Nguyễn An: The Man Who Built the Forbidden City

During the Ming Dynasty’s invasion of Vietnam in 1407, many Vietnamese professionals, such as poets, military experts, architects, engineers, etc., were captured and brought back to China.  Among them was a prisoner named Nguyễn An (Juan An in Chinese), a man who would later design and oversee the construction of the Peking Citadel and the entire Forbidden City of Beijing.

Before being shipped to China, Nguyễn An was a talented official under the rule of the Trần Dynasty.  However, he was later taken by the Ming Dynasty and brought back to China as a gift from the illegitimate Hồ Dynasty.  From then on, he would be known in Chinese history as Juan An, a eunuch of the Ming’s imperial court.

For his talents, Nguyễn An was given the task of constructing the Peking Citadel and the Forbidden City of Peking (Beijing).  The size of his workforce was literally in the millions, composing of soldiers, workers, and prisoners.  Interestingly, a large number of the laborers who worked on the Peking Citadel were also Vietnamese, captured by the Ming on their invasions.

The fact that Juan An (Nguyễn An) was really a Vietnamese person had been obscured in Chinese history for centuries.  It is only recently, with long and intricate research, did these facts began to surface.  Research made by the University of Cambridge clearly states that “the chief architect was an Annamese eunuch named Juan An (d. 1453) who also played a major role in rebuilding Peking,” (Mote & Twitchett, 1988: 241).  Annam is what Vietnam was referred to by the Chinese during this period, even though that was never our official name.  Woo!  That was interesting.  Maybe next week I’ll tell you who really invented the cannon!


Le Thanh Hoa, Du Mien.  Vietnam: The Springhead of Eastern Cultural Civilization. Trans. Joseph M. Vo.  San Jose: The Vietnam Library Publications, 2010.

Mote, Frederick W. & Denis Twitchett.  The Cambridge History of China, Volume 7, Part 1. Cambridge: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 1988.


Correction: A typo indicating that the source by Frederick Mote and Denis Twitchett was published in 1998 has been fixed to its correct publication year, which was 1988. Sorry for any misunderstandings or confusion this may have caused.


9 Responses to “Nguyễn An: The Man Who Built the Forbidden City”

  1. The contribution of An Nguyen in building the City of Beijing in China more than 600 years ago had never been acknowledged by China. This makes me doubtful many things have written in Chinese history by Chinese historians. With the advance in information technology, nowadays China can not cheat any more. Without the advancement of the information technology, China stole inventions and technology and know-how, from others and Chinese historian would write that Chinese invented them. Those writing were hid somewhere and future generation, may be hundred years or more, would use these information for their research thesis or projects. Whatever made and claimed by China, either in materials or intellectual, must be examined thoroughly.

  2. He designed with other 4 Chinese architects. He did not designed all by himself.

  3. Fact hurts Says:

    The Forbidden City was not designed by one man, but by four. The Chief Architect was Cai Xin and under him was the eunuch Nguyen An (Ruan An), a Vietnamese. The Chief Engineers were Kuai Xiang and Lu Xiang. Yes a Vietnamese was involved in the construction but it wasn’t completely designed by a Vietnamese.

    • An excerpt from, “The Cambridge History of China Volume 7: The Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644, Part 1,” (p. 240-241):

      “The construction of Peking required massive mobilization of artisans and laborers, often drawn from the ranks of military units or from criminals sentenced to hard labor, as well as the requisitioning of building materials from all over the empire, even from as far away as Annam, which had recently been annexed. The size of the work force is not known, but it must have numbered hundreds of thousands. The chief architect was an Annamese eunuch named Juan An (d. 1453), who also played a major role in the rebuilding of Peking during the Cheng-t’ung reign.”

      Mote, Frederick W., and Denis Twitchett, eds. The Cambridge History of China. 1st ed. Vol. 7. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Cambridge Histories Online. Web. 27 August 2015.

      Just thought I’d clear a few things up. According to this source, the chief architect was indeed Nguyen An, a Vietnamese. Hope this substantiation helps.

  4. He as foreign prisoner-eunuch is just one of the planners. Nah the cannon is still a pure Chinese invention, don’t worry.

  5. nguyen can cuong Says:

    mr. nguyenan ,i think you are liar , forbidden city is Chinese people build it ,, vietnamese oi.. anh nen an noi qua vo van hoa , vi anh han nugget Hoa ,,, nhung cuong sach cua anh , toi coi qua nhung k mua cuon nao het . Cam on

  6. nguyen can cuong Says:

    an on bay ba , gia roi , k biet minh dang viet sach gi day ,,, vo van hoa

    • One hundred years from now, the book of Chinese history said Internet was invented by Xi , the Chinese.

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