60 b.c. - 938 a.d.    What is presently Vietnam is the southern frontier province of the Chinese Empire.

939- 17th Century.    Vietnam is independent after collapse of T'ang dynasty.  Although Lé dynasty survives as titular authority, in fact, from 1558 Nguyen rules Hué and the south, and Trinh rules in Hanoi and the north.  Serious trouble between north and south begins in 1620s when Hué refuses to accept the assumed authority of the Trinh over border province in central Annam.

18th Century    Period of Expansionism.    Vietnam becomes expansionist power at expense of neighboring Lao, Khmer, and Cham people, regarded as being outside proper Confucian civilization.  (Vietnamese history textbooks today describe this southward advance as "opening up empty lands".)

1771-1802    Civil war.  Peasant rebellion led by Tayson brothers of Binh Dinh of south-central Vietnam destroys what is left of the Lé dynasty and elevates the Taysons.

1802    Tayson power collapses and is replaced by Nguyen dynasty.    Families formerly privileged now became outcasts under Gia-long.

1802-1820    Nguyen dynasty begins with the rule of Gia-long.

1815 The Tale of Kiéu published by Nguyén Du, who had fallen from favor for supporting the Taysons during the rebellion.

1820    Minh-mang, Gia-long's fourth son by a concubine,assumes power.  In 1825 Minh-mang outlaws the spread of Christianity; persecution of Catholics and the execution of priests began in 1830.


1841-1847    During reign of Thieu-tri, French gunboats arrive in Vietnam on behalf of imprisoned Catholic  missionaries (a move inspired by the success of British "gunboat diplomacy" in South China.

1848-1860    While wars raged in Europe and America, and the Taiping rebellion claimed scores of millions of lives in China, in Vietnam 325 priests and 30,000 Vietnamese Catholics were killed by the government.  The French Navy responded by conquering Vietnam.

1862    Treaty of Saigon ratified French victory and created the colony called "Cocinchina".  Three more provinces occupied in 1867 completed the conquest.

"The traditional Vietnamese political system was not well organized to allow the indefinite peaceful competition and expression of many different and antithetical points of view ...  (It) could not tolerate Catholic evangelism, because Vietnamese traditions were based not upon the modern Western concept of separation of church and state but upon the concept of the state as the political expression of the elite.  Catholicism, if it made inroads among the elite, would obviously affect the nature of elite ideology.  As Gia-long had implied to Pigneau in 1792, then the nature of the state would have to change as well.
                                                          --Steinberg et. al., 1987:135
1827-1871    Nguyen Truong To, a Catholic official well-traveled in Europe, attempts to implement Western-inspired reforms similar to those proposed by the Taipings in China, and with the same effect (nil, nada, zilch). Legend says that To died from acute melancholia at seeing his country drifting toward disaster and from being unable to prevent it.

Early 20th Century.  Internal intellectual and moral struggles erupted between Catholic and anti-Catholic Vietnamese, and between those collaborating with the French and those wishing to drive them out of Indochina.  Prominent in the latter group was the Vietnamese Communist Party lead by Ho Chi Minh.

1942    European "master race" concept ignominiously defeated by the Imperial Army of Japan.  The occupation transforms the Communists from "revolutionaries" to heroic "freedom fighters" against the Japanese Imperial Army.


1945    The Japanese' own version of the "master race" concept ignominiously defeated by the Allied Army of the Pacific and Vietnamese guerrillas.  At the same time, however, South Vietnam is re-occupied by the French, while

North Vietnam is invaded by 180,000 Chinese troops hoping to replace Ho Chi Minh with politicians favorable to Chiang Kai-shek.  In response, Ho daringly invites French army into North Vietnam as counterweight to Chinese occupation.

1949    Mao Tse-tung's Communists seize power in China.

1954    French colonial experiment ends in military disaster at Dienbienphu.

1953-1960    Land Reform disinvesting thousands of peasants from their family landholdings leads to bloody violence; Communists finally admit mistakes in "rectification of errors" campaign.

1955-1975    Ho Chi Minh's Communists govern North Vietnam from Hanoi while succession of leaders, with help from their American patrons, govern South Vietnam from Saigon.   U.S. policy guided by Cold War and, in particular, by the "Domino Theory" through three presidents:  Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson.  The policies of "best and brightest" fail in the end owing to lack of political support in the U.S.

1965    Gulf of Tonkin Resolution authorizes President Johnson to increase U.S. forces in Vietnam to 550,000.

1968    Tet Offensive inflicts major defeat on U.S. forces in the field and dooms the Johnson presidency.

1972    Nixon defeats McGovern after promising that "Peace is at Hand".  War rages for three more years.

1973    Paris Peace Agreement ends direct American involvement in Vietnam.  It is only a matter of time before the North Vietnamese army overruns the south.


1975    U.S. abandons embassy and pulls out of Saigon; thousands given sanctuary in the U.S.; thousands more "boat people" flee the chaos.  The victorious army re-names the southern capital Ho Chi Minh City.

1978-1979    Vietnam invades Cambodia and ousts the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge.  In retaliation, China invades three northern provinces of Vietnam, but are quickly defeated.

1980-1990    Economic disasters rampant; causes assigned to corruption, inept central planning, and overdependence on foreign aid from Soviet Union.  The problems partly relieved by free-market reforms.  In 1981 the foreign debt to USSR was so great that Vietnam agreeed to repay part of it by sending thousands of workers to labor in Soviet factories and mines (cf. background for Paradise of the Blind).  In 1986 the government decided to grant more freedom for literature and the arts through the 'renovation agenda' but this was revoked in 1990 and many artists went to jail.  (Guess why.)


1993    Relations with China improve leading to state visit to China by Vietnam's President Le Duc Anh.

1994    U.S. lifts 19-year economic embargo against Vietnam.

1997    Hoped-for status as next Asian "mini-dragon" is fading from view as the economy hits the wall. 

Recent history:  read all about it in the CIA Factbook: