Sources relating to the Tay Son
18th and 19th century
Sources Originally in Chinese
Phu Bien Tap Luc [Frontier Chronicles]-
detailed description of Nguyen territories written by Le Quy Don,
one of the most well-known scholar-officials of the 18th century.
He served the Trinh court, and was sent to oversee the newly-captured
Nguyen territory after the Trinh invasion of 1775. This account
deals with economic, political and cultural matters in the Nguyen
region, with a heavy emphasis on economic issues.It offers detailed
statistical material based on his investigations and captured Nguyen
documentation. This covers everything from tax revenues, to landholdings,
to the minting of coinage. An indispensable source for this period.
Dai Nam Thuc Luc [Veritable Records
of Dai Nam]- one of the official court histories begun by Nguyen
court historians in the mid-19th century; this gives detailed accounts
of the military and political events of the Tay Son period. The
focus is on the Nguyen camp, so the details on the Tay Son are limited
outside of the frequent military encounters with the Nguyen. Its
value lies in giving a chronological description of key events,
and giving a sense of the scope of armies and battles. It is also
quite interesting for its historiographical mission, to justify
the Nguyen claims to power, and to make their ultimate triumph over
the Tay Son seem an inevitability.
Dai Nam Liet Truyen [Biographies
of Dai Nam]- the official court biographies of important figures
in Nguyen history Its emphasis is on late 18th and 19th century
figures, particularly political and military supporters of Nguyen
Anh in his efforts to defeat the Tay Son. It contains chapters on
Nguyen Hue, Nguyen Nhac and Quang Toan, the three Tay Son Emperors.
These are particularly useful for recording events relating to the
rise and rule of these figures, and including more detail than is
to be found in the Dai Nam Thuc Luc.
Lich Trieu Tap Ky - [Collected Records
of the Dynasties] a privately written history that was discovered
in the 1960s; it covers much of the same material as the DNTL, but
also includes some additional details. It consists of 6 volumes,
of which the 5th is missing. For the Tay Son period it provides
particularly detailed coverage of Sino-Vietnamese diplomatic correspondence
from 1789-1790. Its author lived in the Le-Trinh north, and so the
focus is on events in that region. It is a helpful supplement to
other accounts that cover events in that region, for its perspective
is slightly different than the standard court-ordered accounts.
Le Quy Dat Su - [An Unusual History
of the Precious Le] another privately written history, apparently
authored by Bui Duong Lich. It covers the period from the mid-1750s
until the late 1780s. Its author eventually came to serve the Tay
Son, but very reluctantly. He remained loyal to the Le, as this
account's heavy emphasis on the Le ruler and his subsequent flight
to China makes clear. It is an important description of events in
the north in the late 18th century, offering an alternative to the
Cuong Muc and the Hoang Le Nhat Thong Chi.It includes interesting
commentary particularly on the decline of the Le-Trinh state in
the second half of the 18th century, including descriptions of corruption
in the civil service examinations. Also includes a small number
of introspective poems by the author on his responses to the events
swirling around him.
Hoang Le Nhat Thong Chi [Record
of the Unification under the Imperial Le ]- an historical account
written in the late 18th century, it appears to be based on insider
knowledge of events, written by members of the Ngo family; one of
whose most famous members, Ngo Thi Nham, was an ardent supporter
of the Tay Son. This text is interesting because it purports to
recreate conversations between many of the key historical figures
of this period. While it is written in the form of a novel, much
of its content can be verified with other sources, and as such it
is a very important source for this period. For a detailed analysis
of this text, click here. For the entire text in Vietnamese, click
Kham Dinh Viet Su Thong Giam Cuong Muc
[The Imperially Ordered Mirror and Commentary on the History of
the Viet]- another official court history, this one records Vietnamese
history as seen by the Nguyen historians, with a focus on the rise
and decline of the Le dynasty. Its focus on events in the north
sets it apart from the Dai Nam Thuc Luc, which records events from
the perspective of the Nguyen in the south. Thus, these two works
must be read together to get a more complete picture of events in
both regions. A 1950s Hanoi edition has recently been republished
(Nha Xuat Ban Giao Duc, 1998, in two volumes)
Sách So Sang Chép Các Viec [Notebooks
Recording Various Things] written in 1822 by a Vietnamese convert
and priest, Philiphe Binh, who was born in 1759, and who left Vietnam
for Portugal in 1795. He spent the rest of his life in Europe, dying
in 1832 at the age of 73. Today his writings, constituting more
than 10,000 pages are held in the Vatican Library. This text is
a miscellany of various things the author considered worth recording,
both about his life and travels, and about religious matters. It
provides fascinating insights into the life of a particular Vietnamese
man who lived an extremely eventful life. A photo reproduction of
the original hand-written text was published in 1968 with a useful
introduction by Thanh Lang. In addition, this, and most of the other
writings by Binh have been microfilmed and are held at Cornell,
among other places.
20th Century Sources
La Son Phu Tu [The Master of La
Son] - a biography of Nguyen Thiep (aka The Master of La Son - hence
the title), an important scholar and poet, perhaps best known for
his service to Nguyen Hue, the eventual conqueror of Trinh territory.
This is a remarkably detailed account of Thiep's life, and remains
the only detailed biography of which I am aware, despite the fact
that it was published in 1952. Its invaluable appendix includes
the Chinese texts of most of Thiep's major writings, including his
correspondence with Nguyen Hue. This work is based on its author,
Hoang Xuan Han's, extraordinary discovery of the correspondence
between these two men.
Van Hoc Tay Son: [Tay Son Literature] the introduction
is a useful interpretation of literary styles in the Tay Son era;
includes some Tay son edicts; and poems or short selections from:
Nguyen Thiep, Ninh Ton, Ngo Thì Nham, Phan Huy Ích, Doàn Nguyen
Tuan, Nguyen Huu Chinh, and Ho Xuan Huong.
Gop Phan Tim Hieu Phong Trao Nong Dan Tay
Son Nguyen Hue [Contributions to an Understanding of the
Tay Son Nguyen Hue Peasant Movement] (1983) - a series of articles
examining many aspects of the Tay Son movement. Some of the contributions
are useful studies of aspects of the Tay Son period. Others are
merely rehashings of previous interpretations or examinations of
extremely minor issues relating to the Tay Son.
of the Tay Son
Hoa Bang, Quang Trung: Anh Hung
Dan Toc [Quang Trung: National Hero]: Ha Noi: 1998. - First published
in 1943, this is the first major historical study of the leader
of the Tay Son movement. It is a detailed examination of his life
based on primary sources. It is one of the most important studies
of the Tay Son by a major 20th century Vietnamese historian and
translator. Its focus, as the title suggests, is on the period during
which Nguyen Hue reigned as the Quang Trung Emperor, a relatively
short period of less than 4 years from Nov. 1788 until his death
in Sept. of 1792.
Ta Chi Dai Truong, Lich Su Noi Chien O Viet
Nam Tu 1771 den 1802 [History of the Civil War in Vietnam
from 1771 to 1802], Saigon: Van Su Hoc, 1973. - a very good, detailed
account of the Tay Son in which the author has drawn extensively
from both Vietnamese and French source. His use of French sources
is typical of southern scholarship in strong contrast to the virtual
absence of European sources in northern scholarship at this same
time; this work has come under criticism by Hanoi scholars for what
they see as a distinct pro-Nguyen bias, and a failure sufficiently
to glorify the peasantry.
Nguyen Phuong, Viet Nam Thoi Banh
Truong: Tay Son, [Vietnam in a Time of Expansion: Tay Son] Saigon:
Khai Tri, 1968. - another account of the Tay Son by one of the more
prominent southern historians of the 1960s. It also includes extensive
use of French missionary letters, and is a thoughtful look at the
importance and meaning of the Tay Son era and the movement's leadership.
Van Tan, Cach Mang Tay Son [The
Tay Son Revolution] [Hanoi, 1957] Written by a leading Hanoi scholar,
this work is a useful introduction to the Tay Son. Despite its title
it is not marred by the glorification of the Tay Son leadership
and their cause that marks many later works by communist historians.
Quach Giao and Quach Tan, Nha Tay
Son [The House of Tay Son ] (Qui Nhon: 1988) - an anecdotal history
of the Tay Son brothers and their uprising written by a father and
son team who gathered documents in their home region (the Tay Son
heartland) for many years. This work contains many details not found
elsewhere, but unfortunately it is extremely poorly documented.
Nonetheless useful for bringing together various popular stories
about the movement normally scattered in many other sources.
Bibliographies of the
Thu Muc Ve Tay Son Nguyen Hue, [Bibliography
about Tay Son-Nguyen Hue] [Nghia Binh: Thu Vien Khoa Hoc Tong Hop
Nghia Binh Xuat Ban, 1988.] - an indispensible guide to all sorts
of materials on the Tay Son. This work cites more than 1300 different
sources, ranging from texts in Han or Nom, to secondary works in
journals, newspapers articles, etc. It includes materials in English
and French as well. It is reasonably well arranged and has an index
by author. Just as useful for reseachers travelling to Viet Nam,
it indicates where each item (including published ones) were found,
so one can determine whether a particular library has certain secondary
Nguyen Khac Thuan, ed. Thu Muc Ve
Phong Trao Tay Son [Bibliography about the Tay Son Movement], [Ho
Chi Minh City: Ban Tuyen Huan Tinh Uy Tien Giang Xuat Ban, 1985.]
- another guide to Tay Son materials, but much less comprehensive
than the one above. This one also suffers from very poor organization.
Quach Thanh Tam and Philippe Langlet,
References Bibliographiques Histoire Ancienne du Viet Nam (Paris:
Sudestasie, 1998) - a very good and up to date bibliography of Vietnamese
and European language sources on all aspects of Vietnamese history.
Pages 96-104 deal with the Tay Son period as well as the Nguyen
conquest of the country.
George Dutton, Bibliography from
my Dissertation (http://www.humnet.ucla.edu/humnet/alc/faculty/dutton/TaySonBiblio.pdf).
- Contains more than 270 sources in full citation. Includes materials
in Chinese, Vietnamese, French, and English.
Histories of Vietnam
(these include chapters on the Tay Son)
Tran Trong Kim, Viet Nam Su Luoc
[Outline History of Viet Nam] (in 2 volumes), [Los Alamitos: Nha
Xuat Ban Xuan Thu, 1990.] - a useful survey of Vietnamese history,
focusing chiefly on political and military events. First published
in the 1920s, it marked one of the first acknowledgements of the
Tay Son as a legitimate dynasty. It is striking, however, that the
author virtually ignores the peasant dimension of this period.
Uy Ban Khoa Hoc Xa Hoi Viet Nam,
Lich Su Viet Nam, Tap II, [History of Viet Nam, vol. 2] [Ha Noi:
Nha Xuat Ban Khoa Hoc Xa Hoi, 1976.] - this was the standard, official
account of Vietnamese history, compiled by a team of scholars. It
is useful for understanding the ways in which the party was interpreting
the nation's history in the aftermath of the American war.
Journal Articles on the Tay Son
Note: Nghien Cuu Lich Su (Historical Research) is
the most important Vietnamese scholarly journal on Vietnamese history.
It is an invaluable source of information on the Tay Son and every
other aspect of Vietnamese history. It provides research on new
materials as they are uncovered and detailed studies of historical
figures, events, and trends. The contents of this journal have fortunately
been indexed with annotations in English in Nguyen Ba Khoach, Allen
J. Riedy and Truong Buu Lam, An Annotated Index of the Journals
Van Su Dia (1954-1959) and Nghien Cuu Lich Su (1960-1981), Southeast
Asian Paper No. 24, Southeast Asian Studies, Center for Asian and
Pacific Studies, University of Hawaii-Manoa, 1984. [Note that this
index ends in 1981, however, so it is not current].
Other useful Vietnamese-language journals that include
essays on the Tay Son are: Tap Chi Van Hoc - Journal of Literature,
Tap Chi Triet Hoc - Journal of Philosophy, Hue: Xua va Nay - Hue:
Past and Present, and such annual publications as Nhung Phat Hien
Moi Ve Khao Co Hoc - New Discoveries in Archeology.
A Bibliography of Western-language
Sources on the Tay Son
English Sources (See below for French Sources)
Buttinger, Joseph, The Smaller Dragon:
A Political History of Vietnam, (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1958).
- pp. 198-269 provide a survey of the country under the heading
"Missionaries, Merchants and Conquerers." The emphasis
is on the missionary experience in the 17th and 18th centuries,
and the Tay Son are viewed very much from the French missionary
perspective. In fact, most of the information on the Tay Son constitutes
something of an afterthought and is found in the notes on pp. 264-268.
Chesneaux, Jean, The Vietnamese
Nation: Contribution to a History (Sydney: Current Books, 1966).
- contains part of a chapter relating to the Tay Son, and while
limited in its information is generally useful for its overview
of pertinent economic issues.
Hodgkin, Thomas, Vietnam: The Revolutionary
Path, (London: MacMillan, 1981). - a useful survey of Vietnamese
history from a Marxist perspective. In fact, this book largely draws
on standard 1960s and 1970s histories written by Hanoi-based Vietnamese
historians. Problematic in terms of its interpretation, but one
of the few English-language surveys of Vietnamese history.
Lamb, Alistair, The Mandarin Road
to Old Hue: Narratives of Anglo-Vietnamese Diplomacy from the 17th
Century to the eve of French Conquest, (London: Archon Books, 1970).
An extremely valuable collection of accounts from various English
missions to Vietnam, each of which has an introduction. It is also
usefully annotated. There were two English missions during the Tay
Son period, that of John Chapman in 1778, and that of Lord MacCartney
in 1793. The first mission, described in pages 57-137, came as the
Tay Son were approaching one of the early peaks of their authority
in southern Vietnam. It includes rare details of the court at Qui
Nhon which Chapman visited for a brief period, and includes his
descriptions of the Tay Son leadership. An invaluable source for
this period to flesh out the chief Tay Son figures.
Li Tana Nguyen Cochinchina: Southern
Vietnam in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Ithaca: Cornell
SEAP, 1998) - pp. 139-154 offer a chapter on the Tay Son, trying
to explain their emergence within the context of the Nguyen South.
The rest of the book is a useful survey of the politics, society
and economics of the Nguyen-controlled region of "Dang Trong."
The emphasis is on the southern reaches of "Viet Nam"
and how the people in this region imagined a different way of being
Murray, Diane, Pirates of the South
China Coast, 1790-1810 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987)
An exploration of the fascinating world of piracy along the South
China Coast; these pirates were used by the Tay Son to interdict
shipping between China and northern Vietnam, with the particular
hope of preventing the Nguyen in the south from infiltrating the
north or recruiting assistance from China. The pirates also provided
the Tay Son with substantial naval power in their battles with the
Nguyen as well as providing financial resources in the form of booty
they shared with the Tay Son. While some of the descriptions of
the Tay Son movement in this account are a bit jumbled, this probably
reflects the confused understanding of this period contained in
the Chinese sources. In any case, the descriptions of Tay Son-pirate
interactions are an indispensible source for better understanding
Nguyen Khac Vien, Vietnam: A Long
History, (Ha Noi: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1987) - pp.
91-115 "The Tay Son Epoch" provides a conventional Vietnamese
historian's description of the corruptions of the feudal regimes
of the 18th century and the rise of the peasantry. It emphasizes
the Tay Son role in "reunifying" the country and highlights
some of their great battle victories. The chapter closes by conceding
that the Tay Son were unable to transcend the constraints of their
time, ultimately themselves becoming a feudal monarchy.
Nguyen Khac Vien and Huu Ngoc, Vietnamese
Literature: Historical Background and Texts, (Hanoi: Foreign Languages
Publishing House, no date).
Nguyen Van Thai and Nguyen Van Mung,
A Short History of Viet Nam, (Saigon: The Times Publishing Company,
1958). A brief survey history of Viet Nam, with a heavy focus on
political and military events; it stops in the late 19th century,
and thus avoids having to comment on the twists and turns of 20th
Truong Buu Lam, "Intervention
versus Tribute in Sino-Vietnamese Relations, 1788-1790," in
The Chinese World Order edited by John K. Fairbank, (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1968), pp. 165-179. - one of the few detailed
descriptions of the Tay Son period available in English, and based
on primary sources. It's focus is rather narrow, as the title suggests.
It looks closely at the relationship between Vietnam and China during
the period of the Chinese invasion on behalf of the Le. It then
describes, using Chinese records, the Chinese decision to offer
political recognition to the Tay Son government, and the subsequent
Tay Son tribute missions to the northern capital.
Woodside, Alexander, "Central
Vietnam's Trading World in the Eighteenth Century as seen in Le
Qui Don's 'Frontier Chronicles'," Unpublished paper for the
SEASSI Symposium on Vietnamese History, Cornell University, 1991.
- this is an invaluable introduction to Le Qui Don's "Frontier
Chronicle," which contains descriptions of all aspects of life
in Nguyen territories, shortly after the Trinh invasion. This essay
explains the genre in which Le Qui Don is writing, his aim and audience,
and it assesses his observations and conclusions.
French Language Sources
Coedès,George, Les Peuples de la
Péninsule Indochinoise: Histoire - Civilisations, (Dunod: Paris,
1962) - really only a few paragraphs on pp. 196-199, this offers
little detail, constituting more of a precis of events, including
quick mentions of important literary works and writers of the 18th
and early 19th centuries.
Gosselin, Charles, L'empire d'Annam,
Kofflers, J. Description Historique
de la Cochinchine (R. I., 1911) - contains a translation of the
original Latin text by a German missionary who visited the Nguyen
Court in the 1740s and provided one of the few outsider descriptions
of the inner workings of the Nguyen capital from this period.
La Bissachere, Etat Actuel du Tunkin
et de la Cochinchine (Westmead, England: Gregg International Publishers,
1971) - reprint of an 1812 survey of conditions and events in Viet
Nam written by a French missionary who spent many years in the region
in the late 18th century. This account, useful for its details not
only on political events, but also on customs, natural products
and linguistic issues, became the basis for many of the 19th century
European writings on Viet Nam. While many missionaries wrote letters
from Viet Nam in the Tay Son years, letters which were later compiled
and published, this is the only missionary account that attempts
to provide a larger overview of the region and events of this period.
[Note: this account was apparently NOT written by Bissachere, but
was written by another Frenchman who drew on Bissachere's own writings.
As Bissachere's own account is considerably shorter, it is unclear
what other sources its author drew on]
Le Thanh Khoi, Histoire du Viet
Nam, des origines à 1858, (Paris: Sudestasie, 1987). - pp. 303-341
cover the 18th century. This offers quite a good overview of the
Tay Son period, including descriptions of the numerous pre-Tay Son
peasant rebellions in the north. It provides good analysis and some
maps of the various battles and concludes with a summary of the
reasons contributing to the victory of Nguyen Anh. Khoi, more so
than many other authors, gives emphasis to the crisis of the peasantry
that sparked the turmoil of the 18th century.
Manguin, Pierre, Les Nguyen, Macau
et le Portugal: Aspects politiques et commerciaux d'une relation
privilégiée en Mer de Chine, 1773-1802 (Paris: EFEO, 1984). A fascinating
examination of trade and political relations between the Portuguese
at Macao and the Nguyen during the period in which the Nguyen were
battling the Tay Son. Equally valuable for its extensive appendices
that include a variety of crucial primary documents relating to
Nguyen-Portuguese correspondence as well as to extremely rare Tay
Son-Portuguese correspondence. Most of these documents have not
been used before, much less published.
Maybon, Charles, Histoire Moderne
Du Pays D'Annam, 1592-1820, (Paris: Typographie Plon-Nourrit, 1919).
Chapter V, "La Révolte des Tây-Sohn - Nguyen Anh" pp.
183-223, offers a conventional and detailed overview focusing heavily
on the south and the involvement of the French missionaries.
Perez "La Révolte et la Guerre
des Tayson d'après les Franciscains Espagnols de Cochinchine,"
[Bulletin de la Société des Etudes Indochinoises, Tome XV, 3-4,
1940, Saigon, pp. 65-106.] This is also an extremely useful source
by foreigners, in this case Spanish missionaries. It describes life
in southern Vietnam in the 1770s and 1780s through excerpts from
the accounts of these missionaries. In particular, it shows life
at the village level and the attitudes of the Spanish missionaries
toward the Tay Son. They are alternately attacked and protected
by the Tay Son soldiers, and some of them are ultimately captured
and nearly put to death in Saigon, before the intervention of a
sympathetic high official. This article reveals the divisions within
the Tay Son movement and some of the impact that they had on the
countryside. This article, and other missionary sources are quite
valuable for providing details of life outside of the court and
military councils. On the other hand, they must be used cautiously,
for their perspective is that of religious figures and they tend
to view all aspects of life around them in these terms. [M. Villa,
Yang Baoyun, Contribution à l'histoire
de la principauté des Nguyen au Vietnam méridional (1600-1775),
(Genève: Editions Olizane, 1992). - a detailed study of pre-Tay
Son Nguyen territory. It includes chapters dealing with social,
religious and political as well as economic issues. It also contains
a helpful glossary with maps of 18th century Vietnamese territory
and political divisions, and a glossary and list of Nguyen rulers.