Vietnamese values

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The Vietnamese cultural classification is basically reactive and Confucian influence is still strong. They are, however, dialogue-orientated, this partly due to the French influence and, in the south, prolonged contact with the Americans.

The list of values and core beliefs below straddles northern and southern concepts:

•    Confucian: work ethic, duty, morality
•    Respect for learning
•    Filial Piety (pre-Chinese)
•    Theme of sacrifice
•    Resistance to foreigners
•    Resilience, tenacity
•    Nationalism
•    Restraint
•    Forbearance
•    Sense of proportion
•    Collectivist (society over individual)
•    Women play important role
•    Pride, self-respect (esp. North)
•    Entrepreneurism (esp. South)
•    Pro-Westernism


Leadership and Status

Tradition is of a collective leadership according to Confucian tenets. Before Chinese rule (beginning in 100BC) old Vietnamese society was organised along hierarchical feudal lines. Tribal chiefs – civil, religious and military – were often large landowners and controlled serfs. Power was hereditary. A shogun-like figure was usually ‘king’.

The societal structure showed strong affinities with the Mon-Khmer, Tai and Melano – Indonesian peoples (not the Chinese).


Space and Time

Vietnamese are a group-orientated society used to living and working in close proximity to each other. The Red River Delta with almost 19 million inhabitants is one of the most densely populated areas on earth. They are not, however, tactile.

Their sense of time, basically Asian and cyclic, has been affected by French and American influences, so that mañana tendencies observable in the Philippines and Indonesia are less of a problem in Vietnam. The bureaucracy is, however, stifling, particularly in the North.


Communication patterns and use of language

French influence is readily observable. Facial expression is much more evident than in, for instance, Japan, Korea or China, and some body languages reminiscent of the French is to be seen. Emotional factors can be used in argument. Good education and a high rate of literacy lends people confidence in communication. The literary tradition is strong particularly in poetry. People in the South tend to be more open and frank than many Asians (no doubt due to prolonged contact with the Americans).

Listening Habits

Vietnamese are good listeners, expecting speakers to be clear and logical. They are well-versed in French style debate.

Behaviour at Meetings and Negotiations.

In essence the style is a combination of French rationality and Vietnamese tenacity. Though basically courteous, negotiations are cautious and give little away. They have no immediate trust for Chinese, Japanese or Westerners, being suspicious of all. The current relaxation of hostility to Americans is because they see the US as a political counterweight to China, as well as an economic counterweight to Japan. They are opening up to ASEAN countries for the same reasons. Decision-making is by consensus. Political (socialist) considerations have up to now dominated business, but the doi moi (renovation) process has done a lot to liberalise the economy and soften attitudes. Ideals of equality have been abandoned. Salary differentials have been vastly widened. Bureaucracy is, however, still tortuous and corrupt, according to most standards.

Body Language

Basically Asian and restrained, but with French and some American traits


The age-old tradition of respect for the elderly is reflected in the leadership. Traditions (especially in the countryside and mountains) adhering to totemism, animism, tattooing, chewing betel nuts and blackening of teeth, have little application to modern city life but indicate the cultural affinities of the Vietnamese to the Khmer and Melano-Indonesian peoples and stress the non-Chinese side of their culture. Music and the water puppet theatre are strong elements of folklore. Political dissension is of course currently taboo.


The traditional enmity for and resistance to China is the central theme of Vietnamese society. The Americans were wrong – there was no Sino-Vietnamese international communist conspiracy. Countries are not dominoes. They are living entities with national leaders who pursue their own agendas. The Vietnamese became communist by accident, because only the far left in France supported their independence.

Chinese cultural influence in Vietnam is, however, pervasive, just as it is in Japan. This is evident in art, architecture, religion, music, literature, poetry, theatre and language (script, governmental, literacy, philosophical and technical vocabulary).

Currently the Vietnamese are trying to solve their problems by following the Chinese model – i.e. to liberalise the economic as quickly as possible and encourage investment, while at the same time maintaining strict political control (communism)


Consider everything from the Vietnamese viewpoint – their long struggles against the Chinese, French and American ‘invaders’; their duty and morality in resistance; the provocations they suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Asians can probably handle them well, but should remember they have some Western characteristics including French rationality and emotive behaviour as well as occasional American free-wheeling traits. Self respect and loss of face are very much on their mind. They are not dealing from strength, but have great pride and will not be humiliated. Their old men must be deferred to and are currently in control in any case. They are always tenacious and only surrender anything with reluctance. One must always appear just in their eyes.

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