Tay Son Brothers


The State & Law Research Institute

By the over of the XVIIIth century, the feudal system in both the South and the North of Vietnam fell into serious crisis. The contradictions which had been accumulated and festering within the feudal society finally broke out into the open. The communal land và the land reclaimed by the peasants had been usurped by the landlords & local tyrants. Private estates extended continuously, especially in the South, but were mostly concentrated into the hand of the landlords. Crippling land rent và taxes brought complete ruin lớn the peasant economy và drove the peasants’ life to lớn utter misery. The merchants and handicraft workers also came under constant harassment & oppression.

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The bureaucratic and militarist State apparatus became more and more oppressive và further exacerbated the anger of all strata of the population. Added to lớn this was the brutal exploitation and oppression of the ethnic minorities by the feudal state, thus aggravating the already acute contradictions between the latter and the broad masses of the population.

Left with no alternative the destitute people consisting mostly of the peasant masses rose up to lớn wage a life-and-death struggle. Peasants revolts broke out in close succession and gained in strength & scope & climaxed in the Tay Son Revolt which erupted in 1771 và won complete success in 1789.

The Tay Son Revolt first smashed the rule of the feudal lords in the South (1784) and then took on the Le-Trinh rule in the North (1786), defeated the interventionist army of the Siamese (Thailand) king in 1784 & especially won a resounding victory over the strong interventionist army of the Ching empire in china in 1789. By these military exploits the Tay Son finally achieved the reunification of the long partitioned country, phối up a new State in Vietnam và began a number of progressive reforms in all domains, political, economic, cultural and social. However, the limitations of the then historic conditions did not allow the Tay Son to lớn go beyond the framework of a feudal State.

In the Spring of 1771 under the leadership of the three Nguyen brothers: Nguyen Nhac, Nguyen Lu & Nguyen Hue, the peasants in Tay Son (1)rose in rebellion. But as the uprising progressed the three Nguyen brothers established their feudal states at various points of time which also ended at different dates.

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- Nguyen Nhac: 1778-1793

- Nguyen Lu: 1786-1787

- Nguyen Hue: 1788-1792

and his son Nguyen quang đãng Toan: 1792-1802.

In fact, right from March 1776 after occupying the area which is now Quang nam giới province & defeating the army of the Nguyen lord in Gia Dinh, Nguyen Nhac proclaimed himself Tay Son Vuong (King Tay Son), built the vì chưng Ban citadel, cast a royal seal in gold and conferred titles on the generals who had distinguished themselves in the fight against the Nguyen lord. Nguyen Lu was made viceroy và Nguyen Hue, regent. In early 1778 Nguyen Nhac proclaimed himself Emperor và took the dynastic title of thai Duc, renamed bởi Ban citadel the Imperial Citadel, conferred the added title of commander in chief lớn Nguyen Lu và the title of Long Nhuong (Royal Guard) General (2)to Nguyen Hue. Thus the command of the Tay Son Revolt began to assume its monarchic character but still did not become a feudal State in its complete sense.

In this period, the command of the revolt continued khổng lồ lead the people in a bitter class struggle against the reactionary feudal forces in the country and remained a true representative of the interests of the oppressed masses.

In 1786 after many times defeating the Nguyen army, smashing the invasion army of Siam (Thailand), overthrowing the rule of the Trinh lord in the North, Nguyen Nhac proclaimed himself Central Emperor và chose Quy Nhon as capital thành phố from which he controlled an area stretching from quang quẻ Ngai to Binh Thuan. He crowned Nguyen Hue as Bac Binh Vuong (The King Pacifier of the North) lớn rule the area from hai Van Pass to lớn Nghe An province in the North & crowned Nguyen Lu as Dong Dinh Vuong (King Pacifier of the East) khổng lồ rule over Gia Dinh area (the present Mekong River delta).

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But it was also from this time on that the conflict of interests và the difference among the three brothers about the way to lớn manage the country arose & deepened, greatly affecting the whole cause of the Tay Son in the future. Nguyen Lu proved himself the most incapable of the three. Lacking popular tư vấn his rule weakened rapidly and collapsed a year later (1787). During that year Nguyen Lu’s role was reduced lớn that of a simple garrisoning officer. He failed lớn work out or enforce any policy of a progressive regime whether on the political, economic or social domain.

In the first years after the success of the revolt Nguyen Nhac, the elder brother, was also the initiator và the supreme leader. He made important contributions lớn the victory. Regrettably, after proclaiming himself the Central Emperor he spent most of his time consolidating his feudal kingdom thereby relinquishing his primary role of a peasant leader. In fact his power nguồn extended only from quang Ngai to lớn Binh Thuan. The areas under the control of Nguyen Lu and Nguyen Hue were almost completely detached from the rule of Nguyen Nhac. From an outstanding leader of the peasant insurrection Nguyen Nhac soon became a mediocre pleasure-seeking king. He obviously failed lớn build a strong centralized feudalist administration over the whole country in order to lớn establish & defend a unified feudalist nation as was the original objective of the revolt.To all intents và purposes Nguyen Nhac was rapidly satisfied with his position of a king, paid little or no attention to lớn the building of a solid power base among the masses for failing to lớn implement the necessary reforms lớn meet the demand of the popular masses. In fact, he lacked the political acumen of a prescient ruler (3).In 1787 under the hard pressure of the Nguyen army Nguyen Lu abandoned one citadel after another and ended up in Quy Nhon where he died. Far from coming to lớn the rescue of his brother và launching a counterattack to crush the enemy while they were still weak Nguyen Nhac stayed put in his citadel in do Ban (now Quang nam giới province). From 1788 on the Nguyen army of Nguyen Anh was given a miễn phí hand lớn build their fortresses in Gia Dinh as a springboard lớn launch repeated attacks on the territory of Nguyen Nhac. In 1793 the Nguyen army besieged Quy Nhon citadel. Nguyen Nhac sent an envoy to lớn Phu Xuan (Hue) khổng lồ ask for reinforcements. Overcome with despair he fell seriously ill và died. There also ended his Central Empire.Of the three kingdoms of the Tay Son, the one of Nguyen Hue was the longest and made the greatest contributions khổng lồ the country’s power và prestige. During the revolt, Nguyen Hue was the most crucial army commander and took the greatest credit in the fight and victories over the armies of the Nguyen and Trinh families. It was also Nguyen Hue who made the decisive contribution to lớn the defeat of the Siamese interventionist army. Even after his coronation as Binh Dinh Vuong (1786) Nguyen Hue always displayed a deep understanding of his role as the leader of the peasant insurrection, continuing this mission with an infallible sense of responsibility while Nguyen Nhac và Nguyen Lu had become self complacent with their new positions as feudalist rulers. In face of the overt betrayal to the country by the Le king who beseeched the Ching empire lớn save his tottering regime, Nguyen Hue organized a historic march from Phu Xuan (Hue) lớn the North & swept away the Ching interventionists together with the Le king và put out all attempts at restoring the rotten regime of the Le dynasty. By 1787 the rule of Bac Binh Vuong Nguyen Hue had extended from quang Nam to lớn the whole of North Vietnam. In 1788 Nguyen Hue proclaimed himself Emperor quang quẻ Trung & established his capital in Phu Xuan (now Hue city).The State under the reign of King quang quẻ Trung was a monarchy patterned on the earlier feudal State. After proclaiming himself emperor quang đãng Trung consolidated the central rule according to the model of a royal court. Princess Le Ngoc Han was made Queen of the Northern kingdom, the eldest son of quang Trung, Nguyen quang đãng Toan, was made heir prince. The court was organized in almost the same way as in the former dynasties. The royal court established six ministries each headed by a minister và assisted by specialized agencies such as the Academy, the Royal Institute...Quang Trung redistributed the administrative areas và organized the local administration into a unified & close-knit system. The local administrative units comprised the “tran”, “phu”, “huyen”, “tong” and “xa” (corresponding to the province, district and commune). Bac Ha (Northern Vietnam) was divided into 13 “tran” each headed by a district governor who was a military officer lớn look after the military affairs. He was assisted by an assistant governor of the same rank but who was a literary mandarin lớn look after administrative affairs. There was a similar posting at the district level: a military officer and a literary mandarin who were assisted by corresponding subordinates. In the counties & communes there was only a county chief & a commune chief khổng lồ look after administrative affairs.Quang Trung had power under firm control, he built up and strengthened his rule but the reactionary forces among the overthrown feudal dynasty were not reconciled to lớn defeat but attempted restoration. Externally, although the invasion by the Ching Empire had suffered a bruising defeat, quang quẻ Trung knew that he still had to rely on a powerful defense if he was khổng lồ maintain durable relations with the northern empire. He paid great attention lớn building a strong & comprehensive army to lớn defend the royal court and the national sovereignty.The army under the quang quẻ Trung reign was a powerful and elite army closely organized and possessed of high combativity. By 1788 this army already had more than 1000,000 men under arms, several hundred battle elephants và a strong Royal Guard to lớn defend Phu Xuan capital & Thang Long, a citadel of strategic importance for the defense against a possible invasion from the North. The army was divided into five “doanh” (one doanh is equivalent lớn a division): central, frontguard, rearguard, left-wing & rightwing. Later on quang đãng Trung recruited more troops và set up new categories of troops. From 1790 on quang quẻ Trung ordered the registration of the population to lớn recruit one soldier from every three male citizens.Thanks to lớn this army quang Trung succeeded in suppressing the reactionary feudal forces in the country, safeguarding the newly established kingdom & effecting a diplomatic policy which was both supple và resolute, thus raising the prestige of dẻo Viet, the then name of Vietnam.In the archives of the feudal dynasties, the orthodox historians classified the leaders of the Tay Son Peasant Revolt among the “rebels” và the Tay Son royal court among the “usurpatory rulers”. The fact remains that the quang đãng Trung kingdom is a progressive feudal regime which has put forth và carried out progressive reforms in the political, economic, cultural và social fields, meeting the urgent demands of society in those days.Even as the then Northern King, a title bestowed on him by his elder brother Nguyen Nhac, Nguyen Hue already paid special attention khổng lồ political reforms. In 1788 he spent much time reconstructing the ruling apparatus in North Vietnam. He created new administrative agencies lớn replace the rickety bureaucratic ruling machine of the Le king, appointed capable and loyal generals to key posts for the defense of Thang Long và for the administration of Northern Vietnam as a whole. He also solicited the collaboration of many progressive personalities and appointed them lớn key posts in the new administration. He planned to lớn move the capital khổng lồ Nghe An province lớn facilitate his control over both Northern và Southern Vietnam. After ascending to lớn the throne and especially after his resounding victory over the Ching aggressive army, & reestablishing peace and order in the country, Nguyen Hue had gathered the necessary conditions khổng lồ carry out his plan of winning the hearts and minds of the people in Northern Vietnam, & accomplish his plan of building a close-knit, strong và unified administration from the center lớn the localities. Nguyen Hue assigned his sons to head regions of vital importance but with powers restricted to lớn those of garrisoning officers. He forbade them lớn establish their own estates with the obvious intent to prevent any possible future partitioning of the country. In this way he also wanted khổng lồ maintain & strengthen the concentrated & unified character of the central power.In the economic field, Nguyen Hue also carried out many policies khổng lồ restore the economy, first of all agriculture which had fallen into stagnation and serious decline, lớn strengthen the small farmers economy in order to pave the way for the development of the commodity economy. More & more waste land were reclaimed. Quang quẻ Trung abolished the policy of “restricting trade” conducted by the earlier kings và allowed the broadening of trade with foreign countries. Handicraft shipbuilding, coin casting và arms manufactures together with a number of workshops for the production of some essential goods controlled by the State were encouraged khổng lồ develop. Quang Trung also allowed the opening of many border gates & markets on the border with China. Western Catholic missionaries & foreign merchants received good treatment from the Vietnamese court.In the financial tên miền Quang Trung ordered the rearrangement & adjustment of different taxes. Some taxes were reduced. The taxes levied on traders và craftsmen were abolished.In the cultural & social field, quang Trung broadened education và put a premium on the national culture and the respect for traditions. Different from the earlier feudal regimes which attached importance only to lớn Chinese literature and Confucian ethics, and which recognized Chinese as the official written language và despised the “nom” (Vietnamese language in Chinese transliterations), quang Trung encouraged literary creation in “nom” script which was also used as the official script in the recording of historical events, in the literary examinations as well as in the propagation of literature và science. In 1791 he ordered the creation of the Sung Chinh (Literature) Institute to translate the classical works of Confucianism into the “nom” script. For the first time in the national history schools were opened down khổng lồ the village cấp độ staffed by local teachers who had khổng lồ be approved by the State. The rules of examinations were amended khổng lồ better suit the need of reform.Though himself an adept of Confucius quang quẻ Trung nevertheless did not discriminate against any religious beliefs. Pagodas were repaired and the discrimination and repression against the followers of Catholicism practiced by the former regime was prohibited.In his external relations, first of all and chiefly with the Ching empire in China, quang quẻ Trung adopted a reconciliary attitude after putting to rout a 200,000 strong army of the Ching & accepted the coronation as the king of An nam by the Ching Emperor. On the other hand, quang quẻ Trung made it explicit enough for the latter to lớn understand that he was resolved khổng lồ safeguard national independence và ready khổng lồ cope with any aggressive scheme. He even wrote a letter lớn the Governor of the Chinese provinces of Guang Xi và Guang Tung asking the return to Vietnam of seven districts which had belonged khổng lồ Hung Hoa province of Vietnam but later annexed by the Ching empire.For most time of their reigns, the Tay Son kings had to concentrate on defense work against the revanchist attempts of the Le dynasty in the North và the Nguyen lords in the South as well as new aggressive schemes of the Ching empire. Accordingly, in the first period of his reign quang Trung had little time to devote lớn the building of a new legislation và had lớn rule by royal edicts, decrees and orders. Since the orthodox historians of the Le & Nguyen dynasties always regarded the Tay Son as a rebel court, very little about the Tay Son rule were recorded or left behind. Nevertheless, besides a number of documents concerning the readjustment & elaboration of a new administrative system or the regime of recruitment of government mandarins và officers, some edicts & orders of quang Trung can still be found such as the edict on encouragement lớn agriculture which called for the return of the people dispersed by war và social disorder khổng lồ their places of origin in order to lớn resume agricultural production, or the edict on education which provided for the generalization of education và the reorganization of the system of examinations or the Tax Decree which amended the tax và rent regime in agriculture, handicrafts và trade. Most interesting perhaps is the Order on compulsory use of the “nom” script. On the whole, the aforesaid laws và decrees clearly enshrined the spirit of national sovereignty & also reflected the stronghanded measures used by quang đãng Trung to lớn restore và strengthen public order at the earliest possible date.Continuing the work of his father, King Nguyen quang quẻ Toan also made praiseworthy efforts in the legislative work. A newly discovered document reveals that in 1795 quang quẻ Toan ordered the minister of justice to consult the Hong Duc Code of the Le dynasty in Vietnam and the Civil Code of the Ching dynasty in đài loan trung quốc to compile a new Penal Code of Vietnam. Unfortunately, no copy of this Code has been found so far.From 1800 on Nguyen Anh, the Nguyen lord who was khổng lồ become the first king of the Nguyen dynasty which lasted until 1945, began his military campaign against the Tay Son & won repeated victories. By 1802 he wiped out the last pockets of resistance of the Tay Son và reestablished the rule of the old feudal regime. The Tay Son dynasty was brought lớn its kết thúc but the glorious achievements of the peasant revolt & especially of its outstanding leader Nguyen Hue will forever live in the mind of the Vietnamese people.-Footnotes:(1) Tay Son village, Phu Ly county, Quy Nhon district, now Binh Dinh province(2) History of the Feudal Regime in Vietnam, Volume III. Education Publishing House. Hanoi, 1960, page 318.(3) History of the feudal regime in Vietnam.-