Biblical and Mathematical Refutations of the Hồng-Mang/Hồng Bàng Dynasty

The first Westerners to examine Việt history were Jesuit missionaries. By the time that Jesuit missionaries started to work in the Red River Delta in the seventeenth century, one of their colleagues in China had already made an enormous discovery, namely that Chinese history pre-dated the time of the Biblical flood.

The scholar who came to this determination was Jesuit missionary Martinio Martini who stated in his 1658 work, Sinicae Historiae [Chinese History], that “outermost Asia was inhabited before the deluge.” The way he came to this conclusion was by calculating when various astronomical phenomena mentioned in ancient Chinese texts should have occurred. From these calculations he determined that Fu Xi, whom he saw as the first verifiable Chinese ruler, had lived before the time of the Flood.

Martini

Martini based his calculations on one version of the Bible, the Vulgate. There was another version, the Septuagint, that placed the Flood earlier, but not early enough to completely discount the presence of people in China before that time.

Approximately one and a half centuries after Martini made this discovery, there was a Jesuit, or Jesuits, who examined early Việt history in a similar manner.

This person’s ideas appeared in a series of publications of letters from Jesuit missions in Asia called Nouvelles lettres édifiantes des missions de la Chine et des Indes orientales [New and Edifying Letters of the Missions of China and the East Indies].

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The sixth volume in that series, published in 1821, contained letters from missionaries in Tonkin, or what we today refer to as northern Vietnam.

In an introduction to these letters, someone provided a “Chronological Table of the Kings of Tonkin” which starts with the “Hông-Mang Dynasty.” (xxxiv)

Today this mythical dynasty is referred to as the Hồng Bàng Dynasty, but the character for “bàng” 厖/龐 is also pronounced “mang,” which leads to an interesting question: Why did whoever wrote this in the early nineteenth century think that the correct pronunciation of this character in this dynastic name was “mang”?

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In any case, the author of this introduction declared that the information about the Hông-Mang Dynasty was nothing more than a web of fables. The way this author came to this conclusion was by comparing the dates of the Hông-Mang Dynasty with the dates of the Biblical Flood.

The author stated that according to Việt annals, this dynasty began in 2874 BC (today, 2879 is that date that is usually referred to), which according to the Vulgate version of the Bible was 500 years before the Flood. It was thus obvious to this writer that no dynasty could have survived that event, and therefore, the records of its existence had to be mythical.

That said, this author also noted that the Septuagint version of the Bible argued that the flood had taken place earlier, in 3235 BC, and that there was a dispersal of peoples 173 years after the flood, or in 3062 BC, in which case it was theoretically possible that the Hông-Mang Dynasty had been established in 2874 BC.

Nonetheless, even if that was the case, this author argued that there were other problems with the information about the Hông-Mang Dynasty. (xxxiv-xxxv)

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In particular, the annals recorded that the founder of the “Hông-Mang Dynasty” was King Kinh Dương (Kinh Dương Vương), and that he was the great grandson of the (mythical) Chinese emperor, Shen Nong/Thần Nông.

According to this author, Shen Nong/Thần Nông ascended the throne in 2818 BC. However, the Việt annals stated that King Kinh Dương started to rule from 2874 BC. So how, this author wondered, could it be possible that a great grandson could ascend the throne before his great grandfather? (xxiv)

Another problem related to the information in the annals that the Hùng kings had ruled for 18 generations. This author calculated that a generation should equal about 30 years. So 30 years multiplied by 18 would equal 540 years.

Such a short period of rule, however, would be difficult to reconcile with the idea that the Hùng kings were the descendants of Shen Nong/Thần Nông (through King Kinh Dương and Lord Lạc Long), because this would leave a 1,200 year gap between Shen Nong/Thần Nông and King Kinh Dương.

DSCN7078DSCN7077

Not all that long before this Jesuit missionary wrote this piece, Vietnamese scholar Ngô Thì Sĩ had also questioned the accuracy of the dates of the Hồng Bàng dynasty. Instead of assuming that a generation was approximately 30 years, Ngô Thì Sĩ took the entire period and divided it by the number of rulers, and from that he noted that each ruler would have had to rule for 130 years, which of course was impossible.

It is interesting to see this convergence of ideas that doubted the information about Việt antiquity that was recorded in Việt historical texts, namely the fifteenth-century Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư [Complete Book of the Historical Records of Đại Việt].

Now, 200 years later, Vietnamese have reverted to believing in this past, while Westerners, after having believed in it in the politically-charged era of the 1960s-1980s, have now gone back to refuting it.

9 thoughts on “Biblical and Mathematical Refutations of the Hồng-Mang/Hồng Bàng Dynasty

  1. _ there is confusion between bàng and mang although they are different Han characters .
    _ 龐 bàng ‘ s key or radical is 龍 long ( = dragon ) ; besides the key is the character 广 nghiễm ( = roof )
    _ 厖 mang ‘s key is 厂 hán ( = slope )
    _ 厂 hán and 广 nghiễm look alike , but for a dot on the roof of 厂 hán
    _ sometimes the character 龍 is written similarly as the character under the roof 厂 hán in the word 厖 mang
    Those tiny differences explain the confusion between bàng et mang

    1. Thanks for bringing this up, as it forced me to look at this more closely.

      From what I can see, this is not simply a confusion between two characters, as it involves the use of “unofficial characters” (異體字) some of which have multiple pronunciations.

      When this character was printed in the past, it was usually printed as 厖, and sometimes as 厂 + 龍, but not as 龐. One simple explanation for this is that it is easier to make a woodblock print for厖 than for龐. But it doesn’t seem to be that simple.

      The Nội Các version of the Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư has 厖.
      The Quốc Tử Giám version has 厂 + 龍.
      The Đại Việt sử ký tiền biên has厖.
      The Khâm định Việt sử Thông giám cương mục has 庬.

      厖 and厂/龍 are both unofficial versions (異體字) of龐, and can both be pronounced “bàng.”
      http://dict.variants.moe.edu.tw/yitia/fra/fra01232.htm

      The primary pronunciation of 厖 is “bàng” but it can also be pronounced “mang.”
      http://dict.variants.moe.edu.tw/yitib/frb/frb00281.htm

      As for 庬, its primary pronunciation is “mang,” or “manh,” but it can also be pronounced “bàng,” and in that sense can serve as a variant of厖 and 龐.
      http://dict.variants.moe.edu.tw/yitib/frb/frb00966.htm
      http://www.zdic.net/z/19/js/5EAC.htm

      To get back to the question of why a Jesuit missionary in the early nineteenth century would refer to the Hồng Mang Dynasty, I’m still not sure.

      If you consider 1) the different characters that people used and their overlapping pronunciations, 2) the fact that Vietnamese in different places speak (or pronounce words) differently, and 3) the fact that there was no universal education system at that time that had textbooks on Việt history that taught about the “ Hồng Bàng” Dynasty, then I think that it’s possible that this Jesuit missionary interacted with people who referred to the Hồng Mang Dynasty.

      Or another way to look at it, it could represent something like the difference between Minh Mẹnh and Minh Mạng – Hồng Mang and Hông Bàng.

  2. Always very interesting, Pro. Kelley (leminhkhai), to read your materials. I appreciate such a historical perspective that your offered. I myself believe, as once I commented on your writing about Kim Định, that facts and myths are interwoven by intentions … and also lost signs in history…. However, it is so interesting to continue…! Thank you.

  3. I wonder why you need to draw on Biblical refutations of the existence of the Hong Bang dynasty? The flood (Grand Deluge), according some sources, was local, affecting Mesopotamia mainly and not the whole earth per se. Is it correct to use the Grand Deluge as a cardinal point of historical reference for the interpretations of the histories of different regions in the world? It is like trying to draw a map of the world using Paris, Rome, or London as a cardinal point of reference?

  4. I don’t actually believe what this person wrote. I just think it is interesting to see the kind of logic this person used.

    You mentioned Benedict Anderson in one of your other comments. As you probably already know, in addition to his idea that nations are “imagined communities,” he has another book called “The Spectre of Comparisons,” and the concept there is that once someone knows about another place or another way of thinking, s/he can never view things the same again.

    If I remember correctly, I think he got that idea from one of Jose Rizal’s writings, and it was something about how some Filipino (perhaps a fictional character in a book) who had spent time in Spain in the nineteenth century looked at a park in Manila and couldn’t help but comparing it with the parks he had seen in Madrid (or something like that).

    This is the “spectre of comparisons.” Ngo Thi Si and the author above wrote around the same time, but Ngo Thi Si didn’t know anything about this other guy’s way of viewing the world. However, by the early twentieth century, there would be many Vietnamese scholars who would have a sense of other ways of viewing the world, and they would never be able to view their own world the same again.

    So I like this guy’s ideas, not because I believe them, but because they signify to me the arrival in Vietnam of a different way of viewing the world. The ideas that would take hold among Vietnamese scholars later would not be religious like this, but they would be as radically different from their own ideas as this person’s logic was from Ngo Thi Si’s.

  5. Since you seems to be interested in how and why a certain way of thinking has emerged, subsided, re-emerged in different thought forms, I presume you are also familiar with Foucault methods of archeology and genealogy of knowledge , would it not be better to make clear your own methods and purpose of the inquiry people can then know how to phase their contributions and suggestions in ways can benefit you and readers.
    This is just a thought, for I think what you are doing is important, but can only share if people who are interested in the subject and your work know the terms of the conversation. You do not have to reply, if you find it unnecessary.

      1. Long ago I read “The Archaeology of Accounting Systems” Anthony Hopwood 1987, it was an eye opener for me to see the importance of the conditions that provides the opportunity for a particular “craft” (if one may understand accounting as a craft) to emerge. In your particular case, the craft is writing his/herstory, the forces that put into motion a particular historical perspective, its elaboration and diffusion, and the diverse consequences in terms of human organisations in terms of “regime changes” the reading of his/herstory. “Nationalism” is a very young “regime”, in which “ethnicity” and “nation’ are often conflated. sometimes reading outside one discipline can help. network theory of migration is one thing, how a particular trend in migration have given rise to a particular regime of understanding the “nation” is another point, but closely related.

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