• Chinese domination period
Chinese domination period

Chinese domination period (1st century, BC - 10th century, AD)

In the 3rd century BC, the Han people who lived in the Yellow River basin unified China, merging the various ethnic groups who lived in southern China to the south of the Yangtze River into a centralized empire. This feudal empire soon spread southwards. 

In 111 B.C. the Han dynasty sent an expeditionary corps to conquer the kingdom of Nam Viet established by Chao To, who had brought  the kingdom of Au Lac and several territories in southern China together under his rule. The Han integrated Au Lac into their empire, creating the commandery of Chiao Chih, which was divided into provinces and districts. The three provinces, which constituted present-day northern Vietnam to the 18th parallel, had a population of  981,375 people according to Han documents. From this time on, the history of Viet Nam evolved under the combined influence of two contradictory factors. On the one hand, there was a policy of' economic exploitation and cultural assimilation, and on the other, there was a steadfast popular resistance marked by armed insurrection against foreign domination. A final resistance led to the preservation of the identity of the Vietnamese people after many centuries, the emergence of a national consciousness, and the establishment of the independent state of Viet Nam. While keeping its unique character, the nation's culture also adopted quite a few elements of Chinese culture. Ten centuries of domination resulted in a thorough transformation of Vietnamese society.

♦ The Imperial Policy of the Han

At first, for their own benefit, the Han retained the system of lac hau and lac tuong, the civilian and military chiefs of the early communities; little by little, they replaced them with functionaries appointed by the court who administered the country down to province and district levels (there were three provinces and 56 districts). A mandarin, protected by an armed entourage, presided over each district. The rural communes, which contained most of the population, escaped their direct rule so that this administration very slowly expanded  its network throughout the country while coping with a stubborn popular resistance. The imperial functionaries came from China, accompanied by an entourage of scribes, agents and family members. Many of them settled in the country permanently
The population had to make a double contribution: a tribute to the imperial court and taxes, duties and corvee to maintain the administration and military apparatus. The tribute paid to the court mostly comprised valuable tropical products such as ivory, mother-of-pearl, pearls and sandalwood which Chinese documents of the time described as abundant and varied products from the southern territories. Tropical fruit, various handicraft items, fabric, gold or silver engravings, and mother-of-pearl inlay work were also required. A certain number of craftsmen were exiled to work for the court while part of the population was compelled to hunt for elephant and rhinoceros in forests or dive into the sea to gather pearls or coral.

Each inhabitant had to pay a head-tax and a land tax on each plot; the population was also forced to supply corvee labourers to dig canals and build roads and citadels. Chinese documents describe many revolts due to this systematic exploitation and extortion by imperial functionaries.

At the same time, the feudal Han carried out a policy of systematic cultural assimilation, the empire having to be unified in all aspects. The first concern was to impose veneration of the emperor, Son of Heaven; use of the indeographic script was enforced as a vehicle for the official doctrine, Confucianism. At the centre of human obligation was absolute loyalty to the monarch, who ruled not only human society but also the kingdom of the gods. A tightly-woven network of obligations and rites bound societal and individual life, strictly governing relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, between friends, and between subjects and the imperial administration which tried to replace old customs with laws and rites inspired by Confucian doctrine.

 ♦ Socio - economic transformation

Economic exploitation by the occupiers hampered the development of productive forces but could not check them. Excavation of tombs dating from the 1st to the 6th centuries has revealed the progressive diffusion of iron tools, production implements and weapons already known in the previous era. Iron cauldrons, nails and tripods appeared while objects in bronze became less common, although the making of bronze drums continued for centuries.

In the 1st century, furrowing with iron ploughshares on wingploughs drawn by oxen or water buffaloes gradually replaced cultivation in burned out clearings. In particular, hydraulic works, canals and dykes ensured control over water; the use of fertilizer facilitated intensive farming, the practice of growing two crops a year on well-irrigated fields for example. The growing of tubers such as sweet potato, sugarcane and mulberry was already known, as well as various vegetables and fruit trees. Mulberry growing and silkworm raising took pride of place; there was also betel, areca-nut trees, medicinal plants, bamboo and rattan, which supplied raw materials for basket making. From the earliest centuries, there was thus a diversified agriculture which, gradually improved, would last for a very long time.

Handicrafts also reached a relatively high level. Many tools of iron and bronze were forged; ceramics with enamel coating was added to the already flourishing pottery of the previous era. The remains of citadels, pagodas and tombs showed that brick and tile making was thriving, some of which were also coated with a layer of enamel.

The most prosperous handicraft occupations were weaving and basket-making. Fabrics in cotton and silk and baskets of bamboo and rattan were sought after items. In the 3rd century, paper began to be made using techniques imported from China. Glass-making techniques also came to Viet Nam from China and India. To meet the need for luxury goods for the court and local functionaries, the making of objects in engraved gold and silver underwent new development, the quality of which improved through the use of Chinese techniques. Lacquer was already known. It could be said that Vietnamese handicrafts established themselves during this period.

If the economy as a whole remained autarkic, certain products supplied markets in administrative centres such as Long Bien (in present-day Hanoi Capital) which had trading quarters. River and sea transport was carried out using sampans or junks, some of which had barges and several score oarsmen. The Red River and the road running along it led to Yunnan and Sichuan, and hence to Central Asia as well as Burma. Communication with China was achieved by both sea and land, the road being dotted with many relays. Chiao Chih served as a port of call for junks from Java, Burma, Iran, India and even the Roman empire on their way to China. In large centres, there were a number of foreign residents such as Khmers and Indians. The vessels carried local products, valuable timbers, ivory and handicrafts, and also took part in the slave trade. This external trade was entirely monopolized by the occupiers.

The Han policy of cultural assimilation benefited from the prestige of Chinese civilization,, which was then at a high level, but it was confronted with a stubborn resistance. The Vietnamese language was largely borrowed from Chinese, but the words had been Vietnamized to become part and parcel of the language which was progressively enriched without losing its identity; popular literature kept its vigour while beginning to develop a learned literature written in Han (classical Chinese). Despite Confucian rites and precepts, many local traditions continued the veneration of founding fathers or patriots, participation by women in patriotic activities, and the making and use of bronze drums during great ceremonies. Relics found in the tombs of that era show stronger Han civilization influence; the indigenous upper classes came under greater foreign influence than the population at large or rural communities. However, Dong Son art was still clearly seen with its decorations and statuettes.

Together with Confucianism, Buddhist and Taoist doctrine also made their way into Chiao Chih. Buddhism, coming from India by sea and from China by land, was conspicuous from the 2nd and 6th centuries, with the town of Luy Lau (in present-day Bac Ninh Province) having 20 towers, 500 bonzes and 15 already-translated sutras. Taoism integrated itself with local beliefs, giving rise to magical, medical and ascetic practices. The main characteristic of these religions was that they did not encourage fanaticism nor exclude one another, thus helping to preserve unity within the national community.

Following the conquest by the Han, Vietnamese society gradually turned into a feudal society. De jure, land belonged entirely to the emperor, while all members of the population became his subjects, bound to pay taxes, corvee and other duties. Nevertheless, the communes stayed more or less autonomous. To ensure domination, the Han feudalists advocated the creation of "military colonies"; military men, political or common-law prisoners and destitute people coming from China together with destitute Vietnamese and landless peasants were recruited to reclaim and exploit the land under the direction of officers or functionaries. At the same time, private domains were created by Chinese functionaries settled for good in the country or indigenes loyal to the administration (members of the former ruling classes or notables from rural communities). After the 2nd century, a certain number of Vietnamese who had received a good education had access to mandarin posts and, hence, could set up private domains. Slaves worked in these military colonies and domains. The tombs of that era often reveal models in baked earth of domains with outer areas dotted with watchtowers, houses, granaries and stables. As time went by, the Chinese functionaries and their descendants living in the country became "Vietnamized". With indigenous functionaries and landowners, they constituted an indigenous ruling class with feudal characteristics.

Shaped in a country subject to the harsh domination of the Han imperialists, this feudal class was opposed in some aspects to the court and sided with the population. Internal disturbances in China, caused mostly by peasant revolts, created favourable conditions for an open struggle against Chinese imperialist domination for secession - first temporary, then definitive.

Insurrections and the struggle for independence

The grim resistance by the population against Chinese imperialist domination, which persisted century after century, time and again, broke out in the form of armed insurrection.

The most important was that of the two sisters, Trung Trac and Trung Nhi, born of a family of military chiefs in the district of Me Linh (northwest of Ha Noi). Between 40 and 43 A.D the Trung sisters launched a vast movement throughout Chiao Chih led by women in many places. Trung Trac was made "Queen" and Chinese imperialist domination was overthrown. The Han emperor, then at the peak of his power, had to send  his best general, Ma Yuan "Tamer of Waters"to Chiao Chih. By the end of the year 43 A.D., the insurrection was crushed, but it left an indelible imprint on the history of the country.
However, Chinese annals kept deploring that "the people of Chiao Chih, relying on remote inaccessible areas, liked to rebel". The insurrection in the Red River valley spread to the south; military posts and the domains of imperial functionaries were attacked. Another young woman, Lady Trieu, launched a large-scale movement against foreign domination in 248 A.D. in the province of Chiu Chen (present-day Thanh Hoa Province). She said, "I'd like to ride storms, kill the sharks in the open sea, drive out the aggressors, reconquer the country, undo the tics of serfdom, and never bend my back to be the concubine of any man". Riding an elephant, she led the way to the battlefield. However, she was unable to maintain a very long resistance against the Chinese Imperial army.
Other insurrections marked the 4th and 5th centuries, including one in the year 412 when Chinese peasants who had risen in revolt and been driven out of China co-ordinated their efforts with Vietnamese patriots. The 6th century was marked by a major insurrection led by Li Bi, a notable from Long Hung in present-day Thai Binh Province, who launched his movement in 542, swept away the Chinese administration, and defeated a counter-offensive by the imperial army in 543 and an attack by the Cham in the south. In 544 Ly Bi made himself King of Van Xuan kingdom and established a national administration. However, he was defeated by the Chinese imperial army in 545-546 and died in 548, handing over command to one of his aides, Trieu Quang Phuc. The latter mustered his troops in the swampy areas of Da Trach (in present-day Hung Yen Province), carrying out guerrilla raids and making himself king after Ly Bi's death. In 550, availing himself of internal disturbances in China, he reconquered a sizable part of the nation's territory. However, the Vietnamese feudalists did not get on together and the last decades of the 6th century were marked by their rivalry, which enabled China's Sui dynasty to reconquer the country in 603.

The Sui dynasty moved the administrative capital to Tong Binh (present-day Ha Noi). In 618, the Tang dynasty took power in China; China's economy and culture saw unprecedented development as the empire experienced its greatest ever expansion. For the Tang dynasty, Chiao Chih (Viet Nam) was not only a colony for exploitation, but also a starting point for expansion into Southeast Asia. In 679, they instituted the "Protectorate of Annam (Pacified South)"; the term then came to be used for tile country itself. The Tang dynasty extended their administrative network to cover villages and mountainous regions; the annual tribute to the Court and the various taxes, cover and duties were increased. However agriculture and handicrafts in particular, continued to develop, as well as land, river and maritime communications. The three doctrines -Confucianism, Taoism, and notably Buddhism - spread nationwide, without doing away with local beliefs. The veneration of local genies, often patriots or founders of villages, remained widespread. In order to stifle deep-rooted national sentiment, the Chinese imperialists used geomancy in an attempt to drain the "veins of the dragon" running through Vietnamese soi resulting in resistance from the people. In society, more and more of those obtaining high positions in the administration through education or bribery were those who obtained important domains.
Under the Tang dynasty the country faced several invasions from the south - Champa, Java, and Malaya and from the kingdom of Nan Chiao (present-day Yunnan). In 863, Nan Chiao troops reached the capital Tong Binh and destroyed it. The Tang Court had to send General Gao Pian to fight against the Nan Chiao. Becoming governor after defeating the Nan Chiao, Gao Pian tried to suppress the nationalist movement which had continued to develop after the Tang dynasty took power.

Many insurrections took place under the Tang dynasty, including that of Ly Tu Tien and Dinh Kien in 687, of Mai Thuc Loan in 722, of Phung Hung in 766-791, and Duong Thanh  in 819-820. By the end of the 9th century, internal disturbances, particularly the insurrection of Hwang Chao (874-883) in China, shook the Tang reign and China entered a long period of anarchy that started at the beginning of the 10th century. In 905, the last governor sent by the Chinese imperial court to Viet Nam died.
Taking advantage of the disturbances in China, a notable from Cuc Bo (in the present-day province of Hai Duong), Khuc Thua Du, made himself governor, and in 906 the Tang court had to recognize this fait accompli. Khuc Thua Du's son, Khuc Hao, tried to set up a national administration; in 930 the Southern Ban dynasty, which had taken power in southern China, again invaded the country. In 931, however, a patriot, Duong Dinh Nghe, took up the fight and made himself governor. After Duong Dinh Nghe died, murdered by one of his aides, the fight was led by Ngo Quyen, who in 938 clashed with a Southern Han expeditionary corps approaching by sea. The Southern Han fleet entered Vietnam via the Bach Dang estuary (mouth of the river which flows into Halong Bay) where iron-tipped stakes had been sunk into the riverbed by Ngo Quyen. At high-tide a Vietnamese flotilla attacked the enemy then, pretending to escape, lured the Southern Han boats into the estuary beyond the stakes still covered by the tide. At low-tide, the entire Vietnamese fleet counter-attacked, forcing the enemy to flee and sink, impaled on the barrage of stakes.
The Bach Dang victory in 938 put an end to the period of Chinese imperial domination. In 939 Ngo Quyen proclaimed himself king, established his capital at Co Loa (previously a capital in the 3rd century B.C.) and set up a centralized government. It was the first truly independent Vietnamese state.

Domestically, the main obstacle to the founding of a centralized power structure capable of assuming direction of the economy - management of the dyke system in particular - and of successfully resisting foreign aggression was the existence of feudal lords who each ruled an area of territory. On the death of Ngo Quyen in 944, 12 warlords divided the country among themselves and began to fight one another.

Starting from Hoa Lu in present-day Ninh Binh, Dinh Bo Linh defeated them all, one after another, and unified the country in 967. The next year he made himself king, named the country Dai Co Viet, established his capital at Hoa Lu, reorganized the army and administration, and appointed renowned Buddhist monks as advisers. The murder of Dinh Bo Linh in 979 brought a six-year-old child to the throne. Meanwhile the Sung dynasty had taken power in China where order was restored. A Sung expeditionary corps was sent to reconquer Vietnam, which was also being attacked from the south by the Cham. To deal with this danger, the Court and army appointed a talented general, Le Hoan. The latter defeated the Sung army on both land and water, thus saving the country (981). The next year, and expedition led by Le Hoan invaded the Kingdom of Champa and conquered its capital Indrapura (now in Quang Nam province), removing the threat of invasion from the south for a long time to come.

Ngo Dynasty (939 - 965)

Ngo King (939-944) Later Ngo King (950-965)

                                                         Ngo Quyen Temple

In 931, a patriot, Duong Dinh Nghe, took up the fight and made himself governor. After Duong Dinh Nghe died, murdered by one of his aides, the fight was led by Ngo Quyen, who in 938 clashed with a Southern Han expeditionary corps approaching by sea. The Southern Han fleet entered Vietnam via the Bach Dang estuary (mouth of the river which flows into Ha Long Bay) where iron-tipped stakes had been sunk into the riverbed by Ngo Quyen. At high-tide a Vietnamese flotilla attacked the enemy then, pretending to escape, lured the Southern Han boats into the estuary beyond the stakes still covered by the tide. At low-tide, the entire Vietnamese fleet counter-attacked, forcing the enemy to flee and sink, impaled on the barrage of stakes.

The Bach Dang victory in 938 put an end to the period of Chinese imperial domination. In 939 Ngo Quyen proclaimed himself king, established his capital at Co Loa (previously a capital in the 3rd century B.C.) and set up a centralized government. It was the first truly independent Vietnamese state.

                                                            Ngo Quyen Tomb

Domestically, the main obstacle to the founding of a centralized power structure capable of assuming direction of the economy - management of the dyke system in particular - and of successfully resisting foreign aggression was the existence of feudal lords who each ruled an area of territory. On the death of Ngo Quyen in 944, 12 warlords divided the country among themselves and began to fight one another.


Dinh Dynasty (968-980)

Dinh Tien Hoang (968-979) Dynastic title: Thai Binh (970-979)

Starting from Hoa Lu in present-day Ninh Binh, Dinh Bo Linh defeated all 12 warlords, one after another, and unified the country in 967. The next year he made himself king, named the country Dai Co Viet, established his capital at Hoa Lu, reorganized the army and administration, and appointed renowned Buddhist monks as advisers. The murder of Dinh Bo Linh in 979 brought a six-year-old child to the throne. Meanwhile the Sung dynasty had taken power in China where order was restored. A Sung expeditionary corps was sent to reconquer Vietnam, which was also being attacked from the south by the Cham.

Pre-Le Dynasty (980-1009)

Le Dai Hanh (980-1005) Dynastic title: Thien Phuc (980-988); Hung Thong (989-993); Ung Thien (994-1005) Le Trung Tong (1005) Le Long Dinh (1005-1009)

To deal with the danger of Sung troops, the Court and army appointed a talented general, Le Hoan. The latter defeated the Sung army on both land and water, thus saving the country (981). The next year, and expedition led by Le Hoan invaded the Kingdom of Champa and conquered its capital Indrapura (now in Quang Nam Province), removing the threat of invasion from the south for a long time to come.

Ly Dynasty (1010-1225)

Kings of Ly Dynasty: - Ly Thai To (1010-1028) - Ly Thai Tong (1028-1054) - Ly Thanh Tong (1054-1072) - Ly Nhan Tong 1072-1127) - Ly Than Tong (1128-1138) - Ly Anh Tong (1138-1175) - Ly Cao Tong (1176-1210) - Ly Hue Tong (1211-10/1224) - Ly Chieu Hoang (1225)

After a long period of subjugation by the Chinese feudal empire, a period marked by numerous insurrections, the Vietnamese people finally won back their independence in the 10th century. Following the recovery of that independence, the country gradually turned towards creating a centralized monarchical state. This centralization was made necessary by twin factors: the construction of great hydraulic works, particularly dykes and canals for the development of agriculture, and the safeguarding of national independence against attempts at reconquest by the Chinese imperial Court.

However, before a well organized monarchical state could be set up, the country went through a period of instability during which tendencies towards feudal domination still persisted. It was only with the establishment of the Ly dynasty in 1009 that the monarchy was able to gain a secure hold on power.

In 1010, after his accession to the throne, Ly Cong Uan, whose royal name was Ly Thai To, ordered the transfer of the capital to Thang Long, the site of present-day Ha Noi. Thang Long was to remain the capital until the 19th century. Ly Thai To decreed a general amnesty for prisoners and the destruction of all instruments of torture. In 1054, his successor, Ly Thanh Ton, renamed the country Dai Viet

The king owned all the land by right. The state, however, directly utilized only a small portion of this land, some of which was distributed to members of the royal family and high-ranking dignitaries as fiefdoms and personal domains. Taxes were levied on land owned by villages and individuals. There was thus an agrarian regime with several sectors:

- Land used by the state;
- Fiefdoms and domains;
- Communal land; and
- Private land.

There were two categories of land distributed to nobles and high-ranking dignitaries. There were fiefdoms whose beneficiaries had both the land and people at their disposal; the peasants had obligations only to their local lord, and were not required to pay taxes or provide labour to the state. In the great domains, the peasants paid rent and taxes to the owner and at the same time had obligations to the state, and remained directly subject to the monarchy. Marshal Ly Thuong Kiet, for instance, received in appanage 4,000 peasant households, but his domain comprised another 10,000 households. Appanages and domains remained the property of the king. When a lord died, his heirs could inherit his land but could also be dispossessed by the king.

Kings Ly attached great importance to agriculture. At the beginning of each year, continuing a tradition inaugurated by Le Hoan, the king himself made a symbolic gesture by ploughing a plot of land, following a ceremony in honour of the god of agriculture. In 1038, when King Ly Thai Ton was advised by a mandarin not to demean himself through such an action, he said: "If I myself do not do some ploughing as an offering to the god, how can I set an example for the entire people?".
Those who stole or killed buffaloes were severely punished under the law.

The dykes were given particular attention and mandarins were held responsible for their maintenance. The construction of numerous dykes and other hydraulic works is recorded in the annals, for instance the Co Xa dyke in 1108, and the digging of the Dau Nai canal in 1029, the Lam Canal in 1050, and the Lanh Kinh Canal in 1089.

From the beginning of their reign, the Ly endeavoured to consolidate the state apparatus. The country was divided into 24 provinces entrusted to close relations of the royal family. The centralized monarchy governed with the assistance of this aristocracy. Princes of the blood had their personal appanages and their own armed forces. The court hierarchy was a strict one with a twin body of civil and military mandarins. These mandarins received no salaries and lived on the money from rent and taxes paid by the population under their administration. But a mandarin bureaucracy gradually came into being, paid by the monarchy through taxes on landholdings, handicrafts, forest products, and market sales. Little by little, the administration lost its family-based character.

Bonzes played an important role as advisers to the king. The founder of the Ly dynasty was put on the throne with the help of a prominent bonze superior, Van Hanh. The bonze Vien Thong received honours reserved for the heir to the throne.

The Ly also introduced written laws. In 1042, King Ly Thai Tong ordered his mandarins to "amend the laws and regulation so as to adapt them to the present circumstances, to classify them, to compile them into a penal code that can be easily understood by all". It is reported in the annals that the code, when completed and made known to the population, was welcomed by all. The rehabilitation of delinquents and criminals was instituted; very severe punishment was decreed for the "ten capital crimes", particularly that of rebellion. Under the Ly, it was forbidden to sell 18-year-olds as slaves; there were laws for the protection of draught animals and on the mortgaging of land. Penalties were prescribed against piracy and extortion by mandarins. This legislation was perfected by the Tran. It should be noted that the law paid special attention to the prevention of rebellion.

While the delta had a homogeneous Viet (or kinh) population, the mountainous regions were inhabited by numerous ethnic groups, and the relationship between the central government and these mountain populations constituted a particularly difficult issue for the monarchy. The historical relationship between the Viet majority and minority groups was one of both integration and antagonism. On the one hand, the delta and highlands were integrated economically and needed each other; they were also closely bound by the need for mutual defence against foreign aggressors. The different groups were therefore moving towards progressively uniting as a single nation. On the other hand, the Viet feudalists, particularly the monarchy and mandarins, sought to exploit and oppress the minorities, leading to frequent revolts and the ensuing reprisals.

In the 11th century, when the Ly dynasty was founded, the frontiers of Dai Viet in the north and northwest had not yet been clearly delimited. Particularly important was the frontier with China in the north and northeast; these regions were inhabited by Tay and Nung people whose allegiance was of prime importance for the Dai Viet kingdom. It was vital to incorporate them into the nation.

The Ly king often sought alliances with local chiefs by giving them princesses in marriage or by marrying their daughters.

At the Chinese court, there still existed a faction which advocated the reconquest of Dai Viet. In 1069, in an attempt to find the remedy to a serious economic and social crisis, the Sung emperor gave full powers to a bold reformer named Wang Nganche. When the reforms proved a disappointment, Wang Nganche, to save the Sung's prestige and seize Dai Viet's wealth, decided to send a great expedition against the Ly. In 1074, the provinces of southern China received the order to strengthen their armies, arm combat junks, and stop trading with Dai Viet.

At the Ly court, given that the reigning king was only ten years old, all power was concentrated in the hands of General Ly Thuong Kiet, who decided to take the offensive in order to forestall the Sung.

Two army corps totalling 100,000 men were sent to China in 1075, one overland under the command of Tong Dan, a Nung chief, the other by sea, under the command of Ly Thuong Kiet himself. The latter cleverly exploited the discontent of the Chinese population with Wang Nganche's reforms, and appeared as the liberator of the peoples of southern China. Placards were put up denouncing the reformer and proclaiming that Ly Thuong Kiet's only desire was to ensure the welfare of the people. The Ly troops were enthusiastically welcomed by the population and easily occupied many localities. The general attacked the Yung chow stronghold which fell after a siege lasting 43 days on March 1, 1076. The citadel was razed to the ground; other strongholds suffered the same fate.

The Sung prepared for a counter-offensive by forming a coalition with the Champa and the Khmer kingdom. In April 1076, having attained his objective to destroy the Chinese staging posts, Ly Thuong Kiet withdrew his troops from Chinese territory. Early in 1077, the Sung troops, having forced their way through the frontier passes, were facing the Ly army across the Nhu Nguyet River (now the Cau). Fierce fighting ensued and the Sung army was unable to cross the river. It was in the-course of this battle that Ly Thuong Kiet composed a poem and had it recited during the night, making his men believe that the river god was speaking:

Over the southern mountains and rivers, the Emperor of the South shall reign
This was written down in the Book of Heaven.
How dare those barbarians invade our soil?
They will surely meet with defeat

Its morale higher than ever, the Ly army repelled the attackers, who were also being decimated by disease. Ly Thuong Kiet then made a peace proposal, which included the ceding of five frontier districts (now Cao Bang and Lang Son provinces). The Sung accepted. This was in 1077. Two years later through negotiations, the Ly recovered the ceded territory.

Ly Thuong Kiet was the architect of the victory. An outstanding strategist, he was also a great politician who knew how to win the hearts of the people and inspire his troops with enthusiasm. The stability of the regime established by the Ly was confirmed by this brilliant victory over the Chinese imperial armies. The Tran further strengthened the country's armed voices, enabling them to repel a Mongol invasion two centuries later.

Buddhism was at its peak under the Ly, whose accession to the throne had been favored by the Buddhist clergy. In return, the latter received the highest privileges. The kings themselves were interested in the study of doctrine and often took bonzes as advisers. The pagodas owned large domains worked by serfs, and bonzes were exempt from taxes and military service. Kings and princes had large numbers of pagodas built and bells cast, and promoted the dissemination of sacred books. In 1018 King Thai To sent a mission to China to gather texts of the Tam Tang: in 1068, King Thai Tong oversaw the creation of the Thao Duong sect, and several kings became patriarchies of Buddhist sects. Princes and nobles followed their example. Beautiful pagodas were built under the Ly, some of them preserved up to the present day, such as Quan Thanh in Hanoi built in 1102, Dien Huu (1041), Bao Thien (1050), and Keo Pagoda in Thai Binh Province. Queen Y Lan, accused of ordering the assassination of one of her rivals, spent the rest of her life building 100 pagodas to redeem herself. Vietnamese Buddhist Sects and schools were founded.

In a society whose members had to unite in the face of great natural calamities and the permanent danger of foreign invasion, and who came under the absolute power of a monarch governing through a complex mandarin bureaucrecy, a doctrine was needed to direct the mind of each individual towards his social obligations, obedience and loyalty to the monarch, and unconditional respect for the social hierarchy. Since the Han, Chinese imperial dynasties made Confucianism the state doctrine; the Vietnamese monarchy gradually adopted it.

In 1070, Ly Thanh Tong had the "Temple of Literature" built. This was a school dedicated to Confucius and his disciples and was where the sons of high-ranking dignitaries received moral education and training in administration. In 1075, the first mandarin competitions took place, through which Confucian scholars could accede to public office; the competitions were only open to the sons of aristocratic families. In 1080, competitions were held to recruit members of an "Academy", whose task was to preserve the archives and write royal edicts. In 1089, the mandarin hierarchy began to be strictly organized. The appearance of Confucianism on the scene was the consequence of a dual phenomenon: on one hand was the necessity of creating a mandarin bureaucracy and on the other, there was the increasing accession of educated commoners to public office. At first, these men were given only subaltern positions, higher offices being reserved for members of the royal family and of the aristocracy.

The Ly period also saw the appearance of the first historical works. Under the Ly Dynasty, Do Thien compiled a history of the country which, now lost, was mentioned in Viet Dien U Linh and Linh Nam Chich Quai.

Cheo popular theatre, which first appeared in the 10th century, continued its development. A prisoner captured during the Mongol Invasion, Ly Nguyen Cat, made a notable contribution to tuong Classical theatre.

It was architecture and ceramics that reached a level of excellence during the Ly period. With the spread of Buddhism, many pagodas were built. Some of the most famous have been preserved. Unfortunately, however, the ravages of war and climate have destroyed the majority of the works of art from this period. What remains can only give us an idea of what was achieved at that time. Some works from the Ly period have been erroneously classified by French historians as being from an earlier period, that of Dai La (9th century).

On the stele of Linh Xung, erected in 1126, an inscription records that "wherever there was beautiful scenery a pagodas was built ". One of the essential characteristics of these pagodas was harmony with the surrounding landscapes, the building nestling amidst trees, and the gardens and ponds, an integral part of the construction; most often, the background was a hill or winding stream, and the slow ringing of bells in the calm morning or evening seemed part of nature itself.

Some pagodas had to be of significant size, since they would accommodate thousands of pilgrims coming to take part in great celebrations. Dien Huu Pagoda, commonly known as the One-Pillar Pagoda and built in 1049, is a graceful pavilion built on a stone pillar standing in the middle of a pond, the whole complex resembling a lotus flower in bloom.

The lotus flower motif often appears on monuments. The flower symbolizes beauty and purity, for "though springing from mud it is free from the stench of mud". Stone pillars, some of significant size, often rest on "lotus flowers"; the remains of a pillar in Giam Pagoda, built in 1086, has a base measuring 4.5 metres in diameter and is over 3.5 metres in circumference. At the foot of some of these pillars are carved stones representing waves, and the columns seem to emerge from a stormy sea. A couple of dragons climb the pillar, forming graceful but complex spirals.

The pagodas have curved roofs and often comprise a tower with as many as 12 storeys. These pagodas are noted for their architecture, statues and sculptures.

At Phat Tich Pagoda, the bases of pillars have stone sculptures representing the bodhi tree (of Buddhist enlightenment) in the center with two worshippers presenting offerings and behind them. four musicians dancing and playing various instruments. The ground is littered with flowers. The atmosphere is joyful and the gestures graceful, far from Buddhist meditation on the unreality of this world.

Relic found in the northwestern suburbs of Ha Noi, where the palace of the Ly was located, show it great variety of sculpture, statues and decorative motifs on ceramics. A frequent motif is that of the crocodile, with head raised, protruding eyes looking to the right and to the left, and quivering nostrils; the body is lithe and the beast standing on its hind legs seems ready to spring. Stylized lions on ceramics have also been found.

Excavations in 1965 on the site of the Chuong Son Pagoda built in 1105 unearthed images of birds with human bodies among other motifs -chrysanthemums, phoenixes and dragons - all frequently found on the works of the period. There is a great variety of products: articles for both daily use and decoration, and pottery and porcelain ware with fine enamel. Among the most beautiful enamels are the opalescent-green and brown-grey ones with a low shine and in various shades. The decoration is varied - flowers, dragons, lotuses, birds, and where the surface permits, frescoes and landscapes with human figures. The drawings and bas-reliefs always have a natural look with graceful lines and a cheerful environment: the movements of birds, elephants and dancers, harmonize with flowers in bloom or contrast with the antics of warriors. Particularly remarkable are the richly decorated porcelain items. Ceramics were sent as far as China to be sold or presented to the imperial court. Under the Ly dynasty this art reached its peak.

Tran Dynasty (1225-1400)

Kings of Tran Dynasty: - Tran Thai Tong (1225-1258) - Tran Thanh Tong (1258-1272) - Tran Nhan Tong (1279-1293) - Tran Anh Tong (1293-1314) - Tran Minh Tong (1314-1329) - Tran Hien Tong (1329-1341) - Tran Du Tong (1341-1369) - Tran Nghe Tong (1370-1372) - Tran Due Tong (1372-1377) - Tran Phe De (1377-1388) - Tran Thuan Tong (1388-1398) - Tran Thieu De (1398-1400)

The Tran, who succeeded the Ly in 1225, continued this work of unification and nation-building until the end of the 14th century. During this 400-year period the country experienced vigorous development in many fields.

Appanages and domains greatly increased in number under the Tran, when nobles and dignitaries endeavoured to reclaim new lands, then taking possession of them. Some used their power to seize land belonging to villages and individuals. On these appanages and domains, the peasants were in reality serfs, while the lords kept a large number of domestic slaves. The Ly had forbidden the traffic of young men to be used as slaves, but the order was rescinded under the Tran.

The slaves comprised former criminals, insolvent debtors, and prisoners of war. During periods of famine, children were sold by their parents as slaves. Some lords owned thousands of serfs and slaves. These could not own property or gain access to public positions. Under the Tran in particular, the nobles had their own armed forces.

Buddhist monasteries also constituted large domains with serfs and slaves.

The great societal movement for the liberation of these serfs and slaves was to shake the regime to its foundations.

The larger part of the land, however, belonged to the villages, which paid rent and taxes to the royal administration. The village population was periodically required to provide labour for the construction of roads, dykes and canals, and to do military service. Communal land was periodically distributed among the villagers, under the direction of notables, naturally in a manner profitable to the notables.

Land appropriation by individuals became increasingly frequent under the Le; as early as the 11th century, the Ly had to promulgate legislation on the sale and purchase of land. A class of peasant-owners thus appeared to challenge the lords with their larger domains.

On several occasions, the Tran had dykes repaired and canals dredged. In 1382, they ordered the digging of several canals in Thanh Hoa and Nghe An provinces, and in 1390 the Thien Duc Canal, now the Song Duong. Dykes were built along the Red, Thai Binh, Ma and Chu rivers, and every year, following the harvest, the mandarins responsible inspected the dykes and directed maintenance and repair work. In August 1315, when the waters rose to a dangerous level, King Tran Minh Tong personally directed the work. A mandarin advised him against such work, saying that "it becomes a king to show great virtue, not to devote himself to small things"; but another dignitary retorted, "When the country is threatened by a major flood or severe drought, it is a king's duty to directly take part in carrying out the necessary measures. This is the best way to show great Virtue".

Dykes were also built along the coast so as to bring new land formed by silt accumulating at the mouths of rivers into production.

With administrative centralization, internal peace and the safeguarding of national independence, agriculture, the cornerstone of the economy, was able to develop further. Historical records note few severe famines. The kings sometimes decreed a reduction in taxes to encourage the peasants.

Handicrafts also saw rapid development. Cotton, silk and brocade weaving reached a high level. Multi-coloured brocades were exported or presented to the Chinese imperial court. The development of silver, gold, tin and lead mining gave birth to numerous metal-working trades and jewelry-making. The state minted copper coins and set up workshops for the manufacture of weapons, religious objects and court attire. Bronze smelting, for the making of bells in particular, and pottery with high-quality enamels made great progress. The bricks, tiles, and ceramic statues made in the Le period were famous.

Printing from engraved wooden plates contributed to the development of education and the dissemination of Buddhist literature.

The development of handicrafts led the Tran kings to divide the capital into districts, each of which specialized in a particular trade. In the 13th century, the capital had 61 districts, each of which was occupied by a guild.

The growing shipbuilding industry was able to produce large junks with as many as one hundred oars. The capital Thang Long became the country's great commercial centre, and markets were established in many places. A Mongolian ambassador who visited the country in the 13th century wrote that village markets were held twice a month, with "plenty of goods", and on the highways a market was situated every five miles. There were also inns established by the authorities where travelers could rest.

Trading between the delta and mountainous regions flourished. The plains exchanging salt and iron tools for forest products. Trade with China was effected at special places near the frontier or the ports. In exchange for fabrics, the Chinese obtained essential bibs, ivory, salt and other minerals. The silk trade was subject to rigorous regulation by the state, which itself sometimes engaged in commercial operations. Japanese and Siamese vessels came to the port of Van Don to buy Vietnamese goods.

In 1280, King Tran Nhan Ton instituted a uniform unit of measurement for wood and textiles.

Commerce thus began to develop, but merchants were not held in high esteem, and external trade was tightly controlled by the state. In 1242, a village administrative apparatus was instituted by the Tran. Up to that time, the royal administration had covered only province and district levels.

The monarchy gave special attention to the building of a powerful army. Serfs were not recruited into the army, and positions of command were reserved for members of aristocratic families, with the highest posts reserved for members of the royal family. There was a special guard for the protection of the king and the royal palace. Military service was extended to cover the whole population except serfs. Conscripts underwent a period of training, then returned to their villages to continue their work in the fields. This peasant-soldier policy made the mobilization of large forces possible whenever necessary. Training was undertaken regularly and, according to a Chinese ambassador of the time, was of a high level. Under the Tran, the princes and lords who owned large domains had their own armies made up of serfs and slaves. The sons of prominent families were trained in the art of war in a military school. Tran Hung Dao, who defeated the Mongols, wrote a handbook on military tactics for the use of his officers.

Glorious Resistance against the Mongols

At the beginning of the 13th century, Gengis Khan, having unified Mongolia, started a war of conquest against China. In 1253, Kubilai conquered the Dai Ly kingdom (now Yunnan Province), thus reaching the Vietnamese frontier. The Mongols demanded passage through Dai Viet in order to attack the Sung from the south (1257), but the Tran refused. A Mongol army invaded Dai Viet, smashed its defences, and seized the capital Thang Long, which was put to the sword and burnt to the ground. The King Tran left the capital, which was also abandoned by its inhabitants. The Mongol army were not able to obtain food and fared badly in the tropical climate. A Vietnamese counter-offensive drove the Mongols out of the capital. In retreat, the enemy was attacked by local partisans from an ethnic minority group living in the Phu Tho region.

This was the first Mongol defeat.

Once they had become the overlords of China, the Mongols grew more and more demanding towards Dai Viet. Despite concession, by the Tran, the Mongol court remained intransigent, dreaming of conquering both Dai Viet and Champa. Relations between the two countries remained tense, and Mongols envoys behaved with arrogance at the Tran court. The Tran were not inactive, but rather made serious preparations for the country's defence.

In 1281, Tran Di Ai, a member of the royal family, was sent as an envoy to China. The Mongols persuaded him to accept his investiture by them as king of Dai Viet. He returned to the country with an escort of 1,000 soldiers to ascend the throne. However, the Mongol escort was beaten and he was captured.

In the meantime, the Mongols had completed preparations for an expedition by sea against Champa. At the end of 1282, a Mongol general, Toa Do (Gogetu), landed in Champa and seized its capital in 1281. But Cham resistance decimated the Mongol army. In 1284, Toa Do began withdrawing his troops, regrouping them in the northern part of Champa near the Vietnamese frontier, and awaiting further developments.

Kuhilai had been making preparations for a powerful expedition against Dai Viet and Champa; under the command of his son Thoat Hoan (Toghan), 500,000 cavalrymen and infantrymen were to rush southward to push the frontiers of the Mongol empire to the southernmost part of the Indochina peninsula.

King Tran Nhan Tong was aware of the enemy's strategy. As early as 1282, he had assembled and consulted all the princes and high-ranking dignitaries on the action to be taken; their unanimous response was to fight. Tran Quoc Toan, only 16 years old, recruited a guard of 1,000 men to go to the front. At the close of 1283, all the princes and dignitaries were ordered to put their troops under the supreme command of Tran Hung Dao. A congress of village elders from all over the country was convened and the following question put to them: "Should we capitulate or fight?" A great cry rose from the assembly: "Fight!"

The Mongols demanded that their troops be allowed to pass through Dai Viet territory for the invasion of Champa. At the close of 1284, they crossed the frontier. The Vietnamese force, totaling a mere 200,000 men, was unable to withstand the first onslaught. Tran Hung Dao ordered the evacuation of the capital and was asked by the king: "The enemy is so strong that a protracted War might bring terrible destruction down upon the people. Wouldn't it be better to lay down our arms to save the population?" The general answered: "I understand Your Majesty's humane feelings perfectly, but what would become of our ancestors' land, of our forefathers' temples? If you want to surrender, please have my head cut off first". The king was rcassurcd. Hung Dao wrote a handbook on military strategy for his officers' use and issued a famous appeal which so inspired his men that they all had "Death to the Mongols!" tattooed on their arms. In the villages placards were put up enjoining the population to resist the invader by every possible means and, if necessary, to take refuge in the forests and mountains and continue the struggle.

In early 1285, the Mongols captured several posts, crossed the Red River and entered Thang Long. The capital was ransacked and its inhabitants massacred. General Tran Binh Trong was taken prisoner. When the enemy tried to win him over he said: "I would rather be a ghost in the south than a prince in the north", and was subsequently executed. The Mongol general Toa Do left Champa to join up with the army led by his colleague O Ma Nhi (Omar). A Vietnamese army under the command of Tran Quang Khai was beaten off when it tried to block his way in Nghe An Province. The Mongol fleet was sailing up the Red River. Many princes and nobles, among them LeTac and Tran Ich Tac, betrayed their country. The Tran court had to take refuge in Thanh Hoa Province. The Mongols controlled the greater part of the Red River Delta and Thanh Hoa and Nghe An provinces, i.e. the majority of the country's territory.

However, in the process the Mongols were forced to distribute their forces among a multitude of vulnerable posts and patrols whose task was to keep communications open. In the first months of 1285, local chiefs in the uplands inficted losses on the Mongols, while in the delta the population, leaving a vacuum before the enemy, denied them all access to supplies and put them in a most difficult position. The determination of the Tran command was thus able to be brought into full play.

From Nghe An Province, Toa Do's troops, harassed by guerrillas, tried to move up the Red River and join the Mongol army stationed farther north. The Trap sent 50,000 men to intercept them, and the Mongols suffered an overwhelming defeat at Ham Tu (Hung Yen Province). Fired up by this victory, Tran Hung Dao's troops dashed towards the capital. Chuong Duong, an outpost 20 km south of Thang Long, was taken. And when the King Tran with his troops left their Thanh Hoa refuge to advance toward the capital, the population rose up, harassing the rearguard of the Mongol armies. Enemy troops evacuated Thang Long and withdrew north of the Red River. The bulk of the Vietnamese forces threw themselves into battle against Toa Do's army, which was crushed at Tay Ket in July 1285; the Mongol general was killed and 50,000 of his men captured.

After posting troops along the route taken by the enemy as they retreated towards China, Hung Dao staged a frontal attack on the Mongol army. As the latter drew back, it fell into ambushes. Thoat Hoan, the Mongol commander-in-chief, escaped by hiding in a bronze cask. By August 1285, the whole country had been liberated, and the Mongol army of half a million strong defeated.

Kubilai was forced to abandon plans for an invasion of Japan in order to make preparations for a revenge expedition against Dai Viet. As the Tran princes sought to recruit new troops, General Tran Hung Dao said to them: "The strength of an army lies in its quality, not numbers". And to the anxious king he said, "Our troops are now better trained, while the enemy, having suffered a defeat, has lost morale. Victory will be easier".

In late 1287, Thoat Hoan again crossed the frontier with 300,000 men while a Mongol fleet of 500 vessels headed for the Vietnamese coast. The King Tran again left the capital. The Mongol general O Ma Nhi sent him this warning: "Even if you fled to the sky I'd go after you. I'd pursue you to the bottom of the seas, to the heart of the forests, if necessary!" The Mongols sought to occupy more and more territory, but found only deserted areas around them. The Yuan (name of the Mongol dynasty) annals relate: "The Chiao Chih (Dai Viet) population hid their rice and fled". The invading army ran short of supplies. Thoat Hoan ordered the capital set on fire, then withdrew north of the Red River; during that time, his troops were constantly harassed by the Tran army and the population.

At Van Don on the coast (near present-day Halong), General Tran Khanh Du kept a close watch on Mongol supply convoys. He caught the enemy fleet unawares, destroyed it and seized the cargoes of food. The enemy was greatly demoralized on hearing the news. The Mongols pillaged the countryside, but the population put up a heroic resistance. Thoat Hoan was told by his generals: "We have no more citadels left, no more food; the strategic passes have been lost, and summer will soon come with its retinue of diseases. We'd better withdraw". The Mongol retreat was effected by land through Lang Son and by sea, the fleet sailing down the Bach Dang River.

Tran Hung Dao used Ngo Quyen's old stratagem, iron-tipped stakes planted at the mouth of the river. General Pham Ngu Lao was sent to Lang Son to guard the mountain passes. Tran Hung Dao himself took the bulk of the troops across the Hoa River (Kien An Province) and launched a big offensive. When crossing the river, Hung Dao publicly swore the following oath: "If the Mongols are not defeated, we will not recross this river".

At high tide, the Mongol fleet sailing down the Bach Dang was engaged by a small Vietnamese fleet which soon retreated. O Ma Nhi's forces were pursuing it when Tran Hung Dao's army turned up. The Mongol fleet beat a hasty retreat, but by this time the tide was ebbing and the Mongol junks broke up on the iron-tipped stakes. O Ma Nhi was taken prisoner and 100 of his junks were destroyed and another 400 captured (April 3, 1288).

Thoat Hoan was terrified on learning the news, and hurriedly withdrew. His troops were decimated during their retreat, the third Mongol defeat. In late 1288, the King Tran wisely sent a mission to China to negotiate, offering tribute to the Mongol court. In 1289, he handed over the captured Mongol generals and officers. The Chinese court wanted more than this formal recognition of suzerainty but its demands were not accepted. In 1293, the Mongols began organizing another expedition but Kubilai died in 1294 and his son Timour abandoned the project. The new ruler established friendly relations with Dai Viet, which continued to pay tribute annually to the Mongol court.

The principal reason for the victory over the Mongols was the strength of the socioeconomic system established under the Ly and Tran, and the successful military policy followed by the Tran command. The monarchy and nobles had promoted the development of agriculture and instituted a peasant-soldier system so that when a war occurred, the whole nation united around its chiefs, each man becoming a combatant. Ethnic minority chieftains in mountainous regions also contributed to victory. National unity became a reality. National consciousness, moulded over the course of many centuries of struggle against foreign aggressors and consolidated by the establishment of stable centralized power had been considerably strengthened. General Tran Hung Dao never failed to seek the support of the population in his fight against an enemy superior in numbers and armaments, and he used appropriate strategies and tactics. He willingly left towns, and even the capital where necessary, avoided combat when the enemy was too strong, resorted to guerrilla harassment, and resolutely took the offensive whenever the circumstances were favorable. The fierce determination of his command galvanized the men.

On a visit to Tran Hung Dao shortly before died in 1300, King Tran Anh Tong asked him, "What should we do in the event of a new invasion from the north?" Hung Dao replied, "The enemy relies on numbers. To oppose the long with the short - therein lies our skill. If the enemy makes a violent rush forward, like fire and tempest, it is easy to defeat him. But if he shows patience, like the silkworm nibbling at the mulberry leaf, if he proceeds without haste, refrains from pillaging, and does not seek a quick victory, then we must choose the best generals and effective tactics, as in a chess game, the army must be united and of one mind, like father and son. It is essential to treat the people with humanity, so as to strike deep roots and ensure a lasting base". Ever since then, the memory of Tran Hung Dao has been honored at the Kiep Bac Temple.

After his victory over the Mongols, King Tran Nhan Tong gave up the throne in 1293, retired to the monastery and together with two other bonzes founded the Truc Lam (Bamboo Forest) sect. A doctrinal work from the Tran period, the Khoa Hit Litc, has been preserved with the following lines:

Nothing, is born,

Nothing dies.

When this has been understood

The Buddha appears,

The round of avatars ends.

King Tran Thai Tong, who reigned from 1225 to 1258, described in tile foreword to a doctrinal work how he had sought the monastic life:

"Ever since the king, my father, handed over the kingdom to me, then only a child, I have never been free from care. I told myself: 'My Parents are no long here to give me advice; it will be very difficult for me to win the people's confidence. What should I do?' After thinking deeply, I came to the conclusion that to retire into the mountains, to seek the Buddha's teachings in order to know the reasons for life and death and to pay homage to my parents would be the best way. I decided to leave. On the third day of the fourth month of the fifth Year of Thien Ung's reign, I dressed as a commoner and left the palace. To the guards I said,' I want to mix with the people, learn about their hardships, and know their thoughts'. Seven or eight men followed me; when the hoi hour had passed, I crossed the river then told the truth to the guards, who burst into tears. The next day, while passing the Pha Lai Ferry, I hid my face in order not to be recognized. We spent the night at Gia Chanh Pagoda. The next day, we went straight to the top of the mountain on which the Great Master Truc Lam resided. Overjoyed, the Great Master greeted me with these words:

'The old bonze that I am, who has retired into the midst of forest, whose body is nothing but skin and bone, who lives on wild herbs and berries, drinks from the stream and wanders among the trees, has a heart as light as the clouds and unburdened like the wind. Your Majesty has left Your sumptuous palace to come to this remote place. May I ask you what compelling need has prompted you to make this journey? With tears in my eyes, I replied:

'I am very young, my parents are no longer in this world and here I am, alone, reigning over the people, without any support. I think that thrones have always been fragile and so I have come to these mountains with my only desire that of becoming, a Buddha.' The Great Master replied, 'No, the Buddha is not to be found in these mountains, he is in our hearts. When the heart is at peace and lucid the Buddha is there. If Your Majesty has an enlightened hear, you immediately become the Buddha; why then seek else where?

(The Court came to beseech the king, to return and the prime minister threatened to commit suicide if the king refused).

"The Great Master took my hand and said, ' Since you are king, the will of the kingdom must also be your will, the heart of the kingdom must also be your heart. The whole kingdom is now asking you to return, how can you refuse? There is however one important thing you should not forget when you are back in your palace: studying the sacred books'. I returned to the palace, and against my will, remained on the throne for several decades. In my leisure time I would gather together eminent old men for the study of the Thien doctrine (Dhyana) and of the sacred books, none of which was omitted. When studying the Diamond sutra, I often stopped at the sentence: ' Never let your heart cling to any fixed thing'. I would then close the book, and remain along time in meditation. Enlightenment came to me and I composed the initiation to the Thien…"

It would be naïve to think that during this period Buddhism confined itself to these purely spiritual exercises. It was the state religion with all its pomp and vigour; it provided people with spiritual consolation, the ruling class with divine prestige, and some minds with a means of escape; it was imbued with superstition in many of its manifestations and with Taoism in its doctrine. It left a lasting imprint on the Vietnamese soul. However, as the monarchical order was gradually consolidated, the social hierarchy became increasingly complex, and the royal administration extended its power to the detriment of the aristocracy. Buddhism was no longer enough.

Confucian culture grew in importance under the Tran: the competitions were better codified and held more regularly. The title of "doctor" was bestowed, enhancing the prestige of Confucian literature. Institutes were created in the capital for the study of Confucian literature, subjects in the competitions comprised in particular the composition of poems, royal ordinances and proclamations, and essays on classical literature. As well as public schools, private schools also appeared under the direction of famous people, the most prominent of these being Chu Van An. In the field of culture, Buddhist bonzes were increasingly eclipsed by Confucian scholars; in 1243, the title of doctor was awarded to Le Van Huu, who was to become Vietnam's first great historian.

Confucian scholars monopolized more and more positions in public life, displacing Buddhist bonzes and nobles of military origin, who were often uneducated. In the 13th century, the ideological struggle between Buddhism and Confucianism became increasingly acute, a struggle which reflected the antagonism facing the nobles, owners of great domains, from the fast-growing class of peasant owners of lowly origin. The great domains were also shaken by revolts among serfs and domestic slaves at the close of the 13th century. Thus, divisions appeared between the aristocracy and Buddhist clergy on one side, and on the other side, the class of peasant-owners allied with the serfs and slaves with Confucian scholars as their spokesmen in the field of ideology.

"In face of Buddhism which affirmed the vanity, even the unreality of this world, preached renunciation, and directed men's minds towards other worldly aspirations, Confucianism taught that man is essentially a social being bound by social obligations. To serve one's king, honour one's parents, remain loyal to one's spouse until death, manage one's family affairs, participate in the administration of one's country, contribute to safeguarding the peace of the world - such were the duties prescribed by Confucianism for all. To educate oneself, to improve oneself so as to be able to assume all these tasks, this should be the fundamental preoccupation of all men, from the Emperor, Son of Heaven, down to the humblest commoner."

The scholars directed their attacks not only agaisnt Buddhist beliefs, but also against the place granted to them by the State and society. The historian Le Van Huu wrote:

"The first King Ly , hardly two years after his accession to the throne, at a time when the ancestral temples of the dynasty had not yet been consolidated, had already had eight pagodas built in Thien Duc district, and many others restored in different provinces; he kept more than a thousand bonzes in the capital; much wealth and labour had thus been wasted! These riches had not fallen from the sky, this labour had not been supplied by the gods; to do such things was to drain the blood and sweat of the people."

The scholar Le Quat lamented:

"To implore the Buddha's blessing, to dread his malediction- how had such beliefs become so deeply rooted in the hearts of men ? Princes of the blood and common people alike squandered their possessions in venerating the Buddha, quite happy to give them away to pagodas, as if they had been given a guarantee for life in the other world. Wherever there was a house, one was sure to find a pagoda next to it; a crumbling pagoda was soon replaced by a new one; bells, pagodas, drums, towers - half the population were engaged in making these things."

Truong Han Sieu also made a direct attack on the bonzes:

"Scoundrels who lost all notion of Buddhist asceticism only thought of taking possession of beautiful monasteries and gardens, building for themselves luxurious residences, and surrounding themselves with a host of servants… People became monks by the thousand so as to get food without having to plough and clothes without having to weave. They deceived the people, undermined morality, squandered riches, were found everywhere, followed by numerous believers, very few of them were not real bandits."

But several centuries were to pass before Buddhism was eliminated from the scene, at least from public office, and Confucianism could stand alone. Competitions in the three doctrines (Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism) still took place under the Kings Tran. No war of religion ever broke out in Vietnam. By the 14th century, however, Confucianism had risen to pre-eminence.

The Birth of a National Literature

With the recovering independence, a national literature took shape and gradually developed. Popular and oral literature in the national language became ever richer, but it is difficult to date most of the works, songs and stories handed down from generation to generation. In the l0th century, a scholarly literature appeared in classical Chinese, the common language of the culture of the Far East, using Chinese characters. However, more and more a need for the development of a script for the Vietnamese language was felt; the nom script, derived from Chinese, was thus created. The exact date of its creation is not known, but the first works written in nom appeared in the 14th century.

The first works in classical Chinese were mostly Buddhist texts expounding the doctrine or expressing the bonzes' reactions to certain events, for example a poem by the bonze Van Hanh, who died in 1018:

Mail is a shadow, gone as soon as born,

The trees, so green in spring, are bare in autumn.

Greatness and decline, why, should we care?

The destiny of men and empires is like a dew-drop on a grass leaf.

The bonze Vien Chieu (98-1090) was also it poet who wrote:

Escorted by the wind, the sound of the horn slips through the bamboo grove,

With the moon rising behind, the shadows of mountains climb the ramparts.

With the consolidation of the kingdom, Buddhist inspiration on the evanescence of things gave way to the contemplation of nature; then with the struggle for national independence, patriotism prevailed in the writings. The same men who in peace time sang of the beauty of the land took up their pens at critical moments to exalt the nation's struggle.

King Tran Nhan Tong, the victor over the Mongols left this twilight landscape:

Villages grow dim in the mist,

They now vanish, now reappear in the sunset.

Buffalo-herds blowing their horns take their cattle home,

A flock of white egrets swoop down oil the fields.

When the country was invaded by the Mongols, General Tran Hung Dao, wrote a proclamation to the army which is one of the jewels in the treasury of our national literature:

I can neither eat nor sleep, my heart aches, and tears trickle down from my eyes; I am enraged at being unable yet to tear the enemy to pieces, pluck out his liver, taste his blood. But you are neither disturbed nor ashamed by the humiliation suffered by your king and your fatherland. You who are officers and generals of our royal army, how can you serve the enemy without feeling hatred? How can you listen to the music greeting enemy envoys without choking with anger? You spend your time watching cock fights, gambling, tending your gardens, looking after your wives and children. You are busy making money and forget about state affairs. The pleasures of hunting prevail in your minds over your military preoccupations. You are absorbed in wine and song. If the country were invaded by the Mongols, your cock's spurs would not be able to pierce their armour, your gambling tricks could not replace military strategy. You may possess immense gardens and fields but even a thousand taels of gold could not redeem your lives. Your wives and children would only encumber you; all the gold in the world could not buy the enemy's head, Your hunting dogs could not drive him away, your wine could not intoxicate him to death, sweet songs could not seduce him. Then both You and I would be in the enemy's clutches. Not only could I no longer enjoy my appanages, but you too would lose all your privileges; not only would my family be broken up, woe would also befall your wives and children; both royal ancestral temples and your own ancestors' graves would be trampled upon; dishonour would stain both my name and yours, not only during our lifetime, but for centuries to come. Would you then persist in pleasure-seeking?"

Among the author who left great literary works were Mac Dinh Chi (died in 1346), Truong Han Sieu (died in 1354), Chu Van An (died in 1370), Nguyen Trung Ngan (1289-1370), Pham Su Manh who in 1345 led a mission to China, and Le Quat. Truong Han Sieu glorified the two victories won in 939 and 1288 on the Bach Dang River, in a famous poem ending with these verses:

The enemy has fled, peace is restored for centuries to come,

Terrain played no role, noble virtues were decisive.

Of this period two works of religious tendency remain: Viet Dien U Linh, a collection of texts on genii, divinities, and deified famous men, which was attributed to Ly Te Xuyen, and Thien Uyen Tap Anh, a collection of texts and biographies of bonzes up to the Tran Dynasty.

Literature in nom appeared in the l4th century with Nguyen Thuyen and Nguyen Si Co whose works, though mentioned in the annals, have not survived. Tradition has it that when King Tran Nhan Tong married Princess Huyen Tran to the king of Champa in exchange for the O and Ly districts, this act was severely criticized in satirical poems written in nom. The appearance of poems in nom was an important landmark in the development of a national literature. By the end of the 13th century, Ho Quy Ly had translated the Kinh Thi (Book of Poems), a Confucian classic, into nom.

An annals department was created under the Tran. Tran Tan wrote Viet Chi, a monograph which the great historian Le Van Huu often referred to in 1272 when he compiled the Dai Viet Su Ky (History of Dai Viet) in 30 chapters covering the period from Trieu Da to the end of the Ly dynasty. Le Van Huu's work was also lost, but it was the major inspiration for the complete history of Dai Viet written later by Ngo Si Lien. At the close of the Tran Dynasty, the Dai Viet Su Luoc (Short History) was written by an anonymous author. This book was to be reprinted in China in the 18th century. It is reported in the annals that Ho Ton Thoc wrote two historical chronicles, the Viet Su Cuong Muc and Nam Viet The Chi. Both these works have been lost. Under the Tran, chronicles were also written describing military exploits in the wars against the Mongols and the kingdom of Ai Lao. Le Tac, who had taken refuge in China, wrote the An Nam Chi Luoc at the beginning of the 14th century.

According to the An Nam Chi Luoc, in Tran times "people played small cylindrical drum, introduced from Champa, which had a clear, pure sound. This drum was used in the great music play only for the king; even princes and dignitaries were not allowed to play great music, except at ceremonies. Guitars - cam, tranh, ti ba with seven or two strings, and flutes of various kinds could be used by all nobles or commoners, Countless pieces were played".

The art of the Tran period continued that of the Ly Palaces and royal mausoleums continued to be built. Pho Minh Tower, built in 1305, is 14 stories high with the lowest two levels made of stone and the rest of brick. The base was shaped like a gigantic lotus flower emerging from the water. The Binh Son tower still stands to this day, leaning slightly with its remaining 12 storeys totalling 15 metres in height. The whole construction is of terra-cotta and the surfaces arc richly decorated with lotus and other flowers, dragons, lions, and leaves of the bo tree. The dragons have lost their "natural" look and the S-shaped decoration on their heads. Remarkable wood carvings have survived from the Tran period. This art form appeared during a much earlier period, but the works have suffered badly from the ravages of climate and insects. Wood carving also used all the above-mentioned motifs and themes.

Among the great monuments from the Tran period are the Tay Do citadel, built by Ho Quy Ly in Thanh Hoa Province in 1397, and which served as a capital for a short time. Rectangular in shape, 900 meters long and 700 metres wide, with 6 metre-high ramparts, it was built of large stone blocks, some of them 6 metres long, 1.7 metres wide and 1.2 metres high and weighing 16 tons. Of the ancient palaces, only a few traces have survived,such as stone dragons decorating flights of steps. The arched porticoes were built from huge stone blocks.

Architecture had thus reached a high level. Among other forms of technology was the casting of cannon. Ho Nguyen Trung, taken prisoner by the Ming, was entrusted by the Chinese emperor to make cannons for the Chinese army. Astronomy also developed to some extent. It is recorded in the annals that the mandarin Dang Lo, in charge of astrology under the Tran, invented an instrument used to observe celestial phenomena.

During the reign of Tran Due Tong (1341-1369), lived the famous physician Tue Tinh who made a special study of the healing properties of local plants and herbs. In 1352, he was invited to China to attend the Chinese empress. He left several medical treatises, the most famous of which is the Nam Duoc Than Hieu (About the Marvelous Effects of National Medicines).

Ho Dynasty (1400-1407)

The Ho lasted for 7 years, from 1400 to 1407, with two kings: - Ho Quy Ly (1400) - Ho Han Thuong (1401 - 1407)  


The struggle launched by peasants, serfs and slaves in the later half of the 14th century weakened the Tran. Ho Quy Ly was descendant of a high-ranking mandarin of the Le family. He was talented and, as his two aunts married the king, he soon became one of the high-ranking mandarins of the Court. Using clever tactics Ho Quy Ly quickly climbed to the highest position in the Court.

Ho Quy Ly reorganised the rank of military officials and grasped all political and military power in his hands. Having founded a firm position, he decided on a number of reforms to rescue the shaky State.

In 1396, he had paper money issued and the circulation of bronze coins banned. In 1397, he had the policy on land limits promulgated, stipulating the area of land to be owned by aristocrats, mandarins and landlords. The land in excess would be given to the State.

In the next year, he ordered the measurement of land in localities and, at the same time, reorganised the court examination system, developed education, and reduced the number of monks.


In 1400, Ho Quy Ly dethroned the King Tran and declared himself king. Thus the Ho was founded. In subsequent years, he promulgated policies on the limit of serfs (providing the number of serfs to be owned by certain people in society) and new taxation methods, etc.

Ho Quy Ly also had a new population census conducted to serve as a basis for troop recruitment and labour mobilisation to build projects for national defence. The Ho Court was resolute in opposing acts of aggression of the Ming invaders.

Ho Quy Ly’s reforms had far-reaching impacts on most social circles and activities politically, militarily, culturally and educationally. These reforms, more or less, limited the concentration of land in the hands of the aristocrats and landlords, and weakened the power of the Tran family. The incomes of the central government increased considerably.

However, these reforms did not resolve the imperative demand of the people’s lives and freedom. Serfs and slaves who had been privately owned now belonged to the State. Peasants had to contribute more than before while agriculture declined.

Paper money did not bring about desired convenience for trade. The new tax policy made the people’s contributions more complicated. In addition, Ho Quy Ly’s usurpation of the throne sowed alarm and discontent among scholars and mandarins. The aristocrats of the Tran took advantage of this to oppose Ho Quy Ly.

Later Tran Dynasty (1407-1413)

The oppressive occupation soon triggered fierce resistance. As early as the end of 1407, many uprisings began to occur. A descendant of the Tran Dynasty proclaimed himself king in 1407, taking the name Gian Dinh and setting up his headquarters in Nghe An Province.

In late 1408, his army marched on the capital, attracting enthusiastic crowds of supporters along the way. Gian Dinh defeated the Ming forces at Bo Co in Nam Dinh Province, but the resistance was weakened by internal dissension due to the murder by Gian Dinh of his able lieutenants Dang Tat and Nguyen Canh Chan, whose sons and followers rallied around another Tran prince, Quy Khoang, in 1409. Starting from Ha Tinh, the movement then spread to other provinces.

Meanwhile, 47,000 reinforcements allowed the Ming general Truong Phu to launch an offensive and push the insurgents back to Nghe An. In 1410, hostilities between the Ming court and Mongols made it possible for Quy Khoang to reoccupy Thanh Hoa; however, in 1411, having defeated the Mongols, the Ming counter-attacked and in 1413 drove the insurgents back to the southern provinces. Early in 1411, the latter's leaders were captured. The Tran princes and aristocrats had proved themselves incapable of providing effective leadership for the resistance, which finally achieved victory under the leadership of a commoner, Le Loi.

Ming occupation and Lam Son insurrection

As early as JuIy 1407, the Ming emperor had incorporated Dai Viet into the Chinese empire under the title of Giao Chi Province, set up a central administration, and divided the country into phu and chau, trying to reach down to village level by 1419.

The high-ranking officials were all Chinese; only subaltern posts were given to "natives". A general census revealed that there were 3,129,500 inhabitants and 2,087,500 man (barbarians) from mountain-dwelling tribes, i.e. a total of more than 5.2 million. But many doubtless evaded the census. "Order" was maintained throughout the country by large military garrisons, joined by a tight network of relays. All opposition was harshly suppressed.

There was a very heavy system of taxation, which included land tax on rice fields and mulberry fields, and a poll-tax. The occupiers held a monopoly over the salt trade. All able-bodied people, aged 16 to 60, were subject to military service and multiple corvee: road-building, mining, pearl-oyster fishing, hunting, etc. In 1419, family records were made obligatory for control over the population.

Thousands of skilled craftsmen and intellectuals were taken to China, among them Nguyen An, who was to become the architect of the Imperial City in Beijing. The Ming also confiscated personal property, animals (elephants, buffaloes and horses) and other valuables.

The people were forced to adopt the Chinese style of dress and Chinese ways and customs. Ming troops sought to destroy all traces of the nation's culture, they burned oconfiscated books that were specifically Vietnamese. This was a true cultural disaster; almost all literary works from before the 15th century were destroyed.

Lam Son Insurrection and the war of independence

Le Loi, a land-owner from Lam Son in Thanh Hoa Province was born in 1385. Before launching the insurrection against the Ming, he gathered about 1000 followers around him. On February 7, 1418 in Lam Son, he proclaimed himself king under the name Binh Dinh Vuong, and began gathering under his banner anyone who oppose Ming domination. Nguyen Trai, a famous scholar, became his closest adviser on strategy and politics. Working together, the two men brought the insurrection to victory after long years of struggle.

At first Le Loi launched guerrilla operations in mountainous area of Thanh Hoa. Although he inflicted losses to the Ming, he often found himself in a critical, even desperate situation. However, his forces held out thanks to the courage of the men, the resolve of the leaders, and the dedication of the officers. Other popular uprisings in various provinces helped loosen Ming pressure on Le Loi. In 1420, his troops were able to camp on the banks of the Ma River and threaten the capital of Thanh Hoa Province. A Ming counter-attack, however, drove them back to the mountains in 1423. But the Ming troops were also worn out, and their command agreed to a truce proposed by Le Loi, who resolutely resisted all attempts to buy him off with promises of riches and honours. In 1424, the Ming again attacked, but the insurgents had time to strengthen their position.

On the advice of Nguyen Chich, Le Loi took his troops to Nghe An and turned it into a resistance base. The insurgents were enthusiastically welcomed by the local people. Fortified enemy positions fell one after another, and soon the whole province was in Le Loi's hands. Next came Thanh Hoa, then provinces south of Nghe An. By the end of 1425, the whole southern part of the country had been liberated, with the exception of the Nghe An and Tay Do (Thanh Hoa) citadels. A vast rear base had thus been created for the war of national liberation. In 1426, Le Loi was in a position to launch a counter-offensive.

The Ming sent 50,000 reinforcements from China under the command of Vuong Thong. Even before they arrived, Le Loi had started his offensive to seize back the Red River Delta. In September 1426, he dispatched three armies northward; one was to interceept Ming reinforcements coming from Yunnan, the second comming through Lang Son, and the last was to march on the capital. Everywhere the people rallied to his banner with enthusiasm, while panic-stricken Ming troops withdrew into their citadels and tried to hold out until the reinforcements arrived.

In November, Vuong Thong's troops joined the Ming troops who had shut themselves up behind the walls of the capital, bringing their strength to 100,000. They thought they were now in a position to counter-attack, but instead they suffered a crushing defeat at Tot Dong (west of the capital) and again had to withdraw into the citadel. The Vietnamese troops had gained control of the area. Le Loi left Thanh Hoa and concentrated his forces round the capital. Vuong Thong proposed a truce. In a letter to the Ming general, Nguyen Trai said that the Vietnamese command would agree to a truce if Vuong Thong were to withdraw his troops from the country, thus "sparing our people the ravages of war and the Chinese troops the sufferings of battle".

But for Vuong Thong the truce was just a strategy to gain time and obtain more reinforcements. While maintaining the siege and eliminating isolated outposts, the Vietnamese Command, on Nguyen Trai's recommendation, conducted a campaign of political persuasion directed at the Ming troops, driving home to them the inevitability of defeat, the strength of the Vietnamese national movement and the vulnerability of the Ming Empire. This seriously demoralized them.

In October 1427, Ming reinforcements came in two columns: one was 100,000 strong and led by Lieu Thang through the Lang Son pass; the other, 50,000 strong, was led by Moc Thanh via the Red River valley. The Vietnamese command decided to destroy the more important army. Lieu Thang's troops, overconfident about their strength, were ambushed and routed at the Chi Lang Defile. The commander was killed and several generals captured together with 30,000 men. The other Ming column was filled with panic on hearing of this disaster and fled in disorder pursued by Le Loi's troops.

After the destruction of these reinforcement, Vuong Thong who was besieged in the capital, was forced to sue for peace. His request was granted by Le Loi, who gave the Ming troops the necessary food supplies and means of transport to get home. It was December 29, 1427.

The war of independence led by Le Loi and Nguyen Trai had lasted ten years. Starting with few resources, the movement had expanded, gradually establishing powerful bases and forces, and eventually destroying huge enemy armies. The command had combined guerrilla warfare with mobile warfare and attacks on fortified position, political struggle with military action, and had shown kindness toward the enemy and avoided pointless massacres. Le Loi, from the land-owning class rather than the landed aristocracy, and Nguyen Trai, a Confucian scholar with an encyclopaedic knowledge, had succeeded in bringing about national unity and inspiring patriotism. As well, they had shown resolve and wisdom at critical and decisive moments. The war was both national and popular in nature and conducted with appropriate strategy and tactics. Never again would the Ming try to reconquer Dai Viet. The following period of peace between China and Dai Viet was to last for over three centuries.

Le So Dynasty (1428-1527)

Towards the end of the 14th century, a great crisis shook the country. The Ming court, then reigning in China, took advantage of this to invade Dai Viet and to impose a form of direct rule which was to last for twenty years (1407-1427). However, the invaders encountered stiff resistance from the beginning, and national independence was eventually wrested back in 1427 by Le Loi, the founder of the Le Dynasty. 

Land system and economic development

After achieving victory, Le Loi ordered the confiscation of all lands belonging to Ming functionaries, traitors and Tran princes and dignitaries who had died or left. State land was utilized in part by the administration itself and partly distributed to dignitaries and mandarins. In contrast to the Tran estate owners, the benefiting mandarins could only collect land rent, but not do as they pleased with the peasants themselves, who were subject to the direct authority of the state. Administrative centralization was thus promoted and the status of the peasants improved.

Le Loi in 1429 and then Le Thanh Tong in 1477, regulated and improved the distribution of communal rice fields based on the following principles:

- All were entitled to distribution according to respective title and rank;

- Distribution was to take place every six years;

- Rent was paid to the state and was generally lower than that demanded by the landlords.

The distribution of communal lands had been a practice since far back in time, but it was the first time that the monarchical state had intervened so directly in communal affairs. Given that the area covered by such lands was significant, the regulations resulted in increased production.

The kings Le paid great attention to the development of agricultural production. Lands left fallow during war time were quickly brought into cultivation, while the state set up state farms on uncultivated land so as to, in the words of King Le Thanh Tong, "concentrate our strength in agriculture and increase our potential". Individuals were also encouraged to cultivate virgin lands. New areas were thus cleared, both in the highlands and reclaimed coastal regions. Dykes were kept in good repair and in emergencies, students and soldiers were mobilized in order to repair them. Soldiers and palace staff were sent in turn to the fields to work. Harvests and cattle were given particular attention.

This policy greatly encouraged agricultural production, and no serious famines occurred during the 15th century.

Handicrafts were still a subsidiary activity. However, they were widely practiced, and many villages came to specialize in certain occupations such as silk weaving, wine making, pottery or porcelain making, lime burning, etc. Leather processing was introduced from China. In towns, particularly in the capital Thang Long, craftsmen lived in certain quarters and were grouped in guilds with strict rules. Silver, tin, iron, lead, gold and copper mines were opened.

Royal workshops were run by a special royal department and produced items needed at court, not to be sold on the market. They also minted coins. The personnel comprised craftsmen forced into service and slaves. This did not favour the progress in handicrafts.

The development of trade was encouraged by the spread of regional markets. Le Loi abolished the paper currency issued by Ho Quy Ly, ordered the use of copper coins and had units of measurement (length, weight, volume, and area) and the sizes of certain goods (fabrics and paper) standardized. Foreign trade was strictly controlled by the state; transactions could be conducted only with government authorization and in specified places. Many foreign trading vessels were banned from entering port. This restriction on foreign trade remained one of the main characteristics of feudal monarchy.


Administrative, military and judicial organization

With the disappearance of large estates, administrative centralization reached its peak. The court was reorganized with six ministries; the posts of prime minister and general were abolished, these functions being taken over by the king himself. Provincial and regional administration was handled by the mandarin bureaucracy. Functionaries were appointed to head villages in numbers which varied according to population. The establishment of new villages and the election of notables became subject to detailed regulations. In 1467, Le Thanh Tong ordered maps of all villages and one of the whole country, the first ever to be drawn up. The country was divided into regions (dao), provinces, districts, and villages.

The army, 250,000 strong towards the end of the war of liberation, was reduced to 100,000 and divided into five sections which took turns doing military service and agricultural work. The peasant-soldier system inaugurated under the Ly was thus maintained. Besides conscripts there were also reservists.

The mandarin bureaucracy enjoyed special privileges - land, houses and special attire - but were no longer entitled to own large estates with serfs and have their own armed forces as in the time of the Tran. Members of the royal family enjoyed even more privileges, but not to the extent of being allowed to participate in the nation's leadership or administer important provinces, as had occurred under the Tran.

The legislative apparatus was streamlined to serve the centralized administration and evolving society. In 1483, the Hong Duc Code was promulgated, grouping the rules and regulations already in forte in a systematic way; this was the most complete code to be drawn up in traditional Vietnam and remained in force until the end of the 18th century. Completed under subsequent reigns, it comprised 721 articles and was divided into six books.

The Hong Duc Code sought in particular to safeguard ownership of land by the state and landlords, and ensure the authority of the father, first wife, and eldest son. It also determined the rites of marriage and mourning. The "ten capital crimes" were severely punished, especially rebellion and neglect of filial duties. Feudal and Confucian in inspiration, the Hong Duc Code was, however, progressive in several respects. The rights of the woman were protected; she could have her own property and share equally with men in inheritance. Where there was no male offspring, daughters could inherit the whole family fortune. A wife could repudiate her husband if he had abandoned her for a certain time. All these points were to be suppressed in its most reactionary form. The Hong Duc Code was specific to the Vietnamese society of the time and showed no Chinese influence.

With the first kings Le, Le Thanh Tong in particular, the feudal monarchy in Viet Nam reached its peak; for some more time, the monarchical regime and mandarin bureaucracy were to play a positive role in the history of Vietnam.

Ethnic minority policy

Viet Nam comprises many ethnic groups; minority groups live in mountainous regions, while the majority group, the Kinh (Viet), are plain-dwellers.

During the insurrection against the Ming, ethnic minorities living in the highlands allied themselves with the Kinh to fight the occupiers. After liberation, the feudalists in the delta resumed their policy of exploitation and oppression vis-a-vis the minorities. The Le monarchy ruled over the highlands through tribal chieftains upon whom the monarchy bestowed mandarin titles. These chieftains collected taxes. Control over mountainous regions was tighter than under the Tran. The Kinh mandarins ruling over the uplands also sought to exploit the ethnic minorities.

This policy provoked frequent revolts among the mountain dwelling minorities, which was for centuries one of the weak points of the feudal monarchy. The Thai of the northwest rose in revolt in Lai Chau in 1432, in Son La in 1439 and in Thuan Chau in 1440; the Tay of Lang Son, Cao Bang and Tuyen Quang also did so on many occasions. In the western part of Nghe An, the head of the Cam family succeeded in holding out from 1428 to 1437.

All these revolts were firmly suppressed by the Le troops. The secession advocated by the rebel chiefs also ran counter to historical trends of the deltas and highlands being complementary economically. But antagonism among ethnic groups was to disappear only with the advent of socialism.

Cultural development in the 15th-17th centuries

While the plastic arts and architecture made little progress compared with the Ly-Tran period, literature flourished. Buddhism was relegated to second place. Confucianism becoming the official ideology inspiring mandarin competitions and national literature.

Confucianism and the scholar

Confucian works, as interpreted by Chu Hi (of the Sung period in China), made up a body of doctrine which had to be digested by candidates entering mandarin competitions. In 1484, the names of laureates at the central competitions were inscribed on stone stele erected at the Temple of Literature in Ha Noi. The doctrine was carefully studied by the kings. Le Thanh Tong was an outstanding scholar and wrote moral texts intended for the people.

Mac Dynasty

Mac Dynasty lasts for 151 years (1527 – 1677), including 10 reigns: - Mac Thai To (1527-1529) - Mac Thai Tong (1530-1540) - Mac Hien Tong (1541-1546) - Mac Tuyen Tong (1546-1561) - Mac Mau Hop (1562-1592) - Mac Toan (1592) - Mac Kinh Chi (1592-1593) - Mac Kinh Cung (1593-1625) - Mac Kinh Khoan (1623-1638) - Mac Kinh Vu (1638-1677).


Le Trung Hung Dynasty

Le Trung Hung Dynasty exists 256 years (1533-1789) and was divided into two periods: South Dynasty – North Dynasty and Trinh – Nguyen War

South Dynasty – North Dynasty

Le Trang Tong (1533-1548)

Le Trung Tong (1548-1556)

Le Anh Tong (1556-1573)

Le The Tong (1573-1599)

Trinh – Nguyen War

Le Kinh Tong (1600-1619)

Le Than Tong (1619-1643)

Le Chan Tong (1643-1649)

Le Huyen Tong (1663-1671)

Le Gia Tong (1672-1675)

Le Hy Tong (1676-1705)

Le Du Tong (1705-1728)

Le De Duy Phuong - Hon Duc Cong (1729-1732)

Le Thuan Tong (1732-1735)

Le Y Tong (1735-1740)

Le Hien Tong (1740-1786)

Le Man De (1787-1789)

Trinh – Nguyen War

After Mac Dynasty was established, the Trinh clan mobilized a resistance against the Mac Dynasty. In 1592, the Trinh clan conquered Thang Long and King Le came back to the throne but the power belonged to the Trinh Lords. Meanwhile, in the South, the Nguyen Lords extended their land to the Mekong River Delta and carried out a resistance against the Trinh Lords.

The Trinh Lords (1545-1787) include 12 reigns

Trinh Kiem  (1545-1570)

Trinh Tung (1570-1623)

Trinh Trang (1623-1652)

Trinh Tac (1653-1682)

Trinh Can (1682-1709)

Trinh Cuong (1709-1729)

Trinh Giang (1729-1740)

Trinh Doanh (1740-1769)

Trinh Sam (1767-1782)

Trinh Can (1782)

Trinh Tong (1782-1786)

Trinh Bong (1786-1787)

The Nguyen Lords (1600-1802) include 10 reigns

Nguyen Hoang (1600-1613)

Nguyen Phuc Nguyen (1613-1635)

Nguyen Phuc Lan (1635-1648)

Nguyen Phuc Tan (1648-1687)

Nguyen Phuc Tran (1687-1691)

Nguyen Phuc Chu (1691-1725)

Nguyen Phuc Chu (1725-1738)

Nguyen Phuc Khoat (1738-1765)

Nguyen Phuc Thuan (1765-1777)

Nguyen Phuc Anh (1780-1802)

Tay Son Dynasty

Kings of Tay Son Dynasty (1778-1802): - Thai Duc (1778-1793) - Quang Trung (Nguyen Hue) (1789-1792) - Canh Thinh (1793 - 1802)

Brothers Nguyen Nhac, Nguyen Lu, and Nguyen Hue led the Tay Son revolution in 1771 and overthrew the Nguyen Dynasty. Thai forces were defeated by the Tay Son army in the Rach Gam-Xoai Mut front in 1785. Then, the Tay Son army marched to Dang Ngoai, and overthrew the Trinh dynasty. Le Chieu Thong, the last king of the Le Dynasty, fled to China, and asked for Qin dynasty's assistance. Nguyen Hue took the throne in Phu Xuan, now called Hue, in 1788. He led the army and marched north to defeat the Qin troop of 290,000 men in Thang Long in the first lunar month of 1789.

Quang Trung Nguyen Hue, founder of the Tay Son Dynasty, implemented progressive policies on land and education but he passed away in 1792. Nguyen Anh, supported by the French, returned to the Mekong River Delta to fight Tay Son army. Tay Son was defeated in 1802 and Nguyen Anh conquered Phu Xuan.

Nguyen Dynasty

Kings of Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945): - Gia Long (1802-1819) - Minh Menh (1820-1840) - Thieu Tri (1841-1847) - Tu Duc (1848-1883) - Duc Duc (1883, 3 days) - Hiep Hoa (1883, 4 months). - Kien Phuc (1883-1884) - Ham Nghi (1884-1885) - Dong Khanh (1886-1888) - Thanh Thai (1889-1907) - Duy Tan (1907-1916) - Khai Dinh (1916-1925) - Bao Dai (1926-1945)

Nguyen Anh Gia Long took the throne in 1802 and founded the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945). Gia Long and Minh Mang, the first kings of the Nguyen Dynasty, unified the country and set up a healthy state. In regards to the internal policy, the Kings Nguyen cleared land for cultivation, encouraging irrigation. In regards to the external policy, kings Minh Mang and Thieu Tri sent merchant ships to trade with France, England, Indonesia, and India.

The Kings Nguyen ordered that books on national history and geography be written and printed important books which had a great impact on the national culture. Confucianism was becoming the basis of the Nguyen dynasty's conservative ideology. The Nguyen Dynasty imposed a closed-door policy and dispelled diplomatic missions who wanted to set up relations with Viet Nam.


(SOURCE: www.vietnamtourism.com)