The Legacy of Stone: Unveiling the history of Ho Dynasty

Posted On: 19/02/2024

The Ho dynasty, one of Vietnam's significant historical dynasties, has left a profound mark not only in history books but also through its unique architectural relics. In this article, we will explore the development journey of this dynasty and the relics of the Ho citadel, a site that has observed Vietnam's rich cultural and historical transformations.

The Ho Dynasty was a short-lived dynasty in the feudal history of Vietnam. In 1400, Ho Quy Ly ascended the throne, establishing the Ho Dynasty. His dynasty lasted for 7 years, through the reigns of two kings: Ho Quy Ly and Ho Han Thuong, but it left significant marks in history with its reform policies on the economy, culture, education

Constructed in 1397, the Tay Do Citadel, located in Vinh Loc district of Thanh Hoa province, stands out as Southeast Asia's most distinctive citadel and was honored as a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO in 2011.

The rise in power of Ho Quy Ly

Ho Dynasty Ho Quy Ly

During the late 14th century, following the rule of Tran Nghe Tong (1370–1372), the influence and control of the Tran dynasty began to wane. Amidst this decline, Ho Quy Ly emerged as a formidable and astute political figure. Renowned for his wit, valor, and audacity, he gained prominence through a victorious campaign against the Champa empire in the South. Later, by strategically marrying into the royal family—becoming the brother-in-law to Emperors Tran Due Tong and Tran Thuan Tong—Ho Quy Ly secured his place at court as an essential advisor to the emperors. Within two decades, amidst a backdrop of political assassinations, Ho Quy Ly climbed to the apex of power, becoming the country's General/Protector/Regent by 1399.

The dawn of Ho Dynasty

Ho Dynasty Citadel

In his strategic move to seize control, Ho Quy Ly initially commissioned the construction of a new capital, named Tay Do, translating to "Western Capital." In 1399, he extended an invitation to the reigning monarch, Tran Thuan Tong, to visit this newly established seat of power. Persuading the emperor to abdicate in favor of Prince An, a mere toddler of three years, Ho Quy Ly subsequently had Tran Thuan Tong confined within a pagoda, leading to his eventual execution. Prince An's tenure on the throne lasted barely a year before Ho Quy Ly removed him in 1400, proclaiming himself the sovereign.

Echoing the practices of the Tran dynasty he helped dismantle, Ho Quy Ly's own reign was brief; he stepped down from power within a year, passing the mantle to his younger son, Ho Han Thuong. Following this abdication, he assumed the title of the Emperor's High Father, continuing the lineage's tradition of short-lived tenures and strategic familial succession.

Ho Dynasty’s Contributions

Ho Dynasty Money

In the late 14th century, Dai Viet (the historical name for Vietnam) was plunged into a severe economic and social crisis. The country's economy was in decline, famine occurred frequently, society was in disorder, and theft and robbery were rampant everywhere. Meanwhile, the central government was completely powerless, facing serious threats of foreign invasions from the North; the South also posed a significant threat. Clearly, the situation of the country demanded a comprehensive and profound reform.

On the economic front, Ho Dynasty spearheaded a land reform agenda that reallocated land from the affluent to the impoverished, fostering agricultural productivity and mitigating social disparities. Additionally, they introduced the "Thong Bao," Vietnam's inaugural paper currency, to invigorate the economy, alongside promoting international trade with nations like China and India, thereby infusing Vietnam with newfound prosperity and advancements.

With military affairs, Ho Dynasty propelled the Vietnamese armed forces into a new era through the modernization of weaponry and combat strategies, fortifying Vietnam's defense capabilities against the formidable Ming Dynasty. This military overhaul was complemented by the strategic establishment of Tay Do as the new capital, conceived with enhanced fortifications compared to the former capital, Thang Long.

Culturally, Ho Dynasty initiated significant reforms in education and literature. They revamped the educational system to prioritize pragmatic subjects such as mathematics and science, diverging from traditional focuses. Moreover, the dynasty championed the growth of a distinctive Vietnamese literary tradition, one that would flourish free from Chinese dominion. Through these multifaceted reforms, Ho dynasty not only aimed to strengthen Vietnam internally but also to carve out a distinct identity for the nation on the global stage.

The fall of Ho Dynasty

Ho Dynasty Ming invasion

After unifying China in 1368, the Ming Dynasty began to harbor intentions of expanding southward. Ho dynasty was well aware of this and had to make concessions to the fullest extent, even accepting the cession of 59 villages in Loc Chau (present-day Lang Son) in 1405 to avoid war, but ultimately could not avoid the calamity of Ming invasion.

In April 1406, the Ming Dynasty dispatched Han Quan and Huang Zhong with an army of 100,000 troops from Guangxi, under the pretext of restoring Tran Thiem Binh, a descendant of the Tran family, to the throne. Although the Ho forces resisted bravely, by the morning of the 12th, the Ming army had captured Da Bang fortress and then advanced into Dong Do. Ho Quy Ly, his son Ho Nguyen Trung, and Ho Han Thuong organized a strong defense but were defeated and forced to flee south. Later, Ming forces captured Ho Quy Ly at Bai Chi Chi; Ho Nguyen Trung at Ky La Gate. On May 12, Ho Han Thuong and Prince Nhue were captured at Cao Vong Mountain (Ky Anh, Ha Tinh). Ho Quy Ly and Ho Han Thuong were exiled. The Ho Dynasty collapsed.

Citadel of Ho Dynasty - The marvel in stone

Ho Dynasty Citadel Gate

The Ho Dynasty Citadel, also known as Tay Do, An Ton, Tay Kinh, or Tay Giai Citadel, was the capital of Dai Ngu (the name for Vietnam during the Ho Dynasty). It was constructed across the lands of two villages, Tay Giai and Xuan Giai, now part of Vinh Tien commune, and Dong Mon village, now in Vinh Long commune, Vinh Loc district, Thanh Hoa province.

Built in 1397 during the Tran Dynasty under the direction of the powerful advisor Ho Quy Ly, who would later establish the Ho Dynasty in 1400, the citadel served as a new capital named Tay Do. This move aimed to force the Tran Dynasty to relocate their capital in preparation for its eventual overthrow. By March 1400, with the establishment of the Ho Dynasty (1400-1407), Tay Do became the new royal capital, and Thang Long was renamed Dong Do, leading to the popular name Ho Dynasty Citadel among the populace. The construction of other structures such as palaces, defensive works like La Thanh, and the Nam Giao Altar continued until 1402.

The Tay Do Citadel's location was strategically chosen for its defensive advantages, surrounded by rivers and rugged terrain, enhancing its military defense capabilities over its political, economic, and cultural significance. The outer citadel, made of earth and densely planted with bamboo alongside a wide moat nearly 50m across, encircles the inner citadel, which is rectangular in shape and made of large stone blocks with an earth-filled interior. The four main gates face the cardinal directions, with the largest being the southern gate, featuring massive stones (up to 7m long, 1.5m high, weighing about 15 tons). However, the palaces and residences within the citadel have been destroyed.

After six years of preparation and submission to UNESCO, on June 27, 2011, at the 35th session held in Paris, France, the World Heritage Committee officially recognized the Ho Dynasty Citadel as a World Cultural Heritage site.

Explore Ho dynasty’s relics : A shadow of Vietnamese history

Ho Dynasty Citadel Wall

Investigating the remnants of the Ho Dynasty provides an exclusive look into the hidden paths of Vietnam's history, echoing the voices of a prosperous past. These enduring relics tell the tale of a dynasty that played a crucial role in shaping Vietnam's cultural and political realms. From the grand ruins of the Ho Citadel to the detailed relics that remain, every artifact unfolds a segment of history, revealing insights into architectural advancements, social frameworks, and the dramatic occurrences that molded the country. Immersing oneself in these historical remnants feels like traversing through a story of ages past, where each relic and stone bears witness to the enduring legacy of the dynasty and its permanent impact on Vietnam's cultural legacy. Reach out to us today to discover more about the Ho Dynasty's fascinating history!

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