Vietnam boasts an age-long and special culture that is closely attached to the history of the formation and development of the nation.
Historians have shared a common view that Vietnam has got a fairly large cultural community that was formed around the first half of the first millenium before Christ and flourished in the middle of this millenium. That was Dong Son cultural community. This culture attained a degree of development higher than that of others at that time in the region and had its own characteristics but still bore the features of Southeast Asian culture because of the common South Asian racial root (Southern Mongoloid) and the water rice culture. Different development routes of local cultures in various areas (in the deltas of Hong (Red) river, Ma (Horse) river, Ca river and so on…) joined together to form Dong Son culture. This was also the period of the very “embryonic” state of Vietnam in the form of inter- and super-village community, which come into being and existed in order to resist invaders and to build and maintain dykes for rice cultivation. From this pattern of “embryo” state, primitive tribes grew into nations.
The period of Van Lang-Au Lac culture (lasting for nearly 3,000 years up to the end of the first millenium before Christ) in the early Bronze Age with 18 Hung kings was regarded as the first apogee in the history of the Vietnamese culture, which was typified by the Dong Son bronze drum and stable technique of cultivating water rice.
The post-Chinese domination period was characterized by the two parallel trends of Han assimilation and anti-Han assimilation. The Dai Viet (Great Vietnam) period was the second apogee of the Vietnamese culture. Throughout the time of independent feudal states, milestoned by the Ly-Tran and Le dynasties, the Vietnamese culture underwent comprehensive restoration and quick boom, under the tremendous influence of Buddhism and Taoism.
After the chaotic Le-Mac and Trinh-Nguyen period, when the country was separated, and since the Tay Son dynasty reunited the country and territory, the Nguyen dynasty tried to restore Confucian culture. They, however, failed because Confucianism had already been fading and the Western culture started to penetrate into the country. The period up to the end of French domination was marked by a cultural mix brought about by two opposite trends – i.e. of Europeanization and anti-Europeanization; that presents, the fight between patriotic culture and colonialist culture.
The period of modern Vietnamese culture has gradually taken shape since the 30s and 4?s of this century under the banner of patriotism and Marxism-Leninism. Vietnamese culture, with the increasingly intensive integration into the world modern civilization and the preservation and enhancement of the national identity, promises to reach a new historical peak.
It can be said that there were three layers of culture overlapping each other during the history of Vietnam: local culture, the culture that mixed with those of China and other countries in the region, and the culture that interacted with Western culture. The most prominent feature of the Vietnamese culture is that it was not assimilated by foreign cultures thanks to the strong local cultural foundations. On the contrary, it was able to utilize and localize those from abroad to enrich the national culture.
The Vietnamese national culture emerged from a concrete living environment: a tropical country with many rivers and the confluence of great cultures. The natural conditions (temperature, humidity, monsoon, water-flows, water-rice agriculture …) exert a remarkable impact on the material and spiritual life of the nation, the characteristics and psychology of the Vietnamese. However, social and historical conditions exert an extremely great influence on culture and national psychology. Thus, there are still cultural differences between Vietnam and other water-rice cultures like Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, India and so on. Though sharing the same Southeast Asian cultural origin, the Vietnamese culture was transformed and bore East Asian cultural characteristics because of the long domination of the Chinese Han dynasty and the imposition of its culture on Vietnam.
The Vietnamese nation was formed early in the history and often had to carry out wars of resistance against foreign invaders, which created a prominent cultural feature: a patriotism that infiltrated and encompassed every aspect of life. Community factors with primitive origin were amalgamated early in the history and became the foundations for the development of patriotism and national consciousness. Continual wars were the major cause of the vicissitudes of the Vietnamese social development history. All the social and economic structures were often dismantled by wars, so the social development could hardly reach its peak. Also because of the destruction of wars, Vietnam has virtually no gigantic cultural and artistic construction, or if any, they could not have been preserved intact.
Vietnam boasts 54 ethnicity living across the country. Each ethnicity has its own cultural colour, thus, the Vietnamese culture is a diversified unification. Apart from the typical Viet-Muong culture, there are other cultural groups like Tay-Nung, Thai, Cham, Hao-Ngai, Mon-Khmer, H’Mong-Dao, and especially Tay Nguyen groups that still maintain fairly diverse and comprehensive traditions of a purely agricultural society that is closely attached to forests and mountains.