Vietnam Academy Of Social Sciences

Dai Co Viet State in East Asian Historical and Political Context during the Tenth Century


Nguyen Van Kim*


Abstract:  In  the  early  10th   century,  the  Tang  dynasty  declined  and  eventually  collapsed. During the “Five dynasties and ten kingdoms” period, the dynasties could neither maintain political power nor apply pressure on neighbouring countries. Taking the opportunity, Dai Co Viet carried out an armed uprising to gain national independence. Afterwards, by inheriting traditional values and gaining experiences from the region, Dinh Tien Hoang started to set u p a political state apparatus. The state of Dai Co Viet bore characteristics of a “functional state”. The patterns and institutions applied by the Ngo, the Dinh, and the Early Le dynasties were then improved successfully under the Ly and the Tran dynasties. The state of Dai Co Viet was much different from the general types of states in history, such as the state for domination and the state for exploitation, which ever appeared in many Eastern and Western countries during the Middle Ages.

Keywords: Dai Co Viet state, Dinh Tien Hoang, models of states. 

Subject classification: History


1. Introduction

Located in East Asia, Vietnam is seen to have an important geo-strategic and geo- economic  position. During the first centuries  AD  as  well  as  some  centuries BC, many historical, economic, and cultural relations were already set up among  nations  in  the  region.  Because Vietnam  had  abundant  natural  resources and played a role as a link between Northeast and Southeast Asia, in addition to its position as the gateway from the vast mainland  of  Asia  to  the  oceans,  it  was considered a destination for many flows of migrants, merchants, and artisans, etc. At the same time, it was a target for influence and  invasion from regional political powers and empires.

In history, Vietnamese political life was greatly impacted by the regional as well as the international political and cultural environment. In addition to cultural exchange  and  acculturation,  the  cultural “coercion” or “imposition” sometimes took place. The regional empires‟ ambitions of expanding the territory and appropriating natural,  trade,  and  labour  resources  in other countries debilitated seriously many nations in East Asia. Vietnam‟s struggles for national independence and freedom in the 10th century are, therefore, considered a remarkable uprising and “a unique phenomenon in the world history” [3, p.33]. It should be studied, approached, and analysed more  comprehensively,  scientifically,  and objectively from various perspectives.

2.  Struggles  for  national  independence and assertion of an independent nation

During the 10th century, Vietnam experienced many changes. In addition to domestic movements,  political  changes  in other countries also exerted strong impacts on social life and historical progression of Vietnam. After a long period under foreign domination, by the 10th century, Vietnam rose up in arms with the aspiration  for national independence and the determination to smash the yoke  of slavery. Finally, Vietnam  succeeded  in   overthrowing  the Chinese   domination. In the history of Vietnam, “the 10th century was marked with great changes in many aspects and considered significantly a turning point in its national history. All the changes were closely related to the key target, which was to   fight   against   foreign   invaders   for achieving national independence, putting an end  to  the  period  of  Chinese  domination that had lasted for over one thousand years, and  opening  a  new  period  of  national independence and development” [8, p.17]. The century is seen as the national revival period with a wide range of fundamental and profound changes, resulting in a new model of development for Dai Co Viet and subsequently Dai Viet.

In the significant moments of the pivotal century,  Vietnam  not  only  defeated  the Chinese  empire‟s  intention  of  occupying the country but also prepared the foundation for establishing a self-controlled state and comprehensive   development   proactively, while strengthening and improving rapidly the  capacity  to  assert  the  position  as  a powerful and prosperous nation in Southeast Asia.

With the initial steps after gaining nationalindependence, leaders of the monarchies implemented flexible and harmonious foreign policies,  while strengthening  necessary  power  to  cope with the repression from regional political powers. The patriotic spirit and glorious achievements  were  closely  attached  to some   national   heroic   figures   during various dynasties, such as Khuc Thua Du (died 907), Khuc Hao (died 917), Duong Dinh  Nghe  (931-937),  and  other  heroes under the Ngo (939-965), Dinh (968-980), and  Early  Le  dynasties.  The  spirit  was further demonstrated by the brilliant feats of  the  Ly  dynasty  (1009-1225)  in  the resistance war against the Chinese Song dynasty  as  well  as  the  victories  of  the Tran   dynasty   (1226-1400)   in   the   wars against  the  three invasions   from    the Mongol-Yuan   Empire,   which   was   the most  powerful  nation  in  Asia  and  the world at that time.

With  the  outstanding  achievements  in the second half of the 10th  century such as the victory of Ngo Quyen at the battle in Bach Dang river in 938, the success of Le Hoan in warding off several invasions by the Chinese Song army in 980-981, and the prevention of  the devastation and encroachment on the southern border by the Champa army in 982, the Dinh dynasty actually contributed a great part to wiping out and pacifying all the local warlords, in order to unite the country and establish  the  state of Dai Co Viet (968- 1054). Compared to the long-ruling periods of the Ly (216 years) and Tran dynasties (174 years), the reign of the Dai Co Viet state lasted for just 86 years. During this historical period, however, the Dinh dynasty (968-980) not only continued the tradition  and  the  achievements  from  the Ngo   dynasty   (939-967),   asserting   the national  independence  and  self-reliance, but also set up essential grounds for long- term development and prosperity of Dai Co Viet and subsequently Dai Viet. 

The  Dinh  dynasty  made  a  profound historical hallmark with its strictly decisive policies in various aspects such as the political, economic, administrative, and diplomatic spheres. The leaders of the Dai  Co  Viet  state  showed  the  power, cultural  creativity,  and  high  intelligence of  the  Vietnamese  people  convincingly. Coping  with  the  political  pressure  from the  Song  dynasty  in  the  north  and  the threats from the Kingdom of Champa in the  south,  the  monarchical  governments of  the  Ngo,  the  Dinh,  and  the  Early  Le dynasties  implemented  various  measures and  directed  our  armies  and  people  to protect  the  territorial integrity successfully.

Those   political   and   cultural   measures created the foundation, premise, and basic principles  for  dealing  with  complicated problems   related   to   the   foreign   affairs between Vietnam and other countries in the region at that time. On the other hand, the lessons   learnt   from   the   political   and diplomatic  policies  of  the  Dinh  and  the Early Le  dynasties  were  valuable  for  the implementation  of  foreign  policies  under the next dynasties.

The political, military, and diplomatic struggles  carried  out  by  the  Ngo,  the Dinh,  and  the  Early  Le dynasties  also contributed  to  improving  the  patriotism and strengthening the national trust. It can be   said   that   the   revival   of   national independence  in  938  resulted  in  a  new position  and  power  for  the  following monarchies in implementing their internal and  external policies. A  new  chapter  of history with social and cultural prosperity and   glorious   national   spirit   actually started in Vietnam. In such a context, the kings of the Ngo, the Dinh, and the Early Le dynasties as well as the first kings of the  Ly  dynasty,  including  Ly  Thai  To (1009-1028)  and  Ly  Thai  Tong  (1028- 1054),  inherited  and  developed  further valuable traditions, leading to outstanding achievements in Dai Co Viet and writing a  significant  chapter  in  the  history  and culture of Vietnam [16, p.199].

3. Regional political thinking and consciousness

According to the opinion  of some researchers, the “Chinese order”, also called the “Chinese world order”, was established step by step in Northeast Asia [21]. Due to the  power  and  influence  of  the  Chinese empires,   the   “Chinese   order”   gradually spread outward to many countries in East Asia and finally covered a vast area. The “order”  consists  of  some  core  elements affected greatly by the Tian-Ming doctrine, also called the Mandate of Heaven and the Confucian concept of loyalty. It is closely associated with the Confucian spirit and the centralised monarchical political institution, in which China is seen as the centre. With the “order”, the northern feudal dynasties set  up  for  themselves  the  “mission”  to establish   circles   and   regions   under   its influence, while using power and violence to persuade and take over neighbours and implementing     various     diplomatic     and economic   measures   to   rule   over   other countries in the region  and even faraway “small countries”.

The  nature  of  the  Chinese  order,  its actual  power,  operation,  and  influence, however,  remain  a  highly  controversial topic   among researchers. Some researchers have argued that the so-called Chinese  order  is  just  a  delusion.  Many countries  in  the  region  took  part  in  the “order”  not  because  of  being  afraid  the power of the Chinese empires but due to non-political  factors.  In  some  contexts, East   Asian   countries   took   account   of cultural    development,  academic and religious  exchange  as  well  as  economic benefit,  when  sending  their  missions  to China  for  strengthening  diplomatic  ties and paying tribute.

Reviewing  the political policy of Vietnamese feudal governments in response to the Chinese monarchical dynasties, O. W. Wolters,  an  American  historian,  remarked that  “South”  and  “North”  were  necessary poles in the Vietnamese conceptualisation of relevant space. In the process of acculturation, “the  witnesses  were  not  being  guided  by Chinese wisdom; they were merely using it in   their   own   way  and   for   their   own purposes.   The   Confucianist   canon   was always  fragmented  in  Vietnam  to  lend weight  to  specific  Vietnamese  statements about themselves” [11, p.146]. The remark shows that the monarchical dynasties in Dai Co  Viet,  Dai  Viet,  and  subsequently  Dai Nam, kept consistent and profound political characteristics, or more precisely, the political consciousness   and   practical   thinking   in implementing   foreign   policies   with   the Chinese empires.

Over  centuries,  East  Asian  countries, such   as   Korea,   Japan   (and   even   the Kingdom of Champa)… quickly built their own   cultural   identity   and   self-defence capacity, while trying to keep an indulgent attitude towards China. In parallel with the national development policies, those countries   incessantly   strengthened   their national position, setting and asserting the territory, and  improving  foreign  relations. The assimilation, anti-assimilation, invasion, and  anti-invasion  etc.  always  took  place, despite many changes in history. By the 10th century,  consequently,  many  countries  in East   Asia   successfully   restored   national independence and, more importantly, with a new development spirit, they actually made significant contributions to the general development in Asia and the world as well.

In  the  early  10th   century,  the  Tang dynasty  (618-907)  fell  into  decline  and finally  ended  with  the  founding  of  the monarchical  states  in  the  period  of  “five dynasties and ten kingdoms” (Vietnamese: Ngũ  đại  thập  quốc;  Chinese:  五代十国). Those states could neither maintain long- term   political   power   nor   expand   the Chinese  domination  in  local  areas  and political pressure on neighbouring countries. Recognising  the  situation  and  taking  the opportunity,   many  East   Asian   countries carried out armed uprising and successfully gained national independence”2. Approached from another perspective, we can realise that many elements of the economic system and political power structure set up in Asia by the Han (206 BC-220 AD), the Sui (581 - 618), and the Tang dynasties (618-907) fell in the early 10th century. Thus, the event in 907  not  only marked  the  end  of  a  great empire in the Chinese history but also broke down  the  entire  system  that  the  Chinese empire spent a lot of time building in many East Asian countries. The victories achieved by the Ngo, Dinh, and Early Le dynasties  contributed to breaking the Chinese political structure and power system in the region.

As the countries that had close relations with the Northeast Asian societies, Korea and Japan also experienced deep changes in   their   history,   due   to   the   political upheaval   in   Chang‟an.   Although   the Chinese  culture  had  greatly  influenced both  the  countries  for  a  long  time,  the national spirit was not eroded by foreign cultural   factors;   on   the   contrary,   the consciousness of the  origin  and national sovereignty   was   continually   nourished. The Buddhist ideology started to infiltrate into Korean and Japanese culture in the 6th and 7th centuries. The more Buddhism was introduced into social strata, however, the more it helped to nourish and promote the development of the local traditional religions, including  Shamanism  in  Korea and Shinto in Japan.   Thus,   Buddhism contributed a significant part in strengthening the national spirit and solidarity.

From   the   political perspective,   the decline of the Tang dynasty was one of the factors   weakening   the   power   of   the Kingdom of  Silla  (668-918). Taking advantage  of  the  decline  and  fall  of  the Tang  dynasty,  Wang  Kon  (918-943),  a noble in Kaesong, led an uprising and then, in 918, founded a new great dynasty, the Goryeo  dynasty (918-1392),  in  Korea.  In reality, the Kingdom of Silla had very close ties and got much support from the Tang dynasty as well as the Kingdom of Baekje. In the context that Silla could not rely on the  interference  from  the  Tang  dynasty, Wang Kon carried out the political struggle, aiming  at  wiping  out  opposing  political forces, especially the nobles of Silla. The political  success  of  Wang  Kon  led  to  a thriving period of the Goryeo dynasty that lasted for 474 years in the history of the Korean peninsula.

Regarding  Japan,  the  9th   and  the  10th centuries  were  also  marked  with  drastic socio-economic  changes.  Due  to  various historical events and influence of the Taika reform (645-649), an economic system of private,  tax-free,  and  autonomous  estates, called Shoen, was initially set up in the 8th century. In many local areas, the power of Bushi   bands   grew   increasingly   greater. During around three centuries, when Japan implemented  the  opening policy to  adopt the  Chinese  civilisation,  it  sent  a  large number   of   young   scholars   and   monks across the sea to China to learn achievements of the Chinese civilisation. In the context of the decline and fall of the Tang  dynasty,  Japan  proactively  lessened its   relations   with   China,   to   focus   on transforming the cultural achievements into its  own  cultural  heritage3.  By  the  10th century, consequently, all three East Asian countries  successfully  broke  out  of  the restriction   imposed   previously   by   the Chinese  empire  and  quickly  set  up  their regime and independent culture.

Meanwhile, the role and position of the Southeast Asian countries were more and more improved. By the 10th  century, many countries in  Southeast Asia  became important political forces and gained a lot of  impressive  cultural  achievements.  It  is one  of  the  regions  that  had  rich  cultural diversity   and   scored   many   outstanding successes.   In   history,   Southeast   Asian culture  contributed  a  considerable  part  to the development of human civilisations4.

In addition to the political and cultural space in  Northeast  Asia, which had been ever  influenced  greatly  by  the  Chinese patterns,   during   the   9th          and   the   10th centuries,   some   “sub-regional   empires” were gradually founded in Southeast Asia, including  the  Kingdom  of  Champa,  the Khmer   Empire   in   the   Southeast   Asian peninsula,  and  Srivijayan  Empire  in  the Southeast  Asian  archipelagos  [7,  pp.293- 326].  The  prosperity  of  the  cultural  and economic  centres  in  the  Greater  Indies provided a new model differing from the Chinese  political  institutions.  Those  areas had  abundant  natural  resources  and  were called Suvarnabhumi (the Realm of Gold) or Suvarnabvipa (Island of Gold). Southeast Asia drew strong attraction from not only diplomatic officials and merchants in the north but also politicians and traders from all  over  the  world.  Before  the  Western explorers and missionaries came in the 5th century or so, a close network of political, economic,  and cultural relations was established  in  Asia.  From  time  to  time, natural resources and local knowledge in the Southeast Asian countries contributed a part to the general social capital, material riches, and knowledge of Asia. Southeast Asia  was  directly linked  with  India  and China.  At  the  same  time,  it  played  an important role in maintaining the relationship between the two major civilisations and the world. Owing to the early development, high creativity,   and   cultural   prominence   in Southeast Asia with some typical cultures such   as   Dai   Viet,   Champa,   Angkor, Myanmar, and Srivijaya, etc., the significant position,   cultural   diversity,   and   resistance power  of  the  countries  in  the  region  were eventually recognised.

4. Search for a new model of development

In the context of vigorous changes taking place during the early period of national independence,  Buddhism  spread  rapidly in Dai Viet and was combined with the traditional culture and indomitable national spirit  to  create  patriotism  and  sense  of national independence and sovereignty. As Dai  Viet  had  to  cope  with  the  local warlords and the foreign invaders, however, the leaders of Dai Co Viet state sometimes implemented drastic measures called “repressive  conduct”.  Despite  the  social changes   and  the  emergence  of  various development  trends,  Buddhism  started  to develop remarkably during the 10th century. “The  very  kings,  who  had  ever  placed cauldrons of boiling oil in the courtyard or kept  tigers  in  the  cages  to  suppress  the opposition,  advocated  Buddhism  strongly. The  understanding  of  such  a  seemingly contradictory  situation   may  help   us   to realise  the  characteristics  of  Vietnamese Buddhism in the 10th century”5 [17, pp.122].

The ideology and core values of Buddhism (and, to some extent, those of Confucianism and Taoism as well) contributed significantly to the development of cultural values and new  thoughts  of  an  independent  nation [17,  pp.158-159].  Dinh Tien  Hoang and other leaders of the Dinh dynasty drew up guidelines   on   the   establishment   of   an administrative system, aiming at building a centralised monarchy as a new model of development on the basis of the Buddhist ideology.  Realising  the  social  influence and  roles  of  religious  intellectuals,  they invited a large number of Buddhist monks, Zen  masters,  and  typical  intellectuals  to take part in undertaking important activities of   the   country.   In   reality,   they   made significant  contributions  to  strengthening national development and independence as well as improving the living conditions of common people.

After coming to the throne in 971, Dinh Tien  Hoang  immediately  promulgated  the regulations  on  the  hierarchy  of  Buddhist monks,  aiming  at  building  a  centralised government. At the same time, he appointed accredited  monks  to  the  positions  of  civil and military mandarins. Ngo Chan Luu, a Zen master, was assigned to the position of Sanghajara (Vietnamese: Tăng thống) with the title of “Great master Khuong Viet” i.e. the   Head   of   all   Buddhist   monks   in Vietnam. Meanwhile, Truong Mai Ni was assigned   to   the   position   of   Personnel Mandarin  (Vietnamese:  Tăng  lục)  i.e.  the Second highest mandarin after Sanghajara. Those Buddhist ranks were also maintained during     the       periods of         the       following monarchies. According to the “Collection of Outstanding  Figures  of  the  Zen  Garden” (Vietnamese: Thiền uyển tập anh) [15, p.39], Dinh Tien Hoang often invited Khuong Viet for discussion and consultation.

Similarly,   Khuong   Viet   was   highly respected by King Le Dai Hanh [4, pp.7- 20].   To   deal   with   important   national affairs during the first days on the throne, the king always consulted venerable monks, including  Do  Phap  Thuan  (915-990),  Ma Ha  (Mahamaya,  a  Cham  ethnic  minority monk), and Van Hanh as well as others. In the later period, Van Hanh was also very proactive  in  mobilising  support  for  the enthronement of Ly Cong Uan6.

By the mid-10th  century, Van Phong, a master of the third generation of Vo Ngon Thong  Zen  sect  founded  by  Vo  Ngon Thong (Chinese pinyin: Wu Yantong), led his  religious  life  in  Tran  Quoc  pagoda (built by King Ly Nam De in the 6th century with the initial name as Khai Quoc, which means   “Founding   the   Country”).   The follower of the Zen priest Van Phong is the very  Ngo  Chan  Luu,  who  was  entitled “Great   master   Khuong   Viet”.   As   the Sanghajara under the Dinh dynasty, Khuong Viet developed and turned the pagoda into a   Buddhist   centre.   According   to   the “Collection of Outstanding Figures of the Zen  Garden”,  when   Khuong  Viet   was introducing  Buddhist  teachings  in  Khai Quoc pagoda, Da Bao, a Zen priest of the fifth generation of Vo Ngon Thong, came to learn the teachings [2, p.43]. Thus, both Dai La Citadel and Hoa Lu Imperial City were built as the biggest Buddhist centres of the country under the Dinh and the Early Le dynasties. The Buddhist consciousness and popularity in the period can be shown via various pagodas, such as Nhat Tru, Thap, and Ba Ngo pagodas in Hoa Lu and traces of   other   ancient   pagodas   and   stupas. Showing special respect for Buddhism, the leaders of the  monarchies seemed to aim at bringing  about  the  national  reconciliation and,   at   the   same   time,   improving   the position   of   Dai   Co   Viet   culture   in comparison to other cultures in East Asia. By  giving  prominence  to  Buddhism,  the Dinh dynasty expected to encourage a sense of  patriotism  and  national  independence, creating   new   dynamics   and   ideas   for development and paving the way for Dai Co Viet culture to shine more and more in the region.

Regarding the ideology, Confucianism and  Taoism  were  also  introduced  into Dai  Viet  during  the  10th century,  in addition   to   Buddhism.   Those   religious ideologies,   however,   did   not   fulfil   all necessary conditions to become a cultural and  ideological  foundation  for  setting  up national ruling policies. When mentioning the development of Buddhist culture, it is impossible to forget that in the 10th century, the   first   monarchical   dynasties   applied harmoniously  various  institutions  on  the basis  of  Buddhist,  Confucian,  and  Taoist thoughts,  combining  the  rule  of  virtue and  the  rule  of  law  together  in  their national governance. The combination of the  three  religions,  of  which  Buddhism played an increasingly more important role (from the 10th  to the 14th  century), reflects not only the choice of one dynasty but also shows the  development  of  a  self - strengthening regime. The regime was more inclined to rely on the tolerance as well as the   depth   of   the   Buddhist   dogmas   to consolidate national power.

Regarding foreign policies, many nations in   East   Asia   set   up   and   maintained relations   with   China,   due   to   various purposes in the contemporary historical and political context. By the early 10th  century, the position kept by the leaders of Khuc and Duong   clans   was   still   titled   Jiedushi (Vietnamese: Tiết độ sứ), i.e., the military governor  of  Annam,  as  assigned  by  the Tang   dynasty.   It   is   a   clever   political measure to keep a peaceful relation with the great political power in the north. However, it also demonstrates that the Khuc leader and Duong Dinh Nghe were not capable of setting up another model  of state institutions at a higher level.

After seizing power,  Ngo Quyen proclaimed himself  a  Vương  (King), “assigning   positions   of   mandarins   and regulating   the   formal   court   rituals   and costume” [9, p.204]. According to Ngo Si Lien, a Vietnamese historian, the political institutions Ngo Quyen intended to set up “showed  the  vision  of  a  monarch”  [9, p.205]. Due to some reasons, however, the King could not implement all the political institutions  in  practice.  Under  the  Dinh dynasty, Dinh Bo Linh proclaimed himself emperor, “declaring the official name of the country Dai Co Viet, moving the imperial city  to  Hoa  Lu,  starting  to  build  a  new imperial city with royal palaces, ramparts, and  trenches,  and  regulating  new  court rituals” [9, p.211]. When making a decision about moving the imperial city to Hoa Lu, on the one hand, Dinh Tien Hoang expected to   take   advantage   of   the   mountainous terrain in Ninh Binh province and receive support from his homeland.

On the other hand, he hoped to break off  the  ties  with  the  sinicised  political forces,   which   still   exerted   a   strong influence in the northeast and the centre of the Red River delta. Staying in the imperial city  in  Hoa  Lu,  he  was  determined  to prepare   new   and   fundamental   steps   to improve national development and independence.  It  can  be  said  that  the decision about setting up the imperial city in Hoa Lu was not the return to localism, but  it  demonstrated  Dinh  Tien  Hoang‟s clear-sighted vision towards a united and self-reliant nationalism.

In addition to the decisions mentioned above, Dinh Tien Hoang  promulgated drastic regulations about military and civil mandarinate.  To  strengthen  further  the state institutions, by the late 10th century, the Early Le dynasty  referred  to  the  civil service system of the Song dynasty (960- 1279) and  set  up an administrative apparatus   at   different   levels,   including: province,   "inter-district",   district,   "inter- commune", and commune (Vietnamese: lộ, phủ, châu, giáp-hương, xã).  In the court, there   were   various   positions,   including Grand  Preceptor  (Vietnamese:  Thái  ), Grand Commandant (Vietnamese: Thái úy), Vicar  General  (Vietnamese:  Tổng  quản), and Military Commander (Vietnamese: Đô chỉ  huy  sứ),  etc.  After  Le  Hoan  passed away, Le Long Dinh came to the throne and “revised  the  mandarinate  regulations  and the  court  costume  for  civil  and  military officials   as   well   as   Buddhist   monks according to those of the Song dynasty” [9, p.243]. Thus, during the periods of the Ngo, Dinh  and  Early  Le  dynasties,  the  state political  institutions  were more  and more improved.  After  a  short  length  of  time, consequently,  Dai  Co  Viet  “became  an independent nation with its own government, army, and territory” [8, p.22].

In the political thinking of the Chinese empire, however, Dai Co  Viet was considered “Chinese protectorate of Annam province”  (Vietnamese:  An  Nam  đô  hộ phủ), “Jiaozhi” (Vietnamese: Giao Chỉ), or “Annam   district”   (Vietnamese:   An   Nam quận). Similarly, the Southern Han dynasty only granted the title “Jiedushi of the Jinghai regiments and Governor of Annam” (Vietnamese:  Tĩnh  Hải  quân  tiết  độ  sứ kiêm đô hộ) to Ngo Xuong Van, King of Nam Tan (Vietnamese: Nam Tấn vương). Later,  the  Song  dynasty  granted  the  title “King of Nanyue” (Vietnamese: Nam Việt vương) to Dinh Lien, the title “Governor of Annam, Jiedushi of the Jinghai regiments, and Marquess of Jingzhao  prefecture” (Vietnamese: An Nam đô hộ Tĩnh Hải quân Tiết độ sứ kinh triệu quận hầu) to Le Hoan, and  the  title  “King  of  Jiaozhi  district” (Vietnamese: Giao chỉ quận vương) to Le Long  Dinh.  Those  titles  partly show  the unrealistic   recognition made   by the Chinese dynasties. As the Chinese dynasties had to bestow titles upon the leaders of a monarchy  in  the  south,  it  demonstrates their acknowledgement of the independence of  the  monarchy.  It  can  be  seen  as  an initial and very significant diplomatic achievement   of   the   Vietnamese   nation. After  a  period  of  desperate  struggles  for national   self-control,   in   1164   (i.e.   the second year of the Emperor Xiaozong), the Song dynasty had to grant the title “King of Annam” (Vietnamese: An  Nam    quốc vương)  to  King  Ly  Anh  Tong  (the  sixth king  of  the  Ly  dynasty,  1136-1175)  and changed  the  name  “Jiaozhi  district”  into “Kingdom of Annam”7.

Reviewing  the  movements  around  the south-north  political  axis,  we  can  realise that Dinh Tien Hoang proactively sent his emissaries to Chinese dynasties in the north for setting up a friendship in 970. Under the Early Le dynasty, after the success in the war against the Song dynasty (980-981) and the pacification of Champa, Le Hoan sent his  emissaries  to  China  for  strengthening mutual   understanding and peaceful relationship  between the two countries in the spring of 983. The courageous decision of  the  dynasty  in  Hoa  Lu  was  certainly aimed at “normalising” the relations with the Song dynasty quickly. Over the 24 years on the throne (980- 1005), Le Hoan sent his emissaries nine times to the Song dynasty, specifically: the first time in 983 and the second  time  in  985,  asking  for  the  title “governor”;  the  following  times  were  in 986, 991,994, 995, 996, 997 and 1004. This means   that,   on   average,   the   Early   Le dynasty sent its emissaries to China once every 2.6 years (around 31 months).

Meanwhile,  the  Song  dynasty  sent  its emissaries ten times to Dai Viet, according to  the  “Complete  Annals  of  Dai  Viet” (Vietnamese: Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư  or Toàn thư for short). The first time was in 986 and the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth times - in 987, 988, 990, 993, and 995  respectively.  The  seventh  and  the eighth times were in 996, and the ninth - in 997. The 10th  time was in 1003 when the emissaries might reach only the border to placate people, recommending them to flee to Qinzhou.

The   systematisation   and   analysis   of those historical events surely enable us to draw  more  precise  scientific  conclusions related  to  the  foreign  policy of  the  first monarchies  in  Vietnam.  Over  a  period from  the  Dinh  to  the  Early  Le  dynasty, they implemented foreign policies, which might seem tactically flexible but strategically  drastic  and  principled.  As  a result,  the national independence    and sovereignty were viewed as a sacred value and supreme target in the foreign policies of those  dynasties.  To  protect  the  fledgeling government  with  national   independence and   sovereignty   before   the   powerful Chinese empire, many clever and flexible foreign measures were taken. In the chapter titled “Diplomatic Ties” (Vietnamese: Bang giao chí) in the “Annals of the Laws and Institutions of  Successive  Dynasties” (Vietnamese: Lịch triều hiến chương loại chí), based on the rise and fall in history of Vietnam,   Phan   Huy  Chu   wrote:   “Our country  has  a  border  with  China  in  the north. The leaders set up a nation with an independent territory and private population; they proclaimed themselves emperors domestically, but just proclaimed themselves kings in the foreign relations, and accepted to  be  granted  with  titles  by  the  Chinese dynasties. Indeed, it had to be so, according to the situation. Thus, all our dynasties attached much   importance   to   the   title-bestowing ceremonies,   the   tribute-paying,   and   the diplomatic ties” [2, p.533].

To establish a self-controlled state, the leaders of Dai Co Viet were, on the one hand,   very   resolute   in   protecting   the political independence; on the other hand, however, they showed rationality, willing to adopt valuable achievements of the Chinese civilisation,  including  also  the  model  of administrative  institutions.  The  adoption reflects the clear-sighted viewpoint and the spirit of Vietnam. The administrative institutions under the  Tang  and, subsequently, the Song dynasties were highly appreciated models of organisation, which  had  been  screened  over  centuries. The institutions were run by a system of mandarins, who had wide knowledge and good management skills. In the period of the   Ly   dynasty,   the   structure   of   “six ministries”   (Vietnamese:   Lục   bộ)   was adopted from China. However, the leaders of Thang Long Imperial City applied this political  structure  flexibly,  appropriately to  the  socio-political  conditions  in  Dai Viet.  From  the  comparative perspective, we   can   see   that   the   administrative structure of “eight ministries” built on the basis  of the  structure of “six  ministries” was  also  set  up  in  Japan  by  the  mid- seventh century [20, p.51]. Meanwhile, the Chinese   model-based   state   institutions were step by step built in Korea by the 10th century, only after Wang Kon came to the throne. Moreover, by the 10th  century, the structure   of   “six   ministries”   was   fully established, undertaking specific functions in Korea [19, pp.109-115].

Thus,  by  the  10th   century,  East  Asian nations   adopted   and   coped   with   the influence from China differently, depending on   their   specific   socio-economic   and political conditions. However, it is obvious that East Asian nations realised the political changes  in  the  region  properly  and  took advantage   of   the   decline   in   China   to struggle     and  quickly  achieve national independence. More importantly, the nations were fully aware of the  value of national independence   and   proactive   in   making preparations  for  coping with  political pressure from the powerful regional empire.

Besides, under the political pressure exerted by the Chinese dynasty in the north, the  dispersion  of  power  and  the  local division  by  warlords  were  exterminated, and  consequently,  a  centralised  political institution  was  established.  The  political institution was the only choice, as it helped to   mobilise   the   strength   of   the   whole community of Viet people to achieve the supreme goal, which was to protect national independence.   The existence  of the centralised political institution itself led to the  need  of  appropriate  socio-economic policies  and  governance  at  the  national level. Starting with an agricultural society, certainly,  the  political  institution  should rely  on  the   agricultural   socio-economic foundation.   In   the   context   that   social governance   remained   dependent   on   the custom of people, the top priority of Dai Co Viet monarchical state was always given to agricultural   economic   development   and rural social management [6, p.453].

Reviewing historical and socio-economic changes in the 10th  century, we can find that economic    growth    and    social     division somewhat affected the establishment of Dai Co Viet state, but the direct factor resulting in   the   establishment   was   the   struggle against foreign invasion. It was born in a special historical situation for the sake of gathering  national  power  to  fight  against Chinese  domination  and  undertaking  the social   management   before   the   urgent requirements in history. As a result, Dai Co Viet state basically bore the characteristics of   a   functional   state.   The   pattern   and institutions created by the state were multiplied and  developed  fully  during  the  following period of the Ly and the Tran dynasties with some fundamental particularities, including the friendliness   and   the   closeness   with   the people.  It  was  much  different  from  the general types of states in history, such as the state for domination and the state for exploitation.   The   model   of   the   state  mentioned above was considered  indispensable,  resulting  from  the  socio - economic division  and severe class contradiction. Such a state also appeared in many Eastern countries and, particularly, in Western countries during the Middle Ages.

5. Conclusion

Playing  a  vital  role  in  the  East  Asian civilisation, Vietnam, a nation located in the place    connecting    Northeast    Asia    with Southeast Asia, was always impacted deeply by the social and political environment in the     regions.     After    restoring     national independence in the 10th  century, the first monarchies, including the Ngo, the Dinh, and the Early Le dynasties (and subsequently the  Ly  and  the  Tran  dynasties)  not  only maintained diplomatic ties with the Chinese dynasties  but  also  had  a  wise  southward vision.   Before   every   turning   point   in history, in reality, traditional cultural values and depth, as well as the consciousness of the origin, contributed a significant part to strengthening   patriotism,   national   spirit, identity,  and  power.  Those  political  and cultural features constituted an important factor  in  helping  Vietnam  to  overcome extreme challenges in history and shaping the rational political thinking as well as the vision and capacity of the Dai Co Viet state. In other words, the vitality and the pervasiveness of culture are shown by not only its duration and influence but also its adaptability to  drastic changes  and  hard challenges  of  the  cultural  and  political environment in the region and the world as well.

Over  a  long  history  of  struggles  for national  independence  and  development, Vietnamese people have realised more and more  their  cultural  values  and  identity. Tran Quoc Vuong, a Vietnamese historian, wrote:  “The  10th    century  undertook  its historic role in ending a long and severe period   of   the   political   and   military struggles  against  the Chinese domination and  the restructuring of  Vietnamese civilisation  from “the fragments” of ancient  Viet  civilisation  in  combination with  external  elements  from  China  and India…” [18, p.153]. In the political aspect, it  is  possible  to  assert  that  in  the  10th century,  “Ngo  Quyen  deserved  credit  for gaining  the  government,  but  Dinh  Tien Hoang was the person, who deserved credit for setting up the foundation for building an independent   nation   with   all   necessary elements,   including   country   name,   era name, territory, and currency… Especially, he  initially set  up  a  powerful  centralised institution,  a  type  of  state  organisation appropriate to the rules of development in Vietnam, which   constantly   encountered critical challenges and required a powerful central government” [3, p.35].

Thus, the roles and position of the Dai Co  Viet  state  should  be  studied  in  the context   of   regional   ties   and   political interaction as well as the comparison by time  and  space.  Such  an  approach  will enable us to recognise more precisely the developments and position of Dai Co Viet and Dai Viet in history.  Looking at the historical changes of Vietnam in the East Asian   context,   we   can   see   that   the position of Dai Co Viet and subsequently Dai Viet, Dai Nam, and finally Vietnam, has been both invariable and flexible, due to the following factors: great changes in the  territorial  borders; economic foundation  and  social characteristics; models and features of political institutions; national position and thinking approached and   analysed   from   the   internal    and external perspectives.

As a nation in East Asia, Dai Co Viet and Dai Viet always kept close ties with its neighbouring nation in the north, but they  were  also  influenced  by  political pressure from that nation. Remarkably, in adopting   the   patterns   and   institutions creatively   from   the   Chinese   dynasties, Vietnam‟s  monarchies  remained  inclined towards Southeast Asian traditional space. During  the  development  of  a  self-reliant and  independent  nation,  starting  with  the governance of the Red River delta and the plains of   Ma and  Lam rivers,  the monarchical dynasties of Dai Viet step by step expanded their influence and set up the sovereignty over other mountainous areas, the  sea,  and  islands  stably.  Initially,  the agricultural economy was considered fundamental for development. During many periods  in  history,  however,  the  ruling governments  paid much  attention    to synchronous economic development, utilising  all  the  resources  effectively  and promoting the strength of various economic sectors   with   a   view   of   creating   and strengthening general national power8. From the 10th  to the 14th  century, Buddhism was highly  respected  and  promoted,  but  the transformation into Confucian political models was carried out vigorously in the 15th century, and those models were maintained continuously until the mid-20th century.

Thus, during the same period with the same  social  context,  many  kingdoms  in Southeast Asia, typically Funan, Dai Viet, Angkor,  and  Srivijaya  etc.,  had  different patterns and levels of  development. Southeast  Asian societies  were, therefore, very complicated with a mixture of many factors,  development  patterns,  and  scales. This characteristic is very strong, compared with other societies in East Asia and Asia as  well.  In  the  author‟s  opinion,  it  is necessary to research the similarities and differences  between  those  societies.  Only by  that  way  can  we  get  more  and  more comprehensive and profound understanding of the diversity in the development of the East Asian history and culture, whereby it will be possible to determine the development rules and tendencies in each nation as well as their prominent contributions in the general historical and political context of the region.



*University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University, Hanoi.

1 The paper was published in Vietnamese in: Nghiên cứu lịch sử, số 2, 2018. Translated by Nguyen Tuan Sinh, edited by Etienne Mahler.

2  Noticeably, over more than half a century (907 - 960), after the Tang dynasty lost its central political power in China, there were neither political forces nor dynasties playing the role as a powerful empire in the region. During the period of the change in political power from the Tang to the Song dynasty (960-1279),  China experienced  so  vigorous fragmentation that many researchers call it “the Five dynasties and ten kingdoms period” including:  Later Liang (907-923),  Later Tang  (923-936),  Later  Jin (936-947),  Later  Han  (947-950),  and  Later  Zhou (951 - 960).   Compared   with   the   Tang   and   the  previous  dynasties,  therefore,  all  the  dynasties  in “the Five dynasties and ten kingdoms” period were quite weak, and each of them existed for a very short time. On average, each dynasty was on the throne for just over a decade. Such a short duration was not enough to build a strong government, maintain the ruling   position,   stabilising   domestic   society,   or implementing  policies on outward territorial expansion [5].

3   In  the  aspect  of  thoughts  and  religions  alone, Japanese people adopted many cultural factors from China, but they set up their conceptions, values, and theories  early.  That  is  why  the  royal  members followed   Shinto,   while  the   bureaucratic  system practised the Confucian ideology during the reign of the  emperors  of  Japan.  In  China,  the  Confucian thoughts were mainly applied in the civil system; where as in Japan, they were applied in the military system. In the Chinese Confucianism, tolerance was considered  the  most  important  virtue.  Meanwhile, the  Japanese  Confucianism  considered  loyalty  (in the sense of devoting the entire life to the owner) as a  core  virtue.  Thus,  the  Japanese  Confucianism obviously bore the national characteristics of Japan [10, pp.29-31].

4 Tadao Umesao, a Japanese scholar, supposed that Southeast   Asia   was   a   region   of   civilisation. Similarly, in the work titled “A Study of History: A Way  of  Interpretation”,  Arnold  Toynbee,  a  well- known  cultural  and  historical  researcher,  also made  a  remarkable  comment  on  the  position  of “Vietnamese civilisation” in relation to China and other civilisations in the region: “There is a closer affinity between the Sinic Civilization on the one hand  and  the  Korean,  Japanese,  and  Vietnamian Civilizations   on   the   other   hand.   These   three civilizations  have  been  inspired  by the  Sinic,  but they  have  developed  their  loans  from  the  Sinic Civilization on lines of their own that are distinctive enough   to   entitle   them   to   rank   as   separate civilizations  of  a  sub-class  that  we  may  label „satellites‟…” [12, pp.151-164], [1, p.61]. Although the  two  scholars  have  some  differences  in  the viewpoint  on  the  position  and  characteristics  of Southeast    Asian  culture,  they both    highly appreciated the typical cultural values of Southeast Asia,   considering   Southeast   Asia   “a   region   of civilisation”  and    viewing     Southeast    Asian civilisations in the context of interaction with other civilisations in the world.

5   Due  to  the  pragmatic  thinking  and  the  chaotic political context, many people came to Buddhism. On the other hand, Buddhism was seen as a therapy for spiritual relief. After Dinh Lien, King of Nam Viet,  killed  his  younger  brother  Hang  Lang,  he ordered to set up a hundred stone pillars in Hoa Lu Imperial  City,  on  which Buddhist  scriptures  were carved for the purpose of praying for the peace of his brother‟s soul and asking for permanent perquisite. By now, 20 of the stone pillars have been found in Hoa Lu by researchers. According to Ha Van Tan, all the stone pillars were carved with “the Unisha Vijaya  Dharani  Sutra”.  It  is  very  likely  that  the pillars were placed after the spring of 979 (year of Kỷ Mão) and before Dinh Tien Hoang and Dinh Lien were killed by Do Thich in the 10th lunar month of the same year [13, pp.786-815].

6 According  to  the   “Collection  of  Outstanding Figures of the Zen Garden” (Vietnamese: Thiền uyển tập anh) [15, p.166], Zen master Phap Thuan, whose surname is Do, led a religious life in Co Son pagoda (Thanh  Hoa  province).  He  was  a  student  of  Zen master Phu Tri in Long Thu pagoda. He was well- known  for  being  “a  talented  scholar,  who  was excellent  at  poetry  and  understanding  of  social affairs”. When Le Hoan asked him about the destiny of the nation, he answered in a verse as follows: “Quốc tộ như đằng tạc/Nam thiên lý thái bình/Vô vi cư điện các/Xứ xứ tức đao binh" (i.e. the destiny of the  nation  is  like  a  roll  cloud/The  south  enjoys peace/Wu-wei emerges on the palaces/There is no longer war anywhere) [17, p.130].

7 During the Ly dynasty, in 1016, the Song dynasty just  agreed  to  bestow  the  title  “King  of  Pacified South” (Vietnamese: Nam Bình vương) upon King Ly  Thai  To,  the  title  “King  of  Jiaozhi  district” (Vietnamese: Giao Chỉ Quận vương) upon Ly Nhan Tong and Ly Than Tong.

8  Studying on the traces of the handicraft industries in the period of the Dinh and the Early Le  dynasties as well as the findings of archaeological excavations at some research sites such as Thanh Lang (Thang Lang   commune,   Me   Linh   district,   Vinh   Phuc province)  and  Duong  Xa  (Qua  Cam  village,  Hoa Phong  commune,  Yen  Phong  district,  Bac  Ninh province) etc., archaeological scholars came to the following conclusion: “Although the period of the Dinh and the Early Le  dynasties was short, the first bricks were successfully set up for the tradition of national  ceramics  imbued  fully  with  Vietnamese identity” [14, p.63].



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Sources cited: Vietnam Social Sciences, No. 1 (189) - 2019


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