Nùng people

For the Tibeto-Burman people Nung, see Nungish languages. For the Chinese Nung, see Hoa people.
Total population
( Vietnam 968,800 (2009)[1])
Regions with significant populations
Vietnam, China
Vietnamese, Nùng
Nung folk religion,[2] Moism
Related ethnic groups
Zhuang people and Tày people

The Nùng (pronounced as noong [nuːŋ]) are an ethnic minority in Vietnam whose language belongs to the Central Tai branch of the Tai-Kadai language family. The Nùng sometimes call themselves as Tho (Vietnamese: Thổ, a shared name between the Tày and the Cuối, literally means Natives). The Nùng's ethnic name is often mingled with the Tày as Tày-Nùng.

The Nùng reside primarily in the northern Vietnamese provinces of Cao Bằng, Lạng Sơn, with considerable numbers in Bắc Giang, Bắc Kạn, Thái Nguyên, Quảng Ninh, Lào Cai, Hà Giang, Tuyên Quang, Yên Bái and they can also be found in Lâm Đồng, Đắc Lắc and Hồ Chí Minh City.

According to the Vietnam census, the population of the Nùng numbered about 856,412 by 1999 and 968,800 by 2009. In Vietnam, the Nùng are the third largest Tai-speaking group, preceded by the Tày and the Thái (Black Tai, White Tai and Red Tai groups), and sixth overall among national minority groups.

They are closely related to the Tày and the Zhuang. In China, the Nùng, together with the Tày, are classified as Zhuang people.

The Nùng are divided into several sub-groups such as: Nùng Xuồng, Nùng Giang, Nùng An, Nùng Phàn Slình, Nùng Lòi, Nùng Cháo, Nùng Quý Rỉn, Nùng Dín, Nùng Inh, Nùng Tùng Slìn etc.

Many of the Nùng's sub-group names correspond to the geographic regions of the Nùng homeland. Hoàng Nam (2008:11) lists the following Nùng subgroups.[3]

Name confusion

In Vietnam, there was a group of ethnic Chinese called the Chinese Nùng (Vietnamese: Hoa Nùng or Tàu Nùng). These Chinese Nùng composed 72%[4] to 78%[5]of the population of the Nung Autonomous Territory of Hai Ninh (1947-1954) located in the northeast corner of Vietnam, covering parts of present-day Quảng Ninh and Lạng Sơn provinces. The Chinese Nùng's name originated from the fact that almost all of them were farmers (nong nhan in Cantonese).[6] After Treaty of Tientsin (1885), the French refused to recognize this group as Chinese due to political and territorial issues on Vietnam's northern frontier border, therefore the French classified them as Nùng based on their main occupation. The most widely used languages of the Chinese Nùng were Ngai, Cantonese, Hakka and San Diu[7] as they descended from people speaking these dialects. After 1954, more than 50,000 Nùng led by Colonel Vong A Sang (or Swong A Sang) fled as refugees, joining the 1 million northern Vietnamese who fled south and resettled in South Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, the Chinese Nung soldiers were best-known for their loyalty to US Special Forces[8] and had a reputation as the most-feared fighters of all the minority groups trained by the Americans. After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, many of the Nungs fled Vietnam as Boat People political refugees, many to Hong Kong's and Malaysia's refugee camps. Most were resettled in the US, Canada, France, Australia etc.

Unlike the Chinese Nung, the Nùng (Tai-Kadai) migrated from southern Guangxi and southeast Yunnan to northern Vietnam since the 1700s.[9] A Vietnamese scholar, Nguyen Van Loi of the Vietnam Institute of Linguistics, has argued that the Nùng Dín sub-group arrived in Vietnam between the eighth and tenth centuries.[10] Michael Howard cites Be, Nguyen and Chu (1992:48) as claiming that: though the clan named Nong / Nùng existed earlier, the term “did not refer to a separate ethnic name until the fifteenth century.” Along with Luu (1986: 170), Howard argues that those now officially categorized as Nùng in Vietnam have arrived there much more recently than their Tày cousins.[11] This migration was not a single mass exodus, but rather as a series of small migrations as individual families and clans fled the political turmoil, civil war, and bloodshed that often occur in Southern China, especially in Guangxi in the nineteenth century, and went in search of new agricultural land. Their name Nùng derives from the clan name Nông, one of the four most powerful clans of an ethno-linguistic group of Central Tai-speakers, presently known as Zhuang in southern China, and Tay, Nung in Vietnam, who have historically and prehistorically inhabited the present-day Sino-Vietnamese borderlands.[12] In 1954 several thousand Nung Phàn Slình moved to South Vietnam as refugees and settled in the Tuyen Duc province.[13]

In Fugong County in China and Kachin State in Myanmar, there is another ethnic group named Nung, speaking a Tibeto-Burman language also called Nung.


The Nùng's history may date back to the eleventh century with the rise of the Nùng (Nông 儂) clan, one of the four most powerful Central Tai speaking clans in the Sino-Vietnamese frontier region. In 1038, Nùng Tồn Phúc (Nong Quanfu, Chinese: 儂全福), a Nùng chieftain, proclaimed the founding of a state, Chang Qi Guo (長其國 ). The king of the Viet kingdom Dai Co Viet led an army into the region in the third month of 1039, captured Nùng Tồn Phúc and most of his family, and returned them to Dai Co Viet for execution. His 14-year-old son, Nùng Trí Cao (Nong Zhigao, Chinese: 儂智高), evaded capture.[14] Nùng Trí Cao then rose up three times in 1041, 1048, 1052. But finally he was defeated by the Song, a Chinese dynasty at that times. After the defeat of Nùng Trí Cao, Many of the Nùng rebels fled to Vietnam, concentrating around Cao Bằng and Lạng Sơn provinces and became known as the Nùng. Barlow (2005) suggests that many of the original 11th-century rebels who fled to Vietnam were absorbed by the related Tày peoples of the region.[14]

The Nùng, although lacking a leader of the stature of Nùng Trí Cao, rose up in 1352, 1430, 1434[14] and many other unrecorded rebellions.

In the 16th century the Zhuang, principally from Guangxi and perhaps from southeast Yunnan, began migrating into Vietnam. This movement was quickened by the acceleration of the cycle of disasters, and by the political events of the seventeenth century which brought larger numbers of Chinese immigrants into the region, such as the fall of the Ming, the rebellion of Wu Sangui, the Qing occupation, and the Muslim revolts in Yunnan.[14] This migration was a peaceful one which occurred family by family.[14] French administrators later identified a number of Nùng clans in the course of their ethnographic surveys.[14] These had incorporated Chinese place names in their clan names and hence indicate the place of their origin in China, such as the "Nùng Inh" clan, from Long Ying in the southwest of Guangxi.[14] Such other names as can be correlated with locations indicate that the migrants were primarily from the immediate frontier region of the southwest of Guangxi.[14] The Nùng became increasingly numerous in the region, and were spread out through a long stretch of the Vietnamese northern border from Lạng Sơn to Cao Bằng, and about That Khe.[14] The Mạc dynasty, a Vietnamese dynasty ruled over the Vietnamese northeast highlands, profited from the migration in that they were able to draw upon Nùng manpower for their own forces.[14]

In 1833, Nông Văn Vân, a Nùng chieftain, led a rebellion against Vietnamese rule. He quickly took control of Cao Bằng, Tuyên Quang, Thái Nguyên and Lạng Sơn provinces, aiming to create a separate Tày-Nùng state in the northern region of Vietnam. His rising was eventually suppressed by the Nguyễn dynasty in 1835.

In the 1860s, the Nùng sided with Sioung (Xiong), a self-proclaimed Hmong king. Sioung's armies raided gold from Buddhist temples and seized large tracts of land from other people.[15]

The period from the Taiping Rebellion (1850–64) to the early twentieth century was marked by continual waves of immigration by Zhuang/Nùng peoples from China into Vietnam.[14] These waves were a result of the continuous drought of Guangxi which made the thinly occupied lands of northern Vietnam an attractive alternative habitation. The immigration process was generally a peaceful one as the Nùng purchased land from the "Tho" owners.[14] The Nùng were superior to the Tho in cultivating wet rice and transformed poor lands, facilitating later migrations into adjoining areas.[14] The repeated violent incursions of the Taiping era and the Black Flag occupation accelerated the outflow of Tho as the bands from China were largely Zhuang who favored the Nùng at the expense of the Tho.[14] The Tho who remained became alienated from the Vietnamese government which could not offer protection and became clients of the Chinese and the Nùng.[14]

The Nùng dominance became so pronounced that when Sun Yat-sen wished to raise fighters in the region, he could recruit them from Nùng villages such as Na Cen and Na Mo, both on the Vietnamese side of the border.[14] The French colonists, who began to invade Vietnam from 1858, saw this Nùng predominance as a threat, and found it convenient at that time to re-assert the primacy of the Vietnamese administrative system in the region.[14]

The French, however, perhaps having less choice, tended to support the Tho and other minorities, often undifferentiated as "Man" in their reports—usually a reference to Yao—as a counterweight against the Nùng.[14] In 1908, for example, following an incident in which Sun Yat-sen's mercenary Nung warriors had killed several French officers, the French offered a bounty of eight dollars for each head brought in by the "Man".[14] The bounty was paid 150 times.[14]

The French colonial government took advantage of ancient tensions between the highland ethnic groups and the Kinh majority in Vietnam. In the northwest mountains, they set up a semi-autonomous minority federation called Sip Song Chau Tai (French: Pays Taï), complete with armed militias and border guards.[16] When war broke out in 1946, groups of Thai, H’mong and Muong in the northwest sided with the French and against the Vietnamese and even provided battalions to fight with the French troops.[16] But The Nùng and Tày supported the Viet Minh and provided the Vietnamese leader, Ho Chi Minh, with a safe base for his guerrilla armies.[17] After defeating the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the Viet Minh tried to win the allegiance of all of the northern ethnic minorities by creating two autonomous zones, Thai–Meo Autonomous Zone and Viet Bac Autonomous Zone respectively, allowing limited self-government within a “unified multi-national state”.[16] During the Vietnam War, many Nùng fought alongside the North Vietnamese Army (NVA).[16]

After the Unification of Vietnam in 1975, Viet Bac Autonomous Zone in which the Nùng and Tày were most numerous was revoked by Lê Duẩn. the new government pursued a policy of forced assimilation of the minorities into the Vietnamese culture.[16] All education was conducted in the Vietnamese language, traditional customs were discouraged or outlawed, and minority people were moved from their villages into government settlements.[16] At the same time the government created New Economic Zones along the Chinese border and in the Central Highlands. Frequently this involved taking the best land in order to resettle thousands of people from the overcrowded lowlands.[16] During the 1980s, an estimated 250,000 ethic Vietnamese were settled in the mountainous regions along the Chinese border, leading to a shortage of food in the region and much suffering.[17]

As tension arose between Vietnam and China in 1975, Hanoi feared the loyalty of the Nùng and the Chinese-Vietnamese,[18] concerning that they would side with China. This comes from the fact that many of the Nùng just migrated into the Vietnamese border side and many of their relatives still lived in the other side of the border.

In the 1990s, the Doi Moi program brought a shift in policy, including the creation of a government department responsible for minority affairs. Many of the changes and the liberalization that preserving the heritage of the Nung and other ethnic groups has a great appeal to tourists a source of significant income for Vietnam. Nonetheless, in many areas the minorities’ traditional lifestyles are fast being eroded.[17]

With the territorial disputes between Vietnam and China in recent years, the ethnic minorities living in the borderland, including the Nùng, have been under the watchful eye of the Vietnamese government.


A hand basket of Nùng people in Vietnam

The Nùng support themselves through agriculture, such as farming on terraced hillsides, tending rice paddies, and growing orchard products. They produce rice, maize, tangerines, persimmons and anise. They are also known for their handicrafts, making items from bamboo and rattan, as well as weaving. They engage in carpentry and iron forging also.

Prominent Nùng persons include Kim Đồng of the August Revolution in 1945.


The Nùng language is part of the Tai language family; its written script was developed around the 17th century. It is close to the Zhuang language.


Many Nùng practice an indigenous religion with animistic, totemic and shamanic features similarly to other Tai ethnic groups.[2] Others have adopted Buddhism.


When drinking alcohol, partakers cross hands and drink from the opposite glass to demonstrate trust. Fairy tales, folk music, and adherence to tradition and ethnic identity are strong characteristics of Nùng people.

The Nùng's traditional indigo clothing, symbolising faithfulness, was made famous by Hồ Chí Minh, worn when he returned to Vietnam in 1941.

Nông Thị Xuân was a mistress of North Vietnamese communist leader Ho Chi Minh in the 1950s, who was later murdered in 1957 by government agents.

See also


  1. GSO 2010, p. 134.
  2. 1 2 Nguyễn Thị Yên (2009). Tày-Nùng Folk Beliefs. Hanoi: Social Sciences Publishing House. Vb 47561.
  3. Hoàng Nam 2008, p. 11.
  4. Trần Đức Lai 2013, p. 42.
  5. Xiaorong Han 2009, p. 1–36.
  6. Trần Đức Lai 2013, p. 3.
  7. Trần Đức Lai 2013, p. 7.
  8. William H. Mott IV; Jae Chang Kim (2 April 2006). The Philosophy of Chinese Military Culture: Shih Vs. Li. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 275–. ISBN 978-1-4039-8313-8.
  9. Wangsgard 2009, p. 12.
  10. Brown & Ganguly 2003, p. 217, note 8: Le Si Giao "A Glimpse of the Tay-Thai speaking groups in Vietnam" Vietnamese studies No.4 (1999),pp 21-31. Nguyen Van Loi of the Vietnam Institute of Linguistics has argued, however, that the Nung Din were the first Nung to arrive in Vietnam between the eighth and tenth centuries. Interview with author, Hanoi, November 2000..
  11. Johnson 2010, p. 24: "…the Nong name is also found among Tay people living in Vietnam and that members of this clan are associated with the original settlers in some areas, including those associated with the ancient lowland Tai kingdom of Au Lac. It appears that members of this clan settled in northern Vietnam well over two thousand years ago, but were subsequently integrated into Tay society, retaining only their names as an indication of their origins. More significant differences developed between the Tay and Nung in the highlands to the north after the border between China and Vietnam was established in the eleventh century with the Nung living to the north of the border and most Tay living to the south. Those people living in Vietnam at present who are identified as Nung migrated into the area one and two hundred years ago, like many Hmong and Mien, because of unsettled conditions in China."
  12. Wangsgard 2009, p. 14.
  13. "Sẹc mạhn slú Nohng Fạn Slihng = Ngũ-vụng Nùng Phạn Slinh = Nung Fan Slihng vocabulary: Nung-Viêt-English" (PDF). Freiberger, Nancy and Vy thị Bé. 1976.
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 Barlow 2005.
  15. "Nung". The Peoples of Vietnam (PDF). Asia Harvest USA.
  16. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Nung". InfoMekong.com. 2013.
  17. 1 2 3 Minahan 2012.
  18. Hoover, Daniel Jeremy (August 2010). The migration of Chinese-Vietnamese from Vietnam: The Truong Family (M.A. thesis). Baylor University. p. 30. hdl:2104/8031.


Further reading

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