A brief history
With a population of over 85 million, Vietnam is the 13th most populous country in the world. The country is listed among the "Next Eleven" economies; according to government figures GDP, growth was 8.17% in 2006, the second fastest growth rate among countries in East Asia and the fastest in Southeast Asia.
The legendary Hồng Bàng Dynasty of the Hùng kings is considered by many Vietnamese as the first Vietnamese state, known as Văn Lang. In 257 BCE, Thục Phán defeated the last Hùng king and consolidated the Lạc Việt tribes with his Âu Việt tribes, forming Âu Lạc and proclaiming himself An Dương Vương. In 207 BCE, a Chinese general named Zhao Tuo defeated An Dương Vương and consolidated Âu Lạc into Nanyue. In 111 BCE, the Chinese Han Dynasty consolidated Nanyue into their empire.
For the next thousand years, Vietnam was mostly under Chinese rule. Early independence movements such as those of the Trưng Sisters and of Lady Triệu were only briefly successful. It was independent as Vạn Xuân under the Anterior Ly Dynasty between 544 and 602. By the early 10th century, Vietnam had gained autonomy, but not independence, under the Khúc family.
In 938 CE, a Vietnamese lord named Ngô Quyền defeated Chinese forces at the Bạch Đằng River and gained independence after 10 centuries under Chinese control. Renamed as Đại Việt, the nation went through a golden era during the Lý and Trần Dynasties. During the rule of the Trần Dynasty, Đại Việt repelled three Mongol invasions of Vietnam. Following the brief Hồ Dynasty, Vietnamese independence was momentarily interrupted by the Chinese Ming Dynasty, but was restored by Lê Lợi, the founder of the Lê Dynasty.
Feudalism in Vietnam reached its zenith in the Lê Dynasty of the 15th century, especially during the reign of Emperor Lê Thánh Tông. Between the 11th and 18th centuries, the Vietnamese expanded southward in a process known as nam tiến (southward expansion). They eventually conquered the kingdom of Champa and part of the Khmer Empire.
Towards the end of the Lê Dynasty, civil strife engulfed much of Vietnam. First, the Chinese-supported Mạc Dynasty challenged the Lê Dynasty's power. After the Mạc Dynasty was defeated, the Lê Dynasty was reinstalled, but with no actual power. Power was divided between the Trịnh Lords in the North and the Nguyễn Lords in the South, who engaged in a civil war for more than a hundred years. The civil war ended when the Tây Sơn brothers defeated both and established their new dynasty. However, their rule did not last long and they were defeated by the remnants of the Nguyễn Lords with the help of the French, who established the Nguyễn Dynasty.
Vietnam's independence ended in the mid-1800s, when the country was colonized by the French Empire. The French administration imposed significant political and cultural changes on Vietnamese society. A Western-style system of modern education was developed, and Christianity was introduced into Vietnamese society. Developing a plantation economy to promote the exports of tobacco, indigo, tea and coffee, the French largely ignored increasing calls for self-government and civil rights.
A nationalist political movement soon emerged, with leaders such as Phan Boi Chau, Phan Chu Trinh, Emperor Ham Nghi and Ho Chi Minh calling for independence. However, the French maintained dominant control of their colonies until World War II, when the Japanese war in the Pacific triggered the invasion of French Indochina in 1941.
This event was preceded by the establishment of the Vichy French administration, a puppet state of Nazi Germany then ally of the Japanese Empire. The natural resources of Vietnam were exploited for the purposes of the Japanese Empire's military campaigns into the British Indochinese colonies of Burma, the Malay Peninsula and India.
In the final years of the Pacific war, a forceful nationalist insurgency emerged under Ho Chi Minh, committed to independence from French colonial rule and communism. Following the military defeat of the Japanese Empire and the fall of its Empire of Vietnam colony in August 1945, Vietnamese nationalist and communist forces fought the newly restored Free French colonial administration, with the "Declaration of Independence - Democratic Republic of Vietnam" on 02 September 1945.
The Provisional French Republic sent the French Far East Expeditionary Corps, which was originally created to fight the Japanese occupation forces, in order to pacify the revolutionary rebellion. In 1946, the Chinese troops withdrew from north Vietnam and following the Haiphong incident ensued the First Indochina War that lasted until 1954.
Despite reduced losses -1/3 ratio of Expeditionary Corps casualities compared to the China-backed Viet Minh- during the whole war, the U.S. backed-French and Vietnamese loyalists eventually suffered a major strategic defeat at the Siege of Dien Bien Phu that allowed Ho Chi Minh to negotiate the ceasefire with a favorable position in the ongoing Geneva conference of 1954.
Colonial administration ended as French Indochina was dissoluted, and the contested State of Vietnam ceased to exist. According to the Geneva Agreements the country was divided at the 17th parallel into Ho Chi Minh's North Vietnam and Ngo Dinh Diem's South Vietnam in the model of Korea.
The communist-held Democratic Republic of Vietnam was opposed by the US-supported Republic of Vietnam. Disagreements soon emerged over the organising of elections and reunification, and the U.S. began increasing its contribution of military advisers. US forces were soon embroiled in a guerrilla war with the Viet Cong, the insurgents who were indigenous to South Vietnam.
North Vietnamese forces unsuccessfully attempted to overrun the South during the 1968 Tet Offensive and the war soon spread into neighboring Laos and Cambodia, both of which the United States bombed.
With its own casualties mounting, the US began transferring combat roles to the South Vietnamese military in a process the US called Vietnamization. The effort had mixed results. The Paris Peace Accords on January 27, 1973 formally recognized the sovereignty of both sides. Under the terms of the accords all American combat troops were withdrawn by March 29, 1973.
Limited fighting continued, but all major fighting ended until the North once again sent troops to the South on April 30, 1975. South Vietnam briefly became the Republic of South Vietnam, under military occupation by North Vietnam, before being officially integrated with the North under communist rule as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on July 2, 1976.
Vietnam, a one-party communist state, has one of south-east Asia's fastest-growing economies and has set its sights on becoming a developed nation by 2020.
A visit to Vietnam by US President Bill Clinton in November 2000 was presented as the culmination of American efforts to normalise relations with the former enemy.
Vietnam struggled to find its feet after unification and it tried at first to organise the agriculture-based economy along strict collectivist lines.
But elements of market forces and private enterprise were were introduced from the late 1980s and a stock exchange opened in 2000.
Foreign investment has grown and the US is Vietnam's main trading partner. In the cities, the consumer market is fuelled by the appetite of a young, middle class for electronic and luxury goods. After 12 years of negotiations the country joined the World Trade Organization in January 2007.
But the disparity in wealth between urban and rural Vietnam is wide and some Communist Party leaders worry that too much economic liberalisation will weaken their power base and introduce "decadent" ideas into Vietnamese society.
Vietnam has been accused of suppressing political dissent and religious freedom. Rights groups have singled out Hanoi's treatment of ethnic minority hill tribe people, collectively known as Montagnards.
Parliament confirmed Nguyen Minh Triet, the head of the Communist Party in Ho Chi Minh City, as president in June 2006. He has a reputation for fighting corruption and is seen as an economic reformer.
The Communist Party holds the real power in Vietnam. It reappointed Nong Duc Manh as its secretary-general in April 2006.
Mr Manh, who is seen as a moderniser, urged Vietnam to speed up economic reforms and to tackle bureaucracy and deep-rooted corruption.
He says he wants to "lift people from poverty and hunger" and to turn Vietnam into a developed, industrialised country.
Mr Manh began his first term in 2001, becoming the first secretary-general with no direct experience of the struggle for independence. He oversaw five years of strong economic growth.
The Communist Party leadership recommends candidates for the posts of president and prime minister.
The Communist Party has a strong grip on the media. The Ministry of Culture and Information controls the press and broadcasting.
The government has shut down several publications for violating the narrow limits on permissible reporting. Under a 2006 decree journalists face large fines for transgressions which include denying revolutionary achievements and spreading "harmful" information or "reactionary ideology".
Internet providers face fines or closure for breaking the rules and "cyber dissidents" have been imprisoned.
There are hundreds of newspapers and magazines, but television is the dominant medium. Vietnam Television (VTV) broadcasts from Hanoi and is available via satellite to the wider region. There are many provincial stations. Some foreign channels are carried via cable.
State-run Voice of Vietnam (VoV) operates national radio networks, including the VoV 5 channel with programmes in English, French and Russian.
Source: Wikipedia, BBC