Depending who you ask and where they are, the Vietnamese flag may be a symbol of many different acts, ideas or people. After all, this is a nation once divided, one often and unfairly defined by a tumultuous past marked by both foreign and domestic wars.
Today the country is greatly united, thriving economically, and focused more on future growth than scars of days gone by. The flag is flown proudly and hung with joy. This is the story behind it.
The flag known to most Vietnamese and to the international community today predates a unified and independent Vietnam. Its origins can be traced all the way back to the French Revolution of 1789 when a plain red flag became the symbol of left-wing politics. Overtime the symbolism evolved and the basic color scheme was adopted by socialist and then communist causes. Since then, that red core has become a foundation for a number of communist or democratic-socialist nations—China, North Korea, Macedonia to name a few.
In Vietnam, a five-pointed gold star centered on a red background was first used in the early 1940s when a communist group known as the Viet Minh, flew it in opposition to Japanese occupation. At the time, the French were actually the main occupiers of what was then referred to as French Indochina, yet their global influence had greatly diminished as a result of an increasingly powerful Nazi Germany. At the same time, imperially minded Japan, at war with China, began to try to enter French Indochina in an attempt to close off the border with their neighbors to the north. The French initially resisted, yet once weakened back home, relented and allowed Japanese forces entry. Under the guise of liberating Vietnam from western oppressors, Japanese troops moved into the nation.
As World War II drew to a close, Ho Chi Minh, leader of the northern forces, declared Vietnam independent and the flag became the official emblem of North Vietnam or the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. A separate flag, one with a yellow backing and three horizontal red stripes became the flag of French-occupied territory in Vietnam and eventually of the Republic of Vietnam in the South. As Ho Chi Minh fought and eventually succeeded in creating a unified Vietnam, the yellow flag was banished and the flag we know today became the symbol of a nation.
What originated as a symbol of left-wing politics in 18th-century France has morphed into something much different in Vietnam today. Now the red background is a symbol of bloodshed, struggle and the success of revolution. The golden star represents the people. Each point, symbolizing one of five specific classes—businessmen, farmers, workers, intellectuals and military.