Were There “Lạc” Kings or “Hùng” Kings? Or Neither?

The question of whether the earliest people to rule over the area of what is today northern Vietnam were called “Lạc” Kings or “Hùng” Kings is one which has been hotly debated for close to a century now. It was the French scholar, Henri Maspero, who began this debate when in the early twentieth century he noticed that in Chinese historical sources, the earliest sources for this topic, the characters for both lạc 雒 and hùng 雄 appeared. Maspero concluded that a Chinese scribe had erroneously written hùng 雄 instead of lạc 雒 (these two characters are very similar and there is abundant evidence that in other contexts they have been mistaken, one for the other), and that in later centuries the Vietnamese had just perpetuated this scribal error.

Maspero is regarded as a capable scholar, however his arguments in this paper left a lot to be desired. His attitude – that the Vietnamese had simply copied a mistake without realizing it – was also demeaning towards the Vietnamese, and it is therefore not surprising that it eventually engendered a great deal of debate. In the late 1960s and early 1970s this debate reached a “political” conclusion in favor of hùng (a topic which I will post about later), but it has not reached an academic conclusion.

I have read many of the articles on this topic, but probably not all of them. Therefore perhaps someone has said what I will discuss here. If someone has, however, I have never seen it. So if anyone knows of anyone else who has made this argument, please let me know.

While scholars have argued endlessly about which character, lạc 雒 or hùng 雄, is correct, I have never seen anyone discuss the larger passages in which these characters appear in early Chinese sources. The passages, however, provide the clearest clues about which term is “correct.”

There are two main sources for this debate. In particular, there is a source which uses the term lạc 雒 and another which uses the term hùng 雄. In addition to these two sources, there are other sources where this information appears, but the other sources are clearly abridged versions of two longer passages which appear in the Record of the Outer Territory of Jiao Region and the Treatise on Southern Yue, respectively. Both of these works are now lost, but passages from them, are cited in works which are still extant.

Let us look at the first main source. The Record of the Outer Territory of Jiao Region [交州外域記, Jiaozhou waiyu ji], is a work which textual evidence suggests dates from either the late third or early fourth century AD. The passage below is cited in a sixth century text, Li Daoyuan’s Annotated Classic of Waterways [水經注, Shuijing zhu].

交州外域記曰,交趾昔未有郡縣之時,土地有雒田,其田從潮水上下,民墾食其田,因名為雒民。設雒王雒侯主諸郡縣。縣多為雒將。雒將銅印青綬。

“The Record of the Outer Territory of Jiao Region states that ‘In the past, before Jiaozhi had commanderies and districts, the land had lạc fields. These fields followed the rising and falling of the floodwaters, and therefore the people who opened these fields for cultivation were called lạc people. Lạc princes and lạc marquises were appointed to control the various commanderies and districts. Many of the districts had lạc generals. The lạc generals had bronze seals on green ribbons.’”

The first point to note is that this writer does not claim to have seen this area at the time when the “lạc” people lived there on their own. This was written after the Han Dynasty had established “commanderies and districts” in the area.

The next point to note is that this character, lạc 雒, is not representing meaning. It is representing a sound, that is, a word from a non-Chinese language. What did this word mean? Many scholars have interpreted it to mean something related to the statement, “These fields followed the rising and falling of the floodwaters,” since the text then says, “therefore (因) the people. . .” 

(Note: 潮 can mean “tide,” but it also refers to rising river levels as well. In this context, “floodwaters” makes more sense to me.)

Finally, it is very problematic to see the final statements as talking about the region prior to the period of Chinese control.

Lạc princes and lạc marquises were appointed to control the various commanderies and districts. Many of the districts had lạc generals. The lạc generals had bronze seals on green ribbons.”

Who appointed (設) the lạc princes? Whose “bronze seals and green ribbons” were those? “Commanderies and districts” were part of the Chinese political system. As such, this statement seems to be saying that there were people in the area called “lạc,” and then after the Han Dynasty took control, the lạc people were appointed to govern over the area on behalf of the Chinese – a very common phenomenon at the time.

(Note: the character vương 王 can be translated as “king” or “prince.” Since this passage appears to be indicating that there were more than one of these people, I am translating it here as “prince.”

The second main source is the Treatise on Southern Yue [南越志, Nanyue zhi] (maybe 5th cent.?) in the Wide Gleanings Made in the Taiping Era [太平廣記, Taiping guangji] (10th century)

交趾之地頗爲膏腴,徙民居之,始知播植,厥土惟黑壤,厥氣惟雄,故今稱其田為雄田,其民為雄民,有君長亦曰雄王,有輔佐焉亦焉曰雄侯,分其地以為雄將。(出南越志)

“The area of Jiaozhi is quite fertile. Migrants settled there, and it was only then that [the original inhabitants?] learned how to cultivate by broadcasting seeds. The soil is dark and fertile, and the qi is strong [hùng]. Therefore, now the fields are called hùng fields, and the people, hùng people. There are leaders who are called hùng kings. There are assistants who are called hùng marquises, and the land is divided among hùng generals (This comes from the Treatise on Southern Yue).”

The first point to note here is that the reference to “commanderies and districts” is gone. This text does not indicate that it is referring to some point in the past, prior to the period of Chinese rule, as the Record of the Outer Territory of Jiao Region did.

The next point to note is that this character hùng 雄 is representing meaning here, not sound, as the term lạc 雒 was in the Record of the Outer Territory of Jiao Region. The qi in the land is strong [hùng], and it is because of this fact that the people in the area are called hùng as well.

In other words, this author did not simply make a scribal error and write hùng 雄 when he should have written lạc 雒. Instead, he dramatically changed this passage to match the meaning of the term hùng 雄, as “strong.” To do this he added information at the beginning about the land being fertile and the qi strong, and then he made a direct connection between this word for “strong” with the names of the fields and the people.

If the evidence of the degree to which this author “invented” information here is still not clear, we should also point out that the phrase, “the soil is dark and fertile” (厥土惟黑壤), is a very close copy of a line from the “Tribute of Yu” (禹貢, Yu gong) section of the Venerated Documents [尚書, Shangshu], where it says that “the soil is light and fertile,” (厥土惟白壤). Those who know classical Chinese will easily see that this is not a common expression. This author was definitely mimicking this line from the Venerated Documents. In the passage from the Record of the Outer Territory of Jiao Region there is no such evidence of “borrowing” from other texts.

Finally, there is no mention in this passage of the officials being appointed. Instead, what we find here are sovereign rulers, free of outside control.

Taken together, it is clear that this second passage is an alteration of the information in the earlier Record of the Outer Territory of Jiao Region. The author changed the character lạc 雒 to the similar-looking hùng 雄 so that it would have meaning, rather than just represent a sound from a foreign language, the meaning of which was not clear. He then changed the entire passage by adding new information about the fertility of the land (and deleting the information about the floodwaters) so that the character hùng 雄 would have a context for its meaning to make sense. And last, he left out the historical context which the Record of the Outer Territory of Jiao Region provided, by omitting any mention of Han Dynasty rule.

What did the Vietnamese then do? Did they simply copy this mistake, as Maspero claimed? No, they invented something new. This is a long story, the details of which will have to wait until a future post, but essentially the Vietnamese “combined” information from both of these versions. In Ngô Sĩ Liên’s Đại Việt Sử Ký Toàn Thư there are sovereign Hùng kings who appointed “ministers called lạc marquises, and generals called lạc generals.”

Ultimately, however, the most we can probably say is that in the BC period there were people in the region whom the Chinese called lạc (it’s not clear why, and this term was used for people in other areas of what is today Southern China as well), and that they were recruited to administer the region on a local level for the Chinese. The terms for “prince” and “marquis” are of Chinese origin, so we can assume that the lạc did not refer to their own rulers by these terms. It also appears from the Record of the Outer Territory of Jiao Region that the people who filled these positions were appointed to rule over “commanderies and districts,” that is, over Chinese administrative units. In other words, the Record of the Outer Territory of Jiao Region does not tell us anything about the rulers of this region prior to the period of Chinese control, other than that as a people they were called lạc, or perhaps it was just the Chinese who called them lạc.

So were there “Lạc” kings or “Hùng” kings? As far as we can tell, there were neither. There were apparently Lạc princes who collaborated with the Chinese, but that is all we know. The lạc undoubtedly had their own rulers before the Chinese arrived, but we have no way of knowing what they were called.

18 thoughts on “Were There “Lạc” Kings or “Hùng” Kings? Or Neither?

  1. Pingback: [Dịch] Có các vua “Lạc” hoặc có các vua “Hùng” hay không? Hay là chẳng có cả hai? « Sử học và Việt Nam [lượm lặt]

  2. Pingback: [Questions] Lạc vương trong “Thủy kinh chú” « Sử học và Việt Nam [lượm lặt]

  3. Xin chào,
    You state that “Maspero is regarded as a capable scholar, however his arguments in this paper left a lot to be desired. His attitude – that the Vietnamese had simply copied a mistake without realizing it – was also demeaning towards the Vietnamese”.
    A little more restraint may be appropriate here. Nationalist sentiment won’t take us far in academic debate. Should a copist’s error be a subject of shame for an entire nation? Copists’ errors are commonplace. They are an interesting subject-matter for historians, who follow their implications and (sometimes momentous) consequences; and for linguists, who can glean information on homophony, homography, or degrees of similarity between words or written signs. They may be a subject of embarrassment for people who attach special value (religious, or political, for instance) to the texts at issue. But they are a fact of life and the scholar’s attitude should be to understand the facts.
    Maspero was respectful of the peoples that he studied. Maybe he knew that he was on sensitive ground when casting scholarly light on semi-mythological accounts of early history. He states with great clarity, at several points in his study, that the error such as the substitution of 雄 for 雒/駱 originates in Chinese historians’ work, not in Vietnamese (or rather Annamite, to use a less anachronistic term) historians’ work.
    Here is a citation: “toutes ces erreurs sont imputables aux écrivains chinois, chez qui on les rencontre dès l’époque des T’ang” (p. 8). Let me attempt a translation: “all these mistakes must be put down to the Chinese writers, in whose works they are attested as early as the T’ang dynasty”.
    Sure enough there are limitations and mistaken hypotheses in Maspero’s work, as in everybody else’s. But when discussing his ideas, let’s not be too dismissive. Scholars of his time, in Vietnam and elsewhere, had a knowledge of Chinese (and Nôm) characters which few people possess in the 21st century. I hope we can manage to leave aside national sentiment when discussing his ideas, and build on the insights that he shared.
    Best,
    Alexis Michaud

  4. “ The question of whether the earliest people to rule over the area of what is today northern Vietnam were called “Lạc” Kings or “Hùng” Kings is one which has been hotly debated for close to a century now. It was the French scholar,Henri Maspero, who began this debate when in the early twentieth century he noticed that in Chinese historical sources, the earliest sources for this topic, the characters for both lạc 雒 and hùng 雄 appeared. Maspero concluded that a Chinese scribe had erroneously written hùng 雄 instead of lạc 雒 (these two characters are very similar and there is abundant evidence that in other contexts they have been mistaken, one for the other), and that in later centuries the Vietnamese had just perpetuated this scribal error. ”
    Theo thiển ý , các chữ LẠC ( 駱 ,雒 ,貉 )hoặc HÙNG ( 雄 )chỉ là các chữ được dùng để phiên âm tên gọi người quân trưởng ở đất Giao Chỉ trước khi bị người Tầu đô hộ .
    Việc lẫn lộn giữa các chữ LẠC 駱 ,雒 ,絡 và HÙNG 雄 trong thư tịch cổ của người Tầu là chuyện thường thấy .
    1- Tên ông quan đại phu được vua nước Ngô sai đi giảng hòa với vua nước Việt Câu Tiễn ở thời Xuân Thu Chiến Quốc , theo sách Sử Kí của Tư Mã Thiên tên là Công Tôn Hùng 公孫雄 . Cũng là ông này , sách Lã Thị Xuân Thu 呂氏春秋 thiên Đáng Nhiễm當染 ghi là : “王孫雄 “Vương Tôn Hùng. Sách Mặc Tử 墨子thiên Sở Nhiễm所染 lại ghi: “ 王孙雒 “Vương Tôn Lạc.
    2- Sách Hậu Hán Thư-quyển 84-Liệt Nữ Truyện- đệ 74 , có ghi lại sự tích người hiếu nữ tên là Thúc Tiên Hùng 叔先雄 , cũng người này , sách Thủy Kinh Chú, quyển 33, Giang Thủy , lại ghi là ( Tiên Ni ) LẠC (先尼 )絡 .

    • Cảm ơn bạn đã chỉ ra điều này. Như vậy mình giải thích thế nào tại sao các vị vua Hùng được gọi là “Hùng vương”? Maspero cho rằng thời xưa học giả Việt Nam đã sao chép những sai lầm của các học giả Trung Quốc trước đó. Vào cuối thế kỷ XX, học giả Việt Nam cho rằng cái tên “Hùng vương” được nhân dân “nhớ” qua nhiều thế kỷ. Thế nào là đúng? Hay là cả hai không đúng. . . 😉

      • Theo giả thiếtcủa chúng tôi , HÙNG 雄 hay LẠC 駱 ,雒 chỉ là những tiếng Hán được dùng để phiên âm danh xưng của người quân trưởng đất Giao Chỉ trước khi bị người Tầu đô hô. Theo thiển ý , thời thượng cổ , trong tiếng Tầu có thể có mối liên hệ về ngữ âm giữa các âm HÙNG và LẠC này . Những cứ liệu về việc hoán chuyển giữa tìéng HÙNG và tiếng LẠC trong thư tịch cổ của Tầu cũng nói lên điều này .

        Ông Maspéro không chỉ nổi tiếng về danh xưng LẠC vương – HÙNG vương , mà còn nổi tiếng về sự lẫn lộn giữa tên gọi VĂN-LANG và DẠ LANG .

        { L’extension du royaume des Hùng-vương vers le Nord jusqu’à Pa et Chou et jusqu’au lac T’ong-t’ing me parait être due à une confusion entre les noms de Wen-lang (Văn-lang) 文郎, et Ye-lang (Dạ-lang) 夜郎 . Cette cofusion que la ressemblance des deux caractères 文 et 夜 rendait très facile, n’est pas purement hypothétique: les textes prouvent qu’elle s’est produite réellement. Si le T’ong tien déclare que “ Fong tcheou峯州 est l’ancien royaume de Wen-lang [ Commentaire: il y a la rivière de Wen-lang ]”, le Yuan-ho kiun hien tche de son côté affirme que “ Fong tcheou est l’ancien territoire du royaume de Ye-lang ; en effet dans les limites de la sous-préfecture actuelle de Sin tch’ang, il y a le torrent de Ye-lang 夜郎溪 ”}.

        “… cho đất đai cuả các vua đời Hùng vương phía Bắc lan rộng tới nước Ba , nước Thục , cùng Hồ Động Đình , là do ở sự nhầm tên nước Văn Lang với nước Dạ Lang . Vì hai chữ ( văn ) và (dạ )có nhiều nét giống nhau , nên rất dễ nhầm ; và sự sai lầm không phải hoàn toàn là một giả thuyết , những bản văn chứng rằng sự nhầm lẫn đó đã xảy ra thực. Nếu sách Thông Điển viết : ” Phong Châu là nước Văn Lang cũ ” ( có chú thích rằng hiện nay có con sông con gọi là sông Văn Lang )thì sách Nguyên Hoà Quận Huyện Chí lại viết : ” Phong Châu là tên nước Dạ Lang cũ . ”

        Theo chúng tôi, thứ nhất , Maspéro đã không phân biệt giữa chữ viết và âm đọc cuả hai chữ 文 và 夜 .

        Thứ hai , Đỗ Hữu 杜佑 (Thông Điển 通典) và Lí Cát-Phủ 李吉甫 ( Nguyên Hoà Quận Huyện Chí 元和郡縣志) nào có biết đến cương giới cuả các vua Hùng kéo đến tận hồ Động Đình đâu mà bảo lầm VĂN ra DẠ ( bởi vì họ là những người sống ở thời nhà Đường ) .

        Thật vậy , 文 thuộc thanh mẫu VI , tức là ở thời Đường trở về trước nó có phụ âm đầu là âm môi-môi như /b/ , /m/ ; còn 夜 thưộc mẫu DỤ , một số chữ thuộc thanh mẫu DỤ có những hiện tượng rất đáng chú ý. Chẳng hạn như chữ 郵 , âm Bắc Kinh nay là / yóu (you2) /, âm Hán Việt là BƯU , theo phiên thiết cuả Tầu nó có âm là VƯU ( Khang Hi Tự Điển chú âm : [唐韻]羽求切[集韻][正韻]于求切,𠀤音尤 = [Đường vận ] vũ cầu thiết [ Tập vận ] [ Chánh vận ] vu cầu thiết , tịnh âm vưu ).

        Trong chữ Nôm , dùng chữ DUY 維 để ghi âm BUI , BUI chính là âm cổ cuả DUY , nếu ta so sánh cách dịch âm Kapilavastu cuả tiếng Sanskrit trong sách Thủy Kinh Chú : 恒水又東南,徑迦維羅衛城北(水經注‧河水一) .

        Từ đó chúng tôi nghĩ rằng Văn hay Dạ cũng chỉ là những tiếng Tầu dùng để ghi tiền tố môi-môi cuả tên gọi Văn-Lang , Dạ-Lang mà thôi , không hề có sự chữ DẠ viết lầm ra thành chữ VĂN như Maspéro đã nghĩ.

  5. I’ve translated this piece into Korean, and it got me thinking about some of the points. (http://inuitshut.egloos.com/1939011)

    “Finally, there is no mention in this passage of the officials being appointed. Instead, what we find here are sovereign rulers, free of outside control.”

    Your argument is that there is no term for appointed(設) in the passage from the Treatise on Southern Yue, and therefore it is stressing the sovereign-ness of the indigenous population, more so than the other source.
    I’m not sure if I agree to this interpretation, and I think we can look at how the word “wei(爲)” is used in both sources.

    And if the Treatise on Southern Yue is indeed basing much of its information from the Record of the Outer Territory of Jiao Region, I think we can understand them in similar terms.

    [The Record of the Outer Territory of Jiao Region]
    設雒王雒侯主諸郡縣 Lạc princes and lạc marquises were ‘appointed’ to control the various commanderies and districts.
    縣多爲雒將 Many of the districts were ‘appointed’ with lạc generals.

    [ Treatise on Southern Yue]
    分其地以為雄將 By dividing up the land, Lạc generals were ‘appointed.’

    Moreover, in the Record of the Outer Territory of Jiao Region passage, there is still room for the reader to interpret the lạc people as conducting irrigation farming by themselves, and the lạc princes and the lạc marquis somehow ‘autonomously’ submitting to the Chinese to receive bronze seals and green ribbons.

    In the Treatise on Southern Yue, however, people who have (forcefully been) migrated (徙民) teach the hùng people how to sow seeds.
    The fertile land was left unused, and it was only after the migrants (slaves, POWs, criminals, etc.) started farming the land that the locals also learned to do so. (交趾之地頗爲膏腴,徙民居之,始知播植)

    Given all this, I don’t think the Treatise on Southern Yue stresses autonomy of the indigenous population more than the Record of the Outer Territory. Rather, I would say that it stresses dependency and backwardness.

      • Hi Matthew,
        If you copy the word Lạc to google translate and hear the aloud reading in Chinese, the case will be closed. Lạc is Lúa in Vietnamese and Lúa is rice. So when you know the Lạc meaning, you will know Hùng and other words are just mistake of the later generation writers.

    • Thanks for the comments. Whatever I wrote here was written a long time ago. I think the latest ideas I had on this issue were after reading Catherine Churchman’s book, “The People Between the Rivers.” A the end of that blog post I talked about this issue:

      https://leminhkhai.wordpress.com/2016/09/27/a-review-of-the-people-between-the-rivers-plus-a-30-discount/

      One comment on the Treatise on Southern Yue though: correctly if I’m wrong, but aren’t the earliest quotes that we have from that text the ones in the Taiping guangji (10th cent.), etc.? That is so much later than the quotes from “The Record of the Outer Territory. . .” in the Shuijing zhu (4th-5th cent). Using the Shuijing zhu is already a problem, but adding 5 centuries to that is an even bigger problem.

      I know in the past I once tried to document where that passage was quoted and was able to easily see change over time. So what I’m saying is that I don’t see those two texts as “equals.”

      Oh, it’s been a long time since I’ve thought about this though. . . 🙂

      • Thank you for the reply!
        You addressed the core issue that I was getting at. – Whether we can actually track a linear “transfer” of information from the Shujing zhu to the Treatise on Southern Yue (because you seemed to infer that’s what happened on this particular post.)

        As you said, the huge time gap between the two sources makes it unlikely to see a direct abridging process.

        Also, thank you for the link. I like the idea of how there was this inbetween period of “indirect rule.” That would explain why the Shujin zhu is talking about “(a weaker form of) administration before administration.”

  6. Kính gửi tác giả,
    Gần đây, tôi phát hiện ra rằng từ Lạc trong Lạc Vương, người Trung quốc đọc khá giống từ lúa. Vậy có thể hình dung ra bức tranh, một thư sinh người Hoa nào đó, xuống phía Nam, nhìn thấy cây lúa nước, và hỏi người dân về cây này. Từ lúa sau đó được ghi lại thành Lạc. Nếu thấy từ lúa vào đoạn văn trong Thủy Kinh chú nói trên, ta thấy hợp lý, ruộng lúa, tướng lúa, vừa lúa. Để nghe phát âm từ Lạc.ta chỉ cần vào google dịch. Nếu tìm ra ý nghĩa gốc của từ Lạc, ta dễ dàng nhận thấy Hùng hay Đối chỉ là lỗi chính tả, hoặc cố giải nghĩa từ Lạc.

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