In the same vein as the entry on the extermination of Champa which I posted yesterday, here is an excerpt from a similar text, Biographies of Great People of the Southern Kingdom [南國偉人傳, Nam Quốc vĩ nhân truyện]. The author of this text is likewise unknown, but it appears to have been written and published at the same time, and by the same press, as the Southern Kingdom’s Great Events (南國佳事, Nam Quốc giai sự).
In addition to mentioning Champa, this passage also mentions “grottoes,” that is, administrative areas where “ethnic minority peoples” lived, and in the case of Vietnam in the eleventh century when Lý Thái Tông lived, it is highly likely that the people who inhabited grottoes were Tai-speaking peoples (see the entry on “Why Was Hoa Lư a Grotto”).
To quote from the Biographies of Great People of the Southern Kingdom,
“The emperor’s name was Phật Mã. He was the eldest son of [Lý] Thái Tổ, and was on the throne for 27 years. At that time there were rebellious people in the grottoes in the regions of Hoan and Ái. The emperor pacified [平, bình] them all. He also ordered that Ai Lao be attacked, where a great deal was captured and brought back. Champa ceased paying regular tribute. The emperor personally led an expedition and destroyed it, capturing its leader, Sạ Đẩu, and more than 5,000 prisoners of war. We can say that [the emperor’s] martial achievements were certainly significant!”
Again, I find it amazing to think that this passage was included in a work which was intended to instill pride in the nation. Here readers were being taught to feel that Lý Thái Tông was a great man because he had beat up on non-Vietnamese peoples. To be fair, I suspect that the author was trying to convince people that martial prowess was a positive quality, as Vietnamese literati had long upheld the superiority of civil skills over their martial counterparts. In the world of Social Darwinist competition at the turn of the twentieth century, however, the strength of a martial spirit was deemed to be an important trait. Looking back at Lý Thái Tông, the author of this text could see hope for the Vietnamese. Looking back at this text and the history it refers to from our perspective today, one can see a history of expansion and aggression, a history which in recent decades has been denied and silenced.