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?

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