Vietnam at the dawn of the twenty-first century is continuing to experience the effects of the dramatic economic changes which commenced in 1986. The social changes taking place in its society are of the type that support the economic changes. Therefore this is a case study of a country in transition during an era of increasing globalization which is ominously accompanied by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
The context can be briefly described as one in which Vietnam, a society developed from feudal roots, is undergoing rapid economic change resulting in changes in personal values, still inexorably linked to the rhetoric of traditional values as they pertain to gender, sexuality, and the family. Vietnam is a country which has been plunged into conflicts for centuries. It has been colonized, annexed, and controlled. Each invading group has influenced the prevailing cultures of the time, but, in the areas of sexuality and gender, there is an abundance of evidence to show that it has been the Chinese who have stamped their culture most deeply on the Vietnam psyche. As rulers for ten centuries (110BC-AD 902) and for two other short terms, 1407-27 and 1788-9, they instilled the precepts of Confucian philosophy which fitted well into the framework of the feudal society. It is a philosophy and structure which has much to say about the 'natural' roles of men and women, women being of less importance than men. The label 'Confucian' refers to Imperial Confucianism, defined as an ideology with the ritual support of the emperors, i.e. the justification of the patriarch's right and the delegated authority imbuing those who exercised power on his behalf. Nowadays in modern but in many respects, still feudal Vietnam, this patriarchal privilege tends to be bestowed on all men in general.
Gender and sexuality are social constructs. Acceptance of the status quo is the result of a process of educating formally and informally from birth: parents, society and institutions are the base educators. They pass down and maintain rules based on sex segmentation and the constructs of what it is to be male and female bounded by specific 'appropriate' behaviours.