Before the late 1980s, nearly all Vietnamese
people lived in villages, and the cultivation of wet rice was
the principal economic activity. The basic component of rural
society was the nuclear family, composed of parents and unwed
parents and ancestors is a key virtue in Vietnam. The oldest
male in the family is the head of the family and the most
important family member. His oldest son is the second leader
of the family. Sometimes, related families live together in
a big house and help each other. The parents chose their
children's marriage partners based on who they think is best
suited for their child. When people die, their families
honor their ancestors on the day of their death by
performing special ceremonies at home or at temples and by
burning incense and fake money for the one who died.
The Vietnamese believed that by burning incense, their ancestors
could protect them and their family from danger and harm. Days
before the ceremony starts, the family has to get ready, because
they won't have enough time to get ready when the guests arrive
and the ceremony starts. Usually the women cook and prepare many
special kinds of food, like chicken, ham, pork, rice, and many
more including desserts.
While the women are busy cooking, the men are busy fixing up and
cleaning up the house, so it won't be messy and dirty because of
all the relatives of the person that died will come for the
ceremony and show honor and respect to that person.
Families venerated their ancestors with special
religious rituals. The houses of the wealthy were constructed of
brick, with tile roofs. Those of the poor were bamboo and
thatch. Rice was staple food for the vast majority, garnished
with vegetables and, for those who could afford it, meat and
The French introduced Western values of
individual freedom and sexual quality, which undermined and the
traditional Vietnamese social system. In urban areas, Western
patterns of social behavior became increasingly common,
especially among educated and wealthy Vietnamese attended French
schools, read French books, replaced traditional attire with
Western-style clothing, and drank French wines instead of the
traditional wine distilled from rice. Adolescents began to
resist the tradition of arranged marriages, and women chafed
under social mores that demanded obedience to their fathers and
husbands. In the countryside, however, traditional Vietnamese
family values remained strong.
The trend toward adopting Western values
continues in South Vietnam after the division of the country in
1954. Many young people embraced sexual freedom and the movies,
clothing styles, and rock music from Western cultures became
popular. But in the North, social ethnics were defined by
Vietnam Communist Party’s principles. The government officially
recognized equality of the sexes, and women began to obtain
employment in professions previously dominated by men. At the
same time, the government began enforcing a more puritanical
lifestyle as a means to counter the so-called decadent practices
of Western society. Traditional values continued to hold sway in
rural areas and countryside, where the concept of male
superiority remained common.
In the 1980s, the Vietnamese government adopted
an economic reform program that freely from free market
principles and encouraged foreign investment and tourism
development. As a result, the Vietnamese people have become
increasingly acquainted with and influenced by the lifestyles in
developed countries of South East Asia and the West.
have been around Vietnam, it is believed, since the
Neolithic period. During the 11th century ceramics
were in great demand for religious purposes with the
popularity of Buddhism. Religious objects as well as
statues were needed and were produced with great skill. The
beauty and elegance of ceramics caused the aristocracy, as
well as emperors, to become patrons of kilns in the Red
River Delta. Cups, dishes, etc., with whitish-ivory and
jade-green glazes were produced in the 12th century, gradually
increasing in ornamentation during the 15th and 16th centuries.
With the adoption of cobalt blue from China, Vietnam started
producing blue-white ceramics which were still being produced as
late as the 19th century in royal workshops, and in the village of
Bat Trang (Hanoi).
Woodcarving, considered to be a
peasant art, was until recently a hidden art within Vietnam.
It was not until 1972 that the country realized the
beautiful art hidden within it's country's homes.
This art uses ironwood,
ebony, reddish mahogany and rosewood (yak wood) with the natural
beauty of the wood just adds to the finished product, whether it
be in a temple, home or a statue. Adding to the natural beauty,
sometimes several layers of lacquer and color are applied making
it even more breathtaking. Woodcuts initially came from China, but is now considered to be a
traditional Vietnamese art. These are mainly used for book
illustrations and for pictures during Tet (Tranh Tet -
traditional New Year's pictures).
Dong Ho Paintings
may have seen them before. They adorn the walls of
Vietnamese restaurants everywhere in the world. Vietnamese
people hang them up as Lunar New Year approaches. In
Vietnam, production of these folk paintings peaks right
before Tet as merchants stock up in anticipation of heavy
The Print Making Process
These paintings are traditionally used to decorate
homes for the New Year festival.
The prints are made by brushing paint made of
local material onto carved wood blocks, then
pressing the blocks on paper. The print is left to
dry after each color is applied before another
color is added. Three to five colors are used to
make each print.
wooden blocks are made from the thi tree, a
soft fibrous wood. The block is used as a printing
plate, with one block for each color, print and size.
The blocks are usually kept in a separate warehouse to
preserve them in their finest form.
The prints are all done on traditional giay gio
paper made from the bark fiber of the do
tree. This tree grows in the northwestern part of
the country. The sheath is stripped off the tree
trunk and soaked in a pond for a month. It is then
dipped in limewater for two weeks, followed by a
wash. After ten days or so the pulp is poured into
frames which are stacked for several more days.
Then the stacks are arranged on a wall to dry, and
pressed smooth with a stone mortar. The paper is
coated with a pulverized powder made from
shellfish found in the Hai Phong area. The
shellfish is brought to the village and coated
with mud for two years.
entire mixture is then ground up by stone mortar and
put into a water tank to be filtered and pressed into
balls that weigh about a kilo and they are left to dry
on the walls or floors. They are then used as needed
and mixed with glue. This mixture is called diep
prints are painted with a beautiful brush made of
spruce. The thet brushes are made from dried
spruce leaves bound together. These brushes are made
in a village not far away and come in various sizes.
The leaves are pounded with salt water and a hammer to
make the brush tip soft enough and are bound together
and flattened at the top.
folk art simplicity has strong and simple contours
with bright colors that are made from dried bamboo
leaves, the local fruits, flowers and leaves. The
paint is mixed in large earthenware pots. The colors
are mixed by hand and each artisan has his or her own
formula. The red paint is made from soi son, a
soft stone that is found in the region. The blue paint
is made from indigo leaves found in the minority
areas. Both of these paints must be soaked in an
earthenware pot for a couple of years and strained of
Yellow paint usually comes from the sophora
tree whose flowers are as small as rice kernels.
The flowers are roasted in a pan until they turn
brownish-yellow. When water is added and the
mixture is boiled, the yellow color appears. The
liquid is filtered and the pulp thrown away. The
violet color comes from the mong toi fruit.
Black paint comes from the bamboo tree. When the
bamboo trees shed their leaves,
are burned to a cinder, then sprinkled with water and
put in a glazed clay jar half filled with water. After
a year or more the water is strained and the black ink
is ready for use after being mixed with glutinous rice
Grinding glutinous rice into a fine powder and mixing
it with water makes the rice glue. As the rice powder
settles to the bottom, the clear water is skimmed off
every day, to prevent the contents from fermenting.
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