[I just realized that there is a problem with my ideas here. I’ll leave this for now, but I will update it soon.]
I talked in the entry below on “Were There “Lạc” kings or “Hùng” kings? Or Neither?” about a text called the Record of the Outer Territory of Jiao Region [交州外域記, Jiaozhou waiyu ji], which is cited in Li Daoyuan’s sixth-century Annotated Classic of Waterways [水經注, Shuijing zhu] and which appears to contain an important early reference to the area of the Red River delta at some point after that region had come under the control of the Chinese. In this entry here I would like to discuss this passage in a bit more detail.
Before I do so, let us recall what that passage says.
“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. 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.’”
There is an aspect of this passage which is confusing. I mentioned in the entry, “North and South in the ‘Bình Ngô đại cáo,’” that in classical Chinese, the subject remains the same until a new subject is introduced. This passage begins by talking about people and events before the time that the Red River delta was incorporated into the Chinese empire (i.e., before Jiaozhi had commanderies and districts”). Here it mentions the “lạc people.” It then goes on to talk about the appointing of officials to control the various “commanderies and districts.”
Who appointed those officials? The subject before this subject-less sentence is the “lạc people.” As such, grammatically it should be the “lạc people” who appointed princes and marquises. However, that doesn’t make any sense because 1) rulers appointed officials, not “the people,” and 2) the places they were appointed to govern over were “districts and commanderies,” which is what the Chinese set up.
An easy explanation for why the grammar and content do not match well in this passage would be that when Li Daoyuan compiled the Annotated Classic of Waterways, he abridged some the passages which he cited from other texts. This was an extremely common practice. In fact, the Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư did this extensively in the sections on the period of Chinese control. At times a reader can only figure out what the text of the Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư means by referring to the unabridged passage in the Chinese source it originally came from.
In any case, this passage begins by explicitly referring to a time before the establishment of commanderies and districts, and then it ends by talking about lạc people who were appointed to rule over commanderies and districts. Finally, “bronze seals on green ribbons” were regalia which the Chinese gave to officials. The term “green ribbon” first appears in Chinese sources in the History of the Han and the History of the Later Han, right around the time that lạc people would have been appointed to govern over local areas on behalf of the Chinese.
Therefore, although this passage is grammatically a bit ambiguous, its content is extremely clear. This early record of the area of the Red River delta is an account of collaboration. It is a record of the collaboration of some lạc people with their Chinese overlords. Of course it is probably not the case that all lạc people collaborated, but it is significant to note that this passage is about collaboration, as that is a point which, as far as I know, no one has ever pointed out or acknowledged.