Archive for the Dynastic History Category

Year One: 938, The Year Vietnam Broke Free

Posted in Ancient History, Dynastic History with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2018 by Ian Pham

Bach Dang Battle 938(Wikimedia)

Let us be clear, first and foremost, that Vietnam, its history, its language, its culture, and its people, has existed long before the year 938 A.D. There are at least two thousand years of popular recorded Vietnamese history, and much more information available about Vietnam out there covering even further back than these two millennia. This article does not make the case that 938 is the year that Vietnam began. No, this article simply seeks to highlight the significance of the year 938, because, while there are many, many major dates in the history of Vietnam before and after 938, that particular year holds a very important place in Vietnam’s history.

938 A.D. was the year that the people of Vietnam defeated China in a decisive war, ended the thousand years of Chinese occupation once and for all, achieved independence, and created for themselves a sovereign nation that was distinctly Vietnamese. It was a new beginning for the Vietnamese people, the year that Vietnam was reborn, and the dawn of a new era of independence after a destructive thousand years of Chinese domination. This is the significance of the year 938, and why it is argued here to be “Year One” of a new Vietnamese epoch.

So many heroes and so many lives were sacrificed, up to and including the year 938 to achieve the triumph of the Vietnamese people over the Chinese occupiers. This momentous victory culminated at Vietnam’s Bạch Đằng River, where a small Vietnamese naval force, under the leadership of General Ngô Quyền, destroyed an invading army from the Southern Han kingdom of China. It was at Bạch Đằng, with this victory, that China’s thousand years of domination over Vietnam effectively came to an end (Bolt & Garrett, 1999).

Prior to the 938 Battle of Bạch Đằng, Vietnam was still an occupied territory under the Southern Han of China. The millennium of Chinese domination over Vietnam formally began in the year 111 B.C., when the Han Dynasty of China, under the command of Emperor Wu Di, overran the ancient kingdom of Nam-Việt (ancient Vietnam) (Tran, 1920: 44-47). From that period, all the way until 938 A.D., the Vietnamese people initiated many fights for independence. Although some of these efforts yielded short-lived successes, such as the revered and truly consequential Trưng Sisters’ Rebellion in the first century (40 A.D. – 43. A.D.) (ibid, 49-50), a conclusive and lasting victory did not occur until Ngô Quyền’s monumental triumph over the Southern Han at Bạch Đằng in 938. It was then and there that Chinese domination was ended once and for all.

General Ngô Quyền, the man who led the fight against the Southern Han in 938, was born in Vietnam’s Sơn Tây province (Chapuis, 1995: 70). According to the historian Tran Trong Kim, Ngô Quyền was 47 years old when he died in the year 944 (89), thus marking his age at either 40 or 41 at the Battle of Bạch Đằng, depending on whether his birthday (unknown in this article) occurred before or after the battle. In any case, one can see here that Ngô Quyền was not very old at the time he led the Vietnamese to victory.

Before Ngô Quyền took the helm as leader of the resistance, a man named Dương Đình Nghệ, Ngô Quyền’s mentor and father-in-law, led the Vietnamese rebel forces. Certain feats accomplished by Dương Đình Nghệ showed him to be a strong and effective leader.

In 931, having already established control over some originally Vietnamese territories in the crumbling Chinese empire, the elder Nghệ launched an attack on Southern Han forces in Đại La, expanded the scope of his control, and effectively consolidated a governorship over a quasi-independent Vietnamese territory (Taylor, 2013: 45-46).

During this time, though the Vietnamese area was indeed ruled by a Vietnamese leader, it was, on paper, still under the control of the Southern Han. Having achieved recognition from a weak and reluctant Southern Han (Taylor, 46), the Governor Nghệ had big plans for his territory. However, due to his assassination, Governor Nghệ would only rule for a span of six years and was unable to carry out his goals (Tran, 76). In 937, Dương Đình Nghệ was betrayed and murdered by one of his own generals, Kiều Công Tiễn, who then sought help from the Chinese to consolidate his usurpation (Taylor, 46). Consistent with their approach to any traitor to the Vietnamese nation, the Chinese were happy to assist the treasonous Kiều Công Tiễn in causing damage to Vietnam’s interests.

During this time, Ngô Quyền was serving under Dương Đình Nghệ as the administrator of what is modern day Thanh Hóa province. The two men had a close relationship, for it was Nghệ who recognized the talents of Ngô Quyền in earlier times, promoted Quyền to oversee the operations of Thanh Hóa, and granted his daughter’s hand in marriage to Quyền. Upon hearing the news of his mentor’s death, Ngô Quyền mobilized his own forces to confront Kiều Công Tiễn and avenge his father-in-law (Tran, 76).

Marching northward, Ngô Quyền killed the traitor Kiều Công Tiễn in 938, and promptly shifted his attention to the incoming Chinese invasion (Taylor, 46; Tran, 76). From China, the Southern Han ruler, Liu Gong, braced his forces for an attempt to recapture the Vietnamese territory.

Anticipating the Southern Han’s attack, Ngô Quyền “stationed his men at the estuary of the Bạch Đằng River where the sea routes entered the plain and where he prepared to receive the Southern Han fleet with iron-tipped poles planted in the bed of the river,” (Taylor, 46).

Prior to the Battle of Bạch Đằng, the Southern Han heeded the call of the traitor Kiều Công Tiễn, and “mobilized a fleet of warships, commanded by the crown prince, to bring an army to the aid of its would-be ally,” (ibid). According to Chapuis, this invading force was known as the “Yunnanese expedition,” (70), and was led by Liu Gong’s son, the crown prince Liu Hungcao (Anderson, 2007: 43), [known as Hoằng Tháo in Vietnamese records (Chapuis, 70)].

As history shows, even after the death of Kiều Công Tiễn, the Southern Han continued their invasion of Vietnam without their “would-be ally.” An examination by James Anderson demonstrates that during this period, in what the Chinese describe as the “Five Dynasties” period, the aspirational Southern Han dynasty north of the Vietnamese regions were showing renewed interest in once again capturing full control of Vietnam and its people (43). These findings cast doubt on the Southern Han’s apparently benevolent intentions of simply helping a potential ally, embodied by the treasonous Kiều Công Tiễn. Instead, it is more apparent that the Southern Han, though claiming to assist an ally in need, sought to exploit the situation in Vietnam to capture and reestablish Chinese control over the Vietnamese once more.

The Southern Han’s Yunnanese expedition arrived in the autumn of 938, and was met by the forces of General Ngô Quyền at Bạch Đằng River (Anderson, 43; Taylor, 46).

As part of their strategy, it was the forces of Ngô Quyền who initiated the naval confrontation versus the Southern Han fleet (Chapuis, 70). The Việt forces instigated the fight during high tide, when the river waters covered the giant iron stakes they had planted beneath the waves. As the tide gradually fell, Ngô Quyền’s forces feigned a retreat, prompting a chase by the Southern Han’s forces. In their pursuit, the invaders sailed directly over Ngô Quyền’s trap (Tran, 70). With the fall of the tide, the Chinese ships became entangled, the stakes ripping through the Chinese ships and impaling the soldiers onboard (Anderson, 43). It was then that Ngô Quyền and the Việt forces launched their counter attack, against an ensnared Southern Han naval fleet that could neither fight back nor escape. As a result, at Bạch Đằng River, Ngô Quyền and his navy obliterated the Chinese invading forces (Tran, 76), drowning half of the Chinese expedition (Anderson, 43).

From the battle, the Southern Han’s naval commander, the crown prince Liu Hungcao, was captured by Ngô Quyền’s forces and subsequently executed (Tran, 76). With the destruction of its invading fleet, and the loss of Prince Hungcao, who was both the leader of the fleet and the heir to the Southern Han’s throne, the defeat at Bạch Đằng River marked “the end of Southern Han ambitions in An Nam,” (Taylor, 46). [Side note: An Nam was the Chinese’ derogatory name for Vietnam, meaning “Pacified South,” and is a label “much resented by the Vietnamese,” then and now (Bolt & Garrett)].

With the Southern Han invaders vanquished, and his position over the Vietnamese realm solidified, Ngô Quyền purged himself of any designations associated with the old Chinese order, and took on the role as “King” of a newly independent Vietnamese throne (Anderson, 43). The new Vietnamese King then set up his independent capital at Cổ Loa, an ancient site north of the Red River Delta, where the legendary Vietnamese ruler King An Dương founded his ancient kingdom of Âu Lạc (257 B.C. – 207 B.C.) more than a thousand years before Ngô Quyền’s time (Anderson, 43-44; Taylor, 46).

Ngô Quyền’s decision to set up his government at this specific location signified his purpose to be a “Vietnamese leader who was independent from northern [Chinese] control” (Anderson, 44). In so doing, King Ngô Quyền declared his own dynasty, separate from the Chinese (Taylor, 46). It was a monarchic regime, viewed by some as “the first manifestation of Vietnam’s national identity,” (Chapuis, 70).

And with that, in the year 938 A.D., a new Vietnamese nation was born, after more than one thousand years of Chinese domination.

The Battle of Bạch Đằng of 938 would be recorded famously in the annals of history, and the mastermind behind the brilliant strategies that resulted in that victory, the General (and later, King) Ngô Quyền, joined the “pantheon of Vietnamese national heroes,” (43). Successive generations, such as the dynasties of the Đinh, the “Early” Lê, the Lý, the Trần (Tran, 76), and all those after them, stemmed from the foundation laid by Ngô Quyền and the brave Vietnamese who made the ultimate sacrifice before and up to that monumental victory at Bạch Đằng River.

It was at that critical juncture that a new Vietnamese homeland was born. At Bạch Đằng River, after a thousand years of trying, trying, and trying some more, our Vietnamese ancestors realized our destiny in 938, affirming the right to exist of the Vietnamese people, and of a Vietnamese homeland, always and forever.

For this reason, with the undying truth that Vietnam and its people possess thousands of years of history long before the Battle of Bạch Đằng Bay, the year 938 A.D. stands immortal in the history books of the Vietnamese people, and is argued here to be “Year One” of a new Vietnamese era.

 

Bibliography:

Anderson, James. The Rebel Den of Nùng Trí Cao: Loyalty and Identity Along the Sino-Vietnamese Frontier. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007.

Bolt, Ernest & Amanda Garrett. “The End of Chinese Domination: The Battle of Bach Dang (938).” From Pre-Colonial Vietnam: Study Module for Online Course (Richmond University, 1999). https://facultystaff.richmond.edu/~ebolt/history398/PrecolonialVietnam.html (accessed Dec. 30, 2017).

Chapuis, Oscar. A History of Vietnam: From Hong Bang to Tu Duc. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1995.

Taylor, Keith W. A History of the Vietnamese. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Tran, Kim Trong. Việt Nam Sử Lược. Vietnam: Thanh Hoa Publishing, 1920.

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The Culture of Vietnam: Lasting Through the Ages

Posted in Ancient History, Dynastic History, I. News, IV. Columns with tags , , on October 6, 2012 by Ian Pham

Our next topic of discussion involves three very different cultures: that of Vietnam, China, and Manchuria.  One culture, Manchu culture, serves its place in history as China’s invader and occupier.  The other culture, Vietnamese culture, acts as China’s eternal rival, and at one dark point in its history, as China’s prisoner.  Interestingly, the ones that acted as China’s overlords, the Manchus, would find their cultural heritage wiped from the face of the earth.  On the other hand, Vietnamese culture, though dominated by the Chinese for 1000 years, will prevail, even to this very day.

What makes Vietnam different from Manchuria?  How is it possible that the people of Vietnam, through 1000 years of occupation and assimilation from the invaders from the north, came to sustain their cultural and ethnic identity?  Furthermore, how did the Manchus, effectively dethroning the Ming in 1644 and ruled all of China until 1912, see their way of life, their language, and their culture vanish in less than 300 years?  The answer to this question, at least form my own analysis, is culture.

The three cultures mentioned above all varied in depth, richness, and sophistication.  Whichever culture to most strongly display these three qualities was more likely to last.  Unfortunately for the Manchus, their culture was the least likely to embody these qualities and, as a result, their culture was inevitably absorbed by the culture of the Han.  Though the Manchu started out as the foreign overlords of the Chinese empire, they would gradually and increasingly adapt the customs and practices of the Chinese.  Overtime, they would become Chinese themselves.  This is where Vietnam and Manchuria differentiate, and this is where Vietnam prevails.

Du Mien Le Thanh Hoa, the author of Vietnam: The Springhead of Eastern Cultural Civilization suggests that Vietnam prevailed because of the strength of its culture.  According to him, Vietnam’s culture was simply higher than Chinese culture.  It was older, and more enshrined in the hearts and minds of the people of Viet.  Thus, even when facing the jarring threat of Chinese assimilation, the Viet people continued to practice their culture.  This persistence helped to safeguard the existence of Vietnamese culture.

Through all the hardship, Vietnam’s culture prevails, even to this day.  For thousands of years, our traditions have been upheld, our language preserved.  The legend of Lac Long Quan, the ancient folklore, and the songs of antiquity have been passed down from generation to generation.  These foundations remind us who we are, but more importantly, who we are not.  Through the darkest periods of foreign domination, our culture has kept us alive.  Our ways of life have lived through the ages, and today, they are more important than ever.

Lê Lai: The Warrior Who Saved The Emperor

Posted in Dynastic History with tags , , , , on January 5, 2012 by Ian Pham

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.

Lý Long Tường and the Other Mongol Invasion. “Part 2”

Posted in Dynastic History with tags , , , , , , , on December 15, 2010 by Ian Pham

Welcome to Korea

Upon their arrival, Prince Lý and his envoy received a warm welcomed by Kojong, the King of Korea’s Koryo (aka Goryeo) Dynasty.  It seems that Lý Long Tường and his crew came to Korea at the right time, as they were handsomely accommodated by the people of Korea.

Whether Kojong knew it or not, he had been waiting for Lý Long Tường to land on the shores of Korea for a long time.  News of the prince’s arrival came to King Kojong in a dream, could it be fate that brought Prince Lý to the distant land of Korea?

The Dream of King Kojong

Legends speak of how Kojong had foreseen the arrival of Lý Long Tường in a dream.  Kojong dreamt of a majestic phoenix that flew all the way from the south to land on the shores of Korea.  Prince Lý’s arrival was therefore perceived as this phoenix, a heavenly sign that was immediately accepted by Kojong and his people.  Lý Long Tường was one of Đại Việt’s most talented generals, well versed in literature and the art of war.

Recognizing his talents, the Koreans quickly promoted Lý to the position of general.  For the rest of his days, Prince Lý Long Tường would be known as Lee of Hwasan, a bright and heroic figure of the Koryo nation.  With news of the Mongols’ impeding conquests on Korea, Lee of Hwasan, his Lý compatriots, and the Korean nation, mobilized their forces.

Ogodei and the First Mongol Invasion

Korea’s relationship with the Mongols tend to fluctuate at various times.  The Koryo Kingdom and the Mongol Empire may cooperate at one instant, and become hostile at another.  It all depends on the circumstances, and this time it’s war.  With the momentum of countless successful military campaigns across the lands of Eurasia, the Mongols now prepared to capture the Kingdom of Koryo.

The earliest of the Mongol invasions on Koryo was ignited in 1231-32, under the orders of Ogodei Khan.  Diplomacy between the two sides have failed, as a result the Mongol Empire prepared their assault against the Koryo Kingdom.  Ogodei, the son of Genghis, would oversee this first invasion, as well as the defeat at the hands of Koryo and Lý Long Tường.

Ogodei’s forces bombarded Koryo in all directions, through naval and conventional assaults.  Though they initially succeeded in capturing some Korean territories,  Prince Lý (aka Lee of Hwasan) mobilized his forces and confronted the Mongols at Hwang-hae.  Lý’s forces successfully warded off the Mongol advances, thus preserving Koryo’s sovereignty for the time being.  The Korean forces also showed tremendous resistance to the Mongol threat, neutralizing their efforts of capturing Koryo.

30 Years Later: The Final Invasions

After 30 years of intense fighting with the Mongol Empire, Koryo would finally see an end to the bloodshed.  Nearly three decades have passed since Ogodei Khan kick-started the Mongol invasion of Korea, and neither side wanted to let up.  The Mongols had captured many of Koryo’s territories, only to lose it in the distant future.  Treaties and agreements have come and gone, always resulting in military clashes between the two sides.

Lý Long Tường, now in his 70’s, has been fighting alongside the Korean forces.  It has been three decades since the prince accepted the title Lee of Hwasan, helping the Koreans in their struggle to break from the Mongols’ grasp.  After numerous battles, the Lee of Hwasan would engage in one final battle against the Mongols, playing a big role in their final defeat to the Kingdom of Koryo.

The Defeat of Mongke Khan

In the year of 1253, the Mongol army, under the fierce command of Mongke Khan, entered Koryo once again.  As they tried to capture the province of Hwang-hae, the forces of Lý Long Tường was their to engage.  After five months of armed combat, the forces of Lý Long Tường successfully eliminated the Mongol forces in that region, forcing them to surrender.

This victory would be the beginning of the full Mongol withdrawal from Korea.  Finally, after 30 years of excruciating resistance against the Mongol Empire, Koryo was finally free from their grasp.  Political actions taken by the patriotic rulers of Korea resulted in the Mongols abandoning their ambitions of capturing the Koryo Kingdom, leaving the country in 1259.

Lý Long Tường: The White Horse General

The fighting spirit of the Koreans helped them defeat the Mongols in numerous battles.  Numerously courageous warriors joined the fight to ultimately expel them from the country.  Fighting alongside these Korean generals was Lý Long Tường, Prince of Đại Việt, and descendent of the royal Lý family.  Prince Lý, along with the remnants of the Lý family, joined in the fight against the Mongols, playing a big role in their final defeat to the Kingdom of Koryo.

Prince Ly was a valiant fighter and a fearless general who led a division of the Korean military.  He arrived on the shores of Korea from Đại Việt in the 1220’s and will spend the rest of his life in Korea.  The several thousand members of the Lý clan would stay there with him, becoming proud members of the Korean community.  Besides the title Lee of Hwasan, Lý Long Tường was also known as the “White Horse General,” riding into battle on the back of a fierce white stallion.

It is said that throughout his life in Korea, Prince Lý would sit on the peak of a mountain and look southward in reverence of his former home.  Little did Prince Lý know that the land he looked back on so fondly would become a battleground for the Mongols’ next conquest.  His successor, St. Trần Hưng Đạo of the Trần Dynasty, would achieve a feat similar to Lý Long Tường.  Next time however, he would do so in a fashion even grander than the Lee of Hwasan himself.

Lý Long Tường and the Other Mongol Invasion. “Part 1”

Posted in Dynastic History with tags , , , , , on December 3, 2010 by Ian Pham

The Mongols’ defeats at the hands of Trần Hưng Đạo of the Trần Dynasty are one of the most prominent feats in the history of Vietnam.  There is however, another glorious victory during the Mongol Wars, accomplished this time by Prince Lý Long Tường.  As a survivor of the overthrown Lý Dynasty, Prince Lý Long Tường would help fend off the Mongol invasions on the kingdom of Korea, decades before Trần Hưng Đạo and the nation of Đại Việt.

Trần Thủ Độ and the Fall of the Lý

The story of Lý Long Tường begins in a tragic way, as the last Lý monarch, princess Lý Chiêu Hoàng, abdicated the throne in favor of her husband, Trần Cảnh.  This was made possible because of Trần Thủ Độ, a man who exploited the conflict of a female ruler to break the line of succession of the Lý family.  As a result, the Lý family was deposed from the royal throne and replaced by the Trần family.

Infuriated by Trần Thủ Độ’s political schemes, the members of the Lý family became a strong opposing force to the new Trần rulers.  Fearing a revolt, the diabolical Trần Thủ Độ, regent of the fledgling Trần Dynasty, would orchestrate a political purge aimed at the entire Lý family.  With the power of the military, members of the Lý were targeted and ruthlessly executed.  Thousands of Vietnamese people died at the hands of Trần Thủ Độ, just for baring the name of Lý.

Lý Long Tường and the Voyage to Korea

Recognizing the serious situation that the Lý were facing, Prince Lý Long Tường decided to take action.  With the last of his political power, Lý Long Tường rounded up the remaining members of the Lý family, formulating a plan to evacuate them from Đại Việt.  What was once the homeland of the proud Lý Dynasty now became a hostile territory, a place where the first great rulers were no longer welcome.

With three giant ships, Lý Long Tường and the remnants of the Lý Dynasty set sail for the Eastern Sea.  On their journey at sea, the prince’s envoy encountered a typhoon.  In order to prevent the destruction of the envoy, Lý Long Tường had to make a pit stop, landing on the shores of Taiwan.  When the storm finally passed, the prince gathered his forces and continued northward.

However, Prince Ly’s son, Lý Long Hiền, was afflicted with a serious ailment during their stay in Taiwan.  As a result, Hiền was forced to stay behind while his father proceeded on his voyage in the Eastern Sea.  A number of mandarins and government officials stayed with Lý Long Hiền, becoming members of what is now known as Taiwan.

The Shores of Korea

After more than a month on the high seas, Lý Long Tường’s forces finally landed on the Korean peninsula, where they were warmly welcomed by Kojong, the king of the Korean kingdom.  It is here that Prince Lý will spend the rest of his days, along with the remaining members of the Lý clan.  When Prince Lý fled Đại Việt, he brought numerous talented people under his wing, all of which would be fully utilized by Korean rulers.

The time that Prince Lý arrived in Korea was also the time that Genghis Khan and his Mongols unleashed their fearsome conquests upon all of Eurasia.  Korea, like any other country at the time, was in danger of Mongol domination.  As a result, the Koreans mobilized their country to prepare for the Mongol invasion.

Since the Prince was a talented military commander for Đại Việt, Lý Long Tường was granted a leadership position in the Korean army.  With his help, the kingdom of Korea was prepared for the Mongols coming invasion.  News of Mongols’ countless military endeavors swept across the entire continent, and Korea was next on the list.

To be continued…

Buddhism: The Religion That Saved Đại Việt

Posted in Dynastic History with tags , , , , , on November 30, 2010 by Ian Pham

First off, let me clarify that I am not about do discredit any other religion in favor of Buddhism.  In modern Vietnam, Christianity, as well as Buddhism, have been major contributors to the development of Vietnamese society.  However, I am looking back, very far back, to the times of antiquity to show Buddhism’s major contribution to the strength and protection of Đại Việt.

For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to the strand of Buddhism practiced in Vietnam as Vietnamese Buddhism.  There are numerous teachings in the Buddhist religion that I won’t be covering here.  For now, I will be pointing out the three most powerful lessons that every leader of antiquity have followed at some point in their lives.  These three great teachings talk of compassion (bi), intelligence (trí), and courage (dũng).

These three  great teachings paved the way for the rise of the Đại Việt nation.  The Lý Dynasty, the Trần Dyansty, and the Lê Dynasty were Buddhist dynasties (though the Lê to a lesser extent).  Great emperors like Lý Thái Tổ, Trần Nhân Tông, Lê Lợi, just to name a few, were Buddhists.  Heroes of Vietnam, like Trần Hưng Đạo, Lý Thường Kiệt, and Nguyễn Trãi, were all well versed in the teachings of Buddha.

These heroes all learned from these teachings of bi, trí, and dũng (compassion, intelligence, and courage) to protect the country.  In times of peace, they were benevolent, compassionate, and kind.  In times of war, they fought fearlessly, showing no mercy to the ones who dared to invade the land.  Thanks to the teachings of Buddha, the nation of Đại Việt prevailed in the face of adversity and prospered in times of peace.

Listening to the Rain

Posted in Dynastic History, Poetry with tags , , on November 12, 2010 by Ian Pham

A Poem by Nguyễn Trãi

With all the tensions in the world, one should remember to take a break once in a while and ease the mind with a little poetry.  This is “Listening to the Rain,” composed by Nguyễn Trãi, great poet and political genious of the 15th century.  Translated by contemporaries, Do Nguyen and Paul Hoover.

Jouissez!

“Alone in a dark, silent room.

Listening to the rain fall the whole night long.

The somber sound is a shock to the pillow.

Drop by drop falling melodiously, endlessly.

The sound of bamboo tapping on the window

And a ringing bell melt gently into my peaceful dream.

Mumbled some poems but can’t fall asleep,

Continually listening, drop by drop, until sunrise.”

Hoover, Paul & Do Nguyen. Beyond the Court Gate: Selected Poems of Nguyễn Trãi. Denver, Colorado: Counterpath Press. 2010.