RETURN OF THE CHINESE AND THE LE NOI AND THE LE DYNASTY (1428-1778)

CHINESE RETURN TO VIETNAM AFTER THE TRAN DYNASTY

In 1400 General Ho Quy-ly seized the throne and proclaimed himself founder of the short-lived Ho dynasty (1400-07). He instituted a number of reforms that were unpopular with the feudal landlords, including a limit on the amount of land a family could hold and the rental of excess land by the state to landless peasants; proclamations printed in Vietnamese, rather than Chinese; and free schools in provincial capitals. Threatened by the reforms, some of the landowners appealed to China's Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) to intervene. Using reinstatement of the Tran dynasty as an excuse, the Ming reasserted Chinese control in 1407. [Source: Library of Congress]

Andrew Forbes of the Asia Times wrote: “In 1407, the Ming Empire managed to reassert Chinese control over its stubbornly independent southern neighbor, and Emperor Yongle - no doubt, to his mind, in the best interests of the Vietnamese - imposed a policy of enforced Sinicization. Predictably enough, Vietnam rejected this "kindness" and fought back, expelling the Chinese yet again in 1428. Yongle was apoplectic when he learned of their rebellion. Vietnam was not just another tributary state, he insisted, but a former province that had once enjoyed the benefits of Chinese civilization and yet had wantonly rejected this privilege. In view of this close association - Yongle used the term mi mi or "intimately related" - Vietnam's rebellion was particularly heinous and deserved the fiercest of punishments. [Source: Andrew Forbes, Asia Times, April 26, 2007 ><]

The Ming administered the country as if it were a province of China and ruled it harshly for the next twenty years. The forced labor of its people was used to exploit Vietnam's mines and forests solely for China's enrichment. Taxes were levied on all products including salt a dietary staple. Under the Ming, Vietnamese cultural traditions, including the chewing of betel nut, were forbiddeb, men were required to wear their hair long and women to dress in the Chinese style. Vietnamese Buddhism was replaced at court by Ming-sponsored neo-Confucianism, but Ming attempts to supplant popular Vietnamese religious traditions with an officially sponsored form of Buddhism were less successful. *

The Chinese impact on Vietnamese culture was probably as great, or greater, in the centuries following independence as it was during the 1,000 years of Chinese political domination. Much of China's cultural and governmental influence on Vietnam dates from the Ming period. Other aspects of Chinese culture were introduced later by Vietnamese kings struggling to bring a Confucian order to their unruly kingdom. Chinese administrative reforms and traditions, when sponsored by Vietnamese kings and aristocracy, tended to be more palatable and hence more readily assimilated than those imposed by Chinese officials. Although the Vietnamese upper classes during the Ming period studied Chinese classical literature and subscribed to the Chinese patriarchal family system, the majority of the Vietnamese people recognized these aspects of Chinese culture mainly as ideals. *

Less exposed to Chinese influence, the peasantry retained the Vietnamese language and many cultural traditions that predated Chinese rule. Other factors also encouraged the preservation of Vietnamese culture during the periods of Chinese rule. Contact with the Indianized Cham and Khmer civilizations, for example, widened the Vietnamese perspective and served as a counterweight to Chinese influence. Vietnam's location on the South China Sea and the comings and goings of merchants and Buddhists encouraged contact with other cultures of South and Southeast Asia. China, itself, once it developed the port of Guangzhou (Canton), had less need to control Vietnam politically in order to control the South China Sea. Moreover, the Vietnamese who moved southward into lands formerly occupied by the Cham and the Khmer became less concerned about the threat from China. *

According to Lonely Planet: The Chinese carted off the national archives and some of the country’s intellectuals to China – an irreparable loss to Vietnamese civilisation. The Chinese controlled much of the country from 1407, imposing a regime of heavy taxation and slave labor. The poet Nguyen Trai (1380–1442) wrote of this period: Were the water of the Eastern Sea to be exhausted, the stain of their ignominy could not be washed away; all the bamboo of the Southern Mountains would not suffice to provide the paper for recording all their crimes. [Source: Lonely Planet ]

Ho Dynasty (1400-1407)

The struggle launched by peasants, serfs and slaves in the later half of the 14th century weakened the Tran. Ho Quy Ly was descendant of a high-ranking mandarin of the Le family. He was talented and, as his two aunts married the king, he soon became one of the high-ranking mandarins of the Court. Using clever tactics Ho Quy Ly quickly climbed to the highest position in the Court. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The Ho lasted for 7 years, from 1400 to 1407, with two kings: 1) Ho Quy Ly (1400) and 2) Ho Han Thuong (1401 - 1407). Ho Quy Ly reorganized the rank of military officials and grasped all political and military power in his hands. Having founded a firm position, he decided on a number of reforms to rescue the shaky State. In 1396, he had paper money issued and the circulation of bronze coins banned. In 1397, he had the policy on land limits promulgated, stipulating the area of land to be owned by aristocrats, mandarins and landlords. The land in excess would be given to the State. In the next year, he ordered the measurement of land in localities and, at the same time, reorganized the court examination system, developed education, and reduced the number of monks. ~

In 1400, Ho Quy Ly dethroned the King Tran and declared himself king. Thus the Ho was founded. In subsequent years, he promulgated policies on the limit of serfs (providing the number of serfs to be owned by certain people in society) and new taxation methods, etc. Ho Quy Ly also had a new population census conducted to serve as a basis for troop recruitment and labor mobilisation to build projects for national defense. The Ho Court was resolute in opposing acts of aggression of the Ming invaders. ~

Ho Quy Ly’s reforms had far-reaching impacts on most social circles and activities politically, militarily, culturally and educationally. These reforms, more or less, limited the concentration of land in the hands of the aristocrats and landlords, and weakened the power of the Tran family. The incomes of the central government increased considerably. However, these reforms did not resolve the imperative demand of the people’s lives and freedom. Serfs and slaves who had been privately owned now belonged to the State. Peasants had to contribute more than before while agriculture declined. Paper money did not bring about desired convenience for trade. The new tax policy made the people’s contributions more complicated. In addition, Ho Quy Ly’s usurpation of the throne sowed alarm and discontent among scholars and mandarins. The aristocrats of the Tran took advantage of this to oppose Ho Quy Ly. ~

Later Tran Dynasty (1407-1413)

The oppressive occupation soon triggered fierce resistance. As early as the end of 1407, many uprisings began to occur. A descendant of the Tran Dynasty proclaimed himself king in 1407, taking the name Gian Dinh and setting up his headquarters in Nghe An Province. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

In late 1408, his army marched on the capital, attracting enthusiastic crowds of supporters along the way. Gian Dinh defeated the Ming forces at Bo Co in Nam Dinh Province, but the resistance was weakened by internal dissension due to the murder by Gian Dinh of his able lieutenants Dang Tat and Nguyen Canh Chan, whose sons and followers rallied around another Tran prince, Quy Khoang, in 1409. Starting from Ha Tinh, the movement then spread to other provinces. ~

Meanwhile, 47,000 reinforcements allowed the Ming general Truong Phu to launch an offensive and push the insurgents back to Nghe An. In 1410, hostilities between the Ming court and Mongols made it possible for Quy Khoang to reoccupy Thanh Hoa; however, in 1411, having defeated the Mongols, the Ming counter-attacked and in 1413 drove the insurgents back to the southern provinces. Early in 1411, the latter's leaders were captured. The Tran princes and aristocrats had proved themselves incapable of providing effective leadership for the resistance, which finally achieved victory under the leadership of a commoner, Le Loi. ~

Ming Occupation of Vietnam

As early as JuIy 1407, the Ming emperor had incorporated Dai Viet into the Chinese empire under the title of Giao Chi Province, set up a central administration, and divided the country into phu and chau, trying to reach down to village level by 1419. The high-ranking officials were all Chinese; only subaltern posts were given to "natives". A general census revealed that there were 3,129,500 inhabitants and 2,087,500 man (barbarians) from mountain-dwelling tribes, i.e. a total of more than 5.2 million. But many doubtless evaded the census. "Order" was maintained throughout the country by large military garrisons, joined by a tight network of relays. All opposition was harshly suppressed. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

There was a very heavy system of taxation, which included land tax on rice fields and mulberry fields, and a poll-tax. The occupiers held a monopoly over the salt trade. All able-bodied people, aged 16 to 60, were subject to military service and multiple corvee: road-building, mining, pearl-oyster fishing, hunting, etc. In 1419, family records were made obligatory for control over the population. ~

Thousands of skilled craftsmen and intellectuals were taken to China, among them Nguyen An, who was to become the architect of the Imperial City in Beijing. The Ming also confiscated personal property, animals (elephants, buffaloes and horses) and other valuables. The people were forced to adopt the Chinese style of dress and Chinese ways and customs. Ming troops sought to destroy all traces of the nation's culture, they burned oconfiscated books that were specifically Vietnamese. This was a true cultural disaster; almost all literary works from before the 15th century were destroyed. ~

Le Loi and the Lam Son Uprising—A War of Independence from the Chinese

Le Loi, a land-owner from Lam Son in Thanh Hoa Province was born in 1385. Before launching the insurrection against the Ming, he gathered about 1000 followers around him. On February 7, 1418 in Lam Son, he proclaimed himself king under the name Binh Dinh Vuong, and began gathering under his banner anyone who oppose Ming domination. Nguyen Trai, a famous scholar, became his closest adviser on strategy and politics. Working together, the two men brought the insurrection to victory after long years of struggle. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

At first Le Loi launched guerrilla operations in mountainous area of Thanh Hoa. Although he inflicted losses to the Ming, he often found himself in a critical, even desperate situation. However, his forces held out thanks to the courage of the men, the resolve of the leaders, and the dedication of the officers. Other popular uprisings in various provinces helped loosen Ming pressure on Le Loi. In 1420, his troops were able to camp on the banks of the Ma River and threaten the capital of Thanh Hoa Province. A Ming counter-attack, however, drove them back to the mountains in 1423. But the Ming troops were also worn out, and their command agreed to a truce proposed by Le Loi, who resolutely resisted all attempts to buy him off with promises of riches and honours. In 1424, the Ming again attacked, but the insurgents had time to strengthen their position. ~

On the advice of Nguyen Chich, Le Loi took his troops to Nghe An and turned it into a resistance base. The insurgents were enthusiastically welcomed by the local people. Fortified enemy positions fell one after another, and soon the whole province was in Le Loi's hands. Next came Thanh Hoa, then provinces south of Nghe An. By the end of 1425, the whole southern part of the country had been liberated, with the exception of the Nghe An and Tay Do (Thanh Hoa) citadels. A vast rear base had thus been created for the war of national liberation. In 1426, Le Loi was in a position to launch a counter-offensive. ~

The Ming sent 50,000 reinforcements from China under the command of Vuong Thong. Even before they arrived, Le Loi had started his offensive to seize back the Red River Delta. In September 1426, he dispatched three armies northward; one was to interceept Ming reinforcements coming from Yunnan, the second comming through Lang Son, and the last was to march on the capital. Everywhere the people rallied to his banner with enthusiasm, while panic-stricken Ming troops withdrew into their citadels and tried to hold out until the reinforcements arrived. ~

In November, Vuong Thong's troops joined the Ming troops who had shut themselves up behind the walls of the capital, bringing their strength to 100,000. They thought they were now in a position to counter-attack, but instead they suffered a crushing defeat at Tot Dong (west of the capital) and again had to withdraw into the citadel. The Vietnamese troops had gained control of the area. Le Loi left Thanh Hoa and concentrated his forces round the capital. Vuong Thong proposed a truce. In a letter to the Ming general, Nguyen Trai said that the Vietnamese command would agree to a truce if Vuong Thong were to withdraw his troops from the country, thus "sparing our people the ravages of war and the Chinese troops the sufferings of battle". ~

But for Vuong Thong the truce was just a strategy to gain time and obtain more reinforcements. While maintaining the siege and eliminating isolated outposts, the Vietnamese Command, on Nguyen Trai's recommendation, conducted a campaign of political persuasion directed at the Ming troops, driving home to them the inevitability of defeat, the strength of the Vietnamese national movement and the vulnerability of the Ming Empire. This seriously demoralized them. In October 1427, Ming reinforcements came in two columns: one was 100,000 strong and led by Lieu Thang through the Lang Son pass; the other, 50,000 strong, was led by Moc Thanh via the Red River valley. The Vietnamese command decided to destroy the more important army. Lieu Thang's troops, overconfident about their strength, were ambushed and routed at the Chi Lang Defile. The commander was killed and several generals captured together with 30,000 men. The other Ming column was filled with panic on hearing of this disaster and fled in disorder pursued by Le Loi's troops. After the destruction of these reinforcement, Vuong Thong who was besieged in the capital, was forced to sue for peace. His request was granted by Le Loi, who gave the Ming troops the necessary food supplies and means of transport to get home. It was December 29, 1427. ~

LE NOI AND THE LE DYNASTY (1428-1778)

Towards the end of the 14th century, a great crisis shook Vietnam. The Ming court, then reigning in China, took advantage of this to invade Dai Viet and to impose a form of direct rule which was to last for twenty years (1407-1427). However, the invaders encountered stiff resistance from the beginning, and national independence was eventually wrested back in 1427 by Le Loi, the founder of the Le Dynasty. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

In 1418, Le Noi, a wealthy philanthropist, sparked the Lam Son Uprising, travelling the countryside to rally the people against the Chinese. One of Vietnam's most celebrated heroes, Le Noi is credited with rescuing the country from Ming domination. Born of a wealthy landowning family, he served as a senior scholar-official until the advent of the Ming, whom he refused to serve. After a decade of gathering a resistance movement around him, Le Loi and his forces finally defeated the Chinese army in 1428. Rather than putting to death the captured Chinese soldiers and administrators, he magnanimously provided ships and supplies to send them back to China. Le Loi then ascended the Vietnamese throne, taking the reign name Le Thai To and establishing the Le dynasty (1428-1788). [Source: Library of Congress *]

Upon victory in 1428, Le Loi declared himself Emperor Le Thai To, the first in the long line of the Le dynasty. The war of independence led by Le Loi and Nguyen Trai had lasted ten years. Starting with few resources, the movement had expanded, gradually establishing powerful bases and forces, and eventually destroying huge enemy armies. The command had combined guerrilla warfare with mobile warfare and attacks on fortified position, political struggle with military action, and had shown kindness toward the enemy and avoided pointless massacres. Le Loi, from the land-owning class rather than the landed aristocracy, and Nguyen Trai, a Confucian scholar with an encyclopaedic knowledge, had succeeded in bringing about national unity and inspiring patriotism. As well, they had shown resolve and wisdom at critical and decisive moments. The war was both national and popular in nature and conducted with appropriate strategy and tactics. Never again would the Ming try to reconquer Dai Viet. The following period of peace between China and Dai Viet was to last for over three centuries. ~

The Le So Dynasty (1428-1524), founded by Le Loi, initiated land reform, brought Laos under Vietnamese suzerainty and took over Cham territory and created indigenous forms of literature, philosophy and art. Scholars began using the Vietnamese language instead of Chinese; laws were passed that gave women equal rights; and great works of literature were produced.

Le Loi and the Lam Son Uprising—A War of Independence from the Chinese

Le Loi, a land-owner from Lam Son in Thanh Hoa Province was born in 1385. Before launching the insurrection against the Ming, he gathered about 1000 followers around him. On February 7, 1418 in Lam Son, he proclaimed himself king under the name Binh Dinh Vuong, and began gathering under his banner anyone who oppose Ming domination. Nguyen Trai, a famous scholar, became his closest adviser on strategy and politics. Working together, the two men brought the insurrection to victory after long years of struggle. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

At first Le Loi launched guerrilla operations in mountainous area of Thanh Hoa. Although he inflicted losses to the Ming, he often found himself in a critical, even desperate situation. However, his forces held out thanks to the courage of the men, the resolve of the leaders, and the dedication of the officers. Other popular uprisings in various provinces helped loosen Ming pressure on Le Loi. In 1420, his troops were able to camp on the banks of the Ma River and threaten the capital of Thanh Hoa Province. A Ming counter-attack, however, drove them back to the mountains in 1423. But the Ming troops were also worn out, and their command agreed to a truce proposed by Le Loi, who resolutely resisted all attempts to buy him off with promises of riches and honours. In 1424, the Ming again attacked, but the insurgents had time to strengthen their position. ~

On the advice of Nguyen Chich, Le Loi took his troops to Nghe An and turned it into a resistance base. The insurgents were enthusiastically welcomed by the local people. Fortified enemy positions fell one after another, and soon the whole province was in Le Loi's hands. Next came Thanh Hoa, then provinces south of Nghe An. By the end of 1425, the whole southern part of the country had been liberated, with the exception of the Nghe An and Tay Do (Thanh Hoa) citadels. A vast rear base had thus been created for the war of national liberation. In 1426, Le Loi was in a position to launch a counter-offensive. ~

The Ming sent 50,000 reinforcements from China under the command of Vuong Thong. Even before they arrived, Le Loi had started his offensive to seize back the Red River Delta. In September 1426, he dispatched three armies northward; one was to interceept Ming reinforcements coming from Yunnan, the second comming through Lang Son, and the last was to march on the capital. Everywhere the people rallied to his banner with enthusiasm, while panic-stricken Ming troops withdrew into their citadels and tried to hold out until the reinforcements arrived. ~

In November, Vuong Thong's troops joined the Ming troops who had shut themselves up behind the walls of the capital, bringing their strength to 100,000. They thought they were now in a position to counter-attack, but instead they suffered a crushing defeat at Tot Dong (west of the capital) and again had to withdraw into the citadel. The Vietnamese troops had gained control of the area. Le Loi left Thanh Hoa and concentrated his forces round the capital. Vuong Thong proposed a truce. In a letter to the Ming general, Nguyen Trai said that the Vietnamese command would agree to a truce if Vuong Thong were to withdraw his troops from the country, thus "sparing our people the ravages of war and the Chinese troops the sufferings of battle". ~

But for Vuong Thong the truce was just a strategy to gain time and obtain more reinforcements. While maintaining the siege and eliminating isolated outposts, the Vietnamese Command, on Nguyen Trai's recommendation, conducted a campaign of political persuasion directed at the Ming troops, driving home to them the inevitability of defeat, the strength of the Vietnamese national movement and the vulnerability of the Ming Empire. This seriously demoralized them. In October 1427, Ming reinforcements came in two columns: one was 100,000 strong and led by Lieu Thang through the Lang Son pass; the other, 50,000 strong, was led by Moc Thanh via the Red River valley. The Vietnamese command decided to destroy the more important army. Lieu Thang's troops, overconfident about their strength, were ambushed and routed at the Chi Lang Defile. The commander was killed and several generals captured together with 30,000 men. The other Ming column was filled with panic on hearing of this disaster and fled in disorder pursued by Le Loi's troops. After the destruction of these reinforcement, Vuong Thong who was besieged in the capital, was forced to sue for peace. His request was granted by Le Loi, who gave the Ming troops the necessary food supplies and means of transport to get home. It was December 29, 1427. ~

Golden Age of Vietnam Under Le Loi

Le Loi made a name for himself by using his wealth to help the poor and refusing to join the Chinese mandarin class. He prevailed over the Chinese after suffering though many defeats himself. According to legend Le Loi was a fisherman who began the revolt after discovering a magical sword in his net that gave him the power to defeat the Chinese.

Le Loi presided over a Vietnamese golden age in 15th century. Only Ho Chi Minh is more honored. After the Chinese were gone, Le Loi declared himself emperor and his has companion Nguyen Trai—regarded as a great Vietnamese scholar— issued the famous Great Proclamation , which read: "Our people long ago established Vietnam as an independent nation with its own civilization. We have our own civilization. We have our own mountains and our own rivers, our own customs and traditions, and those are different from those of the foreign country to the north...We have sometimes been weakened sometimes powerful, but at no time have we suffered from lack of heros."

According to to Lonely Planet: "Guaranteed to fan the flames of nationalism almost six centuries later, The Great Proclamation (Binh Ngo Dai Cao) articulated Vietnam’s fierce spirit of independence. Le Loi and his successors launched a campaign to take over Cham lands to the south, wiping the kingdom of Champa from the map, and parts of eastern Laos were forced to kowtow to the might of the Vietnamese. [Source: Lonely Planet ]

During the Le Dynasty (1428-1524) indigenous forms of literature, philosophy and art were created. Scholars began using the Vietnamese language instead of Chinese; laws were passed that gave women equal rights; and great works of literature were produced. While the plastic arts and architecture made little progress compared with the Ly-Tran period, literature flourished. Buddhism was relegated to second place. Confucianism becoming the official ideology inspiring mandarin competitions and national literature. Confucian works, as interpreted by Chu Hi (of the Song period in China), made up a body of doctrine which had to be digested by candidates entering mandarin competitions. In 1484, the names of laureates at the central competitions were inscribed on stone stele erected at the Temple of Literature in Hanoi. The doctrine was carefully studied by the kings. Le Thanh Tong was an outstanding scholar and wrote moral texts intended for the people.

Le Thanh Tong (1460-97) Southward Expansion of Vietnam Under the Le Dynasty

The greatest of the Le dynasty rulers was Le Thanh Tong (1460-97), who reorganized the administrative divisions of the country and upgraded the civil service system. He ordered a census of people and landholdings to be taken every six years, revised the tax system, and commissioned the writing of a national history. During his reign he accomplished the conquest of Champa in 1471, the suppression of Lao-led insurrections in the western border area, and the continuation of diplomatic relations with China through tribute missions established under Le Thai To. Le Thanh Tong also ordered the formulation of the Hong Duc legal code, which was based on Chinese law but included distinctly Vietnamese features, such as recognition of the higher position of women in Vietnamese society than in Chinese society. Under the new code, parental consent was not required for marriage, and daughters were granted equal inheritance rights with sons. Le Thanh Tong also initiated the construction and repair of granaries, dispatched his troops to rebuild irrigation works following floods, and provided for medical aid during epidemics. A noted writer and poet himself, he encouraged and emphasized of the Confucian examination system. *

A great period of southward expansion also began under Le Thanh Tong. The don dien system of land settlement, borrowed from the Chinese, was used extensively to occupy and develop territory wrested from Champa. Under this system, military colonies were established in which soldiers and landless peasants cleared a new area, began rice production on the new land, established a village, and served as a militia to defend it. After three years, the village was incorporated into the Vietnamese administrative system, a communal village meeting house (dinh) was built, and the workers were given an opportunity to share in the communal lands given by the state to each village. The remainder of the land belonged to the state. As each area was cleared and a village established, the soldiers of the don dien would move on to clear more land. This method contributed greatly to the success of Vietnam's southward expansion. *

Although the Le rulers had ordered widespread land distribution, many peasants remained landless, while the nobility, government officials, and military leaders continued to acquire vast tracts. The final conquest of Champa in 1471 eased the situation somewhat as peasants advanced steadily southward along the coast into state-owned communal lands. However, most of the new land was set aside for government officials and, although the country grew wealthier, the social structure remained the same. Following the decline of the Le dynasty, landlessness was a major factor leading to a turbulent period during which the peasantry questioned the mandate of their rulers. *

Le Dynasty Land Reform and Economic Development

After achieving victory, Le Loi ordered the confiscation of all lands belonging to Ming functionaries, traitors and Tran princes and dignitaries who had died or left. State land was utilized in part by the administration itself and partly distributed to dignitaries and mandarins. In contrast to the Tran estate owners, the benefiting mandarins could only collect land rent, but not do as they pleased with the peasants themselves, who were subject to the direct authority of the state. Administrative centralization was thus promoted and the status of the peasants improved. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Le Loi in 1429 and then Le Thanh Tong in 1477, regulated and improved the distribution of communal rice fields based on the following principles: 1) All were entitled to distribution according to respective title and rank; 2) Distribution was to take place every six years; 3) Rent was paid to the state and was generally lower than that demanded by the landlords. The distribution of communal lands had been a practice since far back in time, but it was the first time that the monarchical state had intervened so directly in communal affairs. Given that the area covered by such lands was significant, the regulations resulted in increased production. ~

The Le kings paid great attention to the development of agricultural production. Lands left fallow during war time were quickly brought into cultivation, while the state set up state farms on uncultivated land so as to, in the words of King Le Thanh Tong, "concentrate our strength in agriculture and increase our potential". Individuals were also encouraged to cultivate virgin lands. New areas were thus cleared, both in the highlands and reclaimed coastal regions. Dykes were kept in good repair and in emergencies, students and soldiers were mobilized in order to repair them. Soldiers and palace staff were sent in turn to the fields to work. Harvests and cattle were given particular attention. This policy greatly encouraged agricultural production, and no serious famines occurred during the 15th century. ~

Handicrafts were still a subsidiary activity. However, they were widely practiced, and many villages came to specialize in certain occupations such as silk weaving, wine making, pottery or porcelain making, lime burning, etc. Leather processing was introduced from China. In towns, particularly in the capital Thang Long, craftsmen lived in certain quarters and were grouped in guilds with strict rules. Silver, tin, iron, lead, gold and copper mines were opened. Royal workshops were run by a special royal department and produced items needed at court, not to be sold on the market. They also minted coins. The personnel comprised craftsmen forced into service and slaves. This did not favor the progress in handicrafts. ~

The development of trade was encouraged by the spread of regional markets. Le Loi abolished the paper currency issued by Ho Quy Ly, ordered the use of copper coins and had units of measurement (length, weight, volume, and area) and the sizes of certain goods (fabrics and paper) standardized. Foreign trade was strictly controlled by the state; transactions could be conducted only with government authorization and in specified places. Many foreign trading vessels were banned from entering port. This restriction on foreign trade remained one of the main characteristics of feudal monarchy. ~

Le Dynasty Rule and Administration

With the disappearance of large estates, administrative centralization reached its peak. The court was reorganized with six ministries; the posts of prime minister and general were abolished, these functions being taken over by the king himself. Provincial and regional administration was handled by the mandarin bureaucracy. Functionaries were appointed to head villages in numbers which varied according to population. The establishment of new villages and the election of nobles became subject to detailed regulations. In 1467, Le Thanh Tong ordered maps of all villages and one of the whole country, the first ever to be drawn up. The country was divided into regions (dao), provinces, districts, and villages. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

With the first kings Le, Le Thanh Tong in particular, the feudal monarchy in Vietnam reached its peak; for some more time, the monarchical regime and mandarin bureaucracy were to play a positive role in the history of Vietnam. The mandarin bureaucracy enjoyed special privileges - land, houses and special attire - but were no longer entitled to own large estates with serfs and have their own armed forces as in the time of the Tran. Members of the royal family enjoyed even more privileges, but not to the extent of being allowed to participate in the nation's leadership or administer important provinces, as had occurred under the Tran. ~

The army, 250,000 strong towards the end of the war of liberation, was reduced to 100,000 and divided into five sections which took turns doing military service and agricultural work. The peasant-soldier system inaugurated under the Ly was thus maintained. Besides conscripts there were also reservists. The legislative apparatus was streamlined to serve the centralized administration and evolving society. In 1483, the Hong Duc Code was promulgated, grouping the rules and regulations already in forte in a systematic way; this was the most complete code to be drawn up in traditional Vietnam and remained in force until the end of the 18th century. Completed under subsequent reigns, it comprised 721 articles and was divided into six books. ~

The Hong Duc Code sought in particular to safeguard ownership of land by the state and landlords, and ensure the authority of the father, first wife, and eldest son. It also determined the rites of marriage and mourning. The "ten capital crimes" were severely punished, especially rebellion and neglect of filial duties. Feudal and Confucian in inspiration, the Hong Duc Code was, however, progressive in several respects. The rights of the woman were protected; she could have her own property and share equally with men in inheritance. Where there was no male offspring, daughters could inherit the whole family fortune. A wife could repudiate her husband if he had abandoned her for a certain time. All these points were to be suppressed in its most reactionary form. The Hong Duc Code was specific to the Vietnamese society of the time and showed no Chinese influence. ~

Le Dynasty Village Rule

In the Confucian world view, emperors were said to have the "mandate of heaven" to rule their people, who, in turn, owed the emperor total allegiance. Although his power was absolute, an emperor was responsible for the prosperity of his people and the maintenance of justice and order. An emperor who did not fulfill his Confucian responsibilities could, in theory, lose his mandate. In practice, the Vietnamese people endured many poor emperors, weak and strong. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Counterbalancing the power of the emperor was the power of the village, illustrated by the Vietnamese proverb, "The laws of the emperor yield to the customs of the village." Village institutions served both to restrain the power of the emperor and to provide a buffer between central authority and the individual villager. Each village had its council of nobles, which was responsible for the obligations of the village to the state. When the central government imposed levies for taxes, for corvee labor for public projects, or for soldiers for defense, these levies were based on the council of nobles' report of the resources of the villages, which was often underestimated to protect the village. Moreover, there was a division between state and local responsibilities. The central government assumed responsibility for military, judicial, and religious functions, while village authorities oversaw the construction of public works projects such as roads, dikes, and bridges, which were centrally planned. *

The autonomy of the villages, however, contributed to the weakness of the Vietnamese political system. If the ruling dynasty could no longer protect a village, the village would often opt for the protection of political movements in opposition to the dynasty. These movements, in turn, would have difficulty maintaining the allegiance of the villages unless they were able both to provide security and to institutionalize their political power. Although it insured the preservation of a sense of national and cultural identity, the strength of the villages was a factor contributing to the political instability of the society as it expanded southward. *

Ethnic Minority Policy Under the Le Dynasty

Vietnam comprises many ethnic groups; minority groups live in mountainous regions, while the majority group, the Kinh (Viet), are plain-dwellers. During the insurrection against the Ming, ethnic minorities living in the highlands allied themselves with the Kinh to fight the occupiers. After liberation, the feudalists in the delta resumed their policy of exploitation and oppression vis-a-vis the minorities. The Le monarchy ruled over the highlands through tribal chieftains upon whom the monarchy bestowed mandarin titles. These chieftains collected taxes. Control over mountainous regions was tighter than under the Tran. The Kinh mandarins ruling over the uplands also sought to exploit the ethnic minorities. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

This policy provoked frequent revolts among the mountain dwelling minorities, which was for centuries one of the weak points of the feudal monarchy. The Thai of the northwest rose in revolt in Lai Chau in 1432, in Son La in 1439 and in Thuan Chau in 1440; the Tay of Lang Son, Cao Bang and Tuyen Quang also did so on many occasions. In the western part of Nghe An, the head of the Cam family succeeded in holding out from 1428 to 1437. ~

All these revolts were firmly suppressed by the Le troops. The secession advocated by the rebel chiefs also ran counter to historical trends of the deltas and highlands being complementary economically. But antagonism among ethnic groups was to disappear only with the advent of socialism. ~

Decline of the Le Dynasty

The degenerated Le dynasty, which endured under ten rulers between 1497 and 1527, in the end was no longer able to maintain control over the northern part of the country, much less the new territories to the south. The weakening of the monarchy created a vacuum that the various noble families of the aristocracy were eager to fill.

After end of the Ly Dynasty, Vietnamese history in the 17th and 18th century was characterized by conflicts between Trinh lords in the north and Later Le and Nguyen lords in the south. The Trinhs were largely unsuccessful in their efforts to claim territory in the south while the Nguyens claimed territory from the Chams and Khmer in Mekong Delta.

Vietnam was not truly unified until the 18th century. Before then southern Vietnam was mostly in the hands of the Khmer and Cham dynasties. After the Chams were conquered the Vietnamese moved into the Mekong Delta and drove out the Khmers.

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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