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Ly Dynasty (1009-1225)

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). 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.

The Ly dynasty, established in 1009, was the first of the great Vietnamese dynasties and, after an interval of confusion, ushered in a period of population growth, territorial expansion, prosperity, cultural development and stability. An efficient central government with a strong administrative and military organization was formed. 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.

The Ly rulers, adapting the Confucian Chinese model, gave the government the form it retained until the French conquest. The emperor had three roles. He was at once the father of the nation-family, the absolute temporal monarch in whom all powers of the state resided and, finally, the religious head of the realm and intermediary between it and heaven, the highest realm of the supernatural.

As their territory and population expanded, the Ly kings looked to China as a model for organizing a strong, centrally administered state. The work of administering the country was carried on by a civil bureaucracy - the so-called mandarinate. Six administrative departments were created: personnel, finance, rites, justice, armed forces and public works. A board of censors kept watch over the civil servants and advised the emperor of any infractions.

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. Examinations for public office were made compulsory, and literary competitions were held to determine the grades of officials. A college for prospective civil servants and an imperial academy were founded - all geared to the mandarinate system. In 1089 a fixed hierarchy of state officials was established, with nine degrees of civil and military scholar-officials. The mandarins were recruited through public examinations in which knowledge of the Chinese Confucian classics and skill in literary composition were the central requiroments. This method of recruitment survived until the second decade of the twentieth century.

Public revenues were used to complete the drainage and resettlement of the Red River Delta and to build new dikes, canals and roads. More land was opened up for rice cultivation to feed the expanding population. An army was created wlhich not only repelled a Ohinese invasion in 1076 but also checked aggression from the Kingdom of Cambodia and seized territory from the Kingdom of Champa (AD 192-1471), which then controlled territories corresponding roughly to the present Central Lowlands and Central Highlands. It was after one of the victories over Champa in 1069 that Thanh-Tong, the third Ly emperor and one of the greatest Vietnamese sovereigns, renamed the country Dai -Viet (Greater Viet). The country kept this name until 1802, when Emperor Gia Long changed it to Viet Nam.

It was during the Ly dynasty that the expansionist policy of nam-tien (march southward) began in earnest. This policy was continued down through Vietnamese history until 1780, when the southern tip of the Indochinese peninsula was acquired from Cambodia. 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 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.

During this dynasty, Buddhism reached its height on the strength of royal patronage. 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. Bonzes 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. Many of the better educated Buddhist monks filled high official posts. The Ly rulers also encouraged Confucianism and Taoism. Taoism, in particular, penetrated the countryside, adulterating popular Buddhism. Art depicting Buddhist themes also flourished. Another notable achievement was the perfection of ceramic art.

In 1225 the 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.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:35:38 ZULU