When most people think of Viet Nam, they think of the war. However, it’s important to know that Viet Nam has a long history – one that goes back long, long before there was any “Viet Nam War.” As you will read, Viet Nam’s history is rich with legend, tradition, determination, and adaptation. Further, in order to fully understand the history and consequences of the Viet Nam War, it’s critical to first understand Viet Nam’s history.
The beginning of Viet Nam
According to traditional legends, Viet Nam was formed when King Lac Long Quan (also known as the “Dragon Lord of Lac” or the “Dragon Lord of the Seas”) married Princess Au Co (a Chinese immortal and descended from the High Mountains). She bore him 100 eggs, out of which 100 sons were born. They soon established a nation that stretched from southern China to northern Indonesia.
However, the King and the Princess became convinced that their different origins would ultimately make them unhappy, so they separated. Princess Au Co took 50 of the sons with her back into the mountains while King Lac Long Quan took the other 50 sons and ruled over the lowlands. After the King died in 2879 B.C., his eldest son, Hung Vuong established the Hung dynasty, and he is regarded as the real founder of the Vietnamese nation and of the first Vietnamese dynasty.
This legend symbolizes the importance of uniting the two main geographic and cultural areas of Viet Nam — the mountains (representing the north) and lowlands (representing the south) in forming one united country. It is a theme that gets played out repeatedly in Viet Nam’s history and is also symbolized by the spelling of “Viet Nam” as two words, rather than one. In fact, spelling Viet Nam using two words has a long tradition and is in keeping with the country’s pre-colonized history. It wasn’t until Viet Nam was colonized by France that its name was shortened to one word.
About the first dynasty
The Hung dynasty produced 18 kings, each of whom ruled for 150 years. At this time, the nation was named Van Lang. This dynasty was then overthrown by a neighboring king in 258 B.C. He established the new kingdom of Au Lac and built his capital at Phuc An, whose remains still exist today in the village of Co Loa, located west of Hanoi.
Fifty years later, a Chinese general, Trieu Da, conquered the kingdom and formed the new nation of Nam Viet. Many scholars and Vietnamese consider this to be the end of historical legend and the true beginning of modern Vietnamese history. The next 100 or so years saw much conflict between King Trieu Da and the Han emperors of China. Finally, in 111 B.C., Nam Viet was conquered and incorporated into the Chinese empire.