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name literally means "Southern Viet", but over time the names "Nam"
and "Viet" have been reversed so today it would be more accurate to translate
the name as "Viets of the south." "Nam" means south and "Viet"
is the name of the people of Vietnam today, a shortened version of Bach Viet, who
were people that lived in what is today southern China and Vietnam
Vietnamese culture is more similar to
Chinese culture than it is to its neighbors in Southeast
Asia. Although the country has long borders with both Cambodia
and Laos, these borders are very mountainous so the greatest
means to transportation to or from Vietnam is via the water or along its northern
land border with China. Despite this, Vietnamese culture stands on its own without
Chinese or Southeast Asian assistance.
The mountains and water ways of Vietnam are at the core
of their culture as they either isolate the people or expose them to outsiders with
or without their wishes. The people of the mountains today and in the past have
lived primarily on farming as rice paddies have been created and the rains are regular.
Village to village, the people can be very isolated in the mountains, but communication
exists on a local level. Due to this near isolation in many areas, there are numerous
sub-cultures in these regions. The mountains have also allowed political groups
to hide and flourish in near isolation.
The people along the coast have always been exposed to foreigners as the water brings
people to their shores; the Chinese have also been able
to access the land from their land border. Due to this exposure, the people along
the coasts have a very different history as they were in constant contact with the
Chinese, whether that be through communication and trade or war. The people along
the coast are also more reliant on the water as seafood is common and the rivers
from the mountains create very fertile land on which the people can grow nearly
anything, with rice again being the staple crop.
Today the people of the mountains and the coast live much as they have in the past,
but history has altered some aspects of life, while communication, technology, and
politics have helped create a more uniform Vietnamese
culture and way of life.
These outside influences introduced Buddhism (although today most of the people
claim to be atheist) and they also divided, then unified, the country. Historically
the country was divided by both the mountains and the seas, but the land was also
divided into south, middle, and north. With European colonization,
vying sides teamed with varying parts of the country, truly dividing the people.
Eventually this led to the Vietnamese War and the eventual takeover of the country
by the communists.
Since the communist takeover in 1975 the people have been united as one country,
forming a more cohesive culture and way of life as they fall under one leadership
and government, who has access to all parts of the country due to improved communication
and infrastructure. This government has also altered the culture through economic
programs, such as collective farming and greater industrialization. Due to this
communication the dialects are getting closer and regional foods can now be found
everywhere. However, to accomplish this the government has destroyed the historic
culture and way of life as religion is discouraged so most people are atheist and
many people have been moved or displaced in order to work in positions the government
feels are needed. This is slowly shrinking the village life and killing numerous
sub-cultures, but this past will never be completely destroyed.
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