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What is the ethnic origin of Vietnamese?


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What is the ethnic origin of Vietnamese? Empty What is the ethnic origin of Vietnamese?

Bài gửi by QaniTri on 23rd June 2017, 14:26

While I basically agree with Alex Wong on his view about a mixed origin of the Vietnamese people, I have to correct him at some points. That’s why I’m writing a more academic and comprehensive answer to this question.
Kinh Vietnamese is an admixture of these three races: Vietic/Tai/Chinese

  1. The Vietic people from Central Laos and North Central Vietnam: Kinh Vietnamese people in North Central Vietnam look like them

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2. The Tai (Daic) people from North Vietnam: I can’t distinguish these people from Kinh Vietnamese in North Vietnam
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3. The Chinese from China: Some Kinh around Hanoi area have Chinese features
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In addition, Southern Kinh Vietnamese mixed with Cham in South Central region and Khmer in Southern region.
The Cham (a Malay race)
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The Khmer (Austroasiatic people native to Indochina peninsula like the Vietic people)
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Now the question is how did the mix take place?
The history of the Vietnamese started with a mysterious people native to the Red River Delta (Tonkin Delta, Tonkin or Dong Kinh in Vietnamese means Eastern Capital) in North Vietnam recorded in Chinese historical texts as the Lac Viet (or Luo Yue in Chinese). We have no idea about their ethnic identity or language. Most Vietnamese believe they spoke a similar language to them which means they must have spoken some Vietic language. Chinese scholars as well as many Western academics believe that they must be Tai-Kadai speakers like other Yue groups in South China. There is no evidence to support any of these opinions. Nevertheless, we have a good reason to believe in the possibility that they were actually a Tai population.
These Lac Viet people were the creator of the Dong Son culture with famous bronze drums.
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Inhabited to the north of Lac Viet was another Yue group called Au Viet (or Ou Yue in Chinese). This group was well documented by ancient Chinese texts, so now we know they spoke some Tai-Kadai language and was the ancestors of various ethnic groups in Guangxi and Northern Vietnam like Zhuang, Dong, Tay, Nung and also the Thai in two SEA nations Thailand and Laos.
In sometime around the 3rd century BC, some of Au Viet tribes in the mountainous region of Northern Vietnam and Southern Guangxi merged with the Lac Viet tribes in a conquest of the Tonkin Delta to form the first state called Au Lac. Legend told about a king known as King An Duong or Thuc Phan (Shu Pan) who himself was a prince from Shu state in Sichuan basin in China. Some modern scholars agreed that he was just a local chieftain of the Au Viet. All is just speculations. We actually know nothing about him nor his origin, nor whether he really existed or not.
We do know that this Au Lac state was conquered by the neighboring Nan Yue (Southern Yue, Nam Viet in Vietnamese) kingdom established by a Qin official in Guangdong sometime around 179 BC. Then when Nan Yue failed against Han empire in 111 BC, Au Lac was also annexed into the great empire. Nan Yue was renamed to Jiaozhou (province of Jiaozhi people) and the old territory of Au Lac was devided into three prefectures: Giao Chi (Jiaozhi) in Red River Delta, Cuu Chan (Jiuzhen) in Ma and Ca River Deltas and the southernmost Nhat Nam (Rinan, meaning to the south of the sun) in Central Vietnam.
There must have been an influx of people to the Tonkin Delta since then. According to a census done in 2 AD, Tonkin area was interestingly one of the most populous area of the empire (with around 1 million people). You may think it’s hard to believe that this area could be more populous than Guangzhou area, the old capital of Nan Yue kingdom. Remember that the capital of Jiaozhou was already relocated to Luy Lau in the Tonkin Delta.
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Who lived in the Tonkin area at this time? Definitely a majority of Han people surrounded by the minority Lac people. Then over the time, the mix of Chinese immigrants and local Lac people took place and gave birth to a new race which can be called the Annamese Chinese who spoke a Yue dialect of Ancient Chinese. These people were genetically and linguistically closest to the Cantonese in Guangzhou.
So when did the Vietic people come into the picture? and since when did the Annamese Chinese switched to using the Vietic language which would evolve into the modern Vietnamese language?
The Vietic homeland:
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From the beginning of the first millenium, the proto-Vietic speaking groups started to migrate into the region nowadays known as North Central Vietnam from Central Laos. The low land groups rapidly integrated into the sinitic culture. At first, they started moving north from Nhat Nam prefecture to Cuu Chan prefecture to concentrate around the Ca River Delta (now Nghe An province) then they spread northward to the Ma River Delta (now Thanh Hoa province) and predominated these two areas. During Tang dynasty (7th to 9th century BC), the Vietic people in Thanh Hoa who spoke a proto-Viet-Muong language gradually migrated to the Tonkin delta and mixed with the local Tai speaking population. These migrations were the result of many successful conquests of the Tonkin Delta by Vietic armies from southern provinces, starting from Mai Thuc Loan, Phung Hung, Duong Dinh Nghe to Ngo Quyen. (Phung Hung and Ngo Quyen was just recently found to be from Thanh Hoa, not Son Tay as previously thought), which culminated in the victory of Ngo Quyen against Nan Han in 938 BC. Ngo Quyen annexed his territory in Thanh Hoa and Nghe An to the Tonkin area and established the first dynasty of the independent era, marking the birth of the Vietnamese people.
Since then the Vietic population gradually became dominant in the Tonkin delta. The native Tai population was not wiped out but mixed with the Vietic to become the Viet-Muong speaking Tonkinese people during 10th to 11th century.
However, the Annamese Chinese speaking population which now concentrated in the capital area still dominated the elite class in the society. The Tonkin Delta was bilingual for a long time during Ly and Tran dynasties (11th to 14th century) while the Chinese speaking population was gradually assimilated by the Vietic and started speaking the more common Vietic language. The two people and language continued to mix and formed which is now known as Kinh people and Kinh language (Kinh means “capital”). Annamese Chinese language still remained as the official court language.
During Tran dynasty in 13th century, there started to be a discrimination between the Kinh who lived around the capital in Tonkin Delta and the Trai (outposts) who lived in Thanh Hoa and Nghe An and spoke more original yet less civilized versions of the language.
Later, Kinh was used to refer to people who were more sinicized and Trai was used to refer to the Vietic people who refused to participate in the language and culture merger with the Chinese and was pushed to live in mountainous regions. The Trai later became the Muong groups who were highly Taicized Vietic groups and the various aboriginal peoples in the Vietic homeland (Tho and Cheut).
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Muong people (Muong means Thai because they are culturally Thai) in Thanh Hoa and North Vietnam
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Tho people (Tho means “aborigines”) in Nghe An
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Cheut people in Quang Binh
When Le Loi and his Trai army from Thanh Hoa defeated the Ming in 15th century and took control of the Tonkin Delta is when the Kinh identity and language were consolidated with least traces of the Annamese Chinese culture and language among the capital people.
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A Kinh woman in Tonkin (teeth blacken)
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A Kinh woman in Cochinchine (South Vietnam)
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Modern Kinh woman
Conclusion: The Vietnamese is a highly heterogeneous people despite the fact that they speak a common language intelligible to everyone in the country.
Linguistically speaking, they speak three dialects of the Vietnamese language. The Northern and Southern dialects actually originated from two branches in the numerous dialects in North Central Vietnam (the Vietic homeland) where a great liguistic diversity of the language is found.
Genetically speaking, the more to the north, the higher proportion of Tai blood and the lower proportion of Vietic blood can be found in Kinh population. Similarly, the nearer to the capital and cities in the plains of Red, Ma and Ca Rivers, the more Chinese blood can be found. The Vietnamese in the South have a similar genetic makeup to the people in North Central region with various degrees of Cham and Khmer admixture.
Culturally speaking, the Tho who were Taicized became the Muong and the Muong who were Sinicized became the Kinh.


  1. Keith Taylor, A History of the Vietnamese, 2013.

  2. Chamberlain, The origin of the Sek implications for Tai and Vietnamese history, 1998.

  3. John D. Phan, Re-imagining Annam: A new analysis of Sino-Viet-Muong linguistic contact, 2010.


    Hôm nay: 25th September 2020, 02:04