Monthly Archives: April 2015

pham quynh

Phạm Quỳnh (范瓊 , 1892-1945) was a famous writer, scholar, and official of the Nguyễn dynasty. He went by the pen-names (號 , hiệu) Thượng Chi (尚之) and Hoa Đường (華堂). In addition to being well-versed in classical Chinese, he was also among one of the first Vietnamese to have an excellent command of French and delve deeply into European philosophy and culture (his French prose was praised by native French scholars). He is today remembered for his work with the intellectual newspaper Nam Phong tạp chí (南風雜誌), a trilingual publication (classical Chinese, Vietnamese, and French) aimed at Vietnamese intellectuals. He tirelessly promoted using the Vietnamese language to write newspaper, poetry, literature, etc. as opposed to solely using classical Chinese. In 1945 he was assassinated by members of the Việt Minh (precursors to the modern day Vietnamese Communist party) for allegedly being a traitor to the Vietnamese people. Today his works, despite being masterpieces of Vietnamese writing, are not well known in Vietnam. The following essay was translated from an unfinished collection of miscellaneous essays entitled Hoa Đường tùy bút (華堂隨筆), on which he was working when assassinated

The Elder Hoa Đường and the Younger Hoa Đường

Everybody knows the classical Chinese poem written about The Tale of Kiều:


Giai nhân bất thị đáo Tiền Đường
Bán thế yên hoa trái vị thường

Had the beauty not reached the Ch’ien T’ang river,
Half a lifetime’s debt of mists and flowers would not have been repaid

The scholar Chu Mạnh Trinh (朱孟楨 , 1862-1905) translated these lines into Vietnamese thusly:

Had the waters of the Ch’ien T’ang not washed way unjustness
Rosy cheeks would yet to have been clean the debt of wind and flowers

That Chinese poem was written by Phạm Quý Thích (范貴適 , 1760-1825), pen names (號 , hiệu) Lập Trai (立齋) and Hoa Đường (華堂), for he was a native of my very own home village of Lương Ngọc (良玉), formerly Lương Đường (良堂) , but known during the Lê dynasty as Hoa Đường (華堂). I admire the talented erudition, fame, and virtue of this scholar from a former generation, who was a true Confucian, meek of temperament and pure. Hence, I have gone to excess in also taking the pen-name of Hoa Đường, regarding him as the elder Hoa Đường and myself as the younger Hoa Đường.

He never wrote any Vietnamese poetry, however it is probable that he was acquainted with Nguyễn Du (阮攸, 1766-1820) from the village of Tiên Điền (仙田), who, in accordance with the propriety of famed scholars from the past, most likely presented him with the work “New Cry from a Broken Heart” (斷腸新聲 , Đoạn Trường Tân Thanh), asking him to write a preface and poems on its content, hence the existence of the above poem. And who knows? Perhaps he carefully read the work and made improvements and revisions here and there. Authors of former ages lacked the professional self-regard of writers belonging to this present day. They were always meek and humble, ever willing to adopt the aesthetic improvements and revisions suggested by writers of talent or elders renowned for their virtue.

Though Phạm Quý Thích did not write any Vietnamese poetry, his Chinese poetry is unparalleled in excellence. His Thảo Đường poetry collection (草堂詩集 , Thảo Đường thi tập) has over one-thousand extant poems, all of which are inscrutably profound and highly refined in tone. Filled with a spirit of overflowing concern and compassion, these poems show clearly the character of a loft scholar, who though having the bearing and air of a religious or immortal, ever dedicated his will to the affairs of the realm.

I still remember one of his poems entitled “Writing my feelings”, which I have had written out to hang in my study; after reading it again and again, I have found it so fitting with my own heart.

Hence, I have here excerpted and translated it:



Thư Hoài

Cố quốc san hà dĩ đại thù
Cố viên tùng cúc bán hoang vu
Mang mang thiên địa hoàn bô khách
Nhiễu nhiễu phong trần tự hủ nho
Bệnh cốt bình phân thu lĩnh sấu
Thần tâm nhưng bạn nguyệt luân cô
Hữu nhân khuyến ngã bôi trung thú
Vị vấn Tam Lư khẳng túy vô

Writing My Feelings

Mountains and rivers of the old realm have completely changed
In my old garden, the pines and chrysanthemums are half overrun with weeds
In the vastness of heaven and earth, I am once again a lone traveler
Amidst swirling wind and dust a single useless scholar
My sick bones are as haggard as the autumn mountaintop
A subject’s heart companion only to the lonely moon
Some recommend me to take pleasure in drink
I ask: Would San Lu ever consent to being drunk?

The elder Hoa Đường was born at the end of the Lê dynasty and the beginning of the Nguyễn dynasty; living in an age of chaos, he was self-aware that a useless Confucian could do nothing in the face of tumultuous times. Hence, in determining to live as a recluse, maintaining his own lofty and pure virtue, how much more exalted was he then this younger Hoa Đường here, who also being born into an age of disorder in which Asia and Europe are in conflict, has foolishly cast himself into the midst of a confused tempest, not knowing that in this dark age, a useless Confucian such as himself cannot shoulder the burdens of the times, unaware that in a society that chases after the latest trends and flatters the masses, there are none who still care or concern for literati and Confucian scholars. I only know to bring a refined Confucian air of meekness to face this roaring tempest, this utter confusion, this utter chaos…

Reading Lập Trai’s poetry, I am ashamed that I am not as resolute in my will as him. Clumsy and useless in both activity and retirement, I truly lag far behind the men of former generations.

However, being an old subject of the Lê dynasty, when the founding emperor of our own dynasty summoned him forth to serve as a minister, he was able to decline by claiming to be of ill-health. As for Nguyễn Du, who lived in the same period, not having any compelling reason to be spared of service, he was forced to follow the times, ultimately dying disappointed at having not fulfilled his will. Though his life was more tempestuous, the result was that he wrote a marvelous work of literature to leave for future generations. Was it not because of his pain of heart at the events which he witnessed that this achievement was completed? If so, there are multiple ways of activity and retirement, differing only in a single word – that being, “talent”.

However, the word for “talent”  (才 , tài) rhymes with “disaster” (災 , tai), as Nguyễn Du himself has taught.


– “Mists and flowers” (煙花 , yên hoa) and “wind and flowers” (風花 , phong hoa) here refer to degradation from being forced into prostitution (central to the plot of The Tale of Kiều)

– San Lu (三閭, Tam Lư) is a reference to Qu-yuan (屈原, Khuất Nguyên, 343-278 B.C.) who famously said “The whole world is polluted, I alone am clean. All men are intoxicated, I alone am alert” (舉世皆濁我獨清眾人皆醉我獨醒, Cử thế giai trọc ngã đọc thanh, chúng nhân giai túy ngã độc tỉnh). He ended his life by drowning himself in a river rather than live unappreciated and useless in an age of chaos.



hich tuong si

Trần Quốc Tuấn (陳國峻 , 1228-1300) was a prince and general of the Trần dynasty (陳朝 , 1225-1400). He is better known as Trần Hưng Đạo (陳興道), after his royal title, Hưng Đạo Vương (興道王). His famous exhortation to Vietnamese generals on the eve of a Mongol invasion is among the most celebrated works of Classical Chinese writing in Vietnamese history. This work has been previously translated twice into English. One translation, by professor Trương Bửu Lâm (張寶琳 , ?-?) I have yet to obtain. The other translation, readily available on the Internet was “translated and adopted” by George F. Schultz. I suspect that the latter translation was based on a either a Vietnamese translation or paraphrase of the original Classical Chinese. Schultz’s translation, while more or less faithful to the general content of the text, deviates from the original Chinese in many areas, sometimes leaving out details, sometimes using extraneous vocabulary (for example, the term “Motherland” which does not appear anywhere in the original text), and sometimes translating something completely wrong. Once again, I have decided to present first my translation and then add to the annotations at a later point. This translation I based on the original Chinese text, compared against several Vietnamese translations.

This post is divided into the following sections:

I. Original text
II. English Translation
III. Notes
IV. Translator’s Commentary





Exhortation to the Military Officers

Oft have I heard of Ji Hsin who delivered himself unto death that Emperor Han Kao-ti might escape; of You Yu who, taking a spear to the back, shielded lord Chao; of Yu Jang who, swallowing smoldering ashes, avenged his lord. Shen K’uai dismembered his arm, rescuing his kingdom from disaster. Ching Te, a young boy, charged forth, delivering Emperor Tang Tai-tsung from encirclement of Wang Shih Ch’ung. Kao Ch’ing, a distant subject, rebuked Lu Shan as a rebel and refused to follow his villainous insurrection. From of old, loyal subjects and righteous officers have sacrificed their lives for their kingdoms. What age has been without such men? Had they been feeble and lowly with the bearing of women and girls, in vain they would have passed away at home. How could their names have been passed down on bamboo scrolls and fine silk to endure forever incorrupt with Heaven and Earth?

You men hail from military families. Having no comprehension of letters and records, upon hearing such stories you harbor doubts against their veracity. Let discussion of ages past cease. I speak now of events pertaining to the Song and Mongols. What sort of man was Wang Gong Chien? What sort of man was his subordinate, Juan Shan Li, that together defending the puny fortress of Tiao Yu, they repelled Mongke’s immense horde of a million men? The Song people to this day are still graced with their blessings. What sort of man was Uriyangqatai? What kind of man was his subordinate Ch’ih Hsiu Ssu that they charged through ten-thousand miles of deadly miasmas, crushing the Nan Chao ruffians in a matter of weeks? Till now, Mongol chieftains still remember their names.

How much more you and I, having been born into a tumultuous age, reaching manhood in a time of trials and tribulation. We have seen with our own eyes, false ambassadors bustling to and fro unhindered, filling the road and pathways. With the tongues of unclean birds they shame and humiliate the imperial court. Relying on their arms, these dogs and goats arrogantly disgrace high officials. Under the order of Kublai, they demand jade and silk to satiate their boundless avarice. Feigning lordship over Yun-nan, their demand for gold and silver has wiped clean our limited coffers. Compliance is like waiving meat before a ravenous tiger; how could we be spared from future calamity?

I have continually forgotten my meal while sitting down to eat; in the dead of night I beat my pillow, with tears streaming down in pain, my heart and bowels are as if tossed about. Constantly, I regret having not yet eaten the enemies flesh, slept on his skin, chewed his bowels, and drunken his blood. Even should my corpse be exposed a hundred times in the wild grasslands, even should my corpse be wrapped in horse-hide a thousand times, I would still desire thusly. You men have long dwelt within my gates, together with me holding command over the army. He who was without clothes, I gave to wear. He who was without food, I gave to eat. He whose rank was low, I promoted. He whose payment was poor, I increased. To those traveling by water I provided boats; to those traveling by land, I provided horses. With you I braved the battlefield, together risking life and death. In leisure, our talk and laughter resounded with shared joy. What inferiority have we when compared to Gong Chien and Uriyangqatai and their subordinates?

You men sit watching your lord disgraced yet are not moved to worry. The kingdom’s humiliation bears down on your own persons, yet you know no shame. You are generals of the realm but are not angered and resentful that you must wait upon barbarians. You hear the ritual Thái-thường music played at banquets welcoming false ambassadors and your complexions are not moved with fury. Some turn to cockfighting for joy. Some find pleasure in gambling. Some tend to their fields and gardens in order to provide for their families. Others yet attached to their wives and children further only their selfish interests. Improving your own personal ventures, you forget your duties to the army and kingdom. You are extravagant with pleasure outings and hunts through your fields yet lax in training for attack and defense. Some are satisfied with fine wine, others with lewd music. Should the Mongol horde suddenly invade, your rooster’s spurs will not be enough to pierce the invader’s armor. Your gambling ruses will not be enough to execute military strategy. The prosperity of your fields and gardens will not be sufficient to redeem your priceless lives. Attachment to your wife and children will be of no use to the army and kingdom. The abundance of your wealth will be insufficient to purchase the invader’s head. The strength of your hunting hounds will not be enough against the enemy’s numbers. Fine wine will be unable to intoxicate the invader’s soldiers, lewd music insufficient to deafen their ears. At that time, should the servants and masters of my estate be captured it would already be unbearably painful. But not only my fief would be taken, your own official’s salaries would become the possession of other men. Not only would my wife and children be pursued, your own wife and children would become the captives of other men. Not only would the realm of my ancestors be trampled and violated by other men, but the graves of your own parents would be dug up. Not only would I be humiliated in this life, and for a hundred generations hence be disgraced with an indelibly stained reputation, leaving behind an ignominious name for all eternity; the good reputation of your own families would not be spared from being disgraced as defeated generals. At that time, should you desire happiness and content would you be able to obtain it?

I now tell you clearly: Take care as one stacking logs by a burning fire; be cautious as one who having been burned by hot soup blows even on his greens. Instruct and train your officers with bow and arrow, that all may be the equals of Peng Meng and Hou Yi. We will skewer Kublai’s head and hang it from the gates of the imperial palace. Hogedi’s carcass will be left to rot at Kao Chieh. Not only will my fief be evermore secure, you will receive your official’s salaries for the rest of your lives. Not only will my wife and children be secure in their beds and blankets, your own wife and children will be able to grow old together. Not only will my ancestral temple receive sacrificial offerings for ten-thousand generations, your own forefathers will be venerated in the spring and autumn rites. Not only will my purpose be fulfilled in this life, your good reputations will also be passed down incorrupt for a hundred generations. Not only will my posthumous title be forever passed down, your own clan names and personal names will leave behind their fragrance in the annals of history. At that time, though you might desire to be without happiness and content, would you be to avoid it?

I have now made selections from annals of military arts coming from the various schools. These I have compiled into book entitled “Principles of Military Strategy”. If you are able to study this book and practice its principles, receiving my commands, it must be because we were lord and subject in the previous life. If you despise and abandon this book, violating my commands, it must be that we were enemies in the previous life. Why? The Mongols are enemies with whom we cannot share the same sky. If you remain complacent and do not think of washing away this shame, if your hearts are not set on ridding evil and training your soldiers, it is as if you cast away your weapons in surrender, facing the enemy empty-handed. After the invaders are leveled, this shame would be passed down for ten-thousand generations. What face would you then have to stand between Heaven and Earth?

Wishing for you to know my heart, I have written this exhortation.



– You Jang (豫讓 , Dự Nhượng) swallowed burning coals to distort his voice, hence allowing him to disguise himself on a mission to assassinate the killer of his lord

– Lu Shan (祿山, Lộc Sơn) refers to An Lu-shan (安祿山 , An Lộc Sơn) a Tang dynasty general (703-757) who led a devastating rebellion in 755

– Peng Meng (逄蒙 , Bàng Mông) , Hou Yi (后羿 , Hậu Nghệ), were famous archers of antiquity

– “burned by hot soup…” (懲羹吹虀 , trừng canh xuy tê) is a reference to the Songs of C’hu (楚辭 , Sở từ): “Burned by hot soup I blow my greens” (懲於羹而吹虀兮 , trừng ư canh nhi xuy tê hề)

– Kao Chieh (藁街 , Cảo Nhai) was the area reserved for the rulers of ambassador kingdoms to stay upon visiting the Han dynasty capital, Chang  An (長安 , Trường An)


Translator’s Commentary

It is important to note that much more so than the Great Proclamation of Nguyễn Trãi recently translated and posted on this blog, this work is most definitely not an “anti-Chinese” document. The use of terms such as “false ambassador” (偽使 , ngụy sứ) assumes that there must be a “legitimate” ambassador. Undoubtedly, the author’s indignation was due in no small part to the fact that a civilized kingdom like Vietnam was facing threat from the Mongols, a people looked down upon as uncivilized barbarians by essentially everyone in the Sinosphere. Interestingly, a later official of the Trần dynasty, Phạm Sư Mạnh (范師孟 , ?-?) wrote a poem congratulating an ambassador from the Ming court that ends with the lines:


Đại Minh kim nhật đô Giang Tả
Hồ vận nguy vong Hán vận xương

The great Ming now sets up capital south of the Changjiang river
The barbarian fortunes are in decline, the Han prospering

bion ngo

The Great Proclamation upon the Pacification of the Wu (平吳大誥 , Bình Ngô Đại Cáo) was an announcement written by Nguyễn Trãi (阮廌 , 1380 – 1442) in 1428, for Emperor Lê Thái Tổ (黎太祖, 1385 – 1433) to proclaim the defeat of the Ming Dynasty and affirm the status of the later Lê dynasty (後黎朝 , Hậu Lê triều) as the legitimate ruler of Đại Việt (大越). Nguyễn Trãi, pen-name (號 , hiệu) Ức Trai (抑齋), was a Confucian scholar who helped as a strategist during the conflict against the Ming dynasty. He was also a noted author of both Chinese and Vietnamese poetry. This translation of the Great Proclamation is, to my knowledge, only the second complete translation into English. The first translation is that of professor Trương Bửu Lâm (張寶琳 , ?-?) in his book Patterns of Vietnamese Response to Foreign Intervention: 1858–1900. I unfortunately did not have the resources to obtain this translation and take it into consideration when making this present translation. My present translation is based on the original Chinese text as reproduced in “Nguyễn Trãi opera omnia” (阮廌全集 , Nguyễn Trãi Toàn Tập) published in the year 2000. In addition, I also consulted several Vietnamese translations, among which I found the translation by Hoàng Phạm Trân (黃范珍 , 1904-1949) under the pen-name Mạc Bảo Thần (莫寶臣) to be the most accurate (in general, all past Vietnamese translations capture the “spirit” of the original classical Chinese; most, however, depart from the original in terms more specific phrases and wording). The English translation presented here differs slightly from the version published on Facebook  previously this week. Only a few changes of word choice have been made. The unedited translation was recently published in the Phố Vui weekly newspaper, a print publication circulated in Southern California. Being a masterpiece of extreme historical importance and literary value, it is impossible to give this work due justice under this format. My time and resources being severely limited, the annotations presented here are but cursory. I hope to make up for this by providing some of my own commentary on the relevance of this work to modern day Vietnamese culture, and welcome any questions, criticisms, comments, or suggestions from my readership.

This post is divided into the following sections:

I. Original text
II. English translation
III. Notes
IV. Translator’s commentary







Great Proclamation upon the pacification of Wu

Assuming the role of Heaven in order to initiate renewal, the emperor proclaims thusly:

I have heard that works of benevolence and righteousness take root in bringing peace to the people. In raising an army, nothing takes precedence to doing away with the cruel. Our kingdom of Đại Việt is truly a state of letters and learned men. The boundaries and borders of rivers and mountains already being divided, the customs of south and north also differ. From the time that the Triệu, Đinh, Lý and Trần dynasties established our domain, along with the Han, Tang, Song, and Yuan emperors each ruled his own land. Though strength and weakness have at times been unequal, never has a generation been found lacking heroic and talented men.

Hence, desirous for merit, Liu Gong embraced defeat; fond of grandeur, Chao Hsie rushed headlong into destruction. Suo Du having been captured at Hàm Tử pass, Wu Ma also perished in the waters of the Bạch Đằng Sea. Studying past ages, of this there is clear evidence.

Recently, the Hồ regime’s excessive ordinances caused the people’s hearts to become resentful and rebellious. The upstart Ming took advantage of this opportunity to poison our people. Wicked factions embraced deceit, finally to sell our realm. Burning commoners in conflagrations of cruelty, burying the people in depths of disaster, deceiving Heaven and tricking the people, their lying machinations were countless in form. Gathering soldiers and accumulating wrong-doings, their wickedness increased for twenty years. Destroying righteousness and ruining humanity, Heaven and Earth oft approached annihilation. Under oppressive taxation, the very mountains and marshes were stripped bare. Searching for precious metals, they forced our people to brave poisonous miasmas, smashing mountains and shoveling sand. Looking for bright pearls, we delved into the depths of the sea, brushing against dragons and serpents. Agitating the people, they set up traps for black deer. Harming creatures, they wove nets to capture precious pheasants. Even worms, insects, grasses and trees were not able to fulfill their existence. Burdened by suffering and hardship, widowers and widows could not live in peace. The lips and teeth of perverse and cruel men became soaked with the blood of living souls. Exhausting the resources of the soil and trees, they built for themselves private residences. The taxes and labors put upon townspeople was heavy is such excess that business within the village gates was brought to naught. All the water of the Eastern Sea would not be enough to wash away their filth; should the bamboo of the Southern mountains be completely cut down, it would not be sufficient to record all their evil-doing. Because of this, both God and man were together infuriated; because of this, Heaven and Earth would not harbor them.
Rising with force and spirit from the Lam Sơn Mountain, I hid myself in the abandoned wilds. Meditating on this generational enmity, how could one bear to share the same sky with these men? I swore that I would not live alongside these insolent renegades. With pained heart and aching head, I passed over ten years. Sleeping on brushwood and tasting gall, I spent not but a single day. Erupting in fury, I forgot my meal; constantly did I study and meditate upon annals of stratagems and the art of war. Reflecting on antiquity and observing the present, I carefully researched the principles of rise and fall. Not even in sleep and rest did I forget my ambition to carry out my plans. When the banner of righteousness was first raised, the enemy’s strength had just reached its peak.

Alas, how could I bear that talented men were scarce like the autumn leaves, brilliant heroes as sparse as stars at morning-tide. Running to and fro, before and after, men were always lacking. Within our camps and tents, there was scarcely anyone with whom to discuss strategies and plans. Ardent with desire to rescue the people, choked up with sorrow I wished to conquer eastward. Waiting for the chariots of worthy men to arrive, I constantly waited for one to sit at my left.
Yet, waiting for talented men, I was like one gazing blindly towards the distant ocean. Relying on my own unwavering sincerity, I was like unto one saving a drowning man. Enraged that these cruel villains were not yet exterminated, reflecting that the realm faced many tribulations, at times in Linh Sơn rations were depleted for weeks at a time. In Khôi district, there were at times not a single band of men. Truly, Heaven wished me to suffer in order to bestow upon me a great mission. Thus my resolve became hardened in order to overcome these trials. Raising bamboo as our banner, commoners assembled from all four directions. Making libations of wine and feasting with officers, our soldiers were like fathers and sons, forming an army with a single heart. Weak against strong, we assaulted the enemy when he was unprepared. Few against many, we continually prepared ambushes, making manifest our brilliant strategy.

Finally, with supreme righteousness we conquered the fierce and cruel; with ultimate benevolence we took the place of the oppressive and tyrannical. At Đồ-Bằng Mountain, our army was as fierce as thunder and lightning. In the battle of Trà-Lân, the enemy was smashed like bamboo, reduced to ashes billowing in the wind. Our troop’s morale multiplied; the roar of our army pealed and thundered. Chen Chi and Shan Shou lost their senses and became terrified upon hearing the wind. Li An and Fang Cheng fled, clinging to life breath by breath. Riding upon victory we pushed onward; Tây-kinh once again entered our possession. Selecting talented soldiers, we advanced to Đông-Đô, reconquering our old territory in its entirety. At Ninh-kiều, blood flowed forming rivers, the stench rank across ten-thousand miles. At Tốt-động, corpses piled up in the wilds, leaving behind their putrid smell for a thousand years. Chen He, the heart and mind of the enemy, had his head smashed into a pulp. The parasitic worm, Li Liang had his corpse exposed. Wang Tong attempted to put order to the chaos, but that which was already in conflagration burned with greater intensity. Ma Ying attempted a rescue, but those who were already enraged became only more infuriated. Their wit exhausted and strength depleted, with tied hands they awaited destruction. We struck into their hearts and minds, not raising the sword against them, they still toppled on their own. One would have thought that they ought have a change of heart and mind. Who could have expected that they would persevere in their evil, bringing disaster upon themselves? Hardened and stubborn in their ways, they continued to bring ruin to others. Greedy for fleeting merit, they became the laughingstock of the entire world. They persuaded the upstart boy of Hsuan-Te not to tire of war; they ordered cowardly generals like Mu Sheng and Liu Sheng to put out fire with oil. In the ninth month of the Đinh Mùi year, Liu Sheng led his army, advancing from Qiu-wen. In the tenth month of the same year, Mu Sheng split directions and came from Yun-nan. I had already selected soldiers to prepare ambushes at essential locations, destroying their vanguard. I then ordered men to block their escape route, cutting off the transportation of their rations. In the eighteen day of the same month, our troops attached attacked Liu Sheng, who had fallen into a trap in the wilderness of Chi-lăng. In the twentieth day of the same month, Liu Sheng was defeated by our troops and perished in the mountains of Mã-yên. On the twenty fifth day, the earl of Bo-Ding, Liang Ming, lost in battle and was slaughtered. On the twenty eighth day, at his wit’s end, the minister Li Ching slit his own throat.

We conquered wherever we advanced; the enemy turned around fighting their own. Our troops increased, surrounding them on all four sides. A date was set in the middle of the tenth month for complete extermination. Officers and generals, ferocious as tigers and leopards, were selected. Our elephants drank rivers dry. Our swords were sharpened to such extent that they could pierce the rocks of mountains. One battle and leviathans and whales were slaughtered and cut to pieces. Another battle and the enemy was like unto scattered birds, terrified and separated from their flock. A flood destroying an ant nest; a great wind sweeping through dry leaves. The military governor, Tui Hsiu, fell to his knees and offered surrender. The minister Huang Fu tied himself up and delivered himself into captivity. Stiffened corpses piled up along the roads of Lạng-Giang and Lạng-Sơn. The waters of Xương-Giang and Bình-Than were red with the blood of war. The wind and clouds changed appearance in response; the sun and moon were dismal and ceased to give illumination.

The soldiers from Yun-nan were entrapped by our army at Lê-Hoa. Confused and terrified, their entrails immediately became entwined. When Mu Sheng’s troops heard that Liu Sheng’s army had suffered devastating defeat at Cần-Trạm, they trampled over one another each trying to escape with his life. At Lãnh-Câu, the banks shimmered with blood; the river water seemed to choke up in response. At Đan-xá corpses piled up like mountains, the wild grass dyed crimson. Both directions of rescue troops had not time to turn their feet and flee before being destroyed. Emerging from their fortresses, the cornered enemy took off his armor in surrender. The enemy’s general having become captives, they were like tigers, who having fallen into a trap, wagged their tails begging for mercy. Divine and tremendous warfare does not require killing; emulating God, I took pity on their lives. General Fang Cheng and official Ma Chi were first provided with over five hundred ships; having already crossed the ocean, they were still like ones whose souls had left their body. Commander Wang Tong and governor Ma Ying were then given over one thousand horses; after returning to their domain, their knees still shook, their hearts still terrified. They were afraid of death and greedy for life; their proposal for treaty was sincere. I put the entire army above all else and desired that the people should rest. Not only were these strategies and plans truly profound and far-sighted, from past unto present these were events hitherto unheard and unseen.

Peace and order was thus brought to the realm. The mountains and rivers became renewed. Heaven and Earth having passed through hardship was restored to prosperity. The sun and moon having been darkened, shone once more. Thus was laid the foundation for supreme peace for ten-thousand generations. Thus was washed clean the boundless disgrace of a thousand ages. Truly it was with the hidden assistance of Heaven and Earth and the souls of our ancestors that this was achieved in such manner.

Alas! One war brought about this supreme order, resulting in incomparable merit. The four seas henceforth forever tranquil, let this edict of renewal be announced.

Let all far and near heed this proclamation that they may hear and know!



– Wu (吳 , Ngô) refers to ancestral land of the Ming dynasty’s royal family. Here it refers to the Ming dynasty

– Liu Gong (劉龔 , Lưu Cung , 889-942) was a ruler of the Southern Han dynasty (南漢 , Nam Hán). His son, Liu Hong-cao (劉弘操 , Lưu Hoằng Tháo) was killed in an attempted invasion of Vietnam. Liu Hong-cao’s naval defeat under the hands of Vietnamese general Ngô Quyền (吳權 , 898-944) numbers among the most famous military victories in Vietnamese history

– Zhao Hsie (赵禼 , Triệu Tiết , 1026–1090) was a Song dynasty general who retreated from an unsuccessful invasion of Lý dynasty (李朝 , Lý triều) Vietnam

-Sogetu (唆都 , Toa Đô) and Omar (烏馬 , Ô Mã) were Yuan dynasty generals that led unsuccessful invasions of Trần dynasty (陳朝 , Trần triều) Vietnam. There is an error in the original text; Sogetu was in fact killed and Omar captured alive.

– “conquer eastward” refers to a quote from Liu Pang (劉邦 , Lưu Bang , 256-195 BC), the founder the Han dynasty expressing his desire to conquer eastward (吾亦欲東耳,安能鬱鬱久居此乎 , Ngô diệc dục đông nhĩ, an năng uất uất cửu cư thử hồ)

– I currently do not have time to make meaningful annotations of the remaining names of people and locations in this work. The great majority of them refer to geographic locations in northern Vietnam and the personal names of various Ming dynasty officials and generals involved in the conflict. Aside from personal names and locations, this work also includes a huge number of references (many of which can be difficult to detect) to Confucian classics and previous historical events. Rather than wait to compile complete annotations of these minute details, I have decided to publish this translation first and add to the annotations as time allows, should the readership require. I hope that interested readers that are capable of reading classical Chinese or Vietnamese can assist me in this work. If there are any sections for which annotations are wanted, please write a comment expressing inquiry.


Translator’s Commentary

The Great Proclamation upon the pacification of Wu remains one of the most important and widely known documents in Vietnamese history. Many of my friends, none of whom know classical Chinese, can quote the opening section from memory. However, it is a mistake to present this work as an “anti-Chinese” (chống Tầu) document. Nowhere in this work does the author use the word “Chinese”, simply because the modern concept of “China” and what constitutes “Chinese” did not exist in his historical backdrop. Terms such as “Middle Kingdom” (中國 , trung quốc), “central plains” (中原 , trung nguyên) , and “divine realm” (神州 , thần châu) have been used by both Vietnamese and Chinese people to describe their own kingdoms and lands. It is worthy of note that the term “middle kingdom” (中國 , trung quốc) is not used to reference the Ming dynasty in this work. The enemy here is simply the Ming dynasty – not what is today identified as “China” or “Chinese culture”. The author’s argument that Vietnam is a state of “letters and learned men” (文獻之邦 , văn hiến chi bang) emphasizes that the Ming dynasty and Vietnam are both “civilized” states with the same shared culture, largely based on Confucian ethics. Being already civilized, Vietnam had no need for the Ming dynasty to interfere under the pretense of a civilizing mission (用華變夷 , dụng Hoa biến Di). On this note, it is important to remember that terms such as “Hua-hsia” (華夏 , Hoa Hạ) and “Han” (漢 , Hán) were used by Vietnamese authors to describe Vietnamese culture, people, language, etc. up until the 20th century. Today, the use of these terms by Vietnamese people as derogatory names for Chinese people and culture and for Vietnamese who are allegedly “slaves” to Communist China and modern Chinese culture (漢奴 , Hán nô) is inaccurate, uneducated, and offensive to our Vietnamese ancestors who took pride in identifying themselves as “Hua” (華 , Hoa) and “Han” (漢 , Hán). There are many, scholars and commoners alike, in the modern day Vietnamese community that look to the Great Proclamation as a sort of “Declaration of Independence” that firmly establishes the division between what is now called “China” and “Vietnam”. Misunderstanding the author’s intent, such people assume that his eloquent prose argues that “Chinese” culture was an essentially alien presence forcefully imposed on the Vietnamese people, who were happy to be rid therefrom. As previously mentioned, the enemy against whom Nguyễn Trãi directed his powerful writing was simply the Ming dynasty – no more, no less. For example, the author’s delineation between “north and south” is simply geographic and refers to the Ming dynasty as ruling the north while the  Vietnamese have dominion over the south. If nothing else, the author’s writing shows obvious evidence of profound erudition in the ancient classics and Confucianism, the historical and cultural tradition in which Vietnam and what constitutes modern day Korea  and Japan was steeped. Hence, in translating this work into English, I hope to bring to new life a fresh look on this old document for the sake of readers interested in Vietnamese studies. In particular, modern day Vietnam’s conflicts with Communist China are very hot topics in the Vietnamese community, both in Vietnam and overseas. Through this humble contribution, I hope to both affirm the morale of my countrymen, but also simultaneously remind them that the conflict between “Vietnam” and “China” is one of politics, not a “culture war”. This Nguyễn Trãi already captures beautifully in his writing.


EDIT: It has been brought to my attention that this lyric was not written by Đào Tấn. I have been basing my translations/annotations of Đào Tấn’s lyrics on a book published several decades ago. I noticed that some of the lyrics attributed to him in this book were actually lyrics from other authors. After making this post, a friend pointed out that the researchers that compiled that book were mistaken in attributing these lyrics to Đào Tấn. Đào Tấn compiled a collection of lyrics from various dynasties, possibly to recycle in his operas. However, the compilers of this book mistakenly thought that this collection, titled Mộng Mai lyric collection (夢梅詞錄 , Mộng Mai từ lục) was a collection of Đào Tấn’s compositions. This type of mistaken attribution was actually fairly common before the information age where these issues can be researched with ease. This lyric to the tune of “Ju meng ling” was actually written by a Song dynasty author, Wu Chien (吳潛  Ngô Tiềm , 1195-1262).

Đào Tấn (陶晉 , 1845-1907), courtesy name (字, tự) Chỉ Thúc (止叔) was an Nguyễn dynasty official, poet, and arranger of classical Vietnamese opera. Several of his poetic compositions have previously been covered on this blog. The Festival of Pure Light (清明節 , Thanh Minh tiết) is a festival day traditionally observed in Vietnam, China, Korea, and Japan. One important observance associated with this festival is the visiting of ancestral burial grounds to sweep clean the tombs of one’s forefathers (掃墓 , tảo mộ). Each year the date of the festival is determined by the Spring Equinox; this year the festival recently passed on the 5th of April. Though this festival is not considered an official holiday in modern Vietnam, there are many poems that reference its importance in Vietnamese culture.



Như mộng lệnh

Sáp biến môn tiền dương liễu
Hựu thị Thanh Minh thời hậu
Tuế nguyệt bất nhiêu nhân
Mấn ảnh tinh tinh tri phủ
Tri phủ
Tri phủ
Thả tận nhất bôi xuân tửu

To the tune of “Ju meng ling”

The front door is covered with willows
Once again it is time for the Pure Light festival
Years and months have no mercy for men
My hair has become speckled with gray, don’t you know?
Don’t you know?
Don’t you know?
Let us finish this goblet of spring wine


This lyric was translated into Vietnamese by poet Ngô Xuân Diệu (吳春妙 , 1916-1985):

Trước cửa cắm đầy liễu biếc
Lại đã Thanh Minh sang tiết
Năm tháng chẳng tha người
Ánh tóc bạc rồi có biết
Có biết
Có biết
Cạn một chén xuân cho hết

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