Period of independence and building centralizedal power

Posted at: TUEsday - 06/07/2010 16:05 - post name: Bùi Hồng Ninh


Ngô Quyền reigned for only five years (939- . 944). After his death, the royal court entered conflict, the country fell into a chaotic state and was divided up by 12 warlords.

Đinh Bộ Lĩnh, the son of Đinh Công Trứ, the governor of Châu Hoan, accompanied his mother to Hoa Lư (Ninh Bình) after his father died, to do farming, tend buffalo, cut grass, learn how to read and write and practise martial arts. When grown up, seeing that the people were living in miserable conditions caused by the 12 warlords who had proclaimed themselves as overlords, he raised troops to fight them. In 968, after succeeding in suppressing the warlords, Đinh Bộ Lĩnh ascended the throne, proclaiming himself as king (Tiên Hoàng Đế) and officially named the country Đại Cồ Việt with the capital at Hoa Lư.

In 979, Đinh Tiên Hoàng and his son Đinh Liễn were killed by Đỗ Thích, a eunuch, so the 6-year-old prince Đinh Toàn came to the throne. Availing themselves of this opportunity, the Song Dynasty in China sent their troops to invade the country. For the sake of the nation's interests, Queen Mother Dương Vân Nga (Đinh Tiên Hoang's wife) decided to hand the throne to Lê Hoàn (980-1005), Commander of the Ten Army Divisions of the Đinh Dynasty. Lê Hoàn led the army to defeat the Song troops. In 1005, Lê Hoàn died, throwing the royal court into turmoil. Lý Công Uẩn, Commander of the Royal Court troops, ascended to the throne.

From that time, Việt Nam entered an era of real independence and building a centralized feudal power.

Ly Dynasty (1010-1225)


Lý Thái Tổ

Lý Công Uẩn, the king-founder of the Ly Dynasty moved the capital from Hoa Lư to Thăng Long (present-day Ha Nội) in 1010. The name of the State remained Đại Cồ Việt until 1054, when it was changed to Đại Việt (Great Việt).The Lý Dynasty succeeded in building a centralized power, unified from the central to the local echelons, and the country was divided into 24 regions (called lộ). National defense was strengthened -through a policy of mobilizing soldiers in 6 month shifts.

The dynasty fought against foreign aggressors (in 1077; Lý Thường Kiệt led an army to defeat 100,000 troops of the Song army with 10,000 cavalries at frontline on the Cầu River). In terms of spirituality and education, the dynasty promoted and upheld Confucianism, constructed the Temple of Literature (1070) and Imperial College (1076), held examinations to find the most talented pupils in the country, reconciled the three religions (Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism).

On 11 December 1225, the Ly Dynasty handed down the power to the Trần Dynasty.

The Lý Dynasty reigned over the country in 215 years (1010-1224), through nine generations.

Ho Dynasty (1400-1407)

TThough his reign was short, the broad-minded and scholarly Hồ Quý Ly carried out numerous daring reforms. He put out the Minh Đạo Book in 14 chapters to criticize the Song-Confucian ideologies, set limits on land ownership and serfdom, put paper money in circulation, adapted the taxation system, diminished clerical powers and restrained feudal aristocrats in order to increase the social labour-force.

Under the Hồ's rule, land was redistributed, surveys of the population and their assets conducted, the exam system reformed (mathematics was included in the curriculum) and education improved. Hospitals were set up, law and order maintained, irrigation and transportation systems developed, streets, communes and post-stations formed. The Hồ Dynasty also reinforced defense lines and constructed weapons workshops.

Hồ Quý Ly's reforms were advanced, comprehensive and ahead of their time. However, his act of overthrowing the Trần was barbarous: he killed King Thuận Tong, General Trần Khát Chân and as many as 370 other members of the royal and aristocratic families to usurp the throne and strengthen his power. Not surprisingly, this resulted in animosity from the people. In addition, the Ming Court in China was always watching for an opportunity to come and annex Đại Ngu, and all of Hồ Quý Ly's reforms could not be carried out.

In June 1406, the Ming sent 800,000 troops to invade the country. Hồ Quý Ly and his son withdrew to Thanh Hóa and then to Hà Tĩnh but were seized on 17 June 1407 and taken to China. Afterwards, Đại Ngu fell under the draconian yoke of the Ming.

Naming the country Đại Ngu with Tây Đô as the capital, the Hồ held the throne seven years (1400-1407), through two generations.

Le Dynasty (1428-1527)

Under the cruel oppression of the Ming aggressors, Lê Lợi, a hero from Lam Sơn, Thanh Hóa, rallied his companions-in-arms Nguyễn Trãi, Trần Nguyên Hãn and Lê Văn An, among others, to fight for national independence, The insurrection began on 7 February 1418 and ended in victory on 3 January 1428, The country was liberated; the Lê set out to build their centralized feudal power.

A temple dedicated to King Lê Thái Tổ, Hà Nội


The Lê Dynasty, particularly in the reign of Lê Thánh Tông (1460-1497), made splendid contributions to the history of Việt Nam. The emperor took care of the civil service examinations to find talented people in the country, upholding Confucianist teachings, restraining Buddhism, expanding agricultural production, creating employment and attempting to distribute land equally. Under his reign, the national map was established, the well-known Hồng Đức Code passed, and the history book Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư (The Complete History of Great Việt) compiled by Ngô Sỹ Liên in 1497. He initiated Hội Tao Đàn (Literary Association) over which he himself presided. The Association attracted 28 of the most talented poets in the whole country. Lê Thánh Tông also vindicated the outstanding celebrity of culture and great strategist Nguyễn Trãi (1380-1442), author of the immortal Bình Ngô Đại cáo (Proclamation of Victory over the Wu, 1427), who had to suffer the execution of three lines of relations (himself and his wife, his brothers and sisters, and his children and grandchildren) on 16 August 1442 on account of the "Lệ Chi Viên" incident (a lychee-garden in Gia Lương, Bắc Ninh).


Nguyễn Trãi, brilliant strategist of Lê court.

On 27 July 1442, Le Thai Tong was on patrol in the Chi Linh Citadel. Nguyễn Trãi received the king and invited him to rest at Con Sơn Pagoda where Nguyễn Trãi resided. On August 4th the king arrived at Lệ Chi Viên and suddenly died. Beside the king was the 40-year-old Nguyen Thị Lộ a concubine of Nguyễn Trãi whom the king was very fond of, on account of her beauty and talent for poetry. Some courtiers accused Nguyễn Thị Lộ of poisoning the king through Nguyễn Trãi. Nguyễn Trãi was put to death because courtiers accused him of poisoning the king.

During Lê Chiêu Tông's reign, the Lê declined. From this time, the centralized feudal power of Việt Nam fell into crisis and the country had to experience over two centuries' turmoil.

Remaining the country back to Đại Việt and changed the name of the capital from Thăng Long, Đông Đô, the Lê’s rule lasted 99 years (1428-1527), through ten generations.

Mac Dynasty (1527-1592)

Seeing that Lê Cung Hoàng was a cowardly king, in June 1527, Mạc Đăng Dung, a high-ranking mandarin of the Le, brought his troops to the capital to force the king to abdicate, and then he set up the Mạc Dynasty.

The Mạc then declined and were attacked by the Lê-Trịnh army in 1592. They were defeated and forced to flee to a region in Cao Bằng, where they stayed until 1677, when they were all annihilated.
Succeeding the Mạc was the Restored Lê Dynasty (Lê Trung Hưng), which is referred to in historical literature as the Kings Lê-Lords Trịnh Period and is marked by the conflict between the Trinh and the Nguyễn, lasting from 1533 to 1788.

The Mạc reigned over the country for 65 years (1527-1592), through 5 generations.

Trịnh Kiểm, the prime-minister of the Lê, and son-in-law of Nguyễn Kim, former mandarin of the Lê, brought Lê Anh Tông to the throne. Nevertheless the true power was in Trịnh Kiểm's hands. Trinh Kiểm was afraid that his wife's two brothers, Nguyễn Uông and Nguyễn Hoàng, might usurp the throne. He organized an attempt on their lives, which succeeded in killing only Nguyễn Uông. Nguyễn Hoàng, aware of the scheme, pleaded with his sister, Trinh Kiểm's wife, to allow him to go to defend the land of Thuận Hóa (present-day Thừa Thiên-Huế). Nguyễn Hoàng built up forces, opened up new lands and pledged allegiance to the Trịnh lords. In 1677 he declared war against the Trinh. By this time he had created the foundation for successive Nguyễn lords in the South; the Gianh River became the demarcation-line between the two lords' lands.

In the north, the Trịnh's power lasted 243 years through 12 generations.

During the Lê Trung Hưng (Kings Lê-Lord Trinh) and the conflict between the Trịnh and the Nguyễn, An Đô Vương Trịnh Cương and Nguyễn Công Hãng set forth a number of reforms in the north These included policies on mandarins' costumes organization of examinations, State and army organization, a new tax system and, most noticeably, reforming the system of finance. Nevertheless, these reforms were only carried out during the last ten years of Trịnh Cương’s life (he died in 1732).
The Restored (Posterior) Lê reigned over the country for 255 years (1533-1788), through 16 generations.

In the south, the Nguyễn expanded their territory and promoted foreign trade. Their rule lasted from 1558 to 1777, through 9 generations as from Nguyễn Hoàng (or Lord Tiên, 1558-1613) to Nguyễn Phúc Thuần (1765-1777).

Trịnh Lords reigned over the North of Việt Nam for 243 years (1545-1788), through 12 generations.

Nguyễn Lords reigned over the South of Việt Nam for 219 years (1558-1777), through nine generations.

Tay Son Insurrection (1778-1802)

The Tây Sơn brothers were Nguyễn Nhạc, Nguyễn Lữ and Nguyễn Huệ. They were of Hồ ancestry and were descendants of Hồ Hưng Dật (a First-grade Doctoral Laureate who lived in the 10th century). The forefather of the Tây Sơn brothers in Hưng Nguyễn District, Nghệ An province was captured by a Nguyễn lord, who was leading his army northwards, brought to Tây Sơn (now An Khê Commune, Hoài Nhân District, Bình Định Province) and forced to change his surname to Nguyễn. The Tây Sơn brothers were very fond of learning, both literature and martial arts.

Seeing the country was divided and the people living in misery, the Tây Sơn brothers began to rally the peasants in the region to rise up. In 1771, they seized the wealth of the rich to aid the poor (they have been called "peasant heroes" by historians). After eight years of tough fighting, the Tây Sơn brothers succeeded in killing Nguyễn lords. Only Nguyễn Phúc Ánh, a nephew of Lord Nguyễn Phúc Thuần, escaped to Thổ Chu island. Then he fled to Siam (now Thailand), wishing to ask for their help to regain power.  


In 1778, having gotten rid of the Nguyễn Lords, Nguyễn Nhạc came to the throne and set up the Tây Sơn Dynasty with the capital in Quy Nhơn (Bình Định). In May 1786, Nguyễn Nhạc ordered Nguyễn Huệ to take troops to Thuận Hóa to fight the Trịnh army. On June 25th of that year, his troops entered the old capital Thăng Long with the motto "Support Emperor Le to fight Trinh Lords!" Emperor Lê Hiển Tông gave Princess Ngọc Hân in marriage to Nguyễn Huệ. After the death of Emperor Lê Hiển Tông, Nguyễn Huệ brought Ngọc Hân to the south with his troops and handed power over to the Lê descendants. However, the Lê court fell into conflict and Nguyễn Huệ had to take his troops North again. He reorganized the ruling bodies in the north (Bắc Hà) and invited a number of scholars such as Phan Huy Ích, Ngô Thì Nhậm and Ngô Văn Sở to take part in state affairs.

In this period, the conflict between the Trịnh and the Nguyễn Lords that separated the country for over 200 years eventually ended.

The country was not really at peace, as the Tây Sơn brothers had not yet managed to build a unified, centralized power. They also appeared to be fighting each other.

Fearing that Nguyễn Huệ, after returning from his mission of "Support Emperor Lê to fight Trịnh Lords!" in Bắc Hà would encroach upon his power, Nguyễn Nhạc decided to divide the south into three regions. In April, 1787 Nguyễn Nhạc decreed that the region from Hải Vân Pass northwards belonged to Nguyễn Huệ, the Gia Định region belonged to Nguyễn Lữ, and the central region with the capital in Quy Nhơn belonged to Nguyễn Nhạc himself. Later, in 1793, Nguyễn Nhạc died.

In the north, King Lê Chiêu Thống left the capital for a foreign country in April 1788. By the end of that year, he led the way for the Manchu (Qing) aggressors in China to come and invade Thăng Long.

In response, on the 25th day of the 11th lunar month in the year of the Monkey (22 December 1788), Nguyễn Huệ dispatched his troops to Bắc Hà. Wishing to promote himself, Nguyễn Huệ came to the throne and proclaimed himself Emperor Quang Trung.

Quang Trung's great army moved at lightning speed to Nghệ An (marching while also enrolling and training new recruits), where they paraded. On 15 January 1789, the Tây Sơn troops reached the Tam Điệp defense line where Ngô Văn Sở troops, who had retreated from Thăng Long, were waiting. Right on the 5th day of the 1st lunar month of the year of the Roast (1789), the great army of Quang Trung reached Thăng Long. They crushed 290,000 Manchu troops at the Ngọc Hồi-Đống Đa battlefield, writing a glorious page in the history of the Vietnamese people. After this resounding victory, Quang Trung moved back to Phú Xuân (Huế) to find way to get rid of Nguyễn Ánh, who was attempting to seize power with outside assistance, and handed the power to Ngô Văn Sở and Ngô Thì Nhậm.

Under the diplomatic stratagem envisaged by Quang Trung combined with Ngô Thì Nhậm's tactics, the Tây Sơn managed to normalize relations with the Qing in China. The Qing envoy had to go as far as Phú Xuân to nominate Quang Trung as emperor. In response, fake Emperor Quang Trung sought royal audience and attended. the Qing Emperor Qianlong's birthday celebrations.

In 1792, after sending a letter to express his wish to marry one of the Qing Emperor's daughters and have the two provinces of Guangdong and Guangxi for setting up the capital, Quang Trung appointed admiral Vu Van Dung as his envoy and assigned him with the mission of delivering the letter. Emperor Qianlong consented and gave Quang Trung his princess in marriage and promised to yield Guangxi Province to his prospective to set up a capital.

The delegation was happy as their mission was nearly fulfilled when shocking news came: Emperor Quang Trung suddenly passed away in July 1792. Still grieving, Vũ Văn Dũng returned to his home country.

After the emperor's death, his son Quang Toản was still too young to take power, so the empire was in conflict and could by no means resist Nguyễn Ánh's assaults.

The Tây Sơn Dynasty ended here after having existed for 24 years.

Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945)

In 1802, after triumphing over the Tây Sơn Dynasty, Nguyễn Ánh came to the throne and proclaimed himself Emperor Gia Long, setting up the capital in Phú Xuân (present-day Huế). On that year, he renamed the country Việt Nam. Gia Long ordered the compilation of Quốc triều hình luật (Dynastic Law Code). In 1815, this 22-volume law was published.

Minh Mạng and Tự Đức were devout Confucianists, and knowledgeable kings. They had royal examinations held to find talented men for the court. In 1821, Minh Mạng ordered the construction of Quốc Tử Giám (Imperial University) and ordered that inter-provincial and royal examinations be held once every three years instead of every six. Minh Mạng took much interest in military training, particularly naval forces. Therefore he sent his men to learn how Westerners built their ships. During Minh Mạng's reign, he set forth an extremely important reform in the administrative system (in 1831 and 1832). He divided the countries into 30 provinces, including 18 from Quảng Trị up north and 12 from Quảng Trị down south. He also restructured the mandarinate, defining the responsibilities of mandarins at grassroots level.


Duy Tân King

During the 1850s, Western colonialists were looking for new colonies and markets. Việt Nam was a target for their conquests.

Confronted with this situation, many strong-willed scholars such as Phạm Phú Thứ (1821-1882), Nguyễn Trường Tộ (1830-1871), Nguyễn Lộ Trạch (1822-1895), Bùi Viện (1841-1878) and so on lodged an appeal to the emperor for reforms in all areas of politics, military, the economy, culture, education, science, and to adopt open-door and development policies like many other Asian nations. Their appeal was rejected. The Nguyễn kings prohibited the foreign missionaries from popularizing Christianity and applied a closed-door policy.

It may be said that the Quý Mùi Accord (1883) and the Patenôtre Treaty (signed on June 6th, 1884), had put an end to all centralized feudal dynasties of Việt Nam and the country officially fell into the hands of the French.

All emperors, from Dục Đức to Bảo Đại, were puppets controlled by the French colonialists. In the wake of the August 1945 Revolution, the last king of the Nguyễn Dynasty, Bảo Đại, proclaimed his abdication in front of 50,000 inhabitants of Huế City on 30 August 1945, who gathered at the Ngọ Môn Gate of the Imperial Citadel to see him hand the imperial sword and seal to representatives of the revolutionary government. He said, "It's better to be a citizen of a free country' than to be emperor of an enslaved state!"

Thus after the revolution, the citizen Vĩnh Thuỵ (Bảo Đại) was invited by President Hồ Chí Minh to be an advisor to the provisional government of the newly-independent Việt Nam.

The Nguyễn ruled over the country in 143 years (1802-1945) (although in 1884 the French controlled them in improsing their yoke on the whole of Việt Nam)

French Domination (1884-1945)

The first cannon shot from a French warship at Đà Nẵng in 1858 was the advent of French invasion of Việt Nam. The French assaulted and occupied the Gia Định Citadel (present-day Hồ Chí Minh City region) in 1859 and eventually occupied and ruled over the whole territory in 1884. However, as soon as the French put their first steps on Gia Định, they were confronted with fierce opposition from Vietnamese patriots. There were the insurrection led by Trương Định (1859-1864) against the French at Gò Công, Tân An; the insurrection of Nguyễn Trung Trực (1861-1868) at Vàm Cỏ Đông, Rạch Giá, Hà Tiên, and Phú Quốc Island. Before he was executed by the French, Nguyễn Trung Trực uttered the immortal words, "Only when the French have finished uprooting all grass on Việt Nam's land, will there be no Vietnamese to fight against them." When the French invaded the central and north regions, they were again confronted with vigorous opposition. This included the Ba Đình insurrection (in Thanh Hoá, 1886-1887) led by Đinh Công Tráng; the Bãi Sậy uprising (in Văn Giang and Khoái Châu, Hưng Yên, 1885-1889) led by Nguyễn Thiện Thuật; the Hồng Lĩnh insurrection (in Thanh H6a, 1886-1892) led by Tống Duy Tân; the Hưng Khê movement led by Phan Đình Phùng (Hà Tĩnh, 1885-1896) to appeal to the Loyalist Movement waged by emperor Hàm Nghi and emperor Duy Tân; the Yên Thế insurrection (Bắc Giang, 1887-1913) led by Hoàng Hoa Thám;

Đề Thám and childrens


The Thái Nguyên uprising (1917-1918), led by Trịnh Văn Cấn (Đội Cấn); the riot in Lạng Son (1921) staged by Đội Ân; and the Việt Nam National People's Party's riot in Yên Bái (1930) led by Nguyễn Thái Học and Nguyễn Khắc Nhu.

The above-mentioned resurrections and riots, as well as the patriotic movements led by Phan Chu Trinh (1872-1926) and Phan Bội Châu (1867-1940), finally came to failure and the country was still submerged in slavery. Historians have explained that this is because these insurrections, riots and patriotic movements took place in a period of over half a century, but did not have any revolutionary guidelines that were designed in a correct and scientific way. In short, each uprising was a movement in itself, rather than part of a cohesive whole.

Quite aware of the circumstances of the country and grieving at the plight of the people, the young patriot Nguyễn Tất Thành (Nguyễn Ái Quốc - 1890-1969), who later became President Hồ Chí Minh, left his fatherland on 5 June 1911. This was the beginning of his quest for ways to save his country He went to France, and then to many of its colonies in Africa, to the United States (1912), to Great Britain (1913) and returned to France in 1917. Acquiring Marxist and Leninist ideas and enlightened by the Russian Revolution (November 1917), Nguyễn Ái Quốc realized the truth that, to liberate one's nation and bring independence for one's native land, one must take revolutionary actions. To take revolutionary actions, one must have a revolutionary theory and be guided by a revolutionary organization.


Nguyễn Ái Quốc (Hồ Chí Minh) at the Tours Congress of the French Socialist Party in December 1920. He became one of the founders of the French Communist Party.

In 1924, he arrived in Guangzhou (China); the Việt Nam Youth Revolutionary Comrades Association (aka the Youth Revolutionary Comrades Association) was founded to propagate Marxism-Leninism and prepare to set up a proletariat party in Việt Nam.

On June 17th, 1929, the Indochina Communist Party was founded in the north. That November of the same year the Annam Communist Party was founded in the south. Also, on January Pt, 1930, the Tân Việt Revolutionary Party was converted to the Indochina Communist League.

On February 3rd, 1930, Nguyễn Ái Quốc convened a conference on the peninsula of Kowloon, Hong Kong, to merge the three above-mentioned parties into the Việt Nam Communist Party. The revolutionary goals that were expressed in the Party's political platform were "To overthrow the French imperialists and feudal mandarins to bring complete independence to the nation."

From that time, the Vietnamese revolution was put under the leadership of a Marxist-Leninist party. Revolutionary theory was widely spread as the movement took roots among the masses. Numerous organizations were set up. Soon after the Vietnamese Communist Party was founded, a revolutionary uprising broke out in the two provinces of Nghệ An and Hà Tĩnh - it became known as the Soviet-Nghệ Tĩnh Movement. In 1940, under the leadership of the Communist Party" an insurrection against the French and their henchmen broke out in Hóc Môn District (now part of Hồ Chí Minh City) now known as the Southern Insurrection.

At the beginning of 1941, after many years of living abroad, Nguyễn Ái Quốc returned to his fatherland to take up the leadership of the revolutionary movement. On May 19th, 1941, the Việt Minh Front (Alliance Association for Việt Nam's Independence) was founded in order to enlighten and unite the people of all walks of life to stand up against the French and the Japanese.

On 9 March 1945, the Japanese overthrew French rule by means of a coup d'etat. On the same day, the Standing Committee of the Party Central Committee convened a meeting at Đình Bảng (Từ Sơn, Bắc Ninh) to replace the slogan "Fight against the French and the Japanese" with "Fight against Japanese Fascism", and to organize armed forces and revolutionary bases, and set up the Việt Nam Liberation Army to carry out a general uprising when the time was ripe.

On 9 May 1945, the German fascists surrendered to the Allied forces. On 8 August 1945, the Soviet Union's Red Army launched powerful offensives against the Japanese, crushing their Quandong forces of nearly one million troops. The National Conference at Tân Trào (Tuyên Quang, between August 13-15th, 1945) held by the Việt Nam Communist Party observed that, "A very good opportunity to seize power has come." As a result, the general uprising to seize power was launched before the Allied soldiers, including British and Chiang Kai-shek troops entered Indochina to disarm the Japanese army.

At 11 pm on 13August 1945, the "Military Order No. I", which was issued by the uprising committee, kick-started the general uprising.

On 16 August 1945, the National People's Congress (also called the 2nd Diên Hồng Congress by historians) was attended by 60 delegates from the north, south and central regions. A general uprising was agreed upon. In addition, the Congress passed a Ten-point Program of Việt Minh, decided to set up a National Liberation Committee chaired by Hồ Chí Minh, and adopted the National Flag and National Anthem.

President Hồ Chí Minh reading the Declaration of Independence at Ba Đình square


The uprising to seize power in Hà Nội broke out on 19 August 1945.

The uprising to seize power in Sài Gòn broke out on 25 August 1945.

From August 19th to 26th 56 out of Việt Nam's 65 provinces seized power; Hà Tiên was the last to do so on 28 August 1945.

On 2 September 1945 at Ba Đình Square in Hà Nội, before hundreds of thousands of people, on behalf of the provisional government, President Hồ Chí Minh read the Declaration of Independence to found the Democratic Republic of Việt Nam.


1. Mai Ly Quang: Glimpses of Vietnam - The gioi Publishers, Ha Noi, 2004, 223p.

2. Nguyen Hong Sam: Vietnam Today - Van hoa Thong tin publishers, Ha Noi, 1997, 206p.

3. Vietnam - Lanscape, Ha Noi, 40p.


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