According to the Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư, in 1268 Trần Thái Tông said to the members of the royal clan, “All Under Heaven is the royal ancestors’ All Under Heaven. The continuation of the royal ancestors’ enterprise is a matter in which the members of the royal clan should together enjoy the riches. Although outside [the people of] All Under Heaven honor one person [as emperor], within, [I] together with you, my flesh and blood, worry together and rejoice together. You must pass these words on to your sons and grandchildren so that they will endure and not be forgotten. Then the royal clan will enjoy eternal good fortune.”

After declaring this, Trần Thái Tông ordered the royal princes and marquises to enter the palace where he ate and drank with them. The text then indicates that this happened more than once, for it states that “Sometimes in the evening they would not leave. Long pillows and large quilts would be arranged and they would all sleep together in order to deepen their feeling of friendship.”

It then says that when these men (it’s understood that only the male members of the royal family were present at these gatherings) performed court rituals, they maintained clear hierarchical distinctions based on their official ranks. Therefore, the Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư records, there was no infighting and everyone got along. This was reportedly the case because while at “work” these men properly performed their duties according to their official positions, outside of “work” they were all close friends.

In the nineteenth century, Emperor Tự Đức called into question this claim about the success of this policy for the Trần family, noting that their closeness also had negative consequences at times. In any case, there are other elements in this short passage which are likewise interesting.

What immediately struck me, for instance, is the straightforward declaration that the domain (“All Under Heaven”) was essentially the personal possession of the ruling family. This is the type of comment which can’t make modern nationalists very happy, but it provides an important insight into the period.

Put another way, if the Vietnamese “united together” to fight the Mongols at that time, how did that work when the ruling family didn’t seem to care much about “the people”?