Jun 15, 2009

Early Independence

In 939 AD, the Vietnamese finally threw off Chinese domination. By winning the Battle of Bach Dang River (938), Ngo Quyen (Ngô Quyền) effectively ended Chinese influence in Vietnam.

Upon Ngo Quyen's untimely death resulted in a power struggle for the throne, resulting in the country's first major civil war, The upheavals of Twelve warlords. The war ended 2 decades later when the fraction led by Dinh Bo Linh (Đinh Bộ Lĩnh) was able to defeat the others. Dinh founded the Dinh Dynasty and proclaimed himself Emperor of Dai Co Viet (Đại Cồ Việt), with his capital located in Hoa Lu (Hoa Lư, modern day Ninh Bình).

After Dinh Bo Linh and his eldest son, Dinh Lien, were assassinated by an eunuch, his lone surviving son -- the 6-year-old Dinh Toan assumed the throne. Taking advantage of the situation, Chinese Song troops prepared to invade. Under the shadow of this threat, the court's Supreme Commander of all Armed Forces, acting Regent, who was also lover of Empress Duong, Dinh Toan's mother, Le Hoan staged a coup d'etat and took the throne, founding Former Le Dynasty. Le Hoan proceeded to fight Song invaders, culminatiing in a decisive victory at Bach Dang River in 968, ending the threat. Song-Viet relation normalized soon afterwards.

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Dynastic Period
For the third successive time, succession proved a problem that prematurely ended another dynasty. Le Hoan's death resulted in infighting for the throne amongst his sons. The eventual winner, Le Long Dinh (Lê Long Đĩnh), then died soon thereafter. The General of the Imperial Guards, Ly Cong Uan (Lý Công Uẩn) took advantage of the situation to seize the throne, and founded the Lý Dynasty. This marks the beginning of a golden era in Vietnamese history.

When the Lê emperor Lê Long Đĩnh died in his twenties, a court general named Lý Công Uẩn took the chance to take over the throne and founded the Lý dynasty. This event is regarded as the beginning of a golden era in Vietnamese history, with great dynasties following one another. Lý Công Uẩn (commonly called Lý Thái Tổ - Lý the Founding Emperor) changed the country's name to Đại Việt, established the capital in present-day Hanoi and called it Thăng Long (Ascending Dragon) under the pretext of seeing a dragon when he was touring the area. As with other dynasties in Vietnamese history, the Lý had many wars with the Chinese, most notably when Lý troops under command of the eunuch-turned-general Lý Thường Kiệt fought against the invasion of the Sung empire,he eventually attacked some southern Chinese citadels to destroy the supplement of the Sung troops,then later defeated this army at the battle by Như Nguyệt river (commonly Cầu river), now in Bắc Ninh province (about 40km from the current capital, Hanoi).

During the late Lý era, a court official named Trần Thủ Độ became powerful. He forced the emperor Lý Huệ Tông to become a Buddhist monk and set Lý Chiêu Hoàng, Huệ Tông's young daughter, to become the empress. Trần Thủ Độ then arranged the marriage of Chiêu Hoàng to his nephew Trần Cảnh and the transfer of the throne between the two. Thus ended the Lý dynasty and started the Trần dynasty.

During the Trần dynasty, Đại Việt was under attacks three times by the Mongols, who had occupied China and were ruling as the Yuan dynasty (see Mongol invasions of Vietnam). With guerilla warfare tactics, Trần troops stopped all three Yuan invasions. The Yuan-Trần war reached its climax when Yuan navy was decimated at the battle of Bạch Đằng river. Trần troops, with the noble lord Trần Hưng Đạo as commander-in-chief, used the exact same tactics as Ngô Quyền had used centuries before, at the exact same site, to defeat northern invaders.

It was also during this period that the Trần kings waged many wars against the southern kingdom of Chiêm Thành (Champa), continuing the Viets' long history of southern expansion (known as Nam Tiến) that had begun shortly after gaining independence from China. However, they encountered strong resistance from the Chams, and Champa troops led by their king Chế Bồng Nga (Binasuor) even sacked Đại Việt's capital Thăng Long in 1372 and again in 1377.

The Trần dynasty was in turn overthrown by one of its own court officials, Hồ Quý Ly. Hồ Quý Ly also forced the last Trần emperor to resign to a pagoda and assumed the throne in 1400. He changed the country name to Đại Ngu and moved the capital to Tây Đô (Western Capital, now Thanh Hóa). Thăng Long was renamed Đông Đô (Eastern Capital). Although widely blamed as the person who disrupted the Trần dynasty and let the country fall under the rule of the Chinese Ming dynasty, Hồ Quý Ly's reign actually saw a lot of progressive, ambitious reforms, including free education, the adoption of Nôm characters for writing official documents, and land reform. He ceded the throne to his son, Hồ Hán Thương, in 1401 and assumed the title Thái Thượng Hoàng (The Highest Father Emperor).

Lê Lợi waged a guerilla war against the Ming for over a decade from the forest of Lam Sơn (Thanh Hóa province). After many defeats, he finally gathered momentum and was able to launch a siege at Đông Quan (now Hanoi), the site of the Ming administration. The Ming emperor sent a reinforcement force to rescue, but Lê Lợi staged an ambush and killed the general, Liu Shan. Ming's troops at Đông Quan surrendered. In 1428, Lê Lợi ascended to the throne and the Hậu Lê dynasty (Posterior Lê) began.

In 1471, Lê troops led by the great emperor Lê Thánh Tông invaded Champa, captured its capital Vijaya and killed or enslaved the city's residents. This event effectively ended the long conflict between the Vietnamese and Cham kingdoms. It initiated the dispersal of the Cham people across southeast Asia.

With the kingdom of Champa mostly destroyed and the Cham people exiled or suppressed, Vietnamese colonization of what is now central Vietnam proceeded without substantial resistance. However, despite becoming greatly outnumbered by Kinh settlers and the integration of formerly Cham territory into the Vietnamese nation, populations of Cham nevertheless remained in Vietnam and now comprise one of the minority peoples of modern Vietnam. (The modern city of Huế, founded in 1600 lies close to where the Champa capital of Indrapura once stood).

The Lê dynasty was overthrown by a general named Mac Dang Dung (Viet: Mạc Đăng Dung) in 1527. He killed the Lê emperor and set himself as king, starting the Mạc dynasty. After ruling for two years, Mạc Đăng Dung adopted Hồ Quý Ly's practice and ceded the throne to his son, Mạc Đăng Doanh, and himself become Thái Thượng Hoàng. Nguyen Kim (Viet: Nguyễn Kim), a former official in the Lê court, set up a Lê prince as the emperor Lê Trang Tông and rebelled against the Mạc. A civil war ensued.

Nguyễn Kim's side was winning the war, and he controlled the southern part Vietnam, leaving only the area around the capital Đông Kinh (Hanoi) and to the north under Mạc control. When Nguyễn Kim was assassinated in 1545, military power fell into the hand of his son-in-law, Trinh Khiem (Viet: Trịnh Kiểm). The civil war between Lê and Mạc dynasties largely ended in 1592, when the army of Trịnh Tùng conquered Hanoi and executed the Mạc emperor Mạc Mậu Hợp. Survivors of the Mạc royal family fled to the mountains in the province of Cao Bằng and continued to rule there until 1667 when Trịnh Tạc conquered this last bit of Mạc territory.

After Trinh Khiem assumed power from Nguyễn Kim, the oldest son, Nguyễn Uông was poisoned and died. Some 15 years later, Trinh Khiem gave the younger son, Nguyễn Hoàng rulership of the southern provinces (then called Quãng Nam). He governed the south effectively while Trinh Khiem and then Trịnh Tùng carried on the war against the Mạc. Nguyễn Hoàng sent money and soldiers north to help the war but gradually he became more and more independent. In the year 1600, Nguyễn Hoàng declared himself Lord (Vương) and refused to send more money or soldiers to the court in Hanoi. He also moved his capital to a new place, Phu Xuan (Viet: Phú Xuân, modern-day Huế). Trịnh Tùng effectively ignored the actions of his uncle. Nguyễn Hoàng died in 1613 having ruled the south for 55 years. He was succeeded by his 6th son Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên who likewise refused to acknowledge the rulership of the Court in Hanoi.

When Trịnh Tùng died in 1623 he was succeeded by his son Trịnh Tráng who ordered Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên to submit to his authority. The order was refused, twice. In 1627, Trịnh Tráng sent his army south to conquer what had become an independent territory.

The Trịnh-Nguyễn War lasted from 1627 till 1672. The Trịnh army staged at least seven different offensives all of which failed to capture Phú Xuân. For a time, starting in 1651, the Nguyễn themselves went on the offensive and conquered parts of Trịnh territory. However, the Trịnh, under a new leader, Trịnh Tạc, forced the Nguyễn back by 1655. After one last offensive in 1672, Trịnh Tạc agreed to a truce with the Nguyễn Lord Nguyễn Phúc Tân. The country was effectively divided in two and the Trịnh and the Nguyễn did not fight for the next 100 years.

Meanwhile, the Nguyễn Lords continued the southward expansion by conquest of the various Khmer territories in the Mekong delta, and by the end of their rule had brought Vietnam's territory to almost present-day shape. Similar to the defeat of Champa, Vietnamese military victories in these territories initiated the large-scale colonization of what is now southern Vietnam by Kinh settlers in an area previously populated mainly by Khmers. Those who remained in the territories settled by the Vietnamese settlers became the Khmer Krom minority of modern Vietnam and have maintained a distinct ethnic identity, despite substantial intermarriage with Vietnamese and widespread adoption of the Vietnamese language and cultural influence.

In 1771, the Tay Son (Viet: Tây Sơn) rebellion broke out in Bình Định province, which was under the control of the Nguyễn. Leaders of this rebellion were three brothers named Nguyễn but they were not related to the Nguyễn lords. The three brothers were remarkably successful. By 1776, the Tây Sơn had occupied all of the Nguyễn Lord's land and killed (almost) the entire royal family. The surviving prince Nguyen Anh (Viet: Nguyễn Phúc Ánh) fled to Siam, and managed to obtain the support of the Siamese king. Nguyễn Ánh came back with Siamese troops in an attempt to regain power, but he was defeated at Rạch Gầm and Xoài Mút by the Tây Sơn army. Nguyễn Ánh fled Vietnam, but he did not give up.

The Tây Sơn army (西山) under Nguyen Hue (Viet: Nguyễn Huệ) marched north in 1786 to fight the Trịnh Lord, Trịnh Khải. The Trịnh army refused to even fight Nguyễn Huệ (he had great popularity), Trịnh Khải committed suicide. The Tây Sơn army captured the capital in less than two months. The last Lê emperor, Lê Chiêu Thống, fled to China and petitioned the Chinese Emperor for help. The Qing emperor Qianlong supplied Lê Chiêu Thống with a massive army to regain his throne from the usurper. Nguyễn Huệ proclaimed himself Emperor with the name Quang Trung and his army defeated Qing troops in a sudden attack during the New Year (Tết) just outside Hanoi. During his reign, Quang Trung enacted many good reforms but he died in 1792, at the age of 40.

After Quang Trung's death, the Tây Sơn court became unstable as the remaining brothers fought against each other and against the people who were loyal to Nguyễn Huệ's infant son. Nguyễn Ánh, the last Nguyễn Lord, managed to obtain some help from France and in 1800, his small army captured the Tây Sơn citadel Quy Nhơn. One year later, he occupied Phú Xuân, the Tây Sơn capital. Nguyễn Ánh finally won the war in 1802, when he besieged Thăng Long (Hanoi) and executed Nguyễn Huệ's son, Nguyễn Quang Toản, along with many Tây Sơn generals and officials. Nguyễn Ánh ascended the throne and chose the name Gia Long. Gia is for Gia Định, the old name of Saigon; Long is for Thăng Long, the old name of Hanoi. Hence Gia Long implies the unification of the country. The Nguyễn dynasty lasted until Bảo Đại's abdication in 1945.

The modern name of Vietnam is known officially came under the Emperor Gia Long's reign, but recently historians have found that this name has been existed in older books in which Vietnamese called their country name Vietnam. In 1802, he asked the Manchu Chinese emperor for permission to rename the country, from An Nam to Nam Việt. To prevent any confusion of Gia Long's kingdom with Triệu Đà's ancient kingdom, the Chinese emperor reversed the order of the two words to Việt Nam.

There were over ten recognizable dynasties in Vietnam's history. Some are not considered official, such as the Southern and Northern Dynasties, and the Tây Sơn dynasty.

Almost all Vietnamese dynasties are named after the ruler's family name, unlike the Chinese dynasties, whose names are an attribute chosen by the first emperors.