LY DYNASTY (1010-1225)AND THE EARLY YEARS OF VIETNAMESE RULE AFTER CHINESE WERE OUSTED

EARLY YEARS OF VIETNAMESE RULE AFTER CHINESE WERE OUSTED

In the early 10th century the Tang dynasty in China collapsed. The Vietnamese seized the initiative and launched a long overdue revolt against Chinese rule in Vietnam. In A.D. 939, when China was in a period of upheaval following the Tang dynasty collpase, the Vietnamese were able to finally throw the Chinese out in an uprising known as the Bach Dang River Campaign. However, it was not the last time the Vietnamese would tussle with their mighty northern neighbour. Led by Ngo Quyen, the campaign is one of the most important events in Vietnamese history. After the victory, Vietnamese envoys were dispatched to China to demand tributes and apologies.

The defeat of the Chinese armies at the battle on the Bach Dang River ended 1,000 years of Chinese rule over Vietnam. Ngo Quyen established a Vietnamese state. After his death, Vietnam experienced a period of internal upheaval that didn't end until 1010 when the Ly Dynasty was established by Ly Thai to. After thing settled down, Vietnamese emperors paid tribute to the Chinese rulers in return for recognition of Vietnam's independence. China remained a military threat and a source of cultural influence.

The introduction of rice agriculture caused the population to expand, and new land was needed for the growing population. After the victory over the Chinese in A.D. 939, the Vietnamese expanded into present day South Vietnam. Periodically warlords and princes broke off and formed their own mini-states.

From the 11th to 13th centuries, Vietnamese independence was consolidated under the enlightened emperors of the Ly dynasty, founded by Ly Thai To. During the Ly dynasty, many enemies launched attacks on Vietnam, among them the Chinese, the Khmer and the Cham but all were repelled. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese continued their expansion southwards and slowly but surely began to consolidate control of the Cham kingdom.

Battle of Bach Dan River and Its Aftermath

Taking advantage of the disturbances in China, a nobleman from Cuc Bo (in the present-day province of Hai Duong), Khuc Thua Du, made himself governor, and in 906 the Tang court had to recognize this fait accompli. Khuc Thua Du's son, Khuc Hao, tried to set up a national administration; in 930 the Southern Ban dynasty, which had taken power in southern China, again invaded the country. In 931, however, a patriot, Duong Dinh Nghe, took up the fight and made himself governor. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

After Duong Dinh Nghe died, murdered by one of his aides, the fight was led by Ngo Quyen, who in 938 clashed with a Southern Han expeditionary corps approaching by sea. The Southern Han fleet entered Vietnam via the Bach Dang estuary (mouth of the river which flows into Halong Bay) where iron-tipped stakes had been sunk into the riverbed by Ngo Quyen. At high-tide a Vietnamese flotilla attacked the enemy then, pretending to escape, lured the Southern Han boats into the estuary beyond the stakes still covered by the tide. At low-tide, the entire Vietnamese fleet counter-attacked, forcing the enemy to flee and sink, impaled on the barrage of stakes. ~

Having driven out the Chinese, Ngo Quyen defeated a series of local rival chiefs and, seeking to identify his rule with traditional Vietnamese kingship, established his capital at Co Loa, the third century B.C. citadel of An Duong Vuong. The dynasty established by Ngo Quyen lasted fewer than thirty years, however, and was overthrown in 968 by a local chieftain, Dinh Bo Linh, who reigned under the name Dinh Tien Hoang. He brought political unity to the country, which he renamed Dai Co Viet (Great Viet). [Source: Library of Congress *]

The major accomplishments of Dinh Bo Linh's reign were the establishment of a diplomatic basis for Vietnamese independence and the institution of universal military mobilization. He organized a 100,000-man peasant militia called the Ten Circuit Army, comprising ten circuits (geographical districts). Each circuit was defended by ten armies and each army was composed of ten brigades. Brigades in turn were made up of ten companies with ten ten-member squads a piece. After uniting the Vietnamese and establishing his kingdom, Dinh Bo Linh sent a tributary mission to the newly-established Chinese Northern Song dynasty (A.D. 960-1125). This diplomatic maneuver was a successful attempt to stave off China's reconquest of its former vassal. The Song emperor gave his recognition to Dinh Bo Linh, but only as "King of Giao Chi Prefecture," a state within the Chinese empire. Not until the rise of the Ly dynasty (1009-1225), however, did the Vietnamese monarchy consolidate its control over the country. *

Establishing Vietnamese Rule in Vietnam

The Bach Dang victory in 938 put an end to the period of Chinese imperial domination. In 939 Ngo Quyen proclaimed himself king, established his capital at Co Loa (previously a capital in the 3rd century B.C.) and set up a centralized government. It was the first truly independent Vietnamese state.

Domestically, the main obstacle to the founding of a centralized power structure capable of assuming direction of the economy - management of the dyke system in particular - and of successfully resisting foreign aggression was the existence of feudal lords who each ruled an area of territory. On the death of Ngo Quyen in 944, 12 warlords divided the country among themselves and began to fight one another. Starting from Hoa Lu in present-day Ninh Binh, Dinh Bo Linh defeated them all the warlords , one after another, and unified the country in 967. The next year he made himself king, named the country Dai Co Viet, established his capital at Hoa Lu, reorganized the army and administration, and appointed renowned Buddhist monks as advisers.

The murder of Dinh Bo Linh in 979 brought a six-year-old child to the throne. Meanwhile the Song dynasty had taken power in China where order was restored. A Song expeditionary corps was sent to reconquer Vietnam, which was also being attacked from the south by the Cham. To deal with this danger, the Court and army appointed a talented general, Le Hoan. The latter defeated the Song army on both land and water, thus saving the country (981). The next year, and expedition led by Le Hoan invaded the Kingdom of Champa and conquered its capital Indrapura (now in Quang Nam province), removing the threat of invasion from the south for a long time to come.

The Song Emperor Taizong sent King Le Hoan a message in AD 979, just over a decade after Vietnam first reasserted its independence. Like a stern headmaster, Taizong appealed to Le Hoan to see reason and return to the Chinese fold: "Although your seas have pearls, we will throw them into the rivers, and though your mountains produce gold, we will throw it into the dust. We do not covet your valuables. You fly and leap like savages, we have horse-drawn carriages. You drink through your noses, we have rice and wine. Let us change your customs. You cut your hair, we wear hats; when you talk, you sound like birds. We have examinations and books. Let us teach you the knowledge of the proper laws ... Do you not want to escape from the savagery of the outer islands and gaze upon the house of civilization? Do you want to discard your garments of leaves and grass and wear flowered robes embroidered with mountains and dragons? Have you understood?" In fact Le Hoan understood Taizong very well and, like his modern successors, knew exactly what he wanted from China - access to its culture and civilization without coming under its political control or jeopardizing Vietnamese freedom in any way. This attitude infuriated Taizong, as it would generations of Chinese to come. [Source: Andrew Forbes, Asia Times, April 26, 2007 ><]

Important Early Vietnamese Dynasties and Their Power and Administration

The Ly Dynasty (1010-1225) brought stability to Vietnam, established the nation' first university, built flood-control dikes on the Red River, promoted Buddhism, repelled attacks by the Chinese, Khmers and Chams, and expanded Vietnam's territory southward. The Ly emperors began the tradition of surrounding themselves with scholars and poets.

The Tran Dynasty (1225-1400) ousted the Ly Dynasty, defeated the Mongols, built more dikes on the Red River and expanded Vietnam's territory and land under cultivation. After the Tran dynasty collapsed the Chinese invaded and imposed slave labor and heavy taxes until they were ousted in 1428.

As was true with the emperor of China, the power of the Vietnamese emperor was absolute. He was the chief administrator, military leader, judge and priest, and sometimes had more than a hundred wives and concubines (known as yo le ). His authority reportedly came from a mandate from heaven. Villages paid taxes and provided laborers to build dikes and soldiers to fight wars. Otherwise the villages were more independent and controlled more of their own affairs than under the Chinese. [Mandate from Heaven, see China, History]

The Vietnamese emperors built Buddhist monasteries and relied on monks as for advisors but had a Chinese administration system. As was also true with the Chinese system, the emperor governed with the help of a civil service made up of mandarins (scholars) selected on the basis of their performance on rigorous Confucian civil service exams. The system was in place from the 11th century when the Chinese were driven out of the country until the mid 19th century when Vietnam was taken over by the French.

Ngo Dynasty (939 - 965)

In 931, a patriot, Duong Dinh Nghe, took up the fight and made himself governor. After Duong Dinh Nghe died, murdered by one of his aides, the fight was led by Ngo Quyen, who in 938 clashed with a Southern Han expeditionary corps approaching by sea. The Southern Han fleet entered Vietnam via the Bach Dang estuary (mouth of the river which flows into Halong Bay) where iron-tipped stakes had been sunk into the riverbed by Ngo Quyen. At high-tide a Vietnamese flotilla attacked the enemy then, pretending to escape, lured the Southern Han boats into the estuary beyond the stakes still covered by the tide. At low-tide, the entire Vietnamese fleet counter-attacked, forcing the enemy to flee and sink, impaled on the barrage of stakes. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The Bach Dang victory in 938 put an end to the period of Chinese imperial domination. In 939 Ngo Quyen proclaimed himself king, established his capital at Co Loa (previously a capital in the 3rd century B.C.) and set up a centralized government. It was the first truly independent Vietnamese state. Domestically, the main obstacle to the founding of a centralized power structure capable of assuming direction of the economy - management of the dyke system in particular - and of successfully resisting foreign aggression was the existence of feudal lords who each ruled an area of territory. On the death of Ngo Quyen in 944, 12 warlords divided the country among themselves and began to fight one another. ~

Dinh Dynasty (968-980) and the Pre-Le Dynasty (980-1009)

Dinh Tien Hoang (968-979); Dynastic title: Thai Binh (970-979)

Starting from Hoa Lu in present-day Ninh Binh, Dinh Bo Linh defeated all 12 warlords, one after another, and unified the country in 967. The next year he made himself king, named the country Dai Co Viet, established his capital at Hoa Lu, reorganized the army and administration, and appointed renowned Buddhist monks as advisers. The murder of Dinh Bo Linh in 979 brought a six-year-old child to the throne. Meanwhile the Song dynasty had taken power in China where order was restored. A Song expeditionary corps was sent to reconquer Vietnam, which was also being attacked from the south by the Cham.

Le Dai Hanh (980-1005); Dynastic title: Thien Phuc (980-988); Hung Thong (989-993); Ung Thien (994-1005); Le Trung Tong (1005); Le Long Dinh (1005-1009)

To deal with the danger of Song troops, the Court and army appointed a talented general, Le Hoan. The latter defeated the Song army on both land and water, thus saving the country (981). The next year, and expedition led by Le Hoan invaded the Kingdom of Champa and conquered its capital Indrapura (now in Quang Nam Province), removing the threat of invasion from the south for a long time to come.

LY DYNASTY (1010-1225)

After a long period of subjugation by the Chinese feudal empire, a period marked by numerous insurrections, the Vietnamese people finally won back their independence in the 10th century. Following the recovery of that independence, the country gradually turned towards creating a centralized monarchical state. This centralization was made necessary by twin factors: the construction of great hydraulic works, particularly dykes and canals for the development of agriculture, and the safeguarding of national independence against attempts at reconquest by the Chinese imperial Court. However, before a well organized monarchical state could be set up, the country went through a period of instability during which tendencies towards feudal domination still persisted. It was only with the establishment of the Ly dynasty in 1009 that the monarchy was able to gain a secure hold on power. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Following the death of Dinh Bo Linh in 979, the Song rulers attempted to reassert Chinese control over Vietnam. Le Hoan, the commander in chief of Dinh Bo Linh's army, seized the throne and successfully repulsed the Chinese army in 981. Ly Cong Uan, a former temple orphan who had risen to commander of the palace guard, succeeded Le Hoan in 1009, thereby founding the great Ly dynasty that lasted until 1225. Taking the reign name Ly Thai To, he moved his capital to Dai La (modern Hanoi). Thang Long was to remain the capital until the 19th century. Ly Thai To decreed a general amnesty for prisoners and the destruction of all instruments of torture. The early Ly kings established a prosperous state with a stable monarchy at the head of a centralized administration. The name of the country was changed to Dai Viet by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong in 1054. [Source: Library of Congress *, ~]

The first century of Ly rule was marked by warfare with China and the two Indianized kingdoms to the south, Cambodia and Champa. After these threats were dealt with successfully, the second century of Ly rule was relatively peaceful enabling the Ly kings to establish a Buddhist ruling tradition closely related to the other Southeast Asian Buddhist kingdoms of that period. *

Ly Dynasty (1010-1225) Kings: 1) Ly Thai To (1010-1028); 2) Ly Thai Tong (1028-1054); 3) Ly Thanh Tong (1054-1072); 4) Ly Nhan Tong 1072-1127); 5) Ly Than Tong (1128-1138); 6) Ly Anh Tong (1138-1175); 7) Ly Cao Tong (1176-1210); 9) Ly Hue Tong (1211-10/1224); 10) Ly Chieu Hoang (1225).

Ly Dynasty Expansion

During the Ly dynasty, the Vietnamese began their long march to the south (nam tien) at the expense of the Cham and the Khmer. Le Hoan had sacked the Cham capital of Indrapura in 982, whereupon the Cham established a new capital at Vijaya. This was captured twice by the Vietnamese, however, and in 1079 the Cham were forced to cede to the Ly rulers their three northern provinces. Soon afterwards, Vietnamese peasants began moving into the untilled former Cham lands, turning them into rice fields and moving relentlessly southward, delta by delta, along the narrow coastal plain. The Ly kings supported the improvement of Vietnam's agricultural system by constructing and repairing dikes and canals and by allowing soldiers to return to their villages to work for six months of each year. [Source: Library of Congress *]

In the 11th century, when the Ly dynasty was founded, the frontiers of Dai Viet in the north and northwest had not yet been clearly delimited. Particularly important was the frontier with China in the north and northeast; these regions were inhabited by Tay and Nung people whose allegiance was of prime importance for the Dai Viet kingdom. It was vital to incorporate them into the nation. The Ly king often sought alliances with local chiefs by giving them princesses in marriage or by marrying their daughters. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ]

As their territory and population expanded, the Ly kings looked to China as a model for organizing a strong, centrally administered state. Minor officials were chosen by examination for the first time in 1075, and a civil service training institute and an imperial academy were set up in 1076. In 1089 a fixed hierarchy of state officials was established, with nine degrees of civil and military scholarofficials . Examinations for public office were made compulsory, and literary competitions were held to determine the grades of officials. *

Ly Dynasty Land and Agriculture

The king owned all the land by right. The state, however, directly utilized only a small portion of this land, some of which was distributed to members of the royal family and high-ranking dignitaries as fiefdoms and personal domains. Taxes were levied on land owned by villages and individuals. There was thus an agrarian regime with several sectors: 1) Land used by the state; 2) Fiefdoms and domains; 3) Communal land; and 4) Private land. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

There were two categories of land distributed to nobles and high-ranking dignitaries. There were fiefdoms whose beneficiaries had both the land and people at their disposal; the peasants had obligations only to their local lord, and were not required to pay taxes or provide labor to the state. In the great domains, the peasants paid rent and taxes to the owner and at the same time had obligations to the state, and remained directly subject to the monarchy. Marshal Ly Thuong Kiet, for instance, received in appanage 4,000 peasant households, but his domain comprised another 10,000 households. Appanages and domains remained the property of the king. When a lord died, his heirs could inherit his land but could also be dispossessed by the king. ~

Ly kings attached great importance to agriculture. At the beginning of each year, continuing a tradition inaugurated by Le Hoan, the king himself made a symbolic gesture by ploughing a plot of land, following a ceremony in honour of the god of agriculture. In 1038, when King Ly Thai Ton was advised by a mandarin not to demean himself through such an action, he said: "If I myself do not do some ploughing as an offering to the god, how can I set an example for the entire people?". Those who stole or killed buffaloes were severely punished under the law. ~

The dykes were given particular attention and mandarins were held responsible for their maintenance. The construction of numerous dykes and other hydraulic works is recorded in the annals, for instance the Co Xa dyke in 1108, and the digging of the Dau Nai canal in 1029, the Lam Canal in 1050, and the Lanh Kinh Canal in 1089. ~

Ly Dynasty Governance and Laws

In a society whose members had to unite in the face of great natural calamities and the permanent danger of foreign invasion, and who came under the absolute power of a monarch governing through a complex mandarin bureaucrecy, a doctrine was needed to direct the mind of each individual towards his social obligations, obedience and loyalty to the monarch, and unconditional respect for the social hierarchy. Since the Han, Chinese imperial dynasties made Confucianism the state doctrine; the Vietnamese monarchy gradually adopted it. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

From the beginning of their reign, the Ly endeavored to consolidate the state apparatus. The country was divided into 24 provinces entrusted to close relations of the royal family. The centralized monarchy governed with the assistance of this aristocracy. Princes of the blood had their personal appanages and their own armed forces. The court hierarchy was a strict one with a twin body of civil and military mandarins. These mandarins received no salaries and lived on the money from rent and taxes paid by the population under their administration. But a mandarin bureaucracy gradually came into being, paid by the monarchy through taxes on landholdings, handicrafts, forest products, and market sales. Little by little, the administration lost its family-based character. Monks played an important role as advisers to the king. The founder of the Ly dynasty was put on the throne with the help of a prominent monk superior, Van Hanh. The monk Vien Thong received honours reserved for the heir to the throne. ~

The Ly also introduced written laws. In 1042, King Ly Thai Tong ordered his mandarins to "amend the laws and regulation so as to adapt them to the present circumstances, to classify them, to compile them into a penal code that can be easily understood by all". It is reported in the annals that the code, when completed and made known to the population, was welcomed by all. The rehabilitation of delinquents and criminals was instituted; very severe punishment was decreed for the "ten capital crimes", particularly that of rebellion. Under the Ly, it was forbidden to sell 18-year-olds as slaves; there were laws for the protection of draught animals and on the mortgaging of land. Penalties were prescribed against piracy and extortion by mandarins. This legislation was perfected by the Tran. It should be noted that the law paid special attention to the prevention of rebellion. While the delta had a homogeneous Viet (or kinh) population, the mountainous regions were inhabited by numerous ethnic groups, and the relationship between the central government and these mountain populations constituted a particularly difficult issue for the monarchy. ~

The historical relationship between the Viet majority and minority groups was one of both integration and antagonism. On the one hand, the delta and highlands were integrated economically and needed each other; they were also closely bound by the need for mutual defense against foreign aggressors. The different groups were therefore moving towards progressively uniting as a single nation. On the other hand, the Viet feudalists, particularly the monarchy and mandarins, sought to exploit and oppress the minorities, leading to frequent revolts and the ensuing reprisals. ~

Ly Dynasty Battles with the Chinese

At the Chinese court, there still existed a faction which advocated the reconquest of Dai Viet. In 1069, in an attempt to find the remedy to a serious economic and social crisis, the Song emperor gave full powers to a bold reformer named Wang Nganche. When the reforms proved a disappointment, Wang Nganche, to save the Song's prestige and seize Dai Viet's wealth, decided to send a great expedition against the Ly. In 1074, the provinces of southern China received the order to strengthen their armies, arm combat junks, and stop trading with Dai Viet. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

At the Ly court, given that the reigning king was only ten years old, all power was concentrated in the hands of General Ly Thuong Kiet, who decided to take the offensive in order to forestall the Song. Two army corps totalling 100,000 men were sent to China in 1075, one overland under the command of Tong Dan, a Nung chief, the other by sea, under the command of Ly Thuong Kiet himself. The latter cleverly exploited the discontent of the Chinese population with Wang Nganche's reforms, and appeared as the liberator of the peoples of southern China. Placards were put up denouncing the reformer and proclaiming that Ly Thuong Kiet's only desire was to ensure the welfare of the people. The Ly troops were enthusiastically welcomed by the population and easily occupied many localities. The general attacked the Yung chow stronghold which fell after a siege lasting 43 days on March 1, 1076. The citadel was razed to the ground; other strongholds suffered the same fate. ~

The Song prepared for a counter-offensive by forming a coalition with the Champa and the Khmer kingdom. In April 1076, having attained his objective to destroy the Chinese staging posts, Ly Thuong Kiet withdrew his troops from Chinese territory. Early in 1077, the Song troops, having forced their way through the frontier passes, were facing the Ly army across the Nhu Nguyet River (now the Cau). Fierce fighting ensued and the Song army was unable to cross the river. It was in the-course of this battle that Ly Thuong Kiet composed a poem and had it recited during the night, making his men believe that the river god was speaking: Over the southern mountains and rivers, the Emperor of the South shall reign/ This was written down in the Book of Heaven. / How dare those barbarians invade our soil?/ They will surely meet with defeat. ~

Its morale higher than ever, the Ly army repelled the attackers, who were also being decimated by disease. Ly Thuong Kiet then made a peace proposal, which included the ceding of five frontier districts (now Cao Bang and Lang Son provinces). The Song accepted. This was in 1077. Two years later through negotiations, the Ly recovered the ceded territory. Ly Thuong Kiet was the architect of the victory. An outstanding strategist, he was also a great politician who knew how to win the hearts of the people and inspire his troops with enthusiasm. The stability of the regime established by the Ly was confirmed by this brilliant victory over the Chinese imperial armies. The Tran further strengthened the country's armed voices, enabling them to repel a Mongol invasion two centuries later. ~

Buddhism and Confucianism During the Ly Dynasty

During the Ly Dynasty Buddhism became a kind of state religion as members of the royal family and the nobility made pilgrimages, supported the building of pagodas, sometimes even entered monastic life, and otherwise took an active part in Buddhist practices. Monks became a privileged landed class, exempt from taxes and military duty. At the same time, Buddhism, in an increasingly Vietnamized form associated with magic, spirits, and medicine, grew in popularity with the people. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Buddhism was at its peak under the Ly, whose accession to the throne had been favored by the Buddhist clergy. In return, the latter received the highest privileges. The kings themselves were interested in the study of doctrine and often took monks as advisers. The pagodas owned large domains worked by serfs, and monks were exempt from taxes and military service. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Kings and princes had large numbers of pagodas built and bells cast, and promoted the dissemination of sacred books. In 1018 King Thai To sent a mission to China to gather texts of the Tam Tang: in 1068, King Thai Tong oversaw the creation of the Thao Duong sect, and several kings became patriarchies of Buddhist sects. Princes and nobles followed their example. Beautiful pagodas were built under the Ly, some of them preserved up to the present day, such as Quan Thanh in Hanoi built in 1102, Dien Huu (1041), Bao Thien (1050), and Keo Pagoda in Thai Binh Province. Queen Y Lan, accused of ordering the assassination of one of her rivals, spent the rest of her life building 100 pagodas to redeem herself. Vietnamese Buddhist Sects and schools were founded. ~

In 1070, Ly Thanh Tong had the "Temple of Literature" built. This was a school dedicated to Confucius and his disciples and was where the sons of high-ranking dignitaries received moral education and training in administration. In 1075, the first mandarin competitions took place, through which Confucian scholars could accede to public office; the competitions were only open to the sons of aristocratic families. In 1080, competitions were held to recruit members of an "Academy", whose task was to preserve the archives and write royal edicts. In 1089, the mandarin hierarchy began to be strictly organized. The appearance of Confucianism on the scene was the consequence of a dual phenomenon: on one hand was the necessity of creating a mandarin bureaucracy and on the other, there was the increasing accession of educated commoners to public office. At first, these men were given only subaltern positions, higher offices being reserved for members of the royal family and of the aristocracy. ~

The Ly period also saw the appearance of the first historical works. Under the Ly Dynasty, Do Thien compiled a history of the country which, now lost, was mentioned in Viet Dien U Linh and Linh Nam Chich Quai. Cheo popular theater, which first appeared in the 10th century, continued its development. A prisoner captured during the Mongol Invasion, Ly Nguyen Cat, made a notable contribution to tuong Classical theater. ~

Ly Dynasty Art and Architecture

Architecture and ceramics that reached a level of excellence during the Ly period. With the spread of Buddhism, many pagodas were built. Some of the most famous have been preserved. Unfortunately, however, the ravages of war and climate have destroyed the majority of the works of art from this period. What remains can only give us an idea of what was achieved at that time. Some works from the Ly period have been erroneously classified by French historians as being from an earlier period, that of Dai La (9th century). [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

On the stele of Linh Xung, erected in 1126, an inscription records that "wherever there was beautiful scenery a pagodas was built ". One of the essential characteristics of these pagodas was harmony with the surrounding landscapes, the building nestling amidst trees, and the gardens and ponds, an integral part of the construction; most often, the background was a hill or winding stream, and the slow ringing of bells in the calm morning or evening seemed part of nature itself. ~

Some pagodas had to be of significant size, since they would accommodate thousands of pilgrims coming to take part in great celebrations. Dien Huu Pagoda, commonly known as the One-Pillar Pagoda and built in 1049, is a graceful pavilion built on a stone pillar standing in the middle of a pond, the whole complex resembling a lotus flower in bloom. The lotus flower motif often appears on monuments. The flower symbolizes beauty and purity, for "though springing from mud it is free from the stench of mud". Stone pillars, some of significant size, often rest on "lotus flowers"; the remains of a pillar in Giam Pagoda, built in 1086, has a base measuring 4.5 meters in diameter and is over 3.5 meters in circumference. At the foot of some of these pillars are carved stones representing waves, and the columns seem to emerge from a stormy sea. A couple of dragons climb the pillar, forming graceful but complex spirals. ~

The pagodas have curved roofs and often comprise a tower with as many as 12 storeys. These pagodas are noted for their architecture, statues and sculptures. At Phat Tich Pagoda, the bases of pillars have stone sculptures representing the bodhi tree (of Buddhist enlightenment) in the center with two worshippers presenting offerings and behind them. four musicians dancing and playing various instruments. The ground is littered with flowers. The atmosphere is joyful and the gestures graceful, far from Buddhist meditation on the unreality of this world. ~

Relics found in the northwestern suburbs of Hanoi, where the palace of the Ly was located, show it great variety of sculpture, statues and decorative motifs on ceramics. A frequent motif is that of the crocodile, with head raised, protruding eyes looking to the right and to the left, and quivering nostrils; the body is lithe and the beast standing on its hind legs seems ready to spring. Stylized lions on ceramics have also been found. ~

Excavations in 1965 on the site of the Chuong Son Pagoda built in 1105 unearthed images of birds with human bodies among other motifs—chrysanthemums, phoenixes and dragons—all frequently found on the works of the period. There is a great variety of products: articles for both daily use and decoration, and pottery and porcelain ware with fine enamel. Among the most beautiful enamels are the opalescent-green and brown-grey ones with a low shine and in various shades. The decoration is varied: flowers, dragons, lotuses, birds, and where the surface permits, frescoes and landscapes with human figures. The drawings and bas-reliefs always have a natural look with graceful lines and a cheerful environment: the movements of birds, elephants and dancers, harmonize with flowers in bloom or contrast with the antics of warriors. Particularly remarkable are the richly decorated porcelain items. Ceramics were sent as far as China to be sold or presented to the imperial court. Under the Ly dynasty this art reached its peak. ~

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism. CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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