Lý Thường Kiệt: the Protector of Đại Việt

The Lý Dynasty (1009-1225)

“Over the mountains and rivers of the South, lives the Southern Emperor,
As it says now and forever in the Book of Heavens,
That whoever dares to invade our land,
Will be defeated without mercy.”

– Lý Thường Kiệt, 1076

After the expulsion of the Chinese empire in 938, the newly reborn state of Nam-Việt underwent a short period of chaos and power struggle.  Many powerful families from different provinces in Nam-Việt vied for control of the throne.  As a result, several monarchs reigned for a short time, losing their powers to other families competing for the crown.  Finally, in 1009, the Lý Dynasty was founded, and the emperor proclaimed that the young nation would be named Đại Việt (Great Việt).

Having just expelled the Chinese from Vietnam only one century before, the new rulers of Đại Việt were determined to keep them from returning.  One of the brightest generals of the Lý Dynasty went by the name of Lý Thường Kiệt.  Winning two major wars against the Song Dynasty of China, along with several battles versus the kingdoms of Champa and Khmer, Lý Thường Kiệt is one of the most prominent figures in Vietnamese history.

Born in 1019 in the city of Thang Long (Hanoi), his birth name was Ngô Tuấn.  Starting out as a cavalry captain in 1036, Ngô Tuấn later went on to become the leader of the Imperial Guard.  Thanks to his talents, Ngô Tuấn rose through the ranks of the Vietnamese army and was awarded the name of Lý Thường Kiệt by the royal family.

When news of an incoming invasion by the Song Dynasty reached the people of Dai Viet (Vietnam) in 1075, emperor Lý Nhân Tông sent generals Lý Thường Kiệt and Tôn Đản to launch a surprise attack on the Song forces.  Lý Thường Kiệt and Tôn Đản were both hugely successful on their mission, soundly defeating the Chinese forces on their own soil.

In retaliatian, the Song Dynasty made alliances with the Khmer (Cambodian) and Cham kingdoms to invade Đại Việt together.  Once again, emperor Lý Nhân Tông sent Lý Thường Kiệt to confront the invaders. Sure enough, General Lý was victorious.

As a result of the victories, the Song Dynasty never dared invade again.  With the Chinese subdued, the Lý Dynasty under General Lý Thường Kiệt carried out two successful assaults on the Champa Kingdom, ensuring security from them as well.

Even though he did help win major wars against foreign countries, Lý Thường Kiệt’s contributions to Vietnam were more than just military.  As a distinguished poet, he was also accredited with penning the first Vietnamese Declaration of Independence, a poem titled “Nam Quốc Sơn Hà (Over the Mountains and Rivers of the South).”

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