Archive for the Ancient History Category

The Rebirth of Viet Culture

Posted in Ancient History, IV. Columns with tags , , , , on October 6, 2010 by Ian Pham

It’s pretty amazing how much progress has been made over the past decade regarding the world’s understanding of the Vietnamese people.  Thanks to archeology, state of the art technology, DNA, and intricate research, numerous discoveries have been made about Vietnam’s past that have never been considered before.  Who would have thought that the teachings of Confucius actually originated form the Bach Viet people?  Who could have known that the chief architect of the Forbidden City was Vietnamese?  Furthermore, who would ever have thought that the ancient writings of Viet-Nom preceded the writings of the Han?

For centuries, all the way up to the 1990’s, the world knew very little about the origin of Vietnam.  Over 90% of all the history books have claimed that Vietnam was just a derivative of the Chinese empire, unaware of how misleading these claims are.  Even the history books in Vietnam, with very few exceptions, had accepted the idea that Vietnamese culture came from China.  Some past theorists, such as Kim Dinh, have made suggestions about Vietnam’s antiquity, challenging conventional belief that Vietnam was just a mere copy of the Chinese.  He was ridiculed by his colleagues in the past, discredited and labeled as a fanatic and ideologue.

Today however, the story has become quite different.  New generations of researchers have looked past the obscurity and outright lies of the older generations, disproving many old claims and making a few findings of their own.  They are contemporaries of Kim Dinh, following up on his ideas, now regarding him as a pioneer and trailblazer of modern Viet studies.  It is now verified that the teachings of Confucius came from Vietnam, and that the ancient Vietnamese (Bach Viet) people lived as farmers in the southern half of China long before the establishment of the Chinese state.  Cultivation of rice, another important aspect of East Asian culture, was part of Vietnamese culture before reaching China in the far north.

These new discoveries have only scratched the surface of Vietnamese culture, but have already defied the accepted beliefs of the old generation.  It is no longer valid to suggest that the civilization of Vietnam branched off from the Chinese empire.  Also false is the old claim that the Chinese taught Vietnam how to farm and cultivate.  The Chinese historical accounts of Tich Quang and Nham Dien, coming from China and teaching us about culture, has been proven false.  Also false is the national background of Shen Nong, a historical figure of China.  New evidence now suggests that Shen Nong was a Vietnamese person as a opposed to a Chinese person, as stated in the, now dated, history books.

With the help of archeology, DNA, and critical analysis of today’s current research, the world will better understand the origin of Vietnamese culture. In time, the findings will change the way people look at Vietnam.   Fragments of Viet culture, such as Viet-Nho (aka Confucianism) will eventually re-emerge.  Past accomplishments of Vietnamese individuals, like Nguyen An and the Forbidden City, will finally be recognized.  Most important of all, the lost history, burned by the likes of the Qin, Han, and Ming dynasties, will be restored to its rightful place.

The Origin of Nôm Writing

Posted in Ancient History, Art, Did You Know? with tags , , , , on September 25, 2010 by Ian Pham

In the late 18th century, the Tay Son Dynasty (1788-1802), under Nguyen Hue Quang Trung, switched the national writing system from Han-Nho (Chinese characters) to the more Vietnamese writing of Nôm (Vietnamese characters).  As part of their sweeping educational reforms, many literature previously written in Chinese were translated into Nôm characters.  What were Nôm characters, and where did they come from exactly?

Primitive Nôm Writing of the Bach Viet (Bai Yue) civilization.

The origin of Nôm writing stretches all the way back to the farmers of Bach Viet (Bai Yue), five thousand years ago.  Back then, the writing was already known as Nôm, part of Viet-Nho, an ancient philosophy native to the people of the south.  However, the nomadic tribes eventually picked up on these writings, altering it over time, and is what people know as Chinese writing today.

Han-Nho writing adapted by the Chinese, is it derived from ancient Nôm?

This fact has also been buried for a long period of time.  Only recently, as part of a wider range of contemporary Viet studies, has these findings become more clear.  To anyone who has studied Chinese history, you probably heard that the origin of Chinese writing came from the ancient Shang Dynasty.  You’ve probably also been told that the Chinese writing simply came out of nowhere, possibly from dragon bones, and was quickly adapted by the Chinese.  However, this is in-fact a myth that has finally been proven false.

Modern or “restored” Nôm writing under the Tay Son Dynasty.

21st century research has clarified that the Shang Dynasty was actually a nomadic tribe that preceded the Zhou.  They were not agricultural, nor were they in any way a settled people.  During the Shang’s existence, the Viet were an independent people not under any type of control to the Chinese Shang.  The Viet were an agricultural people with their own way of life, culture, and government.  These agricultural people had their own philosophy and primitive writing system known as Viet-Nho and Nôm, respectively.  Ancient Nôm is the parent of imperial China’s Han-Nho, as well as the Nôm of modern imperial Vietnam.


Đõ, Thành (2010). NGUỒN GỐC CHỮ NÔM. Retrieved from:

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

Wright, David. The History of China. Connecticut, London: Greenwood Press. 2001.

Ngô Quyền and the Struggle for Independence

Posted in Ancient History, Heroes of Vietnam Week with tags , , , on July 21, 2010 by Ian Pham

10th Century (897-944)General Ngô Quyền was the man to successfully end the Chinese occupation of Vietnam once and for all.  This monumental victory took place at the River of Bạch Đằng in 938A.D., where thousands of Chinese soldiers lost their lives while many others fled.

With the destruction of the Tang Dynasty in China and numerous uprisings among the Vietnamese population, the region of southern China known as Annam (Vietnam) was beginning to break away from the stranglehold of the Chinese Empire.  After being dominated by the northern invaders for more than 1000 years, the people of Vietnam were ready for one final struggle against the Southern Han.

The Life of Ngô Quyền

Before he accepted the leadership role in the fight for independence, Ngô Quyền was still a government official of the Red River Valley.  He served under Dương Đình Nghệ, a Vietnamese administrator who would prove to be one of the most important people in Quyền’s life.  As Ngô Quyền’s mentor, Dương Đình Nghệ saw the potential of his talented protege.  In the year 931A.D., he promoted Ngô Quyền to the rank of General, gave him the power to preside over Ái Châu province, and his daughter’s hand in marriage.

As he rose through the ranks of the military with the support his wife and the blessing of his great mentor, the future was bright for General Quyền.  Sadly, in 938A.D., his mentor and father-in-law was murdered by a rival rebel leader by the name of Kiều Công Tiễn.  Though he was hurt by this tragedy, Ngô Quyền was still prepared to take the leadership position and avenge the man who guided him.

His first order of business as the successor to Dương Đình Nghệ was to capture his teacher’s killer.  In the same year of succeeding Dương’s post, General Ngô Quyền defeated the forces of Kiều Công Tiễn, ending with the execution of the man himself.  With his mission successful, Ngô Quyền was now ready to face the Southern Han, who were now preparing to launch an attack on the people of Vietnam and crush the rebellion.

The Battle at Bạch Đằng Bay

Before Ngô Quyền’s rise, his mentor Dương Đình Nghệ had been controlling Vietnam semi-autonomously, though technically still under the control of the Southern Han.  The news of Nghệ’s death came as an opportunity for the Chinese to recapture the southern region.  Ngô Quyền had already anticipated their invasion, so he decided to plant a trap for the Han army.

The Chinese planned to launch their attack from the River of Bạch Đằng, a vulnerable location where the most damage can be made.  Having foreseen this strategy beforehand, General Ngô Quyền had his soldiers install a myriad of large, sharp poles into the river, concealed by the waves and currents.

On the day of the battle, the Chinese engaged the Vietnamese forces, unaware of the traps that lay ahead.  Under General Quyền’s orders, the Vietnamese forces feigned defeat, luring the unsuspecting enemy into the ingeniously hidden ambush.  The overconfident forces of the Southern Han pursued the retreating ships, still oblivious to Ngô Quyền’s plan.  At the perfect moment, the wooden traps emerged from beneath the waves, capturing the warships of the Southern Han.

The time was right for General Ngô Quyền to deliver the finishing blow.  On his command, General Ngô Quyền’s forces unloaded everything they had on the Chinese ships, obliterating the forces of the Southern Han.  Thousands of Chinese soldiers met their end at Bach Bạch Đằng, including the commander, Liu Hung-tsao.

This momentous victory over the Chinese came to be known as the Battle of Bạch Đằng of 938.  After 1000 years of Chinese occupation, an independent Vietnam was finally born again.  As the man who made history, Ngô Quyền proclaimed himself the new king of Nam-Việt, carrying on the ancient traditions of the people of Lạc Việt.  From then on, the people of Vietnam would always defend their nation.  Future Chinese dynasties would try to invade, but never again will the invaders succeed.

Lady Triệu: The Goddess Who Fought the Wu

Posted in Ancient History, Heroes of Vietnam Week with tags , , , , on July 20, 2010 by Ian Pham

Third Century (225-248A.D.)Triệu Thị Trinh was a female warrior who fought against the Chinese occupants in the third century.  Her story takes place during the Three Kingdoms period in China, after the collapse of the Han Dynasty.  During this time, Vietnam was occupied by the Kingdom of Wu.  Similar to the Han, life under the Wu was bleak and oppressive.  The people of Nam-Việt needed a hero, and the courageous Lady Triệu rose to the occasion.

Lady Triệu, also known as Triệu Trinh, was orphaned as a child and lived under the household with her older brother.  When she turned 20 years old, Triệu Trinh fled to the mountains to follow her older brother.  It was there that she learned her revolutionary ways, meeting many Vietnamese warriors who were ready to fight the Wu.

Her older brother, Triệu Quốc Đạt, feared for her safety and asked her to reconsider joining the rebels.  Triệu Trinh did not accept, telling him that she refused to bow her head down and become another slave to the Chinese invaders.  Her brother was taken by her words and in the end, he respected her decision.

“All I want to do is ride the storms, tame the crashing waves, kill the sharks of the Eastern Sea, cleanse the land, and save the people from drowning.  I refuse to mimic the others, bow my head down, lower myself, and become another concubine!”

– Triệu Thị Trinh, 248A.D.

From then on, Triệu Thị Trinh fought alongside the rebels, engaging the Wu forces and resisting the kingdom from China.  Her bravery, intellect, and valor in battle earned her the name of Lady Triệu.  The warriors also chose her as the leader of their organization.  Lady Triệu was remembered as a strong, intelligent, and beautiful woman, able to tame the heart of any warrior that stands in her way.  She marches fearlessly into battle, wrapped around a silky golden robe, riding on the back of a ferocious elephant.

Under her leadership, the rebels managed to take on the Kingdom of Wu for a short time.  The rebels forces were small, often fighting the much larger army of the Wu Kingdom.  After six months of vigorous battles, Lady Triệu and her forces were finally defeated in battle.  Though they fought valiantly, the Wu forces were much too large for the rebels to withstand.

After escaping from the grasps of the enemy, Triệu Trinh found refuge in the region of Bồ Điền.  In the tradition of the Trung Sisters and the ways of the warrior, to defend her honour and the honour of her brethren, Lady Triệu Thị Trinh ended her own life.  The year was 248A.D. and Triệu Trinh was only 23 years old.

Lady Triệu is remembered, along with the Trung Sisters, as one of the most celebrated female heroes in the history of Vietnam.  In a time when no one else dared to oppose the Wu, Lady Triệu stepped up and fought them to the death.  Though she never succeeded in expelling the Chinese, her courage inspired future generations to keep on fighting and never give up.  Lady Triệu has become a legendary figure of strength and resilience, a goddess in Vietnamese folklore.  In the 10th century under the Dynasty, a temple was built in her memory.  The emperor of the Dynasty also gave her the honourary title of Lady Triệu: The Honourable, Courageous, and Virtuous Woman.

The Trưng Sisters and the First Great Rebellion

Posted in Ancient History, Heroes of Vietnam Week with tags , , , on July 19, 2010 by Ian Pham

First Century (40-43A.D.)
One of the glorious events in Vietnam’s history is the great revolution led by the Trưng Sisters in the first century against the Han Dynasty of China.  In the early periods of Chinese domination, the Trưng Sisters managed to bring independence to the people of the Việt origin for a brief moment in time.  Though their reign was short-lived, their contributions to the Vietnamese tradition will be remembered for many years to come.

The sisters of Trưng were born in the province of Mê Linh, they were the daughters of a Vietnamese lord and are well educated in the arts of literature and war.  The elder sister goes by the name of Trưng Trắc and the younger goes by the name of Trưng Nhị.  The sisters lived in an era when Vietnam was under the rule of the Han Dynasty.  After the Triệu Dynasty of Vietnam was defeated by the Han in 111B.C., the Chinese Empire annexed and incorporated all of Nam-Việt (Vietnam) as part of its territory.

The story of the Trưng Sisters begins with the murder of Trưng Trắc’s husband, Thi Sách.  He was one of the few individuals to stand up to the Han Dynasty’s cruel and oppressive treatment against the people of Nam-Việt.  As a result, the Chinese executed Thi Sách as a way to intimidate and further demoralize the Vietnamese people.  As Thi Sách’s wife, Trưng Trắc’ swore to avenge the death of her husband and free the people of Nam-Việt from their sadistic oppressors.

With the help of her younger sister, Nhị, Trưng Trắc established a small militia within her village.  This small group of fighters later grew into a revolutionary force that spread thoughout all of Nam-Việt.  Thousands of men and women from all over the southern regions showed their deepest support for the new freedom fighters.  Under the leadership of Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị, the people of Nam-Việt liberated the country, driving out the Han invaders in the year 40A.D.  With the Chinese gone, the Trưng Sisters declared themselves the Queens of Nam-Việt and established a new Vietnamese Kingdom directly south of China.

This period of independence would only last for a short time however.  The Chinese were shamed in defeat and were determined to redeem themselves.  To avoid a second humiliation, the Chinese sent a massive expeditionary army into Nam-Việt under the fierce leadership of General Ma Yuan.  The kingdom of Nam-Việt fought the returning invaders courageously, though they were strongly outnumbered.  In the end, the independent kingdom was overpowered by the massive military might of the invading Han forces.  As a result, the kingdom of Nam-Việt fell back into the hands of the Han Dynasty in 43A.D.

The soldiers of Nam-Việt all gave their lives, now the Trưng Sisters were prepared to do the same.  Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị refused to be captured by the enemy and surrendering was not an option.  So with the Han army steadily approaching the Sisters of Trưng at the river of Hát, Trắc and Nhị leaped into the waters, out of the reach of the Han soldiers.  By taking their own lives, the Trưng Sisters preserved their pride and honour, and defying the Chinese once again.

Even though the Trưng Sisters’ rebellion only lasted for three short years, the significance of their actions reverberated in the hearts of the Việt people.  This heroic fight would be a guiding light for future generations of the Vietnamese freedom movement, giving hope to the fighters in their darkest hours.  Even today, the Trưng Sisters are revered and loved as the first liberators of the Vietnamese people.  In Vietnam, many temples and shrines are built to honour these bright and courageous women.

Prelude to the Heroes: 1000 Years of Chinese Occupation

Posted in Ancient History, Heroes of Vietnam Week with tags , on July 18, 2010 by Ian Pham

“Our nation, Dai Viet, was established long ago as an independent nation with its own civilization.  Our borders with China have been drawn…”

When China was first unified under the Qin Dynasty in 221B.C., the ancient civilization of Lac Viet (ancient Vietnam) lost an immense amount of land to the Chinese.  However, during this time, the ancient Vietnamese nation still salvaged a considerable amount of land for itself by the name of Nam-Viet.  It wasn’t until the overthrow of the Qin and the establishment of the Han Dynasty in China did Lac Viet become totally overrun by the Chinese.  This period marked the thousand years occupation of the Vietnamese nation by the Chinese invaders.

“Our customs and traditions are different from those of the foreign country to the North.  The independence of our nation has been established by the Trieu, Dinh, Le, Ly, and Tran Dynasties, concurrent with that of the Han, Tang, Song, and Yuan of China…”

For over 1000 years, starting with the Han invasion in 111B.C. and ending with the defeat of the Southern Han in 938A.D., Vietnam was forcefully integrated into the state of China.  Numerous struggles and rebellions erupted through this long period of Chinese occupation.  Many brave warriors fought to protect the Vietnamese way of life and revive the independence of the nation.  Although some leaders managed to bring freedom to Vietnam for a short period of time, like the Trung Sisters in the first century, it wasn’t until General Ngo Quyen’s victory at Bach Dang Bay were the Chinese permanently expelled.

“It is true that our nation has sometimes been weak and sometimes been strong, but never in time have we suffered from a lack of heroes.”

– Nguyen Trai, 1428 (The Great Declaration on the Victory Over China)

From that day forward, the people of Vietnam will defend their nation to the very death.  Though they have been liberated from China, the Viet people still lived in constant fear of invasion from the country to the north.  For the next thousand years, Vietnam and China would be engaged in a storm of perpetual warfare.  The successive dynasties of China, such as the Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing, would continue to invade Vietnam, trying to recapture the land.  In response, the warriors of Vietnam would fight, giving their lives to defend the nation’s sovereignty.  It is from this ongoing struggle to defend the country against China that many heroic individuals emerge, leaving their mark in the history of Vietnam.  These men and women are the protectors of the Viet tradition, fearlessly risking their lives to protect the nation for more than 1000 years.  Strong, noble, and selfless, these individuals are proudly known and remembered as the Heroes of Vietnam.


Confucius and the Teachings of Lạc Việt

Posted in Ancient History, Did You Know?, V. Arts & Culture with tags , , , , on June 14, 2010 by Ian Pham

“Teaching people with an immense and generous heart, even on immoral people, is the power of Southern people.  Gentlemen act like that.  Rushing into battles, embracing saddles, and wearing armors until death without discouragement is the power of Northern people.  Cruel people act like that.” Confucius

The “Southern” people mentioned by Confucius represents the Lạc Việt people of the South while the “Northern” people represents the nomadic tribes of the Zhou Dynasty.  Confucius made this statement as criticism of the Chinese people of that era, comparing their barbaric, violent, and immoral lifestyle to the peaceful, civilized, and intelligent people of the Southern country.

The Zhou Dynasty was the last of the Chinese nomadic tribes.  The time period was around 1000 B.C. and the Zhou Dynasty was making the transition from a nomadic life to a settled society.  It was during this time that a genuine Chinese state began to solidify.  Confucius was born in 551 B.C. under the rule of the Zhou Dynasty.  Society under the Zhou was perverse and immoral.  Corrupted kings, murderous generals, and incestuous families characterized the withering society in China under the Eastern Zhou.  This period of disturbance became known as the Spring and Autumn Period in Chinese history.  Witnessing the disintegration of his society, Confucius searched for ways to educate his fellow Chinese.

The vast amount of land located directly south of Zhou China is where Vietnam was located originally (over 6000 years ago). The name "Yue" is a Chinese transcription of "Viet."

Vietnam, during this time, was already an established nation by the name of Lạc Việt (Luo Yue in Chinese).  The nation of Lạc Việt had its own civilization, culture, and literature independent from that of China.  Existing 4000 years before the Zhou Dynasty, the antiquity of the Vietnamese people has clearly been proven.  It was from Lạc Việt that Confucius discovered the teachings of morality and compassion, it was here that the teachings known as Confucianism was rooted from.  Confucius used teachings of Lạc Việt to educate the Chinese people, not the other way around.  This fact can be verified in Confucius’ own literary works: Shi Ji (Classics of Poetry) and Chun Qiu Jing (Spring and Autumn Annals). Using Vietnamese folk-songs and poetry (known as Zhou Nan and Zhao Nan in Chinese), the people of Zhou learned to become a civilized nation.

The civilization of Lạc Việt, even before the arrival of the nomadic tribes, had already established calender-making, astronomy, chop-sticks, rice-cultivation, and writing characters.