Archive for Vietnamese Culture

The Culture of Vietnam: Lasting Through the Ages

Posted in Ancient History, Dynastic History, I. News, IV. Columns with tags , , on October 6, 2012 by Ian Pham

Our next topic of discussion involves three very different cultures: that of Vietnam, China, and Manchuria.  One culture, Manchu culture, serves its place in history as China’s invader and occupier.  The other culture, Vietnamese culture, acts as China’s eternal rival, and at one dark point in its history, as China’s prisoner.  Interestingly, the ones that acted as China’s overlords, the Manchus, would find their cultural heritage wiped from the face of the earth.  On the other hand, Vietnamese culture, though dominated by the Chinese for 1000 years, will prevail, even to this very day.

What makes Vietnam different from Manchuria?  How is it possible that the people of Vietnam, through 1000 years of occupation and assimilation from the invaders from the north, came to sustain their cultural and ethnic identity?  Furthermore, how did the Manchus, effectively dethroning the Ming in 1644 and ruled all of China until 1912, see their way of life, their language, and their culture vanish in less than 300 years?  The answer to this question, at least form my own analysis, is culture.

The three cultures mentioned above all varied in depth, richness, and sophistication.  Whichever culture to most strongly display these three qualities was more likely to last.  Unfortunately for the Manchus, their culture was the least likely to embody these qualities and, as a result, their culture was inevitably absorbed by the culture of the Han.  Though the Manchu started out as the foreign overlords of the Chinese empire, they would gradually and increasingly adapt the customs and practices of the Chinese.  Overtime, they would become Chinese themselves.  This is where Vietnam and Manchuria differentiate, and this is where Vietnam prevails.

Du Mien Le Thanh Hoa, the author of Vietnam: The Springhead of Eastern Cultural Civilization suggests that Vietnam prevailed because of the strength of its culture.  According to him, Vietnam’s culture was simply higher than Chinese culture.  It was older, and more enshrined in the hearts and minds of the people of Viet.  Thus, even when facing the jarring threat of Chinese assimilation, the Viet people continued to practice their culture.  This persistence helped to safeguard the existence of Vietnamese culture.

Through all the hardship, Vietnam’s culture prevails, even to this day.  For thousands of years, our traditions have been upheld, our language preserved.  The legend of Lac Long Quan, the ancient folklore, and the songs of antiquity have been passed down from generation to generation.  These foundations remind us who we are, but more importantly, who we are not.  Through the darkest periods of foreign domination, our culture has kept us alive.  Our ways of life have lived through the ages, and today, they are more important than ever.

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The Rebirth of Viet Culture

Posted in Ancient History, IV. Columns with tags , , , , on October 6, 2010 by Ian Pham

It’s pretty amazing how much progress has been made over the past decade regarding the world’s understanding of the Vietnamese people.  Thanks to archeology, state of the art technology, DNA, and intricate research, numerous discoveries have been made about Vietnam’s past that have never been considered before.  Who would have thought that the teachings of Confucius actually originated form the Bach Viet people?  Who could have known that the chief architect of the Forbidden City was Vietnamese?  Furthermore, who would ever have thought that the ancient writings of Viet-Nom preceded the writings of the Han?

For centuries, all the way up to the 1990’s, the world knew very little about the origin of Vietnam.  Over 90% of all the history books have claimed that Vietnam was just a derivative of the Chinese empire, unaware of how misleading these claims are.  Even the history books in Vietnam, with very few exceptions, had accepted the idea that Vietnamese culture came from China.  Some past theorists, such as Kim Dinh, have made suggestions about Vietnam’s antiquity, challenging conventional belief that Vietnam was just a mere copy of the Chinese.  He was ridiculed by his colleagues in the past, discredited and labeled as a fanatic and ideologue.

Today however, the story has become quite different.  New generations of researchers have looked past the obscurity and outright lies of the older generations, disproving many old claims and making a few findings of their own.  They are contemporaries of Kim Dinh, following up on his ideas, now regarding him as a pioneer and trailblazer of modern Viet studies.  It is now verified that the teachings of Confucius came from Vietnam, and that the ancient Vietnamese (Bach Viet) people lived as farmers in the southern half of China long before the establishment of the Chinese state.  Cultivation of rice, another important aspect of East Asian culture, was part of Vietnamese culture before reaching China in the far north.

These new discoveries have only scratched the surface of Vietnamese culture, but have already defied the accepted beliefs of the old generation.  It is no longer valid to suggest that the civilization of Vietnam branched off from the Chinese empire.  Also false is the old claim that the Chinese taught Vietnam how to farm and cultivate.  The Chinese historical accounts of Tich Quang and Nham Dien, coming from China and teaching us about culture, has been proven false.  Also false is the national background of Shen Nong, a historical figure of China.  New evidence now suggests that Shen Nong was a Vietnamese person as a opposed to a Chinese person, as stated in the, now dated, history books.

With the help of archeology, DNA, and critical analysis of today’s current research, the world will better understand the origin of Vietnamese culture. In time, the findings will change the way people look at Vietnam.   Fragments of Viet culture, such as Viet-Nho (aka Confucianism) will eventually re-emerge.  Past accomplishments of Vietnamese individuals, like Nguyen An and the Forbidden City, will finally be recognized.  Most important of all, the lost history, burned by the likes of the Qin, Han, and Ming dynasties, will be restored to its rightful place.