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Vietnam Culture

The Culture of Vietnam, an agricultural civilization based on the cultivation of wet rice, is one of the oldest in East Asia; the ancient Bronze age Dong Son culture is considered to be one of its most important progenitors. Due to the long-term Chinese influence on its civilization, in terms of politics, government and Confucian social and moral ethics, Vietnam is considered to be part of the East Asian Cultural Sphere.
 
Following independence from China in the 10th century, Vietnam began a southward expansion that saw the annexation of territories formerly belonging to the Champa civilization (now Central Vietnam) and parts of the Khmer empire (today southern Vietnam), which resulted in minor regional variances in Vietnam's culture due to exposure to these different groups.
 
During French colonial period, Vietnamese culture received merchant influences from the Europeans, including the spread of Catholicism and the adoption of Latin alphabet to this day, Vietnam is the only non-island nation of Indochina which uses the Latin alphabet to write the national language.
 
In the socialist era, the cultural life of Vietnam has been deeply influenced by government-controlled media and the cultural influences of socialist programs. For many decades, foreign cultural influences were shunned and emphasis placed on appreciating and sharing the culture of communist nations such as the Soviet Union, China, Cuba and others. Since the 1990s, Vietnam has seen a greater re-exposure to Asian, European and American culture and media.
 
Some elements generally considered to be characteristic of Vietnamese culture include ancestor veneration, respect for community and family values, handicrafts and manual labour, and devotion to study. Important symbols present in Vietnamese culture include dragons, turtles, lotuses and bamboo.
 
Society
Rural
About 74% of Vietnamese currently live in rural areas, and although many are being influenced by the process of westernization, traditional rural customs and traditions still play a vital role in shaping the culture of Vietnam.Vietnamese really give consideration to protect and develop these traditions . Travelling to Vietnam means going on a trip to explore a different interesting culture.
 
Organization
In terms of societal levels of organization, the two most important units are làng (village) and nước (country). Vietnamese people usually say that "làng goes hand in hand with nước". Intermediate organizational units like the huyện (district) and tỉnh (province) are not as important. The culture is like a vast ocean of people.
 
Kinship
In rural Vietnam, kinship plays an important role. If it can be said that Western cultures value individualism, then it can also be said that Eastern cultures value the roles of family and clan. Comparing with Eastern cultures, Chinese culture values family over clan while Vietnamese culture values clan over family. Each clan has a patriarch, clan altar, and death commemorations attended by the whole clan.
 
Most inhabitants are related by blood. That fact is still seen in village names such as Đặng Xá (place for the Đặng clan), Châu Xá, Lê Xá, so on so forth. In the Western highlands the tradition of many families in a clan residing in a longhouse is still popular. In the majority of rural Vietnam today one can still see three or four generations living under one roof.
 
Because kinship has an important role in society, there is a complex hierarchy of relationships. In Vietnamese society, there are nine distinct generations. Virtually all commemorations and celebrations within a clan follow the principles of these nine generations. Younger persons might have a higher position in the family hierarchy than an older person and still must be respected as an elder.
 
This complex system of relationships is conveyed particularly through the Vietnamese language, which has an extensive array of honorifics to signify the status of the speaker in regards to the person they are speaking to.
 
Religion and Philosophy
Historically, the so-called Tam Giáo ("triple religion"), characterizing the East Asian intricate mixture between Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism has always had a large impact on Vietnamese society and philosophy. Of the three, Vietnamese Buddhism has always been the most popular with commoners.
 
Besides the "triple religion", Vietnamese life was also profoundly influenced by the practice of ancestor worship as well as native animism. Most Vietnamese people, regardless of religious denomination, practice ancestor worship and have an ancestor altar at their home or business, a testament to the emphasis Vietnamese culture places on filial duty.
 
Along with obligations to clan and family, education has always played a vital role in Vietnamese culture. In the old days, scholars were placed at the top of society. Men not born of noble blood could only wish to elevate their status by means of studying for a rigorous Imperial examination which could potentially open doors to a position in the government, granting them power and prestige as Mandarin officials.
 
Vietnamese Customs
Vietnamese Marriage
In the past, both men and women were expected to be married at quite young ages (by today's standards). Marriages were generally arranged by the parents and extended family, with the children having little to no say in the matter.
 
In modern Vietnam, this has changed completely as people choose their own marriage-partners based on love, and in consideration primarily to their own needs and wants.
 
The traditional Vietnamese wedding is one of the most important of traditional Vietnamese occasions. Regardless of westernization, many of the age-old customs practiced in a traditional Vietnamese wedding continue to be celebrated by both Vietnamese in Vietnam and overseas, often combining both western and eastern elements.
 
Cuisine
Vietnamese cuisine is extremely diverse, often divided into three main categories, each pertaining to Vietnam's three main regions (north, central and south). It is mainly based on rice, soy sauce, and fish sauce. Its characteristic flavor is sweet (sugar), spicy (Serrano peppers), and flavored by a variety of mints.
 
Vietnam also has a large variety of noodles and noodle soups. Different regions invented different types of noodles, varying in shapes, tastes, colours, etc. One of the nation's most famous type of noodles is phở (pronounced "fuh"), which consists of rice noodles and beef soup (sometimes chicken soup), as well as many special ingredients. Phở is meant to be savored, incorporating several different flavors: the sweet flavor of beef, sour lemons, salty fish sauce, and fresh vegetables. This cuisine originated from North Vietnam, and has reached a level of worldwide popularity.
 
Currently, Vietnamese cuisine has been gaining popularity and can be found widely in many other countries such as the United States, Australia, Canada, South Korea, Laos, Japan, China, Malaysia, and France. Vietnamese cuisine is recognized for its strict, sometimes choosy selection of ingredients. A chef preparing authentic Vietnamese cuisine may incorporate the ingredients provided in these countries, but generally will prefer ingredients native to Vietnam.
 
Clothing
In feudal Vietnam, clothing was one of the most important marks of social status and strict dress codes were enforced.
 
Commoners had a limited choice of similarly plain and simple clothes for every day use, as well as being limited in the colors they were allowed to use. For a period, commoners were not allowed to wear clothes with dyes other than black, brown or white (with the exception of special occasions such as festivals), but in actuality these rules could change often based upon the whims of the current ruler.

The Áo tứ thân or "4-part dress" is one such example of an ancient dress widely worn by commoner women, along with the Áo yếm bodice which accompanied it. Peasants across the country also gradually came to wear silk pajama-like costumes, known as "Áo cánh" in the north and Áo bà ba in the south.
 
The headgear of peasants often included a plain piece of cloth wrapped around the head (generally called Khăn đống), or the stereotypical Nón lá (conical hat). For footwear peasants would often go barefoot whereas sandals and shoes were reserved for the aristocracy and royalty.
 
Monarchs had the exclusive right to wear the color gold, while nobles wore red or purple. Each member of the royal court had an assortment of different formal gowns they would wear at a particular ceremony, or for a particular occasion. The rules governing the fashion of the royal court could change dynasty by dynasty, thus Costumes of the Vietnamese court were quite diverse.
 
The most popular and widely-recognized Vietnamese national costume is the Áo dài, which is worn nowadays mostly by women, although men do wear Áo dài on special occasions such as weddings and funerals. Áo dài is similar to the Chinese Qipao, consisting of a long gown with a slit on both sides, worn over silk pants. It is elegant in style and comfortable to wear, and likely derived in the 18th century or in the royal court of Huế. Áo dài is made compulsory in many senior high schools in Vietnam, and some colleges. Some female office workers (e.g. receptionists, secretaries, tour guides) are also required to wear Áo dài.
 
In daily life, the traditional Vietnamese styles are now replaced by Western styles. Traditional clothing is worn instead on special occasions, with the exception of the white Áo dài commonly seen with high school girls in Vietnam.
 
Traditional Vietnamese handicraft
Traditional Vietnamese Art
Traditional Vietnamese art is art practiced in Vietnam or by Vietnamese artists, from ancient times (including the elaborate Dong Son drums) to post-Chinese domination art which was strongly influenced by Chinese Buddhist art, among other philosophies such as Taoism and Confucianism. The art of Champa and France also played a smaller role later on.
 
The Chinese influence on Vietnamese art extends into Vietnamese pottery and ceramics, calligraphy, and traditional architecture. Currently, Vietnamese lacquer paintings have proven to be quite popular.
 
Vietnamese calligraphy
Calligraphy has had a long history in Vietnam, previously using Chinese characters along with Chu Nom. However, most modern Vietnamese calligraphy instead uses the Roman-character based Quoc Ngu, which has proven to be very popular.
 
In the past, with literacy in the old character-based writing systems of Vietnam being restricted to scholars and elites, calligraphy nevertheless still played an important part in Vietnamese life. On special occasions such as the Lunar New Year, people would go to the village teacher or scholar to make them a calligraphy hanging (often poetry, folk sayings or even single words). People who could not read or write also often commissioned scholars to write prayers which they would burn at temple shrines.
 
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