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The Story of Viet Nam: From Prehistory to the Present written by Shelton Woods Critical Essay


The history of Vietnam is one of the most controversial subjects for historians and researchers interested in the Asian Studies because of a lot of associated political and social events, religious and cultural aspects which are interdependent.

The historians’ task is to provide a comprehensive narrative about the history of the country in order to reflect and discuss all the historical events which are characteristic for the development of Vietnam during the centuries.

The book The Story of Viet Nam: From Prehistory to the Present written by Shelton Woods is an attempt to represent the prolonged history of the nation in a concise edition where the Vietnamese history is discussed not only from the perspective of the country’s political and social development but also from the point of Viet Nam’s cultural and religious progress which influenced the Vietnamese people’s vision of the nation’s identity significantly.

Thus, the main issues which are examined by Woods in the book are the particular features of the Vietnamese people’s identity, the role of the nation’s character in the country’s economic and political progress, and the impact of the colonial rule on the identity with references to the current development of the country as the reflection of the Viet Nam’s history.

The book The Story of Viet Nam: From Prehistory to the Present can contribute significantly to the readers’ knowledge in relation to the history of the country because Woods describes the historical events from his point and relying on the social and religious contexts while explaining the causes and consequences of certain events.

The book is useful to provide the audience with the opportunity to evaluate the historical events through the lens of the country’s cultural and religious progress and with references to the Vietnamese people as the critical point to understand the history of the country (Woods 23-24).

Many political situations and discussed economic events are presented as the background for describing the unique nation and the role of the Vietnamese identity informing the country’s rule.

Thus, Woods operates specific theoretical and topical approaches to represent the history of Viet Nam. Woods discusses all the main political, military, and social events associated with the history of the country while demonstrating the Vietnamese people’s reaction to the circumstances and their role for the development of this or that scenario.

From this point, Woods is inclined to discuss the prolonged history of the country which is divided by the author into significant periods with references to the critical social, cultural, and religious structures which influenced the country’s progress.

In spite of the fact that the author uses the traditional chronological method to organize the narrative about history of Viet Nam, the history of the country should be discussed as the history of the nation because the theoretical approach of Woods is based on using one aspect such as the Vietnamese people’s identity to analyze all the historical events.

To provide the complex picture of the country’s historical progress and the analysis of the presented events, the author uses a range of empirical and theoretical concepts which are necessary to represent the history of Viet Nam with the required details.

Thus, the main concepts are ‘identity’ as the complex of specific cultural, ethnic, and religious attributes and qualities which can be used to differentiate the Vietnamese people among the other nations; ‘social patterns’ as the set of rules or specific behaviours used predominantly within the Vietnamese society as the reaction to definite situations and events caused by the Vietnamese people’s cultural peculiarities and features; ‘domination’ as the statement of the other countries’ power over Viet Nam as a result of the wars and other military and political conflicts; and ‘colonial rule’ as the characteristic for the periods when Viet Nam was dominated by such countries as Japan and France because of impossibility to oppose the imperialist states’ forces (Woods 20-38).

Woods develops the argument that in spite of the prolonged periods of the other countries’ domination in Viet Nam, the Vietnamese’s people preserved the particular features characteristic for their identity and did not change the approaches to the social, cultural, and religious aspects of the life. Thus, the main changes were associated only with the political, military, and economic spheres of the country’s growth.

The book describes the history of Viet Nam in the chronological order, and the author divides the story into nine chapters while providing the country’s history from the legendary and ancient times to the modern history in about one hundred pages. From this point, the narrative is rather concise, and it is focused only on the key points which are essential to understand the nation’s development from the Prehistory to the modern times.

The first section of the book provides the fascinating Prehistory of Viet Nam to state the origin of the nation. The early outside influences are discussed in the second chapter (Woods 5-24). However, the author pays more attention to describing the Viet Nam’s independent dynasties, which are associated with the period of stating the nation’s identity and principles of its development.

The impacts of Colonialism and Imperialism for Viet Nam are discussed in the next chapters with references to the role of the colonial rule for the Vietnamese society. The author states that the colonial government could not contribute to replacing the people’s visions and morals with the new Western patterns because of the string traditions.

Woods also claims that the two Viet Nam wars influenced the development of the nation significantly because of accentuating the central values for the country.

The next chapters present the details of the historical development in the twentieth century, and the author focuses on such important aspects as the attempts to regulate the military conflicts in the country and the role of the population in the process, the role of the Vietnamese women in the society in relation to providing education and job opportunities, and the contemporary progress of the Vietnam’s economy in relation to the impact on the community and people’s status (Woods 58).

While summarizing the content of the book’s chapters, it is possible to note that the narrative of Woods is rather logical and detailed to support the author’s central claim and demonstrate the historical development of the country from the point of the nation’s cultural and social progress.

Woods builds his argument with references to the evidences found in a lot of historical documents and primary sources used for writing the book. The author examined and analyzed a range of the historical documents, statistics, and data along with the historical researches on the book’s main topics in order to provide the detailed discussion of the Vietnamese people’s history.

It is possible to state that the argument claimed by the author along with the supportive evidence is somewhat credible and convincing because it is the result of analyzing a lot of materials on the issues presented in the book.

Moreover, the author’s vision of the main events in the history of the country is convincing because it is based on examining the issues with references to the Vietnamese people’s identity as the key concept to discuss the progress of the country.

Although the text of the narrative lacks many details to describe thoroughly this or that point mentioned in the book, the story is somewhat practical to explain and develop the argument because the author is focused on the chosen approach, and this method helps the readers in following the main ideas of the book.

Following the facts mentioned above, it is necessary to determine the strengths and limitations in relation to The Story of Viet Nam: From Prehistory to the Present written by Shelton Woods. Thus, the strong feature of the book is the concrete and limited context in which the history of the whole country is discussed.

Thus, to present the whole history of Viet Nam, the limit of one hundred pages is not enough, but Woods focuses on the main events and significant points in the history of the country in order to analyze them with references to the concept of the Vietnamese nation, the identity of the Vietnamese people, and specifics of the society’s development.

That is why the weaknesses of the book are in attempts to represent the history of the country developed during the centuries in short chapters given as summaries. However, the book can be interesting and useful for the audience because of its concise format when it is necessary to make some glimpses in the history of Viet Nam and its nation.

Works Cited

Woods, Shelton. The Story of Viet Nam: From Prehistory to the Present. Ann Arbor, MI: Association for Asian Studies, 2013. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2019, August 22). The Story of Viet Nam: From Prehistory to the Present written by Shelton Woods. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-story-of-viet-nam-from-prehistory-to-the-present-written-by-shelton-woods/

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"The Story of Viet Nam: From Prehistory to the Present written by Shelton Woods." IvyPanda, 22 Aug. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/the-story-of-viet-nam-from-prehistory-to-the-present-written-by-shelton-woods/.

1. IvyPanda. "The Story of Viet Nam: From Prehistory to the Present written by Shelton Woods." August 22, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-story-of-viet-nam-from-prehistory-to-the-present-written-by-shelton-woods/.


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IvyPanda. "The Story of Viet Nam: From Prehistory to the Present written by Shelton Woods." August 22, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-story-of-viet-nam-from-prehistory-to-the-present-written-by-shelton-woods/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "The Story of Viet Nam: From Prehistory to the Present written by Shelton Woods." August 22, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-story-of-viet-nam-from-prehistory-to-the-present-written-by-shelton-woods/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'The Story of Viet Nam: From Prehistory to the Present written by Shelton Woods'. 22 August.

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