By about 1000 BC, the development of wet rice cultivation and bronze casting in the Red River floodplains had led to the flourishing of a number of early Vietnamese kingdoms. Autonomy was short lived however, as in 207 BC a Chinese general named Zhao Tuo defeated An Duong Vuong – the Vietnamese dynastic leader at the time. In 111 BC, the region was incorporated into the Chinese Han Empire, and for the next 1,000 years Vietnam remained mostly under Chinese rule.
In 938 AD, the Vietnamese lord Ngo Quyen finally defeated the Chinese Han forces at Bach Dang River and regained independence. Renamed Dai Viet (Great Viet), the nation enjoyed a golden dynastic period, repelling three Mongol invasions and embracing Buddhism as the state religion.
Between the 11th and 18th centuries, Vietnam expanded southwards, conquering the kingdom of Champa and part of the Khmer Empire. This was also the Age of Exploration with European powers extending their empires around the globe. Vietnam’s independence was gradually eroded by the French in a series of conquests between 1859 and 1885. Vietnam formerly became part of French Indochina in 1887.
French control of Vietnam was interrupted by the Japanese invasion of French Indochina in 1941 during World War II. This same year saw the emergence of the Viet Minh – a communist liberation movement under Ho Chi Minh. Following the fall of Japan in August 1945, the Viet Minh occupied Hanoi and proclaimed national independence on 2 September. The French, however, re-established colonial rule in Southern Vietnam, dividing the country in two. French Indochina was dissolved in 1954, but North and South Vietnam remained divided. This division led to protracted fighting and eventually, to the Vietnam War. It was only on 2 July 1976 that North and South Vietnam were merged to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
After a difficult period of adjustment in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Vietnam achieved impressive economic growth in the late 1980s and through the 1990s. By December 2007, Vietnam had established diplomatic relations with 172 countries, including the United States. Today Vietnam is part of the United Nations and enjoys a burgeoning prosperity.