A Brief History of Vietnam: The 4 Periods of Chinese Domination

Sevin Nguyen
Feb 14, 2018 · 4 min read

History Repeated Itself with China Ruling over Vietnam

For over thousands of years, China ruled over Vietnam from 111 B.C. — 980 A.D. During the period, many Chinese culture wonders influenced the small country of the world. One of its influence was the classical Chinese writing. In the 10th century, Vietnam adopted Chinese writing script to create their own language — Chữ-Nôm. It wasn’t until later in the 12th — 13th century the adopted Vietnamese language was systematized as the official language and part of literature. Vietnam’s culture was greatly influenced by China’s domination.

The early interaction between the two countries dated back to the 3rd century B.C. It wasn’t until two centuries later, China began its conquest of colonizing Vietnam. Back then, Vietnam was not a small country like it is now.


Part of the lower China used to be Vietnam. During the first Chinese conquest in 111 B.C., the Han Dynasty conquered the south and expanded its territorial dominance. The first Chinese Domination of Vietnam was significance. Emperor Han Wudi successfully conquered Nanyue(Vietnam) and adjoined it to the Han sovereignty. The purpose of China ruled was to control Red River Delta, a geographical terrain for trading supplies with other powerful countries like India and the Roman Empire.

Vietnam was governed leniently by the Chinese with the addition of the Han Dynasty wanted Vietnam assimilation, a more cohesive and civilized empire. During the conquered period, Vietnam had to adopt the Chinese writing system, Confucianism, arts, and literature. A part of the conquered Vietnam lost their native language, culture, and national identity until the revolt of Trung Sister in 40 A.D.

The Trung Sisters’ ruled of Vietnam was short-lived for 3 years. In 43 A.D., China began its second domination conquest of Vietnam. Around this time, the Han Dynasty conquered the southern region and named it Jiaozhi. Jiaozhi was the Northern part of Vietnam (South China) of the period. The Han Dynasty was weakened, Vietnam was ruled over by several warlords until the Han Dynasty was split into the Three Kingdoms in 220 A.D. The East Wu Dynasty controlled Vietnam during the Three Kingdoms, then the Jin Dynasty.

Ly Nam De, a Vietnamese Monarch of Baiyue descendant, he came into power in 544 A.D. Frustrated with the corruption in the government and constant civil warfare of the Southern and Northern Dynasties, he resigned as the regional magistrate, gathered his tribe around the Red River Valley, and established his capital at Hanoi. He had strong military supporters. He built many fortresses against invasion. In Vietnam history, Ly Nam De was considered as a hero. He successfully established Vietnam’s Dynasty and independence for 60 years! Free of China’s domination of 1,000 years period.

Photo by Lee Aik Soon on Unsplash

Yup, China’s third domination expedition was around 602 A.D. when the general Liu Fang of the Sui Dynasty led 2,700,000 men to invade the northern part of Vietnam — Van Xuan. Van Xuan was easily occupied when the King decided to surrender, later he was captured to China. Sui Dynasty annexed Van Xuan, and changed its name to Giao Chau.

This was the period of power control that causes Vietnam to become a part of the Tang Dynasty. The third period of revolts, suppressions, and overthrowing of the Sui Dynasty. Three Chinese emperors ruled Giao Chau from 602 A.D. — 938 A.D. Eight total rebellions happened during the course of the three hundred years ruled. Most importantly was Mai Thuc Loan’s rebellion against the Tang Dynasty. He was and is still an appreciated hero for his contribution to Vietnam’s independence.

Photo by Bino Storyteller on Unsplash

The 4th China conquest of Vietnam did not resurface until 500 years later in 1407 to 1427 when the Ming Dynasty invaded Dai Viet (Vietnam at the time). The Ming Dynasty took Vietnam and suppressed it even further by the emperor’s command:

兵入。除釋道經板經文不燬。外一切書板文字以至俚俗童蒙所習。如上大人丘乙已之類。片紙隻字悉皆燬之。其境內中國 所立碑刻則存之。但是安南所立者悉壞之。一字不存。

“Once our army enter Annam (Vietnam currenly), except Buddhist and Taoist text; all books and notes, including folklore and children book, should be burnt. The stelas erected by China should be protected carefully, while those erected by Annamese (Vietnamese currently), should be completely annihilated, do not spare even one character.”

Vietnam’s economy suffered greatly. Valuables artifacts, gold, gems, jade, pieces of arts were transported to China. The Ming Dynasty ruled on Vietnam had its tolled until Le Loi’s uprising against the Ming Dynasty. Le Loi (Le Thai To), one of Vietnam’s most beloved heroes led a resistance and defeated the Ming Dynasty in 1428.

In the end, history has repeated itself over the four course of conquests. Vietnam was able to survive and gained its independence from China. Although free from suppression ruled, many of China’s cultured still exist within Vietnam. Many of which is the Chinese New Year, Vietnamese “Tet” are both on the same day of the lunar calendar. Learning about the rich history of Vietnam is also learning about the deep history of China. There is so much ancestral history that is bound to repeat itself. We learned from the history to avoid the consequences of the future.

Thanks for reading and share the article to educate a fellow friend!

Sevin Nguyen

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I write to inspire

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