DSST A History of the Vietnam War/Pre-1940 Vietnam

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Historical Traditions[edit]

The earliest established religions in Vietnam are Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism sometimes called the "triple religion" or tam giáo. Those religions have been co-existing in the country for centuries and mixed perfectly with the Vietnamese tradition of worshiping their ancestors and national heroes. Buddhism in Vietnam has had a symbiotic relationship with Taoism, Chinese spirituality, and the indigenous Vietnamese religion. The majority of Buddhist practitioners focus on devotional rituals rather than meditation.

Besides the "triple religion", Vietnamese life was also profoundly influenced by the practice of ancestor worship as well as native animism. Most Vietnamese people, regardless of religious denomination, practice ancestor worship and have an ancestor altar at their home or business, a testament to the emphasis Vietnamese culture places on filial duty.

Along with obligations to clan and family, education has always played a vital role in Vietnamese culture. In the old days, scholars were placed at the top of society. Men not born of noble blood could only wish to elevate their status by means of studying for a rigorous Imperial examination which could potentially open doors to a position in the government, granting them power and prestige as Mandarin officials.

Chinese Influence[edit]

Vietnam and China share many common features of cultural, philosophical and religious heritage. This is due to geographical proximity to one another and Vietnam being annexed twice by the Chinese.

The Viet people originate from lands that are present day China. The first Chinese rule of Vietnam came in 207 BC when a Chinese warlord, Triệu Đà, defeated the Viet king after marrying his son into the Viet royal family. Triệu Đà annexed Âu Lạc into his domain located in present-day Guangdong, southern China, then proclaimed himself king of a new independent kingdom, Nam Việt. Some still consider this time to be one of Viet independence as the Triệu family in Nam Việt were assimilated to local culture. They ruled independently of what then constituted China's (Han Dynasty). At one point, Triệu Đà even declared himself Emperor, equal to the Chinese Han Emperor in the north.

In 111 BC, Chinese troops invaded Nam Việt and established new territories, dividing Vietnam into new territories. While the Chinese were governors and top officials, the original Vietnamese nobles initially managed some highlands. Following the Trưng revolt, the Han and other successful Chinese dynasties took measures to eliminate the power of the Vietnamese nobles. The Vietnamese elites would be coerced to assimilate into Chinese culture and politics. Excepting occasional revolts by the Viet people the Chinese would continue to rule until the early 10th century AD.


In 40 AD, a successful revolt against harsh rule by Han Governor Tô Định (蘇定 pinyin: Sū Dìng), led by the two noble women Trưng Trắc and her sister Trưng Nhị, recaptured 65 states (include modern Guangxi), and Trưng Trắc became the Queen (Trưng Nữ Vương). In 42 AD, Emperor Guangwu of Han sent his famous general Mã Viện (Chinese: Ma Yuan) to quell the revolt. After a torturous campaign, Ma Yuan defeated the Trưng Queen, who committed suicide. To this day, the Trưng Sisters are revered in Vietnam as the national symbol of Vietnamese women. In 225 AD, another woman, Triệu Thị Trinh, popularly known as Lady Triệu (Bà Triệu), led another revolt which lasted until 248 AD.

In the period between the beginning of the Chinese Age of Fragmentation to the end of the Tang Dynasty, several revolts against Chinese rule took place. All of them ultimately failed, however the Anterior Lý Dynasty did rule for almost half a century (544 AD to 602 AD) before the Chinese Sui Dynasty reconquered their kingdom Vạn Xuân.


French Occupation[edit]

Napoleon III initiated the French colonization of Vietnam in 1858, when French gunships attacked the port of Đà Nẵng. This attack caused significant damages, yet failed to gain any foothold. Gia Định (present-day Saigon) was the first city to fall. From 1859 to 1867, French troops expanded their control over all 6 provinces on the Mekong delta and formed a French Colony known as Cochin China. A few years later, French troops landed in northern Vietnam (which they called Tonkin) and captured Hà Nội twice in 1873 and 1882. The French managed to keep their grip on Tonkin although, twice, their top commanders, Francis Garnier and Henri Riviere were ambushed and killed. France assumed control over the whole of Vietnam after the Franco-Chinese War (1884-1885). French Indochina was formed in October 1887 from Annam (Trung Kỳ, central Vietnam), Tonkin (Bắc Kỳ, northern Vietnam), Cochin China (Nam Kỳ, southern Vietnam, and Cambodia, with Laos added in 1893). Within French Indochina, Cochin China had the status of a French Colony, Annam was a Protectorate where the Nguyen Dynasty still ruled in name, and Tonkin had a French Governor with local governments run by Vietnamese officials.

During French colonial period, Vietnamese culture received marcant influences from the Europeans, including the spread of Catholicism and the adoption of Latin alphabet — to this day, Vietnam is the only non-island nation of Indochina which uses the Latin Alphabet to write the national language.


After Gia Định fell to French troops, many Vietnamese resistance movements broke out in occupied areas, some led by former court officers, such as Trương Định, some by peasants, such as Nguyễn Trung Trực, who sunk the French gunship L'Esperance using guerilla tactics. In the north, most movements were led by former court officers and lasted decades, with Phan Đình Phùng until 1895 and Hoàng Hoa Thám until 1911. Even the teenage Nguyễn Emperor Hàm Nghi left the Imperial Palace of Huế in 1885 and started the Cần Vương, or "Save the King", movement, trying to rally the people to resist the French. He was captured in 1888 and exiled to French Algeria. Decades later, two more Nguyễn kings, Thành Thái and Duy Tân were also exiled to Africa for having anti-French tendencies.

In the early 20th century, Vietnamese patriots realized that they could not defeat France without modernization. Having been exposed to Western philosophy, they aimed to establish a republic upon independence, departing from the royalist sentiments of the Cần Vương movements. Japan's defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War served as a perfect example of modernization helping an Asian country defeat a powerful European empire.

Two parallel movements of modernization emerged. The first was the Đông Du ("Go East") Movement started in 1905 by Phan Bội Châu. Phan Bội Châu's plan was to send Vietnamese students to Japan to learn modern skills, so that in the future they could lead a successful armed revolt against the French. Phan Chu Trinh, who favored a peaceful, non-violent struggle to gain independence, led the second movement Duy Tân ("Modernization"). He stressed the need to educate the masses, modernize the country, foster understanding and tolerance between the French and the Vietnamese, and a peaceful transition of power.

Both movements were suppressed by the French, and after witnessing revolutionaries in action in China and Russia, Vietnamese revolutionaries began to turn to more radical paths. Phan Bội Châu created the Việt Nam Quang Phục Hội, sometimes known simply as Quang Phuc Hoi (Vietnamese for Vietnam Restoration League), a nationalist republican militant revolutionary organization of Vietnam. The stated aim of the new organization was to "drive out the French bandits, restore Vietnam, establish a democratic republic". The organization failed to achieve any notable successes through its limited guerrilla attacks and failed to gain momentum, while at the same time it was crippled by arrests and executions of its members.

The Việt Nam Quốc Dân Đảng (Vietnamese Nationalist Party) was formed in 1927. Its origins lie in the mid-1920s, when a group of young Hanoi-based intellectuals began publishing revolutionary material. In 1927, after the publishing house failed because of French harassment and censorship, the VNQDD was formed under the leadership of Nguyen Thai Hoc. Modelling itself on the Republic of China's Kuomintang, the VNQDD gained a following among northerners, particularly teachers and intellectuals. The party, which was less successful among peasants and industrial workers, was organised in small clandestine cells.

From 1928, the VNQDD attracted attention through its assassinations of French officials and Vietnamese collaborators. A turning point came in February 1929 with the killing of Hervé Bazin, a French labour recruiter widely despised by the Vietnamese people. Although the perpetrators' precise affiliation was unclear, the French authorities held the VNQDD responsible. Between 300 and 400 of the party's approximately 1,500 members were detained in the resulting crackdown. Many of the leaders were arrested, but Hoc managed to escape.

In late 1929, the party was weakened by an internal split. Under increasing French pressure, the VNQDD leadership switched tack, replacing a strategy of isolated clandestine attacks against individuals with a plan to expel the French in a single blow with a large-scale popular uprising. After stockpiling home-made weapons, the VNQDD launched an uprising on February 10, 1930 at Yen Bai with the aim of sparking a widespread revolt. VNQDD forces combined with disaffected Vietnamese troops, who mutinied against the French colonial army. The mutiny was quickly put down, with heavy French retribution. Hoc and other leading figures were captured and executed and the VNQDD never regained its political strength in the country.


In the late 1920's, Marxism was introduced into Vietnam with the emergence of three separate Communist parties; the Indochinese Communist Party, Annamese Communist Party and the Indochinese Communist Union, joined later by a Trotskyist movement led by Tạ Thu Thâu. In 1930 the Communist International (Comintern) sent Nguyễn Ái Quốc (later Ho Chi Minh) to Hong Kong to coordinate the unification of the parties into the Vietnamese Communist Party with Trần Phú as the first Secretary General. The party later changed its name to the Indochinese Communist Party as the Comintern, under Stalin, did not favor nationalistic sentiments.

In 1935 a Comintern congress in Moscow adopted a policy towards a popular front against fascism and directed Communist movements around the world to collaborate with anti-fascist forces regardless of their orientation towards socialism. This required the ICP to regard all nationalist parties in Indochina as potential allies.

The party was formally dissolved in 1945 in order to hide its Communist affiliation and its activities were folded into the Marxism Research Association and the Viet Minh, which had been founded four years earlier as a common front for national liberation. The Party was refounded as the Vietnam Workers' Party (Đảng lao động Việt Nam) at the Second National Party Congress in Tuyen Quang in 1951.

Ho Chi Minh[edit]

Hồ Chí Minh was born, as Nguyễn Sinh Cung, in 1890. He had three siblings, his sister Bạch Liên (or Nguyễn Thị Thanh), a clerk in the French Army, his brother Nguyễn Sinh Khiêm (or Nguyễn Tất Đạt), a geomancer and traditional herbalist, and another brother (Nguyễn Sinh Nhuận) who died in his infancy. Following Confucian traditions, at the age of 10 his father named him Nguyễn Tất Thành (Nguyễn the Accomplished).

Ho's father, Nguyễn Sinh Sắc, was a Confucian scholar, small time teacher and later an imperial magistrate in a small remote district Binh Khe (Qui Nhon). He was later demoted for abuse of power after an influential local figure died several days after receiving 100 canes as punishment. This however was merely a pretense by the French-controlled government to get rid of Sac, whose sons had been involved in nationalist, Anti-French activities at the Duc Thanh school, founded in 1907 by patriotic scholars who hoped to imitate the success of the Hanoi Free School. Deferent to his father, Ho received a French education, attended lycée in Huế, the alma mater of his later disciples, Phạm Văn Đồng and Võ Nguyên Giáp. He later left his studies and chose to teach at Dục Thanh school in Phan Thiết.

From 1911 to 1919, Hồ Chí Minh spent time in France, the United States, and England supporting himself as a cleaner, waiter, baker, chef and film retoucher. Hồ spent most of his free time in public libraries reading history books and newspapers to familiarize himself with Western society and politics. It is believed that while in the United States he made contact with Korean nationalists, an experience that developed his political outlook.

From 1919–1923, while living in France, Hồ Chí Minh embraced communism, through his friend Marcel Cachin (SFIO).[citation needed] Following World War I, under the name of Nguyễn Ái Quốc (Nguyen the Patriot), he petitioned for recognition of the civil rights of the Vietnamese people in French Indochina to the Western powers at the Versailles peace talks, but was ignored. Citing the language and the spirit of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Ho petitioned U.S. President Woodrow Wilson for help to remove the French from Vietnam and replace it with a new, nationalist government. His request was ignored. Hồ was a founding member of the Parti Communiste Français (French Communist Party) and spent much of his time in Moscow afterwards, becoming the Comintern's Asia hand and the principal theorist on colonial warfare.

In 1923, Hồ left Paris for Moscow, where he was employed by the Comintern, and participated in the Fifth Comintern Congress in June 1924, before arriving in Canton (Guangzhou), China, in November 1924. During 1925-26 he organized 'Youth Education Classes' and occasionally gave lectures at the Whampoa Military Academy on the revolutionary movement in Indochina. In 1930 Hồ was sent to Hong Kong to coordinate the unification of Vietnamese Communists into the Vietnamese Communist Party. In 1938, he returned to China and served as an adviser with Chinese Communist armed forces. Around 1940, Nguyễn Ái Quốc began regularly using the name "Hồ Chí Minh", a Vietnamese name combining a common Vietnamese surname (Hồ, 胡) with a given name meaning "enlightened will" (from Sino-Vietnamese 志明; Chí meaning 'will' (or spirit), and Minh meaning 'light'), in essence, mean "bringer of light".

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