Viet Nam has an age-long and special culture that is closely attached to the history of the formation and development of the nation.
Historians have shared a common view that Viet Nam has got a fairly large cultural community that was formed around the first half of the first millenium before Christ and flourished in the middle of this millenium. That was Dong Son cultural community. This culture attained a degree of development higher than that of others at that time in the region and had its own characteristics but still bore the features of Southeast Asian culture because of the common South Asian racial root (Southern Mongoloid) and the water rice culture. Different development routes of local cultures in various areas (in the deltas of Hong(Red) river, Ma (Horse) river, Ca river and so on...) joined together to form Dong Son culture. This was also the period of the very "embryonic" state of Viet Nam in the form of inter- and super-village community, which come into being and existed in order to resist invaders and to build and maintain dykes for rice cultivation. From this pattern of "embryo" state, primitive tribes grew into nations.
The period of Van Lang-Au Lac culture (lasting for nearly 3,000 years up to the end of the first millenium before Christ) in the early Bronze Age with 18 Hung kings was regarded as the first apogee in the history of the Vietnamese culture, which was typified by the Dong Son bronze drum and stable technique of cultivating water rice.
The post-Chinese domination period was characterized by the two parallel trends of Han assimilation and anti-Han assimilation. The Dai Viet (Great Viet Nam) period was the second apogee of the Vietnamese culture. Throughout the time of independent feudal states, milestoned by the Ly-Tran and Le dynasties, the Vietnamese culture underwent comprehensive restoration and quick boom, under the tremendous influence of Buddhism and Taoism.
After the chaotic Le-Mac and Trinh-Nguyen period, when the country was separated, and since the Tay Son dynasty reunited the country and territory, the Nguyen dynasty tried to restore Confucian culture. They, however, failed because Confucianism had already been fading and the Western culture started to penetrate into the country. The period up to the end of French domination was marked by a cultural mix brought about by two opposite trends - i.e. of Europeanization and anti-Europeanization; that presents, the fight between patriotic culture and colonialist culture.
The period of modern Vietnamese culture has gradually taken shape since the 30s and 40s of this century under the banner of patriotism and Marxism-Leninism. Vietnamese culture, with the increasingly intensive integration into the world modern civilization and the preservation and enhancement of the national identity, promises to reach a new historical peak.
It can be said that there were three layers of culture overlapping each other during the history of Vietnam: local culture, the culture that mixed with those of China and other countries in the region, and the culture that interacted with Western culture. The most prominent feature of the Vietnamese culture is that it was not assimilated by foreign cultures thanks to the strong local cultural foundations. On the contrary, it was able to utilize and localize those from abroad to enrich the national culture.
The Vietnamese national culture emerged from a concrete living environment: a tropical country with many rivers and the confluence of great cultures. The natural conditions (temperature, humidity, monsoon, water-flows, water-rice agriculture ...) exert a remarkable impact on the material and spiritual life of the nation, the characteristics and psychology of the Vietnamese. However, social and historical conditions exert an extremely great influence on culture and national psychology. Thus, there are still cultural differences between Viet Nam and other water-rice cultures like Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, India and so on. Though sharing the same Southeast Asian cultural origin, the Vietnamese culture was transformed and bore East Asian cultural characteristics because of the long domination of the Chinese Han dynasty and the imposition of its culture on Viet Nam.
The Vietnamese nation was formed early in the history and often had to carry out wars of resistance against foreign invaders, which created a prominent cultural feature: a patriotism that infiltrated and encompassed every aspect of life. Community factors with primitive origin were amalgamated early in the history and became the foundations for the development of patriotism and national consciousness. Continual wars were the major cause of the vicissitudes of the Vietnamese social development history. All the social and economic structures were often dismantled by wars, so the social development could hardly reach its peak. Also because of the destruction of wars, Viet Nam has virtually no gigantic cultural and artistic construction, or if any, they could not have been preserved intact.
Philosophy and ideologies
The Vietnamese have ways of living and ideologies suitable to its nation. At the start, with primitive and rudimentary cognition of materialism and dialectics, Vietnamese thought was mixed with beliefs. However, originating from agricultural culture that differs from nomadic culture by the appreciation of stillness over movement and closely related to natural phenomena, the Vietnamese philosophy paid special attention to relations that was typified by doctrine of yin and yang and the five basic elements (not exactly the same as the Chinese doctrine) and manifested by the moderate lifestyle tending towards harmony.
Afterwards, the influence of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, that were conciliated and Vietnamized, contributed to the development of the Vietnamese society and culture. Particularly, Zen-Buddhists in the Tran dynasty came up with the interpretation of most philosophical subjects that was set forth by Buddhism (Heart- Buddha, being or not being, life and death) in an original and distinguished way. Although Confucianism flourished afterward, many famous Vietnamese Confucianists did not stick blindly to Confucianism and Mencianism, but rather adopted the spirit of Buddhism and Taoism to make their ideology more open, closer to the people and more harmonious with nature.
Under autocratic dynasties, deep feudal ideologies were imposed on farmers and bound women, however, village democracy and primitive community still existed on the basis of self-supplied agriculture. Farmer's thoughts that penetrated deeply into the Vietnamese agricultural society had many positive and typical features of the traditional Vietnamese. Farmers were the core of wars of resistance and uprisings against foreign invaders. Many talented generals, topped by Quang Trung Nguyen Hue - the hero of the common people in the 18th century, came from farmers.
The policy that facilitated agriculture and restrained trade, prevailing in the Nguyen dynasty, blocked the development of city-dwellers consciousness. In the past, the Vietnamese ranked agriculture and education as their first and second priorities of occupations, while having a low opinion of business people. Other trades were regarded as minor ones, including cultural activities.
In the 19th century when Vietnamese feudalism faded and Chinese civilization declined, Western culture started to penetrate Viet Nam, following the colonialists' guns. The working class formed at the start of the 20th century as a result of the colonial exploitation programs. Marxism-Leninism was introduced in Viet Nam in the '20s and '30s, combining with patriotism to become a momentum of historical changes, which led the country up to independence, democracy and socialism. The person representing this era was Ho Chi Minh, who was recognized by the international community and UNESCO as a Vietnamese hero of national liberation and a great man of culture.
The agricultural society is characterized by the village community with many prolonged primitive vestiges that have formed the specific characteristics of the Vietnamese. Those were the thoughts of dualism, a concrete way of thinking that was tilted to emotional experiences rather than rationalism and preferred images to concepts. However, it was also a flexible, adaptable, and conciliatory way of thinking. This was a way of living that highly valued emotional ties and attachment to relatives and the community (because "there would be no home in a lost country" and "the whole village rather than a sole roof would be engulfed by flood"). This was a way of behaving toward conciliatory, equilibrium and relations-based settlement of conflicts and disputes. This way of living could cope accordingly with the situation, which many times in history was successful in using suppleness to prevail over firmness and weakness to resist strength.
On the scale of spiritual values, the Vietnamese highly appreciate "Benevolence" and closely combined it with "Righteousness" and "Virtues"; no benevolence and righteousness are tantamount to no virtues. Nguyen Trai once described the Vietnamese concept of Benevolence and Righteousness as the opposition to fierce violence, which was enhanced to the foundation for the policy of ruling as well as saving the country. The Vietnamese understood that Loyalty meant being loyal to the nation, which was higher than the loyalty to the ruler, and respected Piety without being so bound with the framework of family. Happiness was also among the top social values; people often make compliments on the happiness of a family rather than wealth and social position./.