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Promoting cultural soft power for sustainable development in Vietnam today

(LLCT) -  Culture is the main source of a nation’s soft power. To transform the potential source into true soft power, it is required for each nation to go through a process with specific mechanisms to build trust, and influence other cultures. Vietnam is a country with a rich and diverse culture which has been formed through thousands of years of national construction and defense, with a massive combination of tangible, intangible, and natural heritages honored by UNESCO, etc. which are favorable factors for Vietnam to promote cultural soft power and enhance the country’s position in integration and development.

1. An overview of cultural soft power

Soft power is the ability of one subject to influence the behavior of another. This effect is based on the ability to shape the object’s interests to create the object’s appeal and attraction. Soft power is manifested in many aspects, such as interpersonal relations in society, relationships between organizations, corporations at work, and even at a higher level as relationships among nations in international politics. However, soft power is often studied at national level, due to its increasingly important role as a key factor of national power, especially in the era of strong globalization and integration as today.

The factors that make a country attractive to other countries are basically its cultural factors, its political-ideological values, and its policies. For people, wherever they are, at any time, always target at the values of truth, goodness, beauty, humanitarianism, for human sake, and honoring the beauty of humans. These are also individual factors or universal values, which are the goals towards people in general, the factors that create the attractiveness of the people, the source of a nation’s soft power.

Cultural soft power is the ability of a subject based on cultural, spiritual, and material values, ideas, creations, and inventions related to his or her life to influence the behavior of another object, thereby shaping the subject’s preferences, creating attraction, and appealing to that object. Through tangible and intangible cultural values, the appeal of ideas, the engaging forms in cultural exchange and dialogue, education, art, film, media, etc. countries can create their own attraction, influence, and define their role in international relations.

Vietnam is just a small country but locates in an important strategic geographical position in Southeast Asia, at the middle of the path from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, from China to the South, with a coastline of more than 3,000 km. In history, Vietnamese people had to confront the invasions by regional and international forces. Therefore, to maintain national independence, our ancestors found an appropriate and effective way to deal with the enemies, which was using “the weak” against “the strong”, using “the small” against “the big”, using “the soft” against “the hard”. In other words, the Vietnamese people soon knew how to use their “soft power” to protect the country and maintain national independence.

Today, the extensive globalization process leads to international cooperation at many levels around the world, increasing the interdependence among countries in the course of cooperative development. Therefore, military intervention of one country in another is no longer appropriate; on the contrary, it may cause instability and complicated conflicts for world peace. Instead, cultural impacts and influences are the appropriate way to achieve goals and benefits for each country. It is no coincidence that Joseph Nye’s theory of soft power right from its appearance in the 1990s of the twentieth century has received so much interest from both academic and political researchers.

In today’s context, to build and develop the country and catch up with developed countries in the world, Vietnam needs to bring into full play all the available potentials while taking advantage of the opportunities of the era to make great progress for the nation to “stand side by side with those on the five continents”. Experience from various nations shows that using cultural soft power is the best way to build a national image and prestige, thereby creating opportunities for cooperation and investment to develop the country.

2. Promotion of cultural soft power in Vietnam today

According to the most general concept, promotion is to increase and spread the beauty, the good and the right, making them to further flourish. It is the teaching, using and developing positive and progressive elements to serve a certain purpose. The essence of promoting the soft power of Vietnamese culture is a proactive and creative process of the subjects in preserving and spreading cultural soft power, bringing efficiency, enhancing the development process of the country in the current international integration context.

Vietnamese cultural soft power stems from many cultural resources, from identity values to the nation’s tangible and intangible cultural heritages. In which, the core of Vietnamese cultural soft power is its cultural identity. National cultural identity includes sustainable values, cultural quintessence of the nation nurtured through the history of thousands of years of building and safeguarding the country. It is passionate patriotism, the will to strengthen the nation; the spirit of community cohesion, connecting individuals in the house-village-nation relationship; compassion, spirituality, moral respect. These cultural values were formed in natural circumstances (fighting with natural calamities) and society (fighting with foreign invaders) to build up and protect the nation of our ancestors.

Vietnamese people’s concept of the country and the territory was early built and fostered in the process of fighting against foreign aggression. It was the process of regularly facing foreign forces with many times stronger and thousands of years living under the colonization of northern feudalism that formed in the Vietnamese a special patriotic spirit and patriotism has become the moral principle of life, the leading factor in the system of Vietnamese values. This spirit is expressed in a series of national historical writings such as the poem “Nam quoc son ha - Mountains and Rivers of the Southern Country” by Ly Thuong Kiet, “Hich tuong si - Exhortation to Military Officers” by Tran Quoc Tuan, and especially “Binh Ngo Dai cao - Great Proclamation upon the Pacification of the Wu” by Nguyen Trai in 1427. Vietnamese people are always aware that, to get rid of their slavery status, there is no other way than unite the entire people determine to fight foreign invaders, and win independence for the nation.

Vietnamese society has for thousands of years been an agricultural society, farmers are united, stand together in a common community which is a village, to create power to meet the requirements of agricultural production and manage interests for all villagers. Therefore, the solidarity of the community and the spirit of mutual love was formed early and are appreciated in the traditional culture of the Vietnamese people.

Besides, rice growers are closely linked to water, considering it the vital factor of life, so water is a special element in Vietnamese culture. Vietnamese people have soft and flexible behavior like water, easy to adapt to the changes of times. This is one of the most important features that are essential in international integration.

These traditional spiritual values have forged Vietnamese personality throughout the history of the nation. That spirit and behavior have won over the heart and transformed even those who invaded our country, creating an image of Vietnam as a small but resilient nation, ready to fight to defend its rights. This is the soft power of Vietnamese culture. These values have created an attraction for international friends.

In addition, an important resource of Vietnamese cultural soft power is a rich treasure of cultural heritages, including both tangible and intangible culture of the nation.

Cultural heritage is the material and spiritual products passed down through generations; it is the result of the people’s labor and creativity, and is the constituent element of a culture’s characteristic. Physical cultural heritages such as mausoleums, citadels, communal houses, temples, pagodas, and so on are material expressions of the spiritual values of Vietnamese people, the labor value of the past generations. Furthermore, tangible and intangible cultural heritages are considered two organic parts constituting the national cultural heritage treasure. The tangible cultural heritage exists in the form of works, places, relics, and antiques that crystallize the intellect and talents of craftsmen through ages, meanwhile, the intangible cultural heritage is invisible, hidden in memory, and manifested through behavior, skills, secrets held by the creator of the legacy, which is handed down by word of mouth, transferred through practice, the performance of the craft.

Vietnam is one of the countries with a large number of cultural legacies honored by UNESCO as world cultural heritages. According to statistics, Vietnam currently has 23 tangible and intangible cultural heritages listed by UNESCO as world cultural heritages. Moreover, Vietnam is also home to many historical, cultural, and scenic relics from provincial level to national level. These heritages have contributed to creating the image of a Vietnam with a diverse, unique, and different culture, and at the same time showing its connection with the world culture and shared values of humanity. Each heritage is a testament to the image of a creative and unique Vietnam, while it is ready to actively integrate and exchange with the world’s culture. Therefore, the system of cultural heritages in Vietnam has important implications for fostering national cultural identity, and at the same time has strategic value in promoting Vietnam’s cultural soft power.

Vietnamese culture is also attractive to other cultures because of its practical aspects such as a rich and diverse cuisine, associated with unique agricultural products. As a country with diverse nature and topography, including hills, deltas, long coastlines, and islands, Vietnam has favorable conditions to create a unique, flavorful culinary culture and beneficial for human health.Vietnamese cuisine is close to nature and can be enjoyed by anyone. In addition to the richness of dishes, Vietnamese people have a delicate way of enjoying them, expressing the culture and method to enjoy the cuisine. This is the soul that creates a unique feature and a special attraction of Vietnamese culinary culture.

Thus, with the historical advantages in the fight against foreign invaders, rich terrain, endowed natural scenery, rich cultural heritage, diverse and attractive cuisine, Vietnam has many favorable factors to promote its culture to the world.

3. Solutions to promote the soft power of Vietnamese culture today

First, to enhance the activeness and positivity of the Vietnamese cultural soft power subjects

In terms of management, it is necessary to develop an overall strategy for promoting Vietnamese soft power with a long-term vision and flexible implementation method. In recent years, the problem of promoting soft power endures limitations due to the lack of a specific strategy both at home and abroad. Therefore, it is necessary to have an overall strategy with specific objectives and measures for each field, each stage according to a cross-cutting point of view. The core of this strategy is first to clearly position the advantages of Vietnamese culture to be promoted to the world. Each culture can be attractive from different perspectives, but it is effective to locate its most distinctive and impressive features for promotion. In addition, the strategy to highlight cultural soft power should also be established based on careful research on the objects which are countries that receive the influence and impact from Vietnamese culture.

At the same time, in dealing with the changing and dynamic cultural reality of the world, the undertakings and policies of the Party and State to promote cultural soft power also need to promptly renew to be suitable and effective. It is necessary to widely communicate so that people can fully realize the role and important position of culture and cultural soft power, thereby taking practical actions to preserve and promote the invaluable heritage culture of the ancestors, while constantly making creative efforts to enrich the “cultural capital” and promote it to foreigners.

Besides, it is necessary to mobilize the whole society in preserving and promoting the spiritual values of the nation, encouraging the creation of new values to enrich our national culture. Literary and artistic creation activities should be encouraged, the contingent of writers and artists should be facilitated to freely create works, expressing the timely national cultural identity. Only then can we bring our own culture to the world.

Second, building a value system in Vietnam in the course of international integration

A community’s value system is formed in a long history and dominates the behavior and activities of that community. The Vietnamese value system has existed, been preserved and passed down through generations, shaping the core qualities of the Vietnamese people. However, in the current volatile historical situation, the value system has constantly changed, some values are still appropriate while some are no longer suitable. These changes happen every day in life, affecting the thinking and behavior of Vietnamese people, whether we are aware of it or not. In such context, the determination of a new value system including core values, cultural identity of the Vietnamese people, would help distinguish Vietnam from the value system of other cultural groups and countries. If we want the process of promoting Vietnamese cultural soft power to be carried out effectively, we need to clearly perceive the excellent identities of our people before implementing the methods of promoting Vietnamese culture to the world. That identity will be filled as a unique “Vietnamese quality”, existing in cultural products and services, from music, painting, goods to cuisine and tourism, action and behavior of each Vietnamese person, i.e. all cultural activities of Vietnamese people. The values that make up the cultural identity of a people are a bridge between the past and modernity, both bearing specific characteristics and casting the national history, and needing to be suitable with the new circumstances, because the more appropriate it is with the time, the more universal it is, the greater its attraction in the world will be.

After theoretically positioning, this core value system should be widely disseminated and educated to each member of society, so that all people can understand and implement it. Value-system communication and education should be widely and diversified through various channels, through education in schools, on the mass media, and action programs, etc. to build a cultural life and lifestyle based on new standards and values.

Third, preserving and protecting cultural heritages, promoting heritage value through tourism products.

To promote the role of cultural heritages in promoting the image of the country, attracting domestic and foreign tourists, it is necessary to raise awareness of the whole society about the value of cultural heritage. It is essential to make people realize that it is possible to build new things, but cultural heritages are values formed in the course of history and culture of many generations and are non-renewable resources. From there, it is required to raise a sense of responsibility in respecting, preserving, and promoting the value of monuments and heritages.

Besides, it is needed to strengthen scientific research on cultural and artistic heritages. The focus of research on artistic and cultural heritages is not only to affirm and introduce their values but also to preserve documents, find solutions to protect to prolong the existence of the heritages. Based on these studies, we can create cultural products, performances, art shows, and souvenirs for tourists.

In addition, the diversification of tourism products associated with the country’s cultural heritages will also be an important contribution to promoting the value of these heritages. Along with the trend of cultural tourism in the world, the diversification of heritage tourism products based on cultural heritages will be an important way to bring the image of the country’s valuable cultural heritages to the international community. Through these activities, we can position the image of the country and the unique culture of Vietnam. Because tourism is a high-revenue industry, it not only helps economic development but also opens a way for us to continue setting the country name in international activities, affirms a certain position of the country in the region as well as in the world.



1. Nguyen Van Huyen: Vietnamese Traditional Values - Soft Power of Vietnamese Persistence and Development, Yearbook of International Science Conference “Indian soft power, Vietnamese soft power in the context of regionalization and globalization”, Hanoi, December 2017.

2. Luong Dinh Hai: Building Vietnam’s value system in the current period, Journal of Human Studies, vol.1 (76) - 2015.

3. Pham Huy Ky: Enhancing the cultural “soft power” in Vietnam today, Journal of Philosophy, No.5 (228) May, 2010.


4. Nguyen Huy Phong: Promoting the soft power of culture in the current sustainable development process in Vietnam, Yearbook of International Science Conference “Indian soft power, Vietnamese soft power in the context of regionalization and globalization”, Hanoi, December 2017.

Assoc. Prof., Dr. Nguyen Thi Nga

Institute of Philosophy,

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

Do Thi Van Ha, MA

University of Mining and Geology

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