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Vietnam Essay, Research Paper


The war-torn country of Vietnam is once again in the midst of a revolution. Only this war

is not being fought with soldiers and tanks; rather, it is being fought and won with businessmen and free-trade. This new on-slot of foreign business in the formerly closed country have completely rejuvenated the Vietnamese economy. For the first time since the re-unification of Vietnam in 1976, the doors of the market place are opened to the outside world and Vietnam is aggressively taking a stance for further economic development.

Before any International firm attempts to conduct business with, or in Vietnam, it is extremely important to not only know your potential consumer, but to understand him as well. Vietnam has a unique and rich cultural history that separates it from its neighboring Asian nations. Therefore, even the most successful marketing plans for other Asian countries probably will not work in Vietnam. It is a country with an identity of its own.

This report was compiled in an attempt to educate businesses and their employees of what makes Vietnam the welcoming, yet challenging nation it has become in the global marketplace. By first understanding the country and the people, it is then possible to formulate the most successful plan for a business venture. By gaining a foot-hold in the emerging market now, companies will benefit from continuous economic growth from the next potential

?Asian Tiger?–VIETNAM.


This is a glance into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, describing and analyzing its

political, economic, social, and national security systems and institutions, and examining the interrelationships of those systems and the ways they are shaped by cultural factors. This in an attempt to provide a basic understanding of the observed society, striving for a dynamic rather than a static portrayal. Particular attention is devoted to the people who make up the society, their origins, dominant beliefs and values, their common interests and the issues on which they are divided, the nature and extent of their involvement with national institutions, and their attitudes toward each other and toward their social system and political order.


Official Name: Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Capital: Hanoi

Location: A republic of Southeast Asia, bordered by China on the north, the South China Sea on the east and south, and Cambodia and Laos on the west (see Appendix A).

Land Area: Its area is 329,707 sq km (127,301 sq mi); larger than Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina combined.

Terrain: Varies from mountainous to costal delta.

Climate: Tropical monsoon.


A constitution enacted in 1992 assigned to the Communist party a leading role in Vietnamese government and society, but curbed some of its administrative functions. The constitution also increased the powers of the National Assembly. The Communist 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 president appoints, with legislative approval, the prime minister, who heads the government. The prime minister appoints a cabinet, also subject to legislative approval.


The unicameral National Assembly, composed of a maximum of 400 members, is the highest legislative body in Vietnam. The legislature is elected to a five-year term by universal adult suffrage.


Judges of the people’s courts are elected to their offices. Organs of Control, which act as watchdogs for the state as well as monitoring government agencies, 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.

Local Government

A system of people’s councils, each representing a local jurisdiction, administers local government in Vietnam. Each council elects a committee to serve as an executive. The country is divided into 53 provinces and three municipalities: Hanoi, Haiphong, and Ho Chi Minh City.


Over thousands of years the Vietnamese have passed down the legend of their origin as being descendants of the Dragon and the Fairy. An extremely strong son of a dragon, Lac Long Quan, having killed a sea monster, settled in what is now Vietnam, and married a fairy, Au Co. Together, they gave birth to a membrane with a hundred eggs which later became a hundred children. Fifty of the children followed the father to the sea, and fifty stayed with their mother in the mountainous area. The eldest son was proclaimed King Hung Vuong, and the country Van Lang, which today is Vietnam.

From the 1st to the 6th centuries, the south of what is now Vietnam was part of the

Indianised kingdom of Funan. The Hindu kingdom of Champa appeared around present-day Danang in the late 2nd century and had spread south to what is now Nha Trang by the 8th century. The Chinese conquered the Red River Delta in the 2nd century and their 1000-year rule, marked by tenacious Vietnamese resistance and repeated rebellions, ended in 938 AD when Ngo Quyen vanquished the Chinese armies at the Bach Dang River.

During the next few centuries, Vietnam repulsed repeated invasions by China, and expanded its borders southwards from the Red River Delta, populating much of the Mekong Delta. In 1858, French and Spanish-led forces stormed Danang after several missionaries had been killed. A year later, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) was seized. By 1867, France had conquered all of southern Vietnam, which became the French colony of Cochin-China.

Communist guerillas under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh resisted French domination. Ho Chi Minh’s declaration of Vietnamese independence after WW II sparked violent confrontations with the French, culminating in the French military defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

The Geneva Accords of 1954 temporarily divided Vietnam into two zones (the Communist north and the anti-Communist, US-supported south). Political and ideological opposition quickly turned to armed struggle, prompting the USA and other countries to commit combat troops in 1965. The Paris Peace Agreements, signed in 1973, provided an immediate cease-fire and signaled the withdrawal of US troops. Saigon eventually capitulated to the Communist forces on 30 April 1975.

The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR in 1991 caused Vietnam and

Western nations to seek rapprochement. In July 1995 even intransigent America re-established diplomatic relations with Hanoi (see Appendix B for a time line of historic events).


The Socialist Republic of Vietnam has undergone several extreme changes since it?s reunification in 1976 following the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The face of the economic system was completely altered from a capitalist system in the South to the centrally controlled communist system in the North. In the years that followed, emphasis was placed on heavy industry at the expense of other economic sectors. Close central control and poor management of the economy led to a decline in industrial and agricultural production. Faced with stagnant growth, a severe shortage of food, deficit budgets, soaring inflation and chronic trade imbalances, the Sixth National Congress of Vietnam?s Communist Party, held in December 1986, initiated an overall economic renovation policy. Popularly known as ?Doi Moi,? the policy aimed at making the country self-sufficient in food production and improving the standard of living of the people. The core of ?Doi Moi? was to reduce the state intervention in business and to open the country to foreign investment.

A key element in Vietnam?s continuing process of economic renovation has been the country?s adoption of policies to encourage private investment. In an effort to attract more foreign investment and to boost the domestic private sector, Vietnam amended its foreign investment code to offer more tax incentives, set up export processing and industrial zones, and allowed foreign banks and financial institutions to operate in Vietnam. The country also began to create the legal framework necessary for a multi-sectoral market economy. Since 1990, Vietnam has enacted a number of significant civil laws including a company law, a law on private business, a bankruptcy law, and a law encouraging domestic investment. The state has also approved the privatization of state-owned companies and enterprises.

Radical economic policies have vaulted the economy into a period of unsurpassed growth, with no end currently in sight. Vietnam has the potential to become the next great ?Asian Tiger.? The leading economic indicators for Vietnam, overwhelming proof of it?s presence as one of the new and emerging markets, are found in the charts below.


The estimated population of Vietnam is 74 million people with an average population density of 224 persons per square kilometer. Population density varies widely, however, and is generally lower in the southern provinces than in the northern ones; in both North and South it is also lower in the highlands and mountainous regions than in the lowlands. The most densely settled region is the Red River Delta, accounting for roughly 75 percent of the population of the North. Also heavily settled is the Mekong River Delta, with nearly half of the southern population.

The People 6


The origins of the Vietnamese are generally traced to the inhabitants of the Red River Delta between 500 and 200 B.C., people who were a mixture of Australoid, Austronesian, and Mongoloid stock. Like their contemporary descendants, they were largely villagers, skilled in rice cultivation and fishing.

Contemporary ethnic Vietnamese live in urban as well as rural areas, are engaged in a variety of occupations, and are represented at all levels on the socioeconomic scale. The power elite (senior officials in the party, government, and military establishments), in particular, is dominated by ethnic Vietnamese. Although predominantly Buddhist, the Vietnamese people’s religious beliefs and practices nevertheless include remnants of an earlier animistic faith. A sizable minority is Roman Catholic. Despite some regional and local differences in customs and speech, the people retain a strong sense of ethnic identity that rests on a common language and a shared cultural heritage.

Vietnamese, the official language, is the mother tongue of the vast majority of the people and is understood by many national minority members. According to a widely accepted theory, Vietnamese is believed to be related to the Austroasiatic family of languages, which includes various languages, dialects, and sub-dialects spoken in mainland Southeast Asia from Burma to Vietnam.

Actually, the Vietnamese language was influenced more by classical Chinese than by any other language. During more than 1,000 years of Chinese rule and for centuries afterwards, Chinese was the language of officialdom, scholarship, and literature. The Chinese language had special status because of its identification with the ruling class of scholar-officials. Nevertheless, Vietnamese continued to be the popular language, even though knowledge of Chinese was a prerequisite to government employment and social advancement.


Living somewhat separately from the dominant ethnic Vietnamese are the numerous minorities which account only for 12 percent of the national population. This figure included the Hoa (Han Chinese), the single largest bloc–representing approximately 1.5 percent of the total population–in the lowland urban centers of both the North and the South. Of the other minority groups, thirty, comprising 68 percent of the minority population, resided in the North, while the remaining twenty-two groups, comprising 32 percent of the minority population lived in the South. The size of each community ranged from fewer than 1,000 to as many as 0.9 million persons, and 10 major groups comprised about 85 percent of the minority population.

Minorities that live in the mountainous regions are known by their generic name, Montagnards. The Vietnamese also disparagingly call them “moi,” meaning savage. The government attributes the backwardness of the Montagnards to the overwhelming influence of their history as exploited and oppressed peoples. They are darker skinned than their lowland neighbors.

The non-Chinese minority peoples, however, are for the most part highlanders who live in relative independence and follow their own traditional customs and culture. They are classified as either sedentary or nomadic. The sedentary groups, the more numerous of the two kinds, are engaged mainly in the cultivation of wet rice and industrial crops; the nomadic groups, in slashand -burn farming where forested land is cleared for a brief period of cultivation and then abandoned. Both groups inhabit the same four major areas: the northern Chinese border region and the uplands adjacent to the Red River Delta, the northwestern border region adjoining Laos and China, the Central Highlands and the area along the Giai Truong Son, and parts of the Mekong River Delta and the central coastal strip. These groups are notable for their diverse cultural characteristics. They are distinguished from one another not only by language but also by such other cultural features as architectural styles, colors and shapes of dress and personal ornaments, shapes of agricultural implements, religious practices, and systems of social organization.


The Hoa, or ethnic Chinese, are predominantly urban dwellers. A few Hoa live in small settlements in the northern highlands near the Chinese frontier, where they are also known as ngai. Traditionally, as elsewhere in Southeast Asia, the Chinese have retained a distinctive cultural identity, but in 1955 North Vietnam and China agreed that the Hoa should be integrated gradually into Vietnamese society and should have Vietnamese citizenship conferred on them.

Before 1975 the northern Hoa were mainly rice farmers, fishermen, and coal miners, except for those residing in cities and provincial towns. In the South they were dominant in commerce and manufacturing. According to an official source, at the end of 1974 the Hoa controlled more than 80 percent of the food, textile, chemical, metallurgy, engineering, and electrical industries, 100 percent of wholesale trade, more than 50 percent of retail trade, and 90 percent of export-import trade. Dominance over the economy enabled the Hoa to “manipulate prices” of rice and other scarce goods.


Traditional Patterns

For centuries Vietnamese society was knit together by Confucian norms based on five relationships: the subordination of subject to ruler, son to father, wife to husband, and younger brother to elder brother, and the mutual respect between friends. These norms influenced the evolution of Vietnam as a hierarchic, authoritarian society in which Confucian scholarship, monarchical absolutism, filial piety, the subordinate role of women, and the family system were regarded as integral to the natural order of the universe.

The traditional society was stratified on the basis of education and occupation into four groups: scholar-officials or mandarins, farmers, artisans, and merchants. At the pinnacle was the emperor, who ruled with the “mandate of heaven.” Next were the scholar-officials, recruited through rigorous civil service examinations in Chinese classical literature and philosophy. Once a person passed the triennial examinations he became an accredited scholar or degree holder and was eligible for appointment to the imperial civil service, the most prestigious route to power, status, and wealth. Together, the emperor, his family, and the scholar-officials constituted the ruling class.

In theory, the mandarinate was not a closed social group. Commoners were permitted to apply for the examinations, and the status of scholar-official could not be inherited. In practice, however, these officials became a self-perpetuating class of generalist-administrators, partly because their sons could afford years of academic preparation for the examinations whereas most commoners could not. Education, the key to upward mobility, was neither free nor compulsory and tended to be the preserve of the mandarins.

Society in the 1954-75 Period

North Vietnam

At the time of the 1954 partition, Vietnam was overwhelmingly a rural society; peasants accounted for nearly 90 percent of the total population. During the ensuing 20 years of political separation, however, the North and the South developed into two very different societies. In the North the communists had embarked on a program intended to revolutionize the socioeconomic structure. The focus of change was ostensibly economic, but its underlying motivation was both political and social as well. Based on the Marxist principle of class struggle, it involved no less than the creation of a totally new social structure. Propertied classes were eliminated, and a proletarian dictatorship was established in which workers and peasants emerged as the nominal new masters of a socialist and ultimately classless state.

South Vietnam

South of the demarcation line after partition in 1954, the social system remained unchanged except that power reverted to a Vietnamese elite. The South’s urban-rural network of roles, heavily dependent on the peasant economy, remained intact despite the influx of nearly a million refugees from the North. In contrast to the North, there was no doctrinaire, organized attempt to reorganize the society fundamentally or to implant new cultural values and social sanctions.

At the bottom of village life were owners of small farming plots and tenant farmers. Forced to spend nearly all of their time eking out a living, they could not afford to engage in village affairs. Because they could not cultivate enough land to support their families, most of them worked also as part-time laborers, and their wives and children assisted with the field work. Their children frequently went to school only long enough to learn the rudiments of reading and writing. This group also included workers in a wide range of other service occupations, such as artisans, practitioners of oriental medicine, and small tradespeople.


Using the patriarchal family as the basic social institution, the Confucianists framed their societal norm in terms of the duties and obligations of a family to a father, a child to a parent, a wife to a husband, and a younger brother to an older brother; they held that the welfare and continuity of the family group were more important than the interests of any individual member. Indeed, the individual was less an independent being than a member of a family group that included not only living members but also a long line of ancestors and of those yet to be born. A family member’s life was caught up in the activities of a multitude of relatives. Members of the same household lived together, worked together, and gathered together for marriages, funerals, Tet (lunar New Year) celebrations, and rituals marking the anniversary of an ancestor’s death.

Family members looked first to other family members for help and counsel in times of personal crisis and guarded the interests of the family in making personal or household decisions. Special reverence was accorded a family’s ancestors. This practice, known as the family cult or cult of the ancestors, derived from the belief that after death the spirits of the departed continued to influence the world of the living. The soul was believed to become restless and likely to exert an unfavorable influence on the living, unless it was venerated in the expected manner.

Veneration of ancestors was also regarded as a means through which an individual could assure his or her own immortality. Children were valued because they could provide for the spirits of their parents after death. Family members who remained together and venerated their forebears with strict adherence to prescribed ritual found comfort in the belief that the souls of their ancestors were receiving proper spiritual nourishment and that they were insuring their own soul’s nourishment after death.

On the anniversary of an ancestor’s death, rites were performed before the family altar to the god of the house, and sacrificial offerings were made to both the god and the ancestor. The lavishness of the offering depended on the income of the family and on the rank of the deceased within the family. A representative of each family in the lineage was expected to be present, even if this meant traveling great distances. Whenever there was an occasion of family joy or sorrow, such as a wedding, an anniversary, success in an examination, a promotion, or a funeral, the ancestors were informed through sacrificial offerings.

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