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Tonkin / Tong King / Tonquin

During most of the epoch from BC 111 to AD 968, Tongking was subject to China, and governed by viceroys. Tonkin (dong kinh = eastern capital) was the original Annamese state (capital at Hanoi) in 939, and remained subject to China until independence in 1428. The celebrated traveller Marco Polo does not say much if anything at all about Tong-king, for it is doubtful whether the country called by Yule, Anin, by Eamusio and others Amu, by Pauthier Aniu is really Northern Annam. The last named Savant thinks that Aniu and Tong-king are but one country. Annam (an nam = peace of the south) was dynastically divided into Tonkin, Annam and Cochin in the 16th century and reunited in 1802.

The northern and western frontiers of the country are formed by lofty mountain ranges, clothed with magnificent forests of teak and other valuable wood. From these ranges spring innumerable rivers, which traverse the central plains in every direction, rendering them marvellously fertile. In addition to these natural means of irrigation, the Tonkinois constructed a vast network of canals connecting the streams, thus enabling them to flood the ricefields which cover these fertile plains; and though the agricultural wealth of their country is enhanced, and the means of water communication in flatbottomed boats of slight draught rendered facile, the general health of the inhabitants is sapped by fever, and land routes are practically unknown. These minor streams, whether from the mountains on the Siamese or the Chinese border, all find their way to the Red River, adding their mite to that titantic volume of water.

The Vietnamese trace the origins of their culture and nation to the fertile plains of the Red River Delta in northern Vietnam. Vietnam's identity has been shaped by long-running conflicts, both internally and with foreign forces. In 111 BC, China's Han dynasty conquered northern Vietnam's Red River Delta and the ancestors of today's Vietnamese. Chinese dynasties ruled Vietnam for the next 1,000 years, inculcating it with Confucian ideas and political culture, but also leaving a tradition of resistance to foreign occupation. In 939 AD, Vietnam achieved independence under a native dynasty.

Tongking had always been a dependency of the emperors of China, sometimes as a tributary kingdom, and at other times as a province of the empire, under a governor or viceroy chosen by the emperor. The annals of Tongking, from which the chronology of its kings is derived, contain abundance of fables, even in the more recent periods. Still, so far as regards the succession of dynasties and kings, and the different revolutions which the kingdom has experienced, there is no reason to call in question the authenticity of these annals; especially since the tenth century, from which epoch, Tongking, which, from being a mere province of China governed by viceroys, began to have its own sovereigns, whose succession suffered only a few interruptions of short duration.

After centuries of developing a civilization and economy based on the cultivation of irrigated rice, in the tenth century the Vietnamese began expanding southward in search of new rice lands. Until the mid-nineteenth century, the Vietnamese gradually moved down the narrow coastal plain of the Indochina Peninsula, ultimately extending their reach into the broad Mekong River Delta. Vietnamese history is the story of the struggle to develop a sense of nationhood throughout this narrow, 1,500-kilometer stretch of land and to maintain it against internal and external pressures.

The northernmost province of the Kingdom of Annam, lying conterminous to the southern frontier of China, Tonkin was in itself one of the richest and most valuable districts in the great IndoChinese peninsula; watered by a magnificent stream which is navigable for some hundreds of miles, it formed one of the principal outlets for the wealth of South-Western China, and consequently in the 19th Century had been jealously guarded both by the Government of the Celestial Empire and by that of her vassal Annam. Merely as a means towards securing this valuable trade, the possession of Tonkin was much to be desired, but there were other advantages which rendered it no less desirable. The southern slopes of the mountains which form its northern boundary are clothed with forests, similar to those which constituted so much of the wealth of Burmah; the districts in the vicinity of the many rivers are among the richest rice-producing lands of the world; tea is also found among its exports.

The inhabitants of Tonkin were for the most part slight and below the middle height, resembling the Chinese in their features though of darker complexion; their figures are more lithe and elegant, in this respect they are more like the Malays. They were possessed of much intelligence, and in diplomacy during the 19th Century were more than a match for their Western conquerors ; though in the field, their ignorance of modern tactics and the fact that they did not possess arms of precision render their defeat, when opposed to equal numbers of well-armed and well-led troops, a matter of certainty. They were by no means destitute of courage, and, though defeated and driven out of positions, would return to the charge the next day with equal determination and sang-froid.

Being entirely destitute of artillery, the Tonkinois deserved much credit for the way in which, armed mainly with bows and arrows, they e never hesitated to face the heavy cannon of the French gunboats or the repeating rifles of the French bluejackets. Although followers of Buddha, the Tonkinois were not very bigoted in their religion. Women among them occupied a very inferior place, and polygamy was rife, especially in the northern districts. The houses of the poorer and middle classes are generally built of. wood; the majority were thatched, but some few were seen with roofs neatly covered with tiles. It was rare to see a solitary house; they were generally grouped together, surrounded by bamboo hedges, which not only serve as a protection from the effects of the deadly tornadoes which devastate the country, but also as a very effective obstacle against the advance of human foes.



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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:37:57 ZULU