The Age of the Tran Dynasty

It is said that during the centuries-old succession of the Trans where Vietnam experienced vigorous development in many fields. It was in 1225 when the Trans succeeded the Ly dynasty by arranging a marriage between one of its members and the last Ly monarch, an eight-year-old princess, Tran Canh. They had then effectively controlled the Vietnamese throne for many years (1225-1400), of which the country prospered and flourished. The Tran rulers carried out extensive land reform, improved public administration, and encouraged the study of Chinese literature. It was also during this period where Buddhism, which had become predominant under the Ly Dynasty continued to play an important role, but it was subsequently weakened by co-existence with Confucianism, Taoism and various other popular beliefs and customs.

Glorious Resistance against the Mongols

The Tran Dynasty, however, are best remembered for its brilliant military victories over the much larger Mongol armies. During the beginning of the Tran dynasty’s establishment, the Mongols ruled most of northern China and Manchuria and were looking at invading southern China, Vietnam, and Champa.

Their first attempt to attack Vietnam was in 1257. Backed with 30,000 troops, the well-known Mongolian cavalry crossed the border and attacked Vietnam. Emperor Tran Thai Tong commanded the Vietnamese army to fight back and only took about 2 weeks for them to defeat the Mongols. Shamed, the Mongolian took the revenge and carried out the second invasion on 1284 with 200,000 strong troops under the command of a Mongolian prince. This time, the commander of Vietnamese army was Emperor Tran Nhan Tong, also a devout Buddhist. The attack was never nearly successful than the first time. After 6 months that both sides had engaged into the fierce battles, the Mongolian was defeated and there was only a few thousands survived and made their way home.

For the Mongolian, the defeat was so unbelievable and unbearable. It’s too shameful for the Mongolian empire, therefore, only two months after the defeat, Koubilai giving the order to mobilize all of his best units, ready to take the revenge. On the third Mongol invasion in 1287, around 300,000 Mongolian men and a vast fleet was also defeated by the Vietnamese under the leadership of General Tran Hung Dao. Borrowing a tactic used by Ngo Quyen in 938 to defeat an invading Chinese fleet, the Vietnamese drove iron-tipped stakes into the bed of the Bach Dang River (located in northern Vietnam in present-day Ha Bac, Hai Hung, and Quang Ninh provinces), and then, with a small Vietnamese flotilla, lured the Mongol fleet into the river just as the tide was starting to ebb. Trapped or impaled by the iron-tipped stakes, the entire Mongol fleet of 400 craft was sunk, captured, or burned by Vietnamese fire arrows. This time it took for only 4 months to drive the enemies home. The Mongol army retreated to China, harassed enroute by Tran Hung Dao's troops. Like last time, there were only few thousands Mongolian survived to comeback. It was after the third try when the Mongolian gave up on their attempts to invade Vietnam. The country then began enjoying the peaceful time for about two centuries.

Wars with Champa

The fourteenth century was marked by wars with Champa, which the Tran reduced to a feudatory state by 1312. Champa freed itself again by 1326 and, under the leadership of Cham hero Che Bong Nga, staged a series of attacks on Vietnam between 1360 and 1390, sacking Thang Long in 1371. The Vietnamese again gained the upper hand following the death of Che Bong Nga and resumed their southward advance at Champa's expense. Despite their earlier success, the quality of the Tran rulers had declined markedly by the end of the fourteenth century, opening the way for exploitation of the peasantry by the feudal landlord class, which caused a number of insurrections.

Short-lived Rulers

In 1400 General Ho Quy-ly seized the throne and proclaimed himself founder of the Ho dynasty (1400-07) and changed the country’s name to Dai Ngu, meaning peace in the ancient language. He instituted a number of reforms that were unpopular with the feudal landlords, including a limit on the amount of land a family could hold and the rental of excess land by the state to landless peasants; proclamations printed in Vietnamese, rather than Chinese; and free schools in provincial capitals. This name only lasted for very short time, until April 1407, when threatened landowners appealed to China's Ming Dynasty to intervene. Using reinstatement of the Tran dynasty as an excuse, the Ming invaded Dai Ngu and defeated the Ho Dynasty, reasserting Chinese control in 1407.