The Vietnamese way of life changed little for hundreds of years before the arrival of French colonists in the late 1800's. But since then, the influence of the French, the Communists, and the Americans, and the years of war during the mid-1900's, have brought great changes.
Before the late 1800's, Vietnam was an agricultural society built on strong family ties. Almost all the people lived in villages and farmed the land. People owed loyalty to their families before all else, and held their families' interests above their own. The oldest male was head of the family, and his oldest son was the second most important family member. In many cases, related families lived together. These extended families included the parents, their unmarried children, and the oldest married son and his wife and children. Parents chose their children's marriage partners. Families honored their ancestors by performing special ceremonies.
France gained control of Vietnam in the late 1800's. The French brought industry to the country, and many Vietnamese left their farms to work in the new factories in the cities. Agriculture was developed and expanded, with many Vietnamese working on French-developed rubber plantations. A new class of wealthy landowners emerged under French rule. They controlled more of the farmland than had any previous group in Vietnam. But the events that most changed the traditional Vietnamese way of life began in the mid-1900's.
The Communists who came to power began transforming the society according to Communist principles. Party leaders extended their control to all walks of life. They forced people to live according to the rules of the Communist Party. They urged women to perform the same jobs as men, and discouraged religious worship and the ceremonial honoring of ancestors.
The Vietnam War brought other changes to Vietnamese life. It broke up families as fathers and sons left home to fight. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese died in the war. In the north, areas near some cities were heavily bombed, forcing many people to move to the countryside. But almost all the ground fighting took place in rural areas of southern Vietnam. It drove many families from their farm homes to the somewhat safer cities. In the cities of the south, many people learned Western customs from U.S. business people, government workers, and soldiers who came to Vietnam because of the war.