Vietnam has a rich and varied cultural life which includes music, dance, indigenous martial arts, performing arts and a huge tradition of food and the family. The country communist leadership has stated that the country will become a developed nation by 2020, but that does not mean the Vietnamese will bid goodbye to their long traditions and deeply held beliefs.
In fact, the opposite is true. Many are seeking to bring a quality we can name Vietnam-ness to their work.
Traditional arts such as silk painting and calligraphy are known across Asia, but there is renewed Vietnamese sense. The tradition of silk painting has existed in Vietnam for thousands of years. But, the influence of the French in the 19th Century brought added color and vibrancy to Vietnamese silk painting which is now markedly different from say Chinese silks.
Modern Vietnamese calligraphy is written with the chữ Quốc ngữ or the national language script. But the tradition of writing along with storytelling remains a basic of how history is passed down the generations.
Music and Dance
The musical roots in Vietnam go back thousands of years which means besides the traditional Vietnamese instruments, of which there are many, there is also Chinese influence as well as the influences from neighbors Cambodia, and Laos.
Ca trù an ancient form of chamber music has experienced a renaissance and is now so significant UNESCO a designated it a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
The fifty-four ethnicities in the country all perform their own types of national dance often performed. The infamous and strenuous Lion Dance is performed on traditional instruments at New Year for luck and good fortune.
Recognizing Vietnam in the Culture
The influence of the Chinese, the French and the Americans can be sensed within the culture. Recognizing the need for a truly indigenous context, Hồ Chí Minh established an award in 1947 to celebrate Vietnamese excellence. It is the highest award in the country and is awarded to individuals for outstanding achievements in a broad variety of fields from art and literature to security, medicine or science.
All the above are underpinned by a strong sense of superstition which is a natural characteristic. By its very nature, no one understands someone else’s superstitions – that’s the essence of them. In Vietnam, lots of superstitions are culturally shared. Shopkeepers believe in feng shui for example. The entire country believes the year of the dragon is a good year to have a baby. In 2000, which was supposedly a really good year, the birth rate jumped by 8% in the first six months alone.
Incidentally, people would be sparing of their praise for these newborns no matter how delightful their concern was if the devil heard their praise he might carry the child off for himself. We might not believe this, but it doesn’t really matter or make any difference; which is the true nature of superstition.