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Tuesday, 02 February 2016 10:43
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Characteristics of Vietnamese culture

(LLCT) - The historical activity of human society conforms to the nature of culture, lending it the qualities and functions of productive forces. Therefore, culture has a direct influence on nature and socio-economic building and development.

1. The characteristics of culture

The historical activity of human society conforms to the nature of culture, lending it the qualities and functions of productive forces. Therefore, culture has a direct influence on nature and socio-economic building and development.

Because of its practical and functional influence on economic activity, culture is a productive force itself, which is reflected in the following aspects.

Firstly, culture is a special type of productive force in that it influences and controls economic activity in a positive, dynamic way by generalizing perceptions and behaviors. To a certain extent, culture has become an integral component of economic activity.

Human labor consists of two main forms: physical and spiritual labor. Spiritual labor is one of the most fundamental and important human activities. In fact, human labor comes as a result of conscious, purposeful activities, a combination of physical and intellectual labor. Every human production activity happens under the influence of their thinking, awareness and conception based on certain scientific and technological conditions. All the above things cannot separate culture bases from certain cultural contexts. As an established conceptual and behavioral pattern, culture penetrates the entire human physical and spiritual labor process and becomes effective in the process.

Secondly, culture and productive capabilities have dialectical relations. The history of social development proves that productive capabilities can facilitate physical transformation within people and at the same time are deeply involved in their spiritual transformation especially including their cultural concepts, values and forms and behaviors, which in turn encourage the development and expansion of culture. For that reason, culture and productive capabilities in reality are mainly found in economic activities. They always influence and promote each other and achieve internal unity. From the perspective of production, culture is production. From the perspective of culture, production is culture.

From the above arguments, researchers from inside and outside of Vietnam have come up with a few characteristics of culture including the four mains ones as follows.

The first characteristic of culture is that it is systematic. Culture is an organic system of values of material, social and spiritual culture of human communities. These fundamental elements give rise to a myriad of small categories which form a complex, diverse entity.

The second characteristic of culture lies in its values. Culture consists of material and spiritual values which measure the levels of humanity amongst a society and its people. Throughout the history of the development of humankind, cultural values exist and develop.

The third characteristic of culture is its historical. Culture inevitably takes a process to take shape and accumulates for generations. It is achievements by human communities who, during their interaction with nature and society, stay creative and perfect themselves in order to create values.

The final main characteristic of culture is that it relates to human lives. Culture is phenomenon which belongs to human society and is closely linked to their daily lives. It consists of values which are created by a human community, belong to them, stay within them and bear their imprint. This shows that people are both the subject and object of culture. At the same time, they are cultural products.    

2. Conditions for the formation of Vietnamese culture and its fundamental characteristics

Culture is one of human activities and a feature of a particular community. It serves as survival conditions for each person. Also, it is achievements of each community and is what distinguishes one community from another. In other words, it is an “identity card” that tells a people from other world peoples. It is a “passport” that helps countries to sit down and negotiate with each other. It is a message that brings peoples closer together and one of the important foundations for the sustainable development of societies.

With its potential, vitality and unique strength, culture shows a country’s aggregate power.

The characteristics of a nation’s culture must necessarily be traced back to its history. However, before and during history, geographical conditions have an influence on cultivating methods and economic, social and political forms. Culture is a response of a population to challenges arising from geographical, climatic, social and historical conditions. Therefore, any discussion of the characteristics of Vietnamese culture must go back to its origin starting in the New Stone Age, when agriculture was first practiced and villages were first organized. Also, attention must be paid to geographical and natural conditions giving rise to such cultural characteristics. In natural terms, Vietnamese culture originated from the Southeast Asian region. Originally, the region consisted of areas South of the Chang Jiang River and QinLing Mountains (China), and the modern-day Assam (India). It was the local natural conditions that gave rise to wet rice cultivation.

In anthropological terms, by the first millennium BC, Bach Viet (or Viet-Muong) was basically a non-Chinese and non-Indian region. When China expanded its territory to the Chang Jiang River delta, Vietnam and China were fundamentally different in that Vietnam was located in a monsoon Asian region and grew wet rice whereas China was situated in continental Asia and grew dry crops such as millet, sorghum and rye. Because of Chinese invasion, Bach Viet shrunk and Vietnam was the only member of the ancient Bach Viet group remained as a Nation-State and Nation-People. This was how differences between Vietnam and China came to exist(1).

Nature in Vietnam and Southeast Asian countries is diverse yet undivided. Therefore, although their cultures are basically different, they have a certain degree of similarity. Historical trends plus the reception of exotic cultures including India, China and the West have made regional cultures even more varied and tend to overshadow their originality.

Because of its natural, economic, social and historical conditions, Vietnam began its exchanges, integration and acculturation quite early on. As a result, it has a rich, multilingual culture. Dai Viet is one of the 34 first civilizations of humanity. Many scholars have agreed that Vietnamese culture originated from wet rice areas in the Red River delta more than 4 thousand years ago. It has experienced a period of resistance and dialogue with Chinese culture for 2 thousand years and is strong enough to carry out successful acculturation. It has been in contact in different forms with the West more than 400 years. At some point in time, it was oppressed by the West while conducted dialogues with it. At others, it resisted the West while learning from it. Despite all this, the traditionality of Vietnamese culture remains while it is being modernized.

While Vietnamese culture has common traits of culture in general, it has its own national identity, which came into being as a result of the country’s natural, geographical, historical, political, economic and social conditions. Scholars and researchers in Vietnamese studies, Cultural studies and Vietnamese Culture have had divergent, sometimes contrasting opinions on such peculiarities. However, generally speaking, Vietnamese culture has five main peculiarities as follows.

Firstly, Vietnamese culture is characterized by a sense of community, which finds expression in six Vietnamese qualities, solidarity and help; collectiveness and compassion; democracy and community; self-esteem; love for their homeland; and gratitude. Besides these good qualities, the sense of community results in a few bad habits including excessively relying on other people’s help or resources, failing to distinguish between people’s contribution or achievement, subjectively or groundlessly criticizing other people’s ideological beliefs, showing off, being greedy for official titles, being over-thirsty for achievements, being obsessed with trends and being formalistic.

The second characteristic of Vietnamese culture is that it emphasizes yin. Some good qualities as a result of this characteristic include preferences for stability; gentleness and forgiveness; sentimentality; tendencies for poetry; perseverance; and hospitality. However, this characteristic gives rise to such bad habits as being passive, reserved and slack, having a tunnel vision and revering whatever comes from abroad.

The third characteristic of Vietnamese culture is that it has a preference for harmony, leading to four positive qualities, exemplariness, unhurriedness, optimism and practicality and a few negative ones including carelessness, excessive respect for agreement, egalitarianism, ambiguity and indecisiveness.

The fourth characteristic of Vietnamese culture is that it facilitates coordination. As a result, on the one hand, Vietnamese are good at seeing the bigger picture and establishing relationship. On the other hand, they are superficial and shallow and rely too much on their relationship to earn a living.

The final characteristic of Vietnameseculture is that it is flexible. Vietnamese are highly adaptable and creative but they can also be random and careless and disregard the law.

An overview of five main characteristics of Vietnamese culture shows that the core qualities or values of Vietnamese are senses of patriotism, national pride, humanity, community and sophistication.

Culture and its characteristics are not constant. Rather, they keep changing in response to changes in natural conditions and development of the human society. Amidst regional integration and globalization coupled with the impact of external factors and emergence of issues from within the Vietnamese society, conflicts of values between the agricultural-rural culture and the industrial-urban culture keep occurring. In recent years, many scientists have conducted research into Vietnamese culture and have recommended ways to advance Vietnamese culture and people in the hope that the five main characteristics of the culture will be preserved and change for the better. A few research projects have been presented. One of such projects is “The Vietnamese values in the period of national industrialization and modernization and international integration” under the key scientific and technological program coded KX-04/11-15 and entitled “Theoretical and political research 2011-2015” chaired by Prof., Dr. Tran Ngoc Them. In this project, when discussing the peculiarities of Vietnamese culture, the researcher recommended renaming them by 2030 as thus.

The first characteristic of village-based community should be changed to society-based community.

The second characteristic of yin emphasis and the third characteristic of harmony preference should be combined and changed to yang-based harmony.

The fourth characteristic of coordination should be changed to industrial work styles.

The final characteristic of flexibility should be changed to principled flexibility(2).

Scientists are and will be interested in this research topic. Their recommendations will be tested in reality and some will be selected in order to serve the noble cause of comprehensively developing Vietnamese culture which is based on the truth, the goodness and the beauty and imbued with national, humane, democratic and scientific spirits. The culture should be built as a firm spiritual foundation of the society and an important source of internal strength that ensures sustainable development and national safeguard for the objectives of a wealthy population and powerful, democratic, equal and civilized country.


Assoc. Prof., Dr. Le Van Toan

Center for Indian Studies

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics


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