At present there are 54 different ethnic groups inhabiting Vietnam, in which Kinh (Viet) people make up nearly 90% of the whole population, and 53 other ethnic groups represent over 10%.
The Vietnamese nation was formed through a process of two major ancient cultures, the Chinese and the Indian. Thus a peculiar trait of Vietnam's culture was formed. As far as anthropology is concerned the Vietnamese people have their origin in the Mongolid race, believed to be one of the major or races of the world and often found in northern and eastern Asia.
54 different ethnic groups inhabiting Vietnam can be divided into eight different groups by their distinctive languages:
- The Viet - Muong Group includes 4 ethnic groups: Chut, Kinh, Muong, Tho.
- The Tay - Thai Group includes 8 ethnic groups: Bo Y, Giay, Lao, Lu, Nung, San Chay, Tay, Thai.
- The Mon - Khmer Group includes 21 ethnic groups: Ba Na, Brau, Bru-Van Kieu, Cho Ro, Co, Co Ho, Co Tu, Gie Trieng, Hre, Khang, Khmer, Kho Mu, Ma, Mang, M'nong, O Du, Ro Mam, Ta Oi, Xinh Mun, Xo Dang, Xtieng.
- The Mong - Dao Group includes 3 groups: Dao, Mong, Pa Then.
- The Kadai Group includes 4 ethnic groups: Co Lao, La Chi, La Ha, Pu Peo.
- The Nam Dao Group includes 5 ethnic groups: Cham, Chu Ru, Ede, Gia Rai, Raglai.
- The Han Group includes 3 ethnic groups: Hoa, Ngai, San Diu.
- The Tang Group includes 6 ethnic groups: Cong, Ha Nhi, La Hu, Lo Lo, Phu La, Si La.
In the core of the history of national development, all these groups of people have been closely attached to one another in sharing the same tasks of fighting against foreign invaders, defending the country's territory, gaining the right to live and the right to national independence and self-determination. Each group of ethnic people have developed their own language and identity, thus making the Vietnamese culture, long known for its variety, a well blended combination of different cultures.
The material and spiritual life differs among the ethnic groups. However, in the history of national development, the ethnic groups in Vietnam have always had a tradition of solidarity and mutual assistance, particularly in the struggle against foreign aggessors. The Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the past and that of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam at present have constantly developed concrete policies and granted special privileges to help the various highlands ethnic groups keep pace with those on the lowlands, and have simultaneously assisted the development and preservation of the traditional cultural characteristics of each group. To date, different programs are being successfully carried out such as programs to bring iodized salt to remote villages, build a dispensary for each village, control malaria, construct free tuition boarding schools for children from ethnic minorities, end the nomadic life and farming, and study the written language and traditional culture of each group.
The Viet people succeeded in establishing a centralized monarchy back in the 10th century. The Cham people once boasted a flourishing culture early our history. The Tay, Nung, and Khmer peoples had reached high levels of development with the presence of various social strata. The Muong, H'Mong, Dao, Thai peoples... gathered under the rule of local tribal heads. Many ethnic groups divided their population into social echelons, especially those who lived in mountainous areas.
A number of ethnic minorities had mastered some farming techniques. They grew rice plants in swamped paddy fields and carried out irrigation. Others went hunting, fishing, collecting and lived a semi-nomadic life. Each group has its own culture, diverse and special. Beliefs and religions of the Vietnamese ethnic minority groups were also disparate from each other.
However, a fundamental solidarity among ethnic groups has been established on top of these differences as a result of a centuries long cooperation on the soil of Vietnam. Back in the first century of our history, a mutual supplement in economic relationship between lowland people and mountainous people was formed. This solidarity had been unceasingly strengthened during wars of resistance for defending the country. Through the shared struggle for defending and building the country and the mutual assistance for co-existence and development, a common community between the Viet people and other ethnic minority peoples has been established and continuously consolidated and developed.
Nonetheless, an evident gap in the material and moral life still exists between peoples living in the deltas and those living in mountain areas as well as among ethnic minorities themselves. The Vietnamese government has worked out specific policies and special treatments in order to help mountain people catch up with lowland people, and made great efforts to develop and preserve traditional cultural identities of each ethnic minority group. At present, the programs of providing iodised salt for remote villages, equipping village health care and hygiene stations, fighting malaria, building free schools for ethnic minority children, settled agriculture and fixed residence, and projects of creating new writing scripts for minority peoples and studying and developing traditional culture of each ethnic minority group... have obtained satisfactory results.