Category: IN THE BEGINNING

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.

 

 

Zhao Tuo did not alter in any significant way the governmental – Page 10

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Zhao Tuo did not alter in any significant way the governmental struc tures of his new acquisition. The most important change he made that will exert an impact on the relations between China and Vietnam for centuries to come consisted in the merging of the four principalities he ruled over in China with the land of Vietnam he just con quered. He gave the old name Nan Yue    , Nam Viet in Sino-Vietnamese, to the newly extended territory. He then divided the Vietnamese portion into two prefec tures he named Jiao Zhi, Giao Chi and Jiu Zhen, Cuu Chan.

Those were new names conferred on lands that were not nameless, and so it is appropriate to search for their meaning. Literally, Jiao Zhi means Intertwined Toes and Jiu Zhen means Nine Realities. I do not know what Nine Realities refer to, but Intertwined Toes, according to what our teachers explained in elementary schools, definitely describes the peculiar way in which the big toes of Vietnamese people are point ing at each other instead of forward like the toes on other people’s feet. That physical distinctive feature is said to constitute the remnant of an earlier evolutionary phase or the result of walking barefoot in mud and clay! That singular trait can still be observed on Vietnamese peasants and poor people who can seldom afford any footwear.

In order to administer the two Vietnamese prefectures, Zhao Tuo sent two military governors with the title of Jie Du Shi, Tiet Do Su, at the head of what appeared to be two modest size garrisons of troops. Indigenous people filled the rest of governmental positions; indeed, the Vietnamese ruler continued to hold court at Co Loa as the other chieftains remained in command of their own domains.

Zhao Tuo did not found an enduring dynasty, although his own rule lasted for

more than seventy years. When he died in 137 BCE, the independence of his realm did not survive him for more than a quarter of a century.

 

The Han, who replaced the Qin in 202 BCE on the throne of China, were eager to reaffirm their authority over a kingdom that should be a part of a unified China, because Zhao Tuo was after all a Qin’s envoy who was sent out to bring the southern region into the first Chinese empire. In effect, Zhao Tuo simply had exceeded his mandate and, capitalizing on the decline of the Qin, he had made himself into an independent ruler. The Han, shortly after they had consolidated their authority as successors to the Qin, started a series of resolute  moves ranging from threatening persuasion to outright invasion with the aim of bringing Nan Yue back to its appropriate rank within the hierarchy of  the imperial system. That means they intended to make Nan Yue a tributary state of

suzerain China. It is interesting to pay close attention to the diverse phases of negotia tions as the protagonists were going to set precedents for many institutions,  practices,  beliefs.

When the founder of the Han dynasty dispatched, in 196 BCE, an en voy to invest him as king of Nan Yue, Zhao Tuo had no intention to recog nize the Chinese Emperor as his suzerain, and so he received the ambassador without suitable protocol or appropriate ritual: he sat crossed legged right on the floor and remained seated at the arrival of the celestial envoy. The threat struck like thunder: Originally, you are a Han man. Your ancestors and parents are bu ried in Han country. Now, you have violated the customs of your coun try by conquering this area to oppose the Han; don’t you think you have committed an error? Now, if you refused to submit to the Son of Heaven, what will you be able to do when the Emperor sends an army to chastise you?

Ngo Si Lien, Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu, Hanoi, 1967, vol.1, p.72

Zhao Tuo understood all too well the menace; right away, he rose up from the floor, paid respects to the ambassador and received with good will and humility the investiture; he thereby recognized the suzerainty of China and surrendered his independence to China’s emperor.

The submission, however, did not last long. A little more than ten years later, due to a discriminatory policy that forbade the Han people to sell iron, gold, agricultural implements and female cattle to Nan Yue, Zhao Tuo occupied two provinces of China, defeated a Han army of rein forcement, rejected the suzerainty of China, cut off all diplomatic rela tions with China, and, most sacrilegious of all, declared himself emperor. It was too much for Han Wen Di (179-156 BCE), who acceded to the throne after the death of Empress Lu, author of the above-men tioned discri minatory policy.

Again, the Chinese emperor sent an embassy to Nan Yue bringing with it the same threats and the same persuasive arguments. It also ob tained the same

result: Zhao Tuo renounced his title of emperor, accepted the Han investiture as king of Nan Yue, and resumed diplo matic and com mercial relations with China.

Nan Yue’s founder died in 137 BCE. His direct successor, Zhao Wen Wang, Trieu Van Vuong (137-125 BCE) depended so much upon the protection of the Han that they felt emboldened to require that he come to the imperial court as a hostage. His son went in his stead and that compromise heralded the unraveling of the independence of the king dom. While serving the Chinese emperor, the Nan Yue prince fell in love and married one of the emperor’s court ladies. Later on, when the Chinese courtesan became the Nan Yue’s queen, the Han sent an old ac quaintance of hers in order to persuade her to work for a smooth transfer of power from Nan Yue to China, thereby preventing any renewed at tempt by rulers of Nan Yue to proclaim themselves the equals of the son of Heaven. A strong resistance movement on the part of the Nan Yue people gave the Han an excellent opportunity to send a massive army of invasion. That was the year 111 BCE. The Han expeditionary corps easi ly quelled the rebellion and, subsequently, launched the era of Chinese domination. As far as Vietnam was concerned, that domination was to last for more than a thousand years, from 111 BCE until 939 CE.

It is in teresting to note that in Guangzhou (Canton), there exists a museum

called the Nan Yue King Museum which houses more than a thousand relics from the reign of Zhao Wen Wang: Trieu Van Vuong, 137-125 BCE. (See Gems From the Relics of the Museum of the Western Han Tomb of the Nan Yue King, Guangzhou, 1999.)

The Nan Yue kingdom left a very important mark in the historical develop ment of Vietnam. That kingdom was, in reality, made of two dif ferent territories: one encompassed the present day’s provinces of Guang  dong and Guangxi and the other consisted of what, at the time, was the land of Vietnam. When the Han came to annex Nan Yue, they looked at it as one territory. The end result of this is that dynastic China will for a very long time consider Vietnam an integral portion of the Chinese territory, a piece of a home land to be reoccupied

and not a foreign country to be conquered. In the mind of the Chinese rulers, to occupy Vietnam is, there fore, NOT an act of IMPERIALISM but a feat of REUNIFICATION.

In fact, as recent as the early years of the Republic of China, I have personally never seen them myself, but I heard from many different sources that maps representing the territorial extension of China included, besides Tibet and Taiwan, Vietnam as well! And Professor Han Xiao rong shared with me another interesting anecdote covering the same topic. As late as 1936, in his interview with Edgar Snow, it was Mao Ze dong who said that it was China’s loss of Vietnam to France that had awakened his national consciousness!

As a result, it has always been Vietnam’s burden to prove and to make the Chinese authorities accept the fact that their country was not within Chinese borders; that Vietnam’s territory is totally different from that of China and that Vietnam is definitely not a constituting part of China. The Vietnamese have done it with an enormous amount of sacrifices and  a  no  less  deep-felt  conviction, many times. Some succeeded in repulsing the invading armies of China; some failed, and thereby resulted in the establishment of Chinese rule, albeit none lasted anymore as long as a millennium!

It looks as if the Nan Yue period has clearly defined the mold in the relationship between China and its neighbors which was definitely not a relationship between equals. At this point in time, it seems that China had already devised a rather precise and specific conception of the world, placing itself at its center. As there is only one sun in the sky, there should only be only one emperor on earth and that emperor, huang di or hoang de , is the ruler of China, who was always prepared to endow rulers of neighboring countries with a lesser title of king, wang or vuong . The Chinese emperor was ready to impose such a conception with force: To gain your territory makes us no richer, because it is so small, but what would happen to you and to your innocent people, when we send a chastising army against you?

the genie of the Mountain, Son Tinh, and that of the Water, Thuy Tinh – Page 9

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Dragons must reside near the water and fairies or immortals are faithful compa nions of trees and rocks. But, how can we explain the fact that the people of the mountain and the people of the water, or by proxy the mountain and the sea, have not lived peacefully all that time next to one another.

From time immemorial, almost as frequently as once a year, the sea would surge out of its bed; it would rise and rise against the mountain as if it wanted to overtake its peak. Naturally, death and devastation follow its path. The people of Vietnam could not explain that phenomenon, until one day, the water spoke and here is what it said.

One of the eighteen Hung kings had an astonishingly beautiful daugh ter. One day, by a weird coincidence, the genie of the Mountain, Son Tinh, and that of the Water, Thuy Tinh, came exactly at the same time asking for her hand. The king ordered them to go home and come back the next day with  presents gathered from their respective realms. The first to arrive at the gate of the palace will obtain the hand of the prin cess.

The Mountain came first. He swiftly carried the princess to his pa lace perched on top of the mountain. The Water, however, refused to con cede defeat. How could he? The Mountain had cheated: ignoring the rules of the game, he had come to claim the princess before the rising of the sun, before the start of the day. Therefore,, the Water hurled itself against the mountain hoping to reconquer the princess. The mountain, however, stood fast extending its peak higher and higher so as to domi nate the water at all times. Later people consign that rivalry in a short poem: The mountain stretches higher and higher

The river longer and longer

Year after year, the river nurtures its revenge Day after day, it languishes in jealousy.

Vu Ngoc Phan, Tuc Ngu, Ca Dao, Dan Ca Viet Nam, Hanoi, 1978, p. 26 Another legend testifies to the need for Van Lang to fight for its sur vival,

already in the very early phase of its history. That is the story of Genie Dong,

who until he reached the age of three, had not uttered a word, whiling away his time lying in a hammock. But upon hearing of an invasion against his country, he stood up and grew to become a giant. He requested from the king an iron whip and an iron horse. In the heat of the fight, his iron rod broke, and so he simply uprooted a clump of bamboo to continue his battle. After the invader was chased away and peace res tored, Genie Dong was seen riding his iron horse into the horizon. In his native village, people claim that they still can notice the gaps made by the genie in their bamboo hedges. Every year, the villagers of Phu Dong organize lavish ceremonies celebrating his exploits on the 8th day of the fourth lunar month. He is venerated under the title of Genie Dong, Thanh Dong, or Celestial King of Phu Dong, Phu Dong Thien Vuong.

King Hung the 18th was the last of the dynasty.

An invasion in 258 B.C.E. fomented by a neighboring chieftain, Thuc Phan, put an end to an already declining Hong Bang dynasty to inaugurate a new one, the Thuc. This dynasty is remembered by two interrelated occurrences: the building of a capital city at Co Loa and the patient  and  effective  resis tance against repeated attacks waged by the many military expedi tions sent South by the Qin Emperor in order to place the  whole region under China’s rule.

Thuc Phan declared himself king under the reign name of An Duong and endowed his country with a new name, Au Lac,         . An interesting story

pertains to the building of Au Lac’s capital city, Co Loa, some remains of which can still be seen now, on the old road between the Noi Bai airport and Hanoi. It was without a doubt a very impor tant undertaking. The city had the shape of a conch shell with nine circumvolutions, each one of them isolated from the others by a wide moat. Those moats combined with the rivers and streams flowing around the site provided the people of Co Loa with a significant network of transportation. The city was so impressive that no one at the time could believe that any one people were capable of building such a marvel without the interven tion of a supernatural power. Therefore, even if no miracle had taken place, people still had to invent one in order to affirm the presence of the occult in the midst of their daily life.

They convincingly asserted that King Thuc did obtain the help of a lo cal deity, under the form of a golden turtle who came to him in wondrous circumstances. When the king started building his city, for a long period, whatever the workers constructed in the day was totally demolished at night. It was as if darkness brought with it earthquakes that unfailingly ravaged the entire construction site. Quickly enough, the king set up sacrifi cial ceremonies. That very night, a golden turtle recommended the king in his dream not to locate his city directly on top of its carapace. The king followed the advice to the letter and in no time, Co Loa was built. To express its gratefulness to the king, the turtle- deity gave King Thuc one of its claws which, when used as the trigger on a bow, would multiply by the thousands the one single arrow it sent out.

Many Qin envoys, thus, failed to subjugate Au Lac. The last one, Zhao Tuo (Trieu Da 207-137), taking advantage of the decline of the Qin dynasty, carved out an independent kingdom called Nan Yue, Nam Viet , situated directly north of Au Lac. He was, however, repeatedly thwarted in his efforts to annex the Thuc kingdom. What he could not do by the force of arms, Zhao Tuo set out to do by other means: he sent his son, Trong Thuy, to wed My Chau, a daughter of the Thuc king. A ves tige of the matrilocal organization of Vietnamese society demanded that the husband came to live in the residence of

his wife’s family which was in the Co Loa royal residence. Soon enough, he discovered the miracul ous claw, stole it and brought it back to his father. Right away, Zhao Tuo launched his army against the Thuc’s territory. He easily conquered Au Lac, added it to his realm and kept the old name Nan Yue to designate the newly aggrandized kingdom. All that was accomplished in  179 B.C.E.

History records that, in his defeat, the Thuc King jumped into the ocean to

commit suicide. A legend, however, discloses that a golden tur tle emerged from the water, sat the king on his carapace and together they disappeared into the sea. Another legend adds a rather tragic detail to this episode. King Thuc had sat My Chau behind him on his horse to escape from the enemy. Upon seeing the turtle, the king yelled in re proach :” O, Deity Turtle, why have you forsaken me? Why did you be tray me?” The turtle replied :” I did not betray you. The traitor is sitting right behind you.” The king looked back, and he understood. Drawing his sword, he loped off his daughter’s head. On the back of the turtle, he entered the ocean.

When Trong Thuy found the princess decapitated body, –in her escape, the princess had strewn her route with feathers plucked from her cape (would it be the forerunner of the feather cape of the Hawaiians?) — he chose not to survive his wife: holding her body in his arms, he threw himself into the palace well. The local people believe that the blood of the princess has nurtured the oysters of that region which give the most brilliant pearls in the world. These pearls acquire a much more radiant orient if they were washed in the water of the Co Loa’s well.

Today, at Co Loa, in addition to a complex of temples honoring the Thuc King and the Golden Turtle, there is a smaller sanctuary dedicated to the cult of the Prin cess, represented by a boulder which worshipers dressed up into a head less female deity. This legend saved Vietnamese national pride: Zhao Tuo did conquer Au Lac and did annex it to his kingdom all right, though he had done it not under his own power, but through cheating and treason. Sure, the Vietnamese

had lost their country, but they did it …with honor.

What was the situation of the Au Lac country at the moment of annexa tion? Although we give the royal title to the Hung and to An Duong, neither Van Lang nor Au Lac was obviously a unified kingdom. Under the best conditions, these kings must have been the chiefs of the most powerful tribes to whom the heads of many others paid obeisance or pledged loyalty. Indeed archaeological excavations show plainly that about this time, in northern Vietnam, there were a number of graves which were more elaborate in their designs and much richer in their decora tions and funerary objects.

Indeed, later chronicles mentioned fifteen different “principalities” whose officials bore distinctive ranks and titles. Some of the common people earned their living through fishing: the name Van Lang (   ) would then mean: domain of the tattooed, –and not as previously believed, the Land of the Literati– for in tattooing their body, the divers aimed at blending themselves with the surrounding aquatic fauna. The rest of the population derived their subsistence from agriculture, for they already knew well how to use the tides in order to cultivate their land. What they had no idea about, according to the Chi nese chronicles, is the famous Confucian ritual, li, which informed hu man beings about an appropriate behavior in social context and about ceremonies to be held for important and memorable events which take place in the course of their lives.

They did not have a writing system and they used knots in strings in order to count the passing of time. The only technology they have mastered was the casting of bronze objects of which several centers have been unearthed within the boundaries of their territory.

As  with  many  other  peoples  on  this  earth,  the  Vietnamese  believed  in

supernatural powers invested in natural phenomena or in special personali ties. Animism constitutes the sum total of their religious beliefs. Thunders, lightning, wind, sun, mountain, trees, animals all have their religious justifications and their impact on human lives varies with each occurrence. There was not much people could do, for example, to change the flood that ravages parts of their land

every year owing to the hostility of the Water for the Mountain. And king Thuc, on the other hand, was handsomely rewarded for obeying the turtle’s request.

People lived on the Vietnamese land a very long time ago. Page 8

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From the family to the village, we now emerge into something vaster and more encompassing: the nation as headed by a sovereign who presided over all the villages because in him resided the power not only to assign protecting deities to each individual village, but also to rank those deities according to their respective merits on a predetermined hierarchy. In the  past,  the  edicts- certificates, carefully and proudly pre served in the dinh, had to be delivered by the supreme authority on earth, the grand priest of the cult, the Son of Heaven, the sovereign of Vietnam.

 

People lived on the Vietnamese land a very long time ago. Stone imple ments are found everywhere, principally in the north and northern part of central Vietnam. They date from the times of the Paleolithic with sites at Mount Do,

 

Cave Hum of the Son Vi culture, the Mesolithic with the Hoa Binh, and Neolithic with the Bac Son and Quynh Van cultures.

Then came the bronze age which, according to Vietnamese archaeologists, began already four thousand years ago through four stages: Phung Nguyen, Dong Dau, Go Mun and Dong Son. The last one, universally known as the Dongsonian age of bronze culture, saw its extension cover the many regions of southern China and mainland Southeast Asia. Its center is believed to have been located in the village of Dong Son, in the province of Thanh Hoa, approximately one hundred kilometers south of Hanoi.

The Dongsonian civilization is characterized by the well-known “kettle- drum”, the top face of which are elaborately decorated with silhouettes of dancers, birds, boats, all surrounding a well shaped multi-corner star.

On some of those drums, the four cardinal points of the round face are decorated with sculptures of toads or frogs, singly or one on top of the other. Vietnameserchaeologists believe those must be rain drums, which the Dongsonian people used to beat every time they wished for rain.

 

This would be a vivid illustration of a Vietnamese legend that makes the toad an uncle of Heaven. According to that legend, following a long drought, a toad recruited a number of other animals from earth to go to Heaven to ask for rain. After an extended and arduous journey, the animals were not welcomed at all by the heavenly court. Residents and uninvited guests resorted to the use of force. In the ensuing fight, every endowed weapon of the animals: the spur of the rooster, the trump of the elephant, the slithery body of the snake, the paws of the cat, the speed of the horse, the needle of the bee were put to an advantage against

the dei ties protecting the Emperor of Heaven. The combat resulted in a cove nant passed between Heaven and the animals. The only clause of the con tract stipulates that each time the animals wished for rain, they simply asked the toad to grind its teeth. Two ancient one-line adages say it plainly: The toad is Heaven’s uncle. Heaven will strike whoever strikes it.

When the toad grinds its teeth, the four corners of heaven are shaken. Nguyen Van Ngoc, Tuc Ngu Phong Dao, Hanoi, 1953, p. 55

With the bronze civilization, the Vietnamese placed the beginning of their history. If they have no story that explains the creation of the world, the Vietnamese tell many legends about the dawn of their history. One of them relates the genealogy of the rulers of Van Lang, , the first name of the Vietnamese territory, which covered, in addi tion to the entire delta of the Red River, the northern portion of the Indochi nese panhandle. That land which was divided into fifteen districts remains in the eyes of all Vietnamese the cradle of their  civilization.

Eighteen legendary kings with the name of Hung successively ruled the

 

country for a period longer than two thousand years (2879-258 B.C.E.). The first of the Hung Kings, who altogether were considered the founding fathers of Vietnam, descended from Lac the Dragon Lord, Lac Long Quan, and Au Co, the immortal. After a long time of living together, Au Co gave birth to a pouch containing one hundred eggs. From these eggs, came out one hundred children. For some reason that remains unsaid, the parents decided one day to split up and continue their lives in different dwelling places. As Lac Long Quan partakes the nature of dragons, so he went with fifty children to reside on the coastal plains, while Au Co, being a descendant of the race of immortals, withdrew with the rest of the  family to  the forested  mountains. To  this day, the  Vietnamese still believe firmly that they are children of dragons and grand children of immortals (con rong, chau tien).

Many conclusions can be drawn from this legend.

 

First of all, the division of one people, issuing from one same couple into two different groups whose respective habitat places one on the coasts and the other on the mountains accounts for the fact that the ethnic and kinh people of Vietnam should be considered two strands of the same fi ber, as the following saying states it affectionately: O gourd, love me tenderly! beseeches the pumpkin, Even though we do not belong to the same species, We still share the same trellis.

The number of children who hatched from the pouch of one hun dred eggs was

equally divided into half male and half female. Again, when the parents divided the children, the husband received exactly half the number of children while the other half followed their mother.

This story must have  originated some time  before the coming  of Confu

cianism to Vietnam. With the obsession of male heirs ever present in Confucianist environment, the myth would never have given an equal number of males and females to Au Co’s hatched eggs. On the contrary, I am certain that it would have assigned at least seventy-five boys to merely twenty-five girls. Again, thoroughly educated in the Confucian tradition, emperor Tu Duc’s reaction is easy to predict. When he came across this story in a book on Vietnamese history, the comment he wrote down in the book’s margin is quite revealing: he dismissed it out rightly, considering it as pure superstition, unfounded historical fact; he even suggested that it skirts the realm of animal behavior. Finally, we may not know the reason why the parents suddenly decided upon their separation, but a closer reading of the story yields the feeling that they simply wanted to give way to their respective needs or predilections

Zhao Tuo renounced his title of emperor, accepted the Han – Page 7

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result: Zhao Tuo renounced his title of emperor, accepted the Han investiture as
king of Nan Yue, and resumed diplo matic and com mercial relations with China.
Nan Yue’s founder died in 137 BCE. His direct successor, Zhao Wen Wang,
Trieu Van Vuong (137-125 BCE) depended so much upon the protection of the
Han that they felt emboldened to require that he come to the imperial court as a
hostage. His son went in his stead and that compromise heralded the unraveling
of the independence of the king dom. While serving the Chinese emperor, the
Nan Yue prince fell in love and married one of the emperor’s court ladies. Later
on, when the Chinese courtesan became the Nan Yue’s queen, the Han sent an
old ac quaintance of hers in order to persuade her to work for a smooth transfer
of power from Nan Yue to China, thereby preventing any renewed at tempt by
rulers of Nan Yue to proclaim themselves the equals of the son of Heaven. A
strong resistance movement on the part of the Nan Yue people gave the Han an
excellent opportunity to send a massive army of invasion. That was the year 111
BCE. The Han expeditionary corps easi ly quelled the rebellion and,
subsequently, launched the era of Chinese domination. As far as Vietnam was
concerned, that domination was to last for more than a thousand years, from 111
BCE until 939 CE.
It is in teresting to note that in Guangzhou (Canton), there exists a museum
called the Nan Yue King Museum which houses more than a thousand relics
from the reign of Zhao Wen Wang: Trieu Van Vuong, 137-125 BCE. (See Gems
From the Relics of the Museum of the Western Han Tomb of the Nan Yue King,
Guangzhou, 1999.)
The Nan Yue kingdom left a very important mark in the historical develop
ment of Vietnam. That kingdom was, in reality, made of two dif ferent
territories: one encompassed the present day’s provinces of Guang dong and
Guangxi and the other consisted of what, at the time, was the land of Vietnam.
When the Han came to annex Nan Yue, they looked at it as one territory. The end
result of this is that dynastic China will for a very long time consider Vietnam an
integral portion of the Chinese territory, a piece of a home land to be reoccupied
and not a foreign country to be conquered. In the mind of the Chinese rulers, to
occupy Vietnam is, there fore, NOT an act of IMPERIALISM but a feat of
REUNIFICATION.
In fact, as recent as the early years of the Republic of China, I have
personally never seen them myself, but I heard from many different sources that
maps representing the territorial extension of China included, besides Tibet and
Taiwan, Vietnam as well! And Professor Han Xiao rong shared with me another
interesting anecdote covering the same topic. As late as 1936, in his interview
with Edgar Snow, it was Mao Ze dong who said that it was China’s loss of
Vietnam to France that had awakened his national consciousness!
As a result, it has always been Vietnam’s burden to prove and to make the
Chinese authorities accept the fact that their country was not within Chinese
borders; that Vietnam’s territory is totally different from that of China and that
Vietnam is definitely not a constituting part of China. The Vietnamese have done
it with an enormous amount of sacrifices and a no less deep-felt conviction,
many times. Some succeeded in repulsing the invading armies of China; some
failed, and thereby resulted in the establishment of Chinese rule, albeit none
lasted anymore as long as a millennium!
It looks as if the Nan Yue period has clearly defined the mold in the rela
tionship between China and its neighbors which was definitely not a relationship
between equals. At this point in time, it seems that China had already devised a
rather precise and specific conception of the world, placing itself at its center. As
there is only one sun in the sky, there should only be only one emperor on earth
and that emperor, huang di or hoang de , is the ruler of China, who was always
prepared to endow rulers of neighboring countries with a lesser title of king,
wang or vuong . The Chinese emperor was ready to impose such a conception
with force: To gain your territory makes us no richer, because it is so small, but
what would happen to you and to your innocent people, when we send a
chastising army against you?
Ngo Si Lien, Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu, Hanoi, 1967, vol.1, p.75
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.
Ngo Si Lien, Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu, Hanoi, 1967, vol.1, p.76.
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.
..~

his wife’s family which was in the Co Loa royal residence – Page 6

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his wife’s family which was in the Co Loa royal residence. Soon enough, he
discovered the miracul ous claw, stole it and brought it back to his father. Right
away, Zhao Tuo launched his army against the Thuc’s territory. He easily
conquered Au Lac, added it to his realm and kept the old name Nan Yue to
designate the newly aggrandized kingdom. All that was accomplished in 179
B.C.E.
History records that, in his defeat, the Thuc King jumped into the ocean to
commit suicide. A legend, however, discloses that a golden tur tle emerged from
the water, sat the king on his carapace and together they disappeared into the sea.
Another legend adds a rather tragic detail to this episode. King Thuc had sat My
Chau behind him on his horse to escape from the enemy. Upon seeing the turtle,
the king yelled in re proach :” O, Deity Turtle, why have you forsaken me? Why
did you be tray me?” The turtle replied :” I did not betray you. The traitor is
sitting right behind you.” The king looked back, and he understood. Drawing his
sword, he loped off his daughter’s head. On the back of the turtle, he entered the
ocean.
When Trong Thuy found the princess decapitated body, –in her escape, the
princess had strewn her route with feathers plucked from her cape (would it be
the forerunner of the feather cape of the Hawaiians?) — he chose not to survive
his wife: holding her body in his arms, he threw himself into the palace well.
The local people believe that the blood of the princess has nurtured the oysters of
that region which give the most brilliant pearls in the world. These pearls acquire
a much more radiant orient if they were washed in the water of the Co Loa’s
well.
Today, at Co Loa, in addition to a complex of temples honoring the Thuc
King and the Golden Turtle, there is a smaller sanctuary dedicated to the cult of
the Prin cess, represented by a boulder which worshipers dressed up into a head
less female deity. This legend saved Vietnamese national pride: Zhao Tuo did
conquer Au Lac and did annex it to his kingdom all right, though he had done it
not under his own power, but through cheating and treason. Sure, the Vietnamese
had lost their country, but they did it …with honor.
What was the situation of the Au Lac country at the moment of annexa tion?
Although we give the royal title to the Hung and to An Duong, neither Van Lang
nor Au Lac was obviously a unified kingdom. Under the best conditions, these
kings must have been the chiefs of the most powerful tribes to whom the heads
of many others paid obeisance or pledged loyalty. Indeed archaeological
excavations show plainly that about this time, in northern Vietnam, there were a
number of graves which were more elaborate in their designs and much richer in
their decora tions and funerary objects.
Indeed, later chronicles mentioned fifteen different “principalities” whose
officials bore distinctive ranks and titles. Some of the common people earned
their living through fishing: the name Van Lang ( ) would then mean: domain
of the tattooed, –and not as previously believed, the Land of the Literati– for in
tattooing their body, the divers aimed at blending themselves with the
surrounding aquatic fauna. The rest of the population derived their subsistence
from agriculture, for they already knew well how to use the tides in order to
cultivate their land. What they had no idea about, according to the Chi nese
chronicles, is the famous Confucian ritual, li, which informed hu man beings
about an appropriate behavior in social context and about ceremonies to be held
for important and memorable events which take place in the course of their lives.
They did not have a writing system and they used knots in strings in order to
count the passing of time. The only technology they have mastered was the
casting of bronze objects of which several centers have been unearthed within
the boundaries of their territory.
As with many other peoples on this earth, the Vietnamese believed in
supernatural powers invested in natural phenomena or in special personali ties.
Animism constitutes the sum total of their religious beliefs. Thunders, lightning,
wind, sun, mountain, trees, animals all have their religious justifications and
their impact on human lives varies with each occurrence. There was not much
people could do, for example, to change the flood that ravages parts of their land
every year owing to the hostility of the Water for the Mountain. And king Thuc,
on the other hand, was handsomely rewarded for obeying the turtle’s request.
Zhao Tuo did not alter in any significant way the governmental struc tures of
his new acquisition. The most important change he made that will exert an
impact on the relations between China and Vietnam for centuries to come
consisted in the merging of the four principalities he ruled over in China with the
land of Vietnam he just con quered. He gave the old name Nan Yue , Nam
Viet in Sino-Vietnamese, to the newly extended territory. He then divided the
Vietnamese portion into two prefec tures he named Jiao Zhi, Giao Chi and Jiu
Zhen, Cuu Chan.
Those were new names conferred on lands that were not nameless, and so it
is appropriate to search for their meaning. Literally, Jiao Zhi means Intertwined
Toes and Jiu Zhen means Nine Realities. I do not know what Nine Realities refer
to, but Intertwined Toes, according to what our teachers explained in elementary
schools, definitely describes the peculiar way in which the big toes of
Vietnamese people are point ing at each other instead of forward like the toes on
other people’s feet. That physical distinctive feature is said to constitute the
remnant of an earlier evolutionary phase or the result of walking barefoot in mud
and clay! That singular trait can still be observed on Vietnamese peasants and
poor people who can seldom afford any footwear.
In order to administer the two Vietnamese prefectures, Zhao Tuo sent two
military governors with the title of Jie Du Shi, Tiet Do Su, at the head of what
appeared to be two modest size garrisons of troops. Indigenous people filled the
rest of governmental positions; indeed, the Vietnamese ruler continued to hold
court at Co Loa as the other chieftains remained in command of their own
domains.
Zhao Tuo did not found an enduring dynasty, although his own rule lasted for
more than seventy years. When he died in 137 BCE, the independence of his
realm did not survive him for more than a quarter of a century.
9. Zhao Tuo’ s Nan Yue
The Han, who replaced the Qin in 202 BCE on the throne of China, were
eager to reaffirm their authority over a kingdom that should be a part of a unified
China, because Zhao Tuo was after all a Qin’s envoy who was sent out to bring
the southern region into the first Chinese empire. In effect, Zhao Tuo simply had
exceeded his mandate and, capitalizing on the decline of the Qin, he had made
himself into an independent ruler. The Han, shortly after they had consolidated
their authority as successors to the Qin, started a series of resolute moves
ranging from threatening persuasion to outright invasion with the aim of
bringing Nan Yue back to its appropriate rank within the hierarchy of the
imperial system. That means they intended to make Nan Yue a tributary state of
suzerain China. It is interesting to pay close attention to the diverse phases of
negotia tions as the protagonists were going to set precedents for many
institutions, practices, beliefs.
When the founder of the Han dynasty dispatched, in 196 BCE, an en voy to
invest him as king of Nan Yue, Zhao Tuo had no intention to recog nize the
Chinese Emperor as his suzerain, and so he received the ambassador without
suitable protocol or appropriate ritual: he sat crossed legged right on the floor
and remained seated at the arrival of the celestial envoy. The threat struck like
thunder: Originally, you are a Han man. Your ancestors and parents are bu ried in
Han country. Now, you have violated the customs of your coun try by
conquering this area to oppose the Han; don’t you think you have committed an
error? Now, if you refused to submit to the Son of Heaven, what will you be
able to do when the Emperor sends an army to chastise you?
Ngo Si Lien, Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu, Hanoi, 1967, vol.1, p.72
Zhao Tuo understood all too well the menace; right away, he rose up from
the floor, paid respects to the ambassador and received with good will and
humility the investiture; he thereby recognized the suzerainty of China and
surrendered his independence to China’s emperor.
The submission, however, did not last long. A little more than ten years later,
due to a discriminatory policy that forbade the Han people to sell iron, gold,
agricultural implements and female cattle to Nan Yue, Zhao Tuo occupied two
provinces of China, defeated a Han army of rein forcement, rejected the
suzerainty of China, cut off all diplomatic rela tions with China, and, most
sacrilegious of all, declared himself emperor. It was too much for Han Wen Di
(179-156 BCE), who acceded to the throne after the death of Empress Lu, author
of the above-men tioned discri minatory policy.
Again, the Chinese emperor sent an embassy to Nan Yue bringing with it the
same threats and the same persuasive arguments. It also ob tained the same

Eighteen legendary kings with the name of Hung successively ruled – Page 5

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the dei ties protecting the Emperor of Heaven. The combat resulted in a cove
nant passed between Heaven and the animals. The only clause of the con tract
stipulates that each time the animals wished for rain, they simply asked the toad
to grind its teeth. Two ancient one-line adages say it plainly: The toad is
Heaven’s uncle. Heaven will strike whoever strikes it.
When the toad grinds its teeth, the four corners of heaven are shaken.
Nguyen Van Ngoc, Tuc Ngu Phong Dao, Hanoi, 1953, p. 55
With the bronze civilization, the Vietnamese placed the beginning of their
history. If they have no story that explains the creation of the world, the
Vietnamese tell many legends about the dawn of their history. One of them
relates the genealogy of the rulers of Van Lang, , the first name of the
Vietnamese territory, which covered, in addi tion to the entire delta of the Red
River, the northern portion of the Indochi nese panhandle. That land which was
divided into fifteen districts remains in the eyes of all Vietnamese the cradle of
their civilization.
Eighteen legendary kings with the name of Hung successively ruled the
country for a period longer than two thousand years (2879-258 B.C.E.). The first
of the Hung Kings, who altogether were considered the founding fathers of
Vietnam, descended from Lac the Dragon Lord, Lac Long Quan, and Au Co, the
immortal. After a long time of living together, Au Co gave birth to a pouch
containing one hundred eggs. From these eggs, came out one hundred children.
For some reason that remains unsaid, the parents decided one day to split up and
continue their lives in different dwelling places. As Lac Long Quan partakes the
nature of dragons, so he went with fifty children to reside on the coastal plains,
while Au Co, being a descendant of the race of immortals, withdrew with the
rest of the family to the forested mountains. To this day, the Vietnamese still
believe firmly that they are children of dragons and grand children of immortals
(con rong, chau tien).
Many conclusions can be drawn from this legend.
First of all, the division of one people, issuing from one same couple into
two different groups whose respective habitat places one on the coasts and the
other on the mountains accounts for the fact that the ethnic and kinh people of
Vietnam should be considered two strands of the same fi ber, as the following
saying states it affectionately: O gourd, love me tenderly! beseeches the
pumpkin, Even though we do not belong to the same species, We still share the
same trellis.
Vu Ngoc Phan, Tuc Ngu, Ca Dao, Dan Ca Viet Nam, Hanoi, 1978, p.128
From this legend also derives the sense of equality between the sexes. The
number of children who hatched from the pouch of one hun dred eggs was
equally divided into half male and half female. Again, when the parents divided
the children, the husband received exactly half the number of children while the
other half followed their mother.
This story must have originated some time before the coming of Confu
cianism to Vietnam. With the obsession of male heirs ever present in
Confucianist environment, the myth would never have given an equal number of
males and females to Au Co’s hatched eggs. On the contrary, I am certain that it
would have assigned at least seventy-five boys to merely twenty-five girls.
Again, thoroughly educated in the Confucian tradition, emperor Tu Duc’s
reaction is easy to predict. When he came across this story in a book on
Vietnamese history, the comment he wrote down in the book’s margin is quite
revealing: he dismissed it out rightly, considering it as pure superstition,
unfounded historical fact; he even suggested that it skirts the realm of animal
behavior. Finally, we may not know the reason why the parents suddenly decided
upon their separation, but a closer reading of the story yields the feeling that they
simply wanted to give way to their respective needs or predilections. Dragons
must reside near the water and fairies or immortals are faithful compa nions of
trees and rocks. But, how can we explain the fact that the people of the mountain
and the people of the water, or by proxy the mountain and the sea, have not lived
peacefully all that time next to one another.
From time immemorial, almost as frequently as once a year, the sea would
surge out of its bed; it would rise and rise against the mountain as if it wanted to
overtake its peak. Naturally, death and devastation follow its path. The people of
Vietnam could not explain that phenomenon, until one day, the water spoke and
here is what it said.
One of the eighteen Hung kings had an astonishingly beautiful daugh ter.
One day, by a weird coincidence, the genie of the Mountain, Son Tinh, and that
of the Water, Thuy Tinh, came exactly at the same time asking for her hand. The
king ordered them to go home and come back the next day with presents
gathered from their respective realms. The first to arrive at the gate of the palace
will obtain the hand of the prin cess.
The Mountain came first. He swiftly carried the princess to his pa lace
perched on top of the mountain. The Water, however, refused to con cede defeat.
How could he? The Mountain had cheated: ignoring the rules of the game, he
had come to claim the princess before the rising of the sun, before the start of the
day. Therefore,, the Water hurled itself against the mountain hoping to reconquer
the princess. The mountain, however, stood fast extending its peak higher and
higher so as to domi nate the water at all times. Later people consign that rivalry
in a short poem: The mountain stretches higher and higher
The river longer and longer
Year after year, the river nurtures its revenge Day after day, it languishes in
jealousy.
Vu Ngoc Phan, Tuc Ngu, Ca Dao, Dan Ca Viet Nam, Hanoi, 1978, p. 26
Another legend testifies to the need for Van Lang to fight for its sur vival,
already in the very early phase of its history. That is the story of Genie Dong,
who until he reached the age of three, had not uttered a word, whiling away his
time lying in a hammock. But upon hearing of an invasion against his country,
he stood up and grew to become a giant. He requested from the king an iron
whip and an iron horse. In the heat of the fight, his iron rod broke, and so he
simply uprooted a clump of bamboo to continue his battle. After the invader was
chased away and peace res tored, Genie Dong was seen riding his iron horse into
the horizon. In his native village, people claim that they still can notice the gaps
made by the genie in their bamboo hedges. Every year, the villagers of Phu Dong
organize lavish ceremonies celebrating his exploits on the 8th day of the fourth
lunar month. He is venerated under the title of Genie Dong, Thanh Dong, or
Celestial King of Phu Dong, Phu Dong Thien Vuong.
King Hung the 18th was the last of the dynasty.
An invasion in 258 B.C.E. fomented by a neighboring chieftain, Thuc Phan,
put an end to an already declining Hong Bang dynasty to inaugurate a new one,
the Thuc. This dynasty is remembered by two interrelated occurrences: the
building of a capital city at Co Loa and the patient and effective resis tance
against repeated attacks waged by the many military expedi tions sent South by
the Qin Emperor in order to place the whole region under China’s rule.
Thuc Phan declared himself king under the reign name of An Duong and
endowed his country with a new name, Au Lac, . An interesting story
pertains to the building of Au Lac’s capital city, Co Loa, some remains of which
can still be seen now, on the old road between the Noi Bai airport and Hanoi. It
was without a doubt a very impor tant undertaking. The city had the shape of a
conch shell with nine circumvolutions, each one of them isolated from the others
by a wide moat. Those moats combined with the rivers and streams flowing
around the site provided the people of Co Loa with a significant network of
transportation. The city was so impressive that no one at the time could believe
that any one people were capable of building such a marvel without the interven
tion of a supernatural power. Therefore, even if no miracle had taken place,
people still had to invent one in order to affirm the presence of the occult in the
midst of their daily life.
They convincingly asserted that King Thuc did obtain the help of a lo cal
deity, under the form of a golden turtle who came to him in wondrous
circumstances. When the king started building his city, for a long period,
whatever the workers constructed in the day was totally demolished at night. It
was as if darkness brought with it earthquakes that unfailingly ravaged the entire
construction site. Quickly enough, the king set up sacrifi cial ceremonies. That
very night, a golden turtle recommended the king in his dream not to locate his
city directly on top of its carapace. The king followed the advice to the letter and
in no time, Co Loa was built. To express its gratefulness to the king, the turtledeity
gave King Thuc one of its claws which, when used as the trigger on a bow,
would multiply by the thousands the one single arrow it sent out.
Many Qin envoys, thus, failed to subjugate Au Lac. The last one, Zhao Tuo
(Trieu Da 207-137), taking advantage of the decline of the Qin dynasty,
carved out an independent kingdom called Nan Yue, Nam Viet , situated
directly north of Au Lac. He was, however, repeatedly thwarted in his efforts to
annex the Thuc kingdom. What he could not do by the force of arms, Zhao Tuo
set out to do by other means: he sent his son, Trong Thuy, to wed My Chau, a
daughter of the Thuc king. A ves tige of the matrilocal organization of
Vietnamese society demanded that the husband came to live in the residence of

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From the family to the village, we now emerge into something vaster and
more encompassing: the nation as headed by a sovereign who presided over all
the villages because in him resided the power not only to assign protecting
deities to each individual village, but also to rank those deities according to their
respective merits on a predetermined hierarchy. In the past, the edictscertificates,
carefully and proudly pre served in the dinh, had to be delivered by
the supreme authority on earth, the grand priest of the cult, the Son of Heaven,
the sovereign of Vietnam.
06. Edict-Certificate dated Canh Hung year 5. Conferring the title of tutelary
deity to a mandarin named Luong, this document was issued by the court of the
Southern Nguyen Lords, although it was dated with the reign name Canh Hung
of the Le emperor who resided in the North. At the time this document was
issued, the two parts of Vietnam had been estranged from each other. Notwith
standing the reign name, the title “Quoc Vuong” which starts off the text must
designate the Nguyen Lord and not the Le emperor who, in such a document as
this, would have been referred to as “Hoang De.” (More about this problem
later.) Courtesy of Tran Viet Ngac.
People lived on the Vietnamese land a very long time ago. Stone imple
ments are found everywhere, principally in the north and northern part of central
Vietnam. They date from the times of the Paleolithic with sites at Mount Do,
Cave Hum of the Son Vi culture, the Mesolithic with the Hoa Binh, and
Neolithic with the Bac Son and Quynh Van cultures.
Then came the bronze age which, according to Vietnamese archaeologists,
began already four thousand years ago through four stages: Phung Nguyen,
Dong Dau, Go Mun and Dong Son. The last one, universally known as the
Dongsonian age of bronze culture, saw its extension cover the many regions of
southern China and mainland Southeast Asia. Its center is believed to have been
located in the village of Dong Son, in the province of Thanh Hoa, approximately
one hundred kilometers south of Hanoi.
The Dongsonian civilization is characterized by the well-known “kettledrum”,
the top face of which are elaborately decorated with silhouettes of
dancers, birds, boats, all surrounding a well shaped multi-corner star.
07. Rubbing of the face of the Ngoc Lu bronze drum. Museum of History,
Hanoi.
On some of those drums, the four cardinal points of the round face are
decorated with sculptures of toads or frogs, singly or one on top of the other.
Vietnameserchaeologists believe those must be rain drums, which the
Dongsonian people used to beat every time they wished for rain.
08. A recent bronze drum decorated with frogs.
This would be a vivid illustration of a Vietnamese legend that makes the toad
an uncle of Heaven. According to that legend, following a long drought, a toad
recruited a number of other animals from earth to go to Heaven to ask for rain.
After an extended and arduous journey, the animals were not welcomed at all by
the heavenly court. Residents and uninvited guests resorted to the use of force.
In the ensuing fight, every endowed weapon of the animals: the spur of the
rooster, the trump of the elephant, the slithery body of the snake, the paws of the
cat, the speed of the horse, the needle of the bee were put to an advantage against

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Khmers or Cambodians who reside in the southern part of South Vietnam inhabit
a land, which was theirs not so long ago. So do the Cham who dwell in the
coastal plains of central Viet nam. Champa, the name of their vanished kingdom,
controlled that part of Vietnam for more than ten centuries, from the second to
the 15th century. However, from the tenth century on, an independent and
expanding Vietnam started to encroach upon its territory through wars and
marriage alliances until the 15th century when an emperor established Vietnam’s
total con trol over the remainder of the realm. What now testifies to the existence
of a disappeared kingdom are a few thousand people who speak a Ma layo-
Polynesian language and some of them, mostly women dress up in their
traditional garbs.
What is left now of their rich culture are a small number of dilapi dated
temples in the form of brick towers profusely decorated with stone sta tues of
Hindu gods, that are scattered along the coastal plains of central Vietnam,
dramatic reminders of the glorious past of a people who played a crucial role in
extending the main tenets of Indian civilization onto the Indochinese peninsula.
A small number of the Cham people converted to Islam, moved away from
the majority to relocate themselves in the province of Chau Doc, at the frontier
between Vietnam and Cambodia. Another group emi grated even further into
Cambodia, gathering on the banks of the Great Lake.
A few Cham words are preserved in the Vietnamese vocabulary and Viet
namese music owes a great deal to Cham music. Dances in Vietnam today bear
the weighty influence of the Cham people. A museum in Da Nang exhibits
exclusively Cham artifacts belonging to all the periods of Champa’s history.
04. Cham Temples-Towers. Courtesy of Luong Quang Tuan, <terragalleria.com>
The bulk of the Chinese community in Vietnam grows out of recent waves of
immigration that took place in the second half of the 19th and the beginning of
the 20th century. During the French colonial period, those Chinese were
considered “Asian foreigners” and, therefore, enjoyed a higher legal status than
the indigenous people. They played an impor tant role in the colony’s economy
by devoting their efforts to establishing small transformative industries as well as
an extremely tight network of retail trade. Discounting the many migrations
taking place during the pe riod of Chinese domination (3rd century BCE to 10th
century CE), the subsequent waves dated mainly from the demise of the Chinese
Ming dynas ty in 1644. At that time, those who arrived in Vietnam were sent by
the local authorities to settle in tracts of Cambo dian unoccupied land in the
region of present day Bien Hoa, My Tho and Ha Tien. Those settle ments were
called Minh Huong, villages of the Ming (Chinese) people. Their inhabitants
have almost fully integrated into the plain people.
Some ten thousands of Indians immigrated into Vietnam during the French
colonial period. As the Chinese, they enjoyed a higher legal sta tus than the
Vietnamese. A few of them who came from the French establish ments in India,
especially from Pondicherry, were French citizens and because they were
generally well educated, they took part in the French administration of the
colony. The rest divided themselves almost in two equal parts according to their
occupation: the chettyars specialized in money lending and the rest in retail
trade, mainly of fabrics, and in domes tic jobs for the French colons.
The Vietnamese kinh people speak from north to south the same lan guage,
which is said to belong to the group of Mon-Khmer languages. Some people
entertain the notion that different dialects are spoken in the north, the center and
the south of Vietnam; that is because they do not know well enough the language
in order to fully understand the nuances in the use of the tones or in the
pronunciation of certain words. It would be more appropriate to mention the
word accent rather than dialect.
The existence in the Vietnamese language of a very large number of loan
words from Chinese is explained by the long cohabitation with the Chinese
people, which also accounts for the six tones present in the Vietnamese
language, albeit a member of the atonal Mon-Khmer lan guages. Even though
the French ruled Vietnam only for eighty years (fif teen times shorter than the
Chinese did), they have nevertheless left a deep influence on the vocabulary of
the Vietnamese language. A list of loan words from French would run a few
pages long and contain mostly words designating things that the Vietnamese of
about two centuries ago did not know. Such as bo (butter), pho mach (cheese), oto
(automobile), ca nong (cannon), tang (tank), dang xinh (dancing), ap phe
(business). For the Americans who dwelled in Vietnam for a mere decade, the
linguistic legacy was restricted to the ever predictable Hai (Hi), O Ke (OK), and
a highly appreciative Num bo oan (Number one) or a no less pejorative Num bo
ten (Number ten), which yields in invectiveness only to the verb can-xo (cancel.)
The ethnic origins of the Vietnamese have not yet been fully deter mined.
Several hypotheses exist; two of them deserve more attention. Some
anthropologists think that the Vietnamese are nothing but one of those numerous
Chinese tribes who originally resided in central China, south of the river
Yangtze, and who eventually migrated to the southern region. Together, these
tribes are identified as the “Hundred Yue” (The Chinese ideograph for Yue is
pronounced Viet in Sino-Vietnamese.) Viet Nam then means the South of the
Viet. But some other scholars find that the Vietnamese share certain of their
basic religious beliefs and some of their social institutions with the Malayo-
Polynesian speak ing peoples. They would then be related to other Malayo-
Polyne sian peoples such as the Cham, the Malays and the Indonesians.
According to this theory, the Vietnamese are but a Malayo-Polynesian tribe that
has been heavily influenced by the Chinese culture during thousands of years of
Chinese domination and cohabitation.
At this juncture, it is customary to say something about some spe cial
characteristics of the behavior of the Vietnamese individuals in a so cial context.
They are, indeed before all else, “family” persons. They trust no one but close
relatives. Never mind countless cases of siblings swindling siblings, parents
betraying their progeny, relatives cheating relatives, the Vietnamese still placed
full confidence in their kin. In the past, it was common practice to bestow the
ruling family names to people the kings wanted to cultivate their loyalty and
thereby make them members of the royal family. However, if there were capable
people within the family, they were to be preferred to all others. The founder of
the short-lived Dinh dynasty (968-980) was accompanied on every military drive
by his son Dinh Lien. According to the Annals, the King never took any
important decision without consulting him. The first ruler of the Le (981-1009)
placed several of his sons at the most important strategic points in the kingdom.
The famous general Ly Thuong Kiet and the able administrator Ly Dao Thanh
played crucial roles respectively in the de fense and the government of the
country during the Ly dynasty (1010-1225). The many invasions launched by
the Mongols against the Tran (1225-1400) brought about as many opportunities
for family members such as Tran Hung Dao, Tran Nhat Duat, Tran Quang Khai,
Tran Binh Trong, Tran Quoc Toan –all of the Tran royal family– and Pham
Ngu Lao, the son-in-law of the first named, to flaunt their military prowess or
their deep-rooted loyalty and dedication to the dynasty.
In fact, in the past, there were, of course, cases of royal family mem bers
who challenged violently the power or the legitimacy of the one sitting on the
throne. But in most cases, the rebels did not succeed and punishments were then
meted out to specific individuals –whether royals or not — who had committed
the crime of lese majesty. There were no cases, at least to my knowledge, of
automatic massacre of potential and eventual royal challengers, as had happened
in many monarchies in other countries. The case of emperor Tu Duc (1848-
1883) is revealing. In an epitaph he composed himself, Tu Duc lamented bitterly
over the execu tion he had to order of his brother, Hong Bao, who had instigated
an extremely vicious rebellion against the royal court. We still can read these
words on the stele standing in the middle of the king’s mausoleum.
Attachment to their village constitutes the second characteristic of the
Vietnamese as social beings. This is the second cocoon in which they feel fully
comfortable and to which they give their total loyalty, their bound less devotion.
The village as a legal entity gives them their iden tity, protects them and
represents them in affairs of state. Without exagge rating the total independence
of the villages from the central govern ment as does the adage “the law of the
king yields to the customs of the village –phep vua thua le lang– it is
nevertheless correct to say that the villages did choose their own leaders without
interference from the central authority. These leaders who were known as the
village notables did regulate life in their bailiwick and they received quotas from
the na tional authorities in only two instances: taxes and conscription. These quo
tas were based on information provided by these leaders themselves which the
government consigned in registers of land, diền ba, or registers of population–ho
tich. All this explains why the dinh or communal house is the most important
building in the village. It was there that the no tables held their meetings to
conduct their administrative businesses or to greet visitors. It also was in the
communal house that were preserved all matters pertaining to the cult of the
protecting spirit or tutelary deity–than or thanh hoang.
Indeed each Vietnamese village honors a personality of its own who has
distinguished him/herself with some extraordinary exploits in defense of the
country or in some cultural areas, such as science, literature, music, theater. In
South Vietnam, the village of Khanh Hau in the province of Long An for
example worships its own son, General Nguyen Huynh Duc, who served
efficiently the Nguyen dynasty. The notables in Triều Khuc, a village located
near Hanoi, are very proud of the fact that its com munal house is dedicated to
Phung Hung, an anti-Chinese patriot who ruled over Vietnam toward the end of
the 8th century. Several other village communal houses in the vicinity of Hanoi
honor different personalities: the dinh of Vinh Ninh honors a female commander
in the service of the Trung Sisters; Thanh Liet’s dinh honors the villager-writer
Chu Van An. Because each dinh worships a different personality, each dinh will
have a different date for its festival.
And so each year at the birth or death date of the protecting deity, the whole
village engages in at least three days of festivities: three nights of hat cheo or hat
boi, theatrical performances which inevitably open with a few scenes in the life
of the honored genie and ends with a full show of a historical drama; sports or
talents tournaments; literary contest; poetry challenges; boat races; gambling;
chest meets and, of late, maybe even a beauty pageant.
The final function of the dinh is to preserve the archives of the village, the
most important among them are the certificates recognizing the tutelary deities.
Only the ruler of the land or the chief executive officer of the state is entitled to
grant such certificates. This introduces us to the third cocoon of the Vietnamese
people.

Cambodian frontier, called That Son or Nui Sap and Nui Sam – Page 2

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Cambodian frontier, called That Son or Nui Sap and Nui Sam which derive their
fame from their religious tradi tion.
There is a very famous feature lodged on top of a mountain found in central
Vietnam: it is a bloc of stone suggesting the shape of a woman hold ing an infant
in her arms. The woman fixes her eyes on the horizon, exact ly on the spot where
the ocean can no longer be distinguished from the sky. That mountain is called
the Waiting for Him Mountain: Hon Vong Phu. A touching tale explains the
presence of that statue.
A brother and a sister, aged 9 and 8, started a vicious quarrel while cut ting
sugar canes. With his long knife, he almost split open the head of his sister who
fainted from losing much blood. Terrified by the thought that he had killed his
sister, the boy ran away from home. Nobody could even guess where he had
gone.
Years later, far away from his native village, he founded a family and begot a
son. One day in combing his wife’s hair, he noticed an enorm ous scar right in
the middle of her head. His wife explained to him the circumstances of her
wound and the man realized that his spouse was no other than his sister. Feeling
a profound guilt, and without any attempt at explanation, the husband sailed his
boat into the horizon: he never came home. Every day, the wife carried her son
onto the top of the moun tain to look for her husband. She waited for so long and
kept her self so tense that she and her son slowly turned themselves into a block
of stone.
Rain forests, shielding a great variety of species of trees some of which are
hard wood, such as teak and mahogany, cover virtually the totali ty of the
mountainous areas. These forests fit well the definition of the word “jungle”, if
one complements them with their exotic fauna: mon keys, elephants, tigers. Not
long ago, maybe seventy years ago, buses traveling from Saigon to Dalat, a
resort on the mountains situated about two hundred miles in the northeast, did
not dare stop along the way during nighttime for fear of attacks by wild animals!
Rains more than the low or high temperatures delimit the year’s sea sons,
although in the north, the 30+ degrees centigrade of the summer can drop to
about 10 to 5 degrees in the winter months of January and February. Elsewhere,
a moist and hot 30 degrees centigrade endure pretty much the whole year round,
except on the slopes of mountains and possi bly during the winter months when
the atmosphere seems somewhat less oppressive. That discrepancy is due to the
influence of seasonal winds called monsoons which regulate the dry-cool and
rainy-hot portions of the year. The northeast monsoon, which blows roughly
from September-October to April-May, brings the cold and dry air from the
Asian conti nent to the northern regions of Vietnam; it weakens drastically as it
reaches the Hai Van Pass, situated about 40 miles south of Hue, and, there by,
leaves unaffected the southern half of Vietnam which, conse quently, has a more
equally distributed fresher weather throughout the same six months. The other
six months, from about April-May to Septem ber-October, a hot and humid wind
blows from the ocean around the equator toward the peninsula, bringing with it
heat and rain.
Rain, anyway, plays a very crucial role in the life of the common people as
attested by a popular song which every child learns to recite soon after being
able to speak: O heaven please send us rain
So that we may have Water to drink
Fields to plough
A bowl full of rice
And a big portion of fish
Nguyen Van Ngoc, Tuc Ngu Phong Dao, Hanoi, 1953, p.128-129
Very early in time, people came to live on the Vietnamese land. Many
different ethnic groups share the land of Vietnam. The official poli cy of the
present day government divides them into two general catego ries: the plain
(kinh) and the mountain peoples (dan toc: ethnies). Although all of them are now
considered Vietnamese, in this book, I shall call Vietnamese the kinh people and
for the dan toc, I would reserve the appellation of ethnic minorities. The
mountain peoples, in effect, be long to a great variety of ethnic groups –up to
more or less sixty– speak ing a large number of different languages. Some of
them relate closely to the Thai people from Thailand, to the minority peoples
from Laos, from southern China or from northern Myanmar. Some of them came
to reside on the Vietnamese territory as late as one or two hundred years ago
from South China. Still some others have inhabited these moun tains since time
immemorial; among them are the Muong, for exam ple, who speak a language,
which is very close to Vietnamese. They are said, therefore, to belong to the
same ethnic group as the Vietnamese from whom they have separated sometime
in the not too remote past, proba bly at the beginning of the Chinese direct
administration over Viet nam, in the first century of our era. The Muong, the
Vietnamese, the Cham and a few other groups, which inhabit the mountain
regions of south ern and central Vietnam probably, can claim the status of
indigenous or aboriginal peoples, meaning they were the first peoples to live on
Viet nam’s land.
The plain or kinh people constitute ninety per cent of the total popula tion of
Vietnam. Traditionally, they occupy the deltas and the coastal plains, the
majority is constituted by the Vietnamese people who share their habitat with
three other important ethnic groups: the Chinese, the Cham and the Khmers. The