The history of Viet Nam has evolved through diverse fortunes, sometimes progressing, sometimes not, like that of other nations. In seeking a historical constant, one might say that Viet Nam, in its progressive expansions southward, has always been conscious of pressure from her powerful neighbor to the north, China.
The Quasi-Legendary Epoch
Like any other old nation in the world, Viet Nam has her own legends concerning the origins of the race in the dawn of time.
According to the National Annals, illustrious King Lac Long, of the Hong Bang Dynasty and grandson of The God of the Seas, married an immortal called Au Co, a descendant of the angels of the mountains. From this union, one hundred boys were hatched from one hundred eggs carried in a pouch by Au Co; and all the sons were handsome and stalwart. Then, the King and the fairy, conscious of the transitory nature of human existence, and the elusiveness of human happiness, decided to part. Au Co went up to the mountains along with fifty of her sons, and Lac Long went down to the sea with the others. From this separation, the kingdom of One Hundred Principalities(Bach Viet) came into being, including a vast zone adjacent to the Yang-tse-Kiang in the North, the Champa in the south, the China sea in the east, and the Tseu Chouan in the west.
Of these principalities, the most powerful and best organized was the Lac Viet, or Van Lang - literally, the country of the lettered - the area of which included present-day North Viet Nam, and the northern part of Central Viet Nam. This Kingdom supposedly endured from 2879 B.C. until 258 B.C., and had 18 kings. Thus, the 18 Hung Vuong kings of the Hong Bang Dynasty reigned for some 2622 years - which would mean an average of 150 years each. So we must assume that there must have been many lesser kings whose names were forgotten long before the period of recorded history.
Somewhere in the northern part of Viet Nam, meanwhile, there was a Kingdom known as Thuc ruled by the Thuc Dynasty. King Thuc Vuong had asked the southern King, Hung Vuong XVIII, for his daughter's hand in marriage. When the Thuc King's request was refused, he became enraged and a feud developed between the two family dynasties. One of King Thuc Vuong's nephews, Thuc Vuong Phan, profited from the degeneracy and debauchery of Hung Vuong XVIII to invade and conquer the Van Lang Kingdom in 257, B.C., thus ending the Hong Bang dynasty.
The combined kingdoms were then known as Au Lac, and were ruled by Phan, who assumed the name of An Duong Vuong.
King An Duong sought to protect his reign by constructing a spiral-shaped citadel, which was called Loa Thanh, or The City of Shell. In this endeavor, the King was said to have received the divine help of the Gold Turtle, who equipped the King with a supernatural cross bow which made him invincible. This weapon derived its magic from an attached claw offered by the Gold Turtle himself. The remaining ruins of The City of Shell still exist in the village of Co Loa, in Phuc-An province, North Viet Nam.
To the north, however, the powerful Chinese King, Shih Hwang-ti, of the Ch'in Dynasty, sent his General, Do Thu, on a mission to conquer the lands to the south; and the Tan dynasty then divided into three parts, the conquered lands, including the Kingdom of Au Lac which King An Duong Vuong had been forced to surrender.
One of these three regions came to be governed by the Chinese general, Trieu Da.
Capitalizing on the decay of the Tan dynasty, Trieu Da killed all the Chinese who were still loyal to the Emperor, and expanded the territories under his control. Trieu Da, who had by this time adopted the customs of the Viets, married his son Trong Thuy to the princess My Chau, daughter of King An Duong. In the year 208, the fiftieth year of An Duong Vuong's reign, the princess connived in a plot with her husband, so the story goes, and the pair managed to make off with the magic crossbow which had heretofore made her father, King An Duong Vuong, invincible. Thus it was that Trieu Da was able to benefit by his son's marriage to conquer and annex the Kingdom of Au Lac. Unfortunately, his daughter-in-law, the princess, was beheaded by her father, who drowned himself in the sea before the invaders could reach his citadel.
Trieu Da reigned as absolute monarch under the royal name of Trieu Vu Vuong, and his new, enlarged kingdom was renamed Nam Viet. This dynasty lasted for 70 years, from 208 B.C. until the beginning of the Chinese domination.
During the years of the Trieu Dynasty, Nam Viet had come gradually into the sphere of Chinese influence. In return for payment of tribute to the Court of the Han Emperor, the kingdom of Nam Viet received protection from and exchanged envoys with, the Chinese. Prince Anh Te, heir-apparent to the Nam Viet throne, was sent in his father's stead to pay the tribute demanded by the Chinese. When Anh Te returned in 125 B.C. to succeed his deceased father as king, he brought his Chinese concubine with him and named her as his Queen. Anh Te, who ruled under the name of Trieu Minh Vuong, died after a rule of twelve years, and was succeeded by his young son.
The Chinese, desiring more complete control, sent an envoy to win over the young king. The Chinese Queen Mother, who had been this envoy's lover before she was taken as Prince Anh Te's concubine, conspired with the envoy to bring her son, the child king, to the side of the Chinese. Just in time, the plot was uncovered, and the top mandarin of the Nam Viet Court exposed the plan and denounced the betrayal. The other Court officials rushed in to help, killing the plotters and the young king, and pro-claiming the eldest son of Trieu Minh Vuong(Anh Te) as king, since this son was born of a Vietnamese woman.
These developments, of course, did not please the Chinese. Less than a year later, in 111 B.C., the Chinese King, Vu De, sent two generals and five regiments to invade the territory of Nam Viet. The mandarins, powerless against such a force, were captured along with the new king, and all were killed.
Thus began the era of Chinese domination, which lasted for some ten centuries with only brief interruptions.
The Period of Chinese Domination
After the overthrow of the Trieu in 111B.C., Nam Viet was made a Chinese province and was known as Giao Chi.
Two of the Imperial Commissioners who were sent to govern Giao Chi were well-loved by the governed peoples. Tich Quang, who arrived in 2 or 3 A.D., devoted himself to bringing civilization and teaching morality, and thus won the respect of the people. Nhan Dien, who came to govern in about 29 A.D., became famous as a generous man, who taught the art of cultivation to the people, who had previously lived by hunting and fishing.
Nhan Dien 's successor, To Dinh arrived in 34 A.D., and was a harsh and cruel governor. In the year 40, he executed Thi Sach, one of his subjects, thus provoking the revolt led by Thi Sach's wife, Trung Trac, and her sister, Trung Nhi. The two sisters raised an army to fight against To Dinh, and they were soon joined by volunteers from other districts. The sisters declared themselves the Queens of the restored territory, but their reign was short-lived. The next year, China sent her finest generals and troops to reclaim the territory, and the sisters were defeated in the year 43. Cornered by the pursuing Chinese troops, the two famous heroines committed suicide by jumping into the Hat River, at the point where the Day and Red Rivers meet.
Following the defeat of the Trung sisters, the second period of Chinese domination lasted from the year 44 until 543, and the country was administered as a Chinese province.
The period of the second Chinese domination is sometimes known as the period of the Chinese civilizing governors. In the course of these five centuries plus one year, life in the province of Giao Chi, as it was then known (later, it was called Giao Chau),was completely patterned after the Chinese model.
It was also in this period that the nucleus of the future Champa kingdom, called Len Yi, was formed; and the period was characterized by Chinese campaigns against the Champa.
A cruel Imperial Commissioner again provided the cause for revolt against the Chinese A scholarly man of Chinese origin, Ly Bon, raised an army and defeated the Chinese in 541. After crushing a subsequent Chinese raid in 543, Ly Bon proclaimed himself king in 544, and renamed the territory Van Xuan. In 545, however, the Chinese reestablished their rule.
The following years were marked by a see-saw battle between the Chinese and the Viets: periods of Chinese domination alternated with insurrections which permitted the founding of several short-lived Vietnamese dynasties, including the early Ly, the later Trieu, and the later Ly. This confused and chaotic period ended in 602 with the consolidation of power in China under the Tuy Dynasty. The last Ly king, Ly Phat Tu, was forced to acquiesce to Chinese demands and yield up the country to a third period of Chinese domination.
The third period of Chinese domination, which lasted from 603 until 938, was characterized by even more intense efforts to implant the Chinese civilization. During this period, the country was divided and renamed An Nam Do Ho Phu (Protectorate of An Nam) and Tran Nam Do Ho Phu (Protectorate of Tran Nam)
Under the Chinese Tang Dynasties (618-690 and 923-936), the country was ruled through the Kao P'ing government (Cao Bien), which founded the Dai La citadel and initiated a strong administrative structure. However, the period was marked by several insurrections. In general, the Chinese domination was the long night of Viet Nam's history - a night ten centuries long, during which Chinese civilization became deeply rooted in the country
The Great National Dynasties
The long Chinese domination was brought to an end in the Tenth Century. In the battle of Bach Dang, which has become famous in Vietnamese history, Ngo Quyen led the troops which routed the Chinese invaders from the country and subsequently founded the first national dynasty in 939. For ten centuries in succession, eight dynasties took turns in reigning over the Vietnamese dominion, all continually devoted to the task of building and expanding the kingdom.
The Ngo Dynasty, 939-967, established the first capital of the country at Co Loa, on the ancient site of the City of Shell. Upon the death of Ngo Quyen in 967, the kingdom fell into chaos, and was partitioned into twelve fiefs, thus beginning the era of the Twelve Su Quan , or the Twelve Feudal lords.
From this anarchic era, the first independent Viet Nam emerged. Faced once more with the threat of a powerful China, the protege of one of the twelve lords, Dinh Bo Linh, was able to reunify the country.
Under the name of Dien Hoang De, he founded the Dinh Dynasty, 968-980, and called his kingdom Dai Co Viet. By means of an agreement with China, Dinh Bo Linh was able to obtain the acceptance of the country's independence in return for a triennial payment of tribute. This arrangement with China continued until the 19th Century and the advent of French colonization.
In 980, Dinh was assassinated by a mad visionary, and was succeeded by his six-year old son. A general of the Le family managed to gain control, however, by killing all of his opponents in the Court, and entering into illicit relations with the Queen Mother. In the meantime, the Chinese Emperor sought to profit from the weakness of the young King by sending an army to annex Dai Co Viet. In this crisis the general Le Hoan dispossessed the child of Dinh , and proclaimed himself King.
This so-called Early Le Dynasty lasted from 980 to 1009. Le Hanh repulsed the Chinese, but offered to continue the payment of tribute in order to maintain friendly relations with China. The first Le king died in 1005, and after seven months of fighting among the princes, the king's third son assumed the throne. This son had ruled for only three days when he was assassinated by his younger brother, whose reign of torture and terror lasted for four years. The last Le king died in 1009, thus ending the Early Le Dynasty which had been marked by a series of battles against China in the North, and against the Champa in the South.
The Early Le Dynasty was followed by the Great Ly Dynasty, 1010-1225, which numbered nine kings. The first Ly king was Ly Cong Uan, whose early history is obscure. According to legend, his mother conceived him by a genie while on her way to the pagoda. When he was three, she gave him to a Buddhist monk of the pagoda, who adopted him. After the death of the last Leking, several high officials of the Court joined in a plot with a number of Buddhist monks to bring Ly Cong Uan to the throne, thus establishing the Ly Dynasty.
While still a prince, the last Ly king had been forced into exile, during which time he married the pretty daughter of a rich fisherman named Tran, who provided lodging for the exiled prince. When the prince managed to return to power and became king, he made his wife the official Queen. The Queen, however, used her new influence to increase the power of her own family, which soon grew to be an independent military power, and, in effect, ruled the country. Weak, and becoming insane, the king became a bonze after ruling for fourteen years, and abdicated his throne in favor of his little seven year old daughter. The real power was held by the Queen mother, however, and by her cousin, Tran Thu Do, who was the highest ranking member of the powerful Tran family at that time. Thus, Tran Thu Do managed to marry the little Queen to his eight year old nephew. The young Queen then abdicated in favor of her eight year old husband, thus ending the Ly Dynasty.
After Tran Thu Do managed to make his nephew the king, he proceeded to secure the rule of the Tran by murdering the members of the Ly royal family, and compelling all Vietnamese who bore the family name of Ly to change their names to Nguyen. The Tran Dynasty, which was thus established in 1225)endured until 1400. The efforts to unify and organize the country continued during this period. Buddhism retained its former privileged position, although it was considerably altered in this period through contacts with other beliefs and customs. In particular, the influence of Confucianism expanded greatly during the rule of the Tran. The examination system for the recruitment of officials, which was introduced during the first period of Chinese domination, was revived. Also, the custom of joint rule by the king and the heir-apparent was begun during the Tran Dynasty in order to prevent a recurrence of the bloody feuds which had frequently arisen over earlier succession disputes.
Externally, this dynasty was marked by conflicts with the Mongol Dynasty in China, and with the Champa Kingdom in the South. The Mongols, under Kublai Khan, had defeated the Tong Dynasty in China and established the Nguyen Dynasty in its place. Seeking to attack the Champa, they demanded the right to cross the Vietnamese territory. When the Vietnamese refused, the Mongols attacked the vastly outnumbered Vietnamese. The great Mongol army, numbering some 500,000 men, was repulsed by the whole-hearted efforts of the Vietnamese, led by the king's brother, Tran Hung Dao, who is considered one of Viet Nam's great military heroes, Without pausing to recuperate from the ravages of the battles with the mongols, the Tran turned southward. The Tran king married his sister to the King of Champa in 1307 in order to extend the Tran territory. But the Champa king died the next year, and a series of wars with the Champa ensued.
The Tran Dynasty, which had begun with ambitious educational, agricultural and dike-building programs, was by now paying for its policy of over-extension and continual warfare. The rice paddies, long neglected in wartime, were no longer able to produce sufficient food, and the peasants were suffering acutely under the increasing burdens of war, famine and insecurity. The new Chinese dynasty of the Ming to the North was also a potential danger for the declining power of the Tran.
As the Tran Dynasty continued to decline, another leader emerged to assume increasing authority and influence. This man was Le Qui Ly, a minister to the Court. Le Qui Ly was a descendant of the Chinese family of Ho; but the name had been changed when one of Le Qui Ly's ancestors was adopted into a Vietnamese family by the name of Le.
Through the marriage of his aunt to the King, Le Qui Ly was able to further consolidate his position, until he had gained effective control over the ever-weakening Tran kingdom. While the Tran were still the nominal rulers of the country, Le Qui Ly began to implement his own policies of fiscal, educational and administrative re-forms. All the coins in the realm were called in, a paper currency issued, and restrictions were placed on the amount of land which one family could own. In the administrative field, Le Qui Ly altered the Confucian system of competitive exams, and appointed his loyal followers to office in order to increase his power.
When the Tran king abdicated in favor of his three year old son, Le Qui Ly had the former king hanged, and assumed the regency himself.
The practice of enthroning heirs before the king's death, which had been adopted by the Tran in order to assure a smooth succession, created a duality of influence which ultimately caused the downfall of the dynasty. The last Tran king, however, was the son of Le Qui Ly's own daughter; so, rather than killing his grandson, Ly simply dethroned him.
Having usurped the throne in 1400, Ly reverted to using his ancestral family name of Ho, and established the Ho Dynasty. After changing his own name, he changed the name of the country from An Nam to Dai Ngu. After a reign of only one year, Ly followed the custom of the Tran and abdicated in favor of his son, although Ly continued to exercise power himself and energetically advanced his programs of re-form. The army was reorganized and enlarged ; and Ly is credited with the invention of a kind of galley for the use of his fleet. Taxes were revised, and the ports were opened to trading vessels, which were also subject to taxation. The examination system was again modified to require more practical knowledge of peasant life, mathematics, and current events, in addition to the Confucian classics which had previously been required. Legal reforms were begun, and a medical service was established.
Externally, however, the Ho Dynasty was encountering difficulties in its relations with the Champa, and with the Chinese Ming Dynasty. Before Ly's far-sighted policy could take root, the Ming invaded. Ly's son had been granted recognition as King by the Chinese, who were deceived by the lie that there were no remaining descendants of the Tran. The Chinese quickly discovered the ruse, and immediately established liaison with those who were still loyal to the Tran. The Chinese promised to restore the Tran Dynasty, and the loyalists were soon joined by large numbers of aristocrats, whose interests were being threatened by Ly's reforms.
The Chinese invaded in 1406 with 5,000 men, along with a son of the last Tran king. The Chinese were defeated and the Tran king's son beheaded; however, the Chinese used this as an excuse to launch a larger invasion on the pretext of restoring the rightful Dynasty of the Tran. It is said that the Ho forces did not fight enthusiastically, because the people felt that the Ho Dynasty had usurped power from the Tran unfairly. Furthermore, the expense of continual war-fare against the Champa, and the taxation levied on holders of public lands had undermined the people's support for the Ho regime ; and the limitation of land holdings which Ly had instituted in order to further increase the power of the state made the regime as unpopular with the rich as it was with the poor,
Realizing this, the Chinese marked bits of wood with messages proclaiming their intention to restore the Tran, and threw these weapons of psychological warfare into the river. Carried by the current, the Chinese message was widely distributed, and served to increase the dissention of the people. The next year, the Ho were defeated, and the dynasty ended in 1407, having lasted for only seven years.
As the Chinese moved in, they sought to reestablish their former protectorate of Giao Chi. The Chinese victory, however, was premised on the assumption that the Tran Dynasty would be restored ; and it was for this reason alone that the Chinese had been supported by the Tran royal family, and by those members of the ruling class who expected their privileges to be restored with the return of the Tran. When the Chinese claimed their right to reestablish a protectorate on the grounds that no descendant of the Tran existed, they immediately found themselves confronted with a dangerous movement of popular dissidence. Having resorted to foreign assistance and gambled their nation's independence in order to regain their personal interests, the Tran learned a bitter lesson about treachery.
An attempt to wrest back power from the Chinese was made by a prince of the Tran family, who raised an army and rallied the people for a time, proclaiming himself Emperor Gian Dinh in 1407. In 1408, Gian Dinh won a spectacular victory over a far superior force of Chinese. But his success was short-lived. Gian Dinh beheaded two generals who had objected to his over-enthusiastic zeal in desiring to launch another attack without waiting for reinforcements. This act resulted in a considerable loss of support for Gian Dinh. Although the resistance was kept up for several more years, it was eventually washed away in blood, and the country was again placed under direct Chinese administration,
Under the Ming domination, the people were subjected to the worst exploitation and suffering of their entire history. The Chinese attempted, at the same time, to denationalize the local population. The great literary and historical works were removed to China, and Chinese classics were substituted for instruction in the schools. Vietnamese women forced to wear the Chinese fashion of vest and pantalons, and men had to wear their hair long, in the Chinese style. In fact, all the old customs - even the chewing of betel -were forbidden, and local religious rites were replaced by Chinese.
Forced labor was used to extract all manner of riches from the earth and sea for shipment to China. In addition, the Chinese, as well as those local officials who cooperated with them, profited by levying exorbitant taxes on everything from salt to silk-worm cocoons.
The oppressed people, determined to end the harsh Chinese rule, found a leader in a man named Le Loi. Le Loi came from a famous and wealthy family of aristocratic landowners, and was known for his courage, honesty and generosity. In 1418, Le Loi organized a resistance in his own village of Lam Son, in Thanh Hoa Province. Styling himself as the Prince of Pacification , Le Loi launched a guerrilla war against the Chinese which was to last for over ten years.
Three times, Le Loi was forced to return to the mountains, which were his safe rear base . Once, when cornered, Le Loi was saved only because one of his lieutenants sacrificed his own life by making the Ming believe he was Le Loi. After killing the lieutenant, the Ming withdrew, only to be attacked again by the true Le Loi. By following Tran Hung Dao's guerrilla tactic of attacking the weakest targets, and with-drawing before a stronger force, Le Loi's resistance forces gradually eroded the power of the Chinese. Le Loi pioneered another precept of guerrilla warfare as well: his forces maintained the strictest discipline, even when they were starving, and were absolutely forbidden to plunder the villages they occupied. Thus, Le Loi was able to win the support of the population, while the Chinese found themselves in hostile territory.
Le Loi was not lacking in the skills of psychological warfare, either. Nguyen Trai, a scholar and patriot, sought out the new leader. With his clever propaganda and stir-ring writings, he contributed greatly to making Le Loi something of a legendary hero in his own time.
The population was by this time in a state of general rebellion, and revolts broke out throughout the North in support of Le Loi. Le Loi thus had time to consolidate his forces while the Chinese were occupied with quelling these rebellions ; and the subsequent campaigns against the Chinese were successful. Finally, using the policy of employing ruse when confronted with superior strength; Le Loi organized a mock defeat to fool the Chinese reinforcements. Lured into the trap, the Chinese general was ambushed and beheaded, and the rest of his army was defeated in later battles of the same year, 1427.
According to the peace terms, the remaining Chinese troops were evacuated in 1428.But in order to save face, the Chinese exerted pressure to have some descendant of the Tran Dynasty put on the throne, since restoration of the Tran had been the pretext for the Chinese invasion. During the negotiations, Le Loi attended to the formality of reestablishing the Tran Dynasty; and Tran Cao was chosen to act as nominal ruler. King Tran Cao was well aware that he was to Be a puppet, however, and that he would be dishonored by not being permitted to exercise the authority due a king. Therefore, King Tran Cao attempted to flee. Pursued, captured and returned, King Tran Cao was made to drink poison, whereupon he died.
Le Loi then became king under the name of Le Thai To. The Le Dynasty was thereby founded in 1428, and the name of the country was changed from An Nam to Dai Viet, or the Great Viet.
It was during this period that Christianity was first introduced to the country. The romanized Quoc Ngu script was developed by the Jesuit missionary, Alexandre deRhodes; and this form of writing later supplanted the then-current Chinese-type Nom characters.
In the peace accord, it was agreed that the custom of paying a triennial tribute to China would be retained, but in practice the Le ruled independently. Immediately, Le Thai To (Le Loi) devoted himself to the task of reconstructing the war-devastated country. The army was cut from 250,000 to 100,000 men, and a rotational system was established to allow four-fifths of the men at a time to return to their fields, thus alleviating the serious problem of food shortages. The judicial system and penal code were reorganized to promote the national austerity campaign designed to overcome the conditions of social and economic chaos resulting from the war. To develop a corps of able administrators, the College of National Sons was founded, which admitted students on the basis of merit, thus permitting gifted children from poor families to receive advanced training.
Le Thai To died in 1433 at the age of 49, and was succeeded by his eleven year old son, Le Thai Tong. Quickly disposing of his Regent, Le Thai Tong governed ably despite the hardship of several natural disasters which led to poor harvests. On a visit to Nguyen Trai, the scholar and former propagandist for Le Loi, the young king was overwhelmed by the writer's beautiful concubine, and took her with him. Shortly there-after, the king died of poisoning, and was succeeded by his two year old son, Le Nhan Tong. The writer, Nguyen Trai, was suspected of having poisoned the king in revenge for the loss of his concubine. Nguyen Trai and three generations of his family were killed.
The Queen Mother acted as Regent for the child king, and under her rule new regulations for private ricelands were issued, a large canal was dug, and a successful campaign against the Champa was waged.
But the intrigues of the royal Court pre-vented the national development which had seemed assured with the removal of Chinese domination. The Queen Mother and the child King, Le Nhan Tong, were murdered by Le Nhan Tong's elder brother, Nghi Dan, who had formerly been the heir-apparent. But although he was the son of the Queen, Nghi Dan was not the son of the King, and when this became known, Nghi Dan was replaced as heir-apparent by Le Nhan Tong. Nghi Dan ruled for eight months after usurping the throne when he was killed by officials of the Court, who established the number four son as king.
The new king, Le Thanh Tong, reigned for thirty-six years, during which the country enjoyed an outstanding period of prosperity. While revising the tax system and promoting agriculture, Le Thanh Tong was primarily concerned with customs and morals. He ordered the people to cease spending large sums of money on building pagodas and carrying out the marriage and death rites, and to spend their money in more useful ways.
A great author and poet himself, Le Thanh Tong commissioned the writing of a national history, and was an enthusiastic promoter of education. The king also considered it his responsibility to concern himself with the morality of the people. To this end, He ordered that twenty-four articles governing personal conduct be read before each public gathering. For the most part, these rules dealt with duties of family members toward one another, prohibitions against letting young girls and boys associate with each other, the requirement for wives to be kind to their husband's concubines, and the necessity of being generous, honest, industrious, virtuous, and thrifty.
The reorganized military forces were also placed under strict discipline. A successful campaign against the Champa in 1471 pro-vided relief for the problems of insufficient availability of land and increased population pressure, paving the way for the southern migrations. Often, this expansion was accomplished by the soldier-farmers who set up militarized agricultural communities. The security of their rice fields thus assured, the Vietnamese established their culture as they moved south, and the Champa were gradually assimilated.
Le Thanh Tong died in 1497, and was followed by two competent but short-lived kings. The next king, Le Uy Muc, had apparently not studied the moral teachings of his grandfather, Le Thanh Tong. Muc began by murdering his grandmother and two of his ministers, and continued to reign with extravagant cruelty for five years.
Overthrown by his cousin, Muc died -either by suicide or murder, it is not clear which. Revolts were widespread, and the equally corrupt cousin fared no better than his predecessor. A court official raised an army, claiming he was going off to repress the revolts; but instead, he used the army to invade the palace and kill the king. The king's son was installed as the new ruler, but had reigned for only three days when he, too, was murdered - this time by the brother of the official who had led the revolt.
The next king, suspicious of the feuding officials, placed his trust in a fisherman by the name of Mac Dang Dung, who had fought his way up to the Court. As was the case with Ho Qui Ly 130 years before, Mac Dang Dung was able to exploit the weakness of the decaying dynasty to increase his own power. The worried king resorted to plotting the overthrow of his advisor , and fled the palace by night in order to seek the help of one of his generals. While the general was making up his mind, however, Mac Dang Dung attacked, killing the general and capturing the king, whom he later killed. Three years later, in 1527, Mac Dang Dung established the Mac Dynasty, forcing the Le officials to recognize it, and murdering the royal family and all of the officials who remained loyal to the Le. Many mandarins committed suicide, but many others joined in the organization of a resistance movement.
The Le loyalists appealed to the Chinese to restore the Le Dynasty. China prepared for an invasion, while at the same time demanding that Mac Dang Dung offer his submission. Mac Dang Dung rushed forth to meet the Chinese - with gifts. Dung and his entourage, moreover, had tied themselves with ropes as a gesture of subservience. The Chinese were favorably impressed, and agreed to the continuation of the Mac Dynasty - for a price.
The Le did not give up easily, however, and the resistance forces regrouped under the leadership of Nguyen Kim, son of a former Le general. Further support was en-listed for the cause when Nguyen Kim married his daughter to another general by the name of Trinh Kiem. Having proclaimed a Le descendant as Emperor, the two generals sallied forth to battle the Mac, and after a series of victories, the Western capital was retaken in 1543. But two years later, Nguyen Kim was murdered by a Mac officer, who surrendered himself to the enemy in order to poison their leader at the first opportunity. The Le's military power then passed into the hands of Kim's son-in-law, Trinh Kiem. Trinh Kiem withdrew to Thanh Hoa, at the edge of the Red River delta, and established the Southern Court in the name of the Le. With the Mac still in control of the Northern Court, the country was divided into rival and warring states by 1545.
By this time, the power of the Southern Court was completely in the hands of the Trinh, although the Le remained the nominal rulers for reasons of expediency. Nguyen Kim, the late founder of the revolution which had brought the Trinh to power, had two sons. Wary of the possible power of these two, Trinh Kiem killed one of them in a move designed to assure his own authority. The remaining son, Nguyen Hoang, fearing the same fate, pretended insanity for a while. Then, in 1588, he obtained permission from the Trinh to leave the North, and was later(1566) made Governor of the troublesome southern provinces of Thanh Hoa and Quang Nam.
When Trinh Kiem died in 1570, the military command of the Southern Court was assumed by his elder son, the inept and debauched Trinh Coi. Trinh Coi's younger brother, Trinh Tung, wasted no time in plotting to overthrow his brother; and the Mac took advantage of this squabble to launch another attack. Trinh Coi surrendered to the Mac, which allowed the military power of the Southern Court to fall into the hands of his brother, Trinh Tung. Trinh Tung then had the Le king killed, and en-throned another Le who was more to his liking; after which, Trinh Tung returned to the business of the war with the Mac.
The wars between the two continued indecisively until the Northern Emperor, Mac Mau Hop, was captured by the Trinh and beheaded after three days of public torture. The Mac Dynasty is usually reckoned as having ended with Mac Mau Hop's death in 1592, after lasting for 65 years, although the Mac retained control of a small area, the province of Cao Bang, in the Northern frontier region.
Benefitting from China's earlier recognition of the Mac Dynasty which was still in force, the Macs continued to enjoy a kind of privileged position under the Ming, and, after 1644, the Manchu Dynasty in China. When the Mac supported a disloyal governor in southeast China, however, the Manchu Emperor withdrew his protection, and in 1667, the country was finally reunited with the agreement of China's new Thanh Dynasty.
After the death of Mac Mau Hop in 1592, the remaining son of Nguyen Kim, Nguyen Hoang, had left his southern refuge to aid the Trinh in the struggle against the Mac remnants, despite the mistrust which had arisen between the Nguyen and the Trinh. But, when revolts broke out against the Trinh in 1600, Nguyen Hoang returned to his southern residence. The North continued to be torn by wars and intrigues under the tyrannical rule of the Trinh; and an abortive plot by the Le king and one of Trinh Tung's sons against the Trinh ended in Trinh Tung's killing his disloyal son as well as the Le king. Power then passed to Trinh Tung's eldest son, who ruled on behalf of the figurehead Le king who was subsequently installed.
Meanwhile, the South prospered under the increasingly independent rule of Nguyen Hoang, who enjoyed the support of the militarized agricultural colonies which had been settled in the southern region.
When Nguyen Hoang died in 1613, his son, Nguyen Phuc Nguyen, assumed control and ruled with absolute authority under the name of Lord Sai. Thus, the country was again divided, and the Nguyen family became masters of the country to the South of the Song Giang River, which is located slightly above the 17th Parallel that defines the present division of Viet Nam. Both the Nguyen and the Trinh, however, claimed allegiance to the Le Dynasty. the Vietnamese expansion, and the new lands provided a solution to the Nguyen's problems of population pressure.
The Trinh tried unsuccessfully to dislodge the Nguyen in 1620, after which the Nguyen ceased paying taxes to Hanoi's Trinh rulers. When the Nguyen twice disobeyed the Trinh's summons to come and explain this action, war broke out. Between 1627 and 1672, the Trinh sent seven expeditions against the Nguyen. But the Nguyen had built two great walls across the narrow central corridor, thus defending themselves against invasions from the North's superior forces, which were being aided by the Dutch. Portuguese aid, however, made the Nguyen stronger in armaments; and the failure of all seven campaigns left the North considerably weakened. In 1672, the Trinh finally agreed to a division of the two territories at the boundary of the Linh River. After fifty years of civil war, the Trinh and the Nguyen settled down to a period of peaceful coexistence, which lasted for slightly more than 100 years.
During this time, the Trinh reorganized their administration to promote honesty and efficiency, requiring all officials to take periodic examinations and weeding out incompetents. Unhappily, this well-intentioned program ended when money was needed to quell revolts, and the practice of selling administrative posts was instituted.
The penal code, too, was altered by the Trinh, and the punishments of bodily mutilation were abolished. In the past, a thief was sometimes punished by cutting off a finger or two, or - in the case of more serious offenses - by chopping off one or both hands.
A more uniform taxation system was de-vised, and minted coins were used as the standard currency in the northern kingdom.
The cruel reign of Trinh Giang (1729-1740),however, resulted in the outbreak of more riots and revolts, thus preventing the continuation of earlier progressive policies.
In the South, meanwhile, the administration was also reorganized, and officials we regrouped according to functional categories. Taxes were determined according to the quality of the land as well as quantity
The greatest significance of this period, however, is that it marked the opening up and settlement of the vast rich lands of the Mekong River delta. The Cambodian population in the area provided little resistance to
The South readily absorbed, too, the influx of refugees who left the insecurity and tyranny of the Trinh in the North, as well as numerous Chinese immigrants. The Chinese were especially active in trading, and by 1700, commercial trading was well-established' and flourishing.
With the system of a highly centralized government, however, local autonomy was extremely strong; and this pattern was rein-forced by the relative isolation of independent local economies. Thus, the enormous expansion of territory was not matched by the economy, which remained static, and village-oriented. Despite these conditions, though, the Vietnamese managed to survive as a single people. Their unity of customs and traditions was preserved intact by the stability of the village system, and the peasants' way of life, which was the same in all regions.
Laws for the protection of the peasants were ineffective both in the North and in the South, and the lot of the peasant grew progressively worse. Rebellions erupted with increasing frequency ; but more importantly, the insurrections were coming to be dominated by peasant elements, rather than by aristocratic political dissidents. As contacts with the West increased, moreover, the just-emerging forces of popular revolution in the West added impetus to the Vietnamese movement which was already underway.
The Tay Son brothers came up from the masses, and profited by the occasion of internal disorders to raise the colors of liberation. They routed both the lords of the Nguyen and Trinh by 1777, and put the last sovereign of the Le line to flight. One of the brothers, Nguyen Hue, became Emperor under the title of Quang Trung, and thanks to him, the national unity as finally restored for a brief time. Unfortunately, he died in 1792 without being able to assure the continuation of his dynasty.
Meanwhile, in the South, Nguyen Anh - the successor of the Nguyen lords - resumed the attack against the Tay Son, who became weaker and weaker. Nguyen Anh succeeded in reunifying the country in 1801, after a 27 year struggle. In this endeavor, Nguyen Anh enlisted the support of the French missionary, Monseigneur Pigneau de Behaine, the Bishop of Adran. The Bishop negotiated a treaty with France, which would have brought French military aid to Nguyen Anh in exchange for certain territorial and trading rights. The promise of aid was withdrawn later, but the Bishop of Adran proceeded on his own to raise troops and money. With the help of these recruits, Nguyen Anh's army was trained in the use of Western military techniques. The Bishop died in 1799 and Nguyen Anh continued his campaign without the advice of his trusted and loyal friend.
In 1802, Nguyen Anh completed his military victory over the Tay Son with the seizure of Hanoi, and proclaimed himself Emperor, assuming the royal name of Gia Dinh. The country was then known as Viet Nam.
The Nguyen Dynasty, founded by Gia Dinh, embarked on a massive reconstruction program. For a time, things went very well, since Europe was then preoccupied with the Napoleonic wars, and Gia Long concluded that a policy of non-involvement with the West was not only desirable, but practicable.
Gia Long was succeeded by his son, Minh Mang, who was known to be hostile to Western influence, on the grounds that it undermined the traditional Confucian social order. External conditions, however, had changed, and the ultimate confrontation with the West was unavoidable.
The French Colonization.
Hostility against the West increased. The Nguyen emperors issued stronger and stronger edicts against the incursion of foreigners, and especially against Christian missionaries ; but all of these injunctions went unheeded. Any actions taken to enforce the edicts served only to incite the West. French admirals attempted to interfere in the policy of the Nguyen governments and subsequent invasions and military operations finally led to the signing of two treaties, in 1862 and 1874, which made Viet Nam part of the French Empire. The kingdom of the late Emperor Gia Long thus became part of a geographical entity called French Indo-china, which included two other nations Cambodia and Laos.
Due to the methods of French administration, Viet Nam was partitioned into three regions: Tonkin in the North, Anna in the Center, and Cochinchina in the South. While the latter was administered directly, the others, Tonkin and Anna became French protectorates with a kind of autonomy under an emperor of Nguyen descent, whose power was mainly symbolic.
The introduction of Western civilization and the demands of the French colonial economy did indeed undermine the traditional order, as Minh Mang had predicted it would. The class structure and the educational systems were drastically altered. The upheaval and instability created by the attempts to transform a traditional society, coupled with the resentment and hostility which resulted from the loss of sovereignty provoked a continuing resistance to the French rule.
Opposition took every possible form, ranging from poetic satires and formal petitions to armed revolt. But as in centuries past, ordinary Vietnamese citizens were excluded from participation in government above the village level. At times, hopes of reform were encouraged by changes in the French government itself, or by the appointment of a more liberal Governor-General. Before any of the reforms were implemented, however, World War II intervened to change the course of events.
The Recovery of National Independence.
After the fall of France in 1940, the Vichy government retained authority in Indochina until the occupying Japanese assumed power in March, 1945. One month later, the Emperor Bao Dai proclaimed the independence of Viet Nam under Japanese protection, and formed a national government with the patriot and scholar, Tran Trong Kim as Premier. There-after, a series of governments succeeded - and sometimes competed with - each other.
At the end of the war, French troops were landed to reoccupy their former colony, and immediately encountered the fierce resistance of Vietnamese nationalists, determined to protect their newly-won independence. Periodic attempts to negotiate a settlement were made during the nearly ten years of fighting which ensued. In France, the war became increasingly unpopular, while the Vietnamese were united in the common cause of national independence. Finally, the Geneva Agreement of July 21, 1954 was signed, with which peace came back to Viet Nam. The joy of Viet Nam was marred, however. Since the Communists had gained control of the nationalist forces in the North, the country was divided into two parts. The Communists were allowed to rule in the North (Democratic Republic of Viet Nam) separated by the demarcation line of the Seventeenth Parallel from the free regime in the South (Republic of Viet Nam).
From 1954 until 1963, South Viet Nam was ruled by President Ngo Dinh Diem. His dictatorial regime was effective in achieving the national stability essential for coping with the initial period of crisis ; but with the development of greater internal stability, the regime became less, rather than more flexible in its policy. Thus, the people, who had fought so hard and so long, were frustrated in their desire for true freedom. Externally as well, the Vietnamese were being threatened with a possible loss of freedom, as the Communist North began its campaign of terrorism and guerrilla warfare designed to conquer the South.
At last, on November 1, 1963, a great revolution, jointly managed by the South Vietnam army and the people, upset the dictatorial regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, and installed the Second Republic. Since then, several civilian and military governments have taken turns in office in Saigon, with varying success, prior to the formation of a National Directory on June 19, 1964. This latter groups the main military leaders of the Armed Forces of the Republic, and has installed a War Cabinet to effectively direct the struggle against the Communist aggression and to advance the work of the Revolution, kindled in the triumph of November 1,1963.