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At this time, American curiosity about Vietnam is undeniable, but Vietnam reaches the public in highly mediate fragments. The American experience of The Vietnam War remains a perennial topic. Since the opening of Vietnam to global investment and international tourism, the images that have for so long dominated American consciousness of Vietnam -- jungle warfare, napalm, etc. have come to coexist with tourist images of spectacular landscapes, vintage architecture, and photogenic people in conical hats.

While feature films such as Forrest Gump (1994) and Apocalypse Now(1979) are well received in American theaters, none of them captures the texture and the substance of Vietnamese life in the present tense. Vietnam today is a society of both urban and rural people. My goal today is to show you how the Vietnamese families have changed throughout the process of urbanization.
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The family is the basic social unit of Vietnamese society. Its development has been based on thousands of years of history. It has been influenced by Chinese, French and American culture as well Confucianism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Taoism and the cult of Ancestors. The family cannot be understood nor separated from the culture, nation and country of Vietnam.

One of the basic premises that exist within the family structure is the idea of collective identity. The individual’s interests and destiny are rarely conceived outside of the framework of the immediate and extended family. The young are not taught to develop their individuality. The considerations of the family are always put before the individual. This collective nature is also closely linked to the individual’s strive to achieve harmony with oneself.

Allegiance to the family is seen as the most important factor. The family is the center of the individuals’ existence and the foundation of Vietnamese society.

The collective nature of society and the family has important ramifications for all of its members. The misbehavior of an individual reflects badly on all of the family members. Likewise, the success of an individual will bring honor and pride to all family members. It is not uncommon for family members to “blur the lines” of who has actually achieved an important job or position. This is not done out of selfishness, but because the family as a whole is seen as a single unit. The individual has not achieved that honor, but the family has.
Traditionally the family has been the foremost institution for the education of children. The children are taught from a very young age that they are to forgo their interests for those of their family. Central to this theme is the concept of filial piety (hieu thao). This is considered to be the most essential virtue in Vietnamese society. Children are taught that they must be thankful to their parents for the debt of birth, their upbringing and education. They are to think of their parents and family first, to make sacrifices for them and to love and care for their parents in their old age. A Vietnamese person who neglects this responsibility is ostracized by both their family and the community.

This love and respect for the family also transcends to the village. The village is not only a place to grow up and live but where their ancestors are buried. In rural areas of Vietnam many people never leave the village where they were born.

Entwined in these ideas is the concept of respect for elders. Vietnamese are taught that at home they are to show respect to their parents, older siblings and older relatives. This concept also transcends into the broader community.
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“The daughter-in-law is one of the family, The son-in-law is a stranger”
The structure of the basic Vietnamese family unit is much more complicated than the traditional western nuclear family. There is a clear distinction between the immediate and extended families in Vietnamese society, but their concepts of each of these are different to a western interpretation. The immediate family is not just the mother, father and children, but also includes the husband’s parents and the son’s wives and children. The extended family includes the close relatives who share the family name and the ancestors who live in the same community.


The complexity of the Vietnamese concept of family is reflected in the rather complex terminology designating kinship. Each member of the extended family has a particular designation according to his/her relative position and his/her role in the family structure. People are often referred to by the kinship term rather than by given name.
In Vietnamese society, the father is the head of the family. However, unlike the father in traditional Chinese society, who is empowered, at least theoretically, with absolute rights over his children and wife, the Vietnamese father shares with his wife and children collective and bilateral responsibility, legally, morally, and spiritually.

In the relationship between parents and children, as well as between husband and wife, the Vietnamese people retain much of their own custom and tradition, despite the great influence of Chinese culture and Confucian doctrine. In the eyes of the children, the Vietnamese mother has the same status as the father. She is also the embodiment of love and the spirit of self-denial and sacrifice.


Parent-child relationship
Vietnamese parents consider it a most important responsibility to train their children. By virtue of the principle of collective responsibility, the parents will bear the disgrace brought about by the activities of children who dishonor themselves just as they share the honor and fame of their virtuous and talented children.
At an early age, children are taught by their parents to behave according to the principle of filial piety. The family is the school in which the child learns the respect rules in both behavior and linguistic response. Filial piety consists of loving, respecting, and obeying one’s parents. Talking back or acting contrary to the wishes of one’s parents is evidence of lack of filial piety. For the Vietnamese, the obligation to obey his parents does not end with coming of age or marriage. Filial piety also means solicitude and support to one’s parents, chiefly in their old age. Vietnamese elderly people never live by themselves or in nursing homes but with one of their children, usually their eldest son. This obligation is not discontinued by the parents’ death. It survives in the form of ancestral cult and the maintenance of ancestral tombs. Ancestor worship is practiced in most, if not all, Vietnamese homes even in the homes of Vietnamese people living overseas.


Sibling relationships
In Vietnamese culture, the relationship between siblings is determined by the principle of seniority, which requires younger siblings to respect and obey older ones. The eldest brother is entrusted with a heavy responsibility that of substituting for the parents in case of emergency. He is considered by his siblings as their leader. Concord and love among siblings is a token of happy and virtuous family.


Attitude towards relatives
As with members of the immediate family, members of the extended family are bound together by a strong sense of collective responsibility and mutual obligation. The notion of blood relationship is always present in the mind of the Vietnamese. In honor or in disgrace, members of the extended family will share the same fate as if they were members of the immediate family. They are expected to give one another moral and material assistance, especially in time of stress. On the social and political planes, this strong sense of loyalty to the extended family tends to encourage the spirit of sectarianism and nepotism.
The notion of family ties is imprinted in the mind of the Vietnamese because of the importance of filial piety. Respect and love are demanded of young people to members of the parental generation and above. Uncles and aunts must be treated with respect as if they were one’s own parents. In addition to the consciousness of blood relationships and the linguistic ties that reinforce kinship relationships and age seniority, members of the Vietnamese extended family are closely bound by the common veneration of the dead. Ancestor worship is a hyphen between the dead and the living and a strong tie between members sharing the same ancestry. Through such rites as the cleaning of the ancestral tombs (täo-m) and celebration of ancestral death anniversaries (ngày gi‡), which all members of the extended family are expected to attend, the ties which bind the Vietnamese to other members of his family are reinforced.

In the last decades the Vietnamese family institution has been attacked on all fronts. The Western doctrine of individualism advocated the liberation of the individual from the encroachment of the family upon his personal freedom. Under the communist regime, the state replaced parents in the filial piety relationship, and children were taught to spy on their own parents and report to the Party any subversive talk or behavior. The war devastated the countryside and brought people to the cities where narrow spaces were not suitable to the pattern of the extended family. Since 1975, with the communist takeover of the whole country and the tragic exodus of the Vietnamese people throughout the world to search for freedom, the Vietnamese family has become increasingly broken and separated by distance. Husbands and wives, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters live thousands and thousands of miles apart. But despite of all this, deep family feelings and ties are still strong and the Vietnamese family concept still survives through time and change.

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During the 1986, the transition from village to city in Vietnam had just begun. "Doi Moi" or "Renovation" was initiated by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Doi Moi was essentially a way to industrialize Vietnam. The fostering of a market economy brought new levels of consumption, including the consumption of tradition, but also accelerated disparities of income and environmental change.

New markets and goods have had a direct impact on various domains of contemporary social life. In Vietnam, "culture" is a dynamic process that responds to changes in the local and global environment. This is a measure of its vitality.

Historically, Vietnam has been influenced by both Indian and Chinese civilization, But because of the long Chinese occupation and China's proximity, Vietnam adopted most of its major cultural and political concepts from China. Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism have made its way into Vietnamese homes and culture.

Throughout its history the family has formed the corner stone of Vietnamese culture and society. The family unit has preserved its status through Chinese and French domination, the 30-year struggle for National Liberation, Communism and Doi Moi (the current policy of market reform and the trappings of
Westernization and Modernization).

The institution of the family has come under intense pressure throughout Vietnamese civilisation. It is, however, regarded by many that the traditional role of the family in modern Vietnam is under more pressure than at any other stage in Vietnamese history. Doi Moi, the development of western style capitalism, government family planning policies, modernization, individualism and westernization seem to be assaulting the traditional family from all sides.

But now as a result of Doi Moi, we no longer see as much family culture. Many families are forced to leave the house and work in factories to sustain their families. In the video, one couple hadn't seen their kids for months. This was unheard of in times before Doi Moi.

Along with the influx of migrant factory workers and the increase in the population of the urban poor, A new upper middle class emerges from this industrial world. The cities are full of cars and motorbikes (famous in Vietnam), fancy houses, and furnishings fashionable clothes, and personal gadgets like cell phones, and entertainment.

Family values have become lost in the midst of chaos. The priority of the family becomes making money and not each other. Children are being more and more pressured to pursue education not as a means to become knowledgeable but to make a living. In a world where Vietnam's young people pursue interests that differ sharply from those of their parents, a generation gap forms between the two. Communication between parents and children is almost non-existent. Children and Teens are distracted by technology and parents are working long hours that require them to be away from home.

#6.gifVietnam is a country that struggles with many of the same challenges that face other countries today, including drugs, generation gaps, and fears of globalization. Despite the individualism that Doi Moi implies, the Vietnamese government recognizes the importance of the role of the family in Vietnamese society and sees it as a major element in combating “social evils” such as drugs, prostitution, gambling, commercialism, that have developed as a result of the transition to a market economy.

The future for the traditional family structure remains unclear. What is certain is that Vietnam's economic and cultural transformation shows no sign of abating and it is within this context that the traditional family structure must develop and change to meet the needs of the "new' Vietnamese way of life and its family structure stands at an important crossroad.