and mass materials. What Vietnam looks like in the modern time, in my opinion, can been seen on the following points (some main points from my findings):

A resilient country and people: stand up from incessant devastating wars against powerful colonists for a hundred of year (France and the U.S), not mention a thousand of years fighting against Chinese dynasties. The territory instead, is expanded down to the south. The severe famine after gaining independence (1945) took away lives of nearly 400.000 people. But now the Economic conditions are developing. GDP growth rate is around 7% for the last two years (2018, 2019) keeping the momentum and higher than many other developing countries. Very high literacy rate (around 99.99%).

Thirst for economic development, independence and peace: get over the wars, VN is making friends with almost all countries in the world. Trusted to be a place for international disputes such as TRUMP-KIM summit. Sacrificed to the last drop of blood to protect the independence and territory just for peace as Ho Chi Minh said “Nothing is more valuable than independence and freedom”. And now Vietnamese people are present all over the world to seek development opportuntities. Their no-give-up spirit anchors their thirst for economic development (which on the other hand, leads to tragedies such as the death of 39 migrants recently in UK).

Collectivism: though urban areas are expanding, a majority of vientnamese people are still influenced by rural/agricultural culture, caring for each other (sometimed too much). The migrants to urban cities still carry these with them. And they still love the beautiful rural life, childhood with nature, rice paddies, etc though they could be living in city. Sometimes it goes beyond the boundary of privacy unintentionally or intentionally.

Language: expression through the local language has its own tastes and only local peole can understand how deary it is, esp when it comes to the use of exclaimation words (à or ơi, etc). Some habits in communiction is very distinctive such as asking: Have you eatten yet is not to ask about whether u ate or not but just a greeting.

Food: People love Pho, Spring rolls, Banh My and coffee from Vietnam. But there are more wonderful foods in different provinces. Special foods in important festives, such as those for the Lunar New Year are something people keep with them forever. Some foods include: Sticky rice cake, spring rolls, bamboo shoot soup, etc.

My observation is that Vietnamese people have a strong emotional attachment to the land of Vietnam, which I dont much observe in some heterogeneous countries where they believe the world is so big and they are the world citizens. Most vietnamese people would want to die in their home country though they could be very successful else where. Perhaps the hard life before and how they overcame it, relatives, the distinctive culture, mostly homogeneous population, etc.. have tightened their souls to the S-shaped land.

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Vietnam is a small country is SEA. It is facing China in the North, and the Pacific ocean to the East. It traces its identity to the mythology of Lac Long Quan and Au Co, 4000 years ago. Through numerous up and down cycles in its long history, amazingly it still standing as a proud nation.

Even though I spent most of my life in the US, I consider myself a Vietnamese. Why? Probably because I was born there, the lullaby I heard in my cradle, the food I eat, the culture I still live in, the language I still speak, the heroes I still worship: Tran Hung Dao, Quang Trung, Ly thuong Kiet… Most importantly if no country would accept me ( even my adopted country USA could strip my citizenship, my US passport still has a field: Place of Birth: Vietnam), I can still go home to Vietnam, and the people there would accept me with open arms (that I am sure).

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During our colonial time, a famous scholar once wrote: As long as the Book of Kieu remains, our language remains. As long as our language remains, our nation remains.

That is probably not too far from the truth. Our statehood was gone for a millennium, but our culture remained and we eventually pulled it together. Our fierce resistance against France and the US were prepared in no small part by a generation of scholars who fought to establish a modern identity for Vietnamese culture, one that was influenced by but independent from both the French and the Chinese. Just like the Book of Kieu itself, which was a retelling of a rather trite Chinese novel. However the book displayed such mastery of our language that it was universally regarded as the defining masterpiece of Vietnamese literature and memorized by countless generations.

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Viet Nam is a country just like the USA. If you are born in Viet Nam, then you are a Vietnamese. You may carry an american or french passport, you are still a Vietnamese deep down.

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The question is too vague, but I will answer it based on my assumption on this question.

Viet Nam is a country.

What makes you a Vietnamese is the Vietnamese-ness

So what is Vietnamese-ness? I think it is nationalism that plays the major factor, this nationalism is to emphasizes herself being distinct from the Chinese, Viet Nam is the first nation-state in Asia, and it is the first nation that of her birth was of De-Sinicization. To counts her principle concept though, Viet Nam considers all Viet people as bloodline relative, that, the hundred Viet are all descendant of common ancestor, this is although a myth that can be disproved by history of evolution, but the idea stands without one’s need to believes in the myth, the idea that Viet people are of one common ancestor, and hence, in performance, Vietnamese cares much about her internal matters, a mind set of “mind my own business”. To those who are not patriotic of Viet Nam but yet considered as Vietnamese, they are seen to be common siblings, and for one to accept this notion in affiliation to Viet heritage, they are Vietnamese, likewise even if someone doesn’t considers himself or herself as Vietnamese but considered to be Vietnamese by other Vietnamese, he or she is seen as Vietnamese by the Vietnamese, and therefore even if one claims himself or herself a Vietnamese, he or she still required other to decides it.

In terms of citizenship, anyone who holds the Vietnamese citizenship officially, she or her is a Vietnamese in citizenship sense.

Hope this answer your question.

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“Book of Kieu remains, our language remains. As long as our language remains, our nation remains.”

Superb point!

But, I am a Texas Native and not Vietnamese, despite speaking Vietnamese and having the privilege of being married to a wonderful Vietnamese woman, Bac for 48 years as my wife, until she died in July 2019. I make no claim to be Vietnamese. But, from time to time, when angry, my late wife did accuse me of being Vietnamese.

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