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Unit 6: Modern World History

Lesson B: 20th Century Global Politics - Decolonization

Activity 5: Struggling with Independence

After winning independence, the Vietnamese turned their attention to modernizing their new country. Having unified the North and South politically, the government now had to integrate them socially and economically. Internal differences made it difficult for the Vietnamese Communists to unite the country. There were cultural and historical differences between the North and South Vietnamese. For hundreds of years, Vietnam was not one country, but a collection of two or three countries in the same geographic area. It was not until the French came in the 1800s that Vietnam was combined into a unified structure. The North and South Vietnamese did not see each other as fellow countrymen. Rather, they viewed each other as foreign neighbors who spoke a similar language.

As a result of these differences, it was very difficult for the two areas to work together. The South Vietnamese were resistant to converting to communism. The north had been Communist for at least twenty years, but the south was unfamiliar with this economic system. There were some in the south that wanted to keep their traditional ways of village life and did not want to submit to this large national government. Finally, the conversion to communism would hurt the economy for years to come. This conversion was not preplanned and actually did more harm than good for over ten years.

Externally, Vietnam had to deal with two powerful neighbors: Cambodia and its historical advisor China. In 1975, Vietnam invaded Cambodia to influence the government that was treating its citizens brutally. Although China had helped Vietnam in its fight against the French and Americans, the two countries were not friends. China had always wanted to maintain influence in Vietnam and Vietnam's war with Cambodia did not please China. Finally, in 1979 China invaded Vietnam to punish them for their acts of aggression. Vietnam was able to repel that attack months later.

This animosity between Vietnam and its neighbors hurt Vietnam politically and economically. There was no one to talk or trade with, and, as a result, Vietnam was nearly cut off from most of the world in 1980. It was isolated from the international community.

Directions: Use the map in Document 4 showing the war between Vietnam and China to record information on your Student Resource: Decolonization Case Study Graphic Organizer.

Document 4: Map showing the war between Vietnam and China
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Written Activity - Notebook

Record the document and information gathered on your Student Resource: Decolonization Case Study. Be sure to think about the following questions as you record information.

  • What action is depicted on the map?
  • What role does nationalism play in Vietnam in this situation?