VIETNAM - A Country Study



Size:. 4

Topography:. 4

Climate:. 4


Chapter 1. Historical Setting.. 4

Table A. Chronology of Important Events. 14

Date. 14

Events. 14


Population:. 19

Languages:. 19

Ethnic Groups:. 19

Religion:. 19

Education and Literacy:. 19

Health:. 19


Salient Features. 20

Agriculture:. 20

Industry:. 20

Energy Sources:. 20

Foreign Trade. 20


Party and Government:. 20

Administrative Divisions:. 20

Judicial System... 21

Foreign Affairs:. 21


Armed Forces:. 21

Combat Units and Major Equipment 21

Military Budget 22

Police Agencies and Paramilitary. 22

Foreign Military Alliances. 22


/frd/cs/vietnam/vn01_02a.jpg/frd/cs/vietnam/vn01_02a.jpg.. 22


Unavailable. 23

Chinese Cultural Impact 24

Renewed Chinese Influence. 26

The Le Dynasty and Southward Expansion.. 27

Partition and the Advent of the Europeans. 28

The Tay Son Rebellion.. 30

The Nguyen Dynasty and Expanding French Influence. 31


Colonial Administration.. 35

Phan Boi Chau and the Rise of Nationalism... 37

Ho Chi Minh and the Communist Movement 40

The Nghe-Tinh Revolt 42


/frd/cs/vietnam/vn01_05a.jpg/frd/cs/vietnam/vn01_05a.jpg.. 44

Establishment of the Viet Minh.. 44

The General Uprising and Independence. 47


Dien Bien Phu.. 50

The Aftermath of Geneva. 52


The Fall of Ngo Dinh Diem... 54

Escalation of the War. 55

The Tet Offensive. 58

Peace Negotiations. 59

The Final Campaign.. 60

Chapter 2. The Society and Its Environment 62




Vietnamese. 68

Minorities. 70

Hoa. 72


Traditional Patterns. 73

Society in the 1954-75 Period.. 75

South Vietnam... 77

Vietnam after 1975. 78

The family background.. 81

The Family since 1954. 83

Buddhism... 86

Catholicism... 87

Other Faiths. 89




Chapter 3. The Economy. 97


Demography. 98

Labor. 99







Decentralization of Trade. 109

Direction and Composition of Trade. 110

Foreign Investment Policy. 111

External Debt 111

Foreign Economic Assistance. 112

Overseas Remittances. 113

Chapter 4. Government and Politics. 113



The Party Congress and the Central Committee. 118

Other Party Organizations. 119

Front Organizations. 119




Constitutional Evolution.. 124

Government Structure. 126

The Council of State. 126

The Council of Ministers. 127

People's Courts and People's Organs of Control 128

Local Government 128

Appendix B -- Vietnam... 129

Party Leaders in the 1980s. 129

Political Bureau Members in December 1986. 130

Nguyen Van Linh.. 130

Pham Hung.. 130

Vo Chi Cong.. 131

Do Muoi 131

Vo Van Kiet 131

Le Duc Anh.. 131

Nguyen Duc Tam... 131

Nguyen Co Thach.. 132

Dong Sy Nguyen.. 132

Tran Xuan Bach.. 132

Nguyen Thanh Binh.. 132

Doan Khue. 132

Mai Chi Tho.. 132

Dao Duy Tung.. 133

Political Bureau Members Voluntarily Retired in 1986. 133

Truong Chinh.. 133

Pham Van Dong.. 133

Le Duc Tho.. 133

Political Bureau Members Removed in 1986. 134

Van Tien Dung.. 134

To Huu.. 134

Chu Huy Man.. 134

Political Bureau Members Deceased in 1986. 135

Le Duan.. 135

Central Committee Secretariat Members in 1986. 135

Tran Kien.. 135

Le Phuoc Tho.. 135

Nguyen Quyet 135

Dam Quang Trung.. 135

Vu Oanh.. 136

Nguyen Khanh.. 136

Tran Quyet 136

Tran Quoc Huong.. 136

Pham The Duyet 136

Glossary -- Vietnam... 136


Size: Approximately 331,688 square kilometers.

Topography: Hills and densely forested mountains, with level land covering no more than 20 percent. Mountains account for 40 percent, hills 40 percent, and forests 75 percent. North consists of highlands and the Red River Delta; south divided into coastal lowlands, Giai Truong Son (central mountains) with high plateaus, and Mekong River Delta.

Climate: Tropical and monsoonal; humidity averages 84 percent throughout year. Annual rainfall ranges from 120 to 300 centimeters, and annual temperatures vary between 5C and 37C.

Data as of December 1987


Chapter 1. Historical Setting


Figure 1. Administrative Divisions of Vietnam, 1985

The victory of communist forces in Vietnam in April 1975 ranks as one of the most politically significant occurrences of the post-World War II era in Asia. The speed with which the North finally seized the South, and the almost simultaneous communist victories in Laos and Cambodia, were stunning achievements. The collapse of the three Indochinese noncommunist governments brought under communist control a region that, over the course of four decades of war, had become the focus of United States policy for the containment of communism in Asia. The achievement was even more phenomenal for having been accomplished in the face of determined United States opposition and for having called into question the very policy of containing communism.

The events of April 1975 prepared the way for the official reunification of North and South in 1976, some three decades after Ho Chi Minh first proclaimed Vietnam's independence under one government in September 1945 and more than a century after France divided Vietnam in order to rule its regions separately. The departure of defeated Japanese troops, who had occupied Vietnam during World War II, had created the opportunity for Vietnamese communists to seize power in August 1945, before French authorities were able to return to reclaim control of the government. Communist rule was cut short, however, by nationalist Chinese and British occupation forces whose presence tended to support the Communist Party's political opponents. Between 1945 and 1975, the generation of communists responsible for victory in the South pursued a lengthy war for independence from the French, acquiesced temporarily to division of the country into a communist North and noncommunist South, and engaged in a subsequent war for control of the South against a southern regime supported by the United States. Reunification and independence, however, were goals that predated the communists. They were the long-established objectives of Ho Chi Minh's nationalist and anticolonialist predecessors, who had resisted Chinese rule for 1,000 years and French domination for a century.

Indeed, Vietnam's unrelenting resistance to foreign intervention remains a dominant Vietnamese historical theme, manifested in the repeated waging of dau tranh, or struggle to gain a long-term objective through total effort, and motivated by chinh nghia, or just cause. Vietnam's communist leaders claim that every Vietnamese has been a soldier in this struggle. Paradoxically, Vietnam's fierce determination to remain free of foreign domination has often been combined with an equally strong willingness to accept foreign influence. Historically, the pattern has been to adopt foreign ideas to indigenous conditions whenever they applied.

China was the chief source of Vietnam's foreign ideas and the earliest threat to its national sovereignty. Beginning in the first century B.C., China's Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) imposed Chinese rule that endured for ten centuries despite repeated Vietnamese uprisings and acts of rebellion. Only the collapse of the Tang dynasty (618-907) in the early tenth century enabled Vietnamese national hero Ngo Quyen to reestablish Vietnam's independence a generation later. The Vietnamese subsequently were able to fend off further invasion attempts for 900 years (see The Chinese Millennium; Nine Centuries of Independence , ch. 1).

Whether ruled by China or independent, the Vietnamese elite consistently modeled Vietnamese cultural institutions on those of the Chinese. Foremost among such Chinese institutions was Confucianism, after which Vietnamese family, bureaucratic, and social structures were patterned. The Vietnamese upper classes tended also to study Chinese classical literature and to use the Chinese system of ideographs in writing. Emperor Gia Long, in a particularly obvious act of imitation in the early nineteenth century, even modeled his new capital at Hue after the Chinese capital at Beijing. The process of sinicization, however, tended to coexist with, rather than to replace, traditional Vietnamese culture and language. Imitation of the Chinese was largely confined to the elite classes. Traditional Vietnamese society, on the other hand, was sustained by the large peasant class, which was less exposed to Chinese influence.

Vietnam's lengthy period of independence ended in 1862, when Emperor Tu Duc, agreeing to French demands, ceded three provinces surrounding Saigon to France. During the colonial period, from 1862 to 1954, resistance to French rule was led by members of the scholar-official class, whose political activities did not involve the peasantry and hence failed. The success of the communists, on the other hand, was derived from their ability to organize and retain the peasantry's support. The Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP--Viet Nam Cong San Dang) and its various communist antecedents presented Marxism-Leninism as an effective means of recovering the independence that was Vietnam's tradition. Belief in this ideal was instrumental in sustaining Northern and Southern peasant-based communist forces during the lengthy Second Indochina War, which lasted from 1954 to 1975.

In the post-1975 period, however, it was immediately apparent that the popularity and effectiveness of the communist party's wartime policies did not necessarily extend to its peacetime nation-building plans. Having unified the North and South politically, the VCP still had to integrate them socially and economically. In this task, VCP policy-makers were confronted with Southern resistance to change, as well as traditional animosities arising from cultural and historical differences between the North and South. The situation was further complicated by a deterioration in economic conditions that ignited an unprecedented level of discontent among low-level VCP members and open criticism of VCP policies. The party appeared to be in a state of transition, wavering over the pace and manner of the South's integration with the North and debating the place of reform in development strategy. The first generation communist leaders, co-founders of the party together with Ho Chi Minh, were aging and were beginning to step down in favor of younger, often reform-minded technocrats. The Sixth National Party Congress held in December 1986 was a milestone; it marked the end of the party's revolutionary period, when social welfare and modernization were subordinate to security concerns, and the beginning of a time when experimentation and reform were encouraged to stimulate development (see Party Organization , ch. 4).

In the 1980s, Vietnam ranked third in population--60 million- -and first in population density--an average of 182 persons per square kilometer--among the world's communist nations. A 2 percent annual population growth rate and uneven population distribution adversely affected resource allocation, work force composition, and land use. Population projections indicated a population of 80 million by the year 2000, if the growth rate remained unchanged. The Fourth National Party Congress in December 1976 stressed the need to curtail the population growth rate and introduced a plan to relocate 54 million people to 1 million hectares of previously uncultivated land, now organized into "new economic zones," by the mid-1990s. As of 1988, however, progress toward the plan's fulfillment was considerably behind schedule (see Population , ch. 2).

A predominantly rural society with more than half of its work force committed to agriculture, Vietnam's standard of living remained one of the poorest in the world. A series of harvest shortfalls that reduced food supplies and a scarcity of foreign exchange that made it difficult to replenish food reserves contributed to this condition. Shortages of raw materials and energy forced production facilities to operate at considerably less than full capacity, and the party bureaucracy remained incapable of acting quickly enough to reduce shortages (see Economic Setting , ch. 3).

Economic development prospects for the 1980s and 1990s were tied to party economic policy in critical ways. Party leaders, in establishing economic policy at the Fourth National Party Congress, envisioned Vietnam's post-reunification economy to be in a "period of transition to socialism." The plan, or series of plans, called for the economy to evolve through three phases: The first, outlining the objectives of the Second Five-Year Plan (1976-80), set extremely high goals for industrial and agricultural production while also giving high priority to construction, reconstruction, and the integration of the North and the South. The second, entitled "socialist industrialization," was divided into two stages--from 1981 to 1990 and from 1991 to 2005. During these stages, the material and technical foundations of communism were to be constructed, and development plans were to focus equally on agriculture and industry. The third and final phase, covering the years from 2006 to 2010; was to be a time set aside to "perfect the transitional period."

By 1979, however, it was obvious to Vietnam's leaders that the Second Five-Year Plan would fail to meet its goals and that the long-range goals established for the transition period were unrealistic. The economy continued to be dominated by small-scale production, low productivity, high unemployment, material and technological shortages, and insufficient food and consumer goods.

The Fifth National Party Congress, held in March 1982, approved the economic goals of the Third Five-Year Plan (1981- 85). The policies introduced were comparatively liberal and called for the temporary retention of private capitalist activities in the South, in order to spur economic growth. By sanctioning free enterprise, the congress ended the nationalization of small business concerns and reversed former policies that sought the immediate transformation of the South to communism. The July 1984 Sixth Plenum of the Fifth National Party Congress' Central Committee confirmed the party's earlier decision, recognizing that the private sector's domination over wholesale and retail trade in the South could not be eliminated until the state was capable of assuming that responsibility. Proposals subsequently were made to upgrade the state's economic sophistication by decentralizing planning procedures and improving the managerial skills of government and party officials. To attract foreign currency and expertise, the government approved a new foreign investment code in December 1987 (see Economic Roles of the Party and the Government , ch. 3).

Vietnam's security considerations in the 1980s also represented a new set of challenges to the party. Until the fall of the South Vietnamese government in 1975, the party had relegated foreign policy to a secondary position behind the more immediate concerns of national liberation and reunification. Once the Second Indochina War had ended, however, the party needed to look outward and reevaluate foreign policy, particularly as it applied to Cambodia, China, the Soviet Union, member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the United States and other Western nations (see Foreign Relations , ch. 4).

By the end of the 1970s, the Vietnamese were threatened on two fronts, a condition which Vietnam had not faced previously, even at the height of the Second Indochina War. Conflict between Vietnamese and Cambodian communists on their common border began almost immediately after their respective victories in 1975. To neutralize the threat, Vietnam invaded Cambodia in December 1978 and overran Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, driving out the incumbent Khmer Rouge communist regime and initiating a prolonged military occupation of the country. Vietnam's relations with China, a seemingly staunch ally during the Second Indochina War, subsequently reached their nadir, when China retaliated against Vietnam's incursion into Cambodia by launching a limited invasion of Vietnam in February and March 1979. Relations between the two countries had actually been deteriorating for some time. Territorial disagreements, which had remained dormant during the war against the South, were revived at the war's end, and a postwar campaign engineered by Hanoi to limit the role of Vietnam's ethnic Chinese (Hoa) community in domestic commerce elicited a strong Chinese protest. China was displeased with Vietnam primarily, however, because of its rapidly improving relationship with the Soviet Union.

A new era in Vietnamese foreign relations began in 1978, when Hanoi joined the Soviet-led Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) and signed the Soviet-Vietnamese Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with Moscow. The agreement called for mutual assistance and consultation in the event either was threatened by a third country. A secret protocol accompanying the treaty also permitted Soviet use of Vietnamese airport and harbor facilities, particularly the former United States military complex at Cam Ranh Bay. In return, Vietnam acquired military and economic aid needed to undertake an invasion of Cambodia and was able to exploit Soviet influence as a deterrent to Chinese intervention (see Foreign Relations , ch. 4).

After China had cut off military assistance to Vietnam, such aid--amounting to US$200 to $300 million annually--was almost exclusively Soviet in origin during the 1980s. As Vietnam's primary source of economic aid as well, the Soviet Union during this period provided close to US$1 billion annually in balance- of-payments aid, project assistance, and oil price subsidies.

Vietnam's growing dependence on the Soviet Union concerned Hanoi's Southeast Asian neighbors. As did China, the ASEAN nations thought that the relationship provided a springboard for Soviet influence in the region and that Soviet support provided a critical underpinning for Vietnam's Cambodia policy. The ASEAN nations assumed a key role in rallying United Nations (UN) General Assembly opposition to Vietnam's interference in Cambodia and led the UN in preventing the Vietnamese-supported regime in Phnom Penh from assuming Cambodia's General Assembly seat. ASEAN members were instrumental in combining--at least on paper--the various Cambodian communist and noncommunist factions opposing the Vietnamese into a single resistance coalition.

The decision to intervene militarily in Cambodia further isolated Vietnam from the international community. The United States, in addition to citing Vietnam's minimal cooperation in accounting for Americans who were missing in action (MIAs) as an obstacle to normal relations, barred normal ties as long as Vietnamese troops occupied Cambodia. In 1987 Washington also continued to enforce the trade embargo imposed on Hanoi at the conclusion of the war in 1975.

Normalization of diplomatic relations with the United States, however, was not a primary Vietnamese foreign policy objective in 1987. The sizable economic benefits it would yield, plus its strategic value remained secondary to other more immediate security concerns, although the potential economic benefits were judged sizable. Instead, Vietnam prepared to enter the 1990s with foreign relations priorities that stressed extrication from the military stalemate in Cambodia in a manner consistent with security needs, repair of ties with China to alleviate Chinese military pressure on Vietnam's northern border, and reduction of military and economic dependence on the Soviet Union.

Domestic and foreign policy in 1987 reflected changes initiated by the elevation of reformer Nguyen Van Linh to VCP general secretary at the Sixth National Party Congress. Policies were characterized by a program of political and economic experimentation that was similar to contemporary reform agendas undertaken in China and the Soviet Union. The goal of all three nations was to pursue economic development at the cost of some compromise of communist ideological orthodoxy. In the case of Vietnam, however, the conservative members of the leadership continued to view orthodoxy as an ultimate goal. According to their plan, the stress on economic development was only a momentary emphasis; the real goal remained the perfection of Vietnam's communist society.

* * *


In 1988 and 1989, the years immediately following the completion of research and writing on this book, Vietnam's foreign and domestic policy was increasingly determined by economic considerations. The mood of dramatic economic and political reform, inspired by the Sixth National Party Congress and Linh's appointment to party leadership, however, appeared to have dissipated, and the mood of confidence that had prevailed in 1987 gradually evaporated as disagreement among Political Bureau members over the pace of change stymied the implementation of many policy innovations.

A campaign for political and economic renewal (doi moi) was launched by Linh immediately following the congress, but the progress of change, particularly economic change, failed to meet expectations. Linh was strongly opposed within the party's leadership, and his economic reforms were initially stalled or blocked by the resistance efforts of a strong conservative coalition of party leaders, made up of ideological conservatives, bureaucrats, and members of the military establishment.

Linh's initiatives for dealing with the country's economic problems were bold, but the coalition of conservative party leaders opposing his policies effectively denied him the consensus he needed to implement his plans. Consequently, his powers to effect change appeared to wane as the severity of the country's economic crisis deepened.

Despite their opposition to reform policy, reform, per se, was viewed as "correct" by most, if not all, members of Vietnam's Political Bureau. A member's position on the subject, however, was probably determined less by his view of the process in the abstract than by his willingness to undertake risk, and in 1988 and 1989 the non-risk takers appeared to have the upper hand.

In March 1988 Prime Minister Pham Hung died, and Linh's choice of conservative Do Muoi over fellow reformer Vo Van Kiet to replace him was viewed as a clear concession to the non-risk takers. National Assembly members, however, for the first time challenged the central committee's nominee for a key government post by demanding that two candidates be permitted to run. Muoi, the party's choice, was required to face Vo Van Kiet, the nominee of delegates from the south.

The dissent displayed in the debate leading to Muoi's selection was not isolated, but mirrored a dramatic increase in all political debate and discussion in 1988. The October 1988 meeting of the Congress of National Trade Unions, for example, was extremely critical of the government's economic failures. Similarly, the Fourth Session of the 8th National Assembly, held in December 1988, heatedly debated the issues. It was conducted without the customary Central Committee meeting beforehand and, on the surface, appeared to be acting without Central Committee guidance.

Lastly, a campaign against corruption, initiated by Nguyen Van Linh in 1987, invited private and official criticism of public policy and encouraged the press to take the lead in uncovering corruption. By early 1988, the campaign had resulted in the replacement of almost all of the country's 40 province secretaries and 80 percent of the 400 or so district party chiefs. Eleven-hundred party cadres were tried for corruption in the first six months of the year, and the press was credited with the party's removal of Ha Truong Hoa, the party Provincial Secretary of Thanh Hoa, whose position was widely regarded as impregnable despite his well publicized abuses of office. The policy of encouraging criticism, however, was mysteriously reversed in early 1989 when the press was urged to moderate its criticism of the Party. It was speculated that the reversal was meant to appease conservatives within the Political Bureau who were concerned about the erosion of party authority caused by public criticism.

Party leaders themselves, however, continued to be critical of party policy. Nguyen The Phan, the head of the theoretical department of the Marxist-Leninist Institute, for example, told a January 1989 meeting of high-ranking officials that by following the Soviet economic model, Vietnam had developed a centralized and subsidized economic system "inferior to capitalism," and "had abolished motivation in people and society." He called on party leaders to learn about marketplace competition from capitalist countries.

Goals established and reinforced at the December 1988 meeting of the Eighth National Assembly were consistent with this theme. The primary goal was described as development of an economy that was less controlled by the government and more subject to the rules of the marketplace. This was to be achieved by subjecting all economic transactions to the standards of basic business accountability and by expanding the private sector. Centralized bureaucratism was to be abolished, and some state-run economic establishments were to be guaranteed autonomy in their business practices. Lastly, the system of state subsidies for food, import-export operations, or for losses incurred by state-run enterprises was scheduled to be eliminated.

Beginning in 1988, individual farmers were given more responsibility for the rice growing process in order to increase their incentive to produce higher yields. Land tenure laws were modified to guarantee farmers a ten-year tenure on the land, and the contract system between peasants and the government was revised to permit peasants to keep 45 to 50 percent of their output rather than the 25 percent previously allowed. Other reforms removed restrictions on private-production enterprises in Hanoi and introduced the concept of developing industry outside the state-run sector. A law passed in January 1989 helped free the economy from central control by granting entrepreneurs the right to pool their capital and set up their own business organizations. Such concessions were of particular assistance to entrepreneurs in the South, where the economy in 1988 and 1989 was more or less directed by its own momentum, and where it had become increasingly evident that Vietnam's economic planners had opted to exploit the region's economic potential rather than stifle it by employing rigid controls.

The sixth plenum of the party central committee (Sixth Party Congress), held in late March 1989, concluded, however, that despite the establishment of goals and the introduction of some new policies little was actually being accomplished because local cadres were failing to implement reform plans or institutionalize party resolutions in a timely manner. The plenum, therefore, resolved to emphasize the implementation and institutionalization of reforms and resolutions already introduced in order to accelerate the process.

Chinese student pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing a few months later were watched very closely by Vietnam's leaders. In their view, the disaffection demonstrated by Chinese students had resulted directly from China's experimentation with political and economic reforms. Having undertaken similar changes, they were concerned that Vietnam was equally vulnerable to displays of unrest. To avoid China's experience, the government reportedly dealt with student protesters in Hanoi in May 1989 by acceding to their demands for improved conditions. Progress toward greater political liberalization, however, was subsequently checked.

Vietnam's world view noticeably altered in the closing years of the 1980s, moving from an ideologically dominated perspective, stressing Vietnam's independence and the division of the world into communist and noncommunist camps, to a non-ideological view emphasizing Vietnam's role in a complex world of economic interdependence. The most significant example of a foreign policy initiative motivated by this view was the decision, announced in early 1989, to remove all Vietnamese troops from Cambodia by the end of September 1989. By disengaging from Cambodia, Vietnam hoped to remove the single largest obstacle to gaining admission to the regional and world economic community and to convince its non-communist neighbors, the West and China, that it was ready to end its diplomatic and economic isolation.

Ending the Cambodian conflict itself, however, was another matter, and as events unfolded in 1988 and 1989 it was not clear whether Vietnam's withdrawal would expedite or prolong a resolution. Initially, the possibility of ending the stalemate appeared to improve. Acting entirely on his own initiative, resistance leader Prince Norodom Sihanouk, in December 1987, arranged unprecedented direct dialogues between himself and Hun Sen, the premier of the People's Republic of Kampuchea. Although they failed to yield major results, the talks nevertheless initiated valuable face-to-face discussions between representatives of both sides and introduced diplomacy as a means of ending the conflict.

In May 1988, eleven days after the Soviets began their troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and three days before a Moscow summit between President Reagan and Soviet Secretary Gorbachev was to convene, Vietnam announced plans to withdraw 50,000 troops by the end of the year. The withdrawal, commencing in June and ending in December as promised, involved not only the removal of troops, but also the dismantling of Vietnam's military high command in Cambodia and the reassignment of remaining troops to Cambodian commands.

In July 1988, Hanoi participated in the first meeting of all parties in the Cambodia conflict. The "cocktail party" meeting, or Jakarta Informal Meeting (JIM), convened in Bogor, Indonesia, was termed a limited success because, if nothing more, it established a negotiating framework and set the agenda for future discussion. However, it also shifted the emphasis of the search for a conflict resolution away from Vietnam and to the question of how to prevent the Khmer Rouge from seizing power once a political agreement was reached. At the meeting, Vietnam linked a total withdrawal of its troops to the elimination of the Khmer Rouge and won the support of the ASEAN nations and the non- communist factions of the Cambodian resistance coalition, who also feared that Pol Pot would return to power in the absence of Vietnamese forces.

A second "informal" meeting of the four Cambodian factions, held in February 1989 ended inconclusively, deadlocked on fundamental issues such as the shape of the international force that was to supervise an agreement and the manner in which a quadripartite authority to rule in Phnom Penh would be established. The February meeting was followed by a month-long international conference, held in Paris in August 1989 and attended by twenty nations, which also ended short of a comprehensive agreement. Although the conference had been called to help mediate a settlement between the Vietnamese-backed government in Phnom Penh and the three-member resistance coalition, it foundered over finding an appropriate place for the Khmer Rouge once Vietnam's troop withdrawal was complete. Thus in September 1989, on the eve of the withdrawal, the promise of an impending political settlement in Cambodia remained unfulfilled. Instead, the inability of the four factions to arrive at a compromise renewed prospects for an escalation of conflict on the battlefield.

In 1988 one of Vietnam's top foreign policy priorities was finding a way to cut China's support for the Khmer Rouge. China, Hanoi argued, was the key to a Cambodian resolution because, as Pol Pot's chief source of supply, Beijing alone had the power to defuse the Khmer Rouge threat. As the year progressed, it became increasingly evident that Beijing was more interested in a settlement than in prolonging the conflict and that its position on Cambodia was shifting to facilitate settlement. This fact was evidenced in July 1988 when a Chinese proposal, repeating long standing demands for a complete withdrawal of all Vietnamese troops and a quadripartite government led by Sihanouk, surprisingly ruled out a personal role for Pol Pot in any post- settlement government. The proposal was also novel because it intimated that Beijing, for the first time, was willing to discuss a provisional coalition government before the departure of all Vietnamese troops. At the International Conference on the conflict held in August 1989, the Chinese appeared to be undercutting their support for the Khmer Rouge by arguing that civil war was to be avoided at all costs and promising to cut off military aid once a settlement was reached. China's position on the Khmer Rouge, nevertheless, remained ambiguous.

In a 1988 incident, possibly related to Cambodia because it potentially strengthened China's position at a future bargaining table, the ongoing dispute between China and Vietnam over sovereignty to the Spratly Islands erupted into an unprecedented exchange of hostilities. The situation was reduced to an exchange of accusations following the armed encounter. Vietnam's repeated calls for China to settle the dispute diplomatically won rare support for Vietnam from the international community, but elicited little response from Beijing.

A conciliatory mood developed on both sides of the Sino- Vietnamese border in 1989, partly because Vietnam's proposal to withdraw completely from Cambodia responded to a basic Chinese condition for improved relations. Formal talks at the deputy foreign minister level were initiated, and a cross-border trade in Chinese and Vietnamese goods flourished in the Vietnamese border town of Lang Son. The internal turmoil experienced by China in May and June 1989 may have actually benefited the relationship from Vietnam's point of view. Historically, whenever Beijing had been forced to turn its attention inwardly to quell internal dissension, Vietnam's security situation had correspondingly improved.

Beijing's interest in improving ties with Moscow in 1988 and 1989, however, complicated the situation and put Vietnam increasingly at odds with the Soviet Union. As the reality of an eventual Sino-Soviet reconciliation approached, it became increasingly clear that Vietnamese and Soviet strategic interests did not always coincide. The presence of Vietnamese troops in Cambodia, for example, was the leading obstacle to Sino-Soviet reconciliation. Accordingly, the most significant development to occur in Soviet-Vietnamese relations in 1988 and 1989 was the application of increased Soviet pressure on Vietnam to resolve the Cambodian situation, a pressure that undoubtedly helped prompt Vietnam's policy of withdrawal.

Hanoi was naturally wary of any talks between the Soviet Union and China, fearing that a deal would be made on Cambodia at Vietnam's expense. The two powers convened bilateral discussions in Beijing in August 1988 and proceeded to normalize relations at a summit meeting in Beijing in May 1989. Very little with regard to Cambodia was actually accomplished, however, and the summit resulted simply in the two sides agreeing to "disagree" on the mechanics of a political solution.

By actively pursuing an end to the Cambodian conflict, Vietnam acted also to further the chances of normalizing its relations with the United States. Both sides in 1988 appeared particularly receptive to improving relations, and Vietnam's troop withdrawal as well as its participation in the JIM were interpreted by the United States as positive gestures directed toward Vietnam's disengagement from Cambodia, a requirement imposed by Washington for diplomatic recognition. Hanoi also acted, in the early part of the year, to remove other obstacles to recognition by agreeing in principle to resettlement in the United States of thousands of former political prisoners and by consenting to cooperate in joint excavations of United States military aircraft crash sites in an attempt to locate the remains of Americans missing in action (MIAs). Some remains were returned. In 1989, additional sets of MIA remains were returned, and an accord was reached between Vietnam and the United States granting re-education camp inmates who had worked for the United States permission to emigrate.

Finally, Vietnam sought to improve its regional relations in 1988 and 1989 by extending a conciliatory gesture to its Asian neighbors. In response to a rise in the number of Vietnamese refugees, Vietnam assured its neighbors that it would ease their burdens as countries of first asylum by reversing a policy that forbade refugees to return home. Hanoi also proposed to open discussions with Southeast Asian officials on ending the refugee exodus. In 1989, however, Vietnam permitted only those refugees who "voluntarily" sought repatriation to return to Vietnam. Because genuine volunteers were few in number, the policy was regarded as inadequate by countries with Vietnamese refugee populations. More boat people departed Vietnam in 1989 than in any single year since the beginning of the decade, and their numbers were no longer limited to southerners fleeing political persecution but included northerners seeking economic opportunity. The willingness of countries of first asylum to accept Vietnamese refugees had lessened considerably since 1979, however, and many were seriously considering policies advocating forced repatriation.

Vietnam's relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), nevertheless, showed dramatic improvement during this two-year period, and Thailand, in particular, was singled out by Hanoi as critically important to Vietnam's economic future. The success of a January 1989 official visit to Hanoi by Thai Foreign Minister Sitthi Sawetsila surpassed all expectations and led Thai Prime Minister Chatchai Chunhawan to encourage Thai businessmen to expand trade relations with the Indochinese countries. According to Thai Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan, the Thai goal was to turn the Southeast Asian peninsula into an economic "Golden Land" (Suwannaphume in Thai) with Thailand as its center and Indochina, transformed from "a battlefield into a trading market," as its cornerstone. Although the plan was controversial, it appeared to reflect the shift of regional priorities from security to economic concerns.

Vietnam still lacked an adequate foreign investment structure in 1989, although a Foreign Trade Office and a Central Office to Supervise Foreign Investment had been established along with a State Commission for Cooperation and Investment to draft investment policies. The Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations convened a three-day conference in February 1989, attended by 500 delegates associated with foreign trade, to discuss modifying Vietnam's existing foreign economic policies and mechanisms in order to more effectively attract foreign investors. Ho Chi Minh City also authorized the establishment of a "Zone of Fabrication and Exportation" where foreign companies would be free to import commodities, assemble products, use low cost local labor, and reexport final products. Ho Chi Minh City, followed by Vung Tau- Con Dao Special Zone, led all other localities in number of foreign investment projects and joint ventures initiated, and a large proportion of the investors were identified as overseas Vietnamese.

Although changes introduced in the closing years of the 1980s stopped short of systemic reform, they demonstrated a new level of commitment on the part of Vietnam's leaders to resolve the country's peacetime economic problems. Having known great success in warfare, the government appeared to have accepted that yet another struggle was underway that would require the kind of focused resolve previously displayed in wartime. The process was marked both by the possibility for change and by inertia. Political and foreign policy agendas were opened to redefinition, and strategic goals were re-evaluated to emphasize economic rather than military strength. The process, however, was slowed considerably by party conservatives, who stressed the danger of political liberalization and questioned the pace of economic reform. Change, nevertheless, was evident. In foreign policy, Vietnam moved to attract foreign investment and to end its international isolation by disengaging from Cambodia. Likewise, in the economic sphere at home, where the need for change was determined to be particularly critical, market forces assumed a larger role in Vietnam's controlled economy then they had previously. In undertaking such changes, Vietnam seemed on the verge of joining the geopolitical trend observed in the late 1980s, in which the behavior of socialist and capitalist systems alike appeared to favor economic over military development. The Vietnamese leadership, however, was not prepared to move quickly. Although committed to the process of change, the Political Bureau's ability to act was constricted by internal differences over how to proceed and how much to risk. As the country approached the 1990s, the question of whether the need to develop economically was worth the political risk had yet to be fully resolved.

September 21, 1989
Ronald J. Cima

Data as of December 1987


Table A. Chronology of Important Events





2879 B.C.

Legendary founding of the Van Lang Kingdom by the first Hung


2879-258 B.C.

Hung Dynasty

257-208 B.C.

Thuc Dynasty

207-111 B.C.

Trieu Dynasty

1800-1400 B.C.

Phung Nguyen culture (Early Bronze Age)

850-300 B.C.

Dong Son culture (Late Bronze Age)

210 B.C.

Kingdom of Au Lac established

207 B.C.

Chinese general Chao Tuo (Trieu Da) founds Nan Yueh (Nam


111 B.C.

Nan Yueh conquered by Han

A.D. 39

Trung sisters lead a rebellion against Chinese rule 43 Trung

sisters' rebellion crushed by Chinese general Ma Yuan, and

Viet people placed under direct Chinese administration for

the first time


Ly Bi leads uprising against China's Liang Dynasty and

establishes the independent kingdom of Van Xuan


Early Ly Dynasty


Ngo Quyen defeats a Chinese invading force at the first

battle of the Bach Dang River


Ngo Dynasty


Ngo Quyen rules independent Nam Viet


Dinh Dynasty


Dinh Bo Linh gains Chinese recognition of Nam Viet's

independence by establishing a tributary relationship with

China's Song Dynasty


Early Le Dynasty


Le Hoan defeats a Chinese invasion


Viet armies invade Champa and destroy its capital, Indrapura


Ly Dynasty


Minor officials chosen by examination for the first time


Tran Dynasty


Mongols attack Dai Viet and are defeated


Second Mongol invasion and defeat. Resistance led by Tran

Hung Dao


Third Mongol invasion repelled


Champa wars. Champa ruled by Che Bong Nga


Ho Dynasty


Chinese invasion and occupation


Le Loi's armies defeat the Chinese


Le Dynasty


Le Loi proclaims himself emperor. The country once again

named Dai Viet.


Champa capital of Vijaya falls, ending the Champa kingdom.


Hong Duc legal code promulgated


Mac Dynasty. Mac rulers control Thang Long and the Red River



Period of opposition between the Trinh and Nguyen clans


Alexandre de Rhodes, Jesuit missionary, arrives in Hanoi.


Tay Son Rebellion


Most of Nguyen clan annihilated by the Tay Son


French missionary Pigneau de Behaine persuades French court

to assist in restoration of the Nguyen


Last Le emperor flees to China. Nguyen Hue proclaims himself



Chinese invasion in support of the Le defeated.


The Nguyen defeat last of Tay Son forces. Nguyen Anh accedes

to throne as Gia Long and establishes his capital at Hue.


Nguyen Dynasty


Death of Gia Long. Succeeded by his highly sinicized son,

Minh Mang.


French vessels bombard Da Nang.

September 1858

French forces seize Da Nang.

February 1859

French forces capture Saigon.

February 1861

The French defeat the Vietnamese army and gain control of

Gia Dinh and surrounding provinces.

June 5, 1862

Treaty of Saigon, which ceded three southern provinces--Bien

Hoa, Gia Dinh, and Dinh Tuong--to the French.


Admiral la Grandiere imposes French protectorate on


March 1874

A Franco-Vietnamese treaty confirms French sovereignty over

Cochinchina and opens the Red River to trade.

August 1883

Treaty of Protectorate, signed at the Harmond Convention,

establishes French protectorate over Annam and Tonkin.

June 1884

Treaty of Hue confirms the Harmond convention agreement.


Can Vuong movement, calling upon the Vietnamese to drive out

the French, established.


Indochinese Union formally established.

May 19, 1890

Ho Chi Minh's birth


Paul Doumer is Governor-General.


Phan Boi Chau founds Viet Nam Duy Tan Hoi (Vietnam

Reformation Society).

October 1911

Ho Chi Minh departs Vietnam for Europe.


Phan Boi Chau founds Viet Nam Quang Phuc Hoi (Vietnam

Restoration Society), replacing Duy Tan Hoi.


Nguyen Ai Quoc (Ho Chi Minh) attempts to meet with President

Woodrow Wilson at the. Versailles Peace Conference to

present a program for Vietnamese rights and sovereignty, but

is turned away.


Ho Chi Minh participates in founding of the French Communist



Ho Chi Minh's first visit to Moscow

June-July 1924

Ho Chi Minh attends Fifth Comintern Congress.


Viet Nam Thanh Nien Cach Menh Dong Chi Hoi (Revolutionary

Youth League) formed in Guangzhou under Ho Chi Minh's



Ho Chi Minh forms Thanh Nien Cong San Doan (Communist Youth

League) within the larger Thanh Nien organization.


Nguyen Thai Hoc founds the Vietnam Quoc Dan Dang (VNQDD,

Vietnam Nationalist Party).

February 1930

Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP, Viet Nam Cong San Dang)

founded in Hong Kong (name changed to Indochinese Communist

Party, Dong Duong Cong San Dang, in October).

September 1939

World War II begins.

August 1940

Franco-Japanese treaty, recognizing Japan's pre-eminence in

Indochina in return for nominal recognition of French

sovereignty, signed.

February 1941

Ho Chi Minh returns to Vietnam.

May 1941

ICP Eighth Plenum at Pac Bo establishes the Viet Minh

(Vietnam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi, or League for the

Independence of Vietnam).


Ho Chi Minh imprisoned in China.


Famine in Tonkin and Annam causes between 1.5 and 2 million


August 1945

Japan surrenders and the Viet Minh commences the August

Revolution, gaining effective control over much of Vietnam.

September 1945 Ho Chi Minh declares Vietnam's the

independence in Hanoi.


Ho Chi Minh visits Paris during negotiations with France;

hostilities begin following violation of agreements.


First Indochina War

(see Glossary--also known as Viet Minh War) 1951 Dang Lao Dong Viet

Nam (Vietnamese Workers Party--VWP) is founded, succeeding the

Indochinese Communist Party.

May 7, 1954

French surrender at Dien Bien Phu

May 8, 1954

Geneva Conference on Indochina opens.

July 21, 1954

Geneva Agreements adopted, Vietnam provisionally divided at

the 17th parallel, and Ngo Dinh Diem appointed South

Vietnam's premier by Emperor Bao Dai.

January 1, 1955

Direct United States aid to South Vietnam begins.

February 12, 1955

United States advisers begin training South Vietnamese army


October 26, 1955

Republic of Vietnam established with Diem its first


December 20, 1960

The National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF)

formed in the South under the direction of the Political


December 31, 1961

United States military personnel in Vietnam total about

3,200. February 8, 1962 United States Military Assistant

Command-Vietnam (MACV) formed under the command of General

Paul D. Harkins.

November 1-2, 1963

Ngo Dinh Diem overthrown and assassinated.

August 7, 1964

United States Congress passes the "Gulf of Tonkin

Resolution," authorizing the president of the United States

to use force in Vietnam to repel attacks on American


February 7, 1965

United States begins bombing military targets in North


March 9, 1965

First United States ground combat troops land in Vietnam at

Da Nang.

December 31, 1965

United States military personnel in Vietnam total 180,000.

January 30-31, 1968

"Tet Offensive," employing coordinated attacks on the

South's major cities by North Vietnamese and National

Liberation Front troops, fails to achieve its military

objectives but erodes American support for the war.

January 25, 1969

Four-party peace talks open in Paris.

May 14, 1969

United States troop strength in Vietnam peaks at 543,000.

June 10, 1969

Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam (PRG)


September 3, 1969

Ho Chi Minh's death

April 28, 1970

Joint United States-Army of the Republic of Vietnam force

attacks Vietnamese communist sanctuaries in Cambodia.

March 24, 1971

Operation Lam Son 719, a South Vietnamese attack on the Ho

Chi Minh Trail in Laos, ends in defeat.

March 30, 1972

People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) troops launch the largest

offensive of the war since 1968.

January 27, 1973

Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam

signed in Paris.

March 29, 1973

Last United States troops in Vietnam depart.

March 9, 1975

PAVN offensive in the South begins.

April 30, 1975

Saigon surrenders.

July 2, 1976

The National Assembly proclaims official unification of

Vietnam as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

December 14-20, 1976

Fourth National Party Congress. The Vietnamese Workers Party

renamed the Vietnam Communist Party.

September 20, 1977

Vietnam admitted to United Nations.

June 29, 1978

Vietnam admitted to membership in the Council for Mutual

Economic Assistance (Comecon).

July 3, 1978

China announces termination of all economic assistance to


November 3, 1978

Vietnam and the Soviet Union sign a 25-year Treaty of

Friendship and Cooperation."

December 21, 1978

PAVN forces initiate invasion of Cambodia.

January 7, 1979

The Cambodian government of Pol Pot overthrown when Phnom

Penh, the capital of Cambodia, falls to Vietnamese forces.

February 17, 1979

China launches invasion of Vietnam.

March 5, 1979

Chinese forces withdrawn from Vietnam

March 1982

Fifth National Party Congress

December 1986

Sixth National Party Congress



64,411,668 (1989 census); 2.1 percent average annual population growth rate. Nineteen percent urban; 81 percent rural. Population centers Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).

Languages: Vietnamese official language; also French, various Chinese dialects, tribal languages, and English.

Ethnic Groups: Vietnamese account for 87.5 percent of population (1979 figures). Fifty-three minorities account for remainder, including Hoa (Chinese, comprising approximately 1.8 percent), Tay, Thai, Khmer, Muong, Nung, Hmong, and numerous mountain tribes.

Religion: Mahayana Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism, Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Hinduism, and animism.

Education and Literacy: Nine years of primary and junior high school, three years of secondary school. First nine years compulsory. Manual labor comprises 15 percent of primary curriculum and 17 percent of secondary. Ninety-three colleges and universities, with close to 130,000 students enrolled, able to admit only 10 percent of applicants. Education emphasizes training of skilled workers, technicians, and managers. Students nevertheless tend to avoid vocational schools and specialized middle schools because they are believed to preclude entry to high-status occupations. Literacy 78 percent (for all age groups).

Health: Total of approximately 11,000 hospitals, medical aid stations, public health stations, and village maternity clinics, staffed by 240,000 medical personnel. Approximately 1 physician per 1,000 persons. Life expectancy sixty-three years. Malaria, tuberculosis, and other communicable diseases prevalent. Government undertaken a campaign to improve cleanliness by launching "Three Cleans Movement" (clean food, water, and living conditions) and "Three Exterminations Movement" (exterminate flies, mosquitos, and rats).



Salient Features: In 1984 gross domestic product ( GDP-- see Glossary) stood at US$18.1 billion, US$300 per capita at official exchange rate of 12.1 dong to US$1 (actual per capita income is closer to US$200). Produced National Income ( PNI--see Glossary) grew by 2.1 percent in 1987, down from 3.3 percent in 1986.

Agriculture: Major agricultural products produced in 1985: grain (18.2 million tons), sugar (434,000 tons), tea (26,000 tons), coffee (6,000 tons), and rubber (52,000 tons). Agriculture represented 51 percent of PNI.

Industry: Thirty-two percent of PNI in 1985; major industries included electricity (5.4 billion kilowatt hours), coal (60 million tons), steel (57,000 tons), cement (1.4 million tons), cloth (80 million square meters), paper (75,000 tons), fish sauce (174 million liters), and processed sea fish (550,000 tons). Mineral resources included iron ore, tin, copper, lead, zinc, nickel, manganese, titanium, chromite, tungsten, bauxite, apatite, graphite, mica, silica sand, and limestone.

Energy Sources: Timber, coal, offshore oil deposits.

Foreign Trade: Exports totaled US$739.5 million in 1986. Principal exports consisted of coal, rubber, rice, tea, coffee, wood, and marine products. Imports totaled US$2.5 billion in 1986. Principal imports consisted of petroleum products, fertilizers, rice, and steel. In 1986 total debt estimated at nearly US$7.7 billion. According to figures given to International Monetary Fund by Hanoi, from 1981-85 Vietnam's debt to communist bloc countries rose from US$3 billion to more than US$6 billion. Trade deficit with the Soviet Union grew from US$224 million in 1976 to US$1.5 billion in 1986.



Party and Government:

Democratic Republic of (North) and former Republic of (South) Vietnam united to form Socialist Republic of Vietnam on July 2, 1976. Constitution adapted in 1980 stipulates National Assembly as highest governing body. Members serve five-year terms and nominally directly elected by electorate. Council of State, which serves as collective presidency, and Council of Ministers, which manages governmental activities, nominally accountable to, and elected by, National Assembly. Political power effectively in hands of Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP, Viet Nam Cong San Dang). Most government positions filled by party members, who act at direction of party. Party led by National Party Congress, which meets infrequently. Congress elects Central Committee, which in turn elects Political Bureau, party's highest policy-making body.

Administrative Divisions: Country divided into thirtysix provinces, three autonomous municipalities, and one special zone. Provinces divided into districts, towns, and capitals.

Judicial System: Supreme People's Court; local People's Courts at provincial, district, and city levels; military tribunals; and People's Supreme Organ of Control. National Assembly elects Procurator General, who heads People's Supreme Organ of Control and performs overall administration of justice.

Foreign Affairs: Vietnam dominated Laos through numerous Hanoi-dictated cooperation agreements; most important-- Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation signed in 1977. Occupied Cambodia as result of military conquest in January 1979 and subsequently negotiated Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation. Relations with China marked by China's limited invasion in 1979 and frequent border skirmishes. Formally aligned with Soviet Union through Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation signed in November 1978. Both countries shared membership in Council for Mutual Economic Assistance ( Comecon--see Glossary); Soviet Union largest donor of economic and military aid. Limited governmental and commercial ties established with all Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members but prevented from developing further by ASEAN's opposition to Vietnam's Cambodia policy. In 1988 no diplomatic relations with United States, which maintained economic boycott against Vietnam and stressed Vietnam's cooperation in accounting for servicemen missing in action as prerequisite to normal relations. Admitted to membership in United Nations in 1977.

Data as of December 1987



Armed Forces:

Largest military force in Southeast Asia and third largest force in the world after China and the Soviet Union. Estimated in 1987 to total over 5 million: army, 1.2 million; navy, 15,000; air force, 20,000; Regional Force, 500,000; Militia-Self Defense Force, 1.2 million; Armed Youth Assault Force, 1,500,000; and Tactical Rear Force, 500,000.

Combat Units and Major Equipment: Command structure divided geographically into military theaters and military regions or zones. Tactically divided into corps, divisions, brigades, regiments, and battalions, companies, platoons, and squads. Army comprised eight corps (each numbering 30,000 to 50,000 troops). In 1986 total of thirty-eight regular infantry divisions: nineteen in Cambodia, ten in northern Vietnam, six in central and southern Vietnam, and three in Laos. Thirteen economic construction divisions, which carried burden of 1979 war with China, deployed in China border region. Army equipped with 1,600 Soviet-made T-34 -54 -55 -62, Type-59 tanks and 450 PT-76 and type 60 63 light tanks; 2,700 reconnaissance vehicles; some 600 artillery guns and howitzers, unspecified number of multiple rocket launchers, mortars, and antitank weapons; and 3,000 air defense weapons. Navy, with Soviet assistance, largest naval force in Southeast Asia in 1986. Five naval regions, headquartered at Da Nang, Haiphong, Vinh, Vung Tau, and Rach Gia. Navy equipped with 2 principal combat vessels, 192 patrol boats, 51 amphibious warfare ships, 104 landing ships, and 133 auxiliary craft. Approximately 1,300 ex-United States, South Vietnamese naval vessels, naval and civilian junks and coasters augment this force. Air Force divided into seventeen air regiments, (seven attack fighter plane regiments, four basic and advanced training regiments, three cargo transport regiments, three helicopter regiments, and one light bomber force), headquartered at Noi Bai (Hanoi), Da Nang, Tho Xuan, and Tan Son Nhut (Ho Chi Minh City). Air Force equipped with some 450 combat aircraft (including 225 MiG-21s), 225 trainers, 350 cargo-transport planes, 600 helicopters, and 60 light bombers.

Military Budget: No expenditure estimates available. Military aid from Soviet Union estimated about US$1.5 billion annually beginning in 1986.

Police Agencies and Paramilitary: Police functions vested in People's Security Force (PSF), People's Public Security Force (PPSF), and People's Armed Security Force (PASF). PSF strictly law enforcement agency operating chiefly in urban rather than rural areas. PASF composed of party security cadres and PAVN personnel concerned with illegal political acts and insurgency movements as well as criminal activity.

Foreign Military Alliances: Friendship and cooperation treaties signed with Laos in 1977, Soviet Union in 1978, and Cambodia in 1979.

Data as of December 1987




Saigon scholar-official, late nineteenth century
Courtesy Library of Congress

Vietnamese historians regard Trieu Da as a defender of their homeland against an expanding Han empire. In 111 B.C., however, the Chinese armies of Emperor Wu Di defeated the successors of Trieu Da and incorporated Nam Viet into the Han empire. The Chinese were anxious to extend their control over the fertile Red River Delta, in part to serve as a convenient supply point for Han ships engaged in the growing maritime trade with India and Indonesia. During the first century or so of Chinese rule, Vietnam was governed leniently, and the Lac lords maintained their feudal offices. In the first century A.D., however, China intensified its efforts to assimilate its new territories by raising taxes and instituting marriage reforms aimed at turning Vietnam into a patriarchal society more amenable to political authority. In response to increased Chinese domination, a revolt broke out in Giao Chi, Cuu Chan, and Nhat Nam in A.D. 39, led by Trung Trac, the wife of a Lac lord who had been put to death by the Chinese, and her sister Trung Nhi. The insurrection was put down within two years by the Han general Ma Yuan, and the Trung sisters drowned themselves to avoid capture by the Chinese. Still celebrated as heroines by the Vietnamese, the Trung sisters exemplify the relatively high status of women in Vietnamese society as well as the importance to Vietnamese of resistance to foreign rule.

Following the ill-fated revolt, Chinese rule became more direct, and the feudal Lac lords faded into history. Ma Yuan established a Chinese-style administrative system of three prefectures and fifty-six districts ruled by scholar-officials sent by the Han court. Although Chinese administrators replaced most former local officials, some members of the Vietnamese aristocracy were allowed to fill lower positions in the bureaucracy. The Vietnamese elite in particular received a thorough indoctrination in Chinese cultural, religious, and political traditions. One result of Sinicization, however, was the creation of a Confucian bureaucratic, family, and social structure that gave the Vietnamese the strength to resist Chinese political domination in later centuries, unlike most of the other Yue peoples who were sooner or later assimilated into the Chinese cultural and political world. Nor was Sinicization so total as to erase the memory of pre-Han Vietnamese culture, especially among the peasant class, which retained the Vietnamese language and many Southeast Asian customs. Chinese rule had the dual effect of making the Vietnamese aristocracy more receptive to Chinese culture and cultural leadership while at the same time instilling resistance and hostility toward Chinese political domination throughout Vietnamese society.




Figure 2. Location of Vietnam in Asia, 1987


Figure 3. Nam Viet Before Conquest by China in 111 B.C.

The Vietnamese people represent a fusion of races, languages, and cultures, the elements of which are still being sorted out by ethnologists, linguists, and archaeologists. As was true for most areas of Southeast Asia, the Indochina Peninsula was a crossroads for many migrations of peoples, including speakers of Austronesian, Mon-Khmer, and Tai languages (see fig. 2). The Vietnamese language provides some clues to the cultural mixture of the Vietnamese people. Although a separate and distinct language, Vietnamese borrows much of its basic vocabulary from Mon-Khmer, tonality from the Tai languages, and some grammatical features from both Mon-Khmer and Tai. Vietnamese also exhibits some influence from Austronesian languages, as well as large infusions of Chinese literary, political, and philosophical terminology of a later period.

The area now known as Vietnam has been inhabited since Paleolithic times, with some archaeological sites in Thanh Hoa Province reportedly dating back several thousand years. Archaeologists link the beginnings of Vietnamese civilization to the late Neolithic, early Bronze Age, Phung-nguyen culture, which was centered in Vinh Phu Province of contemporary Vietnam from about 2000 to 1400 B.C. (see fig. 1). By about 1200 B.C., the development of wet-rice cultivation and bronze casting in the Ma River and Red River plains led to the development of the Dong Son culture, notable for its elaborate bronze drums. The bronze weapons, tools, and drums of Dong Sonian sites show a Southeast Asian influence that indicates an indigenous origin for the bronze-casting technology. Many small, ancient copper mine sites have been found in northern Vietnam. Some of the similarities between the Dong Sonian sites and other Southeast Asian sites include the presence of boat-shaped coffins and burial jars, stilt dwellings, and evidence of the customs of betel-nut-chewing and teeth-blackening.

According to the earliest Vietnamese traditions, the founder of the Vietnamese nation was Hung Vuong, the first ruler of the semilegendary Hung dynasty (2879-258 B.C., mythological dates) of the kingdom of Van Lang. Hung Vuong, in Vietnamese mythology, was the oldest son of Lac Long Quan (Lac Dragon Lord), who came to the Red River Delta from his home in the sea, and Au Co, a Chinese immortal. Lac Long Quan, a Vietnamese cultural hero, is credited with teaching the people how to cultivate rice. The Hung dynasty, which according to tradition ruled Van Lang for eighteen generations, is associated by Vietnamese scholars with Dong Sonian culture. An important aspect of this culture by the sixth century B.C. was the tidal irrigation of rice fields through an elaborate system of canals and dikes. The fields were called Lac fields, and Lac, mentioned in Chinese annals, is the earliest recorded name for the Vietnamese people.

The Hung kings ruled Van Lang in feudal fashion with the aid of the Lac lords, who controlled the communal settlements around each irrigated area, organized construction and maintenance of the dikes, and regulated the supply of water. Besides cultivating rice, the people of Van Lang grew other grains and beans and raised stock, mainly buffaloes, chickens, and pigs. Potterymaking and bamboo-working were highly developed crafts, as were basketry, leather-working, and the weaving of hemp, jute, and silk. Both transport and communication were provided by dugout canoes, which plied the network of rivers and canals.

The last Hung king was overthrown in the third century B.C. by An Duong Vuong, the ruler of the neighboring upland kingdom of Thuc. An Duong Vuong united Van Lang with Thuc to form Au Lac, building his capital and citadel at Co Loa, thirty-five kilometers north of present-day Hanoi. An Duong's kingdom was short-lived, however, being conquered in 208 B.C. by the army of the Chinese Qin dynasty (221-207 B.C.) military commander Trieu Da (Zhao Tuo in Chinese). Reluctant to accept the rule of the Qin dynasty's successor, the new Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), Trieu Da combined the territories under his control in southern China and northern Vietnam and established the kingdom of Nam Viet (Nan Yue in Chinese), meaning Southern Viet. Viet (Yue) was the term applied by the Chinese to the various peoples on the southern fringes of the Han empire, including the people of the Red River Delta. Trieu Da divided his kingdom of Nam Viet into nine military districts; the southern three (Giao Chi, Cuu Chan, and Nhat Nam) included the northern part of present-day Vietnam. The Lac lords continued to rule in the Red River Delta, but as vassals of Nam Viet (see fig. 3).


Chinese Cultural Impact

In order to facilitate administration of their new territories, the Chinese built roads, waterways, and harbors, largely with corvee labor (unpaid labor exacted by government authorities, particularly for public works projects). Agriculture was improved with better irrigation methods and the use of ploughs and draft animals, innovations which may have already been in use by the Vietnamese on a lesser scale. New lands were opened up for agriculture, and settlers were brought in from China. After a few generations, most of the Chinese settlers probably intermarried with the Vietnamese and identified with their new homeland.

The first and second centuries A.D. saw the rise of a HanViet ruling class owning large tracts of rice lands. More than 120 brick Han tombs have been excavated in northern Vietnam, indicating Han families that, rather than returning to China, had become members of their adopted society and were no longer, strictly speaking, Chinese. Although they brought Chinese vocabulary and technical terms into their new culture, after a generation or two, they probably spoke Vietnamese.

The second century A.D. was a time of rebellion in Giao Chi, Cuu Chan, and Nhat Nam, largely due to the declining quality of the Han administrators, who concentrated their energies on making their fortunes and returning north as soon as possible. Revolts against corrupt and repressive Chinese officials were often led by the Han-Viet families. The fall of the Han dynasty in China in 220 A.D. further strengthened the allegiance of the Han-Viet ruling elite to their new society and gave them a sense of their own independent political power. Meanwhile, among the peasant class there was also a heightened sense of identity fostered by the spread of Buddhism by sea from India to Vietnam by the early third century. The new religion was often adapted to blend with indigenous religions. Buddhist temples were sometimes dedicated to the monsoon season, for example, or identified with the guardian spirit of agricultural fertility. Although ruling-class Vietnamese tended to cling to Confucianism, various local rulers patronized the Buddhist religion, thus helping to legitimize their own rule in the eyes of the common people.

After the demise of the Han dynasty, the period of the third to the sixth century was a time of turbulence in China, with six different dynasties in succession coming to power. The periods between dynasties or the periods when dynasties were weak in China were usually the most peaceful in Vietnam. When dynasties were strong and interfered with local rule, the Vietnamese aristocracy engaged in a series of violent revolts that weakened China's control over its southern territory. A rebellion led by the noblewoman Trieu Au (Lady Trieu) in A.D. 248 was suppressed after about six months, but its leader earned a place in the hearts and history of the Vietnamese people. Despite pressure to accept Chinese patriarchal values, Vietnamese women continued to play an important role and to enjoy considerably more freedom than their northern counterparts.

In order to facilitate administration of their new territories, the Chinese built roads, waterways, and harbors, largely with corvee labor (unpaid labor exacted by government authorities, particularly for public works projects). Agriculture was improved with better irrigation methods and the use of ploughs and draft animals, innovations which may have already been in use by the Vietnamese on a lesser scale. New lands were opened up for agriculture, and settlers were brought in from China. After a few generations, most of the Chinese settlers probably intermarried with the Vietnamese and identified with their new homeland.

The first and second centuries A.D. saw the rise of a HanViet ruling class owning large tracts of rice lands. More than 120 brick Han tombs have been excavated in northern Vietnam, indicating Han families that, rather than returning to China, had become members of their adopted society and were no longer, strictly speaking, Chinese. Although they brought Chinese vocabulary and technical terms into their new culture, after a generation or two, they probably spoke Vietnamese.

The second century A.D. was a time of rebellion in Giao Chi, Cuu Chan, and Nhat Nam, largely due to the declining quality of the Han administrators, who concentrated their energies on making their fortunes and returning north as soon as possible. Revolts against corrupt and repressive Chinese officials were often led by the Han-Viet families. The fall of the Han dynasty in China in 220 A.D. further strengthened the allegiance of the Han-Viet ruling elite to their new society and gave them a sense of their own independent political power. Meanwhile, among the peasant class there was also a heightened sense of identity fostered by the spread of Buddhism by sea from India to Vietnam by the early third century. The new religion was often adapted to blend with indigenous religions. Buddhist temples were sometimes dedicated to the monsoon season, for example, or identified with the guardian spirit of agricultural fertility. Although ruling-class Vietnamese tended to cling to Confucianism, various local rulers patronized the Buddhist religion, thus helping to legitimize their own rule in the eyes of the common people.

After the demise of the Han dynasty, the period of the third to the sixth century was a time of turbulence in China, with six different dynasties in succession coming to power. The periods between dynasties or the periods when dynasties were weak in China were usually the most peaceful in Vietnam. When dynasties were strong and interfered with local rule, the Vietnamese aristocracy engaged in a series of violent revolts that weakened China's control over its southern territory. A rebellion led by the noblewoman Trieu Au (Lady Trieu) in A.D. 248 was suppressed after about six months, but its leader earned a place in the hearts and history of the Vietnamese people. Despite pressure to accept Chinese patriarchal values, Vietnamese women continued to play an important role and to enjoy considerably more freedom than their northern counterparts.

Data as of December 1987

Renewed Chinese Influence

The Ming administered the country as if it were a province of China and ruled it harshly for the next twenty years. The forced labor of its people was used to exploit Vietnam's mines and forests solely for China's enrichment. Taxes were levied on all products including salt a dietary staple. Under the Ming, Vietnamese cultural traditions, including the chewing of betel nut, were forbiddeb, men were required to wear their hair long and women to dress in the Chinese style. Vietnamese Buddhism was replaced at court by Ming-sponsored neo-Confucianism, but Ming attempts to supplant popular Vietnamese religious traditions with an officially sponsored form of Buddhism were less successful.

The Chinese impact on Vietnamese culture was probably as great, or greater, in the centuries following independence as it was during the 1,000 years of Chinese political domination. Much of China's cultural and governmental influence on Vietnam dates from the Ming period. Other aspects of Chinese culture were introduced later by Vietnamese kings struggling to bring a Confucian order to their unruly kingdom. Chinese administrative reforms and traditions, when sponsored by Vietnamese kings and aristocracy, tended to be more palatable and hence more readily assimilated than those imposed by Chinese officials. Although the Vietnamese upper classes during the Ming period studied Chinese classical literature and subscribed to the Chinese patriarchal family system, the majority of the Vietnamese people recognized these aspects of Chinese culture mainly as ideals. Less exposed to Chinese influence, the peasantry retained the Vietnamese language and many cultural traditions that predated Chinese rule. Other factors also encouraged the preservation of Vietnamese culture during the periods of Chinese rule. Contact with the Indianized Cham and Khmer civilizations, for example, widened the Vietnamese perspective and served as a counterweight to Chinese influence. Vietnam's location on the South China Sea and the comings and goings of merchants and Buddhists encouraged contact with other cultures of South and Southeast Asia. China, itself, once it developed the port of Guangzhou (Canton), had less need to control Vietnam politically in order to control the South China Sea. Moreover, the Vietnamese who moved southward into lands formerly occupied by the Cham and the Khmer became less concerned about the threat from China.

Data as of December 1987

The Le Dynasty and Southward Expansion

Le Loi, one of Vietnam's most celebrated heroes, is credited with rescuing the country from Ming domination in 1428. Born of a wealthy landowning family, he served as a senior scholar-official until the advent of the Ming, whom he refused to serve. After a decade of gathering a resistance movement around him, Le Loi and his forces finally defeated the Chinese army in 1428. Rather than putting to death the captured Chinese soldiers and administrators, he magnanimously provided ships and supplies to send them back to China. Le Loi then ascended the Vietnamese throne, taking the reign name Le Thai To and establishing the Le dynasty (1428-1788).

The greatest of the Le dynasty rulers was Le Thanh Tong (1460-97), who reorganized the administrative divisions of the country and upgraded the civil service system. He ordered a census of people and landholdings to be taken every six years, revised the tax system, and commissioned the writing of a national history. During his reign he accomplished the conquest of Champa in 1471, the suppression of Lao-led insurrections in the western border area, and the continuation of diplomatic relations with China through tribute missions established under Le Thai To. Le Thanh Tong also ordered the formulation of the Hong Duc legal code, which was based on Chinese law but included distinctly Vietnamese features, such as recognition of the higher position of women in Vietnamese society than in Chinese society. Under the new code, parental consent was not required for marriage, and daughters were granted equal inheritance rights with sons. Le Thanh Tong also initiated the construction and repair of granaries, dispatched his troops to rebuild irrigation works following floods, and provided for medical aid during epidemics. A noted writer and poet himself, he encouraged and emphasized of the Confucian examination system.

A great period of southward expansion also began under Le Thanh Tong. The don dien system of land settlement, borrowed from the Chinese, was used extensively to occupy and develop territory wrested from Champa. Under this system, military colonies were established in which soldiers and landless peasants cleared a new area, began rice production on the new land, established a village, and served as a militia to defend it. After three years, the village was incorporated into the Vietnamese administrative system, a communal village meeting house (dinh) was built, and the workers were given an opportunity to share in the communal lands given by the state to each village. The remainder of the land belonged to the state. As each area was cleared and a village established, the soldiers of the don dien would move on to clear more land. This method contributed greatly to the success of Vietnam's southward expansion (see fig. 5).

Although the Le rulers had ordered widespread land distribution, many peasants remained landless, while the nobility, government officials, and military leaders continued to acquire vast tracts. The final conquest of Champa in 1471 eased the situation somewhat as peasants advanced steadily southward along the coast into state-owned communal lands. However, most of the new land was set aside for government officials and, although the country grew wealthier, the social structure remained the same. Following the decline of the Le dynasty, landlessness was a major factor leading to a turbulent period during which the peasantry questioned the mandate of their rulers.

In the Confucian world view, emperors were said to have the "mandate of heaven" to rule their people, who, in turn, owed the emperor total allegiance. Although his power was absolute, an emperor was responsible for the prosperity of his people and the maintenance of justice and order. An emperor who did not fulfill his Confucian responsibilities could, in theory, lose his mandate. In practice, the Vietnamese people endured many poor emperors, weak and strong. Counterbalancing the power of the emperor was the power of the village, illustrated by the Vietnamese proverb, "The laws of the emperor yield to the customs of the village." Village institutions served both to restrain the power of the emperor and to provide a buffer between central authority and the individual villager. Each village had its council of notables, which was responsible for the obligations of the village to the state. When the central government imposed levies for taxes, for corvee labor for public projects, or for soldiers for defense, these levies were based on the council of notables' report of the resources of the villages, which was often underestimated to protect the village. Moreover, there was a division between state and local responsibilities. The central government assumed responsibility for military, judicial, and religious functions, while village authorities oversaw the construction of public works projects such as roads, dikes, and bridges, which were centrally planned. The autonomy of the villages, however, contributed to the weakness of the Vietnamese political system. If the ruling dynasty could no longer protect a village, the village would often opt for the protection of political movements in opposition to the dynasty. These movements, in turn, would have difficulty maintaining the allegiance of the villages unless they were able both to provide security and to institutionalize their political power. Although it insured the preservation of a sense of national and cultural identity, the strength of the villages was a factor contributing to the political instability of the society as it expanded southward.

Data as of December 1987

Partition and the Advent of the Europeans

The degenerated Le dynasty, which endured under ten rulers between 1497 and 1527, in the end was no longer able to maintain control over the northern part of the country, much less the new territories to the south. The weakening of the monarchy created a vacuum that the various noble families of the aristocracy were eager to fill. In 1527 Mac Dang Dung, a scholar-official who had effectively controlled the Le for a decade, seized the throne, prompting other families of the aristocracy, notably the Nguyen and Trinh, to rush to the support of the Le. An attack on the Mac forces led by the Le general Nguyen Kim resulted in the partition of Vietnam in 1545, with the Nguyen family seizing control of the southern part of the country as far north as what is now Thanh Hoa Province. The Nguyen, who took the hereditary title chua (see Glossary), continued to profess loyalty to the Le dynasty. By the late sixteenth century the Trinh family had ousted the Mac family and had begun to rule the northern half of the country also in the name of the Le dynasty. The Trinh, who, like the Nyuyen, took the title chua, spent most of the seventeenth century attempting to depose the Nguyen. In order to repulse invading Trinh forces, the Nguyen in 1631 completed the building of two great walls, six meters high and eighteen kilometers long, on their northern frontier. The Trinh, with 100,000 troops, 500 elephants, and 500 large junks, were numerically far superior to their southern foe. The Nguyen, however, were better equipped, having by this time acquired Portuguese weapons and gunpowder, and, as the defending force, had the support of the local people. In addition, the Nguyen had the advantage of controlling vast open lands in the Mekong Delta, wrested from the Khmer, with which to attract immigrants and refugees from the north. Among those who took up residence in the delta were an estimated 3,000 Chinese, supporters of the defunct Ming dynasty, who arrived in 1679 aboard fifty junks and set about becoming farmers and traders. The Nguyen, aided by the Chinese settlers, succeeded in forcing the Khmer completely out of the Mekong Delta by 1749.

After major offensives by the Trinh in 1661 and 1672 foundered on the walls built by the Nguyen, a truce in the fighting ensued that lasted nearly 100 years. During that time, the Nguyen continued its southward expansion into lands held, or formerly held, by the Cham and the Khmer. The Trinh, meanwhile, consolidated its authority in the north, instituting administrative reforms and supporting scholarship. The nobility and scholar-officials of both north and south, however, continued to block the development of manufacturing and trade, preferring to retain a feudal, peasant society, which they could control.

The seventeenth century was also a period in which European missionaries and merchants became a serious factor in Vietnamese court life and politics. Although both had arrived by the early sixteenth century, neither foreign merchants nor missionaries had much impact on Vietnam before the seventeenth century. The Portuguese, Dutch, English, and French had all established trading posts in Pho Hien by 1680. Fighting among the Europeans and opposition by the Vietnamese made the enterprises unprofitable, however, and all of the foreign trading posts were closed by 1700.

European missionaries had occasionally visited Vietnam for short periods of time, with little impact, beginning in the early sixteenth century. The best known of the early missionaries was Alexandre de Rhodes, a French Jesuit who was sent to Hanoi in 1627, where he quickly learned the language and began preaching in Vietnamese. Initially, Rhodes was well-received by the Trinh court, and he reportedly baptized more than 6,000 converts; however, his success probably led to his expulsion in 1630. He is credited with perfecting a romanized system of writing the Vietnamese language (quoc ngu), which was probably developed as the joint effort of several missionaries, including Rhodes. He wrote the first catechism in Vietnamese and published a Vietnamese-Latin-Portuguese dictionary; these works were the first books printed in quoc ngu. Quoc ngu was used initially only by missionaries; classical Chinese or chu nom continued to be used by the court and the bureaucracy. The French later supported the use of quoc ngu, which, because of its simplicity, led to a high degree of literacy and a flourishing of Vietnamese literature. After being expelled from Vietnam, Rhodes spent the next thirty years seeking support for his missionary work from the Vatican and the French Roman Catholic hierarchy as well as making several more trips to Vietnam.

The stalemate between the Trinh and the Nguyen families that began at the end of the seventeenth century did not, however, mark the beginning of a period of peace and prosperity. Instead the decades of continual warfare between the two families had left the peasantry in a weakened state, the victim of taxes levied to support the courts and their military adventures. Having to meet their tax obligations had forced many peasants off the land and facilitated the acquisition of large tracts by a few wealthy landowners, nobles, and scholar--officials. Because scholar--officials were exempted from having to pay a land tax, the more land they acquired, the greater was the burden that fell on those peasants who had been able to retain their land. In addition, the peasantry faced new taxes on staple items such as charcoal, salt, silk, and cinnamon, and on commercial activities such as fishing and mining. The disparate condition of the economy led to neglect of the extensive network of irrigation systems as well. As they fell into disrepair, disastrous flooding and famine resulted, unleashing great numbers of starving and landless people to wander aimlessly about the countryside. The widespread suffering in both north and south led to numerous peasant revolts between 1730 and 1770. Although the uprisings took place throughout the country, they were essentially local phenomena, breaking out spontaneously from similar local causes. The occasional coordination between and among local movements did not result in any national organization or leadership. Moreover, most of the uprisings were conservative, in that the leaders supported the restoration of the Le dynasty. They did, however, put forward demands for land reform, more equitable taxes, and rice for all. Landless peasants accounted for most of the initial support for the various rebellions, but they were often joined later by craftsmen, fishermen, miners, and traders, who had been taxed out of their occupations. Some of these movements enjoyed limited success for a short time, but it was not until 1771 that any of the peasant revolts had a lasting national impact.

Data as of December 1987

The Tay Son Rebellion

The Tay Son Rebellion (1771-1802), which ended the Le and Trinh dynasties, was led by three brothers from the village of Tay Son in Binh Dinh Province. The brothers, who were of the Ho clan (to which Ho Quy Ly had belonged), adopted the name Nguyen. The eldest brother, Nguyen Nhac, began an attack on the ruling Nguyen family by capturing Quang Nam and Binh Dinh provinces in 1772. The chief principle and main slogan of the Tay Son was "seize the property of the rich and distribute it to the poor." In each village the Tay Son controlled, oppressive landlords and scholar-officials were punished and their property redistributed. The Tay Son also abolished taxes, burned the tax and land registers, freed prisoners from local jails, and distributed the food from storehouses to the hungry. As the rebellion gathered momentum, it gained the support of army deserters, merchants, scholars, local officials, and bonzes.

In 1773 Nguyen Nhac seized Qui Nhon, which became the Tay Son capital. By 1778 the Tay Son had effective control over the southern part of the country, including Gia Dinh (later Saigon). The ruling Nguyen family were all killed by the Tay Son rebels, with the exception of Nguyen Anh, the sixteen-year-old nephew of the last Nguyen lord, who escaped to the Mekong Delta. There he was able to gather a body of supporters and retake Gia Dinh. The city changed hands several times until 1783, when the Tay Son brothers destroyed Nguyen Anh's fleet and drove him to take refuge on Phu Quoc Island. Soon thereafter, he met with French missionary bishop Pigneau de Behaine and asked him to be his emissary in obtaining French support to defeat the Tay Son. Pigneau de Behaine took Nguyen Anh's five-year-old son, Prince Canh, and departed for Pondichery in French India to plead for support for the restoration of the Nguyen. Finding none there, he went to Paris in 1786 to lobby on Nguyen Anh's behalf. Louis XVI ostensibly agreed to provide four ships, 1,650 men, and supplies in exchange for Nguyen Anh's promise to cede to France the port of Tourane (Da Nang) and the island of Poulo Condore. However, the local French authorities in India, under secret orders from the king, refused to supply the promised ships and men. Determined to see French military intervention in Vietnam, Pigneau de Behaine himself raised funds for two ships and supplies from among the French merchant community in India, hired deserters from the French navy to man them, and sailed back to Vietnam in 1789.

In the meantime, by 1786 the Tay Son had overcome the crumbling Trinh dynasty and seized all of the north, thus uniting the country for the first time in 200 years. The Tay Son made good their promise to restore the Le dynasty, at least for ceremonial purposes. The three Nguyen brothers installed themselves as kings of the north, central, and southern sections of the country respectively, while continuing to acknowledge the Le emperor in Thang Long. In 1788, however, the reigning Le emperor fled north to seek Chinese assistance in defeating the Tay Son. Eager to comply, a Chinese army of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) invaded Vietnam, seized Thang Long, and invested the Le ruler as "King of Annam." That same year, the second eldest Tay Son brother, Nguyen Hue, proclaimed himself Emperor Quang Trung. Marching north with 100,000 men and 100 elephants, Quang Trung attacked Thang Long at night and routed the Chinese army of 200,000, which retreated in disarray. Immediately following his victory, the Tay Son leader sought to reestablish friendly relations with China, requesting recognition of his rule and sending the usual tributary mission.

Quang Trung stimulated Vietnam's war-ravaged economy by encouraging trade and crafts, ordering the recultivation of fallow lands, reducing or abolishing taxes on local products, and resettling landless peasants on communal lands in their own villages. Quang Trung also established a new capital at Phu Xuan (near modern Hue), a more central location from which to administer the country. He reorganized the government along military lines, giving key posts to generals, with the result that military officials for the first time outranked civilian officials. Vietnamese was substituted for Chinese as the official national language, and candidates for the bureaucracy were required to submit prose and verse compositions in chu nom rather than in classical Chinese.

Quang Trung died in 1792, without leaving a successor strong enough to assume leadership of the country, and the usual factionalism ensued. By this time, Nguyen Anh and his supporters had won back much of the south from Nguyen Lu, the youngest and least capable of the Tay Son brothers. When Pigneau de Behaine returned to Vietnam in 1789, Nguyen Anh was in control of Gia Dinh. In the succeeding years, the bishop brought Nguyen Anh a steady flow of ships, arms, and European advisers, who supervised the building of forts, shipyards, cannon foundries and bomb factories, and instructed the Vietnamese in the manufacture and use of modern armaments. Nguyen's cause was also greatly aided by divisions within the Tay Son leadership, following the death of Quang Trung, and the inability of the new leaders to deal with the problems of famine and natural disasters that wracked the war-torn country. After a steady assault on the north, Nguyen Anh's forces took Phu Xuan in June 1801 and Thang Long a year later.

Data as of December 1987

The Nguyen Dynasty and Expanding French Influence

In June 1802, Nguyen Anh adopted the reign name Gia Long to express the unifying of the country--Gia from Gia Dinh (Saigon) and Long from Thang Long (Hanoi). As a symbol of this unity, Gia Long changed the name of the country from Dai Viet to Nam Viet. For the Chinese, however, this was too reminiscent of the wayward General Trieu Da. In conferring investiture on the new government, the Chinese inverted the name to Viet Nam, the first use of that name for the country. Acting as a typical counterrevolutionary government, the Gia Long regime harshly suppressed any forces opposing it or the interests of the bureaucracy and the landowners. In his drive for control and order, Gia Long adopted the Chinese bureaucratic model to a greater degree than any previous Vietnamese ruler. The new capital at Hue, two kilometers northeast of Phu Xuan, was patterned after the Chinese model in Beijing, complete with a Forbidden City, an Imperial City, and a Capital City. Vietnamese bureaucrats were required to wear Chinese-style gowns and even adopt Chinese-style houses and sedan chairs. Vietnamese women, in turn, were compelled to wear Chinese-style trousers. Gia Long instituted a law code, which followed very closely the Chinese Qing dynasty (1644-1911) model. Under the Gia Long code, severe punishment was meted out for any form of resistance to the absolute power of the government. Buddhism, Taoism, and indigenous religions were forbidden under the Confucianist administration. Traditional Vietnamese laws and customs, such as the provisions of the Hong Duc law code protecting the rights and status of women, were swept away by the new code. Taxes that had been reduced or abolished under the Tay Son were levied again under the restored Nguyen dynasty. These included taxes on mining, forestry, fisheries, crafts, and on various domestic products, such as salt, honey, and incense. Another heavy burden on the peasantry was the increased use of corvee labor to build not only roads, bridges, ports, and irrigation works but also palaces, fortresses, shipyards, and arsenals. All but the privileged classes were required to work on such projects at least sixty days a year, with no pay but a rice ration. The great Mandarin Road, used by couriers and scholar-officials as a link between Gia Dinh, Hue, and Thang Long, was started during this period in order to strengthen the control of the central government. Military service was another burden on the peasantry; in some areas one out of every three men was required to serve in the Vietnamese Imperial Army. Land reforms instituted under the Tay Son were soon lost under the restored Nguyen dynasty, and the proportion of communal lands dwindled to less than 20 percent of the total. Although chu nom was retained as the national script by Gia Long, his son and successor Minh Mang, who gained the throne upon his father's death in 1820, ordered a return to the use of Chinese ideographs.

Peasant rebellion flared from time to time throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, fueled by government repression and such calamities as floods, droughts, epidemics, and famines. Minority groups, including the Tay-Nung, Muong, and Cham, were also in revolt. Although they were primarily peasant rebellions, some of these movements found support from, or were led by, disaffected scholars or some of the surviving pretenders to the Le throne. Vietnam's foreign relations were also a drain on the central government during this period. Tributary missions were sent biennially to the Qing court in Beijing, bearing the requisite 600 pieces of silk, 200 pieces of cotton, 1,200 ounces of perfume, 600 ounces of aloes wood, 90 pounds of betel nuts, 4 elephant tusks, and 4 rhinoceros horns. Other missions to pay homage (also bearing presents) were sent every four years. At the same time, Vietnam endeavored to enforce tributary relations with Cambodia and Laos. In 1834, attempts to make Cambodia a Vietnamese province led to a Cambodian revolt and to Siamese intervention, with the result that a joint Vietnamese-Siamese protectorate was established over Cambodia in 1847. Other foreign adventures included Vietnamese support for a Laotian rebellion against Siamese overlordship in 1826-27.

The most serious foreign policy problem for the Nguyen rulers, however, was dealing with France through the French traders, missionaries, diplomats, and naval personnel who came in increasing numbers to Vietnam. The influnce of missionaries was perceived as the most critical issue by the court and scholarofficials . The French Societe des Missions Etrangeres reported 450,000 Christian converts in Vietnam in 1841. The Vietnamese Christians were for the most part organized into villages that included all strata of society, from peasants to landowners. The Christian villages, with their own separate customs, schools, and hierarchy, as well as their disdain for Confucianism, were viewed by the government as breeding grounds for rebellion--and in fact they often were. The French presence did, however, enjoy some support at high levels. Gia Long felt a special debt to Pigneau de Behaine and to his two chief French naval advisers, JeanBaptiste Chaigneau and Philippe Vannier, both of whom remained in the country until 1824. There were also members of the Vietnamese court who urged the monarchy to undertake a certain degree of westernization and reform in order to strengthen itself in the areas of administration, education, and defense. In the southern part of the country, Christians enjoyed the protection of Viceroy Le Van Duyet until his death in 1832. Soon thereafter the Nguyen government began a serious attempt to rid itself of French missionaries and their influence. A series of edicts forbade the practice of Christianity, forcing the Christian communities underground. An estimated ninety-five priests and members of the laity were executed by the Vietnamese during the following quarter of a century.

In response, the missionaries stepped up their pressure on the French government to intervene militarily and to establish a French protectorate over Vietnam. During this period, French traders became interested in Vietnam once more, and French diplomats in China began to express the view that France was falling behind the rest of Europe in gaining a foothold in Asia. Commanders of a French naval squadron, permanently deployed in the South China Sea after 1841, also began to agitate for a stronger role in protecting the lives and interests of the missionaries. Given tacit approval by Paris, naval intervention grew steadily. In 1847 two French warships bombarded Tourane (Da Nang), destroying five Vietnamese ships and killing an estimated 10,000 Vietnamese. The purpose of the attack was to gain the release of a missionary, who had, in fact, already been released. In the following decade, persecution of missionaries continued under Emperor Tu Duc, who came to the throne in 1848. While the missionaries stepped up pressure on the government of Louis Napoleon (later Napoleon III), which was sympathetic to their cause, a Commission on Cochinchina made the convincing argument that France risked becoming a second-class power by not intervening.

Data as of December 1987


Figure 6. French Acquisitions in Indochina in the Nineteenth Century


Figure 7. Viet Bac, Viet Minh Base Area, 1941-45

By 1857 Louis-Napoleon had been persuaded that invasion was the best course of action, and French warships were instructed to take Tourane without any further efforts to negotiate with the Vietnamese. Tourane was captured in late 1858 and Gia Dinh (Saigon and later Ho Chi Minh City) in early 1859. In both cases Vietnamese Christian support for the French, predicted by the missionaries, failed to materialize. Vietnamese resistance and outbreaks of cholera and typhoid forced the French to abandon Tourane in early 1860. Meanwhile, fear was growing in Paris that if France withdrew the British would move in. Also current in Paris at that time was the rationalization that France had a civilizing mission--a duty to bring the benefits of its superior culture to the less fortunate lands of Asia and Africa. (This was a common justification for the colonial policies of most of the Western countries.) Meanwhile, French business and military interests increased their pressure on the government for decisive action. Thus in early 1861, a French fleet of 70 ships and 3,500 men reinforced Gia Dinh and, in a series of bloody battles, gained control of the surrounding provinces. In June 1862, Emperor Tu Duc, signed the Treaty of Saigon agreeing to French demands for the cession of three provinces around Gia Dinh (which the French had renamed Saigon) and Poulo Condore, as well as for the opening of three ports to trade, free passage of French warships up the Mekong to Cambodia, freedom of action for the missionaries, and payment of a large indemnity to France for its losses in attacking Vietnam.

Even the French were surprised by the ease with which the Vietnamese agreed to the humiliating treaty. Why, after successfully resisting invasions by the Chinese for the previous 900 years, did the monarchy give in so readily to French demands? Aside from the seriousness of the loss of Saigon and the possible overestimation of French strength, it appears that the isolation of the monarchy from the people created by decades of repression prevented Tu Duc and his court from attempting to rally the necessary popular support to drive out the French. In fact, by placating the French in the south, Tu Duc hoped to free his forces to put down a widespread Christian-supported rebellion in Bac Bo, which he indeed crushed by 1865. French missionaries, who had urged their government to support this rebellion, were disillusioned when it did not, especially after thousands of Christians were slaughtered by Tu Duc's forces following the rebellion. The missionaries, however, had served only as an initial excuse for French intervention in Vietnam; military and economic interests soon became the primary reasons for remaining there.

The French navy was in the forefront of the conquest of Indochina. In 1863 Admiral de la Grandiere, the governor of Cochinchina (as the French renamed Nam Bo), forced the Cambodian king to accept a French protectorate over that country, claiming that the Treaty of Saigon had made France heir to Vietnamese claims in Cambodia. In June 1867, the admiral completed the annexation of Cochinchina by seizing the remaining three western provinces. The following month, the Siamese government agreed to recognize a French protectorate over Cambodia in return for the cession of two Cambodian provinces, Angkor and Battambang, to Siam. With Cochinchina secured, French naval and mercantile interests turned to Tonkin (as the French referred to Bac Bo). The 1873 storming of the citadel of Hanoi, led by French naval officer Francis Garnier, had the desired effect of forcing Tu Duc to sign a treaty with France in March 1874 that recognized France's "full and entire sovereignty" over Cochinchina, and opened the Red River to commerce. In an attempt to secure Tonkin, Garnier was killed and his forces defeated in a battle with Vietnamese regulars and Black Flag forces (see Glossary). The latter were Chinese soldiers, who had fled south following the Taiping Rebellion in that country and had been hired by the Hue court to keep order in Tonkin.

In April 1882, a French force again stormed the citadel of Hanoi, under the leadership of naval officer Henri Riviere. Riviere and part of his forces were wiped out in a battle with a Vietnamese-Black Flag army, a reminder of Garnier's fate a decade earlier. While Garnier's defeat had led to a partial French withdrawal from Tonkin, Riviere's loss strengthened the resolve of the French government to establish a protectorate by military force. Accordingly, additional funds were appropriated by the French Parliament to support further military operations, and Hue fell to the French in August 1883, following the death of Tu Duc the previous month. A Treaty of Protectorate, signed at the August 1883 Harmand Convention, established a French protectorate over North and Central Vietnam and formally ended Vietnam's independence. In June 1884, Vietnamese scholar-officials were forced to sign the Treaty of Hue, which confirmed the Harmand Convention agreement. By the end of 1884, there were 16,500 French troops in Vietnam. Resistance to French control, however, continued. A rebellion known as the Can Vuong (Loyalty to the King) movement formed in 1885 around the deposed Emperor Ham Nghi and attracted support from both scholars and peasants. The rebellion was essentially subdued with the capture and exile of Ham Nghi in 1888. Scholar and patriot Phan Dinh Phung continued to lead the resistance until his death in 1895. Although unsuccessful in driving out the French, the Can Vuong movement, with its heroes and patriots, laid important groundwork for future Vietnamese independence movements (see fig. 6).

Data as of December 1987

Colonial Administration

Not all Vietnamese resisted the French conquest, and some even welcomed it. The monarchy, through decades of repression, had lost the support of the people; and Tu Duc, in the eyes of large segments of the peasantry, had lost his mandate to rule. He had been able to protect his people neither from foreign aggression nor from an unusually high incidence of natural disasters such as floods, famines, locusts, droughts, and a cholera epidemic in 1865 that killed more than 1 million people. Tu Duc's repression of Catholics also created a large opposition group ready to cooperate with the French, and those who did were often rewarded with lands vacated during the French invasion. Much of this land, however, was given to French colons (colonial settlers), often in sizable holdings of 4,000 hectares or more. Gradually a French-Vietnamese landholding class developed in Cochinchina. Vietnamese, however, were appointed only to the lower levels of the bureaucracy established to administer the new colony. Seeking to finance the growing bureaucracy, the early admiral-governors of Vietnam viewed the colony as the source of the necessary revenue. Rice exports, forbidden under the monarchy, reached 229,000 tons annually in 1870. Taxes extracted from Cochinchina increased tenfold in the first decade of French control. State monopolies and excise taxes on opium, salt, and alcohol eventually came to provide 70 percent of the government's operating revenue.

In 1887 France formally established the Indochinese Union, comprising the colony of Cochinchina and the protectorates of Annam, Tonkin, and Cambodia, with Laos being added as a protectorate in 1893. There was a rapid turnover among governorsgeneral of the Indochinese Union, and few served a full five-year term. One who did, Paul Doumer (1897-1902), is considered to have been the architect of a colonial system under which Vietnam was politically dominated and economically exploited. Following the partitioning of Vietnam into three parts, the emperor was stripped of the last vestiges of his authority. In 1897 the powers of the kinh luoc (emperor's viceroy) were transferred to the Resident Superieur at Hanoi, who governed in the name of the emperor. That same year, the Privy Council or Co Mat Vien (see Glossary) in Annam was replaced with a French-controlled Council of Ministers. The following year in Annam, the French took over tax collection and payment of officials. Most of the Vietnamese scholar-officials had refused to cooperate with the French, but those who did were restricted to minor or ceremonial positions. Consequently, Frenchmen were recruited to staff a new, continually expanding bureaucracy. By 1925 there were 5,000 European administrators ruling an Indochinese population of 30 million, roughly the same number used to administer British India, which had a population more than ten times as large. Under the French laws applicable to individuals, Vietnamese were prohibited from traveling outside their districts without identity papers; and they were not allowed to publish, meet, or organize. They were subject to corvee, and they could be imprisoned at the whim of any French magistrate. The colonial police enforced the law through a network of French and Vietnamese agents.

Land alienation was the cornerstone of economic exploitation under the colonial government. By 1930 more than 80 percent of the riceland in Cochinchina was owned by 25 percent of the landowners, and 57 percent of the rural population were landless peasants working on large estates. Although the situation was somewhat better in the north, landless peasants in Annam totaled 800,000 and in Tonkin nearly 1 million. Heavy taxes and usurious interest rates on loans were added burdens on the peasants. More than ninety percent of rubber plantations were French owned. Twothirds of the coal mined in Vietnam (nearly two million tons in 1927) was exported. Manufacturing was limited to cement and textiles, partly to placate French industrialists who saw Indochina as a market for their own goods. Naval shipyards and armament factories built under the Nguyen dynasty were dismantled under the French. Much of the craft industry survived, however, because it produced affordable consumer goods in contrast to imported French goods, which only the French colons or wealthy Vietnamese could afford.

French efforts at education in the early decades of colonial rule were negligible. A few government quoc ngu schools were established along with an Ecole Normale to train Vietnamese clerks and interpreters. A few Vietnamese from wealthy families, their numbers rising to about ninety by 1870, were sent to France to study. Three lycees (secondary schools), located in Hanoi, Hue, and Saigon, were opened in the early 1900s, using French as the language of instruction. The number of quoc ngu elementary schools was gradually increased, but even by 1925 it was estimated that no more than one school-age child in ten was receiving schooling. As a result, Vietnam's high degree of literacy declined precipitously during the colonial period. The University of Hanoi, founded in 1907 to provide an alternative for Vietnamese students beginning to flock to Japan, was closed for a decade the following year because of fear of student involvement in a 1908 uprising in Hanoi. In Tonkin and Annam, traditional education based on Chinese classical literature continued to flourish well into the twentieth century despite French efforts to discourage it. The triennial examinations were abolished in 1915 in Tonkin and in 1918 in Annam. China, which had always served as a source of teaching materials and texts, by the turn of century was beginning to be a source of reformist literature and revolutionary ideas. Materials filtering in from China included both Chinese texts and translations of Western classics, which were copied and spread from province to province.

Data as of December 1987

Phan Boi Chau and the Rise of Nationalism

By the turn of the century, a whole generation of Vietnamese had grown up under French control. The people continued, as in precolonial times, to look to the scholar-gentry class for guidance in dealing with French imperialism and the loss of their country's independence. A few scholar-officials collaborated with the French, but most did not. Among those who refused was a group of several hundred scholars who became actively involved in the anticolonial movement. The best known among them was Phan Boi Chau, a scholar from Nghe An Province, trained in the Confucian tradition under his father and other local teachers. In 1885 Phan Boi Chau observed at close range the actions of French troops in crushing scholar-gentry resistance to the colonial overlords. For the next decade he devoted himself to his studies and finally passed the regional examination with highest honors in 1905. During the following five years, he traveled about the country making contacts with other anticolonial scholars and seeking out in particular the survivors of the Can Vuong movement, with whom he hoped to launch a rebellion against the French. He also sought to identify a member of the Nguyen ruling family sympathetic to the cause, who would serve as titular head of the independence movement and as a rallying point for both moral and financial support. Chosen to fill this role was Cuong De, a direct descendant of Gia Long.

In 1904 Phan Boi Chau and about twenty others met in Quang Nam to form the Duy Tan Hoi (Reformation Society), the first of a number of revolutionary societies he organized. The following year, he went to Japan to meet with Japanese and Chinese revolutionaries and seek financial support for the Vietnamese cause. The Japanese defeat of the Russian fleet at Tsushima the month before his arrival had caused great excitement among the various Asian anticolonialist movements. Phan Boi Chau brought Cuong De, along with several Vietnamese students, to Japan in 1906. That same year he convinced the other great Vietnamese nationalist leader of the period, Phan Chu Trinh, to visit him in Tokyo. After two weeks of discussions, however, they were unable to resolve their basic tactical differences. Whereas Phan Boi Chau favored retaining the monarchy as a popular ideological symbol and a means of attracting financial support, Phan Chu Trinh wanted primarily to abolish the monarchy in order to create a base on which to build national sovereignty. Furthermore, he was greatly influenced by the writings of French political philosophers Rousseau and Montesquieu, and he believed that the French colonial administration could serve as a progressive force to establish a Western democratic political structure through peaceful reform. Phan Boi Chau, conversely, wanted to drive out the French immediately through armed resistance and restore Vietnamese independence.

In 1907 Phan Boi Chau organized the Viet Nam Cong Hien Hoi (Vietnam Public Offering Society) to unite the 100 or so Vietnamese then studying in Japan. The organization was important because of the opportunity it provided for the students to think and work together as Vietnamese, rather than as Cochinchinese, Annamese, or Tonkinese, as the French called them. The following year, however, the Japanese, under pressure from the French, expelled the students, forcing most of them to return home. In March 1909, Phan Boi Chau was also deported by the Japanese. He went first to Hong Kong, later to Bangkok and Guangzhou. Even during his years abroad, his writings served to influence nationalist activities in Vietnam. In 1907 the Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc (Free School of the Eastern Capital [Hanoi]) was founded to educate nationalist political activists. Phan Boi Chau's writings were studied and Phan Chu Trinh gave lectures at the school. Suspecting that Phan Boi Chau was associated with the school, however, the French closed it in less than a year. The French also blamed Phan Boi Chau for instigating antitax demonstrations in Quang Nam and Quang Ngai provinces and in Hue in early 1908. As a symbol of the movement, the demonstrators forcibly cut off men's traditional long hair. An abortive Hanoi uprising and poison plot in June 1908 was also blamed on Phan Boi Chau. In response to the uprising, the French executed thirteen of the participants and initiated a crackdown on Vietnamese political activists, sending hundreds of scholar-patriots, including Phan Chu Trinh, to prison on Poulo Condore (now Con Dao). A major expedition was also launched in 1909 against De Tham, a resistance leader who was involved in the Hanoi uprising. De Tham, who had led a thirty-year campaign against the French in the mountains around Yen The in the northeastern part of Tonkin, managed to hold out until he was assassinated in 1913.

Stimulated by the Chinese Revolution led by Sun Yat-sen in 1911, Phan Boi Chau and the other Vietnamese nationalists in exile in Guangzhou formed a new organization in 1912 to replace the moribund Duy Tan Hoi. The main goals of the newly organized Viet Nam Quang Phuc Hoi (Vietnam Restoration Society) included expulsion of the French, recovery of Vietnamese independence, and establishment of a "Vietnamese democratic republic." Phan Boi Chau had by this time given up his monarchist position, although Cuong De was accorded presidential status within the organization's provisional government. In order to gain support and financial backing for the new organization, Phan Boi Chau organized a number of terrorist bombings and assassinations in 1913, to which the French responded harshly. By 1914 the counterrevolutionary government of Yuan Shi-kai was in charge in China, and, by French request, Phan Boi Chau and other Vietnamese exiles in that country were imprisoned.

World War I began shortly thereafter, and some 50,000 Vietnamese troops and 50,000 Vietnamese workers were sent to Europe. The Vietnamese also endured additional heavy taxes to help pay for France's war efforts. Numerous anticolonial revolts occurred in Vietnam during the war, all easily suppressed by the French. In May 1916, the sixteen-year-old king, Duy Tan, escaped from his palace in order to take part in an uprising of Vietnamese troops. The French were informed of the plan and the leaders arrested and executed. Duy Tan was deposed and exiled to Reunion in the Indian Ocean. One of the most effective uprisings during this period was in the northern Vietnamese province of Thai Nguyen. Some 300 Vietnamese soldiers revolted and released 200 political prisoners, whom, in addition to several hundred local people, they armed. The rebels held the town of Thai Nguyen for several days, hoping for help from Chinese nationalists. None arrived, however, and the French retook the town and hunted down most of the rebels.

In 1917, Phan Boi Chau was released from prison. He spent the next eight years in exile in China, studying and writing but exerting little direct influence on the Vietnamese nationalist movement. In 1925 he was kidnaped by the French in Shanghai and returned to Hanoi, where he was tried and sentenced to hard labor for life. The sentence was later changed to house arrest until his death in 1940. Vietnamese historians view Phan Boi Chau's contribution to the country's independence as immeasurable. He advocated forcibly expelling the French, although he was not able to solve the problems involved in actually doing it. He suggested learning from other Asian independence movements and leaders, while realizing that in the end only the Vietnamese could win their own independence. His greatest weakness, according to many historians, was his failure to involve the Vietnamese peasantry, who composed 80 percent of the population, in his drive for independence. Rather than recruiting support at the village level, Phan Boi Chau and his followers concentrated on recruiting the elite, in the belief that the peasant masses would automatically rally around the scholar-gentry. Future Vietnamese independence leaders took inspiration from the efforts of the early nationalists and learned from their mistakes the importance of winning support at the local level.

An important development in the early part of the twentieth century was the increased use of quoc ngu in the northern part of the country through a proliferation of new journals printed in that script. There had been quoc ngu publications in Cochinchina since 1865, but in 1898 a decree of the colonial government prohibited publication without permission, in the protectorate areas, of periodicals in quoc ngu or Chinese that were not published by a French citizen. In 1913 Nguyen Van Vinh succeeded in publishing Dong Duong Tap Chi (Indochinese Review), a strongly antitraditional but pro- French journal. He also founded a publishing house that translated such Vietnamese classics as the early nineteenth century poem Kim Van Kieu as well as Chinese classics into quoc ngu. Nguyen Van Vinh's publications, while largely pro-Western, were the major impetus for the increasing popularity of quoc ngu in Annam and Tonkin. In 1917 the moderate reformist journalist Pham Quynh began publishing in Hanoi the quoc ngu journal Nam Phong, which addressed the problem of adopting modern Western values without destroying the cultural essence of the Vietnamese nation. By World War I, quoc ngu had become the vehicle for the dissemination of not only Vietnamese, Chinese, and French literary and philosophical classics but also a new body of Vietnamese nationalist literature emphasizing social comment and criticism.

In the years immediately following World War I, the scholar- led Vietnamese independence movement in Cochinchina began a temporary decline as a result, in part, of tighter French control and increased activity by the French-educated Vietnamese elite. The decrease of both French investments in and imports to Vietnam during the war had opened opportunities to entrepreneurial Vietnamese, who began to be active in light industries such as rice milling, printing, and textile weaving. The sale of large tracts of land in the Mekong Delta by the colonial government to speculators at cheap prices resulted in the expansion of the Vietnamese landed aristocracy. These factors in combination led to the rise of a wealthy Vietnamese elite in Cochinchina that was pro-French but was frustrated by its own lack of political power and status.

Prominent among this group was Bui Quang Chieu, a French- trained agricultural engineer, who helped organize the Constitutionalist Party in 1917. Founded with the hope that it would be able to exert pressure on the Colonial Council of Cochinchina, the governing body of the colony, the party drew its support from Vietnamese who were large landowners, wealthy merchants, industrialists, and senior civil servants. The Colonial Council, established in 1880, was controlled by French interests, having only ten Vietnamese members out of twenty-four by 1922. The demands of the party included increased Vietnamese representation on the Colonial Council, higher salaries for Vietnamese officials, replacement of the scholar-official administration system with a modern bureaucracy, and reform of the naturalization law to make it easier for Vietnamese to become French citizens.

When the party failed to gain acceptance of any of these demands, it turned to its most pressing economic grievance, the ethnic Chinese domination of the Cochinchinese economy. While French investors exercised almost exclusive control over industry and shared control of agriculture with the Vietnamese, the ethnic Chinese were sought out by the French to act as middlemen and came to dominate rice trade and retail business in both urban and rural areas. A boycott of Chinese goods organized by the party, however, was largely unsuccessful. By the mid 1920s, the Vietnamese entrepreneurial elite and the Constitutionalist Party had grown increasingly critical of the French. However, more progressive groups had displaced them in the Vietnamese nationalist movement.

The mid 1920s brought a period of increased activity among the growing Vietnamese worker class, and pedicab drivers, dye workers, and textile workers launched strikes with some success. In August 1925, workers belonging to an underground union struck at the Ba Son naval arsenal in Saigon-Cholon, ostensibly for higher pay but in actuality to block two French naval ships from being sent to Shanghai to pressure striking Chinese workers. The strikers were successful in their demands and, in November, held massive demonstrations in Saigon to protest the arrest of Phan Boi Chau in Shanghai.

Data as of December 1987

Ho Chi Minh and the Communist Movement

The year 1925 also marked the founding of the Viet Nam Thanh Nien Cach Menh Dong Chi Hoi (Revolutionary Youth League) in Guangzhou by Ho Chi Minh. Born Nguyen Sinh Cung in Kim Lien village, Nghe An Province in May 1890, Ho was the son of Nguyen Sinh Sac (or Huy), a scholar from a poor peasant family. Following a common custom, Ho's father renamed him Nhuyen Tat Thanh at about age ten. Ho was trained in the classical Confucian tradition and was sent to secondary school in Hue. After working for a short time as a teacher, he went to Saigon where he took a course in navigation and in 1911 joined the crew of a French ship. Working as a kitchen hand, Ho traveled to North America, Africa, and Europe. While in Paris from 1919-23, he took the name Nguyen Ai Quoc (Nguyen the Patriot). In 1919 he attempted to meet with United States President Woodrow Wilson at the Versailles Peace Conference in order to present a proposal for Vietnam's independence, but he was turned away and the proposal was never officially acknowledged. During his stay in Paris, Ho was greatly influenced by Marxist-Leninist literature, particularly Lenin's Theses on the National and Colonial Questions (1920), and in 1920 he became a founding member of the French Communist Party. He read, wrote, and spoke widely on Indochina's problems before moving to Moscow in 1923 and attending the Fifth Congress of the Communist International (see Glossary), also called the Comintern, in 1924. In late 1924, Ho arrived in Guangzhou, where he spent the next two years training more than 200 Vietnamese cadres in revolutionary techniques. His course of instruction included study of Marxism-Leninism, Vietnamese and Asian revolutionary history, Asian leaders such as Gandhi and Sun Yat- sen, and the problem of organizing the masses. As a training manual, Ho used his own publication Duong Cach Menh (The Revolutionary Path), written in 1926 and considered his primer on revolution. Going by the name Ly Thuy, he formed an inner communist group, Thanh Nien Cong San Doan (Communist Youth League), within the larger Thanh Nien (Youth) organization. The major activity of Thanh Nien was the production of a journal, Thanh Nien, distributed clandestinely in Vietnam, Siam, and Laos, which introduced communist theory into the Vietnamese independence movement. Following Chiang Kai-shek's April 1927 coup and the subsequent suppression of the Communists in southern China, Ho fled to Moscow.

In December of that year, a teacher from a Vietnamese peasant family, Nguyen Thai Hoc, founded Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang, (VNQDD, Vietnamese Nationalist Party), in Hanoi. With a membership largely of students, low-ranking government employees, soldiers, and a few landlords and rich peasants, VNQDD was patterned after the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang), from which it received financial support in the 1930s. Another source of funds for the VNQDD was the Vietnam Hotel in Hanoi, which it opened in 1928 as both a commercial enterprise and the party headquarters. The hotel restaurant, however, provided French agents with an easy means of penetrating the party and monitoring its activities. At various times, the VNQDD attempted, without success, to form a united front with Thanh Nien and other independence organizations. Thanh Nien, being two years older, however, had had a head start over VNQDD in organizing in schools, factories, and local government, which it had done with patience and planning. The VNQDD therefore concentrated instead on recruitment of Vietnamese soldiers and the overthrow of French rule through putschist-style activities.

In February 1929, the French official in charge of recruiting coolie labor was killed by an assassin connected with the VNQDD. The French immediately arrested several hundred VNQDD leaders and imprisoned seventy-eight. VNQDD leaders Nguyen Thai Hoc and Nguyen Khac Nhu escaped, but most members of the Central Committee were captured. The remaining leadership under Nguyen Thai Hoc decided to stage a general uprising as soon as possible. All dissent to the plan was overridden, and the party began manufacturing and stockpiling weapons. On February 9, 1930, a revolt instigated by the VNQDD broke out at Yen Bai among the Vietnamese garrison, but it was quickly suppressed. Simultaneous attacks on other key targets, including Son Tay and Lam Thu, were also unsuccessful because of poor preparation and communication. The Yen Bai uprising was disastrous for the VNQDD. Most of the organization's top leaders were executed, and villages that had given refuge to the party were shelled and bombed by the French. After Yen Bai, the VNQDD ceased to be of importance in the anticolonial struggle. Although more modernist and less bound by tradition than the scholar-patriots of the Phan Boi Chau era, the VNQDD had remained a movement of urban intellectuals who were unable to involve the masses in their struggle and too often favored reckless exploits over slow and careful planning.

On June 17, 1929, the founding conference of the first Indochinese Communist Party (ICP--Dang Cong San Dong Duong) was held in Hanoi under the leadership of a breakaway faction of Thanh Nien radicals. The party immediately began to publish several journals and to send out representatives to all parts of the country for the purpose of setting up branches. A series of strikes supported by the party broke out at this time, and their success led to the convening of the first National Congress of Red Trade Unions the following month in Hanoi. Other communist parties were founded at this time by both supporting members of Thanh Nien and radical members of yet another party revolutionary with Marxist leavings but no direct tie with the Comintern, called the New Revolutinary Party or Tan Viet Party. At the beginning of 1930, there were actually three communist parties in French Indochina competing for members. The establishment of the ICP prompted remaining Thanh Nien members to transform the Communist Youth Leaque into a communist party - the Annam Communist Party (ACP, Annam Cong San Dang), and Tan Viet Party members followed suit by renaming their organization the Indochinese Communist League (Dong Duong Cong San Lien Doan). As a result, the Comintern issued a highly critical indictment of the factionalism in the Vietnamese revolutionary movement and urged the Vietnamese to form a united communist party. Consequently, the Comintern leadership sent a message to Ho Chi Minh, then living in Siam, asking him to come to Hong Kong to unify the groups. On February 3, 1930, in Hong Kong, Ho presided over a conference of representatives of the two factions derived from Thanh Nien (members of the Indochinese Communist League were not represented but were to be permitted membership in the newly formed party as individuals) at which a unified Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) was founded, the Viet Nam Cong San Dang. At the Comintern's request, the name was changed later that year at the first Party Plenum to the Indochinese Communist Party, thus reclaiming the name of the first party of that named founded in 1929. At the founding meeting, it was agreed that a provisional Central Committee of nine members (three from Bac Bo, two from Trung Bo, two from Nam Bo, and two from the overseas Chinese community) should be formed and that recognition should be sought from the Comintern. Various mass organizations including unions, a peasants' association, a women's association, a relief society, and a youth league were to be organized under the new party. Ho drew up a program of party objectives, which were approved by the conference. The main points included overthrow of the French; establishment of Vietnamese independence; establishment of a workers', peasants', and soldiers' government; organization of a workers' militia; cancellation of public debts; confiscation of means of production and their transfer to the proletarian government; distribution of French-owned lands to the peasants; suppression of taxes; establishment of an eight-hour work day; development of crafts and agriculture; institution of freedom of organization; and establishment of education for all.

The formation of the ICP came at a time of general unrest in the country, caused in part by a global worsening of economic conditions. Although the size of the Vietnamese urban proletariat had increased four times, to about 200,000, since the beginning of the century, working conditions and salaries had improved little. The number of strikes rose from seven in 1927 to ninety- eight in 1930. As the effects of the worldwide depression began to be felt, French investors withdrew their money from Vietnam. Salaries dropped 30 to 50 percent, and employment, approximately 33 percent. Between 1928 and 1932, the price of rice on the world market decreased by more than half. Rice exports totaling nearly 2 million tons in 1928 fell to less than 1 million tons in 1931. Although both French colons and wealthy Vietnamese landowners were hit by the crisis, it was the peasant who bore most of the burden because he was forced to sell at least twice as much rice to pay the same amount in taxes or other debts. Floods, famine, and food riots plagued the countryside. By 1930 rubber prices had plummeted to less than one-fourth their 1928 value. Coal production was cut, creating more layoffs. Even the colonial government cut its staff by one-seventh and salaries by one- quarter.

Data as of December 1987

The Nghe-Tinh Revolt

Strikes grew more frequent in Nam Bo in early 1930 and led to peasant demonstrations in May and June of that year. The focus of reaction to the worsening economic conditions, however, was Nghe An Province, which had a long history of support for peasant revolts. Plagued by floods, drought, scarcity of land, and colonial exploitation, the people of Nghe An had been supporters of the Can Vuong movement and the activities of Phan Boi Chau. By late 1929, the ICP had begun organizing party cells, trade unions, and peasant associations in the province. By early 1930, it had established a provincial committee in the provincial capital of Vinh and had begun to found mass organizations throughout Nghe An. French sources reported that by mid-summer 1930 there were about 300 Communist activists in Nghe An and the neighboring province of Ha Tinh. This figure rose to 1,800 a few months later. The communists helped to mobilize the workers and peasants of Nghe-Tinh, as the two-province area was known, to protest the worsening conditions. Peasant demonstrators demanded a moratorium on the payment of the personal tax and a return of village communal lands that were in the hands of wealthy landowners. When the demands were ignored, demonstrations turned to riots; government buildings, manor houses, and markets were looted and burned, and tax rolls were destroyed. Some village notables joined in the uprisings or refused to suppress them. Local officials fled, and government authority rapidly disintegrated. In some of the districts, the communists helped organize the people into local village associations called soviets (using the Bolshevik term). The soviets, formed by calling a meeting of village residents at the local dinh, elected a ruling committee to annul taxes, lower rents, distribute excess rice to the needy, and organize the seizure of communal land confiscated by the wealthy. Village militias were formed, usually armed only with sticks, spears, and knives.

By September the French had realized the seriousness of the situation and brought in Foreign Legion troops to suppress the rebellion. On September 9, French planes bombed a column of thousands of peasants headed toward the provincial capital. Security forces rounded up all those suspected of being communists or of being involved in the rebellion, staged executions, and conducted punitive raids on rebellious villages. By early 1931, all of the soviets had been forced to surrender. Of the more than 1,000 arrested, 400 were given long prison sentences, and 80, including some of the party leaders, were executed. With the aid of other Asian colonial authorities, Vietnamese communists in Singapore, China, and Hong Kong were also arrested.

The early 1930s was a period of recovery and rebuilding for the ICP in Vietnam. Reorganization and recruitment were carried on even among political prisoners, of whom there were more than 10,000 by 1932. In the prison of Poulo Condore, Marxist literature circulated secretly, an underground journal was published, and party members (among them future party leaders Pham Van Dong and Le Duan) organized a university, teaching courses in sciences, literature, languages, geography, and Marxism-Leninism (see Development of the Vietnamese Communist Party , ch. 4; Appendix B). The party also began to recruit increasingly from among Vietnamese minorities, particularly the Tay-Nung ethnic groups living in the Viet Bac. Located along Vietnam's northern border with China, this remote mountainous region includes the modern provinces of Lang Son, Cao Bang, Bac Thai, and Ha Tuyen (see fig. 7).

This period also marked the rise of a Trotskyite faction within the communist movement, which in 1933 began publishing a widely read journal called La Lutte (Struggle). The Comintern's hostility toward Trotskyites prevented their formal alliance with the ICP, although. informal cooperation did exist. In 1935 a combined slate of ICP members and Trotskyites managed to elect four candidates to the Saigon municipal council. Cooperation between the two groups began to break down, however, when a Popular Front government led by the French Socialist Party under Leon Blum was elected in Paris. The Trotskyites complained that, despite the change of leadership in France, nothing had changed in Indochina. From the communist viewpoint, the major contribution to Vietnamese independence made by the Popular Front government was an amnesty declared in 1936 under which 1,532 Vietnamese political prisoners were freed.

Data as of December 1987



Ho Chi Minh, accompanied by Pham Van Dong, arriving in Paris, 1946
Courtesy New York Times, Paris Collection, National Archives

The signing of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Agression pact in August 1939, caused France immediately to ban the French Communist Party and, soon afterwards, to declare illegal all Vietnamese political parties including the ICP. The colonial authorities began a crack down on communists, arresting an estimated 2,000 and closing down all communist and radical journals. The party consequently was forced to shift its activities to the countryside, where French control was weaker--a move that was to benefit the communists in the long run. In November the ICP Central Committee held its Sixth Plenum with the goal of mapping out a new united front strategy, the chief task of which was national liberation. According to the new strategy, support would now be welcomed from the middle class and even the landlord class, although the foundation of the party continued to be the proletarian-peasant alliance.

After the fall of France to the Nazis in June 1940, Japan demanded that the French colonial government close the HanoiKunming railway to shipments of war-related goods to China. In an agreement with the Vichy government in France in August, Japan formally recognized French sovereignty in Indochina in return for access to military facilities, transit rights, and the right to station occupation troops in Tonkin. On September 22, however, Japanese troops invaded from China, seizing the Vietnamese border towns of Dong Dang and Lang Son. As the French retreated southward, the Japanese encouraged Vietnamese troops to support the invasion. The communists in the Bac Son district border area moved to take advantage of the situation, organizing self-defense units and establishing a revolutionary administration. The French protested to the Japanese, however, and a cease-fire was arranged whereby the French forces returned to their posts and promptly put down all insurrection. Most of the communist forces in Tonkin were able to retreat to the mountains. In similar short-lived uprisings that took place in the Plain of Reeds area of Cochinchina, however, the communist rebel forces had nowhere to retreat and most were destroyed by the French.

Data as of December 1987

Establishment of the Viet Minh

In early 1940, Ho Chi Minh returned to southern China, after having spent most of the previous seven years studying and teaching at the Lenin Institute in Moscow. In Kunming he reestablished contact with the ICP Central Committee and set up a temporary headquarters, which became the focal point for communist policymaking and planning. After thirty years absence, Ho returned to Vietnam in February 1941 and set up headquarters in a cave at Pac Bo, near the Sino-Vietnamese border, where in May the Eighth Plenum of the ICP was held. The major outcome of the meeting was the reiteration that the struggle for national independence took primacy over class war or other concerns of socialist ideology. To support this strategy, the League for the Independence of Vietnam (Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi, Viet Minh for short--see Glossary) was established. In this new front group, which would be dominated by the party, all patriotic elements were welcomed as potential allies. The party would be forced in the short term to modify some of its goals and soften its rhetoric, supporting, for example, the reduction of land rents rather than demanding land seizures. Social revolution would have to await the defeat of the French and the Japanese. The Eighth Plenum also recognized guerrilla warfare as an integral part of the revolutionary strategy and established local self-defense militias in all villages under Viet Minh control. The cornerstone of the party's strategy, of which Ho appears to have been the chief architect, was the melding of the forces of urban nationalism and peasant rebellion into a single independence effort.

In order to implement the new strategy, two tasks were given priority: the establishment of a Viet Minh apparatus throughout the country and the creation of a secure revolutionary base in the Viet Bac border region from which southward expansion could begin. This area had the advantages of being remote from colonial control but accessible to China, which could serve both as a refuge and training ground. Moreover, the Viet Bac population was largely sympathetic to the Communists. Viet Minh influence began to permeate the area, and French forces attempted, but failed, to regain control of the region in 1941. The liberation zone soon spread to include the entire northern frontier area until it reached south of Cao Bang, where an ICP Interprovincial Committee established its headquarters. A temporary setback for the Communists occurred in August 1942, when Ho Chi Minh, while on a trip to southern China to meet with Chinese Communist Party officials, was arrested and imprisoned for two years by the Kuomintang. By August 1944, however, he had convinced the regional Chinese commander to support his return to Vietnam at the head of a guerrilla force. Accordingly, Ho returned to Vietnam in September with eighteen men trained and armed by the Chinese. Upon his arrival, he vetoed, as too precipitate, a plan laid by the ICP in his absence to launch a general uprising in the Viet Bac within two months. Ho did, however, approve the establishment of armed propaganda detachments with both military and political functions.

As World War II drew to a close, the ICP sought to have the Vietnamese independence movement recognized as one of the victorious Allied forces under the leadership of the United States. With this in mind, Ho returned again to southern China in January 1945 to meet with American and Free French units there. From the Americans he solicited financial support, while from the French he sought, unsuccessfully, guarantees of Vietnamese independence. On March 9, 1945, the Japanese gave the French an ultimatum demanding that all French and Indochinese forces be placed under Japanese control. Without waiting for the French reply, the Japanese proceeded to seize administrative buildings, radio stations, banks, and industries and to disarm the French forces. Bao Dai, the Nguyen ruler under the French, was retained as emperor, and a puppet government was established with Tran Trong Kim, a teacher and historian, as prime minister. Japan revoked the Franco-Vietnamese Treaty of Protectorate of 1883, which had established Indochina as a French protectorate, and declared the independence of Vietnam under Japanese tutelage.

The communists concluded that the approaching end of the war and the defeat of the Japanese meant that a propitious time for a general uprising of the Vietnamese people was close at hand. Accordingly, the ICP began planning to take advantage of the political vacuum produced by the French loss of control and the confinement of Japanese power largely to urban and strategic areas. Moreover, famine conditions prevailed in the countryside, and unemployment was rampant in the cities. In the Red River Delta alone, more than 500,000 people died of starvation between March and May 1945. Because Japan was considered the main enemy, the communists decided that a United Front should be formed that included patriotic French resistance groups and moderate urban Vietnamese bourgeoisie. The overall ICP strategy called for a two-stage revolt, beginning in rural areas and then moving to the cities. Accordingly Communist military forces responded to the plan. Armed Propaganda units under ICP military strategist Vo Nguyen Giap began moving south from Cao Bang into Thai Nguyen Province (see the Armed Forces , ch. 5). To the east, the 3,000- man National Salvation Army commanded by Chu Van Tan began liberating the provinces of Tuyen Quang and Lang Son and establishing revolutionary district administrations. At the first major military conference of the ICP, held in April in Bac Giang Province, the leaders determined that a liberated zone would be established in the Viet Bac and that existing ICP military units would be united to form the new Vietnam Liberation Army (VLA), later called the People's Army of Vietnam ( PAVN--see Glossary) (see The Armed Forces , ch. 5). Giap was named Commander in Chief of the VLA and chairman of the Revolution Military Committee, later called the Central Military Party Committed (CMPC). Meanwhile, the ICP was expanding its influence farther south by forming mass organizations known as national salvation associations (cuu quoc hoi) for various groups, including workers, peasants, women, youth, students, and soldiers. As a result of labor unrest in Hanoi, 2,000 workers were recruited into salvation associations in early 1945, and 100,000 peasants had been enlisted into salvation associations in Quang Ngai Province by mid-summer. In Saigon, a youth organization, Thanh Nien Tien Phong (Vanguard Youth), established by the communists in 1942, had recruited 200,000 by early summer. Thanh Nien Tien Phong became the focal point for the Communist effort in the south and soon expanded to more than one million members throughout Cochinchina. By June 1945, in the provinces of the Viet Bac, the Viet Minh had set up people's revolutionary committees at all levels, distributed communal and French-owned lands to the poor, abolished the corvee, established quoc ngu classes, set up local self-defense militias in the villages, and declared universal suffrage and democratic freedoms. The Viet Minh then established a provisional directorate, headed by Ho Chi Minh, as the governing body for the liberated zone, comprising an estimated one million people.

Despite its success in the north, the ICP faced a range of serious obstacles in Cochinchina, where the Japanese maintained 100,000 well-armed troops. In addition, the Japanese also supported the neo-Buddhist Cao Dai sect (see Glossary) of more than one million members, including a military force of several battalions. Another sect, the Hoa Hao (see Glossary), founded and led by the fanatical Huynh Phu So, eschewed temples and hierarchy and appealed to the poor and oppressed. Although lacking the military force of the Cao Dai, the Hoa Hao was also closely connected with the Japanese. Meanwhile, the Japanese had also gained control of the Viet Nam Phuc Quoc Dong Minh Hoi (League for the Restoration of Vietnam), established in 1939 as an outgrowth of Viet Nam Quang Pluc Hoi. Mobilized by the communists to face this array of forces in Cochinchina were the Vanguard Youth and the Vietnam Trade Union Federation, with 100,000 members in 300 unions.

Data as of December 1987

The General Uprising and Independence

On August 13, 1945, the ICP Central Committee held its Ninth Plenum at Tan Trao to prepare an agenda for a National Congress of the Viet Minh a few days later. At the plenum, convened just after the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, an order for a general uprising was issued, and a national insurrection committee was established headed by ICP general secretary Truong Chinh (see Development of the Vietnamese Communist Party , ch. 4; Appendix B). On August 16, the Viet Minh National Congress convened at Tan Trao and ratified the Central Committee decision to launch a general uprising. The Congress also elected a National Liberation Committee, headed by Ho Chi Minh (who was gravely ill at the time), to serve as a provisional government. The following day, the Congress, at a ceremony in front of the village dinh, officially adopted the national red flag with a gold star, and Ho read an appeal to the Vietnamese people to rise in revolution.

By the end of the first week following the Tan Trao conference, most of the provincial and district capitals north of Hanoi had fallen to the revolutionary forces. When the news of the Japanese surrender reached Hanoi on August 16, the local Japanese military command turned over its powers to the local Vietnamese authorities. By August 17, Viet Minh units in the Hanoi suburbs had deposed the local administrations and seized the government seals symbolizing political authority. Selfdefense units were set up and armed with guns, knives, and sticks. Meanwhile, Viet Minh-led demonstrations broke out inside Hanoi. The following morning, a member of the Viet Minh Municipal Committee announced to a crowd of 200,000 gathered in Ba Dinh Square that the general uprising had begun. The crowd broke up immediately after that and headed for various key buildings around the city, including the palace, city hall, and police headquarters, where they accepted the surrender of the Japanese and local Vietnamese government forces, mostly without resistance. The Viet Minh sent telegrams throughout Tonkin announcing its victory, and local Viet Minh units were able to take over most of the provincial and district capitals without a struggle. In Annam and Cochinchina, however, the Communist victory was less assured because the ICP in those regions had neither the advantage of long, careful preparation nor an established liberated base area and army. Hue fell in a manner similar to Hanoi, with the takeover first of the surrounding area. Saigon fell on August 25 to the Viet Minh, who organized a nine-member, multiparty Committee of the South, including six members of the Viet Minh, to govern the city. The provinces south and west of Saigon, however, remained in the hands of the Hoa Hao. Although the Hoa Hao and Cao Dai were anti-French, both were more interested in regional autonomy than in communist-led national independence. As a result, clashes between the Hoa Hao and the Viet Minh broke out in the Mekong Delta in September.

Ho Chi Minh moved his headquarters to Hanoi shortly after the Viet Minh takeover of the city. On August 28, the Viet Minh announced the formation of the provisional government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) with Ho as president and minister of foreign affairs. Vo Nguyen Giap was named minister of interior and Pham Van Dong minister of finance. In order to broaden support for the new government, several noncommunists were also included. Emperor Bao Dai, whom the communists had forced to abdicate on August 25, was given the position of high counselor to the new government. On September 2, half a million people gathered in Ba Dinh Square to hear Ho read the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence, based on the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. After indicting the French colonial record in Vietnam, he closed with an appeal to the victorious Allies to recognize the independence of Vietnam.

Despite the heady days of August, major problems lay ahead for the ICP. Noncommunist political parties, which had been too weak and disorganized to take advantage of the political vacuum left by the fall of the Japanese, began to express opposition to communist control of the new provisional government. Among these parties, the nationalist VNQDD and Viet Nam Phuc Quoc Dong Minh Hoi parties had the benefit of friendship with the Chinese expeditionary forces of Chiang Kai-shek, which began arriving in northern Vietnam in early September. At the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, the Allies had agreed that the Chinese would accept the surrender of the Japanese in Indochina north of the 16N parallel and the British, south of that line. The Vietnamese nationalists, with the help of Chinese troops, seized some areas north of Hanoi, and the VNQDD subsequently set up an opposition newspaper in Hanoi to denounce "red terror." The communists gave high priority to avoiding clashes with Chinese troops, which soon numbered 180,000. To prevent such encounters, Ho ordered VLA troops to avoid provoking any incidents with the Chinese and agreed to the Chinese demand that the communists negotiate with the Vietnamese nationalist parties. Accordingly, in November 1945, the provisional government began negotiations with the VNQDD and the Viet Nam Phuc Quoc Dong Minh Hoi, both of which initially took a hard line in their demands. The communists resisted, however, and the final agreement called for a provisional coalition government with Ho as president and nationalist leader Nguyen Hai Than as vice president. In the general elections scheduled for early January, 50 of the 350 National Assembly seats were to be reserved for the VNQDD and 20, for Viet Nam Phuc Quoc Dong Minh Hoi, regardless of the results of the balloting.

At the same time, the communists were in a far weaker political position in Cochinchina because they faced competition from the well-organized, economically influential, moderate parties based in Saigon and from the Hoa Hao and Cao Dai in the countryside. Moreover, the commander of the British expeditionary forces, which arrived in early September, was unsympathetic to Vietnamese desires for independence. French troops, released from Japanese prisons and rearmed by the British, provoked incidents and seized control of the city. A general strike called by the Vietnamese led to clashes with the French troops and mob violence in the French sections of the city. Negotiations between the French and the Committee of the South broke down in early October, as French troops began to occupy towns in the Mekong Delta. Plagued by clashes with the religious sects, lack of weapons, and a high desertion rate, the troops of the Viet Minh were driven deep into the delta, forests, and other inaccessible areas of the region.

Meanwhile, in Hanoi candidates supported by the Viet Minh won 300 seats in the National Assembly in the January 1946 elections. In early March, however, the threat of the imminent arrival of French troops in the north forced Ho to negotiate a compromise with France. Under the terms of the agreement, the French government recognized the DRV as a free state with its own army, legislative body, and financial powers, in return for Hanoi's acceptance of a small French military presence in northern Vietnam and membership in the French Union. Both sides agreed to a plebiscite in Cochinchina. The terms of the accord were generally unpopular with the Vietnamese and were widely viewed as a sell-out of the revolution. Ho, however, foresaw grave danger in refusing to compromise while the country was still in a weakened position. Soon after the agreement was signed, some 15,000 French troops arrived in Tonkin, and both the Vietnamese and the French began to question the terms of the accord. Negotiations to implement the agreement began in late spring at Fontainbleau, near Paris, and dragged on throughout the summer. Ho signed a modus vivendi (temporary agreement), which gave the Vietnamese little more than the promise of negotiation of a final treaty the following January, and returned to Vietnam.

Data as of December 1987



United States Vice President Richard M. Nixon visiting Vietnam in 1953
Courtesy Indochina Archives


Treating wounded French solider at Dien Bien Phu, April 1954
Courtesy New York Times, Paris Collection, National Archives


Charles DeGaulle and Ho Chi Minh are hanged in effigy during the National Shame Day celebration in Saigon, July 1964, observing the tenth anniversary of the July 1954 Geneva Agreements.
Courtesy United States Army


Northern Roman Catholic peasant refugee, 1954
Courtesy Indochina Archives

Ho's efforts during this period were directed primarily at conciliating both the French themselves and the militantly antiFrench members of the ICP leadership. The growing frequency of clashes between French and Vietnamese forces in Haiphong led to a French naval bombardment of that port city in November 1946. Estimates of Vietnamese casualties from the action range from 6,000 to 20,000. This incident and the arrival of 1,000 troops of the French Foreign Legion in central and northern Vietnam in early December convinced the communists, including Ho, that they should prepare for war. On December 19, the French demanded that the Vietnamese forces in the Hanoi area disarm and transfer responsibility for law and order to French authority. That evening, the Viet Minh responded by attacking the city's electric plant and other French installations around the area. Forewarned, the French seized Gia Lam airfield and took control of the central part of Hanoi, as full-scale war broke out. By late January, the French had retaken most of the provincial capitals in northern and central Vietnam. Hue fell in early February, after a six-week siege. The Viet Minh, which avoided using its main force units against the French at that time, continued to control most of the countryside, where it concentrated on building up its military strength and setting up guerrilla training programs in liberated areas. Seizing the initiative, however, the French marched north to the Chinese border in the autumn of 1947, inflicting heavy casualties on the Viet Minh and retaking much of the Viet Bac region.

Meanwhile, in April 1947 the Viet Minh in Cochinchina had destroyed all chance for alliance with the religious sects by executing Huynh Phu So, leader of the Hoa Hao. Both the Hoa Hao and the Cao Dai formed alliances soon afterward with the French. The Committee for the South, which had seriously damaged the Communist image in Cochinchina by its hard-line approach, was replaced in 1951 by the Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN, Trung Uong Cuc Mien Nam), headed by Le Duan. In the north, however, the political and military situation had begun to improve for the Communists by late 1948. The Viet Minh had increased the number of its troops to more than 250,000 and, through guerrilla activities, the Communists had managed to retake part of the Viet Bac as well as a number of small liberated base areas in the south. ICP political power was also growing, although lack of a land reform program and the continued moderate policy toward the patriotic landed gentry discouraged peasant support for the communists. In 1948, the French responded to the growing strength of the Viet Minh by granting nominal independence to all of Vietnam in the guise of "associated statehood" within the French Union. The terms of the agreement made it clear, however, that Vietnam's independence was, in reality, devoid of any practical significance. The new government, established with Bao Dai as chief of state, was viewed critically by nationalists as well as communists. Most prominent nationalists, including Ngo Dinh Diem (president, Republic of Vietnam, South Vietnam, 1955-63), refused positions in the government, and many left the country.

The United States recognized the Associated State of Vietnam in early 1950, but this action was counterbalanced a few days later with the recognition of the DRV by the new People's Republic of China. In March, Ho Chi Minh signed an agreement with Beijing that called for limited assistance to Hanoi. Shortly thereafter, Moscow also formally recognized the DRV, and the Viet Minh became more openly affiliated with the communist camp. Mao Zedong's model of revolution was openly praised in the Vietnamese press; and the ICP, which, on paper, had been temporarily dissolved in 1945 to obsecure the Viet Minh's communist roots, surfaced under a new name in 1951 that removed all doubt of its communist nature. More than 200 delegates, representing some 500,000 party members, gathered at the Second National Party Congress of the ICP, held in February 195l in Tuyen Quang Province. Renaming the ICP the Vietnam Workers' Party (VWP, Dang Lao Dong Viet Nam), the delegates elected Ho as party chairman and Truong Chinh as general secretary.

Data as of December 1987


Dien Bien Phu

With Beijing's promise of limited assistance to Hanoi, the communist military strategy concentrated on the liberation of Tonkin and consigned Cochinchina to a lower priority. The top military priority, as set by Giap, was to free the northern border areas in order to protect the movement of supplies and personnel from China. By autumn of 1950, the Viet Minh had again liberated the Viet Bac in decisive battles that forced the French to evacuate the entire border region, leaving behind a large quantity of ammunition. From their liberated zone in the northern border area, the Viet Minh were free to make raids into the Red River Delta. The French military in Vietnam found it increasingly difficult to convince Paris and the French electorate to give them the manpower and materiel needed to defeat the Viet Minh. For the next two years, the Viet Minh, well aware of the growing disillusionment of the French people with Indochina, concentrated its efforts on wearing down the French military by attacking its weakest outposts and by maximizing the physical distance between engagements to disperse French forces. Being able to choose the time and place for such engagements gave the guerrillas a decided advantage. Meanwhile, political activity was increased until, by late 1952, more than half the villages of the Red River Delta were under Viet Minh control.

The newly appointed commander of French forces in Vietnam, General Henri Navarre, decided soon after his arrival in Vietnam that it was essential to halt a Viet Minh offensive underway in neighboring Laos. To do so, Navarre believed it was necessary for the French to capture and hold the town of Dien Bien Phu, sixteen kilometers from the Laotian border. For the Viet Minh, control of Dien Bien Phu was an important link in the supply route from China. In November 1953, the French occupied the town with paratroop battalions and began reinforcing it with units from the French military post at nearby Lai Chau.

During that same month, Ho indicated that the DRV was willing to examine French proposals for a diplomatic settlement announced the month before. In February 1954, a peace conference to settle the Korean and Indochinese conflicts was set for April in Geneva, and negotiations in Indochina were scheduled to begin on May 8. Viet Minh strategists, led by Giap, concluded that a successful attack on a French fortified camp, timed to coincide with the peace talks, would give Hanoi the necessary leverage for a successful conclusion of the negotiations.

Accordingly, the siege of Dien Bien Phu began on March 13, by which time the Viet Minh had concentrated nearly 50,000 regular troops, 55,000 support troops, and almost 100,000 transport workers in the area. Chinese aid, consisting mainly of ammunition, petroleum, and some large artillery pieces carried a distance of 350 kilometers from the Chinese border, reached 1,500 tons per month by early 1954. The French garrison of 15,000, which depended on supply by air, was cut off by March 27, when the Viet Minh artillery succeeded in making the airfield unusable. An elaborate system of tunnels dug in the mountainsides enabled the Viet Minh to protect its artillery pieces by continually moving them to prevent discovery. Several hundred kilometers of trenches permitted the attackers to move progressively closer to the French encampment. In the final battle, human wave assaults were used to take the perimeter defenses, which yielded defensive guns that were then turned on the main encampment. The French garrison surrendered on May 7, ending the siege that had cost the lives of about 25,000 Vietnamese and more than 1,500 French troops.

The following day, peace talks on Indochina began in Geneva, attended by the DRV, the Associated State of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, France, Britain, China, the Soviet Union, and the United States. In July a compromise agreement was reached consisting of two documents: a cease-fire and a final declaration. The ceasefire agreement, which was signed only by France and the DRV, established a provisional military demarcation line at about the 17N parallel and required the regroupment of all French military forces south of that line and of all Viet Minh military forces north of the line. A demilitarized zone (DMZ), no more than five kilometers wide, was established on either side of the demarcation line. The cease-fire agreement also provided for a 300-day period, during which all civilians were free to move from one zone to the other, and an International Control Commission, consisting of Canada, India, and Poland, to supervise the ceasefire . The final declaration was endorsed through recorded oral assent by the DRV, France, Britain, China, and the Soviet Union. It provided for the holding of national elections in July 1956, under the supervision of the International Control Commission, and stated that the military demarcation line was provisional and "should not in any way be interpreted as constituting a political territorial boundary." Both the United States and the Associated State of Vietnam, which France had recognized on June 4 as a "fully independent and sovereign state," refused to approve the final declaration and submitted separate declarations stating their reservations.

Data as of December 1987

The Aftermath of Geneva

The Geneva Agreements were viewed with doubt and dissatisfaction on all sides. Concern over possible United States intervention, should the Geneva talks fail, was probably a major factor in Hanoi's decision to accept the compromise agreement. The United States had dissociated itself from the final declaration, although it had stated that it would refrain from the threat or use of force to disturb the agreements. President Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote to the new Prime Minister of the Bao Dai government, Ngo Dinh Diem, in September 1954 promising United States support for a noncommunist Vietnam. Direct United States aid to South Vietnam began in January 1955, and American advisors began arriving the following month to train South Vietnamese army troops. By early 1955, Diem had consolidated his control by moving against lawless elements in the Saigon area and by suppressing the religious sects in the Mekong Delta. He also launched a "denounce the communists" campaign, in which, according to communist accounts, 25,000 communist sympathizers were arrested and more than 1,000 killed. In August 1955, Diem issued a statement formally refusing to participate in consultations with the DRV, which had been called for by the Geneva Agreement to prepare for national elections. In October, he easily defeated Bao Dai in a seriously tainted referendum and became president of the new Republic of Vietnam.

Despite the growing likelihood that national elections would not be held, the communist leadership in Hanoi decided for the time being to continue to concentrate its efforts on the political struggle. Several factors led to this decision, including the weakness of the party apparatus in the South, the need to concentrate on strengthening the war-weakened North, and pressure from the communist leadership of the Soviet Union, which, under General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev, had inaugurated its policy of peaceful coexistence with the West. By 1957, however, a shift to a more militant approach to the reunification of the country was apparent. Partly in response to Diem's anticommunist campaign, the Party stepped up terrorist activities in the South, assassinating several hundred officials of the Diem government. This led to the arrest of another 65,000 suspected Communists and the killing of more than 2,000 by the Saigon government in 1957. Repression by the Diem regime led to the rise of armed rebel self-defense units in various parts of the South, with the units often operating on their own without any party direction. Observing that a potential revolutionary situation had been created by popular resentment of the Diem government and fearing that the government's anticommunist policy would destroy or weaken party organization in the South, the VWP leadership determined that the time had come to resort to violent struggle.

Data as of December 1987



Peasants suspected of being communists, 1966
Courtesy United States Army


Citizens of Tay Ninh welcome the United States Army's 25th Infantry Division, August 1966.
Courtesy United States Army


Figure 8. North Vietnam's Administrative Divisions, 1966


Figure 9. South Vietnam's Administrative Divisions, 1966


Newly arrived United States troops board buses at the Bien Hoa Air Terminal, February 1970.
Courtesy United States Army


Interment for 300 unidentified victims of communist occupation of Hue in 1968
Courtesy United States Army


Kham Thien Street Memorial in Hanoi depicting a mother and child standing on a United States Air Force bomb fragment
Courtesy Bill Herod


Bicycles used to transport rice on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, captured during United States operations in Cambodia, spring 1970
Courtesy United States Army

By 1959 some of the 90,000 Viet Minh troops that had returned to the North following the Geneva Agreements had begun filtering back into the South to take up leadership positions in the insurgency apparat. Mass demonstrations, punctuated by an occasional raid on an isolated post, were the major activities in the initial stage of this insurgency. Communist-led uprisings launched in 1959 in the lower Mekong Delta and Central Highlands resulted in the establishment of liberated zones, including an area of nearly fifty villages in Quang Ngai Province. In areas under Communist control in 1959, the guerrillas established their own government, levied taxes, trained troops, built defense works, and provided education and medical care. In order to direct and coordinate the new policies in the South, it was necessary to revamp the party leadership apparatus and form a new united front group. Accordingly, COSVN, which had been abolished in 1954, was reestablished with General Nguyen Chi Thanh, a northerner, as chairman and Pham Hung, a southerner, as deputy chairman. On December 20, 1960, the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam, informally called the National Liberation Front (NLF, Mat Tran Dan Toc Giai Phong Mien Nam), was founded, with representatives on its Central Committee from all social classes, political parties, women's organizations, and religious groups, including Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, the Buddhists, and the Catholics. In order to keep the NLF from being obviously linked with the VWP and the DRV, its executive leadership consisted of individuals not publicly identified with the Communists, and the number of party members in leadership positions at all levels was strictly limited. Furthermore, in order not to alienate patriotic noncommunist elements, the new front was oriented more toward the defeat of the United Statesbacked Saigon government than toward social revolution.

Data as of December 1987


The Fall of Ngo Dinh Diem

In 1961 the rapid increase of insurgency in the South Vietnamese countryside led President John F. Kennedy's administration to decide to increase United States support for the Diem regime. Some $US65 million in military equipment and $US136 million in economic aid were delivered that year, and by December 3,200 United States military personnel were in Vietnam. The United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) was formed under the command of General Paul D. Harkins in February 1962. The cornerstone of the counterinsurgency effort was the strategic hamlet program, which called for the consolidation of 14,000 villages of South Vietnam into 11,000 secure hamlets, each with its own houses, schools, wells, and watchtowers. The hamlets were intended to isolate guerrillas from the villages, their source of supplies and information, or, in Maoist terminology, to separate the fish from the sea in which they swim. The program had its problems, however, aside from the frequent attacks on the hamlets by guerrilla units. The self-defense units for the hamlets were often poorly trained, and support from the Army of the Republic of Vietnam ( ARVN--see Glossary) was inadequate. Corruption, favoritism, and the resentment of a growing number of peasants who were forcibly being forced to resettled plagued the program. It was estimated that of the 8,000 hamlets established, only 1,500 were viable.

In response to increased United States involvement, all communist armed units in the South were unified into a single People's Liberation Armed Force (PLAF) in 1961. These troops expanded in number from fewer than 3,000 in 1959 to more than 15,000 by 1961, most of whom were assigned to guerrilla units. Southerners trained in the North who infiltrated back into the South composed an important element of this force. Although they accounted numerically for only about 20 percent of the PLAF, they provided a well-trained nucleus for the movement and often served as officers or political cadres. By late 1962, the PLAF had achieved the capability to attack fixed positions with battalionsized forces. The NLF was also expanded to include 300,000 members and perhaps 1 million sympathizers by 1962. Land reform programs were begun in liberated areas, and by 1964 approximately 1.52 million hectares had been distributed to needy peasants, according to Communist records. In the early stages, only communal lands, uncultivated lands, or lands of absentee landlords were distributed. Despite local pressure for more aggressive land reform, the peasantry generally approved of the program, and it was an important factor in gaining support for the liberation movement in the countryside. In the cities, the Workers' Liberation Association of Vietnam (Hoi Lao Dong Giai Phong Mien Nam), a labor organization affiliated with the NLF, was established in 1961.

Diem grew steadily more unpopular as his regime became more repressive. His brother and chief adviser, Ngo Dinh Nhu, was identified by regime opponents as the source of many of the government's repressive measures. Harassment of Buddhist groups by ARVN forces in early 1963 led to a crisis situation in Saigon. On May 8, 1963, ARVN troops fired into a crowd of demonstrators protesting the Diem government's discriminatory policies toward Buddhists, killing nine persons. Hundreds of Buddhist bonzes responded by staging peaceful protest demonstrations and by fasting. In June a bonze set himself on fire in Saigon as a protest, and, by the end of the year, six more bonzes had committed self-immolation. On August 21, special forces under the command of Ngo Dinh Nhu raided the pagodas of the major cities, killing many bonzes and arresting thousands of others. Following demonstrations at Saigon University on August 24, an estimated 4,000 students were rounded up and jailed, and the universities of Saigon and Hue were closed. Outraged by the Diem regime's repressive policies, the Kennedy administration indicated to South Vietnamese military leaders that Washington would be willing to support a new military government. Diem and Nhu were assassinated in a military coup in early November, and General Duong Van Minh took over the government.

Data as of December 1987

Escalation of the War

Hanoi's response to the fall of the Diem regime was a subject of intense debate at the Ninth Plenum of the VWP Central Committee held in December 1963. It appeared that the new administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson (who assumed office following the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22) was not planning to withdraw from Vietnam but, rather, to increase its support for the new Saigon government. The VWP leadership concluded that only armed struggle would lead to success and called for an escalation of the war. The critical issues then became the reactions of the United States and the Soviet Union. Hanoi clearly hoped that the United States would opt for a compromise solution, as it had in Korea and Laos, and the party leaders believed that a quick and forceful escalation of the war would induce it to do so. Hanoi's decision to escalate the struggle was made in spite of the risk of damage to its relations with Moscow, which opposed the decision. The new policy also became an issue in the developing rift between Beijing and Moscow because China expressed its full support for the Vietnamese war of national liberation. As a result, Moscow's aid began to decrease as Beijing's grew.

Escalation of the war resulted in some immediate success for the struggle in the South. By 1964 a liberated zone had been established from the Central Highlands to the edge of the Mekong Delta, giving the communists control over more than half the total land area and about half the population of the South. PLAF forces totaled between 30 and 40 battalions, including 35,000 guerrillas and 80,000 irregulars. Moreover, with the completion of the so-called Ho Chi Minh Trail (see Glossary) through Laos, the number of PAVN troops infiltrated into the South began to increase. ARVN control was limited mainly to the cities and surrounding areas, and in 1964 and 1965 Saigon governments fell repeatedly in a series of military and civilian coups.

The Johnson administration remained hesitant to raise the American commitment to Vietnam. However, in August 1964, following the reputed shelling of United States warships in the Gulf of Tonkin off the North Vietnamese coast, Johnson approved air strikes against North Vietnamese naval bases. At President Johnson's urgent request, the United States Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave the president the power "to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression." This tougher United States stance was matched in Moscow in October when Leonid Brezhnev and Aleksey Kosygin took over control of the government following the fall from power of Nikita Khrushchev. The new Soviet government pledged increased military support for Hanoi, and the NLF set up a permanent mission in Moscow.

United States support for South Vietnam, which had begun as an effort to defend Southeast Asia from the communist threat, developed into a matter of preserving United States prestige. The Johnson administration, nevertheless, was reluctant to commit combat troops to Vietnam, although the number of United States military advisers including their support and defense units had reached 16,000 by July 1964. Instead, in February 1965 the United States began a program of air strikes known as Operation Rolling Thunder against military targets in North Vietnam. Despite the bombing of the North, ARVN losses grew steadily, and the political situation in Saigon became precarious as one unstable government succeeded another. General William C. Westmoreland, commander of MACV from June 1964 to March 1968 urged the use of United States combat troops to stop the Communist advance, which he predicted, could take over the country within a year. The first two battalions of U.S. Marines (3,500 men) arrived in Vietnam in March 1965 to protect the U.S. airbase at Da Nang. The following month, Westmoreland convinced the administration to commit sufficient combat troops to secure base areas and mount a series of search and destroy missions (see Glossary). By late 1965, the United States expeditionary force in South Vietnam numbered 180,000, and the military situation had stabilized somewhat. Infiltration from the north, however, had also increased, although still chiefly by southerners who had gone north in 1954 and received military training. PLAF strength was estimated to be about 220,000, divided almost equally between guerrillas and main force troops, the latter including units of PAVN regulars totalling about 13,000 troops.

The United States decision to escalate the war was a surprise and a blow to party strategists in Hanoi. At the Twelfth Plenum of the Central Committee in December 1965, the decision was made to continue the struggle for liberation of the South despite the escalated American commitment. The party leadership concluded that a period of protracted struggle lay ahead in which it would be necessary to exert constant military pressure on the Saigon government and its ally in order to make the war sufficiently unpopular in Washington. Efforts were to be concentrated on the ARVN troops, which had suffered 113,000 desertions in 1965 and were thought to be on the verge of disintegration. In early 1965, Hanoi had been encouraged by Moscow's decision to increase its economic and military assistance substantially. The resulting several hundred million dollars in Soviet aid, including surface- to-air missiles, had probably been tied to a promise by Hanoi to attend an international conference on Indochina that had been proposed by Soviet premier Kosygin in February. As preconditions for these negotiations Hanoi and Washington, however, had each presented demands that were unacceptable to the other side. The DRV had called for an immediate and unconditional halt to the bombing of the north, and the United States had demanded the removal of PAVN troops from the South. Although both Hanoi and Washington had been interested in a negotiated settlement, each had preferred to postpone negotiations until it had achieved a position of strength on the battlefield.

By mid-1966 United States forces, now numbering 350,000, had gained the initiative in several key areas, pushing the communists out of the heavily populated zones of the south into the more remote mountainous regions and into areas along the Cambodian border. Revolutionary forces in the South, under the command of General Nguyen Chi Thanh, responded by launching an aggressive campaign of harassment operations and full-scale attacks by regiment-sized units. This approach proved costly, however, in terms of manpower and resources, and by late 1966 about 5,000 troops, including main force PAVN units, were being infiltrated from the North each month to help implement this strategy. At the same time, North Vietnam placed its economy on a war footing, temporarily shelving non-war-related construction efforts. As a consequence of the heavy United States bombing of the North, industries were dismantled and moved to remote areas. Young men were conscripted into the army and their places in fields and factories were filled by women, who also served in home defense and antiaircraft units. Such measures were very effective in countering the impact od the bombing on the North's war effort. The Johnson administration, however, showed no sign of willingness to change its bombing strategy or to lessen its war effort (see fig. 8; fig. 9).

During this difficult period, the communists returned to protracted guerrilla warfare and political struggle. The party leadership called for increased efforts to infiltrate moderate political parties and religious organizations. The underground communist leadership in Saigon was instructed to prepare for a general uprising by recruiting youths into guerrilla units and training women to agitate against the city's poor living conditions and the injustices of the Saigon government. Total victory, according to the party leadership, would probably occur when military victories in rural areas were combined with general uprisings in the cities.

In mid-1967, with United States troop levels close to the half million mark, Westmoreland requested 80,000 additional troops for immediate needs and indicated that further requests were being contemplated. United States forces in Tay Ninh, Binh Dinh, Quang Ngai, and Dinh Tuong provinces had initiated major offensives in late 1966 and in early 1967, and more troops were needed to support these and other planned operations. As a result of these deployments, United States forces were scattered from the DMZ to the Mekong Delta by mid-1967. Opposition to the war, meanwhile, was mounting in the United States; and among the Vietnamese facing one another in the South, the rising cost of men and resources was beginning to take its toll on both sides. The level of PLAF volunteers declined to less than 50 percent in 1967 and desertions rose, resulting in an even greater increase in northern troop participation. Morale declined among communist sympathizers and Saigon government supporters alike. In elections held in South Vietnam in September 1967, former generals Nguyen Van Thieu and Nguyen Cao Ky were elected president and vice president, respectively. A number of popular candidates, including Buddhists and peace candidates, were barred from running, and newspapers were largely suppressed during the campaign. Even so, the military candidates received less than 35 percent of the vote, although the election took place only in areas under the Saigon government's control. When proof of widespread election fraud was produced by the defeated candidates, students and Buddhists demonstrated and demanded that the elections be annulled.

Data as of December 1987

The Tet Offensive

In mid-1967 the costs of the war mounted daily with no military victory in sight for either side. Against this background, the party leadership in Hanoi decided that the time was ripe for a general offensive in the rural areas combined with a popular uprising in the cities. The primary goals of this combined major offensive and uprising were to destabilize the Saigon regime and to force the United States to opt for a negotiated settlement. In October 1967, the first stage of the offensive began with a series of small attacks in remote and border areas designed to draw the ARVN and United States forces away from the cities. The rate of infiltration of troops from the North rose to 20,000 per month by late 1967, and the United States command in Saigon predicted a major Communist offensive early the following year. The DMZ area was expected to bear the brunt of the attack. Accordingly, United States troops were sent to strengthen northern border posts, and the security of the Saigon area was transferred to ARVN forces. Despite warnings of the impending offensive, in late January more than one-half of the ARVN forces were on leave because of the approaching Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday.

On January 31, 1968, the full-scale offensive began, with simultaneous attacks by the communists on five major cities, thirty-six provincial capitals, sixty-four district capitals, and numerous villages. In Saigon, suicide squads attacked the Independence Palace (the residence of the president), the radio station, the ARVN's joint General Staff Compound, Tan Son Nhut airfield, and the United States embassy, causing considerable damage and throwing the city into turmoil. Most of the attack forces throughout the country collapsed within a few days, often under the pressure of United States bombing and artillery attacks, which extensively damaged the urban areas. Hue, which had been seized by an estimated 12,000 Communist troops who had previously infiltrated the city, remained in communist hands until late February. A reported 2,000 to 3,000 officials, police, and others were executed in Hue during that time as counterrevolutionaries.

The Tet offensive is widely viewed as a turning point in the war despite the high cost to the communists (approximately 32,000 killed and about 5,800 captured) for what appeared at the time to be small gains. Although they managed to retain control of some of the rural areas, the communists were forced out of all of the towns and cities, except Hue, within a few weaks. Nevertheless, the offensive emphasized to the Johnson administration that victory in Vietnam would require a greater commitment of men and resources than the American people were willing to invest. On March 31, 1968, Johnson announced that he would not seek his party's nomination for another term of office, declared a halt to the bombing of North Vietnam (except for a narrow strip above the DMZ), and urged Hanoi to agree to peace talks. In the meantime, with U.S. troop strength at 525,000, a request by Westmoreland for an additional 200,000 troops was refused by a presidential commission headed by the new United States secretary of defense, Clark Clifford.

Following the Tet Offensive, the communists attempted to maintain their momentum through a series of attacks directed mainly at cities in the delta. Near the DMZ, some 15,000 PAVN and PLAF troops were also thrown into a three-month attack on the United States base at Khe Sanh. A second assault on Saigon, complete with rocket attacks, was launched in May. Through these and other attacks in the spring and summer of 1968, the Communists kept up pressure on the battlefield in order to strengthen their position in a projected a series of four-party peace talks scheduled to begin in January 1969 (that called for representatives of the United States, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, and the National Liberation Front to meet in Paris. In June 1969, the NLF and its allied organizations formed the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam (PRG), recognized by Hanoi as the legal government of South Vietnam. At that time, communist losses dating from the Tet Offensive numbered 75,000, and morale was faltering, even among the party leadership.

Data as of December 1987

Peace Negotiations

With negotiations making little progress, the United States military commander in Saigon, General Creighton W. Abrams, who had held that post since mid-1968, requested and was given permission by President Richard M. Nixon to launch secret bombing attacks, beginning March 18, 1970, on what were described as Vietnamese communist sanctuaries and supply routes inside Cambodia. In late March, Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia was ousted as chief of state in a military coup led by Premier and Defense Minister, General Lon Nol. Shortly thereafter, the Lon Nol government cancelled an agreement that had allowed North Vietnam to use the port at Sihanoukville. Hanoi reacted by increasing support to the Khmer (Kampuchean) Communist Party, by then under the leadership of the radical Pol Pot. In April, Nixon authorized the invasion of Cambodia by a joint United States-ARVN force of 30,000 troops for the purpose of destroying Communist bases across the border. Little more than short-term gains were accomplished by the invasion, which resulted in massive protests in the United States, leading to the passage of legislation by Congress requiring the removal of United States troops from Cambodia by the end of June.

In 1971 and 1972, the communists faced some serious problems unrelated to United States offensive operations. The Saigon government began to gain some support in the Mekong Delta because of the implementation of a "land-to-the-tiller" reform program pressed on the Thieu government by Washington in 1970. Almost 400,000 farmers received a total of 600,000 hectares, and by 1972 tenancy reportedly had declined from about 60 percent to 34 percent in some rural areas. In addition, a People's Self-Defense Force Program begun about this time had some success in freeing ARVN troops for combat duty, as United States forces were gradually withdrawn. Although it wasn't clear at the time whether the withdrawal of United States troops would cause the ARVN to crumble instantly, as predicted by the communists, the decisive defeat of an ARVN operation mounted against the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos in March 1971 was an early indication. At the time of the ARVN defeat, however, the communists were coping with deteriorating morale and with dwindling numbers of troops; a rising desertion rate and falling recruitment levels had reduced PLAF strength from 250,000 in 1968 to less than 200,000 in 1971.

Both on the battlefield and at the conference table, a stalemate of sorts was reached by mid-1971. In negotiations there was some flexibility, as Washington offered a unilateral withdrawal of United States forces provided Hanoi stopped its infiltration of the South; and Hanoi countered by agreeing to a coalition government in Saigon along with a United States troop withdrawal and to a cease-fire following the formation of a new government. The main point of debate was the retention of President Thieu as head of the South Vietnamese government, which Washington demanded and Hanoi rejected. To break the deadlock, the party leadership in Hanoi turned again to the strategy of a general offensive and uprising. Accordingly, the so-called Easter offensive was launched beginning on March 30, 1972, with a threepronged attack across the DMZ through the A Shau Valley. The following day the communists attacked the city of Kontum and the provinces of Binh Dinh and Phuoc Tuy, threatening to cut South Vietnam in two. A few days later, three PAVN divisions attacked Binh Long Province along the Cambodian border, placing the capital, An Loc, under siege. In May the communists captured Quang Tri Province, including the capital, which was not recaptured by the ARVN until September. By that time, Quang Tri city had been virtually leveled by United States airstrikes. Although the Easter offensive did not result in the fall of the Saigon government, as the communists had hoped, it did further destabilize the government and reveal the ARVN's weaknesses. The costs were great on both sides, however, and by October both Hanoi and Washington were more inclined to negotiate. By then Hanoi had agreed to accept Thieu as president of a future Saigon government in exchange for the removal of United States forces without a corresponding removal of PAVN troops. Thieu's objections to the failure to require the removal of North Vietnamese forces was in the end ignored, and the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam was signed in Paris on January 27, 1973.

Data as of December 1987

The Final Campaign

Although the terms of the peace agreement were less than the communists had hoped for, the accords did permit them to participate in the new government legally and recognized their right to control certain areas. Most important, the removal of United States forces gave the communists a welcome breathing space, allowing them to concentrate on political efforts. In the initial period after the signing of the agreement, the party leadership viewed armed struggle as a last resort only because it was feared that the United States might reintroduce its forces. PLAF troops were instructed to limit their use of force to selfdefense . Meanwhile, the Thieu government embarked on pacification efforts along the central coast and in the Mekong Delta, which resulted in a reduction of the area under official communist control to about 20 percent of the South. The Saigon government, however, faced serious difficulties, including the negative effect on the economy of the withdrawal of United States forces and a critical refugee problem. During the course of the war, several million Vietnamese had been evacuated or had fled from their villages to find safety and jobs in urban areas. Most of these remained unemployed and, together with militant Buddhist groups, the Cao Dai, and the Hoa Hao, represented a sizable wellspring of discontent with the Thieu government.

In early 1974, the communists launched a campaign to regain the territory they had lost since the cease-fire. Raids were conducted on roads, airfields, and economic installations; the flow of supplies and equipment from the North was stepped up; and a 19,000-kilometer network of roads leading from the DMZ in Quang Tri Province to Loc Ninh, northwest of Saigon, was completed. By summer the communists were moving cautiously forward, seizing vulnerable areas in the Central Highlands and in the provinces around Saigon. There was no direct response from the United States, and the resignation of Nixon in August convinced the party leadership that further United States intervention was unlikely. ARVN forces continued to deteriorate, suffering high casualties and facing a lack of ammunition and spare parts. The party leadership met in October to plan a 1975 military offensive concentrating on the Cambodian border area and the Central Highlands. The taking of the Phuoc Lang province capital, Phuoc Binh (now Ba Ra in Song Be Province), in early January was followed by a surprise attack in March on Ban Me Thuot, the largest city in the Central Highlands. President Thieu ordered ARVN units at Pleiku and Kontum to leave the highlands and withdraw to the coast to regroup for a counter attack on Ban Me Thuot. The ARVN strategic withdrawal became a rout, however, because PAVN units had already cut the main roads to the coast and fleeing civilians clogged the secondary roads as panic ensued. By the end of March, eight northern provinces had fallen to the communist forces, including the cities of Hue and Da Nang. Buoyed by this stunning victory, the party leadership directed the commander of revolutionary forces in the South, General Van Tien Dung to prepare for an offensive against Saigon. In early April, PAVN and PLAF troops moved south and began an encirclement of the capital. On April 20, after ten days of stiff resistance, the ARVN Eighteenth Division, stationed thirty kilometers north of Saigon, finally crumbled under the attack of three PAVN divisions. With Saigon in a state of panic, President Thieu resigned the following day and was replaced by Vice President Tran Van Huong. Duong Van Minh, thought to be more acceptable to the communists, took over the presidency on April 28. The communists refused to negotiate, however, and fifteen PAVN battalions began to move toward Saigon. On April 30, communist forces entered the capital, and Duong Van Minh ordered ARVN troops to lay down their arms.

Nearly thirty years had passed since Ho Chi Minh first declared Vietnam's independence as a unified nation in September 1945. In the interim, an entire generation of Vietnamese had endured a divided Vietnam, knowing only continuous warfare. The events of April 1975 not only abruptly concluded the war but also prepared the way for the official reunification of the country the following year, when the Vietnamese people were brought together under one independent government for the first time in more than a century.

* * *

The body of literature in English on the history of Vietnam has increased dramatically since the mid-1960s. Most of the writing, however, has focused on the three decades of war in that country following World War II. The increased interest in Vietnam, nevertheless, has prompted a number of historians to take the longer view--the Vietnamese view--of history and to examine earlier time periods.

Based on Vietnamese and Chinese sources, and particularly useful for Vietnamese history from the earliest traditions up to the end of the Chinese millennium, is Keith Weller Taylor's Birth of Vietnam. Also treating this period, as well as the period up through World War II, is Thomas Hodgkin's, Vietnam. The Revolutionary Path. Hodgkin gives detailed coverage of the 900-year period of Vietnamese independence, while D.G.E. Hall's classic History of South-East Asia provides a description and analysis of that period within the larger Southeast Asian context. Another useful single-volume history of Vietnam up to 1968 is Joseph Buttinger's Vietnam: A Political History. Finally, Alexander Woodside in Vietnam and the Chinese Model presents an interesting analysis, based on Vietnamese and Chinese sources, of Chinese influence on Vietnamese education, administration, education, literature, and law during the nineteenth century.

J. F. Cady treats in detail the French conquest and early colonial period in The Roots of French Imperialism in Eastern Asia. David Marr uses Vietnamese source materials to examine the roots of Vietnamese nationalism in Vietnamese Anticolonialism, 1885-1925, and William Duiker in The Rise of Nationalism in Vietnam, 1900-1941 carries the examination of the nationalist movement up to the early period of Japanese occupation. Duiker also traces the communist movement from its origins to the reunification of the country in The Communist Road to Power in Vietnam.

Although their focus is somewhat peripheral to an overview history of Vietnam, there are a number of accounts of the United States involvement in Vietnam that bear mentioning, including: William Turley's The Second Indochina War; Ronald Spector's Advice and Support: The Early Years, 1941-1960; R.B. Smith's An International History of the Vietnam War; Stanley Karnow's Vietnam. A History; and George Mc T. Kahin's, Intervention. How America Became Involved in Vietnam. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of December 1987

Chapter 2. The Society and Its Environment

Village official, late French colonial period

SEVERAL MONTHS BEFORE his death in 1969, Ho Chi Minh declared that Vietnam would "certainly be reunified under the same roof" no matter what difficulties and hardships might lie ahead. In 1976 the country was territorially reunited--under Hanoi's roof-- after more than twenty years of separation. This historic event proved, however, to be only the first step toward the ultimate test of reunification--the development of sociocultural, economic, and political processes that could best serve the aspirations and needs of the Vietnamese people. In 1987 Vietnam was, in some respects, still a divided nation and still at war-- not for liberation from the bondage of neo-colonialism but for the triumph of socialism in what was officially called the struggle between the socialist and the capitalist paths.

The struggle between socialism and capitalism unfolded in an environment of social and religious patterns molded by centuries of cultural influences from Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, indigenous animism and, more recently, Roman Catholicism. The communist government disparaged some of these influences as feudal, backward, superstitious, reactionary, or bourgeois and targeted them for reform. Others, including Buddhism, Catholicism, and minor faiths, were tolerated.

The Vietnamese people were continually urged to discard vestiges of the old society and to adopt instead new values associated with love of labor, collective ownership, patriotism, socialism, and the proletarian dictatorship under the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP, Viet Nam Cong San Dan). In 1987 these values were at best an abstraction to most Vietnamese, except perhaps for a fraction of the party's fewer than 2 million members. Despite the increasing dependence of families, simply for subsistence, on organizations sponsored by collectives and the state, the strongest bond in the society by far was that of family loyalty. Such loyalty was particularly evident after the mid-1970s, when living conditions deteriorated amid indications of growing government corruption.

Much of Vietnam's contemporary history has been a grim struggle, not on behalf of patriotism or socialism but for survival. With a per capita income estimated at less than US$200 per year, the Vietnamese people in the 1980s remained among the poorest in the world. In 1987 the society was predominantly rural; more than 80 percent of the population resided in villages and engaged primarily in farming. Among the urban population, party and government officials supplanted the former elite, whose privileged status had been derived mainly from wealth and higher education. In theory, Vietnam had eliminated all exploiting classes by developing a class structure composed of workers, peasants, and socialist intellectuals. In practice, a small-scale bourgeoisie continued to operate in the South's industrial sector with the permission of the state, and, according to an official source, some cadres in the south were exploiting peasants in the tradition of former landowners.

Theoretically the society is multiracial, but actually it is dominated by an ethnic Vietnamese elite. Vietnamese, who outnumber other ethnic groups, are overwhelmingly lowlanders; minority peoples, who are divided into nearly sixty groups of various sizes and backgrounds, are mostly highlanders. With the exception of the Chinese, or Hoa (see Glossary), who are mostly lowlanders, the minority peoples traditionally lived apart from one another and from the Vietnamese. In the 1980s, however, the distance between the highland and lowland communities gradually narrowed as a result of the government policy of population redistribution and political integration.

Under this policy, lowlanders were sent to remote, uninhabited areas of the highlands both to relieve overcrowdingin the cities and in the congested Red River Delta-and to increase food production. Both aims were part of the government's effort to raise the standard of living, which in turn was linked to another urgent national priority--family planning. In 1987 the rate of population growth continued to outstrip food production. Given the people's traditional belief in large families, the government faced a major challenge in its attempt to reduce the annual rate of population growth to 1.7 percent or less by 1990.

Data as of December 1987



Figure 10. Topography and Drainage, 1987

Vietnam is located in the southeastern extremity of the Indochinese peninsula and occupies about 331,688 square kilometers, of which about 25 percent was under cultivation in 1987. The S-shaped country has a north-to-south distance of 1,650 kilometers and is about 50 kilometers wide at the narrowest point. With a coastline of 3,260 kilometers, excluding islands, Vietnam claims 12 nautical miles as the limit of its territorial waters, an additional 12 nautical miles as a contiguous customs and security zone, and 200 nautical miles as an exclusive economic zone.

The boundary with Laos, settled, on an ethnic basis, between the rulers of Vietnam and Laos in the mid-seventeenth century, was formally defined by a delimitation treaty signed in 1977 and ratified in 1986. The frontier with Cambodia, defined at the time of French annexation of the western part of the Mekong River Delta in 1867, remained essentially unchanged, according to Hanoi, until some unresolved border issues were finally settled in the 1982-85 period. The land and sea boundary with China, delineated under the France-China treaties of 1887 and 1895, is "the frontier line" accepted by Hanoi that China agreed in 1957- 58 to respect. However, in February 1979, following China's limited invasion of Vietnam, Hanoi complained that from 1957 onward China had provoked numerous border incidents as part of its anti-Vietnam policy and expansionist designs in Southeast Asia. Among the territorial infringements cited was the Chinese occupation in January 1974 of the Paracel Islands, claimed by both countries in a dispute left unresolved in the 1980s (see Foreign Relations , ch. 4).

Vietnam is a country of tropical lowlands, hills, and densely forested highlands, with level land covering no more than 20 percent of the area. The country is divided into the highlands and the Red River Delta in the north; and the Giai Truong Son (Central mountains, or the Chane Annamitique, sometimes referred to simply as the Chaine), the coastal lowlands, and the Mekong River Delta in the south.

The Red River Delta, a flat, triangular region of 3,000 square kilometers, is smaller but more intensely developed and more densely populated than the Mekong River Delta. Once an inlet of the Gulf of Tonkin, it has been filled in by the enormous alluvial deposits of the rivers, over a period of millennia, and it advances one hundred meters into the gulf annually. The ancestral home of the ethnic Vietnamese, the delta accounted for almost 70 percent of the agriculture and 80 percent of the industry of North Vietnam before 1975.

The Red River (Song Hong in Vietnamese), rising in China's Yunnan Province, is about 1,200 kilometers long. Its two main tributaries, the Song Lo (also called the Lo River, the Riviere Claire, or the Clear River) and the Song Da (also called the Black River or Riviere Noire), contribute to its high water volume, which averages 500 million cubic meters per second, but may increase by more than 60 times at the peak of the rainy season. The entire delta region, backed by the steep rises of the forested highlands, is no more than three meters above sea level, and much of it is one meter or less. The area is subject to frequent flooding; at some places the high-water mark of floods is fourteen meters above the surrounding countryside. For centuries flood control has been an integral part of the delta's culture and economy. An extensive system of dikes and canals has been built to contain the Red River and to irrigate the rich rice-growing delta. Modeled on that of China, this ancient system has sustained a highly concentrated population and has made double-cropping wet-rice cultivation possible throughout about half the region (see Agriculture , ch. 3; fig. 10).

The highlands and mountain plateaus in the north and northwest are inhabited mainly by tribal minority groups. The Giai Truong Son originates in the Xizang (Tibet) and Yunnan regions of southwest China and forms Vietnam's border with Laos and Cambodia. It terminates in the Mekong River Delta north of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).

These central mountains, which have several high plateaus, are irregular in elevation and form. The northern section is narrow and very rugged; the country's highest peak, Fan Si Pan, rises to 3,142 meters in the extreme northwest. The southern portion has numerous spurs that divide the narrow coastal strip into a series of compartments. For centuries these topographical features not only rendered north-south communication difficult but also formed an effective natural barrier for the containment of the people living in the Mekong basin.

Within the southern portion of Vietnam is a plateau known as the Central Highlands (Tay Nguyen), approximately 51,800 square kilometers of rugged mountain peaks, extensive forests, and rich soil. Comprising 5 relatively flat plateaus of basalt soil spread over the provinces of Dac Lac and Gia Lai-Kon Tom, the highlands accounts for 16 percent of the country's arable land and 22 percent of its total forested land (see fig. 1). Before 1975 North Vietnam had maintained that the Central Highlands and the Giai Truong Son were strategic areas of paramount importance, essential to the domination not only of South Vietnam but also of the southern part of Indochina. Since 1975 the highlands have provided an area in which to relocate people from the densely populated lowlands.

The narrow, flat coastal lowlands extend from south of the Red River Delta to the Mekong River basin. On the landward side, the Giai Truong Son rises precipitously above the coast, its spurs jutting into the sea at several places. Generally the coastal strip is fertile and rice is cultivated intensively.

The Mekong, which is 4,220 kilometers long, is one of the 12 great rivers of the world. From its source in the Xizang plateau, it flows through the Xizang and Yunnan regions of China, forms the boundary between Laos and Burma as well as between Laos and Thailand, divides into two branches--the Song Han Giang and Song Tien Giang--below Phnom Penh, and continues through Cambodia and the Mekong basin before draining into the South China Sea through nine mouths or cuu long (nine dragons). The river is heavily silted and is navigable by seagoing craft of shallow draft as far as Kompong Cham in Cambodia. A tributary entering the river at Phnom Penh drains the Tonle Sap, a shallow fresh- water lake that acts as a natural reservoir to stabilize the flow of water through the lower Mekong. When the river is in flood stage, its silted delta outlets are unable to carry off the high volume of water. Floodwaters back up into the Tonle Sap, causing the lake to inundate as much as 10,000 square kilometers. As the flood subsides, the flow of water reverses and proceeds from the lake to the sea. The effect is to reduce significantly the danger of devastating floods in the Mekong delta, where the river floods the surrounding fields each year to a level of one to two meters.

The Mekong delta, covering about 40,000 square kilometers, is a low-level plain not more than three meters above sea level at any point and criss-crossed by a maze of canals and rivers. So much sediment is carried by the Mekong's various branches and tributaries that the delta advances sixty to eighty meters into the sea every year. An official Vietnamese source estimates the amount of sediment deposited annually to be about 1 billion cubic meters, or nearly 13 times the amount deposited by the Red River. About 10,000 square kilometers of the delta are under rice cultivation, making the area one of the major rice-growing regions of the world. The southern tip, known as the Ca Mau Peninsula (Mui Bai Bung), is covered by dense jungle and mangrove swamps.

Vietnam has a tropical monsoon climate, with humidity averaging 84 percent throughout the year. However, because of differences in latitude and the marked variety of topographical relief, the climate tends to vary considerably from place to place. During the winter or dry season, extending roughly from November to April, the monsoon winds usually blow from the northeast along the China coast and across the Gulf of Tonkin, picking up considerable moisture; consequently the winter season in most parts of the country is dry only by comparison with the rainy or summer season. During the southwesterly summer monsoon, occurring from May to October, the heated air of the Gobi Desert rises, far to the north, inducing moist air to flow inland from the sea and deposit heavy rainfall.

Annual rainfall is substantial in all regions and torrential in some, ranging from 120 centimeters to 300 centimeters. Nearly 90 percent of the precipitation occurs during the summer. The average annual temperature is generally higher in the plains than in the mountains and plateaus. Temperatures range from a low of 5C in December and January, the coolest months, to more than 37C in April, the hottest month. Seasonal divisions are more clearly marked in the northern half than in the southern half of the country, where, except in some of the highlands, seasonal temperatures vary only a few degrees, usually in the 21C-28C range.

Data as of December 1987



Figure 11. Population Distribution, 1984

According to Hanoi, the population of Vietnam was almost 60 million at the end of 1985 (Western sources estimated about a half million more than that in mid-1985). Vietnamese officials estimated that the population would be at least 66 million by 1990 and 80 million by the year 2000, unless the growth rate of 2 percent per year used for these estimates was lowered to 1.7 percent by 1990. With declining mortality rates achieved through improved health conditions, the population increased by 1.2 million or more per year between 1981 and 1986 (1.5 million in 1985 alone), worsening the country's chronic food shortage. In the 1980s, Vietnam needed to produce an additional 400,000 tons of food each year just to keep pace with its rapidly increasing population.

Census results of October 1979 showed the total population of reunified Vietnam to be 52.7 million of which 52 percent lived in the North and 48 percent in the South. About 19 percent of the population was classified as urban and 81 percent as rural. Females outnumbered males by 3 percent, and the average life expectancy at birth was 66 for females and 63 for males. With 52 percent of the total under 20 years of age, the population was young. Ethnically, 87 percent were Vietnamese-speaking lowlanders known as Viet or Kinh, and the remainder were Hoa or members of highland minority groups (see Ethnic Groups and Languages , this ch.). In December 1986, Hanoi estimated that more than 1 million Vietnamese lived overseas, 50 percent of them in the United States. A Vietnamese source in Paris claimed that about half of Ho Chi Minh City's population lived completely or partially on family aid packages sent by Vietnamese emigres abroad.

Beginning in the early 1960s, the socioeconomic implications of rapid population growth became an increasing concern of the government in Hanoi. A family planning drive, instituted in 1963, was claimed by the government to have accounted for a decline in the annual growth rate in the North from 3.4 percent in 1960 to 2.7 percent in 1975. In the South, however, family planning was actively encouraged only after 1976, and the results were mixed, consistently falling short of announced goals. In 1981 Hanoi set a national goal of 1.7 percent growth rate to be achieved by the end of 1985: a growth rate of 1.3 to 1.5 percent was established for the North, 1.5 to 1.7 percent for the South, and 1.7 to 2.0 percent for the sparsely settled highland provinces. In 1987, the growth rate, according to Vietnamese sources, was about 2.0 percent (see table 2, Appendix A).

Family planning was described as voluntary and dependent upon persuasion. The program's guidelines called for two children per couple, births spaced five years apart, and a minimum age of twenty-two for first-time mothers--a major challenge in a society where the customary age for women to marry, especially in the rural areas, was nineteen or twenty. Campaign workers were instructed to refrain tactfully from mentioning abortion and to focus instead on pregnancy prevention when dealing with people of strong religious conviction. Enlisting the support of Catholic priests for the campaign was strongly encouraged. In 1987 it was evident that the government was serious about family planning; a new law on marriage and the family adopted in December 1986 made family planning obligatory, and punitive measures, such as pay cuts and denial of bonuses and promotions, were introduced for non-compliance (see The Family since 1954 , this ch.).

A substantial portion of the population had mixed feelings about birth control and sex education, and the number of women marrying before age twenty remained high. Typically, a woman of child-bearing age had four or more children. The 1986 family law that raised the legal marriage age for women to twenty-two met with strenuous opposition. Critics argued that raising the legal age offered no solution to the widespread practice among Vietnamese youth of "falling in love early, having sexual relations early, and getting married early." Some critics even advanced the view that the population should be increased to further economic development; others insisted that those who could grow enough food for themselves need not practice birth control. A significant proportion of the population retained traditional attitudes which favored large families with many sons as a means of insuring the survival of a family's lineage and providing for its security. Although problems associated with urban living, such as inadequate housing and unemployment, created a need for change in traditional family-size standards, old ways nevertheless persisted. They were perpetuated in proverbs like "If Heaven procreates elephants, it will provide enough grass to feed them" or "To have one son is to have; to have ten daughters is not to have."

Government authorities were concerned over the lack of coordination among agencies involved in family planning and the lack of necessary clinics and funding to provide convenient, safe, and efficient family planning services in rural areas. Even more disturbing was the knowledge that many local party committees and government agencies were only going through the motions of supporting the family planning drive. To remedy the situation, the government in 1984 created the National Committee on Family Planning (also known as the National Commission on Demography and Family Planning, or the National Population and Parenthood Commission). The commission was directed to increase the rate of contraceptive use among married couples from about 23 percent in 1983 to 70 percent by 1990 and to limit the population to between 75 and 80 million by the year 2000. The latter goal was to be based on an annual growth rate of 1.7 percent or less, a figure that in 1987 seemed unrealistically low. According to a National Committee on Family Planning report released in February 1987, the population grew by 2.2 percent in 1986 (Western analysts estimate the increase to have been between 2.5 and 2.8 percent). In light of the 1986 growth rate, the committee's target for 1987 was revised at the beginning of the year to 1.9 percent. Even if such a goal were met, Vietnam's population at the end of 1987 would stand in excess of 63 million inhabitants.

The average population density in 1985 was 179 persons per square kilometer. Population density varied widely, however, and was generally lower in the southern provinces than in the northern ones; in both North and South it was also lower in the highlands and mountainous regions than in the lowlands. The most densely settled region was the Red River Delta, accounting for roughly 75 percent of the population of the North. Also heavily settled was the Mekong River Delta, with nearly half of the southern population.

After 1976, population redistribution became a pressing issue because of food shortages and unemployment in the urban areas. A plan unveiled at the Fourth National Party Congress in December 1976 called for the relocation of 44 million people by 1980 and an additional 10 million by the mid-1990s. The plan also called for opening up 1 million hectares of virgin land to cultivation and introduced a measure designed to divert some armed forces personnel to the building of new economic zones (see Glossary). The relocation was to involve an interregional transfer of northerners to the South as well as an intraregional movement of lowlanders to upland areas in both the North and the South. Between 1976 and 1980, most of the 4 million people who were relocated to rural areas and the new economic zones were from Ho Chi Minh City and other southern cities. In the 1981-85 period, a total of about 0.6 million workers and 1.3 million dependents were relocated, causing the country's urban population to decline from 19.3 percent of the total in 1979 to 18 percent in 1985. The country's long-range goal, established in 1976, called for the population to be distributed more or less evenly throughout Vietnam's 443 districts with an average for each district of 200,000 persons living on 20,000 hectares (see fig. 11).

Data as of December 1987



Tonkinese woman, late nineteenth century
Courtesy New York Times, Paris Collection, National Archives


Montagnard tribesman
Courtesy United States Army

The ethnic Vietnamese are concentrated largely in the alluvial deltas and in the coastal plains, having little in common with the minority peoples of the highlands, whom they historically have regarded as hostile and barbaric. A homogenous social group, the Vietnamese exert influence on national life through their control of political and economic affairs and their role as purveyors of the dominant culture. By contrast, the ethnic minorities, except for the Hoa, are found mostly in the highlands that cover two-thirds of the national territory. The Hoa, the largest minority, are mainly lowlanders. Officially, the ethnic minorities are referred to as national minorities.

Data as of December 1987


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 (see Early History , ch. 1).

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 subdialects spoken in mainland Southeast Asia from Burma to Vietnam. Scholarship nonetheless is tentative on whether Vietnamese, which was spoken in the Red River Delta long before the Christian era, was influenced by Mon-Khmer or Tai, both Austroasiatic subsets.

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.

Beginning in the eighth or ninth century, the Vietnamese devised a popular script based on Chinese characters to express written ideas and to standardize the phonetics of their own language. Well developed by the thirteenth century, this system, which combined ideographs and phonetics, became the medium for a growing popular literature. The system is known as chu nom, literally "southern character" or "southern writing," or simply nom. Although disdained by orthodox Confucian scholars, chu nom had a distinct place in the evolution of Vietnam's vernacular literature through the end of the nineteenth century.

In the seventeenth century, the Vietnamese language evolved further when Portuguese and French missionaries developed a new transcription that used roman letters instead of Chinese characters. The new system, called quoc ngu, was devised as a tool for their missionary activities, including the translation of prayer books and catechisms. By the end of the nineteenth century, it had become the common method of writing, gradually replacing classical Chinese and chu nom. quoc ngu uses diacritical marks above or below letters to indicate variations in the pronunciation of vowels and of consonants, and differentiations in tones. Since most single syllables function as meaningful words identified only by tone, and each of these phonetic syllables can have numerous meanings, the diacritical marks are an essential part of the new written system (see Nine Centuries of Independence , ch. 1).

Under French rule, the French language was widely used in the cities, and it was read and spoken by all secondary-school graduates. Many less educated people, including merchants, lowranking civil servants, army veterans, and domestics working for French households, also had some familiarity with the language, although their knowledge might be limited to a form of pidgin French. In the rural areas the language generally was less wellknown , but a number of minority peoples learned its rudiments in school or during service with the French army. Use of the French language resulted in minor changes in the grammatical structure of Vietnamese and in the addition of some new technical, scientific, and popular terms.

Data as of December 1987


Living somewhat separately from the dominant ethnic Vietnamese are the numerous minorities. The 1979 census listed fifty-three minorities accounting for 12.7 percent (6.6 million persons) of the national population. This figure included the Hoa (Han Chinese), the single largest bloc--representing approximately 1.5 percent of the total population, or about 935,000 people--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 (4.5 million persons), resided in the North, while the remaining twenty-two groups, comprising 32 percent of the minority population (2.1 million persons) 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 (see table 3, Appendix A).

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 origins of the non-Vietnamese minorities are far from clear, but scholars generally believe that some, like the Hmong (Meo), Zao, Nung, San Chay, Cao Lan, Giay, and Lolo, are descendants of the ancient migrants from southern China who settled in the northern border regions. Others, like the Tay, Muong, and Thai are believed to be related to the lowland natives of Malay stock who were forced into the highlands by successive invasions of Mongoloid peoples from China. Among these indigenous minorities are the Cham of central Vietnam, remnants of a kingdom that ruled the central coast of the country until overrun by the Vietnamese in the fifteenth century, and the Khmer, whose Cambodian forebears controlled the Mekong delta region until displaced in the late eighteenth century by the Vietnamese (see Nine Centuries of Independence , ch. 1). The Khmer and the Cham are lowlanders of the south and are considered, along with the Tay, Muong, and Thai of the north, to be culturally more developed than other minority ethnic groups but less so than the Vietnamese.

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 slash- and-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 number and variety of languages used by Vietnam's minorities reflect the country's ethnic complexity. Minority groups are distinguished by more than a dozen distinct languages and numerous dialects; the origins and distribution of many of these languages have not yet been conclusively established. They can, however, be classified loosely into three major language families, which in turn can be divided into several subgroups. Eleven of the minority groups--Tay, Thai, Nung, Hmong, Muong, Cham, Khmer, Kohor, Ede, Bahnar, and Jarai--have their own writing systems.

Religious practices among highland minorities tend to be rooted in animistic beliefs. Most worship a pantheon of spirits, but a large number are Catholics or Protestants. In contrast to the Mahayana Buddhist beliefs of the majority of Vietnamese, the Khmer practice Theravada (or Hinayana) Buddhism, and the Cham subscribe to both Islam and Hindu beliefs (see Religion , this ch.).

Before the arrival of the French in the nineteenth century, the highland minorities lived in isolation from the lowland population. Upon the consolidation of French rule, however, contacts between the two groups increased. The French, interested in the uplands for plantation agriculture, permitted the highlanders their linguistic and cultural autonomy, and administered their areas separately from the rest of Vietnam. Conferring this special status gave the French a free hand in cultivating the largely unexploited highlands, where their administrators and Christian missionaries also set up schools, hospitals, and leprosariums.

Often, however, conflicts arose between the upland communities and the French, who were distrusted as exploitative, unwelcome interlopers. The French, however, eventually overcame the unrest and successfully developed some of the highland areas, especially those of the Ede and Jarai, where they established large rubber, coffee, and tea plantations.

After the mid-1950s, North and South Vietnam dealt with the minorities differently. The Hanoi regime in the North, recognizing the traditional separatist attitudes of the tribal minorities, initiated a policy of accommodation by setting up two autonomous zones for the highlanders in return for their acceptance of Hanoi's political control. By offering limited self-government, Hanoi's leaders hoped that integration of the minorities into Vietnamese society could eventually be achieved. By contrast, the noncommunist Saigon administration in the South, under Ngo Dinh Diem, opted for direct, centralized control of the tribal minorities and incurred their enduring wrath by seizing ancestral tribal lands for the resettlement of displaced Catholic refugees from the North.

After Diem's death in 1963, successive Saigon administrations granted a modicum of autonomy, but the strategic hamlet program, introduced in the South in the 1960s, caused further disruption by forcing highlanders to relocate to fortified enclaves. The program was proposed to improve the physical security of montagnards as well as to deny food and services to Viet Cong (see Glossary) guerrillas, but it largely embittered its minority participants, who wanted to be left alone to continue living on their ancestral lands in the traditional manner. In an act of resistance, some tribal leaders gathered in 1964 to announce the formation of the Unified Front for the Struggle of Oppressed Races (Front Unifie pour la Lutte des Races Opprimees--FULRO), representing the Bahnar, Cham, Ede, Hre, Jarai, Mnong, Raglai, Sadang, Stieng, and other groups.

After 1975 a number of northern minority cadres were sent to the Central Highlands to lay the groundwork for socio-economic development. In 1977 a university was set up at Buon Me Thuot, capital of the Dac Lac Province, to train a corps of minority cadres. These tactics were designed to narrow the socioeconomic gap not only between the highlanders and the lowlanders but also among the minorities themselves.

In the mid-1980s, the party and media expressed satisfaction with the cadres' training and commended certain highland provinces for progress in agricultural cooperativization, noting that a growing number of slash-and-burn farmers had turned to sedentary farming and that further improvements in cultural and health facilities were planned. By 1986 about 43 percent of the estimated 2.2 million nomadic minority members were reported to have adopted a more sedentary life. There were also glowing claims that minorities were now full-fledged participants in national affairs, as was evidenced by their representation in the National Assembly (see Glossary) and in other government and party organizations.

A cursory examination reveals, however, that progress was spotty. The living conditions of highlanders continued to lag behind those of lowlanders. In remote areas, "backward customs and practices" remained unchanged, minority groups were insufficiently represented among cadres, and sorely needed resources for material improvements were lacking. Official claims that closer unity and greater harmony were being achieved in a multinational Vietnam were belied by the government's frequent admonishments against "narrow nationalism" (the parochialism of the minority groups) and against "big nationality prejudices" (the ingrained Vietnamese biases against minorities). To be sure, the number of minority cadres with either general or college- level education was growing, but in 1987 these cadres represented only a small portion of the functionaries serving in the highland provinces, districts, towns, and villages. In Dac Lac Province, 91 percent of the district-level cadres and 63 percent of the key village and lower level cadres had been transferred from other places, presumably from the North or the lowlands of the South.

Under the government program of population redistribution, lowlanders continued to emigrate to the Central Highlands. In 1980 about 52 percent of the Central Highlands population consisted of ethnic Vietnamese. In 1985, as pressure mounted on the Vietnamese government to produce grain and industrial crops, a greater influx of ethnic Vietnamese was anticipated. By 1987 it seemed clear that minority groups were likely to remain unequal partners in the management of their local affairs, despite official protestations to the contrary, as increasing numbers of Vietnamese settled in the Central Highlands.

The minority question remained an issue because of its implications not only for integration but also for internal security. In the mid-1980s, there were occasional official allusions to counterrevolutionary activities attributed to FULRO. Hanoi was quick to assert, however, that these rebel activities were blown out of proportion by the Western media (see Internal Security , ch. 5). Nonetheless, the authorities were concerned about the northern border areas, where renegades of such groups as the Hmong, Zao, and Giay were said to have participated in China's anti-Vietnamese activities after 1979 as "special gangs of bandits." Official literature supported the construction of "a border cultural defense line to counter the multifaceted war of sabotage waged by the Chinese expansionists."

Data as of December 1987


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 (see Foreign Relations , ch. 4).

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. This particular source further observed that the Hoa community constituted "a state within a state," inasmuch as they had built "a closed world based on blood relations, strict internal discipline, and a network of sects, each with its own chief, to avoid the indigenous administration's direct interference." It was noted by Hanoi in 1983 that as many as 60 percent of "the former bourgeoisie" of the south were of Chinese origin.

In mid-1975 the combined Hoa communities of the North and South numbered approximately 1.3 million, and all but 200,000 resided in the South, most of them in the Saigon metropolitan area. Beginning in 1975, the Hoa bore the brunt of socialist transformation in the South, especially after the communist government decided in early 1978 to abolish private trade (see Economic Roles of the Party and the Government , ch. 3). This, combined with external tensions stemming from Vietnam's dispute with Cambodia and China in 1978 and 1979 caused an exodus of about 250,000 Hoa, of whom 170,000 fled overland into China from the North and the remainder fled by boat from the South (see Foreign Relations , ch. 4; The Armed Forces , ch. 5).

Data as of December 1987


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.

Although social eminence and political power were thus concentrated in the hands of the mandarins, economic power was based on landholdings and was more widely diffused as a result of progressive dismantling of the hereditary feudal nobility after the fifteenth century. This process was accomplished by breaking up the nobility's vast holdings and redistributing smaller parcels to others, such as families of royal blood, prominent scholar-officials, and influential local notables. The wealthier of these notables formed a kind of landed gentry that wielded influence in the rural towns and villages.

The society was further transformed in the nineteenth century by the imposition of French rule, the introduction of Western education, the beginnings of industrialization and urbanization, and the growth of commercial agriculture. The establishment of a new, French-dominated governing class led to a rapid decline in the power and prestige of the emperor and the mandarins, whose functions were substantially reduced. When the triennial examinations were held in 1876 and 1879, an average of 6,000 candidates took them; in 1913, only 1,330 did.

In place of the old imperial bureaucracy, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries a new intellectual elite emerged that emphasized achievement in science, geography, and other modern subjects instead of the Confucian classics. The new Vietnamese intelligentsia was impressed by the power of the French and by the 1905 naval victory at Tsushima of a modernized Japan over tsarist Russia. Having viewed some of the achievements of Western culture in Europe during World War I, when nearly 150,000 Vietnamese were recruited for work in French factories, the new elite proclaimed their country's need for a modern, Western educational focus. By 1920, even in the conservative city of Hue, the last Confucian outpost, wealthy families refused to marry their daughters to the sons of distinguished scholarofficial families unless the young men had acquired a modern, Western-style education. The traditional civil service examinations were held for the last time in 1919.

Traditional Confucian village schools, accustomed to teaching in Chinese, introduced instruction in Vietnamese and French into the existing curriculum. Vietnamese who had successfully acquired a higher education at home or abroad entered government service as administrators or were absorbed as doctors, engineers, and teachers as the government expanded its role in the fields of health, public works, and education. Others took up professions outside government, such as law, medicine, chemistry, and journalism. The new elite was composed mainly of Vietnamese from Tonkin and Annam rather than from Cochinchina, a regional bias perhaps attributable to the location in Hanoi of the country's only institution of Western higher education (see fig. 6).

The French period also produced a new group of Vietnamese absentee landowners who possessed riches far in excess of the wealth anyone in the older society had enjoyed. This new group came into existence as a result of the French development of vast new tracts of land in Cochinchina. A few of these large holdings were retained by French companies or citizens, but most were held by enterprising, Western-oriented, urban Vietnamese from Annam and Tonkin who lived mainly in Hanoi and Hue. By investing in light industry and medium-sized trading concerns, they became Vietnam's first modern industrialists and entrepreneurs.

In urban centers the demand of both the expanding French government bureaucracy and the private sector for secretaries, clerks, cashiers, interpreters, minor officials, and labor foremen created a new Vietnamese white-collar group. The development of mining and industry between 1890 and 1919 also introduced a new class of workers. Because most of the natural resources as well as a large labor pool were located in the North, industrial development was concentrated there, and Hanoi and Haiphong became the country's leading industrial centers. At the same time, conditions of overcrowding and intensive farming in the North provided little room for agriculture on a commercial scale. In order to expand agriculture, the French turned their attention to the underdeveloped, warmer South, where French cultivation of such crops as rubber, coffee, tea, and, in Cochinchina, rice gave rise to a group of agricultural and plantation wage earners.

The colonial period also led to a substantial increase in the Hoa population. The country's limited foreign and domestic trade were already in the hands of Chinese when the French arrived. The French chose to promote the Chinese role in commerce and to import Chinese labor to develop road and railroad systems, mining, and industry. French colonial policy that lifted the traditional ban on rice exports at the end of the nineteenth century also attracted new waves of Chinese merchants and shopkeepers seeking to take advantage of the new export market. Vietnam's growing economy attracted even more Chinese thereafter, especially to the South. Already deeply involved in the rice trade, the Chinese expanded their interests to include ricemilling and established a virtual monopoly.

They also were a significant presence in sugar refining, coconut and peanut oil production, lumber, and shipbuilding. Many who began their careers as laborers on the French rubber plantations of Cochinchina eventually started their own tea, pepper, or rice plantations to supply local market needs. Chinese gardeners in the suburbs of Saigon monopolized the supply of fresh vegetables consumed in that city, and Chinese restaurants and hotels proliferated in virtually every urban center.

Data as of December 1987

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.

As a prelude to the socialist revolution, a land reform campaign and a harsh, systematic campaign to liquidate "feudal landlords" from rural society were launched concurrently in 1955. Reminiscent of the campaign undertaken by communists in China in earlier years, the liquidation of landlords cost the lives of an estimated 50,000 people and prompted the party to acknowledge and redress "a number of serious errors" committed by its zealous cadres.

In urban sectors the party's intervention was less direct, initially at least, because large numbers of the bourgeoisie had fled the North in anticipation of the communists' coming to power. Many had fled to the South before the party gained full control. Those who remained were verbally assailed as exploiters of the people, but, because the regime needed their administrative and technical skills and experience, they were otherwise treated tolerantly and allowed to retain private property.

In 1958 the regime stepped up the pace of "socialist transformation," mindful that even though the foundations of a socialist society were basically in place, the economy remained for the most part still in the hands of the private, capitalist sector. By 1960 all but a small number of peasants, artisans, handicraft workers, industrialists, traders, and merchants had been forced to join cooperatives of various kinds.

Intellectuals, many of whom had earlier been supporters of the Viet Minh (see Glossary), were first conciliated by the government, then stifled. Opposition to the government, expressed openly during and after the peasant uprisings of 1956, prompted the imposition of controls that graduated to complete suppression by 1958. Writers and artists who had established their reputations in the pre-communist era were excluded from taking any effective role in national affairs. Many were sent to the countryside to perform manual labor and to help educate a new corps of socialist intellectuals among the peasants.

The dominant group in the new social order were the highlevel party officials, who constituted a new ruling class. They owed their standing more to demonstrations of political acumen and devotion to nationalism or Marxism-Leninism than to educational or professional achievements. Years of resistance against the French in the rural areas had inured them to hardship and at the same time given them valuable experience in organization and guerrilla warfare. Resistance work had also brought them into close touch with many different segments of the population.

At the apex of the new ruling class were select members of the Political Bureau of the communist Vietnamese Workers Party (VWP, Dang Lao Dong Viet Nam), and a somewhat larger body of Central Committee members holding key posts in the party, the government, the military, and various party-supported organizations. Below the top echelon were the rank and file party members (500,000 by 1960), including a number of women and members of ethnic minorities. Party cadres who possessed special knowledge and experience in technical, financial, administrative, or managerial matters were posted in all social institutions to supervise the implementation of party decisions.

Occupying an intermediate position between the party and the citizenry were those persons who did not belong to the party but who, nevertheless, had professional skills or other talents needed by the regime. Noncommunists were found in various technical posts, in the school system, and in the mass organizations to which most citizens were required to belong. A few even occupied high, though politically marginal, posts in the government. The bulk of the population remained farmers, workers, soldiers, miners, porters, stevedores, clerks, tradespeople, teachers, and artisans.

Social reorganization did little to evoke mass enthusiasm for socialism, and socialist transformation of the private sector into cooperative- and state-run operations did not result in the kind of economic improvement the government needed to win over the peasants and merchants. The regime managed to provide better educational and health care services than had existed in the pre1954 years, but poverty was still endemic. The party attributed the "numerous difficulties" it faced to "natural calamities, enemy actions, and the utterly poor and backward state of the economy," but also acknowledged its own failings. These included cadre incompetence in ideological and organizational matters as well as in financial, technical, and managerial affairs.

Data as of December 1987

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; and land reform, initiated unenthusiastically in 1956, had little socioeconomic impact in the face of obstruction by the landowning class. 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. The regime of Ngo Dinh Diem was more concerned with its own immediate survival than with revolutionary social change, and if it had a vision of sociopolitical reform at all, that vision was diffusive. Furthermore, it lacked a political organization comparable in zeal to the party apparatus of Hanoi in order to achieve its goals.

In the 1960s, prolonged political instability placed social structures in the South under increasing stress. The communist insurgency, which prevented the government from extending its authority to some areas of the countryside, was partially responsible, but even more disruptive were the policies of the government itself. Isolated in Saigon, the Diem regime alienated large parts of the population by acting to suppress Buddhists and other minorities, by forcing the relocation of peasants to areas nominally controlled by the government, and by systematically crushing political opposition. Such policies fueled a growing dissatisfaction with the regime that led to Diem's assassination in November 1963 and his replacement by a series of military strongmen.

As the war in the South intensified, it created unprecedented social disruption in both urban and rural life. Countless civilians were forced to abandon their ancestral lands and sever their network of family and communal ties to flee areas controlled by the Viet Cong or exposed to government operations against the communists. By the early 1970s, as many as 12 million persons, or 63 percent of the entire southern population, were estimated to have been displaced; some were relocated to government-protected rural hamlets while others crowded into already congested urban centers. Few villages, however remote, were left untouched by the war. The urban-rural boundary, once sharply defined, seemed to disappear as throngs of uprooted refugees moved to the cities. Traditional social structures broke down, leaving the society listless and bereft of a cohesive force other than the common instinct for survival.

The disruption imposed by the war, however, did not alter conventional socioeconomic class identifiers. In the urban areas, the small upper class elite continued to be limited to highranking military officers, government officials, people in the professions, absentee landlords, intellectuals, and Catholic and Buddhist religious leaders. The elite retained a strong personal interest in France and French culture; many had been educated in France and many had sons or daughters residing there. In addition to wealth, Western education--particularly French education--was valued highly, and French and English were widely spoken.

The urban middle class included civil servants, lower and middle-ranking officers in the armed forces, commercial employees, school teachers, shop owners and managers, small merchants, and farm and factory managers. A few were college graduates, although the majority had only a secondary-school education. Very few had been able to study abroad.

At the bottom of the urban society were unskilled, largely uneducated wageworkers and petty tradespeople. While semiliterate themselves, they nevertheless were able to send their children to primary school. Secondary education was less common, however, particularly for girls. These children tended not to proceed far enough in school to acquire an elementary knowledge of French or English, and most adults of the lower class knew only Vietnamese unless they had worked as domestics for foreigners.

Village society, which embraced 80 percent of the population, was composed mostly of farmers, who were ranked in three socioeconomic groups. The elite were the wealthiest landowners. If they farmed, the work was done by hired laborers who planted, irrigated, and harvested under the owner's supervision. In the off-season, landowners engaged in moneylending, rice trading, or rice milling. Usually the well-to-do owners were active in village affairs as members of the village councils. After the mid-1960s, however, interest in seeking such positions waned as village leaders increasingly were targeted by Viet Cong insurgents.

The less prosperous, middle-level villagers owned or rented enough land to live at a level well above subsistence, but they tended not to acquire a surplus large enough to invest in other ventures. They worked their own fields and hired farm hands only when needed during planting or harvesting. A few supplemented their income as artisans, but never as laborers. Because of their more modest economic circumstances, members of this group tended not to assume as many communal responsibilities as did the wealthier villagers.

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.

Data as of December 1987

Vietnam after 1975

The sudden collapse of Saigon in April 1975 set the stage for a new and uncertain chapter in the evolution of Vietnamese society. The Hanoi government had to confront directly what communists have long called the struggle between the two paths of socialism and capitalism. At issue was Hanoi's ability to translate its wartime success and socialist revolutionary experience into postwar rehabilitation and reconstruction, now that it controlled the South territorially.

Foremost among the regime's imperatives was that of restoring order and stability to the war-torn South. The critical question, however, was whether or not the northern conquerors could inspire the southern population to embrace communism. Initially, Hanoi appeared sanguine; the two zones had more similarities than dissimilarities, and the dissimilarities were expected to be eliminated as the South caught up with the North in socialist organization.

The December 1975 Vietnam Courier, an official government publication, portrayed Vietnam as two distinct, incongruent societies. The South was reported to continue to suffer from what communists consider the neo-colonialist influences and feudal ideology of the United States, while the North was considered to serve as a progressive environment for growing numbers of a new kind of socialist human being, imbued with patriotism, proletarian internationalism, and socialist virtues. The class of social exploiter had been eliminated in the North, leaving the classes of workers collectivized peasant, and socialist intellectual, the last consisting of various groups. In contrast, the South was divided into a working class, peasantry, petit bourgeois, capitalist--or comprador (see Glossary)--class, and the remnant of a feudal landlord class.

In September 1976, Premier Pham Van Dong declared that his compatriots, North and South, were "translating the revolutionary heroism they [had] displayed in fighting into creative labor in the acquisition of wealth and strength." In the South particularly, the old society was undergoing active changes as the result of "stirring revolutionary movements" by the workers, peasants, youth, women, intellectuals, and other groups. In agriculture alone, "millions of people" participated in bringing hundreds of thousands more hectares under cultivation and in building or dredging thousands of kilometers of canals and ditches.

From all indications, however, these changes occurred more through coercion than volition. In Dong's own words, the party had initiated "various policies aimed at eliminating the comprador capitalists as a class and doing away with all vestiges of feudal exploitation." These policies radically realigned the power elite so that the ruling machine was controlled collectively by the putative vanguard of the working class--the party--and by the senior cadres of the party who were mostly from the North.

In its quest for a new socialist order in the South, Hanoi relied on other techniques apart from socialist economic transformation and socialist education. These included thought reform, population resettlement, and internal exile, as well as surveillance and mass mobilization. Party-sponsored "study sessions" were obligatory for all adults. For the former elite of the Saigon regime, a more rigorous form of indoctrination was used; hundreds of thousands of former military officers, bureaucrats, politicians, religious and labor leaders, scholars, intellectuals, and lawyers, as well as critics of the new regime were ordered to "reeducation camps" for varying periods. In mid1985 , the Hanoi government conceded that it still held about 10,000 inmates in the reeducation camps, but the actual number was believed to be at least 40,000. In 1982 there were about 120,000 Vietnamese in these camps. According to a knowledgeable American observer, the inmates faced hard labor, but only rarely torture or execution.

Population resettlement or redistribution, although heralded on economic grounds, turned out to be another instrument of social control in disguise. It was a means of defusing tensions in congested cities, which were burdened with unemployed and socially dislocated people even after most of the rural refugees had been repatriated to their native villages. These refugees had swelled the urban population to 45 percent of the southern total in 1975 (up from 33 percent in 1970). The authorities sought to address the problem of urban congestion by relocating many of the metropolitan jobless in the new economic zones hastily set up in virgin lands, often malaria-infested jungles, as part of a broader effort to boost agricultural output. In 1975 and 1976 alone, more than 600,000 people were moved from Ho Chi Minh City to these zones, in most instances, reportedly, against their will. Because of the barely tolerable living conditions in the new settlements, a considerable number of people escaped or bribed their way back to the city. The new economic zones came to be widely perceived as places of internal exile. In fact, the authorities were said to have used the threat of exile to such places against those who refused to obey party instructions or to participate in the activities of the mass organizations.

Surveillance was a familiar tool of the regime, which was bent on purging all class enemies. Counterrevolutionaries, real and suspected, were summarily interned in reform camps or forced labor camps that were set up separately from the new economic zones in several border areas and other undeveloped regions.

The Hanoi government has claimed that not a single political execution took place in the South after 1975, even in cases of grave war crimes. Generally, the foreign press corroborated this claim by reporting in 1975 that there seemed to be no overt indication of the blood bath that many Western observers had predicted would occur in the wake of the communist takeover. Some Western observers, however, have estimated that as many as 65,000 South Vietnamese may have been executed.

In March 1982, the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) convened its Fifth National Party Congress to assess its achievements since 1976 and to outline its major tasks for the 1980s. The congress was revealing if only because of its somber admission that revolutionary optimism was no substitute for common sense. Despite rigid social controls and mass mobilization, the party fell far short of its original expectations for socialist transition. According to the party's assessment, from 1976 through 1980 shortcomings and errors occurred in establishing transition goals and in implementing the party line.

The congress, however, reaffirmed the correctness of the party line concerning socialist transition, and directed that it be implemented with due allowances for different regional circumstances. The task was admittedly formidable. In a realistic appraisal of the regime's difficulties, Nhan Dan, the party's daily organ, warned in June 1982 that the crux of the problem lay in the regime itself, the shortcomings of which included lack of party discipline and corruption of party and state functionaries.

In 1987 the goal of establishing a new society remained elusive, and Vietnam languished in the first stage of the party's planned period of transition to socialism. Mai Chi Tho, mayor of Ho Chi Minh City and deputy head of its party branch, had told visiting Western reporters as early as April 1985 that socialist transition, as officially envisioned, would probably continue until the year 2000.

In the estimation of the party, Vietnamese society had succumbed to a new form of sociopolitical elitism that was just as undesirable as the much-condemned elitism of the old society. Landlords and comprador capitalists may have disappeared but in their places were party cadres and state functionaries who were no less status-conscious and self-seeking. The Sixth National Party Congress in December 1986 found it necessary to issue a stern warning against opportunism, individualism, personal gain, corruption, and a desire for special prerogatives and privileges. A report to the congress urged the party to intensify class struggle in order to combat the corrupt practices engaged in by those who had "lost their class consciousness." Official efforts to purify the ranks of the working class, peasantry, and socialist intellectuals, however, failed to strike a responsive chord. In fact, the proceedings of the Sixth Congress left the inescapable impression that the regime was barely surviving the struggle between socialism and capitalism and that an early emergence of a communist class structure was unlikely.

As ideally envisioned, the socialist sector was expected to provide 70 percent of household income and the "household economy," or the privately controlled resources of the home, was to make up the balance. In September 1986 cadres and workers were earning their living mainly through moonlighting and, according to a Vietnamese source, remained on "the state rolls only to preserve their political prestige and to receive some ration stamps and coupons." The source further disclosed that the society's lack of class consciousness was reflected in the party's membership, among whom only about 10 percent were identified as from the working class.

Data as of December 1987

The family background

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.

The cult required an ancestral home or patrimony, a piece of land legally designated as a place devoted to the support of venerated ancestors. Ownership of land that could be dedicated to the support of the cult was, however, only a dream for most landless farmers. The cult also required a senior male of direct descent to oversee preparations for obligatory celebrations and offerings.

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.

In the traditional kinship system, the paternal line of descent was emphasized. Individuals were identified primarily by their connections through the father's male bloodline, and kin groups larger than the family--clans and lineages--were formed by kinspeople who traced their relationship to each other in this manner. It was through these patrilineal descent groups that both men and women inherited property and that men assumed their primary obligation for maintaining the ancestor observances.

The patrilineal group maintained an extremely strong kin relationship. Members' ties to one another were reinforced by their shared heritage, derived from residence in the same village over many generations. Family land and tombs, located in or near the village, acted as a focus for feelings of kin loyalty, solidarity, and continuity.

The extended family rather than the nuclear one was the dominant family structure, often including three or even four generations, and typically consisting of grandparents, father and mother, children, and grandchildren, all living under the same roof. Sometimes parents had more than one married son living with them, but this often led to such tension that it was generally held preferable for a second son to live separately. All members of the household lived under the authority of the oldest male, and all contributed to the income of the family.

Despite the cultural emphasis on obedience in women, women were not regarded as the weaker sex but as resilient and strongwilled . In the village, women assumed a great deal of responsibility for cultivation of paddy fields, often working harder than men, and sometimes engaged in retail trade of all kinds. A few women owned agricultural estates, factories, and other businesses, and both urban and rural women typically managed the family income. A woman's influence in family affairs could be increased by giving birth to a first male child. In general, though, a woman was expected to be dutiful and respectful toward her husband and his parents, to care for him and his children, and to perform household duties. There were no women in public life.

Besides the so-called wife of the first rank, a household sometimes included a second and third wife and their children. The consent of the first wife was required before this arrangement could be made, but, more often than not, additional wives either were established by the husband in separate households or were permitted to continue living as they had before marriage, in their own homes or with parents. Polygyny was widespread in both northern and central Vietnam, as was the taking of concubines.

Marriage was regarded primarily as a social contract and was arranged by the parents through intermediaries. The parents' choice was influenced more by considerations affecting the welfare of the lineage than by the preferences of the participants.

Interest in having children was strongly reinforced by Confucian culture, which made it imperative to produce a male heir to continue the family line. A couple with numerous offspring was envied. If there were sons, it was assured that the lineage would be perpetuated and the cult of the ancestors maintained; if there was no male heir, a couple was regarded as unfortunate, and a barren wife could be divorced or supplanted by another wife.

Fostering filial piety was of overriding importance in childrearing . Children were expected to be polite to their parents and older persons, to be solicitous of their welfare, to show them respect through proper manner and forms of address, and to carry out prescribed tradition with respect to funeral practices and the observance of mourning. After the deaths of their parents, it was incumbent upon surviving children (and their children in turn), to honor their parents' memory through maintenance of the ancestors' cult.

All important family occasions such as births, betrothals, marriages, funerals, and anniversaries of the deaths of ancestors were observed by appropriate ceremonies in which members of the kin group participated. The ceremonies had both religious and social meaning, and many were very elaborate, in keeping with the wealth and social status of the family. Whenever such a celebration took place, the family was always careful to make an offering to the god of the hearth. Prayers and sacrifices were also made when misfortune fell upon the household.

Data as of December 1987

The Family since 1954

In the first decade after World War II, the vast majority of North and South Vietnamese clung tenaciously to traditional customs and practices. After the 1950s, however, some traditions were questioned, especially in the North. The timeless notion that the family was the primary focus of individual loyalty was disparaged as feudal by the communists, who also criticized the traditional concept of the family as a self-contained socioeconomic unit. Major family reform was initiated under a new law enacted in 1959 and put into effect in 1960. The law's intent was to protect the rights of women and children by prohibiting polygyny forced marriage, concubinage, and abuse. It was designed to equalize the rights and obligations of women and men within the family and to enable women to enjoy equal status with men in social and work-related activities. Young women were encouraged to join the party as well as the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth League and the Vietnam Women's Union, and they were trained as cadres and assigned as leaders to production teams.

In conjunction with the law, a mass campaign was launched to discourage, as wasteful, the dowries and lavish wedding feasts of an earlier era. Large families were also discouraged. Parents who felt themselves blessed by heaven and secure in their old age because they had many children were labeled bourgeois and reactionary. Young people were advised not to marry before the age of twenty for males and eighteen for females and to have no more than two children per household. Lectures on birth control were commonplace in the public meeting rooms of cooperatives and factories.

According to Ha Thi Que, president of the Vietnam Women's Union in the early 1980s, popularizing family reform was extremely difficult, even in 1980, because women lacked a feminist consciousness and men resisted passively. To promote equality of the sexes, members of the women's union took an active part in a consciousness-raising campaign under the slogan, "As good in running society as running the home, women must be the equals of men." Such campaigns resulted in a fairer division of labor between husbands and wives and in the decline of customs and practices based on belief in women's inferiority.

In 1980 some old habits remained. Change reportedly was slower in the mountain areas and in the countryside than in the towns. According to Ha Thi Que, in areas where state control and supervision were lax, old-fashioned habits reemerged not only among the working people but also among state employees. She also pointed out that many young people misinterpreted the notion of free marriage, or the right of individuals to select their own marriage partners, and were engaging in love affairs without seriously intending to marry. Marriages were also being concluded for money or for status, and in the cities the divorce rate was rising.

In the North, family life was affected by the demands of the war for the liberation of the South, or the Second Indochina War (see Glossary), on the society and by the policies of a regime doctrinally committed to a major overhaul of its socioeconomic organization. Sources of stress on the family in the North in the 1960s and the 1970s included the trend toward nuclear families, rural collectivization, population redistribution from the Red River Delta region to the highlands, prolonged mobilization of a large part of the male work force for the war effort, and the consequent movement of women into the economic sector. By 1975 women accounted for more than 60 percent of the total labor force.

In the South, despite the hardships brought on by the First Indochina War (see Glossary) and Second Indochina War, the traditional family system endured. Family lineage remained the source of an individual's identity, and nearly all southerners believed that the family had first claim on their loyalties, before that of extrafamilial individuals or institutions, including the state.

The first attempt to reform the family system in the South occurred in 1959, when the Catholic Diem regime passed a family code to outlaw polygyny and concubinage. The code also made legal separation extremely difficult and divorce almost impossible. Under provisions equalizing the rights and obligations of spouses, a system of community property was established so that all property and incomes of husband and wife would be jointly owned and administered. The code reinforced the role of parents, grandparents, and the head of the lineage as the formal validators of marriage, divorce, or adoption, and supported the tradition of ancestor cults. The consent of parents or grandparents was required in the marriage or the adoption of a minor, and they or the head of the lineage had the right to oppose the marriage of a descendant.

In 1964 after the Diem regime had been toppled in a coup, a revised family law was promulgated. It was similar to the previous one except that separation and divorce were permitted after two years of marriage on grounds of adultery, cruelty, abandonment, or a criminal act on the part of a spouse. Concubinage, which had been expressly forbidden previously, was not mentioned, and adultery was no longer punishable by fines or imprisonment.

During the war years, family life was seriously disrupted as family members were separated and often resettled in different areas. If the distance from one another was too great, they could not assemble for the rites and celebrations that traditionally reinforced kinship solidarity. Family ties were further torn by deaths and separations caused by the war and by political loyalties, which in some instances set one kinsperson against another.

In those areas where hostilities occurred, the war was a family affair, extending to the children. Few Vietnamese children had the opportunity simply to be children. From birth they were participants in the war as well as its victims. They matured in an environment where death and suffering inflicted by war were commomplace and seemingly unavoidable.

The years of military conflicts and refugee movements tended in many parts of the South to break up the extended family units and to reinforce the bonds uniting the nuclear family. The major preoccupation of the ordinary villager and urbanite alike was to earn a livelihood and to protect his immediate family, holding his household together at any cost.

After the mid-1970s, the North and South faced the task of social reconstruction. For the South, the communist conquest and ensuing relocation and collectivization policies created an uncertain social milieu. While the return of peace reunited families, communist policies forced fathers or sons into reeducation camps or entire families into new economic zones for resettlement. For those who saw no future in a socialist Vietnam, the only alternatives were to escape by boat or escape by land.

As the pace of rural collectivization accelerated in 1987, and as the people became more receptive to family planning, it seemed likely that families in the South would gradually take on the characteristics of those in the North. This conjecture was reinforced by Hanoi's decision in 1977 to apply its own 1959 family law to the South.

According to an official 1979 survey of rural families in the Red River Delta commune of An Binh near Hanoi, a typical family was nuclear, averaging four persons (parents and two children). The An Binh study, confirmed by other studies, also showed the family to be heavily dependent on outsiders for the satisfaction of its essential needs and confirmed that the family planning drive had had some success in changing traditional desires for a large family. Seventy-five percent of those interviewed nonetheless continued to believe three or four children per family to be the most desirable number and to prefer a son to a daughter.

The An Binh study revealed in addition that almost all the parents interviewed preferred their children not to be farmers, a preference that reflected the popular conviction that farming was not the promising route to high-status occupations. Such thinking, however, was alarming to officials who nevertheless considered the promotion of agriculture as essential to the regime's scheme for successful transition to a socialist economy (see Agriculture , ch. 3).

In December 1986, the government enacted a new family law that incorporated the 1959 law and added some new provisions. The goal of the new legislation was "to develop and consolidate the socialist marriage and family system, shape a new type of man, and promote a new socialist way of life eliminating the vestiges of feudalism, backward customs, and bad or bourgeois thoughts about marriage and family." The law explicitly defined the "socialist family" as one in which "the wife and husband are equals who love each other, who help each other to make progress, who actively participate in building socialism and defending the fatherland and work together to raise their children to be productive citizens for society."

Reflecting the government's sense of urgency about population control, the 1986 law stipulated a new parental "obligation" to practice family planning, a provision that was absent from the 1959 text. The new law was notable also for its stronger wording regarding the recommended marriage age: it specified that "only males twenty years of age or older and females eighteen years of age or older may marry." The 1959 text had stated only that such persons were "eligible for marriage."

Other noteworthy provisions concerned adoption, guardianship, and marriage between Vietnamese and foreigners. Foreigners married to Vietnamese were to comply with the provisions of the 1986 law except in matters relating to separation, divorce, adoption, and guardianship, which were to be regulated separately. The new code also called on various mass organizations to play an active role in "teaching and campaigning among the people for the strict implementation" of the law.

Data as of December 1987


Historically, most Vietnamese have identified themselves with Buddhism, which originated in what is now southern Nepal around 530 B.C. as an offshoot of Hinduism. Its founder was Gautama, a prince who bridled at the formalism of Hinduism as it was being interpreted by the priestly caste of Brahmans. Gautama spent years meditating and wandering as an ascetic until he discovered the path of enlightenment to nirvana, the world of endless serenity in which one is freed from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. According to Buddhist thought, human salvation lies in discovering the "four noble truths"--that man is born to suffer in successive lives, that the cause of this suffering is man's craving for earthly pleasures and possessions, that the suffering ceases upon his deliverance from this craving, and that he achieves this deliverance by following "the noble eightfold path." The foundation of the Buddhist concept of morality and right behavior, the eightfold path, consists of right views, or sincerity in leading a religious life; right intention, or honesty in judgment; right speech, or sincerity in speech; right conduct, or sincerity in work; right livelihood, or sincerity in making a living; right effort, or sincerity in aspiration; right mindfulness, or sincerity in memory; and right concentration, or sincerity in meditation.

Buddhism spread first from China to Vietnam's Red River Delta region in approximately the second century A.D., and then from India to the southern Mekong Delta area at some time between the third and the sixth centuries. The Chinese version, Mahayana Buddhism, became the faith of most Vietnamese, whereas the Indian version, Theravada (or Hinayana) Buddhism, was confined mostly to the southern delta region. The doctrinal distinction between the two consists of their differing views of Gautama Buddha: the Mahayana school teaches that Gautama was only one of many "enlightened ones" manifesting the fundamental divine power of the universe; the Theravada school teaches that Gautama was the one-and-only enlightened one and the great teacher, but that he was not divine. The Mahayana sect holds further that laypersons can attain nirvana, whereas the Theravada school believes that only ordained monks and nuns can do so.

Few Vietnamese outside the clergy, however, are acquainted with Buddhism's elaborate cosmology. What appealed to them at the time it was introduced was Mahayana ritual and imagery. Mahayana ceremony easily conformed to indigenous Vietnamese beliefs, which combined folklore with Confucian and Taoist teachings, and Mahayana's "enlightened ones" were often venerated alongside various animist spirits.

Before the country was unified under communism, Buddhism enjoyed an autonomy from the state that was increasingly threatened once the communists gained power. For pragmatic reasons, however, the regime initially avoided overt hostility toward Buddhism or any other organized religion. Instead, it sought to separate real and potential collaborators from opponents by co-optation and control. For example, within months after winning the South, the communist regime set up a front called the Patriotic Buddhist Liaison Committee. The committee's purpose was to promote the idea that all patriotic Buddhists had a duty to participate in building a new society liberated for the first time from the shackles of feudal and neo-colonialist influences. The committee also tried to show that most Buddhists, leaders and followers alike, were indeed rallying behind the new regime and the liaison committee. This strategy attempted to thwart the power of the influential, independent groups of Buddhist clergy, particularly the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, which had been a major pre-1975 critic of the Saigon government and of the roughly twenty Buddhist sects in Vietnam the most vocal in opposing the war.

Communists also pressured monks and nuns to lead a secular life, encouraging them to take part in productive agricultural labor or to become actively involved in the work of the Patriotic Buddhist Liaison Committee. For their refusal to collaborate, some prominent clerical leaders in the South were placed under house arrest or imprisoned, their pagodas were converted to public use, and their holdings were confiscated. Such activity closely paralleled communist actions against Buddhists in the North in the 1950s. In addition, the party prevented Buddhist organizations from training monks and nuns in schools that previously had been autonomous. In April 1980, a national committee of Buddhist groups throughout the country was formed by the government. The government-controlled Vietnam Buddhist Church was established in November 1981, and it emerged as the only officially sanctioned organization authorized to represent all Buddhist groups both at home and abroad.

As a result of communist policy, the observance of Buddhist ritual and practice was drastically reduced. A 1979 study of a Red River Delta commune, reported to be "overwhelmingly Catholic," disclosed that the commune's two pagodas were "maintained and frequented regularly by the faithful (the majority of whom were old women), especially on the Buddhist feast days." No monks or nuns had been observed, however, and the study went on to note that pagodas had been eliminated entirely in nearby Hanoi. In 1987 occasional reports suggested that the observance of Buddhist ritual continued in some remote areas.

The communist government's attitude toward Buddhism and other faiths being practiced remained one of tolerance as long as the clergy and faithful adhered strictly to official guidelines. These guidelines inhibited the growth of religious institutions, however, by restricting the number of institutions approved to train clergy and by preempting the time of potential candidates among the youth whose daily routine might require study, work, and participation in the activities of communist youth organizations. In an apparent effort to train a new generation of monks and nuns, the Vietnam Buddhist Church reportedly set up one Buddhist academy in Hanoi in November 1981 and another in Ho Chi Minh City in December 1984 . These academies, however, served as an arm of the state.

Data as of December 1987


Despite the Roman Catholic Church's rejection of ancestor worship, a cornerstone of the Confucian cultural tradition, Roman Catholicism established a solid position in Vietnamese society under French rule. The French encouraged its propagation to balance Buddhism and to serve as a vehicle for the further dissemination of Western culture. After the mid-1950s, Catholicism declined in the North, where the communists regarded it as a reactionary force opposed to national liberation and social progress. In the South, by contrast, Catholicism expanded under the presidency of Ngo Dinh Diem, who promoted it as an important bulwark against North Vietnam. Under Diem, himself a devout Catholic, Roman Catholics enjoyed an advantage over nonCatholics in commerce, the professions, education, and the government. This caused growing Buddhist discontent that contributed to the eventual collapse of the Diem regime and the ultimate rise to power of the military. Roman Catholics in reunified Vietnam numbered about 3.0 million in 1984, of whom nearly 1 million resided in the North and the remainder in the South.

In 1955 approximately 600,000 Catholics remained in the North after an estimated 650,000 had fled to the South. That year the Liaison Committee of Patriotic and Peace-Loving Catholics was set up in the North by the communist regime in an attempt to win over those Catholics who had chosen to remain (but were slower than non-Catholics to embrace the regime) and to "reintegrate" them into northern society. The church was allowed to retain its link with the Vatican, although all foreign priests had either fled south or been expelled, and normal church activities were permitted to continue, albeit in the shadow of a campaign of harassment. The appearance of normalcy was misleading, however. The church was stripped of its traditional autonomy in running schools, hospitals, and orphanages. Its traditional right to own property was abolished, and priests and nuns were required to devote part of their time to productive labor in agriculture. Nevertheless, officials claimed that Catholics had complete freedom of worship as long as they did not question the principle of collective socialism, spurn manual labor, or jeopardize the internal and external security of the state.

In November 1977, the Vietnam Courier reported that the church in the North had changed from "opposition to acceptance and participation," but that the transformation had been difficult for Catholics. In the same month, the government unveiled a decree on religion that reaffirmed the constitution's position on religious freedom, but made it unequivocally clear that such freedom was conditional and depended on the compatibility of church activities with such higher imperatives as patriotism and socialism. The new decree not only prescribed the duties and obligations required of the clergy by the state but also imposed state control over the conduct of religious services, education, training, investitures, appointments, travels, and transfers.

Applicable to all religious communities in the North and South, the new law clearly introduced a period of more active state intervention in church affairs. The regime apparently acted out of concern that the church in the North, despite having coexisted with socialism for twenty-three years, was not progressive enough to lead in the socialist transformation of the Catholic community in the South. The Vietnam Courier suggested this link between the northern and southern situations in November 1977, after noting that the northern Catholic church would have to shoulder the additional task of helping to reintegrate Vietnam's entire Catholic population into the national community.

Catholics in the South in 1975 officially numbered about 1.9 million, including 15 bishops, 3,000 regular and diocesan priests, 1,200 brothers, and 6,000 nuns. Four-hundred priests and lay brothers and 56,000 lay Catholics were estimated already to have fled the country in anticipation of the communist victory. At the time of the imposition of communist rule, the South had 870 parishes in 15 dioceses; Ho Chi Minh City alone had a half million Catholics, who were served by 600 priests and 4,000 lay brothers and nuns. The North's less than 1 million Catholics were served by about 3,500 churches attended by nearly 400 priests, 10 bishops, and 2 archbishops.

The government claimed that after April 1975 the religious activities of Roman Catholics were quickly stabilized, major services were held, and many cathedrals and churches that had been damaged or destroyed in the war were rebuilt. The regime claimed further that there was no religious persecution, or if there was persecution, that it was directed at the activities of "reactionary forces" bent on taking advantage of "the backwardness of a number of the faithful . . . ." Nevertheless, the authorities acted to isolate and to neutralize hard-core opposition to party policy and to persuade less strongly opposed factions to join a party-controlled "renovation and reconciliation" movement. A considerable number of Northern and Southern Roman Catholics, however, remained opposed to communist authority.

In 1980 the Unified Bishops' Council of Vietnam was established to enlist the aid of "patriotic" bishops in persuading recalcitrant elements of the Catholic community to cooperate with the regime. Three years later, in November 1983, a Committee for Solidarity of Patriotic Catholics was created to unite all Catholics and channel their energy into the building of socialism. This committee, which replaced the Liaison Committee of Patriotic and Peace-Loving Catholics, was formed at a time when the regime's surveillance of the Catholic community had been stepped up, reportedly due to the suspicion that some Catholics were involved in antistate activities. The regime's growing concern was further reflected in the establishment in March 1985 of a Religious Affairs Committee to coordinate and supervise religious organizations more effectively. Hanoi's increasing involvement in church affairs reportedly produced new strains in its relations with the Vatican. In 1987 it nevertheless appeared critical to Vietnam's leaders to convey to the public the impression that the Roman Catholic Church was active in the affairs of the nation and that church members were significant contributors to the socialist cause.

Data as of December 1987

Other Faiths

Religions with less of a following than Buddhism or Catholicism were treated similarly by the regime, with the exception of those the regime considered merely superstitious, which incurred its outright hostility. Two religious movements that enjoyed considerable followings before 1975 were the Cao Dai (see Glossary) and the Hoa Hao (see Glossary). Both were founded in this century in the Mekong River Delta. The Cao Dai, the older of the two and a self-styled reformed Buddhist sect, flourished in the rural areas of the southern delta region. An amalgam of different beliefs derived from Confucianism, Taoism, and Christianity, among other sources, it claimed 1 million to 2 million adherents. The Hoa Hao, with more than 1 million followers, identified itself as a reformed Theravada Buddhist sect, but, unlike the Cao Dai, it preserved a distinctive Buddhist coloration. Based mostly in the southernmost areas of the delta, it stressed individual prayer, simplicity, and social justice over icon veneration or elaborate ceremonies. Before 1975 both faiths sought, with some success, to remain neutral in the war between Hanoi and Saigon. After 1975, however, like Buddhists and Roman Catholics, they were under heavy pressure from the communist regime to join its ranks.

Protestants, numbered between 100,000 and 200,000 in the early 1980s, and were found mostly among the Montagnard communities inhabiting the South's central highlands. Because of their alleged close association with American missionaries of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Protestants were reported to have suffered more than Catholics after 1975.

In addition to organized religions, there existed a melange of beliefs without institutional structure that nevertheless had an enduring impact on Vietnamese life well into the 1980s. These, beliefs derived partly from Confucianism, stressed the virtues of filial piety, loyalty, family solidarity, and ancestor veneration--all central to the family system of the old society. Taoism, another important system of belief introduced from China, emphasized the importance of an individual's relationship to nature and to the universe. Beliefs rooted in Taoism were condemned by the regime as superstitious.

Despite official disapproval of superstitious practices, most Vietnamese, regardless of their professed religion, level of education, or ideology, were influenced at one time or another by such practices as astrology, geomancy and sorcery. Diviners and other specialists in the occult remained in popular demand because they were believed to be able to diagnose supernatural causes of illness, establish lucky dates for personal undertakings, or predict the future. Moreover, many Vietnamese believed that individual destiny was guided by astrological phenomena. By consulting one's horoscope, one could make the most of auspicious times and avoid disaster. It was not unusual, for example, for a couple to consult an astrologer before marrying. He would determine if the betrothed were suitably matched and even fix the date of the ceremony.

The belief in good and evil spirits, or animism, antedated all organized faiths in Vietnam and permeated the society, especially in the rural areas and in the highlands. These beliefs held that all phenomena and forces in the universe were controlled by spirits and that the souls of the dead were instrumental in determining an individual's fate. If propitiated, they provided the living with protection; if ignored, they induced misfortune. Although officially condemned as "superstitious practices," these beliefs continued to proliferate in the rural and in the highland areas as well as in the cities in the 1980s.



Village medical clinic
Courtesy United Nations


Agronomy students in a college near Can Tho
Courtesy United Nations

The Vietnamese inherited a high respect for learning. Under Confucianism, education was essential for admission to the ruling class of scholar-officials, the mandarinate. Under French rule, even though Vietnamese were excluded from the colonial power elite, education was a requisite for employment in the colonial civil service and for other white-collar, high-status jobs. In divided Vietnam, education continued to be a channel for social mobility in both the North and the South.

Before the 1950s, poverty was a major impediment to learning, and secondary and higher education were beyond the reach of all but a small number of upper class people. Subsequently, however, rival regimes in Hanoi and Saigon broadened educational opportunities. Both governments accomplished this despite the shortage of teachers, textbooks, equipment, and classrooms and despite the disruptions of war in the 1960s and early 1970s. The school system was originally patterned after the French model, but the curriculum was revised to give more emphasis to Vietnamese history, language, and literature and, in Hanoi, to the teaching of revolutionary ethics and Marxism-Leninism.

In the years after 1975, all public and private schools in the South were taken over by the state as a first step toward integration into a unified socialist school system. Thousands of teachers were sent from the North to direct and supervise the process of transition, and former teachers under the Saigon regime were allowed to continue their work only after they had completed "special courses" designed to expose "the ideological and cultural poisoning of which they had been victims for twenty years."

The educational system in 1987 was based on reforms announced in January 1979 that were designed to make education more relevant to the nation's economic and social needs. These reforms combined theory with practical application and emphasized the training of skilled workers, technicians, and managers. The reforms also stressed the need to develop the country's scientific and technological levels of achievement until they were comparable to international levels in order to assist Vietnam in expanding its technical cooperation with foreign countries in general and socialist countries in particular.

The 1979 reforms were implemented in stages beginning in the 1981-82 school year (September to August). By 1985 the northern and southern schools had been integrated into one system, new textbooks had been distributed throughout the country, and the curriculum had been made uniform for the first time. The government also tried to make the first nine years of general education compulsory, despite the continuing shortage of teachers, school buildings, and equipment, particularly modern equipment for teaching applied sciences. The low morale of underpaid teachers with low job status complicated these attempts.

The perennial shortage of money presented another stumbling block in education. In order to address the problem, the 1979 reforms called on agricultural cooperatives and even "private citizens" to make contributions to local schools and to participate in "a movement for self-supply of teaching aids." In an apparent effort to utilize local resources for educational development, the government assigned "people's educational councils," set up at the grass-roots level, to undertake the task. Composed of representatives of the school, parents, local administration, and various mass organizations, these councils were designed to promote more productive relations between the school and the local community.

Education continued to be structured in a traditional manner, including preschool, vocational and professional schools, supplementary courses, and higher education. "General" education, however, was extended from ten to twelve years. The first nine years of general education formed the compulsory level, corresponding to primary and junior high schools; the last three years constituted the secondary level. Graduates of secondary schools were considered to have completed training in "general culture" and to be ready for employment requiring skilled labor. They were also eligible to apply to colleges or advanced vocational and professional schools. The general education category also covered the schooling of gifted and handicapped children. As part of the effort to foster "love and respect" for manual labor, students spent 15 percent of school time at the primary level and 17 percent at the secondary level in manual work.

Vocational schools at the secondary and college levels served to train technicians and skilled workers. Graduates of professional specialized schools at the college level primarily filled mid-level cadre positions in the technical, economic, educational, cultural, and medical fields. Senior cadres in these fields as well as members of the upper bureaucracy usually had graduated from regular universities. The 1979 educational reforms gave high priority to vocational and professional training in order to absorb a large number of general education students who were unable to proceed to colleges and secondary-level vocational schools. In 1980, for example, 70 percent of primary school students and 85 percent of secondary school students failed to matriculate either because of bleak prospects for employment after graduation or because the country's ninety-three institutions of higher learning could admit only 10 percent of all applicants.

Vocational schools continued to struggle to attract students. In a study of mass education in Vietnam, a Western scholar observed that "Vietnamese students aggressively avoided vocational schools and the specialized middle schools favored by the government." He also noted: The reason for the imbalance between the technical schools and the general middle schools was only too clear. The former were thought to foreclose entry to high-status occupations. The latter were thought to be an indispensable part of the ideal educational odyssey through university and into the upper bureaucracy--the modern equivalent of the old Vietnamese Confucian quest to become a metropolitan examination graduate...or imperial tribute student . . . as Vo Nguyen Giap bitterly acknowledged in January 1982.

Supplementary, or complementary, education served adults who had not completed a basic and secondary general education and who needed additional training in their specialties. Open to those under forty-five, supplementary courses were offered through correspondence, at worksites, or at special schools. Officials expected that participants in these courses could raise their "cultural level" to the equivalent of students who had completed ninth or twelfth grade.

The number of students in institutions of higher learning increased rapidly from about 50,000 (29,000 in the North and 20,834 in the South) in 1964 to 150,000 in 1980. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City served as the two major centers for universities and colleges; major provincial capitals were the sites of regional colleges; and the Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of Interior sponsored an unspecified number of colleges. Of the 150,000 college students in 1980, approximately 23 percent were female.

In the mid-1980s, some Vietnamese observers believed that the college system needed reform to make it more diverse and flexible. They promoted change in order to accommodate more secondary school applicants and to improve the quality of college education. Students were perceived as spending too much time trying to earn diplomas and not enough time "in practical, creative activities."

Vietnam took part in international student exchange and cooperation programs in the fields of education and technical training, principally with the Soviet Union and with other communist countries (excluding China). Nhan Dan reported in 1983 that Vietnamese and Soviet linguists had compiled textbooks for Vietnamese secondary general education schools and that they had also begun a similar project in Russian for use in Vietnamese colleges. The Soviets also assisted the Vietnamese in publishing scientific and technical dictionaries. In 1984 a Soviet source reported that, under the Soviet program of educational assistance that had begun in 1959, about 60,000 Vietnamese specialists and skilled workers had been trained in addition to 18,000 vocational students at the college and secondary school levels. As of mid-1986, Vietnam had "cooperative ties" with 15 Soviet universities.

In 1986 the reforms initiated in 1979 remained in the trial and error stage, but the educational system was considerably improved. Illiteracy was declining, and about 2.5 million children were being admitted to school annually. The Vietnamese report that in 1986 there were 3 million children enrolled in child-care centers and kindergartens, close to 12 million students in general education schools, and more than 300,000 students in vocational and professional schools and colleges. Scientific and technical cadres numbered more than 1 million. Nhan Dan reported in September 1986 that schools were shifting from literary education to literary, ethical, and vocational education, in accordance with the goals established by the 1979 reforms. The quality of education, however, remained low. Material and technical support for education were far from adequate, student absenteeism and the dropout rate were high, teachers continued to face difficult personal economic circumstances, and students and teachers in general failed to embrace the socialist ideals and practices the regime encouraged.

In April 1986, Reform Commission head Hoang Xuan Tuy related that two-thirds of preschool aged children had not yet enrolled in school, that elementary and junior-high-school education in the highlands and in the Mekong River Delta was inadequate; that instruction in general was still oriented toward purely academic subjects and theory divorced from practical application. The majority of general education students, he added, were preoccupied with college entrance; and vocational schools, professional schools, and colleges had yet to restructure their curricula and training programs or to formulate plans for scientific research and experimentation. In Hoang's assessment, such shortcomings were symptomatic of a very low level of financial and human resource investment in education that was derived from the party and the government's failure to recognize the importance of "the human factor" and the fundamental role of education in socioeconomic development.

Data as of December 1987


In 1945 Vietnam had forty-seven hospitals with a total of 3,000 beds, and it had one physician for every 180,000 persons. The life expectancy of its citizens averaged thirty-four years. By 1979 there were 713 hospitals with 205,700 beds, in addition to more than 10,000 maternity clinics and rural health stations; the ratio of physicians to potential patients had increased to one per 1,000 persons, and the average life expectancy was sixtythree years.

Information concerning the health sector in the mid-1980s, although fragmentary, suggested that the country's unified health care system had expanded and improved in both preventive and curative medicine. Medical personnel totaled about 240,000, including physicians, nurses, midwives, and other paramedics. The quality of public health care and the level of medical technology remained inadequate, however, and authorities were increasingly concerned about such problems as nutritional deficiency, mental health, and old-age illnesses. Cardiovascular diseases and cancers were reportedly not widespread but had increased "in recent years." Information on AIDS was unavailable.

The most common diseases were malaria, tuberculosis, trachoma, intestinal infections, leprosy, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, measles, poliomyelitis, chicken pox, typhoid fever, acute encephalitis, and acute meningitis. Hanoi claimed in 1970 that alcoholic cirrhosis and venereal diseases were "seldom found in North Vietnam because of the wholesome and temperate life of the population and the cadres." In November 1984, however, the government admitted that the incidence of these diseases had increased "significantly" since 1976, "especially in the major cities."

Vietnam claimed to have eliminated cholera, smallpox, and typhoid in the North as early as 1959 and poliomyelitis by 1961. Malaria, once endemic, was said to have been eradicated in many provinces of the North by 1965. Much progress was reported also in the containment of trachoma, tuberculosis, and other diseases, but an official assessment made public in November 1984 acknowledged that, except for smallpox, contagious and infectious diseases had yet to be brought under control and that the mortality rate associated with these diseases remained high. The high mortality rate associated with malaria was a matter of particular concern, especially in the provinces along the Vietnam-Laos border, the Central Highlands, the central region, and the northern border provinces. Tuberculosis, responsible for the death of about 1 percent of the national population, or nearly 600,000 persons annually, remained a major problem although the rate fell from the 1.7 percent reported in 1976. In 1984 as many as 92 percent of the people examined in many different localities were found to be afflicted with one or more diseases. Authorities judged from these results that as few as 48 to 60 percent of the people in the localities sampled were in good health. Gastroenteritis and such childhood diseases as diphtheria, and whooping cough accounted for the extremely high 35 percent mortality rate among children, but the annual death rate for the population as a whole in 1983 was 7.4 per 1000 persons, a decline from 26 per 1000 in 1945.

The prevalence of epidemics of bacterial, viral, and parasitic diseases was attributed to the unsanitary environment. For this reason the government introduced programs to improve hygiene habits. Sanitary stations emphasizing water and environmental purification were established in every district, and campaigns such as the Three Cleans movement (clean food, water, and living conditions) and the Three Exterminations movement (extermination of flies, mosquitoes, and rats) were instituted. In addition, officials encouraged district residents to dig wells and construct septic tanks. They recommended regular vaccinations and inoculations against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio-myelitis, tuberculosis, and measles.

Although access to health care improved by the mid-1980s, the shortages of funds, of qualified physicians, and of medicines prevented the Hanoi government from providing quality health care for more than a few. Minister of Public Health Dan Hoi Xuan acknowledged in November 1984 that the inadequacy of the public health system was responsible for the proliferation of private health services, the black market in medicines, and the consequent corruption of a number of doctors and pharmacists.

In 1987 the practice of traditional medicine remained an important part of the health care system. The Institute of Folk Medicine in Hanoi, a leading center devoted to the study of ancient theories and practices, utilized acupuncture and massage as an integral part of its treatment programs. Official sources maintained that traditional Vietnamese medicine had given rise to new therapeutic methods that called for the wider application of herbal medicine and acupuncture. The cultivation of medicinal plants and manufacture of drugs derived from these plants reportedly helped to overcome the shortage of Western medicines, which had to be imported in large quantities every year. Some of these traditional drugs were described as "most effective" in curing dysentery, arthritis, gastritis, stomach ulcers, heart diseases, influenza, blood clotting, and high blood pressure. In 1985 the Vietnamese press reported that many cooperatives were using folk medicines to satisfy 50 to 70 percent of their own needs for common drugs. Earlier in 1985, however, an official source had disclosed that efforts to develop Vietnamese medical science by integrating traditional and modern methods had not been systematic and had achieved minimal success.

In the mid-1980s, there were six medical and pharmaceutical colleges, one college-level institute for the training of managerial cadres in the health services, and more than forty secondary-level schools for mid-level paramedics and pharmacists. Physicians at "modern scientific and technical installations," according to the Vietnamese press, performed "sophisticated" heart, lung, kidney, and neurological surgery as well as microscopic eye surgery. Vietnamese doctors also were reported to be abreast of procedures in a number of other disciplines such as nuclear medicine and hematology.

Data as of December 1987


The improvement of living conditions has consistently been one of Hanoi's most important but most elusive goals. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, food, housing, medicines, and consumer goods were chronically scarce as agriculture and industry slowly recovered from the effects of prolonged wartime disruptions, corrupt and inept management, and the cost of the military occupation of Cambodia. Consequently, the Hanoi government was under tremendous pressure to address social problems such as urban unemployment, vocational training, homelessness, the care of orphans, war veterans, and the disabled, the control of epidemics, and the rehabilitation of drug addicts and prostitutes. These problems were complicated by rapid population growth, which tested the limits of the food supply and increased the need to import grains.

In December 1985, Vo Van Kiet, chairman of the State Planning Commission, nevertheless reported that farmers' lives had generally improved and that people employed in other economic sectors were adequately supplied with the basic necessities. The standard of living remained low, however, because of acute economic problems that arose between 1981 and 1985, including unemployment. During the 1981-85 period, a total of about 7 million young people reached work age (age 18), but up to 85 percent remained jobless. Among the unemployed of all ages nationwide, 80 percent were unskilled, while in Ho Chi Minh City, the figure rose to 95 percent.

For most Vietnamese having to face soaring inflation and a rapid drop in purchasing power, austerity was an inescapable fact of life. In the mid-1980s no one was starving, but the average diet was highly deficient in protein and amounted to only 1,940 calories per day, 23 percent below the level required for manual labor. Moreover, as much as an estimated 80 percent of a worker's monthly wage was spent on food. A reader complained to a Ho Chi Minh City newspaper in 1986 that the monthly salary and price subsidies paid to an ordinary worker or civil servant were barely enough to support his family for part of the month. The writer also noted that an increasing number of workers and public officials had succumbed to the lure of "outside temptations" and were misusing their functions and power to get rich illegally. "Because life is so difficult," a 1986 article in the military daily, Quan Doi Nhan Dan, lamented, "even the most honest people must come up with schemes to earn a living and support the family."

In 1986 the standard of living was unstable, and cadres, manual workers, civil servants, armed forces personnel, and laborers experienced serious economic difficulties in their everyday lives. In March 1986, evidently as a stop-gap measure, the government reinstated rationing (discontinued since August 1985) in many parts of the country for such essential goods as rice, meat, sugar, and kerosene. In addition, the government granted more autonomy to commercial enterprises and even encouraged the development of small-scale private industry.

Although the state controlled the economy and most essential consumer goods, it lacked control of the free market, which accounted for more than 50 percent of retail trade volume (see Internal Commerce , ch. 3). In mid-1987 the free market flourished, although Vo Van Kiet had reported to the National Assembly in December 1986 that the government planned to "create conditions for stabilizing the market and prices step by step."

Meanwhile, Vo Van Kiet revealed that the new wage and allowance system put into effect in 1985 for state employees and members of the armed forces had failed to improve living conditions. Indexed to cost-of-living increases, the 1985 system had replaced the no-incentive egalitarianism of the past with a system that linked wages to productivity, quality, and efficiency of work performed.

Through the mid-1980s, the Vietnamese bureaucracy failed to act quickly enough to remedy the shortage of consumer goods in state shops. Shortages of raw materials and energy also continued, forcing manufacturing enterprises to operate at 50 percent of their production capacity. In 1987 it was hoped that the reform-minded leaders selected at the Sixth National Party Congress in December 1986 might begin to turn the economy around.

* * *

Reliable and current information on Vietnamese society remains relatively scarce. Among the most useful sources of information are Indochina Chronology, a quarterly of the Institute of East Asian Studies, of the University of California at Berkeley, which gives an informative summary of events, literature, and personalities relating to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos; and the Southeast Asia Report, of the Joint Publications Research Service, which contains translations of Vietnamese newspapers and periodicals. For a general understanding of the political and economic contexts in which Vietnamese society evolves, readers are advised to consult the annual summary articles on Vietnam contained in Asian Survey, Far Eastern Economic Review Asia Yearbook, and Southeast Asian Affairs. For official perceptions relating to various aspects of Vietnamese society, see Vietnam Courier, an English-language monthly of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

William J. Duiker's Vietnam: Nation in Revolution offers useful, well-balanced overviews on various aspects of contemporary Vietnam, with a brief annotated bibliography. Also useful is Nguyen Van Canh's Vietnam Under Communism, 1975- 1982, which depicts life in post-1975 Vietnam as perceived and experienced by a number of Vietnamese expatriates. Hai Van: Life in a Vietnamese Commune by Francois Houtart and Genevieve Lemercinier provides a rare glimpse into the life of a Red River Delta commune in 1979; life in South Vietnamese rural communities in the early 1960s is given an excellent discussion in Gerald C. Hickey's Village in Vietnam. We the Vietnamese: Voices from Viet Nam, edited by Francois Sully, is useful for perspectives on various social aspects of South Vietnam in the 1960s. How Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City appeared to visiting Western journalists in 1985 is presented in Vietnam Ten Years After, edited by Robert Emmet Long.

Graeme Jackson's "An Assessment of Church Life in Vietnam" is a balanced account of religious life; Alexander Woodside offers an informative analysis on education in his "The Triumphs and Failures of Mass Education in Vietnam." In "Vietnam 1975-1982: The Cruel Peace," Jacqueline Desbarats and Karl D. Jackson present their findings on the question of whether there were political executions in the years after the communist takeover in 1975. Ethnic minorities are the subject of scholarly treatment in Hickey's Sons of the Mountains and Free in the Forest; in Southeast Asian Tribes, Minorities, and Nations, edited by Peter Kunstadter; and in Ronald Provencher's Mainland Southeast Asia: An Anthropological Perspective. John DeFrancis's Colonialism and Language Policy in Vietnam is a scholarly analysis of the evolution of the national writing system, quoc ngu; also informative is Language in Vietnamese Society: Some Articles by Nguyen DinhHoa , edited by Patricia Nguyen Thi My-Huong. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of December 1987

Chapter 3. The Economy

farmers transporting goods to market

SINCE REUNIFICATION IN 1975, the economy of Vietnam has been plagued by enormous difficulties in production, imbalances in supply and demand, inefficiencies in distribution and circulation, soaring inflation rates, and rising debt problems. Vietnam is one of the few countries in modern history to experience a sharp economic deterioration in a postwar reconstruction period. Its peacetime economy is one of the poorest in the world and has shown a negative to very slow growth in total national output as well as in agricultural and industrial production. Vietnam's gross domestic product ( GDP--see Glossary) in 1984 was valued at US$18.1 billion with a per capita income estimated to be between US$200 and US$300 per year. Reasons for this mediocre economic performance have included severe climatic conditions that afflicted agricultural crops, bureaucratic mismanagement, elimination of private ownership, extinction of entrepreneurial classes in the South, and military occupation of Cambodia (which resulted in a cutoff of much-needed international aid for reconstruction).

In the 1980s, the country was at a crossroads between economic liberalization and complete government economic control. It is possible that the leadership changes undertaken at the Sixth National Party Congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP, Viet Nam Cong Son Dang) in December 1986 marked the beginning of the end of an era dominated by revolutionaries who emphasized security at the expense of social welfare and modernization. In 1987 Vietnam took practical steps to resolve chronic economic problems such as rapid inflation, slow and erratic economic growth, deteriorating living conditions, and severe trade imbalances. The new economic policy laid out at the Sixth National Party Congress addressed these issues while avoiding others such as high unemployment and substantial arrearage on foreign debt payments.

At the party's Second Plenum in April 1987, a new, reform-oriented leadership proposed measures that would give greater scope to the private sector, reduce the budget deficit, and boost the output of agricultural and consumer goods in order to raise market supplies and exports. Specifically, the government sought to make prices more responsive to market forces and to allow farmers and industrial producers to make profits. Barriers to trade were lowered; the checkpoint inspection system that required goods in transit to be frequently inspected was abolished; and regulations on private inflow of money, goods, and tourists from overseas were relaxed. In the state-controlled industrial sector, wage raises were scheduled, and overstaffing in state administrative and service organizations was slated for reduction. Government leaders also planned to restructure the tax system to boost revenue and improve incentives.

Earlier efforts to reform the economy had employed methods similar to those proposed in 1987. These previous recovery policies, while achieving short-term gains toward economic recovery, eventually faltered because of poor implementation, lack of commitment, and decisions to industrialize and socialize the country regardless of cost. The 1987 effort to cure Vietnam's economic ills held more promise of being sustained, however. The power of the new reform-minded general secretary of the party, Nguyen Van Linh, appeared to strengthen as other reformers assumed key party Political Bureau positions. Moreover, Soviet pressure to improve economic performance increased markedly during 1987. A high Soviet official attending Vietnam's Sixth National Party Congress pointed out Vietnam`s urgent need to reform and offered the Soviet Union's own reform efforts as a model for Vietnamese programs.

Data as of December 1987


In the 1980s, Vietnam was the world's third-largest communist country--ranking below China and the Soviet Union and above Poland--and the most densely populated. According to Vietnamese figures, the country's population in 1985 totaled more than 60 million, with an average density of 179 persons per square kilometer. In comparison, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), ranking second in population density, averaged 154 persons per square kilometer. Vietnam's average annual population growth rate was reported to be 2.5 percent (see Population , ch. 2).

Data as of December 1987


The 1979 census showed that more than 42 percent of the population at that time was younger than 15 years of age and nearly 5 percent was 65 or older. Furthermore, 71 percent of the Vietnamese population was 30 years of age or younger.

A population boom in the 1980s put pressure on food supplies and severely taxed the government's ability to create jobs. Harvest shortfalls were frequent, grain reserves remained low, and foreign exchange was extremely scarce. As a result, overcoming even a short-term food deficit was difficult for the government and costly for the people.

In 1984 United Nations (UN) nutrition specialist calculated the daily average food consumption among Vietnamese to be only 1,850 calories per day, nearly 20 percent less than the generally accepted minimum daily standard of 2,300 calories. In 1985, the Vietnam Institute of Nutrition reported average daily intake at 1,940 calories. The institute also estimated that roughly 25 percent of the children suffered from malnutrition.

Data as of December 1987


The Vietnamese labor force in mid-1985 was estimated at 31.2 million, having increased at the rate of 3.5 to 4 percent annually between 1981 and mid-1985. A 1987 Vietnamese estimate put unemployment at more than 20 percent. More than half of the work force was committed to agriculture; however, observers estimated that the unemployment level in the agricultural sector was very low because agricultural workers were more likely to be underemployed than unemployed. In contrast, the unemployment rate in the nonagricultural sector may have exceeded 40 percent, meaning that more than 2 out of every 5 Vietnamese workers were jobless. A similar calculation for the nonagricultural sector in 1981 yielded an estimate of 20 percent, or 1 out of 5.

Unemployment was particularly concentrated among younger workers living in urban areas. According to Vietnamese government statistics, of the 7 million persons who entered the work force between 1981 and 1985, about 33 percent lived in urban areas, and only 15 to 20 percent reportedly had found jobs. The actual ratio of jobs to unemployed people may not have been as grim as statistics indicate, however. According to some observers, the high rate of inflation during the period forced many people, especially state workers, to take a second job in order to make ends meet.

Vietnam's economic prospects for the late 1980s and early 1990s depended on resolving population and labor problems. Government population projections in 1987 showed that the gender imbalance, with females more numerous, probably would persist through the end of the century. National security concerns were unlikely to diminish, and the armed forces were expected to continue their high demand for males of service age. A similar demand also was expected to continue in the sectors and occupations in which males were employed during the 1980s: agriculture, fishing, mining, metallurgy, machine building, construction, and transportation. Female workers probably would remain concentrated in subsistence agriculture, light industry, and, perhaps, forestry. Education, training programs, and the wage structure were expected to continue to favor males and male-dominated occupations, while the absence of these incentives would cause productivity gains in female-intensive industries to remain low.

Economic recovery policies that emphasized austerity and postponed industrialization were unlikely to create sufficient new employment opportunities. In the short run, the government's discharge of surplus state employees during the mid-1980s in order to curb expenditures would tend to increase unemployment. The stress on boosting production in light industry was expected eventually to reduce unemployment, but only if expansion were supported with state investment and bank credit. The coincident removal of restraints on the labor-intensive informal economy, which was uncontrolled by the state, and the likely influx of labor into this sector could then be expected to expand the informal economy relative to the official economy.

Data as of December 1987


Post-1975 developments, including the establishment of new economic zones, did not eradicate distinctions between North and South. North, South, and Central Vietnam historically were divided by ethnolinguistic differences, but until the midnineteenth century and the beginning of the French colonial period, they were all agrarian, subsistence, and village-oriented societies (see Early History , ch. 1). The French, who needed raw materials and a market for French manufactured goods, altered these commonalities by undertaking a plan to develop the northern and southern regions separately. The South, better suited for agriculture and relatively poor in industrial resources, was designated to be developed agriculturally; the North, naturally wealthy in mineral resources, was selected as the region in which industrial development was to be concentrated.

The separation distorted the basic Vietnamese economy by overly stressing regional economic differences. In the North, while irrigated rice remained the principal subsistence crop, the French introduced plantation agriculture with products such as coffee, tea, cotton, and tobacco. The colonial government also developed some extractive industries, such as the mining of coal, iron, and nonferrous metals. A shipbuilding industry was begun in Hanoi; and railroads, roads, power stations, and hydraulics works were constructed. In the South, agricultural development concentrated on rice cultivation, and, nationally, rice and rubber were the main items of export. Domestic and foreign trade were centered around the Saigon-Cholon area. Industry in the South consisted mostly of food-processing plants and factories producing consumer goods.

The development of exports--coal from the North, rice from the South--and the importation of French manufactured goods, however, stimulated internal commerce. A pattern of trade developed whereby rice from the South was exchanged for coal and manufactured goods from the North. When the North and South were divided politically in 1954, they also adopted different economic ideologies, one communist and one capitalist. In the North, the communist regime's First Five-Year Plan (1961-65) gave priority to heavy industry, but priority subsequently shifted to agriculture and light industry.

During the 1954-75 Second Indochina War (see Glossary), United States air strikes in the North, beginning in early 1965, slowed large-scale construction considerably as laborers were diverted to repairing bomb damage. By the end of 1966, serious strains developed in the North's economy as a result of war conditions. Interruptions in electric power, the destruction of petroleum storage facilities, and labor shortages led to a slowdown in industrial and agricultural activity. The disruption of transportation routes by U.S. bombing further slowed distribution of raw materials and consumer goods. In the North, all 6 industrial cities, 28 out of 30 provincial towns, 96 out of 116 district towns, and 4,000 out of 5,788 communes were either severely damaged or destroyed. All power stations, 1,600 hydraulics works, 6 railway lines, all roads, bridges, and sea and inland ports were seriously damaged or destroyed. In addition, 400,000 cattle were killed, and several hundred thousand hectares of farmland were damaged.

The economy in the South between 1954 and 1975 became increasingly dependent on foreign aid. The United States, the foremost donor, financed the development of the military and the construction of roads, bridges, airfields and ports; supported the currency; and met the large deficit in the balance of payments. Destruction attributed to the Second Indochina War was considerable. Hanoi claimed that in the South, 9,000 out of 15,000 hamlets were damaged or destroyed, 10 million hectares of farmland and 5 million hectares of forest lands were devastated, and 1.5 million cattle were killed.

For Vietnam as a whole, the war resulted in some 1.5 million military and civilian deaths, 362,000 invalids, 1 million widows, and 800,000 orphans. The country sustained a further loss in human capital through the exodus of refugees from Vietnam after the communist victory in the South. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, as of October 1982 approximately 1 million people had fled Vietnam. Among them were tens of thousands of professionals, intellectuals, technicians, and skilled workers.

Data as of December 1987



The Vietnamese economy is shaped primarily by the VCP through the plenary sessions of the Central Committee and national congresses. The party plays a leading role in establishing the foundations and principles of communism, mapping strategies for economic development, setting growth targets, and launching reforms.

Planning is a key characteristic of centralized, communist economies, and one plan established for the entire country normally contains detailed economic development guidelines for all its regions. According to Vietnamese economist Vo Nhan Tri, Vietnam's post-reunification economy was in a "period of transition to socialism." The process was described as consisting of three phases. The first phase, from 1976 through 1980, incorporated the Second Five-Year Plan (1976-80)--the First FiveYear Plan (1960-65) applied to North Vietnam only. The second phase, called "socialist industrialization," was divided into two stages: from 1981 through 1990 and from 1991 through 2005. The third phase, covering the years 2006 through 2010, was to be time allotted to "perfect" the transition.

The party's goal was to unify the economic system of the entire country under communism. Steps were taken to implement this goal at the long-delayed Fourth National Party Congress, convened in December 1976, when the party adopted the Second Five-Year Plan and defined both its "line of

socialist revolution" and its "line of building a socialist economy." The next two congresses, held in March 1982 and December 1986, respectively, reiterated this long-term communist objective and approved the five-year plans designed to guide the development of the Vietnamese economy at each specific stage of the communist revolution.

Data as of December 1987

The Vietnamese economy is shaped primarily by the VCP through the plenary sessions of the Central Committee and national congresses. The party plays a leading role in establishing the foundations and principles of communism, mapping strategies for economic development, setting growth targets, and launching reforms.

Planning is a key characteristic of centralized, communist economies, and one plan established for the entire country normally contains detailed economic development guidelines for all its regions. According to Vietnamese economist Vo Nhan Tri, Vietnam's post-reunification economy was in a "period of transition to socialism." The process was described as consisting of three phases. The first phase, from 1976 through 1980, incorporated the Second Five-Year Plan (1976-80)--the First FiveYear Plan (1960-65) applied to North Vietnam only. The second phase, called "socialist industrialization," was divided into two stages: from 1981 through 1990 and from 1991 through 2005. The third phase, covering the years 2006 through 2010, was to be time allotted to "perfect" the transition.

The party's goal was to unify the economic system of the entire country under communism. Steps were taken to implement this goal at the long-delayed Fourth National Party Congress, convened in December 1976, when the party adopted the Second Five-Year Plan and defined both its "line of socialist revolution" and its "line of building a socialist economy." The next two congresses, held in March 1982 and December 1986, respectively, reiterated this long-term communist objective and approved the five-year plans designed to guide the development of the Vietnamese economy at each specific stage of the communist revolution.

Data as of December 1987



Rice paddy dike construction
Courtesy Bill Herod

Agricultural production, the backbone of Vietnam's development strategy, varied considerably from year to year following national reunification in 1975. A particularly strong performance in agriculture was recorded in 1976--up more than 10 percent from 1975--but production dropped back to approximately 95 percent of the 1976 level in 1977 and 1978 and recovered to a level higher than that of 1976 only in 1979 (see table 7, Appendix A).

Vietnamese crop and livestock production offset agricultural performance during this period. For example, an 8-percent increase in the value of livestock production in 1977 balanced an 8-percent decrease in the value of crop production (mainly the result of a 1-million-ton decline in the rice harvest). In 1978 the reverse occurred: a steep decline in livestock output countered a significant increase in grain production. The value of crop production, however, averaged four times the value of livestock output at this time.

Foremost among Vietnam's agricultural troubles was exceptionally adverse weather, including a drought in 1977 and major typhoons and widespread flooding in 1978. The drought overtaxed Vietnam's modest irrigation systems, and the floods damaged them. In addition, the floods reportedly reduced cattle herds by 20 percent. The size of this loss was indirectly confirmed in Vietnamese statistics that showed a leveling off of growth in livestock inventories (particularly of cattle) between 1978 and 1980. Throughout the Second Five-Year Plan, and especially in the late 1970s, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and spare parts for mechanical equipment were in short supply.

Despite their having occurred, for the most part, fairly early in the plan period, the severe reversals in the agricultural sector greatly diminished hopes of achieving self-sufficiency in food production by 1980. The 1980 grain target eventually was lowered from 21 million tons to 15 million tons, but even that amount proved unattainable.

The agricultural policies promulgated from 1976 through 1980 had mixed results. Pragmatic measures that encouraged the planting of more subsidiary food crops (such as sweet potatoes, manioc, beans, and corn) led to an increase of these crops from a level of less than 10 percent that of grain production in 1975 to a level that was more than 20 percent of grain output by the late 1970s. Improved incentives for farmers in 1978 and 1979 included efforts to boost availability of consumer goods in the countryside and to raise state procurement prices. They were reinforced by adoption of a contract system that sought to guarantee producers access to agricultural inputs in exchange for farm products. Even so, bureaucratic inefficiencies and shortages of agricultural supplies prevented complete success.

The program undertaken in mid-1977 to expedite unification of North and South by collectivizing Southern agriculture met with strong resistance. The reportedly voluntary program was designed to be implemented by local leaders, but Southern peasants were mainly freeholders--not tenants--and, aside from forming production teams for mutual assistance (an idea that won immediate acceptance), they resisted participation in any collective program that attenuated property rights.

Failure to collectivize agriculture by voluntary means led briefly to the adoption of coercive measures to increase peasant participation. It soon became apparent, however, that such harsh methods were counterproductive. Increased food shortages and heightened security concerns in late 1978 and 1979 caused the leadership once again to relax its grip on Southern agriculture.

In the North, formation of cooperatives had begun in 1959 and 1960, and by 1965 about 90 percent of peasant households were organized into collectives. By 1975 more than 96 percent of peasant households belonging to cooperatives were classified as members of "high-level cooperatives," which meant that farmers had contributed land, tools, animals, and labor in exchange for income.

Between 1976 and 1980, agricultural policy in the North was implemented by newly established government district offices in an effort to improve central control over planting decisions and farm work. The lax enforcement of state agricultural policies adopted during the war years gave way to a greater rigidity that diminished cooperative members' flexibility to undertake different tasks. Labor productivity fell as a result. A study by an overseas Vietnamese who surveyed ten rice-growing cooperatives found that, despite an increase in labor and area cultivated in 1975, 1976, and 1977, production decreased while costs increased when compared with production and costs for 1972 through 1974. Although the study failed to take weather and other variables into account, the findings were consistent with conclusions reached by investigators who have studied the effects of collectivization in other countries. Moreover, the study drew attention to the North's poor agricultural performance as a reason for Vietnam's persistent food problem.

State investment in agriculture under the Third Five-Year Plan remained low, and the sector was severely troubled throughout the plan period and into 1986 and 1987 as well. Only modest food-grain increases of 5 percent were generated annually. Although this was enough to outpace the 2.3 percent annual rate of population growth during the 1980s, it remained insufficient to raise average annual per capita food consumption much above the official subsistence level of 300 kilograms. One official Vietnamese source estimated in 1986 that farm families devoted up to 80 percent of their income to their own food needs.

At the conclusion of the Third Five-Year Plan, agricultural yields remained less than required to permit diverting resources to the support of industrial development. In 1986 agriculture still accounted for about 44 percent of national income (the figure for developed nations is closer to 10 percent). The agricultural sector also occupied some 66 percent of the work force--a higher percentage than in 1976 and 1980. Worse still, the output per agricultural worker had slipped during the plan period, falling even farther behind the increasing output per worker in industry. In 1980 more than three agricultural workers were needed to produce as much national income as a single industrial or construction worker. By 1985 an industrial worker produced more than six times as much as an agricultural worker.

In December 1986, Vo Van Kiet, vice chairman of the Council of Ministers and member of the Political Bureau, highlighted most of the major problems of Vietnamese agriculture in his speech to the Twelfth Session of the Seventh National Assembly. While mentioning gains in fisheries and forestry, he noted that nearly all farming subsectors--constituting 80 percent of the agricultural sector--had failed to achieve plan targets for 1986. Kiet blamed state agencies, such as the Council of Ministers, the State Planning Commission, and the Ministry of Foreign Trade, for their failure to ensure appropriate "material conditions" (chiefly sufficient quantities of chemical fertilizers and pesticides) for the growth of agricultural production. Kiet also blamed the state price system for underproduction of key "industrial crops" that Vietnam exported, including jute, sugar, groundnut, coffee, tea, and rubber. Production levels of subsidiary food crops, such as sweet potatoes, corn, and manioc, had been declining for several years, both in relation to plan targets and in actual output as well. By contrast, livestockoutput , including that of cattle, poultry, buffalo, and hogs, was reported by the government to have continued its growth and to have met or exceeded targets, despite unstable prices and shortages of state-provided animal feed.

Outside observers agreed that the problems noted in Kiet's speech had been exacerbated by the complexity of the pricing system, which included multiple tiers of fixed prices for quota and above-quota state purchases as well as generally higher free market prices. The removal of more orthodox leaders, the rise of moderate reformists such as Kiet to high party and government positions during the Sixth National Party Congress, and the cabinet changes in early 1987 seemed to indicate that the pricing system would be modified, although no change was evident in the fundamental structure of state-controlled markets or in the tension within the multiple-market system (see Internal Commerce , this ch.).

Data as of December 1987



United States armored cars converted into bulldozers, 1977


Production of small tractors

The pattern of Vietnamese industrial growth after reunification was initially the reverse of the record in agriculture; it showed recovery from a depressed base in the early postwar years. Recovery stopped in the late 1970s, however, when the war in Cambodia and the threat from China caused the government to redirect food, finance, and other resources to the military, a move that worsened shortages and intensified old bottlenecks. At the same time, the invasion of Cambodia cost Vietnam badly needed foreign economic support. China's attack on Vietnam in 1979 compounded industrial problems by badly damaging important industrial facilities in the North, particularly a major steel plant and an apatite mine (see The Armed Forces , ch. 5).

National leadership objectives during the immediate postwar period included consolidating factories and workshops in the North that had been scattered and hidden during the war to improve their chances of survival and nationalizing banks and major factories in the South to bring the financial and industrial sectors under state control. The government's continued use of wartime planning mechanisms that emphasized output targets and paid little heed to production or long term costs caused profits to erode, however, and increased the government's financial burdens. Economic reforms undertaken in 1977 gave factory management some independence in formulating production plans, arranging production resources, and containing production expenses. Such additional pragmatic steps as the adoption of incentive-structured wages and the realignment of prices better to reflect costs were also considered.

This first experiment with reform was relatively short-lived, partly because it ran counter to the overriding policy of socializing the South and integrating it with the North by reducing the centralized administrative control obviously needed to do the job. Some reform measures stayed on the books, however, and were revived in the 1980s.

Vietnamese statistics indicate that the gross value of industrial output in 1980 was not much higher than in 1976 and that the value of output per capita declined more than 8 percent. For example, cement production was relatively stagnant; it averaged 1.7 million tons annually during the Second Five-Year Plan, but only 1.4 million tons in 1985.

In general, fuel production increased at more than 10 percent annually. Coal output grew from 5.2 million tons in 1975 to 6 million tons in 1978 and fell to 5.3 million tons in 1980. According to official figures, 1985 coal production remained at, or somewhat below, the 1981 level of 6 million tons (see table 8, Appendix A). Coal accounted for about two-thirds of energy consumption in the 1980s. Coal mining remained handicapped by coordination and management problems at mining sites, incomplete rail connections to mines, equipment and materials shortages, and inadequate food and consumer goods for miners (see table 8, Appendix A).

Some light industry and handicrafts sectors mirrored the difficulties experienced in agriculture because they used agricultural raw materials. By 1980 the Vietnamese press was reporting that many grain, food-product, and consumer-goods processing enterprises had reduced production or ceased operations entirely. Although detailed statistics on sector performance were insufficient to show annual results, the total value of light industry output peaked in 1978; by 1980 it was nearly 3 percent lower than it had been in 1976. Increasingly severe shortages of food (particularly grain and fish) and industrial consumer goods lessened workers' incentives.

Total industrial production during the Third Five-Year Plan reflected high levels of investment, averaging some 40 percent of total annual investment during the plan period. In 1985 the industrial sector accounted for some 32 percent of national income, up from approximately 20 percent in 1980.

From 1981 through 1985, industrial growth was unevenly distributed and in many instances simply restored production levels to their 1976 levels. The highest production growth rates were recorded in the manufacture of paper products (32 percent per year), and food processing (42 percent per year). Both sectors had declined in production during the Second Five-Year Plan. Production of processed sugar increased from 271,000 tons in 1981 to 434,000 tons in 1985, almost ten times the 1975 production level. The processing of ocean fish increased from 385,000 tons in 1980 to 550,000 tons in 1985, not quite reaching 1976 and 1977 levels, but clearly reversing the steady decline this sector had experienced in the late 1970s. (The decline had been generated in part by the use of fishing boats in the South as escape craft to flee the communist regime.) Other light industries grew at annual rates of 10 percent or more during the early 1980s, which essentially restored production to 1975 or 1976 levels. Brick production increased steadily to 3.7 billion bricks in 1985, after regular declines during the previous plan. Production of glass reached 41,000 tons in 1985, exceeding 1975 levels for the first time. Paper production in 1985 again reached the 1976 level of 75,000 tons, up from 42,000 tons at the beginning of the plan in 1981; and the textile subsector exhibited an 8-percent average annual growth rate during the plan period as cloth production more than doubled to 380 million square meters in 1985.

Among heavy industries, machine-building and chemical industries (including rubber) registered annual average production gains of approximately 25 percent. Chemical fertilizer production continued to exceed the 1975 level and, in 1985, reached 516,000 tons despite relatively underdeveloped mining and enrichment processes for apatite and pyrite ore and underutilization of the Lam Thao Superphosphate of Lime plant (Vinh Phu Province). Pesticide production also maintained a decade-long growth trend to reach 11.74 billion tons in 1985.

Fragmentary figures for iron and chromium ore production were discouraging and suggested a continuation of the decline from 1975 levels. Ferrous and non-ferrous metallurgical production actually declined overall, reflecting exhausted and obsolescent plants, low investment rates, and probably dwindling supplies of scrap left from the end of the Second Indochina War. Modest gains were reported annually in steel production, which reached 57,000 tons in 1985.

Electric power production, although handicapped by uncompleted projects and shortages of oil and spare parts, grew at an average of 8 percent per year. Vietnamese statistics on the annual output of primary products showed that production of electricity increased by almost 60 percent to nearly 3.8 billion kilowatt hours from 1976 through 1978, then declined to around 3.7 billion kilowatt hours in 1980. By 1985, however, production of electricity had increased to 5.4 billion kilowatt hours. Energy-producing industries generally remained stagnant, however, which caused tremendous difficulties for the other sectors of the economy. Power output grew very slowly, and power shortages forced many factories to operate at only 45 to 50 percent of capacity. The government planned that in the 1980s energy production would be tripled by the completion of three big Soviet-assisted projects: the 500-megawatt thermal plant at Pha Lai, Hai Hung Province; the 300-megawatt hydroelectric plant at Tri An, Dong Nai Province, and the giant, 1,900-megawatt hydroelectric plant at Hoa Binh, Ha Son Binh Province, which has been called the "Asian Aswan Dam."

Data as of December 1987



Black market American goods, Ho Chi Minh City
Courtesy Bill Herod


Scrambling to buy plastic water containers in Hanoi
Courtesy Bill Herod


Hanoi pen merchant uses hypodermic needle to insert ink into used ballpoint pens
Courtesy Bill Herod

The control and regulation of markets was one of the most sensitive and persistent problems faced by the government following the beginning of North-South integration in 1975. The government, in its doctrinaire efforts to communize the commercial, market-oriented Southern economy, faced several paradoxes. The first was the need both to cultivate and to control commercial activity by ethnic Chinese in the South, especially in Ho Chi Minh City. Chinese businesses controlled much of the commerce in Ho Chi Minh City and the South generally. Following the break with China in 1978, some Vietnamese leaders evidently feared the potential for espionage activities within the Chinese commercial community. On the one hand, Chinese-owned concerns controlled trade in a number of commodities and services, such as pharmaceuticals, fertilizer distribution, grain milling, and foreign-currency exchange, that were supposed to be state monopolies. On the other hand, Chinese merchants provided excellent access to markets for Vietnamese exports through Hong Kong and Singapore. This access became increasingly important in the 1980s as a way of circumventing the boycott on trade with Vietnam imposed by a number of Asian and Western Nations.

The second paradox lay in the role markets played in economic planning. State plans depended upon complex and interrelated flows of industrial and agricultural commodities, mediated by state markets at fixed prices. For example, predetermined amounts of food had to be produced and made available to coal miners, who were required to increase production of fuel for thermal power plants, which would in turn supply energy to fertilizer factories and machine shops. Production of fertilizer and small machines--for example, irrigation pumps and insecticide sprayers--would close the circle by providing planned levels of inputs necessary to increase agricultural production. Production campaigns under the guise of encouraging volunteerism--heroic efforts for the development of the fatherland--were to be used to keep production at quota levels at every part of the cycle. By the late 1970s, however, this plan had failed conspicuously. Although inhibited by controls and the exodus of numerous Chinese in the late 1970s, the private market remained active (see Ethnic Groups and Languages , ch. 2). Enterprises working under the Second Five-Year Plan found themselves competing for needed inputs in the private sector. Prices in the free market were usually well above those set by the plan, but private markets often were the only source for needed goods. Bottlenecks and shortages persisted, aggravated by the tendency of low-level managers to stockpile above-quota production against future levies or simply to sell production on the private market. Repeated failures to improve harvests caused food shortages to approach crisis proportions and forced the government to back away from its attempt to mold the South into the North's economic image. After 1978 the government moderated its crackdown on private commerce in the South to allow some commercial activity, including reinvestment of private profits. By 1979 the share of state-owned commerce in Ho Chi Minh City had declined to 27 percent, compared with 54 percent for the country as a whole.

A major problem for the leadership was the structure of the economy in the South. Nationalization had little effect on the small-scale manufacturing that characterized much of production. Moreover, commerce was a principal occupation in the major cities. While state stores were established as part of a new government-controlled distribution network, private vendors were able to compete effectively with them by offering to pay more to suppliers and by providing customers with better and otherwise unobtainable goods in exchange for higher prices. Hanoi's orthodox communist leaders viewed this activity in a time of shortage as speculation, hoarding, and monopolization of the market.

At roughly the same time that the government intensified the collectivization drive, it launched a campaign in the South to transform commerce into a largely public-sector activity. Private shops were closed, merchandise was redirected to state channels, and merchants were shifted to production work. At the peak of the transformation drive in 1978, state-sponsored commerce in Ho Chi Minh City reportedly accounted for 40 percent of retail sales. The government's crackdown on private traders initiated an unprecedented exodus of ethnic Chinese, who made up many of their number. The market dislocation also increased hardship in the South, which, along with unpopular resettlement policies, convinced many Southerners to flee. Not only did the government's program deprive the South of the services of some of the more capable members of the middle class, but the escape of many Southerners by sea provoked a shortage of fishing boats and a decline in the fish catch, a principal source of foreign-exchange income.

Through 1986 and 1987, official policy toward unofficial markets continued to alternate between restrictive and liberal approaches. Restrictions included licensing and tax regulations and proscriptions against reinvestment of profits. In periods of relaxation, these restrictions were eased; local organizations were given greater autonomy in setting prices for locally produced goods; and unofficial markets were permitted to flourish.

Lenient policies reflected official awareness that both production and distribution remained to some degree dependent on the unofficial market. In agriculture, for example, the "family economy" continued to account for an important share of peasant agricultural production. The state plan for industrial production recognized the existence and importance of the unofficial market in the "dual quota planning" system. Under this program, introduced in 1985, enterprises that met plan quotas were allowed independently to plan, finance, produce, and privately market surplus goods on the unofficial market. In 1986 state enterprises in Hanoi reportedly were unable to meet their budget contribution quotas because of the high cost of purchasing goods on the unofficial market. Many organizations not authorized to trade continued to do so, however, and the available goods on the official, "organized" market remained well below quotas.

Data as of December 1987



Figure 12. Soviet Cooperation Projects, 1985

In the 1980s, the Vietnamese government, acting under party supervision, continued to regulate and control all foreign trade. The Ministry of Foreign Trade managed trade and was responsible for issuing of import and export licenses and approving any departures from the formal economic plan on an ad hoc basis. There was considerable division of responsibility, however, among high level agencies, financial institutions, state trading corporations, local export companies, and provincial and regional government bodies.

The role of planning in foreign trade became increasingly significant after June 1978, when the country formally joined the Soviet-sponsored Council for Mutual Economic Assistance ( Comecon--see Glossary) and began to coordinate its five-year development and trade plans more closely with those of the Soviet Union and other Comecon members. Planning officials set trade goals on the basis of the overall planning targets and quotas required by bilateral trade agreements with various Comecon countries. The 1978 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between the Soviet Union and Vietnam, the most important of numerous such agreements with Comecon members, established the basis for the two countries' "long-term coordination of their national economic plans" and for long-term Soviet development assistance in technology and other crucial sectors of the Vietnamese economy. A 1981 Soviet-Vietnamese protocol on coordination of state plans during the Third Five-Year Plan set specific targets for bilateral trade and for coordination of Soviet machinery and equipment exports with plans for development of Vietnam's fuel and energy sectors.

After approval by the Council of Ministers, major trade programs were announced at national party congresses (see Development of the Vietnamese Communist Party , ch. 4). The trade program announced in 1986 at the Sixth National Party Congress called for export growth of 70 percent during the Fourth Five-Year Plan (see table 9, Appendix A).

Closer linkages between trade and general economic planning in the 1980s had mixed effects. Fluctuating commodities prices at home and market-oriented trade with, and investment from, Western countries were too uncertain to plan. Consequently, the Second Five-Year Plan was crippled when hoped-for Western investment failed to materialize. The joint planning approach was designed to enable Vietnam to minimize risk because it could count on stable supplies of important resources and equipment at concessionary prices, especially from the Soviet Union. Any delays or bottlenecks in the plans or aid commitments of Comecon countries, however, could delay or disrupt Vietnam's planning effort. In the early 1980s, for example, announcement of the Third Five-Year Plan was delayed until the Fifth National Party Congress of March 1982 while Vietnam waited for the Soviet Union to confirm its aid commitment. Similarly, Vietnam in the mid1980s endured first reduction, then elimination of Soviet price subsidies for purchases of Soviet oil. The reductions were in accordance with the then general Soviet practice of avoiding oil price subsidies in order to keep Comecon oil prices close to those of the world market. The volume of Vietnamese trade suffered increasingly from some of the recurring problems that troubled planners in other Comecon countries during this period, including overly optimistic targets, problems of regionalism, priorities often driven by ideology, and chronic shortages of domestically produced raw materials and industrial commodities. By 1987 observers had concluded that, despite Vietnam's financial ties with Comecon, increased investment and trade from Western countries and other non-Comecon sources would be required for a general Vietnamese economic recovery (following Vietnam's incursion into Cambodia in late 1978, numerous Western and regional aid donors had withdrawn their support and imposed a trade boycott).

Decentralization of Trade

During the 1980s, there were variations in the level of decentralization of foreign trade that the government was willing to permit. A policy of giving local governments and export companies greater autonomy in making contractual and credit arrangements with foreign businesses and government organizations was attempted in 1981 without much success but was endorsed by the Sixth National Party Congress in December 1986. Decentralization was blocked initially by Hanoi's desire to bring the economically livelier southern region of the country, with its latent market-economy orientation, under fuller economic and political control. Such control--exemplified by the 1983 crackdown on the ethnic Chinese commercial community in Ho Chi Minh City--sometimes took precedence over trade promotion. In early 1987, however, city officials reportedly were again encouraging local companies to engage freely in foreign trade, joint ventures, acquisition of technology, and foreign currency borrowing. Provinces, as early as 1986, were permitted to set their own trade regulations and develop export strategies in order to draw sufficient revenue to pay for imports needed to fulfill provincial plan targets.

Some twenty-seven state trading corporations and twenty-two local trading companies conducted business directly or indirectly with companies abroad during the 1980s, either producing export goods or purchasing them from suppliers. Imexco, the central umbrella organization, handled general administrative matters, leaving detailed operations to specialized corporations such as Agrexport and Vegetexco (foodstuffs and animal products); Maranimex (marine products); Naforimex (forest products); and Machineimport and Technoimport (machinery, plants, and equipment). Two specialized corporations, the Vietnam Foreign Trade Corporation and the Vietnam Ocean Shipping Agency, administered all sea transport and cargo handling, respectively. The Soviet-Vietnamese joint venture Vietsovpetro conducted offshore petroleum exploration.

In their day-to-day operations, the specialized trading corporations independently arranged contracts with producers, coordinated in-country transportation, and even designed packaging (for example, of fresh fruit or marine products) to improve freshness and quality control. The Number One Frozen Seafood Export Company, a highly profitable corporation, regularly sent its officials abroad to negotiate trade contracts for its popular frozen prawns and other seafood. In 1986 the company reportedly earned a profit of around US$17 million, chiefly in trade with Japan and Hong Kong (see table 10, Appendix A).

Data as of December 1987

Direction and Composition of Trade

Trading patterns from 1978 through 1986 reflected the growing importance of Vietnam's relationship with Comecon and its weakening ties with major Western economies and noncommunist regional trading partners. Total trade with non-Comecon countries peaked at a little more than US$1 billion in 1978, dropped to less than US$700 million in 1982 and 1983, then averaged some US$850 million per year through 1986 (all dollar figures are given in terms of 1987 conversion rates). Two-way trade with the Soviet Union, that totaled about US$550 million in 1977, reached US$1.2 billion in 1981. This trade, which averaged some 43 percent of total trade from 1977 through 1980, accounted for about 64 percent of the total during the period of the Third Five-Year Plan. According to export plans announced by the Sixth National Party Congress in December 1986, two-way trade with the Soviet Union would continue to account for the major share of the country's foreign trade under the Fourth Five-Year Plan (see table 11, Appendix A).

In the 1980s, Vietnam's trade deficits with non-Comecon countries declined as the country's deficit with the Soviet Union grew. In 1977 and for several years thereafter, Vietnamese exports to its non-communist trade partners averaged less than 20 percent of the value of its imports from them. Exports to these countries increased slowly throughout the mid-1980s as imports declined. Most of the improvement resulted from substantive reductions in imports from eight major trading partners: Canada, Australia, France, Italy, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), Sweden, Britain, and India. The reduction in imports resulted as much from Vietnamese self restraint and loss of trade credit as from politically motivated boycotts on trade with Vietnam, such as that observed by a number of Western and Asian Nations including the United States and the member nations of ASEAN. Vietnam's exports to several Western countries, including West Germany and Britain, increased, however, and the Vietnamese occasionally showed small positive trade balances with Australia and Canada in the mid-1980s. By 1986 Vietnam had reduced its balance-of-payments deficit with non-Comecon countries to less than US$300 million (compared with more than US$700 million annually in the late 1970s) and was exporting products worth half the value of its import bill. Trade with the Soviet Union, however, followed the opposite pattern. Vietnamese exports were valued at an average of 49 percent of imports from the Soviet Union in 1977 and 1978, but at less than 25 percent of imports from 1981 through 1986.

Data as of December 1987

Foreign Investment Policy

In December 1987, the National Assembly approved a new foreign investment code in an apparent effort to bypass boycott restrictions and deal directly with Western and regional businesses. The legislation, which was much more liberal than foreign investment laws in use in other communist states, gave more concessions to foreign investors than similar Vietnamese laws that had been enacted in 1977. The new code used low taxes--20 to 30 percent of profits--to encourage joint ventures and permitted wholly owned foreign enterprises in Vietnam. The code, which was designed to emphasize the development of export industries and services, also granted full repatriation of profits after taxes and guaranteed foreign enterprises against government expropriation. The new law also encouraged oil exploration and production contracts.

Data as of December 1987

External Debt

Vietnam is one of only two communist countries--the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) is the other- -to default on its international debts. Vietnam's scheduled 1982 payments to Western creditors were estimated at US$260 million, well over the US$182 million value of Vietnam's exports that year to noncommunist countries with hard, or convertible, currencies. The Soviets cancelled some US$450 million of Vietnam's debts in 1975 and began a program of grant aid. As Vietnam-Comecon trade expanded in the 1980s, however, so did Vietnamese debts to Comecon countries. Comecon funds for project assistance and related equipment often were wasted because of mismanagement or remained frozen for years in projects not scheduled to become productive until the middle or late 1980s. Projected exports frequently fell short of expectations, widening trade deficits and requiring additional balance-of-payments aid. Taking the long view, the Soviet Union shifted its assistance during the Third Five-Year Plan to concessionary loans, repayable at 2 percent interest over a period of 20 to 30 years.

As Vietnam's international debt grew steadily through the 1980s, the debt owed to the Soviet Union and other Comecon countries accounted for larger portions of the total foreign debt. In 1982, according to estimates by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Vietnam's total foreign debt was US$2.8 billion. Of this debt, US$1.7 billion, or 60 percent, was owed to OECD member countries (advanced industrial Western countries) and their capital markets or to multilateral lenders. A large portion of Vietnam's international debt covered the balance of payments deficit with Comecon countries (see Foreign Economic Assistance , this ch.). In 1987 Le Hoang, deputy director of the State Bank of Vietnam, told a Western correspondent that the country owed between US$5.5 and US$6 billion to Comecon member countries. Hoang stated that Vietnam's debts (both official and private) to hard-currency countries were about US$1 billion.

Creditors in convertible-currency areas included international organizations such as the IMF and the Asian Development Bank; national creditors such as Belgium, Denmark, France, India, Japan, and the Netherlands; and private creditors in numerous Western countries. In January 1985, the IMF suspended further credit when Vietnam failed to meet a repayment schedule on the amount owed to the fund. Talks to reschedule this obligation again failed in 1987, making Vietnam ineligible for fresh funding. In 1987 Vietnam owed the fund some US$90 million. Its foreign exchange reserves in 1985 had been estimated at less than US$20 million.

Data as of December 1987

Foreign Economic Assistance

In the late 1970s, Vietnam relied heavily on economic assistance from both Western and Soviet-bloc donors to finance major development projects, to underwrite its fledgling export industries, and to meet balance of payments deficits. Following Vietnam's acceptance of closer ties with the Soviet Union, its incursion into Cambodia in December 1978, and its border fighting with China in early 1979, aid from China and from Western countries and multilateral organizations dropped, slowing development.

Offshore oil exploration with the assistance of West German, Italian, and Canadian companies ended in 1981, but resumed subsequently with Soviet technical assistance. Aid from China, reportedly close to US$300 million in 1977 and 1978, dropped to zero in 1979, and Vietnamese recovery in coal production was profoundly affected by the accompanying loss of ethnic Chinese workers. In 1979 Japan suspended its Official Development Assistance funds (a mixture of grants and low-interest loans amounting to US$135 million) and made renewal contingent upon Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia. Loss of other Western aid in hard currencies crippled Vietnam's ability to continue importing needed modern machinery and technology from its West European trading partners. Following Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia, only Sweden continued to provide any significant amount of economic help. Some multilateral assistance, such as that for development of the Mekong River, was made available by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, however. Western and multilateral assistance, therefore, did not stop entirely, although the yearly average of about US$100 million through 1986 provided only a fraction of the country's hard-currency needs. In 1986 Vietnam's current account deficit with major industrial countries was some US$221 million. The conflicts with Cambodia and China in 1978 and 1979 proved particularly costly in terms of continuing economic ties with Western and neighboring Asian countries. As a result, Hanoi was forced to rely even more heavily on Soviet-bloc assistance.

The Soviet Union and other members of Comecon increased their aid commitments as their own planning became more closely coordinated with Vietnam's following Hanoi's entry into Comecon in June 1978. Soviet economic aid in 1978, estimated at between US$0.7 and 1.0 billion, was already higher than Western assistance. By 1982 it had increased to more than US$1 billion annually, close to US$3 million per day, and it remained at this level through the mid-1980s. The Soviet Union and other Comecon countries provided aid in all categories--project assistance, technical training, price subsidies, loans, and trade credits. Soviet publications emphasized the importance of project assistance to Vietnam's economic recovery, but about 75 percent of the value of aid disbursed during the Third Five-Year Plan was used to finance Vietnam's bilateral trade deficit with the Soviet Union, which averaged about US$896 million a year. Trade subsidies in the form of reduced prices for Soviet oil also declined sharply in the early 1980s as the Soviet Union brought Vietnam into the Comecon oil-pricing system based on world market values.

Although the details of Comecon assistance to Vietnam since the 1970s had not been made public as of late 1987, Soviet sources gave some indications of the type of project assistance provided and were quick to claim credit for production increases attributable to Soviet technical and plant assistance. Soviet-aid goals from 1978 to 1981 included helping with balance-of-payments problems, assisting with key projects, introducing industrial cooperation, accelerating scientific and technical cooperation, and assisting with the improvement of Vietnamese professional skills. During this period, the Soviet Union also signed numerous agreements calling for financial and technical assistance in matters ranging from traffic-improvement programs for the railroad from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City to completing construction of the Thang Long Bridge over the Red River (see Transportation , this ch.).

Data as of December 1987

Overseas Remittances

During the 1980s, informal aid in the form of packages and remittances from overseas Vietnamese played an important role in improving the living standards of many families, maintaining the domestic economy, and boosting the country's holdings of hard currency. Vietnamese customs officials in 1983 told a Western journalist that packages from overseas relatives--valued at some US$70 million annually in Western products--generated between US$10 million and US$20 million annually in customs revenues alone. Remittances from overseas Vietnamese were believed to provide an additional US$100 million or more in annual foreign exchange earnings.

Data as of December 1987

Chapter 4. Government and Politics

Ho Chi Minh and General Vo Nguyen Giap plan Dien Bien Phu campaign, March 1954

THE SOCIALIST REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM (SRV) is governed through a highly centralized system dominated by the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP--Viet Nam Cong San Dang). As the force controlling the system, the party exercises leadership in all matters. The government manages state affairs through a structure that parallels the party's apparatus, but it is incapable of acting without party direction. All key government positions are filled by party members.

Society is ruled by the party's ubiquitous presence, which is manifested in a network of party cadres at almost every level of social activity. All citizens are expected to be members of one or another of the mass organizations led by party cadres, and all managers and military officials are ultimately answerable to party representatives.

The VCP in the mid-1980s was in a state of transition and experimentation. It was a time when a number of party leaders, who had been contemporaries of Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969), were stepping down in favor of a younger generation of pragmatists and technocrats, and a time when the prolonged poor condition of the economy sparked discontent among grass-roots party organizations as well as open criticism of the party's domestic policy. The party's political ethos, which had once seemed to embody the traditional Vietnamese spirit of resistance to foreigners and which had known great success when the country was overwhelmingly dominated by war and the issues of national liberation and reunification, appeared to have changed after the fall of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) in the spring of 1975 and the reunification of Vietnam in 1976. This ethos had been at the core of the VCP's rise to power during the struggles for independence and unification. To a large degree, the popularity of the communist movement remained tied to these causes; when victory over the South was achieved in 1975, it became apparent that some of the party's governing principles did not easily translate to peacetime conditions. In the absence of war, the ethos changed and the difference between what was communist and what was popular became increasingly noticeable.

Hanoi was apparently unprepared for the scale of its victory in the South, having anticipated that the path to complete power would require at the very least a transition period of shared power with the Southern communist infrastructure (the Provisional Revolutionary Government) and even elements of the incumbent order. Two separate governments in North and South Vietnam were planned until the surprisingly swift disintegration of the South Vietnamese government eliminated the need for a lengthy transition. Following the establishment of communist control in the South, the government immediately was placed under a Military Management Commission, directed by Senior Lieutenant General Tran Van Tra with the assistance of local People's Revolutionary Committees. At a reunification conference in November 1975, the Party's plans for uniting North and South were announced, and elections for a single National Assembly--the highest state organ--(see Glossary) were held on April 26, 1976, the first anniversary of the Southern victory. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam was formally named at the first session of the Sixth National Assembly (the "Unification Assembly"), which met from June 24 to July 2, 1976.

After reunification, the focus of policy became more diffuse. Policy makers, absorbed with incorporating the South into the communist order as quickly as possible, were confronted with both dissension within the North's leadership and southern resistance to the proposed pace of change. The drive undertaken by party ideologues to eliminate all vestiges of capitalism and to collectivize the economy in the South was outlined in the Second Five-Year Plan (1976-80) and announced at the Fourth National Party Congress in December 1976. The plan, the first after reunification, stressed the development of agriculture and light industry, but it set unattainable high goals. The government expected that all industry and agriculture in the South would be state-controlled by the end of 1979. According to Vietnamese sources, however, only 66 percent of cultivated land and 72 percent of peasant households in the South had been organized into collectivized production by early 1985, and socialist transformation in private industry had led to decreased production, increased production costs, and decreased product quality. Meanwhile, the country's leaders were finding it necessary to divert their attention to a number of other equally pressing issues. Besides addressing the many problems of the country's newly unified economy, they also had to work out postwar relations with Cambodia, China, and the Soviet Union. The Sixth National Party Congress held in December 1986 was a watershed for party policy in the 1980s. The party's political mood was accurately reflected in the congress' candid acknowledgment of existing economic problems and in its seeming willingness to change in order to solve them. A new atmosphere of experimentation and reform, apparently reinforced by reforms initiated by the Soviet Union's new leadership, was introduced, setting the stage for a period of self-examination, the elimination of corrupt party officials, and new economic policies.

Data as of December 1987



Ho Chi Minh's tomb in Hanoi
Courtesy Bill Herod


Ho Chi Minh addresses the Third National Party Congress (September 1960), flanked by Le Duan and Truong Chinh.
Courtesy Indochina Archives

The state Constitution adopted in 1980 terms the party "the only force leading the state and society and the main factor determining all successes of the Vietnamese revolution." The party's role is primary in all state activities, overriding that of the government, which functions merely to implement party policies. The party maintains control by filling key positions in all government agencies with party leaders or the most trusted party cadres and by controlling all mass organizations. Citizens belong to mass organizations appropriate to their status, such as the quasi-governmental Vietnam Fatherland Front, the Vietnam General Confederation of Trade Unions, or the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth League (see Party Organization , this ch.). Party cadres leading such organizations educate and mobilize the masses through regular study sessions to implement party policies.

Although party congresses are rare events in Vietnam, they provide a record of the party's history and direction and tend to reflect accurately the important issues of their time. In February 1930 in Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh presided over the founding congress of the VCP. At the direction of the Communist International ( Comintern--see Glossary), the party's name was changed shortly afterwards to the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP). The designated First National Party Congress following the party's founding was held secretly in Macao in 1935, coincidentally with the convocation in Moscow of the Seventh Congress of the Comintern. At the Seventh Congress, the Comintern modified its "united front" strategy for world revolution chiefly to protect the Soviet Union from the rise of fascism. Member parties were instructed to join in popular fronts with noncommunist parties to preserve world socialism in the face of fascism's new threat. Although the Vietnamese party subsequently adopted the strategy, the timing of the two meetings dictated that the Vietnamese in Macao wait until after their meeting for directions from Moscow. Consequently, the resolutions enunciated at the ICP's first congress turned out to be only provisional because they stressed the older and narrower concept of the united front that divided the world into imperialist and socialist camps but failed to account for fascism. Under the new strategy, the ICP considered all nationalist parties in Indochina as potential allies. The Second National Party Congress was held in 1951 in Tuyen Quang, a former province in the Viet Bac, a remote region of the North Vietnamese highlands controlled by the Viet Minh (see Glossary) during the First Indochina War (see Glossary--also known as the Viet Minh War). It reestablished the ICP, which had been officially dissolved in 1945 to obscure the party's communist affiliation, and renamed it the Vietnam Workers' Party (VWP, Dang Lao Dong Viet Nam). Nine years later in Hanoi, the Third National Party Congress formalized the tasks required to construct a socialist society in the North and carrying out a revolution in the South.

The Fourth National Party Congress, which convened in December 1976, was the first such congress held after the country's reunification. Reflecting the party's sense of rebirth, the congress changed the party's name from the Vietnam Workers' Party (VWP, Dang Lao Dong Viet) to the Vietnam Communist Party. This congress was significant for disclosing the party's plans for a unified Vietnam and for initiating the party's most widespread leadership changes up to that time. The delegates adopted a new party Statute, replacing one that had been ratified in 1960 when the country was divided. The new Statute was directed at the country as a whole but focused on the application of Marxist-Leninist principles in the South, stating that the party's goal was to "realize socialism and communism in Vietnam." It further described the VCP as the "vanguard, organized combat staff, and highest organization" of the Vietnamese working class, and a "united bloc of will and action" structured on the principle of democratic centralism (see Glossary). Democratic centralism is a fundamental organizational principle of the party, and, according to the 1976 Statute, it mandates not only the "activity and creativity" of all party organizations but also "guarantees the party's unity of will and action." As a result of unification, the Central Committee expanded from 77 to 133 members, the 11-member Political Bureau of the Central Committee grew to 17, including 3 alternate or candidate members, and the Secretariat of the Central Committee increased from 7 to 9. More than half of the members of the Central Committee were first-time appointees, many of whom came from the southern provinces.

Membership in the party doubled from 760,000 in 1966 to 1,553,500 in 1976, representing 3.1 percent of the total population. Comparable figures for China (4.2 percent) and the Soviet Union (6.9 percent) in 1986 suggest that the 1976 proportion of party membership to total population in Vietnam was small. Nevertheless, the doubling of the party's size in the space of a decade was cause for concern to Vietnam's leaders, who feared that a decline in the party's selection standards had resulted in increased inefficiency and corruption. They believed that quantity had been substituted for quality and resolved to stress quality in the future. In an effort to purify the party, growth over the next decade was deliberately checked. Membership in 1986 was close to 2 million, only about 3.3 percent of the population. According to Hanoi's estimates, nearly 10 percent, or 200,000 party members, were expelled for alleged inefficiency, corruption, or other failures between 1976 and 1986.

Turning to the economy, the Fourth National Party Congress transferred the party's emphasis on heavy industry, initiated at the Third National Party Congress, to light industry, fishing, forestry, and agriculture. It directed attention to the Second Five-Year Plan, which was already a year old (see Economic Roles of the Party and the Government , ch.3). The Fourth National Party Congress also introduced a number of economic objectives, including establishment on a national scale of a new system of economic management, better use of prices to regulate supply and demand, budgets to implement economic development programs, tax policy to control sources of income, and banks to supply capital for production. Finally, differences over the role of the military surfaced at the congress, dividing party pragmatists, who saw the army as a supplement to the labor force, from the more doctrinaire theoreticians, who saw the military as a fighting force, the primary mission of which would be obstructed by economic tasks.

The Fifth National Party Congress, held in March 1982, confirmed Vietnam's alignment with the Soviet Union but revealed a breach in party unity and indecision on economic policy. An unprecedented six members of the Political Bureau were retired, including Vo Nguyen Giap, defense minister and former chief military strategist in the wars against France and the United States, and Nguyen Van Linh, future party general secretary who later returned to the Political Bureau in June 1985. The six who departed, however, were from the middle ranks of the Political Bureau. The topmost leaders--from General Secretary Le Duan to fifth-ranked member Le Duc Tho--remained in their posts. Thirty- four full members and twelve alternate members of the Central Committee also were dropped. The new Central Committee was increased from 133 members and 32 alternate members to 152 members and 36 alternate members. Party strength had grown to 1.7 million.

The Sixth National Party Congress, held in December 1986, was characterized by candid evaluations of the party and more leadership changes. There was an extraordinary outpouring of self-criticism over the party's failure to improve the economy. A new commitment was made to revive the economy but in a more moderate manner. The policy of the Sixth National Party Congress thus attempted to balance the positions of radicals, who urged a quicker transition to socialism through collectivization, and moderates, who urged increased reliance on free-market forces. Three of the country's top leaders voluntarily retired from their party positions: VCP General Secretary and President Truong Chinh, aged seventy-nine; second-ranked Political Bureau member and Premier Pham Van Dong, aged seventy-nine; and party theoretician and fourth-ranked Political Bureau member (without government portfolio) Le Duc Tho, aged seventy-five (see Appendix B). Afterwards, they took up positions as advisers, with unspecified powers, to the Central Committee. Chinh and Dong retained their government posts until the new National Assembly met in June 1987. Their simultaneous retirement was unusual in that leaders of Communist nations tend either to die in office or to be purged, but it paved the way for younger, better educated leaders to rise to the top.

Nguyen Van Linh, an economic pragmatist, was named party general secretary. The new Political Bureau had 14 members, and the new Central Committee was expanded to 173, including 124 full members and 49 alternate members. In continuing the trend to purify party ranks by replacing old members, the Sixth Party Congress replaced approximately one-third of the Central Committee members with thirty-eight new full members and forty- three new alternate members. It expanded the Secretariat from ten members to thirteen, only three of whom had previously served.

Data as of December 1987



Figure 14. Organization of the Vietnamese Communist Party, 1987

The Party Congress and the Central Committee

As stipulated in the party Statute, the National Party Congress (or National Congress of Party Delegates) is the party's highest organ. Because of its unwieldy size (the Sixth National Party Congress held in December 1986 was attended by 1,129 delegates), the infrequency with which it meets (once every 5 years or when a special situation arises), and its de facto subordinate position to the party's Central Committee, which it elects, the National Party Congress lacks real power. In theory, the congress establishes party policy, but in actuality it functions as a rubber stamp for the policies of the Political Bureau, the Central Committee's decision-making body. The primary role of the National Party Congress is to provide a forum for reports on party programs since the last congress, to ratify party directives for the future, and to elect a Central Committee. Once these duties are performed, the congress adjourns, leaving the Central Committee, which has a term of five years, to implement the policies of the congress.

The Central Committee--the party organization in which political power is formally vested--meets more frequently than the National Party Congress--at least twice annually in forums called plenums--and is much smaller in size (the Central Committee elected at the Sixth National Party Congress in December 1986 numbered 124 full members and 49 alternate members). Like the National Party Congress, however, it usually acts to confirm rather than establish policy. In reality, the creation of policy is the prerogative of the Political Bureau, which the Central Committee elects and to which it delegates all decision-making authority.

The Political Bureau, composed of the party's highest ranking members, is the party's supreme policy-making body; it possesses unlimited decision- and policy-making powers. At the Sixth National Party Congress, the Central Committee elected thirteen full members and one alternate member to the Political Bureau.

Acting in administrative capacities under the direction of the Political Bureau, are a party Secretariat, a Central Control Commission, and a Central Military Party Committee. The Secretariat is the most important of these three bodies, overseeing the party and day-to-day implementation of policies set by the Political Bureau. In 1986 the Secretariat, headed by the party general secretary, was expanded from ten to thirteen members. Five of the Secretariat's members held concurrent positions on the Political Bureau: Nguyen Van Linh, Nguyen Duc Tam, Tran Xuan Bach, Dao Duy Tung, and Do Muoi. Among its roles are the supervision of Central Committee departments concerned with party organization, propaganda and training, foreign affairs, finance, science and education, and industry and agriculture. In 1986 there existed a seven-member Central Control Commission, appointed by the Central Committee and charged with investigating reports of party irregularities. A Central Military Party Committee with an undisclosed number of members, also appointed by the Central Committee, controlled the party's military affairs. In 1987, party committees throughout the armed forces were under the supervision of the People's Army of Vietnam's ( PAVN--see Glossary) Directorate General for Political Affairs, which, in turn, was responsible to the Central Military Party Committee. These committees maintained close relationships with the local civilian party committees (see fig. 14).

Data as of December 1987

Other Party Organizations

Party caucuses operate throughout the government and mass organizations. Using assorted methods of persuasion and proselytization, they implement party lines, policies, and resolutions; increase party influence and unity; and develop and propose guidelines and programs for mass organizations and party committees at various administrative levels. Party caucuses are responsible for appointing political cadres to serve as delegates or to hold key positions in such government organizations as the National Assembly and the people's councils, or in such party organizations as the party congresses and the mass organizations (see The System of Government , this ch.). In state agencies where the "manager system" is practiced--those in which party cadres have been appointed officially to management positions--the functions of party caucuses are assumed by coordination and operations committees.

The chapter is the basic party unit. It numbers from three to thirty members depending upon whether it represents a production, work, or military unit. Larger groups, such as factories or cooperatives, may have more than one party chapter. A chapter's chief responsibilities are to indoctrinate party members and to provide political leadership for production units and the armed forces.

Cadres are party members in leadership positions. They function at all levels of party organization but are most numerous at lower levels. The strength of the cadre system is its ability to mobilize the people quickly. Its weaknesses include abuse of power, which is facilitated by the absence of enforced standards of conduct, and over-reliance by the higher echelons on the lower. The higher party leaders tolerate the excesses of lower echelon cadres because the lower level representatives tend to be well entrenched in local society and in the best position to influence the people. Higher officials simply lack the clout to motivate the people as well.

Data as of December 1987

Front Organizations

The purpose of front organizations is to mobilize and recruit for the party and to monitor the activities of their members in cooperation with local security agents. Organizations may be segregated by sex, age, national origin, profession, or other traits designated by the party. From members of front organizations, such as the Red-Scarf Teenagers' Organization and the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth League, the party is able to select potential party members.

The Vietnam Fatherland Front, because it unites a number of subordinate front organizations, is the most important. Its first unified national congress took place in January 1977 when all national front organizations, including the National Front for the liberation of South Vietnam, informally called the National Liberation Front (NLF, Mat Tran Dan Toc Giai Nam Viet Nam), operating in the south, were merged under its banner. In the late 1980s, the Vietnam General Confederation of Trade Unions, described by the party as the "broadest mass organization of the working class," was also significant because its members, along with party members, state employees, and members of the Youth League, were included among the elite granted material privileges by the state. Finally, the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth League was important because it acted to screen, train, and recruit party members.

In the mid-and late 1980s, the party increasingly viewed the front organizations as moribund and criticized them for being no longer representative of party policy. Party General Secretary Nguyen Van Linh, however, sought to revive and develop them as important avenues for controlled criticism of party abuses.

Data as of December 1987


The VCP has been characterized by the stability of its leadership. According to Vietnam observer Douglas Pike, Hanoi's leadership was "forged of a constant forty-year association" in which individuals shared "the same common experience, the same development, the same social trauma." Because of their small number, Political Bureau members were able to arrive at agreement more easily than larger forums and hence were able to deal more effectively with day-to-day decisions. As individuals, they tended to take on a large number of diverse party and government functions, thus keeping the administrative apparatus small and highly personalized.

Decisions tended to be made in a collegial fashion with alliances changing on different issues. Where factions existed, they were differentiated along lines separating those favoring Moscow from those preferring Beijing or along lines distinguishing ideological hardliners and purists from reformists and economic pragmatists. The accounts of Hoang Van Hoan, a former Political Bureau member who fled to Beijing in 1978, and of Truong Nhu Tang, former justice minister of the NLF verified the existence in the early 1970s of factions identified by their loyalty to either Moscow or Beijing. They asserted that the proSoviet direction taken following Ho Chi Minh's death in 1969, and particularly after the Fourth National Party Congress in 1977, was the result of the party's having progressively come under the influence of a small pro-Soviet clique led by Party Secretary Le Duan and high-ranking Political Bureau member Le Duc Tho, and including Truong Chinh, Pham Van Dong, and Pham Hung. Until Le Duan's death, these five represented a core policy-making element within the Political Bureau. Whether or not a similar core of decision makers existed in the Political Bureau of the mid-1980s, under Party Secretary Nguyen Van Linh, was not clear.

Differences within the Political Bureau in the mid-1980s, however, appeared focused on the country's economic problems. The line was drawn between reformists, who were willing to institute changes that included a free market system in order to stimulate Vietnam's ailing economy, and ideologues, who feared the effect such reforms would have on party control and the ideological purity of the society. The leadership changes that occurred in late 1986 and early 1987 as a result of the Sixth National Party Congress suggested that the reformers might have won concessions in favor of moderate economic reform. The scale of the infighting reportedly was small, however, and the changes that were made probably were undertaken on the basis of a consensus reached between the hardliners and the reformers. Nevertheless, the results demonstrated that Vietnam's leaders increasingly had come to the realization that rebuilding the country's war-torn economy was as difficult an undertaking as conquering the Saigon government.

Data as of December 1987


Vietnam's political culture has been determined by a number of factors of which communism is but the latest. The country's political tradition is one of applying borrowed ideas to indigenous conditions. In many ways, Marxism-Leninism simply represents a new language in which to express old but consistent cultural orientations and inclinations. Vietnam's political processes, therefore, incorporate as much from the national mythology as from the pragmatic concerns engendered by current issues.

The major influences on Vietnamese political culture were of Chinese origin. Vietnam's political institutions were forged by 1,000 years of Chinese rule (111 B.C. to A.D. 939). The ancient Chinese system, based on Confucianism, established a political center surrounded by loyal subjects. The Confucians stressed the importance of the village, endowing it with autonomy but clearly defining its relationship to the center. Those who ruled did so with the "mandate of heaven." Although they were not themselves considered divine, they ruled by divine right by reason of their virtue, which was manifested in moral righteousness and compassion for the welfare of the people. A monarch possessing these traits received the unconditional loyalty of his subjects. Selection of bureaucratic officials was on the basis of civil service examinations rather than heredity, and government institutions were viewed simply as conduits for the superior wisdom of the rulers (see The Social System , ch. 2).

The Vietnamese adopted this political system rather than one belonging to their Southeast Asian neighbors, whose rulers were identified as gods. Nevertheless, Vietnamese interpretations of the system differed from those of the Chinese both in the degree of loyalty extended to a ruler and in the nature of the relationship between the institutions of government and the men who ruled. In Vietnam, loyalty to a monarch was conditional upon his success in defending national territory. A history of Chinese domination had sensitized the Vietnamese to the importance of retaining their territorial integrity. In China, territorial control did not arouse the same degree of fervor. In interpreting the role of government institutions, Vietnamese beliefs also conflicted with Confucian theory. Whereas the Confucians held that institutions were necessarily subordinate to the virtuous ruler, Vietnamese practice held the opposite to be true. Institutions were endowed with a certain innate authority over the individual, a trait manifested in the Vietnamese penchant for creating complex and redundant institutions. Despite Confucian influence, Vietnamese practice demonstrated a faith in administrative structures and in legalist approaches to political problems that was distinctly Vietnamese, not Confucianist.

Nevertheless, Confucian traits were still discernible in Vietnam in the mid-1980s. To begin with, many of the first- generation communist leaders came from scholar-official backgrounds and were well-versed in the traditional requisites of "talent and virtue" (tai duc) necessary for leadership. Ho Chi Minh's father was a Confucian scholar, and Vo Nguyen Giap and the brothers Le Duc Tho and Mai Chi Tho were from scholarly families. They cultivated an image of being incorruptible and effective administrators as well as moral leaders. The relationship between the government and the governed was also deliberately structured to parallel the Confucian system. Like the Confucians, leaders of the highly centralized Vietnamese ccommunist government stressed the importance of the village and clearly defined its relationship to the center.

In this link between ruler and subjects, the Confucian and communist systems appeared to co-exist more readily among the disciplined peasants of the North than among their reputedly fractious brethren in the South, where the influence of India and France outweighed that of China. Searching for reasons to explain the phenomenon, some observers have suggested that the greater difficulty encountered in transforming Vietnam's southern provinces into a communist society stemmed, in part, from this region's having been the least Sinicized. In addition, Southeast Asian influences in South Vietnam, such as Theravada Buddhism, had created a cultural climate in which relations with a distant center of authority were a norm (see Religion , ch. 2). Moreover, the South's political systems had tended to isolate the center, in both symbolic and physical terms, from the majority of the people, who had no clear means of access to their government. The South had also been the first to fall to the French, who had extended their influence there by establishing colonial rule. In the North, however, the French had maintained only a protectorate and had allowed a measure of self-government. As a result, French influence in the North was less than in the South and represented a smaller obstacle to the imposition of communism.

The influence of modern China, and particularly the doctrines of Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party, on Vietnamese political culture is a more complicated issue. Vietnamese leaders, including Ho Chi Minh, spent time in China, but they had formed their impressions of communism in Paris and Moscow and through Moscow-directed Comintern connections. The success of the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949, however, inspired the Vietnamese communists to continue their own revolution. It also enabled them to do so by introducing the People's Republic of China as a critical source of material support. The Second National Party Congress, held in 1951, reflected renewed determination to push ahead with party objectives, including reconstruction of the society to achieve communist aims and land reform.

The Soviet model, as well, can be discerned in Vietnamese political practice. In the areas of legal procedure, bureaucratic practice, and industrial management, the Vietnamese system more closely resembles the Soviet system than the Chinese. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, VCP leaders were attracted particularly by advances made in Soviet economic development. In the majority of cases, however, Vietnamese policies and institutions, rather than adhering strictly to either Chinese or Soviet models, have tended to be essentially Vietnamese responses to Vietnamese problems.

Traditional adversarial relationships with neighboring states have also helped define Vietnam's political culture. The country's long-standing rifts with Cambodia and China, which developed into open conflicts in 1978 and 1979 respectively, suggest the need to view contemporary relationships in historical perspective (see Early History; The Chinese Millennium , ch. 1; Foreign Relations , this ch.). Hanoi's attitude regarding its relations with these two neighbors is grounded as much in accustomed patterns of interchange as in current concerns for national security. It is also firmly based in the Vietnamese tradition of resistance to foreign rule, which has been a theme of great appeal to Vietnamese patriots since the time of Chinese domination. The founding members of the VCP were the dissenting elite of a colonized country. They were attracted to Marxism- Leninism not only for its social theories but also because of the Leninist response to colonial subjugation. Ho himself was reported to have been more concerned with the problem of French imperialism than with that of class struggle.

Vietnam's agrarian economy also contributed to its political culture. As an agricultural people, the Vietnamese lacked an urban industrial proletariat to carry out their revolution. Leadership, therefore, necessarily passed into the hands of scholar-official intellectuals and peasants.

Vietnam's political culture, in turn, has contributed to its comparative isolation from non-communist states. This isolation is partially a result of the ideology that has created self- imposed political barriers with the West, but it is also the result of the collective mentality of the nation's leadership, which views itself as set apart from communist as well as noncommunist nations. This view stems from years of preoccupation with the struggle for independence and the reunification of the country. Such an ethnocentric focus on domestic affairs resulted in a provincial outlook that continued in the late 1980sand was reinforced by the lack of international experience of many of Vietnam's leaders whose foreign travel was limited to official visits to other communist states. In addition, Vietnam's military victories over reputedly superior military forces, including those of France, the United States, and, in 1979, China, have created a sense of arrogance that a wider world view would not justify.

Communist ideology, particularly as manipulated by the Vietnamese leadership, has also helped to shape Vietnam's political culture. The country's communist leaders have been adept at stressing the continuity of Marxist-Leninist doctrine with Vietnamese history. The VCP successfully identified communism with the historical goals of Vietnamese nationalism and achieved leadership of Vietnam's independence struggle by accommodating the aspirations of a number of ethnic, religious, and political groups. The party has presented the myths and realities of the past in a manner that suggests that they led naturally to the present. In his writings, Ho Chi Minh used classical Vietnamese literary allusions to convey a sense of mystique about the past, and he cultivated the classical Vietnamese image of a leader who reflected uy tin (credibility), a charismatic quality combining elements of compassion, asceticism, and correct demeanor, which legitimized a leader's claim to authority. The communist regime additionally promoted the importance of archaeology, popular literature, and cultural treasures in order to emphasize its ties to Vietnam's classical traditions. VCP historiography views the French colonial period (1858-1954) as more an interruption than a part of Vietnamese history.

Despite the care taken to preserve Vietnamese identity, the party has hesitated to deviate from Marxist-Leninist doctrine even when its application resulted in failure. The planned rapid and total transformation of the South to communism in the 1970s failed because it was almost entirely ideologically inspired and did not sufficiently anticipate the scale of economic and social resistance that such a plan would encounter in the South. This failure paralleled the failure to collectivize the North rapidly in the 1950s. In both cases, however, the party maintained that the predominantly ideological programs had been instituted to attain nationalist goals and that nationalism had not been exploited for the purpose of furthering communism.

Vietnam's political culture represents, therefore, the steadfast survival of what is Vietnamese in the face of a long history of outside influence; integration of historical political ideals with an imported communist organizational model has created a communist identity that is no less Vietnamese.

Data as of December 1987



Figure 15. National Government Structure, 1987

Constitutional Evolution

The communist party-controlled government of Vietnam has ruled under three state constitutions. The first was promulgated in 1946, the second in 1959, and the third in 1980. Significantly, each was created at a milestone in the evolution of the VCP, and each bore the mark of its time.

The purpose of the 1946 constitution was essentially to provide the communist regime with a democratic appearance. The newly established government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) was sensitive about its communist sponsorship, and it perceived democratic trappings as more appealing to noncommunist nationalists and less provocative to French negotiators. Even though such guarantees were never intended to be carried out, the constitution provided for freedom of speech, the press, and assembly. The document remained in effect in Viet Minh-controlled areas throughout the First Indochina War (1946-54--see Glossary) and in North Vietnam following partition in 1954, until it was replaced with a new constitution in 1959.

The second constitution was explicitly communist in character. Its preamble described the DRV as a "people's democratic state led by the working class," and the document provided for a nominal separation of powers among legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. On paper, the legislative function was carried out by the National Assembly. The assembly was empowered to make laws and to elect the chief officials of the state, such as the president (who was largely a symbolic head of state), the vice president, and cabinet ministers. Together those elected (including the president and vice president) formed a Council of Ministers, which constitutionally (but not in practice) was subject to supervision by the Standing Committee of the National Assembly. Headed by a prime minister, the council was the highest executive organ of state authority. Besides overseeing the Council of Ministers, the assembly's Standing Committee also supervised on paper the Supreme People's Court, the chief organ of the judiciary. The assembly's executive side nominally decided on national economic plans, approved state budgets, and acted on questions of war or peace. In reality, however, final authority on all matters rested with the Political Bureau.

The reunification of North and South Vietnam (the former Republic of Vietnam) in 1976 provided the primary motivation for revising the 1959 constitution. Revisions were made along the ideological lines set forth at the Fourth National Congress of the VCP in 1976, emphasizing popular sovereignty and promising success in undertaking "revolutions" in production, science and technology, culture, and ideology. In keeping with the underlying theme of a new beginning associated with reunification, the constitution also stressed the need to develop a new political system, a new economy, a new culture, and a new socialist person.

The 1959 document had been adopted during the tenure of Ho Chi Minh and demonstrated a certain independence from the Soviet model of state organization. The 1980 Constitution was drafted when Vietnam faced a serious threat from China, and political and economic dependence on the Soviet Union had increased. Perhaps, as a result, the completed document resembles the 1977 Soviet Constitution.

The 1980 Vietnamese Constitution concentrates power in a newly established Council of State much like the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, endowing it nominally with both legislative and executive powers. Many functions of the legislature remain the same as under the 1959 document, but others have been transferred to the executive branch or assigned to both branches concurrently. The executive branch appears strengthened overall, having gained a second major executive body, the Council of State, and the importance of the National Assembly appears to have been reduced accordingly. The role of the Council of Ministers, while appearing on paper to have been subordinated to the new Council of State, in practice retained its former primacy (see Council of State; Council of Ministers , this ch.; table 12, Appendix A).

Among the innovative features of the 1980 document is the concept of "collective mastery" of society, a frequently used expression attributed to the late party secretary, Le Duan (1908- 1986). The concept is a Vietnamese version of popular sovereignty that advocates an active role for the people so that they may become their own masters as well as masters of society, nature, and the nation. It states that the people's collective mastery in all fields is assured by the state and is implemented by permitting the participation in state affairs of mass organizations. On paper, these organizations, to which almost all citizens belong, play an active role in government and have the right to introduce bills before the National Assembly.

Another feature is the concept of socialist legality, which dictates that "the state manage society according to law and constantly strengthen the socialist legal system." The concept, originally introduced at the Third National Party Congress in 1960, calls for achieving socialist legality through the state, its organizations, and its people. Law, in effect, is made subject to the decisions and directives of the party.

The apparent contradiction between the people's right to active participation in government suggested by collective mastery and the party's absolute control of government dictated by "socialist legality" is characteristic of communist political documents in which rights provided the citizenry often are negated by countermeasures appearing elsewhere in the document. Vietnam's constitutions have not been guarantors, therefore, of the rights of citizens or of the separation and limitation of powers. They have been intended instead to serve the partycontrolled regime.

The 1980 Constitution comprises 147 articles in 12 chapters dealing with numerous subjects, including the basic rights and duties of citizens. Article 67 guarantees the citizens' rights to freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and association, and the freedom to demonstrate. Such rights are, nevertheless, subject to a caveat stating "no one may misuse democratic freedoms to violate the interests of the state and the people." With this stipulation, all rights are conditionally based upon the party's interpretation of what constitutes behavior in the state's and people's interest.

Data as of December 1987

Government Structure

The National Assembly

Constitutionally, the National Assembly is the highest government organization and the highest-level representative body of the people. It has the power to draw up, adopt, and amend the constitution and to make and amend laws. It also has the responsibility to legislate and implement state plans and budgets. Through its constitution-making powers it defines its own role and the roles of the Council of State, the Council of Ministers, the People's Councils and People's Committees, the Supreme People's Court, and the Supreme People's Organs of Control. The assembly can elect and remove members of the Council of Ministers, the chief justice of the Supreme People's Court, and the procurator general of the People's Supreme Organ of Control. Finally, it has the power to initiate or conclude wars and to assume other duties and powers it deems necessary. The term of each session of the National Assembly is five years, and meetings are convened twice a year, or more frequently if called for by the Council of State.

Despite its many formal duties, the National Assembly exists mainly as a legislative arm of the VCP's Political Bureau. It converts Political Bureau resolutions into laws and decrees and mobilizes popular support for them. In this role, the National Assembly is led by the Council of Ministers acting through the Council of State and a variable number of special-purpose committees. Actual debate on legislation does not occur. Instead, a bill originates in the Council of Ministers, which registers the bill and assigns a key party member to present it on the floor. Before presentation, the member will have received detailed instructions from the party caucus in the assembly, which has held study sessions regarding the proposed legislation. Once the legislation is presented, members vote according to party guidelines.

A general national election to choose National Assembly delegates is held every five years. The first election following the reunification of the North and South was held in April 1976 and the voters selected 492 members, of which 243 represented the South and 249 the North. In 1987 the Eighth National Assembly numbered 496 members. Because successful candidates were chosen in advance, the electoral process was not genuine. No one could run for office unless approved by the party, and in many cases the local body of the party simply appointed the candidates. Nevertheless, every citizen had a duty to vote, and, although the balloting was secret, the electorate, through electoral study sessions, received directives from the party concerning who should be elected. The elections in 1987, however, were comparatively open by Vietnamese standards. It was evident that the party was tolerating a wider choice in candidates and more debate.

Data as of December 1987

The Council of State

The Council of State is the highest standing body of the National Assembly. Its members, who serve as a collective presidency for Vietnam, are elected from among National Assembly deputies. The Council of State is "responsible and accountable" to the National Assembly, according to Chapter VII of the 1980 Constitution. It plays a more active role than the titular presidency provided for in the 1959 constitution and, in addition, it has assumed the day-to-day duties of the former Standing Committee of the National Assembly under the old constitution. The council thus holds both legislative and executive powers, but in actuality it wields less power than the Council of Ministers. As stipulated in the Constitution, the Council of State comprises a chairman, several vice chairmen (there were three in 1987), a general secretary, and members (there were seven in 1987). Members of the Council of State cannot be concurrently members of the Council of Ministers. Its chairman concurrently commands the armed forces and chairs the National Defense Council, which controls the armed forces (see The Armed Forces , ch. 5). The Council of State nominally presides over the election of deputies to the National Assembly; promulgates laws and issues decrees; supervises the work of the Council of Ministers, the Supreme People's Court, the procurator general of the Supreme People's Organ of Control, and the People's Councils at all levels; decides, when the National Assembly is not in session, to form or dissolve ministries and state committees and to appoint or dismiss the vice chairmen of the Council of Ministers, ministers, and heads of state committees; declares a state of war, and orders general or local mobilization in the event of invasion. Such decisions, however, must be submitted to the next session of the National Assembly for ratification. The five-year term of the Council corresponds with that of the National Assembly, but the Council continues its functions until the new National Assembly elects a new Council of State.

Data as of December 1987

The Council of Ministers

The Council of Ministers is entrusted by the 1980 Constitution with managing and implementing the governmental activities of the state. It is described in that document as "the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the highest executive and administrative state body of the highest body of state authority." It is accountable to the National Assembly, and, more directly, to the Council of State when the National Assembly is not in session. Its duties include submitting draft laws, decrees, and other bills to the National Assembly and the Council of State; drafting state plans and budgets and implementing them following the National Assembly's approval; managing the development of the national economy; organizing national defense activities and assuring the preparedness of the armed forces; and organizing and managing the state's foreign relations. Its membership includes a chairman, vice chairman, cabinet ministers, and the heads of state committees, whose terms of office coincide with that of the National Assembly. The Council of Ministers includes its own standing committee, which serves to coordinate and mobilize the council's activities. In 1986 the standing committee was expanded from ten to thirteen members.

Each ministry is headed by a minister, who is assisted by two to twelve vice ministers. The number and functions of the ministries are not prescribed in the Constitution, but in 1987 there were twenty-three ministries, and a number of other specialized commissions and departments. In apparent response to the call by the Sixth National Party Congress in 1986 for a streamlined bureaucracy, several ministries were merged. The former ministries of agriculture, food, and food industry were joined in a newly created Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry. The ministries of power and mines were merged to form the Ministry of Energy, and a newly created Ministry of Labor, War Invalids, and Social Welfare consolidated the duties of three former ministries. The addition of two new ministerial bodies also resulted from the 1986 Congress: a Ministry of Information to replace the Vietnam Radio and Television Commission, and a Commission for Economic Relations with Foreign Countries to act as a coordinating body for foreign aid.

Data as of December 1987

People's Courts and People's Organs of Control

Vietnam's judicial bodies are the Supreme People's Court, the local People's Courts at the provincial, district, and city levels, the military tribunals, and the People's Organs of Control (see Internal Security , ch. 5). Under special circumstances, such as showcase trials involving breaches of national security, the National Assembly or the Council of State may set up special tribunals. Judges are elected for a term equivalent to that of the bodies that elected them, and trials are held with the participation of people's assessors, who may also act as judges. The Constitution guarantees defendants the right to plead their cases. Cases are prosecuted by a procurator.

The Supreme People's Court is the highest tribunal and is charged with the supervision of subordinate courts. As a court of first instance, it tries cases involving high treason or other crimes of a serious nature; and as the highest court of appeals, it reviews cases originating with the lower courts. Appeals are infrequent, however, because lower courts tend to act as final arbiters.

Local people's courts function at each administrative level except at the village level, where members of the village administrative committees serve in a judicial capacity. Proceedings of local courts are presided over by people's assessors.

The Supreme People's Organs of Control function as watchdogs of the state and work independently of all other government agencies, although they are nominally responsible to the National Assembly. They are subordinate to the People's Supreme Organ of Control also known as the People's Supreme Procurate, which, in turn, is headed by a chief procurator or procurator general. These organs exercise extraordinary powers of surveillance over government agencies at every level, including the court system and agencies for law enforcement.

A new Penal Code was adopted in January 1986, replacing a 1950 code of justice based on the French Civil Code. Under the new code, crime is defined very broadly. Authorities interpret a wide range of antisocial behavior as potentially criminal, such as graft, petty corruption, hoarding, and currency malpractice (see fig. 15).

Data as of December 1987

Local Government

Vietnam in 1987 remained divided into thirty-six provinces, three autonomous municipalities, and one special zone directly under the central government (see fig. 1). Provinces are divided into districts, towns, and capitals. The autonomous municipalities directly under central authority are divided into precincts, and these are subdivided into wards. Provincial districts are divided into villages and townships; provincial towns and provincial capitals are divided into wards and villages. Each administrative level has a people's council and a people's committee.

The people's councils represent the local authority of the state and are the top supervisory bodies at each level. They do not govern directly but instead elect and oversee people's committees that act as executive bodies and carry out local administrative duties. Council members are popularly elected-- although candidates are screened by the party--and are responsible for ensuring strict local observance of the Constitution and laws and for ruling on local plans and budgets. Council members are further charged with overseeing the development and maintenance of local armed forces units (see The Armed Forces , ch. 5).

Following the Fourth National Party Congress in 1976, the districts became the basic administrative units of the government. The Congress had declared that the districts should become agro-industrial economic units, acting to orchestrate the reorganization of production. Formerly, they had functioned simply as intermediaries for channeling directives to the village level. After 1976 they functioned as agencies for economic planning, budgeting, and management, and as the chief political units of local government. Emphasis on this latter function has created an enormous bureaucracy. Many provincial people's committees have in excess of thirty separate departments, and each district people's committee has had to establish an equal number of counterparts.

The three autonomous municipalities in Vietnam are Hanoi, Haiphong, and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). The government of an autonomous municipality consists of an elected people's council that in turn elects an executive committee headed by a mayor. The executive committee oversees numerous departments administering various activities.

The precinct wards of the three autonomous municipalities are divided into sectors, which are then further divided into neighborhood solidarity cells. As many as 28 to 30 cells, together numbering 400 to 600 households, may make up a sector, and 10 sectors may compose a ward. The administration of a village corresponds to that of an urban ward.

The ward executive committee ensures that government activities prescribed by the precinct committee are carried out. The precinct committee simply represents an intermediary level between the municipal government and the ward committees.

At the ward level, in addition to people's councils and executive committees, there are security departments with connections to the national security apparatus. The security departments monitor the activities of ward members, but the departments' decisions are kept secret from the chairpersons of the ward executive committees (see Internal Security , ch. 5).

A sector, instead of having an executive committee, has a residents' protective committee concerned with fighting fires and preventing petty crime. A sector security officer is charged with the suppression of dissent. Every head of household belongs to a subcell of only a few families and reports regularly to a neighborhood solidarity cell comprising twelve to twenty families. Party directives and policies reach the citizenry via the party's mass organizations or the hierarchy of the party and its representatives at the ward level.

Data as of December 1987

Appendix B -- Vietnam

Party Leaders in the 1980s

The Political Bureau elected during the Sixth National Party Congress in December 1986 consisted of thirteen full members and one alternate member. Five were new, one was appointed in June 1985, and the remainder were carried over from the previous Political Bureau, elected at the Fifth National Party Congress in 1982. The Political Bureau elected in 1982 numbered thirteen full and two alternate members. Between 1982 and 1986, one member died, three were voluntarily retired, three were removed, and one was promoted from alternate to full membership. Top party leadership during this period was therefore restricted to twenty- one individuals. The inner circle of party leadership, however, extended to a secondary, but nevertheless critical, tier of leadership represented by members of the Secretariat of the Central Committee who were not simultaneously members of the Political Bureau. In 1986 there were nine..

Political Bureau Members in December 1986

(Members listed in decreasing order of political importance.)

Nguyen Van Linh, elected Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP, Viet Nam Cong San Dang) general secretary in 1986, had been a rising political star since the end of the Second Indochina War. Born in the North in 1915, he had spent most of his political career in the South and much of that time underground in Saigon, where he worked closely with Le Duan in 1956. In 1960, because of his underground role in the South, he was elected secretly to the VCP's Central Committee. At war's end in 1975, Linh was appointed party secretary for Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) for a brief period, only to be replaced by Vo Van Kiet at the Fourth National Party Congress in 1976. In 1976 he was elected for the first time to the Political Bureau and ranked twelfth. He was dropped from the Political Bureau in 1982, however, apparently for his opposition to the rapid socialization of the South after the 1975 victory. He was renamed party secretary for Ho Chi Minh City in December 1981, where the success of his reformist economic policies gained the attention of the political bureau. Linh's reappointment in 1985, when he was ranked sixteenth, may have resulted from the intercession of then-party general secretary Le Duan and had the effect of strengthening the reform contingent of the VCP's leadership. Following Le Duan's death in July 1986, he was returned to the Secretariat where he ranked immediately behind Duan's heir apparent, Truong Chinh. Before assuming the party's top position in December 1986, Linh advocated an end to discrimination against intellectuals who had served the former regime in South Vietnam and better treatment for Vietnam's Roman Catholics and the Chinese minority. He publicly thanked representatives of the Chinese community for their contribution to Vietnam.

Pham Hung, formerly ranked fourth in the Political Bureau, was promoted to the second-ranked position in December 1986. In June 1987, he was named to succeed Pham Van Dong as premier. Hung had been minister of interior from 1980 to 1986, and a vice premier since 1958. He began his career fighting the French in the South and directed the political campaign in the South during the Second Indochina War as head of the Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN) and the Political Bureau's chief representative in South Vietnam from 1967 to 1975. His deputy during this period was Nguyen Van Linh. He was the first native South Vietnamese to attain senior party and government rank and was considered a hard-liner not because he was an ideologue but because he believed communist orthodoxy promoted better security. Although Hung was associated with the implementation of unpopular economic policies on money, prices, and wages, his career apparently suffered no lasting damage. He was born in 1912 and died on March 10, 1988, after having held the post of premier for only nine months.

Vo Chi Cong, who was ranked seventh in the 1982 Political Bureau and was promoted to third in 1986, was appointed to the largely ceremonial post of president in place of Truong Chinh in June 1987. His previous experience had been mainly in the field in Central Vietnam, and during the Second Indochina War he was a formal communist representative on the Hanoi-sponsored National Liberation Front central committee. From 1976 to 1980 Vo Chi Cong held the government posts of vice premier, minister of agriculture, and minister of fisheries, but reportedly he was fired from each post for administrative incompetence. A strong advocate of liberalization in agriculture, he was counted as being among Nguyen Van Linh's reform advocates on the Political Bureau and was an advocate for openness in the party. Cong was born in 1912.

Do Muoi, ranked eleventh on the Political Bureau in 1982 and fourth in 1986, directed the party's failed effort to socialize southern industry and commerce rapidly. Nevertheless, in 1986 he was identified with the reform program and subsequently was named to the Secretariat of the Central Committee as a resident economic expert. In 1984 he was called upon to explain the party's Sixth Plenum resolution on reforming industrial management, and he has since spoken on behalf of agricultural reform. Following the death of Pham Hung in March 1988, he was named to replace Hung as premier. He was born in 1920 and established his career in Haiphong..

Vo Van Kiet, vice premier and chairman of the State Planning Commission in 1986, moved from the tenth to the fifth position on the Political Bureau. During the Second Indochina War, he worked with the Hanoi-controlled People's Revolutionary Party in the South; after the war, he became Ho Chi Minh City party secretary. In this capacity, Kiet initiated liberalized local trade and commerce policies that became the models for later national economic reforms. His rise in the party was comparatively rapid. Until the Fourth National Party Congress in 1976, when he appeared as an alternate member on the Political Bureau and as a member of the Central Committee, he had not been listed on any list of senior party officials. In company with Nguyen Van Linh, however, Kiet was initially elected to the Central Committee in 1960. Because of their sensitive positions in the South at the time, their Central Committee memberships were not revealed until after the war in 1976. He was an advocate of pragmatic economic reform, such as decentralized planning, loosened central controls, and socialization of the South without production disruption. The youngest Political Bureau member in 1986, he was born in 1922.

Le Duc Anh, formerly ranked twelfth on the Political Bureau and promoted to sixth in 1986, was appointed Minister of National Defense in early 1987. He was almost totally unknown until given full Political Bureau status in 1982. During the Second Indochina War, he worked closely with Vo Van Kiet and was deputy commander of the Ho Chi Minh City campaign; afterwards, he was appointed commanding general and political commissar of the military region bordering Cambodia. He commanded the Vietnamese task force that invaded Cambodia in 1978.

Nguyen Duc Tam, previously ranked thirteenth on the Political Bureau, was promoted in 1986 to seventh despite his position as head of the Organization Department of the Central Committee, which was the target of heavy criticism at the Sixth National Party Congress. His department was blamed for an unprecedented decline in the quality of party cadres. A protege of Le Duc Tho, whom he replaced as head of the Organization Department, he built his career in his native Quang Ninh Province.

Nguyen Co Thach, promoted from alternate to full Political Bureau membership in 1986, was Vietnam's Minister of foreign affairs and ranked eighth on the Bureau. Immediately following the Sixth National Party Congress, he was promoted to vice premier (deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers). Thach had been a career diplomat serving in diplomatic posts until his election to the Political Bureau as an alternate member in 1982, marking the first time that an official from a diplomatic background had entered the top party leadership. A protege of Le Duc Tho, Thach was apparently a political moderate, although his support of Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia demonstrated his alignment with official policy. Once a specialist on American affairs (he participated in the Paris negotiations to end the Second Indochina War with then-United States national security adviser Henry Kissinger), Thach became increasingly associated with Soviet and East European affairs and traveled to Moscow in 1978 with other top Vietnamese officials to sign the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation. He was the first Political Bureau member after Ho Chi Minh to speak English, having learned it while serving in India in the late 1950s. According to one Western author, Thach's greatest value to the leadership may have been his ability to interpret the views of the English-speaking world. He was born in 1920.

Dong Sy Nguyen, promoted from alternate to full Political Bureau membership in 1986, was a cadre of surprising resilience. His election to the Political Bureau in 1982 was a surprise to most outsiders. Previously, Nguyen had been known as a middle-ranking communist and an unspectacular member of the Quartermasters and Engineers Corps of the armed forces. He was removed as minister of communications and transportation in June 1986 because of his alleged involvement with widespread corruption in that ministry.

Tran Xuan Bach, a relatively unknown official newly elevated to the Political Bureau in 1986, formerly headed the secret Vietnamese organization code-named "B-68," which supervised the administration of Cambodia. Bach was in Phnom Penh in 1979 as the personal secretary of Le Duc Tho, the Political Bureau member in charge of Cambodia at that time. In the early 1960s he led the Vietnam Fatherland Front, and from 1977 to 1982 he chaired the Central Committee cabinet. In 1982 he was elected a full member of the Central Committee and secretary of the Secretariat of the Central Committee. Following the Sixth National Party Congress in December 1986, he ranked third on the Secretariat and tenth on the Political Bureau.

Nguyen Thanh Binh, newly elected to the Political Bureau, was elected secretary of the Hanoi municipal party committee in 1986. Before that he had been a Central Committee secretary. A strong advocate for the party's agricultural reforms and for the gradual rather than rapid socialization of southern agriculture, Binh was a strong critic of the party's failure to revise agricultural policies.

Doan Khue, a new member of the Political Bureau in 1986, was first elected to the Central Committee in 1976, but was virtually unknown except for his military background. He was former commander and political officer of Military Region V (central Vietnam) of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN), and in 1987 was appointed PAVN chief of staff.

Mai Chi Tho, the lowest ranking of the new full Political Bureau members, was appointed minister of interior in early 1987. He was a former Ho Chi Minh City deputy secretary and mayor and was believed to have overall responsibility for security in southern Vietnam. Having been a past subordinate of Nguyen Van Linh and Vo Van Kiet, Tho was a strong supporter of economic reform and increased openness in the party. He was born in 1916 and is a brother of Le Duc Tho..

Dao Duy Tung, named as an alternate member of the Political Bureau in 1986 and a full member in 1988, was criticized, nevertheless, in the political report of the Sixth National Party Congress for his leadership of the Propaganda and Training Department. During his tenure, the department was faulted for failing to meet the party's goals in carrying out propaganda and training work. First appointed deputy chief of the Propaganda and Training Department in 1974, he was promoted to chief in 1982. In 1976 he was elected an alternate member of the Central Committee, and he attained full membership in 1982. He was named editor-in-chief of Tap Chi Cong San (Communist Review) in 1977 and director of the Vietnam News Agency (VNA) in 1982. In 1986 he ranked fourth on the Secretariat of the Central Committee.

Political Bureau Members Voluntarily Retired in 1986

Truong Chinh

Retired at age 79 as the incumbent VCP general secretary, having held the position for some five months following the death of Le Duan. Previously Chinh had ranked second on the Political Bureau and was chairman of the Council of State and of the National Defense Council, as well as chief of state. He stepped down as president in June 1987 and was succeeded by Vo Chi Cong. A founding member of the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP), Chinh was viewed by party colleagues as a theoretician and as the leader of the party ideologues. He initially opposed economic and liberal agricultural reforms and was firm in seeking to maintain Vietnam's "special relationship" with Laos and Cambodia. He suffered a brief eclipse from 1956 to 58 for his leading role in the failed agrarian reform program in the North, but he retained a strong following among party cadres. A firm believer in such Maoist theories as relying on poor and landless peasants to carry out revolution, he was the leader of a pro-Chinese element in the party hierarchy in the early 1970s. But after 1979 Chinh strongly condemned the Chinese, rejected the idea of emphasizing the role of the peasantry and ignoring the role of the working class, and supported Hanoi's alliance with Moscow as essential. As early as 1985 he publicly endorsed reform, but by 1986, nevertheless, he appeared out of step with the direction the party was beginning to take. He died September 30, 1988.

Pham Van Dong, the only one of the three retirees known to be ill when he stepped down, resigned from his number-two Political Bureau position, but retained his prime ministership until June 1987, when he was replaced by Pham Hung. Like Chinh, Dong was a founding member of the ICP, but he was a political moderate and probably the most popular of his generation of leaders. He was born in 1906..

Le Duc Tho was ranked fourth on the Political Bureau when he retired, but his rank belied his true power. Tho was a protege of Le Duan and before Duan's death was arguably the most influential Political Bureau member and possibly the party chief's preferred successor. As an adviser to the Central Committee after his retirement, his influence probably remained considerable. Tho was also a founding member of the ICP; he apparently was at Pac Bo for the formation of the Viet Minh in 1940 and with Ho Chi Minh when the provisional government was established in Hanoi in August 1945. Like many of his generation of communists, he spent much of his early adulthood in prison. In 1950 Tho was sent south by the party, and in 1951 he helped establish the VCP's Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN), where he assisted Le Duan. Later, he played the role of trouble- shooter for Duan, representing the party secretary in the South during the final offensive in 1975, on the Cambodian border when fighting erupted there in 1978, and on the Chinese border immediately before and after the Chinese invasion in 1979. Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia was apparently Tho's responsibility after 1978, and he headed Commission Sixty-Eight, the VCP special commission handling Cambodian affairs. In 1982 he emerged as a supporter of economic reform. His birth date is variously given as 1911 or 1912.

Political Bureau Members Removed in 1986

Van Tien Dung

was one of the most prominent casualties of the Sixth National Party Congress in 1986. He was minister of national defense and ranked sixth on the Political Bureau before being dropped for his or his family's involvement in corruption scandals. He was, nevertheless, permitted to retain his seat on the Central Committee. PAVN had earlier given Dung a vote of no-confidence when it failed to elect him as one of the seventy-two delegates chosen for the Sixth Party Congress. Considered a government lame duck following the loss of his Political Bureau seat, he lost his defense post to his protege, Le Duc Anh, shortly afterward. Dung had commanded the forces that won Hanoi's final victory over the Saigon government in 1975 and is credited with the "blooming lotus" technique of warfare, which was used to take Saigon and was used again in Cambodia four years later. The technique calls for troops first to assault the heart of a city in order to seize the enemy command center and then to proceed to occupy suburban areas at leisure. He was a formidable conservative, vocal in stressing the need for a strong defense, and an adamant supporter of the continued Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia. He was born in 1917.

To Huu, fired as vice chairman of the Council of Ministers in June 1986, was reported to be responsible for a currency change in September 1985 that led to disastrous inflation. He had ranked ninth on the Political Bureau before his removal and had held more truly significant party and government positions than virtually any other senior Political Bureau member. As a protege of Truong Chinh, Huu was a leader among the ideologues and an opponent of economic reforms. He had been in charge of party propaganda when tapped to be vice premier and, in the early 1980s, was a leading candidate to succeed Premier Pham Van Dong. Huu was born in 1920.

Chu Huy Man ranked eighth when removed from the Political Bureau and the Central Committee. Prior to the Sixth National Party Congress, he had headed the army's political department and reportedly was severely criticized by PAVN for his autocratic leadership style. Like Van Tien Dung, he was not initially elected to represent PAVN at the Sixth Party Congress. Man was a protege of former Minister of National Defense Vo Nguyen Giap and one of the most important battlefield commanders during the Second Indochina War, most notably in the Central Highlands. He was born in 1920.

Political Bureau Members Deceased in 1986

Le Duan

until his death in July 1986, was VCP general secretary; he had been elevated to the post following the 1969 death of Ho Chi Minh, who had groomed Duan as his successor beginning in the late 1950s. Under Duan's leadership, the war in the South was successfully concluded, the country was reunified, Cambodia was invaded and occupied, relations with China were severed, and dependence upon the Soviet Union for economic and military aid increased dramatically. After initially supporting overly ambitious policies that worsened Vietnam's economic condition, he encouraged gradual political change coupled with moderate economic reforms. These included financial incentives for peasants and workers, some decentralization in planning, and a broadening of economic relations with the rest of the world. Le Duc Tho, Nguyen Van Linh, Pham Hung, and Vo Van Kiet were close colleagues. During his career, Duan was considered to be colorless, more an organizer than a diplomat. He never held a government position. In the spring of 1985, a year before his death, he was described in a series of articles in the party newspaper, Nhan Dan (People's Daily), as the architect of the 1975 victory in the South and as the dominant figure in Vietnamese communist history next to Ho Chi Minh. He was born in 1908.

Central Committee Secretariat Members in 1986

Membership on the Secretariat of the Central Committee stood at thirteen in 1986. The four highest ranking members--Nguyen Van Linh, Nguyen Duc Tam, Tran Xuan Bach, and Dao Duy Tung--held concurrent positions on the Political Bureau and are described above. The remaining nine are listed below in order of decreasing political importance.

Tran Kien, also known as Nguyen Tuan Tai, was formerly secretary of party chapters in Haiphong, Gia Lai Kon Tum, Dac Lac Province, and Nghia Binh Province. He was first appointed secretary of the Secretariat of the Central Committee and chairman of the Central Control Commission in 1982 and reappointed in 1986. He was minister of forestry from 1979 to 1981.

Le Phuoc Tho was elected an alternate member of the Central Committee in 1976 and a full member in 1982. He was appointed a member of the Secretariat of the Central Committee in 1986. At the Fifth National Party Congress in 1982, he was selected to address the congress on the subject of agriculture, and in 1987, he was listed in Soviet sources as head of the party's agriculture department.

Nguyen Quyet, a lieutenant general in PAVN in 1986, was appointed to full membership on the Central Committee at the Fourth National Party Congress in 1976 and reappointed in 1982 and 1986. In December 1986, at the Sixth National Party Congress, he was appointed to the Secretariat of the Central Committee. Previously he had been commander of the Capital Military Region, Hanoi, and commander of Military Region III. In 1986 he was a member of the Central Military Party Committee and deputy head of the General Political Department. He replaced Chu Huy Man as director of the General Political Department in February 1987.

Dam Quang Trung, an ethnic Tay, was a major general and commander of Military Region I (the Sino-Vietnamese border region) at the time of the Chinese invasion in 1979. He was promoted to lieutenant general in 1981. In 1976 he was elected to the Central Committee, and in 1982, while still commander of Military Region I, became a member of the Central Military Party Committee. He was a member of the National Assembly from 1976 to 1981 and in 1981 was appointed to the Council of State.

Vu Oanh was elected an alternate to the Central Committee at the Fourth National Party Congress in 1976. He was elevated to full membership in 1982 and assumed the directorship of the VCP's Agriculture Department, a position he continued to hold in 1987. He was elected to the Secretariat at the Sixth National Party Congress in December 1986.

Nguyen Khanh, elected as an alternate to the Central Committee in 1982, gained full membership and a seat on the Secretariat in 1986. Appointed chief of the Central Committee cabinet (replacing Tran Xuan Bach) and director of the General Affairs and Administration departments of the Central Committee in 1982, he assumed similar duties in the government when appointed general secretary and a vice chairman of the Council of Ministers in February 1987.

Tran Quyet, when appointed to the Secretariat at the Sixth National Party Congress in December 1986, had been a full member of the Central Committee since 1976. As a vice minister of Public Security from the mid-1960s and vice minister of Interior from 1975, he specialized in security matters. A northerner, he was sent to Ho Chi Minh City in 1976 to establish the Ministry of Interior's Permanent Office for South Vietnam as a measure to more firmly impose North Vietnamese control. Between 1975 and 1980, he was commander and political officer of the Ministry of Interior's People's Public Security Force and held the rank of lieutenant general.

Tran Quoc Huong, also known as Tran Nach Ban and Muoi Huong, was elected to full membership on the Central Committee in 1982, under the name Tran Nach Ban. A southerner, he was formerly a standing member of the Ho Chi Minh City Party Committee and head of its Organization Department. In 1983, under the name Tran Quoc Huong, he was appointed deputy secretary of the Hanoi Party Committee, and in 1986 was named to the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the VCP. His government positions have included vice chairmanship of the State Inspection Commission, to which he was appointed in 1985, and chairmanship of the Vietnam Tourism General Department, which he assumed in 1986.

Pham The Duyet, previously a coal mine director in Quang Ninh Province and vice chairman and general secretary of the Vietnamese Confederation of Trade Unions, was elected a Central Committee alternate member at the Fifth National Party Congress in 1982. At the time of his election to full Central Committee membership at the Sixth National Party Congress in 1986 and his succeeding appointment to the Secretariat of the Central Committee, he was also acting chairman of the Confederation. In 1987 he was promoted to chairman..

Glossary -- Vietnam

Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN)

The military ground forces of the South Vietnamese government (Republic of Vietnam) until its collapse in April 1975. ARVN originated in the Vietnamese military units raised by French authorities to defend the Associated State of Vietnam in the early 1950s. During the Second Indochina War (q.v.), it grew to over 1 million men and women organized into eleven army divisions (plus specialized units, such as Rangers and Special Forces) deployed in four Corps Tactical Zones (redesignated as Military Regions in 1971).

Asian Development Bank (ADB)

Established in 1966, the ADB assists in economic development and promotes growth and cooperation in developing member countries. Membership includes both developed and developing countries in Asia and developed countries in the West.

Black Flag forces

A band of mostly Chinese adventurers who fled to northern Vietnam after the collapse of the Taiping Rebellion (1851-64) in China. They eventually placed themselves at the service of the imperial court in Hue and fought the French forces in the 1883-84 Tonkin campaign.

boat people

Refugees who fled Vietnam by sea after 1975. Many fell victim to pirate attacks in the Gulf of Thailand, drowned, or endured starvation and dehydration as a result of their escape in ill- equipped and undersized vessels. Those who reached safety in neighboring Southeast Asian countries were accorded temporary asylum in refugee camps while awaiting permanent resettlement in industrialized Western nations willing to accept them.


A general term for a Buddhist monk (as opposed to the more specific bhikku, meaning an ordained monk).

Cao Dai

Indigenous Vietnamese religion centered in Tay Ninh Province, southern Vietnam. It was founded and initially propagated by Ngo Van Chieu, a minor official who, in 1919, claimed to have had a series of revelations. The faith grew under the leadership of Le Van Trung, its first "pope" or Supreme Chief, chosen in 1925. Doctrinally, the religion is a syncretic blend of Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Confuciancism and Western nineteenth-century romanticism. Before the fall of Saigon, the Cao Dai had about 1 to 2 million adherents.


A party chapter composed of a collection of party cells (to dang), the lowest organizational echelon of the Indochinese and later the Vietnamese Communist Party.


A lord or prince. The hereditary title used by the Trinh and Nguyen families, who ruled Vietnam in the name of the emperor during the later Le Dynasty in the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries.

Colombo Plan

Founded in 1951 and known as the Colombo Plan for Cooperative Economic Development in South and Southeast Asia until it was expanded in 1977 and called the Colombo Plan for Cooperative Economic Development in Asia and the Pacific. It is an arrangement that permits a developing member country to approach a developed member country for assistance on a one-to- one basis. Assistance may be technical or in the form of capital or commodity aid.

Co Mat Vien

An advisory council set up by Emperor Minh Mang following the rebellion of Le Van Khoi in the 1830s.

Committee for Coordination of Investigations of the Lower Mekong Basin

Established in 1957 under the sponsorship of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the Committee aims to develop water resources in the lower Mekong basin through improvements in hydroelectric power, irrigation, flood control, watershed management, and navigation. Its membership is limited to Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Communist International

Also called the Comintern or Third International, it was founded in Moscow in 1919 to coordinate the world communist movement. Officially disbanded in 1943, the Comintern was replaced from 1947 to 1954 by the Cominform (Communist Information Bureau), in which only the Soviet and the ruling East European communist parties (except for Yugoslavia, which was expelled in 1948) and the French and the Italian communist parties were represented. The Cominform was dissolved in 1956.


Vietnamese communist term (used originally in China to mean purchasing agent) applied disparagingly to the middleman who extracts a profit without engaging in economic production, that is, a "comprador capitalist." The term is also applied to an entrepreneur in Cholon, Ho Chi Minh City's predominantly Chinese sister city.

Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon)

Also abbreviated CEMA and CMEA, the organization was established in 1949 to promote economic cooperation among socialist bloc countries and is headquartered in Moscow. Its members in the 1980s included the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Cuba, Mongolia, and Vietnam.

democratic centralism

A basic Marxist-Leninist organizational principle accepted by all communist parties, including the Vietnamese (most recently at the Fourth National Party Congress in December 1976). It prescribes a hierarchical framework of party structures purportedly established through democratic elections.

dong (D)

Vietnam's monetary unit, which in mid-1989 had an exchange rate of US$1 to D4,500.

First Indochina War (1946-54)

The anticolonial conflict, also known as the Viet Minh War, between France and the Viet Minh, a Vietnamese communist-dominated coalition of Indochinese nationalist elements led by veteran revolutionary Ho Chi Minh. The French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954 marked the final episode of the war. The conflict was brought to an end officially by the Geneva Conference of July 1954 and its resulting agreements.

fiscal year (FY)

January 1 to December 31.

gross domestic product (GDP)

The value of domestic goods and services produced by an economy over a certain period, usually one year. Only output of goods for final consumption and investment are included because the values of primary and intermediate production are assumed to be included in final prices. Reductions for depreciation of physical assets are normally not included. See gross national product.

Group of 77

Founded in 1964 as a forum for developing countries to negotiate with developed countries for development aid, the original 77 developing nations had expanded by the 1980s to include the 127 members of the Nonaligned Movement (q.v.).


Term applied by the Vietnamese to the ethnic Chinese residents of Vietnam.

Hoa Hao

Indigenous Vietnamese religion centered in An Giang Province, southern Vietnam. It was founded in the 1930s by Huynh Phu So, the son of a village elder in Chau Doc Province. Doctrinally, the faith is a variant of Mahayana Buddhism, but allows no intermediary between man and the Supreme Being. Before the fall of Saigon in 1975, the Hoa Hao had more than 1 million adherents.

Ho Chi Minh Trail

An intricate network of jungle trails, paths, and roads leading from the panhandle of northern Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia into the border provinces of southern Vietnam. At the height of the Second Indochina War (q.v.), it was a major resupply artery for Hanoi's armed forces operating in South Vietnam.

Indochina Federation

A political concept, never fully realized, joining the three Indochinese states into a confederation, first proposed at the Indochinese Communist Party Central Committee meeting in October 1930. The government of France resurrected the term in 1946 to describe a limited internal self-government granted to the states of Vietnam (including Cochinchina), Laos, and Cambodia. In the 1980s, the term was used disparagingly by some observers and analysts to categorize Vietnam's military presence in, and influence over, Laos and Cambodia.

International Monetary Fund (IMF)

Established along with the World Bank in 1945, the IMF is a specialized agency affiliated with the United Nations and is responsible for stabilizing international exchange loans to its members (including industrialized and developing countries) when they experience balance of payments difficulties. These loans frequently carry conditions that require substantial internal economic adjustments by the recipients, most of which are developing countries.

International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (INTELSAT)

Established by two international agreements concluded at Washington, D.C. in August 1971, and effective in February 1973, INTELSAT was formed to carry forward the development, construction, operation, and maintenance of the global commercial telecommunications satellite system. In the 1980s, there were 109 signatory member nations and 30 nonsignatory user nations.

Khmer Rouge

The name given to the Cambodian communists by Prince Norodom Sihanouk in the 1960s. Later, the term (although a misnomer) was applied to the insurgents of varying ideological backgrounds who opposed the Khmer Republic regime of Lon Nol. Between 1975 and 1978, it denoted the Democratic Kampuchea regime led by the radical Pol Pot faction of the Kampuchean (or Khmer) Communist Party. After being driven from Phnom Penh by the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in December 1978, the Khmer Rouge went back to guerrilla warfare and joined forces with two noncommunist insurgent movements to form the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea.

missing-in-action (MIA)

United States military term for servicemen who remained unaccounted for at the end of the Second Indochina War (q.v.). In the 1980s, rumors persisted that some MIAs were still alive and had been detained involuntarily in Vietnam after the war.

National Assembly

The highest organ of government in Vietnam, according to the 1980 Constitution. The National Assembly is empowered with both constitutional and legislative authority. It can, theoretically at least, elect and remove members of upper-echelon government bodies, such as the Council of State and Council of Ministers; it may also pass laws, raise taxes, approve the state budget, and amend the constitution.

new economic zones

Population resettlement scheme undertaken in southern Vietnam after 1975 to increase food production and alleviate population pressure in congested urban areas, especially Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). The sites selected for resettlement previously had been undeveloped or had been abandoned in the turbulence of war.

Nonaligned Movement (NAM)

Formed as the result of a series of increasingly structured nonaligned conferences, the first of which met at Belgrade, Yugoslavia in September 1961, the NAM's purpose is to insure the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nonaligned nations. In the 1980s, there were 127 member nations.

Parrot's Beak

The part of the Cambodian province of Svay Rieng that juts into the southern Vietnamese provinces of Tay Ninh and Long An. During the South Vietnamese and United States incursion into Cambodia in 1970, and again during the Vietnamese invasion that drove the Khmer Rouge from power in 1978, the area was the scene of heavy fighting.

People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN)

The military forces of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (until 1976) and, after reunification, of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. During the Second Indochina War (q.v.), PAVN bore the brunt of the fighting against the United States military forces in Vietnam, but was consistently able to recoup its losses and infiltrate units south by means of the Ho Chi Minh Trail (q.v.). Failing to topple the Saigon government during the Tet Offensive of 1968, PAVN undertook its first conventional invasion of South Vietnam in the Easter Offensive of 1972. This attempt ended in defeat, but PAVN's next effort, the Spring Offensive of 1975, quickly overran the ineffectual ARVN resistance and toppled the Saigon government, thereby bringing to a close the Second Indochina War.

Produced Nation Income (PNI)

A measure of an economy's material production that excludes income generated by the service sector and depreciation on capital equipment. It is used to measure controlled or communist economics where accounting procedures may ignore the service sector as "unproductive."


Monetary unit of the Soviet Union, which in mid-1989 had an exchange rate of US$1 to Ruble 0.63.

search and destroy missions

Offensive military operations undertaken by United States combat units in Vietnam to find and neutralize the enemy, especially when the enemy's strength and disposition had not been fixed precisely. The capture and holding of territory during such operations was not a priority.

Second Indochina War (1954-75)

Armed conflict that pitted Viet Cong insurgents native to southern Vietnam and regular PAVN (q.v.) units with Chinese and Soviet logistical and materiel support on one side against ARVN (q.v.), United States, and smaller forces from the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Australia, Thailand and New Zealand on the other. Most of the ground fighting occurred in southern Vietnam. However, part of the conflict also involved an intensive air war over North Vietnam and Laos from 1965-73 and combat between competing indigenous forces in Laos and Cambodia.

to dang

A party cell, the lowest organizational echelon of the Indochinese and later the Vietnamese Communist Party.

Viet Cong

Contraction of the term Viet Nam Cong San (Vietnamese communists), the name applied by the governments of the United States and South Vietnam to the communist insurgents in rebellion against the latter government, beginning around 1957. The Vietnamese communists never used the term themselves, but referred to their movement as the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (also known as the National Liberation Front), formally inaugurated in December 1960.

Viet Minh

Contraction of the term Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi (Vietnam Independence League), a coalition of nationalist elements dominated by the communists and led by veteran revolutionary Ho Chi Minh. The movement first identified itself in May 1941, when it called for an uprising against the French colonial government. It proclaimed the independence of Vietnam on September 2, 1945, and led the anti-French guerrilla war that followed, until the victory at Dien Bien Phu brought the conflict to an end.

World Bank

The informal name used to designate a group of three affiliated international institutions: the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), the International Development Association (IDA), and the International Finance Corporation (IFC). The IBRD, established in 1945, has the primary purpose of providing loans to developing countries for productive projects. The IDA, a legally separate loan fund administered by the staff of the IBRD, was set up in 1960 to furnish credits to the poorest developing countries on much easier terms than those of conventional IBRD loans. The IFC, founded in 1956, supplements the activities of the IBRD through loans and assistance designed specifically to encourage the growth of productive private enterprises in less developed countries. The president and certain senior officers of the IBRD hold the same positions in the ICF. The three institutions are owned by the governments of the countries that subscribe their capital. To participate in the World Bank group, member states must first belong to the International Monetary Fund (q.v.).