Van Lang – the early beginnings
The emergence of the Vietnam as a coherent entity is veiled by the mists of time. Legends proliferate, and are dominated by images of dragons that act as protectors of a vulnerable land and people. Little is known of Van Lang, the kingdom of the early Viet people, ruled by a succession of ‘Hung’ kings. Such evidence as exists suggests it was a well-established feudal society, proficient in agriculture, skilled in using metal and advanced in its beliefs and artistic expression.
Such a ‘soft’ target would be very attractive to raiding parties of Cham pirates and the expanding Chinese empire. Perhaps the necessity to protect their land of plenty inspired the will to resist and, more importantly, taught the Vietnamese ways to protect their country.
Van Lang was conquered by a nearby kingdom in 257 BC to form a new kingdom called Au Lac. Fifty years later, Au Lac was overwhelmed by the Chinese.
As Chinese expansionists took over kingdom after kingdom, their practice was to begin the process of pacification immediately – dividing the country tightly controlled administrative districts and sub-districts and importing Confucianism, ancestor worship, Chinese script and a powerful legislature.
Typically, the subject people in the territories they controlled were soon completely Sinocised and their territory absorbed Greater China.
However, in Vietnam they met with local revolts and wider insurrections that continued throughout their thousand years of occupation. Of all the kingdoms and countries that were subject to China, only Vietnam shook off its chains.
Resistance at all costs
Then and since, Vietnamese foreign and domestic policy has been driven by an overriding imperative to secure and protect the county’s territory and identity regardless of cost.
Over the turbulent centuries that followed the expulsion of the Chinese, the cost of independence was paid many times over. Invasion after invasion was driven back. Invariably, defeat and occupation was confronted with unyielding resistance and eventual ejection of the occupying forces.
The value of sovereignty
In modern times, foreigners often remark upon Vietnam’s apparently unprincipled pragmatism in both domestic policy and international relations. Not realising Vietnam’s unwavering commitment to self-determination, they see enthusiastic overtures to Western capitalism as blatant opportunism and question its status as a ‘communist’ country.
Our bitter experiences have taught us that we can only be safe aggression by becoming a full member of an international community of peace-loving nations and building a sound economy based upon industry and commerce. Our socialism is not a dogmatic ideology - it is a path to the betterment of our Vietnamese community and the security of our country.
For us Vietnamese, no evil could be greater than the loss of sovereignty. The events following the end of the Japanese occupation of Vietnam in 1945 clearly demonstrate our attitude.
Not pragmatism, but the logic of resistance
In the wake of the surrender, Ho Chi Minh took advantage of the power vacuum and proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. However, the victorious allied forces determined that the Nationalist Chinese would occupy North Vietnam and the British the south.
Ho Chi Minh, who had previously created the Vietminh guerrilla force to fight the Japanese, correctly perceived that a Chinese presence in Vietnam’s heartland posed a major threat. Although the Japanese invasion had ended nearly a century of oppressive colonial rule by France, he had no hesitation in making a deal with the hated French to take over North Vietnam for yet another five years. When challenged to justify such seemingly perverse behaviour, he famously replied “Better to sniff French shit for the next five years than eat Chinese shit for the rest of my life”.
Although his analysis of the comparative strengths of the French and Chinese was precise, he misjudged the timing. The French predictably reneged on the deal and, with British support, attempted to re-colonise Vietnam. It took a further nine years of bitter fighting until the Vietnamese victory at Dien Bien Phu finally drove the colonialists out of our country!