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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 somewhat unique and isolated as the country's longest
borders are with Laos and Cambodia, but these borders are very mountainous, making
land travel difficult. The greatest means of transportation to or from Vietnam is
via the water or along its northern land border with China, which has introduced
various cultural influences both past and present via waterways. In this way, Vietnam
has many cultural similarities with China, but also has cultural influences from
the greater region and even Europe due to water transportation and trade routes.
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 farms
as rice paddy terraces have been created and the rains are regular. Even from village
to village the people can be very isolated in the mountains, but communication exists
on a local level and cultural similarities throughout the mountains exist, primarily
in the form of food, language, and lifestyle. Of course, this near isolation in
some mountainous areas has also created numerous sub-cultures in these regions.
More noticeable on the international stage, the mountains have allowed political
groups to hide and flourish in near isolation.
The people along Vietnam's 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 from those people in the mountains; the people along the
coast were in constant contact with the Chinese, whether that be through communication
and trade or war. The people along the coast were also more reliant on the water
as seafood was, and remains common while the rivers from the mountains create very
fertile land on which the people can grow nearly anything, with rice again being
the staple crop; again farming and fishing are common occupations along the coast.
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 brought numerous cultural elements to the people, including
Buddhism (although today most of the people claim to be atheist), while these influences
also helped divide and unify the country at differing times. Historically the country
was divided by both the mountains and the seas, but the land was also divided by
south, middle, and north. With European colonization, vying European powers teamed
with varying parts of the country, truly dividing the people. Eventually this helped
contribute to the Vietnamese War and the eventual takeover of the country by the
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 unification the government has destroyed
numerous aspects of the historic culture and way of life as religion is discouraged
and many people have been moved or displaced in order to work in positions the government
feels are needed.
These government-led processes and changes, along with improved communication and
technology, are slowly shrinking the village life and killing numerous sub-cultures.
However, the Vietnamese culture as a whole is only growing stronger through this
process and as long as the villages continue to survive these sub-cultures will
continue to survive as well.
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