Gia Long ( Founder of Nguyễn dynasty)

French version


Gia Long is the imperial title prince Nguyễn Phúc Ánh took in 1802 for his reign at the time of the reunification of the Vietnam empire which extended from the border of Lạng Sơn to the point of Cà Mau on the gulf of Siam.

Gia long results from the combination of two following words: Gia and Long (Gia being a word extracted from the name Gia Định, the ancient city of Saïgon and Long that of the name Thăng Long, the ancient capital Hànội). During the 25 years of fighting against the Tây Sơn, he roamed the whole Cochinchina. He knew perfectly well all the corners of the Mekong delta. Prince Nguyễn Ánh was so attached to the people of the South and in particular to Saigon city that he was khnown at the time as “General Gia Định”.

Before the unification of Vietnam (1801), the last survivor of the Nguyen was hunted down several times by the Tây Sơn ( or the people from the West ) of Nguyễn Huệ. He owed his safe life to a French missionary Pierre Joseph Pigneaux de Behaine who shared with him his meal brought in by a confidant, P. Paul Nghi, and who did not hesitate to organize his escape in the Cancau principality of Mạc Thiên Tứ, the son of his allied Mạc Cửu Hà Tiên region) after the assassination of Nguyễn Huệ. Vương by the Tây Sơn, which is told by the British John Barrow in his book ” Voyage in Cochichina” in 1793.
The tough life he experienced during his years of vicissitude gave his partisans an occasion to interpret later his exploits and perils that he succeeded in overcoming as a sign of God’s will in helping him to regain the throne. The grotto of coins (Hang Tiên) in the region of Ha Tien, accessible nowaday by boat, evokes the souvenir of the young prince Nguyễn Ánh, who took shelter there with his troops while waiting for French reinforcements, finding coins left by pirates. Vietnamese sayings go with his exploits, such as:

Kỳ đà cản mũi”

The varanus is in front of the prow

to mean a task cannot be done because of the obstruction of someone. Thanks to the presence of a monitor that blocked his junk on its way to the sea, he was narrowly saved because his enemies were waiting for him there. Another time in the region of Ha Tien, his junk was bothered by the presence of snakes. He was forced to give order to his subordinates to row faster so as not to be pursued by the snakes. This allowed him to reach Phú Quốc island sooner and avoid the trap set by his adversaries. That is why a Vietnamese saying goes:

“Gặp rắn thì đi, gặp qui thì về”

to mean it is possible to keep going when encountering snakes and it is better to go back when encountering turtles.

Thoughout historical accounts, it is noted that Nguyen Anh was lucky during the years of fighting with the Tây Sơn. One time he was chased by the enemies. He was forced to cross a river by swimming. He was aware that the river was infested with crocodiles. He had to resort to buffaloes that splashed about the riverside to take him over. Even the perilous rescue of his boat engulfed by waves by the young intrepid Lê Vân Duyệt (15 years of age ) who later became his talented general, in a stormy night was the object of prophecy discussed for so many years by the people of Long Hưng Tây village before the event took place.

In spite of these facts having something to do with legitimizing by divine protection the struggle led by Nguyễn Ánh, it is not fair to ignore the qualities in this outstanding personage. He did not have the genius of strategy of his adversary, general Nguyễn Huệ. But he had an incommensurable patience parallel only to that of Gou Jian (or Cẩu Tiễn in Vietnamese ), the prince of Yue in the North at the episode of Spring and Autumn ( thời Xuân Thu )( 476 B.C ) who waited long years to get ready for revenge against Fu Chai ( Phù Sai ) the Wu State’s sovereign ( nuớc Ngô của Ngủ Tử Tư ).

He was gifted at being able to recruit as subordinates individuals of valor ( Võ Tánh, Lê Văn Duyệt, Nguyễn Văn Thành etc…) and grant to frienship a particular signification during his reign, which has been noted towards French missionary Pigneaux de Behaine or his French lieutenants Jean Baptist Chaigneau ( Nguyễn Văn Thắng), Philippe Vaniera, Olivier Puymanel or Siamese king Rama I ( or Chakkri ).

In acknowledgement of the debt that Nguyễn Ánh had let him go back safe and sound with his army to rescue his imprisoned family, the latter was fast to offer many years of hospitality to prince Nguyễn Ánh and his suite when he was forced to take refuge in Bangkok after his scathing defeats against the Tây Sơn at Mỹ Tho (1785).

Nguyễn Ánh was a brave and tough man. With him it seems like there is no one in the South who dares to oppose him. To repay the debt toward his family assassinated by the Tay Son, he remained unruffled before the tortures he reserved for his adversaries. The vanquished enemies were put to death by appalling tortures. Men were torn and women and children were stamped by elephants. Their corpses were thown in the field for crows to eat. It was the fate reserved for the female general Bùi Thị Xuân, the son of emperor Nguyễn Huệ, king Nguyễn Quang Toản etc…

This pact of friendship was born in a military confrontation between his lieutenant Nguyễn Hữu Thùy and Chakkri which was still a general sent by the Siamese king Taksim (Trịnh Quốc Anh ).

Before the volte-face of Taksim imprisoning his family, Chakkri was forced to compromise with Nguyen Anh and return to Bangkok to overthrow Taksim. To recognize this debt and to assist Nguyen Anh to recover the throne, Chakkri sent an army of 50,000 men which was completely decimated in 1785 by the strategist Nguyễn Huệ in the western Mékong (Mỹ Tho).
For political reasons, he did not hesitate to kill people who had served him with devotion when he was still a young prince hunted down by the Tây Sơn. It is the case of Nguyễn Văn Thành, Ðặng Trần Thường. That is why he was ofen compared to Liu Bang (Lưu Bang), the great Han emperor having reserved the same treatment toward his comrades-in-arm. Despite that, he was also seen as a man of the heart. He was fast to render great homage to his comrade-in-arm Nguyễn Văn Thành whom he forced to commit suicide for a calomnious insinuation and burst into tear before the altar set up in honor of the latter. He ordered freedom for his family and restitution of confiscated possessions and titles. One also finds his profound attachment to his subordinates’ lives through the message addressed to his brother-in-law, general Võ Tánh in charge of defending Qui Nhơn or to Pigneaux de Behaine, his spiritual father, military advisor through the ceremony arranged at the funeral of the latter, which was reported by Father Lelabrousse at the Missions Etrangeres on April 24, 1800.

He was also a seducing warrior. His consideration toward queen Ngọc Bích, the young wife of his adversary, young king Cảnh Thịnh (son of king Quang Trung) was exemplary. She was crying out when she saw a very majestuous man standing in front of her:

-General Gia Ðịnh, what do you want of me?

He smiled and answered her with kindness:

Don’t be afraid and stop crying please. General Gia Dinh will be more gentle than a Tay Son one. This residence remains the same for you despite of the change of ownership.

Since his gentleness and his will to conquer the heart of the queen was so strong the latter could not resist. She became thus his first rank concubine and had two sons with him. She was married two times to two kings (Cảnh Thình and Gia Long) and was the last daughter of the Le kings. That is why the two implacable adversaries became “brothers-in-law” because Nguyễn Huệ was the spouse of Ngọc Hân and Gia Long that of Ngọc Bích. It is also for the latter that a Vietnamese saying goes:

Số đâu mà số lạ lùng
Con vua mà lấy hai chồng làm vua

What a bizarre fate she has
Daughter of a king, she got twice married to kings.

In spite of his reputation of being a warrior hardened by years of war and vicissitudes, he was also as vulnerable as any ordinary man. A great number of worries has come upon him that he did not wish to hide and reveal to his confidant, Frenchmen Jean-Baptiste Chaigneau:

Ruling country is easier than managing a harem.
This was revealed by Michel, the son of J.B. Chaigneau in his journal “Le Moniteur de la Flotte” in 1858.

Despite the treaty initialed at Versailles in 1787 by Counts de Vergennes and de Montmorin for king Louis 16th and by his son Nguyễn Phúc Cảnh witnessed by bishop of Adran, Pigneaux de Behaine, the collaboration of a great number of French subordinates in his ranks and his interest in science and Western techniques, he continued adopting a very ambiguous policy toward the Europeans, in particular the missionaries. Was this benevolent attitude due to the friendship he tried to honor toward his friend Pigneaux de Behaine or to his open mindedness like KangXi in China aiming at better utilizing the catholic missionaries’s competences?

One keeps asking these questions up to now. However, one knows that throughout the construction of the Purple City, the maintenance of the mandarinal system, the reform of the Le code based on that of the Qing in China, he appeared to be more than never an admirer of the Ming and Qing dynsties, a convinced Confucianist and a more retrograde emperor. During his last years, he began a policy of folding back by choosing as his successor prince Nguyễn Phúc Ðảm supported by most of the Confucianist mandarins in lieu of the children of prince Cảnh who deceased of an illness. The prince known under the name of Minh Mang did not hesitate to do away with the children and wife of Cảnh (Mỹ Ðường ) and gave the Europeans an opportunity, especially the French government to intervene militarily, by deliberately leading an anti-western and anti-catholic policy and thus renewing a policy in line with the Chinese policy. Nguyen Anh could have become a great emperor at the image of a Japanese “Meiji” when he had the advantage of being circled by a great number of Frenchmen including his private physician (a certain Despiaux) and he had an open mind to Western techniques and sciences.

It is a shame for Vietnam to have lost an opportunity to enter the era of modernization.

It was unfortunate for the Vietnamese people to have written later their history with blood and tears

He does not deserve being forgotten in our history because he arrived at enlarging our territory and unifying the country under his banner. But he is no longer a great emperor of Vietnam because grandeur is measured by not only the enlargement of Vietnam but also by the good deeds he brought to the Vietnamese people and by the magnanimity toward his adversaries.

It is regrettable to say so because Nguyễn Ánh with the qualities he showed us during his 25 years of vicissitude could have done better to his country and people more than any other kings of Vietnam (including king Quang Trung ).

Concubines under the Nguyễn dynasty (Cung tần mỹ nữ)

French version



Trong cunq quế âm thầm chiếc bóng
Ðêm năm canh trông ngóng lần lần
Khoảnh làm chi bầy chúa xuân
Chơi hoa cho rữa nhị dần lại thôi.

In the royal genaeceum, I stay alone with my shadow,
All night long, I eagerly wait for his visit.
Instantly, many springs have gone by,
He ceased coming in as this flower is withering.

Ôn Như Hầu

Except Gia Long, the founder and Bảo Ðại, the last emperor of the Nguyen dynasty no emperors of this dynasty granted a title to their principal spouse during their reign. No historic documents found today show why there was that systematic refusal since the application of Minh Mang’s decree. On the contrary, only this spouse received her title after her disappearance.

First imperial concubine ( Nhất giai Phi ) ( 1st rank )
Second imperial concubine ( Nhị Giai Phi ) (  2nd rank )
Superior concubines ( from 3rd to  4th rank ) (Tam Giai Tân và Tứ Giai Tân ), simples concubines ( from 5th to 9th rank ) ( Ngũ Giai Tiếp Dư , Lục Giai Tiếp Dư, Thất Giai Quí Nhân, Bát Giai Mỹ  Nhân, Cữu Giai Tài Nhân ).

Then came the Ladies of the Court, next, the subordinate servants. It was estimated that those women along with the eunuchs, the queen mothers and the emperor made up a purple forbidden society of Huế. The status of those women (even that of the servants) no matter what it was, went up considerably when they gave birth to a son.
Speaking of those concubines, it is impossible not to evoke the love story of Nguyễn Phi, the future empress Thừa Thiên Cao Hoàng Hậu with prince Nguyễn Ánh, the future emperor Gia Long. This one, beaten by the Tây Sơn (or the peasants of the West) in the Fall of 1783, had to take refuge on the Phú Quốc Island. He had to send his son Nguyễn Phúc Cảnh, 4 years old, accompanied by archbishop Pigneau de Behaine to France to ask for military aid before king Louis XVI (Treaty of Versailles 1787), and took refuge in Bangkok ( Thailand) waiting for French reinforcement. Before the time of separation, he hastened to cut a gold bar into two halves and gave one to his spouse, Nguyễn Phi telling her:

Our son has already gone. I am about to leave you to resettle in Thailand. You stay here to take care of our queen mother. I do not know the date of my return nor the place of our reunion . I leave with you this half gold bar as the token of our love. We will have the chance to see each other later if God helps us to defeat the Tây Sơn.

During Nguyễn Anh’s years of exile and setback in his reconquest of power, Nguyên Phi continued to take care her mother-in-law, queen Hiếu Khương (spouse of Nguyễn Phúc Luân ) and to make uniforms for recruits.

She arrived at overcoming all the difficulties destined to her family and showed her courage and bravery in escaping traps set up by their adversaries.

Thanks to his perseverance and stubbornness, Nguyễn Ánh succeeded in defeating the Tây Sơn in 1802 and became our emperor Gia Long. The day following their touching reunion, he asked her about the other half of the gold bar he had given her at the moment of their separation. She went looking for it and gave it back to him. Seeing the half of the bar in the state of shining, emperor Gia Long was so touched he told his spouse Nguyễn Phi:

This gold that you succeeded in keeping in its splendor during our difficult and eventful years shows well the blessings and grace of God for our reunion today. We should not forget that and should talk about it to our children.

Then he reassembled the two halves of the gold bar to make it whole again and gave it to Nguyễn Phi. This gold bar later became under the reign of Minh Mạng, not only the symbol of eternal love between Nguyễn Ánh and his spouse Nguyễn Phi but also an object of veneration found on the altar of emperor Gia Long and empress Thừa Thiên Cao Hoàng Hậu in the Ðiện Phụng Thiên temple in the purple city of Huê.

No one was surprised that thanks to his daughter Ngô Thị Chánh, former Tây Sơn general Ngô Vân Sở was spared from summary execution by emperor Gia Long during the victory over the Tay Son, because his daughter was the favorite concubine of his crown prince Nguyễn Phúc Ðảm, our future emperor Minh Mang. When this one acceded to power, he did not hesitate to grant her all the favors uniquely reserved up until then for his principal spouse. This concubine, when alive, often had the chance to tell the emperor:

Even you love me as such, the day I decease, I will be alone in my tomb empty-handed.

That was why when she died a few years later, the emperor followed her to the place of burial taking with him two ounces of gold. He then asked the eunuch to open the two hands of the concubine. The emperor himself put an ounces of gold in each hand saying with emotion:

I give you two ounces of gold so that you do not go empty-handed.

One found this love fifty years later in poet emperor Tự Ðức. At the funeral of his favorite concubine, he composed a poem entitled “Khóc Bằng Phi” whose two following verses immortalized love and affection emperor Tự Ðức reserved for his concubine Bằng Phi:
Ðập cổ- kính ra, tìm lấy bóng
Xếp tàn-y lại để dành hơi

I break the old mirror to find your shadow
I fold your fading clothes to keep your warmth.

Under the Nguyen dysnasty, the genaeceum took an important dimension. To consolidate his authority and gain fidelity from his subordinates, emperor Gia Long himself did not hesitate to establish the politics of alliance in taking for concubines most of the daughter of the subordinates. This was revealed by his confidant, the French mandarin J.B. Chaigneau in his ” Souvenirs of Huế 1864 “. But sometimes the concubine of the emperor may be issue of a different medium. It is the case of the concubine of emperor Thành Thái, the father of Duy Tân. This concubine was the rower of a ferry boat in the region of Kim Long known for the charm and grace of its inhabitants. That is why people did not hesitate to sing the following popular song to evoke the idyllic love that emperor Thanh Thai reserved for the charming rower of the ferry and his audacity to disguise himself as a common traveler to visit Kim Long.

Kim Long có gái mỹ miều
Trẩm yêu trẩm nhớ trẩm liều trẩm đi

Kim Long is known for its charming girls
I love, I miss, I dare and I go.

One beautiful morning of our new year, Thành Thái intrigued by the charm of the Kim Long region decided to go there alone. He disguise himself as a young traveler to visit that famous region. On his way back, he had to take the ferry the rower of which was a charming girl. Seeing her timid in gait with her red cheeks under the overwhelming sun, emperor Thành Thái began to flirt with her and tease her with this idea, saying:

Miss, do you like to marry the emperor?

Stunned by this hazardous proposal, the girl looked attentively at him and replied with sincerity: Don’t you talk nonsense, they are going to cut off you head.

Seeing her in a fearful state, the emperor was determined to bother her more: That’s right, what I have proposed with you. If you agree, I will be the intermediary in the matter! Caught by a sense of decency, she hid her face behind her arm. On the ferry, among the passengers, there was an older and well dressed person. This one, having heard their conversation, did not hesitate to push on by saying to the girl:

Miss, just say “Yes” and see what happens!

Encouraged by the daring advice, the ferry rower responded promptly: Yes Happy to know the consent of the rower, Thành Thái stood up, went toward the rower and said with tenderness:

My dear concubine, you may rest. Let me take care of rowing the ferry for you.

Everyone was surprised by that statement and finally knew that they were in front of young emperor Thành Thái, known for his anti-French activities, deposed and exiled later by the French authorities to the Reunion island because of his excess in “madness”. When the ferry reached the Nghinh Lương dock, Thành Thái ordered the passengers to pay for their tickets and led the young rower into the forbidden city.

Generally speaking, the concubines lived surrounded by Ladies of the Court, eunuchs and devoted their time in embroidering and weaving. Some died without ever having received the emperor’s favor, or having got out of the palace.

A famous poet of 18th century Nguyễn Gia Thiều known under the name of Ôn Như Hầu (because of his title), had denounced the injustice inflicted upon these women, their sadness and isolation, in his work ” Cung Oán Ngâm Khúc” (or Sadness of the Palace ). Others enjoyed their status of a favorite but none was equal to Ỷ Lan, the favorite of Lý Thánh Tôn of the Lý dynasty, who had assumed brilliantly the regency of the kingdom during her husband’s campaign against Champa.

Concubines sous la dynastie des Nguyễn (Cung tần mỹ nữ)

English version

Trong cunq quế âm thầm chiếc bóng
Ðêm năm canh trông ngóng lần lần
Khoảnh làm chi bầy chúa xuân
Chơi hoa cho rữa nhị dần lại thôi.

Dans le gynécée royal, je suis toute seule avec mon ombre
Tout le long de la nuit, j’attends avec impatience sa visite
Plusieurs printemps ont été partis instantanément
Il cessait de venir et je suis comme une fleur qui se fane.

Ôn Như Hầu

Hormis Gia Long, le fondateur et Bảo Ðại, le dernier empereur de la dynastie des Nguyễn, aucun empereur de cette dynastie n’accordait à son épouse principale le titre d’impératrice durant son règne. Aucun document historique trouvé jusqu’à nos jours ne nous permet de connaître les raisons de ce refus systématique depuis la mise en application du décret de l’empereur Minh Mạng. Par contre, celle-ci reçut seulement ce titre après sa disparition.

Malgré cela, elle était considérée toujours comme la première dame (Hoàng Qúi Phi) dans un gynécée fortement hiérarchisé dans lequel on compta neuf rangs à partir du règne de l’empereur Minh Mạng :

1ère concubine impériale ( Nhất giai Phi ) ( 1er rang )
2ème concubine impériale ( Nhị Giai Phi ) ( 2ème rang )
concubines supérieures ( de 3ème à 4ème rang ) (Tam Giai Tân và Tứ Giai Tân ) simples concubines ( de 5ème rang à 9ème rang ) ( Ngũ Giai Tiếp Dư , Lục Giai Tiếp Dư, Thất Giai Quí Nhân, Bát Giai Mỹ Nhân, Cữu Giai Tài Nhân ).

Venaient ensuite les Dames de la Cour, les suivantes, les servantes subalternes. On estime que ces femmes constituaient avec les eunuques, les reines mères et l’empereur une société minuscule dans la cité pourpre interdite de Huê’. Le statut de ces femmes (même celui des servantes), quoi qu’il fût, s’élevait considérablement lorsqu’elles donnaient naissance à un fils. En parlant de ces concubines, il est impossible de ne pas évoquer l’histoire d’amour de Nguyên Phi, la future impératrice Thừa Thiên Cao Hoàng Hậu avec le prince Nguyễn Ánh, le futur empereur Gia Long. Celui-ci, vaincu par les Tây Sơn (ou les paysans de l’Ouest) en automne 1783, fut obligé de se réfugier dans l’île Poulo Condor (Phú Quốc). Il dut envoyer son fils Nguyễn Phúc Cảnh, âgé de 4 ans et accompagné par l’archevêque Pigneau de Béhaine en France pour demander l’aide militaire auprès du roi Louis XVI (traité de Versailles 1787) et se réfugier à Bangkok ( Thailande ) dans l’attente des renforts français. Avant l’heure de séparation, il s’empressa de couper en deux une barre d’or et remit à son épouse, Nguyên Phi, la moitié en lui disant:

Notre fils est déjà parti. Je suis sur le point de te quitter pour m’installer en Thaïlande. Tu restes ici pour t’occuper de notre reine mère. Je ne connais ni la date de mon retour ni le lieu de nos retrouvailles. Je te laisse la moitié de cette barre d’or comme le gage de notre amour. On aura l’occasion de se revoir plus tard si Dieu m’aura permis de vaincre les Tây Sơn.

Nguyễn Triều

Durant les années d’exil et d’échecs de Nguyễn Ánh dans la reconquête du pouvoir, Nguyên Phi continua à servir et à entretenir avec soin sa belle-mère, la reine Hiếu Khương (l’épouse de Nguyễn Phúc Luân) et à confectionner elle-même les uniformes pour les recrues. Elle arriva à surmonter toutes les difficultés réservées à sa famille et montra son courage et sa vaillance pour s’échapper des pièges tendus par ses adversaires.

Grâce à sa persévérance et à son obstination, Nguyễn Ánh arriva à vaincre les Tây Sơn en 1802 et à devenir notre empereur Gia Long. Au lendemain de ses touchantes retrouvailles, il interrogea son épouse Nguyên Phi sur la moitié de la barre d’or qu’il lui eut remise au moment de leur séparation. Celle-ci alla la chercher et lui la remit. En revoyant la moitié de cette barre dans son état luisant, l’empereur Gia Long fut tellement ému et dit à son épouse Nguyên Phi:
Cet or que tu a réussi à garder dans sa splendeur durant nos années difficiles et mouvementées montre bien que nous étions bien bénis par la grâce de Dieu pour pouvoir être ensemble aujourd’hui. Il ne faut pas oublier cela et il faut en reparler à nos rejetons.

Puis il réassembla les deux moitiés de la barre d’or et remit la barre dans son intégralité à Nguyên Phi. Cette barre d’or devint plus tard, sous le règne de Minh Mạng, non seulement le symbole de l’amour éternel du prince Nguyễn Ánh avec son épouse Nguyên Phi mais aussi un objet de vénération trouvé sur l’autel de l’empereur Gia Long et de l’impératrice Thừa Thiên Cao Hoàng Hậu dans le temple Ðiện Phụng Tiên de la cité pourpre interdite de Huế.

Personne ne s’étonna que, grâce à sa fille Ngô Thị Chánh, l’ancien général des Tây Sơn, Ngô Vân Sở, ne fut pas exécuté sommairement par l’empereur Gia Long lors de sa victoire sur les Tây Sơn car sa fille était la concubine préférée du prince héritier Nguyễn Phúc Ðảm, notre futur empereur Minh Mạng. Quand celui-ci accéda au pouvoir, il n’hésita pas à accorder à cette concubine toutes les faveurs jusque-là réservées uniquement pour son épouse principale. Celle-ci, de son vivant, eut l’occasion de dire souvent à l’empereur :

Même si vous m’aimez tellement, le jour où je serai décédée, je me retrouverai toute seule dans la tombe avec les mains vides.

C’est pourquoi, lorsque celle-ci mourut quelques années plus tard, l’empereur se déplaça jusqu’au lieu de son enterrement tout en prenant avec lui deux taëls d’or. Il demanda ensuite à l’eunuque d’ouvrir les deux mains de la concubine. L’empereur déposa lui-même dans chaque paume un taël d’or et il resserra fortement les deux mains de sa concubine en disant avec émotion:
Je te donne deux taëls d’or pour que tu ne partes jamais avec les mains vides.
Cet amour, on le retrouva une cinquantaine d’années plus tard chez l’empereur poète Tự Ðức. Celui-ci composa, lors de l’obsèque de sa concubine préférée, un poème intitulé “Khóc Bằng Phi” dont les deux vers suivants immortalisaient l’amour et les sentiments que l’empereur Tự Ðức avait réservés pour sa concubine Bằng Phi:

Ðập cổ- kính ra, tìm lấy bóng
Xếp tàn-y lại để dành hơi
Je brise l’ancien miroir pour chercher ton ombre
Je serre tes habits fanés pour garder ta chaleur.

Sous la dynastie des Nguyển, le gynécée prit une dimension importante, Pour consolider son autorité et fidéliser ses subordonnés, l’empereur Gia Long lui-même n’hésita à mettre en place la politique d’alliance en prenant pour concubines la plupart des filles de ces derniers, ce qu’a révélé son confident, le mandarin français J.B. Chaigneau dans ses “Souvenirs de Huê’ 1864”. Mais quelquefois, la concubine de l’empereur peut être issue d’un milieu différent. C’est le cas d’une concubine de l’empereur Thành Thái, le père de Duy Tân. Celle-ci fut la passeuse d’un bac dans la région de Kim Long, connue pour le charme et la grâce de ses habitantes. C’est pourquoi on n’hésita pas à chanter souvent la chanson populaire suivante pour évoquer l’amour idyllique que l’empereur Thành Thái avait réservé pour la passeuse charmante du bac et son audace de se déguiser en un simple voyageur pour visiter Kim Long:

Kim Long có gái mỹ miều
Trẩm yêu trẩm nhớ trẩm liều trẩm đi

Kim Long est connue pour le charme de ses habitantes,
J’aime, je pense, j’ose et je pars.

Encouragée par ce conseil téméraire, la passeuse du bac répondit promptement: Oui Heureux de connaître le consentement de la passeuse, Thành Thái s’éleva, se dirigea vers la passeuse et lui dît avec tendresse:
Ma chère concubine, tu peux te reposer. Tu me laisses le soin de te remplacer pour conduire ce bac.
Tout le monde fut surpris par ces paroles et sut enfin qu’on fut en face du jeune empereur Thành Thái, connu pour ses activités anti-françaises, déchu et exilé plus tard par les autorités françaises à l’île de la Réunion à cause de ses excès et de sa “folie”. Une fois, le bac atteignant la Rivière des Parfums et stationnant à l’embarcadère Nghình Lương, Thành Thái demanda aux voyageurs de payer le ticket et conduisit la jeune passeuse dans sa cité interdite.

D’une manière générale, les concubines vivaient entourées de Dames de Cour, d’eunuques et consacraient leur temps à la broderie et au tissage. Certaines décédaient sans avoir jamais reçu la faveur de l’empereur, sans jamais être sorties du palais.


Un poète célèbre du 18ème siècle Nguyễn Gia Thiều connu souvent sous le nom Ôn Như Hầu (à cause de son titre), avait dénoncé l’injustice infligée à ces femmes, leur tristesse et leur isolement dans son oeuvre “Cung Oán Ngâm Khúc” (ou Tristesse du Palais). D’autres jouissaient du statut de favorite mais aucune ne pouvait égaler Ỷ Lan, la favorite du roi Lý Thánh Tôn de la dynastie des Lý qui avait assumé la régence du royaume avec brio durant la campagne menée contre le Champa par son mari.


Politique de rapprochement avec le Vietnam (Thaïlande)

Traqué comme une bête fauve et plongé dans l’abîme de tristesse, Nguyễn Ánh fut obligé de s’exiler à Bangkok, accompagné d’une trentaine de mandarins et d’environ 200 soldats pour une courte durée (de 1785 à 1787). Puis il fut rejoint plus tard par les 5000 soldats du général Nguyễn Huỳnh Đức. Selon le professeur vietnamien Bùi Quang Tùng (1), beaucoup de réfugiés préférèrent de rester en Thailande et de se marier avec les Siamoises. L’hospitalité que Rama 1er a réservée à Nguyễn Ánh servira de base plus tard au développement de la future relation entre les deux pays. Elle n’est pas étrangère à la conduite attentionnée de Nguyễn Ánh dans la recherche d’une solution adéquate pour gérer la double suzeraineté sur le Laos et sur le Cambodge avec les Thaïs. Selon le checheur vietnamien Nguyển Thế Anh, ces pays furent considérés à cette époque comme des enfants élevés ensemble par le Siam et le Vietnam, le premier s’arrogeant le titre du père et le second le titre de mère. Cette double dépendance est connue en langue thaïe sous le nom “song faifa”. Selon les sources siamoises, Nguyễn Ánh envoya 6 fois de Gia Định à Bangkok des arbres d’argent et d’or, signe d’allégeance entre 1788 et 1801. (2). Dans une lettre adressée à Rama 1er avant son retour à Gia Đinh, Nguyễn Ánh accepta d’être placé sous le protectorat du Siam au cas où il réussirait à rétablir son pouvoir. Le Đại Nam (ancien nom du Vietnam) accepta-t-il d’être un état de mandala? Il y a plusieurs raisons de réfuter cette hypothèse. D’abord le Đại Nam n’était pas sous l’influence du bouddhisme théravadà et n’avait pas non plus la culture indianisée comme cela a été avec le Cambodge et le Laos car le rôle religieux joue un rôle important dans le mandala défini par le chercheur O. Wolter. Le Siam tenta d’étendre jusqu’alors son influence et son emprise dans les régions où les Thaïs étaient plus ou moins implantés et où la culture indianisée était visible.

Ce n’est pas le cas du Vietnam. Chakri et son prédécesseur Taksin ont déjà échoué dans cette démarche en Cochinchine qui était pourtant une terre neuve car il y avait une colonnie vietnamienne importante de culture différente. La vassalité paraît improbable. On ne connait jamais la vérité mais on peut s’appuyer sur le fait que pour reconnaître les bienfaits du Ralma 1er, Nguyễn Ánh pourrait adopter ce comportement compréhensible qui n’était jamais incompatible à son tempérament et surtout à son esprit confucianiste dont l’ingratitude ne faisait pas partie. On trouve toujours en lui la reconnaissance et la gentillesse qu’on ne pourra pas réfuter plus tard avec Pigneau de Béhaine ayant consacré beaucoup d’effort pour le convaincre de se convertir au catholicisme. Sous son règne, il n’y avait pas la persécution des catholiques qu’on peut interpréter comme une reconnaissance envers Pigneau de Béhaine. De ce point de vue, on peut voir en lui le principe d’humanité (đạo làm người) en honorant à la fois la gratitude envers ceux qui l’avaient protégé durant les 25 années de vicissitudes et la vengeance envers ceux qui avaient tué tous ses proches et sa famille. (thù phải trả, nợ phải đền)

Au moment de son intronisation en 1803 à Huế, Nguyễn Ánh reçut une couronne offerte par le roi Rama 1er mais il la lui retourna tout de suite car il n’accepta pas d’être traité comme un roi vassal et de recevoir le titre que le roi siamois Rama 1er était habitué à accorder à ses vassaux. Ce comportement déjuge l’accusation qu’on a toujours sur Nguyễn Ánh.

Pour certains historiens vietnamiens, Nguyễn Ánh est un traître car il fait venir les étrangers et leur donne l’occasion d’occuper le Vietnam. On aime à coller l’expression vietnamienne “Đem rắn cắn gà nhà” (Introduire le serpent pour mordre le poulet de la maison) à Nguyễn Ánh. Il est injuste de le taxer de trahison car dans le contexte difficile où il était, il n’y a aucune raison de ne pas agir comme lui en tant que humain lorsqu’il était au gouffre du désespoir. Probablement l’expression suivante “Tương kế tựu kế ( Combiner un stratagème de circonstance) lui convient mieux bien qu’il y ait un risque de faire le jeu des étrangers. Il faut rappeler aussi que les Tây Sơn eurent l’occasion d’envoyer un émissaire auprès de Rama 1er en 1789 dans le but de neutraliser Nguyễn Ánh avec le stratagème ( Điệu hổ ly sơn ( Éloigner le tigre loin de la montagne) mais cette tentative fut vaine à cause du refus de Rama 1er. (3)

Etant intelligent, courageux et résigné à l’image du roi des Yue Gou Jian (Cẫu Tiển) de la période des Printemps et des Automnes (Xuân Thu), il devrait connaître les conséquences de son acte. Il y a non seulement Gia Long mais aussi des milliers de gens ayant accepté de le suivre et d’assumer cette lourde responsabilité de faire venir les étrangers dans le pays pour contrer les Tây Sơn. Sont-ils tous des traîtres? C’est une question épineuse à laquelle il est difficile de donner une réponse affirmative et une condamnation hâtive sans avoir au préalable le sens de l’équité et sans se laisser convaincre par des opinions partisanes lorsqu’on sait que Nguyễn Huệ reste toujours le héros le plus adulé par les Vietnamiens pour son génie militaire.

Déçu par le refus de Gia Long, Rama 1er, ne montra aucun signe de rancune mais il trouva la justification dans la différence culturelle. On trouve en Rama 1er non seulement la sagesse mais aussi la compréhension. Il voudrait traiter désormais d’égal à égal avec lui. Ce traitement égalitaire peut être interprété comme une relation bilatérale “privilégiée” entre l’aîné et le jeune dans le respect mutuel. Chacun d’eux devrait savoir qu’il avait besoin de l’autre même il s’agit d’une alliance de circonstance. Leurs pays étaient guettés respectivement par des ennemis redoutables qu’étaient la Birmanie et la Chine.

Leur relation privilégiée ne s’estompa pas au fil du temps du fait que Rama 1er tomba amoureux entre-temps de la soeur de Nguyễn Ánh. On ne sait pas ce qu’elle deviendrait (sa femme ou sa concubine). Par contre il y avait un poème d’amour que Rama 1er lui a dédié et qui continuait à se chanter encore dans les années 1970 durant la procession annuelle des barques royales.

Quant à Nguyễn Ánh ( ou Gia Long ), durant son règne, il évita d’affronter militairement la Thaïlande sur les problèmes épineux cambodgien et laotien. Avant sa mort, Gia Long ne cessa pas de rappeler à son successeur Minh Mạng de perpétuer cette relation d’amitié qu’il avait réussi à établir avec Rama 1er et de considérer le Siam comme un allié respectable dans la péninsule indochinoise (4). Cela se justifiera plus tard par le refus de Minh Mạng d’attaquer le Siam à la demande des Birmans.

Selon le chercheur Nguyễn Thế Anh, dans l’Asie du Sud Est continentale, sur une vingtaine de principautés importantes vers 1400, il ne restait que trois royaumes qui réussirent à s’imposer au début du XIXème siècle en tant que puissances régionales parmi lesquelles figuraient le Siam et le Đại Việt, l’un entamant la marche vers l’Est et l’autre vers le Sud au détriment des états hindouisés (Laos, Cambodge, Champa). Ce conflit d’intérêts s’intensifia de plus en plus à la disparition de Rama 1er et de Nguyễn Ánh.

Leurs successeurs ( Minh Mạng, Thiệu Trị du côté vietnamien et Rama III du côté siamois) furent empêtrés par le problème de succession des rois cambodgiens qui ne cessaient pas de se battre entre eux et de solliciter leur aide et leur protection. Ils furent guidés dès lors par la politique de colonialisme et d’annexion qui les amena à se confronter militairement 2 fois en 1833 et en 1841 sur les territoires cambodgien et vietnamien et à trouver à la fin de chaque confrontation un compromis d’entente en leur faveur et au détriment de leurs protégés respectifs. L’alliance de circonstance n’est plus prise en compte. La rivalité qui devenait de plus en plus visible entre les deux pays concurrents Đại Nam et Siam, éloigne désormais tout rapprochement et toute alliance possible. Même leur politique est tout à fait différente, l’un s’alignant sur le modèle chinois pour éviter tout contact avec les colonialistes occidentaux et l’autre sur le modèle japonais pour prôner l’ouverture des frontières.

La capitale khmère Phnom Penh fut occupée à une certaine époque par l’armée vietnamienne du général Trương Minh Giảng tandis que les régions de l’Ouest cambogien ( Siem Reap, Battambang, Sisophon) étaient aux mains des Thaïs. Selon l’historien français Philippe Conrad, le roi du Cambodge était considéré comme un simple gouverneur du roi de Siam. Les insignes royaux ( épée d’or, sceau de la couronne) étaient confisqués et détenus à Bangkok. L’arrivée des Français en Indochine mit fin à leur double suzeraineté sur le Cambodge et le Laos. Elle permit aux protégés cambodgien et laotien de récupérer une partie de leur territoire aux mains des Vietnamiens et des Thaïs. Le Đại Nam de l’empereur Tự Đức dut faire face aux autorités coloniales françaises qui avaient annexé les six provinces de Nam Bộ (Cochinchine). Grâce à la clairvoyance de leurs rois (en particulier celle de Chulalongkorn ou Rama V) , les Thaïs s’appuyant sur la politique de rivalité entre les Anglais et les Français, réussirent à garder leur indépendance au prix de leurs concessions territoriales (les territoires birmans et malais occupés rendus aux Anglais et les territoires laotien et khmer aux Français). Ils optèrent une politique étrangère flexible (chính sách cây sậy) comme le roseau qui s’adapte au gré du vent. Ce n’est pas un hasard de voir l’union sacrée des trois princes thaïs aux prémices de la nation thaïe en 1287 et la soumission face aux troupes sino-mongoles de Kubilai Khan.

C’est cette politique synthétique d’adaptation qui leur permet d’être à l’écart des guerres coloniales, de se ranger toujours du côté des vainqueurs et d’exister jusqu’à aujourd’hui en tant que nation florissante malgré leur émergence tardive ( datant du début du 14ème siècle ) dans l’Asie du Sud Est continentale


(1) Bùi Quang Tùng: Professeur, membre scientifique de EFEO. Auteur de plusieurs ouvrages sur le Vietnam.

(2) P.R.R.I, p. 113.

(3) Pool, Peter A.: The Vietnamese in Thailand, p 32, note 3.

Conflits larvés avec le Việtnam (Thaïlande)

Il y a des victoires et des défaites de chaque côté. En conduisant une armée de 20.000 hommes et une flotte, Taksin réussit à chasser après un siège de dix jours, Mo Shi-Lin (Mạc Tiên Tứ en vietnamien) le fils de Mạc Cửu) de Hà Tiên. C’est un allié chinois de poids des seigneurs Nguyễn et le protecteur du fils du dernier roi de la dynastie d’Ayutthaya, Chao Chuy (Chiêu Thúy). Celui-ci continue à être l’un des compétiteurs éventuels à la couronne et un sujet d’inquiétude journalière pour Taksin. À cause de ses revers militaires à Châu Đốc et dans la région de Sadec, Taksin fut obligé d’accepter le traité de paix offert par Mạc Thiên Tứ et d’abandonner Hà Tiên en ruines en échange du retour du prince Chiêu Thúy, de la remise en liberté de la fille de Mạc Thiên Tứ capturée au moment de la chute de Hà Tiên et du maintien sur le trône cambodgien un roi pro-Thaï de nom Ang Non. Dès son retour, Chiêu Thúy fut exécuté ainsi que son frère capturé au Cambodge. Quant au seigneur Nguyễn Phúc Thuần (connu plus tard sous le nom Duệ Tông ), mis en difficulté par la révolte des frères “Tây Sơn (Paysans de l’Ouest)”, il fut obligé de cautionner cet accord et de laisser temporairement aux Thaïs le champ libre dans leur politique d’expansion territoriale sur le Laos et le Cambodge. Mais le trêve fut de courte durée pour Mạc Thiên Tứ car entre-temps, il fut poursuivi par les Tây Sơn ayant réussi à prendre Gia Định (ou Saïgon) en 1776 et à capturer le seigneur Nguyễn Phúc Thuần à Cà Mau. Il dut trouver refuge avec sa famille et ses subordonnés auprès de Taksin à Thonburi (Thailande). Mais ce dernier, obsédé et habité par tant de soupçons et de méfiance, finit d’exécuter sa famille et ses subordonnés parmi lesquels figurait le prince Tôn Thất Xuân. Pour préserver sa dignité et son honneur, Mạc Thiên Tứ se suicida en septembre 1780 en avalant une rondelle d’or. La méfiance de Taksin est de plus en plus envahissante jusqu’au point où elle devient une maladie mentale accompagnée par un comportement paranoïaque et tyrannique.

Rạch Gầm- Xoài Mút

Tableau du Musée national de Saïgon

C’est l’un des traits communs des grands hommes politiques (Ts’ao Ts’ao ( Tào Tháo) des Trois Royaumes, Qin Shi Huang Di (Tần Thủy Hoàng) par exemple). C’est cette méfiance qui le pousse à emprisonner plus tard ses proches en particulier la famille de son gendre Chakri qui était en train de s’engager dans une campagne militaire au Cambodge contre les Vietnamiens du jeune prince Nguyễn Ánh. Chakri ( futur roi Rama 1er) fut obligé de pactiser avec les lieutenants de Nguyễn Ánh, Nguyễn Hữu Thùy et Hồ văn Lân. Ceux-ci lui envoyèrent un couteau, une épée et un drapeau en signe de leur soutien contre Taksin. Ayant réussi de rentrer à temps au moment où éclata un coup d’état renversant ce dernier, le général siamois Chaophraya Mahakasatsuk (ou Chakri) devint ainsi le roi Rama 1er et le fondateur de la dynastie Chakri. Son avènement permet de clore la dynastie de Thonburi et de la remplacer par la nouvelle dynastie avec le transfert de la capitale à Bangkok. C’est ici que le roi Rama 1er tenta de restaurer le style Ayutthaya à travers son palais royal (Bangkok). L’installation de la nouvelle capitale ne correspond pas à un renouvellement de l’art siamois. Rama 1er s’intéressa à poursuivre l’oeuvre inachevée de Taksin le Grand dans la marche vers l’Est. Il n’hésita pas à monter une expédition militaire pour aider le prince héritier Nguyễn Ánh dans sa lutte contre les Tây Sơn. Malheureusement, cette expédition vietnamo-siamoise fut écrasée en 1783 dans les arroyos Rạch Gầm- Xoài Mút de la province Tiền Giang d’aujourd’hui par le roi stratège Nguyễn Huệ. De l’armée siamoise constituée d’au moins de 50.000 hommes et de 300 jonques au départ, il ne restait que 2000 hommes ayant réussi de passer par le Cambodge pour rentrer en Thailande.

Profitant de la méconnaissance géographique du terrain (đia lợi) et de la sous-évaluation militaire des ennemis, Nguyễn Huệ évita l’engagement frontal à Sadec et réussit à faire échouer très vite l’invasion siamoise dans les arroyos proches de Mỹ Tho. Nguyễn Huệ avait besoin d’une victoire éclair car il savait que les Trịnh au Nord Vietnam pouvaient profiter de cette occasion pour envahir Qui Nhơn dans le centre du Vietnam.


Pool, Peter A.: The Vietnamese in Thailand, Cornell University Press. 1970. 180pp

The diplomatic worldviews of Siam and Vietnam in the pre-colonial period (1780s – 1850s). Morragotwong Phumplab, National university of Singapore, 2011.

Đại Nam Thực Lục (7 fascicules).


Une longue histoire commune avec les Vietnamiens (Thaïlande)

English version


Le mythe Lạc Long Quân-Âu Cơ insinue avec adresse l’union et la séparation de deux ethnies Yue, l’une de branche Lạc ( les proto-Vietnamiens) descendant dans les plaines fertiles en suivant les cours d’eau et les rivières et l’autre de branche Âu ( les proto-Thaïs) se réfugiant dans les régions montagneuses. Il y a les Mường dans cet exode. Proches des Vietnamiens au niveau linguistique, les Mường ont réussi à garder les coutumes ancestrales car ils étaient refoulés et protégés dans les montagnes. Ceux-ci ont eu une organisation sociale semblable à celle des Tày et des Thaïs.

Situé dans les provinces Kouang Tong (Quãng Đông ) et Kouang Si (Quãng Tây), le royaume de Si Ngeou (Tây Âu) n’est autre que le pays des proto-Thaïs (les ancêtres des Thaïs). C’est ici que se réfugia le prince de Shu Thục Phán avant la conquête du royaume Văn Lang. Il faut rappeler aussi que l’empereur chinois Shi Houang Di dut mobiliser à cette époque plus de 500.000 soldats dans la conquête du royaume de Si Ngeou après avoir réussi à défaire l’armée du royaume de Chu (ou Sỡ) avec 600.000 hommes. On doit penser qu’outre la résitance implacable de ses guerriers, le royaume de Si Ngeou devrait être de taille importante et assez peuplé pour que Shi Houang Di (Tần Thủy Hoàng) engage une force militaire importante.

Malgré la mort prématurée d’un roi Si Ngeou de nom Yi-Hiu-Song (Dịch Hu Tống), la résistance menée par les Yue de branche Thai ou (Si Ngeou)(Tây Âu) réussit à obtenir quelques succès escomptés dans la région du Kouang Si méridional avec la mort d’un général T’ou Tsiu (Uất Đồ Thư) à la tête d’une armée chinoise de 500.000 hommes, ce qui a été noté dans les annales du Maître Houa-nan (ou Houai–nan –tseu en chinois ou Hoài Nam Tử en vietnamien ) écrites par Liu An (Lưu An), petit-fils de l’empereur Kao-Tsou (ou Liu Bang), fondateur de la dynastie des Han entre les années 164 et 173 avant notre ère.

Si Ngeou était connu pour la valeur de ses guerriers redoutables. Cela correspond exactement au tempérament des Thaïs d’autrefois décrit par l’écrivain et phographe français Alfred Raquez:(3)

Les Siamois d’autrefois, belliqueux et coureurs d’aventures, furent presque continuellement en guerre avec leurs voisins et souvent virent leurs expéditions couronnées de succès. À la suite de chaque campagne heureuse, ils emmenaient avec eux des prisonniers et les établissaient sur une partie du territoire de Siam, aussi éloignée que possible de leur pays d’origine.

Après la disparition de ce royaume et celle de Âu Lạc, les proto-Thaïs qui restèrent au Vietnam à cette époque sous le giron de Zhao To (un ancien général chinois des Tsin devenu plus tard le premier empereur du royaume de Nanyue) avaient leurs descendants formant bien aujourd’hui la minorité ethnique Tày du Vietnam. Les autres proto-Thaïs s’enfuirent vers le Yunnan où ils s’unirent au VIII ème siècle au royaume de Nanzhao (Nam Chiếu) puis à celui de Dali (Đại Lý) où le bouddhisme du grand véhicule (Phật Giáo Đại Thừa) commença à s’implanter. Malheureusement, leur tentative fut vaine. Les pays Shu, Ba, Si Ngeou, Âu Lạc (5), Nan Zhao, Dali font partie de la liste des pays annexés l’un après l’autre par les Chinois durant leur exode. Dans ces pays soumis, la présence des proto-Thaïs était assez importante. Face à cette pression chinoise sans relâche et à la barrière inexorable de l’Himalaya, les proto-Thaïs furent obligés de redescendre dans la péninsule indochinoise (4) en s’infiltrant lentement en éventail dans le Laos, le Nord-Ouest du Vietnam (Tây Bắc), le nord de la Thailande et la haute Birmanie.

(4) Indochine au sens large. Ce n’est pas l’Indochine française.

(5) Le royaume Âu Lạc de An Dương Vương fut annexé par le général chinois Zhao To (Triệu Đà) devenant plus tard le fondateur du royaume de Nanyue. Celui-ci passera à son tour sous le contrôle des Han un demi-siècle plus tard.


(3): Comment s’est peuplé le Siam, ce qu’est aujourd’hui sa population. Alfred Raquez, (publié en 1903 dans le Bulletin du Comité de l’Asie Française). In: Aséanie 1, 1998. pp. 161-181.

Nguyễn Trãi (Version anglaise)

French version

I would like to give to this great Vietnamese politician a great homage by slightly modifying the two verses he composed in his poem “Improvisation” translated into French by Nguyễn Khắc Viện in Anthology of the Vietnamese Literature:

A thousand Autumns have passed, water keeps its face
A thousand generations have watched the moon similar to itself;

by my two following verses:

A thousand Autumns have passed, Vietnam keeps its independence
A thousand generations have venerated Nguyễn Trãi similar to himself.

© Đặng Anh Tuấn


One can sum up the life of this great politician by means of verse 3248 of the Vietnamese literature great classical of Nguyễn Du in 18th century:

Chữ Tài liền với chữ Tai một vần
The word Tài (Talent) rhymes perfectly with the word Tai ( Misfortune ).
to evoke not only his incredible talent but also his tragic end regretted by so many Vietnamese generations. Facing the brutal force that represented emperor Chenzu of the Ming ( Minh Thánh Tổ ) under the command of Tchang Fou ( Trương Phụ ) during his invasion of Dai Viet ( ancient name of Vietnam) in the ninth month of the year Binh Tuất (1406), Nguyễn Trãi knew how to give what Lao Tseu had said in the Book of Life and Virtue:

Nothing is more supple and soft in the world than water
However to attack what is hard and strong
Nothing surpass it and nobody can match it.
That the weak surpasses the strong
That the supple surpasses the hard
Everyone knows.
But nobody put this knowledge into practice

a tremendous conceptualization and elaborated an ingenious strategy allowing the Vietnamese, weak in number to come out victorious during that confrontation and regain their national independence after 10 years of struggle. With the landowner Lê Lợi, known later as Lê Thái Tổ and 16 comrades-in-arms tied by a pledge at Lung Nhai (1406 ), and 2000 peasants at mount Lam Son in the mountainous region West of Thanh Hoá, Nguyễn Trãi arrived at turning the insurrection into a war of liberation and converting a band of ill-armed peasants into a people’s army of 200,000 men strong a few years later.

The strategy known as “guerilla” was shown very effective because Nguyen Trai was successful in putting into practice the doctrine advocated by the Chinese Clausewitz, Sun Zi ( Tôn Tữ) in the Spring and Autumn ( Xuân Thu ) era, based on the following variables: Virtue, Time, Land , Leadership, and Discipline in the conduct of the war. Nguyễn Trãi had an opportunity to say he preferred winning the heart of the people to citadels . When there is harmony between the leaders and the people, the latter will accept to fight until their last breath. The cause will be heard and won because Heaven takes side with the people, which Confucius had the opportunity to recall in his Canonical Books: 

Thiên căng vụ dân, dân chi sở dục, thiên tất tòng chí
Trời thương dân, dân muốn điều gì Trời cũng theo

Heaven loves people so much it grants what people ask for.

One can say that with Nguyễn Trai, the humanist inclination of Confucian doctrine has taken its full development. To make sure of the support and adhesion of the people in his war for independence, he did not hesitate to take advantage of his people’s superstition and credulity. He asked his close relations to climb up trees and use toothpicks and honey to carve the following sentence on the leaves. 

Lê Lợi vì dân, Nguyễn Trãi vì thân

Lê Lợi for the people, Nguyễn Trãi for Lê Lợi 

This attracted ants to eat the honey leaving the message marked on the leaves which were blown off by the wind into streams and other bodies of water. When people picked up the leaves as such, they believed that the message came from the will of Heaven and massively joined he war of liberation.

Humanist by conviction, he always thought not only of the sufferings of his people but also that of his enemies. He had the opportunity to emphasize in his letter to Chinese General Wang Toung ( Vương Thông ) that the duty of a commander is to dare make a decision, undo hatred, save human lives and cover the world with good deeds in order to bequeath a great name to posterity ( Quân Trung Từ Mệnh Tập ). He let defeated Chinese generals Wang Toung ( Vương Thông ), Mã Anh, Fang Chen ( Phương Chính ) go back to their country with 13000 captured soldiers, 500 junks and thousands of horses. Concerned about peace and the happiness of his people, in his masterpiece “Proclamation of the Ngô Pacification” ( Bình Ngô Ðại Cáo ) that he wrote after winning the war and driving the Chinese army out of Vietnam, he recalled that it was the time to act with wisdom for the safety of the people.

To make China not to feel humiliated by the bitter defeat and to restore above all a long lasting peace and happiness for his people, he proposed China a vassal pact with a tribute of two real-sized statues in fine metal every three years ( Ðại thần kim nhân ) in compensation for the two Chinese generals Liou Cheng ( Liễu Thăng ) and Leang Minh ( Lương Minh ) who died in combat.

In the first years of the struggle, Nguyễn Trãi knew biting and bleeding defeats many times (the death of Lê Lai, Ðinh Lễ etc… ), which forced him to take refuge at Chi Linh three times with Lê Lợi and his partisans. Despite of that, he never felt discouraged because he knew that the people fully supported him. He often compare the people with the ocean. Nguyễn Trãi had the opportunity to tell his close relations:

Dân như nước có thể chở mà có thể lật thuyền.

The people is like water which can move and sink the ship.
The remark made by his father Nguyễn Phi Khanh, captured and brought to China with other educated Vietnamese including Nguyễn An, the future builder of the forbidden Citadel in Peking, during their separation moment at the Sino-Vietnamese border, continued to be vivid in his mind and made him ever more determined in his unwavering conviction for the his just cause: 

Hữu qui phục Quốc thù, khóc hà vi dã
Hãy trở về mà trả thù cho nước, khóc lóc làm gì

You’d better go back and avenge the country, it doesn’t help crying. 

He spent whole nights in search of a strategy permitting to counter the Chinese army at the zenith of its force and terror. Being updated on the dissensions within the ranks of its adversaries, the difficulty that emperor Xuanzong of the Ming was having at the northern border with the Hungs after the disappearance of Chengzu in 1424 and the damages that the Chinese army suffered during the last military engagements in spite of their territorial success, Nguyễn Trãi did not hesitate to propose a truce to general Ma Ki. The truce was voluntarily accepted by both sides because each side thought they could take advantage of this respite either to consolidate their army in waiting for reinforcements from Kouang Si and Yunnan and a larger scale military engagement ( for the Ming ), or to rebuild an army already suffering important losses of lives and to     change the strategy in the struggle for liberation ( for the Viet ).

Taking advantage of the unfamiliarity of the terrain by the Chinese reinforcing army coming from China, he was fast in his maneuvering putting into work the ” the full and the void ” doctrine advocated by Sun Zi who had said in his work “The Art of War”:

The arm must be similar to water
Since water avoids heights and falls into hollows,
The army avoids the full and attacks the void.

which permitted him to decapitate Liou Cheng and his army in the “void” of Chi Lăng defined by Sun Zi, in the mountainous and quagmire narrow pass near Lang Son. He did not give any respite to Liou Cheng’s successor, Leang Minh to regroup the remainder of his Chinese army by setting a trap around the city of Cần Trạm. Then he took advantage of the success to rout the reinforcing army of the Chinese general ( Mộc Thanh ), which force the latter to drive off and go back alone to Yunnan ( Vân Nam )

Fearing to lose the bulk of his troops in a confrontation and worrying about saving the blood of his people, he chose to implement the policy of isolating big cities such as Nghệ An, Tây Ðô, Đồng Quan ( ancient name of the capital Hànội ) by investing all forts and small cities surrounding them, by incessantly harassing the supply troops and by neutralizing all reinforcing Chinese troops. In order to prevent the eventual return of the invaders and to disorganize their administrative structure, he placed in the liberated cities a new administration led by young and educated recruits. He did not stop sending emissaries to Chinese or Vietnamese governors of these towns to convince them to surrender under penalty of being brought to justice and sentenced to death in case of resistance. This turned out to be fruitful and rewarding because it compelled generalissimo Wang Toung and his lieutenants to surrender unconditionally as he was aware that it was impossible to hang on to Ðồng Quang any longer without reinforcement and supply. It was not only a war of liberation but also a war of nerves that Nguyen Trai has successfully conducted against the Ming.

Independence regained, he was appointed Minister of the Interior and member of the Secret Council. Known for his righteousness, he was fast to become the privileged target of the courtesans of king Lê Thái Tổ who began to tak e offense at his prestige. Feeling the risk of having the same fate reserved for his comrade in arms Trần Nguyên Hản and imitating the Chinese senior advisor Zhang Liang ( Trương Lương or Trương Tử Phòng ) of Han Emperor Liu Bang ( Lưu Bang or Hán Cao Tổ ), he requested king Lê Lợi to allow him to retire to mount Côn Sơn, a place he had spent his whole youth with his grand father Trần Nguyên Ðán, a former great minister regent of the Tran king, Trần Phế Ðế and the great grand son of general Trần Quang Khải, one of the Vietnamese heroes in the struggle against the Mongols of Kubilai Khan. 

It was here that he wrote a series of composed writings that recalled not only his profound attachment to nature which he made a confidant of, but also his ardent desire to give up honors and glory and to regain serenity. It was also through his poems that one finds in him a profound humanism, an extraordinary simplicity, an exemplary wisdom and an inclination to retreat and solitude. There, he has insisted that a man’s life lasted only one hundred years at the most. Sooner or later one will return to sand and dust. What counts in a man is his dignity and honor such as a blue blanket ( symbol of dignity ) that had been defended energetically by the learned Chinese Vương Hiền Chi of the Tsin dynasty during the intrusion of a burglar to his home, in his poem ” Improvisation on a Summer day” ( Hạ Nhật Mạn Thành ) or his freedom such as that of the two Chinese hermits Sào Phú and Hua Dzo of the Antiquity in his poem ” The Côn Sơn Song” ( Côn Sơn Ca ). 

In spite of his early retirement, he was accused of killing the king a few years later and was tortured in 1442 with all his family members because of the death of he young king Lê Thái Tông, in love with his young concubine Nguyễn Thị Lộ and accompanied by her to the lichee garden. One knows everything except the human heart that stays unfathomable, that was what he said in his poem “Improvisation” ( Mạn Thuật ) but that was what happened to him in spite of his foresight. His memory was restored only a few dozen years later by the great king Lê Thánh Tôn. One can keep in this scholar not only the love he always carried for his people and his country but also the respect he always knew how to keep toward his adversaries and nature. To this talented learned Vietnamese, his memory should be honored by quoting the phrase that Yveline Féray wrote in the foreword of her novel “Ten thousand Springs”: 

The tragedy of Nguyễn Trãi is that of a so great man living in a too little society


Văn Lang kingdom (Văn Lang)

French version



 In fact, Văn Lang referres the semi-legendary epoch of the eighteen Hùng kings or Lạc Vương (2879-257 B.C.) or 2622 years. It was the legend and the myth of the Dragon and the Immortal of whom Vietnamese are issue. This kingdom was located in the Yang Tse river basin (Sông Dương Tử) and was placed under the authority of a Hùng king . This one had been elected for his courage and his values. He had divided his kingdom into districts entrusted to his brothers known under the name “Lạc hầu” ( marquis ). His male children have the title of Quan Lang and his daughters that of Mỵ nương. His people was known under the name “Lạc Việt”. His men had a habit of tattooing their body. This “barbarian” practice, often revealed in the Chinese annals, was intended to protect men from the attacks of  water dragons (con thuồng luồng) if one believes the Vietnamese texts. It is perhaps the reason why the Chinese often designated them under the name “Qủi (daemons)”. Loincloth and chignon constituted the usual costume of these people to which were added bronze ornaments. The Lac Viet lacquered their teeth in black, chewed betel nuts and crushed rice with their hand. The farmers practiced the cultivation of rice in flooded field. They lived in plains and coastal areas while,  in the mountainous areas of the current Việt Bắc and on part of the territory of the current Chinese province of Kuang Si,  lived the Tây Âu,  ancestors of the ethnic groups Tày, Nùng and Choang currently disseminated in the North Vietnam and in the South of China. At that epoch, the Vietnamese people lived on fishing and cultivation. They already knew how to use tree bark to make clothes, prepare rice alcohol, practice slash and burn agriculture, eat ordinary rice or sweet rice, live in houses on stilts to avoid wild animals etc… From their customs came many Vietnamese popular tales (the story of the Sweet Rice Cake, that of the Betel Quid, that of the God of the Mountains and the God of the Rivers etc…).

There is a part of reality in the history of this kingdom. The ruines of the Cổ Loa citadel (City of Shell) located at Ðông Anh district 16km northwest of Hànội and the temples of Hùng kings witness these indisputable vestiges with historians viewpoint.