Archive for Ancient Vietnam

4,000+ Years and Counting: Essential Facts About the Vietnamese People

Posted in Ancient History with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 14, 2020 by Ian Pham
Photo by Dương Nhân on Pexels.com

Introduction:

There is already a lot of information out there about Vietnam and the Vietnamese people. Much of the following is common knowledge.

We are a nation in Southeast Asia.

We fought a bloody and destructive war in the 20th century, which took place between the 1950s and 1970s. The U.S. was involved in this war and fought alongside the good guys (the South Vietnamese).

Since the 10th century, we became an independent nation called Dai Viet (“Great Viet”) after 1,000 years of Chinese occupation, which started when the Han Dynasty took over in the first century BC.

Vietnam has some pretty incredible historical heroes, such as Lady Trieu, who led a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful rebellion against the Kingdom of Wu in the third century; General Tran Hung Dao, who crushed the mighty Mongol Yuan Empire invaders in the 14th century; and Emperor Nguyen Hue Quang Trung, who eviscerated the invaders from the Manchu Qing Dynasty in the 18th century.

These are just a few of the things that encompass the long and storied heritage of the Vietnamese people. They are a cornerstone of the Vietnamese identity, and are commonly known to anyone who is interested in Vietnamese history.

A statue of Emperor Quang Trung of the Tay Son Dynasty. Binh Dinh Province, Vietnam. Photo shared in accordance with CC BY-SA 3.0. (via Bùi Thụy Đào Nguyên / Wikimedia Commons).

As important and timeless as these truths are, however, they are things that happened relatively recently, within the last 2,000 years in the AD era (Anno Domini; also known as the Common Era [CE]; after the birth of Christ). Therefore, they do not explain who the Vietnamese people were in ancient times, in the BC era (Before Christ) of the western calendar.

And so, in pursuit of a deeper understanding of Vietnamese history, the following questions are raised:

  1. Did Vietnam exist before 2,000 years ago?
  2. If yes, what was Vietnam like before 2,000 years ago?
  3. Just how old are the Vietnamese people?

The proceeding sections of this article will present more detailed answers to the questions above. If you’re short on time right now, though, then the quick version of the answers, in their respective order, are:

  1. Yes.
  2. Pretty sophisticated and impressive.
  3. Really, really, really old.

Brief Answers:

1. Yes, a Vietnamese state did exist before 2,000 years ago:

It wasn’t called “Vietnam” during that time, but it did exist. And it existed in several forms in different time periods.

Vietnam had a number of names throughout its existence. Some (but not all) of these names include “Van Lang,” “Au Lac,” “Nam-Viet,” and “Dai-Viet.” It was not until the 19th century that the modern name “Viet-Nam” was adapted by the Nguyen Dynasty.

The Vietnamese state we will talk about specifically in the next section is Au Lac.

2. This Vietnamese state, Au Lac, was independent, sophisticated, and impressive.

In the first millennium BC, there existed the Vietnamese state of Au Lac. Its capital city was named Co Loa. As the next section will show, Co Loa was quite advanced and developed, signifying that the people who built it were socially, politically, and culturally sophisticated.

3. The Vietnamese people have existed for more than 4,000 years.

Besides the testament presented by the state of Au Lac, there is evidence that the Vietnamese people have existed in northern Vietnam and much of southern China for a really, really, really long time.

Read on to find more detailed explanations for these answers.

Co Loa Citadel and the Vietnamese state of Au Lac in the first millennium BC:

In his book The Origins of Ancient Vietnam (2015), Nam C. Kim presents valuable insight into the state of Au Lac. From Au Lac, the Vietnamese people can trace their heritage back to at least the first millennium BC.

Traditional accounts signify that the kingdom of Au Lac was founded through conquest by a man named An Duong Vuong (aka “King An Duong”) in the third century BC (Kim, 2015: 5). There is common agreement that in Vietnamese tradition, King An Duong is recognized as one of the early ancestors of the Vietnamese people.

Following his conquest, the newly crowned King An Duong ordered the construction of a large citadel in Tay-vu called Co Loa Thanh (aka “Co Loa Citadel”). This citadel, which may simply be called “Co Loa,” would be the capital city of Au Lac, and thus, the political and power center of this new kingdom (Kim, 2015: 5).

(Note: Be careful not to confuse “Co Loa,” the name of the capital city of Au Lac, with “Cao Lo,” the name of one of King An Duong’s advisors, who is also an important historical figure associated with the city’s founding.)

The statue of Cao Lo, builder of the mythical magic crossbow that, according to legend, allowed King An Duong to conquer countless enemies in battle. Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo shared in accordance with CC BY-SA 4.0. (via Julez A. / Wikimedia Commons).

What is significant about the city of Co Loa is its size and sophistication.

Kim’s account presents the fact that Co Loa was a large and heavily fortified city. This, he argues, is proof of significant complexity and consolidated authority that was present within this Viet society when the city was built (2015: 6).

The name “Co Loa” itself means “old snail city.” It comes from the city’s artful and intricate architecture, whose “walls appear to be laid out in concentric rings of earthen ramparts reminiscent of a snail shell,” (Kim, 2015: 5).

The builders of the Co Loa settlement, which Kim calls the “Co Loa Polity,” is said to be an organized political entity. They were centralized, operated at the state level, and had longstanding political institutions (2015: 9).

All of this suggests that the founders of Au Lac, and its capital Co Loa, were people of military, political, and cultural sophistication. These early ancestors of the Vietnamese people were organized, civilized, and well-established.

In addition to Au Lac, the general Red River Delta region in northern Vietnam has been considered the “heartland” of Vietnamese civilization since at least the third millennium BC. (Kim, 2015: 18).

Further investigation into Vietnam’s past shows the existence of ancient peoples whose roots stretch further back than is commonly understood in popular culture.

Collectively, these peoples are known as the Hundred Viets, and had occupied the regions of northern Vietnam and southern China long before the Chinese came.

The Hundred Viets peoples who inhabited Southern China before the Chinese did:

One of the more commonly known examples of Vietnamese people occupying parts of southern China comes from Nam-Viet, another kingdom that also existed in the first millennium BC. Based on its founding year, Nam-Viet is newer than Au Lac.

Nam-Viet existed between 208-110 BC, and, like Au Lac, was a state of Vietnamese origin. It was located in what is today the city of Guangzhou, China (Holcombe, 2011: 9). The name “Nam-Viet,” if translated to English, means “Southern Viet.”

Earlier than this, possibly by a thousand years, there existed yet another Vietnamese kingdom. Charles Holcombe, in A History of East Asia (2011), talks about an early “Bronze Age kingdom called Viet,” which was “located even farther north [than Guangzhou], in the vicinity of the modern Chinese Province of Zhejiang, almost half way up the coast of what is today China!” (2011: 9).

Tellingly, it is also noted by Holcombe that, “Early Chinese texts, in fact, referred to most of what is now southeast China as the land of the ‘Hundred Viets,'” (2011: 9).

A snapshot of modern-day Zhejiang Province in southeast China. Notice the province of Anhui directly northwest. These locations were once the homes of several Viet groups before the arrival of the Chinese.

Holcombe also spends some time in his book briefly talking about one specific tribe of the Hundred Viets. These are the Mountain Viets (in Chinese, “Shan Yue”), who occupied the lower Yangtze River area, and who took their last stand against the Chinese kingdom of Wu before being defeated in the third century AD (2011: 62).

During the “Three Kingdoms” era in Chinese history, the Kingdom of Wu waged a military campaign against the Mountain Viets. This campaign started in the year 234 AD, lasted for three years, and culminated in the surrender of approximately 100,000 Mountain Viets at what today is modern Anhui Province in China (Holcombe 2011: 62).

From Holcombe’s account, it appears that the Mountain Viets were then assimilated into the Chinese population. After the Three Kingdoms period, the name “Mountain Viet” was not spoken of again (2011: 62).

The evidence here shows that before the Chinese came, much of what is today southern China was inhabited by the ancestors of the Vietnamese people. More specifically, it is proof that the Vietnamese people have a long and deep history that is much older and more sophisticated than is commonly believed.

4,000+ Years and counting:

Whether it be the kingdoms of Au Lac and Nam-Viet during the mid-late first millennium BC, or the Kingdom of Viet before that during the Bronze Age, it is clear that prior to the AD era, the Vietnamese people did exist.

The evidence shows that the various Viet kingdoms are connected to a larger family of ancient Viet peoples, which, together, comprise the “Hundred Viets” race.

The Dong Son Bronze Drum is a known symbol of Vietnamese antiquity. This photo was taken at the Vietnam History Museum, and posted to Wikimedia Commons on April 13, 2009 by Binh Giang (Public Domain).

The Hundred Viets occupied vast areas of both East Asia and Southeast Asia, reaching from what is northern Vietnam today, all the way through modern-day southern China up to the Yangtze River.

While further research continues to provide more clarity on just how old the Vietnamese people are, current findings show that they have existed for at least 4,000 years.

Not bad.

Cited:

Holcombe, Charles. A History of East Asia: From the Origins of Civilization to the Twenty-First Century. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2011.

Kim, Nam C. The Origins of Ancient Vietnam. New York: Oxford University Press. 2015.

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.

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.

Kim Định: The Pioneer of Vietnam’s Historical Awakening

Posted in Ancient History, I. News, IV. Columns with tags , , , , , on September 27, 2011 by Ian Pham

Decades ago, the majority of academics believed that the origins of Asia’s writing system came from China.  However, one man dared to challenge conventional belief, presenting some ideas that shocked and enraged fellow members of his academic community.  This said individual was a professor and philosopher who went by the name of Kim Định.

Through his literature, Kim Định presented many interesting arguments and ideas, many which posed a direct challenge to the writings and accounts of the Chinese.  One of the sensetive points raised by Kim Định was the origin of the Chinese writing system.  Kim was the first to put into question the common perception that the system was developed in China.

Using Vietnamese folklore, geographical names and dates, and the disrepencies in Chinese historical accounts as his basis, Kim Định boldly presented the idea that it was from the clans of the Hundred Viets that the writing system of China was created.  According to Kim Định, it was the Chinese who borrowed the writing system from the Vietnamese, not the other way around.

The next groundbreaking idea presented by Kim Định was the origin of the Confucian ideology.  Kim Định was also one of the very first researchers to take the position that Confucianism was developed in ancient Vietnam, long before the Chinese used it as their official ideology.  Through extensive research, Kim Dinh came up with conclusions, mainly arguing that there is a much older strand of Vietnamese Confucianism, different from the Chinese, and older than the Chinese.

Because his ideas so strongly opposed what was commonly believed at the time, Kim Định was widely unpopular with his fellow researchers.  He was scorned for his work and shunned by many of his colleagues, labelled as a fanatic nationalist who defied history.  Decades went by until his work was taken seriously.  Today, Kim Định’s work has become the foundation by which modern researchers of Vietnamese history begin their investigations.

Kim Định was a researcher, philosopher, and professor in the former Republic of South Vietnam.  He has authored over 30 books dedicated to the study of Vietnam’s origins, and has become the originator of contemporary Viet studies.  Much of the ideas and findings conducted by modern researchers in the study of Vietnam’s past is based on his work.  A great contributor to the reemergence of Vietnamese history, an important man indeed.

The History of the Hundred Việts

Posted in Ancient History with tags , , , , , , on January 24, 2011 by Ian Pham

Earlier this month, I presented the ancient Vietnamese legend of Lạc Long Quân, the Dragon Prince, in order to illustrate the origins of the Vietnamese people.  It chronicles the life of the Prince, his meeting with Âu Cơ the Fairy Princess, and the birth of their hundred sons.  These hundred sons would become known as the Hundred Việts, otherwise known as the Bách Việt, or Bai Yue civilization.

In turning our sights from the story of the Hundred Sons over to the history of the Hundred Việts, we have crossed the line from myth into reality.  The Hundred Việts were an actual people, who once inhabited the vast region now known as Southern China, as far back as 4000 B.C.  They were an agricultural people who engaged in farming, fishing, and the raising of animals.  The traditions of these people included dying their teeth to black, as well as the art of tattooing.

The culture of the Bách Việt people was rich with folklore, poetry, and humanistic teachings.  The system of government was at the village level, as many clans, tribes, and families cooperated with each other, with a king or village chief at the top.  It is from these numerous clans that the people, as a whole, became known in modern history as the Hundred Việts.  The main source of food for these societies was rice, as the rich fertile soil of the south made it perfect for rice cultivation.

In reality, there were about ten to twenty different clans, the name Bách Việt (Hundred Viet, Bai Yue), is just the general title to describe the society as a whole.  Bách Việt was a peaceful society that did not engage in warfare with other regions.  The philosophy of the Bai Yue always spoke of peace, compassion, and the importance of the human heart.  Unfortunately, due to their peaceful nature, the society became highly vulnerable to the nomadic tribes from the north, who raided and captured much of the Bách Việt’s land, along with their culture.

As a result of their peaceful ways and unpreparedness for combat, the clans of Âu Việt, Ư Việt, Hồ Việt, Mân Việt, Đông Việt, and many others, slowly fell to the northern invaders, one by one.  The invaders subsequently erased the history of these clans in order to assimilate them, a strategy that proved to be devastating to the people of Bách Việt.  The plans resulted in the vanishment of Việt culture for over two thousand years, only to be rediscovered in the 21st century.

Of the dozen Việt clans that existed throughout history, only one has prevailed in the face of northern aggression.  This one surviving clan, the one clan able to resist the relentless invasions of the north for more than 4000 years, is the clan of Lạc Việt.  The Lạc Việt clan was the main branch of the Hundred Viets, they were the most powerful, and the only clan equipped to fight back.

The descendants of the Lạc are the forefathers of Vietnam today, carrying on the traditions of a culture that has existed for more than 6000 years.  In distant history, they were the warriors of Nam-Việt, Jiaozhi, and then Đại Việt.  Today, they represent the 3 million people oversees, who live from places like Europe, to Australia, to North America.  They are also the 87 million inhabitants of Vietnam today, a population that is slowly preparing to fight for their freedom, no matter what the cost.

Dragons and Fairies: The Legend of the Hundred Việts

Posted in Ancient History with tags , , , , , on January 3, 2011 by Ian Pham

The following is a myth that chronicles the origin of the Vietnamese people.  It has been passed down from generations to generations, long preceding even the thousand years of Chinese occupation.  It is a cornerstone of Vietnamese culture, a foundation that has safeguarded the identity of the Vietnamese for many thousands of years.

This is a mythical tale, filled with magic and wonder, and should not be taken literally.  It is meant to paint a picture in your mind, giving you something to think about.  After this reading, you will understand why the Vietnamese people refer to themselves as the seeds of Dragons and the descendants of Fairies.  It’s also kind of a love story, if you’re into that sorta thing?

Happy Reading!

The Legend of Lạc Long Quân

Legend speaks of a man named Kinh Dương Vương (aka King Kinh Dương), a mythical figure that descended from a long line of dragons.  Long Nu, a female descendent of another dragon clan, was married to Kinh Dương Vương and gave birth to a boy named Lạc Long Quân.  As an immortal with the dragon lineage, Lạc Long Quân would be known as the Dragon Prince in Vietnamese history. As Lạc Long Quân matures, he meets a beautiful woman by the name of Âu Cơ, and falls deeply in love with her.

The story of their first meeting happens when the Dragon Prince notices a demonic bird chasing after a defenseless white crane.  Lạc Long Quân rushes to the crane’s defense, smashing the demon bird with a rock.  The demonic bird was so furious that it morphed itself into a tiger and bitterly tried to maul the Dragon Prince.  As a result, the Prince found himself tangled in a violent struggle against an adversary he did not know.

Lạc Long Quân prevails in the end, killing the demon and succeeding in his protection of the vulnerable white crane.  As the Dragon Prince would find out, things are not always as they seem.  The white crane was actually the beautiful Âu Cơ in disguise, trying to get away from the predatory abomination that was pursuing her.  Lạc Long Quân was pleasantly surprised to find this out and the two quickly become close.

Âu Cơ was an angelic beauty, a descendent of the fairies, and an immortal like Lạc Long Quân himself.  Together, the two would form a family, becoming the parents of one hundred sons.  With his wife Âu Cơ, Lạc Long Quân would preside over the mountains and rivers of the land.  Their children would carry the blood of the dragons and the charm of the fairies.

Sadly, as time went on, Âu Cơ starts to long for her home in the sky, while Lạc Long Quân begins to miss his life at sea.  As a result, the two lovers would separate.  Princess Âu Cơ would take fifty of the children and depart to the mountains, Lạc Long Quân in-turn would bring the other fifty sons to the coastal regions close to the seas.  These children, the seeds of the dragon clans, the descendants of the fairies, will inhabit the mountains and rivers of the south, becoming the originators of the Vietnamese people.

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.

Source:

Đõ, Thành (2010). NGUỒN GỐC CHỮ NÔM. Retrieved from: http://www.anviettoancau.net/anviettc/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2135&Itemid=99999999

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.

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.

The Contents of “Vietnam: The Springhead of Eastern Cultural Civilization”

Posted in Ancient History, Books, I. News with tags , , on June 13, 2010 by Ian Pham

The English and Vietnamese versions of "Vietnam: The Springhead of Eastern Cultural Civilization." English edition translated by Dr. Joseph M. Vo.

Several weeks ago I announced the publication of the book Vietnam: The Springhead of Eastern Cultural Civilation.  I then stated that the book is a comprehensive account of Vietnamese history which covers the origins of the Vietnamese people.  However, after aquiring the book, I realized that this literary work is not a comprehensive book based on Vietnamese history through various time periods.  It is actually a book dedicated entirely to the origin of the Vietnamese people.  I finished reading the book just recently and what I learned from this book is literally groundbreaking!

The Author of "Vietnam: The Springhead of Eastern Cultural Civilization," Mr. Du Mien Le Thanh Hoa.

For centuries, even up to present day, most historians believed that Vietnam was a country that found its origins in China, and that Vietnamese civilization was rooted in Chinese civilization.  This however, is a false allegation.  The findings in Vietnam: The Springhead of Eastern Cultural Civilization not only falsifies this claim but also succeeds in explaining how Vietnamese civilization preceeded Chinese civilization.  Le Thanh Hoa, the author of Vietnam, clarifies the fact that the Lac Viet (ancient Vietnamese) were agricultural people with their own civilization and culture while the Chinese at the time were nomadic tribes who lived by hunting and raiding.  The nomadic tribes simply invaded the agricultural people, captured the culture of these people and claimed it as their own.  At the same time, the conquerers also tried to eradicate the Lac Viet, killing and erasing the old histories of the agricultural people in order to maintain their control.  It is for this reason that Vietnamese history has been so fragmented and rare, and why some sections of Chinese history contain so many loop holes and are widely debated among scholars.

Confucius himself admitted that his teachings came from the Viet people.

The authors of Vietnam: The Springhead of Eastern Cultural Civilization not only derive their ideas from western and Vietnamese sources, but also take key ideas from ancient Chinese teachers such as Confucius and the famous historian Sima Qian. One of the most intriguing, not to mention shocking, discoveries made by Le Thanh Hoa’s research is that the thousand year teachings of the great Kong-tzu (Confucius) actually came from the Lac Viet (ancient Vietnamese) nation, and that Confucius actually used the teachings of the Viet people to educate the Chinese people.  Lac Viet was the first civilization of East Asia, independent from China, and older than China.

How revolutionary these findings are is yet to be determined.  For over a thousand years, the belief was that Vietnam was the offspring of China.  This however, has proven to be false.  It was actually the Viet people who gave birth to Chinese civilization.  Whether individuals decide to embrace or reject this discovery, they must respect it.  The facts exist and cannot be erased, not this time.