LMK Vlog #08: The Son of Heaven (Thiên tử 天子)

It is well known that Vietnamese emperors in the past saw themselves as the “Son of Heaven” (Thiên tử 天子), that is, as the main intermediary between the supreme power of Heaven and human affairs.

Although this is common knowledge, I can’t think of a single scholarly study that is dedicated to this topic, or to any related topic, such as the various rituals that were performed to maintain the relationship between the emperor and Heaven, the most important of which was the Nam Giao 南郊 sacrifice.

Why is it that something that was so important to at least the Vietnamese ruling elite in the past seems to have been of such little importance to historians in more recent times? That is the topic that the following video addresses:

3 thoughts on “LMK Vlog #08: The Son of Heaven (Thiên tử 天子)

  1. _ I happened on Bao dai ‘s recollections on last Nam giao of the Nguyên dynasty
    Hồi ức vua Bảo Đại: (Kỳ 1) Lễ tế Nam Giao cuối cùng
    Of course , the rites were important for agrarian societies like VN and China . I think , the all- important purpose is to ask for good rains and abundant crops . The ruler’s uppermost duty is to care for the people being well nourished . In case of famine due to droughts or floods , it would mean that the emperor has lost the heavenly mandate ; I read somewhere , during the giao rites , the emperor goes through the motion of digging a furrow .

    _ ” nam giao ” was mentioned since olden times in the Book of Rites
    In the Từ điển trích dẫn dictionary,one can find when one search for :
    _” nam giao 南郊” , Lễ Kí 禮記: “Lập hạ chi nhật, thiên tử thân suất tam công, cửu khanh, đại phu, dĩ nghênh hạ ư nam giao” 立夏之日, 天子親帥三公, 九卿, 大夫, 以迎夏於南郊 (Nguyệt lệnh 月令)
    _ “giao ” : Tế “giao”. § Ngày đông chí tế trời ở cõi phía nam ngoài thành gọi là tế “nam giao” 南郊 hay “giao thiên” 郊天
    _ ” bắc giao 北郊 ” : Lễ tế đất, do nhà vua đứng tế.
    It seems that there are two giao rites , north and south and they took place on special days : lập hạ or đông chí ( in the chinese calendar , there are 24 season days
    or tiết khí https://vi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ti%E1%BA%BFt_kh%C3%AD )

    1. This is really interesting!! Thank you for sharing it!!

      On the one hand, this kind of confirms my idea that Khai Dinh was “the last emperor,” in that he was the last Nguyen Dynasty monarch to fully be part of the mindset and world of “traditional” Vietnam. Bao Dai’s idea, for instance, that the Nam Giao used to be held every year but then was reduced (rút xuống) to once every three years in the early 20th century is not true. It was always once every three years. So emperors like Dong Khanh who only ruled for ~4 years, only performed the Nam Giao once.

      On the other hand, his explanation of his personal experiences is really interesting, especially when he talks about holding the Nam Giao in Buon Me Thuot with elephants forming the circle demarcating the ritual space. Traditionally the Nam Giao altar was always on a circular platform, but one made of stone, not elephants!! 🙂

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