How Strong Are Confucian Values In Vietnam?

Vietnam and Confucian Values

Some people think that Confucian values are found only in China, but the truth is that Confucian values highly influenced many other places, including Vietnam. You can find Confucian values in many aspects of Vietnamese daily life.

The Confucian values have influenced Vietnamese society and culture with piety to parents, the patriarchal society, worship, and respect of ancestors. There is also respect for those who are older than you. The Vietnamese education system teaches many Confucian values, so these Confucian values are ingrained in the entire education system and society.

Confucian values are a part of everyday Vietnamese life and social relationships. To really understand Vietnam, you need to understand the influence of Confucian values on Vietnamese society.

Below are some of the top ways that Confucian values influence Vietnamese family life and society. This shows how strong these values are even in Vietnamese society today.

Older Vietnamese woman
An Older Vietnamese Woman

Vietnamese Filial Piety to Parents

In Vietnam, you can still see the influences of Confucian values in Vietnamese family relationships. Children are to show complete respect to their parents and those who are older than them.

This is why even today in Vietnam, you will see grown adult children who will not marry someone because their parents disapprove. I have also seen people who have gotten married to someone not because they loved them but because their parents told them to marry that person.

In fact, when it comes to things like marriage you will find the parents on both sides will be involved and making decisions for their children—things like what day to get married, where to get married and all the other celebrations.

Parents will be involved in many aspects of their children’s life from telling them they must become a doctor when in reality, they want to be an artist. The children will not go against their parents or tell their parents that they disagree. This is because they have been taught to have complete piety to their parents.

Sons and daughters cannot talk back or talk loudly to their parents. This is respect for the elders and the parents even if the child is 30 years old or 60 years old.

A good child should take care of their parents when the parents grow old; it is not considered filial or socially proper to put them in a nursing home or the care of another person.

Vietnam’s Patriarchial Society and Women

Vietnam is a patriarchal society. In fact, historically, the Vietnamese did not educate girls. I remember one Vietnamese woman who told me the story of her grandmother.

Every day her grandmother would have to take her little brother to school; she would stand outside the classroom and listen to the teacher through the window. She stood there all day long, every day, and then would go home and do the same homework as her little brother. This was how her grandmother became educated.

In many parts of Asia, women are to give birth and take care of the household. Even today, you will find that many Asian women work all day and are expected to come home and take care of the house and children while their husbands sit around.

I have been to many restaurants in Vietnam where the restaurant or bar is filled with men smoking and drinking, and there are hardly any Vietnamese women. This is because Confucian society has two sets of rules – one for men and another for women.

Women should not smoke or drink or improperly conduct themselves. And in extreme cases, a woman should have complete and total obedience to her husband.

Confucianism does not always look favorably upon women and the role of women. In fact, this is why you find in many countries that practice Confucius’s philosophy that women are not always on an equal footing with men in families, society, and even professional life.

This is why even today, for some divorce cases, you might find that a Vietnamese man only cares about the son and does not want to have much to do with the daughter. It could be his mother insists that she raise the son; in a case like this, the natural mother has few rights.

This thinking goes back to how Confucianism views women, the rights of women, the patriarchal order, and the family structure. Confucius himself did not say very much about women in the Analects of Confucius, but what he did say was not very positive.

Cart used in funerals
A Cart That Vietnamese Used In Funerals.

Vietmam and Ancestor Worship

Another area you can see the influence of Confucianism is in ancestor worship. In fact, Confucius taught that ancestor worship is the most important kind of filial piety you can have towards your family and ancestors. In Vietnam, this goes much deeper than just ancestor worship as Vietnamese pride themselves in keeping their family genealogy.

Most Vietnamese will be able to tell you about their family and family history for several generations. You will find shrines in the home with ancestor worship. And you’ll find that many other families have what is called a family book where they will list out their generation to generation of their family.

You will also find many family gravesites in the rice paddies when you are traveling out in the countryside in Vietnam. Most of these graves are neat and well taken care of, showing respect for their ancestors.

There is a traditional holiday in Asia known as Ching Ming (Qing Ming), where people will sweep and take care of their ancestor’s graves. You can learn more about this holiday by reading Where Is The Ching Ming (Qing Ming) Festival Celebrated? All About by clicking here.

Vietnamese Respect of Elders

In Confucianism, an older person is considered superior and is to be respected by a younger person. A younger person should also be very polite and talk to an older person with respect.

For some Vietnamese, a younger child will cross their arms in front of their chests and give a slight bow to show respect when speaking to someone older. Also, when a younger person receives something from an older person, they should always receive it with both hands because using one hand is considered impolite.

Vietnamese language and how people are addressed in Vietnam is built upon the respect of your elders. The language has a complete hierarchy of how you call someone in the Vietnamese language. Instead of using the word I, you, him, her, she, he, you will instead address the person taking into account their age and if you are younger or older than them.

Here is a chart that illustrate the different titles or names used in the Vietnamese language.

Vietnamese Name To AddressEnglish Meaning
CháuUse to address a male or female younger child.
EmUse to address a male or female who is younger than you but not a child.
ChịUse to address an older woman, even if a month older than you.
AnhUse to address an older man, even if a month older than you.
Used to address an older female (someone much older,
i.e., like a grandmother or great aunt)
ÔngUsed to address an older male (someone much older
i.e., like a grandfather or great uncle)
How to Address People in Vietnamese

This is why it is common for Vietnamese to introduce themselves and tell you their age or they may even come right out and ask you your age. This is because they want to know the polite way to address you.

This, of course, is very different from how we view age in the west. It can be very unnerving when people ask you how old you are or start addressing you by titles to show that you are older than them. In Vietnamese society, this is an important part of being polite and showing respect for older people.

A group of Vietnamese school children
A Group Of Vietnamese School Children

Vietnamese Education and Confucianism

Besides the family and social order, the other place where you see the influence of Confucianism is in the education system. In elementary schools, there’s an entire subject called ethics and morality, which is based on the Confucian teachings of the proper way to act and interact with others.

In Confucian teachings, teachers are always considered superior because they are responsible for teaching the students; Vietnamese students should have complete respect for their teachers.

When a teacher walks into a classroom, the entire class will stand up to greet the teacher. Teacher’s day is an important holiday in Vietnam.

Education is important in Vietnamese society. Parents want to see their children receive excellent grades. If a child does not receive good grades, the child has ashamed the parents and the family.

This is why many Vietnamese children have very little free time. The parents expect them to go to school, get excellent marks, and take extra classes on the weekend, such as English. Things like sports, music, arts, or dance or not considered an important part of a child’s development.

Having beautiful handwriting is also a Confucian value. Confucius emphasized that neat handwriting reflected a person’s personality. Many of the Vietnamese schools have handwriting contests, and a child with elegant cursive handwriting is praised.

Vietnamese Education uses a Confucius model which says in Vietnamese “tiên học lễ, hậu học văn” Translated into English, this roughly means that you must first learn politeness and then you can learn to read. This shows how influential Confucius in the Vietnamese education system.

Confucius and Confucian values and thoughts have had a great impact on Vietnamese life and society. Confucius has influenced every aspect of Vietnamese life, from the family, society, religion, to education.

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Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

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