And now, you remain calm when your emperor is humiliated; you remain indifferent when your country is threatened! You, officers, are forced to serve the barbarians and you feel no shame! You hear the music played for their ambassadors and you do not leap up in anger. No, you amuse yourselves at the cockfights, in gambling, in the possession of your gardens and rice fields, and in the tranquility of family life… if the enemy comes, will your cocks’ spurs be able to pierce his armor? Will the ruses you use in your games of chance be of use in repulsing him? Will the love of your wives and children be of any use in the Army? Your money would neither suffice to buy the enemy’s death, your alcohol to besot him, nor your music to deafen him.
All of us, you and I together, would then be taken prisoner… And not only would I lose my fief, but your property too would fall into enemy hands. It would not be my family alone that would be driven out, but your wives and children would also be reduced to slavery. It would not be only the graves of my ancestors that would be trampled under the invader’s heel, but those of your ancestors would also be violated. I would be humiliated in this life and in a hundred others to come, and my name would be ignominiously tarnished. Your family’s honor would also be sullied forever with the shame of your defeat. Tell me: Could you then indulge yourselves in pleasures?
– Speech to his General Staff prior to the Mongol Invasion of Vietnam
Tran Hung Đao (1228-1300) was a great military commander who saved Vietnam from the Mongol invasion in the 13thcentury.
He was an accomplished military tactician and a respected poet. Many Vietnamese cities have streets named after him, and he is considered a “national saint” recognised by the emperor as Hung Đao Đai Vuong (Great Lord Hung Dao).
The Victories of Tran Hung Dao
The First War against the Mongols (1258)
Mongol tribes lived in the North of China, Central Asia and South of Siberia. These nomads, united under Genghis Khan and conquered the known world stretching from Asia to Europe (China, Afghanistan, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and India). Yet they were foiled in Japan in 1281 because their fleet was destroyed by a typhoon. And the Vietnamese defeated them three times to kept their independence.
In 1251, Kubilai Khan, a descendant of Genghis Khan demanded the Vietnamese let his troops pass through their country in order to penetrate China from the south but Tran Dynasty (1226 – 1400) refused. As punishment, a Mongol army was sent to The Viet country and invaded most of Dai Viet (old name of Vietnam). General Tran Thu Do led the Vietnamese in defence and Mongol invaders were defeated. Here General Tran Hung Dao army protected Dai Viet Northern border from the Mongols.
The Second War against the Mongols (1285)
Then in 1279, when the Mongols finished conquering China they prepared for the avenge their previous failure in 1258. General Tran Hung Dao predicted this – who was then the highest leader of the Vietnamese military and prepared the plans and trained the soldiers to face the Mongols.
In 1285, there were two Mongol invasions of some 500,000 who were sent to fight the Vietnamese. The Mongols occupied Champa (a country to the South of Dai Viet) and then from the South, they combined with forces from the North to attack Dai Viet. The Dai Viet king expressed the wish to surrender in order to spare his people terrible miseries, Tran Hung Dao told him: “If such is your will, then cut my head first”. Tran Hung Dao succeeded in galvanising the Dai Viet people into resisting and drove out the Mongols after six months.
The Third War against the Mongols (1288)
Thirsting for revenge the then Mongol leader Toghan Teimur two years later led a 300,000 strong armed force with a fleet of 500 ships. Toghan managed to occupy large tracts of the territory as his forces did this the population created a vacuum – in fact wherever his troops went. The Mongols took the control of Dai Viet’s capital – but ultimately they were beaten by Tran Hung Dao Viet defenders who led a resounding victory on Bach Dang River.
Characteristics of General Tran Hung Dao
Tran Lieu, father of Tran Hung Dao, had a serious feud with King Tran Thai Tong and General Tran Thu Do. Therefore, he always hoped that his son could one day take the throne and became the king. However, Tran Hung Dao never did that even when he controlled all Dai Viet’s army. All his life, Tran Hung Dao always showed his loyalty to Tran Kings and received the complete beliefs from them and Vietnamese people.
General Tran Hung Dao loved and shared the misery with the people. In wars, he tried to bring back the independence and freedom for them. In peace, he always reminded the kings to reduce the taxes and brought the happiness and wealth to them. The thought “Citizens are the root of the country” had been always in his mind.
General Tran Hung Dao – the Immortal God of Vietnamese people
Now some seven centuries having passed. Tran Hung Dao still lives in the memory of his people, who have deified him. Tran Hung Dao is object of a cult in public shrines and private homes. Popular beliefs made him into demigod with miraculous powers as his great victories to protect Viet country. In many houses and temples, altars are set up for the cult of Tran Hung Dao who is believed to protect the Viet from the terror of evil spirits and the demons of the epidemics.
So great are the supernatural powers of Tran Hung Dao in the minds of the population that his cult often replaces that dedicated to the Chinese demigod Kuan Yu (Quan Vu or Quan Cong, a symbol of the loyalty and uprightness).
Such is the case at the Ngoc Son temple, a shrine on an islet in the Lake of the Restored Sword in Hanoi.