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The Socialist Republic of Vietnam takes up the eastern and southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by Cambodia, China, and Laos.

Most Americans know Vietnam from the nine-year war that the US fought on behalf of South Vietnam between 1974 and 1973, and which culminated in an American withdrawal and the merger of North and South Vietnam in 1976. However, the story of Vietnam didn't begin or end with America's Vietnam War. The war itself began long before the involvement of the United States.

People have lived in the area that became Vietnam since the Paleolithic era, and civilizations were cultivating rice and casting bronze along the Ma River and Red River plains by 1000 BC.

The first Vietnamese state is believed to have been the Hồng Bàng Dynasty of the Hùng kings, which began in 2879 BC, and ended in 257 BC. In 207 BC, a Chinese general took over the region and what would later become North Vietnam was under Chinese control for the next thousand years. There were a few successful independence efforts, but they were short-lived.

Full independence was achieved in 938 AD, after which the region was called Đại Việt, which means Great Viet, from which its current name is derived. During a series of Viet dynasties, the country fought off three Mongol invasions. The 1406 Ming–Hồ War overthrew the Hồ dynasty, and the Chinese Ming Dynasty briefly took control of the country again. However, it was restored with the Lê dynasty in 1426. The Vietnamese dynasties reached their peak in the 1400s, expanding south into central and southern Vietnam and the Khmer empire.

Beginning in the 1500s, political conflicts became common. The Chinese supported a challenging dynasty, while various regional powers carved out areas for themselves, eventually leading to a civil war that lasted for four decades, during which southern Vietnam expanded into the Mekong Delta, the Central Highlands, and the Khmer regions.

Northern and southern Vietnam were first unified by Nguyễn Ánh who, aided by the French, established the Nguyễn dynasty, during which time he took on the name of Gia Long.

French assistance was not entirely altruistic, however. In a series of military campaigns between 1859 and 1885, the country came under French control, with the northern, central, and southern parts of the country separated into the French protectorates of Cochinchina, Annam, and Tonkin, which were later integrated into French Indochina. France imposed a French education system, Catholicism, and a plantation economy, largely exporting coffee, indigo, tea, and tobacco.

France suppressed repeated calls for independence by the Vietnamese and maintained control of the colonies until World War II. During the War, the Vichy French allowed Japan to station troops in Vietnam, which led to a full takeover of the country by the Japanese in 1945.

In 1941, a communist independence movement began under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, who fought for independence from France and for an end to the Japanese occupation of the region. When Japan was defeated at the end of World War II, the Viet Minh occupied Hanoi and declared independence. France sent troops to restore control over its colonies, and the Viet Minh responded with a guerrilla campaign that escalated into the First Indochina War, resulting in the defeat of the French and loyalist Vietnamese in 1954.

The French Indochinese colonies were separated into Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, although Vietnam was divided into North and South Vietnam. Although the intention of the Geneva Accords was for Vietnam to be reunited following elections in 1956, an early referendum was called and Ngô Đình Diệm proclaimed himself president of the Republic of Vietnam, which Americans came to know as South Vietnam, and North Vietnam became the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The pro-Hanoi Viet Cong began a guerrilla campaign to overthrow Diệm's government, which escalated into the Vietnam War, in which the US provided military support to South Vietnam while China and the Soviet Union provided assistance to the North.

In the forty-five years since the end of the War, a unified Vietnam has made great strides. Despite bankruptcy and a 19-year US trade embargo, Vietnam now has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, although more than half of the country's largest companies are state-owned and the government sector controls nearly half of the Vietnamese economy.

Vietnam has uneasy relationships with its neighbors, including an on-off border war with China, conflicts over off-shore islands, and China's claim to virtually all of the South China Sea.

The official language of Vietnam is Vietnamese, although a study of English is obligatory in most Vietnamese schools. French is a common second language of educated Vietnamese.



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