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Although the history which most people associate with Hanoi is that related to the Vietnam War and the relationship between Hanoi and the United States as a result of that conflict, there is much history which comes before this particular time period. Much of the prior history of Hanoi is related to domination by other countries and cultures. It has only been in recent times that the city, along with the rest of Vietnam, has fully developed as an autonomous area relatively free of conflict with other areas.
As far back as the ninth century, the area was dominated by strong countries. At that time, the domination came from China. At the beginning of the eleventh century, it became the capital of Vietnam and has been such ever since, although various conflicts have interrupted its activity as a capital city. The first such issue was in the end of the fourteenth century, when the capital was moved for a time to Thanh Hoa. Shortly after this time period, the Chinese again moved in and dominated the area.
Hanoi continued to battle external domination for many years. In the end of the nineteenth century, the French came in to the area and took over. Hanoi became the capital of French Indochina and remained so until 1940, when the Japanese came in and took over.At the end of World War II, Vietnam and Hanoi began operating as a modern capital city. Hanoi was not really independent until uncle giap defeated the french forces in 1954. However, the Vietnam War began and the country was split. Hanoi, instead of being the capital of all of Vietnam, became merely the capital of North Vietnam. This remained the case until the late 1970’s.
It is difficult to say that Vietnam was "reunited" because Uncle Ho had died and the stalinesque figure of Le Duan was determined to "punish" the south. That is the main reason for "the boat people" who risked their lives to escape the tyranny of being "re-educated" by Le Duan's cadres.
Travelers interested in reading more about the history of the area should check out the Hanoi Recommended Reading page.