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Vietnam - Chinese Millenium

202 9 Western Han
25 220 Eastern Han
220 581 Six Dynasties
581 618 Sui
618 906 Tang / T'ang
907 960 Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms
1368 1644 Ming

Vietnamese historians regard Trieu Da as a defender of their homeland against an expanding Han empire. In 111 BC, however, the Chinese armies of Emperor Wu Di defeated the successors of Trieu Da and incorporated Nam Viet into the Han empire. The Chinese were anxious to extend their control over the fertile Red River Delta, in part to serve as a convenient supply point for Han ships engaged in the growing maritime trade with India and Indonesia. The overthrow of the Kingdom of Nam Viet in 111 BC by the armies of the Chinese Han dynasty (202 BC to AD 220) marked the end of the legendary period of Vietnamese history. The Red River valley and a coastal strip to the south as far as Hue became Giao Chi, the southernmost Chinese province, and for the next 1,000 years the events in the area were an integral part of imperial China.

The Chinese found the Viets organized on feudal lines. Villages and groups of villages led by hereditary local chiefs were in vassalage to provincial lords, who, in turn, owed allegiance to the king, to whom many of them were related. The primitive agriculture of the people included some knowledge of irrigation but not the plow and the water buffalo, which were introduced hy the Chinese. Fish and game supplemented the cereals raised in the fire-cleared fields. Bronze had made its appearance in the form of ceremonial objects and arrowheads, hut the principal agricultural tool was the stone hoe, and the people hunted and fought with spears and bows and arrows.

During the first century or so of Chinese rule, Vietnam was governed leniently, and the Lac lords maintained their feudal offices. Chinese rule was not initially oppressive, and the Vietnameese feudal chiefs, although required to recognize the authority of a few Chinese high officials and pay taxes to the Chinese throne, were left largely undisturbed. Chinese agricultural technology, intellectual culture, and method of making weapons were readily accepted. Life in the delta was enriched but not overwhelmed. Later, when a growing Chinese officialdom began to expand its direct controls, the local aristocracy rallied against the alien encroachment on their hereditary prerogatives.

In the first century AD, however, China intensified its efforts to assimilate its new territories by raising taxes and instituting marriage reforms aimed at turning Vietnam into a patriarchal society more amenable to political authority. In response to increased Chinese domination, a revolt broke out in Giao Chi, Cuu Chan, and Nhat Nam in AD 39, led by Trung Trac, the wife of a Lac lord who had been put to death by the Chinese, and her sister Trung Nhi. The two sisters, Trung Trac and Trung Nhi, ruled jointly until AD 43, when, with the defeat of their forces by the Han general Ma Yuan, they drowned themselves to avoid capture by the Chinese. Still celebrated as heroines by the Vietnamese, the Trung sisters exemplify the relatively high status of women in Vietnamese society as well as the importance to Vietnamese of resistance to foreign rule. The memory of the warrior queens has been preserved in Vietnam as a symbol of resistance to foreign oppression. The revolt was harshly suppressed, and those of its leaders who were not killed were exiled or degraded. With the old feudal order weakened, direct Chinese rule was imposed, and only subordinate places in the bureaucracy were left to the, Vietnamese.

Following the ill-fated revolt, Chinese rule became more direct, and the feudal Lac lords faded into history. The process of introducing Chinese culture, whioh now began in earnest, remade many aspects of Vietnamese life. In attempts to strengthen central authority by destroying feudal vestiges at local levels, China introduced, around AD 50, a system of communal administration under which groups of 5 to 50 families formed communes. As the basic administrative and social unit, the commune had considerable freedom to manage local affairs through its council, which was chosen by influential villagers and family heads from among their own number. The council was responsible for public order, implementation of official decrees, the collection of taxes and the recruitment of conscripts for the army. In discharging these functions the village council was financially independent of the central government because its operating expenses were derived mostly from vJllage communal land, which also served to support the landless and needy people of a village. By installing their own administrative institutions, the Chinese gave the Vietnamese a new political structure, the cohesion and strength of which later made it possible for Vietnam to resist and expel invaders from the north.

Ma Yuan established a Chinese-style administrative system of three prefectures and fifty-six districts ruled by scholar-officials sent by the Han court. Although Chinese administrators replaced most former local officials, some members of the Vietnamese aristocracy were allowed to fill lower positions in the bureaucracy. The Vietnamese elite in particular received a thorough indoctrination in Chinese cultural, religious, and political traditions. One result of Sinicization, however, was the creation of a Confucian bureaucratic, family, and social structure that gave the Vietnamese the strength to resist Chinese political domination in later centuries, unlike most of the other Yue peoples who were sooner or later assimilated into the Chinese cultural and political world. Nor was Sinicization so total as to erase the memory of pre-Han Vietnamese culture, especially among the peasant class, which retained the Vietnamese language and many Southeast Asian customs. Chinese rule had the dual effect of making the Vietnamese aristocracy more receptive to Chinese culture and cultural leadership while at the same time instilling resistance and hostility toward Chinese political domination throughout Vietnamese society.

There were important areas of thought and action over which the process of acculturation simply spread a Chinese gloss without essentially altering the resistant material beneath. This was especially true of the peasantry from whom the Chinese rule meant mainly the payment of taxes and the giving of labor service. Conscious of their distinctive ethnic identity, the peasants continued to use their traditional language and clung to animism and other oustoms preserved from long before the arrival of the Chinese. When confronted with oppressive Chinese officials, the peasants resisted them, rallying around their communes which served as the focus of social and political activities. It was in acknowledgment of the debt the country owed to these village communes that all the Vietnamese dynasties after China took great care to preserve village autonomy. The autonomous village tradition is perhaps best epitomized by a popular saying, "the King's laws bow before village customs."

Vietnamese language, the origin of which remains controversial, was retained though it was enriched by Chinese words and expressions. Nevertheless, the Chinese language and learning were essential to any who aspired to office under the Chinese. Educated Vietnamese were largely oriented toward Chinese culture, but their native roots were also preserved through their continuing contacts with the ordinary people whom they helped the Chinese govern. In a parallel process, Chinese officials, acquiring land and wealth and marrying Vietnamese, developed local loyalties and personal ambitions which rendered increasingly remote the claims of Peiping. Out of this mingling of cultures and convergence of interests there was to emerge a new breed of Chinese elite, owing allegiance to their homeland but displaying increasing Vietuamese orientation.

Chinese domination survived the collapse of the Han dynasty in AD 220 and the ensuing period of confusion, during which several anti-Chinese revolts were attempted. In AD 248, Trieu Au, a woman, incited au uprising which was put down the following year. Ly Bon led a revolt in 542 and proclaimed himself emperor in 544, but the Chinese ousted him by the following year. Ly Xuan in 589 and Ly Phat Tu in 602 also tried unsuccessfully to overthrow the Chinese authorities. The leaders of the revolts are honored as national heroes in Vietnam today.

In AD 679 the T'ang dynasty (618-907) made the province of Giao Chi a protectorate-general and renamed it Annam (Pacified South), a term resented by the Vietuamese. Under more liberal policies, Annam thrived, the population increased and reclamation and resettlement of the Red River Delta proceeded more vigorously. Culture was further enriched under Buddhist influence, first introduced by a Chinese monk around AD 188.

Prosperity and the continued penetration of Chinese influence did not, however, check the growth of incipient national feeling. The Vietnamese were frequently in revolt, and although these uprisings usually involved only upper-class elements and were invariably short lived, they produced an array of national heroes and heroines celebrated in Vietnamese history and still venerated at many village and city shrines.

In the year 542 AD, a Chinese general, whose name was Tien-ly-nam-de, less faithful than Ma-vien, took advantage of the declining state of the empire at that time to declare himself king of Tongking, having first killed the viceroy, and put to flight such of the troops as were opposed to his usurpation. After a reign of seven years, he was supplanted by Trieu-viet vuong, who reigned twenty-seven years, and was in his turn dethroned by Hau-ly-nam-de. This third king held the throne thirty-two years. After him the nation was again subjected to the Chinese- emperors.

At the commencement of the tenth century, the Chinese empire was torn by intestine wars. It was divided into several kingdoms, the sovereigns of which contended with each other for the title of emperor, so that in the space of fifty-four years, five imperial dynasties succeeded each other, the heads of which claimed descent from some of the ancient dynasties. Tongking participated in the troubles of the empire. The disorders following the fall of the T'ang dynasty provided the opportunity the Vietnamese had long sought.

In 932, Duong-chinh-cong, a general, drove away the viceroy who then governed, and took possession of the government, which he continued to administer in the name of the emperor of China. At the end of seven years he was put to death by another general, Cong-tien, who enjoyed less than a year the fruits of his victory.

The death of Duong-chinh-cong was avenged by his son-in-law, who declared himself independent, and was the founder and head of the Ngo dynasty. In AD 938 one of the generals, Ngo Quyen, in a struggle cubninating in the battle of Bach Dang, drove out the occupying Chinese forces from the Red River Delta and founded the short-lived Ngo dynasty.

Tongking was most of the time a dependency of China, because the race of Ngo was a Chinese family. Chinese attempts to retake the Red River valley were repelled, and by 946, though by no means entirely secure and out of danger from the Chinese, the first independent Vietnam became an historical reality. With the exception of a 20-year interlude of Chinese reoccupation early in the fiftsenth century, it remained independent for the next 900 years.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:35:49 ZULU