General Trần Hưng Đạo was also an accomplished poet who excelled in classic Chinese writings. His call to his officers1 during the 1284-85 Mongol invasion has been acclaimed by scholars for its eloquence and composition. It has been translated and adapted by George F. Schultz for English readers2. The author has rendered the following translation by staying as close as possible to the original Hán Việt (Sino-Vietnamese) text. Some repetitions are preserved as they might have been powerful when delivered orally. The address provides valuable details on life in 13th century Vietnam: perennial human values of family and security, forms of social entertainment, existence of "lusty music," use of dogs in hunting, prosperous society despite the war, well organized army, importance of archery, evidence that Vietnamese were getting news from the Sino-Mongol war...
"I often hear the stories of Kỷ Tín who died in order to allow King Cao to escape3; of Do Vu whose body shielded King Chiêu from the blow of a glaive; of Dự Nhượng who swallowed burning coal to avenge his chief4, of Thân Khoái who cut his arm to save the country; of the young Kính Đức who bravely helped King Thái Tông5 escape from encirclement by Thế Sung; of Cảo Khanh, a subject who lived far from the Court but dared insult the rebel Lộc Sơn and refused to join his ploy6. Since old times, faithful officials and righteous men dedicated to the country exist in every generation. Suppose they followed the ways of women and children, dying of old age in the safety of their home, how could they have their names written on white silk and bamboo tablets, and be renowned on earth and in heaven forever?
"Now, as you come from a line of warriors not knowledgeable in literature, when you listen to these strange stories, you may be half doubtful and half convinced, so I will not discuss them further. Instead, I will tell you about more recent events involving the Song and the Mongols. What kind of a man was Vương Công Kiên [Wang Jian]? What kind of a man was his lieutenant Nguyễn Văn Lập? They held the citadel of Điếu Ngư against hundreds of thousands of Mongke's troops and earned the eternal gratitude of Song people7. What kind of a man was Uriyankhadai?8 What kind of a man was his lieutenant Xích Tu Tư? They attacked a dangerous
and faraway place and defeated Nam Chiếu9 rebels within a few weeks to earn the respect of Yuan officers forever. Now, all of you and I were born into these troubled times to experience the current hardships. We furtively watch enemy envoys arrogantly walking in our streets, using their crow and owl tongues to insult our Court, their animal selves to intimidate our elders. Drawing on Kublai's directives, they demanded pearls and silk, exploiting the name of the King of Yunnan, they steal our silver and gold. Our resources are limited. Obliging them is like throwing meat to hungry tigers; how can we not worry about future disasters?
"For me, I forget to eat during the day, to sleep during the night, my insides are twisted. I am angry that I am not able to devour the flesh, heart and skin of the enemy even if my corpse must be left to dry on grassland a hundred times or my remains wrapped in horse hide a thousand times. You and me, we have gone into battles together for a long time already. When you needed clothing, I clothed you; when you were hungry, I fed you. I have promoted you when you were still junior officers, increased promptly your salaries when they were too small, provided boats when you moved on water, horses when you moved on land. We braved dangers and faced death together; when times were easy, we celebrated and laughed together. Công Kiên's heavenly deeds and Uriyankhadai's unreplicated acts were hardly better when compared with my actions.
"How can you watch the king being humiliated with no worries, the country being insulted with no shame? How can a royal officer serve a barbarian without anger, listen to royal music played for enemy envoys without resentment? Some of you have fun with cockfights or play games of chance for entertainment. Some of you take care of your gardens and rice fields to benefit your family, like to stay close to your wives and children. You tend to your own business and neglect the affairs of the country, enjoy hunting and neglect to train for war. You like good wine and lascivious music. If suddenly the Mongols invade our country, tough cocks' spurs will not be able to pierce enemy armor, tricks learned in gambling will not be sufficient as a military strategy. Riches from your gardens will not be enough to win the release of your gold-worth self. Family duty will not be helpful in the defense of the nation. Your wealth, though considerable, will fail to buy enemy's heads. Hunting dogs, though strong, cannot chase away enemy troops. Good wine will not entice the enemy to drink to unresponsiveness. Lascivious music will not deafen the enemy. At that time, you and I will all be captured, what a calamity! Not only will my estate be gone, your perks too will be lost to others. Not only will my family be expelled, yours will also be taken away. Not only my ancestor burial site will be trampled, your parents' graves will be dug up too. Not only my name will be sullied in this life, it will be tarnished for one hundred years more; my shame cannot be cleansed and you will also suffer the stigma of vanquished officers. At that time, even if you want to enjoy life, would that be possible?
"Now, I am frankly telling you: watch out when a fire is started near a heap of twigs, be cautious and blow on the bowl of soup as it may be burning hot10. You must train your soldiers, make them practice archery so every man can be Bàng Mông, every family has a Hậu Nghệ.11 Thus, could we display Kublai's head under the city arched gate, and let the remains of the King of Yunnan rot in the Cảo Nhai guest palace. Then, not only our villages and hamlets will be peaceful forever, you can also enjoy full benefits your whole life. Not only my family can live in material comfort, you too can grow old with your wives and children for a hundred years. Not only my ancestors will be venerated for tens of thousands of generations, but yours too will be worshipped every spring and autumn. Not only will I be satisfied with my accomplishment in this life, but you will leave your reputation for eternity as well. Not only will my honor be immortalized, but your fame will also remain in history. At that time, even if you do not want to enjoy life, would that be possible?
"Now, I have combined the best ideas of famous strategists into my book Principles of Military Strategy. If you assiduously study and apply my teachings, you will fulfill your place as my companion-in arms all your life. On the other hand, if you disdain my treatise and ignore my teachings, you will become my enemy all your life.
"Why is that so? I cannot share the same sky with Mongol invaders. How could you stay indifferent, not avenging our humiliation, not aiming to prevent brutality, not training your soldiers? It's like putting your glaives at the service of the enemy and raising your bare hands to surrender. After the enemy has been defeated, you will be dishonored for tens of thousands of generations, you cannot hold you face high in this existence on earth, under the sky.
Therefore, I wrote this proclamation so you can fully understand me."
A Time for Heroes
During these extraordinary times, there were many heroes. In 1282, King Nhân Tông convened a high level meeting at Bình Than to assess Đại Việt defense readiness. Trần Quốc Toản, a 15-year old teenager in the royal entourage, tried to join in the discussions. He was refused participation because of his young age. Enraged, he crushed the orange in his hand without realizing it. To prepare for battle, he raised a 1000 men strong troupe, and embroidered himself a banner with the words "Defeat the strong enemy, repay the King's grace - Phá cường địch, báo hoàng ân." Later as a general, he helped win the naval battles of Hàm Tử estuary and Chương Dương port in 1285. Unfortunately a few weeks later, while pursuing retreating Mongol troops, he was ambushed and killed at the age of 18.
In the initial stage of the second Mongol invasion of 1285, General Trần Bình Trọng was responsible for delaying the Yuan army's advance to protect the king's retreat to the south. He was captured by Prince Toghan. Knowing that General Trọng was a great warrior, Toghan tried to persuade him to switch sides by offering him the title of Northern Territory (Yuan) Prince. General Trọng forcefully responded "I had rather be a ghost in the South than a prince in the North - Ta thà làm ma nước Nam chứ không thèm làm vương đất Bắc." He was then beheaded. He was only 26.
The Legacy of General Trần Hưng Đạo
General Trần Hưng Đạo was a military genius who authored two war treatises. At the darkest time of the country during the Mongol invasion, he galvanized his officers with his historic proclamation. As a scholar of History and its lessons, he was a brilliant strategist who studied in depth the enemy to accurately predict its moves. He knew when to apply guerilla tactics to harass, and when to use massive forces for a decisive victory. He was a brave tactician and field leader who knew how to take advantage of the terrain and the weather. He deeply cared for his troops and the civilian population which always suffers the most in any armed conflict. Clever in psychological warfare, he sapped the spirit of the enemy, especially the drafted Chinese soldiers with messages that Đại Việt [ancient name of Vietnam] was only fighting the Mongol invaders. A smart diplomat, he secured the unique alliance with Champa and supported diplomatic overtures to seek peace with Vietnam's massive neighbor to the north. Most importantly, he was a patriot with no ulterior motives. Integrity and love for his country earned him the respect of all Vietnamese and promoted the unity needed at the court and on the battlefield to defeat the fearsome army of the Empire of Kublai Khan.
Excerpts from "Vietnam History, Stories Retold for a New Generation" by Hien V. Ho and Chat V. Dang, CreateSpace Publisher, July 2011.
|1 Dụ chư tỳ tướng hịch văn commonly known as Hịch Tướng Sĩ
2 Accessed May 14, 2011
3 Liu's general Ji Xin (Kỷ Tín) disguised himself as Liu Bang (Emperor Cao, founder of Han dynasty) and let himself to be captured, enabling the future emperor to escape. He was burnt to death by his captors.
4 After disfiguring his face with self-inflicted burns and swallowing hot charcoal to change his voice, Yu Rang (Dự Nhượng) disguised as a beggar to approach the killer of his mentor. He failed in his attempt and was put to death.
5 Đường Thái Tông, Taizong of Tang, r. 626-649 CE
6 As a result, his tongue was cut out.
7 The siege of Điếu Ngư (Diaoyu, Fishing Town) was protracted and battles were fought there for more than three decades. Mongke, one of Genghis Khan's grandsons, and Great Khan of the Mongol Empire died during the siege in 1259, possibly from a cannon wound (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongke_Khan accessed June 7, 2011).
8 General Uriyankhadai (Cốt Đãi Ngột Lang or Ngột Lương Hợp Thai) also led the 1st invasion of Đại Việt in 1257
9 Nanzhao or Dali kingdom, present dayYunnan
10 The general was alluding to the looming Mongol threat
11 Bàng Mông (Peng Meng) and Hậu Nghệ (Houyi) were exceptional archers in Chinese mythology.