Vietnam History Time line

258 B.C.
Legendary origins

Vietnam traces its culture back more than 4,000 years to the "Lac" people of the Red River delta region in what is now northern Vietnam. Research shows that the Vietnamese people are of mixed ethnic and cultural origin, and their language is a fusion of Mon-Khmer, Tai and Chinese elements. According to legend, the first authentic Vietnamese king was Lac Long Quan (Dragon Lord of Lac). He married a Chinese immortal, Au Co, and their union produced 100 sons. They later separated and Au Co moved with half of the sons into the mountains and Lac Long Quan lived with the other half in the lowlands. Lac Long Quan's eldest son was the first of the Hung dynasty kings and is considered the founder of the Vietnamese nation. The 18 kings of the legendary dynasty ruled a country called Van Lang (Land of the Tattooed Men). The last chapter of the legendary period begins in 258 B.C. with the overthrow of the last Hung king by a warlord who combines Van Lang with his own and calls it Au Lac.

207 B.C.-A.D. 939
Chinese domination

Vietnam's recorded history begins in 207 B.C. when a former Chinese general invades the Red River delta area and incorporates it into a kingdom known as Nam Viet, which includes much of southern China and the coastal lands as far south as modern-day Danang. Nam Viet is conquered in 111 B.C. by the Chinese under the Han emperor Wu-ti and it remains under Chinese rule for a millennium. Despite attempts by the Chinese to suppress the local language and customs, the Vietnamese hold on to their distinct culture and never fully accept Chinese domination. The first major rebellion is led by two sisters, Trung Trac and Trung Nhi, in A.D. 40. Notable rebellions break out in the 6th century and in the early 10th century, the later one restoring Vietnamese independence in 939.

First period of independence

After the Chinese leave in 939, Vietnam goes through decades of instability until Ly Thai To establishes the Ly dynasty in the early 11th century. Hanoi becomes the capital of the new state, called Dai Viet. The Indianized state of Champa to the south on the central coast fights several wars with Dai Viet in the 12th and 13th centuries. War is also waged between Dai Viet and the Cambodian kingdom of Angkor, then the most powerful state in Southeast Asia. China invades Dai Viet in 1407 and again begins administering the region, trying to assimilate the Vietnamese people.

Expansion, division and reunification

The nationalism of the Vietnamese does not erode under China's administration and the Chinese are driven out in 1428. The Later Le dynasty then assumes power and greatly advances the legal code and agriculture system in Vietnam, while also promoting art and education. Population increases lead to a drive for territorial expansion and most of Champa to the south is conquered in 1471. This is followed by a push into the Khmer territory of the Mekong delta. Saigon becomes part of Vietnam shortly before 1700, and Vietnam reaches its present size around 1757. A narrow strip of land 1,000 miles long, it perhaps inevitably splits into northern and southern regions ruled by rival factions. One of the most historically important and longer separations begins in 1620 when the noble Nguyen family in the south and the Trinh family in the north maintain feuding governments. Years of chaos and civil war finally result in a relatively stable period of reunification beginning in 1802 when the military ruler Nguyen Anh proclaims himself emperor under the name Gia Long.

French colonialism

French Catholic missionaries arrived in Vietnam in the 1600s. Over the years their success at converting the Vietnamese make the missionaries a target of persecution by the country's rulers. Concealing its colonial intent, the French in 1858 use the persecution as the pretext to invade southern Vietnam. They capture Saigon in 1861 and, after taking the northern part of the country in 1883, force the emperor to sign a treaty ceding control to France.

The rise of nationalism

Nationalist sentiment grows under the guidance of Phan Boi Chau, a writer and scholar and one of Vietnam's great patriots. Young Vietnamese schooled in political organization, propaganda and terrorism lead demonstrations over high taxes imposed by the French. Hundreds are imprisoned, and some are executed. Phan Boi Chau sets up a government-in-exile in China and is imprisoned in 1914. Adopting Marxism, his continued resistance to the French leads to his arrest in 1925. But vigorous protests force the French to release him and offer him a civil post, which he refuses.

Nationalist terrorism

The terrorist group known as the Vietnamese Nationalist Party infiltrates a number of French garrisons manned by Vietnamese soldiers on the night of February 9-10 with plans to overthrow the French in a military uprising. Only one garrison kills its French officers, however, and it is quickly overwhelmed and the mutineers executed. That same year the Indochinese Communist Party, led by Ho Chi Minh, stages peasant uprisings in the central region to protest a severe food shortage. The incidents trigger a brutal French crackdown that leaves thousands in prison and hundreds dead.

A new master

When Germany sweeps into France in June, Japanese troops seize the opportunity to occupy French Indochina, as Vietnam was known, and hold it until the end of the war. French officials of the collaborationist Vichy government stay on, but are forced to abide by Japanese policies. As the war nears its end, however, the French are arrested and Emperor Bao Dai is forced to announce the independence of Annam (central Vietnam) and Tonkin (northern Vietnam).

The Indochina War

The Japanese defeat leaves a temporary power vacuum quickly filled by the Viet Minh under Ho Chi Minh. In September Ho Chi Minh announces the formation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and proclaims its independence. But British and Chinese troops hand the country over to the French, who re-establish control in southern Vietnam. They are unable to contain the Vietnamese resistance, however, and in December 1946 the Viet Minh trigger the First Indochina War by attacking French troops in Hanoi.

A brief peace

Despite setting up the Associated State of Vietnam, with Bao Dai as nominal emperor, and substantial aid from the United States, France cannot defeat the Viet Minh. Controlling most of the countryside in the north, the Viet Minh shock the French by capturing their garrison at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954. Representatives of Ho Chi Minh's government, the State of Vietnam, France, China, the United States, Cambodia, Laos and the Soviet Union meet in Geneva. The conference culminates in July with the Geneva Accords that temporarily partitions the country until 1956, at which time, under the Final Declaration, elections are supposed to be held that will lead to reunification.

Diem takes over

The United States and South Vietnam, recognizing that Viet Minh candidates probably would win the elections, do not sign the Final Declaration of the Geneva Accords. Instead, a government headed by Bao Dai is appointed in 1954, including Ngo Dinh Diem as prime minister. In October 1955 the government holds a referendum in which a Republic of Vietnam is declared in the south. Shortly after, Diem removes Bao Dai and makes himself president of the new republic. When Diem refuses to hold elections and suppresses opposition, a guerrilla insurgency begins that is led by Communist forces known as the Viet Cong and, in 1959, publicly endorsed by North Vietnam.

The Vietnam War

By November 1963 Diem's totalitarian methods have so alienated the South Vietnamese that a group of army generals stages a coup -- with tacit U.S. approval -- in which Diem and his brother are murdered. Several military juntas will hold power until Nguyen Cao Ky, an air force general, takes command in 1965. Also in 1965 the U.S. begins sending combat troops to Vietnam and begins bombing North Vietnam. In 1967 Nguyen Van Thieu, an army general, is elected president and the conflict escalates to full-blown war.

Tet offensive

On January 30, 1968 -- during a truce called for Tet, the lunar new year festival -- North Vietnamese regulars and Viet Cong guerrillas launch a surprise major offensive in 36 South Vietnamese cities and towns. Fighting is fierce in Saigon and Hue. U.S. and South Vietnamese troops recover quickly, forcing their opponents to retreat and beating them severely. The Viet Cong suffer 33,000 deaths, so many that through the end of the war most of the fighting will be by North Vietnamese regulars. Despite the victory, however, the Tet offensive convinces more Americans than ever that the war cannot be won, leading to the election of Richard Nixon as president under a banner promising to bring an "honorable end" to the war, and thus representing a turning point for U.S. involvement.

Paris agreement

A cease-fire agreement signed in Paris on January 27, 1973, by the United States and all three parties in Vietnam calls for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops within 60 days. While the Paris agreement also outlines a political process for resolution of the conflict between the north and south, its signing does not bring an end to the fighting in Vietnam. The two sides will battle on until April 30, 1975, when the Communists take Saigon, ending the Second Indochina War. On July 2, 1976, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam will be officially declared, formally reuniting north and south into one country.

Doi Moi

The cost of maintaining troops in Cambodia and defending its border with China, and difficulties integrating the southern part of the country into a socialist economy, take a heavy toll on Vietnam. The government announces a number of reforms in the early 1980s. The Communist Party in 1986 launches a major economic restructuring program called doi moi, modeled after the Soviet Union's perestroika. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 spurs Vietnam's economic liberalization effort.

U.S. lifts trade embargo

Washington lifts its trade embargo in 1994, allowing U.S. companies to get a foothold in Vietnam's emerging market in which Japan, Singapore and South Korea have led the charge of international investors. The following year the Clinton administration establishes diplomatic ties with Vietnam, opening a new chapter in the relationship. In July 1999 the two countries initial a trade agreement in principle, but it has yet to achieve final approval. The agreement is among the most comprehensive ever negotiated by the United States and would provide Hanoi with normal trade relations status.