Colonization (200BC - 938AD)
From 200 BC to 100AD, many changes took place throughout China,
northern Vietnam, and Southeast Asia as peoples migrated, and
bases of power shifted and expanded. In China, as the Qin Dynasty
lost power to the Han Dynasty in 206 BC, deposed members of the
military and government began to trickle into Vietnam's Tonkin
or Red River Delta. The people who arrived in this area brought
their technology, language, and culture, beginning the Sinicization
of Northern Vietnam which continued into the 20th century.
Northern Vietnam was officially annexed and
colonized in 111BC by the Han Dynasty. Chinese historians described
the Vietnamese people they encountered as barbarian and uncivilized.
The Chinese colonists set out to reform Vietnamese culture along
Chinese lines but village life did not change substantially.
At first, the Chinese only established trading centers so they
could conduct business from the coast of Vietnam. In about 100BC
two Chinese-run prefectures, Giao Chi and Cuu Chan, were established
in the Au Lac Kingdom in the Tonkin Delta.
The aristocracy of the Au Lac kingdom, the Lac
Lords, initially accepted the Chinese and worked with them.
They looked to the Chinese to help them in maintaining power
over their own kingdoms. Unfortunately, this resulted in a loss
of respect for the Vietnamese lords by their own people. The
Vietnamese peasants turned to their own extended families for
protection against the excesses of the Chinese and their rulers.
Chinese colonization and pressure increased with the collapse
of the Western Han Dynasty in 9AD which caused a large migration
of Chinese aristocrats into Southern China and later into Vietnam.
There was a massive immigration of scholars, officers, and wealthy
Chinese and many local rulers were replaced by Chinese officials.
Some of these officials married into the Vietnamese aristocracy,
creating what became a major force in Vietnam-an educated class
of Sino-Vietnamese, or people of mixed Chinese and Vietnamese
origin. Chinese immigrants built schools and temples, and ordered
the construction of major networks of canals, dikes, road ways,
and bridges to facilitate the production of rice and the movement
of people and natural resources. Gradually the Chinese population
of the Tonkin Delta grew, and the two original prefectures were
divided into seven, with Chinese prefects appointed for each
area. In addition, soldiers from the Han Dynasty were granted
land by the Chinese government and began to take up farming
in Vietnamese villages.
This led to much discontent on the part of the
Vietnamese villagers who made up the majority of the population.
This discontent periodically grew and shrunk over the next 700
years, frequently erupting into major rebellions as peasants
found their land allotments shrinking and their taxes increasing
Eager Chinese immigrants were happy to buy up land on which
the Vietnamese peasants could no longer pay taxes. Poor government
and natural disasters added to the peasant suffering.
In 39AD, one of the first uprisings against
Chinese rule was begun by two daughters of a Vietnamese aristocrat.
The aristocrats of the Au Lac kingdom realized they were losing
power to the Chinese and that their land was, in effect, governed
and controlled by outsiders. Corrupt Chinese prefects, excessive
taxation, and ethnic discrimination provoked the Vietnamese
throughout the Lac kingdom. Trung Trac and her sister Trung
Nhi, two daughters of a local Vietnamese ruler, gathered forces,
united the people, and launched a rebellion which the Chinese
government. For three years, they ruled the kingdom. During
this time, Trung Trac proclaimed herself queen, re-established
the original tax system and took steps to alleviate the poverty
of the peasants. In 42 AD the Chinese defeated the sisters and
retook control of North Vietnam. According to Chinese history,
sisters were killed by Chinese soldiers, but Vietnamese
history contends that, rather than surrender, the women drowned
themselves in a river. The Trung sisters are still venerated
as Vietnamese national heroines and patriots and their statues
can be found in many temples.
In 248AD, another woman tried unsuccessfully
to fight off the Chinese colonizers. Trieu Au, enlisted the
help of the Chams from central Vietnam, and, aided by elephants
trained in warfare, led a short rebellion. She is reported to
I want to ride the stormy sea, subdue its treacherous
waves, kill the sharks of the ocean, drive out the aggressors
and repossess our land, undo the ties of tyranny and never bend
my back to be the concubine of any man
Thus she rebelled not only against the Chinese
colonization, but also against the changing roles of women in
society. Under Chinese Confucianism, the position of women declined
in several ways, the most significant being the adoption of
the Chinese tradition of concubinage. Unfortunately, this rebellion
did not stem the impact of Chinese Confucian ideas and the independence
of Vietnamese women continued to decline.
During the 6th century AD, Chinese supervision
over Vietnam relaxed somewhat due to the peaceful nature of
the Chinese Emperor Wu who was a devout Buddhist and a patron
of the arts. His lenience led to high levels of political infighting
in China while in Vietnam local Chinese leaders, who no longer
worried about supervision from China, were able to accumulate
power. The misuse of this power led to a revolt against the
tyrannical Chinese governor by Ly Bon, of Sino-Vietnamese ancestry.
In 542, Ly Bon defeated the Chinese and established his own
kingdom which he ruled until the Chinese retook the areas in
546. His followers continued to oppose Chinese rule with sporadic
guerilla tactics until 603 when the Sui Dynasty (589-618) gained
control in China and Vietnam. At that time, a new Vietnamese
capital was established in present-day Hanoi, then known as
In 618 the Tang Dynasty gained control of China
and of Northern Vietnam, changing the name of the country to
Annam (Pacified South) in 679 to reflect its status as a part
of Southern China. During the T'ang period, a number of individuals
tried to revolt against this new and more intrusive government.
In 687, Ly Tu Tien and Dinh Kien led an insurrection. In 722,
Mai Thuc Loan, also known as the Black Emperor, attempted to
become emperor of Vietnam. With the help of Vietnamese neighbors,
the Khmers and Chams, he was able to capture the capital for
a short time. Further rebellions were started by Phung Hung
during the period from 767 to 791 and Duong Thanh in 819 to
820. These rebellions preceded a period of anarchy which occurred
both in China and Vietnam in the 10th century with the collapse
of the Tang dynasty.
The most successful of these many rebellions
was that of Ngo Quyen, who defeated the Chinese army in 939,
proclaimed himself king, and established the capital of Vietnam
at Co Loa. At Ngo Quyen's untimely death in 944, anarchy and
civil war broke out in Vietnam, but the Chinese army was neither
strong enough nor quick enough to retake the country. During
the following 900 years Vietnam enjoyed a measure of political
independence although Chinese thought and culture continued
to play an important role in Vietnamese lifestyle and politics.
This produced a unique blend of Chinese and Vietnamese cultures
which shaped both traditional and modern Vietnam