For much of Vietnamese history, Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism have strongly influenced the religious and cultural life of the people. According to the 1999 census, 80.8% of Vietnamese subscribe to no religion. Christianity was introduced by French colonists, and to a lesser extent during the presence of American forces. There is a substantial following of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism amongst the Cao Đài, and Hoa Hao communities. The largest Protestant churches are the Evangelical Church of Vietnam and the Montagnard Evangelical Church. Membership of Sunni and Bashi Islam is usually accredited to the ethnic Cham minority, but there are also a few ethnic Vietnamese adherents of Islam in the southwest.
There are about 85 million (2006) people in Vietnam. At present, there are 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam, in which, 90% of these are ethnic Vietnamese (Kinh), while the remaining 10% comprises more than fifty separate ethnic groups. About seven million of these ethnic minorities are members of the hill tribes or montagnards (French for mountain people), making their homes and livelihoods in the spectacular mountains of the north and central highlands.
In the core of the history of national development, all these groups of people have been closely attached to one another in sharing the same tasks of fighting against foreign invaders, defending the country's territory, gaining the right to live and the right to national independence and self-determination. Each group of ethnic people have developed their own language and identity, thus making the Vietnamese culture, long known for its variety, a well blended combination of different cultures.
The Vietnamese nation was formed through a process of two major ancient cultures, the Chinese and the Indian. Thus a peculiar trait of Vietnam's culture was formed. As far as anthropology is concerned the Vietnamese people have their origin in the Mongolid race, believed to be one of the major or races of the world and often found in northern and eastern Asia.
Among the 54 Vietnamese ethnic groups some have had their own scripts for a long time and some have not preserved their ancient scripts. As a matter of fact, some ethnic groups consisting of some hundreds of individuals living in remote areas have their own languages.
Throughout the years, these languages have been enriched in terms of vocabulary, precision, and expression. However, the Viet language is most commonly used. In terms of script, for a long time under northern domination, han (Chinese) was widely used in trade, education and state documents. This lasted until the beginning of 20th century. During the eighth century, parallel to the use of han, the Vietnamese created the nom script, which used the pictography of han to note the sounds of the Viet language. The appearance of the nom script marked a point of maturity in the national conscious of the Viet, and led to the development of literature in Vietnam.
In the 16th century, quoc ngu (a Romanized script produced by French missionaries) appeared and was substituted for both the han and nom scripts.
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