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The Han dynasty overthrew the Viet kingdom in IIIB.C., and from then until A.D. 938, when the Vietnamese expelled their foreign overlords, Vietnam was part of the Chinese empire. Vietnam did not take kindly to Chinese rule, and the period was punctuated with rebellions, including one during 43-39 B.C. led by two sisters, Trung Trac and Trung Nhi, who, according to legend, drowned themselves rather than admit defeat. Two centuries later another female revolutionary leader, Trieu An, followed the Trungs' example by committing suicide after a failed rebellion. All three are considered national heroines. Though details are scant, the Vietnamese struggle for independence was bitter. Scholars generally accept the idea that the Reconquista, the seven centuries of struggle by which Iberian Christians threw off Muslim rule, left an indelible mark on the history of Spain and Portugal. It should be no surprise that the equivalent Vietnamese struggle, which lasted some three centuries longer, from, in European terms, the heyday of the Roman Republic through the founding of the Norman kingdom, and encompassing the entire history of Imperial Rome, left an equally strong imprint.
Vietnamese independence did not go unchallenged, nor was the internal history of Vietnam tranquil. Mongol invasions penetrated Vietnam three times, in 1247,1284 and 1287, only to be repulsed. In 1407 the Mings, taking advantage of dynastic turmoil. reimposed Chinese rule only to be thrown out by a guerrilla rebellion twenty years later. A palace coup in 1527 led to civil war, and in1673 a truce between the contending Trinh dynasty in the north and the Nguyen in the south divided the country at a point not far from the 17th parallel. The partition lasted until 1788, no doubt reinforcing north/south cultural and linguistic differences. All the while Vietnam continued to expand southward, overwhelming the neighboring Champa civilization in the fifteenth century and waging a series of sharp, decisive wars with the Khymers late in the seventeenth which brought the Mekong Delta under Vietnamese control.
Indochina had little to offer Europeans, and the dominant peoples of Indochina-the Vietnamese, Thais and Burmese - were better able to defend themselves than most other Asians. In consequence, Burma and Vietnam fell under European control only at the end of the era of colonial expansion and Thailand remained free. The first European lodgement in Vietnam was a Portuguese trading station established in 1535 at Faito, some fifteen miles south of modern Da Nang; it was to remain the only one for three centuries. The initial European impact was made by Catholic missionaries, notably Jesuits. Perhaps aided in their work by the turmoil of civil war, they were better received in Vietnam than in most other parts of Asia and made numerous converts, particularly in the southern Red River Delta, where they formed the only significant body of native Christians on the Asian mainland.
Among the second generation of missionaries was one Alexandre de Rhodes, a French Jesuit who arrived under Portuguese auspices in 1627, became fluent in Vietnamese and developed the Latin quoc ngu script. Rhodes' alphabet, an intellectual achievement of the first order, was to help turn Vietnam culturally toward the west. Recognizing the decline of Portuguese power, Rhodes lobbied the Vatican to place Vietnam under French ecclesiastical auspices, which it did i1664,constitutingthefirstsmall step toward French domination.
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