Vietnam tense as China war is marked

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But simmering nationalistic emotions are being brought to the surface by painful memories.

Hoang Thi Lich, 72, remembers vividly the morning of 17 February 1979, when she and her family woke to a suffocating sense of panic in the mountains of Cao Bang.

As dawn broke, China launched attacks on a number of positions in Vietnam's northernmost provinces with a staggering display of so-called "human waves" and artillery power.

Mrs Lich's family was quickly evacuated from her small hamlet in Hoa An district, along with a dozen other ethnic Tay families.

She recalls: "We were told to run southwards... I could hear loud gunfire. I was so frightened I froze for a long while, I did not know what to do."

Mrs Lich's family escaped to safety.

Just 18 days later, in the same Hoa An district, retreating Chinese soldiers reportedly hacked to death 43 people - mostly women and children.

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