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The name of Tây Sơn (西) is used in many ways referring back to the period of peasant rebellions and decentralized dynasties established between the eras of the Later Lê and Nguyễn dynasties in the history of Vietnam. Sometimes the name Tây Sơn is used to refer to the leaders of this revolt (the Tây Sơn brothers), sometimes it is used as the name of the war (the Tây Sơn Uprising) or it could also refer to the brothers' form of new governmental rule (the Tây Sơn Dynasty or Nguyễn Tây Sơn Dynasty).[1]

Contents

Background History

During the 18th century the country of Vietnam was under the symbolic rule of the officially revered but politically ignored Lê King. Real power was actually in the hands of two warring feudal families, the Trịnh Lords of the North who controlled the Emperor and ruled from the court in Hanoi and the Nguyễn Lords in the South, who ruled from their capital at Huế. Both sides fought each other for control of the nation, while they both claimed to be loyal to the king.

Life for the peasant farmers was poor. Most of the land was owned by fewer and fewer people as the years passed. The mandarin bureaucracy was oppressive and often corrupt; at one point royal-sanctioned degrees were up for sale for whomever was wealthy enough to purchase them. The ruling lords by contrast lived lavish lifestyles in huge palaces.

The war between the Trịnh and the Nguyễn had ended in 1673 and life for the northern peasants under the Trịnh Lords was fairly peaceful. However, the Nguyễn Lords engaged in a nearly constant series of wars with the weak Khmer Empire and, later, the fairly strong state of Siam. While the Nguyễn usually won their wars, and the new lands they conquered offered new opportunities for the landless poor, the frequent wars took their toll on the popularity of the Nguyễn rulers.

Conquest of the Nguyễn

In 1769, the new king of Siam, P'ya Taksin, launched a war to try to regain control over Cambodia. The war generally went against the Nguyễn army and they were forced to retreat from some of the newly conquered lands. This example of governmental failure coupled with heavy taxes and corruption at the local level caused three brothers from Tây Sơn to begin a revolt against the Nguyễn Lord, Nguyễn Phuc Thuan.

The three Tây Sơn brothers styled themselves as the champions of the people. Over the next year the revolt gained traction and they won some battles against the Nguyễn army sent to crush their rebellion. The Tây Sơn had a great deal of popular support, not only from the poor farmers but from some of the minority tribes. Also, the leader of the three brothers, Nguyễn Huệ, was a very skilled military leader.

Nguyễn Huệ said that his goal was to end the people's oppression, reunite the country and restore power to the Lê Dynasty emperor in Hanoi. The Tây Sơn also promised to remove corrupt officials and redistibute land.

In 1773 the Tây Sơn army captured the city of Qui Nhơn, where the merchants, who had suffered under restrictive laws put in place by the Nguyễn, gave the Tây Sơn army financial support.

The Nguyễn, at last recognizing the seriousness of the revolt, made peace with the Siamese, giving up some lands they had conquered in the previous decades. But now a heavy blow came down. The Trịnh Lord, Trịnh Sam, choose to end the 100 year peace and he sent his army south to attack Phu Xuan (modern day Huế), the Nguyễn capital. The Trịnh army captured the city, forcing the Nguyễn clan to flee to Gia Định (now called Saigon).

The Trịnh army continued to head south and the Tây Sơn army continued its conquest of other southern cities. The Nguyễn were not very popular at this time and the forces against them were too powerful. In 1776 the Tây Sơn army captured the last Nguyễn stronghold of Saigon. The entire Nguyễn family was killed at the end of the siege, except for one nephew, Nguyễn Ánh, who managed to escape to Siam.

While they said they wanted to restore power to the legitimate authorities, in 1778, one of the brothers, Nguyễn Nhạc proclaimed himself Emperor. A conflict with the Trịnh was thus unavoidable.

Conquest of the Trịnh

The Tây Sơn spent the next decade consolidating their control over the former Nguyễn lands of south Vietnam. Nguyễn Ánh proved to be a stubborn enemy. He convinced the King of Siam, P'ya Taksin, to invade Vietnam in support of his claim to rule. The Siamese army attacked in 1780 but in several years of warfare, it was unable to defeat the Tây Sơn army. In 1782, the Siamese king was killed in a revolt and less than a year later, Nguyễn Ánh's forces were driven out of Vietnam. However, he would be back.

Nguyễn Huệ decided to destroy the power of the Trịnh. He marched north at the head of a large army in 1786 and after a short campaign, defeated the Trịnh army. The Trịnh were also unpopular and the Tây Sơn army seemed invincible. The Trịnh clan fled north into China. Huệ married Lê Ngọc Hân, the daughter of the nominal Lê Emperor, Lê Hiển Tông.

Defeat of the Manchus

A few months later, seeing the writing on the wall, the Lê Emperor fled north to the Manchu Empire as well. Lê Chiêu Thống formally petitioned the Manchu Emperor Qianlong (Vietnamese:Càn Long) for aid. The old Emperor agreed to restore Lê Chiêu Thống to power and so in 1788 a large Manchu army marched south into Vietnam and captured the capital Thang Long.

Nguyễn Huệ gathered a new army and prepared to fight the Manchu army. He addressed his troops before the battle saying:

  • "The Qing have invaded our country and occupied the capital city, Thang Long. In our history, the Trưng Sisters fought against the Han, Đinh Tiên Hoàng against the Song, Trần Hưng Đạo against the Yuan, and Lê Lợi against the Ming. These heroes did not resign themselves to standing by and seeing the invaders plunder our country; they inspired the people to fight for a just cause and drive out the aggressors... The Qing, forgetting what happened to the Song, Yuan and Ming, have invaded our country. We are going to drive them out of our territory".

In a surprise attack while the Manchu army were celebrating the Lunar New Year festival, Nguyễn Huệ's army defeated the Qing at the Battle of Đống Đa and forced them, along with Lê Chiêu Thống, to retreat back to China. Even though Nguyễn Huệ won the battle, he eventually submitted himself as vassal of the Qing Empire and agreed to pay tribute annually.

Emperor Quang Trung

Nguyễn Hue was now in control of a united Vietnam that was much larger than it had been during the reign of any previous ruler of Vietnam. He took the title of Emperor and gave himself a new name: Quang Trung. The new Emperor distributed land to the poor peasants, encouraged the artisans that had been suppressed, allowed religious freedom, re-opened Vietnam to international trade and abolished Chinese as the official language of the nation. The new official language was Vietnamese written in the script called Chữ Nôm.

The ambitious character of Quang Trung is legendary. He ordered the melting of Vietnamese coins to make cannons, and hoped to "restore" the territories of Guangxi and Guangdong that had been a part of Vietnam during the first century AD. Several stories tell of his ambitious plans and indirect challenge to the Manchu Emperor Qian Long. Quang Trung even proposed to marry one of Qian Long's daughters; an indication of his intention to claim Chinese territory. Another fact was his indirect prowess over his two brothers, who had less cumulative territory, standing army, and power.

In early 1792, Quang Trung planned the final assault on the remaining Nguyễn Ánh's base around Saigon, both by sea and land. While waiting for the favorable weather direction (blowing from North to South) to carry his Naval troops to the South, he suddenly collapsed and died of unknown causes at the age of 40. Many Vietnamese believe to this day that if he had ruled for another ten years, the fate of the country would be a lot different.

Decline and fall

After Emperor Quang Trung's death, his son Quang Toan (also known as Emperor Canh Trinh) succeeded the throne at the tender age of ten. But the real power was in the hand of his uncle, Bui Dac Tuyen. There was a massive political purge by Bui Dac Tuyen. Many who served under Quang Trung were executed. Many were also discouraged and left the regime. Thus, the Canh Thinh reign was weakened considerably paving the way for Nguyen Anh to capture the entire country within 10 years, with the help of French and European mercenaries hired by a French bishop Pigneau de Behaine. In 1800, Nguyen Anh occupied Quy Nhon citadel. In 1801, Anh occupied Phu Xuan, made Quang Toan to flee to Thang Long. In 1802, Anh blocked Thang Long. Failing to fight with Anh, Quang Toan escaped from Thang Long but then was captured and executed. Thus ended the Tây Sơn Dynasty after 24 years, and the Nguyễn, the last imperial dynasty of Vietnam, took over the country in 1802.

See also

Further reading

  • George Edson Dutton: The Tay Son Uprising: Society and Rebellion in Eighteenth-Century Vietnam. Honolulu 2006, ISBN 978-0-8248-2984-1

External links

References

  1. ^ Tran Trong Kim (2005) (in Vietnamese). Việt Nam sử lược. Ho Chi Minh City: Ho Chi Minh City General Publishing House. p. 359.  
Preceded by
Lê Dynasty (nominal)
Trịnh Lords (north)
Nguyễn Lords (south)
Dynasty of Vietnam
1778 - 1802
Succeeded by
Nguyễn Dynasty
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