Gia Long (Vietnamese: [zaː lawŋm]; 8 February 1762 – 3
February 1820), born Nguyễn Phúc Ánh or Nguyễn Ánh ), was
the first Emperor of the Nguyễn
Dynasty of Vietnam. Unifying what is
Vietnam in 1802, he founded the Nguyễn Dynasty, the last
of the Vietnamese dynasties.
A nephew of the last Nguyễn lord who ruled over southern Vietnam,
Nguyễn Ánh was forced into hiding in 1777 as a fifteen-year-old
when his family was slain in the
Tây Sơn revolt. After several
changes of fortune in which his loyalists regained and again lost
Saigon, he befriended the French Catholic priest Pigneau de Behaine.
Pigneau championed his cause to the French government—and managed to
recruit volunteers when this fell through—to help Nguyễn Ánh
regain the throne. From 1789, Nguyễn Ánh was once again in the
ascendancy and began his northward march to defeat the Tây Sơn,
reaching the border with
China by 1802, which had previously been
under the control of the Trịnh lords. Following their defeat, he
succeeded in reuniting
Vietnam after centuries of internecine feudal
warfare, with a greater land mass than ever before, stretching from
China down to the Gulf of Siam.
Gia Long's rule was noted for its Confucian orthodoxy. He overcame the
Tây Sơn rebellion and reinstated the classical Confucian education
and civil service system. He moved the capital from
Hanoi south to
Huế as the country's populace had also shifted south over the
preceding centuries, and built up fortresses and a palace in his new
capital. Using French expertise, he modernized Vietnam's defensive
capabilities. In deference to the assistance of his French friends, he
tolerated the activities of Roman Catholic missionaries, something
that became increasingly restricted under his successors. Under his
Vietnam strengthened its military dominance in Indochina,
expelling Siamese forces from
Cambodia and turning it into a vassal
1 Early years
2 Pigneau and French assistance
3 Consolidation of southern Vietnam
3.2 Agrarian reform and economic growth
3.3 Naval buildup
4 Unification of Vietnam
5.1 Renaming Vietnam
5.2 Administrative structure
5.3 Foreign military relations
5.4 Trade relations
5.5 Domestic policies and capital works
5.6 Social policy
6 Family and succession
7 See also
Born on 8 February 1762, Nguyễn Ánh was the son of Nguyễn
Phúc Luân and Nguyen Thi Hoan. Luan was the designated heir of Lord
Nguyễn Phúc Khoát of southern Vietnam. However, a high-ranking
mandarin named Trương Phúc Loan changed Khoat's will of succession
on his deathbed, and installed Luan's younger brother Nguyễn Phúc
Thuần on the throne in 1765. Luan was jailed and died in the same
However, Thuan lost his position as lord of southern
Vietnam and was
killed during the
Tây Sơn rebellion led by the brothers Nguyễn
Nguyễn Huệ and Nguyễn Lữ in 1777. Nguyễn Ánh was
the most senior member of the ruling family to survive the Tây Sơn
victory, which pushed the Nguyễn from their heartland in central
Vietnam, southwards towards
Saigon and into the
Mekong Delta region in
the far south. Nguyễn Ánh fled to
Hà Tiên on the
southern coastal tip of Vietnam, where he met Pigneau de
Behaine, a French priest who became his adviser and played
a major part in his rise to power. Together, they escaped to the
island of Poulo Panjang in the Gulf of Siam. Pigneau hoped that
by playing a substantial role in a Nguyễn Ánh victory, he would be
in position to leverage important concessions for the Catholic Church
in Vietnam, helping its expansion in South East Asia.
Pigneau de Behaine, the French priest who recruited armies for
Nguyễn Ánh during the war against the Tây Sơn.
In late 1777, the main part of the
Tây Sơn army left
Saigon to go
north and attack the Trịnh lords, who ruled the other half of
Vietnam. Nguyễn Ánh stealthily returned to the mainland, rejoining
his supporters and reclaimed the city. He was crucially aided by
the efforts of Đỗ Thanh Nhơn, who had organized an army for
him, which was supplemented by Cambodian mercenaries and Chinese
pirates. The following year, Nhon expelled further Tây Sơn
troops from the surrounding province of Gia Định, and inflicted
heavy losses on the
Tây Sơn naval fleet. Taking advantage of the
more favorable situation, Nguyễn Ánh sent a diplomatic mission to
Siam to propose a treaty of friendship. However, this pact was
derailed in 1779 when the Cambodians staged an uprising against their
pro-Siamese leader Ang Non. Nguyễn Ánh sent Nhon to help the
uprising, which saw Ang Non defeated decisively and executed.
Nhon returned to
Saigon with high honor and concentrated his efforts
on improving the Nguyễn navy. In 1780, in an attempt to strengthen
his political status, Nguyễn Ánh proclaimed himself Nguyễn
vương (Nguyễn king or Nguyễn ruler in Vietnamese). Then,
in 1781, Nguyễn Ánh sent further forces to support the Cambodian
regime against Siamese armies who wanted to reassert their
control. Shortly thereafter, Nguyễn Ánh had Nhon brutally
murdered. The reason remains unclear, but it was postulated that he
did so because Nhon's fame and military success was overshadowing him.
Tây Sơn brothers reportedly celebrated on hearing of Nhon's
execution, as he was the Nguyễn officer whom they most feared.
Nhon's supporters rebelled, weakening the Nguyễn army, and within a
few months, the
Tây Sơn had recaptured
Saigon mainly as a result of
naval barrages. Nguyễn Ánh was forced to flee to Ha Tien,
and then onto the island of Phú Quốc. Meanwhile, some of his forces
continued to resist in his absence.
In October 1782, the tide shifted again, when forces led by Nguyễn
Phúc Mân, Nguyễn Ánh's younger brother, and Châu Văn Tiếp
Tây Sơn out of Saigon. Nguyễn Ánh returned to
Saigon, as did Pigneau The hold was tenuous, and a counterattack
Tây Sơn in early 1783 saw a heavy defeat for the Nguyễn,
with Nguyen Man killed in battle. Nguyễn Ánh again fled to
Phú Quốc, but this time his hiding place was discovered. He
managed to escape the pursuing
Tây Sơn fleet to
Koh Rong island in
the Bay of Kompong Som. Again, his hideout was discovered and
encircled by the rebel fleet. However, a typhoon hit the area, and he
managed to break the naval siege and escape to another island amid the
confusion. In early 1784, Nguyễn Ánh went to seek Siamese
aid, which was forthcoming, but the extra 20,000 men failed to weaken
the Tây Sơn's hold on power. This forced Nguyễn Ánh to become
a refugee in
Siam in 1785. To make matters worse, the Tây
Sơn regularly raided the rice growing areas of the south during the
harvesting season, depriving the Nguyễn of their food supply.
Nguyễn Ánh eventually came to the conclusion that using Siamese
military aid would generate a backlash amongst the populace, due to
prevailing Vietnamese hostility towards Siam.
Pigneau and French assistance
Main article: French assistance to Nguyễn Ánh
Portrait of Prince Cảnh, the eldest son of Gia Long, 1787 .
Deflated by his situation, Nguyễn Ánh asked Pigneau to appeal for
French aid, and allowed Pigneau to take his son Nguyễn Phúc Cảnh
with him as a sign of good faith. This came about after
Nguyễn Ánh had considered enlisting English, Dutch, Portuguese and
Spanish assistance. Pigneau advised against Nguyễn Ánh's
original plan to seek Dutch aid from Batavia, fearing that the support
of the Protestant Dutch would hinder the advancement of
Catholicism. Pigneau left
Vietnam in December, arriving in
Pondicherry, India in February 1785 with Nguyễn Ánh's royal seal.
Nguyễn Ánh had authorized him to make concessions to France in
return for military assistance. The French administration in
Pondicherry, led by acting governor Coutenceau des Algrains, was
conservative in outlook and resolutely opposed intervention in
southern Vietnam. To compound the already complex situation,
Pigneau was denounced by Spanish Franciscans in the Vatican, and he
sought to transfer his political mandate to Portuguese forces. The
Portuguese had earlier offered Nguyễn Ánh 56 ships to use against
the Tây Sơn.
In July 1786, after more than 12 months of fruitless lobbying in
Governor de Cossigny allowed Pigneau to travel back to
France to directly ask the royal court for assistance.
Arriving at the court of
Louis XVI in Versailles in February 1787,
Pigneau had difficulty in gathering support for a French expedition in
support of Nguyễn Ánh. This was due to the parlous financial
state of the country prior to the French Revolution. Pigneau was
helped by Pierre Poivre, who had previously been involved in seeking
French commercial interests in Vietnam. Pigneau told the court
that if France invested in Nguyễn Ánh and acquired a few fortified
positions on the Vietnamese coast in return, then they would have the
capability to "dominate the seas of
China and of the archipelago", and
with it, control of Asian commerce. In November 1787, a treaty of
alliance was concluded between France and Cochinchina—the European
term for southern Vietnam—in Nguyễn Ánh's name. Pigneau signed
the treaty as the "Royal Commissioner of France for
Cochinchina". France promised four frigates, 1,650 fully
equipped French soldiers and 250 Indian sepoys in return for the
cession of Pulo Condore and Tourane (Da Nang), as well as tree
trade to the exclusion of all other countries. However, the
freedom to spread Christianity was not included. However,
Pigneau found that Governor
Thomas Conway of Pondicherry was unwilling
to fulfill the agreement; Conway had been instructed by Paris
to determine when to organize the aid, if at all. Pigneau was
thus forced to use funds raised in France to enlist French volunteers
and mercenaries. He also managed to procure several
shipments of arms and munitions from
Mauritius and Pondicherry.
Meanwhile, Nguyễn Ánh had stayed in
Siam with a contingent of
troops until August 1787. His soldiers served in Siam's war against
Bodawpaya of Burma (1785–86). Having consolidated their hold
on southern Vietnam, the
Tây Sơn decided to move north to unify the
country. However, the withdrawal of troops from the Gia Định
garrison weakened them their hold on the south. This was
compounded by reports that
Nguyễn Nhạc was being attacked near Qui
Nhơn by his own brother Nguyễn Huệ, and that more Tây Sơn
troops were being evacuated from Gia Dinh by their commander Dang Van
Tran in order to aid Nguyễn Nhạc. Sensing
Tây Sơn vulnerability
in the south, Nguyễn Ánh assembled his forces at home and abroad in
preparation for an immediate offensive. Nguyễn Ánh secretly
Siam and headed for southern Vietnam, but he failed in his first
attempt to recapture Gia Dinh. He eventually succeeded in taking Mỹ
Tho, made it the main staging point for his operations, and rebuilt
his army. After a hard-fought battle, his soldiers captured
7 September 1788. Eventually, Pigneau assembled four vessels to
Vietnam from Pondicherry, arriving in
Saigon on 24 July
1789. The combined forces helped to consolidate Nguyễn Ánh's
hold on southern Vietnam. The exact magnitude of foreign
aid and the importance of their contribution to Gia Long's success is
a point of dispute. Earlier scholars asserted that up to 400 Frenchmen
enlisted, but more recent work has claimed that less
than 100 soldiers were present, along with approximately a dozen
Consolidation of southern Vietnam
The French officers enlisted by Pigneau helped to train Nguyễn
Ánh's armed forces and introduced Western technological expertise to
the war effort. The navy was trained by Jean-Marie Dayot, who
supervised the construction of bronze-plated naval vessels.
Olivier de Puymanel
Olivier de Puymanel was responsible for training the army and the
construction of fortifications. He taught the troops
various methods of manufacturing and using European-style artillery
and introduced European infantry formations and tactics. Pigneau
and other missionaries acted as business agents for Nguyễn Ánh,
purchasing munitions and other military supplies. Pigneau also
served as an advisor and de facto foreign minister until his death in
1799. Upon Pigneau's death, Gia Long's funeral oration
described the Frenchman as "the most illustrious foreigner ever to
appear at the court of Cochinchina". Pigneau was buried in the
presence of the crown prince, all mandarins of the court, the royal
bodyguard of 12,000 men and 40,000 mourners.
Layout of the original citadel.
Main article: Citadel of Saigon
Following the recapture of Saigon, Nguyễn Ánh consolidated his
power base and prepared the destruction of the Tây Sơn. His enemies
had regularly raided the south and confiscated the annual rice
harvests, so Nguyễn Ánh was keen to strengthen his defense. One of
Nguyễn Ánh's first actions was to ask the French officers to design
and supervise the construction of a modern European-style citadel in
Saigon. The citadel was designed by Theodore Lebrun and de Puymanel,
with 30,000 people mobilized for its construction in 1790. The
townfolk and their mandarins were punitively taxed for the work; the
laborers were worked so hard that they revolted. When finished, the
stone citadel had a perimeter measuring 4,176 meters in a Vauban
model. The fortress was bordered on three sides by pre-existing
waterways, bolstering its natural defensive capability. Following
the construction of the citadel, the
Tây Sơn never again attempted
to sail down the
Saigon River and try to recapture the city—its
presence having endowed Nguyễn Ánh with a substantial psychological
advantage over his opponents. Nguyễn Ánh took a keen personal
interest in fortifications, ordering his French advisers to travel
home and bring back books with the latest scientific and technical
studies on the subject.
Agrarian reform and economic growth
With the southern region secured, Nguyễn Ánh turned his attention
to agrarian reforms. Due to
Tây Sơn naval raids on the rice crop
via inland waterways, the area suffered chronic rice shortages.
Although the land was extremely fertile, the region was agriculturally
under-exploited, having been occupied by Vietnamese settlers only
relatively recently. Furthermore, agricultural activities had also
been significantly curtailed during the extended warfare with the Tây
Sơn. Nguyễn Ánh's agricultural reforms were based around extending
to the south a traditional form of agrarian expansion, the đồn
điền, which roughly translates as "military settlement" or
"military holding", the emphasis being on the military origin of this
form of colonization. These were first used during the 15th century
Lê Thánh Tông
Lê Thánh Tông in the southward expansion of Vietnam. The
central government supplied military units with agricultural tools and
grain for nourishment and planting. The soldiers were then assigned
land to defend, clear and cultivate, and had to pay some of their
harvest as tax. In the past, a military presence was required because
the land was being seized from the conquered indigenous population.
Under Nguyễn Ánh's rule, pacification was not usually needed but
the basic model remained intact. Settlers were granted fallow land,
given agricultural equipment, work animals and grain. After several
years, they were required to pay grain tax. The program greatly
reduced the amount of idle, uncultivated land. Large surpluses of
grain, taxable by the state, resulted.
By 1800, the increased agricultural productivity had allowed Nguyễn
Ánh to support a sizable army of more than 30,000 soldiers and a navy
of more than 1,200 vessels. The surplus from the state granary was
sold to European and Asian traders to facilitate the importation of
raw materials for military purposes, in particular iron, bronze, and
sulfur. The government also purchased castor sugar from local farmers
and traded it for weapons from European manufacturers. The food
surplus allowed Nguyễn Ánh to engage in welfare initiatives that
improved morale and loyalty among his subjects, thereby increasing his
support base. The surplus grain was deposited in granaries built along
the northward route out of Saigon, following the advance of the
Nguyễn army into
Tây Sơn territory. This allowed his troops to be
fed from southern supplies, rather than eating from the areas that he
was attempting to conquer or win over. Newly acquired regions were
given tax exemptions, and surrendered
Tây Sơn mandarins were
appointed to equivalent positions with the same salaries in the
The French Navy officer
Jean-Baptiste Chaigneau served Emperor Gia
Nguyễn Ánh used his new base to improve his inferior navy, which
was much smaller than the
Tây Sơn fleet and hitherto unable to
prevent their rice raids. Nguyễn Ánh had first attempted to
acquire modern naval vessels in 1781, when on the advice of Pigneau,
he had chartered Portuguese vessels of European design, complete with
crew and artillery. This initial experience proved to be disastrous.
For reasons that remain unclear, two of the vessels fled in the midst
of battle against the Tây Sơn, while angry Vietnamese soldiers
killed the third crew. In 1789, Pigneau returned to
Pondicherry with two vessels, which stayed in the Nguyễn service
long-term. Over time, Vietnamese sailors replaced the original French
and Indian crew under the command of French officers. These vessels
became the foundation for an expanded military and merchant Nguyen
naval force, with Nguyễn Ánh chartering and purchasing more
European vessels to reinforce Vietnamese-built ships. However,
traditional Vietnamese-style galleys and small sailing ships remained
the majority of the fleet. By 1794, two European vessels were
operating together with 200 Vietnamese boats against the Tây Sơn
near Qui Nhơn. In 1799, a British trader by the name of Berry
reported that the Nguyễn fleet had departed
Saigon along the Saigon
River with 100 galleys, 40 junks, 200 smaller boats and 800 carriers,
accompanied by three European sloops. In 1801, one naval division
was reported to have included nine European vessels armed with 60
guns, five vessels with 50 guns, 40 with 16 guns, 100 junks, 119
galleys and 365 smaller boats.
Most of the European-style vessels were built in the shipyard that
Nguyễn Ánh had commissioned in Saigon. He took a deep personal
interest in the naval program, directly supervising the work and
spending several hours a day dockside. One witness noted "One
principal tendency of his ambition is to naval science, as a proof of
this he has been heard to say he would build ships of the line on the
European plan." By 1792, fifteen frigates were under construction,
with a design that mixed Chinese and European specifications, equipped
with 14 guns. The Vietnamese learned European naval architecture by
dismantling an old European vessel into its components, so that
Vietnamese shipbuilders could understand the separate facets of
European shipbuilding, before reassembling it. They then applied their
newfound knowledge to create replicas of the boats. Nguyễn Ánh
studied naval carpentry techniques and was said to be adept at it, and
learned navigational theory from the French books that Pigneau
Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert's
Saigon shipyard was widely praised by European
Despite his extensive reliance on French officers on matters of
military technology, Nguyễn Ánh limited his inner military circle
to Vietnamese. The Frenchmen decried his refusal to take their
tactical advice. Chaigneau reported that the Europeans continually
urged Nguyễn Ánh to take the initiative and launch bold attacks
Tây Sơn installations. Nguyễn Ánh refused, preferring to
proceed slowly, consolidating his gains in one area and strengthening
his economic and military base, before attacking another. Over time,
Nguyễn Ánh gradually reduced the military role of his French allies
on the battlefield. In the naval battle at Thị Nại in 1792,
Dayot led the Nguyễn naval attack, but by 1801, a seaborne offensive
in the same area was led by the Nguyen Van Truong,
Võ Di Nguy
Võ Di Nguy and Lê
Văn Duyệt, with Chaigneau, Vannier, and de Forsans in supporting
positions. The infantry attack on
Qui Nhơn in 1793 was conducted,
according to Nguyen historiography, in cooperation with "Western
soldiers". The same source recorded that by 1801, Nguyen
operations in the same area were directed by Vietnamese generals,
whereas Chaigneau and Vannier were responsible for organizing supply
Unification of Vietnam
Vietnamese "Tirailleur" soldiers of the Nguyễn Dynasty.
In 1792, the middle and the most notable of the three Tây Sơn
Nguyễn Huệ Quang Trung, who had gained recognition as
Vietnam by driving the Lê
China out of
northern Vietnam, died suddenly. Nguyễn Ánh took advantage of the
situation and attacked northwards. By now, the majority of the
original French soldiers, whose number peaked at less than 80 by some
estimates, had departed. The majority of the fighting occurred
in and around the coastal towns of
Nha Trang in central
Qui Nhơn further to the south in
Bình Định Province, the
birthplace and stronghold of the Tây Sơn. Nguyễn Ánh
began by deploying his expanded and modernised naval fleet in raids
Tây Sơn territory. His fleet left
Saigon and sailed
northward on an annual basis during June and July, carried by
southwesterly winds. The naval offensives were reinforced by infantry
campaigns. His fleet would then return south when the monsoon ended,
on the back of northeasterly winds. The large European
wind-powered vessels gave the Nguyễn navy a commanding artillery
advantage, as they had a superior range to the
Tây Sơn cannons on
the coast. Combined with traditional galleys and a crew that was
highly regarded for its discipline, skill and bravery, the
European-style vessels in the Nguyễn fleet inflicted hundreds of
losses against the
Tây Sơn in 1792 and 1793.
In 1794, after a successful campaign in the
Nha Trang region, Nguyễn
Ánh ordered de Puymanel to build a citadel at Duyen Khanh, near the
city, instead of retreating south with the seasonal northeasterly
breeze. A Nguyen garrison was established there under the command of
Nguyễn Ánh's eldest son and heir, Nguyễn Phúc Cảnh, assisted
by Pigneau and de Puymanel. The
Tây Sơn laid siege to
Duyen Khanh in
May 1794, but Nguyen forces were able to keep them out. Shortly after
the siege ended, reinforcements arrived from
Saigon and offensive
operations against the
Tây Sơn duly resumed. The campaign was the
first time that the Nguyễn were able to operate in Tây Sơn
heartland during an unfavorable season. The defensive success of the
citadel was a powerful psychological victory for the Nguyễn,
demonstrating their ability to penetrate
Tây Sơn territory at all
times of year. The Nguyễn then proceeded to slowly erode the Tây
Heavy fighting occurred at the fortress of Qui Nhơn, until it was
captured in 1799 by Nguyen Canh's forces. However, the city
was quickly lost and was not regained until 1801. The superior
firepower of the improved navy played the decisive role in the
ultimate recapture of the city, supporting a large overland
attack. After the capture of their stronghold at Qui Nhơn, the
Tây Sơn, led by Quang Trung's son Quang Toan, came quickly. In June,
the central city of Huế—the former capital of the Nguyễn—fell
and Nguyễn Ánh crowned himself emperor, under the reign name Gia
Long, which was derived from
Gia Định (Saigon) and Thăng Long
(Hanoi) to symbolize the unification of north and south
Vietnam. He then quickly overran the north, with Hanoi
captured on 22 July 1802. After a quarter-century of continuous
Gia Long had unified what is now modern Vietnam, and
elevated his family to a position never previously occupied by
Vietnam had never before occupied a larger
Gia Long became the first Vietnamese ruler to reign over
territory stretching from
China in the north, all the way to the Gulf
Siam and the
Cà Mau peninsula in the south. Gia Long's then
petitioned the Qing
China for official recognition, which
was promptly granted. The French failure to honor the treaty
signed by Pigneau meant
Vietnam was not bound to cede the territory
and trading rights that they had promised.
Due to a Tay Son massacre against ethnic Chinese, the Nguyen were
supported by ethnic Chinese against the Tay Son. The Tay Son's
downfall and defeat at the hands of Nguyễn Phúc Ánh was due to
ethnic Chinese support to the Nguyen.
Gia Long's rule was noted for its strict Confucian orthodoxy. Upon
toppling the Tây Sơn, he repealed their reforms and reimposed a
classical Confucian education and civil service system. He moved the
Hanoi in the north to
Huế in central
Vietnam to reflect
the southward migration of the population over the preceding
centuries. The emperor built new fortresses and a palace in his new
capital. Using French expertise,
Gia Long modernized Vietnam's
defensive capabilities. In deference to the assistance of his French
friends, he tolerated the activities of Catholic missionaries,
something that was increasingly restricted by his successors. Under
Gia Long's rule,
Vietnam strengthened its military dominance in
Cambodia and turning it into a vassal.
Despite this, he was relatively isolationist in outlook towards
Jiaqing Emperor of
China refused the Vietnamese ruler Gia
Long's request to change his country's name to Nam Việt, but instead
agreed to change it to Việt Nam. Gia Long's Đại Nam thực
lục contains the diplomatic correspondence over the naming.
"Trung Quốc" 中國 was used as a name for
Gia Long in
It was said "Hán di hữu hạn" 漢夷有限 ("the Vietnamese and
the barbarians must have clear borders" by the
Gia Long Emperor
(Nguyễn Phúc Ánh) when differentiating between Khmer and
Vietnamese. Minh Mang implemented an acculturation integration
policy directed at minority non-Vietnamese peoples. Thanh nhân
清人 was used to refer to ethnic Chinese by the Vietnamese while
Vietnamese called themselves as Hán nhân 漢人 in
the 1800s under Nguyễn rule.
Lê Văn Duyệt, the longest-serving and the last military protector
of the four provinces of Cochinchina
During the war era, Nguyễn Ánh had maintained an embryonic
bureaucracy in an attempt to prove his leadership ability to the
people. Due to the incessant warfare, military officers were generally
the most prominent members of his inner circle. This dependency on
military backing continued to manifest itself throughout his
Vietnam was divided into three administrative regions. The
old patrimony of the Nguyễn formed the central part of the empire
(vùng Kinh Kỳ), with nine provinces, five of which were directly
Gia Long and his mandarins from Huế. The central
Huế was divided into six ministries: Public
affairs, finance, rites, war, justice and public works. Each was under
a minister, assisted by two deputies and two or three councillors.
Each of these ministries had around 70 employees assigned to various
units. The heads of these ministries formed the Supreme Council. A
treasurer general and a Chief of the Judicial Service assisted a
governor general, who was in charge of a number of provinces. The
provinces were classified into trấn and dinh. These were in turn
divided into phủ, huyện and châu. All important matters were
examined by the Supreme Council in the presence of Gia Long. The
officials tabled their reports for discussion and decision-making. The
bureaucrats involved in the Supreme Council were selected from the
high-ranking mandarins of the six ministries and the academies.
Gia Long handled the northern and southern regions of Vietnam
cautiously, not wanting them to be jarred by rapid centralization
after centuries of national division. Tonkin, with the
administrative seat of its imperial military protector (quan tổng
trấn) at Hanoi, had thirteen provinces (tổng trấn Bắc Thành),
and in the Red River Delta, the old officials of the Le administration
continued in office. In the south,
Saigon was the capital of the four
Cochinchina (tổng trấn Nam Hà), as well as the seat
of the military protector. The citadels in the respective
cities directly administered their military defense zones. This system
Gia Long to reward his leading supporters with highly powerful
positions, giving them almost total autonomy in ordinary
administrative and legal matters. This system persisted until
1831–32, when his son
Minh Mạng centralized the national
In his attempts to re-establish a stable administration after
centuries of civil war,
Gia Long was not regarded as being innovative,
preferring the traditional administration framework. When Gia
Long unified the country, it was described by Charles Maybon as being
chaotic: "The wheels of administration were warped or no longer
existed; the cadres of officials were empty, the hierarchy destroyed;
taxes were not being collected, lists of communal property had
disappeared, proprietary titles were lost, fields abandoned; roads
bridges and public granaries had not been maintained; work in the
mines had ceased. The administration of justice had been interrupted,
every province was a prey to pirates, and violation of law went
unpunished, while even the law itself had become uncertain."
Foreign military relations
During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Cambodian empire had been in
decline and Vietnamese people migrated south into the Mekong Delta,
which was had previously been Khmer territory. Furthermore,
Cambodia had been periodically invaded by both
Vietnam and Siam.
Cambodia lurched uneasily between both poles of domination as dictated
by the internal strife of her two larger neighbors. In 1796, Ang
Eng, a pro-Siamese king had died, leaving Ang Chan, who was born in
Gia Long unified Vietnam, Eng was given investiture by
Siam in order to hold out Vietnamese influence, but in 1803, a
Cambodian mission paid tribute to
Vietnam in attempt to placate Gia
Long, something that became an annual routine. In 1807, Ang Chan
requested formal investiture as a vassal of Gia Long. Gia Long
responded by sending an ambassador bearing the book of investiture,
together with a seal of gilded silver. In 1812,
Ang Chan refused a
request from his brother Ang Snguon to share power, leading to a
Siam sent troops to support the rebel prince, hoping to
enthrone him and wrest influence from
Gia Long over Cambodia. In
Gia Long responded by sending a large military contingent that
forced the Siamese and Ang Snguon out of Cambodia. As a result, a
Vietnamese garrison was permanently installed in the citadel at Phnom
Penh, the Cambodian capital. Thereafter,
Siam made no attempts to
regain control of
Cambodia during Gia Long's rule.
Napoleon's aims to conquer
Vietnam as a base to challenge British
supremacy in India never materialized, having been preoccupied by
vast military ambitions on mainland Europe. However, France
remained the only European power with permanent spokesmen in Vietnam
during his reign.
Pigneau's aborted deal with France allowed
Gia Long to keep his
country closed to western trade.
Gia Long was generally
dismissive of European commercial overtures. This was part of a
policy of trying to maintain friendly relations with every European
power by granting favors to none. In 1804, a British
delegation attempted to negotiate trading privileges with Vietnam. It
was the only offer of its kind until 1822, such was the extent of
European disinterest in Asia during the Napoleonic Wars.
Gia Long had
purchased arms from British firms in Madras and
credit, prompting the
British East India Company
British East India Company to send John
Roberts to Huế. However, Roberts's gifts were turned away and the
negotiations for a commercial deal never started. The United Kingdom
then made a request for the exclusive right to trade with
the cession of the island of Cham near Faifo, which was rejected,
as were further approaches from the Netherlands. Both of these failed
attempts were attributed to the influence of the French mandarins.
In 1817, the French Prime Minister Armand-Emmanuel du Plessis
dispatched the Cybele, a frigate with 52 guns to Tourane (now Da Nang)
to "show French sympathy and to assure
Gia Long of the benevolence of
the King of France". The captain of the vessel was turned away,
ostensibly on grounds of protocol for not carrying a royal letter from
the French king.
Gia Long kept four French officers in his service after his
coronation: Philippe Vannier, Jean-Baptiste Chaigneau, de Forsans and
the doctor Despiau. All became high ranking mandarins and were treated
well. They were given 50 bodyguards each, ornate residences and
were exempt for having to prostrate before the emperor.
Recommendations from French officials in Pondicherry to Napoleon
Bonaparte suggesting the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with
Vietnam were fruitless due to the preoccupation with war in
Europe. However, French merchants from
Bordeaux were later
able to begin trading with
Vietnam after the further efforts of the
Duc de Richelieu.
Domestic policies and capital works
Jean-Marie Dayot (left) took a leading role in the training of Gia
Gia Long abolished all large landholding by princes, nobles and high
officials. He dismantled the 800-year-old practice of paying officials
and rewarding or endowing nobles with a portion of the taxes from a
village or a group thereof. Existing highways were repaired and
new ones constructed, with the north-south road from
Saigon to Lạng
Sơn put under restoration. He organised a postal service to
operate along the highways and public storehouses were built to
alleviate starvation in drought-affected years.
Gia Long enacted
monetary reform and implemented a more socialized agrarian policy.
However, the population growth far outstripped that of land clearing
and cultivation. There was little emphasis on innovation in
agricultural technology, so the improvements in productivity were
mainly derived from increasing the amount of cultivated farmland.
Although the civil war was over,
Gia Long decided to add to the two
citadels that had been built under the supervision of French officers.
Gia Long was convinced of their effectiveness and during his 18-year
reign, a further 11 citadels were built throughout the country.
The majority were built in the Vauban style, with pentagonal or
hexagonal geometry, while a minority, including the one in Huế, were
built in a four-sided traditional Chinese design. The fortresses were
built at Vinh, Thanh Hóa, Bắc Ninh, Hà Tĩnh,
Thái Nguyên and
Hải Dương in the north, Huế, Quảng Ngãi, Khánh Hòa and
Bình Định in the centre, and
Vĩnh Long in the Mekong Delta.
Construction was at its most intense in the early phase of Gia Long's
reign—only one of the 11 were built in the last six years of his
rule. De Puymanel and Lebrun left
Vietnam before the end of the
war, so the forts were designed by Vietnamese engineers who oversaw
the construction. The position of Citadel Supervision Officer was
created under the Ministry of War and made responsible for the work,
underlining the importance that
Gia Long placed on fortifications.
Gia Long's fortifications program was marred by accusations that the
people labored all day and part of the night in all weather
conditions, and that as a direct consequence, land went fallow.
Complaints of mandarin corruption and oppressive taxation were often
levelled at his government. Following his coronation, Gia Long
drastically reduced his naval fleet and by the 1810s, only two of the
European-style vessels were still in service. The downsizing of the
navy was mainly attributed to budgetary constraints caused by heavy
spending on fortifications and transport infrastructure such as roads,
dykes and canals. However, in 1819, a new phase of shipbuilding was
Gia Long personally supervising the dockyards.
In order to train and recruit government officials,
Gia Long revived
the Confucian court examinations that had been abolished by the Tây
Sơn. In 1803, he founded the National Academy (Quốc Tử Giám) at
Huế. Its objective was to educate the sons of mandarins and
meritorious students in Confucian classical literature. In 1804,
Gia Long promulgated edicts establishing similar schools in the
provinces, as well as guidelines to regulate their staff and
curriculum. He appointed Directors of Education (quan đốc học) to
oversee the provincial education system and the selection process for
the entrance examinations to the National Academy, beginning in 1802.
The Directors were assisted by Subordinate and Assistant Directors
(phó đốc học or trợ-giáo).
Gia Long explained to his court in
1814 that the goal was to create a cadre of classically educated,
politically loyal administrators:
The schools are where men of talent can be found. Wanting to follow
the example of the former kings, I have established schools in order
that learned and talented men will arise and the state may thus employ
Gia Long opened the first civil service examinations held
under the Nguyễn Dynasty, staged at regional level. From then
on, the training and selection process for the imperial bureaucracy
was largely centered on examinations. The curriculum for the
examinations consisted of the "five classics and the four books",
which focused on Chinese history leading up to the Song Dynasty, while
regarding other knowledge as irrelevant.
Gia Long promulgated a new legal code to replace the system that had
existed since the
Hong Duc era of
Lê Thánh Tông
Lê Thánh Tông in the 15th
century. Work started in 1811 under a group of scholars led by
Nguyễn Văn Thành, and in 1815, the Bộ luật
Gia Long (Gia Long
Code) was issued. Although
Gia Long claimed that his new system
was a mixture of the Le code and Qing
Dynasty system of China, most
scholars regard it as being a near complete copy of the Qing code.
The code was later translated into French by Paul-Louis-Félix
Philastre. It focused on strengthening the power and authority
of the emperor, his mandarins, and the traditional family unit. In
cases of serious crimes, particularly those against the state,
collective punishment was meted out to the family of the convict,
including the death penalty.
The entrance to Gia Long's palace and citadel complex in Huế.
Vietnam was unified, the center of gravity of the country
moved further south, following centuries of southerly migration and
Gia Long moved the seat of government from
Gia Long rebuilt the old citadel of
Phú Xuân into a
fortress stronghold. The structure was a square shape of
2.5 km per side. A 9 m rampart was encased with masonry
and protected by protruding bastions, each defended by 36 guns.
The exterior and interior were flanked and reinforced by a series of
moats. The citadel's defenders included an 800-strong elephant
troop. The new palace structure, protocol and court dress were all
taken directly from Qing
Dynasty styles, and his palace and fortress
was intended to be a smaller copy of the Chinese
Forbidden City in the
Gia Long tolerated the Catholic faith of his French allies and
permitted unimpeded missionary activities out of respect to his
benefactors. The missionary activity was dominated by the Spanish
Tonkin and French in the central and southern regions. At the
time of his death, there were six European bishops in Vietnam. The
population of Christians was estimated at 300,000 in
Tonkin and 60,000
in Cochinchina. However, he expressed dismay at the Catholic
condemnation of the traditional ancestor worship, a basic tenet of
Gia Long was also known for his disdain for
Buddhism, the religion practiced by the majority of the population.
Despite its popularity among ladies of the court,
Gia Long often
restricted the activities of Buddhists.
In August 1802,
Gia Long retaliated against the captured Tây Sơn
leadership who had executed his family in the 1770s. The surviving
members of the family and its leading generals and their families were
executed. The remains of
Quang Trung and his queen were exhumed
and desecrated, and his son, the last
Tây Sơn monarch Quang Toản
was bound to four elephants and torn apart.
Gia Long repealed
the changes enacted by
Quang Trung and reverted to the prior Confucian
orthodoxy. This included restoring the civil service to the forefront
of decision making, ahead of the army, and reversed Quang Trung's
education reforms, which put science before the study of Confucian
Family and succession
Minh Mạng, Gia Long's fourth son and successor.
Gia Long had three wives. In 1780, during the war against the Tây
Sơn, he married Tống Thị Lan, the daughter of a Nguyen general.
She bore him two sons, the first being Nguyễn Phúc Chiêu, who died
shortly after birth in
Phú Quốc island, and later Crown Prince
Nguyễn Phúc Cảnh. Following Gia Long's ascension to the throne,
she became Empress consort and was given the title of Empress Thừa
Thiên posthumously. Around 1781, during the war with the Tây
Sơn, he married his second wife Trần Thị Đang, a daughter of one
of his ministers. She bore him three sons, Nguyễn Phúc Đảm,
Nguyen Phuc Dai and Nguyen Phuc Chan, and was posthumously given the
title of Empress Thuận Thiên. After his conquest of Vietnam,
Gia Long, took his third wife, Lê Ngọc Bình. A daughter of Lê
Hiển Tông, the second-last emperor of the Lê Dynasty, she was
betrothed by Emperor
Quang Trung to his son Quang Toản. After Gia
Long defeated the
Tây Sơn and executed Quang Toan, he took her as
his wife. Binh bore him two princes, Nguyen Phuc Quan and Nguyen Phuc
Cu, and princesses An Nghia Ngoc Ngon and My Khue Ngoc Khue. Gia
Long had almost 100 concubines who were daughters of his mandarins;
Gia Long did not favor polygamy but he did so to secure the loyalty of
his inner circle.
As Crown Prince Nguyen Canh had died of smallpox during the war
against the Tây Sơn, it was assumed that Canh's son would succeed
Gia Long as emperor, but in 1816 Nguyễn Phúc Đảm, the son of his
second wife, was appointed instead, and ruled as Minh Mạng. Gia
Long chose him for his strong character and his deep aversion to
westerners, whereas Canh's lineage had converted to Catholicism and
were reluctant to maintain their Confucian traditions such as ancestor
worship. Before his accession, Nguyễn Phúc Đảm was reported to
have praised the Japanese for having expelled and eradicated
Christianity from their country.
Gia Long told his son to treat
the Europeans respectfully, especially the French, but not to grant
them any position of preponderance.
Gia Long died on 3 February
1820 and was buried at the
Thien Tho Tomb
Thien Tho Tomb and posthumously named Thế
Tổ Cao Hoàng đế.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Nguyễn Thế Tổ.
Nguyễn Phước Cảnh
Nguyễn Thánh Tổ
^ In this Vietnamese name, the family name is Nguyễn, but is often
simplified to Nguyen in English-language text. According to Vietnamese
custom, this person should properly be referred to by the given name
Ánh or Anh (in English-language text).
^ a b Trần Đức Anh Sơn (2004).
Huế Triều Nguyễn một cái
nhìn. Thuận Hóa Publishing House. p. 75.
^ Phan Khoang (2001). Việt sử xứ Đàng Trong (in Vietnamese).
Hanoi: Văn Học Publishing House. pp. 187–188.
^ Kim, p. 335.
^ Phan Thuận An (2005). Quần thể di tích
Huế (in Vietnamese).
Tre Publishing House. p. 112.
^ Hall, p. 426.
^ a b Hall, p. 423.
^ a b c d e f Cady, p. 282.
^ a b Buttinger, p. 266.
^ a b c d Mantienne, p. 520.
^ a b c d McLeod, p. 7.
^ a b Karnow, p. 75.
^ Buttinger, p. 234.
^ a b c d e f McLeod, p. 9.
^ Buttinger, p. 233.
^ a b c d Hall, p. 427.
^ a b c d Buttinger, p. 235.
^ Dutton, p. 45.
^ Kim, p. 342.
^ a b c d e f g h i Hall, p. 428.
^ Kim, p. 323.
^ a b c Cady, p. 283.
^ a b c d e f g Karnow, p. 76.
^ Buttinger, pp. 236, 266.
^ a b Buttinger, p. 236.
^ a b c d e f g Hall, p. 429.
^ a b Buttinger, p. 237.
^ a b c d McLeod, p. 10.
^ a b c d Buttinger, p. 238.
^ a b c Buttinger, p. 239.
^ a b c d e f g Karnow, p. 77.
^ a b c d e f g Hall, p. 430.
^ Dutton, p. 47.
^ Hall, p. 429–430.
^ Buttinger, pp. 239–240.
^ a b c d e f g McLeod, p. 11.
^ a b Mantienne, p. 521.
^ a b c Cady, p. 284.
^ a b c d e f g h i j Hall, p. 431.
^ a b c Buttinger, p. 267.
^ a b c d e Karnow, p. 78.
^ a b Mantienne, p. 522.
^ Mantienne, p. 524.
^ a b c d Mantienne, p. 525.
^ Mantienne, p. 527.
^ a b McLeod, p. 8.
^ a b c d e Mantienne, p. 530.
^ a b Mantienne, p. 531.
^ a b c d Mantienne, p. 532.
^ Tarling, p. 245.
^ Buttinger, p. 241.
^ Buttinger, p. 270.
^ McLeod, pp. 11–12.
^ Wook, p. 35.
^ Wook, p. 74.
^ a b Buttinger, p. 240.
^ Woodside, p. 120.
^ Jeff Kyong-McClain; Yongtao Du (2013). Chinese History in
Geographical Perspective. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 67–.
^ Woodside, p. 18.
^ Wook, p. 34.
^ Wook, p. 136.
^ Wook, p. 137.
^ a b c d e f McLeod, p. 15.
^ a b c d e Hall, p. 432.
^ McLeod, p. 3.
^ a b c d e f g h McLeod, p. 16.
^ Buttinger, p. 278.
^ a b Cady, p. 266.
^ Hall, pp. 432–433.
^ a b c Hall, p. 433.
^ a b c d e f Hall, p. 434.
^ Buttinger, p. 305.
^ a b c d Buttinger, p. 272.
^ Buttinger, pp. 270–271.
^ Buttinger, p. 271.
^ Buttinger, pp. 271–273.
^ a b Buttinger, p. 307.
^ Buttinger, p. 308.
^ a b Buttinger, p. 309.
^ a b c d e f g Cady, p. 408.
^ buttinger, p. 268.
^ Hall, p. 435.
^ Buttinger, p. 279.
^ a b Buttinger, p. 312.
^ Buttinger, p. 280.
^ Buttinger, pp. 281–282.
^ Mantienne, p. 526.
^ Mantienne, p. 528.
^ Buttinger, pp. 281, 316.
^ a b c d McLeod, p. 17.
^ Buttinger, p. 314.
^ McLeod, p. 18.
^ Ring, Salkin and La Boda, p. 364.
^ Woodside, pp. 126–130.
^ Buttinger, pp. 241, 311.
^ Cady, p. 409.
^ Buttinger, pp. 310, 262.
^ Buttinger, p. 310.
^ Buttinger, pp. 235, 266.
^ Buttinger, p. 265.
^ a b Tôn Thất Bình (1997). Kể chuyện chín Chúa mười ba
Vua triều Nguyễn (in Vietnamese). Da Nang: Đà Nẵng Publishing
House. pp. 45–47.
^ Thi Long (1998). Nhà Nguyễn chín Chúa mười ba Vua (in
Vietnamese). Da Nang: Đà Nẵng Publishing House. p. 85.
^ Đặng Việt Thủy; Đặng Thành Trung (2008). 18 vị Công
chúa Việt Nam (in Vietnamese). Hanoi: Quan Doi Nhan Dan Publishing
House. pp. 102–105.
^ a b Buttinger, p. 268.
^ Buttinger, p. 269.
^ Duiker, p. 60
^ Kim, p. 416.
Buttinger, Joseph (1958). The Smaller Dragon: A Political History of
Vietnam. New York: Praeger.
Cady, John F. (1964). Southeast Asia: Its Historical Development. New
York: McGraw Hill.
Duiker, William J. (1989). Historical dictionary of Vietnam. Metuchen,
New Jersey: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-2164-8.
Dutton, George Edson (2006). The
Tây Sơn uprising: society and
rebellion in eighteenth-century Vietnam. University of Hawaii Press.
Hall, D. G. E. (1981). A History of South-east Asia. Basingstoke,
Hampshire: Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-24163-0.
Karnow, Stanley (1997). Vietnam: A history. New York: Penguin Books.
Mantienne, Frédéric (October 2003). "The Transfer of Western
Military Technology to
Vietnam in the Late Eighteenth and Early
Nineteenth Centuries: The Case of the Nguyen". Journal of Southeast
Asian Studies. Singapore: Cambridge University Press. 34 (3):
McLeod, Mark W. (1991). The Vietnamese response to French
intervention, 1862–1874. New York: Praeger.
Ring, Trudy; Salkin, Robert M.; La Boda, Sharon (1994). International
Dictionary of Historic Places: Asia and Oceania. Taylor & Francis.
Tarling, Nicholas (1999). The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia. 1
(part 2). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-66370-9.
Tran Trong Kim
Tran Trong Kim (2005).
Việt Nam sử lược
Việt Nam sử lược (in Vietnamese). Ho Chi
Minh City: Ho Chi Minh City General Publishing House.
Woodside, Alexander (1988).
Vietnam and the Chinese model: a
comparative study of Vietnamese and Chinese government in the first
half of the nineteenth century. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard
University Press. ISBN 0-674-93721-X.
Choi Byung Wook (2004). Southern
Vietnam Under the Reign of Minh
Mạng (1820-1841): Central Policies and Local Response. SEAP
Publications. ISBN 978-0-87727-138-3.
Nguyễn Phúc Thuần
Nguyen Phuc Duong
Foundation of Nguyễn Dynasty
Quang Toan of
Tây Sơn Dynasty
Emperor of Vietnam
Emperor Minh Mạng
Nguyễn Thế Tổ
Tây Sơn rebellion
Tống Thị Lan
Trần Thị Đang
Lê Thị Ngọc Bình
Nguyễn Phước Đởm
Nguyễn Phước Cảnh
Nguyễn Phước Luân
Nguyễn Phước Mân
Nguyễn Phước Thuần
Citadel of Saigon
Imperial City, Huế
Imperial Academy, Huế
Tomb of Gia Long
Vĩnh Tế Canal
French assistance to Nguyễn Ánh
Pierre Pigneau de Behaine
Olivier de Puymanel
Chu Văn Tiếp
Đỗ Thanh Nhơn
Lê Văn Duyệt
Nguyễn Văn Thành
Nguyễn Văn Tường
Trương Tấn Bửu
Võ Di Nguy
Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên
Nguyễn Phúc Lan
Nguyễn Phúc Tần
Nguyễn Phúc Trăn
Nguyễn Phúc Chu
Nguyễn Phúc Trú
Nguyễn Phúc Khoát
Nguyễn Phúc Thuần
Nguyễn Phúc Dương
Emperors of the Nguyễn dynasty
Rattanakosin Period (1782–1932)
Phra Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke (Rama I)
Phra Buddha Loetla Nabhalai (Rama II)
Nangklao (Rama III)
Mongkut (Rama IV)
Chulalongkorn (Rama V)
Vajiravudh (Rama VI)
Prajadhipok (Rama VII)
Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII)
Maha Sura Singhanat
Maha Sakdi Polsep
Supreme Council of State of Siam
Thao Thep Krasattri and Thao Si Sunthon
Dan Beach Bradley
Thonburi Kingdom (1768–1782)
Foundation of Bangkok
Nine Armies War
Ta Din Dang campaign
Invasion of Thalang
Cambodian rebellion (1811–1812)
Lao rebellion (1826–1828)
Siamese–Vietnamese War (1831–1834)
Siamese–Vietnamese War (1841–1845)
Front Palace crisis
Incident of 103
Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909
Palace Revolt of 1912
World War I
Siamese Expeditionary Forces
1924 Palace Law of Succession
Siamese revolution of 1932
History of Thailand (1932–1973)