Archive for Chinese Occupation

Lê Lợi, Nguyễn Trãi, and the Defeat of the Ming Dynasty

Posted in Dynastic History, Heroes of Vietnam Week with tags , , , , , , on July 24, 2010 by Ian Pham

The Lê Dynasty (1428-1788)

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

– Nguyễn Trãi, 1428 (Great Declaration on the Victory Over China)

Fallen to the Ming

After the fall of the Trần Dynasty in 1400, the nation of Vietnam (Đại Việt) descended into a period of civil chaos.  Like the fall of other dynasties in the past, a time of violence and power struggle plagued the country following the end of the Trần.  Hồ Quý Ly, a government official in the Trần government, had just taken power from the last emperor of the Trần Dynasty, establishing a new dynasty under his own family name, the Hồ.

The Hồ Dynasty only reigned for a short time however, from 1400 to 1407.  Civil disorder and numerous revolts among the population of Vietnam put the Hồ Dynasty in a weak governing position.  Recognizing the vulnerable state of the country, the Ming Dynasty of China quickly rushed their army into Vietnam, smashing the Hồ, and capturing the entire country.  Once again, for a short time, the nation of Vietnam had fallen into the hands of the Chinese.

When the Ming Dynasty invaded Vietnam, they kidnapped many Vietnamese talents, such as architects, generals, poets, etc., and brought them back to China.  One of these skilled individuals happened to be the father of Nguyễn Trãi, the man who would play a pivotal role in the expulsion of the Ming in the years to come.  As the Ming army took his father to the border, young Nguyễn Trãi followed them, tearfully pleading that they not take him away.  His father responded by telling him not to cry, that the best way to avenge him was to rebuild the nation, and restore freedom to the Vietnamese people.

The Warrior

As his father left sight, Nguyễn Trãi took these words to heart, and embarked on a mission to defeat the Ming.  In order for him to drive out the invaders, Nguyễn Trãi needed to find others who would support his cause.  The young man’s search for military muscle eventually led him to Lê Lợi, a rebel leader in Thanh Hoa province.  Like Nguyễn Trãi, Lê Lợi also wanted to kick out the Ming, and had the fighting capabilities to help.  At that time, the Chinese forces greatly outnumbered that of Lê Lợi, therefore he needed to raise an army with enough strength to resist them.

As a talented intellectual, poet, and strategist, Nguyễn Trãi had the capability to help Lê Lợi build his army.  With his political and strategic wisdom, the young Nguyễn Trãi created a plan to mobilize the population of Vietnam and unite them against the forces of Ming.  Through different methods of propaganda, Nguyễn Trãi managed to attract many followers who were willing to join Lê Lợi’s army.

One of Nguyễn Trãi’s most clever methods for catching peoples’ attention was his idea of writing a message that said “Join Lê Lợi, Defeat the Ming” on thousands of leaves and letting them wash down the river.  As the leaves reached the villages, the people would see the message on them and perceive that as a sign from heaven.  Nguyễn Trãi’s main goal in orchestrating these ingenious recruitment strategies was to generate immense support for Lê Lợi among the population, characterizing him as the real “Son of Heaven,”  who’s destiny was to liberate the Vietnamese people and lead them to prosperity.

The Mastermind

His plan worked perfectly, as they were able to recruit a steady stream of fighters into their army.  Finally, with enough military strength, Lê Lợi and Nguyễn Trãi were ready to take on the Ming.  Since the Chinese still greatly outnumbered the Vietnamese, Lê Lợi would use guerilla warfare as his main tactic.  In the fight against the Ming, Lê Lợi would command the military, Nguyễn Trãi would be his main advisor, strategist, and propagandist.

In war, Nguyễn Trãi motivated the soldiers, giving them the drive to fight for what is right.  One brilliant strategy of Nguyễn Trãi was to incite his own forces, at the same time damaging the morale of his enemies by convincing them that what they are doing is wrong.  He would send messages to the enemy camps, shaming them for occupying another’s homeland.

Using the patriotism and determination of his soldiers, referring to Trần Hưng Đạo, Lý Thường Kiệt, and the heroes of the past, Nguyễn Trãi reminded them that with enough determination, anything was possible.  With Nguyễn Trãi’s strategic genious and Lê Lợi’s military expertise, their army was successful against the Ming on many fronts, drawing more allies as their fight goes deeper.

The Victory Over China

Finally, after ten years of rebellion, from 1418-1427, Nguyễn Trãi and Lê Lợi were victorious, firmly defeating the army of the Ming Dynasty and driving them out of Vietnam.  With this hard-fought victory, General Lê Lợi became the next emperor of Vietnam, declaring the establishment of the Lê Dynasty.  Nguyễn Trãi would become his chief advisor, penning a great declaration on the victory over the Ming and the crimes they’ve committed in Vietnam.  The name of this declaration came to be known as the “Bình Ngô Đại Cáo (Great Declaration on the Victory Over China)” and is still one of the most famous poetic works in Vietnamese culture today.

It is possible to argue that without Lê Lợi, Nguyễn Trãi would never have had the manpower to eliminate the Ming.  On the other hand, it is almost certain that without Nguyễn Trãi, there was no way Lê Lợi could have mobilized the Vietnamese people into a powerful army such as theirs.  Nguyễn Trãi was the brain of the operation and Lê Lợi was the muscle.  They were a formidable team, expelling the Ming and restoring independence to the Vietnamese people after a brief period of Ming occupation.

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Lady Triệu: The Goddess Who Fought the Wu

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

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

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

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

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

– Triệu Thị Trinh, 248A.D.

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

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

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

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

The Trưng Sisters and the First Great Rebellion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prelude to the Heroes: 1000 Years of Chinese Occupation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!