Demographics of Vietnam

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This article is about the demographic features of the population of Vietnam, including population density, ethnicity, education level, health of the populace, economic status, religious affiliations and other aspects of the population.

Originating in what is now southern China and northern Vietnam, the Vietnamese people pushed southward over two millennia to occupy the entire eastern seacoast of the Indochinese Peninsula. Ethnic Vietnamese, or Viet (known officially as Kinh), live in the lowlands and speak the Vietnamese language. This group dominates much of the cultural and political landscape of Vietnam.

The Vietnamese government recognizes 54 ethnic groups, of which the Viet is the largest; according to official Vietnamese figures (1999 census), ethnic Vietnamese account for 86% of the nation's population. The ethnic Vietnamese inhabit a little less than half of Vietnam, while the ethnic minorities inhabit the majority of Vietnam's land (albeit the least fertile parts of the country).

The Khmer Krom are found in the delta of the Mekong River, in the south of Vietnam, where they form in many areas the majority of the rural population. They live in an area which was previously part of Cambodia and which Vietnam conquered in the 17th and 18th centuries. Official Vietnamese figures put the Khmer Krom at 1.3 million people. However, estimates vary from 1.1 to 7 million.

Vietnam's approximately 1 million ethnic Chinese, constitute one of Vietnam's largest minority groups. Long important in the Vietnamese economy, Vietnamese of Chinese ancestry have been active in rice trading, milling, real estate, and banking in the south and shopkeeping, stevedoring, and mining in the north. Restrictions on economic activity following reunification in 1975 and the subsequent but unrelated general deterioration in Vietnamese-Chinese relations sent chills through the Chinese-Vietnamese community.

The relation between China and Vietnam also declined in this period, with Vietnam siding with the Soviet Union against China in the Chinese-Soviet split. Tensions peaked when Vietnam invaded Cambodia, an ally of China, to depose Pol Pot, resulting in a Chinese invasion of Vietnam in 1979. In 1978-79, some 450,000 ethnic Chinese left Vietnam by boat as refugees (many officially encouraged and assisted) or were expelled across the land border with China. However in recent years the government has performed an about turn and is encouraging overseas Hoa to return and invest.

The central highland peoples commonly termed Degar or Montagnards (mountain people) comprise two main ethnolinguistic groups--Malayo-Polynesian and Mon-Khmer. About 30 groups of various cultures and dialects are spread over the highland territory.

Other minority groups include the Cham--remnants of the once-mighty Champa Kingdom, conquered by the Vietnamese in the 15th century, Hmong, and Tai ("Thái").

Vietnamese is the official language of the country. It is a language pertaining to the Austroasiatic language family, a language family also including Khmer, Mon, etc. Vietnamese was spoken by 65.8 million people in Vietnam at the 1999 census. Another 1.6 million Vietnamese speakers are found outside of Vietnam. Thus Vietnamese is the most spoken language of the Austroasiatic family, being spoken by three times more people than the second most spoken language of the family, Khmer. Both languages, however, are extremely different: under the influence of Chinese, Vietnamese has become a tonal language, while Khmer has remained non-tonal. Vietnamese was heavily influenced by Chinese and a great part of the Vietnamese vocabulary is Chinese, while Khmer was heavily influenced by Sanskrit and Pali and a great part of its vocabulary is now made up of Indian words, so that both languages look very dissimilar on the surface. Since the early 20th century, the Vietnamese have used a Romanized script introduced by the French. (See Vietnamese language).

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