Ethnic origin of Kinh in Vietnam


The history of the Vietnamese Kinh is very similar to the Han Chinese colonization of southern China i.e. south of Yangtze River. This history can be broken up into four major waves of Han Chinese immigration for easier understanding.

First wave (214-110 BC) - Founding kingdom

The first wave of Han Chinese came when the Qin emperor conquered Lingnan (Guangdong, Guangxi, northern Vietnam) in 214 BC by sending 500,000 military troops and 30,000 Han Chinese women to help them.

Painting of Han Chinese meet Baiyue

Zhao Tuo (趙佗) aka Trieu Da was the deputy Qin general who brought Vietnam under China’s control. He was an ethnic Han Chinese born in Hebei province. When the Qin dynasty collapsed, he seized the opportunity to have his own independent kingdom in 204 BC which he named Nanyue aka Nam Viet. He encouraged intermarriages between the Han Chinese soldiers and the native Tai-Kadai women.

Statue of Zhao Tuo 
In the 'Historical records of Great Viet' (Dai Viet su ky) written by royal historian Le Van Huu in 1272 AD, Nam Viet kingdom was viewed as the legitimate starting point and Trieu Da was described as the first emperor of Vietnam.

Second wave (111 BC - 938 AD) - Province of China

The second wave began when Han dynasty annexed Nanyue in 111 BC and Vietnam became Jiaozhi commandery of China. This wave was much bigger and tended to represent more of the mainstream of Han society than the first wave who were mostly military troops.

Xi Guang was the governor of Jiaozhi commandery from 1-25 AD. When Xi Guang refused to recognize Wang Mang (王莽) usurpation of the Han dynasty (from 9-23 AD), Jiaozhi commandery became a haven for Chinese refugees which included Han officials and merchants.

Wang Mang usurped the Han dynasty emperor

The Trung (征) sisters ie. Trung Trac and Trung Nhi who were ethnic Tai natives rebelled against the Han dynasty in 40 AD and managed to rule most of North Vietnam from 40-43 AD. 

Statue of Trung sisters

General Ma Yuan (馬援) was sent to quell the rebellion in 43 AD. Once the Trung sisters' rebellion was put down, Ma Yuan executed thousands of the Trungs' supporters. Many Han Chinese soldiers remained in the area to insure China's dominance over the lands around Hanoi. 
Statue of General Ma Yuan

Emperor Guangwu (光武皇帝) (25-57 AD) of Han dynasty even sent Han Chinese settlers from other parts of China to dilute the rebellious ethnic Tai in Vietnam - a tactic still used today in Tibet and Xinjiang. 

There were massive Han Chinese immigration recorded during the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD) and by the end of the Tang dynasty and after about 1100 years of immigration, the Han Chinese became the majority ethnic group along the Red River Delta in North Vietnam.
Vietnamese history book

The surviving ethnic Tai aka Tày natives migrated from Red River Delta to the mountains in northern Vietnam (Cao Bang, Ha Giang, Lang Son, Bac Kan) where they still live today.

Third wave (939 AD - 1857 AD) - Independence from China

The third wave began after the collapse of the Tang dynasty which brought many civil wars and China was broken up into many smaller kingdoms, one of which was Southern Han (917-971 AD) which controlled Guangdong, Guangxi and North Vietnam.

Ngo Quyen (吳權) who was the Southern Han (南漢) provincial governor's son-in-law decided to create his own kingdom and successfully fought against the Southern Han army at the Battle of Bach Dang River in 938 AD. Ngo Quyen's ancestry can be traced to Hebei (河北) province and was an ethnic Han Chinese.
Battle of Bach Dang 

The ancestors of the Later Ly dynasty (1009-1225 AD) originated from Hebei (河北) province when Lý Thuần An (李淳安) traveled to Vietnam from Fujian during the 10th century. Lý Thuần An managed to escape to Fujian, which was a temporary sanctuary, from Hebei after his father Li Song (李崧) was executed along with almost all of his entire family members.

The ancestors of Tran dynasty (1225-1400 AD) originated from Fujian (福建) province when Trần Kinh (陳京) along with a large number of Han Chinese migrated to Vietnam during the 11th century. The surname Tran aka Tan (陳) is one of the eight big Han Chinese surnames in Fujian.

The Later Ly and Tran dynasties encouraged Han Chinese immigrants into North Vietnam. During the Tran dynasty, tens of thousands of Han Chinese refugees including Song dynasty soldiers escaped into Vietnam from the invading Mongols.

The military commander Prince Tran Quoc Tuan (陳國峻) led the combined forces of Song-refugee soldiers (such as Zhao Zhong and Xu Zongdao) and Vietnam's Tran soldiers against the Mongol invasions of Vietnam during 1258-1288 AD.
Tran Quoc Tuan battled the Mongols

The ancestors of Ho dynasty (1400-1407 AD) originated from Zhejiang (浙江) province when Hồ Hưng Dật (胡興逸) came during the Later Han dynasty (947-951 AD).

When Ming dynasty occupied Vietnam in 1407 AD, many ethnic Kinh from the Red River delta supported China's occupation contrary to what some modern media stated. Therefore, Nguyen Trai (阮廌) who is ethnic Kinh had no choice but to enlist the aid of the ethnic Austroasiatic Muong people to exact his revenge on the Ming dynasty for taking his father, Nguyễn Phi Khanh (阮飛卿), as a prisoner to Nanjing which was the capital of China.

It was stated in the history book 'Gia Định Thành Thông Chí'《嘉定城通志》that many Han Chinese refugees escaped to Vietnam after the Manchu invaded China in 1644 AD. The Southern Ming dynasty general Dương Ngạn Địch (楊彥迪) fled to Vietnam with his family and an army of 3000 people in 1679 AD.
General Duong Ngan Dich

In 1802 AD, a Vietnamese emperor Gia Long aka Nguyễn Phúc Ánh (阮福暎), founder of Nguyen dynasty, wanted to change the country’s name to Nam-Viet but the Qing emperor refused to give permission and instead reversed the order to Viet-Nam so that Vietnam cannot claim to be the successor of the earlier Han Chinese kingdom.

During the 19th century, the Nguyen dynasty called the Vietnamese Kinh as Hán nhân (漢人) which is the same ethnicity as the Han Chinese. If Vietnamese Kinh were really 'sinicised Yue', they would have renamed the country as Van Lang and named the people as Lac-Viet (aka Luo Yue) instead.
Emperor Gia Long

It was during this third wave in 1256 AD (Tran dynasty) that a new ethnicity Kinh (京) was formed which comes from an Old Chinese word 京畿 meaning capital of a country which was Hanoi.

Hanoi and the surrounding Red River Delta was the center of Han Chinese migration. So the term Kinh actually refers to the Vietnamese-born Han Chinese who lived in the capital.

Fourth wave (1858-1945 AD) - European invasion

Migration picked up again during the French colonial period (1858-1945 AD) and after the Opium War (1856-1860 AD) in China.

Many southern Chinese from Guangdong and Fujian fled China to Vietnam (and also other parts of South East Asia) due to poverty and war in China. The French encouraged these Chinese immigrants to stimulate trade and industry in Vietnam.

Opium War by French and British troops
This group of Vietnamese are called Hoa (華) and still remember their Chinese roots. They can speak various Chinese languages according to their Han subgroup but the lingua franca among them was Cantonese.

Many Hoa people left Vietnam as ‘boat people’ after communist North Vietnam takeover of South Vietnam in 1975 AD and this drastically reduced the number of Hoa in Vietnam. They left mainly to France, Australia, Canada and USA.

Vietnamese Boat people


Vietnamese Kinh are not 'sinicised natives' as is commonly thought. They celebrate Han Chinese festivals, practise Han Chinese religions and culture which were actually inherited from their ancestors in China. Moreover, the ethnic Kinh spoke Annamese Chinese language in the past which is their original mother tongue.

Vietnamese Kinh are just like the Han Chinese in Taiwan and Singapore where they form the ethnic majority in an independent country after several waves of migration.

The first three waves of Han Chinese immigrants over a duration of around 2000 years are called Kinh whereas the most recent Han Chinese immigrants in the 19th century are called Hoa.

The ethnic Kinh is just another subgroup of Han Chinese just like Cantonese, Hokkien, Hakka, Wu, and Seiyap who also migrated to southern China due to various wars in northern China and became the majority ethnic in southern China by the end of Tang dynasty. In other words, this phenomenon is not unique in Vietnam and also happened in southern China in which Vietnam was part of until the end of Tang dynasty.

There are many other Vietnamese-related articles in this blog that will complete the pieces of this puzzle to questions such as 'why do they speak Austroasiatic language instead of Annamese Chinese', 'where are the real Lac Viet natives', 'who still speak Annamese Chinese today', ' difference between Kinh and other ethnic groups such as Trai' etc.

Related links

Origin of Vietnamese language

Ethnic origin of Vietnamese

Ethnic origin of Jing (Kinh) in China


  • Gernet (1996), p. 180 A, p. 180, at Google Books
  • Long Le (February 8, 2008). "Chinese Colonial Diasporas (207 B.C.-939 A.D.)". University of Houston Bauer The Global Viet. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
  • East Asia: A New History pg. 111
  • Genghis Khan: A Biography By Zofia Stone 
  • The Trung sisters. 2000 Years Ago, the Trung Sisters Fought for Vietnam's Freedom
  • Birth of Vietnam. Author: Keith Taylor. Pgs 48-49. 
  • A History of the Vietnamese, Keith Taylor. Pg. 132, 186
  • Ming China, 1368-1644: A Concise History of a Resilient Empire. By John W. Dardess.
  • The Ming factor and the emergence of the Viet in the 15th century. Author: Tana Li.  
  • What makes Chinese so Vietnamese. Chapter 7.  
  • Việt Nam thời khai sinh [Vietnam at the Time of its Birth]. Author: Nguyễn Phương 1965.
  • Transnationalism in Ancient and Medieval Societies: The Role of Cross-Border. Author: Michael C. Howard Pgs.60-61.
  • Columbia Chronologies of Asian History and Culture. By John Bowman. Pg. 524. 
  • Vietnam and the Chinese Model: A Comparative Study of Vietnamese and Chinese. Alexander Woodside (1971). pg.8. 
Last update: 10 Mar 2019

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  1. Thank you so much for your fantastic research! I appreciate your blog and work very much. As a Kinh Vietnamese I always felt this unshakeable kinship with Chinese in spite of how Vietnamese generally feel about the Chinese. I knew this was more than a feeling but I couldn't understand it or adequately explain it until now.

    This is a very sensitive topic and undoubtedly your work here will be very controversial to a great many Vietnamese but that's because they cannot put aside their personal feelings and prejudices.

    The origin of Kinh Vietnamese will forever be without consensus but your theories and research are certainly very sound and thus, in my opinion, makes this more than plausible. People need to understand that Kinh Vietnamese are the ethnic majority of Vietnam and the Vietnamese just like the Yamato Japanese of Japan, only their majority is a much greater percentage which creates the perception of a mono-ethnic nation and people.

    1. You're right! The true origin of Vietnamese Kinh has been buried under nationalistic pride, prejudice and a complex history spanning more than 2000 thousand years.

      The common misconception that their lineage comes from the natives in Vietnam would be akin to Europeans claiming they are the natives of USA, Canada and Australia just because they are the majority ethnic group there.

      This article is just one piece of the big complex puzzle. So where are the real natives of Vietnam? Why did the Kinh speak a creole Austroasiatic language? Where is the original Annamese Chinese language? All these are answered in the other Vietnamese-related articles in this blog.


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