Vietnam has a long, fascinating, and bloody history deﬁned by resilience and pride. The earliest organized states in the territory date back to around 2879 BCE in the Red River Valley, where agricultural communities were insulated by mountains to the north and west and sprawling jungle to the south and east. The Chinese enjoyed over a thousand years of rule in what is now the north of Vietnam, from around 111 BCE to 939 CE, and left an indelible footprint on modern Vietnamese culture and heritage. At the same time, a number of civilizations developed in what is today the south of Vietnam, from the Funanese and the Cham, to the Khmer peoples who would settle in present-day Cambodia.
In 938 CE, having grown out of the Red River Valley and distinguishing themselves in the region, the Vietnamese under Ngo Quyen defeated the Han dynasty in Giao Chau and conquered them as they spread south. Until 1945, the country weathered a number of civil wars, insurrections, and interventions from the Chinese, Mongols, Cham, Dutch, Manchus, French, Japanese, and Americans.
The region’s earliest contact with western civilisation was recorded by the Chinese as early as 166 CE. In 1516, Portuguese and other European traders and missionaries arrived, with the French following nearly a century and a half later. French priest Alexandre de Rhodes transﬁgured the Vietnamese language, Chu Nom, into the Roman alphabet for the purpose of translating the gospels. The new language was considered easier to learn and was adopted nationwide in an effort to raise literacy.
In 1858, Napoleon III sent ships to attack the port city of Da Nang, eventually taking what is now Ho Chi Minh City, and with it much of southern Vietnam in and around the Mekong Delta. The French initially named this Cochinchina, before expanding north over the next three decades, capturing Hanoi in 1873 and again in 1882, ultimately forming the larger colony of French Indochina.
Over the next ﬁfty years, the French faced almost constant and increasingly violent resistance from the Vietnamese people. Many of Vietnam's converted Christian population were killed. In the 1920s, Marxism was introduced into Vietnam and, by 1930, communist parties formed Vietnamese independence groups, which were violently suppressed by the French. In 1940, Nguyen Ai Quoc – later known as Ho Chi Minh – formed the Viet Minh, intended to organize a coalition of varying communist independence parties.
During World War II, French Indochina was invaded by Japanese forces and the Viet Minh allied with the United States to gather intelligence on Japan. When Japan was defeated in 1945, the Viet Minh were quick to assert independence before the French could reestablish control. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) staged its ﬁrst national assembly in 1946 and drafted its constitution. While political inﬁghting and independent militias made securing the northern territories difﬁcult for the new republic, French and Vietnamese anti-communist forces formed a seceding colony in the south, establishing a central government in Saigon for the Republic of Cochinchina. The First Indochinese War began in 1946, leading to the formation of the State of Vietnam, a semi-independent nation under the wing of the French Union.
Five years after Ho Chi Minh’s death in 1949, the DRV began its campaign to unify the two nations. The French were forced out in 1954 following decisive defeat at Dien Bien Phu, and later American intervention, backing the south of Vietnam and involving over half a million US troops, ended with withdrawal from the region. In 1975, the DRV captured Saigon, and the country was uniﬁed into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on July 2, 1976, which it remains to this day. The gruesome war left somewhere between 800,000 and 3 million Vietnamese dead and countless others injured or maimed by warfare or chemical attacks.
Since the reuniﬁcation of Vietnam, the country's government has slowly been opening its doors to the world, implementing free market reforms in the 1980s, and later lessening their restrictions on private land and agriculture. A new constitution was drafted in 2013, reestablishing Vietnam as a “socialist-oriented market economy.”