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.