Vietnam (vê-èt¹näm¹), officially Socialist Republic of Vietnam, republic (population - 1993 estimate - was 71,787,608), 128,401 sq mi (332,559 sq km), SE Asia, bordered by Cambodia and Laos (W), China (N), and the South China Sea (E, S). Major cities are HANOI (the capital) and HO CHI MINH CITY (formerly Saigon). The terrain is generally rugged; the two principal regions, the Red R. delta in the north and the Mekong R. delta in the south, are linked by a narrow, mountainous strip. Agriculture, primarily the growing of rice, is the basis of the economy, engaging more than 80% of the work force; Vietnam is a major rice exporter. Peanuts, corn, cassava, and sweet potatoes, and beans are also grown for subsistence; cash crops include cotton, jute, coffee, and tea. Fishing is also important. Mining, particularly of coal, heavy industry, and most of the timber resources are concentrated in the north. Offshore petroleum deposits have been developed, and crude oil is exported. About 80% of the population are Vietnamese. Significant minorities include highland tribal peoples such as the Nungs and Meos and Cambodians and Thais. Large numbers of ethnic Chinese fled the country after a border clash with China in 1979. Buddhism and Roman Catholicism are practiced, but religion is discouraged by the government.
The Vietnamese first appeared in history as one of many scattered peoples living in what is now South China and Northern Vietnam just before the beginning of the Christian era. According to local tradition, the small Vietnamese kingdom of Au Lac, located in the heart of the Red River valley, was founded by a line of legendary kings who had ruled over the ancient kingdom of Van Lang for thousands of years. Historical evidence to substantiate this tradition is scanty, but archaeological findings indicate that the early peoples of the Red River delta area may have been among the first East Asians to practice agriculture, and by the 1st century BC they had achieved a relatively advanced level of Bronze Age civilization.
The area that is now Vietnam is composed of the historic regions of TONKIN, ANNAM, and COCHIN CHINA. European traders arrived in the early 16th cent. The French captured Saigon in 1859, organized the colony of Cochin China in 1867, and declared protectorates over Tonkin and Annam in 1884. The three were merged with Cambodia in 1887 to form French INDOCHINA. A nationalist movement arose in the early 20th cent., gaining momentum during the Japanese occupation in WORLD WAR II. After the Japanese withdrew in 1945 the VIET MINH, a coalition of nationalists and Communists, established a republic headed by HO CHI MINH. French attempts to reassert control and establish BAO DAI as emperor resulted in the French Indochina War (194654), which ended with the French defeat at DIENBIENPHU. At the Geneva Conference of 1954 Vietnam was provisionally divided, pending nationwide free elections, into Communist North Vietnam and nationalist South Vietnam. Fearing a Communist victory, the regime of Ngo Dinh DIEM refused to hold the scheduled elections and declared the south an independent republic in 1955. The VIETNAM WAR ensued, with the U.S. aiding South Vietnam. A cease-fire was signed and U.S. troops withdrawn in 1973, but the Communists overran the south in 1975, reunifying (1976) the country. The regime launched a large-scale resettlement and reeducation program to suppress continued opposition in the south. In 197879 it invaded Cambodia, overthrowing the regime of POL POT and provoking a brief invasion of N Vietnam by China. Continued political and social upheaval took its toll on the economy and also prompted the flight of great numbers of refugee BOAT PEOPLE. In the late 1980s economic failure and food shortages, both exacerbated by a U.S. economic embargo, led to decentralization and limited free enterprise, but the party retained tight political control. In 1992 the U.S. began to ease its embargo in response to Vietnam's support for the Cambodian peace process and cooperation in the search for missing American servicemen.
The modern nation of Vietnam encompasses the historic areas of Tonkin, Annam, and Cochin China. More than 400 years of European control disrupted these traditional regions. France colonized Vietnam in stages during the 19th century, and nationalist groups seeking independence created turbulence during much of the 20th century. From the 1950s to the 1970s, Vietnam was the battleground of an extended war and was divided. The northern portion was closely allied with Communist nations, such as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and China, which controlled Vietnam for much of its history. The southern portion was allied with the United States and other democratic nations. The Vietnam War ended in 1975, and political unity was established the next year when the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the north and the Republic of Vietnam in the south became one nation.
Land and Resources
Vietnam occupies the easternmost part of the Indochinese Peninsula, a rugged, elongated S-shaped strip of mountains, coastal plains, and river deltas.
Vietnam may be divided into four major regions. In the northwest is the mountainous southerly extension of China's Yunnan Plateau. The country's highest peak, Fan Si Pan (3143 m/10,312 ft), is located near the border with China. To the east of the highlands is the Red River (also known as the Song Hong) delta, a triangularly shaped lowland along the Gulf of Tonkin (an arm of the South China Sea). To the south the Annamese Highlands, which run northwest to southeast, and an associated coastal plain form the backbone of central Vietnam. The fourth and southernmost region is the Mekong River delta, a depositional area of flat land.
The soils of the Red River and Mekong River deltas, the two major deltas of Vietnam, are composed of rich alluvium except where damming for flood control has altered the stream flow. Soils in the uplands are poor as a result of leaching of nutrients from the ground by the abundant rainfall.
The Red River in the north and the Mekong River in the south are the two major freshwater streams. The Red flows almost directly southeast from the northwestern highlands, whereas the Mekong follows an irregular path from Cambodia, crosses southernmost Vietnam, and empties in the South China Sea through a complex network of distributaries. Both rivers have been leveed to prevent flood damage.
Three basic climate types are found in Vietnam. In the north, especially in the interior, the temperatures are subtropical. Shifting seasonal wind patterns result in dry winters and wet summers. The central and southeastern areas typify the tropical monsoon climate, with high temperatures and abundant precipitation. In the southwest, distinct wet and dry periods are evident, but temperatures are higher than in the north.
Vegetation and Animal Life
Abundant vegetation exists throughout Vietnam except where the landscape has been denuded. Typical mixed stands in the rain forests contain a wide variety of pines, broadleaf trees, vines, and bamboos. Dense mangroves bordering the distributaries of the deltas often hinder access to the water's edge. The tropical rain forests are inhabited by large mammals such as elephants, deer, bears, tigers, and leopards. Smaller animals, including monkeys, hares, squirrels, and otters, are found throughout the country. Reptiles such as crocodiles, snakes, and lizards, as well as many species of birds, are also indigenous.
The northern highlands of Vietnam contain valuable minerals, including iron, anthracite coal, zinc, chromite, tin, and apatite. Petroleum and natural gas deposits lie offshore.
Vietnamese, related to the southern Chinese, constitute the largest ethnic group in Vietnam and account for about 88 percent of the total population; the remainder are members of various ethnic groups. The size of the Chinese minority has decreased sharply with emigration.
The population of Vietnam (1993 estimate) was 71,787,608, yielding a population density of 217 persons per sq km (563 per sq mi). The majority live in small villages, though the southern part of the country is more urbanized than the northern part. Most people live in the delta areas or along the coast. The population of Vietnam is young: about 39 percent of all Vietnamese were less than 15 years of age in 1989, when the population was increasing by about 2.2 percent annually.
Most of the larger urban centers are located in southern Vietnam. Of the major cities, only the capital city of Hanoi (population, 1989, 3,056,146) is not located on the coast. Other large cities are Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon (3,924,435); Haiphong (1,447,523), Hanoi's port; and Da Nang (369,734), near the ancient city of Hue (260,489). The government has attempted to reverse the rural-to-urban migration stream by establishing new economic zones in the countryside and forcing city residents to relocate to these.
Vietnamese, the official language, is spoken by the majority of the population. The use of French, a remnant of colonial times, is declining. Some Vietnamese people who live in urban areas speak other languages, such as English and Russian. Khmer, Cham, and Montagnard are spoken primarily in the interior. With the exodus of the Chinese in recent years, the once-common use of their language has diminished.
Historically the country is mostly Buddhist, a reflection of Chinese influences. To the traditional religions of Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism have been added the newer faiths of Cao Dai and Hoa Hao. There are an estimated 4.5 million Roman Catholics.
Education and Cultural Activity
The long period of military conflict in Vietnam seriously disrupted educational progress and cultural programs, especially those remnants that dated from the years of French rule. Emphasis has been placed on the reeducation of the people in the south to instruct them in the Communist system.
All schools in Vietnam were nationalized following reunification, and by the late 1980s more than 12.6 million pupils were in attendance. Schooling is free and compulsory. Universities in Vietnam are the University of Hanoi (1956), and the University of Ho Chi Minh City (1917). More than 90 percent of the adult population is literate.
The cultural life of Vietnam was strongly flavored by that of China until French domination in the 19th century. At that time the traditional culture began to acquire an overlay of Western characteristics. The postwar government expressed its desire to rid Vietnamese life of Occidental influences. Two major museums of Vietnamese culture have been established, in Hanoi in 1958 and in Ho Chi Minh City in 1977. The National Library was established in Hanoi in 1919; a counterpart was founded in Ho Chi Minh City in 1976.
Telecommunications in Vietnam are under the control of the government or the Vietnamese Communist party. The Voice of Vietnam broadcasts from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. There are an estimated 6.6 million radios and 2.2 million televisions throughout the country. Of the four daily newspapers published in Vietnam, Nhan Dan, the official paper of the Communist party, has the largest circulation (300,000).
A constitution enacted in 1992 assigns to the Communist party a leading role in Vietnamese government and society. The party acts through the Vietnam Fatherland Front, which includes representatives of the nation's political parties, trade unions, and social organizations.
Under the 1992 constitution, the head of state is a president, elected by the legislature from among its members; as commander of the armed forces, the president chairs the Council on National Defense and Security. The prime minister, who heads the government, appoints a cabinet, subject to legislative approval.
The unicameral National Assembly, composed of a maximum of 400 members, is the highest legislative body in Vietnam. Governmental appointments are ratified by the legislature, which is elected for a five-year term.
Judges of the people's courts are elected to their offices. Organs of Control can initiate lawsuits against governmental bodies or individuals deemed to be violating the law. The highest court in Vietnam is the Supreme People's Court.
A system of people's councils, each representing a local jurisdiction, administers local government in Vietnam. Each council has a people's committee elected from it to serve as an executive. The country is divided into 50 provinces and three municipalities: Hanoi, Haiphong, and Ho Chi Minh City.
The Vietnamese Communist party is the leading political institution. All legislative candidates must be approved by the Fatherland Front.
A national social security system is in operation in Vietnam. In the late 1980s the nation had some 20,100 physicians and dentists and 216,000 hospital beds. The average life expectancy at birth is 66 years for women and 62 years for men.
The Vietnamese armed forces totaled 857,000 troops in 1992. From two to three years of military service are compulsory. Much of the equipment used by the military consists of abandoned American-made matériel and arms obtained from Vietnam's allies, particularly the former Soviet republics.
Vietnam's modern economy evolved under the burden of military actions and political upheavals. After partition in 1954, the nations of North Vietnam and South Vietnam each had developed their own economic structure, reflecting different economic systems with different resources and different trading partners. The North operated under a highly centralized, planned economy, whereas the South maintained a free-market economy. With the reunification of Vietnam in 1976 came the introduction of North Vietnam's centrally planned economy into the South.
In 1992 Vietnam had an estimated annual gross domestic product of $15.95 billion. To counteract economic stagnation, a development program in 1990 called for a doubling of per capita income, a 50 percent increase in the rice crop, and a fivefold increase in the value of exports by the year 2000. With the fall of the Soviet Union, Vietnam's principal benefactor, however, sharp cuts in aid intensified the nation's economic problems.
The civilian labor force of Vietnam in the late 1980s was estimated to exceed 30 million people. The only legal labor federation is the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor, which had a membership of about 3.8 million. The reunification of the country seriously affected the economic structure of Vietnam in terms of the composition of the labor force. The ethnic Chinese who left Vietnam were part of the cadre of trained administrators. Many of the workers in the south who fled or were sent to reeducation camps and collective farms had been part of the management of industries and businesses. Inexperienced workers were then placed in positions of authority, and as a result productivity dropped.
The leading sector of the Vietnamese economy is agriculture, which employs 72 percent of the labor force. The country's principal crops in the late 1980s (with annual output in metric tons) included rice, the staple food, 15.2 million; sugarcane, 6.7 million; fruits, vegetables, and melons, 7 million; cassava, 3 million; and sweet potatoes, 2.1 million. Cash crops include coffee, 219,000; tea, 30,000; soybeans, 82,000; and natural rubber, 51,000. Livestock included 12.1 million pigs, 2.9 million cattle, and 96 million poultry.
Forestry and Fishing
Although forests cover about 40 percent of Vietnam's total land area, the growth of commercial forestry has been hindered by a lack of transportation facilities, as well as by the mixture of different species of trees, making it uneconomical to harvest a single species. Teak and bamboo are predominant. Most of the 25.8 million cu m (911 million cu ft) of roundwood harvested annually in the late 1980s was used for fuel. Vietnam's extensive coastline and numerous streams are rich fishing sites. Most fish are taken from the South China Sea. Some fish farming has been undertaken in flooded areas inland. About 871,400 metric tons of fish, crabs, shrimps and prawns, and other mollusks were caught annually in the late 1980s.
Most mining activities are confined to the northwest, where anthracite coal, phosphate rock, copper, tin, zinc, iron antimony, and chromium are extracted. Coal and apatite, a phosphate rock, are extensively mined. In addition, large petroleum and natural gas deposits lie offshore. Petroleum has been extracted since 1975 and production, mostly by a state-owned company, has been increasing. The areas holding all of the petroleum and natural gas reserves are also claimed by China.
The major Vietnamese manufacturing plants, concentrated in the north, have been almost totally restored, but output has not reached planned levels. Those industries that have dominated Vietnam's economy manufacture paper, cement, textiles, food products, chemicals, fertilizers, and electronics.
Vietnam has not yet fully utilized its considerable hydroelectric power potential. Coal-powered plants remain the primary source of electricity. In the late 1980s some 5.3 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity were generated annually.
The war years left a mark on the transport system of Vietnam. Since the end of the conflict, major efforts have been made to link the south and the north. Vehicular transportation, easiest along the coast, employs a network of about 85,700 km (about 53,250 mi) of roads, of which about 11 percent are paved. Railways have about 3220 km (about 2000 mi) of operable track and are concentrated in the north, except for the 1730-km (1075-mi) Hanoi-to-Ho Chi Minh City line. The long coastline of the country and the Mekong and Red rivers, as well as many smaller streams and canals, facilitate inexpensive transportation. The major ports used for international shipping are Haiphong, Da Nang, and Ho Chi Minh City. Domestic flights link several of Vietnam's cities, and Vietnam Airline operates both internationally and domestically. Ho Chi Minh City and Noi Bai have international airports. All transport facilities are government controlled.
Currency and Banking
Following the reunification of Vietnam, the piastre, the currency of the south, was abolished. The new dông is now the national monetary unit; the new dông is divided into 100 xu (10,500 new dông equal U.S.$1; 1992). The State Bank of Vietnam (1951), headquartered in Hanoi, operates the only banking system within the country. The Bank for Foreign Trade of Vietnam is authorized to handle foreign currencies.
Commerce and Trade
The industrialized north relies on the south for much of its agricultural needs, and, since the dismantling of the free-market economy in the south, the north has provided manufactured goods for the south. Vietnam's annual exports include unprocessed agricultural products, petroleum, coal, clothing, footwear, ceramics, gemstones, and silk. Exports were valued at $2.01 billion in 1991. Imports, dominated by mineral fuels, tractors, fertilizers, and transportation equipment, were valued at about $2.05 billion. Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, France, and Germany are Vietnam's major trading partners. On February 4, 1994, the United States ended a trade embargo that had been imposed against North Vietnam in 1964 and extended to all of Vietnam on April 30, 1975, after the fall of South Vietnam. Restrictions on the sale of weapons and some high-technology goods were left in place. Diplomatic relations were not restored, but there were provisions for the opening of liaison offices in each capital.
In 221 BC the Ch'in dynasty in China completed its conquest of neighboring states and became the first to rule over a united China. The Ch'in Empire, however, did not long survive the death of its dynamic founder, Shih Huang Ti, and the impact of its collapse was soon felt in Vietnam. In the wreckage of the empire, the Chinese commander in the south built his own kingdom of Nam Viet (South Viet; Chinese, Nan Yüeh); the young state of Au Lac was included. In 111 BC, Chinese armies conquered Nam Viet and absorbed it into the growing Han Empire. The Chinese conquest had fateful consequences for the future course of Vietnamese history. After briefly ruling through local chieftains, Chinese rulers attempted to integrate Vietnam politically and culturally into the Han Empire. Chinese administrators were imported to replace the local landed nobility. Political institutions patterned after the Chinese model were imposed, and Confucianism became the official ideology. The Chinese language was introduced as the medium of official and literary expression, and Chinese ideographs were adopted as the written form for the Vietnamese spoken language. Chinese art, architecture, and music exercised a powerful impact on their Vietnamese counterparts. Vietnamese resistance to rule by the Chinese was fierce but sporadic. The most famous early revolt took place in AD 39, when two widows of local aristocrats, the Trung sisters, led an uprising against foreign rule. The revolt was briefly successful, and the older sister, Trung Trac, established herself as ruler of an independent state. Chinese armies returned to the attack, however, and in AD 43 Vietnam was reconquered.
The Trung sisters' revolt was only the first in a series of intermittent uprisings that took place during a thousand years of Chinese rule in Vietnam. Finally, in 939, Vietnamese forces under Ngo Quyen took advantage of chaotic conditions in China to defeat local occupation troops and set up an independent state. Ngo Quyen's death a few years later ushered in a period of civil strife, but in the early 11th century the first of the great Vietnamese dynasties was founded. Under the astute leadership of several dynamic rulers, the Ly dynasty ruled Vietnam for more than 200 years, from 1010 to 1225. Although the rise of the Ly reflected the emergence of a lively sense of Vietnamese nationhood, Ly rulers retained many of the political and social institutions that had been introduced during the period of Chinese rule. Confucianism continued to provide the foundation for the political institutions of the state. The Chinese civil service examination system was retained as the means of selecting government officials, and although at first only members of the nobility were permitted to compete in the examinations, eventually the right was extended to include most males. The educational system also continued to reflect the Chinese model. Young Vietnamese preparing for the examinations were schooled in the Confucian classics and grew up conversant with the great figures and ideas that had shaped Chinese history. Vietnamese society, however, was more than just a pale reflection of China. Beneath the veneer of Chinese fashion and thought, popular mostly among the upper classes, native forms of expression continued to flourish. Young Vietnamese learned to appreciate the great heroes of the Vietnamese past, many of whom had built their reputation on resistance to the Chinese conquest. At the village level, social mores reflected native forms more than patterns imported from China. Although to the superficial eye Vietnam looked like a smaller dragon, under the tutelage of the great empire to the north it continued to have a separate culture with vibrant traditions of its own.
The Economy Under the Ly Dynasty
Like most of its neighbors, Vietnam was primarily an agricultural state, its survival based above all on the cultivation of wet rice. As in medieval Europe, much of the land was divided among powerful noble families, who often owned thousands of serfs or domestic slaves. A class of landholding farmers also existed, however, and powerful monarchs frequently attempted to protect this class by limiting the power of feudal lords and dividing up their large estates. The Vietnamese economy was not based solely on agriculture. Commerce and manufacturing thrived, and local crafts appeared in regional markets throughout the area. Vietnam never developed into a predominantly commercial nation, however, or became a major participant in regional trade patterns.
Under the rule of the Ly dynasty and its successor, the Tran (1225-1400), Vietnam became a dynamic force in Southeast Asia. China's rulers, however, had not abandoned their historic objective of controlling the Red River delta, and when the Mongol dynasty came to power in the 13th century, the armies of Kublai Khan attacked Vietnam in an effort to reincorporate it into the Chinese Empire. The Vietnamese resisted with vigor, and after several bitter battles they defeated the invaders and drove them back across the border. While the Vietnamese maintained their vigilance toward the north, an area of equal and growing concern lay to the south. For centuries, the Vietnamese state had been restricted to its heartland in the Red River valley and adjacent hills. Tension between Vietnam and the kingdom of Champa, a seafaring state along the central coast, appeared shortly after the restoration of Vietnamese independence. On several occasions, Cham armies broke through Vietnamese defenses and occupied the capital near Hanoi. More frequently, Vietnamese troops were victorious, and they gradually drove Champa to the south. Finally, in the 15th century, Vietnamese forces captured the Cham capital south of present-day Da Nang and virtually destroyed the kingdom. For the next several generations, Vietnam continued its historic march to the south, wiping up the remnants of the Cham Kingdom and gradually approaching the marshy flatlands of the Mekong delta. There it confronted a new foe, the Khmer Empire, which had once been the most powerful state in the region. By the late 16th century, however, it had declined, and it offered little resistance to Vietnamese encroachment. By the end of the 17th century, Vietnam had occupied the lower Mekong delta and began to advance to the west, threatening to transform the disintegrating Khmer state into a mere protectorate.
The Le Dynasty
The Vietnamese advance to the south coincided with new challenges in the north. In 1407 Vietnam was again conquered by Chinese troops. For two decades, the Ming dynasty attempted to reintegrate Vietnam into the empire, but in 1428, resistance forces under the rebel leader Le Loi dealt the Chinese a decisive defeat and restored Vietnamese independence. Le Loi mounted the throne as the first emperor of the Le dynasty. The new ruling house retained its vigor for more than a hundred years, but in the 16th century it began to decline. Power at court was wielded by two rival aristocratic clans, the Trinh and the Nguyen. When the former became dominant, the Nguyen were granted a fiefdom in the south, dividing Vietnam into two separate zones. Rivalry was sharpened by the machinations of European powers newly arrived in Southeast Asia in pursuit of wealth and Christian converts. By the late 18th century, the Le dynasty was near collapse. Vast rice lands were controlled by grasping feudal lords. Angry peasantsled by the Tay Son brothersrevolted, and in 1789 Nguyen Hue, the ablest of the brothers, briefly restored Vietnam to united rule. Nguyen Hue died shortly after ascending the throne; a few years later Nguyen Anh, an heir to the Nguyen house in the south, defeated the Tay Son armies. As Emperor Gia Long, he established a new dynasty in 1802.
A French missionary, Pierre Pigneau de Behaine, had raised a mercenary force to help Nguyen Anh seize the throne in the hope that the new emperor would provide France with trading and missionary privileges, but his hopes were disappointed. The Nguyen dynasty was suspicious of French influence. Roman Catholic missionaries and their Vietnamese converts were persecuted, and a few were executed during the 1830s. Religious groups in France demanded action from the government in Paris. When similar pressure was exerted by commercial and military interests, Emperor Napoleon III approved the launching of a naval expedition in 1858 to punish the Vietnamese and force the court to accept a French protectorate. The first French attack at Da Nang Harbor failed to achieve its objectives, but a second farther south was more successful, and in 1862 the court at Hue agreed to cede several provinces in the Mekong delta (later called Cochin China) to France. In the 1880s the French returned to the offensive, launching an attack on the north. After severe defeats, the Vietnamese accepted a French protectorate over the remaining territory of Vietnam.
Colonial Rule and Resistance
The imposition of French colonial rule had met with little organized resistance. The national sense of identity, however, had not been crushed, and anticolonial sentiment soon began to emerge. Poor economic conditions contributed to native hostility to French rule. Although French occupation brought improvements in transportation and communications, and contributed to the growth of commerce and manufacturing, colonialism brought little improvement in livelihood to the mass of the population. In the countryside, peasants struggled under heavy taxes and high rents. Workers in factories, in coal mines, and on rubber plantations labored in abysmal conditions for low wages. By the early 1920s, nationalist parties began to demand reform and independence. In 1930 the revolutionary Ho Chi Minh formed an Indochinese Communist party. Until World War II started in 1939, such groups labored without success. In 1940, however, Japan demanded and received the right to place Vietnam under military occupation, restricting the local French administration to figurehead authority. Seizing the opportunity, the Communists organized the broad Vietminh Front and prepared to launch an uprising at the war's end. The Vietminh (short for Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh, or League for the Independence of Vietnam) emphasized moderate reform and national independence rather than specifically Communist aims. When the Japanese surrendered to the Allies in August 1945, Vietminh forces arose throughout Vietnam and declared the establishment of an independent republic in Hanoi. The French, however, were unwilling to concede independence and in October drove the Vietminh and other nationalist groups out of the south. For more than a year the French and the Vietminh sought a negotiated solution, but the talks, held in France, failed to resolve differences, and war broke out in December 1946.
The Expulsion of the French
The conflict lasted for nearly eight years. The Vietminh retreated into the hills to build up their forces while the French formed a rival Vietnamese government under Emperor Bao Dai, the last ruler of the Nguyen dynasty, in populated areas along the coast. Vietminh forces lacked the strength to defeat the French and generally restricted their activities to guerrilla warfare. In 1953-1954 the French fortified a base at Dien Bien Phu. After months of siege and heavy casualties, the Vietminh overran the fortress in a decisive battle. As a consequence, the French government could no longer resist pressure from a war-weary populace at home and in June 1954 agreed to negotiations to end the war. At a conference held in Geneva the two sides accepted an interim compromise to end the war. They divided the country at the 17th parallel, with the Vietminh in the North and the French and their Vietnamese supporters in the South. To avoid permanent partition, a political protocol was drawn up, calling for national elections to reunify the country two years after the signing of the treaty.
After Geneva, the Viet minh in Hanoi refrained from armed struggle and began to build a Communist society. In the southern capital, Saigon, Bao Dai soon gave way to a new regime under the staunch anti-Communist president Ngo Dinh Diem. With diplomatic support from the United States, Diem refused to hold elections and attempted to destroy Communist influence in the South. By 1959, however, Diem was in trouble. His unwillingness to tolerate domestic opposition, his alleged favoritism of fellow Roman Catholics, and the failure of his social and economic programs seriously alienated key groups in the populace and led to rising unrest. The Communists decided it was time to resume their revolutionary war.
The Vietnam War
In the fall of 1963, Diem was overthrown and killed in a coup launched by his own generals. In the political confusion that followed, the security situation in South Vietnam continued to deteriorate, putting the Communists within reach of victory. In early 1965, to prevent the total collapse of the Saigon regime, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson approved regular intensive bombing of North Vietnam and the dispatch of U.S. combat troops into the South. The U.S. intervention caused severe problems for the Communists on the battlefield and compelled them to send regular units of the North Vietnamese army into the South. It did not persuade them to abandon the struggle, however, and in 1968, after the bloody Tet offensive shook the new Saigon regime of President Nguyen Van Thieu to its foundations, the Johnson administration decided to pursue a negotiated settlement. Ho Chi Minh died in 1969 and was succeeded by another leader of the revolution, Le Duan. The new U.S. president, Richard Nixon, continued Johnson's policy while gradually withdrawing U.S. troops. In January 1973 the war temporarily came to an end with the signing of a peace agreement in Paris. The settlement provided for the total removal of remaining U.S. troops, while Hanoi tacitly agreed to accept the Thieu regime in preparation for new national elections. The agreement soon fell apart, however, and in early 1975 the Communists launched a military offensive. In six weeks, the resistance of the Thieu regime collapsed, and on April 30 the Communists seized power in Saigon.
The Socialist Republic of Vietnam
In 1976 the South was reunited with the North in a new Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The conclusion of the war, however, did not end the violence. Border tension with the Communist government in Cambodia escalated rapidly after the fall of Saigon, and in early 1979 the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia and installed a pro-Vietnamese government. A few weeks later, Vietnam was itself attacked by its Communist neighbor and erstwhile benefactor, China. In the mid-1980s, about 140,000 Vietnamese troops were stationed in Cambodia and another 50,000 troops in Laos. Vietnam substantially reduced its forces in Laos during 1988 and withdrew virtually all its troops from Cambodia by September 1989. Within Vietnam, postwar economic and social problems were severe, and reconstruction proceeded slowly. Efforts to collectivize agriculture and nationalize business aroused hostility in the south. Disappointing harvests and the absorption of resources by the military further retarded Vietnam's recovery. In the early 1990s, the government encouraged foreign investment and sought to improve relations with the United States.
1994 Funk & Wagnall's
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