|Reign||1802 – 1820|
|Died||03/02/1820 (aged 58)|
|Burial||Thiên Thọ Lăng|
|Full name||Nguyễn Phúc Ánh|
The decline of Dang Trong and the struggling life of Emperor Gia Long
The difficult early life
Emperor Gia Long was the first ruler of Nguyen Dynasty as well as the founding father of Vietnam. His real name is Nguyen Phuc Anh. He was the grandchild of Lord Nguyen Phuc Khoat, one of the last lords of Nguyen family in Dang Trong. In 1777, his whole family was wiped out in the Tay Son rebellion. Despite of being born into a royal family, Nguyen Anh had to encounter many difficulties in his early life. As the last survivor of his family, a fifteen – year – old boy had to attempt to survive to gain back the power. After the death of his father and uncle, he had to hide from Nguyen Hue’s force and began the 25 – year march to defeat the Tay Son. During these years, there were several times he almost died. However, fortunately, thanks to his miraculous luckiness, he had overcome everything.
Gaining back the power
Fled to the southern coastal tip of Vietnam, Nguyen Phuc Anh was saved by a French priest whose name was Pierre Pigneau de Behaine. This priest later became his trusted adviser and played an important role in his rise to power. Because of having the determination to revenge for his family and reunite his country, Nguyen Phuc Anh listened to Behaine’s advice and advocated an alliance with France. Moreover, to enhance the faith in their friendship, Nguyen Anh did even send his son to France.
In November 1787, Nguyen Anh signed a treaty of alliance with France, The Versailles Treaty, agreed to cede a part of Vietnam to French government. In return for this cession, France would equip soldiers and weapons to help him fight agaisnt Tay Son. Later Pigneau found that France government was unwilling to fulfill the agreement. However, he still determined to help Nguyen Anh to recruit foreign soldiers, which later provided valuable assistance in naval artillery.
In 1792, Nguyen Hue, who had gained recognition as Emperor of Vietnam at that time died suddenly. Nguyen Anh took advantage of this situation and attacked northwards. Overcoming many difficulties, finally in 1802, Nguyen Anh crowned himself emperor, with the reign name Gia Long (Gia was derived from Gia Dinh and Long was derived from Thang Long).
The establishment of Nguyen Dynasty and Vietnam
Immediately after his victory over the Tay Son, Gia Long sent envoys to Beijing to seek permission to change the name of Dai Viet to Nam Viet. However, China refused this request. In 1804, Emperor Gia Long reversed the name one more time, which made him become the founding father of the name “Viet Nam”.
Before 1802, the former capital of Vietnam was Thang Long, meaning “Rising Dragon”. After 1802, Nguyen Anh decided to moved from Thang long to Phu Xuan, where later a new citadel was built to serve as the political centre of imperial government.
Emperor Gia Long’s social policy
Seeing Confucian statecraft as the best way to bring the country under firm control, Emperor Gia Long applied this philosophy to every aspects. As a result, after becoming the king, in order to train and recruit new government officials, Gia Long restored the Confucian court examinations abolished by the Tay Son. In 1803, he also founded National Academy (Quoc Tu Giam) at Hue to educate the sons of mandarins and commendable students.
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 them.Emperor Gia Long
Apart from education, emperor Gia Long also established a new network of Confucuan institution. It was The Six Ministies including Justic, Defence, Public Works, Rites, Interior and Finance.
In 1815, after preparing for a long time, Gia Long issued a code to replace the old one of Le Dynasty. It focused on strengthening the power and authority of the Emperor and his mandarins.
Although Gia Long believed in Confucianism, he also tolerated the Catholic faith of his French allies. He allowed missionaries spread their religion freely throughout the country.
Emperor Gia Long’s concubines
During his life, Gia Long had many wives, but the two famous ones are Empress Thua Thien and Empress Thuan Thien.
Empress Thua Thien
In 1780, during the war against the Tay Son, he got married to Tong Thi Lan – the daughter of a Nguyen general. As a very kind and elegant woman, Tong Thi Lan was always beside and supported Emperor Gia Long when he was in bad situations. Following Gia Long’s ascention to the throne, she became Empress consort and was given the title of Empress Thua Thien. Unfortunately, in 1814, she passed away at the age of 53. Emperor Gia Long was deeply sad and mournful. Later, she was buried at the same place with Emperor Gia Long in his Thien Tho Tomb. This is the only tomb in Hue that has double – grave tomb of the Emperor and Empress.
Read more: Harem of Nguyen Dynasty: From Rank to Honor.
Empress Thuan Thien
About Empress Thuan Thien, she was a daugter of one of Gia Long’s ministers. Around 1781, during the war with the Tay Son, she became his second wife. She bore him three sons: Nguyen Phuc Dam, Nguyen Phuc Dai and Nguyen Phuc Chan. She was posthumously given the title of Empress Thuan Thien by her grandson – Emperor Thieu Tri. Prince Dam, who was one of Gia Long and Empress Thuan Thien’s sons, later became the second king of Nguyen Dynasty.
In the recent years, many people have unfairly criticized Emperor Gia Long. In spite of the fact that he had successfully expanded the territory of Vietnam, people just talked about him as a person who agreed to cede a part of Vietnam to France in order to gain his own benefits.
Regardless being right or wrong, Emperor Gia Long is a part of our beautiful history. He deserves our empathy and kind judgement. When visiting Hue, you can come and pay tribute to him at Thien Tho Lang, a zenful place filled with love.
If you are interested in Hue history and want to know more about other king’s life, you can see it here.
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