DAVID LAN PHAM, F.A.B.I.
THREE HERDSMEN IN HISTORY
Three herdsmen entered Vietnam’s
history and left incredible works. Two of them were sweet images in the
Vietnamese people’s memory. The third one gave horror to his people in spite of
his genial military exploits during the civil war between the Le and the Mac.
These three historic persons were Dinh Bo Linh, Trinh Kiem and Dao Duy Tu.
Dinh Bo Linh was an orphan. His father, Dinh Cong Tru, was a
mandarin serving the Ngo dynasty. After his father’s death Dinh Bo Linh lived in
his uncle’s house and tended water buffaloes for him. He was illiterate. But he
was strong, intelligent and brave. He used to fight the other herdsmen and
defeated them without any difficulty. After victory he asked the losers to make
a palanquin by crossing their arms to carry him as a king. One day, he killed
his uncle’s water buffalo to celebrate his triumph in spite of his uncle’s fury.
Dinh Bo Linh was portrayed as a strong and intelligent man, a good diver and
fighter. It was said that, when a child, he was hired by a Chinese geomancer to
dive into a dangerous river whirlpool. Linh saw a stone horse in the bottom of
the river. The stone horse greeted him by shaking its tail. Leaving the
whirlpool Dinh Bo Linh told the Chinese geomancer what he saw. The Chinese
geomancer knew that Dinh Bo Linh was predestined to be king.
In the 10th century many anti- Chinese revolts occurred in
our country. Ngo Quyen defeated the Southern Han on the Bach Dang River to put
an end to Chinese domination in our country (938). He acceded to the throne in
939 and died in 944. His death led to the Seigniorial War. It was the famous
Twelve- Seignior War which ruined the country and led it to the uncertain
future. Each Seignior had his own fief and tried to take over other fiefs by
force. Persistent feudal wars put peasants in misery. Rice fields were
abandoned. Houses were on fire. Life got harder and harder while arrest,
torture, piracy and bloodshed increased. Dinh Bo Linh became a Seignior after
the death of his boss Tran Lam. He defeated all of the then feudal forces to
unify the country. He came to the throne by proclaiming himself Emperor Dinh
Building his success on military exploits Emperor Dinh Tien
Hoang dreamed of our country’s prosperity and greatness. He named the country
Dai Co Viet, considered himself equal to Chinese Emperor, and thought about a
million-soldier army. His hope was to make Dai Co Viet a military power in
Southeast Asia. Otherwise, its independence would not be durable.
Dinh Tien Hoang used Buddhist philosophy to teach his people.
Venerable Khuong Viet born Ngo Chan Luu (930- 1011) was very influential. Many
stories about the Good and the Evil, and the law of causality and finality were
spread in the whole country in the purpose of teaching the grassroots how to do
right things and to avoid wrong ones against the country’s law and order. Those
people who did good things should have God’s blessings. Dishonest and mean
people should be rigorously punished by laws. After their death they should go
to Hell in which they should be severely punished and tortured by Devils. Beside
such public education there were a series of severe measures of punishments
given to the wrongdoers. The burglars had their hands cut or plunged into boiled
oil. The pirates were thrown into the tigers’ cages. It is certain that these
severe punishments are denounced in our time.
What was going on in this newly independent country?
More than a thousand years under Chinese rule and twenty two
years of Seigniorial War (945- 967) led to many bad consequences: social
disorder, economic ruins, disunion, growth of skepticism and pessimism facing
unsafe life. The concept of living from day to day with no thought of tomorrow
and that of using the shortest way to assure happiness was in vogue.
The state of mind of the military leader was to show his
strength and power to safeguard the kingship prestige. Would the independent
kingship be inferior to the colonial rule in re-establishing social order,
national security and economic stability? The then national economy was based on
farming and fishing. Maybe Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang did not consider economic
development by improving technique of farming and fishing. His military dream
was great. A one million- soldier army, if existent, should break the national
economic financial balance.
Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang and his oldest son, Dinh Lien, were
killed by Do Thich in 979 when they both were drunk. Queen Duong Van Nga
committed adultery with Generalissimo Le Hoan, who became King in the 980’s
bloodless coup. The Dinh dynasty lasted 12 years (968- 980).
Trinh Kiem was an orphan from a poor family in Thanh Hoa
province. It was written Kiem’s filial piety was immense. His mother liked to
eat chickens while her family was poor. Trinh Kiem must steal chickens from his
neighbors to feed his mother.
When a child, Trinh Kiem earned his living by cutting grass
to feed horses. He spent his youth beside Generalissimo Nguyen Kim to resist the
Mac, who overthrew the Le in the 1527’s bloody coup d’etat. Following Nguyen
Kim, Trinh Kiem spent some years living along the Viet- Lao border. Recognizing
Kiem’s military talent, Nguyen Kim allowed him to marry his daughter, Ngoc Bao.
It was a great honor for an unschooled and needy young man to be ‘ennobled’.
After Nguyen Kim’s suspicious death, Trinh Kiem became the true leader of the
anti- Mac resistance for the restoration of the Le. Trinh Kiem’s political
ambition was borderless. He killed Nguyen Uong, son of Nguyen Kim, to
consolidate his power in the Southern dynasty. In reality, king Le Trang Ton was
a puppet one. The best general of the Mac, Mac Kinh Dien, could not defeat Trinh
Kiem, who, in his turn, defeated the Mac when attacking provinces on the Red
River Delta surrounding Dong Do (Ha Noi). King Le Trang Ton died in 1548. Prince
Le Duy Huyen was enthroned. It was king Le Trung Ton. In 1556 king Le Trung Ton
died childless. Trinh Kiem would like to proclaim himself king. He did know that
the folk loved and respected the Later Le for expelling the Ming from Dai Viet.
The anti- Mac resistance for the restoration of the Le should lose its good
cause if Trinh Kiem stole the throne from the Le. A smart and cautious man,
Trinh Kiem sent a messenger to Hai Duong to ask for Dr. Nguyen Binh Khiem’ s
advice. Our prestigious scholar did not give any advice to the messenger. He
turned to his servant, saying: “Keep the pagoda to eat truncated sticky rice
cake.” Trinh Kiem understood what Dr. Nguyen Binh Khiem meant.
After Trinh Kiem killed Nguyen Uong, his younger brother,
Nguyen Hoang, claimed to have mental health problems. Nguyen Hoang told his
sister, Ngoc Bao, Trinh Kiem’s wife, to ask Kiem to allow him to go go down
Trinh Kiem was considered to be the founder of the Trinh
Shogunate in Dang Ngoai (North i.e the deltas of the Red River and the Ma, Ca
and Chu Rivers).
Nguyen Hoang was the founder of the Nguyen Shogunate in Dang
Trong (South of the 18th parallel).
Trinh Kiem died in 1570. Twenty years later the Mac were
totally defeated. They fled to Cao Bang and got the safety umbrella from the
Ming until 1677.
From 1545 to 1786 (241 years) Lords Trinh eclipsed the kings
of the Restored Le. They enthroned, dethroned or killed the kings at will. They
established an authoritarian and militarist regime in North Vietnam. All the
kings of the Restored Le had their power paralyzed. They became political
victims of the Trinh. During more than two centuries under the Trinh Shogunate
Dai Viet underwent continual wars and jacqueries: war between the Mac and Le &
Trinh; war between the Nguyen and Le & Trinh; war between the Le & Trinh and Mac
in Cao Bang, war between the Trinh and the Tay Son. The Complaints of the
Warrior’s Wife (Chinh Phu Ngam) by Dang Tran Con translated into ‘nom’ by
poetess Doan Thi Diem, the story of a warrior’s wife, who was petrified without
seeing her husband’ homecoming, and many popular songs reflected intermittent
bloody civil wars in three centuries. The Sulky Gianh River, a Vietnamese song,
reminds us of the intestine war between the Le & Trinh and the Nguyen i.e
between the Northerners and the Southerners. The Gianh River was the partition
line of our country in the 17th century. It was written in the refrain of the
Oh! Dear Gianh River!
Do you weep and lament?
Do you feel angry?
Do you feel ashamed?
Do you feel sad?
Do not recall us of the intestine war
Which prevents our country from seeing her glorious days.
The grassroots suffered from insecurity, heavy taxes and
corvee, social injustice etc. They compared the rulers to the pirates, saying:
There are pirates in the night time.
In the day time the pirates are corrupt mandarins.
Everybody could participate in the triennial contests
provided that they paid a certain amount of sapeques. Rich people could buy
titles of tri huyen (district chief), tri phu (county chief). In the capital the
kieu binh (proud soldiers) martyrized the dwellers too much. Lord Trinh Giang
(1729- 1740) forbade the residents to light lamps at night. The simple reason of
that absurd order was that he was afraid of being struck by the God of Thunder!!
Trinh Giang forced Chancellor Nguyen Cong Hang to kill himself in 1732.
Dao Duy Tu (1572- 1634) was born into a theatrical family. He
was good at literature and poetry but he could not participate in the triennial
contests in Dang Ngoai (North) to change his social situation. In Confucian
society, no promotion was possible without a parchment. Actors, actresses and
slaves were in the bottom of the social classes. Their children did not have any
chance to improve their life. That was the earmark of the feudal regime and
Confucian society in our country in the past.
Dao Duy Tu fled to the South and kept water buffaloes for a
rich landlord in Qui Nhon. The latter was a learned man. One day, he invited his
friends to a banquet in which they ate, drank and discussed literature, poetry
and politics. That evening Dao Duy Tu came home with his water buffaloes from
the meadow. Hearing the discussion Dao Duy Tu stopped and wished to express his
own opinions. All the guests felt displeased for he was a young herdsman
ignoring neither A nor B according to their judgement. How could the herdsman
discuss with his boss and his friends? Age and social class was always important
in society. But Dao Duy Tu’ s boss was a generous and open- minded man. He
allowed Dao Duy Tu to expose his opinions. Dao Duy Tu showed his large knowledge
of the past and present, of literature, poetry, philosophy, politics, and
strategy. His boss, Tran Duc Hoa, was surprised. He felt proud of him. He
married his daughter to Dao Duy Tu and referred him to Chua Sai (Lord Sai) born
Nguyen Phuc Nguyen in 1627. Dao Duy Tu served Lord Sai Nguyen Phuc Nguyen with
devotion. Lord Sai appreciated his intelligence and strategy. In 1630 Lord Sai
carried out Dao Duy Tu’s advice by building the Truong Duc Fortress (Luy Truong
Duc) in Phong Loc district, Quang Binh province. The next year Luy Thay (the
Thay Fortress) was built on the Nhat Le River in Dong Hoi district. The Luy
Truong Duc and Luy Thay were built to prevent the Trinh from invading Dang Trong.
Lord Sai was a good leader for turning a herdsman in Tung Chau hamlet, Qui Nhon,
into an excellent strategist. When Dao Duy Tu was in bed he came in person to
see him and to comfort him. Dao Duy Tu died in 1634 after serving the Nguyen for
08 years. In 1635 Lord Sai Nguyen Phuc Nguyen died.
Dao Duy Tu was author of Ngoa Long Cuong (The Sleeping
Dragon) in which he compared himself to Chia Ko Leang (Gia Cat Luong) in the
Three Empires. He gave birth to hat bai choi which has been popular in some
provinces of Central Vietnam. Qui Nhon was the cradle of Hat Bai Choi.
Three herdsmen entered history.
Dinh Bo Linh was Emperor.
Trinh Kiem was Shogun
Dao Duy Tu was a strategist.
Dinh Bo Linh was an illiterate orphan although his father was
a mandarin. His kingship was built on his military exploits. It lasted only 12
Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang was an alcoholic addict losing
lucidity when demoting Dinh Lien, his oldest son, and choosing Hang Lang as his
successor. Dinh Lien had military contributions to his father’s victory during
the Seigneurial War. Angry at Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang’ s myopic decision, Dinh
Lien killed Hang Lang, his younger half -brother. Both Dinh Tien Hoang and Dinh
Lien spent time drinking rice alcohol. They were assassinated by Do Thich. The
Dinh dynasty was on the brink of collapse. The young king, Dinh Tue, was 06
years old. The Chinese troops threatened to invade Dai Co Viet. Queen Duong Van
Nga fell in love with Generalissimo Le Hoan. The young king, Dinh Tue, was
dethroned in a bloodless coup led by Le Hoan, who founded the Earlier Le. Duong
Van Nga became the two- dynasty Queen ( the Dinh and the Earlier Le)!
Trinh Kiem was a poor and unschooled orphan. His leadership
and military genius was undeniable. He was brutal, foxy, authoritarian, and
feelingless. But he was lucid and cautious not to topple down the Restored Le.
He kept them and turned them into puppet kings. The Trinh Shogunate lasted 241
years. It was characterized by militarism, dictatorship, intermittent wars,
jacqueries led by Nguyen Danh Phuong, Nguyen Huu Cau, Hoang Cong Chat and prince
Le Duy Mat, and mutiny engendered by the kieu binh (proud soldiers), who help
Trinh Khai kill his younger half-brother, Trinh Can, and Can’s mother, Dang Thi
Hue, to head the Trinh Shogunate in the capital in 1783.
Dao Duy Tu’s father was Dao Ta Han, who was in charge of
teaching dancers in the Royal Palace. Dao Duy Tu was not illiterate. Knowing
Chinese characters, he was aware of Chinese culture and military arts. He was
tired of militarism, conservatism, and dictatorship in Dang Ngoai headed by the
Trinh and the Restored Le. Dang Trong was the land of freedom where the Nguyen
treasured talented persons without any discrimination. The recommendation of
talented persons was the earmark of the new administration in the new land.
Allowing a herdsman to marry his boss’ daughter, and to discuss with his boss
and his guests was uncommon in feudal time in Vietnam. Dao Duy Tu helped the
Nguyen establish a center of power in the South which was independent from the
Le and the Trinh in Dang Ngoai.
Dang Trong was the new land. It was less populated than Dang
Ngoai. Compared with Dang Ngoai, Dang Trong was weak economically, politically
and militarily. However, the Nguyen resisted the Trinh troops heroically.
Sometimes their troops invaded Nghe An. Dang Trong was really independent thanks
to good leadership of Lords Nguyen, who gained popular support with their open-
minded policy. Democracy, hope and freedom reigned in Dang Trong while
dictatorship, fear, worries and oppression reigned in Dang Ngoai. The Nguyen had
popularity. The Trinh lost it. They became the losers in the people’s hearts and
minds. Dictatorship and conservatism could not lead the country to progress and
prosperity but to stagnation and backwardness.
Trang Phạm Đěnh Lân