Everyone knows that “Vietnam” supposedly gained “independence” from “Chinese” rule in the tenth century CE.

After that, however, we run into problems.

There are Chinese historical sources which indicate that Lý Công Uẩn, the founder of the Lý Dynasty (1009-1225) was Mân (Chn., Min 閩), that is, from the area of what is today Fujian Province, and that there were several fellow Mân people who worked for him.

The Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư indicates that the Trần family, the ruling family of the Trần Dynasty (1225-1400), were also Mân people.

Finally, Hồ Quý Ly, the official who usurped control from the Trần family and brought an end to that dynasty was reportedly descended from a family from the area that is now Zhejiang Province.

So what were all of these “Chinese” doing ruling over “independent Vietnam”???

There was an article recently in Nghiên cứu Lịch sử which essentially argued that Lý Công Uẩn may have been Mân but that he identified with the area of what is today the northern part of Vietnam.

That’s fine, but it doesn’t really tell us much about the past. What was going on at that time? Why were “outsiders” able to move into the area of the Red River Delta and assume supreme political power over the area?

What was going on in the larger region? At the same time that Đại Việt was established, there were many other kingdoms that emerged around the periphery of the former Tang empire as well. One such kingdom was established in the area of Fujian by Mân people.

Why did this happen at that time?

Instead of talking about “Vietnam” becoming “independent” in the tenth century, we desperately need a new interpretation of the past, one which will account for why it is that Đại Việt was established at the same time that so many other kingdoms in the region were being established, and which will explain why so many “Chinese” were able to move into the Red River Delta and rule over it.

A new interpretation also needs to account for the many cultural and political similarities that we find in records about places like the tenth-century Kingdom of Mân and early Đại Việt.

And a final note: By putting so many words here in scare quotes (“”) I am indicating that I obviously know that terms like “Vietnam” and “China” and “Vietnamese” and “Chinese” are innappropriate for this period. I’ve used them here merely as a way to present a picture of the past in simple terms. Coming up with accurate terminology to describe this period is also something that is desperately needed.