That was the question asked by the Emperor to all the kings – Page 11

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That was the question asked by the Emperor to all the kings of the sur rounding countries. As for the latter, their noblest duty would be to revere and serve the emperor in order to benefit from the sainted vir tues of a ruler endowed with the mandate of Heaven and, on a more materialistic plane, to reap the profit of commercial exchanges with the immense market of China. In order to be allowed to trade with the suzerain empire, it was imperative that tributary states acknowledge the dominant status of the emperor of China by sending tributes which consisted principally of local products. Zhao Tuo expressed that sentiment very appro priately; it is absolutely of no relevance whether that sentiment bespoke of his sinceri ty or not: This old man has lived in the Viet territory for forty-nine years now; I already have grand children. Unfortunately, day or night, I feel persis tently anxious; I can’t find any taste in my food; I can hardly sleep at nights; my eyes do not dare see beauty and my ears shy away from good music. All that, because I have not been admitted to revere and serve the Han dynasty.

Zhao Tuo was the same person who had declared that he would not have yielded in any respect to the Han emperor had he started his career in China itself, meaning that he might have become the equal of the empe ror of China instead of being simply the king of Nan Yue. By an interesting twist, this flippant observation may explain why and how Vietnam has remained independent from China after it got away from its control in 939 CE. I have suggested earlier one reason, and that was to render Viet nam as distinct and as different from China as possible in order to force the Chinese authorities to keep that fact in mind. The second reason con sists exactly in the reverse of what Zhao Tuo suggested here: it was for Viet nam NOT to be mixed up in the many power struggles within China. In other words, no matter how hard the temptation was, no matter how


powerful the Vietnamese army was, Vietnam was not to step out of its domain onto Chinese land. The two reasons I just evoked here are naturally corre lated: if one wants one, which is to be considered different from China, one must heed the other which is to refrain from being mixed up in the struggle for power within China. The second rea son, however, seems to me the more important in the sense that if Viet nam desires to unify China on Vietnam’s terms, then it should also be ready to be unified by China, on China’s terms. In other words, if a Viet namese ruler failed to realize his dream of unifying China under his own scepter, then he should be willing to see his land being incorporated into a China that would have been unified by another founder of another dy nasty. A slightly rearranged old adage gives the perfect reason why: ” Better to be a big fish in a small pond rather than no fish at all in a big pond!”

The Chinese authorities, too, were apparently aware of that eventuality. To anticipate history, in the beginning of the 19th century, when empe ror Gia Long of Vietnam requested through a tributary mission sent to emperor Qian Long, Can Long, of China that the new name of his coun try be Nam Viet, Qian Long must have thought of Zhao Tuo’s Nan Yue, which included in its territory two Chinese provinces. Suspecting irredentist intentions on the part of the Vietnamese ruler, the emperor pro posed to the Vietnamese ambassador to reverse the order of the two words. This is how the name of Viet Nam came into being.



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