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Nguyen Dynasty - 1802-1945

The Nguyen Dynasty first attained recognized prominence during the Nguyen Trinh War during the years 1627 through 1673. Both were powerful ruling families, who were descendent from close relatives and aids to the Hero Emperor Le Loi, who had freed Vietnam from intermittent Chinese rule and had started the Le Dynasty in 1428. The Nguyen family threw off the yoke of the king of Tonquin ; and thence sprung the kingdom of CochinChina, called by the natives An Nam, or Peace of the South. The name of Cochin-China was given to it by the Portuguese, in order to distinguish it from Cochin on the Malabar coast. It had various names among the natives, as Nam Viet, or Viet Nam, that is, South Viet, and Dai Viet, that is, Great Viet. After various rebellions and revolutions, the government was at length recovered by the family of the original sovereign, who took the title of Emperor, and who was succeeded in 1820 by one of his sons, the emperor, Minh Mang (or Mingming, as some write it), that is, "Illustrious Fortune."

Early in the Tay Son rebellion, Nguyen Anh, the last descendant of the southern Nguyen lords, escaped annihilation with the aid of a French missionary, Pigneau de Behaine, Bishop of Adran. Pigneau privately organized a small force of Frenchmen to help Nguyen Anh. The bloody struggle which followed ended with the defeat of the last Tay Son king in 1802 and the installation of Nguyen Anhas the Emperor Gia Long - Gia Long being the contraction of Girt Dinh (then Saigon) and Thanh Long (Hanoi).

With the founding of the Nguyen dynasty at Hue, the reunified country was renamed Vietnam (the Viet of the South). In 1803 the emperor's authority was formally recognized by the Chinese Ch'ing dynasty, to which he agreed to pay tribute biannually. The Nguyen dynasty lasted until the abdication of Bao Dai at the end of World War II.

Gia Long, who regarded Christianity as potentially subversive, never accepted the faith as Bishop Pigneau had hoped, but, out of gratitude to him, he did not persecute Christians as his successors did. In general, he followed a policy of aloofness from the West, which succeeded primarily because, at the time, the Napoleonic wars were occupying all of France's attention.

Gia-long (Nguyen-do, the general who opposed the Mac family and restored the Ly dynasty), died thirteen years after, leaving sons who were too young to succeed to his station of generalissimo. His son-in-law Trinh was therefore his successor, and Trinh transmitted his authority to his posterity. The son of Nguyen-do became the governor of Cochinchina, subject to the kings of Tongking, whose power was little more than nominal, the Trinh family administering the government of Tongking, and the Nguyen family that of Cochinchina. These rival houses were often at war with each other for several generations, until Nguyen-anh, who had reigned twenty-two years over the southern part of Cochinchina, and one year over the whole of Cochinchina, subdued Tongking in 1802, took the name hoang-de, king and emperor, and gave to his reign the name of Gia-long. The two countries since formed but one kingdom.

Minh Mang, Thieu Tri and Tn Duc, Gia Long's immediate successors, were unfriendly to Europeans and suspicious of the motives of both the traders and the missionaries. Cruel and indiscriminate repressions and persecutions were launched against both the missionaries and the sizable convert communities.

Under this dynasty, more than two centuries of struggle between Vietnam and Siam (Thailand) for control of Cambodia reached a critical stage, and in the process the two competing powers earned the intense enmity of the Cambodians. Whenever opportunity presented itself, Vietnam proceeded to impose its own culture and institutions on the Cambodians, and after 1834 Cambodia was virtually subjected to direct Vietnamese rule. Shortly thereafter the Cambodians, encouraged by Siam, rebelled against the Vietnamese, and the ensuing inconclusive military conflict between Siam and Vietnam ended in 1845, when the two powers agreed to set up joint control over Cambodia. This dual vassalage was terminated in 1863 with the establishment of a French protectorate over the area.

The cultural outburst during this dynasty was one of the most brilliant in Vietnamese history. The ohu nom was extended to many categories of literature. The national masterpiece, Kim Van Kieu, an epic poem, appeared in ohu nom. After that the indigenous script became more and more widely used, to the exclusion of Chinese. Hue emerged as the center of literary and artistic activities. In addition to the architecture and sculpture, the bronzes and enamel work were also outstanding. Behind this rich facade, however, the economy was stagnant, and intellectual life received little fresh impetus from outside sources. At a time when the West was developing at an astounding pace, Vietnam was rehashing and reenacting philosophies and policies that had changed little over the centuries. The arrival of the new techniques and ideas from the West jolted Vietnam into a reevaluation of its traditions.

Tu Duc, Emperor of Anam, died Ang. 8, 1883, at the age of fifty-four years. He was a younger son of Treni-Tri, of the Nguyen dynasty, who nominated him hie successor instead of his eldest son, Hoang-Bao. The latter revolted when Tu Duc ascended the throne at the age of nineteen, but was conquered and thrown into a dungeon, where he hanged himself. Tu Duc was the enemy of Europeans. He refused to allow the French envoy to land in 1856, and the following year he put to death the Spanish missionary, Bishop Diaz. The two countries sent an expedition nnder Admiral Rigault de Genouilly which captured the forts of Turan in August, 1858, and four months afterward attacked Saigon. Admiral Charner in 1862 forced him to sign the treaty of Saigon. Tu Duc sent an embassy to Paris offering an indemnity of $40,000,000, on condition of the evacuation of the country. The amount was reduced to $20,000,000, but France retained a protectorate over the conquered provinces, kept Saigon, and compelled the Emperor to throw open three ports on the Cochin-China coast. Tu Duc encouraged the Black Flags in their reprisals on the French, which led to the expedition of 1873, in which Francis Garnier met his death, and to the war in Tonquin.

Since Tu Duc's death, during the French embroglio, there had been half-a-dozen nonentities on the throne, - brothers, adopted sons, nephews and so on, - for Tu Duc was totally impotent, and therefore childless.

Everything was a reflex of what was found in Peking. As with the Ming Tombs (in the 19th Century few foreigners, if any, had seen the Manchu Tombs), a valley was affected to each Emperor, with subordinate buildings for wives, concubines and other relatives. The Annam Tombs, being more recent in date, were in better repair than the Ming Tombs of Peking, and, though perhaps in some instances on a smaller and less ample scale, on the whole finer and more tasteful. Some of them are laid out so symmetrically as to recal the gardens of Versailles ; and, as all the Annamese citadals were constructed under the supervision of French officers nearly a century ago, it seems not improbable that the royal mausoleum parks wore also partly designed by them, or with their assistance.

There was a touching custom in Annam of building at each imperial mausoleum a palace for the wives and concubines of the deceased Emperor. The tombs of the third and fourth Emperors, Thien-tri and Tu-duc, are inferior in grandeur to those of Gia-long and Minh-mang.

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Page last modified: 05-08-2011 20:03:25 ZULU