Lê Thánh Tông


Le Thanh-tong (personal name Le Thá Thanh (Vietnamese: Lê Tư Thành, thi nôm 黎思誠) was the emperor of Daiviet from 1460 until 1497. He is considered one of the country”s greatest rulers.

Le Thanh Tong was the son of Emperor Le Thai Tong and the grandson of Le Loi. His mother was Ngô Thi Ngoc Zao (Ngô Thị Ngọc Dao). Le Nyan Tong”s half-brother. Their mothers were probably cousins or half-sisters. Thanh Tong was trained just like the emperor in the palace at Thanglong. When his older brother, Ngi Dan, conspired to assassinate the emperor in 1459, Thanh Tong was spared, and when the palace guards executed Ngi Dan, Thanh Tong was offered the imperial throne.

The conspiracy against Nguyễn Dan was staged by Le Loi”s last living associates, Nguyễn Si (Đinh Liệt). Already elderly, they had not held power since the 1440s, but they were still respected because of their friendship with the hero-emperor Le Loi. Le Thanh Tong appointed Nguyen Si as his advisor and Dinh Liêt as the general of the Daïviet army.

The young emperor was under the influence of Confucian teachers; he wanted to turn Daiwiet into a semblance of the neo-Confucian Song Empire, ruled by men of noble character, not from noble families. In this way, he wanted to weaken the families of Thanh Hoa Province and transfer power to those who had proven themselves in state examinations. The examination was reinstated and in 1463 the winners were those from the Red River Delta and not Thanh Hoa.

Thanh Tong encouraged the spread of Confucianism by establishing temples of literature* in all provinces, where Confucianism was celebrated and classical Confucian works were studied. The emperor cancelled the construction of new Buddhist and Taoist temples, forbidding monks to buy land.

Imitating the Chinese, Le Thanh Tong created six ministries: finance, ceremonies, public works, justice, army, and personnel. The rank system changed, with both military and civilian officials henceforth using a system of nine ranks. The censorship bureau controlled the affairs of officials and passed information directly to the emperor. At the same time, community rights and responsibilities were legislated, for example, women”s right to divorce was legalized in the Khongdik code. Villagers had self-government “village councils.

When Nguyen Xi passed away in 1465, the Thanh Hoa families lost their representative in the government and were relegated to secondary roles in the new Confucian state. Nevertheless, because Dinh Liet was still an army general, their influence extended to the military.

In 1469 maps of Daiviet were created and a census was taken in parallel. By that time Daiwiet was divided into 13 provinces governed by an administrator, a general, and a judge. The emperor decreed that censuses should be taken every six years. The military was sent to repair and rebuild irrigation structures after floods. The state sent doctors to places of epidemics. In 1469, the motto of Le Thanh Tong”s reign, Hong Duc (Vietnamese: Hồng Đức, great virtue), was chosen. The emperor was only 25 years old at the time, but the country was already in its prime.

Four years after the successful Vietnamese attack on the Tyampa in 1466, the Tyampa sent a 100,000-strong army led by the ruler Ban-La Cha-Toan to the province of Hoa Tau. The Tyam people had previously enlisted the support of China, so Le Thanh Tong sent a delegation to the Minh court with an explanation along with the mobilization of a huge army. In November, Generals Dinh Liet and Le Nieu with an advance force of 100,000 men set out for the south. A week later the emperor personally led another detachment of 150,000 men.

In February of the following year, the Tampa ruler Ban-La Cha-Toan ordered his brother to secretly send six generals and five thousand men with fighting elephants for reconnaissance. The Viets learned of this, went to the rear and attacked the Tiampa forces from the sea. At the same time, the army of Nguyen Duc Trung (Nguyễn Đức Trung) ambushed the Cham army, forcing them to retreat, after which the Cham forces were defeated by the army of Le Hi Kata. The Cham monarch was frightened and tried to surrender, but the Viets refused to do so.

At the end of February, Le Thanh Tong personally commanded an army that attacked Thinay, the most important Tham port.

On February 29, the Vietnamese army laid siege to the Cham capital, Vijaya, located near modern-day Quinyong. Four days later the city was taken, the Cham monarch captured (he died on the way to the capital). The Cham losses were irreparable, with about 60,000 soldiers killed and 30,000 taken as slaves. The conquered Cham lands were incorporated into the country as the province of Quang Nam.

Le Thanh Tong”s army continued southward, stopping at Ca (Cả) Gorge, located 50 kilometers from Cauthara. At this place, the emperor ordered the establishment of a settlement that would mark the border between Daewyet and Tampa.

The conquest of Champa began the expansion to the south. The government established the Dongdien (Vietnamese đồn điền, đi-nom 屯田) land distribution system-the Viets founded paramilitary colonies in which soldiers and landless peasants cleared space for rice farming, built a village, and worked as local militia. After three years, the village was incorporated into the Vietnamese administrative system, a public house was built, and workers were given a share of public land, with the remaining allotments remaining public. After the land was cleared, the soldiers moved to another plot.

In 1479, in response to a rebellion by the controlled principality of Bon Man who wanted to become part of Lansang, Le Thanh Tong led troops to wage war against the Lao state. The Viets occupied most of Lansang, including the capital Luang Prabang. From then on, the Lansang paid tribute to Daivyet.

Le Thanh Tong created and distributed the Hong Duc Code (Luật Hồng Đức), a new legislation. The new laws were based on Chinese laws but included purely Vietnamese features, particularly the higher status of women. Under the new law, parental consent for marriage was not required, and women were given the right to participate in the inheritance.

Under Le Thanh Tong, the most comprehensive historiography of Vietnam, the Complete Collection of Daiviet”s Historical Notes, was created. Twenty-eight poets organized the “World of Poets” (Tao đàn) society, also called the “Twenty-Eight Star Gathering,” which included such poets as Dam Thanh Huy (Dương Trực Nguyên) and Ngo Hoàn. The poems of the Twenty-Eight Stars described nature and the homeland, as well as singing about great people.

Having received the best Confucian education, Le Thanh Tong sought to embody Confucian principles in government. In 1467, he toured the country to expose internal problems, dismissing negligent officials and redistributing illegally seized land, thus winning the love of the people.

Le Thanh Tong was himself a member of the poetry society he founded and composed poems, including moral poems:

The cup and teapot each of them took, and, clothed like a monk, hid in the pagoda, rubbing his rosary into ashes. All day long they would sit, and take the secret essence, And walk to their cells, when a long shadow glided in the herbs and flowers. For ever they judge the manifestation of goodness according to doctrine, The kingdom of the underworld and heaven are often on their lips. Body and spirit they purify in the Selves of immaterial beginnings, But they never comprehend their essence, wandering in vain in the darkness.

Most cities in Vietnam have a major street named after Le Thanh Tong.

Le Thuy Tong ruled under the following mottos:


  1. Ле Тхань-тонг
  2. Lê Thánh Tông
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