Unlike its Asian neighbours, Vietnam has been influenced a lot by external powers. During the 1830s, there were some members of the Vietnamese court who thought that the monarchy needed to be more open to Western influences in order to strengthen its administration, education and defence. There have been four main French influences in Vietnam: the religion, language, architecture and food.
The greatest influence that the French had on the Vietnamese was in terms of religion. Up until the year of 1841, the Société des Missions Étrangeres (the society of foreign missionaries) reported that 450 000 Vietnamese had had their religion converted to Christianity. This figure, however, is not totally reliable - in the process, they might have killed twice as many. Later in the French occupation, the Nguyen government set out to eradicate French missionaries from the country. During the 25 years following the commencement of this government's rule, 95 missionaries were executed. Notwithstanding all this, Vietnamese society had been permanently changed. This influence is so great that today, Catholicism is the second most practiced religion.
One by-product of French missionary occupation in Vietnam was the introduction of the Latin alphabet, which replaced Chinese characters. Vietnamese script does not, however, use only 26 letters without accents (as in English), but a whole variety of accents. Almost no Vietnamese words were actually influenced by French. To the untrained ear, Vietnamese would sound exactly like Chinese. Language influence is also exemplified in the fact that many educated Vietnamese can speak French.
Although the French didn't directly influence Vietnamese architecture, remnants still remain of French occupation in Hanoi. While the French occupied this city, the centre for the administration of their colonies, they constructed many buildings similar to those in France, such as governmental buildings, offices, opera houses and extravagant lodges.
The French did have a large influence on Vietnamese meals and food. It would be common to see such items as asparagus, white potato and French bread on menus, especially in the south, where French influence was greatest. A typical breakfast would often consist of a baguette, yoghurt and orange juice, all typical French items.
Also, the Vietnamese legal system is based on the French civil law system. In the government, there are many other French influences.
This website was last updated on Tuesday, 05 November 2002