David Lan Pham

Hžnh chiến thuyền trÍn thạp ĐŰng Sơn thế kỷ 3-5 trước T‚y Lịch


Fishing, hunting, fruit picking were the oldest economic activities of mankind at the dawn of history. In the ancient times the Vietnamese fishermen were tattooed in the hope of being not harmed by aquatic monsters. Two big eyes were painted on the boats to deceive the aquatic monsters thinking they met giant monsters having hard bodies and big eyes.

In the Vietnam history there were four historic persons, who were fishermen or had narrow relations with the fishermen. Two of them belonged to the Van Lang Era (2879- 258 B.C). The other two were founders of the Tran Dynasty in the 13th century and the Mac Dynasty in the 16th century.

Two persons in the Van Lang Era were two mythological ones. They were Truong Chi and Chu Dong Tu. Two beautiful ladies in the story were My Nuong and Tien Dung. They both were Princesses. There was no precise time in mythology.

According to the mythology Truong Chi and Chu Dong Tu were very poor.

The former was a fisherman.

The latter was a poor fishermanís son. They were so poor that both of them had only one loin cloth. When the father wore it, the son was naked and vice versa.

The Vietnamese used to say of two lucrative professions:

First: Exploiting forest produce

Second: Fishing (Knifing ĎPotamoií <Gods of the Rivers>)

Fishing and exploiting forest produce were two fast lucrative professions.

However, in our story, fishing in the Van Lang Era wasnít lucrative at all. Why?

- due to the abnormal weather change in the tropical areas (typhoons, floods, drought, insects etc.).

- due to the primitive way of fishing or catching fish.

- due to the huge number of people catching fish in the ancient times. It wasnít easy to make money 3,000- 4,000 years ago when many peoples in the world used stone, oyster shells to trade goods.

Truong Chi, an indigent fisherman, had a gifted voice conquering My Nuongís love and dream. He moved from one river to another to make his living. My Nuong (1) fell sick for not hearing the melancholic and plaintive voice from the fisherman in a poor hamlet.

Love between My Nuong and Truong Chi was romantic and far from real.

How could My Nuong love a penniless and ugly Truong Chi?

My Nuongís beauty and caste and needy Truong Chiís monstrous appearance made their love smoky and cloudy. Disappointments, sufferings and humiliation shortened Truong Chiís life.

Chu Dong Tu was poorer than Truong Chi but he was a good looking teenager. Truong Chi was a good singer conquering My Nuongís heart. The latter was disappointed after seeing a needy and ugly man in rag.

Union between Chu Dong Tu and princess Tien Dung was the early marital revolution under the Hong Bang Dynasty (2879- 258 B.C.). It angered King Hung Vuong III very much. Princess Tien Dung didnít despise loin- clothless Chu Dong Tu for she believed in determinism. She lived a happy life with Chu Dong Tu. They lived harmoniously with the residents of Bo Hai Khau, a fishing village in Hung Yen province. Thanks to Tien Dung and Chu Dong Tuís commercial activities, Bo Hai Khau turned into a prosperous fishing fluvial port. Princess Tien Dung appeared to knock down some old concepts advocating idleness for ladies born into wealthy families, realizing that idleness is the mother of all vices. She earned her living by trading but not by using power and wealth to block the other traders.

King Hung Vuong III symbolized conservatism while princess Tien Dung initiated progressivism and even radicalism. Princess Tien Dung and Chu Dong Tuís progressivism was destroyed by fire on the orders of King Hung Vuong III.

Tran Ly (1151- 1210), the ancestor of Kings Tran, was a wealthy fisherman in Tuc Mac, Nam Dinh province.

In 1209 General Quach Boc led a revolt against King Ly Cao Ton in Thang Long. Quach Boc blamed the King for unjustly killing General Pham Binh Di, his own superior. Prince Sam left the capital for Tuc Mac where he was sheltered by Tran Ly. Prince Sam fell in love with Tran Lyís daughter, Tran Thi Dung, a beautiful and charming lady. He married her and she became Queen after the enthronement of Prince Sam in 2011.

Tran Ly recruited farmers and fishermen in the coastal areas to liberate Thang Long occupied by General Quach Boc. Shortly after the liberation of Thang Long Tran Ly was killed by the pirates in 1210, 15 years before the transfer of throne from the Ly to the Tran (1225). In 1211 Prince Sam was enthroned. It was King Ly Hue Ton (1211- 1224). The King was surrounded by all the members from Tran Lyís family.

Tran Thi Dung, Tran Lyís daughter, was Queen Linh Tu Quoc Mau.

Tran Thua, Trần Lż eldest son, was Chancellor. He was older brother of Queen Tran Thi Dung (Linh Tu Quoc Mau).

Tran Tu Khanh, Tran Lyís son and Tran Thuaís younger brother, was Regent.
To Trung Tu, younger brother of Tran Lyís wife, was Generalissimo.

Tran Thu Do, Tran Lyís nephew, was Generalissimo.

The Ly dynasty had some signs of decadence:

- many rebellions throughout the country.

- King Ly Cao Ton (King: 1176- 1210) was shortsighted when killing Pham Binh Di, a good and upright General. General Quach Boc, Pham Binh Diís subordinate, led a revolt in Thang Long.

- King Ly Hue Ton (King: 1211- 1224) had mental health problems for addicting to rice wine. He had no son but two daughters: Princess Thuan Thien (Ly Ngoc Oanh) and Princess Chieu Thanh (Ly Phat Kim).

Tran Thu Do committed adultery with Queen Tran Thi Dung (Linh Tu Quoc Mau). Their political plan was to let Tran Lieu and Tran Canh, Tran Thuaís sons, marry Princess Thuan Thien and Princess Chieu Thanh. Both of them were daughters of King Ly Hue Ton and Queen Tran Thi Dung (Linh Tu Quoc Mau). These were the political immature weddings in history. In 1224 King Ly Hue Ton abdicated and lived in a Buddhist temple in Thang Long. His successor was Princess Chieu Thanh, 6 years of age. It was Empress Ly Chieu Hoang, who gave the throne to her husband, Tran Canh, in 1225. Tran Canh became King Tran Thai Ton at the age of 7.

The Tran Dynasty was born in 1225. It was usurped by Ho Qui Ly in 1400. The Tran Dynasty lasted 175 years. It was marked by three great victories over the Great Yuan in the 13th century. Generalissimo Tran Quoc Tuan was the architect of these resounding victories. Famous Generals of the Tran used their ancestorsí maritime experiences to give headache to their enemies in the naval battles of Ham Tu, Chuong Duong, Van Kiep, Van Don, Bach Dang etc.

Mac Dang Dung (1483- 1541) was a fisherman in Co Trai, Hai Duong province. Ranked first in the Military Doctoral Contest under the reign of Le Uy Muc he became Do Luc Si, who commanded the royal army.

The last Kings of the Later Le such as Le Uy Muc (1505- 1509), Le Tuong Duc (1510- 1516), Le Chieu Ton and Le Cung Hoang (1516- 1527) were incapable and unpopular. There were many local Ďjacqueriesí and rebellions throughout Dai Viet. These politico- social chaoses gave Mac Dang Dung a favorable opportunity to build his personal kingly dream by overthrowing the Later Le to found the Mac Dynasty.

The fall of the Later Le in 1527 marked the start of civil war in Dai Viet through the following historic periods:

1. 1530- 1591: civil war between the Mac and the pro- Le i.e between the Northern Dynasty (Mac) and the Southern Dynasty (the Restored Le). The Mac controlled the area stretching from the Sino- Viet border to Ninh Binh with Dong Kinh (present Ha Noi) as capital. The pro- Le (Restored Le) controlled the area stretching from Thanh Hoa to the 18th parallel. Nguyen Kim, Trinh Kiem (Nguyen Kimís son in law) and Trinh Kiemís son, Trinh Tung, played active roles in the restoration of the Le.

2. 1591- 1677: In 1591 the Restored Le defeated the Mac, who fled to Cao Bang that became the small kingdom of the Mac protected by the Ming. The civil war between the Mac and Le- Trinh continued. The Mac in Cao Bang were completely exterminated by the Le- Trinh in 1677. In 1644 the Manchurians defeated the Ming and founded the Qing Dynasty that was the second foreign dynasty after the Great Yuan in China. The Mac in Cao Bang lost support from the Qing because of their loyalty to the Ming. Taking advantage of this opportunity the Trinh launched attacks on the Mac and exterminated them.

The Mac controlled the Red River Delta for 64 years (1527- 1591) and Cao Bang for 86 years (1591- 1677) (total: 64 + 86 years: 150 years). The Mac didnít have popularity in Dai Viet for being too submissive to the envoy of the Ming. They showed themselves clearly weak facing attacks from the Restored Le troops commanded by Trinh Kiem and his son, Trinh Tung.

Compared to the Tran the Mac showed their total inferiority. Kings Tran Thanh Ton and Tran Nhan Ton refused to go to Khanbaliq (Beijing) to pay respect and submission to Emperor Kublai Khan (Hot Toc Liet- Emperor: 1260- 1294).
Mac Dang Dung was Generalissimo lacking courage and self- respect before the envoy of the Ming.

There were famous military men under the Tran Dynasty. The most brilliant one was Generalissimo Tran Quoc Tuan, who commanded the Viet troops to defeat the Mongol invaders three times (1282, 1285, 1288). Unlike Mac Dang Dung, Generalissimo Tran Quoc Tuan didnít use his military genius to nurture his political ambition. His patriotism and loyalism were immense.

King Mac Dang Dung, the founder of the Mac Dynasty, followed the Tranís tradition by resigning and giving the throne to his son, Mac Dang Doanh, to become Thai Thuong Hoang, who was, in reality, a Super- King (1530). It was Chancellor Tran Thu Do, who gave birth to the Thai Thuong Hoang political institution to prevent the Princes from disputing the throne.

The civil war between the Mac and Le- Trinh occurred continually from 1591 to 1677. Beginning 1627 the civil was between the Nguyen in Dang Trong (2) and Le- Trinh in Dang Ngoai (3) broke out. The war ended in 1672. The Gianh River became the border line of two rival influence zones. The Le- Trinh controlled Dang Ngoai or Bac Ha (North of the Gianh River). The Nguyen controlled Dang Trong or Nam Ha (South of the Gianh River).

The descendants of Tran Ly and Mac Dang Dung, two fishermen in the littoral areas of Northern Dai Viet, reigned in Dai Viet for 325 years long.


David Lan Pham, F.A.B.I.



(1) My Nuong wasnít a proper name. Under the Hong Bang Dynasty (287 9- 258 B.C.) the King was only a tribal leader. My Nuong meant ĎPrincessí.

(2) Dang Trong: zone controlled by the Nguyen in South of the Gianh River. From 1672 on it was called Nam Ha.

(3) Dang Ngoai: zone controlled by Le- Trinh in North of the Gianh River. It was also called Bac Ha after the 1672ís country partition.


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