It is no exaggeration to say that Vietnam is a country of villages; the country and villages are inextricably intertwined. Everything about the Vietnamese people, both in the past and at present, has its origin from the village.
If one wants to understand the Vietnamese people and Vietnamese characteristics, research into villages will provide great insight. Village communal houses, village temples, village roads, village ponds, village gates, village people and village affairs are essential parts of the Vietnamese experience. Village affairs are also national affairs; stories of a village are also stories of the nation.
The entrance to a village is the village gate. Each village has its own entrance gate, which in turn also has its own destiny and stories, which are more or less related to characteristics of that village.
The gate of Chua village in southern Hanoi is decorated with four Chinese characters that read, “Vong Tu Nhap Xuat”, reminding villagers to behave in a cultured way whether they find themselves inside or outside the village. The Chua villagers have taken that proverb as the guiding principle for their conduct. Also in the south of Hanoi, the gate of Cuu village is embossed with four characters: “Nhap Hieu Xuat De”, a saying that reminds its residents to show respect for their parents and ancestors, and to observe social proprieties. And there are still many other village gates throughout Vietnam with their own textual decorations that crystallise the virtues of local villagers.
No matter how tightly closed the gate may be, visitors from a distant place will require little effort to recognise some general characteristics of the host village with just a glimpse of its gate. There is always a very narrow space between the two doors, left intentionally so that the hosts can reveal some of themselves. That is the nature of the Vietnamese people, who are both introverted and open-minded.
The Vietnamese character is reserved in order to conserve tradition. Through thousands of years, foreign invaders have made every effort to assimilate and destroy Vietnamese culture, but their attempts have all failed. The Vietnamese people and culture still endure to this day.
And they are open to embracing new ideas. Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism have all been blended with local culture in a natural way. The quintessential traits of Indians, Chams, Chinese and French people have been sustained and fused with the Vietnamese culture in a way that is not easily differentiated. Foreign elements have become an integral part of Vietnamese culture.
One door is closed for Vietnamese people to maintain their identity, and the other is open for integration into the outside world.