David Lan Pham


The turtle is one of the four Sacred Animals in Viet Nam. The Four Sacred Animals are: the Dragon, Unicorn, Turtle, Phoenix. According to Taoism, the Black Turtle was Xuan Wu Constellation (Huyen Vu Tinh). It corresponds to:

Direction Season Element Color
North Winter Water Black


It was written in history King Hung Vuong XVIII of Van Lang was addicted to rice wine. He neglected national affairs. Consequently, Van Lang was conquered by Thuc Phan in 257 B.C.

Thuc Phan proclaimed himself King. It was King An Duong Vuong, who annexed Van Lang to his kingdom to found the Au Lac Kingdom. King An Duong Vuong chose Phong Khe, Dong Anh district, Phuc Yen province, as capital. He ordered the construction of the Co Loa Citadel which had the spiral shape of the snail’s shell. The construction failed. It was successful only when Than Kim Qui (Golden Turtle God) appeared and showed the King how to build the spiral citadel. Than Kim Qui gave King An Duong Vuong a claw as a secret weapon for the defense of the Au Lac Kingdom.

Zhao Tuo (Chao To- Trieu Da 240 BC- 137 BC), Chief of Nan Hai district, Guangdong province, wished to conquer Au Lac to found a Southern kingdom, Nan Yue, which was independent from the Han dynasty (202 BC- 9 AD) (25 AD- 220 AD). Zhao Tuo’s troops couldn’t defeat the Au Lac’s because the latter possessed the secret weapon given by Than Kim Qui (Golden Turtle God). Zhao Tuo tried to get some information about the Au Lac’s secret weapon by letting his son, Zhao Zhong Shui (Trieu Trong Thuy), marry King An Duong Vuong’s daughter, My Chau. Son in-law of King An Duong Vuong, Zhao Zhong Shui stayed in the Co Loa Citadel with his wife. He stole the secret weapon and returned to P’an Yu (Phien Nhung- Guangzhou- Quang Chau) to urge his father, Zhao Tuo, to invade Au Lac. King An Duong Vuong was bitterly defeated by Zhao Tuo in 207 BC for counting on the secret weapon without knowing it was stolen by his son in-law, Zhao Zhong Shui. On horseback King An Duong Vuong and his daughter, My Chau, rode to the South. Arriving in Nghe An the King prayed to Than Kim Qui for advice. Than Kim Qui appeared, saying: “The enemy is behind you.” Understanding what Than Kim Qui meant King An Duong Vuong killed My Chau with his sword and killed himself by jumping into the sea.


In 1407 the Ming invaded Dai Viet on the pretext of getting rid of the Ho to restore the Tran. After the collapse of the Ho, Dai Viet became a Chinese colony (1407- 1427).

In 1418 Le Loi, a rich and prestigious farmer in Lam Son, Thanh Hoa province, led the anti- Ming resistance to final victory in 1427. Le Loi became King Le Thai To, founder of the Later Le (1428- 1527).

According to the legend, King Le Thai To saw a huge turtle during his boating in the West Lake (Ho Tay). The huge turtle approached the Royal Boat. The King used his sword to prevent it from nearing the King. The turtle bit his sword and dived in the lake. From this legend the West Lake was renamed Ho Hoan Kiem (the Returned Sword Lake). The sword was believed to be the sacred one given by God in Heaven to Le Loi to lead the anti- Ming resistance. The nine- year resistance was successful. It was time for King Le Thai To to return the sacred sword.

In 1967 a 250- kilo turtle died in Ho Hoan Kiem. In 2016 another huge turtle died in the same lake. This turtle’s carapace was 1.90 m long. It weighed 200 kilos. The Hanoians called it Cu Rua (Old Turtle) with respect.

Was it the turtle biting King Le Thai To’s sword in the 15th Century? If so, it would be over 588 years old.

The huge turtle in Ho Hoan Kiem had blood relations with the Yang Tze River (Duong Tu Giang) turtle of which the scientific name is Rafetus swinhoei, Family: Trionychidae.

In 2006 a huge turtle named Adwaita died in India at the age of 256 (1750- 2006). Adwaita was considered the oldest turtle in the world.

It isn’t difficult to estimate the turtle’s age. The huge turtle (Cu Rua) in Ho Hoan Kiem was big and heavy, It was old. But it wasn’t the oldest turtle in the world. That proves Cu Rua wasn’t the huge turtle biting King Le Thai To’s sword in the 15th Century.


The Gia Dinh Citadel was built in 1790 during the civil war between the Nguyen and the Tay Son. The citadel was called Qui Thanh (Turtle Citadel) because of its turtle’s shape. The turtle is the symbol of Longevity according to the Vietnamese beliefs.

Qui Thanh was occupied by the rebels led by Le Van Khoi in 1833. In 1835 the rebellion was repressed by the royal troops. The Gia Dinh Citadel or Qui Thanh was razed. 1,830 rebels in the citadel were killed and buried in a mass grave. A new citadel was built to replace Qui Thanh. It was Phuong Thanh (Phoenix Citadel).


Behind the Chua Mot Cot (One Pillar Buddhist Temple) there was a grassy and reedy rice field full of turtles, which was called Qui Dien (Qui: turtle- Dien: rice field). In the 12th Century, on the orders of King Ly Nhan Ton (1066- 1128. King: 1072- 1128), 7.2 tones of bronze were used to cast a huge bell. The huge bronze bell had no sound when beating. It was thrown into the rice field full of turtles. The Vietnamese called it Chuong Qui Dien (the Huge Bell in the rice field full of turtles).


Trang Phạm Đěnh Lân