Nguyễn Đăng Thịnh’s 1744 Request that Nguyễn Phúc Khoát Become Emperor

According to the official chronicles of the Nguyễn Dynasty, the Đại Nam thực lục (hereafter ĐNTL), in 1744 Nguyễn Đăng Thịnh, an official in Đàng Trong, presented a petition to his ruler, Nguyễn Phúc Khoát, the “Nguyễn lord” of Đàng … Continue reading Nguyễn Đăng Thịnh’s 1744 Request that Nguyễn Phúc Khoát Become Emperor

Emperor Thành Thái’s Edict to Establish the Quốc học in 1896

In 1896, the Nguyễn Dynasty established a school at the royal capital in Huế for teaching French.

Known in Vietnamese as the Quốc học, its original name in classical Chinese was Quốc học trường 國學場, meaning the “national learning school,” and it was referred to in French as the “Collège national.” (And yes, it is significant that “national learning” at this time meant learning French. . .)

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Emperor Tự Đức as a Reformer

In English-language writings on Vietnamese history, the Nguyễn Dynasty has long been depicted as resistant to reform. In this depiction, people like Emperor Tự Đức are said to have been so absorbed in the world of Confucian tradition that they did not recognize the need to change.

My suspicion is that this view of the past was probably first developed by French authors during the colonial period as a way to justify their rule, and it later fit the needs of twentieth-century Vietnamese nationalists as well, and has become part of the nationalist narrative of Vietnamese history.

In terms of English-language scholarship, I think that this view has persisted simply because there has been so little work done in English on the Nguyễn Dynasty, because when one looks at the historical record, it is clear that the depiction of the Nguyễn Dynasty as resistant to reform definitely needs to be revisited.

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