Rise of the east



Rise of the east

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The fighting of 1516 and 1517 had devastated much of the Red River plain. Armed men brought destruction. Fire ravaged markets and villages. Famine spread through the countryside. Officials watched helplessly or ran for their lives. The dead lay unburied in heaps. The eastern part of the Red River plain, in the region of the modern cities of Hai Duong and Hai Phong, neither of which yet existed at that time, was least affected by the fighting but had become dynamic and volatile. It lay off the beaten tracks between Dong Kinh and Thanh Hoa and between Dong Kinh and the Lang Son border with Ming. It was nevertheless open to the outside world by sea. Merchants from China and from countries in Southeast Asia gathered at Van Don, the nearby island seaport. When government faltered during the reigns of Le Tuan and Le Dinh, this region quickly felt the slack and began to exude a spirit of energy and anticipation.  Le Tuan’s adoptive mother came from this region and the conduit she pro- vided for local men to enter the palace was the first indication of this spirit.  Already in 1511 rumors that a king would come from the east prompted the Le court to send a group of officials to Do Son, the easternmost projection of land into the sea, and today a major resort town, to perform an exorcism to dispel any royal aura that may have been accumulating there. Tran Cao was from this area and his followers were initially from this region, though after 1516 they were displaced by the vicissitudes of war and terrain to the northeastern corner of the plain. There, just beyond Chi Linh and the Cau River, the royal pretension of Tran Cao’s heir, Tran Cung, offered an alternative focus of loyalty apart from the Le court at Dong Kinh, which was preoccupied with Thanh Hoa and its  seemingly inexhaustible store of great lords and their soldiers. In the dire condi- tions of 1517, two men in the east successively gained large followings as healers  and performers of miracles. They were both taken into custody and killed by officials of the Le court. By 1517, the east had begun to develop a political personality of its own. The man who came to embody this personality was Mac Dang Dung. He was a descendent of a famous scholar of the early fourteenth century named Mac Dinh Chi, a man of very short stature but of high reputation for his astute and erudite diplomatic work at the Yuan imperial court. A grandson of Mac Dinh Chi, Mac Thuy, had been in the forefront of those who welcomed and served the Ming in the early fifteenth century. With the rise of Le Loi, the Mac family sought obscurity, moving from place to place. A grandson of Mac Thuy named Mac Binh eventually settled in the coastal fishing village of Co Trai, several kilometers west of Do Son at the entrance of the Van Uc estuary. Mac Dang Dung was born in 1483, a grandson of Mac Binh. He worked as a fisherman in his youth, was of  large stature, and had a reputation as a wrestler. But he also received an educa- tion and passed an exam for military officers. As noted previously, he received an  appointment in the palace guard in 1508. The details of his career in royal service during the reigns of Le Tuan and Le Dinh are unknown, except that he received promotions and obtained titles of nobility. He is reported to have secretly attended the Do Son exorcism in 1511, supposedly rendering it void. During the fighting between the two major Thanh Hoa families that broke out in the capital in 1517, Mac Dang Dung was in command of soldiers stationed south of Dong Kinh on the road to Thanh Hoa. When Tran Chan expelled Nguyen Hoang Du from the capital he sent a message to Mac Dang Dung instructing him to prevent Nguyen Hoang Du from returning to Thanh Hoa. Mac Dang Dung ignored this message and let Nguyen Hoang Du pass. This was his first major step on the political stage. If Trinh Tuy and Nguyen Hoang Du remained occupied with each other in Thanh Hoa, the only person standing between Mac Dang Dung and the 17-year-old king, Le Y, was Tran Chan. Mac Dang Dung moved rapidly to gain ascendancy over the royal court. Mac Dang Dung endeavored to occupy the moral high ground and to gain followers at court with two long missives addressed to the king in late 1517. They are full of classical allusions and express fully developed analyses of the  political problems facing the country. One of them denounced seditious supersti- tion that thrived on popular ignorance and called for the death of a magician  who had stirred up a large following in the east. The other denounced the unprincipled ambitions of great nobles and called for the death of Le Quang Do, a grand duke of the royal family who had joined Tran Cao. With these statements, Mac Dang Dung appealed to scholars and to Le loyalists, two important groups that overlapped. The bracing effect of Mac Dang Dung’s influence quickly spread through officialdom and gave a brief moment of confidence to the royal court during the first half of 1518. The capital examination that had been scheduled for 1517 and that had been cancelled due to warfare was now held. But the respite from warfare was short. In mid 1518, Tran Chan, the only plausible rival to Mac Dang Dung, was arrested for treason and killed. His followers in the region west and north of Dong Kinh quickly mobilized their soldiers and marched on the capital. Dong Kinh was left deserted as Le Y and his court fled across the Red River. In the turmoil of shifting the king from place to place, Mac Dang Dung vied with others to control the royal itinerary, even resorting to murder. The king sent a plea for help to Nguyen Hoang Du, but Nguyen Hoang Du did not stir. Instead, Trinh Tuy came marching from Thanh Hoa to join forces with Tran Chan’s people. Trinh Tuy was aflame with the idea of proclaiming another king, but his deeds were even more bungled than had been those of his elder brother Trinh Duy San in 1516. First, he proclaimed as king Le Bang, a fourth-generation descendent of Le Khac Xuong, Le Tu Thanh’s elder brother and third son of Le Nguyen Long. Then, for reasons no longer apparent, he discarded Le Bang and instead proclaimed as king Le Do, a younger half-brother of Le Bang. Le Do and Le Bang had the same mother but Le Do’s father was a commoner. Despite scraping the bottom of the royal barrel, Trinh Tuy rallied a credible threat to Le Y’s court. This finally aroused Nguyen Hoang Du to lead his men up from Thanh Hoa to attack Trinh Tuy and his allies. Defeated, Nguyen Hoang Du returned to Thanh Hoa nearly as quickly as he had come and died soon after. By early 1519, Le Y and his court were established at Bo De, directly across the Red River from Dong Kinh and Mac Dang Dung was in command of all royal soldiers. Trinh Tuy attempted to attack across the river on floating bridges but was repulsed. There followed three months of drought, which allowed raiders from the mountains to roam the lowlands on horseback for plunder. When the rains finally came in mid summer, miring the raiders in mud and sending them back into the mountains, the soldiers of the two Le kings once again concentrated on each other. Mac Dang Dung attacked, captured and killed Le Do, and sent Trinh Tuy, along with his followers, fleeing to Thanh Hoa.  In late autumn, Le Y and his court returned to Dong Kinh. With the elimin- ation of any imminent threat, Mac Dang Dung spent the next two years building  up his military strength while his allies at court endeavored to re-establish an appearance of normal government. Chief among these allies was Pham Gia Mo (b. 1476), a graduate of the 1505 examination who was Minister of Rites. Pham Gia Mo came from the same district as Mac Dang Dung and was also related to him by marriage. In 1520, the educational system was placed back on schedule  by holding a capital examination. In 1521, a stele was finally erected to com- memorate the graduates of the 1514 examination. The official assigned to  prepare the inscription wrote an essay that eulogized the efforts of civil officials to do what was right for the people amidst all the turmoil and fighting during the preceding years. It may have seemed to him that public affairs were finally on a positive trajectory, particularly when, in the autumn of that year, Mac Dang Dung successfully attacked Tran Cung and eliminated the remnants of Tran Cao’s rebellion. However, it was but an interlude before the next major shock in the death throes of the Le dynasty. Le Y, now over 20 years old, began to bridle against the authority of Mac Dang Dung. Nobles and scholars who feared that Mac Dang Dung would bring an end to the dynasty gathered around him and even managed to imprison some of Mac Dang Dung’s followers. In mid 1522, a series of events suddenly revealed accumulated tensions. First, there was a great hubbub in the royal palaces when “bandits” set off fires. Then, a rebellion materialized in the districts across the river from the capital involving members of the nobility. Mac Dang Dung no sooner suppressed this than Le Y fled from the capital to take refuge in Tran Chan’s old stronghold northwest of the capital. There he mobilized local military units and appealed to Trinh Tuy at Tay Do for help. Mac Dang Dung sent an army against him but its commander was captured. Mac Dang Dung then announced that Le Y had been kidnapped by rebels and raised Le Y’s 15-year-old brother, Le Xuan, to the throne. In his haste to leave Dong Kinh, Le Y had forgotten to take his brother and his mother along with him. Mac Dang Dung’s next step was to abandon the capital and bring Le Xuan and his mother to a fortified camp at Gia Loc district, fifty kilometers east of Dong Kinh, about ten kilometers south of the modern city of Hai Duong. Here he awaited events secure in his home territory. Le Y returned to Dong Kinh, rallied his followers, and issued another appeal to Trinh Tuy for help. Court officials now had to choose which side to be on. Many were unimpressed with Le Y’s prospects for overcoming Mac Dang Dung and hastened to join Le Xuan’s court. There followed weeks of fighting between partisans of the two courts that sent soldiers chasing one another through large areas of the plain. Mac Dang Dung’s men slowly gained the upper hand and finally invaded the palaces at Dong Kinh, forcing Le Y to flee. Dong Kinh once again became a battleground and Le Y established his headquarters on the western edge of the city. Trinh Tuy finally arrived with a large army. Suspicion of Trinh Tuy among Le Y’s followers had spread during the three months it had taken Trinh Tuy to appear after Le Y’s first appeal for help. Convinced that he was in danger of being dethroned and using poor judgment, Le Y killed the general sent ahead by Trinh Tuy to meet with him and had his head delivered to Trinh Tuy’s camp. Enraged, Trinh Tuy captured Le Y and returned to Thanh Hoa. By the end of 1522, Mac Dang Dung had pacified the Red River plain. In 1523 and 1524 there was another effort to regain an appearance of normalcy at Dong Kinh. Provinces in the Red River plain sent their scholars for the scheduled capital examination in 1523, a census was taken of households and fields in 1524, and the Ministry of Rites compiled a list of 113 spirit shrines in the country. Mac Dang Dung’s brother, Mac Quyet, led an army to Thanh Hoa that defeated Trinh Tuy and pursued him into the mountains. In 1525, Mac Dang Dung led a large army into the mountains of Thanh Hoa. Trinh Tuy escaped and was not heard of again, but Le Y and his followers, including a number of relatively prominent scholars, were captured and brought back to Dong Kinh. Le Y was demoted, and a proclamation trumpeted the fact that the country was finally united under Le Xuan. Officials who had thrown their lot in with Le Y during his Thanh Hoa sojourn now fled into hiding, committed suicide, were captured and killed, or submitted to Le Xuan and begged for forgiveness. One official apparently received mercy because he was famous for his sense of humor; he was sent to take a post in Quang Nam on the far southern frontier where he died soon after. Another official, Nguyen Mau, was spared through the intervention of Pham Gia Mo, who had followed Mac Dang Dung since 1519. Pham Gia Mo had high regard for Nguyen Mau’s ability and integrity despite the differences in their political loyalties. In 1526, the scheduled capital examination was held and Nguyen Mau led efforts to fill the vacancies in officialdom. It was after Le Y was captured and returned to Dong Kinh that the direction of events became clear, and the largest number of deaths for Le loyalists is recorded in 1525 and 1526. Four nobles attempted to flee to the Ming border but were captured and killed. Five scholars were involved in organizing an unsuccessful uprising in their home districts northeast of Dong Kinh and committed suicide or were executed. Mac Dang Dung forcibly summoned three scholars to court. One leaped into a river and drowned en route to the capital. The other two appeared before Mac Dang Dung but were executed after one spit in Mac Dang Dung’s face and the other threw a rock at Mac Dang Dung. At the end of 1526, Le Y was unobtrusively killed. This dynastic transition was the least homicidal of any yet recorded since the founding of Thang Long more than five hundred years before. With Thanh Hoa quiet, there would be no heroes marching north to keep the Le dynasty alive. Mac Dang Dung was the master of the country. But how does one change the ruling house? The way that Mac Dang Dung answered this question combined ruthlessness with tact. He withdrew to his home village at Co Trai. In the fourth month of 1527 he received a delegation of nobles who bore notice of his promotion from grand duke to prince and conferred upon him items of princely regalia. In the fifth month, he journeyed to the capital where he called on the king, who offered him a poem about the Duke of Zhou assisting his young king in antiquity, the last pitiful throb of Le royal hope. After only six days in Dong Kinh, Mac Dang Dung went back to Co Trai. In the sixth month he returned to the capital amidst great public acclaim. He went to court to receive the royal proclamation in which Le Xuan yielded the throne to him. After a small flutter of resistance among the scholars called on to draft the proclamation, it was done. A few months later, Le Xuan and his mother went the way of Le Y. The manner in which the Le dynasty collapsed revealed the vital connection it had to Thanh Hoa. The leadership of Le Loi and Le Tu Thanh were individual achievements that rose above the raw martial exuberance of Thanh Hoa and its hinterland, an exuberance that found a pivot at the Tay Do fortress and an outlet in the newly acquired southern territories. The Le dynasty was the banner under which the lords of Thanh Hoa claimed access to Dong Kinh and the resources of the Red River plain. Mac Dang Dung led a response to this claim. He and his successors endeavored to turn Thanh Hoa from a royal sanctuary into just another province. Their eventual failure would be due not only to events in Thanh Hoa but also to the material and human resources of the long southern coast.  The early Mac dynasty From the 1530s there began an era of warfare among Vietnamese speakers that would last until the 1670s. There were two major phases of fighting. The first phase went to the end of the sixteenth century and was a struggle between the Red River plain and the southern provinces under the leadership of men from Thanh Hoa. The second phase, in the seventeenth century, is discussed in the next chapter and had to do with a struggle between the emerging south and the “old world” of the north. The first phase brought a successful conclusion to the two-century-long struggle of Thanh Hoa to gain dominance over the Red River plain. Much of the information that remains from this time is concerned with warfare and the politics of dynastic competition. But there are also three other stories. One is the story of educated people. All competitors for ascendancy continued to hold examinations in which scholars were given an opportunity to enter government service; some of these scholars have become important figures in Vietnamese literary and intellectual history. The second story is one of drought, flood, pestilence, epidemics, famine, and corpses piling up in the  countryside as dikes broke, irrigation systems became dysfunctional, rice granar- ies were not maintained, medical systems broke down, men were taken from the  rice fields to the battlefields, and crops failed or were not harvested. This vision of rural misery must be balanced with indications of peace and prosperity when large construction projects were undertaken in villages on the Red River plain that were related to the third story about money and religion. The men and women who made fortunes bringing weapons and uniforms and food to the armies invested their surplus capital in Buddhist temples, village community halls (dinh), and spirit shrines. Old temples were repaired or rebuilt and new deities and cults appeared as wealthy individuals endeavored to ensure the maintenance of their ancestral cults and to obtain divine protection for themselves and their property by patronizing centers of popular religion.  For twenty years the Mac dynasty was stable, peaceful, enjoyed good leader- ship, and established a foundation for prosperity. In 1532, the court annalist  recorded that merchants and travelers stopped carrying weapons to protect  themselves from bandits, nocturnal thieves and robbers ceased, and water buffa- loes were allowed to graze freely without being penned at night for security:  “Items dropped on the roads were not stolen, and outer doors were not barred; there were many years of plenty, and the country was rather peaceful.” Even though in later decades warfare made its rounds, judging from inscriptions that record the repair, renovation, or construction of village halls and temples, large parts of the Red River plain continued to benefit from Mac government into the 1590s. The few officials who were determined to resist Mac Dang Dung had already met their fates in 1525 and 1526 in the wake of Le Y’s capture. After Mac Dang Dung took the throne in 1527, members of the Le royal family and of families closely allied with it, along with officials whose sense of loyalty to the Le was finally insurmountable, fled into the mountains, took refuge in neighboring kingdoms, or changed their names and withdrew into the obscurity of village life. The number of these people has not been recorded, but judging from indications of continuity at court it is unlikely to have been very significant. Two famous suicides were recorded. Thieu Quy Linh, returning from diplomatic work in China and finding a new dynasty in Dong Kinh, departed in retirement to his home in Thanh Hoa; on the way he leapt from a bridge and drowned. A scholar named Nguyen Thieu Tri, who had served Le Tu Thanh and had retired to his home in the foothills northwest of Dong Kinh, was so angry about his eldest son serving the Mac that in 1533 at the age of 92 he killed his son then cut his own throat. The vast majority of officials navigated the dynastic change successfully. Mac Dang Dung made it easy for them to do this by maintaining the structure of  government that had been established by Le Tu Thanh. He quenched apprehen- sions among officials by preserving the laws and regulations of the Le dynasty  and by continuing its system of education and administration that was the basis for their careers. During the twenty-two capital examinations held under the Mac from 1529 to 1592, a total of 484 men were graduated, an average of twenty-two graduates per exam. Drawing upon candidates almost exclusively from the Red River plain, the Mac rate of producing scholars is not as impressive as that of Le Tu Thanh’s reign, but it compares favorably with subsequent eras and is far greater than the forty-five graduates of the seven exams held by the reconstituted Le court in Thanh Hoa from 1554 to 1592, an average of fewer than six and a half graduates per exam. The most famous literatus of the sixteenth century is Nguyen Binh Khiem (1491–1586). He was born into the erudite world of palace scholars during Le Tu Thanh’s reign. His father was a prominent teacher and his mother was an ambitious and highly educated daughter of a senior court official. Abandoned by his mother when he was a child, Nguyen Binh Khiem was raised by his father. He went to study with Luong Dac Bang, a graduate of the 1499 capital exam from Hoang Hoa district in the lower plain of the Ma River in Thanh Hoa. The Luong family first became prominent at court in late Tran times. Branches of the family existed in China; Le Loi had executed an ancestor of Luong Dac Bang for siding with the Ming. Luong Dac Bang had an illustrious career at the Le court, but he died fairly early after entrusting his son Luong Huu Khanh into Nguyen Binh Khiem’s care. Luong Huu Khanh became one of Nguyen Binh Khiem’s most outstanding students. He entered the capital exam of 1538 but quit the competition when although earning the highest honor it was denied to him because his family was from Thanh Hoa. He thereafter went to Thanh Hoa to join the reconstituted Le court and ably served the Le restoration movement until his death in 1573. According to one story, he left for Thanh Hoa in chagrin after failing to gain the hand of Nguyen Binh Khiem’s eldest daughter in marriage due to his poverty. Following his father’s death, Luong Huu Khanh’s family had fallen on hard times, and his mother worked in a Dong Kinh market. He lacked the necessary  resources to initiate marriage rites. Nguyen Binh Khiem instead gave his daugh- ter in marriage to Pham Dao, son of a prominent official at the Mac court.  During the years of Le collapse and the rise of Mac Dang Dung, Nguyen Binh Khiem eschewed public life and spent his time teaching. In 1535, he finally competed in the examinations, won the highest honors, and entered officialdom. In 1542, shortly after the death of Mac Dang Dung, he retired to his home village in Vinh Bao district in Hai Phong, about twenty-five kilometers west of Co Trai, the home village of the Mac family. According to one story, he retired after unsuccessfully requesting the deaths of corrupt officials. There is no evidence for this, but, for Le historians who wanted to portray the Mac as an illegitimate regime, it put him in the protesting role made famous by Chu An at the dissipated court of Tran Hao nearly two centuries before. In fact, he retired to avoid being implicated in the intrigues of his infamous son-in-law Pham Dao. Nguyen Binh Khiem built a school in his home village that became a gathering place for students from all parts of the country. Consequently, he was probably the most informed person in the country through the network of his students and their families. Mac officials regularly consulted him. He was famous for his mastery of the numerological method for consulting the Classic of Changes (Yijing) that had been devised by the Song scholar Shao Yong (1011–1077), and many tales survive about his ability to predict the future. He wrote prophetic works that are still consulted today, and he is often called the Vietnamese Nostradamus. His most prominent student was Phung Khac Khoan (1528–1613), who went to Thanh Hoa to join the Le restoration movement in the early 1550s after a succession dispute had broken the momentum of Mac leadership. Phung Khac Khoan served the Le court for many years before eventually passing the Thanh Hoa exam of 1580; his subsequent diplomatic work and his poetry earned him honor in his lifetime and the esteem of later generations. Nguyen Binh Khiem and Phung Khac Khoan wrote poetry reflecting the views of intellectuals living in an age of warfare. Phung Khac Khoan expressed an ambition to achieve personal  acclaim and an expectation that a time of peace would eventually enable edu- cated people to make a better world. In contrast, Nguyen Binh Khiem expressed  a self-effacing renunciation of worldly ambitions and a perception of human affairs being caught in cyclic forces beyond human will. Nguyen Binh Khiem’s poetry is often conflated and compared with the poetry of Nguyen Trai because, like Doan Van Kham in the eleventh century, they both elaborated the contrasting themes of service to one’s country and of withdrawal for personal cultivation. While Nguyen Trai’s poems praise the joys of retirement, they remain tied to a sense of duty to serve the public good. Nguyen Binh Khiem’s poetry, however, is less concerned with public service and more at peace with the quiet country life. Both men lived in times of violence and change, but while Nguyen Trai experienced military victory and political achievements, Nguyen Binh Khiem witnessed a land caught in military and political deadlock. Their shared interest in both public service and eremitic withdrawal and their exploration of these themes in both literary and vernacular poetry inked terrain that inspired Vietnamese writers  for centuries. The poetry of these men was laden with standard clichés and well- worn allusions to ancient texts, which appeared not only in poems written in  Literary Chinese but also in vernacular Vietnamese, showing that classical idioms had entered the high-register vernacular of educated people. Their vernacular poems also displayed aphorisms and turns of phrase derived from popular oral culture. Another man who is generally considered to have been a student of Nguyen Binh Khiem and who achieved a literary reputation is Nguyen Du, the son of  Nguyen Tuong Phieu, an official who graduated in the 1496 capital examin- ation. He was from the eastern part of the Red River plain, in Gia Loc district,  south of the modern city of Hai Duong, where Mac Dang Dung temporarily fortified a royal residence for Le Xuan in 1522. After passing a regional exam, Nguyen Du received appointment as a district magistrate but retired after one year. He is famous for initiating in Vietnam a new genre of fiction writing modeled on the collection of stories entitled Jian Deng Xin Hua (New Tales by Lamplight) by the Ming writer Qu You (1341–1427). Nguyen Du wrote Truyen Ky Man Luc (Record of Strange Tales), which was reportedly revised by Nguyen Binh Khiem. Some of the stories in this collection are taken directly from Qu You, others are more original, but all in some way follow the theme of human encounters with ghosts, demons, and deities. Written in Literary Chinese, Truyen Ky Man Luc was subsequently translated into the vernacular and inspired many similar works in later centuries. Interest in this kind of writing resonated with a strong current in popular culture at that time. According to a 1589 inscription, the Mac court promoted “the restoration of Buddhism,” an indication that Buddhism had been relatively neglected in the fifteenth century after the fall of the Tran dynasty. The Mac era was a time of very active building and renovation of Buddhist temples in the Red River plain that expressed a revival of Tran dynasty architectural features and decorative arts, including statuary. The Mac also encouraged popular religious cults, which heightened interest in interaction between the realm of human beings and the realm of divine and demonic beings. References to the Jade Emperor are first recorded among the Vietnamese at this time as presiding over a celestial court of deities who were sometimes incarnated as human beings. A collection of over one thousand biographies of deities who were the objects of local spirit cults was assembled in the 1570s, a time when the fortunes of war gave the Mac an era of relative ascendancy. One such deity was the Princess Lieu Hanh, a daughter of the Jade Emperor who was supposedly born among humans in the mid sixteenth century at Van Cat in Vu Ban district, about fifteen kilometers southwest of the modern city of Nam Dinh, on the road to Thanh Hoa. This place was a frequent wartime headquarters and stopping place along the invasion route followed by armies marching both north and south between the “two capitals” of Dong Kinh and Tay Do. A wide range of stories from the sublime to the demonic are told about Lieu Hanh’s sojourn among humans before she eventually returned to her celestial abode. She is still considered to be a key figure in the pantheon of “Holy Mothers” who preside over a host of spirits available to mediums and sorcerers. Her major temples today are located on the invasion routes between Thanh Hoa and the Red River plain. Evidence indicates that her cult appeared and flourished among women who accumulated wealth in the markets that served the armies of that time. Biographies of heavenly beings were compiled to textually authenticate them as the official protector spirits of villages (thanh hoang) and to obtain the recognition of their cults by governing authorities. The worship of these deities was conducted in the village community halls (dinh) that were built in great numbers during Mac times. Although the earliest surviving dinh date from the sixteenth century, they existed before and began to assume the characteristics and functions for which they are known in modern times from the fifteenth century when officials reorganized the administrative and ritual life of villages away from Buddhist temples. This effort by educated people to strengthen Confucian ethical norms among villagers gained unprecedented force after the chaos of the Tran Cao uprising and the subsequent years of fighting. Mac Dang Dung enforced an era of relative peace and prosperity in which village life was  rebuilt. The dinh became the center of village administration and of court- sanctioned cults devoted to local protector deities. It became a ritual center  dominated by men in contrast to the Buddhist temples where women were prominent and where, in the Red River plain, adjacent “mother houses” were frequently built for the worship of female deities. Records from the reign of Le Tu Thanh and from Mac times indicate that Buddhist temples and dinh were often built with money contributed by people who sought to have the ritual observance of their death anniversaries conducted in those places. Laws were published by royal courts enforcing the obligations of  those responsible for conducting these observances after the deaths of the bene- factors. Temples and dinh were a favored investment for those who accumulated  money in the markets. It not only gained them public recognition, prestige, and the assurance of being remembered after their deaths, it also was the surest way to put surplus wealth out of the reach of thieves, swindlers, and tax collectors. The great surge of construction in the sixteenth century reveals an overflow of wealth from the markets. This is reflected in the attention given to coinage by both dynastic contenders. Beginning in the 1530s, coins were cast both by the Mac and by the Le in Thanh Hoa. While Le coins were traditional copper, and are likely to have been manufactured in China, the Mac cast coins of zinc and iron, giving them a distinctive color and heft. The era of Mac prosperity was brief, for the men of Thanh Hoa and of the hinterland that they commanded were unwilling to submit to the new dynasty. The war that ensued brought decades of grief to people in all parts of the country and finally restored Thanh Hoa’s dominance at Dong Kinh under the banner of the Le dynasty.

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