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Street Signs: Nguyễn Huệ - Part 1

In this edition of “Street Signs,” we take a closer look at Nguyen Hue, one of Vietnam’s most prominent folk heroes and successful military commanders. While he died before his vision for Vietnam was realized, his conquests ushered in a century of Vietnamese unification.

Born in Tay Son village in modern-day Binh Dinh Province, Hue was the youngest of 3 brothers. When growing up, his father, Nguyen Phi Phuc, made sure his sons focused on their studies including martial arts.

These skills would prove to be invaluable as the Nguyen brothers, who became known as the Tay Son Brothers, raised an army to overthrow the notoriously corrupt Nguyen Lord, Truong Phuc Loan in 1771.

Hue was instrumental in financing the rebellion and training troops, eventually wooing many of the regions’ top generals.

The Tay Son Army grew in popularity and became the Vietnamese version of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, if their motto - "fair, no corruption, only looting the rich, and help the poor" (công bằng, không tham nhũng, và chỉ cướp của của người giàu, giúp người nghèo) - is accurate.

By 1774, the Tay Son rebellion had spread and challenged the authority of the Nguyen Lords who had enjoyed 200 years of uninterrupted power. In response, Nguyen General, Tong Phuc Hiep, was dispatched from Gia Dinh (Saigon’s pre-colonial moniker) and recaptured all but Phu Yen and Quang Ngai.

The success of the Nguyen Lords was short-lived, however as in the same year, Trinh Sam, ruler of northern Vietnam, sent 30,000 troops southward with the same goal as the Tay Son Army – to end the Nguyen Lords’ reign. To give political legitimacy to the invasion, the Trinh Lords cleverly announced that thr army was marching to aid the Nguyen Lords, effectively usurping Nguyen power in the region.

Even with overlapping goals, the Trinh Lords had not allied with the Tay Son and when their armies converged at Quang Ngai, the Tay Son were defeated.

This defeat, in addition to the threat from one of the remaining Nguyen armies, had the Tay Son brothers facing a 2 front war. Wary of this prospect, they sent peace envoys to the Trinh and Nguyen who both accepted. Knowing it would not be a lasting peace, the Tay Son used this time to bolster their forces while their temporary allies sat idly.

Taking advantage of their advantageous position, the Tay Son, led by Nguyen Hue, attacked and defeated the remaining armies of the Nguyen Lords. Following this victory, the Trinh gave Hue’s older brother, Nhac, administrative powers.

With hostilities at an end and with the friendly Tay Son in power, the Trinh withdrew their forces, allowing the Tay Son to further establish a power base in the area.

Next week, we’ll publish part 2 of Nguyen Hue’s story and see how the rebel army of the Tay Son would go on to repel overwhelming Chinese forces to establish a unified Vietnam.


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