There are about 91.5 million people in Vietnam (estimated 2013). Only about 31 percent of them live in urban areas (compared to 76 percent in the United States). The majority of the population lives in small agricultural villages. About 60 percent of the population and 70 percent of all ethnic Vietnamese live in the Red River and Mekong Delta areas, which make only a quarter of Vietnam’s land area. Population densities in these areas can be over 2,000 per square mile while densities in the highlands may be as low as 25 per square mile and rarely exceed 150 per square mile.

Population-wise Vietnam is the second largest country in Southeast Asia after Indonesia. It is also one of the most densely populated countries in the world. The population is growing at the rate of about one percent a year. The average life expectancy is 70 for males and 75 for females. years; about 25 percent of all Vietnamese are under 15; and 5.5 percent are over 65.

Kinh (Viet) make up 86 percent of the population; Chinese comprise 3 percent (there were more before, many Chinese were kicked out the country in the 1970s); and the remainder are ethnic minorities. The largest groups are the Tay (2 percent of the population), Thai (2 percent), Khmer (2 percent), Muong (2 percent), Mong (1 percent) and Nung (1 percent). Culturally, the Vietnamese have more in common with Chinese than Southeast Asians, who regard the Vietnamese as fighters and are generally not so fond of them. The Chinese and Vietnamese have Confucianism in common while the people of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are primarily Theravada Buddhists.

Most of the ethnic minorities live in remote, lightly populated mountain regions in northern and western Vietnam. Some are assimilated; others are not. The largest minorities in the north are the Tay, Muong, Thai and Nung. The main minorities in the south are Chinese, Montagnard (a grouping of several ethnic groups), Khmer and Cham (0.1 percent of the population).

Vietnamese People

Vietnamese speak the Vietnamese language. Some refer to themselves as “kinh” , meaning lowlander, to distinguish themselves from the highland "tribes people." Sometimes they identify themselves as "northern," "southern" or "central" Vietnamese. The current government and the pre-war governments in North and South Vietnam all tried to resettle lowland Vietnamese in the highlands, but they had many difficulties and achieved only limited results.

Culturally, in many ways, the Vietnamese have more in common with Confucian China than Buddhist Southeast Asia. Many in Southeast Asians regard the Vietnamese as fighters. According to the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: " Diverse cultural traditions, geographic variations, and historical events have created distinct traditional regions within the country. The general topographic dichotomy of highland and lowland regions also has ethnolinguistic significance: The lowlands generally have been occupied by ethnic Vietnamese, while the highlands have been home to numerous smaller ethnic groups that differ culturally and linguistically from the Vietnamese. The highland peoples can be divided into the northern ethnic groups, with affinities to peoples in southern China, and the southern highland populations, with ties to the Mon-Khmer and Austronesian peoples of Cambodia, Indonesia, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality]

"A north-south variation also evolved among the ethnic Vietnamese as they expanded southward from the Red River Delta along the coastal plain and into the Mekong River Delta. The Vietnamese themselves have long made a distinction between the northern region, with Hanoi as its cultural center, the central region, with the traditional royal capital of Hue, and the southern region, with Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) as its urban center. The French also divided Vietnam into three parts: the northern Tonkin, the central Annam, and Cochinchina in the south. Official efforts to move families from the densely populated areas to the "new economic zones" in the Central Highlands have tended to marginalize the minority groups living there, in addition to causing ecological stress. |+|

Nationality: noun: Vietnamese (singular and plural); adjective: Vietnamese Ethnic groups: Kinh (Viet) 85.7 percent, Tay 1.9 percent, Thai 1.8 percent, Muong 1.5 percent, Khmer 1.5 percent, Mong 1.2 percent, Nung 1.1 percent, others 5.3 percent (1999 census) Languages: Vietnamese (official), English (increasingly favored as a second language), some French, Chinese, and Khmer, mountain area languages (Mon-Khmer and Malayo-Polynesian) Religions: Buddhist 9.3 percent, Catholic 6.7 percent, Hoa Hao 1.5 percent, Cao Dai 1.1 percent, Protestant 0.5 percent, Muslim 0.1 percent, none 80.8 percent (1999 census) [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Vietnam Aims to Make Vietnamese Taller by Drinking Milk

Margie Mason of Associated Press wrote: "During long years of war and severe poverty in Vietnam, milk and meat were true luxuries only the rich could afford. Many children went blind from lack of vitamin A. Countless others experienced stunted growth that has kept the whole population short and thin. But after 30 years of peace, the communist country has overcome many of these problems and is now boasting unprecedented economic growth that it hopes will translate into building a taller, stronger people. [Source: Margie Mason, Associated Press, November 07, 2004 <<<]

"An ambitious plan submitted for government approval last month aims to increase the average height of men and women by about 2½ inches over the next 25 years with milk as the main ingredient powering that spurt. "The Vietnamese people on average are shorter than many people in the world as well as compared with people in the region, and they're also weaker physically," said Duong Nghiep Chi, director of Vietnam's Sport Science Institute in charge of the strategic plan. He noted that the Japanese went through a similar growth spurt after World War II. <<<

"Since the Vietnam War ended in 1975, the average height of men has shot up from 5-feet-2 to 5-feet-4 and in women from 4-feet-9 to 5 feet. Weights have also increased an average of 18 pounds for men and about 6 1/2 pounds for women over the past 30 years, with food becoming more widely available only in the past decade. In comparison, adults in the United States, who were bigger to begin with, gained about an inch over the past 40 years, with men now an average height of 5-feet-9 1/2 and women about 5-feet-4. <<<

"But studies in Vietnam have found that despite the recent leap in size and fast-growing milk sales over the past decade, many children still aren't drinking enough milk or getting all the vitamins and minerals they need, such as calcium and zinc. It's partly because of limited resources, with poverty concentrated in the countryside where most of Vietnam's people live. Perhaps an even bigger challenge will be promoting knowledge and awareness. Nutrition experts say many adults think milk and cheese are just for young children, who often stop eating dairy products after age 2. Some new mothers also don't believe they produce enough breast milk, leading them to substitute their own milk with formula. <<<

"Chi's plan hopes to overcome those misconceptions by providing nutritional guidelines about what children should eat and how much. A pilot project, if approved by the prime minister, also would select 10,000 children ages 6-18 throughout the country and supply them with free milk for two years to see how much they grow compared to those not drinking milk. "If this program is approved, we will launch awareness campaigns among parents on how to give children a better diet," Chi said. "We will hold more campaigns to help create habits for the Vietnamese people to drink more milk. In the past, they did not understand the importance of this and they also did not believe that milk was an important factor for their growth." <<<

Viet (Kinh) Ethnic Group

The Vietnamese people (Viet, or Kinh) are an ethnic group originating from what is now northern Vietnam and southern China. They are the majority ethnic group of Vietnam, comprising 86 percent of the population. They are officially known as Kinh to distinguish them from other ethnic groups in Vietnam. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The Kinh (Viet) people live in all provinces but are densely clustered in the delta areas and urban centers. They have traditionally been concentrated largely in the alluvial deltas and in the coastal plains, having little in common with the minority peoples of the highlands, whom they historically have regarded as hostile and barbaric. A homogenous social group, the Vietnamese exert influence on national life through their control of political and economic affairs and their role as purveyors of the dominant culture. By contrast, the ethnic minorities, except for the Hoa, are found mostly in the highlands that cover two-thirds of the national territory. The Hoa, the largest minority, are mainly lowlanders. Officially, the ethnic minorities are referred to as national minorities. ~

The origins of the Vietnamese are generally traced to the inhabitants of the Red River Delta between 500 and 200 B.C., people who were a mixture of Australoid, Austronesian, and Mongoloid stock. Like their contemporary descendants, they were largely villagers, skilled in rice cultivation and fishing. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Contemporary ethnic Vietnamese live in urban as well as rural areas, are engaged in a variety of occupations, and are represented at all levels on the socioeconomic scale. The power elite (senior officials in the party, government, and military establishments), in particular, is dominated by ethnic Vietnamese. Although predominantly Buddhist, the Vietnamese people's religious beliefs and practices nevertheless include remnants of an earlier animistic faith. A sizable minority is Roman Catholic. Despite some regional and local differences in customs and speech, the people retain a strong sense of ethnic identity that rests on a common language and a shared cultural heritage. *

Although geographically and linguistically labelled "Southeast Asians", long periods of Chinese domination and influence has placed them culturally closer to East Asians, or more specifically their immediate northern neighbours, the Southern Chinese and other tribes within the proximity of South China. In the People's Republic of China, they are among the recognized minority groups based especially in or around Guangxi Province and are known in Mandarin through their derivative name Jing/Gin or "Jingzu"/"Ginzu". ~

Origins of the Vietnamese

According to legend, the first Vietnamese descended from the dragon lord Lac Long Quan and a heavenly spirit Au Co. They married and had one hundred eggs, from which hatched one hundred children. Their eldest son Hùng Vuong ruled as the first Vietnamese king. The predecessors of the Vietnamese people emigrated from present southern China to the Red River delta and mixed with the indigenous population. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

In 258 B.C. An Duong Vuong founded the kingdom of Au Lac in what is now northern Vietnam. In 208 B.C., Chao Tuo (known as Trieu Ðà in Vietnamese), a former Qin general from China, allied with the leaders of the Yue peoples in modern-day Guangdong and declared himself King of Southern Yue. He defeated An Duong Vuong and then combined Au Lac with territories in southern China and named his kingdom Nam Viet, or Southern Yue. (Nam means south). Viet is cognate to yuet?, which is the pronunciation of Yue in ancient Chinese and some modern southern Chinese dialects. The term was used for various peoples in the region south of China, including the regions of northern Vietnam. ~

See History

Distribution and Migrations of the Vietnamese

Originally from northern Vietnam and Southern China, the Vietnamese have conquered much of the land belonging to the Champa Kingdom and Khmer Empire over the centuries. They are the dominant ethnic group in most provinces of Vietnam, and constitute a significant portion of the population of Cambodia. Under the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, they were the most persecuted group. Tens of thousands were murdered in regime-organized massacres. Most of the survivors fled to Vietnam. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

During the 16th century, some Vietnamese migrated north into China; although somewhat more sinicized, their descendants still speak Vietnamese and form the Gin people of China. They are among the recognized minority groups in the People's Republic of China based especially in or around Guangxi Province. ~

When the French left Vietnam in 1954, some Vietnamese people immigrated to France. However, there already have been ethnic Vietnamese residing and/or studying in France since at least the end of World War I. As a result of the partition of North and South Vietnam, nearly one million Vietnamese migrated from the north to the south to escape actual or perceived persecution. Meanwhile, a much smaller number of southerners joined the north. ~

The end of the Vietnam War prompted many others to leave the country. Many resettled in North America, Western Europe and Australia. Tens of thousands has been sent to work or study in Central and Eastern Europe and later settled there, the vast majority among those from the north or those who stayed in reunified Vietnam after 1975. ~

Customs and Culture of the Kinh

The Kinh ancient villages are usually surrounded by bamboo groves. The communal house is a place for meeting and conducting common ritual ceremonies. The Kinh also live in mud houses. They enjoy the habits of chewing betel, smoking water pipes and cigarettes, drinking tea, and eating ordinary rice. They worship their ancestors and also practice Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism or Christianity to various extents .[Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The husband is considered the head of the family. Children take the family name of their father. The eldest son is responsible for the worship of dead parents and grandparents. Each family lineage has a temple for their forefathers and the head of the family lineage handles all common affairs. Monogamy is observed during marriage. The family of the man approves the marriage and organizes the wedding for him. After the wedding party, the bride goes to live with her husband's family. The Kinh attach much importance to fidelity and the virtues of the bride.

The Kinh have a rich collection of literature which includes old tales, folk ballads, and proverbs. The written literature takes many forms such as poems, writings, books, and edicts. Song, music, sculpture, painting, dance and performance are also well developed and popular. The traditional attire of the Kinh in the north is a brown pajama set for men. A four paneled robe, bra, and trousers for women, also in brown, are usually worn. In the southern delta plains, both men and women wear black pajamas. At present, the Kinh's costumes resemble western clothing.

Rice cultivation in submerged fields is the main economic activity of the Kinh. They also erect dykes and dig canals which help in the growing of wet rice, gardening, and sericulture. They also raise cattle and poultry. Pottery production has been very developed for a long time.

Legendary Origins of the Viet People

According to legend, the first Vietnamese descended from the dragon lord Lac Long Quan and a heavenly spirit Au Co. They married and had one hundred eggs, from which hatched one hundred children. Their eldest son Hùng Vuong ruled as the first Vietnamese king. The predecessors of the Vietnamese people emigrated from present southern China to the Red River delta and mixed with the indigenous population. The story of Lac Long and Au Co is at the origin of popular beliefs that the Viets are descended from the race of the Dragons and the Tien. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

According to "Thousands of years ago in the country of Linh Nam, there lived a clan chief with superhuman strength called Loc Tuc who took the title of King Kinh Duong. Endowed with magical powers, he could walk as easily on water as on land. One day, during a walk on Lake Dong Dinh, he met Long Nu, daughter of King Long Vuong (Dragon). From their union, a son was born who received the name Sung Lam. As he grew up, Sung Lam revealed his herculean strength, lifting a stone block like a piece of straw that two men could not manage to encircle with their arms. Sung Lam also inherited the supernatural gifts of his father, succeeded him as leader of the country under the name Lac Long Quan (Dragon, King of the Country of the Lac). [Source: ^]

At this time, there was neither order nor peace in Linh Nam and King Lac Long resolved to travel his country from north to south. Thus it was that one day he met a fish of extraordinary size in the southern waters. Measuring over hundred feet in length, its tail stood up like a huge sail. It could swallow more than ten men in a single mouthful. When it swam, it raised waves sky-high and boats gliding in the vicinity were at risk of being swept away. The fishermen were very afraid of the demon-fish. It lived in a deep cavern leading to the bottom of the sea and an opening on top of a mountain chain that divided the country into two zones. ^

King Lac Long wanted to rid the people of this threatening danger. He made a solid boat and forged a block of iron with sharp, white-hot sides. Then he sailed toward the demon's abode. Raising the block above his head, he gave the beast the illusion of throwing a man at him as bait. Then he thrust the burning metal into the enormous open mouth of the creature. Mad with pain, the monster rose up, trying to overturn the boat. But quick as lightning, Lac Long sliced the monster into three pieces with his sword. ^

At once, the head turned into a dogfish and Lac Long started tearing up lumps of the shore and made a dike to keep the animal from escaping. Cutting off the head, he threw it onto the mountain that has ever since been called Cau Dau Son (Mountain of the Dog's Head). The body was carried away by the current and landed in the country of Man Cau. As for the tail, skinned by Lac Long, it still envelops the island of Bach Long Vi (Tail of the White Dragon). Having delivered the area of its monster, King Lac Long pursued his route as far as Long Vien. A task awaited him there. ^

Nine-Tailed Fox and The Evil Genie of the Forest

According to "There was a fox who was more than a thousand years old. He had nine tails and he hid himself in an obscure grotto at the foot of a mountain on the west side of the city. This evil spirit often assumed a human form to mingle with the crowd and to carry away young girls whom he kidnapped for his lair. In the region stretching from Long Bien to Tan Vien Mountain, all the families had, alas, paid their "tribute" to this ignoble being. The population lived in a permanent state of terror. Many were those, who abandoning house, fields and gardens, had carried their households elsewhere. [Source: ^]

King Lac Long was filled with deep pity and decided to get rid of this monster as well. Alone and armed with his sword, he went toward the entrance to the grotto. On seeing him, the enemy attacked. Using his magic power, Lac Long called winds, rain and storms to his aid. The fight lasted three days and nights. Weakened, the monster tried to flee. The king pursued it and cut off its head. Then the monster took its original form and only the body of a nine-tailed fox remained at Lac Long's feet. Entering the grotto, the king released the prisoners, then called on the water powers to destroy this cursed place. The river flowed there in cascading torments, raking the mountain. Whirlwinds produced a deep abyss that the people of the time called "Sea of the Fox's Body" and which is now called Tay Ho (West Lake in Hanoi). The liberated population returned to their homes and replanted their fields. Peace reigned throughout the region and Lac Long returned to the road through the hills and forests. Thus he came one day to Phong Chau.^

There was an old tree called Chien don in the region that was two thousand feet tall, but its formerly luxuriant foliage was withered. The old tree had then been changed into an evil genie of the woods. The inhabitants of the area called it the Demon Tree. It was wicked and played diabolical tricks, ceaselessly changing forms and moving its lair to better surprise its prey and devour it. Continued heart-rending cries and complaints were heard in the forest. Lac Long left once more to fight against evil. For days and nights, he sneaked in and out of the forest looking from tree to tree for the demon; after much difficulty, he managed to find it. ^

The fight lasted one hundred days and nights. Thousands of trees were uprooted, innumerable rocks split in half and clouds of dust obscured the sky and land without the evil spirit giving up. Finally, Lac Long had a brilliant idea. He made such a huge noise with gongs, tom-toms and other musical instruments that the terrified demon fled toward the southwest where he no doubt lives today! The grateful people built a fortress for their benefactor on a high mountain. But Lac Long rarely stayed there, spending part of his life in his mother's submarine palace. However, he had instructed the people to call him if any danger whatsoever menaced them again. ^

At this time, a northern chieftain called De Lai invaded the south. His gorgeous daughter, Au Co, of a singular beauty, accompanied him. Dazzled by the splendor of the land and the rich variety of the fauna and flora of Linh Nam, he ordered his troops to build a fortress with the aim of settling down there. Unable to endure the heavy work faced by their invader, they turned toward the south to appeal to Lac Long, "Oh Father! Why do you not come to our aid?" ^

From the Hundred Eggs to the Eighteen Hung Kings

According to "In the twinkling of an eye, Lac Long came back. He listened to the complaints of his subjects and then suddenly, he changed into the shape of handsome young man and went off to the invader's fortress. The latter was not there; instead, there was an extraordinarily beautiful young girl surrounded by servants and soldiers. It was Au Co. [Source: ^]

Captivated by the majesty and distinction of the young prince, she implored him to take her away. And Lac Long escorted her to his mountain fortress. When the invader returned to his home and found his daughter gone, De Lai sent hundreds of soldiers to look for her. But day after day, with his powers, Lac Long was able to cause thousands of savage beasts to be born that thwarted and attacked the enemy troops. Panic-stricken, the invaders fled and their chieftain finally had to withdraw to the north. ^

Au Co lived with Lac Long for some time and became pregnant. She gave birth to a pouch filled with one hundred eggs, each of which produced a baby boy at the end of seven days. These hundred boys grew amazingly fast and became handsome men surpassing those of the same age in physical strength and intelligence. For dozens of years, the couple lived in the most complete harmony. But Lac Long always had nostalgia for the submarine palace. One day he said goodbye to his wife and children and, transforming himself into a dragon, took off toward the sea. Au Co and her sons wanted to follow him but, not being able to fly, they sadly took the mountain road again. Days full of sadness passed without news of him. Upset by the memory of her loved one, Au Co stood on the highest summit and turned toward the south. Anguishly, she cried out, "Oh Lac Long, why don't you return home?" And Lac Long was immediately at her side. Au Co reproached him softly "I am a native of the high mountains and large grottos. I have brought a hundred sons into the world in order to live with you in perfect harmony, but this still has not stopped you from leaving us." ^

"Lac Long replied, "I am of the Dragon race, you are of the Immortals. We cannot live together. We must separate. I am going to leave for the maritime regions with fifty of our children and you will go with the other fifty to the country of the mountains and the forests. We still divide this country between us to run it as best we can." And they separated. Thus, the hundred boys became the ancestors of the Viets. Only the eldest lived in the Phong Chau and was proclaimed King as Hung Vuong (King Hung). He divided the country into fifteen provinces, each being the cradle of a tribe. Eighteen Hung kings succeeded him on the throne. ^

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 May 2014

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