Why “Giỗ Tổ Hùng Vương” and an abbreviated Overview of Vietnam History

VietnamBy: Adrian Ɖặng Bảo Oánh


The Hung Vuong Era, which spanned 28 generations, is officially recognized and accredited as the founding forefathers of Vietnam. Prehistoric Vietnam dates back much further.  The Association of Senior Vietnamese-Americans in the Grand Rapids Metro Area is organizing a commemorative event to honor the founding forefathers of Vietnam. This year, the formal event will take place on April 16th, 2016 at the Little Saigon Plaza on 28th Street, beginning at 2:00 PM.


It is the most appropriate time to recite on the ancient history of Vietnam so we could have some basic understanding of another culture in our diverse community, and also to potentially share with our friends who have Vietnamese heritage the sentiments of one of their important days.


Prehistoric information, according to historians and archeologists, shows evidence of human dwelling and activities as early as the Paleolithic Age. Evidence of Homo Erectus presence dating back to 500,000 BC were found in caves around the Lạng Sơn and Nghệ An provinces of Northern Vietnam in 1965. There have also been human fossils from the middle and late Pleistocene Age discovered in other unfrequented caves in Vietnam. Fossilized homo-sapiens teeth help calculate the timeframe of the findings through archeological excavations.


Legend has it that the Vietnamese “breed” of people derived from an ancient couple – Lạc Long Quân and Âu Cơ – much like Adam and Eve of the Western world. The man was a descendant of the dragon, and the woman was a fairy. The legendary couple gave birth to a large sac of 100 eggs. The eggs hatched and gave life to 100 children. Fifty of the children went to live toward the ocean and explored the coastal areas while the other fifty offspring went toward the mountains to explore land. The developments and multiplications gave rise to the people of Vietnam, and later, their nation.


Vietnam has been recognized as a nation for about 4,900 years. This small country started in the Ɖộng Ɖình Hồ region among numerous other non-Chinese groups who inhabited in the southern part of China known as the Bach Viet group, where “Bach” means 100.


The first kings of Vietnam belonged to the Hùng Vương Era which lasted twenty-eight generations. This period is called the Hồng Bàng Period in history. During these generations, the kings and the people mostly kept adding richness to the Vietnamese culture in different facets. They also added population and expanded their homeland border southward. There were no specific recordings of the dynasty’s specific achievements or accomplishments, yet there were plenty legends told to explain of how certain customs and habits came about throughout the millenniums. But without the Hùng Vương Era, the country of Vietnam would not have started and become of what it is today.


Ɖại Cồ Việt Imperial Palace at Hoa LưThe Vietnamese throughout the world commemorate the Hùng Vương’s day annually. This date falls on the 10th day of the 3rd month on the eastern lunar calendar. Since the lunar calendar does not coincide with the Julian-solar calendar, this historic celebration date changes from year to year. This year, per the solar calendar, the celebration occurs on April 16th.


After the Hùng Vương Era, the history has been recorded more accurately and completely. The country of Vietnam was monarchically ruled by several dynasties with the kingdom passed down from one king to another within the family names. The 6 main dynasties proceeded in order as: Ɖinh, Lê, Lý, Trần, Lê, Nguyễn. The Đinh dynasty started with Ɖinh Bộ Lĩnh who later became Ɖinh Tiên Hoàng, the founding monarch of the Ɖinh dynasty in 968 AD. He named the country Ɖại Cồ Việt and set up the capital in Hoa Lư. The name lasted through the Lê Dynasty until the second king of the Lý Dynasty, Lý Thánh Tông, changed it to Ɖại Việt in 1054. The first king under the Lý family name was Lý Thái Tổ, who then moved the capital of the country to Thăng Long from Hoa Lư, but he never changed the name of the nation. Thăng Long is now known as Hanoi, the current capital of Vietnam.


King Gia Long of the Nguyễn DynastyThis little country in Southeast Asia underwent several name changes until king Gia Long (Nguyễn Phúc Ánh) of the Nguyễn Dynasty changed it to Việt Nam, and it stands to this date. It was also during the Nguyen Dynasty that the capital was moved to Huế for the entire duration under the ruling of the Nguyễns.


Vietnam is a relatively small country lining the southeastern coast of the South China Sea. Vietnam occupies approximately 331,211.6 square kilometers and has a population of  91,700,000 according to the 2015 official estimation. Although small in size, Vietnam has been targeted for invasion by other countries. Vietnam was under Chinese control for four different periods of time totaling about 1,000 years. The French made Vietnam one of its colonies for approximately 100 years starting in the mid 1800’s. The Japanese also dominated Vietnam in the 1940s. There were several other attempts to invade and seize Vietnam by other countries throughout history.


Why is it that this little country is always pestered by others?


Geographically, Vietnam’s whereabouts offers an advantage in military operations and trading. It is also rich in natural resources ranging from mines of precious metals to fertile land which yields bountiful harvests to rich sea resources off the reef that runs the length of the entire country. The Vietnamese people mostly are pleasant, amiable looking, intelligent, ambitious, and hard-working. Many nations wanted Vietnam to be a part of their own countries; perhaps, there exists some nations who still harbor these obsolete and morally wrong ideas.


Courtest of Vivi for Hung Vuong Commemoration
Courtest of Vivi for Hung Vuong Commemoration

We touched slightly on a couple of the country name changes that Vietnam underwent.  Actually, there were many more names that defined this country at one time or another. Some were significant, some were not, and sometimes certain names re-appeared at later times.


The main names Vietnam wore throughout history were: Xích Quỷ, Văn Lang, Âu Lạc, Nam Việt, Giao Chỉ, Lĩnh Nam, Giao Chỉ, Giao Châu, Vạn Xuân, Giao Châu/An Nam, An Nam, Trấn Nam, An Nam, Tĩnh Hải Quân, Ɖai Cồ Việt, Ɖại Việt, Ɖại Ngu, Giao Chỉ, Ɖại Việt, Việt Nam, Ɖại Nam, Việt Nam.


During the French domination, the French government strategically divided Vietnam into three parts with three different names that fell under different rules for easier control and management. The North was named Tonkin which was totally placed under French rules. The central part of Vietnam was named Annam which was – on the surface – left in the hands of the Vietnamese people and the Vietnamese king. In reality, it was under French supervision. The South was called Cochinchina, and it was French-cultured with the most freedom. The southern Vietnamese were most influenced by the French. Consequently, many of them were well-versed in the French language.


The French were driven out of Vietnam by the Việt Minh in the early 1950s resulting in the Geneva Conference that divided the country into two parts: Communist North Vietnam and  the Republic of South Vietnam. The capital of North Vietnam became Hanoi and the capital of South Vietnam became Saigon. The civil war then began between the south and the north of Vietnam until 1975. It ended on April 30th of Year 1975.


Vietnam history in its entirety is in no way possible to present in the confinement of these pages and the limited knowledge of one person. The intention of this article was to present an abbreviated overview of the history of Vietnam through April 1975. And the author hopes that it helps ignite interest on the event that The Association of Senior Vietnamese-Americans in the Grand Rapids Metro Area is going to hold on Saturday April 16th, 2016.  If you are curious and or have time, please do not hesitate to attend at 2:00 PM at the Little Saigon Plaza on 28th Street, just East of Division Street.


God bless America and God bless us all.