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A Complete Collection of Trần Nhân Tông’s Works


By Lê Mạnh Thát



Translator’s note: The original title of this translation is Toàn Tập Trần Nhân Tông. It is written by Lê Mạnh Thát, a Vietnamese researcher on Buddhism, particularly the history of its development in Vietnam. For the past decades his works have been ardently received by the Vietnamese Buddhists, not because their subject-matter is chiefly centered on the worldwide virtue of a religious belief but because they are able to shed light on numerous historical facts that have not been revealed sufficiently in the current historical books of Vietnam. Indeed, in his works Buddhism is not exhibited as a monastic doctrine or isolated interpretations of remarkable individuals but as an integral part of social and political life of his country. This may be easily proved by his elaborate presentation of numerous Buddhist aspirants, monks and nuns, laymen and laywomen, who have played various roles needed by their country, from the highest down to the lowest positions: a king, a queen, a national teacher, a royal official, a general, a soldier, a peasant, a fisherman, a village preceptor, and so on. It is through the multiform existence of such Buddhist figures in the long history of Vietnam that the reader may be quickly awakened to the fact that Buddhism has determined the history of Vietnam and the destiny of its people so far. For in the chronological order indicated by him of all the historical facts since its introduction into Vietnam, Buddhism is found not to be merely a cause of the development of Vietnam but also an effect of the same one as it has never had a moment to isolate itself from the glory as well as the humility of the nation. From my view, such a fact seems to escape easily the knowledge of anyone who, due to their own barrier of language, has had little opportunity to evaluate Buddhism in Vietnam truly as it has ever been unless such pains-taking presentations of it as by Lê Mạnh Thát would be made accessible to the world. Hence, the present translation comes as the modest manifestation of such an ambition, out of which his perfect book on Emperor Trần Nhân Tông’s life and works is selected to introduce to the readers, at home and abroad as well.



Emperor Nhân Tông of the Trần Dynasty is a national hero who had great contributions to the history of our country in various aspects. It is under his leadership that the Vietnamese people could reach the summit of the age. Together with most gifted military experts they were capable of activating their potential power for defeating the most ferocious and veteran army of the time in such victorious battles as Hàm Tử, Chương Dương, Bạch Đằng, Tây Kết. He also succeeded in extending the country’s boundaries, laying a strong foundation for the people’s common cause of ‘marching southward’— a cause that the Vietnamese, today and tomorrow, would remember with gratitude forever.

Further, Vietnamese culture in his reign unexpectedly witnessed two greatly significant events. The first is the usage of the Vietnamese language, together with Chinese, as the official script in administration by the royal court, which is discovered in several inscriptions recorded for the first time in Vietnamese. In the earlier dynasties the Vietnamese language must have been used to some extent, yet the fact had not been proved by any documentary evidence until the reign of Emperor Nhân Tông. It may be said that the formal usage of Vietnamese in his time resulted in the appearance of a series of literary works written in Vietnamese such as Tiều Ẩn Quốc Ngữ Thi Tập by Chu Văn An, a translation of Ching Shih by Hồ Quí Ly, poems of Nguyễn Biểu, Trần Trùng Quang, a Buddhist monk of the An Quốc Temple; particularly, Quốc Âm Thi Tập by Nguyễn Trãi, and the earliest Vietnamese translations of Phật Thuyết Đại Báo Phụ Mẫu Ân Trọng and Phật Thuyết Báo Phụ Mẫu Ân Trọng, which are said to have been carried out by Dhyāna Master Viên Thái and still extant today. The second is that a new line of development of the Dhyāna sect, namely, Trúc Lâm Yên Tử, holding that the Path to enlightenment may be cultivated peacefully right in a worldly life, was founded by the emperor himself.

Under the reign of Emperor Nhân Tông, therefore, there occurred many great events in political, military and cultural aspects: the double victory over the Mongol-Yuan invaders, the incorporation of the two districts Ô and Lý into the country’s territory, the usage of Vietnamese, together with Chinese, as the official language; and, eventually, there accrued certain developments of thought. These historical events, which took place in the same period, may show us some dialectical relations among them. For it is true that not any event may occur without the existence of another one.

Thus, it is within these events that the Trúc Lâm Dhyāna sect came into being with its historical missions of laying the foundation for the development of Vietnamese Buddhism in the following centuries and setting forth the premise for the cause of marching southward of the Vietnamese people in the same period. It is not quite natural that the first patriarch of Thảo Đường Dhyāna sect, that is, Emperor Lý Thánh Tông, had started the same cause in 1069, that Emperor Nhân Tông went on to lay the foundation for it by establishing the two districts Thuận and Hóa, and that the Bodhisattva-in-Precepts Hưng Long Nguyễn Phúc Chu, nearly 400 years later, ordered General Nguyễn Hữu Cảnh to build the city of Saigon and develop the South into an inseparable part of Vietnam. Behind all of the above-mentioned achievements by such talented and energetic sons of the fatherland there must be some basis of reasoning that may be studied in terms of the work Cư Trần Lạc Đạo Phú of Emperor Nhân Tông. For, being preserved originally in the monasteries of the Trúc Lâm sect, it may be utilized for a research on such a basis of reasoning.

So great is Emperor Nhân Tông’s political and military career that it has been extolled and appreciated many times through seven hundred years by his contemporary people like Trương Hán Siêu, Trần Minh Tông, Phạm Sư Mạnh and people in the later generations like Nguyễn Trãi, Ngô Sỹ Liên, Lê Quí Đôn, Ngô Thì Nhiệm, and so on. And his literary career and his works, too, have been gradually collected in Việt Âm Thi Tập, Toàn Việt Thi Lục, Tam Tổ Thực lục, etc. The collection, however, has not yet been satisfactory so far. All of the diplomatic correspondence submitted to the Yuan court by the emperor, for instance, has not been completely collected and published, at least in the range of possible accounts preserved hitherto.

We suggest, therefore, to introduce once more the military and political career and literary works that Emperor Nhân Tông has left for us so far. The publishing of A Complete Collection of Trần Nhân Tông’s Works comes as the manifestation of such an intention. This collection is divided into two parts. The first, consisting of nine chapters and generally dealing with his political and military career, describes the events in his youth up to his roles in the two wars of 1285 and 1288, the extension of the country’s territory, the usage of the Vietnamese language and the foundation of Trúc Lâm Yên Tử Dhyāna sect. The second is to publish his literary works, including poems, writings, teachings, discourses, and diplomatic correspondence, for the purpose of providing materials for those who are concerned about an all-round study of the history of Vietnam in general and Emperor Nhân Tông in particular.

Finally, to provide documentary evidence for reference and review as well, we have all the papers in Chinese and Quốc Âm reprinted, which we have used to transliterate or translate. In the case of an original with its different editions, the earliest ones still extant are chosen to be the original, and the others for comparative study.

The Collection, which was basically finished in 1977, has not been published completely until today. It is, however, unfortunate that this edition cannot include the translation of śūragama-mantra, which was transmitted by Bodhiśri, written down by Bảo Sát and edited by the Emperor. It is one of his works that we discovered in the years 1974-1975 and it is, so to speak, one of the final translations of Sanskrit into Chinese completed with a king’s cooperation in our country and the Far East.

The version, which we collected from the Từ Quang Temple in Phú Yên Province, is an incomplete reprint in the reign of Cảnh Hưng. Except the last page, the first ones of the Preface are lost. Of the śūragama-mantra proper the first four chapters are still in good condition, but the last remains only one fragment. The Ten Mantras is lost, too. On the remaining pages, following each group of Sanskrit characters printed in large size are two lines of translation in Chinese in small size. Unfortunately, this version was taken in 1984. We hope that, for the common benefit of our country in the field of literature, those who are storing it would be kind enough to inform of it so that it may remain a precious material for any research on Emperor Nhân Tông’s contributions, which were made not only to the nation and Buddhism but also to the Vietnamese history of thought and culture.

Vạn Hạnh Monastery

The 9th day of the 9th month of lunar year Kỷ Mão.

Lê Mạnh Thát





For hundreds of years Emperor Nhân Tông has been praised in many historical and literary books of Vietnam to be a brilliant emperor, a gifted leader, a national hero. His life, therefore, has been recorded much more in detail than those of any other prominent people of the nation. In spite of this, some details, particularly concerning his literary works, are to be found ambiguous in such elaborate accounts. For that reason, we have had to resort to various sources preserved in our country as well as in China to make up some major features of the emperor’s life, which may serve as the basis of our research on his great contributions to the nation in political and military aspects.

First, regarding the documentary sources of Vietnam the most remarkable and fundamental one is undoubtedly Đại Việt Sử Ký Toàn Thư (A Complete History of Đại Việt), in which the Bản Kỷ on the emperor was cited by Ngô Sỹ Liên from Đại Việt Sử Ký (The History of Đại Việt) of Phan Phu Tiên. This is the primary book of history that was employed by Ngô Thì Sỹ (1726-1780) and Quốc Sử Quán[1] of the Nguyễn Dynasty to write about this brilliant emperor in Việt Sử Tiêu Án and Khâm Định Việt Sử Thông Giám Cương Mục respectively. Though we have also referred to some other sources, chiefly from China, we have not discovered anything new except some points to be found wrong. Therefore, Đại Việt Sử Ký Toàn Thư (ĐVSKTT) is still considered to be the first-class source.

In the book in question, however, many aspects and facts of Emperor Nhân Tông’s life have been neglected or recorded insufficiently. For instance, the last days of the emperor are not dealt with so clearly as in Thánh Đăng Ngữ Lục. Yet we are fortunate to have for reference some records preserved in the Trần Dynasty or compiled by the later authors, which are Thánh Đăng Ngữ Lục, Thiền Tông Bản Hạnh, Thượng Sỹ Ngữ Lục, Việt Điện U Linh Tập, Nam Ông Mộng Lục, and Việt Âm Thi Tập.

Thánh Đăng Ngữ Lục is a record of poems and discourses on Dhyāna by the Dhyāna master-emperors of the Trần Dynasty, namely, Thái Tông, Thánh Tông, Nhân Tông, Anh Tông and Minh Tông. It may be regarded as a history of Vietnamese Buddhism dealing with the period from the year 1226, when Emperor Trần Thái Tông ascended the throne, up to the death of Emperor Minh Tông in 1357. Though its compiler is unknown today, we know that, due to the content of the work, he must have had a very intimate relation with Emperor Trần Minh Tông, and that the record could not have been realized without the agreement of the latter’s successor, Emperor Trần Dụ Tông, and the court.

The first reason for this is that the writer would not have had enough first-hand materials for such a record as we have today if he had not been close to the king. The second is that without the king’s and the court’s permission the record would never have been written, or published if it had been already finished, since it conveys a great deal of facts, even documentary papers, concerning the kings. Yet we also know that among the Vietnamese authors who are well known to have lived after 1357 and have met the above-mentioned conditions is Dhyāna Master Kim Sơn, who had a very close relation with the king and witnessed the last days of his life. Otherwise stated, besides the possibility of being the author of Thiền Uyển Tập Anh and Cổ Châu Pháp Vân Phật Bản Hạnh Ngữ Lục, Dhyāna Master Kim Sơn may be the compiler of Thánh Đăng Ngữ Lục, too.

In fact, Thánh Đăng Ngữ Lục is written in accordance with the approach of ‘true recording’, that is, the approach of writing down everyday facts, mainly of kings, which used to be applied by Chinese historians. Therefore, in the eighteenth century, in order to rewrite the line of transmission of the Trúc Lâm Dhyāna sect, Dhyāna Master Tính Quảng and Ngô Thì Nhiệm (1746-1803) combined the chapter on Trần Nhân Tông cited from Thánh Đăng Ngữ Lục with the inscription of Pháp Loa’s Niên Phổ at the Thánh Mai Temple and the biography of Huyền Quang recorded in Tổ Gia Thực Lục to compile Tam Tổ Thực Lục. It should be noticed that, in spite of being based on the approach of ‘true-recording’, Thánh Đăng Ngữ Lục simply records the facts with respect to Buddhist activities of the Dhyāna master-emperors without any references to their political and military activities. Yet, Thánh Đăng Ngữ Lục remains a valuable account, particularly for our research on the Buddhist activities of Emperor Nhân Tông. Further, it was ever the source for Dhyāna Master Chân Nguyên (1647-1726) to write his Thiền Tông Bản Hạnh. The most peculiar point of this work is that when it was printed in 1745, it was enriched with Ngộ Đạo Nhân Duyên by the same author and three other works in Vietnamese, the two of which are Cư Trần Lạc Đạo Phú and Đắc Thú Lâm Tuyền Thành Đạo Ca of Emperor Nhân Tông. Though they were not printed until 1745, these two verses certainly existed in the seventeenth century; for Chân Nguyên had quoted Cư Trần Lạc Đạo Phú in his Kiến Tánh Thành Phật written around 1684.

Apart from Thánh Đăng Ngữ Lục, we have Thượng Sỹ Ngữ Lục written by Tuệ Trung Trần Quốc Tung, a famous general who liberated Thăng Long[2] in the war of 1285. His Record, which was printed under the reign of Trần Anh Tông in the years 1308-1311, contains the biography of the author himself (1230-1290) written by Emperor Nhân Tông. The biography shows us partly the emperor’s course of approaching and studying Buddhism as well as his literary talent. Moreover, it contains a poem that he wrote to praise Tuệ Trung.

In addition, Việt Điện U Linh Tập written by Lý Tế Xuyên about 1327, in spite of simply recording a series of heroes, heroines and sacred spirits of our country, writes down, for the first time, the fact that Emperor Nhân Tông conferred additional titles on national heroes, heroines and sacred spirits in the years of Trùng Hưng the First (1285) and the Fourth (1288). Though it is not found in ĐVSKTT, the fact has a very interesting meaning in the cultural aspect. It is the first time that a sacred Vietnamese shrine came into existence with the official approval from the court. Việt Điện U Linh Tập, therefore, has a rather remarkable position in throwing light on some of Emperor Trần Nhân Tông’s views of the sacred past of our country.

In Nam Ông Mộng Lục written by Hồ Nguyên Trừng in China in 1438, the author used four of its thirty-one sections for writing on Emperor Nhân Tông, which are Trúc Lâm Thị Tịch (No. 1), Tổ Linh Định Mệnh (No.2), Cảm Kích Đồ Hành (No.17) and Thi Ý Thánh Tân (No.19), all covering fifteen percent of the content of the record. Through this record, we are informed not only of a number of facts and writings concerning Emperor Nhân Tông but also of some of his impact and influence on the following generations.

The last document is Việt Âm Thi Tập. It is an outcome of the campaign of reviving national culture after the national hero Lê Lợi successfully drove away the Ming invaders and restored national independence. Its compilation, of which twenty-six poems of Emperor Nhân Tông are found, was first started by Phan Phu Tiên in the period when he was working at Quốc Sử Quán and later completed by Chu Xa in the year of Diên Ninh the Sixth (1433). The materials for its completion must have been taken from the works collected by Quốc Sử Quán and employed by Phan Phu Tiên for his Đại Việt Sử Ký Tân Biên.

The most noticeable fact concerns the poem Hạnh Thiên Trường Phủ, which is assumed in Việt Âm Thi Tập to be of Emperor Nhân Tông and is said to be quoted from Quốc Sử (National History). Here, Quốc Sử must refer to the re-edition of Đại Việt Sử Ký of Phan Phu Tiên himself. Yet, according to the current edition of ĐVSKTT taken from the Nội Các Quan Bản, the poem is said to be of Trần Thánh Tông. So is it in Nam Ông Mộng Lục. Is there then anything wrong in recording by Việt Âm Thi Tập printed in the year of Bảo Thái the Seventh (1727)?

Việt Âm Thi Tập was later used as the source of the works written on poems and writings of the kings and their subjects of the Trần Dynasty. Of them are the voluminous book, Toàn Việt Thi Lục, by Lê Quý Đôn and Trần Triều Thế Phả by an unknown author. In Toàn Việt Thi Lục, after removing Hạnh Thiên Trường Phủ, Lê Quý Đôn did not add anything else to the section on Trần Nhân Tông’s writings besides the number of twenty-six poems already edited in Việt Âm Thi Tập. Nor did he take any poems recorded in Thánh Đăng Ngữ Lục, which was printed by Dhyāna Master Chân Nguyên in 1705, and in its edition prefaced by Tính Quảng in 1750. In Trần Triều Thế Phả Hành Trạng the number is even smaller, only about eighteen poems published.

As regards the sources from China, Yuan Shih ( , Yuan History), especially its section entitled An Nan Chuan ( , The Story of Vietnam), produces most of information about the two wars between Mongolia and Vietnam in 1285 and 1288 and their diplomatic relationship before and after the wars. In addition, we have An Nam Chí Lược of Lê Sực, Thiên Nam Hành Ký of Từ Minh Thiện and Trần Cương Trung Thi Tập of Trần Phu. Their authors, who had all lived under the reign of Emperor Nhân Tông, fled to the invaders’ country and directly participated in political and military activities in relation to our country in various forms. Yet, even though their activities are viewed from some standpoint as being opposed to the country’s privilege, their works may provide for us some political and military information about Emperor Nhân Tông, particularly twenty-two diplomatic documents sent by him to the Yuan emperor. For the past seven hundred years, these documents have been known in our country but they have never been so systematically cultivated and so fully published as to be the basis of a proper knowledge of our country’s hard struggle in diplomacy before and after the two wars. Even though Lê Quý Đôn ever referred to Thiên Nam Hành Ký and Sứ Giao Tập of Trần Cương Trung Thi Tập, he picked only a poem of Trần Phu in Kiến Văn Tiểu Lục.

In addition, on a painting entitled Chu Lin Ta Shih Chu Shan T’u painted by Ch’ên Chien Ju in the year of Chi Chêng 23 (1363) and later provided with prefatory characters by Ch’ên Kuang Chih in the year of Yung Lo 18 (1420), there are some rather interesting details about Emperor Nhân Tông’s life.

As regards the sources from China, however, there are some problems that need to be definitively solved. The first is about the system of calendar. Until today, researchers have agreed that the Vietnamese calendar at that time is quite in accordance with the Chinese in the Yuan court. Accordingly, there are not many calendrical differences of the same historical events in the records of Vietnam and China. Hence, if some differences are found, it is due to different information or mistakes of copying through generations. In this Collection, to avoid unnecessary confusions the calendar of our country is chiefly used and the solar calendar is added only in necessary circumstances.

The second is about the names of historical characters at that time. For the Chinese characters, especially those of Mongol tribes, the way of transliteration in Yuan Shih is basically admitted, except for names that are found to be false when compared with other sources. In such cases they are corrected and definitely rectified; that is to say, we have had to transliterate them again in Mongolian and put them in brackets instead of replacing them, which are extant in historical books of China, as some researchers have done before.

In this connection, let us mention a little about the name Sực of the Vietnamese traitor Lê Sực. In Chinese, it is written as , which has been transliterated into Vietnamese as Tắc or Trắc in the historical books of Vietnam so far. Yet, in ĐVSKTT 5 p.46b5-6, under the character is noted “sỹ lực thiết[3]; that is to say, it must be read as Sực instead of Tắc or Trắc.

The third is about the names of Vietnamese leaders, particularly of the kings of the Trần Dynasty, recorded in Chinese accounts. This is a difficult matter. When researching the Trần Dynasty’s struggles against the Mongol-Yuan army in his Annam Shi Kenkyu (A Study of An Nam History), though Yamamoyo has had an entire chapter written on this subject, namely, Chincho No Omei Ni Kansuru Kenkyu, his conclusions, from our view, are not very satisfactory. It is, therefore, necessary to make a new study. This is all that we must meet so that any presentation of historical facts as well as the works in relation to Emperor Nhân Tông may be evident and highly persuasive.

According to Chinese accounts, especially An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209 pp.1a8,1b4, for instance, the first king of the Trần Dynasty is said to be Trần Nhật Cảnh: “in the 2nd month of the year Mao Wu, Nhật Cảnh handed over the throne to his eldest son, Quang Bính, [who] changed the era name into Thiệu Long . . ..” This is quite in accordance with what Ngô Sỹ Liên writes down in ĐVSKTT 5, p.24a4-6: “On the 24th of the 2nd month of the year Mậu Ngọ, having handed over the throne to the crown prince, the king moved into Bắc cung (Northern Palace). The crown prince ascended the throne, changing the title of his reign into Thiệu Long.” It is then very obvious that the name Quang Bính in Yuan Shih is another name of Emperor Trần Thánh Tông in ĐVSKTT.

Next, also in the words of An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209 p.3b13: “In the year [of Chih Yuan][4] 14, Quang Bính died. People in the country agreed to appoint Thế Tử[5] Nhật Huyên [to be king], [who] ordered Trung Thị Đại Phu Châu Trọng Ngạn and Trung Lương Đại Phu Ngô Đức Thiện to come for audience.” The year of Chih Yuan 14, that is, the year 1277 C.E. is the date when Emperor Trần Thái Tông Nhật Cảnh died as recorded in ĐVSKTT 5 p.59a6-7. It is due to his reliance on the date of Quang Bính’s death that Yamamoto comes to the conclusion that Quang Bính is another name of Empror Trần Thái Tông, and Trần Nhật Huyên is another name of Emperor Trần Thánh Tông.

However, Pen Chi ( ) of Yuan Shih 10, p. 4a12 says: “On the Hsin Szu day of the 6th month of the year (of Chih Yuan) 15, the king of An Nam, Trần Quang Bính, ordered his messengers to submit the list of gifts [to the Yuan king].” Obviously, had Quang Bính died in the year of Chih Yuan 14 (1277), he could not have ordered his messengers to submit offerings in the year of Chih Yuan 15. Yamamoto claims that the number 14 was mistaken for 15 in Pen Chi. Yet such a suggestion is not highly persuasive since in case Quang Bính was another name of Emperor Trần Thánh Tông, he could send his messengers to the Yuan right in the year of Chih Yuan 15. Whatever case it may be, there have been two different pieces of information on Quang Bính that “he died in 1277” and that “he sent his messengers for offering in 1278.” Thus, it is impossible to rely on the date of Quang Bính’s death recorded in An Nan Chuan only to conclude that Quang Bính is the name of Emperor Trần Thái Tông as Yamamoto has done.

In addition, also in the words of Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 10, p.13b3-4: “On the Jen Tzu day of the 8th month of the year of Chih Yuan 16 (1279), Li Pu Shang Shu Ch’ai Ch’ung, accompanied by An Nam Messenger Đỗ Trung Tán, was ordered to persuade An Nam Prince Trần Nhật Huyên to come [to the Yuan court] for audience.” This indicates that the name Trần Nhật Huyên appeared in Chinese books only when Emperor Nhân Tông had come to the throne, i.e. the 10th month of the year Mậu Dần (1278) as recorded in ĐVSKTT 5, pp. 37b9-38a1, together with his later reception of the Chinese envoy led by Ch’ai Ch’ung.

Further, the name Trần Nhật Huyên appeared again a year later than the death of Trần Thánh Tông in the year of Chih Yuan 28 (1291). Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 16 p.11b8-9 says: “On the Hsin Hai  day of the 9th month of the year (of Chih Yuan) 28, An Nam King Trần Nhật Huyên ordered his messengers to submit the list of local gifts offered as an excuse for not arriving for audience.” Yamamoto has mentioned this fact but taken it for false recording. According to the facts mentioned above and our way of identification, however, Trần Nhật Huyên is Emperor Nhân Tông and not Emperor Trần Thánh Tông. It should be remembered that according to Pen Chi of Yuan Shih Quang Bính ever sent his messengers to the Yuan court a year later than the death of Emperor Trần Thái Tông. So did Nhat Huyen a year later than Emperor Thánh Tông’s death. The identification of Quang Bính with Trần Thánh Tông and of Nhật Huyên with Trần Nhân Tông allows us not to resort necessarily to the supposition of false recording. In reality, Pen Chi is much more reliable than Lieh Chuan ( ) since the way of recording used by the former, called ‘Chi Chü Chu’[6], is merely to write down kings’ daily activities such as receiving messengers, reading memorials, issuing decrees, etc. whereas the latter has to collect so many different sources that it may easily have some mistakes.

Besides, the section called Cheng Fa in Ching Shih Ta Tien Tzu Lu, which was compiled by Chao Shih Yen and Yu Chi in the years 1330-1331 and later copied in Yuan Wen Lei 41 pp. 26b1-27b, says on p.27a8: “T’ang Wu Tai drove Nhật Huyên and his father out to the estuary of An bang”, in which Nhật Huyên is known to have been accompanied by his father. If Nhật Huyên were Trần Thánh Tông and his father, Trần Thái Tông, had died in 1277, how could the latter appear again in the second war in 1285?

Merely upon these four factual evidences, Nhật Cảnh is no doubt Trần Thái Tông, Quang Bính is Trần Thánh Tông and Nhật Huyên is Trần Nhân Tông. There are, however, two details that may cause Yamamoto to assume Trần Nhật Huyên to be Trần Thánh Tông. The first is found in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.10a9: “In the year [of Chih Yuan] 27, Nhật Huyên died. His son sent an envoy for offering.” The year of Chih Yuan 27 (1290) is the date when Trần Thánh Tông died, as recorded in ĐVSKTT 5, p.59a6-7. The second is a report, recorded in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.7a10-12, on what the Yuan army watched in the war 1285 after their occupation of Thăng Long, “Nhật Huyên claimed to be the Head of State of Đại Việt, that is, Emperor Hiến Thiên Thể Đạo Đại Minh Quang Hiếu Trần Uy Hoàng, handing over the throne to his son, the Crown Prince, and appointing the latter’s wife to be the Queen (…). He then came to the Emperor-Father’s ‘throne.’ It shows that the kinghood of An Nam belonged to Nhật Huyên’s descendant, who named his era Thiệu Bảo.” Emperor Hiến Thiên Thể Đạo Đại Minh Quang Hiếu is the reverend title of Trần Thánh Tông as recorded in ĐVSKTT 5, p.24b8. And the era name Thiệu Bảo is of Trần Nhân Tông, which is here assumed to be of Nhật Huyên’s son.

With these two details, the name Nhật Huyên really refers to Trần Thánh Tông, and Nhật Tôn to Trần Nhân Tông. Yet, it is not possible to depend on these two details only to assert that Quang Bính is the name of Trần Thái Tông, Nhật Huyên of Trần Thánh Tông and Nhật Tôn of Trần Nhân Tông as Yamamoto has done. The reason is that these two facts when compared, in number only, with the four facts mentioned above are not enough for us to come to such a conclusion.

In reality, all the confusions above have their own reasons. The first is that the ascension as well as the abdication of the throne of the Vietnamese kings up to the reign of Trần Nhân Tông and later on was not quite exactly reported in the correspondence sent to the Chinese court. Right in the days of Đinh Tiên Hoàng, it was Đinh Liễn, but not the former, who wrote a letter to the Sung king in the name of Sovereign of Đại Cồ Việt[7], as recorded in Sung Shih (History of Sung). Later, subsequent to the reign of Trần Nhân Tông, in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih are recorded the names of his successors such as Nhật Suy in the year of Chih Ta 5 (1311) or Nhật Khoáng in the year of Tai Ting 1 (1324), which are not found in Vietnamese historical books, particularly in ĐVSKTT.

The second is that, proceeding from this inexact correspondence between Vietnam and China, the confusions increased much more by the time Trần Nhân Tông was leading the war of resistance in 1285, due to the presence of some Vietnamese traitors such as Trần Ích Tắc, Trần Văn Lộng, Lê Sực in the enemy’s army. It was due to their multi-factorial reports on our country, in which there were certainly some of the ascending as well as abdicating the throne of our kings and the mutual relationship among them, that the confusions mentioned above occurred. For that reason, we cannot depend on Chinese historical materials to identify the names recorded by them with those of kings in our historical books. On the contrary, it is the Vietnamese historical materials that should be used as the foundation for affirming to whom the king-names refer in Chinese historical books, which are, in this case, used for reference only.

From our view, therefore, we cannot accept Yamamoto’s way of solution by identifying Quang Bính with Trần Thái Tông and Nhật Tôn with Trần Nhân Tông as the historical documents do not allow such an easy solution, even those of the Chinese source, as we have said before. Thus, our solution is to take the formal historical books of Vietnam to be fundamental materials. Relying on these materials, we consider Quang Bính to be Trần Thánh Tông, Nhật Huyên and Nhật Tôn to be the other names of Trần Nhân Tông, Nhật Suy and Nhật Khoáng to refer to Trần Anh Tông and Trần Minh Tông respectively; particularly the identification of Nhật Huyên and Nhật Tôn with Trần Nhân Tông, who is the object of our present research.

The above-mentioned identification of names is derived from the two different historical sources. First, on the part of China, Yuan Shih Pen Chi and Ching Shih Ta Tien Tzu Lu affirm that Quang Bính lived till the year of Chih Yuan 15 (1278) whereas Emperor Trần Thái Tông died one year earlier (1277), and Nhật Huyên began sending his messengers to China in 1279 on to 1291, that is, one year later than Trần Thánh Tông’s death and having his Emperor-Father accompanied in the war of 1285.

Secondly, on the part of Vietnam, Hồ Nguyên Trừng and Ngô Sỹ Liên assume in Nam Ông Mộng Lục, p3a7-9 and ĐVSKTT 5, pp. 24a9-b3 that “according to the regulations of Trần family…a son at his full-fledged age will be approved to ascend the throne, and his father, then called Emperor-Father, retreats into Thánh Từ Palace, helping his son with the administration of the court. In reality, national affairs are all decided by the Emperor-Father since the move of transferring the throne merely aims at avoiding some unexpected turmoil that may occur later.” Nevertheless, it is quite different in the case of Emperor Nhân Tông. Though his Emperor-Father Trần Thánh Tông was still alive, he himself made all decisions of national affairs. The most typical fact is recorded in ĐVSKTT 5 pp.56b9-57a1: “Đỗ Hành was appointed to be an ‘official of internal service’ only because when he captured Wu Ma Er, he did not turn over the latter to the Emperor but to the Emperor-Father.” The fact that Đỗ Hành could not get a high appointment clearly proves Emperor Trần Nhân Tông’s role in determining national affairs. Indeed, according to ĐVSKTT, it was Emperor Nhân Tông who received Chinese envoys from the end of 1278 till his death.

It is true that any research on Emperor Nhân Tông or any historical characters of Vietnam must be based chiefly on Vietnamese historical materials. Yet, under the reign of Trần Nhân Tông many diplomatic and military relations with China have left for us a number of facts and works bearing the names of our country’s leaders that are not found in the formal historical books of Vietnam. Therefore, it is really necessary for us to find out with what characters in our formal historical books such names are concerned. Merely the fact that the kings of the Trần Dynasty changed their own names in diplomatic relations with China shows more or less the intention of Đại Việt’s emperors not to let China know their personal identities. Hence, it is indispensable for us to have some lengthy discussions to clarify the identification of such names.

Another reason is that some researchers of our country have mentioned the same problem, but they have generally accepted Yamamoto’s way of solution rather easily. Actually, his argument, as it has been discussed above, has too many defects; particularly, he has not taken any formal historical books of Vietnam for the basis of his research. For that reason, our discussions aim at not only Yamamoto’s own mistakes but also helping correct some cognitional impact that he has had on the circle of historical researchers of our country.

From here on, in the present book, all the works and historical facts bearing the names of Trần Nhật Huyên and Trần Nhật Tôn are collected under Emperor Nhân Tông himself. Apart from the two details concerning the reverend title Hiến Thiên Thể Đạo Đại Minh Quang Hiếu and the death of Nhật Huyên in the year of Chih Yuan 27, all the others recorded by China definitively belong to Emperor Trần Nhân Tông, and we will not have any more discussions.



Chapter Two:  Emperor Nhân Tông’s Youth


The source of materials for our research on Emperor Nhân Tông’s life and career is basically the same as what has just been dealt with. From it, the emperor is known to have been born on the 11th of the 11th month of Nguyên Phong 8 (1258). As a young baby, he is described in ĐVSKTT 5, pp. 38a8-b1 as being “possessed of the best qualities of saints, pure countenance, golden complexion, perfect constitution, and brilliant spirits; [the people of] the two Palaces were amazed, calling him the ‘Golden Boy of the Heaven’[8]; on his right shoulder was a black mole, indicating that he was capable of undertaking great affairs.”

Thánh Đăng Ngữ Lục p.14b1-7 mentions the dream of Queen-Mother Nguyên Thánh before his birth: “Queen-Mother Nguyên Thánh once dreamt that a sacred person gave her two swords, saying, ‘By order of Heaven, let you choose.’ She was very pleased to have taken the short one; hence becoming pregnant.” The story was later written in verse by Chân Nguyên in Thiền Tông Bản Hạnh:

The Queen-Mother was an affable and clement woman.

In one of her sound sleeps in a Spring night,

She saw a sacred person suddenly appear,

So noble as a messenger from the Heaven,

He gave her two swords and told her to take.

She suddenly wakened in the long night,

Telling Thánh Tông the strange omen she saw.

Hearing it, the king was greatly joyful,

Saying that it was a gift from the Heaven.

According to Thánh Đăng Ngữ Lục, during her pregnancy of the emperor Queen-Mother Nguyên Thánh led a normal life without any special concerns about the nourishment and protection of her fetus, which was then a popular and familiar custom, particularly in the nobility, of our country: “In the months of pregnancy, she did not have any diet. She was ready to eat anything offered by the cook but her fetus was still in good condition. She knew that she was being protected by something inconceivable.” In Thiền Tông Bản Hạnh, this fact is not described but expressed in two lines of verse:

Since the day she had the dream,

The queen’s pregnancy passed by increasingly well.

Regarding the days when Emperor Nhân Tông was just born, Thánh Đăng Ngữ Lục as well as ĐVSKTT, notes the phenomenon that he had a golden complexion with a black mole on his right shoulder: “When he was born, his skin was like pure gold. Thánh Tông named him Golden Buddha. On his right shoulder was a black mole like a big bean. The learned men said that he would be capable of undertaking great affairs later.” This detail is found rather lengthy in Thiền Tông Bản Hạnh:

Her pregnancy reached its full months when he came into the world.

How strange it was, his form with golden skin.

The Emperor-Father said that it was due to their merits

That they could give birth to a Golden Buddha.

On his right shoulder was a mole,

By which the seers foretold

That the Prince’s wisdom was so great as to carry great affairs

And become the teacher of the ten directions.

When he grew up, Emperor Nhân Tông was named Khâm by his father and given careful education so that he could have capacity of ruling the country in the future. This fact is not clearly recorded in the historical documents of Vietnam. In Thánh Đăng Ngữ Lục there is only a brief note: “Điều Ngự[9] was intelligent, possessed of much capacity, fond of studying; he read everything, mastering books of both Buddhism and worldly subjects.” And in Thiền Tông Bản Hạnh are two lines of verse:

So much were his parents’ care and love

That they gave him the title King Điều Ngự.

In his prefatory handwriting on the painting Chu Lin Ta Shih Chien Shan T’u, however, Ch’ên Kuang Chih gives us a rather clear detail of Emperor Nhân Tông’s education in his youth: “When he grew up, he became well versed in the three teachings[10] and comprehended Buddhist texts fully. Even astronomy, calendar, military tactics, medicine, musical rules, all were quickly and thoroughly mastered by him.” Thus, Emperor Nhân Tông received extremely general education in a free and open manner, combining scientific knowledge with literature, military principles with music. It is the educational tradition of Vietnam and Vietnamese Buddhism that is known to have existed since the days of Mâu Tử and Khương Tăng Hội.

As regards his age of sixteen, i.e. the year of Giáp Tuất (1274), ĐVSKTT 5 p.34a4-5 says: “In the 12th month, the eldest Prince Khâm was appointed to be the Crown Prince and married the eldest daughter of Hưng Đạo Vương, who was then given the title ‘phi’[11].” According to Thánh Đăng Ngữ Lục p.16b7, after learning about his father’s intention of handing over the imperial power to him, Emperor Nhân Tông had the idea of ceding it to his younger brother, Đức Việp. The Record gives us an account of the emperor’s marriage and his feelings after his intention of abdicating the throne failed: “At the age of sixteen, he was chosen to be the Crown Prince. Though he had refused his father’s decision three times, he failed. He was then married to the eldest daughter of National Mother Nguyên Từ… The couple’s life was in harmony, yet his feeling was indifferent.” The same fact is plainly recorded in Thiền Tông Bản Hạnh, without mentioning his marriage:

When he was still at his young age of sixteen,

His father decided to hand over the throne to him.

Điều Ngự prostrated himself twice before his father, saying

His younger brother should substitute for him.

Being indifferent to wealth and nobility,

He was concerned about the practice [of the Path] only.

Though dwelling in the Eastern Palace[12],

On the way of Dhyāna was his mind all the time concentrated.

Since “his feeling was indifferent” towards his wife, Thánh Đăng Ngữ Lục gives a detail concerning the fact that Emperor Nhân Tông left the palace for Mount Yên Tử: “One night, at the Tý hour[13], the king crossed the Citadel to enter the Yên Tử Mountain. On his arrival at the Tháp Temple, he felt rather tired and further it was already at dawn; so he took a rest there. Watching his extraordinary countenance, the monk of the temple offered food to him.” The fact is rewritten in Thiền Tông Bản Hạnh:

That night the Crown Prince departed from the palace,

Seeking the way to Yên Tử alone.

On his arrival at Mount Đông Cứu, it was at dawn;

Pretending to be  a private soldier,

He  entered the Tower to rest for a moment.

Seeing his strange appearance,

The monk prepared a meal for him.

On learning of his renunciation, it is natural that the royal family, especially the queen, had to order a search for him. In the words of Thánh Đăng Ngữ Lục: “The queen told Thánh Tông everything [about the crown prince’s departure]. He ordered the subjects to search in the four directions. The crown prince unpleasantly came back, ascending the throne. Although he lived in the splendid citadel, he kept himself in purity.” In the words of Thiền Tông Bản Hạnh:

The queen reported the news to the brilliant king,

Ordering all the subjects and common people

Quickly to fetch the crown prince.

He would be punished immediately

For forcing his younger brother to replace him.

Then, the crown prince was brought back

And was handed over the throne to rule the people.

ĐVSKTT says nothing about the fact above; yet Thánh Đăng Ngữ Lục gives us one more detail: “The crown prince usually stayed at the Từ Phúc Temple in the Citadel. In a dream by day, he saw a golden lotus growing from his navel, which was as big as a wheel. On the lotus appeared a golden Buddha and beside Him was a person who pointed to the king, saying, ‘Do you know this Buddha? That’s Buddha Biến Chiếu.’ He woke up in a surprised manner, telling the dream to King Thánh Tông, who felt it extremely strange.” In Thiền Tông Bản Hạnh, the story is recorded in verse:

Though he was dwelling in the Eastern Palace,

His mind was always centered on the way of Dhyāna.

One night when the moon was shining by the corridor,

He suddenly saw, in his dream, the appearance of a lotus.

It was said that he had good opportunity

Of seeing Buddha, symbolized by the lotus.

According to Thánh Đăng Ngữ Lục, after this dream, Emperor Nhân Tông made up his mind to eat vegetarian food only. He was so thin that the Emperor-Father had to request him to change his diet: “Since then he was usually on a vegetarian diet only, abstaining from animal food. His face became so thin that Thánh Tông felt strange, asking him the reason. Having heard him telling the truth, Thánh Tông cried, saying: ‘I am already old. Everything depends upon you alone. If you are in such a state, what will the career achieved by our ancestors be like?.’ Hearing this, Điều Ngự cried, too.” In the verse of Thiền Tông Bản Hạnh:

The Crown Prince vowed to be a vegetarian.

His face and body got increasingly thin.

Seeing that, the king-father asked him.

Prostrating himself the prince told the truth.

His face filled with tears, Thánh Tông said,

“How pitiful it is when I have become old

And no one would inherit the ancestors’ career.”

[Hearing this,] the prince’s tears dropped too.

Father and son, how deeply emotional their love was.

Whether the dream occurred before his ascending the throne or after his being appointed to be the Crown Prince, it is obviously true that Prince Trần Khâm accepted to mount the throne on the 22nd of the 10th month of Mậu Dần, Bảo Phù 6 (1278). No sooner had he been on the throne than Emperor Nhân Tông encountered an extremely dangerous situation of the country. Kublai Khan was urgently preparing his plan of invading our country whereas his army was taking up the final military bases of the Sung Dynasty in Southern China and then ended their campaign with the fact that General Lu Hsiu Fu carrying the Sung king on his back jumped to death into the sea in the spring of the following year (1279).

In the 10th month, Emperor Nhân Tông came to the throne. In the leap 11th month, a messenger of Kublai Khan, Ch’ai Ch’ung, arrived at Yang Chou via the route of Kiang Ling and went on toward our country. Concerning this fact, ĐVSKTT 5 p38a3-7 says: “Learning of Thái Tông’s death, the Yuan king intended to occupy our country. He ordered the arrival of Li Pu Shang Shu Ch’ai Ch’ung (i.e. Ch’ai Chuan Ch’ing). At that time, our messenger in China, Lê Khắc Phục, who had encountered the Yuan troops’ attack on the Sung court on his way back to our country, followed the route of Hu Nan. Accompanying him, Ch’ai Ch’ung arrived at our court. On the pretext that the Emperor had come to the throne without the Yuan’s approval, he persuaded the Emperor to go for an audience with the Yuan king. The Emperor refused his request, sending Trịnh Đình Toàn and Đỗ Quốc Kế to the Yuan. The Yuan detained Đình Toàn, not allowing him to return.

The Chinese historical accounts, especially Pen Chi and An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 10 p.5a3-4 and 209 p.4a1-b13, record very clearly the activity of their envoy in our country and Emperor Nhân Tông’s measures of defense. In the 8th month Ch’ai Ch’ung was ordered by Kublai Khan to follow the route of Kiang Ling in Kwang Hsi; yet, he decided to choose the route in Yan Nan and arrived at Yung Chou in the leap 11th month. Hearing of this, Emperor Nhân Tông sent a letter of protest, demanding Ch’ai Ch’ung to withdraw on the route of Shan Ch’an, Yun Nan he had often used before. This may be the first diplomatic correspondence that is preserved partly in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209 p.4a4-5: “Now, learning that Your Kuo Kung[14] has taken pains to come to our humble country, none of the people on the frontier is not frightened. They do not know where the people who have just arrived come from. You might take your troops back on the former route to come again.

Ch’ai Ch’ung did not respond to the Emperor’s request but sent a letter, demanding the reception of him: “Together with your country’s mission led by Lê Khắc Phục, we, Li Pu Shang Shu and some mandarins, obeying the superior order, arrived at Yung Chou via Kiang Ling to enter An Nan. If there are any guiding troops, follow the horses at rest-houses to the distant frontier to receive us.

According to the same An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209 p.4a6-10, Emperor Nhân Tông ordered Ngự  Sử Trung Tán Kiêm Tri Thẩm Hình Viện Sự Đỗ Quốc Kế to receive them on the border. Then he ordered Thái Úy Trần Quang Khải with a hundred royal officials to lead them from the bank of the Red River to the House of Messengers. On the 2nd of the 12th month of Mậu Dần (1278), Emperor Nhân Tông went there to meet them. On the 4th, he received a decree issued by Kublai Khan, which was read by Ch’ai Ch’ung himself: “Your country has been subject [to the Chinese court] for more than twenty years but has not fulfilled six affairs recently. If you do not come for audience, rebuild your ramparts and moats, reorganize your troops to wait for our army (…). Your father received my orders to be a king. Not only have you mounted the throne without my permission but also refused to come for audience. How can you avoid being punished by the imperial court later?

It is due to those insolent words that Trần Hưng Đạo, in his later proclamation of encouraging his soldiers, wrote “watching their messengers to walk up and down haughtily on the roads, stick out their ‘barn-owl’ tongues to disregard our court, expose their ‘goat-dog’ bodies to show pride before the Emperor.” Those insolent attitudes could not discourage the Emperor easily. To test their reactions, he sent for Ch’ai Ch’ung at a party held in the corridor as before. The latter refused to sit at table and returned to the House of Messengers, staying there until Phạm Minh Tự, by order of the Emperor, invited him to the party held at Tập Hiền Palace.

In An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209 p.4a12 –b3, the talk between the Emperor and Ch’ai Ch’ung at the party is rather clearly recorded. In the beginning is the Emperor’s statement: “No sooner had my Emperor-Father passed away and I succeeded him than Your Imperial Messenger brought a decree together with your words of persuasion. This makes me both pleasant and frightened. I have secretly heard that the head of Sung, though still an innocent child, has been conferred the title ‘kung’, so my small country should also receive your favor to be pitifully considered. Earlier, I was exempted from the six affairs. Now, as to my personal attendance on audience, I am afraid I may die halfway since, being born in the secluded palace, I have not learnt how to ride horses; nor have I got accustomed to the outside climate. Neither have my younger brother, Thái Úy, and those under his age. On your return to attend upon the King, state clearly my sincere loyalty in your report and let me offer rare gifts.

Hearing these words, Ch’ai Ch’ung replied at once, “Although the head of Sung was not yet at the age of ten and he grew up in the closed palace as well, he could arrive at the Capital. Besides delivering the decree, [I] dare not obey any other order. Further, our group of four really come here to invite you, not to take anything from you.

Thus, it is obvious that not more than two months since his ascending the throne, Emperor Nhân Tông had to receive Ch’ai Ch’ung’s mission with their threat of attacking our country. Before their ill-willed actions, Emperor Nhân Tông tactfully carried out a flexible policy so that the people of Đại Việt had enough time to develop and reinforce their potential strength. According to An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209 p.4b3-6, when Ch’ai Ch’ung was about to return home, Emperor Nhân Tông ordered Phạm Minh Tự, Trịnh Quốc Toản and Đỗ Quốc Kế to ask him to submit his memorial to the Yuan king, informing him of his refusal of audience: “My body is weak by nature; further, the road is hard to travel. I fear that, if I die, my white bones exposed on the way would hurt Your Majesty’s heart without any benefit for the imperial court at all. Bowing my head, I entreat Your Majesty to show mercy to this small and remote country in order that I and my subjects can keep our lives for the purpose of serving Your Majesty. It is a great chance for me and a great favor for the people as well.

In the 3rd month of the following year (1279), when Ch’ai Ch’ung’s mission arrived at Ta Tu[15] to submit their report on Emperor Nhân Tông’s sending his messengers instead of his personal arrival for audience, Ch’u Mi Yuan of the Yuan proposed Kublai Khan to attack our country. He refused their proposal, letting our mission enter for audience. In the 11th month, having had one messenger of ours, Trịnh Quốc Toản, detained at Ta Tu, he ordered a mission of four led by Ch’ai Ch’ung to go to our country with Đỗ Quốc Kế, setting forth their threats and terms. In the words of An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209 p.4b9-12: “If it is true that you cannot come for audience, collect gold to substitute for your body, two pearls for your eyes, and two men—a learned man and a son or a brother of yours—and two types of partisans—two men each for aborigines. If you cannot do so, rebuild your ramparts and moats to wait for [our] judgment.

In face of such threats and thus the danger of an increasingly coming war, Emperor Nhân Tông urgently carried out a series of measures focused on increasing the people’s potential power in politics, economy, military and diplomatic affairs in order to prepare for the coming war against invaders, a war that the Emperor himself and the court thought it impossible to avoid.

First, concerning politics the Emperor carried out a policy of comforting the people and stabilizing society by “setting free prisoners throughout the country” on the occasion of Tết Nguyên Đán[16] of Kỷ Mão, Thiệu Bảo 1, i.e. soon after his being enthroned, as recorded in ĐVSKTT 5 p.38b4-5. Next, he ordered to solve false charges and unjust trials left among the masses. There is an interesting fact in ĐVSKTT 5 p.39b4-8 that twenty months after his ascending the throne, some common people once hindered his vehicle to complain to him of an unjust trial. The Emperor “ordered Chánh Trưởng Nội Thư Hỏa Trần Hùng Thao” to solve it “right on the road.” Also in the same period, when hearing of the rebellion of Trịnh Giác Mật in Hà Giang, he ordered Trần Nhật Duật to persuade him to surrender; and the latter succeeded in “leading Mật and his wife and children to see the king” without “wasting an arrow.”

Economically, a year after his mounting the throne, due to his measures of encouraging the peasantry, “a big crop was obtained: two spikes per rice-stalk in the fields at Trà Kiều of Khoái Lộ”, as recorded in ĐVSKTT 5 p.39b3-4. Further, ĐVSKTT 5 p39b2 gives the detail that, to boost the development of national commerce, Emperor Nhân Tông had “standard rulers for measuring wood and cloth” prescribed for an identical system of measurement for the sake of business throughout the country. In the 2nd month of the same year, the Emperor had “registers of population and decrees of civil services in the country checked” for the purpose of controlling the population and improving conditions of living, working and producing of the people.

Concerning foreign affairs, besides his efforts of dealing with the Yuan court, only several months after his coming to the throne, Emperor Nhân Tông attempted to solve the problem of Champa by establishing a close relationship with this neighboring nation on the southern border. Just in the 1st month of Thiệu Bảo 1 (1279), Chế Năng and Chế Diệp, who were ordered by the Cham king to lead a mission to our country, asked King Nhân Tông to allow them to stay and serve as subjects in our court. The Emperor, however, refused their request tactfully and advised them to return to Champa. Moreover, when Champa was invaded by the Yuan army in the 12th month of Chih Yuan 16 (1279), Emperor Nhân Tông sent 20,000 troops and 500 warships to Champa as reinforcements. This fact is not mentioned in our historical books, but it is very clearly recorded in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209 p.5b3-8, which became one of the reasons for the Yuan to invade our country: “An Fu Shih Ch’iung Chou Ch’en Chung Ta heard Cheng Tien Yu saying that Giao Chi[17], which was in collusion with Champa, sent 20,000 troops and 500 warships for aid.” Thereafter, Emperor Nhân Tông replied in his letter: “Champa is a dependency of our small country. So, when it was attacked by your great army, you, great country, should have shown your pity. In spite of this, we have not uttered any words at all since we know that any success or failure of man’s planning depends on Heaven. Now, if Champa has resisted [your great country] so stubbornly that it is not willing to surrender, it really does not know anything about Heaven and man. We, knowing clearly what Heaven and man are like, will never collude with anyone who does not have the same knowledge. It is a fact that even a small child can understand clearly, let alone our ‘small country.’ This is our sincere statement.

 In spite of the explanation above, the fact that Emperor Nhân Tông sent his men to Champa to fight against the Yuan must have occurred. This may be the second time when our country has sent troops abroad, nearly fourteen centuries later than the first time King Hùng sent Vietnamese troops to aid Đông Việt and Mân Việt to struggle against the army of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty. For the security of Đại Việt, Champa has an extremely vital position. When ordering troops commanded by So Tu to attack Champa, Kublai Khan did not only think of his occupation of Champa as a bridgehead for attacking other countries in Southeast Asia, as is supposed by some, but also intended to make use of Champa first as a foothold to attack Đại Việt from the southern direction. In reality, this is proved by the subsequent events.

Indeed, from his experience in the war of 1258, Kublai Khan paid attention to the position of Champa in his strategy of besieging and annihilating our country. Consequently, according to Chan Cheng Chuan (Story of Champa) of Yuan Shih 210 pp.4a3-6a7, right in the 12th month of Chih Yuan 16 (1279), Kublai Khan ordered Toa Do together with Ping Pu Shih Lang Chiao Hua Ti, Tsung Kuan Meng Ch’ing Yuan and Wan Hu Ton Thang Phu to Champa to persuade its king to go to court for audience. The next year, he continued to send two more missions, one in the 6th month and the other in the 11th month of Chih Yuan 17 (1280). In 1281, Kublai Khan officially formed the headquarters of invading Champa known as Chan Cheng Hsin Chung Shu Sheng headed by So Tu. Up to the 11th of Chih Yuan 19 (1282), So Tu led his troops to Champa from Kwang Chou. The above is briefly cited from Chan Cheng Chuan of Yuan Shih 210 p.4a3-13.

Thus, Champa has a very important position in the defense strategy of Đại Việt. And Emperor Nhân Tông resolved to keep at all cost the southern border stable and peaceful, not letting the enemy have the opportunity to break the Viet-Cham relationship in their struggle against the common enemy. In reality, it is before his reinforcement of 20,000 troops and 500 warships for Champa, possibly in the end of 1282, i.e. the time of So Tu’s departure from Kwang Chou with his troops, that in the beginning of the same year, i.e. the 2nd month of Nhâm Ngọ, Thiệu Bảo 4, Champa sent a mission of more than one hundred people headed by Bố Bà Ma to Đại Việt with an offering of white elephants. The fact, recorded in ĐVSKTT 5 p.41b1-2, that such a crowded diplomatic delegation was sent to Đại Việt affirms the matter of aid for Champa by our country. In this connection, nearly thirty years later, the king of Champa pleasantly agreed on the incorporation of the two districts of Ô and Lý into the territory of Đại Việt.

Concerning military affairs, in the year of Chih Yuan 16 (1279), after annihilating the Sung and occupying entire China, Kublai Khan immediately ordered to build warships to attack Đại Việt, as recorded in Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 10 p.11b14. In the 11th month of the same year, though detaining our messengers headed by Trịnh Đình Toản at Ta Tu, he ordered Li Pu Shang Shu Ch’ai Ch’ung and Ping Pu Shang Shu Liang Seng to accompany Đỗ Quốc Kế to Thăng Long with the threat that Emperor Nhân Tông should “rebuild ramparts and moats to wait for judgment .” In the 10th month of the following year (1280) Liang Seng and Ch’ai Ch’ung were ordered to come to our country again. Therefore, in the 1st month of Thiệu Bảo 3 (1281), Emperor Nhân Tông sent a mission of his uncle, Trần Di Ái, Lê Tuấn and Lê Mục to China. According to Pen Chi of Yuan Shih p.9a4-5, seizing this opportunity, Kublai Khan carried out his evil plan of invasion by means of creating a puppet government in exile headed by Trần Di Ái as An Nan Kuo Wang (King of An Nam), together with Lê Mục as Han Lin Hsueh Shih and Lê Tuấn as Shang Shu. In a decree issued in Chih Yuan 18 (1281) and recorded in An Nan Chih Lueh 2 p.35, Kublai Khan claimed two reasons: “The mission was sent to invite you, but you found a pretext for refusal. Now, you intend to disobey my order by sending your uncle Di Ái for imperial audience (…). You have alleged illness as a reason for not going to court, so let you stay there for medical treatment and convalescence. I have chosen your uncle as king of An Nan.

Having founded the puppet government, Kublai Khan had An Nan Hsuan Wei Ssu established in the same month with Buyan Tamur as An Nan Hsuan Wei Tu Shih Yuan Shuai assisted by Ch’ai Ch’ung and Qugar, as recorded in Pen chi of Yuan Shih 11 p.9a8-9 and 209 pp.4b12-5a1. Then he ordered Ch’ai Ch’ung to lead 1,000 troops accompanying Di Ái and his companions back to our country. According to An Nan Chih Lueh 3 p.44, “having arrived at the frontier in Vĩnh Bình, they were not recognized by the people there. Being afraid, Di Ái fled first in the night. The eldest son of King [Thánh Tông] ordered his subjects to welcome Ch’ai Ch’ung into the court and proclaimed his edict.ĐVSKTT 5 pp.40b8-41a2 says: “Ch’ai Ch’ung led 5,000 troops, escorting [them] back to [our] country”, and “Ch’ai Ch’ung, arrogant and impudent, rode straight into the gate of Dương Minh on his horse. When Thiên Trường troops stopped [him], he used the whip to hurt them on the head. Riding to the Tập Hiền Viện, he saw curtains and hangings arranged and dismounted from his horse.” But here it does not give any information as to where Trần Di Ái and his companions were till page p.41b2, on which it records that in the 4th month of the following year (1282) “Trần Di Ái and his companions returned from their mission” and two months later, i.e. the 6th month, “the traitors, Trần Di Ái and his companions, were punished to serve as soldiers in Thiên Trường troop and Tuấn as Tổng Binh.

Accordingly, Kublai Khan’s plan of setting up a puppet government in our country failed completely due to Emperor Nhân Tông’s resolution to break the escort troops led by Ch’ai Ch’ung. Ten years later, in his decree issued in 1291, not forgetting this fact Kublai Khan blamed our emperor for having “killed uncle and driven messengers out.” Yet Emperor Nhân Tông refuted this in a letter sent to Kublai Khan: “It is obvious that my uncle Di Ái fled abroad earlier; yet I am falsely accused of having killed him.” Due to this failure, Ch’ai Ch’ung was so angry that, according to ĐVSKTT 5 p.41a2-9, he refused to receive Thái Sư Trần Quang Khải when the latter was ordered by the Emperor to meet him at the House of Messengers. Even when Trần Quang Khải walked straight into his room, he refused to leave his bed. Hearing this, Hưng Đạo Vương Trần Quốc Tuấn arrived. This time, Ch’ai Ch’ung stood up, greeting and inviting him to sit. Everybody was amazed. But that was because Trần Quốc Tuấn had his head shaved and dressed himself as a Buddhist venerable from the North.

Since that failure, however, the Yuan’s plan of invading our country was only a question of time. In reality, the Yuan court had prepared tactics, weapons and troops to attack Đại Việt. Under Emperor Nhân Tông’s leadership, all of their actions were shadowed by the Đại Việt court. According to ĐVSKTT 5 p.41b4-5, in the 8th month the Vietnamese authorities were informed by General Lương Uất in Lạng District on the frontier that “Yu Cheng Hsiang So Tu of the Yuan leading 500,000 well-trained troops claimed to take the route of Vietnam for attacking Champa, but in reality to invade our country.”

Two months later, Emperor Nhân Tông gave orders for a military conference in Bình Than to discuss the plan of fighting against the Yuan invaders. Beside the conference there were two remarkable facts mentioned in ĐVSKTT 5 pp.41b8-43a6. The first is about the reinstatement of Trần Khánh Dư in Phó Tướng Quân; the second is that Hoài văn hầu Trần Quốc Toản squashed an orange in his hand since he was not allowed to attend the conference. This shows that, before the invaders entered our country’s frontier, Emperor Nhân Tông had launched a movement of enemy-killing resolution in the military staff. The 10th month of the same year, he conferred Thượng Tướng Thái Sư on Thái Uý Trần Quang Khải.

In the 7th month of the following year, the emperor sent a mission of Hoàng Tư Lịnh and Nguyễn Chương to China. On their return, they reported that Prince A Thai and P’ing Chang A La were concentrating 500,000 troops from the bases of Hu Kwang with the intention of invading our country. According to An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209 p.5a1-b3, learning of this, Emperor Nhân Tông sent a letter to A Li Hai Ya, demanding him to set free the messengers held as hostage; and A Li Hai Ya replied by order of the Yuan king. From Ching Hu Chan Cheng Hsin Sheng in Ngoh Chou, A Li Hai Ya ordered Ta Lu Hua Chih Chao Ch’u to bring the letter to our country. In the 11th month of the same year, when Chao Ch’u came, Emperor Nhân Tông ordered Trung Lượng Đại Phu Đinh Khắc Thiệu, Trung Đại Phu Nguyễn Đạo Học, and so on to accompany Chao Ch’u, carrying local offerings to the Yuan court. Simultaneously, the emperor continued with his diplomatic struggle by ordering Trung Phụng Đại Phu Phạm Chí Thanh and Triều Thỉnh Lang Đỗ Bào Trực to carry to A Li Hai Ya his letter concerning the reason why he could not help them with troops and provisions in their attack of Champa and why he could not go to the Yuan court for audience.

While allowing A Li Hai Ya to delegate Chao Ch’u in the 7th month, Kublai Khan ordered T’ao Ping Chih, in the 10th month of the same year, to carry his letter to Emperor Nhân Tông. Though it is lost, the letter must have been full of threatening words. According to ĐVSKTT 5 p.43b6-8, in the same month Emperor Nhân Tông mobilized all the naval officers and men commanded by his princes and nobles for maneuvers. He conferred Quốc Công Tiết Chế Thống Lãnh Thiên Hạ Chư Quân Sự on Trần Hưng Đạo and, at the same time, delivered troops to experienced generals, getting ready for the coming invasion of the Yuan court.

On the Keng Wu day of the 5th month of Chih Yuan 21 (1284), Kublai Khan, having heard “Ching Hu Chan Cheng Hsin Sheng leading troops to occupy Wu Ma close to An Nam and asking for more troops, ordered Ta Lu Hua Chih Chao Ch’u of Ngoh Chou to carry his letter to [the king of] An Nam”, as recorded in Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 13 p.3a5-6. On Giáp Thìn, i.e. the last day of the leap 5th month, Emperor Nhân Tông sent an envoy headed by Trần Khiêm Phủ for offering jade bowls, gold pots, chains of pearls, yellow satin, blue turtledoves and cloth. It is recorded in An Nan Chih Lueh 14 p.139 that the envoy came to Ching Hu Chan Cheng Hsin Sheng to ask for a delay of action.

So is it recorded in ĐVSKTT 5 p.44a4-5 except for the 11th month instead of the 5th month. This must be false because afterwards it says: “In the 12th month Trần Phủ returned from the Yuan, reporting that the Yuan king ordered Prince Chen Nan Wang T’o Huan, P’ing Chang A La and A Li Hai Ya to lead troops to invade our country on the pretext of taking the route to attack Champa.” It is not possible for Trần Khiêm Phủ to have gone to China and come back within only two months. Further, following him was the mission of Đoàn Án and Lê Quý; and then in the 7th month was the mission of Nguyễn Đạo Học, as recorded in Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 13 p.4a8-9. This points out that a diplomatic front was opened to seize the opportunity of consolidating and developing spiritual and material force for the purpose of reinforcing the fighting strength and the spirit-ready-to-fight of the army and militiamen of Đại Việt.

Indeed, in the 8th month of the same year (1284), after being given the title Quốc Công Tiết Chế, Trần Hưng Đạo proposed to concentrate all the troops at Đông Bộ Đầu in Thăng Long to hold a large review. Afterwards, under his command they were deployed into the important positions in Vĩnh Bình, Động Bàng, Nội Bàng, Vạn Kiếp, Bình Than, Vân Đồn to face the north-eastern wing of the enemy. The troops that would defend against the south-western wing from Yun Nan was commanded by Chiêu Văn Vương Trần Nhật Duật. In addition, several action-stations were set up south of the imperial capital in Đà Mạc, A Lỗ and Đại Hoàng and handled by General Bảo Nghĩa Hầu Trần Bình Trọng and others. The war between Mongolia and Vietnam was about to break out.

Parallel with the urgent mobilization of troops was a campaign to encourage the whole people to join the force of resistance. In the 12th month, Emperor-Father Trần Thánh Tông had all the country elders assembled at a party in Diên Hồng Palace for discussing the plan of attacking the enemy. To answer his question as to whether our people should fight the enemy or not, the old men shouted “fight” in such a unanimous manner that “the word uttered by ten thousand people sounded as if by only one person.” Commenting on this action, Historiographer Ngô Sỹ Liên said, “Thánh Tông’s intention was to see how firm the common people’s support was and thereby increase their enthusiasm.” Indeed, the Assembly of Diên Hồng was a great campaign of thought, which aimed at spreading the resolution of fighting the enemy by Emperor Nhân Tông, the royal court and the army widely to the common people.

Thus, under the leadership of Emperor Nhân Tông the army and the people of Đại Việt got ready, spiritually and materially, for a struggle imposed on them by the invaders and they resolved to gain a victory over them when the war started.

Translation by Đạo Sinh


[1] The Office of National Historiographers.

[2] The imperial capital of Vietnam at that time.

[3] ”; cf. The Dictionary of K’ang Hsi ( ).

[4] The second era name (1264-1294) of Kublai Khan’s reign (1260-1294); the first is Chung Tung (1260-1264).

[5] In Chinese historical books, the title refers to the eldest son of a king of a country supposedly governed by the Chinese court.

[6] ”, notes on a king’s everyday activities.

[7] Another name of Vietnam in the reign of Đinh Tiên Hoàng.

[8] Viet.: Kim Tiên Đồng Tử.

[9] A Buddhist title of Emperor Nhân Tông’s, literally meaning ‘a guide of those who have to be restrained’. Skt. damya-sārathi.

[10] Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism.

[11] The title refers to the first-rank wife of a prince.

[12] The dwelling-place of a crown prince.

[13] The period between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.

[14] A respectful form of address to Ch’ai Ch’ung by Emperor Nhân Tông.

[15] The capital of the Yuan.

[16] New Year Festival in lunar calendar.

[17] The name used in Chinese historical books to refer to Đại Việt.



[ Mục Lục] [ 1 ] [ 2 ] [ 3] [ 4] [ 5] [ 6] [7 ] [ 8] [ 9]


Trình bày: Nhị Tường
Cập nhật: 12-2004



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