Family and Social Culture
Before the early 1990s, almost Vietnamese population had lived in villages, and working on the farms, cultivating wet rice in particularly was the principal economic activity. The basic component of rural society was the nuclear family, composed of parents and their children.
Paying respection to parents and old people and especially the ancestors is a key virtue in Vietnamese society. The oldest male in the family is the most important member in the family and is the head of the family and his oldest son is the second leader of the family. Sometimes, families in the same clan live together in a big house and help and protect each other. The wedding was arranged by the parents and they will chose their children’s marriage partners based on who they think is best suited for their child. In a family when some body die, the dead anniversary will be held annually to honor their ancestors on the day of his/her death by performing special ceremonies at home or at temples and by burning incense and votive papers for the one who died.
The Vietnamese believe that by burning incense, together with votive papers and other offerings, their ancestors will receive them and they will protect the family from dangers and harms. The preparation should be ready some days before the ceremony starts, 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 and the woman responsible for cleaning up when the ceremony ends up.
While the women are busy at cooking, the men are busy fixing up the house and killing animals such as bigs or cows or water buffalos. In this ceremony, all the relatives and neighbors 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 families were usually constructed by bricks and roofed with red tiles. Those of the poor were bamboo, clay and thatch. Rice was staple food for the vast majority, garnished with vegetables and meat (mainly pork) and fish.
Since middle of 19th century, the French introduced Western influences of individual freedom and sexual quality, which undermined in the traditional Vietnamese social system. In urban areas, Western patterns of social behavior became increasingly common, especially among education due to 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 traditional arrangement in marriages, and women chafed under social mores that demanded obedience to their fathers and husbands. However, in the countryside traditional Vietnamese family values still remained strongly.
Due to the country’s division in 1954, the North and the South followed two different political systems. While in the North, social ethnics were defined by Vietnam Communist Party’s principles. In the South, the trend toward adopting western style became more popular. Many young people embraced sexual freedom and the movies, clothing styles, and rock music.
Nowadays, the Vietnam 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 countryside and rural areas, where the concept of male superiority remained common.
In 1986, the Vietnamese government adopted an economic reform program that changed from centrally planned economy to free market economy encouraged private ownership and 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.
Vietnamese life is profoundly influenced by family’s values and the community. Children learn at a very early age that they must obey their grandparents and parents, younger brother/sister must obey and respect the older one. Doing well schooling and working hard at home to honours and respect one’s parents and the family name. Respect for parents and ancestors is extended to all elders, whose life experiences are valued.
Family and marriage are very important in Vietnamese’s society. In both countryside and city, parents often are asked in arrange marriages; divorce remains uncommon in the countryside, though is more frequent in cities. In traditional Vietnamese families, roles are rigid. The man of the house is primarily responsible for the family’s matters such as economy and ceremonies and takes pride in his role as provider. Women are expected to submit to their husbands or to their eldest son when widowed, and girls to their fathers. Older children help to look after younger siblings. Discipline is viewed as a parental duty, and spanking is common once children are past early childhood.
The woman of the family is referred to as nội tướng (General of the Interior). She looks after her parents in-laws as well as her parents, husband and children. In rural areas, women also do much agricultural work.
Communism in the 1960′s brought significant changes for women, who were suddenly given equal economic and political rights, as well as the right to choose their own husband. Years of warfare and dislocation in camps have also altered family roles. With so many men away at war, women took on many traditionally male duties, including managing factories and co-operatives.
More people are moving to cities, but most Vietnamese are still farmers. Houses are sometimes built on stilts to avoid flooding. Materials such as dirt, straw and bamboo, may be used for walls, and thatch or red clay tiles or sheets of corrugated metal for roofs. City homes are often made with brick, wood and/or tile.