Vietnam's historical relationship with China until the early nineteenth century: overview and hypotheses

Wednesday March 19, 2014: Conference Vietnam's historical relations with China until the beginning of the XNUMXth century: overview and hypotheses by Philippe Papin, Director of studies at the Practical School of Hautes Études. Fourth section: history and philology.

Mr. Papin wants to present the relations between Vietnam and China by considering nations less than individuals, less territories than men and the interests that unite them across the border. He thinks it is time to consider ancient Asia and the Chinese influence on it in terms that are similar to those of Western historians in relation to the Roman Empire: constant exchanges, participation of both. , an imperial culture which is essential because it is deliberately chosen by the neighboring peoples.

Major regional cultures dominate because they are prestigious but also because they are a source of prestige for those who join them. The Vietnamese elite draws from China what strengthens their power and elevates their country to the rank of civilized nations.


The formation of a Sino-Vietnamese elite (first millennium).

The Chinese protectorate and the direct administration of Vietnam by China lasts from 111 av. JC to 968 apr. After a period of conflict with the local aristocracy who did not want to associate with the Chinese because they were competing with it, the Chinese imperial system will integrate local cadres who will even become governors of the protectorate. A Chinese governor, Shi Xie (137-226), was such a good administrator that he is still worshiped today. He was passionate about the country, adopted Chinese characters, promoted Buddhism and played an extraordinary civilizing role.

Alongside the Chinese who became Vietnamese there are the Vietnamese who became Chinese. Buddhist associations were one of the important links in this merger: after the XNUMXnd century Buddhist stelae brought together Chinese and Vietnamese names. Another example of this fusion is the construction of Han-style tombs for the Vietnamese elite between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries. The dimensions of these vaults are a little more modest and they do not have side chambers but it is interesting to note that the ceramics found in these tombs are divided into two categories: the common ceramics which is of rather coarse invoice whereas of small more elaborate pieces are in fine ceramic, Han type, mounted on a lathe.

This fusion, during the first millennium, is such that we do not always know if we are dealing with Chinese or Vietnamese.

Under the Tang, the country receives the name of Annam (South pacified) but after the fall of the dynasty, an era of troubles ensues. By gaining independence from China, Vietnam is facing internal struggles that will only end in 1010.

From 1010, the new Ly dynasty installs its capital on the site of present Hanoi and it is interesting to note that the edict of foundation of the capital Thang Long pays tribute to the last governor Tang, Gao Pian, who had a key role in the fields of construction and architecture. The new dynasty is a continuation of what was done under the Tang, a period considered as a model, and relies on a Chinese-style administration. In the thirteenth century, a Chinese traveler notes that, above the throne of the emperor, there is a large carved wooden panel bearing the title "General Protectorate of AnnamIn Chinese characters. This shows legitimacy through the use of the most prestigious culture, in this case China.


Territorial expansion of Vietnam from Ly Dynasty to early Nguyen Dynasty.

Vietnam.John louis-taber-dated priest card-1838

Territorial Expansion of the Ly Dynasty (1010) to the Nguyen Dynasty (1834)

Map of Annam in the dictionary of priest Jean-Louis Taber. Dated from 1838



Empire, independence and tribute.

China is not a large, coherent bloc that opposes the others, but a system of civilization in which the peripheral countries try to integrate if they are accepted: on one side there is civilization and on the other there is barbarity. For civilizable regions, the affirmation of proximity to the Empire is essential and their fear would be to relapse into barbarism. Knowledge of Chinese characters is an essential element of civilization. When a country is part of Chinese civilization, the army cannot intervene while, against barbarian countries, everything is permitted.

For Vietnam, the struggle for political autonomy does not consist in distinguishing itself from the Chinese but, on the contrary, in resembling them. The independence of Vietnam only makes sense if it is integrated into the Chinese Empire, which was all the easier for the elite who had cohabited with China for a thousand years.

In the Chinese system, the emperor and the court are in the center, the fiefs belonging to great feudal lords come next, then there are the controlled marches (leashed territories with loose bridles or strained bridles), then the barbarians. Vietnam is classified as the most independent of dependents, Tributary Principality with periodic tribute. This periodic tribute is still to be negotiated and is only given for a maximum of three, six or ten years. This tribute is a kind of investiture by the emperor and gives Vietnam a status and the guarantee of its independence and a position of strength compared to other countries of Southeast Asia.

In the XNUMXth century the Ming army intervened because the chaos reigning in the country, Vietnam had relapsed in the eyes of the Chinese into barbarism. In a correspondence, Nguyên Trai, adviser to the one who would become the first ruler of the Lê dynasty, recalls "our country has become a foreign country, the Han considered us before as a country held by cowardly bridles which each year paid tribute and received 'nomination… that's what we want ”. It is the diplomatic game of pretending to be submissive in order to be free. The Vietnamese are completely integrated into the Chinese Empire: they speak the language and use the writing.

The tribute is a Chinese institution dating back to the third millennium BC. Vietnam pays for it from 968 and will pay it regularly to 1880.

The actual independence of Annam is not done in 1010 but in 1164 when the country will be recognized as external vassal principality. The tribute is paid on average every three years and is essentially symbolic: gold, silver, furs, elephant tusks, rhino horns, wood and tin. According to the times the tribute can vary and, thus, in Mongolian times hostages were also required: three doctors, three scholars and three astrologers while in the XNUMXth century, under the Lê, China demanded two "gold" statues. generals that the Vietnamese had killed during the War of Independence. Towards the end of the XNUMXth century, the tribute was only paid every six years but the price was higher: a gold incense burner, gold or silver vases, a gold turtle… In the XNUMXth century the tribute passes every four years. In the XNUMXth century, when the Chinese Empire collapsed, Vietnam was one of the great empires of Southeast Asia with Thailand and Burma and the exchange of tribute was then carried out at the border without it being be necessary to go to the capital. These embassies, in addition to the political aspect, promote a constant circulation of people and ideas. In most of the craft villages of North Vietnam, the workshops  were almost always founded by a Mandarin originally from the place that went to Beijing, stayed there a year or two, and who, on the return, reported techniques and equipment (inlaid mother-of-pearl, printing, etc.). The books also come in this way and one realizes that the Vietnamese Confucianism is that of the Tang and not the Confucianism of the time, because the mandarins reported what they considered the original. In the same way, the Chinese characters used in Vietnam did not follow evolution and froze. For the Vietnamese what was the oldest (possibly the most old-fashioned) served as a reference.

We have a lot of information about these embassies that allowed political and cultural exchanges and maps or itineraries were even printed, mentioning the places to be visited on the way as travel guides, a kind of vademecum of diplomats.

The Emperor of China will never refuse the investiture, and when there are changes of dynasty, if the new ruler agrees to pay the tribute, he is automatically invested. The Empire does not interfere in internal affairs, which explains why it is not a system of political domination but of cultural aggregation. When, at the end of the sixteenth century, there was a struggle between two competing families, the Le and the Mac, the Empire would demote the Annam to the rank of Grand Governorate of Annam, while the internal situation stabilized. .

Throughout this millennium, Vietnam will try to remain an independent vassal, the largest independent external vassal. However, the Vietnamese cheat for independence of mind. Internally they carry a greater title than what they use in foreign diplomacy (the king of Annam is emperor in his country). From the beginning, the kings are supposed to accompany the tribute to the capital but they always find a pretext or an excuse to dispense with it. More curious is the practice of false names: we send mandarins who sign the tribute under false names, which vitiates the payment of the tribute and makes it possible to save face (Vietnam has not paid tribute because the Mandarin does not exist).


The relationship between China and Vietnam from the eleventh to the eighteenth century.

There are three periods of open conflict with China:

The first with the Song, 1075, following an attempt to encroach on the border, which ends with an agreement in 1079, Vietnam retains its independence while recognizing the suzerainty of the Empire.

The second opposes Vietnam to the Mongols in 1257 because they refuse to let the Mongol armies to take the Southern Song back and in 1258 the Mongols ransack the capital. Another attack will take place in 1285 following the refusal to secure the maritime route of spices.

The third conflict occurs in the early fifteenth century with the Ming who also want to protect the spice route. Vietnam is then demoted to the rank of protectorate with a governor and Chinese mandarins. It is during this period that the administration finishes completely to sinine and that all the receipts of the centralized state are applied.

The Annam of the Le dynasty reached its peak in the 15th century thanks to an efficient centralized administration and a Confucian bureaucracy. Having regained its status as an independent independent vassal, Vietnam can annex the northern part of Champa in 1471.




The Chinese population of Vietnam: XNUMXth - XNUMXth centuries.

Chinese immigrants are found throughout Southeast Asia. In the thirteenth century a district of Hanoi is inhabited only by Chinese. In 1274 thirty boats bring Uighur families who settle near East Lake in Hanoi. In the thirteenth century, at the fall of the Song, there is also a massive influx of Chinese officers and their troops who will join the army of Vietnam.

In 1644, at the fall of the Ming, a core of Chinese refugees not wanting to submit to the new power will emigrate to southern Vietnam and settle in unoccupied areas, especially on the border. It is these populations that are spreading by swarming the south of Cochin China.

To avoid bypassing the end of the peninsula with particularly dangerous waters, Chinese boats prefer to use the canals and rivers that cross the tip of Cochin China and the Vietnamese lords concede monopolies to Chinese traders who will found waterways that last until the end of the colonial era.

Most immigrants during the seventeenth-eighteenth centuries are scholars, officers, administrators. Thus many Vietnamese scholars will have a Chinese ancestry.

In 1744, the Jesuits estimate 30 000 the number of Chinese settled in the south of Vietnam.

In the nineteenth century, merchants will settle in Saigon and Cholon which is the hub of river traffic. It is the setting up of congregations (Cantonese, Fujianese, etc.) that allow the Chinese people to self-manage.

In 1838, the Vietnamese government decides to assimilate all the Chinese who arrived between the seventeenth and the nineteenth in a common statute by giving the same benefits to all.

During the first census in 1836, Tonkin has only 0,5% of Chinese while Cochinchina has 4%, which translates into a greater sinification of the South compared to the North.

Vietnamese officials, who are Confucian, systematically go through Chinese for everything that is trade; this benefits the Chinese community but dispossesses the Vietnamese population to the point that almost all commercial activity is in Chinese hands.

In colonial times, the trade in pepper, sugar or rice was in the hands of the Chinese. The rice trade, in particular, is the pillar of the country's development: in 1929, Vietnam was the world's largest exporter of rice.  and the leading supplier of China.

The Chinese also have the monopoly of opium (a control such as alcohol and salt) but are also the main consumers (15 000 Chinese smokers in 1910). Thus, through taxes, 3% of the population, in this case  the Chinese, contribute half of the budget of Indochina.

In conclusion, relations between Vietnam and China have been political but also essentially commercial and human.


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