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You are here:      Home News The Ho Dynasty - a new World Heritage Site
The Ho Dynasty - a new World Heritage Site
The Ho DynastyBuilt in 1397, the Ho Dynasty fortress lies in Vietnam’s north central province of Thanh Hoa. A friend described the site to me as follows: “Nothing more than some gates, some fortress walls and a headless and tail-less marble dragon.”

Upon first sight, I had to agree. But the closer I got, the more impressed I became. How had our ancestors built such an imposing structure in just three months? I saw huge walls made of skillfully joined slabs of stone, some of which weighed 20 tons.



Records tell us that Hp Quy Ly, the ruler of the newly founded Ho dynasty, ordered atone slabs to be cut from mountain three to four kilometers away and transported to the site in An Ton via elephants and rollers. Workers used wooden sticks to keep themselves on course.


Thanh Hoa province, where the fortress stands, was heavily bombed by American planes during the war. Somehow, the site survived, its presence reminding us of the most reformative dynasty in Vietnam’s history.


The Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu (The historical records of the Dai Viet) informs us that paper money was first introduced under the Ho Dynasty. Household registration books were introduced to allow better governance of the population and the building of a stronger army.


The urgent tasks of a short-lived dynasty

After taking power from the Tran Dynasty in 1397, the Ho Dynasty endured for just seven years. Fearing that China’s Ming Dynasty to the North would turn its southward and invade Vietnam’s capital Thang Long (current day Hanoi), Ho Quy Ly decided to relocate the nation’s capital. He wanted an easy-to-defend site that further from Chinese border and chose An Ton in present-day commune Vinh Loc district, Thanh Hoa province.

Surrounded by high mountains, AN Ton lies on area of 10,000 hectares between the Ma and Buoi Rivers. Ho Quy Ly hoped that this naturally protected location would allow his troops to resist the northern invaders for many months.

Tha Dai Viet su ky toan thu records the construction of Tay Do (the Western Capital) as follows:

“In the January 1397, Ho Quy Ly ordered Ho Tinh, Minister of the Interior and Royal Tutor to examine and measure the land of An Ton in Thanh Hoa, build a fortress and trenches, construct the ancestors’ shrine and the royal offering ground and open the roads, showing his intention to move the capital to that place. All works were completed in March.”


Debate on Ho Quy Ly’s decision to relocate the capital

Ho Quy Ly’s decision to relocate the capital to An Ton in order to prepare for war against the Ming was addressed in the Viet Nam su luoc (History of the Viet) as follows:

“Ho Quy Ly relocated in the capital to Thanh Hoa to facilitate his ambition to take over the throne and as such, ordered his men to build the Tay Do Citadel in Yen Ton (An Ton). By the year of the Rat (1396), Ho Quy Ly forced King Thuan Tong to move to Tay Do. The next year, in March be sent for a hermit to persuade King Thuan Tong to cede the throne and to practice Taoism…and later killed the king…”

The front gate at the southeastern side of the citadel is currently under excavation. Its three arches stood as high as 7.9 meters.


As well as being easy to defend against invasion, the site was chosen for its geomantic properties. The Ho Citadel and Stories of Fortress Building, published by the Thanh Hoa Published by the Thanh Hoa Publishing House in 2009, have the following say about the citadel’s location:

“The Ma River has many tributaries running from the Truong Son Range, Each tributary could be considered as a dragon joining to Nga Ba Dau, one flow to the Den Han, Chau Tu and down to Len to join the mouth the Lach Truong. Another one flows through Ham Rong and pours into the mouth of Cua Hoi, creating a state of two dragons playing with the moon that can bring talent t the land. Ho Quy Ly considered this palace as an enduring kingdom. As such, he told his sons that this land offered a configuration of crouching dragons that could help maintain power for 60 years. However, his second son Ho Han Thuong, who also excelled in the feng the crouching dragons were still “nursing” and therefore could only help the regime to maintain power for six years.’


The Dai Viet su lu toan thu contains the following advice:

“Then, head of the privy Council Nguyen Nhu Thuyet submitted a letter saying that in the past, the Zhou and the Wei dynasties had faced bad luck after relocating their capital. The land of Long Don (Thang Long, or present-day Hanoi) has the Tan Vien mountains and the Lo and Nhi Rivers surrounding a flat and high plain with high mountains and deep rivers for protection. From time immemorial, all the king and emperors selected an auspicious piece of land to start their era when they took to the throne. We should follow their lessons lessons. When the Yuan were defeated and the Cham kingdom surrendered, it was all the same. We should protect the stability of our nation. An Ton is a small an isolate place in the far corner of the country. It is therefore only suitable for times of chaos, not times of peace. Even if we should think of our ancestor’s teaching: ‘Governance is based on morality, not on the location of the throne.’


Nguye Nhu Thuyet wanted to reiterate that defeating the enemy depended on wining the hearts and minds of the people. When Ho Quy Ly moved the capital on An Ton and killed the Tran King and his family, he caused enormous discontent among the population. Historian Phan Phu Tien argued as follows: “In the past, when Cao Cao moved control over the emperor to direct his vassals, the Han dynasty started its decline.”


When the northern invaders moved southward, whether to fight or to negotiate. Ho Nguyen Trung, Ho Quy Ly’s eldest son and Chancellor of the Court, said: “I’m not afraid of fighting. I only fear the people’s discontent.”


As the enemy crossed the border, they only had to pro claim a goal to “wipe out the Ho and support the Tran Dynasty” in order to win thw war. The entire Ho family was arrested, sent into exile in China and slaughtered. Only Ho Nguyen Trung was sparred thanks to his expertise in producing canons. This man was posthumously conferred the title of minister by the Ming emperor.


The Dictionary of Culture, published by Vietnam’s World Publishing House in the 2004, has the following to say about Ho Quy Ly: “In tern of culture and ideology, Ho Quy Ly can be seen as a brave man. His decision to use nom (ancient Vietnamese script) instead of Chinese Han characters in all official documents was innovative and aimed at developments was Vietnamese identity that strove for national self-expression.

 

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