Lê Thánh Tông

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Lê Thánh Tông
Emperor of Đại Việt
Le Thanh Tong.jpg
Emperor of Đại Việt
Reign26 June 1460 – 3 March 1497 (36 years, 250 days)
Predecessor Lê Nghi Dân
Successor Lê Hiến Tông
Born25 August 1442
Died3 March 1497(1497-03-03) (aged 54)
Spouse Nguyễn Thị Huyên
Full name
Lê Tư Thành (黎思誠)
Era name and dates
Quang Thuận (光順)(Follower of Light): 1460–1469
Hồng Đức (洪德)(lit. Man of Great Virtue): 1470–1497
Posthumous name
Sùng Thiên Quảng Vận Cao Minh Quang Chính Chí Đức Đại Công Thánh Văn Thần Vũ Đạt Hiếu Thuần Hoàng đế
Temple name
Thánh Tông (聖宗)
House House of Lê
Father Lê Thái Tông
Mother Ngô Thị Ngọc Dao

Lê Thánh Tông (Hán tự : 黎聖宗, 25 August 1442 – 3 March 1497), personal name Lê Hạo, temple name Thánh Tông, courtesy name Tư Thành (思誠), was an emperor of Đại Việt, the fifth monarch of the House of Lê and is one of the greatest monarchs in Vietnamese history. He reigned for 38 years from 1460 to 1497; during his reign, he transformed Dai Viet from a Southeast Asian polity into a bureaucratic state with a strongly Confucianist character. His era was eulogized as the Prospered reign of Hồng Đức (洪德之盛治).


Early life

Lê Thánh Tông's birth name is Lê Hạo (黎灝), courtesy name Tư Thành (思誠), pseudonym Đạo Am chủ nhân (道庵主人), rhymed name Tao Đàn nguyên súy (騷壇元帥), formal title Thiên Nam động chủ (天南洞主), was the son of emperor Lê Thái Tông and his consort Ngô Thị Ngọc Dao. He was the fourth grandson of Lê Lợi, [1] the half-brother of Lê Nhân Tông and it is likely that his mother and consort Nguyễn Thị Anh (the mother of Lê Nhân Tông) were related (cousins or perhaps sisters). He was educated just like his half brother, the emperor, at the palace in Hanoi. When his elder half brother, Nghi Dân, staged a coup and killed the emperor in 1459, Prince Tư Thành was spared. Nine months later, when the second counter-coup was successfully carried out, the plotters asked Prince Hạo to become the new emperor and he accepted.

The leaders of the counter-coup which removed and killed Nghi Dân were two of the last surviving friends and aides of Lê Lợi - Nguyễn Xí and Đinh Liệt. The pair had been out of power since the 1440s, but they still commanded respect due to their association with the dynasty's founder, Lê Lợi. The new emperor appointed these men to the highest positions in his new government: Nguyễn Xí became one of the king's councilors, and Đinh Liệt was gifted command over the royal army of Đại Việt.


Confucian reform

First page of an essay to encourage people study Confucian literature, written by emperor Thanh Tong Ngu che khuyen hoc van.jpg
First page of an essay to encourage people study Confucian literature, written by emperor Thánh Tông

After its defeat and the expulsion of its troops in 1427, the Ming government exhibited little desire to become involved again, and generally left the Vietnamese alone for over a century, as the Ming now placed their southern neighbor outside the range of civilization. Vietnamese scholars increasingly participated in Dai Viet’s tribute embassies north to Peking and doubtless brought back a stronger sense of how the Ming bureaucratic system operated. He transformed Dai Viet into a bureaucratic state with a strongly Confucian character and established the Nam-giao (Ch. Nan-chiao), a sacrifice to Heaven, as the new central state ritual. [1]

Thánh Tông encouraged the spread of Confucian values throughout the kingdom by having temples of literature built in all the provinces. There, Confucius was venerated and classic works on Confucianism could be found. He also halted the building of any new Buddhist or Taoist temples and ordered that monks were not to be allowed to purchase any new land. [2] During his reign, Vietnamese Confucian scholarship had reached its height, with over 501 tiến sĩ (royal scholars) graduated. [3]

Following the Chinese model, Lê Thánh Tông divided the government into six ministries; they were Finance, Rites, Justice, Personnel, Army, and Public Works. Nine grades of rank were set up for both the civil administration and the military. A Board of Censors was set up with royal authority to monitor governmental officials and reported exclusively to the emperor. However, governmental authority did not extend all the way to the village level. The villages were ruled by their own councils in Vietnam (Vietnam, Trials and Tribulations of a Nation D. R. SarDesai, ppg 35–37, 1988).

With the death of Nguyễn Xí in 1465, the noble families from Thanh Hóa province lost their leader. Soon they were mostly relegated to secondary positions in the new Confucian government of Thánh Tông. However, they still retained control over the Royal Vietnamese army as the old general, Đinh Liệt, was still in command of the army.

In 1469, all of Dai Viet was mapped and a full census was taken, listing all the villages in the kingdom. Around this time the country was divided into 13 dao (provinces). Each was administrated by a Governor, Judge, and the local army commander. Thánh Tông also ordered that a new census should be taken every six years. Other public works that were undertaken included building and repair of granaries, using the army to rebuild and repair irrigation systems after floods, and sending out doctors to areas afflicted by outbreaks of disease. Even though the emperor, at 25, was relatively young, he had already restored Vietnam's stability, which was a marked contrast from the turbulent times marking the reigns of the two emperors before him. By 1471, the kingdom employed more than 5,300 officials (0.1 percent of the population), equally divided between the court and the provinces, with at least one supervising officer every three villages. [3]

The new government proved to be effective and represented a successful adaptation of the Chinese Confucian system of government outside of China. However, following the deaths of Thánh Tông and of his son and successor, Lê Hiến Tông (r. 1498–1504), this new model of government crashed not once but twice in the next three following centuries. [1]

A national law

In 1483 Lê Thánh Tông created a new code for Đại Việt, called the Hong Duc Code, which is Vietnam's National Treasures and is kept in the National Library in form of woodblocks No A.314. It comprised 722 articles set out in six volumes and as was remained in force throughout Vietnam until late 18th century. The Hong Duc code was inspired by the Tang Code in China. However, it dealt with the same topic with slightly similar or totally different solutions. Among its 722 articles, 342 have no corresponding provisions in the Chinese Tang Code and Ming Code. It has 200 articles were influenced in varying decrees by the Tang Code, and 14 were directly borrowed from the Ming Code. [4]

The Hong Duc Code contained civil and criminal laws, and rules of procedure. It was a product of mostly Vietnamese customary laws with little Chinese and no Western influence. The Hong Duc Code contains many features found in modern legal systems, which find no counterpart elsewhere in Asia, not even in the Chinese Tang Code. Among there are rectification of mistakes an the composition of debts; the institution of the guarantee; an institution akin to leasing; the acquisitions of land solo animus; protecting against monetary devaluation; and a concept similar to force majeure. The notion of human rights also had been recorded by the code. In short the Hong Duc Code was protective of private ownership and private autonomy in ways which resonate with the Western legal tradition. [4]

The new laws were

"based on Chinese law but included distinctly Vietnamese features, such as recognition of the higher position of women in Vietnamese society than in Chinese society. Under the new code, parental consent was not required for marriage, and daughters were granted equal inheritance rights with sons. U.S. Library of Congress Country Studies – Vietnam

Relations with the Ming dynasty

Ewer in shape of a dragon made in Chu Dau, Vietnam during the years of Hong Duc (1469-1497), Cleveland Museum of Art Vietnam (Annam), 15th century - Ewer in the Shape of a Dragon - 1989.359 - Cleveland Museum of Art.tif
Ewer in shape of a dragon made in Chu Đậu, Vietnam during the years of Hồng Đức (1469-1497), Cleveland Museum of Art
Coins issued by Emperor Le Thanh Tong during his later reign from 1469 to 1497 An12 Le Thanh Tong Hong Duc 1ar (12105001446).jpg
Coins issued by Emperor Lê Thánh Tông during his later reign from 1469 to 1497

Several Malay envoys from the Malacca sultanate were attacked and captured in 1469 by Việt Nam as they were returning to Malacca from China. The Vietnamese enslaved and castrated the young from among the captured. [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]

A 1472 entry in the Ming Shilu reported that some Chinese from Nanhai escaped back to China after their ship had been blown off course into Vietnam, where they had been forced to serve as soldiers in Vietnam's military. The escapees also reported that up to 100 Chinese men remained captives in Vietnam after they were caught and castrated by the Vietnamese after their ships were blown off course into Vietnam. The Chinese Ministry of Revenue responded by ordering Chinese civilians and soldiers to stop going abroad to foreign countries. [10] [11] [12] [13] China's relations with Vietnam during this period were marked by the punishment of prisoners by castration. [14] [15]

A 1499 entry in the Ming Shilu recorded that thirteen Chinese men from Wenchang including a young man named Wu Rui were captured by the Vietnamese after their ship was blown off course while traveling from Hainan to Guangdong's Qin subprefecture (Qinzhou), after which they ended up near the coast of Vietnam, during the Chenghua Emperor's rule (1464–1487). Twelve of them were enslaved to work as agricultural laborers, while the youngest, Wu Rui (吳瑞) was selected for castration since he was the only young man and he became a eunuch at the Vietnamese imperial palace in Thang Long. After years of service, he was promoted at the death of the Vietnamese ruler in 1497 to a military position in northern Vietnam. A soldier told him of an escape route back to China and Wu Rui escaped to Longzhou. The local chief planned to sell him back to the Vietnamese, but Wu was rescued by the Pingxiang magistrate and then was sent to Beijing to work as a eunuch in the palace. [16] [17] [18] [19] [20]

The Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư records that in 1467 in An Bang province of Dai Viet (now Quảng Ninh Province) a Chinese ship blew off course onto the shore. The Chinese were detained and not allowed to return to China as ordered by Le Thanh Tong. [21] [22] [23] [24] [25] This incident may be the same one where Wu Rui was captured. [17]

Relation with regional powers

A Chu Dau Blue and white patterns dish, was made during the reign of Le Thanh Tong. Musee Guimet, Paris. Vietnam, grande ciotola, xv sec.JPG
A Chu Đậu Blue and white patterns dish, was made during the reign of Lê Thánh Tông. Musée Guimet, Paris.
Map of Viet Nam showing the conquest of the south (Nam tien). Vietnam territorial expansion (900-1760 AD).gif
Map of Việt Nam showing the conquest of the south (Nam tiến).
The sovereignty of Viet Nam during Le Thanh Tong era, including Muang Phuan and Champa. Map of Later Le dynasty during the reign of Le Thanh Tong (1460-1497).png
The sovereignty of Việt Nam during Lê Thánh Tông era, including Muang Phuan and Champa.

In 1465, Vietnam was attacked by pirates from the north. This was dealt with by sending additional forces to the north to fight the pirates. Thánh Tông also sent a military force to the west to subdue the Ai-lao mountain tribe that was raiding the northern border.

In 1470, the Vietnamese began preparing for a crucial war against Champa to the south. The war was ignited by Tra-Toan, who led a Cham army into the southern extremities of Vietnam. Lê Thánh Tông responded with a swift counterattack; Vietnamese armies were mobilized from all over the country, and in keeping with tradition, an envoy was sent to Beijing explaining the motives of the offensive. On 6 November 1470, he ordered generals Đinh Liệt and Lê Niem to lead a vanguard of 100,000 men south into Champa. On 16 November 1470, Lê Thánh Tông personally led the main army of 150,000 and marched south. On 18 December, the first Vietnamese soldiers entered Champa territory. [26] :117

On 5 February, Champa king Tra-Toan ordered his brother to lead six generals and 5,000 men and elephants to secretly approach Lê Thánh Tông's army. The Vietnamese forces discovered this plan so a force of 30,000 commanded by generals Le Hy Cat, Hoang Nhan Thiem, Le The, and Trịnh Van Sai attacked the enemy's rear from the sea. At the same time, an army commanded by Nguyen Duc Trung ambushed the Champa army and forced it to withdraw. This army was then completely wiped out by Le Hy Cat's troops.

On 27 February, Lê Thánh Tông personally led the troops to capture Thi Nai, the most important harbor of Champa.

On 29 February, the Vietnamese army surrounded the Champa capital city of Vijaya (near modern-day Qui Nhơn). The city was captured, and the Cham king, Tra-Toan, was taken captive. He died on the return journey to Thang Long. Cham losses were immense, with some 60,000 dead and 30,000 enslaved. The Champa regions of Amaravati and Vijaya were formally annexed to the Vietnamese kingdom as the newly organized province of Quang-nam. [26] :118

The Vietnamese army continued marching south until it reached Cả pass – some 50 miles north of the Champa city of Kauthara (modern-day Nha Trang).

The conquest of the Cham kingdoms started a rapid period of expansion by the Vietnamese southwards into this newly conquered land. The government used a system of land settlement called đồn điền ( ). [27]

Under this system, military colonies were established in which soldiers and landless peasants cleared new areas, began rice production on the new lands, established villages and served as a militia to defend them. After three years, the villages would be incorporated into the Vietnamese administrative system. A communal village meeting house (dinh) would be built, and the workers were given an opportunity to share in the communal lands given by the state to each village. The remainder of the land belonged to the state. As each area was cleared and a village established, the soldiers of the don dien would move on to clear more land. U.S. Library of Congress Country Studies – Vietnam

In fall 1479, he led 180,000 troops to invade the Laotian kingdom of Lan Xang. The Vietnamese royal army occupied and destroyed Lan Xang's capital Luang Phabang, defeated the Laotian resistance and pushed further to the upper Irrawaddy River in modern-day Myanmar. By late 1484 his forces had withdrawn back to Dai Viet. [27]

On the South China Sea, the Vietnamese fleets engaged and clashed with shipping from far afield as Malacca Sultanate and the Ryukyu Kingdom. [27]

As an poet

A group of 28 poets was formally recognized by the court (the Tao Dan) and a new official history of Vietnam was written called Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư (The Full History of Đại Việt, 大越史記全書). The historian Ngô Sĩ Liên compiled this in 1479 [28] and it was published under supervision of the emperor.

Lê Thánh Tông himself was a poet and some of his poem has survived. He wrote the following at the start of his campaign against the Champa:

One hundred thousand officers and men,
Start out on a distant journey.
Falling on the sails, the rain

Softens the sounds of the army.

Lê Thánh Tông tried to be and essentially succeeded in becoming the ideal Confucian ruler; he was deeply concerned with maintaining a good government and keeping personal morality.


  1. Empress Huy Gia (Empress Truong Lac) Nguyễn Thị Hằng of Nguyen Clan (徽嘉皇后阮氏; 1441 - 1505)
    1. Crown Prince Le Tranh, so Emperor Lê Hiến Tông
  2. Empress Nhu Huy of Phung clan (柔徽皇后馮氏; 1444 - 1489)
    1. Prince Le Tan, father of Emperor Lê Tương Dực
  3. Imperial Consort Minh of Pham clan (明妃范氏; 1448 - 1498)
    1. Prince Le Tung
    2. Princess Loi Y Lê Oánh Ngọc (雷懿公主黎莹玉)
    3. Princess Lan Minh Lê Lan Khuê (兰明公主黎兰圭; 1470 - 14??)
  4. Imperial Consort Kinh of Nguyen clan (敬妃阮氏; 1444 - 1485)
    1. Princess Minh Kinh Lê Thụy Hoa (明敬公主黎瑞华)
  5. Consort Nguyen thi (貴妃阮氏)
    1. Prince Le Thoan
  6. Lady Nguyen (修容阮氏)
  7. Lady Nguyen (才人阮氏; 1444 - 1479)
    1. Prince Le Tranh

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  9. "首页 > 06史藏-1725部 > 03别史-100部 > 49-明实录宪宗实录-- > 203-大明宪宗纯皇帝实录卷之二百十九". 明實錄 (Ming Shilu) (in Chinese). Retrieved 26 July 2013. Simplified Chinese:○满剌加国使臣端亚妈剌的那查等奏成化五年本国使臣微者然那入贡还至当洋被风漂至安南国微者然那与其傔从俱为其国所杀其余黥为官奴而幼者皆为所害又言安南据占城城池欲并吞满剌加之地本国以皆为王臣未敢兴兵与战适安南使臣亦来朝端亚妈剌的那查乞与廷辨兵部尚书陈钺以为此已往事不必深校宜戒其将来 上乃因安南使臣还谕其王黎灏曰尔国与满剌加俱奉正朔宜修睦结好藩屏王室岂可自恃富强以干国典以贪天祸满剌加使臣所奏朝廷虽未轻信尔亦宜省躬思咎畏天守法自保其国复谕满剌加使臣曰自古圣王之驭四夷不追咎于既往安南果复侵陵尔国宜训练士马以御之 Traditional Chinese:○滿剌加國使臣端亞媽剌的那查等奏成化五年本國使臣微者然那入貢還至當洋被風漂至安南國微者然那與其傔從俱為其國所殺其餘黥為官奴而幼者皆為所害又言安南據占城城池欲併吞滿剌加之地本國以皆為王臣未敢興兵與戰適安南使臣亦來朝端亞媽剌的那查乞與廷辨兵部尚書陳鉞以為此已往事不必深校宜戒其將來 上乃因安南使臣還諭其王黎灝曰爾國與滿剌加俱奉正朔宜修睦結好藩屏王室豈可自恃富強以幹國典以貪天禍滿剌加使臣所奏朝廷雖未輕信爾亦宜省躬思咎畏天守法自保其國複諭滿剌加使臣曰自古聖王之馭四夷不追咎于既往安南果複侵陵爾國宜訓練士馬以禦之
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  11. Leo K. Shin (2007). "Ming China and Its Border with Annam". In Diana Lary (ed.). The Chinese State at the Borders (illustrated ed.). UBC Press. p.  92. ISBN   978-0774813334 . Retrieved 5 January 2013.
  12. "首页 > 06史藏-1725部 > 03别史-100部 > 49-明实录宪宗实录-- > 106-明宪宗纯皇帝实录卷之一百六". 明實錄 (Ming Shilu) (in Chinese). Retrieved 5 January 2013. Simplified Chinese:○癸亥广东守珠池奉御陈彝奏南海县民为风飘至安南国被其国王编以为军其后逸归言中国人飘泊被留及所为阉禁者百余人奏下户部请移文巡抚镇守等官禁约军民人等毋得指以□贩私通番国且令守珠军人设法堤备从之 Traditional Chinese:○癸亥廣東守珠池奉禦陳彝奏南海縣民為風飄至安南國被其國王編以為軍其後逸歸言中國人飄泊被留及所為閹禁者百余人奏下戶部請移文巡撫鎮守等官禁約軍民人等毋得指以□販私通番國且令守珠軍人設法堤備從之
  13. 《明宪宗实录》卷一百六,成化八年七月癸亥
  14. Tsai (1996), p. 16 The Eunuchs in the Ming Dynasty (Ming Tai Huan Kuan) , p. 16, at Google Books
  15. Tsai (1996), p. 245 The Eunuchs in the Ming Dynasty (Ming Tai Huan Kuan) , p. 245, at Google Books
  16. Leo K. Shin (2007). "Ming China and Its Border with Annam". In Diana Lary (ed.). The Chinese State at the Borders (illustrated ed.). UBC Press. p.  91. ISBN   978-0774813334 . Retrieved 5 January 2013.
  17. 1 2 Cooke (2011), p. 109 The Tongking Gulf Through History , p. 109, at Google Books
  18. Wade 2005 , p.  2704/05
  19. "首页 > 06史藏-1725部 > 03别史-100部 > 47-明实录孝宗实录-- > 146-明孝宗敬皇帝实录卷之一百五十三". 明實錄 (Ming Shilu) (in Chinese). Retrieved 5 January 2013. Simplified Chinese:○金星昼见于辰位○辛卯吴瑞者广东文昌县人成化中与同乡刘求等十三人于钦州贸易遭风飘至安南海边罗者得之送本国求等俱发屯田以瑞独少宫之弘治十年国王黎灏卒瑞往东津点军得谅山卫军杨三知归路缘山行九日达龙州主头目韦琛家谋告守备官送还琛不欲久之安南国知之恐泄其国事遣探儿持百金为赎琛少之议未决而凭祥州知州李广宁闻之卒兵夺送于分守官都御史邓廷瓒遣送至京礼部请罪琛为边人之戒奖广宁为土官之劝从之瑞送司礼监给役 Traditional Chinese:○金星晝見於辰位○辛卯吳瑞者廣東文昌縣人成化中與同鄉劉求等十三人於欽州貿易遭風飄至安南海邊羅者得之送本國求等俱發屯田以瑞獨少宮之弘治十年國王黎灝卒瑞往東津點軍得諒山衛軍楊三知歸路緣山行九日達龍州主頭目韋琛家謀告守備官送還琛不欲久之安南國知之恐洩其國事遣探兒持百金為贖琛少之議未決而憑祥州知州李廣寧聞之卒兵奪送於分守官都御史鄧廷瓚遣送至京禮部請罪琛為邊人之戒獎廣寧為土官之勸從之瑞送司禮監給役
  20. 《明孝宗实录》卷一五三,弘治十二年八月辛卯
  21. Cooke (2011), p. 108 The Tongking Gulf Through History , p. 108, at Google Books
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  23. PGS.TSKH Nguyễn Hải Kế(Associate Professor Dr. Nguyen Hai Ke) (22 April 2013). "CÓ MỘT VÂN ĐỒN Ở GIỮA YÊN BANG, YÊN QUẢNG KHÔNG TĨNH LẶNG". 广州日报大洋网(www.dayoo.com). Archived from the original on 27 July 2013. Retrieved 26 July 2013.
  24. Lê Văn Hưu; Phan Phu Tiên; Ngô Sĩ Liên, eds. (1993). "Phần 26 (Bản kỷ thực lục Q2(a) Nhà Hậu Lê (1460–1472).)". Đại Việt Sử Ký Toàn Thư. Viện Khoa Học Xã Hội Việt Nam dịch. Nhà xuất bản Khoa Học Xã Hội (Hà Nội) ấn hành. Archived from the original on 21 September 2013. Retrieved 26 July 2013.
  25. Lê Văn Hưu; Phan Phu Tiên; Ngô Sĩ Liên, eds. (1993). "DVSK Bản Kỷ Thực Lục 12: Nhà Hậu Lê (1460–1472) ... Phần 1(Đại Việt Sử Ký Bản Kỷ Thực Lục Quyển XII [1a] Kỷ Nhà Lê Thánh Tông Thuần Hoàng Đế)". Đại Việt Sử Ký Toàn Thư. Viện Khoa Học Xã Hội Việt Nam dịch. Nhà xuất bản Khoa Học Xã Hội (Hà Nội) ấn hành. Retrieved 26 July 2013.
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  27. 1 2 3 Kiernan 2019, p. 211.
  28. Keith Weller Taylor: The Birth of Vietnam. Revision of thesis (Ph.D.). Appendix O, page 355. University of California Press (1991). ISBN   0-520-07417-3
Preceded by
Lê Nghi Dân
Emperor of Đại Việt
(ruled from 1460 to 1497)

Succeeded by
Lê Hiến Tông