Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts The Double Diaspora of Vietnam’s Catholics

The Double Diaspora of Vietnam’s Catholics

According to legend, Viet Nam was born of a spiritual union betuxen Lac Long Quan, a powerful dragon from the mountains of the north, and Au Co, a mystical phoenix from the royal waters of the south. From their connection sprang one hundred sons and daughters, half of whom followed their father northward and half of whom trailed their mother southward. Apart, yet as one, the children knew tranquility under the protection of their ancestors.

After many years, the mountains and oceans ceased to conceal the treasures of Viet Nam, and barbarians with grotesque masks and sharp swords came down from the north to conquer the land and its people. Vietnamese fought bravely and eventually forced the barbarians out of the luminous mountains of the north. But at length, new barbarians with strange features and exploding guns arrived by sea, in wave after wave. Again, after many hardships, the Vietnamese pushed them out. But this time the children of the dragon and the phoenix did not regain their harmony; instead, they turned against each other. Thus, in victory was defeat, and harmony was broken.

Vietnam’s history is a long tale of resistance, combined with a quest for unity. It began in 208 B.C. when a Chinese warlord imposed his rule on the Red River valley, naming the province Nam Viet. The Han Chinese empire absorbed it a hundred years later, and in time the indigenous Vietnamese elites adopted Confucian social and political values, Chinese characters, and the Buddhist religion. Still, the Vietnamese struggled intermittently for a thousand years until finally, in 939 A.D., they regained their independence after the sound defeat of a Chinese army. Half a millennium of civil and foreign wars ensued until, in the fifteenth century, the Vietnamese achieved unity and strength sufficient to begin their great expansion southward, through battle and migration, to the Mekong River valley. In 1802 A.D. they achieved their manifest destiny: Vietnam within its present border, ruled by a single indigenous emperor.

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