I find the early-twentieth century to be one of the most fascinating periods for the study of Vietnamese intellectual history. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, some Vietnamese scholars who had been exposed to Western ideas began to experiment with new ways of presenting Vietnamese history.

One such work which did this was a text called the Southern Kingdom’s Great Events (南國佳事, Nam Quốc giai sự). The author of this text is unknown, however from some of the modern terms which it uses (such as “doctrine,” 主義, chủ nghĩa), and the fact that it contains the logo of the Đông Kinh Nghĩa Thục, I think it is safe to assume that this is a text which was produced by some of the modernizing scholars associated with that school.

The preface of this work makes it clear that its goal was to instill in its readers a sense of pride in the nation. What is interesting from today’s perspective, however, are some of the issues which the author felt were appropriate for doing so.

For instance, one of the entries in this work is entitled “Exterminating Champa” (滅占城, Diệt Chiêm Thành). This passage consists of a short text followed by a poem which had been composed earlier by Emperor Tự Đức. I have translated the text below, and at some point in the future I’ll translate the poem.

 

“Champa did not regularly present tribute, insulted emissaries from our court, and made incursions which bothered our border people. They deceived the Ming and sought their assistance in order to raid [our territory]. Lê Thánh Tông campaigned against them and surrounded Đồ Bàn Citadel. When the citadel fell, he gave the following order to his troops: “All of the valuables in the government storehouses must be guarded. They must not be set on fire. The Cham king, Trà Toàn, should be delivered alive to the gate [of my compound]. He must not be killed.” The various troops then captured Trà Toàn alive and brought him. The emperor ordered his troops to make their victorious return, and presented the captured prisoners of war at the Imperial Ancestral Temple [i.e., Thái Miếu].”

This is not a topic which I profess to know much about, so please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but my sense is that today the “extermination of Champa” does not garner much attention in Vietnamese history texts, and when it is mentioned, it is not referred to as an “extermination.” Hence, this effort to instill pride in the Vietnamese nation by getting Vietnamese to recognize the “great event” of the extermination of their southern neighbor apparently failed. This is all interesting though, as it tells us quite a bit about Vietnam, be it the Vietnam of Lê Thánh Tông’s time, the Vietnam of the early-twentieth century, or the Vietnam of today.