According to Vietnamese Legend, the People of Vietnam descend from the Dragon King Lac Long Quan and his wife, the Water Fairy Au Co and the first Vietnamese kingdom, the Kingdom of Annam, was founded in 2874 B.C. The modern Kingdom was unified in 1788 by the King of Hue, titled The Emperor of Annam since 1802.

The oldest evidence of human habitation in Vietnam has been dated to 500,000 years ago. Artifacts, dated to 8,000 B.C., from Neolithic cultures have also been found. People may have engaged in agriculture as far back as 7,000 B.C. (about the time rice agriculture developed in China).

Archaeologists have found vestiges of Homo Erectus in the caves of Lang Son and Nghe An Provinces. During the Pre-Paleolithic Age, also known as the Son Vi Era (between 30,000 to 10,000 years ago), the population of Vietnam was rather large and widespread. During the Neolithic Age groups of people with different cultural attributes mixed together. These people used sophisticated trimmed stone axes, produced stone rings, and designed pottery goods. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The Vietnamese people represent a fusion of races, languages, and cultures, the elements of which are still being sorted out by ethnologists, linguists, and archaeologists. As was true for most areas of Southeast Asia, the Indochina Peninsula was a crossroads for many migrations of peoples, including speakers of Austronesian, Mon-Khmer, and Tai languages. The Vietnamese language provides some clues to the cultural mixture of the Vietnamese people. Although a separate and distinct language, Vietnamese borrows much of its basic vocabulary from Mon-Khmer, tonality from the Tai languages, and some grammatical features from both Mon-Khmer and Tai. Vietnamese also exhibits some influence from Austronesian languages, as well as large infusions of Chinese literary, political, and philosophical terminology of a later period. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The area now known as Vietnam has been inhabited since Paleolithic times, with some archaeological sites in Thanh Hoa Province reportedly dating back several thousand years. Archaeologists link the beginnings of Vietnamese civilization to the late Neolithic, early Bronze Age, Phung-nguyen culture, which was centered in Vinh Phu Province of contemporary Vietnam from about 2000 to 1400 B.C.. By about 1200 B.C., the development of wet-rice cultivation and bronze casting in the Ma River and Red River plains led to the development of the Dong Son culture, notable for its elaborate bronze drums. The bronze weapons, tools, and drums of Dong Sonian sites show a Southeast Asian influence that indicates an indigenous origin for the bronze-casting technology. Many small, ancient copper mine sites have been found in northern Vietnam. Some of the similarities between the Dong Sonian sites and other Southeast Asian sites include the presence of boat-shaped coffins and burial jars, stilt dwellings, and evidence of the customs of betel-nut-chewing and teeth-blackening. *

Early People in Vietnam

The earliest inhabitants of Vietnam are believed to have been Negritos. Around 4,000 years ago Austronesian (Indonesian) people from the north began moving into what is now north Vietnam. Later Austroasiatic (Mo-Khmer and Malayo-Polynesian) peoples arrived. Then, around 2,500 years ago Viet (Yueh) and Tai peoples came down from southern China. The early northern Vietnamese kingdom of Van Lang was created from a mixing and merging of these peoples.

The first modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) arrived in Southeast Asia around 50,000 years ago. Their stone-age technology remained little changed until a new Neolithic culture evolved about 10,000 years ago. Stone tools discovered in Houaphanh and Luang Prabang provinces in Laos attest to the presence of prehistoric man in the hunter-gatherer stage in Lao territory from at least 40,000 years ago. The Hoabinhian culture is named after an archaeological site in northern Vietnam. Hoabinhian hunter-gatherers spread throughout much of Southeast Asia, including Laos. Their descendants produced the first pottery in the region, and later bronze metallurgy. In time they supplemented their hunting, fishing and gathering by horticulture and eventually rice cultivation, introduced down the Mekong River valley from southern China.

Chinese Culture Spreads to Asia and Then the Pacific

The ancestors of modern Laotians, Thais and possibly Burmese, Cambodians, Filipinos and Indonesians originated from southern China. The Austronesian family of languages of which are spoken as far west as Madagascar, as far south of New Zealand, as far east as Easter island and all Philippine and Polynesian languages most likely originated in China. A great diversity of these languages is found in Taiwan, which has led some to conclude they originated there or on the nearby mainland. Others believe they may have originated in Borneo or Sulawesi or some other place.

The ancestors of modern Southeast Asian people arrived from Tibet and China about 2,500 years ago, displacing the aboriginal groups that occupied the land first. They subsisted on rice and yams which they may have been introduced to Africa.

Pottery and stone tools of southern Chinese origin dating back to 4000 B.C. have been found in Taiwan. The same artifacts have been found in archeological sites in the Philippines dating back to 3000 B.C. Because there were no land bridges linking China or Taiwan with the Philippines, one must conclude that ocean-going vessels were in regular use. Genetic studies indicate that closest genetic relatives of the Maori of New Zealand are found in Taiwan.

Southern Chinese culture, agriculture and domesticated animals (pigs, chickens and dogs) is believed to have spread from the Philippines through the islands of Indonesia to the islands north of New Guinea. By 1000 B.C., obsidian was being traded between present-day Sabah in Malaysian Borneo and present-day New Britain in Papua New Guinea, 2,400 miles away. Later southern Chinese culture spread eastward across the uninhabited islands of the Pacific, reaching Easter Island (10,000 miles from China) around 500 A.D.

Inventions such as the animal harness and iron-making gave the ancient Chinese a technological advantage over their Stone Age neighbors. As people of Chinese origin moved across Asia they displaced and mixed with the local people, mostly hunter-gatherers whose tools and weapons were no match against of those the Chinese. It is also likely that many of the indigenous people died form diseases introduced by the people from China just as the original inhabitants of America were killed off by European diseases for which they had no resistance.

Not everyone agrees with these theories. Based on links between ancient Chinese history, the early Thai language and archeological discoveries in Southeast Asia, the scholar Paul Benedict has argued that Southeast Asia was a “focal point” for the cultural development of ancient man. There is some evidence that the earliest known agriculture and earliest metal working took place in Southeast Asia. Benedict is author of “Austro-Thai Language and Culture”.

Bronze Age Vietnam

In the Bronze Age (about 4,000 years ago), there were three major cultural centers in Vietnam: 1) Phung Nguyen - Dong Son (The North); 2) Long Thanh - Sa Huynh (The Centre); and 3) Cau Sat, Doc Chua - Dong Nai (The South). These three major cultural centers had a close and long mutual relationship and contributed to the traditional culture of Vietnam. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism~]

In 2005, Associated Press reported: "The discovery of a Bronze Age burial site in northern Vietnam could help resolve a dispute among archaeologists about the evolution of agriculture in the region and the origins of modern-day Vietnamese people, Marc Oxenham, an archaeologist from the Australian National University, said. He is part of a team of Australian and Japanese researchers studying the cemetery that was discovered near Man Bac, about 90 kilometers south of Hanoi. [Source: Meraiah Foley, Associated Press, February 10, 2005 ]

"The burial site dates back to Southeast Asia’s early Bronze Age, between 3,500 and 4,000 years ago, when the area's inhabitants were shifting from hunting and gathering to a more agricultural subsistence. Archaeologists disagree over whether early inhabitants of the region developed agricultural practices for themselves or adopted techniques from migrating tribes originating in what is now China, where the earliest signs of farming date back at least 8 000 years, Oxenham said. He said preliminary evidence from the newly discovered burial site tended to support the latter theory.

"Initial examinations of the bodies indicated that some of the inhabitants belonged to an ethnic group resembling today's indigenous Australians, while other bodies were more typically Asian in appearance, Oxenham said. Earlier burial sites in the region contain remains of only the first ethnic group. Oxenham said the presence of Asian-looking bodies in the cemetery - along with an array of agricultural artifacts buried with inhabitants from both ethnic groups - added to the theory that settlers from modern-day China introduced early farming practices to the region.

"The presence of various ethnic groups buried at the site could also signal the origins of Vietnam's modern-day population, he said."We may be getting a major change in the population structure going on in the cemetery," he said. "We may also be seeing a very significant population change at the time." The presence of both ethnic groups side-by-side in the cemetery indicated that there was a significant degree of intermixing between the two races, possibly marking the earliest known origins of the modern-day Vietnamese population, which became fairly well established by around 2000 B.C., Oxenham said.

Intact burial sites were extremely rare in Vietnam, Oxenham said, due to the heavy acidity of the soil. "Man Bac is surrounded by steep, jagged limestone outcrops that have contributed to reducing the normally acidic soils to more alkaline soils, thus aiding the preservation of biological material," he said.

Dong Son Civilization

The sophisticated Bronze Age Dong Son culture—famous for its bronze drums—thrived in the Hong (Red) River valley from the seventh century B.C. to the A.D. second century.The People from the Dong Son (Dongson) era, also known as the Lac Viet, are regarded as the ancestors of modern Vietnamese. Dong Son is named after a village south of Hanoi, where their artifacts were first discovered.

The Dong Son have been called Southeast Asia's most distinctive early civilization. The Dong Son survived by hunting, fishing and growing rice. They were also skilled metalworkers, producing unique bronze drums. The Dong Son civilization ended when the Chinese invaded present-day Vietnam in the 2nd century B.C.

The Dong Son culture produced a wealth of bronze items, including tools, vessels, ornaments, weapons, arrowheads, axes, and bells, as well as ceramics and beads. The most impressive group of objects they made were large, decorated gongs, or "drums" or "kettle drums" as they are often called. The broad distribution of Dong Son bronze drums is one of the strongest indicators that trade between Viet Nam and Southeast Asia was widespread during this period. Early Chinese texts indicate Chinese commercial interest in the region and detail the objects of trade that they sought, such as rhino horns, elephant tusks, medicinal plants, and forest products. The Chinese held sway in northern Viet Nam for a thousand years, and their influence is evident in later Dong Son artifacts.

Artifacts from the Dong Son were first excavated in the 1920s. It is now generally thought that it was not the actual political center of the culture, but merely one of the Dong Son principalities loosely linked to each other. The center of the Dong Son culture was the central region of the Red River basin.[Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen,Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theater Academy Helsinki |~|]

The Dong Son society was an agricultural one based on the wet rice cultivation. The images on of the Dong Son drums vividly described the activities associated with rice production such as people carrying plows, buffaloes and oxen working the fields and farmers milling rice with hand pestles. Water rituals were well depicted on the face and body of the drums. Scenes of boat race are believed to represent village festivals to celebrate the supreme role of water in agriculture. Images of Dong Son warriors and their weapons are found carved on many drums. Many types of weapon were represented: cross-bow, javelin, hatchet, spear, dagger and body shield. These images confirm the historical setting of the Dong Son time as its people was in constant fighting for survival against the people from the North. [Source: Viettouch ]

Social events were well depicted on the drums through images of dancers, musicians and musical instruments. There were bronze drums, bells, castanets, the senhs (rattlers made of bamboo cylinders taped to the arm or leg to make sound when dancing) and the khens (instruments with 4 to 6 long pipes attached to a resonance box). On the Ngoc Lu and Hoang Ha drums, images of Dong Son people sit in line on the floor beating the bronze drums with drumsticks. Dancers in ceremonial garments processing in a counter clockwise direction, each dancer holding an instrument or a weapon with one hand while the other hand forms some sort of rhythmic gesture.

Dong Son Drums

Dong Son drums (also called Heger Type I drums) are bronze drums fabricated by the Dong Son culture, in the Red River Delta of northern Vietnam. The drums were produced from about 600 BC or earlier until the third century AD, and are one of the culture's finest examples of metalworking. The drums, cast in bronze using the lost wax method, are up to a meter in height and weigh up to 100 kg. Dong Son drums were apparently both musical instruments and cult objects. They are decorated with geometric patterns, scenes of daily life and war, animals and birds, and boats. More than 200 have been found, across an area from eastern Indonesia to Vietnam and parts of Southern China. [Source: Wikipedia]

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theater Academy Helsinki wrote: The Dong Son produced “large bronze "kettle drums" or gongs, in which dancers and processional performances are also depicted. Together with some cave paintings they give the earliest existing information about the theatrical arts in Southeast Asia. Working with bronze was practiced in Vietnam probably from the second millennium B.C. onward and it reached its technical and artistic peak around 500 BC–100 AD. The earliest examples were cast in one piece. Later, when gong manufacturing spread to other parts of Southeast Asia, as far as Bali, the gongs were also cast in two pieces, utilising the so-called lost wax method. The basic design of Dong Son gongs consists of a flat tympanum and sides that narrow in the middle. Dancers are often portrayed within the middle section of the tympanum decorations. They are shown in line formations in identical, energetic poses. In their hands they hold different kinds of weapons such as spears, sticks and axes. The dancers wear extremely large feathered headdresses and their lower bodies are covered with long, skirt-like costumes. Similar kinds of dances are still performed in some remote areas in Southeast Asia. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen,Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theater Academy Helsinki |~|]

Describing a Bronze Drum from the 5th–3rd century B.C., Nancy Tingley of the Asia Society wrote: "Bronze drums are the characteristic artifact of the Dong Son culture. Hundreds of drums, some weighing up to 440 pounds (two hundred kilograms), have been found in Viet Nam, southern China, and throughout Southeast Asia. This drum has the rounded shoulders and large size that typify the earliest Dong Son drums. The drums served as regalia, ritual instruments, and burial objects. When played, they were suspended from a crossbar, supported by sticks, over a hole in the ground, which served to enhance their resonance. Craftsmen cast the drums in one piece using the lost-wax technique. [Source: Nancy Tingley, Asia Society; the piece is from Hoang (Mieu Mon) Village, My Duc District, Ha Tay Province; now in the National Museum of Vietnamese History, Hanoi, LSb 5724]

Many bronze drums of the Dong Son period have been reported in South and Southwest China, Burma, Thailand, Laos and Indonesia. In Viet Nam, approximately 140 drums were discovered in many locations throughout Viet Nam from the high land region of the north to the plains of the south and as far as to the Phu Quoc island.

In 2003, Sapa-DPA reported: A farmer unearthed a 2 000-year-old, bronze drum in northern Vietnam, officials said. "We are still evaluating the drum but I can say it is valuable," said Nguyen Manh Cuong, a worker from Lao Cai provincial museum. Pham Van Hien dug up the 22 kilogram drum while excavating land in Vo Lao commune, said Tay Lu Xuan Dang, an official from the commune 170 kilometers northwest of Hanoi. [Source: Sapa-DPA, May 9, 2003]

"It is beautiful. The surface is rusty, but otherwise, the piece is in good condition," said Cuong. The farmer's reward for turning the drum over to local authorities has not yet been decided, but will be hundreds of dollars, the museum official said. Previously, stone axes, bronze arrow heads and other rudimentary tools have been found in the commune, but never a musical instrument, said Dang, the commune official from the Tay ethnic minority group. "Because 96 percent of our commune's population is ethnic Tay, we don't tend to know the value of these things. So we just threw them away," Dang said. The drum is believed to be from the Dong Son period, which makes it between 2,000 and 2,500 years old, the museum official said.

Technology, Artistry and Craftsmanship of Dong Son Drums

Scholars have traditionally traced its bronze-casting technology to northern China. This theory was based on the assumption that bronze casting in eastern Asia originated in northern China; however, this idea has been discredited by archaeological discoveries in north-eastern Thailand in the 1970's. In the words of one scholar, "bronze casting began in Southeast Asia and was later borrowed by the Chinese, not vice versa as the Chinese scholars have always claimed". Such interpretation is supported by the work of modern Vietnamese archaeologists. They have found that the earliest bronze drums of Dong Son are closely related in basic structural features and in decorative design to the pottery of the Phung Nguyen culture.[Source: Viettouch ]

Most of the bronze drums were made in Viet Nam and South China but they were traded to the south and west such as Java and Bali islands, and were valued by people with very different cultures. The Dong Son bronze drums exhibit the advanced techniques and the great skill in the lost-wax casting of large objects, the Co Loa drum would have required the smelting of between 1 and 7 tons of copper ore and the use of up to 10 large castings crucibles at one time. Most scholars agree the Dong Son drums display an artistic level reaching perfection that few cultures of the time could rival. The Dong Son drums, especially the early ones, were decorated with very rich and well composed images of objects, humans and animals. These images together provided a lively description of the Dong Son society, its people, their daily chores as well as their spiritual life and ceremonial activities.

The decorative images on the tympanum follow a common pattern: at the center is a star encircled by concentric panels of human or animal scenes interspersed with bands of geometric motifs. Birds, deers, buffaloes and hornbills were depicted. Historians have identified the connection between Van Lang and the word vlang (or blang), a large bird in the Austro-Asiatic Viet language. Furthermore, the Hung kings also chose a heron, an aquatic bird, as the totem of Van Lang.

Functions of the Dong Son Drums

It is still uncertain whether the bronze drums were made for religious ceremonies, to rally men for war, or for another secular role. Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theater Academy Helsinki wrote: There has been much speculation about the function of these gongs. It is now thought that they were connected with both ritual and rank, with many found buried in the graves of high-ranking individuals. The materials with which they were made and the skills needed to manufacture them were such that only the wealthy would have been able to own them. The tympana of the gongs are decorated with a rich variety of motifs, some impressed into the wax through the use of moulds before the bronze was cast and some carved on the wax by hand. The motifs include the central star or sun, which has been identified by Vietnamese scholars as the Solar Star, the central axis of Dong Son cosmology. Comb-teeth motifs, concentric circles and birds surround it. Human figures are also depicted, as well as extremely informative portrayals of everyday life, agricultural scenes, rituals and handsome warships with feathered warriors. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen,Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theater Academy Helsinki |~|]

The Karen ethnic group of Myanmar and Thailand still use bronze drums today. Zhuang people in Yunnan practice use ningdongs that have same decorations as Dong Son drums.]Dr. Richard M. Cooler wrote in “The Art and Culture of Burma”: “The use and manufacture of bronze drums is the oldest continuous art tradition in Southeast Asia. It began some time before the 6th century B.C. in northern Vietnam and later spread to other areas such as Burma, Thailand, Indonesia and China. The Karen adopted the use of bronze drums at some time prior to their 8th century migration from Yunnan into Burma where they settled and continue to live in the low mountains along the Burma - Thailand border. During a long period of adoption and transfer, the drum type was progressively altered from that found in northern Vietnam (Dong Son or Heger Type I) to produce a separate Karen type (Heger Type III). In 1904, Franz Heger developed a categorization for the four types of bronze drums found in Southeast Asia that is still in use today. [Source: “The Art and Culture of Burma,” Dr. Richard M. Cooler, Professor Emeritus Art History of Southeast Asia, Former Director, Center for Burma Studies =]

“The vibrating tympanum is made of bronze and is cast as a continuous piece with the cylinder. Distinguishing features of the Karen type include a less bulbous cylinder so that the cylinder profile is continuous rather than being divided into three distinct parts. Type III has a markedly protruding lip, unlike the earlier Dong Son drums. The decoration of the tympanum continues the tradition of the Dong Son drums in having a star shaped motif at its center with concentric circles of small, two-dimensional motifs extending to the outer perimeter. =

“Bronze drums were used among the Karen as a device to assure prosperity by inducing the spirits to bring rain, by taking the spirit of the dead into the after-fife and by assembling groups including the ancestor spirits for funerals, marriages and house-entering ceremonies. The drums were used to entice the spirits of the ancestors to attend important occasions and during some rituals the drums were the loci or seat of the spirit. [Source: “The Art and Culture of Burma,” Dr. Richard M. Cooler, Professor Emeritus Art History of Southeast Asia, Former Director, Center for Burma Studies =]

“It appears that the oldest use of the drums by the Karen was to accompany the protracted funeral rituals performed for important individuals. The drums were played during the various funeral events and then, among some groups, small bits of the drum were cut away and placed in the hand of the deceased to accompany the spirit into the afterlife. It appears that the drums were never used as containers for secondary burial because there is no instance where Type III drums have been unearthed or found with human remains inside. The drums are considered so potent and powerful that they would disrupt the daily activities of a household so when not in use, they were placed in the forest or in caves, away from human habitation. They were also kept in rice barns where when turned upside down they became containers for seed rice; a practice that was thought to improve the fertility of the rice. Also, since the drums are made of bronze, they helped to deter predations by scavengers such as rats or mice. =

Important Dong Son Drums

The Heger 1 drums of the Dong Son culture were classified and divided into five groups by the Vietnamese scholar Pham Huy Thong in 1990, a division that implied a chronological succession. The earliest, group A, comprisees a set of large and intricated decorated drums. Group B consists of a smaller drums which almost universally have a group of waterbirds in flight as their key motif on the tympanum and the mantle designs. Group C has a central panel on the tympanum made up of a row of plumed warriors placed inside another panel of waterbirds in flight. Toads line the tympanum's edge while the mantle was decorated with either patterns involving boats or geometric patterns. The drums listed below have been dated to the 5th to 1st century B.C. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The Ngoc Lu drum is regarded as the most important of the Dong Son drums. The drum was accidentally discovered in 1893 in Hà Nam Province, southeast of Hanoi, rather than during a planned expedition. In contrast to most other drums of the Dong Son, the tympanum bears three concentric panels, which depict animals or humans, interleaved with bands of geometric or circular patterns. The innermost panel appears to be a self-referencing depiction, as it is decorated with pictures of humans who appear to be performing a ceremony involving the drums themselves. Other musical instruments and rice growing and harvesting activities are also shown. The two outer panels are decorated with scenes of deer, hornbills and crane egrets. +

The Hoàng Ha drum was discovered in Ha Son Binh Province in 1937 near the village of Hoàng Ha, with an outer panel of crane egrets and an inner panel which shows a procession similar to that described in the Ngoc Lu drum, the most famous of the Dong Son drums. Four feathered men are depicted walking in a line, brandishing spears, with two musicians in tow. A person is depicted standing under the eaves of a house, beating a drum while the rice fields are unattended, allowing a bird to eat the rice that was intended for threshing. The boats depicted on the mantle of the drum are very similar, with an analogous cleft prow, archer standing on raised platform and a drum. However, the drum is different from the Ngoc Lu drum in that the animal is absent. +

The Co Loa drum hows a procession similar to that described in the Ngoc Lu drum, the most famous of the Dong Son drums. The drum only has two warriors with spears, in contrast to that of the Ngoc Lu drum. Another difference is that the ensemble of percussionists consists of three drummers, with one drum lying under the eaves of the house. Meanwhile, an extra person is depicted in the rice threshing process. The person has long hair and is winnowing grain into a bowl. The percussion ensemble is also depicted differently in that the drummers are not all drumming in synchronisation. Two of the drummers are depicted making contact with the drum, while the other two drummers have their batons in the raised position. +

The Song Da drum was discovered in Ha Son Binh Province in the 19th century. The drum shows a procession similar to that described in the Ngoc Lu drum, the most famous of the Dong Son drums. This drum varies in that it depicts four sets of men in procession with feathered headgear, rather than two. Also, each set comprises three or four people none of whom appear to be armed. The posture of the men was interpreted as that they were participating in a dance rather than a military ceremony. In this drum, only one pair of people are depicted as threshing rice, and there is no cymbal player. However, the general motifs, such as the boats on the mantle, remain in place. +

The Quang Xuong drum from Thanh Hóa Province is another specimen, which is believed to be possibly later in origin. However, the drum is smaller and the images are harder to interpret. Large drums found in northern Vietnam were generally in the minority, as most drums have simple decorations with fewer representations of people. The Ban Thom drum has only an inner panel with four houses and plumed humans standing alone or in couples. +

Origins of the Vietnamese and the Van Lang Kingdom

During the Dong Son period, only one state had formed. The unified culture prevailing in this region stretched from the Sino-Vietnamese border to the northern banks of the Gianh River. The nation of the ancient Viet people existed as the Van Lang Nation, which was ruled by the Kings Hung. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

According to the earliest Vietnamese traditions, the founder of the Vietnamese nation was Hung Vuong, the first ruler of the semilegendary Hung dynasty (2879-258 B.C., mythological dates) of the kingdom of Van Lang. Hung Vuong, in Vietnamese mythology, was the oldest son of Lac Long Quan (Lac Dragon Lord), who came to the Red River Delta from his home in the sea, and Au Co, a beautiful Chinese immortal. Lac Long Quan, a Vietnamese cultural hero, is credited with teaching the people how to cultivate rice. The Hung dynasty, which according to tradition ruled Van Lang for eighteen generations, is associated by Vietnamese scholars with Dong Sonian culture. An important aspect of this culture by the sixth century B.C. was the tidal irrigation of rice fields through an elaborate system of canals and dikes. The fields were called Lac fields, and Lac, mentioned in Chinese annals, is the earliest recorded name for the Vietnamese people. [Source: Library of Congress *]

According to Vietnamese legend Âu Co gave birth to 100 children. Lac Long Quân led 50 of the children to the coastal region and settled them to propagate his race. Âu Co took 49 children up to the mountainous area. The eldest among these children was Hùng Vuong, who became king and established the country Van Lang and made Phong Châu its capital.

The Hung kings ruled Van Lang in feudal fashion with the aid of the Lac lords, who controlled the communal settlements around each irrigated area, organized construction and maintenance of the dikes, and regulated the supply of water. Besides cultivating rice, the people of Van Lang grew other grains and beans and raised stock, mainly buffaloes, chickens, and pigs. Potterymaking and bamboo-working were highly developed crafts, as were basketry, leather-working, and the weaving of hemp, jute, and silk. Both transport and communication were provided by dugout canoes, which plied the network of rivers and canals. *

Au Lac

The last Hung king was overthrown in the third century B.C. by An Duong Vuong, the ruler of the neighboring upland kingdom of Thuc. An Duong Vuong united Van Lang with Thuc to form Au Lac, building his capital and citadel at Co Loa, thirty-five kilometers north of present-day Hanoi. Records of this kingdom can be found in the annals written by the Chinese historian, Xi Ma Tin. Remains of the Co Loa Citadel, which was built during the An Duong Vuong period, can still be seen today.

An Duong's kingdom was short-lived, however, being conquered in 208 B.C. by the army of the Chinese Qin dynasty (221-207 B.C.) military commander Trieu Da (Zhao Tuo in Chinese). Reluctant to accept the rule of the Qin dynasty's successor, the new Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), Trieu Da combined the territories under his control in southern China and northern Vietnam and established the kingdom of Nam Viet (Nan Yue in Chinese), meaning Southern Viet. Viet (Yue) was the term applied by the Chinese to the various peoples on the southern fringes of the Han empire, including the people of the Red River Delta. Trieu Da divided his kingdom of Nam Viet into nine military districts; the southern three (Giao Chi, Cuu Chan, and Nhat Nam) included the northern part of present-day Vietnam. The Lac lords continued to rule in the Red River Delta, but as vassals of Nam Viet. *

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism. CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

Last updated August 2020

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