Archive for the Dynastic History Category

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.

South Korea’s Syngman Rhee: A Descendent of the Ly Dynasty

Posted in Did You Know?, Dynastic History, Modern History, Politics with tags , , , , on October 12, 2010 by Ian Pham

Depending on your knowledge of this particular subject, this may or may not come as a shock to you.  Personally, I was quite surprised when I heard about this.  Syngman Rhee, the first president of the Republic of Korea, is actually a Vietnamese descendent.  Rhee himself declared that he was of Vietnamese ancestry, tracing his origins all the way back to the royal Ly family.

How did the Ly land in Korea anyway?  In the 13th century, princess Ly Chieu Hoang abdicated the throne in favor of her husband, Tran Canh, marking the end of the Ly and the rise of the Tran Dynasty.  Many members of the Ly royal family disapproved, deeply resenting the Tran’s actions afterword.  Tran Thu Do, the man behind the Ly’s toppling, feared of rebellion.  Therefore, he decided to purge the entire Ly family. 

As a result, thousands of Vietnamese people were put to death.  Anyone bearing the name of Ly was hunted down and executed by the Tran.  In order to save his people, prince Ly Long Tuong gathered the remaining  members of the Ly and fled to Korea.  This courageous act salvaged the lives of several thousand Vietnamese people, who would later become proud members of the Korean nation.  One of these proud individuals would be none other than Syngman Rhee, the First President of South Korea.

In the 1950-60’s, Syngman Rhee contacted President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam, seeking help in finding the origins of his ancestors.  President Diem accepted, assigning one of his ministers to assist President Rhee on his search for spiritual truth.  Unfortunately, since the tombs of the Ly family were located in North Vietnam, the proof of President Rhee’s ancestry could only be verified later on, after the death of Diem.

The fact is clear now: thousands of Korean citizens are actually of Vietnamese origin, the descendents of the Ly family.  Many Koreans, like Rhee Syngman, are very proud of their Vietnamese ancestry.  Every year, Vietnam enjoys visits by many Korean tourists, there to visit the shrine of their Vietnamese ancestors.  These people are the proud citizens of Korea, but they have never forgotten their Vietnamese beginnings.