King Quang Trung - hero in plain clothing
16:57', 3/3/ 2008 (GMT+7)

The inauguration of the statue of King Quang Trung. Photo D.T.D

King Quang Trung is a great national hero at the 18th century, uniting the country and opening a new dynasty. With his military genius, he led the Tay Son Uprising to defeat two warring feudal families, the Trinh and Nguyen Lords, the Siamese, and the Qing invasion. The Tay Son dynasty left many social and cultural vestiges even though it lasted for a short time.

The hero Quang Trung (also known as Nguyen Hue) defeated the Trinh and Nguyen Lords conquering Dang Trong (southern region) and Dang Ngoai (northern region). He then led the Tay Son insurgent army to drive the Siamese and the Qing from the country at the end of the 18th century.

His ancestor is the Ho clan in Quynh Doi village, Quynh Luu District of Nghe An. According to the history, his parents moved to Tay Son District. Nguyen Hue, born in 1753, is the second in a family of three brothers and one sister.

The uprising of the Tay Son Farmers’ Movement in 1771 met the requirement of historic inevitability and soon created a great prestige within the people. Thanks to the uprising, Nguyen Hue was known as the excellent leader and the great national hero.

He is also a military talent. His masterful military strategies-speed and surprise- were successfully used to defeat the enemy.

In 1777, Nguyen Hue and his army attacked Gia Dinh, killing Nguyen Phuc Duong and Nguyen Phuc Thuan. He then came back to Quy Nhon after handing over authority to his generals.

In 1785, the Siamese army invaded the country. Tay Son insurgent army marched south and defeated the invasion of Siamese at the Rach Gam-Xoai Mut battle.

In 1788, a Qing expeditionary force commanded by Sun Shi-yi and assisted by General Xu Shi-heng converged on Thang Long. They, estimated at up to 200,000 men, advanced smoothly into Vietnam.

At the news of the Qing invasion, on December 22, 1788, Nguyen Hue erected an altar on a hill south of Phu Xuan and proclaimed himself king, in effect abolishing on his own the Le dynasty. He then took the name of Quang Trung. He planned a spoiling attack and ordered his soldiers to celebrate Tet early, promising that they would be able to properly celebrate later in Thang Long. On January 25, the last day of the year, the Tay Son left Tam Diep to take the offensive.

The Qing army was overconfident. Because they had thus far experienced little resistance, they believed the Tay Son were militarily negligible, and that it would be easy for them to bring all under their control.

Quang Trung's troops moved north rapidly in five columns to converge on Thang Long. On the third day of Tet, January 28, the Tay Son surrounded the important post of Ha Hoi. On January 29 Tay Son forces reached Ngoc Hoi and the last Chinese fort before Thang Long, the strongest Chinese defensive position. The Chinese commander there hanged himself and Sun Shi-yi did not bother to put on his armor or saddle his horse but mounted it bareback and fled over the Red River, followed by others on horseback.

On the afternoon of the fifth day of the New Year Quang Trung's troops entered Thang Long. As their commander had promised, they celebrated Tet there on the seventh day of the New Year.

Nguyen Hue is also a brilliant politician. He took advantage of the situation to try to reunite the country. He marched an army north under the guise of rescuing the Le kings from Trinh control and won considerable popular support by promising food for the peasants.

By July, 1786, Tay Son troops had reached the Red River Delta and defeated the Trinh. King Le Hien Tong reached accommodation with Nguyen Hue by ceding some territory and giving him his daughter Ngoc Han in marriage.

In 1787 when Nguyen Huu Chinh, his lieutenant, took advantage of Nguyen Hue's absence to advance his own interests, he sent one of his generals, Vu Van Nham, north with an army to attack Thang Long. In subsequent fighting Nguyen Huu Chinh was killed.

After the victory, he recognized the need for peace and accommodation with China, Quang Trung immediately sought normalization of trade relations with the Chinese after the battle and pledged fealty to their emperor. He further requested permission to travel to Beijing, a trip he made in 1790. Meanwhile, in December 1789 an imperial emissary presented him with ritual confirmation as king of An Nam.

Quang Trung showed himself willing to work with capable individuals, regardless of their past loyalties. This helped attract the best men to his service. He reorganized the army and carried out fiscal reforms. He redistributed unused lands, mainly to the peasants. He promoted crafts and trade, and pushed for reforms in education, stating that "to build a country, nothing is more important than educating the people."

Quang Trung also believed in the importance of studying history; he had his tutors lecture to him on Vietnamese history and culture six times a month. He wanted to open trade with the West, and Western missionaries of his day noted that they were able to carry out their religious activities with more freedom than before.

Quang Trung was the first Vietnamese leader to add science to the Mandarinate examinations. He also introduced a Vietnamese currency and insisted that Nom, the demotic writing system combining Chinese characters with Vietnamese, be used in court documents.

Unfortunately, Quang Trung's reign was brief-he died of an unknown illness in 1792.

  • Source: (translated by Hong Quang)
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