This is not the self-praise of the Vietnamese people but the evaluation of foreigners. Recently, a YouTube channel of a Korean person made a comparison between Vietnam and the other 9 Southeast Asian countries, they have noticed many distinctive differences in terms of culture, religion, and even political systems. This video has attracted over 1 million views and more than 1000 comments, including very long comments from Korean netizens. So why are we special?

First, it must be acknowledged that most Southeast Asian countries are heavily influenced by India, the civilization of the Indus and Ganges rivers began thousands of years before the Common Era and is recognized as one of the oldest civilizations in the world with a profound impact on humanity. The largest religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism all originated from here. Due to its geographical location close to the Indian subcontinent, Indian culture easily spread to the world.

Before the 20th century, the West referred to this region as East India based on its geographical location, and they established large economic conglomerates such as British East India, Dutch East India, French East India, which both conducted economic activities and deeply intervened in politics to maximize colonial exploitation. The purely geographical region has clearly defined boundaries and of course, Vietnam belongs to the Southeast Asia region while China, Japan, South Korea, and North Korea belong to East Asia or Northeast Asia. However, the issue we are concerned about here is the cultural space or the cultural and historical region, culture, and in this aspect, its geographical position is important but historical relationships and cultural similarities are the main basis. Also, in the concept of cultural space, the regional scope may undergo shifts in historical processes and not be entirely constrained by modern national borders.

Since ancient times, the Indianization process has strongly occurred towards the east, notably the spread of Buddhism, the Buddhist missionaries traveled in two directions. The first direction passed through present-day Myanmar, through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, then to the Central and Southern regions of Vietnam. Indian culture spread further to the southern region where Malaysia and Indonesia are now located. This is now called Southern Buddhism. The second direction, the Buddhist missionaries traveled northeast, crossing the majestic Himalayas to reach the territory of China, from there they merged with Chinese culture to create the Northern Buddhism branch, which spread from China to other territories including Korea, Japan, and of course, down to Vietnam.

In our country, the Northern Buddhism was introduced through the 1000-year period of Chinese feudal dynasties in the North. According to Buddhism, the cultures of India and China also influence Southeast Asian countries, so Vietnam is a very special country, where the northern part is influenced by China, while the central and southern regions are influenced by India.

Until the 14th century, the southern territory of Vietnam was still the place of the Champa and Funan Kingdoms, where Indian culture predominated, no Southeast Asian country was particularly like this. According to researchers, although the world has hundreds of different ethnic groups, it revolves around four major civilizations: Chinese civilization, Indian civilization, Islamic civilization, and Christian civilization. Vietnam is a rare country influenced by two of these four major civilizations. Since 1948, the scientist Acodes has studied the Indianization process of the Southeast Asian countries from the beginning of the Common Era until before contact with the West in the early 16th century and believed that Funan established settlements in Central and Southern Vietnam were the earliest Indianized countries. Meanwhile, North Vietnam was Sinicized. Thus, the author distinguishes between the Indianized and Sinicized regions in Southeast Asian countries and on the current Vietnamese territory, in ancient and medieval times, two Indianized and Sinicized regions were formed on the basis of the indigenous cultures of Southeast Asian and South Asian cultures.

Later, with the southward expansion of the feudal dynasties of the Vietnamese people, Chinese civilization or Sinicization was replaced by Indian civilization in the central and southern regions. Countries like Champa and Funan collapsed and disappeared from the map, and the people gradually assimilated to the culture of East Asia. Today, our country entirely belongs to the Sinicized world, including seven countries and territories: China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Singapore in Southeast Asia can also be classified into this category with 75% of the population being of Chinese descent. However, they are not considered to have a distinctive culture due to the ethnic diversity including Indians, Malays, Westerners, and Muslims. The worship of Chinese culture in feudal dynasties has copied extensively from language, customs, clothing to heroes, people, and Confucian scholars who worship Guan Yu, Confucius, the recruitment of talents through the imperial examinations, using the Four Books and Five Classics, the national governance experiences of the feudal dynasties of Northern China.

The first university in Vietnam was the Temple of Literature dedicated to Confucius, later they also honored Chu Van An, a Vietnamese teacher. The influence of East Asia is most clearly shown in writing after 1000 years of Chinese rule, the feudal dynasties of Vietnam used Chinese characters as the main script. Although we have retained our own voice without being assimilated with China, our writing is entirely borrowed from them. Then in the 10th century after the Common Era, Nom script was created specifically for the Vietnamese people, but basically, it was also based on Chinese characters. This is very similar to other East Asian countries like Korea, South Korea, and Japan.

The Koreans also used Chinese characters as the national script until the 20th century before completely abandoning it and using their own Hangul script. As for Japan, in their current writing, they have a set of Kanji characters that show the deep influence of Chinese culture over thousands of years. Thus, while Southeast Asian countries write based on Indian Pallava script, Vietnam is the only country that writes based on Chinese characters. Until the 20th century, the Portuguese created the Latin-based script. From then on, Vietnam completely abandoned Chinese characters. In terms of political systems, Vietnam is also quite different from the rest.

Southeast Asian countries all build their states based on capitalist multi-party systems, some countries still retain monarchs like Thailand, Cambodia. However, they are symbolic figures with little actual power, while Vietnam along with Laos follows a socialist regime with only one leading party. Of course, every political system has its advantages and disadvantages, but a single-party political system helps to unify policies and directives to a high degree from top to bottom, with less interruption by short terms like in multi-party countries.

Korean netizens have noted that although the Communist regime seems atheistic, in daily life, the Vietnamese people believe in superstitions. Although the largest religion is Buddhism, the influence of Taoism and Confucianism here is also significant. The belief in "loyalty to the state, filial piety, integrity, loyalty, and respect for men and women" from China has deeply permeated through many generations of Vietnamese people for thousands of years and still exists to this day. Everyone celebrates Tet Nguyen Dan, Mid-Autumn Festival just like other East Asian countries, China, South Korea, North Korea, Japan. In addition to the Western calendar, the lunar calendar still exists, and people still consider auspicious days and hours according to this lunar calendar.

In terms of anthropology, the Vietnamese people have fair skin, straight hair, and a more attractive appearance compared to other Southeast Asian countries, while Indonesians, Malaysians, Thais, and Cambodians have dark skin and curly hair. Perhaps in terms of ethnology, the Vietnamese people inherit from their ancestors, the Baiyue tribes living in southern China in ancient times, today there is globalization from economic, cultural, and clothing aspects, all countries have copied the Western model, among our countries, we do not see a very large cultural difference. However, before the Western homogenization storm swept through each country and each ethnic group, they still strive to preserve their traditional values to some extent, and Vietnam is no exception.

Although Vietnamese culture has been mixed through many historical upheavals, wars, it still retains the essence of East Asia and is different from the rest of the Southeast Asian region.

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