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CULTURE OF VIETNAM

The Culture of Vietnam is one of the oldest of such in the Southeast Asia region. Although Vietnam lies geographically in Southeast Asia, long periods of interaction with its neighbors has resulted in the emergence of many East Asian characteristics in Vietnamese culture, and generally Vietnam is said to be part of the East Asian cultural sphere, known widely as Chinese cultural sphere. Historically, passing the imperial Mandarin exams was the only means for Vietnamese people to socially advance themselves. 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 exposure to Southeast Asian, European and American culture and media. In terms of prehistory, most Vietnamese historians consider the ancient Dong Son culture to be one of the defining aspects of early Vietnamese civilization.

  • Rural

About 74% of Vietnamese currently live in rural areas, and although many are being influenced by the process of a growing economy, 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

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.

  • 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

  • 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

  • Cuisine

Vietnamese phở noodle soup with sliced rare beef and well done beef brisket.Vietnamese cuisine is extremely diverse, often divided into three main categories, each pertaining to Vietnam's three main regions (north, central and south). It uses very little oil and many vegetables, and is mainly based on rice, soy sauce, and fish sauce. Its characteristic flavors are sweet (sugar), spicy (serrano peppers), sour (lime), nuoc mam (fish sauce), and flavored by a variety of mint and basil. 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"), a type of noodle soup originating in North Vietnam, which consists of rice noodles and beef soup (sometimes chicken soup) with several other ingredients such as bean sprouts and scallions (spring onions). It is often eaten for breakfast, but also makes a satisfying lunch or light dinner. The boiling stock, fragrant with spices and sauces, is poured over the noodles and vegetables, poaching the paper-thin slices of raw beef just before serving. Phở is meant to be savored, incorporating several different flavors: the sweet flavor of beef, sour lemons, salty fish sauce, and fresh vegetables. 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

Empress Nam Phuong in a formal court gown.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 plain white áo dài is worn as a uniform in Vietnamese high schools.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. White Áo dài is the required uniform for girls in many high schools across Vietnam. Some female office workers (e.g. receptionists, secretaries, tour guides) are also required to wear Áo dài. Áo Dài was once worn by both genders but today it is worn mainly by females, except for certain important traditional culture-related occasions where some men do wear it. 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.

  • Art

Noon gate leading to the Imperial City, an example of Nguyen dynasty Imperial architectureTraditional 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.

  • Calligraphy

Calligraphy has had a long history in Vietnam, previously using Chinese characters along with Chữ Nôm. However, most modern Vietnamese calligraphy instead uses the Roman-character based Quốc Ngữ , 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.

  • Performing Arts

Music A trio of Vietnamese musicians perform together. The man at centre plays a đàn nhị.Main article: Music of Vietnam Vietnamese music varies slightly in the three regions: Bắc or North, Trung or Central, and Nam or South. Northern classical music is Vietnam's oldest and is traditionally more formal. Vietnamese classical music can be traced to the Mongol invasions, when the Vietnamese captured a Chinese opera troupe. Central classical music shows the influences of Champa culture with its melancholic melodies. Southern music exudes a lively laissez-faire attitude. Two of the most widely known genres are: Imperial Court music: When referring specifically to the "Nhã nhạc" form it includes court music from the Tran Dynasty on to the Nguyen dynasty. It is an elaborate form of music which features an extensive array of musicians and dancers, dressed in extravagant costumes. It was an integral part of the rituals of the Imperial court.  Ca trù: An ancient form of chamber music which originated in the imperial court. It gradually came to be associated with a geisha-type of entertainment where talented female musicians entertained rich and powerful men, often scholars and bureaucrats who most enjoyed the genre. It was condemned in the 20th century by the government, being tied falsely with prostitution, but recently it has seen a revival as appreciation for its cultural significance has grown. Ca trù has been recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity since 2005. 

Theatre Hát tuồng (also known as Hát bội): A theatre form strongly influenced by Chinese opera, it transitioned from being entertainment for the royal court to travelling troupes who performed for commoners and peasants, featuring many well-known stock characters.  Cải lương: A kind of modern folk opera originating in South Vietnam, which utilizes extensive vibrato techniques. It remains very popular in modern Vietnam when compared to other folk styles.  Hát chèo: The most mainstream of theatre/music forms in the past, enjoyed widely by the public rather than the more obscure Ca trù which was favored more by scholars and elites. 

Water puppetry Water Puppet Theatre in Hanoi.Water Puppetry is a distinct Vietnamese art which had its origins in the 10th century. In Water Puppetry a split-bamboo screen obscures puppets which stand in water, and are manipulated using long poles hidden beneath the water. Epic story lines are played out with many different puppets, often using traditional scenes of Vietnamese life. The puppets are made from quality wood, such as the South East Asian Jackfruit tree. Each puppet is carefully carved, and then painted with numerous successive layers of paint to protect the puppets. Despite nearly dying out in the 20th century, Water Puppetry has been recognised by the Vietnamese Government as an important part of Vietnam's cultural heritage. Today, puppetry is commonly performed by professional puppeteers, who typically are taught by their elders in rural areas of Vietnam. It is now extremely popular with tourists, and is performed at the National Museum in Ho Chi Minh city and in specialist theatres. In 2007 a Water Puppet troupe toured the USA to acclaim.

Dance Vietnam has 54 different ethnics, each with their own traditional dance. Among the ethnic Vietnamese majority, there are several traditional dances performed widely at festivals and other special occasions, such as the lion dance. In the imperial court there also developed throughout the centuries a series of complex court dances which require great skill. Some of the more widely known are the imperial lantern dance, fan dance, and platter dance, among others.

  • Martial Arts

Vietnamese martial arts is highly developed from the country's long history of warfare and attempts to defend itself from foreign occupation. Although most heavily influenced by Chinese martial arts, it has developed its own characteristics throughout the millennia in combination with other influences from its neighbors. Vietnamese martial arts is deeply spiritual due to the influence of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, and is strongly reliant on the "Viet Vo Dao" (philosophy of Vietnamese martial arts). It is probably most famous for its scissor kicks. The general Vietnamese term for martial arts is "Võ-Thuật", which encompasses all of the countless styles. Some of the more popular include: Vovinam  Võ Bình Định  Quan Khi Dao  Vietnamese martial arts remains relatively unknown in the world today when compared to its counterparts from China, Japan, Korea or Thailand. However, this is seeing a definite change as schools teaching various styles of Vietnamese martial arts are starting to pop up all over the world, notably in countries such as Spain.

  • UNESCO

Vietnam has a number of UNESCO-listed World Heritage Sites, as well as cultural relics deemed as Intangible heritage. These are split into specific categories: Cultural heritage sites Hoi An: An ancient city and trading center.  Imperial city of Huế: Complex of monuments in the former imperial capital.  My Son: Ancient temple complex of the former Champa civilization in Quang Nam province.  Natural heritage sites Phong Nha cave located in Quang Binh province.  Ha Long Bay  Intangible Cultural Heritage Nhã nhạc: A form of Vietnamese court music.  Space of Gong culture in the Central Highlands of Vietnam  There are a number of other potential world heritage sites, as well as intangible cultural heritages which Vietnam has completed documents on for UNESCO's recognition in the future.

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