Lê Lai: The Warrior Who Saved The Emperor
Anyone familiar with the history of Vietnam is likely familiar with the story of Lê Lợi and Nguyễn Trãi. When the Ming Dynasty of China invaded Vietnam (Đại Việt) and overtook the country in the 15th century, the duo of Lê Lợi and Nguyễn Trãi rallied the population in Vietnam in a struggle against the Ming, effectively destroying the invaders in a ten year war (1418-1427). After the revolt, Lê Lợi would become the new emperor of Đại Việt, found the Lê Dynasty, and lead the country through an era of prosperity.
It is commonly understood that Nguyễn Trãi, Lê Lợi’s advisor, played a major role in the success of the rebellion. However, the duo was also supported by a loyal team of warriors who fought and died for them. Among these group of warriors was a man named Lê Lai, one of Lê Lợi’s subordinate commanders.
During the early phases of the rebellion against China (1421), the forces of Lê Lợi and Nguyễn Trãi were not yet strong enough to confront the Ming head on. One mountaintop battle saw the forces of Lê Lợi surrounded and on the verge of defeat. The Ming forces had trapped the Việt rebels, and were waiting to move in for the kill.
Faced with the possibility of a crushing defeat, not only for the soldiers, but for the rebellion as a whole, the rebels had to come up with a plan, and fast. Lê Lai, the warrior of Lê Lợi, wanted to create a diversion. In an act of courage, loyalty, and patriotism, Lê Lai volunteered to hold off the Ming forces while Lê Lợi and the majority of the forces escaped.
Lai fooled the Ming forces by dressing up in Lê Lợi’s uniform. He then assembled a small squad among the rebels who were also willing to die, playing the chief role in their suicide mission against the Chinese forces. Lê Lai, along with a small company of Vietnamese rebels, launched an assault on the forces of Ming, knowing full well that it would get them killed. Thus, Lê Lợi, the leader of the revolution, and the future emperor of Đại Việt, was narrowly able to escape the Chinese’s grasp.
The unsung hero, Lê Lai, saved not only the future emperor, but the revolution as a whole. If Lê Lợi were captured by the forces of Ming, the revolution, the spirit of the people, and all hopes of breaking free from the stranglehold of the Ming Dynasty would be resoundingly crushed. In giving up his life, Lê Lai would forever be remembered as the warrior who saved the emperor, and the man who preserved a nation.
Lê Lai is fairly well known in Vietnamese history. He has been immortalized as a selfless and heroic figure who gave his life for the national hero, Lê Lợi, the emperor himself. Before his death, Emperor Lê Lợi saw to it that Lê Lai’s memorial be held one day before his own. In Vietnam, the memorial day of Lê Lai is August 21, while the emperor’s is on August 22.