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Tran Dynasty (1225-1400)

In 1225 Tran family, which had effectively controlled the Vietnamese throne for many years, replaced the Ly dynasty by arranging a marriage between one of its members and the last Ly monarch, an eight-year-old princess. The Tran dynasty held the throne for 175 years of repeated military crisis, including prolonged conflict with the Kingdom of Champa.

The Tran, are best remembered for their defense of the country against the Mongols and the Cham. By 1225, the Mongols controlled most of northern China and Manchuria and were eyeing southern China, Vietnam, and Champa. Three invasions by the Mongol armies of Kublai Khan were repelled. In 1257, 1284, and 1287, the Mongol armies of Kublai Khan invaded Vietnam, sacking the capital at Thang Long (renamed Hanoi in 1831) on each occasion, only to find that the Vietnamese had anticipated their attacks and evacuated the city beforehand. Disease, shortage of supplies, the climate, and the Vietnamese strategy of harassment and scorchedearth tactics foiled the first two invasions.

The Vietnamese victory under General Tran Hung Dao in the last of these encounters is one of the most celebrated in the annals of the country's history. The third Mongol invasion, of 300,000 men and a vast fleet, was also defeated by the Vietnamese under the leadership of General Tran Hung Dao. Borrowing a tactic used by Ngo Quyen in 938 to defeat an invading Chinese fleet, the Vietnamese drove iron-tipped stakes into the bed of the Bach Dang River (located in northern Vietnam in present-day Ha Bac, Hai Hung, and Quang Ninh provinces), and then, with a small Vietnamese flotilla, lured the Mongol fleet into the river just as the tide was starting to ebb. Trapped or impaled by the iron-tipped stakes, the entire Mongol fleet of 400 craft was sunk, captured, or burned by Vietnamese fire arrows. The Mongol army retreated to China, harassed enroute by Tran Hung Dao's troops.

After the Mongol withdrawal, the Tran monarch sent a mission to Kublai Khan and reestablished peace as a tributary of Mongol ruled China.

The fourteenth century was marked by wars with Champa, which the Tran reduced to a feudatory state by 1312. Champa freed itself again by 1326 and, under the leadership of Cham hero Che Bong Nga, staged a series of attacks on Vietnam between 1360 and 1390, sacking Thang Long in 1371. The Vietnamese again gained the upper hand following the death of Che Bong Nga and resumed their southward advance at Champa's expense.

Under the Tran dynasty (1225-1400), the country prospered and flourished as the Tran rulers carried out extensive land reform, improved public administration, and encouraged the study of Chinese literature. During this dynasty, Confucianism, with its emphasis on learning, replaced Buddhism in importance. This scholarly atmosphere produced a number of literary accomplishments. The first extant historical records - a 30-volume official history of Dai-Viet (Dai-Viet Su-ky)-date from the Tran. Other historical writings and biographies also appeared - all written in Chinese.

Despite their earlier success, the quality of the Tran rulers declined markedly by the end of the fourteenth century, opening the way for exploitation of the peasantry by the feudal landlord class, which caused a number of insurrections. Economic and social crises, following the devastation of war, were intensified by the aggrandizement of big landlords at the expense of the peasantry and by incompetence and corruption in the bureaucracy.

In 1400 General Ho Quy-ly [Ho Qui Ly] seized the throne and proclaimed himself founder of the short-lived Ho dynasty (1400-07). Using reinstatement of the Tran dynasty as an excuse, the the Ming dynasty (1368-1662) took advantage of the situation to usurp the throne, thereby giving of China the occasion to intervene on the pretext of restoring the Tran dynasty. Within a year of the Chinese invasion in 1406, Dai-Viet was again a province of China. Trung-quang-de (grandson of Nghe-tong), the last king of the Tran family was taken prisoner by the troops of the emperor of China. While they were carrying him off in 1409, he threw himself into a river. The kindom of Tongking was now for fourteen years subject to China. Loi, a descendant of the kings of the Ly family, collected an army in 1418, and attacked the Chinese. After a war of ten years he expelled them, and reestablished the dynasty of Ly.



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