Hanoi, Vietnam

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Hanoi, meaning ‘city located inside the arms of the river’ is situated on the western bank of the Song Hong (Red River), 140 km. from the coast of the South China Sea at the Gulf of Tonkin. It is the capital city of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.


The site of present Hanoi has seen habitation since prehistoric times. Historians believe that urban civilisation, at the bend of the To Lich River, can be traced to the seventh century. From here the city spread eastwards to meet the Song Hong, enveloping many lakes and waterways along the way.

By 1010 Emperor Ly Thai To, founding ruler of the Ly dynasty, had established the city as his capital renaming Dai La, as Hanoi was then known, as Thang Long (City of the Ascending Dragon). Thang Long remained a capital city until, in 1802, Emperor Gia Long, founding emperor of the Nguyen dynasty, moved his capital to Hué relegating the city to the status of a regional capital. Although the city had lost much of its political power it still retained its economic and cultural vibrancy. During the late Nguyen period the city became known as Dong Kinh. This name was corrupted by Europeans who called it Tonkin, (Eastern Capital) a name that came to be attributed to the entire region. In 1831 Emperor Tu Duc renamed the city Ha Noi.

On 20 Nov. 1873 the French imperial army, under the command of Francis Garnier, attacked Hanoi. This initial occupation was short lived, Garnier being killed by Chinese Black Flag bandits on 21 Dec. 1873. The subjugation of northern Vietnam had been halted and Paul-Louis-Félix Philastre, a French envoy, negotiated a French withdrawal from northern Vietnam in 1874. The treaty signed between the Hué court and the French resulted in the Vietnamese making concessions.

In 1882 a French colonial force of 250 men, under the leadership of Henri Rivière were sent to Hanoi. When Rivière was killed the French resolved to bring the entire Red River Delta under its control. In 1888 Emperor Dong Khanh surrendered the cities of Hanoi, Haiphong and Da Nang to the French. Under French occupation Hanoi became an important administrative centre and in 1902, the capital of the French Indo-Chinese Union.

In 1940 the Japanese occupied the Tonkin region to use it as a base to bring all of Indochina under their control. The Vichy French administration was permitted to remain in Hanoi.

In March 1945 the Japanese, as a precursor to withdrawal from Indochina, urged Emperor Bao Dai, a puppet king of French colonial rule, to proclaim Vietnamese independence. Bao Dai established his government at Hué.

In Aug. 1945, Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh (League for the Independence of Vietnam) seized power of Hanoi and on 2 Sept. 1945 proclaimed an independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam from Hanoi. The Viet Minh were, in turn, driven from the city by the returning French and it did not see the return of home rule until the French colonial forces decisive defeat at the battle of Dien Bien Phu (1954). Hanoi was now the capital city of the northern republic.

The Second Indo-Chinese or Vietnam War witnessed large-scale bombing of Hanoi by the United States.

Modern City

Modern Hanoi is a centre of industry and agriculture. Despite its disrupted and often violent history Hanoi still preserves many ancient architectural treasures including the Old Quarter and over 600 pagodas. There are several lakes in the city including Hoan Kiem Lake, West Lake, and Truc Bach Lake. The traditional handicrafts practised in Hanoi include bronze moulding, silver carving, lacquer and embroidery.

Places of Interest

Of historical interest in Hanoi is Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum and his stilt house which he occupied between 1958–69. The Old Quarter contains many market stalls as well as cafes and restaurants. Van Mie, or The Temple of Literature, is a shrine to Confucius. It is also notable for its traditional architecture. Hanoi’s museums include a museum of fine arts and the Vietnamese Woman’s Museum which was opened in 1995.

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© Springer Nature Limited 2019

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