Many people are surprised to learn that Vietnam has the second largest population in Southeast Asia after Indonesia. At almost 80 million, Vietnam is the 13th most populous country in the world. It also is a young country with an estimated 65% of the people under the age of 30. Vietnam's population is also immensely diverse with over 50 officially recognized ethnic groups speaking more than 50 languages. Eighty-four percent of the population is ethnic Vietnamese, or Kinh, 2% is ethnic Chinese, and the rest is made up of Khmers, Chams, H'mongs, and members of over 50 ethno-linguistic groups.
The Story of One Hundred Eggs
One day the dragon god Lac Long Quan, who ruled the Kingdom of Lac Viet, eloped with the fairy Au Co, who came from the north. He lived in an underwater palace while she lived in a palace on top of a mountain. Out of their union, she laid one hundred eggs from which one hundred human children grew. When Au Co went on a journey to visit her home in the north, she was stopped at the border by Hoang De, the emperor of heaven, who threatened to invade Lac Viet. Lac Long Quan then decided that he and Au Co belonged to different worlds. Because he was a dragon and she a fairy, they had to live apart-he in the water, and she on land. Half the children would live with her on land and half would follow him under the water. They would live apart but help one another in times of need. Thus it happened, and the 50 children of Au Co became the rulers of Lac Viet, known as the Hung kings, the remote ancestors of the present-day Vietnamese. (Adapted from Vietnamese Legends and Folk Tales. Hanoi 2001: The Gioi.)
According to historians and archaeologists, the Lac people were coastal people who had developed a sophisticated agricultural society from as early as 1500BC. The Hungs, as depicted in the above myth, were mountain people who are believed to have had a reciprocal agreement with the Lac Kingdom so that the Hungs protected the Lacs from aggressive mountain groups in return for rice and other crops grown on the coastal plains of the Red River.
These mythological stories, which in many cases can be matched with archaeological remains, tell of the joining of fire and water, or the earth people and the water people. The joining of these two elements has both historical and religious meaning. Many historians believe that the original people of Vietnam came both overland and across the water bringing different cultures, languages, and types of people together in the Tonkin Delta.
Kinh (Ethnic Vietnamese)
The Vietnamese people developed as a distinct ethnic group between 200BC and AD200 through the fusion of people of Indonesian stock with Viet and Tai immigrants from the north and the Chinese who arrived, along with Chinese rule (circa 200BC to AD938), from the 2nd century BC. Vietnamese civilization has been profoundly influenced by China and India (via Champa and the Khmers), but the fact that the Vietnamese were never absorbed by China indicates that a strong local culture existed prior to the millennium of Chinese rule.
The Hoa (ethnic Chinese) represent the largest single minority group in Vietnam. Today, most of them live in the south, especially in and around the Cholon district of Ho Chi Minh City. Although most of Vietnam's ethnic Chinese have lived in Vietnam for generations, historically they have tried to maintain their own Chinese identities, languages, school systems and even citizenship. They have organized themselves into communities, according to their ancestors' province and dialect. During the 1950s, President Diem tried without much success to forcibly assimilate the South's ethnic-Chinese population. In the North, too, the ethnic Chinese have resisted Vietnamization.
Vietnam has one of the most diverse and complex ethno-linguistic mixes in all of Asia. Many of the country's 54 distinct ethnic groups have not-so-distant relations scattered throughout neighboring Laos, southern China, and Cambodia, as well as Thailand and Myanmar. Most of the Vietnamese ethnic minorities, who are believed to number between six and eight million, reside in the central highlands and the mountainous regions of the northwest, with a scattering along the coastal plains in the south.
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