The south

01

Dec
2021

The south

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In contrast, Trinh Tung’s uncle, Nguyen Hoang, spent his last years enjoying the adventure of building a new realm. Descriptions of his return to the south in 1600 after an absence of eight years abound with celebrations and expressions of joy. During the remaining thirteen years of his life, he traveled, he built temples, he expanded his border southward, he received streams of emigrants fleeing famine in the north, and he established the rudiments of government. In 1601, during the course of his travels, he was particularly taken with a hill on the Perfume River that runs through the modern city of Hue, which did not yet exist at that time. The hill looked to him like the head of a dragon turning to look back at its mother in the mountains. He enjoyed sitting at the top of the hill and viewing the scenery, but he was dismayed to discover a sandy trench that had been dug along one side of it. When he inquired about this, local people told a story about the ninth-century Tang general Gao Pian who had brought an end to the violence of the Nan Zhao War in the 860s. Gao Pian was famous for excavating places that, according to geomantic ideas, were likely to give rise to a king, thereby “cutting the  dragon vein” that could nurture sovereignty. Geomancers believed that supernat- ural currents of energy flowed as if in veins through the earth from the Tibetan  highlands down to the sea. Dragons symbolized sovereign power, so these currents were called “dragon veins.” If one rearranged the terrain to “cut” the “dragon vein,” then this flow of power would drain away and be lost. Rulers were careful to cut the dragon veins in their realm to ensure that no rival king would arise. According to one story, the rise of the Ly dynasty was possible because a Buddhist monk had restored the terrain and built a temple at a place where Gao Pian had cut a dragon vein, the place that became Ly Cong Uan’s birthplace. According to the tale reportedly given to Nguyen Hoang in 1601, the sandy trench had been dug by Gao Pian to cut the “dragon vein” that gave this place the potency to nurture a new kingdom. It is unlikely that Gao Pian ever traveled so far south, but possibly at some time in the past a general leading soldiers from the north against Chams had performed the geomantic surgery, inspired by the same thinking that had motivated Gao Pian. Gao Pian was thought to have introduced the study of terrain and geomancy into the Vietnamese lands, and many books of geography among the Vietnamese were attributed to him. Stories about him cutting “dragon veins” and about how a clever monk had repaired one of his geomantic excavations to enable the appearance of the Ly dynasty were well known among Vietnamese. After hearing the story about the hill on the Perfume River, Nguyen Hoang was reportedly visited in a dream by a goddess who prophesied that a great lord would come and build a temple at this place and that consequently a new and enduring kingdom would be established. The name of the goddess was Thien Mu, meaning “heavenly mother.” Nguyen Hoang accordingly built a temple on the hill, probably on the ruins of an earlier Cham temple. It was ostensibly “Buddhist,” following a common practice of domesticating spirits by placing them under the Buddha’s authority. The temple was rebuilt many times through the centuries. It still remains today as the Thien Mu Temple at Hue. Its distinctive  tower was built in the mid nineteenth century by a king who was an eleventh- generation descendent of Nguyen Hoang.  At this time, Nguyen Hoang’s headquarters were at Ai Tu, on the Quang Tri River around fifty kilometers northwest of the Perfume River; the basin of the Perfume River was a major place of settlement that often held Nguyen Hoang’s attention. In 1602, near the coast in modern Phu Vang district, where the Perfume River ends, he built a temple on the ruins of a previous temple and named it Sung Hoa. This became a thriving center of culture for several generations. Also in 1602, Nguyen Hoang made his first visit to Quang Nam. He was reportedly exhilarated by the view down the coast southward from Hai Van Pass. He built a headquarters for governing his southern territories at modern Dien Ban, which commanded the waterways connecting the Bay of Da Nang with the Thu Bon River. The port of Hoi An lay near the mouth of the Thu Bon River, and it was already a lively entrepôt attracting Chinese, Japanese, and Portuguese merchants. Nguyen Hoang built a storehouse and a Buddhist temple at Dien Ban and assigned his sixth son and designated heir, Nguyen Phuc Nguyen, to be in command there. On his 1602 trip to Quang Nam, Nguyen Hoang also met with Tran Duc Hoa (dates of birth and death are unknown; he was active c. 1600–1630), who was in command of the southern frontier in modern Binh Dinh Province. Tran Duc Hoa’s father had served there before him, and the family had kept watch over the southern border during the years that Nguyen Hoang had been in the north. Tran Duc Hoa had a reputation for being well educated, an astute governor, a keen discerner of character, and utterly loyal to the Nguyen. When, a few years later, an ambitious and erudite man from Thanh Hoa named Dao Duy Tu decided to seek his fortune in the south, he entered the service of Tran Duc Hoa as the first step in what became an illustrious career in government. Nguyen Hoang continued to take an interest in his southern territories. In 1604 he organized local administrative districts in Quang Nam, and in 1607 he build a Buddhist temple at the old Cham capital of Tra Kieu. In 1611, news of border problems with Chams prompted him to send an army to seize control of the basin  of the Da Rang River in modern Phu Yen Province and to organize local adminis- tration for settlers there, thereby advancing the border southward from Cu Mong  Pass to Ca Pass. In 1608, a large influx of refugees from famine in the north arrived. They were likely settled in the basin of the Nhat Le River in modern Quang Binh Province, for in the following year Nguyen Hoang built a Buddhist temple there, at Le Thuy. Nguyen Hoang’s final years were serene in comparison with those of his nephew Trinh Tung. When he died in 1613 at the age of 88, his 51-year-old sixth son, Nguyen Phuc Nguyen, assumed authority without incident and was the first to distinguish the family surname as Nguyen Phuc, thereby setting the ruling lineage apart from other prominent families in the south with the Nguyen surname. In his youth, Nguyen Phuc Nguyen had already shown himself to be a daring and able leader. In 1585, at the age of 22, he had earned the praise of his father by taking ten war boats out to sea and sinking two of five large pirate ships commanded by a Japanese who had been ravaging the coasts. When Nguyen Hoang went north in 1592, he had taken with him the three of his five elder sons then still living, leaving Nguyen Phuc Nguyen to keep watch over the south in his absence. When Nguyen Hoang returned to the south eight years later, none of his sons returned with him, two having died in battle and one having been left with Trinh Tung as a pledge of good faith. Nguyen Phuc Nguyen was seasoned with many years of experience in command by the time of his father’s death. During the years that officials were complaining of misgovernment and human distress in the north, Nguyen Phuc Nguyen was occupied with improvising a relatively simple yet versatile system of government for a land of diverse locales and peoples. He also nurtured an international seaport that attracted trade from many lands. His eldest son and heir, Nguyen Phuc Ky (d. 1632), was sent to govern at Dien Ban in Quang Nam. Portuguese ships on the route connecting Goa, Malacca, Macau, and Japan regularly arrived for commerce at the nearby port of Hoi An, where settled communities of Chinese and Japanese merchants already existed. Hoi An became known as a well-regulated port with reasonable duties, easy relations with local people, and where goods were available from Japan, China, Cambodia, Siam, the islands of Southeast Asia, and the local region. Jesuits based at Macau established the first Christian mission among Vietnamese in Quang Nam in 1615, and in 1618 they opened a second mission in modern Binh Dinh Province. Nguyen Phuc Nguyen held to a policy of good relations with foreigners, understanding that trade generated wealth. He was also careful to maintain trust with the Portuguese because this facilitated access to European military technology, particularly artillery and musketry. Nguyen Phuc Nguyen did not have the dilemma of civil versus military control of government that agitated scholars in the north. Nor did he have the bitter legacy of civil war with one region having conquered another that aggravated this dilemma for Trinh Tung. Village governance in the north, and particularly in the Red River plain, had been decisively affected by the reforms in civil administration implemented during the reign of Le Tu Thanh over a century before and subsequently strengthened by Mac Dang Dung and his successors. The 1618 memoranda submitted to Trinh Tung referred to this in terms of “dynastic laws and regulations” that had been established in the past, according to which military officers had authority over soldiers only and not over the civilian population. This principle of keeping military and civilian authority separate had been superseded by the violence and contradictions in political loyalties that characterized the Le restoration in the Red River plain. Le Tu Thanh’s mode of civil government never extended to the southern frontier. There, Vietnamese speakers developed a form of social and political life that was closely related to the maintenance of garrisons, and the Nguyen Phuc family relied upon the military chain of command to provide the basic structure of their government. All able-bodied men were expected to be soldiers. The populations in the major areas of settlement were mobilized to produce taxes and conscripts for the military. There was no officially recognized civilian population. Instead, all loyal subjects were “military people.” Farmers were also soldiers who trained and could be called to duty at any time. Craftsmen of all kinds were simply soldiers with specialized occupations. Relatively few men were members of full-time military units, stationed on the frontiers or at naval bases along the coasts, and even these were required to be married, to live with their wives and children, and to be involved at least part-time in some economic endeavor. The exceptions to this were the élite units serving full-time as the palace guard. The Nguyen Phuc rulers were most immediately concerned with the region in which the central government was located, from the northern border at the Gianh River to Hai Van Pass. This region was known as Thuan Hoa (the modern provinces of Quang Binh, Quang Tri, and Thua Thien). Aside from the basin of the Gianh River, which remained a battleground for decades, there were three main river basins that could support agriculture. The largest was the furthest south, the basin of the Perfume River where the modern city of Hue is located. Just north of this was the basin of the Quang Tri and Ben Hai Rivers. The Nguyen Phuc headquarters was located here until 1626, when it was moved further south into the basin of the Perfume River as the Trinh wars began. Between this place and the Gianh River was the basin of the Nhat Le River, where the modern city of Dong Hoi is located. This was the strategic “choke point” between the mountains and the sea where major battles between the Trinh and Nguyen would be fought. Much of the attention of the Nguyen Phuc leaders  in the first half of the seventeenth century was aimed at building up a large, well- organized population in Thuan Hoa as a bulwark against northern invasions.  To the south, beyond Hai Van Pass, Quang Nam, with the port of Hoi An, with abundant rice fields and with mines of gold and other metals, was a secondary focus of attention as a nearby source of manpower and wealth. The two regions of Thuan Hoa and Quang Nam, often referred to as Thuan-Quang, made up the heartland of the realm. Regions further south were mostly left to the vicissitudes of local officers so long as border security was maintained and surplus resources in cash, commodities, and manpower were produced by way of taxation and conscription. Although initially all territories south of Thuan Hoa were considered as part of Quang Nam, the jurisdictions that became the modern provinces of Quang Ngai, Binh Dinh, and Phu Yen gradually developed their own administrative identities as settlements of Vietnamese speakers grew. Binh Dinh, with the modern city of Qui Nhon, was the most important of these because it had been the southernmost garrison on the Cham border already for a century and a half, because of its good seaport, and because it was the terminus of a trade route going west through the uplands to the Mekong River and beyond. The term used to designate administrative centers was initially the word for  “garrison” (dinh, a southern vernacular pronunciation of doanh, a Sino- Vietnamese word for “garrison”). The meaning of this word expanded in the  south to mean a military headquarters, a place of government authority, and, combined with the word for “first” or “primary” (chinh), the capital or site of the ruler’s residence (chinh dinh). These etymological shifts reflected changes in the practice of government as Nguyen Hoang organized a land of frontier garrisons into a separate country. In 1614, Nguyen Phuc Nguyen established four offices with administrative responsibilities that reveal a garrison model of government to rule the country. Three of these, the so-called “three offices” (tam ty), were concerned with public governance, while one of them served the extended household of the ruling family. Two of the “three offices” were charged with collecting taxes and organizing the transport and distribution of supplies and provisions to military units. The Office of the Guard (Lenh Su Ty) was concerned with units on duty in the capital and in the districts nearest to it. The Office of the Garrisons (Tuong Than Lai Ty) was responsible for supply to military units stationed in the provinces. A third office, the Office of the Commissioners (Xa Sai Ty), was  responsible for administering courts of justice among populations where litiga- tion was not subject to martial law. The fourth office, of the Inner Court (Noi  Lenh Su Ty), was established to serve the ruling family and the highest levels of its entourage by supplying tax revenue and commodities from throughout the realm. These offices operated in four jurisdictions that overlapped geographically but served four different classes of people. In the capital district, local administration was entirely in the hands of the Office of the Guard. There were no civil courts of  law because the capital district was essentially a garrison under military disci- pline. In districts further from the capital, throughout Thuan Hoa and at stra- tegic points further south, the Office of the Guard continued to be responsible for  military units while the Office of Commissioners staffed courts of law for people not inside the system of military command. The Office of the Garrisons was responsible for military affairs outside of the places under control of the Guard, and it ensured supplies and trained conscripts for the Guard. The Office of Commissioners was more prominent in areas more distant from the capital,  where non-military and non-Vietnamese people constituted more of the popula- tion. The Office of the Inner Court went everywhere to collect goods and  provisions directly for the ruler, his family, and his favorites. In 1615, Nguyen Phuc Nguyen began to organize his lands into prefectures and districts. Local magistrates were assisted by clerks who investigated and kept records about residents, by officials in charge of education, and by ritual experts  who conducted ceremonies and sacrifices at temples and shrines. While magis- trates collected fees for village festivals and other miscellaneous local expenses,  officials from the offices of the central government collected the head tax in cash and the field tax in rice. This was different from taxation in the north, which relied upon village officials to collect taxes.  In the north, taxation was such an onerous subject of contention and negoti- ation between villages and higher authorities that finally, in the 1660s, the system  was simplified so that villages were communally subject to a fixed and unchan- ging rate, which, by the early eighteenth century, created an entirely new set of  problems. In the south, however, taxpayers paid directly to the central govern- ment, not to village authorities, and their assessments were subject to triennial  re-evaluations based on their property, age, health, social status, and other criteria, such as the part of the country in which they resided. Thus, the southern  tax system was much more sensitive to the actual circumstances of the popula- tion than was the case in the north.  To some extent this reflects the fact that local populations in the south were constantly changing as people moved about and settled in new areas. This complicated the ownership of land with disputes involving local officials and individual residents. Consequently, in 1618, Nguyen Phuc Nguyen sent officials to survey and register the ownership of fields throughout the land, aiming to put an end to litigation over land ownership and to establish the basis for collecting field taxes. A year earlier, in 1617, Nguyen Phuc Nguyen opened a bureau in the Office of the Inner Court to supervise gold, silver, and iron mines; to collect customs duties  on merchant boats from Guangdong, Fujian, and Japan; and to control com- modities of trade such as fragrant oils, honey, beeswax, elephant tusks, rattan  mats, lacquer and lacquer paintings, aromatic wood, caulking resin, and wire of brass and steel. Nguyen Phuc Nguyen paid close attention to markets and trade. One of the features of situating the central government in the basin of the Quang Tri River was that it was at the eastern terminus of a well-worn route west along the Cam Lo River through the mountains to the Mekong River where the modern Lao town of Savannakhet is located; this became colonial route 9 along which major battles were fought during the period 1968–1971. When Lao bandits were making the route unsafe for merchants in 1621, Nguyen Phuc Nguyen’s response was to collaborate with a group of merchants to lure the bandits into an ambush. In the following year, a garrison was established on this route to provide security for trade. During the first quarter of the seventeenth century, the Trinh and Nguyen domains moved in different directions. While the Trinh were constricted with insoluble problems in the north, the Nguyen found themselves in a world of  expanding possibilities. The Jesuit missionaries who arrived at this time per- ceived two hostile countries. They called the northern country Tonkin and the  southern country Cochinchina, according to the usage of the Portuguese on whose ships they sailed. Tonkin was the European pronunciation of the northern capital, Dong Kinh, but Cochinchina derived from the wider world of maritime commerce. The Portuguese obtained the term Cochinchina from the Malays, who had picked it up from the Arabs, who apparently coined the name in the early fifteenth century when Ming fleets sailed to India, Arabia, and Africa. At that time, the Ming used the ancient term Giao Chi for Vietnam, pronounced Jiaozhi in Mandarin Chinese and Kawci in Arabic. The Arabs used the term Kawci min Cin (Kawci of China) to indicate that this was a place near China. In Malay, min was absorbed into a nasalization of the second syllable of Kawci. When they received the name from the Malays, the Portuguese considered that the name Cochinchina was meant to distinguish this place from the Cochin that they knew on the western coast of India. What is probably most significant about this rather tortuous etymological path is that, although in the early fifteenth century the term initially appeared in reference to the north, which is where the Vietnamese were at that time, the Vietnamese place known by this name to the maritime world in the early seventeenth century was in the south. While northern rulers never learned the benefits to be derived from encouraging foreign trade, the southern rulers instinctively understood and wholeheartedly welcomed it. For the Trinh who ruled the north, the Nguyen south was simply a rebellious province governed by a family of renegades. It could have no name separate from or equivalent to the realm of the Le dynasty. On the other hand, the terminology by which southerners distinguished between the north and the south eventually affected the vocabulary of all Vietnamese speakers. During the Le–Mac wars of the sixteenth century, Le partisans referred to themselves as those on the “inside,” thereby indicating that they were in the center of authority with the legitimate king. By contrast, they referred to the Mac as being on the “outside,” meaning in a state of rebellion. While this terminology was not continued in the north after the Le restoration, it shifted to a new context among those who went south with Nguyen Hoang. Southerners called their land the “Inside” (Dang Trong) and the north they called the “Outside” (Dang Ngoai), for they con- sidered that the Trinh were in a state of rebellion since they held the Le kings as  virtual prisoners.  Nguyen Khoa Chiem (1659–1736), a southerner writing in the early eight- eenth century about events a century earlier, recorded a poem that he claimed  circulated after Trinh Tung had killed King Le Duy Tan in 1619. The poem assumes that Trinh Xuan had plotted to kill his father because he wanted to restore supreme authority to the king; yet it also suggests that Trinh Xuan’s parricidal scheme is evidence that his family, a family of usurpers, is doomed. The poem reflects a southern perspective on the events in Dong Kinh: Pity the sad fate of the Le King; In evil times, men see omens and portents. Few brave men help the royal court, But many hands give aid to usurpation. If Trinh Xuan had planned for certain success The king would not have had to regret. As for that son and father seeking to destroy each other: It is clear that Heaven’s favor has abandoned the Trinh family. The poet’s voice is from the “inside,” professing allegiance to the king. It condemns the Trinh as “outside” of Heaven’s favor because the Trinh have usurped royal authority. This ostensibly virtuous attitude was cheap in the south, where no Le king existed to interfere, even theoretically, with the ambitions of the Nguyen Phuc family. The terminology of the south being “inside” and the north being “outside” was eventually generalized to all Vietnamese when southerners took over the whole country at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Today, when speaking of traveling in their narrowly vertical country, Vietnamese say they are going “into the south” (vao nam) and “out to the north” (ra bac), rhetorical vestiges of the two hundred years during which Vietnamese inhabited two countries.

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