The year of conquest, 1407, brought a social and economic disaster. With disruptions caused by military operations, there was no harvest. Famine com- bined with an epidemic, and corpses piled up faster than they could be buried. Huang Fu rapidly established an administration that was integrated with gov- ernment elsewhere in the empire and conditions gradually improved. Thousands of local men received appointments at all levels of administration. Thousands more went to the Ming capital to be trained and evaluated for appointments both in Giao Chi and elsewhere in the empire. At the same time, men arrived from the north to receive appointments. They came from all parts of the north, but most of them were from neighboring provinces and many of them were students who failed in their examinations or were officials suffering demotion or exile. The quality of administrative personnel was mixed and not significantly different from comparable imperial jurisdictions on relatively remote frontiers. By 1416 it was possible for Huang Fu to integrate administrative personnel into the system for government appointments that prevailed elsewhere in the empire. In that same year, the procedure for setting up local police and defense forces was finalized.
Ming educational policies left a strong legacy among the Vietnamese. The emphasis on a Confucian education that opened the way to civil service examinations was but part of a much larger educational effort that included schools for the study of Buddhism, Daoism, medicine, physiognomy, and astrol- ogy. People with knowledge in these areas were recruited to teach, and some of them were sent to contribute their knowledge at the imperial court in Nanjing. Many shrines to Confucius (Van Mieu) and to the God of Agriculture (Xa Tac) were built throughout Giao Chi, but popular religion was also encouraged with the building or repair of hundreds of shrines to local deities and nature spirits. Confucian scholars, Buddhist monks, and Daoist priests were all regulated and supervised. In 1419, Ming sent a new edition of the classical Confucian texts to Giao Chi, as well as erudite Buddhists to instruct the monks in Giao Chi.
Ming officials organized an up-to-date communication and transportation system with roads, bridges, waterways, and post houses. This contributed not only to administrative efficiency but also to trade and commerce. Ming tax policy in Giao Chi was intentionally light to assist post-war reconstruction and to foster good will toward the regime. In 1411, rewards were distributed to local people who had earned merit in suppressing the Tran resistance, indicating that by then Zhang Fu considered the resistance to be under control. At the same time, a three-year tax holiday was declared for major commodities such as gold, silver, iron, ivory, plumage from tropical birds, aromatic wood for incense, pearls, lacquer ware, tea, fans, fish, and salt. These were items traded to cities in the north. Even rice was exported to the north in 1413.
In 1407, immediately after the conquest, several thousand skilled craftsmen were sent to Nanjing. In 1413, shipbuilders along with their families were relocated to the north, apparently to assist in preparations for Zheng He’s fourth voyage, which began that year. In contrast to those with useful skills were those uprooted by the conquest and its attendant disorders, homeless and wandering from place to place. This floating population was gathered and assigned to productive work or to military service.
In 1414, at the end of the tax holiday, a schedule for taxes on rice fields and mulberry orchards for silk production and for levies on marketable commodities was instituted. According to the Complete Book of the History of Great Viet, compiled by Le Dynasty historians, in 1415, “Taxes were heavy, levies were substantial, and so the people had nothing from which to make a living.” This evaluation is excessively colored by the need to see no virtue in the regime supplanted by the Le dynasty. But it does indicate the beginning of Giao Chi’s integration into the imperial system of revenue collection. Corruption, a normal and ineradicable feature of government, was particularly common in the collec- tion of lucrative commodities. Enterprising officials found ways to make per- sonal fortunes at the expense of those who were defenseless against their demands. There were examples of corruption in nearly all the commodity markets, but salt was a special case. A government monopoly on salt production became enmeshed in the assignment of contracts to salt merchants to supply Ming garrisons in Giao Chi, which offered unusual opportunities for unlawful enrichment. The most negative features of Ming Giao Chi came from the arrogance and prejudice of Ming people toward the local population. Routine corruption easily became malignant in a situation where northerners viewed local people as less civilized than themselves. The underworld of corruption can be more biting and brutal in a colonial context than it otherwise would be. Ming soldiers garrisoned in Giao Chi dismayed some local people who felt their presence as an intrusion, an imposition, or even as a subversion of good social relations. The conceit of a civilizing mission animated positive features of Ming policy in Giao Chi, but it also contributed to the negative effects of the Ming adventure among the Vietnamese.
This was particularly obvious in the policy that sought to collect all “hetero- dox” writings. These were writings in the vernacular, but also historical and literary writings in the classical language that expressed the perspective of a separate kingdom in the south or that were in any way critical of northern dynasties. Many of these writings were destroyed on the spot and many others were transported north. What is certain is that nearly all of them disappeared. Consequently, writings by Vietnamese from before the fifteenth century are very rare. Several works of history disappeared along with collections of poetry and other writings. The only book among those taken to the north that is known to have survived, an annal of the Ly dynasty, surfaced in a Qing anthology three centuries later. Other than that single item, of the books collected by Ming officials, nothing remains, although today it is possible to encounter myths about a hidden cache of books waiting to be discovered somewhere in China that will restore to the Vietnamese their pre-fifteenth-century literary heritage. Some historical and literary works did escape this effort to eradicate the corpus of “southern” writings and became the basis of later knowledge about the previous five centuries.
In addition to changing the ideas in people’s minds and the books that were available for educated people to read, Ming civilizers also endeavored to change more material aspects of life. According to the Complete Book of the History of Great Viet, they “forbade unmarried boys and girls to cut their hair and forbade women to wear short skirts, in order to change customs in conformity with the north.” Presumably, the lengthening of skirts promoted a female modesty valued by proponents of Ming’s dominant Confucian ideology. Similarly, the forbidding of children to cut their hair follows a rule of filial piety associated with Confu- cianism that hair, being a gift from one’s parents, should not be cut. These rules predictably targeted women and children, the most vulnerable people in any society.
Huang Fu and the best of Ming administrators in Giao Chi espoused an idealistic desire to provide good government and to foster prosperity and happi- ness among the people. On the other hand, the underworld of corruption and the arrogance of northerners who considered themselves superior were more imme- diate to many local people than were those good intentions. Nevertheless, there is no evidence from which to judge Ming Giao Chi as significantly more corrupt than the indigenous regimes that ruled the Vietnamese both before and after the Ming episode. Resistance to the Ming regime would presumably have faded away with the passing of generations, but this would have required a longer Ming commitment than the lifetime of a single emperor.