The Sino-Khmer War and renovation



Nguyen Hue, the Quang Trung emperor

Posted By : admin/ 255 0

When Nguyen Nhac and Nguyen Hue had hastened south to fight each other in late 1786, Nguyen Huu Chinh remained in Nghe An. Nguyen Hue retained his family as hostages and expected him to watch the north for him. At Ke Cho, different groups of partisans gathered behind Trinh Bong, a younger brother of Trinh Khai, and Trinh Le, their uncle. The king took the side of Trinh Bong and Trinh Le was driven out. Trinh Bong was lazy and lacked political sense, but among his supporters were men who were determined to re-establish Trinh  dominance over the monarchy. The king was erudite, even bookish, but inexperi- enced in politics. He wanted to assert the right of his dynasty to rule but was  unsure about how to do this. When it became clear that Trinh Bong was preparing to attack his palace, he summoned Nguyen Huu Chinh from Nghe An. Nguyen Huu Chinh marched north, defeating a Trinh army sent against him in Thanh Hoa. He took control of the capital and sent Trinh Bong and his partisans fleeing. He began to assume the old role of the Trinh lords. The king was unhappy but found no way to do anything about it. By summer 1787, Nguyen  Hue had returned to Phu Xuan from fighting with his elder brother. He inter- preted Nguyen Huu Chinh’s activities at Ke Cho as insubordination. He was also  wary of people he knew to have been close to his elder brother, and Nguyen Huu Chinh was such a person. He sent Vo Van Nham to occupy Nghe An and summoned Nguyen Huu Chinh. Nguyen Huu Chinh did not come, being in the midst of a series of campaigns against his enemies in the north, including Trinh Bong, whom he finally drove across the Qing border. The king sent a royal uncle and an elderly scholar who had been Nguyen Huu Chinh’s teacher on a fool’s errand to demand that Nguyen Hue evacuate Nghe An. Nguyen Hue drowned both of these men in a river and ordered Vo Van Nham to march north against Nguyen Huu Chinh. In late 1787, Vo Van Nham defeated Nguyen Huu Chinh in Thanh Hoa and advanced to occupy Ke Cho. He captured and killed Nguyen Huu Chinh, but the king escaped into the countryside where several leaders rallied armies in his support. As Vo Van Nham was busy fighting these armies, he got himself into a feud with a subordinate general, Ngo Van So. Ngo Van So reported to Nguyen Hue that Vo Van Nham was disloyal. Nguyen Hue was inclined to believe this because Vo Van Nham was a brother-in-law of Nguyen Nhac, with whom he had just been fighting. Nguyen Hue, riding hard with a cavalry unit, suddenly appeared at Ke Cho in summer 1788. Vo Van Nham protested his innocence but Nguyen Hue reportedly replied: “Even if you are innocent, you still made me worry, and that is already a crime.” He killed Vo Van Nham and replaced him with Ngo Van So. He met with government officials at the capital and left affairs in charge of men he trusted. Realizing that more soldiers were needed to control the north, he returned to Phu Xuan to raise new armies. While the king was wandering about the countryside with his partisans, his mother had gone to the Le dynasty’s suzerain in the north and asked for help. The governor general of the “two Guangs” (i.e. Guangdong and Guangxi, the southernmost provinces of the Qing Empire), Sun Shiyi, was eager to gain martial glory, and he strongly pressed the Qing court to approve action. The Qianlong emperor (r. 1735–1796) was not interested in territorial expansion in the south, but, taking his duty as an overlord seriously, he approved a limited expedition to support Le dynasty forces in taking back their capital. When he heard that an army had been mobilized from Qing border provinces and was about to enter the country, King Le Duy Khiem sent envoys to meet with the Qing commanders as they marched to Ke Cho. In autumn 1788 the Qing army occupied Ke Cho and Ngo Van So withdrew to Thanh Hoa. Le Duy Khiem was restored to his palace, where he fruitlessly urged the Qing to advance against Nguyen Hue. The Qing remained inactive, having achieved their objective of returning their vassal king to his throne. The Qing court did not want what they considered to be a small operation to expand into a large commitment, and, furthermore, there were doubts among informed Qing officials about the future of the Le dynasty. Qing authorities were in the process of preparing to withdraw when, at the time of the 1789 lunar new year celebration, Nguyen Hue suddenly burst upon them. Having proclaimed himself emperor in Phu Xuan, he rushed his armies north and pushed the Qing troops into and across the Red River. The scholars assisting Nguyen Hue quickly negotiated peace with the Qing court, sending apologies, tribute, and appropriate words of submission. As part of the settlement, Nguyen Hue was to attend Emperor Qianlong’s eightieth birthday celebration in 1790. According to Vietnamese historians, a maternal kinsman of Nguyen Hue named Pham Cong Tri, who looked very much like him, went in his place, pretending to be him. Although Qing officials learned of the ruse, they kept quiet about it to avoid embarrassment and any further involvement in Vietnamese affairs. What is known about Nguyen Hue makes it very unlikely that he would have been able to observe the strict ritual and protocol at the Qing imperial court without producing some unseemly outburst. This, as much as the pleasure of tricking the suzerain, lay behind the decision to send a double. Also, Nguyen lacked the trust in his subordinates that would be necessary for him to be absent for several months. While Nguyen Phuc Anh spent years crafting a complex administrative structure and carefully building up his strength at Saigon, Nguyen Hue, during the four brief years of his reign, left the details of government to his entourage of officials and gave his attention to plans for a new capital and for invading the Qing Empire. Nguyen Hue ruled from Phu Xuan. He began to build a new capital in Nghe An, near the modern city of Vinh, halfway between Phu Xuan and Ke Cho, but it was never completed. No administrative reforms or indications of efforts to address the usual problems of government are attributed to him aside from the same old recycled measures that had been announced for generations. The regime of law and taxation that kept public order and produced revenue was left in the hands of the class of scholar-officials who had attended to these matters for the Trinh. Some officials remained loyal to the Le and refused to serve the new emperor, but there was no lack of those who welcomed the opportunities of the time. Nguyen Hue was not particularly concerned with administering the flow of tax revenue because he obtained a steady source of wealth from the many Qing pirates whom he incorporated into his navy and who preyed upon shipping in the South China Sea. The only seemingly significant change from past practice was to use vernacular Vietnamese writing (Nom) rather than the Literary Chinese (Han) in education, administration, and in official documents. No definite evidence of this has survived, because Nguyen Phuc Anh supposedly destroyed all such materials in the early nineteenth century. Yet, there is no reason to doubt that such a change did occur, for Nom writing was an aspect of new trends in literature during the eighteenth century. The first major work in Nom using double-seven-six-eight (luc bat song that) prosody dates from the 1790s in Ke Cho. This is the Cung Oan Ngam Khuc (Complaint from the Harem) of Nguyen Gia Thieu (1741–1798). Nguyen Gia Thieu was a grandson of Trinh Cuong who feigned madness when Nguyen Hue expelled the Trinh from Ke Cho. He wrote many poems, but is most noted for his “Complaint,” which is written in the voice of a woman who was brought to the royal palace, spent a few glorious moments with the king, and then was left to spend the rest of her life in loneliness as a harem inmate, complaining bitterly against Heaven for her fate. The unresolved anger of this work is quite different from the Song of a Soldier’s Wife written earlier in the century by Dang Tran Con, in which the wife’s complaint is soothed and released in a final passage anticipating the return of the husband as a hero. The use of Nom was probably congenial to Nguyen Hue because of his educational and career background. He may have studied with the teacher of Nguyen Nhac, a man named Truong Van Hien who had fled from Phu Xuan after Truong Phuc Loan had killed his elder brother. Nguyen Hue surely had at least a rudimentary knowledge of Han, but Nom was more than likely used for communicating information and instructions among the officers of his armies, and commanding soldiers was what he knew and did best. Any effort to shift from Han to Nom in education and government, however, could not  have achieved any significant result in the few years that Nguyen Hue osten- sibly ruled.  The character of Nguyen Hue’s mind is revealed in his plan to attack the Qing Empire. Rather than focusing his attention upon his implacable foe at Saigon, he dreamed of annexing the two Qing provinces of Guangxi and Guangdong. His career reveals a perpetual search for new battlefields. He had sent armies to plunder Laos in 1790 and 1791. He had defeated one Qing army, and this made him think that he could defeat others. Planning to attack the north was more interesting to him than worrying about old enemies in the south, whom he had defeated in the past and whom he was convinced could easily be defeated again. Furthermore, his attention was drawn north by the fleets of Qing pirates who filled his ports with plunder. The inability of Qing officials to police the coasts of Guangdong and Guangxi was an indication to him that he could easily take those provinces. He died in mid 1792 at the age of 40; at that time he was constructing large ships to transport war elephants to Guangdong and had sent envoys to the Qing court with requests for marriage to an imperial princess and for possession of the two provinces. When news of his death reached the envoys, they burned their documents and returned. Nguyen Hue, also known by his imperial title of Quang Trung, became a famous hero in the accounts of later historians despite the brevity of his reign. This is because of his battlefield prowess in defeating a Siamese army in the south and a Chinese army in the north. However, his brilliance on the battlefield was not matched by his ability to govern. Unlike the men who became founders of dynasties, he had no mind for the details of administration. While Nguyen Hue won battles and dreamed of future conquests in the north, Nguyen Phuc Anh occupied himself with laying the foundation for a new country in the south.

0 / 5

Your page rank:

Leave your comment