Vietnam, a nation located along the eastern coast of mainland Southeast Asia, has had a turbulent history. Emerging as a distinct civilization during the first millennium BC, Vietnam was conquered by China during the early Han dynasty and subjected to 1,000 years of foreign rule.
In AD 939 the Vietnamese restored their independence and gradually expanded southward along the coast from their historic homeland in the YUAN (Red) River valley. In the 19th century Vietnam was conquered once again and absorbed, along with neighboring Cambodia (now Kampuchea) and Laos, into French INDOCHINA.
Patriotic elements soon began to organize national resistance to colonial rule, however, and after World War II, Communist-led Viet Minh guerrillas battled for several years to free the country from foreign subjugation. The Vietnamese people first appear in history as one of several peoples living along the one of several peoples living along the southern coast of China as far south as the Yuan delta.
By the middle of the first millennium BC, a small state based on irrigated agriculture and calling itself Van Lang had emerged in the delta. In 101 BC, Van Lang was overrun by forces from the north and gradually absorbed into the expanding Chinese empire. Despite intensive Chinese culture and political influence, however, the sense of cultural uniqueness did not entirely disappear, and in the 10th century rebel groups drove out the Chinese and restored national independence.
The new state,, which styled itself Dai Viet (Greater Viet), accepted a tributary status with China and adopted many political and cultural institutions and values from its northern neighbor. It resisted periodic efforts to restore Chinese rule, however, and began to expand its territory, conquering the state of CHAMPA to the south and eventually seizing the Mekong delta from the declining KHMER EMPIRE.
Expansion brought problems, however. The difficulties of administering a long and narrow empire, and the cultural differences between the traditionalist and densely populated north and the sparsely settled "frontier" region in the Mekong delta, led to political tensions and, in the 17th century, to civil war. Two major aristocratic families, the Trinh and the Nguyen, squabbled for domination over the decrepit Vietnamese monarchy. This internal strife was exacerbated by the arrival of European adventurers who, in order to facilitate their commercial and missionary penetration of Southeast Asia, frequently intervened in local politics.
During the last quarter of the 18th century, a peasant rebellion led by the so-called Tay Son brothers in the south spread to the north, where the leading brother, Nguyen Hue, united the country, and declared himself emperor. After his death in 1792, this dynasty rapidly declined and was overthrown by a scion of the princely house of Nguyen, who in 1802 founded a new Nguyen dynasty with its capital at Hue.
The Nguyen dynasty had come to power with French assistance, and France hoped for commercial and economic privileges. When these were not granted, the French emperor Napoleon III, under pressure from imperialist and religious groups in France, ordered an attack on Vietnam in 1857. This resulted in a Vietnamese defeat and the ceding of several provinces in the south, which the French transformed into a new colony of COCHIN CHINA. Twenty years later the French completed their conquest of Vietnam, dividing the northern and central parts of the country into protectorates with the historic names of TONKIN and ANNAM. Between 1887 and 1893, all three regions were joined with the protectorates of Laos and Cambodia into the French-dominated Union of Indochina