| THE FOUNDATION OF TAYSON DYNASTY
The country of Vietnam was under the symbolic rule of the officially revered but politically ignored Le King during the 18th century. The real power was actually in the hands of two warring feudal families, the Tr?nh Lords of the North who controlled the King and ruled from the court in Hanoi and the Nguyen Lords in the South, who ruled from their capital at Hu?. The both sides fought each other for control of the nation, while they both claimed to be loyal to the king.
The life of the peasant farmers was poor like China at this time. Most of the land was owned by fewer and fewer people as the years passed. The mandarin bureaucracy was oppressive and often corrupt; at one point royal-sanctioned degrees were up for sale for whoever was wealthy enough to purchase them. The ruling lords by contrast lived lavish lifestyles in huge palaces.
The war between the Tr?nh and the Nguyen had ended in 1673 and life for the northern peasants under the Tr?nh Lords was fairly peaceful. However, the Nguyen Lords engaged in a nearly constant series of wars with the weak Khmer Empire and, later, the fairly strong state of Siam. While the Nguyen usually won their wars, and the new lands they conquered offered new opportunities for the landless poor, the frequent wars took their toll on the popularity of the Nguyen rulers.
The new king of Siam, P'ya Taksin, launched a war to try and regain control over Cambodia in 1769,. The war generally went against the Nguyen army and they were forced to retreat from some of the newly conquered lands. This example of governmental failure coupled with heavy taxes and corruption at the local level caused three brothers from Tay Son to begin a revolt against the Nguyen Lord, Nguyen Phuc Thuan.
The three Tay Son brothers styled themselves as the champions of the people. Over the next year the revolt gained traction and they won some battles against the Nguyen army sent to crush their rebellion. The Tay Son had a great deal of popular support, not only from the poor farmers but from some of the minority tribes. Also, the leader of the three brothers, Nguyen Hue, was a very skilled military leader. Nguyen Hue said that his goal was to end the people's oppression, reunite the country and restore power to the Le Dynasty emperor in Hanoi. The Tay Son also promised to remove corrupt officials and redistibute land.
The Tay Son army captured the city of Qui Nh?n where the merchants, who had suffered under restrictive laws put in place by the Nguyen, gave the Tay Son army financial support in 1773.
The Nguyen, at last recognizing the seriousness of the revolt, made peace with the Siamese, giving up some lands they had conquered in the previous decades. But now a heavy blow came down. The Tr?nh Lord, Tr?nh Sam, choose to end the 100 year peace and he sent his army south to attack Phu Xuan (modern day Hu?), the Nguyen capital. The Tr?nh army captured the city, forcing the Nguyen clan to flee to Gia ??nh (now called Saigon).
The Tr?nh army continued to head south and the Tay Son army continued its conquest of other southern cities. The Nguyen were not very popular at this time and the forces against them were too powerful. In 1776 the Tay Son army captured the last Nguyen stronghold of Saigon. The entire Nguyen family was killed at the end of the siege, except for one nephew, Nguyen Anh, who managed to escape to Siam. While they said they wanted to restore power to the legitimate authorities, in 1778, one of the brothers, Nguyen Nhac proclaimed himself king. A conflict with the Tr?nh now seemed likely.
THE CONQUEST OF TRINH LORDS
The Tay Son spent the next decade consolidating their control over the former Nguyen lands of south Vietnam. Nguyen Anh proved to be a stubborn enemy. He convinced the King of Siam, P'ya Taksin, to invade Vietnam in support of his claim to rule. The Siamese army attacked in 1780 but in several years of warfare, it was unable to defeat the Tay Son army. In 1782, the Siamese king was killed in a revolt and less than a year later, Nguyen Anh's forces were driven out of Vietnam. However, he would be back.
Nguyen Hue decided to destroy the power of the Tr?nh. He marched north at the head of a large army in 1786 and after a short campaign, defeated the Tr?nh army. The Tr?nh were also unpopular and the Tay Son army seemed invincible. The Tr?nh clan fled north into China. Hue married Le Ng?c Hân, the daughter of the nominal Le king, Le Hi?n Tong.
THE KING OF QUANG TRUNG
Nguyen Hue was now in control of a united Vietnam that was much larger than any previous ruler of Vietnam. He took the title of king and gave himself a new name: Quang Trung. The new king distributed land to the poor peasants, encouraged the artisans that had been suppressed, allowed religious freedom, re-opened Vietnam to international trade and abolished Chinese as the official language of the nation. The new official language was Vietnamese written in the script called Ch? nôm. Also noted was the ambitiously minded Quang Trung who ordered the melting of Vietnamese coins to make cannons. He had hoped to "restore" the territories of Guangxi and Guangdong that was a part of Vietnam during the first century AD. Several stories tell of his ambitious indictations and indirect challenge to the Emperor of China Chien Long. Quang Trung even proposed to marry one of Chien Long's daughters; an indication of his intention to claim Chinese territory. Another fact was his indirect prowess over his two brothers, who had less cumulative territory, standing army, and power. Northern Vietnam was still the main powerbase of men, resources, and culture.
In early 1792, Quang Trung planned the final assault on the remaining Nguyen Anh's base around Saigon, both by sea and land. While waiting for the favorable weather direction (blowing from North to South) to carry his Naval troops to the South, he suddenly collapsed and died of unknown causes at the age of 40. Many Vietnamese believe that to this day that had he ruled for another ten years, the fortunes of the country could be a lot different.
THE DECLINE AND FALL
The son of Quang Trung King succeeded the throne at the tender age of ten after his father's death, his Quang Toan (also known as King Canh Trinh). But the real power was in the hand of his uncle, Bui Dac Tuyen. There was a massive political purge by Bui Dac Tuyen. Many who served under Quang Trung were executed. Many were also discouraged and left the regime. Thus, the Canh Thinh reign was weakened considerably paving the way for Nguyen Anh to capture the entire country within 10 years, with the help of French and European mercenaries hired by a French bishop Pigneau de Behaine. In 1800, Nguyen Anh occupied Quy Nhon citadel. In 1801, Anh occupied Phu Xuan, made Quang Toan to flee to Thang Long. In 1802, Anh blocked Thang Long. Failing to fight with Anh, Quang Toan escaped from Thang Long but then was captured and executed. Thus ended the Tay Son Dynasty after 24 years, and the Nguyen, the last imperial dynasty of Vietnam, took over the country in 1802.