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History of Vietnam

At the beginning of the Bronze Age, the Viet tribe groups had settled down in the North and in the north of Central Vietnam. There were about 15 groups of Lac Viet tribesmen living mainly in the northern highland and delta and a dozen Au Viet groups of tribesmen living in Viet Bac, the northern region of old Vietnam. At that time, the two ethnic tribes of the Lac Viet and Au Viet lived together in many areas with other inhabitants . Due to the increasing need to control floods, fight against invaders, and exchange culture and economy, these tribes living near each other tended to gather together and integrate into a larger mixed group. Among these Lac Viet tribes was the Van Lang, which was the most powerful tribe. The leader of this tribe joined all the Lac Viet tribes together to found Van Lang Nation, addressing himself as Hung King. The next generations followed in their father’s footsteps and kept this appellation. Based on historical documents, researchers correlatively delineated the location of Van Lang Nation to the present day regions of North and north of Central Vietnam, as well as the south of present-day Kwangsi (China). The Van Lang Nation approximately lasted from the beginning of the first millennium B.C. to the 3rd century B.C.

In 221 BC, Tan Thuy Hoang, King of Tan (China), invaded the land of the Viet tribes. Thuc Phan, the leader of the alliance of Au-Viet tribes was respected as the chief of the resistance war against the Tan enemy that later, in 208 BC, was forced to withdraw. With his imposing power, Thuc Phan nominated himself as King An Duong Vuong and founded Au Lac Nation with groups of Lac Viet and Au Viet tribes. In 207 BC, Trieu Da, King of Nam Viet (China), invaded Au Lac country. The resistance of An Duong Vuong failed soon after this invasion. As a result, the northern feudalist took turns dominating the country over the next seven centuries, establishing their harsh regime in the country and dividing the country into administrative regions and districts with unfamiliar names. However, the country’s name of Au Lac could not be erased from the people’s minds in their everyday life.

In the spring of 542, Ly Bi rose up in arms and swept away the Chinese administration, liberating the territory. He declared himself King of Van Xuan Kingdom in February 544, acknowledging the national superiority complex of the independent spirits to live in eternal peace. However, the existence of Ly Bi’s administration was very brief. He was defeated by the Chinese imperial army, and the country returned to feudal Chinese domination again in 602. The name Van Xuan was restored only after the victory over the Han army at the Bach Dang River led by General Ngo Quyen in 938. This victory marked the end of the Chinese domination period in Vietnam.

In 968, Dinh Bo Linh defeated the twelve lords and unified the country. He declared himself King and named the country Dai Co Viet. This name remained throughout the Dinh Dynasty (968-980), Pre-Le Dynasty (980-1009) and the beginning of Ly Dynasty (1010-1225).

In 1054, a flaming bright star appeared in the sky for many days, which was considered a good omen. As a result, the Ly King changed the name of the country to Dai Viet. This name remained until the end of Tran Dynasty (1126 – 1400).

In March 1400, Ho Quy Ly usurped the throne of King Tran Thieu De, founded the Ho Dynasty and changed the country’s name to Dai Ngu, meaning peace in the ancient language. This name only lasted for very short time, until April 1407, when the Minh enemy invaded Dai Ngu and defeated the Ho Dynasty (1400- 1407).

After 10 years of resistance against the Ming occupation (1418-1427), Le Loi had achieved a victorious triumph. In 1428, Le Loi declared himself King of Le Dynasty and changed the name of the country back to Dai Viet. At this time, the territory of Vietnam had expanded to the region of present-day Hue. The name Dai Viet remained under the Le Dynasty (1428-1788) and the Tay Son Dynasty (1788-1802).

In 1802, Nguyen Anh claimed his coronation to become the first Nguyen King, starting the Nguyen dynasty and changing the country’s name to Viet Nam. This name was officially recognized in many diplomatic missions in 1804. However, the words “Viet Nam” had already appeared very early in history. In the 14th century, there was a book of code entitled “Viet Nam The Chi”, edited by Doctor Ho Tong Thoc. In the book by scholar Nguyen Trai entitled “Du Dia Chi” at the beginning of 15th century, the words “Viet Nam” were repeated several times. Doctor Trinh Nguyen Binh Khiem (1491-1585) had written on the first page of his work “Trinh Tien Sinh Quoc Ngu” the following: “… Viet Nam have constructed its foundation…” The words “Viet Nam” were also found in some carved stelae of the 16th – 17th century in Bao Lam Pagoda, Haiphong (1558), in Cam Lo Pagoda, Ha Tay (1590), in Phuc Thanh Pagoda, Bac Ninh (1664), etc. In particular, in the first sentence on the stele Thuy Mon Dinh (1670) at the landmark on the border at Lang Son, it was written: “This is the gateway of Viet Nam that guards the northern frontiers…” In terms of meaning, there are many theories that prove the words “Viet Nam” are created by combining two racial and geographic elements, which is understood as “Viet people from the south”. During the reign of King Minh Mang (1820-1840), the name of the country was changed to Dai Nam, but Viet Nam was still widely used in many literary works, civil business affairs, and social relations.

Following the triumph of the August Revolution on August 19th, 1945, which had entirely swept away Vietnamese feudal and French colonial oppression and began a new era in the country, President Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the nation’s independence and the national name Democratic Republic of Vietnam were born on September 2nd, 1945. Although Vietnam suffered from war and separation in the following 30 years, the sacred words “Viet Nam” were very popularly used from the North to the South and were deeply imprinted in the hearts of the Vietnamese people.

Following the liberation of Southern Vietnam on April 30, 1975, the entire country of Vietnam was completely unified. In the first meeting of the National Assembly of Unified Vietnam on July 2nd, 1976, the assembly decided to name the country The Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The constitution of 1980, and 1992, continued its affirmation of the country’s official name, legally and actually.

Prehistoric Era
Human civilization started in Vietnam a very long time ago. In fact, archaeologists have found vestiges of Homo Erectus in the caves of Lang Son and Nghe An Provinces. During the Pre-Paleolithic Age, also known as the Son Vi Era (between 10,000 to 23,000 years ago;), the population of Vietnam was rather large and widespread.

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Neolithic Age
During this period, groups of people with different cultural attributes mixed together. The people used sophisticated trimmed stone axes, produced stone rings, and designed pottery goods.

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Bronze Age
The Bronze Age society produced bronze tools, weapons, and jewelry. They harvested crops and raised several kinds of domestic animals, such as buffalo, oxen, and pigs. Three different cultural groups existed during this period. The Pre-Dong Son lived in the Ma River, the Ca River and the Red River Delta areas, the Pre-Sa Huynh inhabited the southern areas of central Vietnam, and the third group inhabited the Dong Nai River Delta. The Pre-Dong Son society existed at the same time as the early Hung Vuong Dynasty.
Iron Age
The various subgroups of the Pre-Dong Son culture in the northern areas of Central Vietnam eventually absorbed together to form the Dong Son culture. This group of people existed in the Early Iron Age, as they produced several kinds of iron tools. This unique culture was characterized by sophisticated products, which included beautifully designed bronze drums.

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The Formation of Vietnam

Van Lang- Au Lac Nations
During the Dong Son period, only one state had formed. The unified culture prevailing in this region stretched from the Sino-Vietnamese border to the northern banks of the Gianh River. The nation of the ancient Viet people existed as the Van Lang Nation, which was ruled by the Hung Kings.
A few centuries later, An Duong Vuong founded the Au Lac Nation in the third century BC. Records of this nation can be found in the annals written by the Chinese historian, Xi Ma Tin. Remains of the Co Loa Citadel, which was built during the An Duong Vuong period, can still be seen today.

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Champa Nation
The Pre-Sa Huynh culture evolved in South Central Vietnam during the Iron Age. The people of this group lived between Thua Thien and the Dong Nai River Delta. At that time, people were buried in tombs which contained many tools made of iron and jewelry made of agate and jasper.. The Sa Huynh culture was founded by the ancestors of the Cham who founded the Champa Kingdom.

The long march to independence
(1st century, BC – 10th century, AD)

The Imperial Policy of the Han

Socio – economic Transformation

Insurrections and the Struggle for Independence

The Tang Recovering of Independence

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 Vietnam 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 Vietnam. 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 Vietnam 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 Ha Bac province) 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 Ha Bac 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 Hanoi). 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 48 A.D. in the province of Chiu Chen (present-day Thanh Hoa) . 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 Hai Hung 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 Hanoi). 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 Chill (Vietnam) 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.

The Tang Recovering of Independence

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 (874-83) 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 Vietnam died.

Taking advantage of the disturbances in China, a notable from Cu Bo (in the present-day province of Hai Hung), 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 Ha Nam Ninh, 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.

Independence from China
(10th century)

A new page was turned in Vietnamese history at the beginning of the 10th century when the Ngo (939 – 965), Dinh (968 – 980), and Pre-Le (980-1009) dynasties strove to consolidate, maintain and protect a unified and independent nation. The victory of the resistance against the Sung invasion led by Le Hoan in 981 was compelling proof of this objctive.

The Independent Dynasties of Vietnam

Ngo Dynasty

Chinese Rule 1414-1427
Dinh Dynasty 968-980
Early Le Dynasty 980-1009
Later Le Dynasty
Trinh Lords of the North
Nguyen Lords of the South 1428-1788
Ly Dynasty 1009-1225
Tran Dynasty 1226-1400
Tay Son Dynasty
Nguyen Dynasty 1788-1802
Ho Dynasty 1400-1407
Post Tran Dynasty 1407-1413

The Ngo, Dinh and Earlier Lê Dynasties

Ngo Dynastic

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

Dinh Dynastic

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

Earlier Le Dynasty

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)

Many insurrections took place under the Tang dynasty: Ly Tu Tien and Dinh Kien in 687, Mai Thuc Loan in 722, Phung Hung from 766-791, and Duong Thanh in 819-820. By the end of the 9th century, internal disturbances, particularly the insurrection of Hwang Chao (874-83) in China, shook the Tang reign and China entered a long period of anarchy starting from the beginning of the 10th century. In 905, the last governor sent to Vietnam by the Chinese imperial court died.

Taking advantage of the disturbances in China, a notable from Cu Bo (in the present-day province of Hai Hung), 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 Han 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 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.

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 each other.

Starting from Hoa Lu in present-day Ha Nam Ninh, 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 to the throne a six-year-old child. 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 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.

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Dinh Tien Hoang King

Thus was born a national, independent, and stable state in which the subsequent dynasties gradually set up the usual institutions. In this framework, the economy and culture developed, and the transfer of power from one dynasty to the next no longer affected the stability of the national independence thus regained.

In 1009 the Ly dynasty took power, opening up a long period of independence and prosperity.

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The Ngo, Dinh and Earlier Lê Dynasties

Ngo Dynastic

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

Dinh Dynastic

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

Earlier Le Dynasty

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)

Many insurrections took place under the Tang dynasty: Ly Tu Tien and Dinh Kien in 687, Mai Thuc Loan in 722, Phung Hung from 766-791, and Duong Thanh in 819-820. By the end of the 9th century, internal disturbances, particularly the insurrection of Hwang Chao (874-83) in China, shook the Tang reign and China entered a long period of anarchy starting from the beginning of the 10th century. In 905, the last governor sent to Vietnam by the Chinese imperial court died.

Taking advantage of the disturbances in China, a notable from Cu Bo (in the present-day province of Hai Hung), 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 Han 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 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.

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 each other.

Starting from Hoa Lu in present-day Ha Nam Ninh, 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 to the throne a six-year-old child. 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 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.

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Dinh Tien Hoang King

Thus was born a national, independent, and stable state in which the subsequent dynasties gradually set up the usual institutions. In this framework, the economy and culture developed, and the transfer of power from one dynasty to the next no longer affected the stability of the national independence thus regained.

In 1009 the Ly dynasty took power, opening up a long period of independence and prosperity.

The Lê Dynasty

Le Thai To (1428-1433)
Le Thai Tong (1434-1442)
Le Nhan Tong (1443-1459)
Le Thanh Tong (1460-1497)
Le Hien Tong (1497-1504)

Le Tuc Tong (1504)
Le Uy Muc (1505-1509)
Le Tuong Duc (1510-1516)
Le Chieu Tong (1516-1522)
Le Cung Hoang (1522-1527)

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 (1407-27). However, the invaders encountered stiff resistance from the beginning, and national independence was eventually wrested back in 1427 by Le Loi, the f’ounder of the Le dynasty.

The Ming Occupation

As early as JuIy 1407, the Ming emperor had incorporated Dai Viet into the Chinese empire under the title of’ Glao 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.

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 . Glan 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.

The Lam Son Insurrection and the War of Independence

Ile03.gif (12034 bytes)Le Loi, a land-owner frorn 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 strenght 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 Pass. 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.

The Great Era of the Earlier Le

The winning back of national independence and major changes in socio-economic structure, especially the disappearance of large aristocratic estates in favour of private land ownership which resulted in the emergence of a land-owning class, provided a strong base for the new regime set up by Le Loi. The country made further progress and the feudal monarchy reached its peak under King Le Thanh Tong (1460-97).

The Land System and Economic Developmennt

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 Le kings 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 Lc Tharill 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 ordcr to repair thern. 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 Due 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 Due 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 Due 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 Due Code was specific to the Vietnamese society of the time and showed no Chinese influence.

With the first Le kings, Le Thanh Tong in particular, the feudal monarchy in Vietnam 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

Vietnam comprises many ethnic groups; minority groups live in mountainous regions, while the majority group, the kinh, 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 Hanoi. The doctrine was carefully studied by the kings. Le Thanh Tong was an outstanding scholar and wrote moral texts intended for the people.


The Ly and Tran Dynasties

The Economic, Social and Political System under the Ly and the Tran

The Glorious Reistance against the Mongols

Cultural Development under the Ly and the Tran

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. 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.

The Economic, Social and Political System under the Ly and the Tran

lythaitong(17).gif (16327 bytes)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 Hanoi. 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. Under the Ly and Tran dynasties, the regime underwent continuous consolidation, but it was only at the close of the 14th century that great transformations took place.

Economic Development under the Ly and the Tran

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.

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 scrvice. 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.

The Ly and Tran kings 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. 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. Historicalcal records note few severe famines under the Ly and Tran. 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 Thing 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 essenitial bibs, ivory, salt and other minerals. The silk trade was subject to rigorous regulation by the state, which itself sometimes engaged in commercial operations. Javanese and Siamese vessels came to the port of Van Don to buy Vietnamese goods.
1n 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.

Society under the Ly and the Tran

At the top of the social structure were the king and his royal family, who lived in the royal palace situated in what is now Ngoc Ha district. The columns and woodwork were painted red and decorated with images of dragons, phoenixes and gods. At the main palace gate stood a pavilion with a large bell. Anyone wishing to present a request or to petition the king would ring the bell. The king often wore a dark yellow robe and red coat. In mid-autumn he would preside over the water festival (probably on the Great Lake) with hundreds of gondolas and various entertainment, a water puppet show in particular. From the middle of the lake, a huge golden tortoise would emerge with three platforms on which dancers performed.

Besides the royal family, the feudal class comprised mandarins court dignitaries, holders of large domains, and land-owners belonging to prominent families. Higher office was reserved for members of the great aristocratic families; only the sons of such families and of mandarins had access to the mandarinal competitions. Buddhist bonzes should also be counted as members of the feudal class, since the monasteries constituted large domains worked by serfs.

The ordinary classes were comprised of peasant owners, merchants, free peasants in the villages, artisans, serfs and domestic slaves. They were forbidden by law to dress and wear ornamentation like that of the privileged classes. Slaves could only marry within their own class.

Administrative, Military and Judicial Organization

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.

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.

The Ly also introduced written laws. In 1042, King Ly Thai Tong ordered his mandarins to “amend thr 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.

Ethnic Minorities

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 stengthen 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 Empror of the South shall reign
This was written down in the Book of Heaven.
How dare those barbariands invade our soil?
They will surely meet with defeat.

Its morale higer than ever, the Ly army repelled the attackers, who were also being decimated by disease. Ly Thuong Kiet then made a peace proposal, wich 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 outsanding 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.

The 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 Tran king 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 tjhe 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. Prince 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 viilage 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, totalling 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 neccssary, 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 gencral 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 Tran king 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 strengh 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 Tran king 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 Hong Gai), General Tran Khanh Du kept a close watch on Mongol supply convoys. He caught the enemv 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 irontipped stakes. O Ma Nhi was taken prisoner and 100 of his junks were destroyed and another 400 captured (April 3, 1228).

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 Tran king 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.

Cultural Development under the Ly and the Tran

The consolidation of national independence, economic development, and of stable centralized power under the Ly and Tran dynasties brought about the development of the nation’s culture, which was unique although strongly influenced by Chinese civilization. Public and spiritual life was inspired by two great doctrines : Buddhism and Confucianism. Integrating with the nation’s traditions, these doctrines constituted a treasury of ideas and creeds that run through literature and art.

The Predominance of Buddhism

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 patriarches 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 (Great Buddha) in Hanoi built in 1102, Dien Huu (1041), Bao Thien (1050), and Keo pagoda in Thai Birth 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. 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 True Lam (Bamboo Forest) sect. A doctrinal work from the Tran period, the Khoa Hit Litc, has been preserved. with the following lines:

Nothimg, 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 forcword 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 recogntized. 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 togeter eminent old men for the study of the Thien doctrinc (Dhyana) and of the sacred books, non of which was omitted. When studying the Diamond sutra, Ioften 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 ths 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.

The Growth of Confuciamism

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.

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 peasent 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 unrelity 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 prescibed by Confuncianism 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 Him wrote:

“The first Ly king , 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 monastteries and gardens, building for themselves luxirious 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 wihout 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 Tran kings. 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 antumn.
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 you 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 mitilary 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 redecem 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 (die in 1346), Truong Han Sieu (die in 1354), Chu Van An (die 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 poerns 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.

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

The Arts under the Ly and the Tran

Independence and stability led to the development of a national art, marked by Chinese, and to a lesser degree, Cham influence. Under thee Ly, Cham influence was felt particularly in music. According to the An Nam Chi Luoc, in Tran times “people played smaill 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”.

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 waas 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. The Dien Huu pagoda, commonly known as the One-Pillar pagoda and built ill 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 Hanoi, 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.

The art of the Tran period continued that of the Ly Palaces and royal mausoleums continued to be built. The 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 Ton (1341-69), 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).

The Kings of Ly Dynasty (1010-1225)

– 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 Chieu Hoang (1225)

The Kings of Tran Dynasty (1225-1400)

– Tran Thai Tong (1225-1258)
– Tran Thanh Tong (1258-1272)
– Tran Nhan Tong (1279-1293)
– Tran Anh Tong (1293-1314)
– Tran Anh Tong (1314-1329)
– Tran Hien Tong (1329-1341)

– Tran Du Tong (1314-1369)
– 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 Ho Dynasty

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 Tran king 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.

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

The Tay Son dynasty

Nguyen Nhac (1778-1793)
Quang Trung King, (Nguyen Hue) (1789-1792)
Quang Toan King (1793-1802)

The feudal society built under the first Le kings in the 15th century flourished for about a hundred years, but the structures set up had ceased to play a positive role as early as the 16th century, and decadence manifested itself more and more clearly in the 17th, culminating in a deep and inreversible crisis in the 18th.

The feudal structure was built on an agrarian system based on private land ownership coexisting with the ancient institution of communal lands which were subject to periodic distribution. While under the law everyone had access to ownership and enjoyed the same civil rights, in practice a minority of landowners had taken possession of most of the land and appropriated the best communal lands, reducing the majority of-working peasants to misery. In the villages, landowners and notables would lay down the law, collect very high land rents, and extract exorbitant interest payments on debt.

The feudal state administered the country by means of a bureaucracy of mandarins recruited through competitive examinations. One of its main functions consisted of building and maintaining an important network of dykes and irrigation canals to protect agriculture against natural disasters. The diligence of state services or negligence in water conservation had far-reaching consequences.

The prestige of the monarchical state and the mandarin bureaucracy rested on the teaching of Confucianism, which was disseminated throughout the country and inculcated in the people absolute respect for the king and strict observance of social hierarchy.

Handicrafts and trade were undervalued, and the mandarin bureaucracy tried to hinder the latter’s development. Technique used did not improve, for the landowners, mandarins and notables obtained their incomes from the direct exploitation of peasants. Handicrafts and trade were only promoted so as to meet the needs of court pomp or of luxury consumption.

A new factor – territorial expansion to the south- must have been of paramount importance. Starting from the plains of the Red, Ma and Ca Rivers, the country’s territory was extended with the coastal plains as far as the basin of the Dong Nai and Mekong Rivers being brought under cultivation. From the capital to the southern provinces communication routes, stretching for over 1,000 kilometres, were particularly difficult to negotiate at the time. Orders issued by the central government did not reach the regions, just as taxes from remote provinces could not reach the royal court.

Under these circumstances, secession was inevitable. Under the nominal authority of the Le kings who established themselves in Thang Long, two administrations were set up – one in the north under the aristocratic family of the Trinh, and the other in the south under the sway of the Nguyen lords. Throughout the 17th century, without the ability to put an end to secession, the country was de facto divided at the Gianh River, which did not, however, prevent continuous expansion to the south.

In the 18th century, elements of crisis and change began to accumulate: an agrarian crisis, the development of handicrafts and trade, a political and administrative crisis, ideological crisis, contact with the outside world, and corruption among ruling circles. The country was shaken by great peasant uprisings which culminated in the Tay Son movement; a century of upheaval, also one of renewal, or at least of great hope. With the Tay Son, Vietnam experienced one of the shortest but most brilliant periods in its history. The nation’s culture, inspired by the great peasant insurrections and more or less liberated from feudal bonds, began to flourish.

The Crisis of the Trinh Regime in the North

The Agrarian Crisis

The appropriation of land by landowners, notables and mandarins had greatly increased, especially in the north, the domain of the Trinh, where uncultivated land was scarce. With population growth, the problem took on potentially disastrous dimensions. In 1711, through an edict the Trinh forbade “great families, functionaries and notables taking advantage of ruined peasants to enlarge their estates under cover of buying”. Indeed, sale and purchase contracts were used only to legalize appropriations effected to the detriment of small farmers. Nor did communal lands escape the landowners’ greed. In 1739, the aristocratic court had to admit that “there remains nothing for the peasants to live on”.

The situation became so disturbing that in 1740, a Trinh lord planned the nationalization of all lands for redistribution to peasants who would pay land rents to the state. But the entire mandarin bureaucracy and landowning class opposed the project, which was quickly buried.

One of the clearest indications of this agrarian crisis was the increasing number of lawsuits involving the appropriation of land, but the peasants who appeared before mandarin courts were illtreated, had to pay bribes, and finally often lost the case. Complaints reached the court in such great numbers that in 1723 the Trinh were compelled to set up a real supreme court of appeal at the gates of the palace. A report, dated 1718 said:
“In the villages, the notables, using, thousands of tricks, ruling arbitrarily, grabbing other people’s property to enrich themselves, oppressing the poor, despising (lie illiterate, avail themselves of the least opportunity to indict people and bring suits against them. If the judgement, though a just one, does not satisfy them, they appeal against it once, twice, even three times. The poor are not able to carry on the suit and even well-off people are ruined.

The same report described the multitude of ways used by notables to extort property from the poor, seize communal lands and, create divisions. Village administrations were therefore thoroughly corrupt, but the state remained powerless, and was no longer able to take proper care of the irrigation works. As a result, even minor natural disasters sometimes led to disastrous famines.

Peasants were forced to leave their villages, wandering in search of food and dying by the thousands on the roads. The State was able to do little more than dole out totally inadequate supplies of food. The Cuong Muc annals describe the 1735 famine thus:
“Thieves and bandits multiplied in number, especially in Hat Duong. Peasants gave tip all cultivation. All food reserves were exhausted in the villages, except in. Son Nam. People roamed about carrying their children in search of rice. The price of rice soared; 100 coins were no longer enough to pay for a meal. People lived on vegetable and herbs, and ate rats and snakes. Dead bodies lay about on the roads”;

The number of ruined peasants wandering about the country increased so dramatically that in 1730 the Trinh had to appoint 121 high-ranking Court dignitaries to try to return them to their homes, but in vain. A census showed that 1,730 villages were particularly affected. This ruined and wandering peasantry was to make up the bulk of insurgent groups in the 18th century revolts.

The Political and Adminisitrarive Crisis

While the village administration showed itself to be rapacious and cruel, the mandarin bureaucracy and court sank into corruption and debauchery. The- building of palaces and pagodas drained the budget, as did the lavish court celebrations. In 1718, a censor submitted a report stressing the people’s misery and proposing to forbid all squandering of funds, stop all building and repairs to palaces, cut down the number of pleasure trips undertaken by the court and reduce the number of administrative inspection tours.

The censor was congratulated, but his advice remained unheeded. The Trinh lords ordered the building of many recreation facilities, pagodas and mansions, requiring excessive contributions and labour from the population., Ceremonies were held amidst great pomp, To meet all these expenses, in the 18th century the Trinh’ instituted, with the help of a loyal mandarin,

Nguyen Cong Hang, a new system of taxes and duties which encompassed all areas of production, leaving nothing outside state control. The principle of this financial reform was stated in 1721as follows:
“Fornzely, expenditure was set on the basis of receipts; now we are going to set receipts to be collected on (lie basis of expenditure”.

A fatal blow was dealt to the institution of the mandarin bureaucracy by the putting on sale of offices. Money thus began to cat away the feudal structure, anyone could buy mandarin bureaucrecy, and the promotion ‘of mandarins was facilitated by money. Bribery became de facto legal, as the mandarin squeezed the common people to get back what he had had to pay for his office and enrich himself. Edicts were promulgated to fight this evil, but were ineffective.

While the Trinh lords sank into debauchery and extravagance, factionalism grew at the court. Palace intrigues in which cunuchs and favorites played an important part, helped foster greater and greater instability. Honest, upright mandarins were eliminated, and special units of the army often made and broke laws, deposing mandarins and lords at will In a capital city beset by anarchy.

Peasant Revolts under the Trinh

Occurring sporadically in the 17th century, peasant revolts spread during the 18th. In mountainous regions, ethnic minority groups rebelled under the leadership of local chiefs. The annals indicate that as early as 1715, the delta provinces were infested with bandits. In 1737, the Trinh had to set up watch-towers nearly everywhere so as to indicate by means of signal fires, the -movements of insurgents who were becoming increasingly active in many regions. This agitation took on a political character with clandestine writings, slogans, and false rumours designed to discredit the regime. Writings were disseminated in which the authors launched attacks on the administration in the guise of stories and fables. In 1718, the Trinh court banned the printing and circulation of such writings and had them seized and burnt. Various security measures were implemented, particularly the establishment of village guards made up of notables, and of military commands in the provinces. In 1721 and again in 1727, the army was reinforced. None of these measures, however, were able stop successive peasant revolts. The following were the most important.

In 1737, under the leadership of the bonze Nguyen Duong Hung, thousands of peasants occupied the Tam Dao Mountains northwest of the capital, new of the move causing panic. The revolt was harshly suppressed but shortly afterwards, in the mountainous region of Thanh Hoa province, a descendant of the Le, Le Duy Mat, led an uprising which involved both peasants from the delta and highlanders.

In 1739, centres of insurgency were developing in every province, particularly in the Red River delta. The Cuong Muc annals relate that poor people gathered there “by the hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands, and besieged the towns in an irresistible upsurge”. Contacts were established between insurgent organizations in various provinces in order to co-ordinate actions, but the uprisings remained in most cases local in character.

The Trinh then created village guards, choosing two out of every ten young men and arming them for the defence of rural communes. But the village guards’ often- crossed over to the insurgents and the measure was soon abandoned. In 1740, the Trinh reinforced the army’s special units. The Trinh army had to carry out continuous mopping-up operations for hardly had one uprising been quelled when another broke out. In Hai Duong province, even after the death of rebel chiefs Nguyen Tuyen and Nguyen Cu in 1741, their partisans again rallied, appearing and disappearing among the villages and reed-covered swamps.

In the uplands and highlands, in Lang Son, Bac Giang, in the provinces of Tuyen Quang, Thai Nguyen and Cao Bang, and in the mountainous areas of Thanh Hoa, the ethnic minorities, sometimes allied with rebel groups in the delta, rose in revolt against the Trinh. However, the main centre of insurgency remained the delta. Four of these peasant revolts achieved particular strength and lasted for years.

Starting in Son Tay province in 1740, the movement led by Nguyen Danh Phuong only ended in 1751. the insurgents succeeded in gaining control of the provinces of Vinh Yen, Phu Tho, Tuyen Quang and part of Son Tay, collected taxes on forest, produce from the high-lands, and for eleven years “maintained a real state in defiance of the Thang Long court”. After successive failures by the Trinh troops, Lord Trinh Doanh himself took command of a strong army in 1751, but the insurrection was put down only after several hard-fought battles.

In Hai Duong. province, after the defeat of the peasant leader Nguyen Cu in 1741, his deputy Nguyen Huu Cau succeeded him and fomented one of the greatest peasant revolts of the century. A talented scholar, disgusted with the system of mandarin competitions, Nguyen Huu Cau attacked the rich and handed out their property to the poor, calling himself the “Great General Protector of the People”. He settled in the coastal region of Do Son, Van Don occupied Kien An province, and built a flotilla of combat junks. He was a supreme strategist and his troops, highly mobile and capable of fighting on both land and water, inflicted a major defeat on the Trinh troops in 1744, causing panic even in the capital. His influence spread to Kinh Bac province, and his name inspired the peasant masses, while7 causing terror among the mandarins and soldiers. The Trinh had to mobilize strong armies commanded by their best generals to fight him. Whenever he was beaten, he quickly reorganized his forces, rallying thousands of peasants under his banner using the slogan, “Take from the rich to give to the poor”; hence the legend of his invincibility. Finally overcome only by sheer force of numbers, Nguyen Huu Cau was captured in 1751 and executed. During his captivity, he wrote a poem, The Bird in the Cage, in which he expressed his aspiration for freedom.

The movement led by Hoang Cong Chat, which arose in Son Nam in the lower regions of the delta, lasted from 1739 to 1769. Mainly practising guerrilla warfare, establishing no permanent bases, and concentrating and scattering his forces with rapidity, Hoang Cong Chat succeeded in keeping the Trinh armies at bay for years. In 1751, when a Trinh offensive was imminent, he went to the mountainous region of Thanh Hoa, then to the northwest of Bac Bo, where in 1761 he set up posts on the Da River. In 1768 he died, and his son, beaten by the Trinh, took refuge in Yunnan.

The movement led by Le Duy Mat also lasted for a long time, 1738 to 1779. A descendant of the Le royal family, Le Duy Mat took refuge in the mountainous regions of Thanh Hoa where he created aninitial base relying on poor peasants and highlanders. In a proclamation to the people, he set forth the movement’s objectives – restoration of the Le and the ousting of the Trinh usurpers, whose cruelty and rapacity he denounced. By 1740 his forces controlled a large part of the mountainous regions of Ninh Binh. and Son Tay provinces and was expanding towards the Thanh Hoa delta, by 1752 spreading into the mountainous region of Nghe An. In these regions, he helped the peasants to reorganize farming by building irrigation works and developing farm equipment workshops. By 1763 his domain extended as far as Tran Ninh. Only in 1769 were the Trinh able. to launch, a real counter -offensive. Operations lasted until 1770, when Le Duy Mat, betrayed by one of his subordinates, killed himself.

With the death of Le Duy Mat, the great peasant movement against the Trinh gradually withered away, but they had dealt the regime a fatal blow. Their major weakness lay mainly in their dispersed nature and lack of a organization in the face of a centralized state with a professional army and seasoned administrative organization. There was at times coordination between different movements, but never organization at national level. Revolts broke out spontaneously, and were always local in character. In the 18th century, the peasants were joined by unemployed artisans, miners and dissatisfied tradesmen’ the development of handicrafts and trade and of interchange with other countries had created an embryonic national market, but there was no real bourgeoisie capable of taking over the revolt in order to overthrow feudalism and establish -a-new society. In most cases the leadership of peasant movements was in the hands of elements sprung from feudalism; dissident scholars, petty mandarins and bonzes, who were unable to devise a clear-cut program and new organization.

The Trinh were compelled to make concessions; they cuttaxes, duties and corvee but at the same time reinforced their army, particularly, the special units. However, while these units helped them put down the peasant revolts, they were to become, after victory, a. persistent threat to the regime itself.

The Trinh Regime towards the End of the 18th Century

Although the Trinh succeeded in putting down the revolts, they were ‘unable to stop Lan4 seizure or prevent their own decline. Edicts- from the court petitions from censors, and reform projects proposed by mandarins concerned about public welfare were all without result. In the”1770s and-1780s, famines repeatedly occurred.

With the advent in 1767 of Trinh Sam, a debauched and corrupt lord, power came into the hands of his favourite, Dang Thi Hue, and her family The court was split into two rival factions, the followers of the heir-apparent and those of the favourite. It was the latter’s son who came to power on the death of Trinh Sam in 1782. The newly – enthroned lord was only six years old, and it was Hoang Dinh Bao, Dang Thi Hue’s paramour, who wielded real power, Late in 1782, troops rose in revolt, killed Hoang Dinh Bao, and restored the heir-apparent to the throne, but from that date the special units imposed their will on the court, stealing from the population, deposing princes and dignitaries, and assassinating those who opposed their actions.

Peasant revolts broke out again, without, however, reaching the scale of the previous movements. By the end of the 18th century, the Trinh regime was on the point of collapse.

The Tay Son: Reunification and Renewal

As had happened with the Trinh, the Nguyen regime in the south was affected by the same deep and irreversible crisis. Towards the end of the 18th century, an insurgency movement, that of the Tay Son, was to emerge from the Nguyen domain and sweep away both the Trinh and Nguyen, reunifying the country and laying the foundations for national renewal. Unfortunately, for various reasons, the Tay Son did not stay in power for long, and early in the 19th century, conservatives gained the upper hand, restoring feudalism in its most reactionary forms.

quangtrung(96).gif (17404 bytes)
Quang Trung King

The Crisis in the Nguyen Regime

As in the north, land seizure in the Nguyen domain by landowners, mandarins and notables forced peasants into misery and ruin. For a time, the effects were less serious due to the colonization of new lands in the Mekong delta; the lands reclaimed by peasants, although seized by landowners later on, were extensive and fertile enough to make the crisis less serious. But in the provinces of Trung Bo, the shortage of arable land meant that any seizures condemned poor peasants to an impossible life. As early as 1613, the Nguyen court had to intervene by establishing a cadastral register so as to limit the extent of landed property. This administrative intervention had only a temporary effect; in the villages, landowners and notables, with the complicity of mandarins, ignored it. In 1669, faced with a serious crisis, the court again ordered that communal estates should not be appropriated. Despite this, by the 18th century, according to the historian Le Quy Don, many villages no longer had any communal lands left for periodic distribution to the peasants. Rice production in these provinces suffered and as early as the 18th century, central regions were having to buy rice from Gia Dinh (Saigon).

The poverty-stricken peasantry toiled under heavy and multiple burdens imposed by it court which, on thc, one hand, carried out a policy of nearly continuous warfare – war against the Trinh, and territorial expansion at the expense of Cambodia and on the other indulged more and more in pleasure and luxury. The Nguyen levied taxes on all agricultural, handicraft and trading activities, extracting from the population contributions in cash and kind such as valuable timber, rattan, cloth and so on. The records of Cao Xa village, Thuan Hoa province (near Hue), for example, showed that of 53 registered adults, nine were exempt. while the other 44 paid every year taxes and duties totalling 138 strings of coins (the price of it large buffalo was 40 strings in difficult times). Not counting contributions in kind, the Nguyen Court collected every year between 338,000 and 423,000 strings of coins, between 840 and 890 ounces of’ gold, and many thousands of ounces of silver.

The historian noted that “for every amount the state collected, the, mandarin-collectors took twice as much for themselves”.

As early as the 17th century, with their power consolidated, the Nguyen lords and their mandarins were indulging in a life of extravagant luxury, The harems were full; the lord Nguyen Phuc Chu had as many as 146 children. Lords and mandarins built palaces and pagodas using rare timbers, richly decorated. They dressed in silk and brocade and the capital Phu Xuan (Hue) grew into a big metropolis. Le Quy Don noted that:
“Since the reign of Vo Vuong (1738) luxury had prevailed, pelt), mandarins imitating higher officials. Houses were sculptured, walls built of stone, hangings and curtains made of silk, plates and dishes of bronze or porcelain, the furniture of valuable timbers, and harnesses were decorated with gold and silver. They regarded gold and silver as sand, rice as dirt”.

Around 1765 real power fell into the hands of the regent Truong Phuc Loan, who amassed a colossal fortune for himself by every possible means. Oppression and injustice prevailed, and the feudal class became predatory and corrupt. The bureaucracy of mandarins and petty officials was expanding beyond measure at all levels.

Famines occurred repeatedly in the provinces of Trung Bo; in 1751 a report by the mandarin Nguyen Cu Trinh noted that many inhabitants had failed to register, either to escape taxes or because they had been reduced to misery and vagrancy. Foreign trade was dwindling. one of the major causes being bribes extorted from foreign merchants by the mandarins in positions of responsibility.

Another factor in the upheaval was monetary depreciation. Unlike the Trinh domain, the south under the Nguyen did not have any copper mines, and the court was compelled to mint zinc coins (in reality an alloy of zinc and tin), much less durable than copper coins. Even private citizens were allowed to make zinc coins. This resulted in rapid depreciation of the currency, soaring prices and speculation by merchants.

The above-mentioned report by Nguyen Cu Trinh included the following warning to the Nguyen lords:
“I beg to observe most humbly, that the people’s misery has reached an extreme level; if you continue to rule with indifference, without thinking of taking appropriate measures, even the administration of a village will become impossible, let alone that of a province, or the whole country… The people no longer have anything to live on; how can their hearts be at peace?”

In the late 17th century, uprisings occurred in various provinces, involving tradesmen and highlanders together with peasants.

The End of the Nguyen Lords

In 1771, in Tay Son village, Binh Dinh province, three brothers named Nguyen Nhac, Nguyen Hue and Nguyen Lu launched an insurgency movement which swiftly spread to neighbouring localities. Nhac was a petty functionary who had worked as a taxcollector; his brother Hue was soon to reveal himself as one of the most brilliant figures in Vietnam’s history.

The Tay Son brothers managed to give the movement an effective political orientation right from the beginning. On the one hand, they presented themselves as defenders of poor peasants, thus rallying the peasant masses; on the other they claimed that they only opposed the regent Truong Phuc Loan in order to restore the authority of the Nguyen lords. This sowed division among the followers of the regime. They also knew how to rally various ethnic minorities, especially the Bahnar.

The rallying of the people and especially of the peasants gave the great strength to the movement, which also had the support of highlanders. In 1773, the Tay Son seized the city of Quy Nhon; rich merchants, oppressed by the mandarin bureaucracy of the Nguyen, gave them support. They then took the provinces of Quang Ngai and Quang Nam.

The Trinh lords took advantage of the Nguyen’s difficulties in order to invade their territory. Late in 1774 a Trinh army seized the capital, Phu Xuan, and the Nguyen, caught in the crossfire, had to flee. The Trinh and Tay Son troops found themselves facing each other in Quang Nam in 1775, and joined forces so as to concentrate their efforts against the remainder of the Nguyen army.

After the conquest of the provinces of Trung Bo, the Tay Son entered Gia Dinh in 1776. The Gia Dinh landlords organized themselves to resist, but failed in their attempt, and the last bulwark of the Nguyen lords thus crumbled. Only one prince, Nguyen Anh, managed to escape. He dug in with his partisans in the western area of the Mekong delta. In 1778, Nguyen Nhac proclaimed himself king, establishing his capital at Do Ban in Binh Dinh province.

After reorganizing his forces, Nguyen Anh counter- attacked, for a time with success, reconquering Gia Dinh and the province of Binh Thuan; but in 1783 a counter- offensive led by Nguyen Hue routed his forces, forcing him to take refuge on Phu Quoc Island, Nguyen Anh then resorted to the classic tactic of feudal lords in distress – calling in foreigners. He asked for help from the Siamese monarchy which sent to rescue him an army of 20,000 men (some documents say 50,000) with 300 vessels. In 1784 the Siamese army invaded the western part of the Mekong delta. Nguyen Hue set out to meet them, and lured the Siamese fleet into an ambush on the My Tho River in the district of Rach GamXoai Mut. Only 2,000 of the Siamese army survived, fleeing overland to the west (January 25, 1785). It was one of the finest victories in Vietnam’s history, remarkable for the speed with which it was won. It cut short Siamese attempts at expansion into Nam Bo. Nguyen Hue emerged as a brilliant strategist and national hero in contrast to Nguyen Anh, who had tried to win back his throne by relying on foreign troops.

The End of the Trinh and National Reunification

Having removed the Nguyen, the Tay Son turned against the Trinh, whose army had occupied Phu Xuan. In June 1786, Nguyen Hue led his troops across the Pass of Clouds, capturing Phu Xuan then Quang Tri and Ouang Binh provinces. The population assisted the Tay Son troops everywhere. The Trinh court was (lien in crisis, with different factions competing for power. The Tay Son swiftly advanced northwards and reached the Red River delta as early as July 1786. Nguyen Hue shrewdly represented himself as a defender of the Le royal dynasty whose authority had been usurped by the Trinh. Support from the population. the Tav Son troops’ enthusiasm and excellent command by Nguyen llue rapidly got the better of the Trinh army. The Trinh-Nguyen secession was brought to an end and the country reunified, This was one of the great achievements of the Tay Son.

Nguyen Hue paid homage to King Le who gave him his daughter Ngoc Han in marriage. The Le monarchy was thus restored. Shortly afterwards, King Le Hien Ton died, leaving the throne to Le Chieu Thong. Nguyen Hue returned 10 the South.

The new king who understood nothing about these past events, thought he could outwit the Tay Son with the help of adventurers, but the latter were soon executed by Nguyen Hue, and King Chieu Thong had to, f1ce (lie capital.

Victory over the Tsing

Defeated, King Chieu Thong resorted to treason, appealing to the Manchu Tsing dynasty then reigning over China. The Tsing Emperor Kien-Jung, who harbored ambitions of reconquering Vietnam, charged Governor Ton Si-nghi (Soun Che-y) with mustering a force of 200,000 men for an invasion. On the 20th day of the tenth lunar month of the year 1788, the Tsing troops set out, proclaiming that they would “destroy the Tay Son and restore the Le”. On the 21st day of the 11th lunar month, they entered Thang Long. A pontoon was thrown across the Red River, on both banks of which the Tsing troops were camped.

Le Chieu Thong was proclaimed “King of Annam” by the Beijing Court; in fact Ton Si-nghi held all the power, and every morning people in the capital could see the king and his small entourage summon the Tsing governor for an audience. The actions of the Tsing troops managed to open the eyes of those who had been mistaken about the real intentions of the invaders. Only Chieu Thong and the reactionary feudal lords who wanted to defend their privileges at any cost still clung to the coat-tails of the occupiers. Feelings ran high among the population; the prestige of the Le dynasty was destroyed.

At this time Nguyen Hue was in Phu Xuan. The Tay Son brothers had divided the country among themselves; the eldest, Nguyen Nhac, reigned over the central region from Quy Nhon, Lu was charged with governing Gia Dinh and the Mekong delta, and Hue took charge of the area north of the Pass of Clouds.

To deal with the Tsing invasion, Nguyen Hue acted in the name of the whole nation betrayed by the Le. In a solemn ceremony, he proclaimed himself king, taking the royal name of Quang Trung, and immediately ordered his troops to march on Thang Long. It was December 21, 1788. By December 26, the Tay Son army was in Nghe An; 100,000 men were reviewed by Nguyen Hue, who addressed them in the following words:
-“The Tsing have invaded our country and occupied the capital city, Thang Long. In our history, the Trung sister fought against the Han, Dinh Tien Hoang against the Sung, Trait Hung Ado against the Mongols, and Le Loa against the Ming. These heroes did not resign themselves to standing by and seeing the invaders plunder our country; they inspired the– people to fight f6r a just cause and drive out the aggressors… The Tsing, forgetting what happened to the Sung, Mongols and Ming, have invaded our country. We are going to drive them our of our territory”.

The year was drawing to a close. It was the 20th day of the 12th month of the lunar year. Arriving at Ninh Binh, Nguyen Hue ordered his troops to celebrate New Year’s Day in advance and told them:
“On the seventh day of the first month of the New Year, we shall enter Thang Long and celebrate the spring festival there. Mark my words. That is what will happen”.

The Tay Son army took tenday’s rest to recruit new troops, then on the 30th day of the 12th month began marching on Thang, Long in three different columns. The one commanded by Nguyen Hue rushed towards Thang Long, overran Tsing outposts and on the third day of the first month of tile New Year encircled the post of Ha Hoi, 20 kilometers south of the capital. The Ha Hot garrison surrendered on January 28, 1789. On January 30, tile Tay Son, with troops riding elephants forming the spearhead, attacked the post of Ngoc Hoi, 15 kilomctres south of Thang Long, and swiftly captured it. The road to Thang Long was open.

The two other Tay Son columns rapidly overran the posts which defended the capital to tile west; the Dong Da post (now in Hainoi itself) was taken after a day of fierce fighting. The post’s commander hanged himself on a tree. The Tay Son victories were so quickly won that Ton Si-nghi, the Tsing commander-in-chief. had no time to react before the Tay Son troops streamed into Thang Long. He did not even have time to harness his horse or put on his cuirass, and fled with a group of cavalrymen. The flight of its commander-in-chicf threw the Tsing into panic. In tile stampede across the pontoon many were drowned.

On the fifth day of the first lunar month of the year 1789, the Tay Son troops entered Thang Long. On the seventh, they celebrated victory there, exactly as Nguyen Hue had predicted In six days, the Tay Son troops had advanced 80 kilometres and defeated a 200,000 strong army. This was the greatest victory … Vietnam’s history, and was won in very quick time. Carried along by a popular movement, Nguyen Hue, who had already achieved the defeat of the Trinh-Nguyen secession, had reunified the country, driven out the Siamese, and saved the country from Tsing domination. The Beijing Court reconciled itself to making peace and recognizing the Tay Son.

The Achievements of Quang Trung

Nguyen Hue, now King Quang Trung, considered transferring Ills capital to the province of Nghe An. He reorganized the army, administration and education system with the help of talented people. Le partisans tried to incite -uprisings, but in vain.

Immediately after his accession, Quang Trung promulgated an edict enjoining village administrations to take back landless peasants who were wandering about the country, and to reclaim unused land. A time-limit of one year was set for villages to put in order population and cadastral registers, after which idle land would bc subject to double the usual amount of tax. The distribution of communal lands was regulated; lands left fallow or belonging, to traitors were confiscated for use by villages or the state. Contrary to the Trinh, who allotted communal lands chiefly to officials and soldiers, Quang Trung gave them mainly to peasants. “The important task of a king,” proclaimed the edict on agriculture, “is to attend to the roots and lop off the top, so that the people enjoy peace and have land to till, that nobody is jobless and the fields do not tic unused”.

As early as 1791, agricultural production had returned to normal. Quang Trung also strove to develop handicrafts and trade. In 1788 he said to his adviser Nguyen Thiep: “I wish we did not buy so many articles from abroad”. He abolished restrictions imposed on trade by the Trinh. Nguyen Huy Luong, a poet of the time, celebrated the rebirth of trade in Thang Long as follows:

Wreaths of smoke crown the kilns of Thach Khoi
Shuttles sing in the hands of brocade-weavers
From Yen Thai conies the sound of pestles pounding paper pulp
In Nghi Tam fishing nets fence in the waters
Markets are crowded with traders from east and west
Like butterflies, junk sails are pressed together.

King Quang Trung also sought to develop exchanges with China. Accounts by European merchants and missionaries tend to confirm that the Tay Son practised an open-door policy. Fiscal laws were simplified as compared with those of the Trinh.

The major reform carried out by Quang Trung in the field of culture was the adoption of n6m, the national language, for official texts and in education, instead of classical Chinese which had been in use for centuries. In 1791 Nguyen Thiep was charged with directing the translation of Confucian classics intended for use in education. This was opposed by reactionary or backward-thinking scholars. Quang Trung also sought to reform the content of education which had degenerated into repetition of emply formulas. Each village was required to choose it scholar capable of founding it school; scholars from the old regime had to undertake new examinations. Adventurers and exploiters who had taken refuge in pagodas and monasteries had to return to secular life, and only genuinely religious people were allowed to stay. Catholic missionaries were not persecuted.

The reign of Quang Trung was it significant one oil account of its military achievements and its economic and educational reforms. Unfortunately, in 1792, Quang Trung died suddenly and neither his brothers nor his son Quang Toan proved capable of carrying on the work he had begun.

End of the Tay Son and the Nguyen Restoration.

The Nguyen Dynasties

Gia Long King (1802-1819)
Minh Menh King (1820-1840)

Thieu Tri King (1841-1847)
Tu Duc King (1848-1883)

The most vulnerable part of the Tay Son kingdom was Gia Dinh in the south, where landlords were able to organize themselves and where administration was entrusted to the youngest Tay Son brother, Nguyen Lu. It will be recalled that in 1784 a Nguyen prince, Nguyen Anh, had tried to restore the influence of his family with the help of the Siamese, and that Nguyen Hue had driven out the invaders.

Sticking to his policy of treason, Nguyen Anh did not content himself with asking for help from the Siamese; he also contacted a French missionary, Pigneau de Behaine, Bishop of Adran, who advised him to appeal to France. The French missionary took one of Nguyen Anh’s sons to France where, with the help of the Foreign Missions, he managed to obtain an audience with Louis XVI. On November 28, 1787, a treaty was signed between a representative of France and Pigneau de Behaine representing Nguyen Anh. France promised military aid in exchange for the ceding of the port of Tourane and the Poulo-Condore Islands, and the right to free trade inside Vietnam to the exclusion of other European nations. Thus Nguyen Anh, by opening the way to French imperialism. “introduced a snake into the family hen house”. The French monarchy soon overthrown by the 1789 Revolution, was unable to keep its promise of military aid to Nguyen Anh, although Pigneau de Behaine, with the help of French merchants and adventurers, supplied him with some equipment and military instructors. However, it was not this assistance but the internal difficulties of the Tay Son regime that enabled Nguyen Anh to set foot again on Vietnamese territory.

Nguyen Hue’s brothers had neither his military nor political abilities. Dissension having arisen between the three brothers, and Nguyen Hue being fully occupied in the north, Nguyen Anh took advantage of this to seize Gia Dinh (1788). After strengthening his forces, he pushed his offensive northward. The deaths of Nguyen Hue in 1792 and Nguyen Nhac in 1793, and the accession to the throne of Nguyen Hue’s son, Quang Toan at only ten, brought about a series of internal squabbles which weakened the Tay Son considerably. In the meantime, Nguyen Anh implemented a skilful policy which gradually strengthened his position. From 1790 to 1800 the two adversaries conducted an indecisive war, the prize being the city of Quy Nhon which changed hands several times.

After 1800, Nguyen Anh gained the upper hand and increased his attacks northward. In 1801, while the Tay Son forces were pinned down around Quy Nhon, the forces of the Nguyen captured Phu Xuan, where Nguyen Anh established his headquarters. In 1802, his forces were ready to march northward to conquer the Red River delta. On June 1, 1802, before undertaking this expedition, he proclaimed himself king under the name Gia Long. The Tay Son offered only sporadic resistance. On July 20, Nguyen Anh entered Thang Long, inaugurating a new dynasty, the Nguyen.

The Tay Son had been brought to power by the great peasant insurrections of the 18th century. Commercial elements had joined in, without however playing a prominent role. Nguyen Hue’s military and political genius, relying on this vast strength of the peasants in revolt, had enabled the insurrection to achieve rapid, sometimes lightening speed, successes. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of the Tay Son who achieved the reunification of the country, long divided by the Trinh-Nguyen secession, and the glory of having twice saved the fatherland, first from the Siamese then from the Tsing invasions. The Tay Son must also be credited with economic and cultural reforms which brought peace and prosperity for a short period of time.

The Tay Son movement, however, had inherent weaknesses. The peasantry in revolt, though constituting a major force, could not assume the task of renewing a feudal society torn apart by insurmountable contradictions. The distribution of property on a more equal basis could not constitute a basis for a revolutionary program or new system. In the 18th century, Vietnamese society still had no social class associated with a new mode of production and a new ideology. The merchant class, certainly progressing in comparison with previous centuries, remained however in an embryonic state incapable of providing the movement with leadership. Neither the development of handicrafts nor the beginning of exchanges with Europe in the 17th century were able to promote the development of a sufficiently strong bourgeoisie.

The result was that the leadership of the movement, after a period of intense activity, could only turn back to feudal structures

The “rebels” established a new monarchy and promulgated various reforms, but did not touch the underlying basis of the feudal system, the system of land ownership. Feudal ideas continued to prevail in all spheres, both social and ideological. The division of power among the three Tay Son brothers, and the internal dissension that followed, also sprang from feudalism; the administrative apparatus of the Tay Son simply carried on the work of former dynasties using the same methods of government. Following Nguyen Hue’s death, the first reforms soon tapered off and the new dynasty quickly lost its authority. The large landowners of Gia Dinh, then those of other provinces, supported Nguyen Anh and eventually succeeded in overthrowing the Tay Son and restoring feudalism.

It was thanks to the great victories won by Nguyen Hue that the southern secession came to an end and the Siamese and Chinese invasions were repelled. His legacy, a unified and sovereign country, lapsed however after the death of the hero and the enthronement of his adversary.

Gia Long established his capital in Hue, set up an absolute monarchy with a mandarin bureaucracy recruited through competitive examinations, and adopted Confucianism in its most conservative and ritualistic form as the official doctrine. The Nguyen kings built a royal citadel and magnificent tombs in Hue and the vicinity. The exploitation of the Mekong delta began with the digging of large canals.

However, the regime was unable to solve all the major problems of Vietnamese society which was in crisis at the time. The peasants and ethnic minorities in mountainous regions rebelled time and again. The mandarin bureaucracy stifled all signs of the growth of a merchant class. Foreign trade was monopolized by the state, which was content to place orders with Chinese and other foreign traders. In foreign relations, the Nguyen kings recognized the symbolic authority of Beijing, but pursued a policy of influencing Laos and Cambodia. It was from this position of weakness that the regime was to face French colonial aggression in the middle of the 19th century.

French domination period

+ Vietnam loses its independence | + Establishment of the colonial regime
+ Vietnam during the First World War | + Vietnam during the Second World War

Vietnam loses its independence

On August 31, 1858, a French naval squadron attacked Danang, launching several episodes of a war of colonial conquest waged by French imperialism between 1858 and 1884 and resulting in the total annexation of the country.

French imperialism, then in full expansion, was attacking a decaying feudal monarchy. The Nguyen dynasty, which had ascended the throne after repressing a large-scale uprising, restored the feudal system and all of its repressive institutions. Peasant revolts, however, continued unabated, driving an administrative apparatus, essentially made up of a body of mandarins trained in very conservative and ritualistic Confucian ideology and duplicated in the villages by a body of notables born into the landlord class, into a tight corner. With a rudimentary infrastructure, the royal court was unable to effectively rule over a territory stretching from north to south for more than 2,000 kilometers . It was in the most vulnerable part, the south, that the French colonialists began their aggression.

Faced with French invasion, the Vietnamese side split into two opposing parties, one arguing for compromise and the other for resistance. The king and high-ranking court dignitaries were afraid of the modern weapons used by the French. They were also misled as to the objectives of the French, believing that the French, having come from so far away, were thinking less about conquering the country than of obtaining trade concessions. Moreover, the Nguyen monarchy, constantly suppressing internal revolts, neither wanted to nor was able to mobilize all the nation’s energies to oppose the aggression. All this prompted the king and court dignitaries to implement a policy of hoa nghi (peace and negotiation).

Establishment of the colonial regime (1897-1918)

The French government sanctioned the decision to conquer Vietnam in 1857. However, due to resistance by Vietnamese patriots, it took the French 30 years to establish their domination over the country

In 1887, in compliance with the decree of the French King, Indochina, consisting of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, was established. At that time, French social and economic policies were expedited on a small scale, and a policy on the exploitation of colonies was imposed on a larger scale at the beginning of the 20th century. French economic and social activities boosted the country in many ways. The French concentrated investments in the mining industry, as well as several other industries. A number of large plantations, apart from rice, appeared and economical crops, such as tea, coffee, and rubber, were developed. Agricultural products were being considered as commodities. These changes in the economy resulted in a division between the Vietnamese bourgeoisie and the working class.

thphap01.gif (18869 bytes)The education system was also modified. Three levels of general education, infant, primary, and secondary, were established. The old examination system was abolished in 1915, and schools for training administrative officers in the French style were officially launched in 1917.

The Governor General of Indochina decreed to restructure the mechanism of village organization in 1904. This brought a strong resistance to the French who wanted to create a new class of French style landlords. The French colonialists imposed an austere policy for the working class, especially for tillers, and high taxes were imposed on farmers. The French colonialists practiced a policy of obscurantism.

Vietnamese patriots with different ideologies struggled to liberalize the country. One movement was the Dong Du led by Phan Boi Chau. Those who followed the policy of raising intellectual standards included Phan Chu Trinh and the Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Group. Nguyen Thai Hoc and his fellows were sentenced to death as a result of these protests. Nguyen Ai Quoc (or Ho Chi Minh) founded Vietnam’s Communist Party (or the Indochinese Communist Party) in 1930. From this point, Communist were the primary leaders of the national liberation movement.

Vietnam During the first World War (1914-1918)

While seeking to maximize the use of Indochina’s natural resources and manpower to fight the war, France cracked down on all patriotic mass movements in Vietnam. Indochina, mainly Vietnam, had to provide France with 50,000 soldiers and 49,000 workers, who were forcibly drafted from the villages to serve on the French battlefront. Indochina also contributed 184 million piastres in the form of loans and 336,000 tonnes of food. These burdens proved all the heavier as agriculture was hard hit by natural disasters from 1914 to 1917.

Lacking a unified nationwide organization, the Vietnamese national movement, though still vigorous, failed to take advantage of the difficulties France was experiencing as a result of war to stage any significant uprisings. The scholars’ movement had declined while new social forces were not yet strong enough to promote large-scale campaigns.

The Quang Phuc movement had planned to seize Hanoi through the combined action of patriots within the country and a revolutionary army trained abroad. The secret operation was betrayed, however, and many members of the movement were arrested. Other members joined different organizations, armed themselves with rudimentary weapons, and sought to bring soldiers from the local militia over to their side. On January 6, 1919, 150 armed patriots attacked the garrison at Phu Tho. Meanwhile, enemy posts in other provinces, such as Nho Quan in Ninh Binh and Mong Cai near the Chinese border, were besieged. However, the attacks failed. The Quang Phuc had the intention of launching a series of attacks against many military and administrative centers in Tonkin, but the plan was not implemented.

Again in Tonkin, on August 31, 1917, soldiers of the Thai Nguyen garrison held a mutiny under the leadership of Sergeant Trinh Van Can, a former partisan of Hoang Hoa Tham, and Luong Ngoc Quyen, a member of the Quang Phuc movement. Joined by many soldiers, the insurgents killed the French commander, seized a large load of arms and munitions, and liberated many political prisoners who then joined the ranks of the combatants. The town of Thai Nguyen was liberated. The insurgents, after a series of discussions, gave up their plans for extending their activities to other provinces. Instead, they dug in at Thai Nguyen in the hope of consolidating their strength. On September 4, the French retook the town, forcing the insurgents to leave. Scattered in the mountainous region around Thai Nguyen, the rebels continued their struggle against 2,000 French troops for another six months.

In annam, the most important event was the call for an uprising made by King Duy Tan, who was enthroned in 1907, at the age of seven, by the instigation of patriotic mandarins and scholars, particularly Thai Phien and Tran Cao Van. The principal forces on which King Duy relied were the soldiers who were gathered in the thousands in Hue and about to leave for France. The signal for the start of the revolt should have been given on May 3, 1916. Unfortunately, the secret was leaked and the French disarmed the soldiers before the day of their departure. Duy Tan attempted to flee the capital but was captured and exiled to the Island of Reunion. Scattered armed groups were rapidly eliminated by the French, and the patriots Thai Phien and Tran Cao Van were executed.

In Cochinchina, patriotic activity manifested itself in the early years of the century by the creation of underground societies. The most important of which was the Thien Dia Hoi (Heaven and Earth Association) whose branches covered many provinces around Saigon. These associations often took the form of political-religious organizations, and one of their main activities was to punish traitors in the pay of the French.

Connected to these secret societies, a movement led by a former bonze, Phan Xich Long, was organized in 1913. Its members, wearing white clothes and turbans, attacked the cities with primitive weapons. Phan Xich Long was eventually captured and executed by the French. In 1916, underground societies in Cochinchina tried to attack several administrative centers, including the central prison in Saigon and the residence of the local French governor. On the night of February14, 1916, thousands of people armed with knives and wearing amulets infiltrated Saigon and fought French police and troops who succeeded in defeating them.

The colonial administration, while harshly suppressing the national movement, sought to appease the elite by introducing a few paltry reforms, with promises of important postwar reforms from the more generous “liberal” governors. These promises were never fulfilled. The fact that France succeeded in holding on to Vietnam during the war years was mainly due to the weakness of the national movement. There were of’ course patriots to carry on the fight for national independence, but the new and still embryonic social forces failed to give the movement the necessary vigor and direction. Not until these forces had further developed over subsequent decades was the national movement able to be revitalized.


The August Revolution

In the summer of 1945, popular discontent reached a climax and revolutionary action involving both political and armed struggle proliferated throughout the country, from north to south, in villages and cities, and among the ethnic minorities in the mountainous regions.

The decisive factor was the Viet Minh Front which led and coordinated all the actions nationwide.

On August 13, following the defeat of the Japanese Kwantung Army by the Soviet Army and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US, Japan surrendered. The same day, the Communist Party of Indochina, met at a national congress and decided to adopt the following slogans:

– End foreign aggression;
– Seize back national independence; and
– Found the people’s power.

Orders were given to combine political and military action to agitate and to demoralize the enemy, to force them to surrender before an attack, and to focus on the most important targets.

On August 16, the Viet Minh convened a National Congress bringing together delegates from many parties, organizations, and ethnic and religious groups. The congress decided on the following resolution:

“To seize power from the hands of’ the Japanese and puppet government before the arrival of Allied troops in Indochina and receive in our capacity, as masters of the country, the troops which come to disarm the Japanese”.

The problem was pre-emptying the “Allies” (Chiang Kai-shek, British, French and American) who all wanted to occupy Indochina in their own interests.

The Congress adopted a 10-point program:

Seize power and found the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on the basis of total independence; Arm the people. Strengthen the Liberation Army;

Confiscate the property of the imperialists and traitors, and depending on circumstances, nationalize it or share it out among the poor;

Abolish the taxes imposed by the French and Japanese, and replace them with a just and non-punitive budget system;

Guarantee the fundamental rights of the people:
– Human rights,
– Right to private ownership,
– Civil rights : universal suffrage, democratic freedoms, equality among ethnic groups, and between men and women;

Share out communal land fairly, reduce land rent and loan interest rates, postpone repayment of debts, and provide relief to victims of’ natural disasters;

Introduce labour legislation : an eight-hour workday, minimum salary, national insurance;

Build in independent national economy, develop agriculture, and set up a national bank;

Develop a national education system : fight illiteracy, and introduce compulsory elementary education. Build a new culture;

Establish friendly relations with the Allies and countries struggling for independence.

A National Committee for Liberation was elected, with the functions of’ at provisional government, headed by Ho Chi Minh. He soon made a moving appeal to the nation:
“This hour is a decisive one for our nation’s destiny. Let us all stand up and fight tenaciously for our own liberation. Many peoples of the world are rising up to regain their independence. We cannot lag behind. Forward! Under the Viet Minh banner, let us march courageously forward”

The Liberation Army promptly liberated the town of Thai Nguyen. Everywhere mass organizations and guerrilla and self defense units swung into action. A tidal wave swept the country; in every village and every town between August 14 and 25, large crowds backed by armed groups laid siege to administrative offices. The local authorities fled or handed power over to the revolutionaries. Most of the garrisons of demoralized Japanese or puppet troops allowed themselves to be disarmed. Only a few cities remained under occupation : Lai Chau, then occupied by a large French column returning from China where it had taken refuge during the Japanese putsch of March 9, 1945, and Mong, Cai, Hit Giang and Lao Cai on the Sino-Vietnamese border, then occupied by Chiang Kai-slick’s troops.

In the three major cities of’ Hanoi. Hue and Saigon, the swift victory won by the uprising was of paramount importance. In Hanoi. pro-Japanese agents trying to stem the revolutionary tide, set up a National Salvation Committee which failed to rally the masses. On August 17, a rally called by the Federation of Functionaries in support of’ the puppet government was turned into a huge demonstration in favour of’ the Viet Minh by an enthusiastic crowd. A general strike was launched. On August 19, more than 100,000 people demonstrated in the streets, and the puppet government was forced to resign and hand over power to the revolutionaries.

Hue was the royal capital and seat of the pro-Japanese puppet government. The Viet Minh, to avoid bloodshed, tried to persuade Bao Dai to abdicate and his prime minister, Tran Trong Kim to resign. The reactionaries, wanting to hang on to power, were planning to ask the Japanese command for a 5,000 strong guard, but in order to prevent this, the people of Hue and surrounding villages, accompanied by armed groups, took to the streets to demonstrate and occupy various ministries. On August 23, Bao Dai agreed to abdicate, and the Tran Trong Kim government collapsed. On the 25th, a delegation from the people’s government in Hanoi led by Tran Huy Lieu received the dynastic seal and sword, the symbols of royal power, from Bao Dai. Bao Dai became citizens Vinh Thuy.

In Cochinchina, on August 14, pro-Japanese elements formed a united National Front. The king’s envoy from Hue, Nguyen Van Sam, asked the Japanese to arm the members of this front. However, he was enable to withstand popular pressure. On August 25, one million people from Saigon and neighbouring areas, protected by armed groups, marched through the city and established the revolutionary power..

The insurrection had won complete victory throughout the country.

The August Revolution of 1945 put an end to 80 years of French colonial domination, abolished the monarchy and reestablished Vietnam as an independent nation.

The revolution dealt a severe blow to the colonial system, and along with other movements throughout the world, ushered in the dismantling of colonial empires.

The August Revolution was characterized by a sound combination of political and armed struggles, one supporting the other, the importance attributed to either varying with the circumstances. It showed the political maturity as well as the capacity for action of the masses and the leadership ability of the Viet Minh Front and Communist Party. Victory was achieved thanks to its leadership that had called for the right action at the right moment, and identified forms of action appropriate to each movement and each locality. It was also the product of long preparation, both political and military, that began at the start of’ the Second World War, and which ended in creating a strong national union on the basis of a close alliance between the workers and peasants, and succeeded in inspiring the masses with a courage that could be held out against all challenges.

The Founding of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (1945-1946)

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When World War II ended and Japan surrendered, the Vietnamese were successful in gaining independence in the August 1945 Revolution. President Ho Chi Minh read the Independence Manifesto to declare the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam at Ba Dinh Square on September 2, 1945.

French Aggression in Nam Bo

In the summer of 1945, the French government took a series of urgent measures aimed at re-establishing French sovereignty in Indochina following Japan’s defeat. On August 16, France dispatched the Mass Unit and the 9th Colonial Infantry Division with General Leelere as commander-in-chief of the Expeditionary Corps and Admiral Thierry d’Argenlieu, a Catholic, as High Commissioner for France in Indochina.
On August 23, French troops, among them Cedile, a delegate from the High Commissioner, were parachuted into Nam Bo (southern Vietnam). On August 29, Cedile made contact with members of the Nam Bo Revolutionary Committee and told them France recognized neither Vietnam’s Independence nor its unity. The committee told him that independence and unity had already been achieved, and that the Vietnamese people would not recognize any form of colonial administration. On September 2, during a huge demonstration in favour of independence, French colonialists and their agents, hiding in church, opened fire on the crowd, killing and injuring 47 people.
On the night of September 22, French troops attacked Saigon. The war for reconquest had begun. The Nam Bo committee immediately called on the people to fight back. The slogan “independence or death” appeared every where. On September 26, president Ho Chi Minh made the following proclamation.

“Let the Government and our people throughout the country do all they can for the combatants and people of the south who are valiantly fighting their lives to safeguard the independence of the homeland.”

Units of the People’s Army immediately began the march towards the south.
At the end of January 1946, deploying their armored vehicles and navy, the French occupied Nam Bo’s main cities and communication routes and those of the southern part of Trung Bo and the Central Highlands. After an unequal fight, the Vietnamese force pulled out of the cities to begin organizing the resistance in rural areas. The main resistance bases were situated in the Plain of Reeds, the Thanh Phu region, Ben Tre province, the swampy region of U Minh and the western provinces of Nam Bo, Vietnam’s central government considered that the main task at that time was to strengthen the resistance in the south as much as possible.
This task provoked incidents in Vietnam’s capital city. On December17, an attack by French troops on Hang Bun Street killed a hundred people. On December 18, the French Troops occupied the Ministries of Finance and Communications, and increased their provocation in the streets. On December 19, the French command sent an ultimatum to the Vietnamese government demanding the demolition of barricades, the disarming of self-defense forces, and handing over to French troops of the right to keep order in the Vietnamese capital.
On the evening of December 19 1946, President Ho Chi Minh made an appeal to the nation:

” Compatriots’
We want peace, and we have made concessions. But the more concessions we make, the more the French colonialists use them to encroach upon our rights. They are determined to reconquer our country.
No. We would rather sacrifice all than lose our independence and be enslaved. All of you, men and women, young and old, what ever your region, ethnic origin, or political opinion, arise to struggle against French colonialism and save the homeland. Let those who have guns use their guns, those who have swords use their swords, those have neither guns nor swords use hoes, pick-axes, and sticks. Let all arise to oppose colonialism and defend our homeland…. Our people will win”.

The war of resistance, until then limited to the south, spread across the country. The newly born Democratic Republic of Vietnam was confronted with a decisive challenge, a war against a heavily armed imperialist power far superior in strength in the technical and economic fields.

The First War of Resistance (1945-1954)

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The war of resistance against French colonialist aggression which broke out on September 25 1945 in Nam Bo, and spread throughout the country after December 19 1946, marked a decisive stage in an almost century-long struggle to regain the nation’s independence and democratize the country. While armed struggle came ahead of all other concerns, economic reconstruction, educational advancement, and the establishing of new administrative structures remained as the major tasks. While national liberation was the prime objective, the democratic objectives were no less important, all the more so since the struggle was led by a party of the working class and the fact that the worker-peasant alliance constituted the very foundations of the united national front.

Dien Bien Phu

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Under the leadership of the Indochina Communist Party and President Ho, the Vietnamese carried out a resistance struggle to protect their independence. The victory of Dien Bien Phu ended the Vietnamese resistance war, liberating half of the country.

It was in this revolutionary atmosphere that the Vietnamese command decided its plans for the winter-spring campaign of 1953-1954. As had been foreseen, the fierce assaults launched by the enemy into the liberated areas at Lang Son and Ninh Binh brought poor results, and the French forces soon withdrew after sustaining heavy losses. Throughout the 1953-1954 winter-spring campaign, fighting had been fierce on all fronts.
The defeats at Dien Bien Phu and in the winter-spring campaign completed the French government to sue for peace.

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The Geneva Conference

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The Geneva Conference on Korea and Indochina opened on April 26. Eight states participated in the conference: The Democratic Republic of Vietnam, France, the Soviet Union, Britain, the People’s Republic of China, the United States, Cambodia and Laos, plus the Bao Dai government.
The principal negotiators were France, Vietnam and China. The US was there primarily to try to sabotage the conference.
The signed agreements included military and political provisions. Militarily, it was decided that the forces from each side would be regrouped into two different zones, north and south of the 17th parallel, so as to separate the armies which, given the special nature of the war, had been interlocked like “two combs”. A 300 days deadline was agreed on for achieving this re-groupment.
Politically, the agreements recognized the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of the three countries of Indochina. In no way was the demarcation line along the 17th parallel to be considered as a political frontier. In July 1956, at the latest, free general elections with secret ballots would give Vietnam a unified government.
Pending reunification, Vietnam’s two zones would refrain from joining any military alliance. No foreign military bases could be set up and no new foreign military equipment or personnel could be brought in either.

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Building the initial foundations of socialism and the struggle against U.S. Neo-Colonialism (1954-1973)

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The agreement stipulated that the southern half of Vietnam would be handed over to a provisional administration after two years at the most, and that general elections in 1956 at the latest, would give a united Vietnam a single government.
However, soon after the agreement were signed, Washington, with French government consent, set up a neo-colonialist regime in southern Vietnam with specific counter-revolutionary aims: liquidate the national revolutionary movement in southern Vietnam, turn the latter into a military base and colony of the US and set up a military and police apparatus to serve as an instrument for the enslavement of the south and reconquest of the north.
The North was led by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam where the reconstruction of the nation would start. In the South, the war for national liberation was still going on, which lasted for 20 years.

There were three definable stages during the period 1954-1975

– 1954-1965: the establishment of the initial foundations of socialism in the north, and the southern Vietnamese people’s struggle against repression and the neo-colonialist war;
– 1965-1973: the all-out struggle by north and south against direct US aggression, which ended with the signing of the Paris Agreements of January 1973;
– 1973-1975: the collapse of the neo-colonialist regime in the south.

The Great Spring 1975 Victory

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The General Assault of Ho Chi Minh’s Campaign overthrew the Saigon Government on the evening of April 30, 1975.
On May 1, 1975, the workers and citizens of Vietnam, from North to South, were able to celebrate May Day in a completely liberated country for the first time ever.
Vietnam has been unified since that time. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam, with Hanoi as the capital, was born

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