Lý dynasty

Lý dynasty
House of Later Lý
Capital Hoa Lư

Thang Long
Languages Vietnamese, Chinese[1]
Religion Buddhism
Government Monarchy
Emperor Lý Thái Tổ (first)
Lý Chiêu Hoàng (last)
   Established 1009
   Disestablished 1225
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Early Lê dynasty
Trần dynasty

The Lý dynasty (/l/ LEE; Vietnamese: [ɲâː lǐ]) (Vietnamese: Nhà Lý, Hán Nôm: 家李), sometimes known as the Later Lý dynasty, was a Vietnamese dynasty that began in 1009 when Lý Thái Tổ overthrew the Early Lê dynasty and ended in 1225, when the queen Lý Chiêu Hoàng (then 8 years old) was forced to abdicate the throne in favor of her husband, Trần Cảnh. During Lý Thánh Tông's reign, the official name of Vietnam became Đại Việt.


Ceramic pagoda with lotus, bodhi leaf, dancer decoration, Hanoi (11th-13th century)

The Lý were of Chinese ethnicity.[2] Fujian province, Jinjiang village was the origin of Lý Thái Tổ 李公蘊, the ancestor of the Lý dynasty ruling family.[lower-alpha 1][3][4][5] China, Fujian was the home of Lý Công Uẩn. The ethnic Chinese background of Lý Công Uẩn has been accepted by Vietnamese historian Trần Quốc Vượng.[6]

The Lý dynasty was started by Lý Công Uẩn. The Lý was the first Vietnamese dynasty that was able to hold onto power for more than several decades, allowing them to secure and expand the territory. While the Lý emperors were devout Buddhists, the influence of Confucianism from China was on the rise, with the opening of the first University in Vietnam in 1070 for selection of civil servants who are not from noble families. Politically, they created a system of administration based on the rule of law rather than on autocratic principles. The fact that they chose the Đại La Citadel as the capital (later renamed Thăng Long and subsequently Hanoi) showed that they held onto power due to economic strength and were liked by their subjects rather than by military means like prior dynasties.

Lý Công Uẩn, a former temple orphan who had risen to commander of the palace guard, succeeded Lê Long Đĩnh of the Early Lê dynasty in 1009, thereby founding the Lý dynasty. He took the reign name Lý Thái Tổ. The early Lý emperors established a prosperous state with a stable monarchy at the head of a centralized administration. The name of the country was changed to Đại Việt in 1054 by Emperor Lý Thánh Tông.

The first century of Lý rule was marked by warfare with China and the two Indianized kingdoms to the south, the Khmer Empire and Champa. After these threats were dealt with successfully, the second century of Lý rule was relatively peaceful, enabling the Lý Emperors to establish a Buddhist ruling tradition closely related to the other East Asian Buddhist kingdoms of that period. Buddhism became a kind of state religion as members of the royal family and the nobility made pilgrimages, supported the building of pagodas, sometimes even entered monastic life, and otherwise took an active part in Buddhist practices. Bonzes became a privileged landed class, exempt from taxes and military duty. At the same time, Buddhism, in an increasingly Vietnamized form associated with magic, spirits, and medicine, grew in popularity with the people.

During the Lý dynasty, the Vietnamese began their long march to the south (Nam tiến) at the expense of the Chams. Lê Đại Hành of the Early Lê dynasty had sacked the Cham capital of Indrapura in 982, whereupon the Chams established a new capital at Vijaya. This was captured twice by the Lý army, however, and in 1079 the Chams were forced to cede to the Lý rulers their three northern provinces. Soon afterwards, Vietnamese peasants began moving into the untilled former Cham lands, turning them into rice fields and moving relentlessly southward, delta by delta, along the narrow coastal plain. The Lý Emperors supported the improvement of Vietnam's agricultural system by constructing and repairing dikes and canals and by allowing soldiers to return to their villages to work for six months of each year. As their territory and population expanded, the Lý Emperors looked to China as a model for organizing a strong, centrally administered state. Minor officials were chosen by examination for the first time in 1075, and a civil service training institute and an imperial academy were set up in 1076. In 1089 a fixed hierarchy of state officials was established, with nine degrees of civil and military scholar officials. Examinations for public office were made compulsory, and literary competitions were held to determine the grades of officials.[7]

In foreign relations with the Song dynasty during the Lý dynasty, Vietnam acted as a vassal state, although at its zenith it had sent troops into Chinese territory to fight the Song. In 1075, Wang Anshi, the prime minister, told the Song emperor that Đại Việt was being destroyed by Champa, with less than ten thousand soldiers surviving, hence it would be a good occasion to annex Đại Việt. The Song emperor mobilized troops and passed a decree to forbid all the provinces to trade with Đại Việt. Upon hearing the news, the Lý ruler sent Lý Thường Kiệt and Tôn Đản with more than 100,000 troops to China to carry out a pre-emptive attack against the Song troops. In the ensuing 40-day battle near modern-day Nanning, the Đại Việt troops were victorious, capturing the generals of three Song armies. In 1076, the Songs formed an alliance with Champa and the Khmer Empire and sent troops to invade Đại Việt. Lý Nhân Tông again sent Lý Thường Kiệt. Being one of the many great military strategists of Vietnam, Lý Thường Kiệt had placed spikes under the Như Nguyệt River before tricking the Song troops into the deadly trap, killing more than 1,000 Song soldiers and forcing the Song army to retreat. According to legend, during this time Lý Thường Kiệt had also composed the famous poem Nam quốc sơn hà (Rivers and Mountains of the South Nation), which asserted the sovereignty of Vietnam over its land. This poem is considered the first Vietnamese Declaration of independence.

For 30 years, the country was torn apart by war between various rival warlords. The devastating civil war ended with victory of the Imperial force, led by Trần Thủ Độ, the head of Trần clan. Some years later, the last sovereign of the dynasty, Empress Regnant Lý Chiêu Hoàng receded the throne in favor of her consort, Trần Cảnh, one of the nephews of Trần Thủ Độ.

When the Lý dynasty was toppled in 1226, some royal members of the clan escaped to Korea and became generals of Goryeo dynasty .[8]

Fujian was the origin of the ethnic Chinese Tran who migrated to Vietnam along with a large amount of other Chinese during the Ly dynasty where they served as officials. Distinctly Chinese last names are found in the Tran and Ly dynasty Imperial exam records.[9] Ethnic Chinese are recorded in Tran and Ly dynasty records of officials.[10] Clothing, food, and language were all Chinese dominated in Van Don where the Tran had moved to after leaving their home province of Fujian. The Chinese language could still be spoken by the Tran in Vietnam.[11] The ocean side area of Vietnam was colonized by Chinese migrants from Fujian which included the Tran among them located to the capital's southeastern area.[12][13] The Red River Delta was subjected to migration from Fujian including the Tran and Van Don port arose as a result of this interaction.[14] Guangdong and Fujian Chinese moved to the Halong located Van Don coastal port during Ly Anh Tong's rule in order to engage in commerce.[15] The usurpation of the Ly occurred after they married with the fishing Fujianese Tran family.[16]

Socio-economic conditions


Terracotta dragon head, used as architectural decoration (11th–13th century)

In 1010, Lý Thái Tổ changed the 10 đạo subdivisions into 24 lộ. The lộ was possibly subdivided into châu (in mountainous areas) or phủ (in the lowlands). The châu and phủ were further subdivided into huyện and giáp, and under them hương and ấp.

Civil service system

At the central level, under the king were the Thái positions: Tam thái for the three literary mandarins (Thái sư, Thái bảo and Thái phó), and Thái úy for the martial mandarin. Under the Tháis were the Thiếu positions like Thiếu sư, Thiếu bảo, Thiếu phó, and Thiếu úy.


During the Lý dynasty, laws in Đại Việt were primarily based on royal proclamations, although a body of law composing of civil laws, criminal laws, litigation laws, and laws dealing with marriage existed. However, because the Lý rulers were devout Buddhists, the punishments during this era were not very severe.


The pillar of Đại Việt economy in Lý era is agriculture. Technically, all farmland was in possession of the Emperor. Each village allocated the farmland to households. Each household farmed their allocated land and paid annual tax, as well as provided mandatory labors and military services.

To facilitate cultivation, central court built irrigation facilities and river levees. Buffalo and ox slaughtering was strictly prohibited since these cattle provided indispensable draft force in farming.

Lý dynasty encouraged trade with foreign countries, primarily with the countries of Song China, Java, and Siam. Trade between Đại Việt and Song China in the border areas flourished. Private and government traders frequently visited Chinese trading ports in present Guangxi to exchange spices, ivory and salt for silk. Lý dynasty founded the port of Vân Đồn in modern Quảng Ninh Province, a major trading port in South East Asia for hundred of years. On the other hand, Lý court, particularly under Emperor Thái Tông's reign, tried to promote the consumption of domestic products.

For reasons unknown, Emperor Cao Tông forbade the trade of salt and metal, gave rise to unrest and rebellions against the central court, which later lead to the collapse of the Lý dynasty.


The dynasty continued to employ "ngụ binh ư nông" (literally "servicemen billeted in farms")- a system dated back to the Tang dynasty and Đinh dynasty. Soldiers stayed in duty only several months per year, the rest of the year they returned to their home in peacetime. However at home they were still required to train regularly with their captains and comrades, and during wartime they were not permitted to leave. Soldiers were not paid by the state but they were exempted from tax and duty. This system allowed for a large trained standing army while the state was not burdened with maintaining it.

"Ngụ binh ư nông" shares many common traits with Swedish allotment system.


The main religion in the Đại Việt during the Lý dynasty was Buddhism

See also


  1. Taylor 2013, p. 120.
  2. https://leminhkhai.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/the-stranger-kings-of-the-ly-and-tran-dynasties/
  3. (simplified Chinese) 千年前泉州人李公蕴越南当皇帝 越南史上重要人物之一
  4. (simplified Chinese) 两安海人曾是安南皇帝 有关专家考证李公蕴、陈日煚籍属晋江安海
  5. Lynn Pan. The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas. Harvard University Press. p. 228. ISBN 0674252101.
  6. Cuong Tu Nguyen (1997). Thiền Uyển Tập Anh. University of Hawaii Press. p. 371. ISBN 978-0-8248-1948-4.
  7. The Ly dynasty Countrystudies.us
  8. Ho Chi Money Trail Forbes.com
  9. Alexander Woodside (1971). Vietnam and the Chinese Model: A Comparative Study of Vietnamese and Chinese Government in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century. Harvard Univ Asia Center. pp. 8–. ISBN 978-0-674-93721-5.
  10. Geoffrey C. Gunn (1 August 2011). History Without Borders: The Making of an Asian World Region, 1000-1800. Hong Kong University Press. pp. 112–. ISBN 978-988-8083-34-3.
  11. K. W. Taylor (9 May 2013). A History of the Vietnamese. Cambridge University Press. pp. 120–. ISBN 978-1-107-24435-1.
  12. Kenneth R. Hall (2008). Secondary Cities and Urban Networking in the Indian Ocean Realm, C. 1400-1800. Lexington Books. pp. 159–. ISBN 978-0-7391-2835-0.
  13. Hall (1 January 1955). Secondary Cities & Urban Networking in the Indian Ocean Realm, c. 1400-1800. Lexington Books. pp. 159–. ISBN 978-0-7391-3043-8.
  14. Jayne Werner; John K. Whitmore; George Dutton (21 August 2012). Sources of Vietnamese Tradition. Columbia University Press. pp. 29–. ISBN 978-0-231-51110-0.
  15. Philippe Truong (2007). The Elephant and the Lotus: Vietnamese Ceramics in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. MFA Pub. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-87846-717-4.
  16. Ainslie Thomas Embree; Robin Jeanne Lewis (1988). Encyclopedia of Asian history. Scribner. p. 190.
  1. 夢溪筆談·卷二十五·雜誌二》:「桓死,安南大亂,久無酋長。其後國人共立閩人李公蘊為主。」
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