I take real offense to this as a Chinese Vietnamese and learning about Sinospheric cultures.
Saying Vietnam has no culture because it copies China is like saying Japan and Korea have no culture. Layers of Wafuku existed before Japan in China, and Vietnamese wore up to 5–6 layers every day in the past. Japan wasn’t the only one. Vietnam also had tons of different styles that become unique to Vietnamese culture. Saying they’re the same as Hanfu is like saying Hanbok is the same as Aoqun and Wafuku is the same as Quju.
Let’s list them, shall we?
- Vietnamese of all classes, ages, and genders dyed their teeth black. Only portions of South China dyed them. In Vietnam, it was the symbol of beauty and even emperors dyed them. Not dying them would be equivalent to not wearing pants today.
- Vietnamese of all classes, ages, and genders tattooed themselves during Li and Tran dynasties. Tattoos were considered as for criminals in China, and Japanese aristocrats didn’t tattoo themselves. In Vietnam, tattoo was considered a requirement to be a government official, and emperors were the only ones that could tattoo dragons. Of course, the Ming came and wiped that mindset out, and tattoos became taboo by then.
- Vietnamese of all classes, ages, and genders practiced paan. Red lips from paan was a symbol of beauty, and paan was used as dowry. Even empresses practiced paan.
- Vietnamese of all classes, ages, and genders preferred to walk barefoot. It was convenient and efficient to them. Government officials pre-Nguyễn walked into Imperial courts barefoot. Emperors and empresses during their regular days preferred to walk barefoot for convenience. Of course, they wore shoes too, but for important occasions.
- Speaking of shoes, Vietnamese shoes for women were distinct in that they revealed heels. Unlike Chinese, who binded their feet and considered that beautiful, Vietnamese prided themselves in their exposed feet. The prettier your heels, the prettier you were. So shoes revealed heels for that purpose. And because Vietnamese loved to walk barefoot, they did not bind their feet.
- Hairstyles of each dynasty differed from China. During Lí and Trần, everyone preferred to cut their hair or (for men) go bald, usually for religious purposes (Buddhism). This contrasted from Chinese, who let their hair long and tied it into a bun through Confucian etiquette. Of course Vietnamese had hair-buns as well, but not as popular as short hair. During Lê, men and women preferred flowy long hair. The longer and silkier your hair, the prettier you looked, including men. So everyone let their hair down and some even touched the ground. This contrasted from Chinese, who never ever let their hair down. In Sinospheric cultures, only Heian Japan and Lê Vietnam let their hair all the way down, while Koreans and Chinese tied their hair up. By Nguyễn dynasty, hair-buns and turbans were preferred. This turban was unique to Vietnam and not the same as other religious turbans. Chinese didn’t have this.
- Vietnamese fashion differed from China due to tropical climate. Vietnamese mostly preferred darker colors as regular wear. During Lí, Vietnamese wore Song-styled cross-collar Hanfu. By Trần, Vietnamese wore round-collar Yuanling Pao style, except there was no belt and lots of men preferred to wear underwear instead of pants. By Lê, cross-collar Changao style was preferred, but there was no folded skirts, and the collar was so open that you usually revealed your upper underwear or your chest due to hot climate. But that doesn’t mean Vietnamese liked to expose themselves. They were historically one of the most covered up people in Southeast Asia, and their Yếm (underwear) covered everything that was supposed to be covered. Meanwhile, Chinese collars all touched their necks. By Nguyễn dynasty, Vietnamese adopted Ming styled high collar, but their collars were way shorter, they all wore pants/trousers, and they all preferred tight-sleeved. By French colonialism, this attire became modern Áo Dài and was tightened at the waist. This dress had nothing to do with Qipao except that they were born at the same time, meaning same tastes in tight western clothing.
- Vietnamese used different furniture and transportations. Vietnamese rode on elephants. Vietnamese used hammocks as transportation (aside from Imperial families). Vietnamese used raised platforms in every dynasty. Vietnamese put meals on mâm before eating.
- Vietnamese cuisine is unique. It has Vietnamese, Chinese, and French influences. Fish sauce from Vietnam is distinct. Phở is a combination of all 3 elements. Huế imperial cuisine is also extremely rich and refined.
- Chinese cannot read Vietnamese writing system. Chữ Nôm was created for vernacular Vietnamese, and it was used with Hán Tự since there are so many Chinese loanwords (like Japanese and Korean). Quốc Ngữ then appeared and replaced it.
- Dougong was replaced for Bảy/Kẻ. Bảy is basically a simplified version of Dougong, which was replaced during Restored Later Lê.
- Vietnamese indigenous religion is very diverse and matriarchal. Vietnamese most popular religious cult is Đạo Mẫu, which worships over hundreds of goddesses and gods. Despite having male gods, the religion has an extreme number of female goddesses and they are all extremely powerful beings that sit atop the hierarchy.
- Vietnamese have unique amounts of weapons. Ming Chinese bought a huge ton of weapons from Vietnam. Vietnamese weapons were famous for being extremely decorative, and aristocratic weapons were covered with gold, pearls, and silver.
- Vietnamese have unique amounts of beautiful patterns. The most distinct one is probably the fire blade pattern of Restored Later Lê, which Chinese don’t have.
- Vietnam’s original culture, called Đông Sơn Son culture, was one of the Baiyue tribes. The Baiyue that assimilated with China had a similar culture to ancient Vietnam because they came from a similar source.