A Ming Inspiration for the Bình Ngô Đại Cáo?

When it comes to the period of the Ming occupation of the Red River delta in the fifteenth century, there is one source that is important which is very underused, the Annan zhiyuan.

I was just looking through it when I came across a document that the Ming issued early in their campaign against Hồ Quý Ly (胡季犛), whom the Ming referred to as Lê Quý Ly (黎季犛), the man who had usurped the throne from the Trần Dynasty, which in turn led the Ming to launch a campaign to put the Trần back in power (but ended up occupying the region for a couple of decades).

This document was a bangwen 榜文, which we can probably translate as “notice,” and it should have been a document that was put on public display. This particular document was entitled “A Notice of the Regional Commander’s Campaign against Annan/An Nam” (縂兵進征安南榜文).

1

This document begins as follows:

“Regional Commander, General for Campaigning against the Barbarians, Duke of Cheng, Zhu Neng [states] on the matter of campaigning against the Annan/An Nam Lê rebel [i.e., Lê/Hồ Quý Ly]: ‘It is often said that raising the destroyed and continuing the severed is truly the first priority of benevolent rule, [and that] eliminating wickedness and saving the people is an imperative task for righteous soldiers.’”

縂兵官征夷將軍成果公朱能等,為征討安南黎賊事。

嘗謂:興滅繼絕,實仁政之所先,去暴救民,在義師之必舉。

2

To “raise the destroyed and continue the severed” (興滅繼絕) means to put back in power an overthrown dynasty, while “eliminating wickedness” (去暴) in this context meant getting rid of the person who had usurped the throne, Lê/Hồ Quý Ly.

Indeed, this long document goes on to document Lê/Hồ Quý Ly’s “crimes,” to also document the Ming emperor’s “benevolent intent,” and it concludes with an appeal for assistance in locating Lê/Hồ Quý Ly as well as any Trần descendants.

3

While all of that is interesting, what immediately caught my attention was the way in which these opening lines somewhat mirror, or perhaps appear to be in a dialog with, the opening lines of the Bình Ngô Đại Cáo, an announcement that was made after the Ming had left the Red River delta and a new Vietnamese dynasty had come to power.

That document began as follows:

“I have heard that the importance of engaging in acts of benevolence and righteousness is in bringing peace to the people, [and that] for campaigning troops nothing is more pressing than eliminating wickedness.”

蓋聞:仁義之舉,要在安民,吊伐之師,莫先去暴。

4

On the one hand, I think that a lot of these documents began and ended in similar ways, but on the other hand I also wonder if the similarities between the opening passages of these two documents was due to something more specific to this historical context than literary conventions.

12 thoughts on “A Ming Inspiration for the Bình Ngô Đại Cáo?

  1. You should know that believing in Chinese texts is as bad as believing the official story of 19 Muslims hijacking the planes and flew into the twin towers on 9/11.

    The 20 millions or so that Mao killed is taught in Chinese history as a little famine event, bad weather. They say that our king Thục Phán was from Shu, a Han state, but now archaeological artifacts discovered from the Shu state proves that it was not a Han state and it rewrites Chinese history. The discovery of Văn Đế’s tomb rewrites Chinese history, they’re confused of who he was while we know he was the son of our princess Mỵ Châu and his name “Văn Đế” is recorded in our history. A recent article on ̣9/11/2015 at hodovietnam.vn also lists places where Hai Bà Trưng are worshiped in Guangxi and Guangdong where they have alters or shrines for them and also their various generals. Yet they keep saying that South China was not our land.

    Even the discovery of the white mummies in Western China have been swept under the carpet, when you mention it the Chinese would say they were immigrants who came to China during the Silk Road period 2,500 years ago. They’ve found white mummies as old as 4,000 years, so the 1,500 year dead mummy walked the Silk Road to China 2,500 years ago and got buried there. They can’t see that they’re being shameless fork-tongued and can’t learn to have honor and speak the truth.

    The discovery of Liangzhu also ‘rewrites’ Chinese history. Now they’re even claiming that Sinitic civilization started at Liangzhu. But they forget a little detail that Liangzhu artefacts and time of existence match with Vietnamese historical timeline of the Nine Li and Baiyue people.

    1. Thanks for the comment, but you are badly confusing two very separate things: 1) what Chinese today say about the past and 2) texts written in classical Chinese.

      Who gives a shit what Chinese today say about the past?!! I certainly don’t, and I don’t think any self-respecting historian in the Western world does either. What IS important are texts that were written in the past in classical Chinese (regardless of whether they were written by Viets, Koreans, Japanese or Han, etc.). This is something that many people don’t understand, however, because they CAN’T read those texts. Further, it is essential to be able to read those texts CRITICALLY, but that is a skill that one only acquires by first learning to be able to read classical Chinese.

      “The 20 millions or so that Mao killed is taught in Chinese history as a little famine event, bad weather.”

      “They say that our king Thục Phán was from Shu, a Han state, but now archaeological artifacts discovered from the Shu state proves that it was not a Han state and it rewrites Chinese history.”
      http://www.amazon.com/Ancient-Sichuan-Treasures-Lost-Civilization/dp/0691088519/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1447388398&sr=1-3&keywords=ancient+kingdom+of+shu

      “The discovery of Văn Đế’s tomb rewrites Chinese history, they’re confused of who he was while we know he was the son of our princess Mỵ Châu and his name “Văn Đế” is recorded in our history.”
      http://www.jstor.org/stable/189288?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

      I agree that archaeology is important, and I thought I already wrote about this, but I can’t find it now. In any case, the Dai Viet su ky toan thu says that after Zhao Tuo the rulers of Nam Viet/Nanyue did not refer to themselves as “emperors.” That is because the Dai Viet su ky toan thu for that period is based on Chinese sources. What archaeologists have found, however, is that the Zhao family DID continue to use the title of emperor.

      So not only can archaeology teach the Chinese a lesson, it can teach the Vietnamese a lesson too.

      “A recent article on ̣9/11/2015 at hodovietnam.vn also lists places where Hai Bà Trưng are worshiped in Guangxi and Guangdong where they have alters or shrines for them and also their various generals. Yet they keep saying that South China was not our land.”

      Yes, and the North Vietnamese government removed Ma Yuan temples from the North in the 1950s, and pushed Wenchang dijun to the back of Ngoc Son Temple and placed Tran Hung Dao in his place. So by your logic, this must mean that the Red River Delta is “theirs” but “you keep saying that the Red River Delta is not their land.”

      “Even the discovery of the white mummies in Western China have been swept under the carpet, when you mention it the Chinese would say they were immigrants who came to China during the Silk Road period 2,500 years ago. They’ve found white mummies as old as 4,000 years, so the 1,500 year dead mummy walked the Silk Road to China 2,500 years ago and got buried there. They can’t see that they’re being shameless fork-tongued and can’t learn to have honor and speak the truth.”

      Victor Mair wrote about the importance for Chinese history of the discovery of these mummies decades ago!!!

      “The discovery of Liangzhu also ‘rewrites’ Chinese history. Now they’re even claiming that Sinitic civilization started at Liangzhu. But they forget a little detail that Liangzhu artefacts and time of existence match with Vietnamese historical timeline of the Nine Li and Baiyue people.”

      “Baiyue” is itself a Chinese construct:
      https://www2.ihp.sinica.edu.tw/file/1470eFJFTXT.pdf

      This blog represents one voice from the world of scholarship in “the West.” That world is far far far far far ahead of the worlds of scholarship in China and Vietnam.

      Read what scholars in “the West” have written. THEN if you think you have something to say, please go ahead and say it. But if all you can do is to whine about what Chinese say, then please whine somewhere else, as I for certain could not care less what Chinese historians say, and I’m confident that most of the readers of this blog feel the same.

      1. Thank you for your reply. You seem to miss my point. It’s not just about what the Chinese say today, as I’ve also mention the 9/11 incident in the US. We just can’t take the text as absolute truth, given they have a history of lying. I’m sure Western academics do publish certain doubts about Chinese historical claim but that does not mean they have not been deceived and mentally enslaved by the system. I don’t take what the govern say about the war on terror these days at face value so I’m skeptical about imperial records, people say benign things does not mean that’s the truth of their policy.

        Ma-yuan temple in Vietnam, obviously since North Vietnam was part of the Han empire, the Chinese who lived in Vietnam built them. If Vietnamese never lived in South China and it was not part of our territory then why would there be alters and shrines for Hai Ba Trung, Chinese would not build them.

        Obviously Ngo Si Lien would not say that Nanyue kings held emperor titles, it would cause friction and war with the Chinese. However it was not entirely based on Chinese source, he used Chinese source for reference as legitimacy, He named “Van De” which Chinese historians would not have used because they considered Nayue king as lesser or vassal state, that’s why when they found his tomb and were confused even though the imperial seal said ‘Van De”.

        If it’s possible for the Han up north in Beijing to include its vast territory southwards which includes so many Baiyue peoples and others as Chinese. Then it is certain possible for the Viet people in the south where we also have the Zhuang to extent our territory upwards to include other ethnics as one Great Viet family group as we shared bronze drum culture for example, we lost the drum culture since Mayuan stopped us from using it. The Chinese burned a lot of books so there’s no telling what sort of ethnical and territorial map prior to the Shang dynasty was or whether Baiyue was a Chinese construct or not. What they need to look in is what’s stated by the history told by Ho Do people, they said that Lac Long Quan was the leading leader of all the Viet/Yue, but governed one part and his three other brothers governed three other parts, so Baiyue descendants of Lac Long Quan is not all of the Yue ethnics but there are at least three more ethnics related to Baiyue, and the people in ancient times did call themselves Yue so it’s not merely a term assigned by the Han. The Han for example call the people the the western part Hu or something like that.

        The discovery of Liangzhu and Baiyue genetic evidence fit more with Vietnamese history timeline more than with the Han’s narrative yet people keep using the Han’s as central reference even those who doubt it and keep on dismissing Vietnamese history; not to mention vast number of suspiciously “underdefined” or “unclassified” genetic findings at various sites. Despite our genetic is close to people in South China, we actually have more North East Asian genes than SEA, so what if the Tran or whoever were from Fujian, Fujian was Yue territory, Yue people existed before the Han people came along. Sure there’s been Sinitic influence on culture but the ethnics are not clear cut, just because they were from Fujian it does not make them Han.

      2. Great ideas! Please write them up into an article (or encourage someone else to do so) and send them to any one of the following peer-reviewed journals so that they can get published and more widely known:

        Journal of Asian Studies
        Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies
        T’oung Pao
        Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
        Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient
        Early Medieval China
        International Journal of Asian Studies
        TRaNS: Trans-Regional and -National Studies of Southeast Asia
        Journal of Vietnamese Studies
        Asia Major

      3. Hi:

        Just because the texts were written in the past does not mean that they are any more honest than what is being written now by the Chinese historians. If they can alter historical events now, who is to say they didn’t do it in the past?

        I don’t have the ability to read classical Chinese either but I believe all dictatorial regimes act the same way when it comes to saying favorable things about them. For that reason, i think it is at least reasonable to raise the question of whether you can fully believe the “official” historical records of the past.

        As for the “inspiration”, the author of Bình Ngô Đại Cáo clearly states: “I have heard ….” so he never took credit for the following lines. That is straightforward and a lot more honest than you can say about other authors.

      4. Yea, for simplicity’s sake I translated the first two characters (蓋聞) as “I have heard,” but in actuality there is no term for “I” here. The first character (蓋) is just a sound that is used in written language to start an expression (文言虛詞(❶發語詞,如“~聞”;). It’s literally more something like “Aho! It has been heard that. . .” In other words, it’s not something personal, but it’s signaling ideas that many people are supposed to share and know about.

        There is no text anywhere that can be taken literally. No text is “honest,” and no professional historian thinks that a text is “honest,” nor do historians read texts that way. Every text, from articles in the New York Times to ancient Egyptian inscriptions, has to be read critically. Professional historians are people who spend years and years trying to improve their ability to read texts critically, and there are historians in each new generation who build on the achievements of earlier generations and get better at this.

        That said, there are places, like the PRC and Vietnam, where historians do not necessarily try to read texts critically, and where later generations of historians do not necessarily get better at reading texts. There are various reasons why this happens, but it doesn’t mean that it is impossible to use historical sources. It’s not that it can’t be done, it’s just that in some societies, for various reasons, historians don’t try to do that.

      5. HAHAHAHAHA. You don’t give a shit what Chinese today say but you seem to give a lot of shit what people in the past said, as if people DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO LIE a few thousand years ago. YOU ARE A JOKE!

      6. Brilliant observation!! So by this logic, we can assume that basically everything Vietnamese/Thais/Malays/Burmese/Filipinos, etc. have written about themselves over the centuries is full of lies as well. That’s exactly what I’ve been showing on this blog for the past several years.

        Van Lang – a lie.
        Hung Kings – a lie.

        etc., etc., etc.

        I completely agree with you!!! Thanks for the insightful comment!!

      7. @ Rồng

        “The Chinese burned a lot of books”

        If you are referring to Qin Shi Huang’s book burning there are tons of Zhou texts and Shang Oracle born texts which survive and none of which support your claims otherwise you’d be citing them now.

        If you are claiming, like other Vietnamese ultra-nationalists claim, that Vietnam had its own script before Chinese rule and that the Ming dynasty burned all Vietnamese books and that not a single book survived of this script which we should allegedly not know existed because no books survived except in the minds of Vietnamese ultra-nationalists, you need to seek urgent mental help. Egypt has been conquered and its cities sacked countless times yet Egyptian texts still survive to this day.

        “, so what if the Tran or whoever were from Fujian, Fujian was Yue territory, Yue people existed before the Han people came along. ”

        After the Han dynasty conquered Minyue (Fujian), it was recorded in the Shiji that every single native of Fujian was deported northwards to the area of the Huai River valley. The King of Minyue claimed descent from northern Chinese.

        Fujian was transformed into a majority Han area by the time of the late Tang dynasty-early Song dynasty by the massive influx of Han fleeing wars in northern China. The King of the Min Kingdom came from Henan in northern China. The Tran family left Fujian to Vietnam during the Song dynasty and they spoke a Sinitic language.

        “Even the discovery of the white mummies in Western China have been swept under the carpet, when you mention it the Chinese would say they were immigrants who came to China during the Silk Road period 2,500 years ago. They’ve found white mummies as old as 4,000 years, so the 1,500 year dead mummy walked the Silk Road to China 2,500 years ago and got buried there. They can’t see that they’re being shameless fork-tongued and can’t learn to have honor and speak the truth.”

        Complete BS. Ancient Chinese texts said that white people (caucasians) lived in the Tarim Basin area where the mummies were found. The Han dynasty texts like Shiji talk about the Tocharian and Saka Kingdoms like Loulan, Khotan, Kashgar, and the Gushi people in the area. Chinese poets during the Tang dynasty like Li Bai wrote poems about the people and their features. Nothing was swept under the carpet, in fact the discoveries just confirmed what Chinese texts recorded. It was well known that Caucasian people lived in the Tarim Basin. The Han and Tang dynasties conquered the Tarim Basin and ruled over that area. You don’t know anything about China.

        “The discovery of Liangzhu also ‘rewrites’ Chinese history. Now they’re even claiming that Sinitic civilization started at Liangzhu. But they forget a little detail that Liangzhu artefacts and time of existence match with Vietnamese historical timeline of the Nine Li and Baiyue people.”

        Wrong, the Chinese narrative is that Sinitic civilization started in Henan in the Yellow River area at the Erlitou culture, which eventually expanded under the Shang and Zhou, and absorbed other cultures like Liangzhu and Sanxingdui in Sichuan. Liangzhu isn’t the culture which developed a written language, it was the Shang dynasty after Erlitou which developed the Oracle bone script and was recorded in ancient Chinese histories like the Shiji.

        ” A recent article on ̣9/11/2015 at hodovietnam.vn also lists places where Hai Bà Trưng are worshiped in Guangxi and Guangdong where they have alters or shrines for them and also their various generals. Yet they keep saying that South China was not our land.”

        Chinese don’t worship enemies they defeated and the native Yue inhabitants of Guangxi and Guangdong are the Tai Zhuang people along with Hmong-Mien peoples. There are Zhuang people and Hmong-Mien living in the highlands of north Vietnam along the border. While Kinh people lived in the Red River Delta.

        Unless you are saying the Trung Sisters were Zhuang then your article is another Vietnamese ultra-nationalist fantasy. There is no reason for the Zhuang to worship the Trung Sisters unless the were Zhuang.

        Go to Guangxi and tell the Zhuang people that their land is now “Vietnamese land” and see if you can escape without any injuries.

        The entire South Vietnam is Cham, Montagnard, and Khmer Krom land. Practice what you preach and free Champa, the Central Highlands, and give Mekong and Saigon back to Cambodia before making wet dream fantasy claims to Guangxi and Guangdong..

  2. You should know that believing in Chinese texts is as bad as believing the official story of 19 Muslims hijacking the planes and flew into the twin towers on 9/11.

    The 20 millions or so that Mao killed is taught in Chinese history as a little famine event, bad weather. They say that our king Thục Phán was from Shu, a Han state, but now archaeological artifacts discovered from the Shu state proves that it was not a Han state and it rewrites Chinese history. The discovery of Văn Đế’s tomb rewrites Chinese history, they’re confused of who he was while we know he was the son of our princess Mỵ Châu and his name “Văn Đế” is recorded in our history. A recent article on ̣9/11/2015 at hodovietnam.vn also lists places where Hai Bà Trưng are worshiped in Guangxi and Guangdong where they have alters or shrines for them and also their various generals. Yet they keep saying that South China was not our land.

    Even the discovery of the white mummies in Western China have been swept under the carpet, when you mention it the Chinese would say they were immigrants who came to China during the Silk Road period 2,500 years ago. They’ve found white mummies as old as 4,000 years, so the 1,500 year dead mummy walked the Silk Road to China 2,500 years ago and got buried there. They can’t see that they’re being shameless fork-tongued and can’t learn to have honor and speak the truth.

    The discovery of Liangzhu also ‘rewrites’ Chinese history. Now they’re even claiming that Sinitic civilization started at Liangzhu. But they forget a little detail that Liangzhu artefacts and time of existence match with Vietnamese historical timeline of the Nine Li and Baiyue people.

    1. @Thuong HuyenDong
      You ‘re the victim of “false memory syndrome ” , the memory of “1000-year of chinese domination ” ; that syndrome sprang up since westerners invented “nation or ethnie centric ” history , since Napoleon III of France invented the “Gaulois” , I believe . Formerly , history was dynasty-centric , i.e, a new dynasty gives rise to a new country , no continuity with the former dynasty, the subjects were not mentioned .
      With the new history outlook , one tries to give voice to the subjects , to the “people” , it’s commendable . But what is preposterous is the urge to
      interpret backwards past events under the light of the new theory .
      So , the thousand year ‘s appartenance of Tonkin to different northern empires was reinterpreted as domination of chinese people on VN people
      neither people existed in those ancient times ; thanks from the VN people for the gift !!!.
      Thousand year of domination ,it’s too heavy a burden for the human mind ,
      it crazed people, they try to compensate by “inventing ” a distinct VN culture harking back thousands years back , even as predecessor of the chinese one .
      Dr Kelly in dffferent posts has debunked these notions of “essential “chinese and VN ethnies , existing continuously ever since the dawn of history

      1. Well said!!

        The other point that I always find fascinating is that people who cannot read classical Chinese are always the ones who are “convinced” that people who can read texts in classical Chinese are “brainwashed” or “Han-centric,” etc.

        I guess the logic here is that the most direct way to access “the truth” is through a lack of knowledge. That makes sense. . .

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