Archive for Peking

Nguyễn An: The Man Who Built the Forbidden City

Posted in Did You Know?, Dynastic History with tags , , , , , on September 8, 2010 by Ian Pham

During the Ming Dynasty’s invasion of Vietnam in 1407, many Vietnamese professionals, such as poets, military experts, architects, engineers, etc., were captured and brought back to China.  Among them was a prisoner named Nguyễn An (Juan An in Chinese), a man who would later design and oversee the construction of the Peking Citadel and the entire Forbidden City of Beijing.

Before being shipped to China, Nguyễn An was a talented official under the rule of the Trần Dynasty.  However, he was later taken by the Ming Dynasty and brought back to China as a gift from the illegitimate Hồ Dynasty.  From then on, he would be known in Chinese history as Juan An, a eunuch of the Ming’s imperial court.

For his talents, Nguyễn An was given the task of constructing the Peking Citadel and the Forbidden City of Peking (Beijing).  The size of his workforce was literally in the millions, composing of soldiers, workers, and prisoners.  Interestingly, a large number of the laborers who worked on the Peking Citadel were also Vietnamese, captured by the Ming on their invasions.

The fact that Juan An (Nguyễn An) was really a Vietnamese person had been obscured in Chinese history for centuries.  It is only recently, with long and intricate research, did these facts began to surface.  Research made by the University of Cambridge clearly states that “the chief architect was an Annamese eunuch named Juan An (d. 1453) who also played a major role in rebuilding Peking,” (Mote & Twitchett, 1988: 241).  Annam is what Vietnam was referred to by the Chinese during this period, even though that was never our official name.  Woo!  That was interesting.  Maybe next week I’ll tell you who really invented the cannon!


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

Mote, Frederick W. & Denis Twitchett.  The Cambridge History of China, Volume 7, Part 1. Cambridge: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 1988.


Correction: A typo indicating that the source by Frederick Mote and Denis Twitchett was published in 1998 has been fixed to its correct publication year, which was 1988. Sorry for any misunderstandings or confusion this may have caused.