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History of Hanoi

The site where Hanoi now stands has been inhabited since the Neolithic period. Emperor Ly Thai To moved his capital here in 1010 AD, renaming the site Thang Long (City of the Soaring Dragon). Hanoi served as the capital of the Later Le Dynasty, founded by Le Loi, from its establishment in 1428 until 1788 when it was overthrown by Nguyen Hue, founder of the Tay Son Dynasty. The decision by Emperor Gia Long, founder of the Nguyen Dynasty, to rule from Hue relegated Hanoi to the status of a regional capital.

Over the centuries Hanoi has borne a variety of names, including Dong Kinh (Eastern Capital), from which the Europeans derived the name they eventually applied to all of northern Vietnam, Tonkin. The city was named Hanoi (The City in a Bend of the River) by Emperor Tu Duc in 1831. From 1902 to 1953, Hanoi served as the capital of French Indochina.

Hanoi was proclaimed the capital of Vietnam after the August Revolution of 1945, but it was not until the Geneva Accords of 1954 that the Viet Minh, driven from the city by the French in 1946, were able to- return.

During the American War, US bombing destroyed parts of Hanoi and killed many hundreds of civilians; almost all the damage has since been repaired.

One of the prime targets was the 1682m Long Bien Bridge, originally built from 1888 to 1902 under the direction of the same architect who designed Paris’s Eiffel Tower. It was once named after the turn-of the-century French governor general of Indochina, Paul Doumer (1857-1932), who was assassinated a year after becoming President of France. US aircraft repeatedly bombed the strategic bridge, yet after each attack the Vietnamese somehow managed to improvise replacement spans and return it to road and rail service. It is said that when US POW’s were put to work repairing the bridge, the US military, fearing for their safety, ended the attacks.

In Hanoi and much of the north Ho Chi Minh created a very effective police state. For four decades locals suffered under a regime characterized by the ruthless police power; anonymous denunciations by a huge network of secret informers; detention without trial of monks, priests, landowners and anyone seen as a potential threat to the government; and the black-listing of dissidents and their children and their children’s children. The combined legacy of human rights violations and economic turmoil produced a steady haemorrhage of refugees, even into China despite that country’s less-than impressive human rights record. Ironically, the political and economic situation turned around so sharply in the 1990s that Vietnamese officials now worry about an invasion of refugees from China.

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