Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, city (1997 pop. 5,250,000), on the right bank of the Saigon River, a tributary of the Dong Nai, Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city, the greatest port, and the commercial and industrial center of Vietnam. It has an airport and is the focus of the country's highways, railroads, and Mekong delta waterways.
An ancient Khmer settlement (see Khmer Empire), it passed (17th cent.) to the Annamese (see Annam). It was captured by the French in 1859 and ceded to France in 1862. A small village at the time of the French conquest, Saigon became a modern city under French rule. It was laid out in rectilinear fashion with wide, tree-lined avenues and parks, and soon developed a reputation for its beauty and cosmopolitan atmosphere.
The city was capital of Cochin China and from 1887 to 1902 was capital of the Union of Indochina. For administrative purposes Saigon and Cholon, on opposite banks of the Saigon River, were merged in 1932; in 1956 the two cities were included in the new prefecture of Saigon. Saigon became the capital of the newly created state of South Vietnam in 1954. In the Vietnam War it served as military headquarters for U.S. and South Vietnamese forces.
Saigon suffered considerable damage during the 1968 Tet offensive, and throughout the 1960s and early 70s at least a million refugees from the rural areas poured into the city, creating serious housing problems and overcrowding. In 1975 after Saigon surrendered and Vietnam was reunited under the prevailing Communist government, the city lost its status as capital and was renamed after the late North Vietnamese president.
The local economy of Ho Chi Minh City was disrupted during the early years of the new regime, which curtailed foreign investment and promoted collectivization. In the 1980s and 90s, conditions improved as the city gradually adapted to the new system and the government relaxed its economic policy. There is a growing industrial base, which includes the manufacture of home appliances, clothing, and shoes as well as automobile assembly, but since 1990 the city also has seen undistinguished high-rise construction that has diminished its well-known charm. The city is the seat of Ho Chi Minh Univ. and a national theater.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.