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The Vietnamese people (Vietnamese: người Việt or người Kinh) are an ethnic group originating from what is now northern Vietnam and southern China. They are the majority ethnic group of Vietnam, comprising 86% of the population as of the 1999 census, and are officially known as Kinh to distinguish them from other ethnic groups in Vietnam.
Although geographically and linguistically labeled as Southeast Asians, long periods of Chinese domination and influence has placed them culturally closer to East Asians, or more specifically their immediate northern neighbours, the Southern Chinese and other tribes within the proximity of South China.
According to legend, the first Vietnamese descended from the dragon lord Lạc Long Quân (雒龍君) and a heavenly spirit Âu Cơ (嫗姬). They married and had one hundred eggs, from which hatched one hundred children. Their eldest son Hùng Vương ruled as the first Vietnamese king. The predecessors of the Vietnamese people emigrated from present southern China to the Red River delta and mixed with the indigenous population.
In 258 BC, An Dương Vương founded the kingdom of Âu Lạc (嫗雒) in what is now northern Vietnam. In 208 BC, Chao Tuo (known as Triệu Đà 趙陀 in Vietnamese), a former Qin Dynasty general from China, allied with the leaders of the Yue peoples in what is now modern-day Guangdong and declared himself King of Southern Yue. He defeated An Dương Vương and then combined Âu Lạc with territories in southern China and named his kingdom Nam Việt, or Southern Yue (南越). (Nam means south). Việt is cognate to yuet 越, which is the pronunciation of Yue in ancient Chinese and some modern southern Chinese dialects. The term was used for the various peoples in what is now southern China, including the regions of northern Vietnam.
Originally from northern Vietnam and Southern China, the Vietnamese have conquered much of the land belonging to the Champa Kingdom and Khmer Empire over the centuries. They are the dominant ethnic group in most provinces of Vietnam, and constitute a significant portion of the population of Cambodia. Under the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, they were the most persecuted group. Tens of thousands were murdered in regime-organized massacres. Most of the survivors fled to Vietnam.
During the 16th century, some Vietnamese migrated into Thailand and China. In China, although somewhat more sinicized, their descendants still speak Vietnamese and form the Gin people of China. They are among the recognized minority groups in the People’s Republic of China based especially in or around Guangxi Province.
When the French left Vietnam in 1954, some Vietnamese people immigrated to France. However, there already have been ethnic Vietnamese residing and/or studying in France since at least the end of World War I. As a result of the partition of North and South Vietnam, nearly one million Vietnamese migrated from the north to the south to escape actual or perceived persecution. Meanwhile, a much smaller number of southerners joined the north.
The end of the Vietnam War prompted many others to leave the country. The six countries that accepted the bulk of the refugees are the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, West Germany, and Australia. Tens of thousands had been sent to work or study in Central and Eastern Europe and later settled there, the vast majority among those from the north or those who stayed in reunified Vietnam after 1975.