Annamese (Annam-North Vietnam)
(The Chinese name Annam meaning ‘The Pacified South’)

By Jim Brown

Like most of its neighbours, Annam was primarily an agricultural state with its survival based above all on the cultivation of rice. Like in medieval Europe most of the land was divided among the powerful noble families. A class of landholding farmer’s also existed and in later years powerful monarchs frequently limited the power of feudal lords by dividing up their large estates.

The economy was not based solely on agriculture but also with commerce and manufacturing becoming to thrive with local crafts appeared in regional markets throughout the area.

The people are believed to be of mixed Mongoloid-Indonesian stock with the area being strongly influenced by China from as early as the 9th century BC.  At the time of the fall of the Chin dynasty, circa 208BC, the area, which included Annam, was taken over by its Chinese Commander Chao To.  (The name Nam-viet was given to the entire area that he ruled but this was soon limited to the province of Annam.)

The end of the Annamese Trieu Dynasty in 111AD marked the beginning of over eight hundred years of Chinese rule.  Although there were many insurrections and attempts to restore independence during that time all were short-lived. The people also resisted efforts to introduce Chinese literature, arts and agricultural techniques.

It wasn’t until 939AD that the provincial mandarin Ngo Quyen vanquished the Chinese. Ngo Quyen is honoured as Vietnam's greatest hero for restoring Vietnamese independence, which despite much turbulence since that time, has continued until today. 

By 1010AD the Ly dynasty moves the capital to Thanh Long (Hanoi). During this dynasty they repelled attacks by the Chinese, Khmer, and Champanese.  They start the expansion towards the south conquering territories from the Champanese with the conquest of all Champa by 1471 and by 1697 Saigon itself had become a Vietnamese city. (The Ly monarchs called their country Dai Viet).

The Mongol invasions
In 1257 Uriangkhadai led a Mongol expedition into Annam which by 1858 accepted Mongol authority.

In 1281 a small army of only five thousand men, under Sodu, in one hundred ships, set sail for Champa. The Champanese withdrew into their jungle covered hills and mountains and a fierce guerrilla war prevented the Mongols from making any headway. The following year reserves were sent.

This time the army was sent through Annam but the Annamese who had accepted Mongol suzerainty were not prepared to let the Mongols pass unmolested but were defeated with relative ease so they then adopted the guerrilla tactics of Champa.

The small Mongol armies strength was steadily sapped as it suffered mounting losses in both men and supplies and it now withdrew but near the Annam-China border they were surrounded and crushed in 1285 in the decisive battle of Siming where Sodu was killed.

A new campaign into Annam, under the command of Toghan, was launched in 1286 and reached as far as Hanoi by 1287. With the defeat of a Mongol fleet at the estuary of the Bach Dang river and at the same time they defeated Toghan's army on its route of withdrawal through Lang Son the war came to on end when both Annam and Champa agreed to pay tribute to Kublai Khan.

The Trung sisters

In 39AD Trung Trac’s husband was executed for complaining about taxes imposed by the Chinese so she along with her widowed sister, they were daughters of powerful lord, led an uprising against the Han Chinese. They gathered an army of 80,000 people, promoting 36 women, including their mother, to be generals. (Many names of leaders of the uprising recorded in temples dedicated to Trung Trac are women.)

With victory, the people proclaimed Trung Trac to be their ruler renaming her ‘Trung Vuong’ or ‘She-king Trung.’ During the next three years sisters were engaged in constant battles with the Chinese but their troops were badly defeated in 43 A.D and the Chinese re-occupied the country.  Rather than accept defeat the sister chose the traditional way of maintaining honour by committing suicide. (Some stories say they drowned themselves in a river.)

Today the Trung sisters are considered a national symbol in Vietnam where they represent Vietnam's independence and have became legends. Vietnam holds a national day in their honour with parades; also stories, poems, plays, postage stamps, posters and monuments glorify their heroism. They are depicted as women riding war elephants, sometimes standing on them.

The sisters lived in a time when women of Vietnam enjoyed freedoms forbidden in later centuries and could inherit property, through their mother's line, women also became political leaders, judges, traders, and warriors