The Socialist Republic of Vietnam(Cộng hòa xã hội chủ nghĩa Việt Nam), is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. With an estimated 94.6 million inhabitants as of 2016, it is the world’s 14th-most-populous country, and the ninth-most-populous Asian country. Vietnam is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, Thailand across the Gulf of Thailand to the southwest, and the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia across the South China Sea to the east and southeast. Its capital city has been Hanoi since the reunification of North and South Vietnam in 1976, with Ho Chi Minh City as the most populous city.
The northern part of Vietnam was part of Imperial China for over a millennium, from 111 BC to AD 939. An independent Vietnamese state was formed in 939, following a Vietnamese victory in the Battle of Bạch Đằng River. Successive Vietnamese imperial dynasties flourished as the nation expanded geographically and politically into Southeast Asia, until the Indochina Peninsula was colonized by the French in the mid-19th century.
Following a Japanese occupation in the 1940s, the Vietnamese fought French rule in the First Indochina War, eventually expelling the French in 1954. Thereafter, Vietnam was divided politically into two rival states, North Vietnam (officially the Democratic Republic of Vietnam), and South Vietnam (officially the Republic of Vietnam). Conflict between the two sides intensified in what is known as the Vietnam War, with heavy intervention by the United States on the side of South Vietnam from 1965 to 1973. The war ended with a North Vietnamese victory in 1975.
Vietnam was then unified under a Marxist-Leninist government but remained impoverished and politically isolated. In 1986, the government initiated a series of economic and political reforms which began Vietnam’s path towards integration into the world economy. By 2000, it had established diplomatic relations with all nations. Since 2000, Vietnam’s economic growth rate has been among the highest in the world, and, in 2011, it had the highest Global Growth Generators Index among 11 major economies. Its successful economic reforms resulted in its joining the World Trade Organization in 2007. It is also a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie. Vietnam remains one of the world’s four remaining one-party socialist states officially espousing communism
The name Việt Nam is a variation of Nam Việt (南越–Nányuè in Chinese, literally “Southern Việt“), a name that can be traced back to the Triệu Dynasty of the 2nd century BC. The word Việt originated as a shortened form of Bách Việt (百越 —Bǎiyuè), a group of people then living in southern China and Vietnam. The form “Vietnam” (越南) is first recorded in the 16th-century oracular poem Sấm Trạng Trình. The name has also been found on 12 steles carved in the 16th and 17th centuries, including one at Bao Lam Pagoda in Haiphong that dates to 1558.
In 1802, Nguyễn Phúc Ánh established the Nguyễn dynasty, and in the second year, he asked the Qing Emperor Jiaqing to confer him the title ‘King of Nam Viet/Nanyue’ (南越 in Chinese), but the Grand Secretariat of Qing dynasty pointed out that the name Nam Viet/Nanyue includes regions of Guangxi and Guangdong in China, and ‘Nguyễn Phúc Ánhonly has Annam, which is simply the area of our old Jiaozhi (交趾), how can they be called Nam Viet/Nanyue?’ Then, as recorded, ‘(Qing dynasty) rewarded Yuenan/Vietnam (越南) as their nation’s name, …, to also show that they are below the region of Baiyue/Bach Viet’.
Between 1804 and 1813, the name was used officially by Emperor Gia Long. It was revived in the early 20th century by Phan Bội Châu’s History of the Loss of Vietnam, and later by the Vietnamese Nationalist Party. The country was usually called Annam until 1945, when both the imperial government in Huế and the Viet Minh government in Hanoi adopted Việt Nam.
Archaeological excavations have revealed the existence of humans in what is now Vietnam as early as the Paleolithic age. Homo erectus fossils dating to around 500,000 BC have been found in caves in Lạng Sơn and Nghệ An provinces in northern Vietnam. The oldest Homo sapiens fossils from mainland Southeast Asia are of Middle Pleistocene provenance, and include isolated tooth fragments from Tham Om and Hang Hum. Teeth attributed to Homo sapiens from the Late Pleistocene have also been found at Dong Can, and from the Early Holocene at Mai Da Dieu, Lang Gao and Lang Cuom.
By about 1000 BC, the development of wet-rice cultivation and bronze casting in the Ma River and Red River floodplains led to the flourishing of the Đông Sơn culture, notable for its elaborate bronze Đông Sơn drums. At this time, the early Vietnamese kingdoms of Văn Lang and Âu Lạc appeared, and the culture’s influence spread to other parts of Southeast Asia, including Maritime Southeast Asia, throughout the first millennium BC.
The Hồng Bàng dynasty of the Hùng kings is considered the first Vietnamese state, known in Vietnamese as Văn Lang. In 257 BC, the last Hùng king was defeated by Thục Phán, who consolidated the Lạc Việt and Âu Việttribes to form the Âu Lạc, proclaiming himself An Dương Vương. In 207 BC, a Chinese general named Zhao Tuo defeated An Dương Vương and consolidated Âu Lạc into Nanyue. However, Nanyue was itself incorporated into the empire of the Chinese Han dynasty in 111 BC after the Han–Nanyue War.
For the next thousand years, what is now northern Vietnam remained mostly under Chinese rule. Early independence movements, such as those of the Trưng Sisters and Lady Triệu, were only temporarily successful, though the region gained a longer period of independence as Vạn Xuân under the Anterior Lý dynasty between AD 544 and 602. By the early 10th century, Vietnam had gained autonomy, but not sovereignty, under the Khúc family.
In AD 938, the Vietnamese lord Ngô Quyền defeated the forces of the Chinese Southern Han state at Bạch Đằng River and achieved full independence for Vietnam after a millennium of Chinese domination. Renamed as Đại Việt (Great Viet), the nation enjoyed a golden era under the Lý and Trầndynasties. During the rule of the Trần Dynasty, Đại Việt repelled three Mongol invasions. Meanwhile, Buddhism flourished and became the state religion.
Following the 1406–7 Ming–Hồ War which overthrew the Hồ dynasty, Vietnamese independence was briefly interrupted by the Chinese Ming dynasty, but was restored by Lê Lợi, the founder of the Lê dynasty. The Vietnamese dynasties reached their zenith in the Lê dynasty of the 15th century, especially during the reign of Emperor Lê Thánh Tông(1460–1497). Between the 11th and 18th centuries, Vietnam expanded southward in a process known as nam tiến (“southward expansion”), eventually conquering the kingdom of Champa and part of the Khmer Empire.
From the 16th century onwards, civil strife and frequent political infighting engulfed much of Vietnam. First, the Chinese-supported Mạc dynasty challenged the Lê dynasty’s power. After the Mạc dynasty was defeated, the Lê dynasty was nominally reinstalled, but actual power was divided between the northern Trịnh lords and the southern Nguyễn lords, who engaged in a civil war for more than four decades before a truce was called in the 1670s. During this time, the Nguyễn expanded southern Vietnam into the Mekong Delta, annexing the Central Highlands and the Khmer lands in the Mekong Delta.
The division of the country ended a century later when the Tây Sơn brothers established a new dynasty. However, their rule did not last long, and they were defeated by the remnants of the Nguyễn lords, led by Nguyễn Ánh and aided by the French. Nguyễn Ánh unified Vietnam, and established the Nguyễn dynasty, ruling under the name Gia Long.
Vietnam’s independence was gradually eroded by France – aided by large Catholic militias – in a series of military conquests between 1859 and 1885. In 1862, the southern third of the country became the French colony of Cochinchina. By 1884, the entire country had come under French rule, with the Central and Northern parts of Vietnam separated in the two protectorates of Annam and Tonkin. The three Vietnamese entities were formally integrated into the union of French Indochina in 1887. The French administration imposed significant political and cultural changes on Vietnamese society. A Western-style system of modern education was developed, and Roman Catholicism was propagated widely. Most French settlers in Indochina were concentrated in Cochinchina, particularly in the region of Saigon. The royalist Cần Vương movement rebelled against French rule and was defeated in the 1890s after a decade of resistance. Guerrillas of the Cần Vương movement murdered around a third of Vietnam’s Christian population during this period.
Developing a plantation economy to promote the export of tobacco, indigo, tea and coffee, the French largely ignored increasing calls for Vietnamese self-government and civil rights. A nationalist political movement soon emerged, with leaders such as Phan Bội Châu, Phan Chu Trinh, Phan Đình Phùng, Emperor Hàm Nghi and Ho Chi Minh fighting or calling for independence. However, the 1930 Yên Bái mutiny of the Việt Nam Quốc Dân Đảng was suppressed easily. The French maintained full control of their colonies until World War II, when the war in the Pacific led to the Japanese invasion of French Indochina in 1940. Afterwards, the Japanese Empire was allowed to station its troops in Vietnam while permitting the pro-Vichy French colonial administration to continue. Japan exploited Vietnam’s natural resources to support its military campaigns, culminating in a full-scale takeover of the country in March 1945 and the Vietnamese Famine of 1945, which caused up to two million deaths.
In 1941, the Viet Minh – a communist and nationalist liberation movement – emerged under the Marxist–Leninist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, who sought independence for Vietnam from France and the end of the Japanese occupation. Following the military defeat of Japan and the fall of its puppet Empire of Vietnam in August 1945, the Viet Minh occupied Hanoi and proclaimed a provisional government, which asserted national independence on September 2. In the same year, the Provisional Government of the French Republic sent the French Far East Expeditionary Corps to restore colonial rule, and the Viet Minh began a guerrilla campaign against the French in late 1946. The resulting First Indochina War lasted until July 1954.
The defeat of French and Vietnamese loyalists in the 1954 Battle of Dien Bien Phu allowed Ho Chi Minh to negotiate a ceasefire from a favorable position at the subsequent Geneva Conference. The colonial administration was ended and French Indochina was dissolved under the Geneva Accords of 1954 into three countries: Vietnam and the Kingdoms of Cambodia and Laos. Vietnam was further divided into North and South administrative regions at the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone, approximately along the 17th parallel north, pending elections scheduled for July 1956. A 300-day period of free movement was permitted, during which almost a million northerners, mainly Catholics, moved south, fearing persecution by the communists.
The partition of Vietnam was not intended to be permanent by the Geneva Accords, which stipulated that Vietnam would be reunited after elections in 1956. However, in 1955, the State of Vietnam’s Prime Minister, Ngô Đình Diệm, toppled Bảo Đại in a fraudulent referendum organized by his brother Ngô Đình Nhu, and proclaimed himself president of the Republic of Vietnam. At that point the internationally recognized State of Vietnam effectively ceased to exist and was replaced by the Republic of Vietnam in the south and Ho Chi Minh’s Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the north.
The pro-Hanoi Viet Cong began a guerrilla campaign in the late 1950s to overthrow Diệm’s government. Between 1953 and 1956, the North Vietnamese government instituted various agrarian reforms, including “rent reduction” and “land reform,” which resulted in significant political oppression. During the land reform, testimony from North Vietnamese witnesses suggested a ratio of one execution for every 160 village residents, which extrapolated nationwide would indicate nearly 100,000 executions. Because the campaign was concentrated mainly in the Red River Delta area, a lower estimate of 50,000 executions became widely accepted by scholars at the time. However, declassified documents from the Vietnamese and Hungarian archives indicate that the number of executions was much lower than reported at the time, although likely greater than 13,500. In the South, Diệm countered North Vietnamese subversion (including the assassination of over 450 South Vietnamese officials in 1956) by detaining tens of thousands of suspected communists in “political reeducation centers.” This was a ruthless program that incarcerated many non-communists, although it was also successful at curtailing communist activity in the country, if only for a time. The North Vietnamese government claimed that 2,148 individuals were killed in the process by November 1957. In 1960 and 1962, the Soviet Union and North Vietnam signed treaties providing for further Soviet military support.
In 1963, Buddhist discontent with Diệm’s regime erupted into mass demonstrations, leading to a violent government crackdown. This led to the collapse of Diệm’s relationship with the United States, and ultimately to the 1963 coup in which Diệm and Nhu were assassinated. The Diệm era was followed by more than a dozen successive military governments, before the pairing of Air Marshal Nguyễn Cao Kỳ and General Nguyễn Văn Thiệu took control in mid-1965. Thieu gradually outmaneuvered Ky and cemented his grip on power in fraudulent elections in 1967 and 1971. Under this political instability, the communists began to gain ground.
To support South Vietnam’s struggle against the communist insurgency, the United States began increasing its contribution of military advisers, using the 1964 Tonkin Gulf incident as a pretext for such intervention. US forces became involved in ground combat operations in 1965, and at their peak they numbered more than 500,000. The US also engaged in a sustained aerial bombing campaign. Meanwhile, China and the Soviet Union provided North Vietnam with significant material aid and 15,000 combat advisers. Communist forces supplying the Viet Cong carried supplies along the Ho Chi Minh trail, which passed through Laos.
The communists attacked South Vietnamese targets during the 1968 Tet Offensive. Although the campaign failed militarily, it shocked the American establishment, and turned US public opinion against the war. During the offensive, communist troops massacred over 3,000 civilians at Hue. Facing an increasing casualty count, rising domestic opposition to the war, and growing international condemnation, the US began withdrawing from ground combat roles in the early 1970s. This process also entailed an unsuccessful effort to strengthen and stabilize South Vietnam.
Following the Paris Peace Accords of January 27, 1973, all American combat troops were withdrawn by March 29, 1973. In December 1974, North Vietnam captured the province of Phước Long and started a full-scale offensive, culminating in the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. South Vietnam was briefly ruled by a provisional government while under military occupation by North Vietnam. On July 2, 1976, North and South Vietnam were merged to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The war left Vietnam devastated, with the total death toll standing at between 966,000 and 3.8 million.
In the aftermath of the war, under Lê Duẩn’s administration, there were no mass executions of South Vietnamese who had collaborated with the U.S. or the Saigon government, confounding Western fears. However, up to 300,000 South Vietnamese were sent to reeducation camps, where many endured torture, starvation, and disease while being forced to perform hard labor. The government embarked on a mass campaign of collectivization of farms and factories. This caused economic chaos and resulted in triple-digit inflation, while national reconstruction efforts progressed slowly. In 1978, the Vietnamese military invaded Cambodia to remove from power the Khmer Rouge, who had been attacking Vietnamese border villages. Vietnam was victorious, installing a government in Cambodia which ruled until 1989. This action worsened relations with the Chinese, who launched a brief incursion into northern Vietnam in 1979. This conflict caused Vietnam to rely even more heavily on Soviet economic and military aid.
At the Sixth National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam in December 1986, reformist politicians replaced the “old guard” government with new leadership. The reformers were led by 71-year-old Nguyễn Văn Linh, who became the party’s new general secretary. Linh and the reformers implemented a series of free-market reforms – known as Đổi Mới (“Renovation”) – which carefully managed the transition from a planned economy to a “socialist-oriented market economy”.
Though the authority of the state remained unchallenged under Đổi Mới, the government encouraged private ownership of farms and factories, economic deregulation and foreign investment, while maintaining control over strategic industries. The Vietnamese economy subsequently achieved strong growth in agricultural and industrial production, construction, exports and foreign investment. These reforms have also caused a rise in income inequality and gender disparities.
Stamps in Vietnam were first introduced by the French colonial administration in 1862. The stamps of these decades were initially of the general French colonial series. In the 1880s, some of these were overprinted locally for Cochinchina (1886–88), Annam and Tonkin (1888) and French Indochina (1889). Subsequently, definitive stamps of French Indochina were issued. The colony of French Indochina consisted of present-day Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Stamps specifically for Vietnam were first issued in 1945.
During the Japanese occupation of French Indochina (1940-1945), the colonial administration did not receive fresh supplies of stamps from France. For this reason they resorted to printing their own stamps at a print shop in Hanoi. These stamps were of lower quality than the pre-war stamps, and in addition, the machinery used for this purpose gradually deteriorated, with limited possibilities of repairing it.
The advent of stamps specifically for Vietnam came with the defeat of Japan in 1945. In Vietnam, the Japanese surrender paved the way for the anti-Japanese Viet Minh movement, which presided over a guerilla army, to seize key cities and political power in Vietnam. During 1945-1946, the Viet Minh government issued a large number of provisional postage stamps. These stamps were manufactured by adding an overprint to remaining stocks of the war-era stamps of French Indochina. Eventually, a set of definitive stamps depicting Ho Chi Minh were issued in 1946.
The ensuing conflict between the returning French troops and the Viet Minh government brought an end to the initial series of Viet Minh stamps. During the conflict, stamps were issued in various Viet Minh held regions, while new issues of French Indochina stamps were used in areas controlled by the French. Around 1950, national governments for Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were established, each issuing stamps and coins in their own names. The first stamps of the Bảo Đại government in Vietnam were issued in 1951. These stamps supplanted the French Indochina stamps in the French controlled areas of Vietnam.
With the peace agreement in 1954, Vietnam was partitioned into a northern and a southern state. Each issued their own stamps.
Many stamps of North Vietnam were printed in Hanoi, while others were printed abroad, in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1958-1959 and subsequently in Budapest, Hungary.
The stamps of South Vietnam were mostly printed in Paris, Tokyo, England (by De La Rue) and Rome during 1954-67, in Japan during 1967-73 and in England (by De La Rue) during 1973-75.
Stamps used by military personnel were printed locally and are of inferior quality.
Between 1963 and 1976, the insurgent National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (the NLF or “Viet Cong”) issued their own stamps. These were printed in Hanoi.When the Republic of Vietnam was toppled in May 1975, the NFL government became the sole stamp issuing authority, until the reunification of Vietnam one year later.
The reunification of Vietnam in July 1976 brought about a unified postal service. This effectively consisted of the postal administration in Hanoi operating throughout Vietnam. Indeed, the stamps issued in July and August 1976 still had the name of the North Vietnamese state printed on them, while later issues have simply “Việt Nam” and “bưu chính” (mail). As in North Vietnam, post-reunification stamps were partly printed in Vietnam and partly abroad. Domestically printed stamps were printed in Hanoi 1976-1987 and subsequently in Saigon. During 1983-1990 most stamp issues were printed in Havana, Cuba, these were of a superior printing quality. Eventually, the postal service acquired improved technology from Germany. Since 1990 all stamps of Vietnam have been produced domestically.
Many stamp sets of North Vietnam and post-reunification Vietnam are available imperforate, as opposed to the regular perforated versions. This goes for stamps printed domestically and abroad. At present, Vietnamese stamps are officially offered in both regular, imperforate and specimen versions. The imperforate and specimen versions serve no postal purpose and are thus entirely aimed at the collector community.
During the war of independence (1946-1954) and immediate aftermath, some stamps were issued imperforate due to technical shortcomings. These may, of course, have inspired later collector oriented imperforates.
Apart from the regular issues (for postal use), a large proportion of the stamps of Vietnam have been made available to collectors as cancelled-to-order (CTO) versions. The Havana printed stamps of the 1980s usually have the CTO cancellation printed directly onto the stamp along with the rest of the design and are solely aimed at the collector community. While the majority of the stamps of this category found in the collector market are CTO versions, this should not overshadow the fact that similar stamps (non-CTO editions) are found postally used.
While a large proportion of the stamps of the 1980s appear to deliberately appeal to thematic collectors (cars, dogs, cats, etc.), 21st century stamps are broader in scope, and the issue rate has declined. This seems to reflect a shift in issuing policy away from the orientation towards thematic collectors, thus making the field of Vietnamese stamps more appealing in its own right.
Up until a month ago, I bad but a single stamp from the many Vietnamese stamp-issuing entities. In trying to identify it yesterday, I found that it was issued by the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (Viet Cong) and not listed in the Scott catalogue; I’d already prepared most of this article and almost scrapped it entirely. Then, I remembered that a friend had sent me a postcard during his holiday in Vietnam. The 10,500-dong stamp was released in 2016 and features Chùa Cầu, a Japaense-style bridge in the city of Hội An. I have no further information about this stamp. An interesting aspect of the postcard is that the postmark reads SAIGON rather than HO CHI MINH CITY.
Chùa cầu literally means “Japanese bridge” and divides two historical districts in the central Vietnamese city of Hội An, the Chinese and the Japanese. Its construction lasted from 1593 to 1595. It is 18 meters long and its roof is made of wood. According to legend, the inhabitants of Hội An built the bridge to hunt a monster that was considered responsible for several earthquakes in the region. They believed that the stone pillars of the bridge were going to pierce the heart of the monster. The bridge is featured on the city’s seal.
Hội An was formerly known as Fai-Fo or Faifoo, a city with a population of approximately 120,000 in Vietnam’s Quảng Nam Province and noted since 1999 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Old Town Hội An, the city’s historic district, is recognized as an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century, its buildings and street plan reflecting a unique blend of influences, indigenous and foreign.
Hội An (會安) translates as “peaceful meeting place”. In English and other European languages, the town was known historically as Faifo. This word is derived from Vietnamese Hội An phố (the town of Hội An), which was shortened to “Hoi-pho”, and then to “Faifo”.
Between the seventh and 10th centuries, the Cham (people of Champa) controlled the strategic spice trade and with this came tremendous wealth. The former harbor town of the Cham at the estuary of the Thu Bồn River was an important Vietnamese trading centre in the 16th and 17th centuries, where Chinese from various provinces as well as Portuguese, Japanese, Dutch and Indians settled. During this period of the China trade, the town was called Hai Pho (Seaside Town) in Vietnamese.
Originally, Hai Pho was a divided town with the Japanese settlement across the “Japanese Bridge”, a unique covered structure built by the Japanese, the only known covered bridge with a Buddhist temple attached to one side.
The early history of Hội An is that of the Cham. These Austronesian-speaking Malayo-Polynesian peoples created the Champa Empire which occupied much of what is now central and lower Vietnam, from Huế to beyond Nha Trang. Various linguistic connections between Cham and the related Jarai language and the Austronesian languages of Indonesia (particularly Acehnese), Malaysia, and Hainan has been documented. In the early years, Mỹ Sơn was the spiritual capital, Trà Kiệu was the political capital and Hội An was the commercial capital of the Champa Empire – later, by the 14th century, the Cham moved further down towards Nha Trang. The river system was used for the transport of goods between the highlands, inland countries of Laos and Thailand and the low lands.
In 1535 Portuguese explorer and sea captain António de Faria, coming from Da Nang, tried to establish a major trading centre at the port village of Faifo. Hội An was founded as a trading port by the Nguyễn Lord Nguyễn Hoàng sometime around 1595. The Nguyễn lords were far more interested in commercial activity than the Trịnh lords who ruled the north. As a result, Hội An flourished as a trading port and became the most important trade port on the East Vietnam Sea. Captain William Adams, the English sailor and confidant of Tokugawa Ieyasu, is known to have made one trading mission to Hội An in 1617 on a red seal ship (朱印船 Shuinsen). The early Portuguese Jesuits also had one of their two residences at Hội An.
In the 18th century, Hội An was considered by Chinese and Japanese merchants to be the best destination for trading in all of south-east Asia, even Asia. The Japanese believed the heart of all of Asia (the dragon) lay beneath the earth of Hội An. The city also rose to prominence as a powerful and exclusive trade conduit between Europe, China, India, and Japan, especially for the ceramic industry. Shipwreck discoveries have shown that Vietnamese and Asian ceramics were transported from Hội An to as far as Sinai, Egypt.
Hội An’s importance waned sharply at the end of the 18th century because of the collapse of Nguyễn rule (thanks to the Tây Sơn Rebellion – which was opposed to foreign trade). Then, with the triumph of Emperor Gia Long, he repaid the French for their aid by giving them exclusive trade rights to the nearby port town of Đà Nẵng. Đà Nẵng became the new center of trade (and later French influence) in central Vietnam while Hội An was a forgotten backwater. Local historians also say that Hội An lost its status as a desirable trade port due to silting up of the river mouth. The result was that Hội An remained almost untouched by the changes to Vietnam over the next 200 years.
Today, the town is a tourist attraction because of its history, traditional architecture and crafts such as textiles and ceramics. Many bars, hotels, and resorts have been constructed both in Hội An and the surrounding area. The port mouth and boats are still used for both fishing and tourism.