Values of Vietnamese culture seen from perspectives of values of countries, regions and ethnicities

Assoc. Prof. Dr. BUI HOAI SON
Standing member of the Culture-Education Committee of the National Assembly
Wednesday, January 11, 2023 14:30

Communist Review - Cultural value is a form of the spiritual life, reflecting and crystalizing human cultural life, helping regulate the behavior and orientation of the development to the true, the good and the beautiful, making a contribution to creating the basis for the sustainable development of countries-nations in the world, including Vietnam.

General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong with the people at the historical-cultural relic site Den Do (Dinh Bang Commnune, Tu Son City, Bac Ninh Province) _Photo: VNA

Value is the system of assessments of subjective character by human beings about nature, society and mindset in the direction of what is necessary, good, interesting, beautiful; in other words, this is what regarded by human beings as the true, the good, the beautiful. That is why, cultural value is the form of social value, closely associated with the living activities of human beings, the existence and development of each society.

Cultural value is created by human beings in each definite society in the historical process, but when the cultural value system is formed, it has the role of orientation for the goals, modes and actions of human beings in these societies. It is also the social capital (1). Then the value of connection of human beings through their sharing of value will create the unity and strength; at the same time, it is also possible to create the symbols that reflect these values.

Cultural value of each community (ethnicity, country and so on) has always created a system with the meaning that these values are arisen and existed in the relationship and mutual organic impact; this value is related to and supported the other value. The value system or the cultural value board of each community often contains two meanings: Firstly, the separate values are connected to each other to create a system of values; secondly, there is an arrangement before and after, with the emphasis on the importance of each value element in a value board. For example, for the Vietnamese, patriotism is the first and foremost element in the board of the national value system, but as for the American, the French, the German, the Japanese or for some other ethnicities, it is possible that patriotism is arranged in the other positions. It is often that a lot of ethnicities have their values in common such as patriotism, diligence, community; however, in each ethnicity, the arrangement in order of priority for each value in the value board may be different, depending on the concrete conditions and situations.

The UN Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO) has put forth a definition on culture: “Culture is reflected and expressed generally and lively in all aspects of life (of each individual and community) which had happened in the past as well as it is happening in the present time, and throughout various centuries, it has formed a system of values, tradition, aesthetics and life style on which each nation can self-establish their own identity” (2).

Through the above-said definitions, it can be seen that the core factor of culture is the value system. Or in a generalized word, culture is the orthodox value system of a society. The value system has been transferred into the social standards, and from there orientated the choice in actions of each individual and community. The value system has got a very great stability and the relative sustainability, a huge strength for the community. In the progress and development of the society, these values have often not disappeared, but they have been embodied in the values of the next generation, according to the law of inheritance and re-creation. Therefore, the value crisis will appear when the old values had completely disappeared, while the new values are yet to be shaped clearly. The value crises will lead to other crisis in society, such as the crisis in economy and education, in families and in a lot of other relations.

Cultural value has often got deeply absorbed in the awareness and ideology of human beings and of the communities, so it has the character of guiding human behaviours. That is why, in the process of forming and developing, each country, each region and each ethnicity has formed cultural value to create the unification in awareness and orientation of behavior for each individual and for the whole community. Cultural value has also got the relativity. Therefore, assessing the value aspect of culture of a thing or a phenomenon, it is necessary to place it in the time and the space coordinate and in the cultural subject. If these factors are not taken into account, it is difficult to calculate or assess the value or anti-value of the phenomena that appear in the process of forming and developing culture of each definite country, region or ethnicity. For example, “loyal to the king” is a value of culture of the Vietnamese culture in the feudal time, but it was not the value in the modern Vietnamese society when the monarchy has no longer existed. The patriotic value is manifested in different ways in the different social groups, in the different stages of history. The Vietnamese villages in the central part of the country, quite similar in many features to the Vietnamese villages in the northen part of the country as they are, they still have many different features in the form of communities, hamlets, villages which are adaptable to their living in the small and narow coastal areas (3). But as far as individuals are concerned, something which is meaningful and valuable to this man is not necessarily meaningful and valuable to the other man. Each man himself in a definite stage and situation has given priority to this value or to that value.

In the specific historical and social situations, each nation exists in the general value system and in the partial value system. The general system comprises the commonest values of universal character with its orientating role for thinking and action of the whole community. For example, Prof. Trần Văn Giầu had introduced 7 values of the commonest character of the Vietnamese nation: patriotism, diligence, heroism, creativity, optimism, benevolence, devotion (4). The Resolution of the 5th Plenum of the 8th Party tenure pointed out the outstanding virtues of Vietnamese identity: ardent patriotism, the will of national self-support, the spirit of unity, the consciousness of community in connection to individuals – familites – villages – Fatherland, tolerance, have a sense of honour and morality, industriousness in labour, the subtleness in behavior, the simplicity in life style. The Resolution of the 11th Party tenure also stressed that in building culture, the important point was to build human beings with fine personality and life style, with the basic characteristics: patriotism, humaneness, sentimental attachment, honesty, unity, diligence, creativity. In the past decades, there are some opinions concerning the common value in Asia: studiousness, community, industriousness, bloodline (5). Apart from such the general values, in each area of life, in activities of human beings, of each social group, there are values being created with the role of orientation in the separate area. For example, the Vietnam Women’s Union has been selecting 4 qualities which are at the same time 4 values of the modern Vietnamese women: self-confidence, self-respect, generosity and responsibilities.

From the way of getting access to nations, cultural value has made a contribution to forming the national cultural identities, a constituent factor of national abilities. Owing to that, the national cultural value has formed the strength of the country. The process of national building and defending is also the process of crystalizing the Vietnamese cultural value. As presented above, if Prof. Trần Văn Giầu had recommended 7 universal values of the Vietnamee nation, so Prof. Nguyễn Hồng Phong also believed that the love of the country and the love of homeland were the most essential values (6), besides the other values such as humaneness, the attachment with the community, the respect for morality and learning and the love of beauty. However, Prof. Nguyễn Hồng Phong had recognized the new values which were being formed and becoming ever clearer in the Vietnamese society: They were the social equality and justice, the role of individuals and the success. These are the new values for a past feudal Vietnamese society. The Resolution of the 5th Plenum of the 8th Party tenure and the Resolution of the 9th Plenum of the 11th Party tenure had also put forth the characteristics that express culture value of the country.

In fact, long time ago, the countries had built the system of culture value of their own. For example, in the feudal time, China had formed the system of culture value based on the wishes of human beings: they were the five constant human virtues (happiness, honours, longevity, health, peace) or based on human qualities, including benevolence, righteousness, propriety, knowledge and sincerity. In the ancient Greek-Roman culture, the value system is the true, the good, the beautiful. Especially, in the turmoil stages of history, the countries had all the more wished to shape the culture system, creating conditions for the unification of awareness and actions for national building. The French bourgeois revolution (1789) had thought highly of the value of liberty, equality and fraternity. The Americans had upheld such elements as the success, in conformity with the surroundings, democracy, activities and have jobs, turning to morality, humanity, effectiveness and practicality, progress, material conveniences, equality, freedom, science and the spirit conforming to the secular conditions, the national and patriotic spirit, individual personality, supernatural subjects and so on (7). It is these values that contribute to orientating and stabilizing the society for a long time.

From the accessibility to regions, it can be seen that it is the characteristics of nature, history, ethnicities, the process of living together for a long time had made each region have its own identity and from it, the different values had been formed. For example, according to Prof. Trần Ngọc Thêm, the system of culture characteristics of the Western Nam Bộ (the West of South Vetnam) has 6 features: the rivery character, the sense of honour, candour, tolerance, practicality and openness (8) or the characteristics of the old Hanoians were the respect for knowledge, for personality, for abilities, moral integrity, talent, sentiment and amorousness (9).

From the way of getting access to ethnicities, culture value of each ethnicity also has its difference, first of all, through the cultural symbol. Each symbol has contained the definite values. For the Vietnamese so far, the Hùng Kings were the sacred symbols of the nation, having the remarkable culture value of the nation, expressing the consciousness of “turning to the roots”, “when drinking water, remember its source”, the spirit of uniting the nation, thus creating the huge strength of the entire nation in the struggles against natural disasters and enemy destruction. Saint Gióng is the symbol that contains the spiritual value against foreign invaders, the strong will to strive forwards of the nation. Sơn Tinh is the symbol expressing the spiritual value of conquering nature, defending and expanding the country. During this time, culture value of the ethnic minorities of Vietnam is the culture constituents that are symbolized in an extremely lively manner in the activities of beliefs such as the Tày ethnic minority people’s medium, the Mường ethnic minority people’s sorcerer, the custom of chewing betel of a number of ethnicities on the Highlands, the Kate Festival of the Cham ethnic people…. Culture value is manifested through the means of practicing the beliefs, such as Esplanade of Sacrifice, the worshipping picture, musical instruments, the art of decoration, the symbol of votive paper, costumes, the worshipping books, ritual offerings, cusines; all are crystalized in the forms of performances in service of beliefs such as dancing, singing, playing musics, are manifested in the prayings, instructions, the rules and law for the ceremony practitioners and for the whole community.

Even though there is such a difference, culture value from the way of getting access to the country, region or ethnicity has got the unification in diversity, accordingly the values of the small communities always respect the values of the bigger communities. The unification in diversity of these values has created the abundant and attractive cultural identities, making a contribution to forming “the culture asset” and whence creating the advantages for the economic and social development of each region and ensuring the stability of the national culture and the sustainable development of the country.

So, it can be affirmed that culture value is the product of human beings, depending on the economic, political, social and cultural development of each epoch, thus helping orientate the goal and mode of action of each human being and helping regulate the common development of the whole society. From the perspective of the value of the country, region and ethnicity, the building of culture value should be combined between conservation and promotion of traditional culture value and the selection and reception of the quintessence of the world’s culture value in conformity with the context of national development. It is necessary to accept the fact that the development of the market economy in the context of international integration and the influence of the new means of media will make very strong impact on culture value in the aspects of country, region and ethnicity, accordingly, some old culture values will disappear, a number of new culture values will be gradually shaped. In this process, there will be the stages of value crisis in the scope of country, region and ethnicity, thus leading to the negative impacts on society. Well aware of the law of the formation and development of culture value, for our country now, it is necessary to have the measures to overcome these negative impacts, through it, the culture values of Vietnam, with the core value of the true, the good, the beautiful, will help arouse the aspiration for developing the prosperous and happy country, and at the same time shape and regulate the sustainable development of the society. Besides, it is necessary to build culture value of country – families – Vietnamese human beings in the new period, thus meeting the requirements of national renovation and international integrations./.


(1) See: Ngo Duc Thinh: Getting access to the study of Vietnamese rural areas from the social network and social capital, Ethnology Review, No. 4, 2008
(2) National Committee on international decade of cultural development: The decade of the world’s cultural development, the Ministry of Culture-Information, Hanoi, 1992, p. 23
(3) See: Lam Ba Nam: The Study on Ethnicity in Vietnam: Culture and Development, The National University Publishing House, Hanoi, 2020, p. 69
(4) See: Tran Van Giau: Traditional spiritual value of Vietnamese nation, the Social Science Publishing House, Hanoi, 1980
(5) See: Ho Si Quy: On the value and the Asian value, the National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2006
(6) See: Nguyen Hong Phong: “Culture and Development” printed in the book titled The cultural issues of modern Vietnam, Le Quang Trang - Nguyen Trong Hoan selected and introduced, the Education Publishing House, Hanoi, 1999
(7) See: Ngo Duc Thinh: Conservation, enrichment and promotion of traditional culture values of Vietnam in renovation and integration, the Social Science Publishing House, Hanoi, 2010, p. 24
(8), (9) Tran Ngoc Them: The theoretical and applied cultorology issues (republished with correction), The Culture-Art Publishing House, Ho Chi Minh City, 2014, p.226, 211

This article was published in the Communist Review No. 994 (July 2022)