History of the Imperial Nguyen dynasty of Vietnam
- a genealogical account.
By Dr. Liem T. Vo B.A., B.Sc.Hons., Ph.D.(Pathology)
The recorded history of Vietnam (Dai Viet) began in year 207BC However, Vietnamese legends trace the Vietnamese ancestors down the eighteen lines of Hung kings who ruled vast realms covering southern China and Northern Vietnam today. Supported by archaeological findings of sophisticated Bronze Age Dong Son civilization and sporadic Chinese records of earlier times, the evidence dates the foundation of the kingdom of Van Lang to 2874 BC. Evidence indicates the existence of non-Chinese writing system prior to year 2000 BC in the form of what Chinese records called 'Khoa Dau Tu' carved on the shell of a three metre-wide turtle thought to have lived 1000 years. The turtle was brought to China from Van Lang together with a white pheasant as tribute. Bronze age objects found in Vietnam and southern China also have similar writing but the meanings were long lost. Although the early origin of the Vietnamese people is shrouded in legends and myths, the history of the Nguyen dynastic family is relatively well kept. Vietnam today has 80 million people, sixty ethno-linguistic groups, land area is 329,566 sq km with 3290 km of coastline. There are 769 surnames in Vietnam but Nguyen is by far the biggest group. The Nguyen name took majority place in the population due to past practice of adopting the ruler's surname by newly arrived migrants to gain acceptance and grace during the Nguyen dynasty spanning close to four centuries. Other mass conversion of names came from Cham ethnic. They did not have surnames and often cited either Nguyen or Pham (a Vietnamese translation for Po meaning Lord in Cham language) as their surnames when came under Vietnamese rule. Both late Prime Minister Pham Van Dong of communist North Vietnam and President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam came from Cham ethnic ancestry.
The Nguyen name finds mention as early as the first century AD. Present day Imperial records trace the family to the most distant ancestor being the Grand Duke Nguyen Bac who was found mention in history books at the threshold of independence from China during the Dinh dynasty (968-980 AD). The Nguyen family originated from Gia Mieu district, Thanh Hoa province north Vietnam. Royal Viet chronicles by historian Nguyen Bac Trac wrote: 'Year of the Rabbit 979 AD Dinh Lien killed his younger brother Crown Prince Hang Lang. Both the King, Dinh Tien Hoang and prince Dinh Lien were assassinated by Do Thich, a court official. Grand Duke Nguyen Bac killed the assassinator Do Thich and put prince Ve Vuong on the throne. General Le Hoan proclaimed himself Viceroy. Political struggles followed which ended with Nguyen Bac killed). According to researchers Dr. Thai Van Kiem (Paris), Le Thuoc, Hoang Co Thuy, Bui Van Nguyen, Dao Phuong Binh, H.I.H. Prince Ung Trinh, and Bao La Cu Si et al. 1998: Nguyen Bac issued 1 son, Nguyen Ðe. Nguyen De issued 3 sons: Nguyen Loi, Nguyen Vien and Nguyen Phuc. The second son Nguyen Vien had a son called Nguyen Phung. Nguyen Phung's son was Nguyen Nn. Nguyen Nn's son was Nguyen Tu. Nguyen Tu's son was Nguyen Nap Hóa. Nguyen Nap Hóa was the father of Nguyen Cong Luat. Nguyen Cong Luat had 3 sons: Nguyen Cong Sach, Nguyen Ho and Nguyen Minh Du. Nguyen Minh Du had 3 sons: Nguyen Sung, Nguyen Thu and Nguyen Ung Long (Phi Khanh). Nguyen Ung Long married princess Tran Thi Thai (Tran Dynasty). Tran Dynasty Royal army under the leadership of prince Tran Hung Dao combined with Champa's navy became the first in the world to defeat the formidable Mongolian empire of Kublai Khan. The defeat of the Great Khan army consisted of 500,000 men in Vietnam destroyed the reputation of 'invincibility' of the Mongols. Phi Khanh and the Tran princess issued 1 son Nguyen Trai (1380-1442 AD). According to Legend, Nguyen Ung Long was captured by the Ming Chinese invaders and taken prisoner. When bidding farewell to his son Nguyen Trai at the Sino-Vietnamese border, Ung Long cried and made his son to promise to revenge and free the country from Chinese rule. Ung Long's tears manifested in the crystal clear water of Phi Khanh Spring bearing his name (this location is part of China as per year 2001). Nguyen Trai, a doctorate, later helped a wealthy land owner Lê Loi to defeat the Minh Dynasty to establish Lê Dynasty, the longest and one of the most successful dynasties of Vietnam. Nguyen Trai was a brilliant strategist and intellectual. He invented myths and legends such as 'a giant turtle appeared from a lake in Thang Long to present a sword to Le Loi'. He ordered his men to use honey to write on thousands of forest leaves words to the effect: 'Le Loi will be your king, Nguyen Trai will be your saviour'. Honey attracted ants. The ants did their work brilliantly that peasants thought the writings were messages from heaven. This further strengthened people's determination to fight the invaders.
Upon the death of king Le Loi (1433 AD), his son King Le Thai Tong succeeded the throne at the age of eleven. Mandarins and officials in the court grew more and more jealous of Nguyen Trai even when Nguyen Trai had retired. They plotted to kill him. The opportunity came when the young playboy Le king suddenly died of a heart attack when staying overnight on a royal visit at Nguyen Trai's country estate, far away from the capital. The court officials found Trai and family guilty of high degree murder and treason and his entire family was sentenced to death (1442 AD). Nguyen Trai had 4 wives: Chau Thi, Phung Thi, Nguyen Thi Lo and Pham Thi Man. Pham Thi Man managed to escape to Laos with her son Nguyen Long. Trai's first wife Chau Thi was killed with him. Together they had 3 sons: Khue, Gia and Duan (born 1404 AD). Both Gia and Duan escaped to Laos. Nguyen Duan was the father of Nguyen Duc Trung (born 1428 AD). Nguyen Duc Trung had a daughter: Nguyen Thi Hang and a son, Nguyen Van Lang. The Nguyen family achieved national prominence again during the late fifteenth century, when the daughter of Nguyen Duc Trung married a Lê Prince, who later became king Lê Thanh-Ton, Vietnam' most brilliant king. The Nguyen family helped several princes of the Lê dynasty in securing the throne of Dai Viet. Lands, titles and offices of privilege conferred on them in reward for these services. By 1503, the head of the Nguyen family, Van-Lang or Dai-Lang, had been raised to the title of Duke (Trung Quoc Cong). Nguyen Van Lang issued 1 son, Nguyen Hoang Du (born 1476). Nguyen Hoang Du received the title of Marquis of An Hoa who was the father of Nguyen Kim (1500-1545 AD). By early 16th century the Lê dynasty had become weak and corrupt. It finally fell to the hands of an ambitious General called Mac Dang Dung who founded the Mac Dynasty (1527-1592 AD).
Marquis Nguyen Kim had two sons, Nguyen Uong and Nguyen Hoang (1525-1613 AD) and one daughter, Ngoc Bao (wife of lord Trinh Kiem). Nguyen Kim and his son in law, Trinh Kiem raised an army from Laos attacking the Mac forces to restore the Lê Dynasty under a Lê prince. Nguyen Kim succeeded in restoring the Lê Dynasty, effectively controlled the southern half of the country. He died of enemy poisoning in year 1545 AD. All military powers passed on to Trinh Kiem, Nguyen Kim's son in law. Trinh Kiem killed Hoang's older brother Nguyen Uong to consolidate power. Fearing for his life, Nguyen Hoang saw the famous prophet Nguyen Binh-Khiem (also known as Trang Trinh, a doctorate under the Lê dynasty and was considered Vietnamese equivalent of Nostradamus) for advice. 'South of Hoanh Son mountains, ten thousand generations put down roots' the prophet told his little servant but loud enough so Hoang could hear. After receiving the prophecy, Nguyen Hoang asked his sister, wife of Trinh Kiem to let him go south to Thuan Hoa province bordering with Champa kingdom. Thuan Hoa was known for its fever-ridden mountains and unforgiving weather with 'Laos winds' bringing blinding dusts that burn skin of strangers. Thuan Hoa was often attacked by both Mac forces and Champa incursions. Trinh Kiem thought it was a good idea to get rid of his brother-in-law this way. Nguyen Hoang went south to Thuan Hoa and Quang Nam province (formerly Indrapura and Amaravati kingdoms) with less than 1000 men in a frosty winter day, the year of the Horse 1558 AD. Nguyen Hoang was 34 years old. He had to leave his son behind as hostage for Trinh Kiem. Descendants of the fore mentioned were later known as 'Nguyen Huu'. Descendants of the children who followed Nguyen Hoang were later known as Nguyen Phuc or Nguyen Phuoc. From then on the Nguyen family history became national history.
In the North, the Trinh family managed to finish off the Mac dynasty and regained Thang Long (Hanoi) for the Lê emperors. However, real powers were always to be in the hands of Trinh lords. In the South, Nguyen Hoang established his capital at Hué, extended his control over several adjoining territories and becoming in effect the first Viceroy of Dai Viet. His successors known as Nguyen lords added greatly to these territories and gradually secured their independence, owning only nominal allegiance to the Emperor. Year 1611 AD the kingdom of Kauthara fell under the Nguyen's realm. In the year 1693 the kingdom of Panduranga (Phan Rang, Phan Ri principalities) came under Nguyen's control. However some autonomy was allowed and the royal house of Champa was still recognised. North-South wars between Trinh and Nguyen were frequent with guns and ammunitions bought from both Portugal and Spain. History recorded seven major battles between Trinh and Nguyen each side had up to 70,000 troops, hundreds of elephants and war ships.
In year 1620 AD Khmer King Chetta II sought to marry lady Ngoc Van, daughter of lord Nguyen Phuc Nguyen also known as Buddhist king (1613-1635 AD), Lady Ngoc Van became Queen of Cambodia with the title So dach Prea Peaccac Vodey Prea Voreac Khsattey. King Chetta II wanted to rely on Nguyen's military power as guarantor for his country's survival under constant military threats from nearby Siam (Thailand). Thousands of Vietnamese fully armed soldiers followed lady Ngoc Van to Cambodia. Many Vietnamese became Cambodian court officials. Two years after the royal marriage there were 20,000 Vietnamese settlers migrated to Prei Nokor (Saigon), Kas Krobey (Ben Nghe) and Bien Hoa. At this time travel between Hue and Southern part of Vietnam, under nominal control of Khmer kings was by sea, bypassing the kingdom of Champa-Panduranga in the middle. Nguyen lord asked his son-in-law, H.M. King Chetta II to allow the Nguyen court to establish an office of taxation in Prei Nokor to collect taxes from his subjects. The request was formerly granted by the Khmer court. Lord Nguyen Phuc Nguyen also had two other daughters. Lady Ngoc Khoa was married to King Po Rome of Champa. Lady Ngoc Hoa was married to a Japanese prince. After the death of King Chetta II (1625 AD) there were constant conflicts in the court of Cambodia. Some Cambodian princes called on Vietnamese lord Nguyen Phuc Tan (1648-1687 AD), a nephew of Queen Ngoc Van of Cambodia to intervene. The Nguyen forces installed Batom Reachea (1658-1677 AD), the son of King Chetta II and Queen Ngoc Van on the throne as king of Cambodia. Vietnamese sovereignty over the areas of Saigon and Bien Hoa was formally recognised by Cambodian court in 1691 AD.
By 1693 AD the Nguyens were confident enough to assume the title of "Master of the State". Nguyen-Phuoc Khoat assumed the title of Celestial King in 1744 AD. He ordered a dynastic seal be made, changed people's costumes, encouraged local dialects, adopting local expressions and indigenous words to further distance his domain from the north ruled by Trinh family and Lê emperor.
Meanwhile the situation in Cambodia deteriorated quickly. Wars with Siam and civil wars threatened the kingdom day by day. Cambodian kings and princes were fighting each other. Some sought help from Siam, some sought help from Nguyen lords. Khmer King Nac Ong Ton ceded Chau Doc and Sa Dec areas to Vietnam in exchange for help. Khmer King Thommo Rechea ceded Soc Trang, Bac Lieu. Khmer King Ang Ton ceded all the areas between That Son mountain to Kien Giang, Long Xuyen in exchange for more military help.
In the year 1671 AD, Mac Cuu, a Ming Dynasty Chinese merchant from Canton province, refused collaboration with the new Manchurian Ch'ing Empire in China, went south to seek refuge in the kingdom of Cambodia. He subsequently became Nguyen lord 's loyal official. He first came to the Khmer royal court to seek asylum. The Khmer King asked Mac Cuu to take all his Chinese men to settle in Peam principality, an isolated and sparsely inhabited area of land near the gulf of Siam. Right there Mac Cuu built a prosperous and picturesque port city called Ha Tien. It's economy included gambling revenues from casinos, trading in silk and spices, local ceramics and pottery, agriculture and other light industries. Trades between Ha Tien and the rest of the world including Holland, Japan, Southeast Asia and India flourished.
Ha Tien later became victim of its own wealth. Ha Tien suffered repeated attacks from Thailand. The Khmer court was powerless to protect Ha Tien. Mac Cuu sought protection from the Nguyen Lord of Hué. At that time the Khmer King also looked to the Nguyen House for protection from military advances from Thailand. In 1711 AD, after being taken prisoner and freed by Thai forces, Mac Cuu accompanied by his entourage Truong Cau and Ly Xa knocked on the palace door at Hue bearing gifts to Nguyen lord seeking protection and be part of the Vietnamese Nguyen realm. Mac Cuu adored and respected the Nguyen Lord with all his heart. Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu (1691-1725 AD) granted Ha Tien city state and surrounding lands full autonomy. Mac Cuu's successors were granted 'Seven leaves of Nobility, That Diep Phien Han' by lord Nguyen Phuc Thu (1725-1739 AD). Each generation for seven successive generations was entitled to a nobility rank. Mac Cuu died at the age of 81 in year 1735 AD and was raised to the rank of Marquis and Grand General (Cuu Loc Hau, Dai Tuong Quan).
Year 1679 AD a navy fleet comprised of 50 vessels carrying retreating Chinese Ming dynasty soldiers and their families arrived at Hué seeking asylum. Lord Nguyen Phuc Tan (1648-1687 AD) sent them to the new southern area near Saigon, Bien Hoa, Long An Eastern Cambodia for settlement with the permission of the Khmer court. The Chinese refugees were allowed to keep their military ranks and aristocratic titles. They proved to be a hugely loyal and successful group of migrants adding immense economic power and much needed vitality in that distant part of the realm which was known to the French as Cochin-China. The ensuing years merchants and labourers from India and Europe arrived in increasing numbers.
By 1771 AD dark clouds appeared on the horizon. Destroyed by internal revolt of the Tay Son rebellion and external pressures, the Nguyen family was forced to flee to Cochin-China when the Trinh forces with the help of Tay Son attacked and captured Hué capital in 1775 AD. Trinh forces was in turn vanquished under formidable military power of the Tay Son brothers, a powerful military group under the leadership of 3 brothers Nguyen Nhac, Nguyen Hue and Nguyen Lu (originally had their surname changed from Ho to Nguyen, they were descendants of Ho Phi Phuc from Nghe An principality). Tay Son forces massacred the entire Nguyen royal family comprised of a few hundred individuals including Lord Nguyen Phuc Thuan together with 10,000 Chinese settlers in Gia Dinh area near present day Saigon. It was said that Saigon river was chocked with dead corpses for months. Royal remains of all Nguyen Lords including Nguyen Hoang were dug up. Nguyen Hue was Tay Son's most successful and feared General. Nguyen Hue took Hué, then soon after Thang Long (Hanoi) too fell. The defeated lord Trinh Khai of Dai Viet was riding on a war elephant, seeing his army all but disintegrated under his eyes, committed suicide (1786 AD) at the gate of Hanoi citadel. A historical meeting between Tay Son King Nguyen Nhac and the ailing Lê Emperor took place in Thang Long (Hanoi) addressing each other as 'Your Majesty' and 'my' and 'your' country respectively. The Lê Emperor later died of old age.
The taking of Hanoi by Tay Son Nguyen Hue was relatively easy. The governing apparatus of Dai Viet headed by the figurehead Lê Emperor and Trinh lord had been going through a period of slow decay. Prior to being terminated by Tay Son forces, a small group of a few hundred disgruntled soldiers from Tam Phu provinces stomped the capital wanting the resignation of Duke Huy. In theory, Duke Huy was the most powerful man in the Kingdom. He was in charge of the military and all dynastic matters. When the rebels were at the palace gate, the Emperor cried and summoned his Minister of Defence to the rescue. Duke Huy said goodbye to his Lê Emperor and Trinh Lord, got on the back of an elephant, armed with a sword, alone confronted the rebellious soldiers. Seeing Duke Huy on the elephant's back the soldiers retreated a little. The Duke said: 'I order you to kneel down!'. The soldiers obeyed. A few moments passed, nothing happened. One soldier stood up and shouted 'kill!'. Ten more stood up. One hundred stood up. Within minutes they pulled the brave minister of defence down and killed him. It was no surprise that a more organised army could finish off the Lê-Trinh dynasty with relative ease.
The new successor of the Lê Emperor and the Empress mother soon called on China for help. Nguyen Hue brilliantly defeated a big Chinese army of 200,000 men supporting the return of the Lê Emperor Lê Chieu Thong. It was a massive blow to the ego of the Chinese Celestial court. Like all good Confucian kings before him, Hue apologised profusely to Peking for the accidental victory. Hue blamed on the elephants to have caused unnecessary fear on the part of the Chinese army not used to seeing giant beasts. The Chinese always appreciated face saving manners. After all, the Vietnamese did have Chinese culture. Hue crowned himself Emperor Quang Trung at Hué. His older brother, Nhac crowned himself Emperor Thai Duc at Qui Nhon (formerly the Imperial city of Vijaya of Champa). The youngest brother Nguyen Lu became Viceroy of Saigon. Disagreements soon followed seeing the Tay Son brothers fighting each other.
The 16 year old prince Nguyen Phuc Anh, the sole survivor of the Nguyen royal family, escaped the carnage with his entourage and loyal soldiers including Mac Cuu's son Mac Thien Tu of Ha Tien. Later Mac Thien Tu was killed by the order of the King of Siam while in Thailand seeking help for Anh. It turned out that Tay Son had sent a secret message via Cambodia implicating Tu in a plot against the King of Siam. Upon hearing Mac Thien Tu's death, Anh cried with great sorrow. After a lost battle, Anh and his men were hiding in the swamps and thick bush of the Mekong delta. Anh was planning to use small sampans to escape to sea via the opening of the Mekong river. Three attempts to cross the river were aborted because of a sudden appearance of large numbers of three meters long salt-water crocodiles. It turned out that Tay Son forces were waiting at the mouth of the River. Their activities sent the crocodiles swimming up stream, unintentionally saved Nguyen Phuc Anh's life. After several more battles Nguyen-Phuc Anh was forced to flee to the islands of Poulo Condor, the island of Phu Quoc and then Siam. It was at the island of Poulo Condor that Nguyen Phuc Anh met Monsignor Pierre Pigneau de Behaine. Receiving intelligence that Nguyen Phuc Anh held meetings with the French and other Western powers, Tay Son sent its navy out to surround the island in three thick circles. A God-sent typhoon sunk Tay Son's navy just when landing was imminent. Anh's life was spared one more time, but the fate of Catholics and French missionaries were doomed inside Vietnam. Large-scale oppression during the reign of Canh Thinh, Quang Trung's successor prompted the holy apparition of 'Lady of La Vang'. England, Portugal and Holland all offered military help but Anh decided to make contact with French missionaries and despatched his eldest son as Ambassador to the Court of Louis XVI, at the age of eight. The treaty concluded at Versailles 28.11.1787 during this mission.
However France itself was soon consumed by the turbulence of 1789 revolution. Monsignor Pierre Pigneau de Behaine, Bishop of Adran (Vietnamese name Ba Da Loc) had to raise a French army of volunteers financed by the church's own money to help Nguyen Phuc Anh in regaining his throne. Siamese naval and military forces also helped Nguyen Phuc Anh but were utterly defeated by Emperor Quang Trung of the Tay Son upon arrival in south Vietnam. Nguyen Phuc Anh's fortune suddenly turned for the better when his invincible rival Nguyen Hue (Emperor Quang Trung) suddenly died from a massive stroke at the age of 40 (1792 AD) when in the process of planning to attack China to retake Canton. Emperor Quang Trung's ten years old son Quang Toan succeeded him as Emperor Canh Thinh. What followed were many battles between the two sides on Champa land forcing the entire royal court of Champa to evacuate to Cambodia, because it felt unable to serve the two masters who kept on coming and going. Ten years after the death of Quang Trung, Prince Nguyen Phuc Anh mounted the final battle against Tay Son forces. Prince Nguyen Anh forces consisted of 107,000 soldiers, many battalions of horses and elephants, and 26,000 navy combatants. His navy force had up to 450 war ships and gunboats. All the combatants were trained professionally and carefully. Anh conquered Cochin-China in 1788, proclaimed himself King in Gia Dinh (near Saigon). In the years followed, Anh defeated the Tay Son, took Hué (Annam), then Tonkin (Dai Viet) and proclaimed himself as Emperor Gia Long in the year of the Dog 1802 AD. Revenge was heaped on descendants and the leadership of Tay Son. The intelligentsia and members of the old administration were largely reabsorbed into Gia Long's new administration. Gia Long ordered the restoration of his ancestral graves with wood carvings of statues in burial chambers symbolising the lost royal remains.
The reign name Gia Long was to express the unifying of the country - Gia from Gia Dinh (Saigon) and Long from Thang Long (Hanoi). Nguyen Anh was 40 years old. He sent a tribute Embassy to the Emperor of China Ch'ing Long, where he had his titles confirmed together with a new name for the country, Viet Nam. This was to be the first time in history Vietnam was united. Originally Gia Long named his country Nam Viet. Suspicious of Gia Long's intension because Nam Viet previously included southern China, Emperor Ch'ien Lung (1736-1795 AD) of China suggested the name be changed to Viet nam. Monsignor Pigneau de Behaine was ennobled with the title of Duke of Great Compassion (Bi Nhu Quan Cong). The Bishop had a state funeral and a beautiful mausoleum built for him in Saigon after his death. The court of Emperor Gia Long had many French and other nationals served as his Imperial officials, the most influential was Marquis Jean-Baptiste de Chaigneau and Phillipe Vannier. Many French mandarins working in Gia Long's court had Vietnamese names and took on Vietnamese wives and concubines.
Descendants of Mac Cuu and Mac Thien Tu were allowed to regain the autonomous region of Ha Tien under the reign of Gia Long. Tu's son was Duke Mac Cong Du. His son became Marquis Mac Hau Lam, followed by Earl Mac Ba Binh. Binh's heir was Viscount Mac Tu Kham. Mac Tu Kham had one daughter: Baroness Mac Nam Lan. The Baroness was childless. The succession finished at the seventh generation. Emperor Gia Long also enthroned General Po Soang Nhung Ceng, a Champa national and Nguyen's loyalist as King of Champa-Panduganga (today's Phan Rang, Phan Ri Provinces) with the title of Chiem-Thanh Vuong. Today's Po Nhung Ceng's direct descendant is Mrs. Nguyen Thi Them from Tinh My county. She still has the ceremonial robe and sword of her ancestor. She was chosen by the communist government of Vietnam and her fellow Champ-Viet people to act as Head of all important Cham's ceremonies in Vietnam including the Kate festival. The question of finding her successor is being raised because she has no children. General Le Van Duyet, Gia Long's trusted supporter and brother in combat became Viceroy of Saigon. Emperor Gia Long built the Imperial citadel and fortress of Hué that survive until today. A new code of law bearing his reign name was introduced replacing Hong Duc code of the Lê Dynasty.
On his death bed, Gia Long told his successor prince Nguyen Phuc Dam (Minh Mang emperor), his fourth son not to send the army outside the borders. By then, crown prince Canh had died earlier of illness (1801) while leading an army helping his father. Prince Dam was born in Saigon (1791) at a house where today Saigon Medical University stands. History recorded that Prince Dam's mother while pregnant had dreamed of a holy being giving her two royal seals, one was very bright, the other was less shiny and not so bright. Despite of being told not to take the army beyond the borders by Gia Long, Emperor Minh Mang's reign was recognised as the biggest and strongest expansion of Vietnamese military might and influence. The two neighbouring kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia became vassal states with autonomy under his reign. Opium was prohibited under Minh Mang. More canals dug, dykes and old waterways improved, more roads were built. Sporadic local revolts by those still loyal to the Lê were suppressed. Literary activity was greatest during Minh Mang reign seeing the birth of many literary master pieces such as Kim Van Kieu by poet Nguyen Du, Chinh Phu Ngam by Dang Tran Con and many other great arts work. Minh Mang had many wives and children, he decided to name his descendants following the words of the 'Imperial succession poem' to avoid confusion which reads as follows:
Mien Hong ung Buu Vinh
Bao Qui Dinh Long Tuong
Hien Nang Kham Ke Thuat
The Thoai Quoc Gia Xuong.
The last emperor of Viet nam, Bao Dai was born prince Nguyen Phuc Vinh Thuy. The dynasty effectively ended with the first line. During the reign of Minh Mang there came a dispute between the Emperor and Viceroy Le Van Duyet in Saigon. The King of Champa made a grave mistake in siding with Viceroy Le Van Duyet, his friend in combat. When The King of Champa died, Le Van Duyet supported the last King's son to take up the throne of Champa-Panduganga. The Emperor had someone else in mind but was still mindful of Le Van Duyet's political and military influence. The court of Hué allowed the small kingdom to exist until the death of Le Van Duyet, Emperor Minh Mang abolished Champa. The year was 1832. During his twenty year reign Minh Mang built steam boats, had factories making guns and canons. Commerce, cultural activities and agriculture flourished. Minh Mang was succeeded by Emperor Thieu Tri (prince Mien Tong).
In the years following the death of Minh Mang, disagreements with the increasing involvement of French Roman Catholic missionaries and suspicions of colonial activities of Western powers in the Far East region resulted in increasing tensions with France. While French military intervention was to protect its citizens and for special trade privileges, Vietnam sought to preserve her territorial integrity and national sovereignty. The Vietnamese were no match for a modern European power. One province after another was lost to France following every defeat Vietnam suffered. In 1862 during the reign of emperor Tu-Duc, the French gained control of the six provinces of south Vietnam as well as the island of Poulo-Condor. Feeling responsible and burdened with guilt, the Chief Imperial Official (Kinh Luoc Su) in charge of the southern realm Phan Thanh Gian killed himself by poisoning. In 1847 two French warships bombarded Tourane (Da Nang), destroying five Vietnamese ships and killing an estimated 10,000 Vietnamese. The reason for the attack was to gain the release of a missionary, who had, in fact, already been released. By the early 1880's the Emperor lost effective control of two third of his realm. The dramatic fall of Hanoi citadel accompanied by the suicide of the patriotic General in charge of its defence, General Hoang Dieu. The weakness of Tu Duc's reign was predetermined by a complete lack of political intelligence of France and the out dated conservative policies taken by previous monarchs. Modernisation could not happen quick enough. Upon the death of Tu Duc in 1883 French forces attacked the Vietnamese Imperial capital with massive firepower. The French military victory forced the Imperial court of Hué to accept a protectorate treaty over Tonkin and Annam with Cochin-China being French colony under direct French administration.
The Vietnamese rulers remained resilient in resisting foreign domination. The French were compelled to depose and exile three (Ham Nghi, Thanh Thai, Duy Tan) out of the six succeeding Nguyen rulers for various acts of resistance or non-cooperation. The fall of France in 1940 to invading German Nazi forces, heralded the beginning of the end of French colonial power in the Far East. Although Vichy forces tried to buy time by appeasing the Japanese, Japan soon replaced France in controlling all of French Indochina. Mass starvation in north Vietnam was a direct result of Japanese policy of replacing rice crop with cotton growing serving the needs of the Japanese Imperial army.
The impending defeat of Japan in early 1945 prompted several nationalist groups to fight for complete independence. Notable amongst them, the Viet Minh, led by the Communist leader, Ho Chi Minh. Before the Allied forces were able to land, Ho established control over parts of the north, centred on the Tonkin capital of Hanoi. Meanwhile, the French educated Emperor Bao Dai proclaimed the full independence and unity of Vietnam on 18th June 1945, including the repatriation of the provinces of Tonkin and Cochin-China.
The Viet Minh were, by far, the best equipped military force in the country at the time, having seized or been given arms by the departing Japanese and had received aid and training from the USA Government. Their increasing power and apparent popularity prompted the Emperor, with no adequate military forces of his own, to abdicate in order to avoid bloodshed amongst his people. Ho Chi Minh invited the emperor, now 'citizen-prince' to Hanoi. The presence of the former emperor in Hanoi helped Ho's image. Although appointed as a "Special Adviser" to the new government, disillusion with the new leadership induced him to withdraw into exile in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong Bao Dai received assistance in kind from the British government which included the use of a mansion and personal guards.
The Allies, represented by the British and Indian forces liberated Cochin-China and the southern provinces. Administration of north Vietnam was given to China's nationalist forces headed by General Tieu Van occupying Hanoi. Fearing of falling under China's domination for another 1000 years, General Vo Nguyen Giap under the direction of Ho Chi Minh signed a treaty with France inviting the return of French forces on the 6.3.1946. The treaty made no mention of the holy word 'independence'. Obviously Ho Chi Minh saw France as being the lesser of the two evils. Viet Minh organised a public meeting in Hai Phong welcoming the return of 'French brothers' and soldiers. France did not intend to give up her former colonies. When the Chinese had gone, old scores were settled between the Viet Minh and members of the non-communist movement. Hundreds of non communist freedom fighters were murdered by Ho Chi Minh men. Assuming supremacy amongst the Vietnamese population, Viet Minh turned against the French. Heavy fighting broke out between French colonial forces and Ho Chi Minh forces backed by China and Russia.
Various attempts at reconciliation and negotiations between the French and the Viet Minh leadership failed. France searched for a political solution. Mistrusted Ho Chi Minh communist background, France invited the former Emperor for talks. Despite Bao Dai's demands were more than what Ho Chi Minh had asked, a treaty was signed between Bao Dai and France known as Ha Long bay treaty of 5 June 1948 with France recognising Vietnam's right to form an army, independence and unity within the French union. A new government took office at Saigon in 1949, as a constitutional monarchy with Emperor Bao Dai as Quoc Truong or Head of State and the first Prime minister was Mr. Nguyen Van Xuan. Bao Dai enjoyed big supports from nationalist groups and religious leaders. The Imperial flag yellow with 3 stripes and 'Tieng Goi Cong Dan' were adopted by Bao Dai as flag and national anthem for all of Vietnam. The Communists in the north now have retreated to the jungle hide outs ignored these efforts, refused to be reconciled, and continued the armed struggle.
The increasing guerrillas activities from communist forces in the north backed by China and a non-communist government in the south backed by France effectively divided the nation into two states. After a heavy military defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, French forces that had been fighting against the communist Viet Minh, withdrew from the country altogether. The Geneva convention in 1954 between France and Viet Minh partitioned Vietnam into two parts north and south. The partition was vigorously opposed by Bao Dai and the nationalists.
One day in June 1954 at Thorenc Chateau, Empress Nam Phuong's private residence in Cannes, Ngo Dinh Diem and Ton That Can sought an audience with the Empress. Ton That Can briefed Nam Phuong of Ngo Dinh Diem's popularity in the US. Ngo Dinh Diem managed to gain the Empress trust by a promise of loyalty. Later Bao Dai invited Ngo Dinh Diem to be Prime Minister with the mission to stop the spread of communism and to protect the unity of Vietnam and to fight against the French if needed. The US ambassador to France was previously informed of the impending appointment. In the presence of Their Majesties Emperor Bao Dai and Empress Nam Phuong, Ngo Dinh Diem kneeled down in front of the crucifix and made an oath 'I promise to be loyal to your Majesties and the nation of Vietnam'. Diem became Prime minister of south Vietnam replacing Prime minister Buu Loc. Prime minister Ngo Dinh Diem returned to Saigon together with ex-Prime Minister Buu Loc for a smooth transfer of power. Diem had in his suit case a cheque to draw on the national treasure and a brevet of appointment signed by the Head of State Bao Dai.
Meanwhile north Vietnam under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, backed by China and Russia, went into overdrive to eliminate elements of the population that threatened its power. One hundred thousand landlords with tiny land holdings of 1 acre or more together with twenty thousand intellectuals and so-called 'reactionaries' were denounced during hasty public trials by the People's court resulted in mass exterminations. Executions were often by axe, sometimes by gun shot, drowning or buried alive. One million north Vietnamese, mostly Catholics, risked their lives to flee south for safe heavens during the 300 days free passage period.
Communism was seen as a threat to everything that the free world believed in. The Americans, then at the peak of their worldwide crusade against the spread of communism stepped in to replace the French as the main military backer of South Viet nam. The US administration was unfriendly to royalty, it wanted Vietnam to have a new "democratic" face to the world, in image if not reality. Bao Dai was seen as pro-French in the eyes of the Americans. Their protégé, Ngo Dinh Diem, a deeply devoted Christian, was encouraged to remove the Emperor. A fraudulent plebiscite, designed to return the preferred result was planned. The Americans advised him that 60% of the votes cast were enough for the appearance of a democratic mandate, but Diem demanded 98%. The result yielded 98.7% in Diem's favour. In Saigon alone, Diem received one third more votes than there were registered voters. Never mind, the Emperor was duly deposed on 26th October 1955. He went into exile in France, having no private assets he lived a simple life with the help of family and dying there in 1997.
In his memoirs, Emperor Bao Dai recalled two events that were seen as divine revelations foretelling what was to happen ahead under his reign. It was one day in May 1945. During the important ceremony commemorating the crowning day of Emperor Gia Long, suddenly the age-old gilded beam from the roof top crushed down on the throne placed in the centre of the Hall of Supreme Harmony. Emperor Bao Dai had just left the throne only minutes before. At the time, the name Ho Chi Minh was still unknown to His Majesty. Three months later the August revolution led by Ho Chi Minh brought an end to the centuries old Nguyen Dynasty. The other incidence happened six years after the return of Bao Dai as Head of State of a unified country of Vietnam. Once every four years, a most sacred ceremony called Nam-Giao Ceremony was to be performed by the Emperor, following 6000 year-traditions passed down from the fable X'ha dynasty of China. The Emperor assumed the responsibility of religious leader, offering sacrifices and performing age-old rituals to Heaven and the Holy spirits praying for peace and prosperity for his realm. At this moment in time, it was believed that heaven, earth and man were linked. The most sacred Nam-Giao ceremony of 1953 was performed at night in the highland village of Boun Trap, ten kilometres from Ban Me Thuoc city, the heart of 'the autonomous Royal Domain'.
Took part in the ceremony were Emperor Bao Dai and many high ranking court officials. All were dressed in Imperial ceremonial robes surrounded by a few hundred soldiers. The forest was brightly lit with burning torches. The atmosphere was serene. The sweet smell of spring flowers and fallen leaves on the forest floor mingled with sandalwood incense projected a feeling of surreal, spiritual enlightenment. Took part in the ceremony were 20 well trained royal elephants. Elephants have long been part of Vietnam's royal history. The jungle giants took part in wars and in peace time, their presence in royal processions and ceremonies conferred majestic grandeur and prestige. Amongst them that night there was a male elephant called Buon Con. He only had one task. He was so intelligent that he could understand French, Vietnamese and Rhadé languages. Buon Con was the leader of the pack, a gift from a prince of Rhadé tribe to emperor Bao Dai. The beasts formed a giant circle during the ceremony. Suddenly one elephant started to attack the one next to it. The fighting between the two beasts soon involved all the gigantic animals and quickly became a chaotic and frightening scene that sent everybody running for their life. Emperor Bao Dai was caught in the middle of the fury of the beasts. When His Majesty's life was most at risk, the one-task elephant came to the Emperor and knelt down. Bao Dai ordered Buon Con to keep the order. The leader elephant with a language incomprehensible to human, brought order to the pack of 20 giant beasts allowing the ceremony to finish at day break. At the beginning of 1953 Vietnam was relatively peaceful. Conflict was simmering but there was no indication of a calamitous war was about to fall on this ancient realm. It was the last Nam-Giao ceremony of the land of the dragon.
His Majesty's country endured another twenty-years of dictatorships, war and devastation. During this twenty years the world witnessed one of the most brutal and horrific fightings in the history of mankind. President Ngo Dinh Diem was assassinated in 1963 during a coup d'etat approved by US President J.F. Kennedy. Diem successors Nguyen Van Thieu and his team proved to be less able than Diem. Enough bloodshed, the Americans and their allies finally withdrew. The republican government in the south collapsed immediately, leaving the country to be re-united under the communist Viet Minh for the first time in twenty years. The abrupt end to the Vietnam war was independent of the war efforts. The US and its allies, south Vietnamese army had won most battles. The war actually ended on a chess board played out by big powers epitomised by the historic visit to Peking by US President Richard Nixon in 1972. A new friendship was formed. A new move was made on the global chess game. The tragic ideological war finished with the lost of approximately 4 million civilians lives, 600,000 soldiers killed in action from both sides including 58,000 American soldiers. Many more were injured and unaccounted for.
The feeling of elation that followed reunification was short-lived. The rule of Communist party boss Le Duan of the decade of 1970s proved to be one of the most brutal and horrible in the history of Vietnam. Mass concentration camps were hastily set up to keep large numbers of south Vietnamese officials, American collaborators and soldiers in prison. Many did not return. By 1979, an estimated 3 million Vietnamese were pushed by the communist victors to make their perilous journey out in the high sea in search of freedom and to escape the brutality of communism. Twelve and six ounces of gold were levied by the communist authorities on each adult and child respectively (under three year olds were let out free) upon departure. They packed the miserable people on small crowded wooden boats and hastly pushed out in the high sea, farewelled by a spray of bullets into the air. Half of the boat people were estimated to have perished. Border disputes with China and the invasion of Cambodia inflicted further agonies upon an unfortunate and unhappy people. Strict communist doctrine of a classless, primary agriculture-only economy and the abolition of rights to private property caused mass food shortages and wide spread famine. The late Foreign Minister of communist Vietnam Mr Nguyen Co Thach was asked by the Australian media in Canberra 1981 on why his country could not do more to stop the exodus of Vietnamese boat people. The Foreign Minister laughed and said, quote: 'you Western nations cannot stop drugs from going in and out of your countries and drugs have no legs. The Vietnamese people have legs!'
The fall of communism in Russia and other parts of the world in the 1980s marked a turning point in the thinking of the ideology-driven regime in Hanoi. Communist party boss Nguyen Van Linh initiated 'Doi Moi' policy meaning 'changing new' allowed the country and people of Vietnam to go back to the 'old' market economy. Many Vietnamese wished, in hindsight, that this change of heart had happened ten years earlier, thus avoiding unnecessary bloodshed. But offcourse it wasn't to be. Notwithstanding of this change of heart, Vietnam remains today as one of the most oppressed political system in the universe. Nguyen Van Linh, Vietnamese communist party boss declared in 1989 that 'we resolutely reject pluralism, a multi-party system and opposition party'. Vietnamese communist leaders of today remain faithful to Linh's declaration. The constitution specifically guarantees dictatorship. Elections and human rights are illusionary. The rule of laws is yet to be developed. Power concentrates on the one party, the Communist party of Vietnam breeds absolute corruption. In recent years there have been a dramatic rise in living standard in certain sections of society with the right connections after the reintroduction of free market economy. Other sections of the society remain poverty stricken and are suffering perpetual discrimination and exploitation. Vietnam is now the world's second biggest exporter of rice. Gold is being mined again. Light industries allowed. However, religious and racial intolerance, human rights abuses continue to plague the communist state's image at home and abroad. Private property right is still not legally recognised in Vietnam.
In order to enjoy continuing support and encouragement from China, Hanoi pursues a policy of appeasement spanning many decades. In 1958 the Prime minister of north Vietnam Mr. Pham Van Dong acknowledged the sovereignty of China over the islands of Paracels (Hoang Sa) and Spratleys (Tay Sa). Paracels (Hoang Sa) and Spratleys (Tay Sa) were under the control of south Vietnam. This acknowledgement prompted the Chinese naval forces to attack and invade the Paracels on January 1974. The navy of the South Vietnam fought heroically but the battle was already lost. Many small Islands in Spratleys also went under Chinese control on March 1988. More recently before stepping down, the secretary-general Le Kha Phieu of the Vietnamese Communist Party handed over to China hundreds of square kilometres more of land and sea with the approval of Vietnamese National Assembly in December 25th 2000 in exchange for economic and moral support. The give away of large areas of land and sea to China and the oppression of Montagnard ethnic minorities living in the former Royal Domain (Domaine de la Couronne) of Central Vietnam prompted widespread protests and condemnations amongst politically active Vietnamese living overseas and inside Vietnam. Waves of repression heaped on those dared to speak out including lawyer Le Chi Quang, Dr. Pham Hong Son, Nguyen Dan Que, Nguyen Vu Binh, Pham Que Duong, Tran Khue and many others. Outside Vietnam, H.I.H Prince Nguyen Phuc Buu Chanh, Duke of Kien Hoa, in a statement, condemned strongly the acts of 'selling out of fatherland' and voiced the concerns of the Imperial family of Vietnam regarding the maltreatment of ethnic minorities in the former Royal Domain under communist rule.
RULES OF SUCCESSION:
The reigning Emperor could nominate one of his sons as Heir Apparent before his death, or in his testament. If had no sons, he could adopt a blood relative from amongst the male descendants of Emperor Gia Long, in the male line. In the absence of either of the above, a successor may be chosen by the Imperial Privy Council acting with the concurrence of the Imperial family. Again, the heir must be a male descendant of Emperor Gia Long, in the male line.
Nguyen Lords, Viceroys under the Lê Dynasty:
Nguyen Hoang 1558-1613
Nguyen Phuc Nguyen 1613-1635
Nguyen Phuc Lan 1635-1648
Nguyen Phuc Tan 1648-1687
Nguyen Phuc Thai 1687-1691
Nguyen Phuc Chu 1691-1725
Nguyen Phuc Khoat - Celestial king 1739-1765
Nguyen Phuc Thuan 1765-1777
Nguyen Phuc Anh 1788-1802
Emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty:
Gia Long (Nguyen Phuc Anh) 1802-1819
Minh Mang (Nguyen Phuc Dam) 1820-1840
Thieu Tri (Nguyen Phuc Mien Tong) 1841-1847
Tu Duc (Nguyen Phuc Hong Nham) 1848-1883
Duc Duc (Nguyen Phuc Ung Chan) 1883
Hiep Hoa (Nguyen Phuc Hong Dat) 1883
Kien Phuc (Nguyen Phuc Ung Dang) 1883-1884
Ham Nghi (Nguyen Phuc Ung Lich) 1884-1885
Dong Khanh (Nguyen Phuc Ung Duong) 1885-1889
Thanh Thai (Nguyen Phuc Buu Lan) 1889-1907
Duy Tan (Nguyen Phuc Vinh San) 1907-1916
Khai Dinh (Nguyen Phuc Buu Dao) 1916-1925
Bao Dai (Nguyen Phuc Vinh Thuy) 1925-1945
1. The dynasties of Vietnam by Quynh Cu-Do Duc Hung. Hanoi 1995
2. Origins of the Nguyen by Dr. Huong Giang Thai Van Kiem (Paris) in Tieng Song Huong Magazine 1996 pp. 162-169.
3. 'Vietnam Mau Lua Que Huong Toi'. Memoirs of Retired General Do Mau.
4. 'Vietnam' by David Tornquist, Guido Alberto Ross. Flint river press Ltd. 1991.
5. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, Lonely planet travel survival kit 1991 by Daniel Robinson and Joe Cummings.
5. Complete history of Vietnam by Pham Van Son, Saigon 1958.
6. Le dragon d'Annam by Emperor Bao Dai, Paris 1990.
7. The history of Cambodia by Le Huong 1970.
8. Kampuchea in the setting of Indochina by Nguyen Van Khay Australia 2002.
9. The Nguyen lords and legends of the south by Nguyen Huu Hieu 2001.
10. Remodelling broken images: manipulation of identities. Towards and beyond the Nation by Serge Thions 1988.
11. Champaka- Studies on the history and civilisation of Champa 1999;Vol. 1, Chapter 1 by Doctor, Lord Po Dharma of Ecole Francaise d'Extreme Orient.
12. Royal Lê chronicles.
13. Hung Vuong Period through legends by Nguyen Vu Tuan Anh Hanoi 1997.