History Files
 

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 84

Target: 400

2023
Totals slider
2023

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.

Far East Kingdoms

South East Asia

 

North Vietnam
AD 1945 - 1976

Mainland South-East Asia is otherwise known as Indochina or the Indochinese peninsula (these two largely being outdated terms in the twenty-first century). Framed by East Asia to the north (which is largely dominated by China) and South Asia to the west (generally Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, amongst others), it provides the gateway to 'Maritime South-East Asia' and its thousands of islands.

In terms of Vietnam's history, the kingdom of Dai Viet (or 'Great Viet') was the strongest survivor from the break-up of the ancient and restored medieval kingdom of Nam Viet. It survived ups-and-downs, in the later stages of which the warlords of the Nguyễn family displaced the Cham and Khmer to expand the kingdom southwards.

Nguyen Emperor Gia Long unified Vietnam in 1802, less than sixty years before the French gradually subdued the country in the second half of the nineteenth century. In 1887 Vietnam was integrated into French Indochina. The end of the Second World War and the Japanese occupation of Annam saw the country's communist forces being encouraged by newly-communist China to attempt to take control of the country.

They did so in North Vietnam on 2 September 1945 with the proclamation of a democratic republic and with a capital at Hanoi. The First Indochina War was the result of this opposition, with outside forces becoming involved because this battleground was seen as being a key piece of the Cold War struggle between democracy and communism.

With France having withdrawn from Indochina, the USA had to involve itself directly, no longer simply supplying arms. In the end, such was the determination and ingenuity of the communist forces, even the USA couldn't change the outcome. In 1975-1976 a fully-united country was created under a communist government, and modern Vietnam was now its own master after almost a century of outside involvement.

As a communist state, leadership usually was divided between the president, the prime minister, and the head of the communist party. Generally, the head of party was the real ruler of the country, and it is holders of this post who are detailed below.

The country's monarchy, which removed itself from commanding the country as a whole in 1945, was also deposed in South Vietnam in 1955 by President Ngo Dinh Diem. Since then the emperor and his descendants have maintained their use of the appropriate titles while living in exile (usually in France and Monaco). They have not overtly pursued a policy of having the monarchy restored. All such hereditary claimants to the throne are shown below with a shaded background.

Traditional House, Vietnam

(Information by Peter Kessler and the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information from The State of The World's Refugees 2000 - Chapter 4: Flight from Indochina, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, from Encyclopaedia of European and Asian Regional Geology, E M Moores & Rhodes W Fairbridge (Springer Netherlands, 1997), from Asia in the Modern World, Claude A Buss (Collier-Macmillan, 1964), and from External Links: Lonely Planet, and BBC Country Profiles, and Vietnam (Rulers.org), and Vietnam (Zárate's Political Collections).)

1945 - 1946

Ho Chi Minh

Chairman of the provisional council in Annam.

1946 - 1965

Ho Chi Minh

'President' of North Vietnam. Died 1969.

1945 - 1954

The French protectorate of Vietnam is re-established but communist forces in the north refuse to submit. On 2 September 1945 a democratic republic is proclaimed there, with a capital at Hanoi. On 1 June 1946, Vietnam becomes a de facto divided country when the French establish the autonomous republic of Cochinchina.

Ho Chi Minh
Founder of the Indochina Communist Party in 1930 and its successor, the Viet-Minh in 1941, and president from 1945 to 1969 of the 'Democratic Republic of Vietnam' (North Vietnam), Ho Chi Minh died on 2 September 1969

Having been provided with arms and supplies from China, those communist forces in North Vietnam attempt to take control of the country. France is provided with supplies and arms by the USA, which is highly concerned about the 'domino effect' of country after country falling to communism, but it is French soldiers who fight on the ground in a war which is largely overshadowed by the USA's subsequent involvement in the region.

The First Indochina War between North Vietnam and South Vietnam and their respective supporters becomes a key battleground in the Cold War. Vietnam suffers enormously by being the focus of this particular theatre of operations.

1949 - 1955

Bao Dai

Emperor of Dai Viet. Restored in South Vietnam only.

1954 - 1955

On 7 May 1954 the Viet Minh defeat the French at Dien Bien Phu, effectively ending French involvement in Indochina. The democratic republic of Vietnam is confirmed in the north of the country (North Vietnam), but this does nothing to end the fighting.

Even so, the newly-declared republic is recognised internationally by the Geneva Accords, with Hanoi as its capital. South Vietnam is also recognised, officially dividing the country in two.

French colonial residence in Laos
The French colonial presence in Laos built the Bureau de la Residence in 1915 (today it serves as the offices of the country's Ministry of Information and Culture)

In the three hundred-day period of open borders which now takes place, more than a million Vietnamese move south along with anti-communist forces, while a much smaller number move north. Perhaps two million more people are prevented from migrating south by the Viet Minh.

The communist leader is Ho Chi Minh, the sixty-four year-old leader of the Viet Minh independence movement (from 1941), and now the 'president' of the north. The leader in South Vietnam, once he has 'won' a fraudulent campaign to create a republic and remove the king from office, is President Ngo Dinh Diem.

1955 - 1976

Bao Dai

Deposed in 1955. Emperor of Vietnam in exile (until 1977).

1956 - 1960

President Diem of South Vietnam begins campaign against political dissidents, but all this does is trigger a communist insurgency in the south in 1957, supported by North Vietnam. Within two years weapons and men from the north are infiltrating the south.

In 1960 the USA increases its aid to President Diem, eager to halt the 'domino effect' of states falling under communist leaderships. Although it remains undeclared, this is the start of the Vietnam War, or Second Indochina War which, locally, is also referred to as the American War or, in full, the War Against the Americans to Save the Nation.

North Vietnamese army
Not to be confused with the Viet Cong guerrilla forces in the south which were supported by North Vietnam, the North Vietnamese armed forces themselves often came into contact with South Vietnamese and American forces, especially towards the end of the conflict when the south had been partially occupied

1963

The communist guerrillas which are operating in South Vietnam are known as the Viet Cong. Now they defeat units of the ARVN, the South Vietnamese Army. President Diem is overthrown and then killed in a US-backed military coup.

1964

The US congress approves the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on 7 August 1964, increasing American military involvement in Vietnam and officially bringing it into the war. It is a response to the eponymous firefight on 2 August 1964 between US naval forces which have been engaged in clandestine attacks on North Vietnamese installations and three Vietnamese gunboats which fail utterly to scare them off.

Otherwise known as the 'South-East Asia Resolution', the political spin for the incident is enough to win almost universal backing for increased US action in what is now a war in all but name.

Nikita Kruschev and John F Kennedy
Photographed together here, John F Kennedy and Nikita Kruschev would, in 1962, play the world's biggest game of brinkmanship as the USA and Soviet Union vied for supremacy

1965 - 1976

Le Duan

General secretary of the central committee (to 1986).

1968

After building up the number of its military forces in South Vietnam over the previous three years, the US now has half a million men in the country. The north launches the Tet Offensive - a combined assault by Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army on US positions.

Morale in the US forces drops as the number of US casualties mounts by the day. During the campaign, and during an apparent moment of madness, more than five hundred civilians die in the US massacre at My Lai. Thousands more are killed by communist forces during their occupation of the city of Hue.

1969

Ho Chi Minh dies in 1969, removing the north's powerful figurehead (although he had officially retired in 1965), and President Nixon begins to reduce US ground troops in Vietnam as domestic public opposition to the war grows. Despite this, Laos is dragged into the chaos thanks to US bombing of North Vietnamese in its territory.

The following year, Nixon's national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, and Le Duc Tho of the Hanoi government start talks in Paris but in the same year Cambodia finds itself being dragged into the widening conflict when Prime Minister Lon Nol mounts a successful coup against King Sihanouk.

President Richard M Nixon
Richard Milhous Nixon was elected president of the United States in November 1968, assuming office in January 1969, but from the beginning his administration was plagued by leaks to the press

The king organises a guerrilla movement from exile, and with US forces in Vietnam also becoming involved, Cambodia quickly becomes mired in a civil war against the Khmer Rouge guerrilla forces.

1970 - 1973

Nixon's national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, and Le Duc Tho of the Hanoi government start talks in Paris in 1970, but in the same year Cambodia finds itself being dragged into the widening conflict when Prime Minister Lon Nol mounts a successful coup against King Sihanouk.

The king organises a guerrilla movement from exile, and with US forces in Vietnam also becoming involved, Cambodia quickly becomes mired in a civil war against the Khmer Rouge guerrilla forces.

1975 - 1976

With US troops having been pulled out in March 1975 under the terms of the 1973 ceasefire agreement in Paris, the cities of South Vietnam fall one by one to the communist forces of North Vietnam. The South Vietnamese government surrenders unconditionally to North Vietnam on 30 April 1975, ending the Vietnam War.

Vietnam War
As the Vietnam War took hold in the 1960s, North Vietnamese troops started using Laos as a way of getting past US and South Vietnamese defences, thereby bringing the war to Laos itself

A communist republic is declared. The event causes hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, mostly from the south, to flee the country, including many 'boat people'. Contrary to international fears, though, there are no mass executions of South Vietnamese.

Initially a puppet government is set up in the south, but the country is fully reunited in 1976 under a single leadership which consists of a largely ceremonial presidency, a ruling secretary-general of the communist party - the real power - and a prime minister. The socialist republic of Vietnam is born.

Modern Vietnam
AD 1976 - Present Day
Incorporating Heads of State (1976-2024)

The socialist republic of Vietnam is located along a relatively narrow band of land at the eastern end of South-East Asia. Reaching down from the Red River, at the northern and southern ends this territorial 'band' widens out around the cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) respectively. The country is bordered by China to the north, by the Philippines across the South China Sea to the east, to the south and south-east by Malaysia, and to the west by Cambodia and Laos.

Vietnam primarily emerged into history from the prehistoric cultures of Early Vietnam. Two main kingdoms flourished in the form of Annam (later known as Nam Viet or Dai Viet) in the north and, eventually, Champa in the south. At times the northern kingdom encompassed parts of southern contemporary China along the South China Sea coastline, but Chinese dominance took some time to shake off. Minority groups also form part of its population, including the Akha people.

Later it conquered Champa to form a single state which was vaguely similar to the modern one in terms of territory (in the north and centre of modern Vietnam). The Mekong delta region in the far south of the country was not originally Vietnamese but Khmer. Having finally achieved full unification under the Dai Viet empire, this prosperous country soon fell under the growing domination of French colonialism in the nineteenth century and into the first half of the twentieth century, as part of French Indochina.

Following the end of the Second World War, Japanese Occupation was replaced by an attempt to re-establish the French protectorate in 1945. After fighting the Japanese for five years, this certainly was not part of the plans of the country's communist forces. They were encouraged by newly-communist China to attempt to take control of the country. They did so in North Vietnam, with a capital at Hanoi, The First Indochina War was the result of this opposition, with outside forces becoming involved because this battleground was seen as being a key piece of the Cold War struggle between democracy and communism.

With France having withdrawn from Indochina, the USA had to involve itself directly, no longer simply supplying arms but instead supporting the beleaguered state of South Vietnam. In the end, such was the determination and ingenuity of the communist forces, even the militarily powerful USA couldn't change the outcome. In 1975-1976 the country was fully united under a communist government and modern Vietnam was now its own master after almost a century of outside involvement.

Forty years after the destructive and long-lasting conflict, in the eyes of the world the Vietnam of the 2010s was resolutely a nation rather than the name of a war. The one-party communist state today is self-confident and is developing rapidly, its progress all-evident in the country's booming metropolises. Vietnam's allure is easy to appreciate as ancient, labyrinthine trading quarters of still-thriving craft industries lie alongside grand colonial mansions from the French era, all of which is overseen by twenty-first century glass-and-steel high rise towers.

The country now occupies an 'S' shape at the eastern end of South-East Asia. The South China Sea presents it with a long coastline, while its territory stretches from the Red River in the north to the Mekong Delta in the south. Its name of 'Vietnam' is a variation of the name 'Nam Viet' which was eventually selected as the fully unified country's name, in the 1940s, during Japanese occupation.

The country's monarchy, which removed itself from commanding the country as a whole in 1945, was also deposed in the south by President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1955. Since then the emperor and his descendants have maintained their use of the appropriate titles while living in exile (usually in France and Monaco). They have not overtly pursued a policy of having the monarchy restored. All such hereditary claimants to the throne are shown below with a shaded background.


Traditional House, Vietnam

(Information by Peter Kessler and the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information from The State of The World's Refugees 2000 - Chapter 4: Flight from Indochina, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, from Encyclopaedia of European and Asian Regional Geology, E M Moores & Rhodes W Fairbridge (Springer Netherlands, 1997), from Vietnam: A New History, Christopher Goscha, from A History of the Vietnamese, Keith W Taylor (Cambridge University Press, 2013), and from External Links: Lonely Planet, and BBC Country Profiles, and Vietnam (Rulers.org), and Vietnam (Zárate's Political Collections), and Vietnam (United Nations), and Vietnam (Countrystudies), and Vietnam from the 10th century AD to the mid-20th century AD (Vietnam National Museum of History), and Vietnam detains energy thinktank chief (The Guardian), and Vietnam's head of state leaves under a cloud (The Economist).)

1976 - 1986

Le Duan

General secretary of North Vietnam (from 1965).

1976 - 1977

Bao Dai

Deposed king of Vietnam in exile (since 1955).

1977 - 2007

Bao Long

Son of Bao Dai (born 1936). King of Vietnam in exile.

1977

Vietnam joins the United Nations on 20 September 1977. The UN's support to the country begins with a focus on war reconstruction and humanitarian assistance.

Founding of the United Nations
In San Francisco, USA, in summer 1945, representatives of fifty countries signed the United Nations charter to establish a new, international body which was tasked with upholding the human rights of citizens the world over

1978

Following several border incursions and attacks on Vietnamese villages by the Khmer Rouge rulers of Cambodia, Vietnamese troops invade and conquer of much of the country. The Khmer Rouge are pushed back from the heartland of the country and have to resume a guerrilla warfare approach to maintaining what positions they do retain.

1981

The pro-Vietnamese Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Party wins the Cambodian elections in 1981, forming the 'Third Republic', but its rule is not internationally recognised and later faces mounting guerrilla resistance. Vietnamese dominance in Cambodia lasts until 1991, although the last Vietnamese troops are withdrawn in 1989.

1986

Truong Chinh

General secretary (Jul-Dec only). Died 1987.

1986

Reformist elements within the central committee win a victory at the Sixth National Congress. The old guard of hardline leaders is replaced by the reformers themselves. A series of free market reforms eases the burden of the communist planned economy, altering it to a more open socialist market economy.

Vietnamese farmers under the power cables
Farmers still worked their paddy fields even when they were under electricity pylons on the outskirts of Hanoi while the country gradually transitioned towards a fossil fuel-free infrastructure

1986 - 1991

Nguyen Van Linh

General secretary. Incapacitated 1989.

1989 -1991

Nguyen Van Linh, the real ruler of Vietnam from behind a nominal presidency, becomes incapacitated. A triumvirate which includes Do Muoi (acting on behalf of Linh as chairman of the council of ministers), Le Duc Anh, and Vo Van Kiet takes on his duties until 1991.

1991 - 1997

Do Muoi

General secretary of the central committee.

1992

The country adopts a new constitution which permits certain economic freedoms. The communist party remains the leading force in Vietnamese society, but is managing things in a far more moderate manner.

1994 - 1995

The USA lifts its thirty-year trade embargo in 1994 and the following year restores full diplomatic relations. Vietnam becomes full member of the 'Association of South-East Asian Nations' (Asean).

1997 - 2001

Le Kha Phieu

General secretary of the central committee.

1997 - 1999

Le Kha Phieu becomes party leader, with Tran Duc Luong being chosen as president and Phan Van Khai as prime minister. The following year, a senior party member, Pham The Duyet, faces charges of corruption, and economic growth slumps in the wake of the Asian financial crisis.

Nguyen Phu Trong of Vietnam
While the country has a nominal president, he holds very little power, with the general secretary of the communist party being the true power, as embodied by Nguyen Phu Trong from 2011

In 1999 a former high-ranking party member, Tran Do, is expelled after calling for more democracy and freedom of expression. Vietnam may be growing and modernising, but that is still viewed as a step too far.

2001 - 2011

Nong Duc Manh

General secretary of the central committee.

2002

Russia hands back the Cam Ranh Bay naval base, once the largest Soviet base outside of the Warsaw Pact territories. President Tran Duc Luong is reappointed for second term of office by the national assembly, which also reappoints Prime Minister Phan Van Khai for a second five-year term.

The state apparatus continues to silence criticism of its management, and online censorship steadily builds as the internet becomes an increasingly powerful tool for dissent. However, the country does begin to open up to tourism, becoming a 'Mecca' for backpacker travellers.

2007 - Present

Bao Thang

Brother of Bao Long (born 1943). King of Vietnam in exile.

2011 - On

Nguyen Phu Trong

General secretary of the central committee.

2011

Vietnam begins a joint operation with the USA to clean up contamination from the toxic Agent Orange defoliant which had been widely used by the US military during the Vietnam War. China and Vietnam sign an agreement to manage the South China Sea dispute, but China's ambitious in this area will continue to cause problems.

Modern Vietnam's glass and steel towers
Modern Vietnam has been one of South-East Asia's fastest-growing economies, although alongside its economic growth, the country is also beset by high levels of corruption, political censorship, and a poor record on human rights

2014

State media for first time marks anniversary of South Vietnam's 1974 clash with China over the Paracel Islands in a sign of growing tension over Chinese intentions in the area.

2023

The country has committed to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and a group of wealthy nations in 2022 has already pledged to raise at least fifteen billion US dollars to the nation phase out the use of fossil fuels.

However, the government continues to tolerate no opposition to its one-party rule, with critics facing intimidation, harassment, and restricted movement. It shows little appetite for dissenting voices on environmental issues, and several arrests provoke international criticism.

2024

Having been chosen in 2023 to lead the country as its youngest-ever figurehead president at the age of fifty, Vo Van Thuong does not last long in the role. His strong anti-corruption drive may have irritated someone in an important position of power.

Vietnam's Vice-President Vo Thi Anh Xuan in 2024
Vice-president since April 2021, Vo Thi Anh Xuan was selected at the end of March 2024 to become interim president until a permanent figure could be selected

On 20 March 2024 the party's central committee states that he has resigned from all posts: his 'violations and shortcomings' have left 'a bad mark' on the party's reputation. Vice-President Vo Thi Anh Xuan, a rare woman in the upper echelons, stands in temporarily while Thuong's fate initially remains unknown.

 
Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.