The Ngô in the Dư Địa Chí were not the Ming

There is a fifteenth-century document that is today very famous in Vietnam. It is called the “Bình Ngô đại cáo” (The Great Proclamation on Pacifying the Ngô) and today it is seen in Vietnam as a kind of “declaration of independence” that was made after the Ming Dynasty forces were driven out of the Red River Delta after some two decades of occupation.

For years I have had problems with this interpretation of this document, and there are many posts on this blog which deal with this topic. I do not see this document as a “declaration of independence” but as a “declaration of victory” of one faction in the Việt world over another faction.

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Seeing Like a State in Fifteenth Century Vietnam

There is a book that was compiled in fifteenth century Vietnam called the Treatise on the Territory (Dư địa chí 輿地誌). This work was supposedly initially compiled by the scholar-official Nguyễn Trãi, but the versions that exist today also contain information that later scholars added.

The way this text is usually talked about in Vietnam today is as an example of any early “geography” or as a work of “historical geography.” As one scholar put it, Nguyễn Trãi’s text planted the seed that would eventually lead to the development of the field of “the historical geography of the Vietnamese people.” (Lần đầu tiên, Nguyễn Trãi đã đặt nền mống xây dựng khoa địa lý lịch sử của dân tộc Việt. . .)

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