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Far East Kingdoms

South East Asia


Nam Viet Kingdom (Third Restoration) (Vietnam)
Tay Son Dynasty (AD 1778-1802)

The modern-day nation state of Vietnam emerged out of prehistory's Early Vietnam. Various early (and partially legendary) kingdoms followed but northern Vietnam then endured a sequence of occupations and independence which began with the 'First Chinese Domination of Vietnam' and ended with the 'Third Chinese Domination of Vietnam'.

A series of revolts in the eighth century occupied province of Annam helped to feed the growing Viet sense of national consciousness. In AD 938, Ngo Quyen won a glorious victory against occupying Southern Han forces along the banks of the River Bach Dang. The victory put an end to a thousand years of near-continuous Chinese domination. That was replaced with the restored Nam Viet kingdom and a long period of national independence and sovereignty which started with the Ngo dynasty.

Later history witnessed a period of decline and a usurpation by the Ho dynasty, along with many rebellions, and then an invasion by the Ming. That occupation was brief, however, being contested by the rebellious Later Tran emperors. The Ming were finally ejected by the founder of the Later Le dynasty, and the country was rebuilt after two decades of Chinese control. Later rulers allowed court intrigues to take precedence over state-building so, in 1527, General Mac Dang Dương took control to lead his own Mac dynasty.

Its fortunes were mixed, and the country quickly became divided with the Revival Le dynasty holding the south. The civil war came to an end in 1592 and a restored Dai Viet saw its Revival Le emperors quickly reduced to the status of figureheads and puppets in the hands of the competing Nguyễn and Trịnh lords of the south and north respectively.

The Nguyễn lords finally displaced the remaining semi-independent Cham in the south and the Khmer in the west and, in the eighteenth century, completed their 'southern advance' in the region to the south of Saigon. By that stage the Trịnh lords had largely given up their relentless attacks on the southern defences, but then came the Tay Son. They were led by three brothers who came from the village of Nguyễn in the south and who themselves bore that same name. They were not part of the Nguyễn clan though, despite their family name.

The Tay Son gradually destroyed Nguyễn military capability, after the defenders had already suffered losses in Khmer territory. Forces at the defensive works were weakened so, in the final act of the Trịnh-Nguyễn Civil War, the Trịnh launched an attack on 15 November 1774. For the first time they were able to break through, although they left the Tay Son to complete the job of destroying the Nguyễn and then launch a takeover of the rest of the country.

Traditional House, Vietnam

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Vietnam: A New History, Christopher Goscha, from Early Mainland Southeast Asia, C Higham (River Books Co, 2014), from Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopaedia, from Angkor Wat to East Timor, Keat Gin Ooi (ABC-Clio, 2004), from A History of the Vietnamese, Keith W Taylor (Cambridge University Press, 2013), from Times Atlas of World History (Maplewood, 1979), from Historical Atlas of the World, R R Palmer (Ed, Chicago, 1963), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Vietnam (Countrystudies), and Vietnam from the 1st to the 10th centuries AD (Vietnam National Museum of History), and Vietnam from the 10th century AD to the mid-20th century AD (Vietnam National Museum of History).)

1778 - 1788

Nguyễn Nhạc / Thái Đức

First emperor, ousting the restored Revival Le. Retired.


The Tay Son uprising secures central Dai Viet, leaving the ousted Revival Le emperor and his supporters isolated in the south, primarily around Saigon. The three Tay Son brothers come from the village of the same name (they are not part of the Nguyễn clan despite their family name).

Tay Son soldier
The Tay Son dynasty was founded by three Nguyễn brothers (who were not connected to the lords of the same name) who rebelled against all of the major parties in Dai Viet's confused political situation, sweeping two of them away and almost destroying a third


The brief Trịnh civil war between the followers of Trịnh Cán and Trịnh Tông has fatally weakened the clan. Trịnh Bồng rules the damaged clan for a year but Trịnh control in the north is already weak, having already lost central Dai Viet lands to the south. Now they are defeated and swept aside by the new Tay Son rulers.

1788 - 1792

Nguyễn Huệ / Quang Trung

Brother. Died prior to an invasion of China.

1788 - 1789

Nguyễn Phuc Anh of the once-Nguyễn-dominated south declares the Revival Le dynasty to be extinct in 1788. He himself assumes the title of emperor of Dai Viet and continues to oppose the Tay Son who remove the last legitimate Revival Le emperor from the throne in 1789.

1792 - 1802

Nguyễn Quang Toản / Cảnh Thịnh

Son. Acceded aged 9. Captured and executed.


Nguyễn Phuc Anh of the Nguyễn-dominated southern Dai Viet, displaces the Tay Son emperors to become emperor himself as Gia Long. It is under his rule that the kingdom of Dai Viet absorbs the other Vietnamese holdings to create a single empire. One of his first acts is to change the name of Dai Viet to Nam Viet.

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