Proclamation of Victory (Binh Ngo Dai Cao)

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Proclamation of Victory [1]

1) In the name of Heaven, I (King Lê Lợi) hold the belief that compassion and righteousness are intended to bring peace and when troops are dispatched to protect the population, their primary mission is to suppress tyranny.

2) As to Đại Việt, [2] a country of great culture with a long tradition, its mountains and rivers are lawfully delineated.
3) In addition, our customs are different from those in the North.
4) For hundreds of years, the dynasties of Triệu, Đinh, Lý and Trần had firmly established their independence.
5) Like the Han, Tang, Song and Yuan of China they proudly governed their lands.
6) Although their strength, their weakness and ours at times differed, men of noble character in our country were never in short supply.
7) As a result, Liu Kung, 3[] too greedy, was defeated; Zhao Jie, [4] too ambitious,
was killed;

8) Suo Du [5] was captured alive at Hàm Tử Port; and Wu Ma [6] died at Bạch Đằng Sea. [7]
9) These were irrefutable facts that were clearly recorded in history.
10) Then, the Hồ family with their corrupt policies spurred anger and resentment among the populace.
11) Taking advantage of this opportunity, a barbaric Ming army invaded and caused
havoc in our country.
12) Worse even were traitors who sold out the country for their personal gain.
13) They burnt poor citizens under the flames of hell and buried newborn in caves of terror.
14) They deceived Heaven and duped our people, using all sort of guiles.
15) They started warfare, causing bitterness and ill will for two decades.
16) Without mercy and justice, they plundered the land and robbed our resources.
17) They levied heavy taxes to impoverish the whole nation.
18) Miners were led into forested mountains to sieve sand for gold, risked being infected with debilitating diseases.
19) Divers were forced to dive deep to look for pearls amidst danger of attack by sharks and alligators.
20) With forced labour, they cast nets everywhere to catch kingfishers [8] and set up
snares to trap black deer.
21) They spared nothing even the little creatures or grasses.
22) Nor did they leave those in distress alone.
23) They bared their teeth, opened wide their mouths to suck blood to satisfy their insatiable thirst.
24) They were building palaces after palaces that required an endless number of skilled workers and conscripts.
25) They drafted young men and women from our villages to meet their demand, leaving no one to attend to badly needed planting and weaving work.
26) So filthy were their acts that the water of the Eastern Sea was not enough to wash off the smell.
27) Bamboo of the Southern Mountain did not suffice to count their crimes.Proclamation of Victory (Binh Ngo Dai Cao)
28) Men and God felt indignant toward them!
29) Nobody from heaven or on earth would forgive them.

30) I rose from the mountains of Lam Sơn to lead the struggle, hiding in the backwoods.
31) So angry with the enemy that I felt I could not share with them the same world.
32) I hated the enemy so much that I swore not to co-exist with them.
33) For more than ten years, I had had so much sufferings and headache.
34) Lying on thorns and tasting gall, I did it for not only one day. [9]
35) So angry I forgot to eat.
36) Valuable time was devoted to digesting war strategy manuals.
37) Studying the past, I discovered the reasons for the rise and fall of nations.
38) In many sleepless nights, I dreamt of a day our nation would be saved from the cruel tyrants.
39) When I raised the flag of salvation, it was the time the enemy’s strength was at its highest.
40) Unfortunately, on our side men of character were like the morning stars;
and men of talent were like green leaves in autumn.
41) For daily chores, helping hands were in great need.
42) In strategy discussion, there were few able souls around to consult.
43) My goal at all times was to march towards the Eastern Capital. [10]
44) Meanwhile, on my left, a chair was always available to receive a top official. [11]
45) But, the more I tried to look for the man, the more I found it to be difficult.
46) I alone was to carry out the mission, rushing as to save a drowning person.
47) I was so upset for not being able to kill the entire enemy.
48) Meanwhile, I was worrying about the dire situation the country was in.
49) For weeks, foods at Linh Sơn were running out.
50) Soldiers at Khôi Huyện at a time were reduced to less than five hundred.
51) Perhaps Heaven was testing my commitment.
52) Thus, the more I had to overcome the difficulties.
53) As brothers, people from the four corners of the nation joined me to hoist the bamboo flags.
54) Soldiers of all ranks like fathers and sons drank mixed drinks from river water.[12]
55) When to fight with a small number against a larger one, ambush was the tactic.
56) When fighting with a weak force against a strong one, surprise attack was to be used.

57) In short, just cause always prevails over tyranny; compassion is the virtue to embrace in place of violence.
58) The battle of Bồ Đằng was like a thunderstorm full of blinding lightning.
59) The encounter at Trà Lân resembled a bamboo forest that had been slashed and put to fire.
60) Our soldiers’s spirits were heightened.
61) Our military might was now earning well-deserved respect.
62) Chen Zhi [13] and Shan Shou [14] were scared out of their wits at the bad news.
63) Li An [15] and Fang Zheng [16] were holding their breath, hoping to escape capture.
64) Victory after victory, we followed them in pursuit to take the Western Capital.[17]
65) More troops were mobilized; we recovered our beloved Eastern Capital.
66) At Ninh Kiều, blood flowed like a river, as the stench was spreading for miles.
67) At Tuïy Ñoäng, dead bodies piled up in the open fields, such an infamy that will never be forgotten.
68) Chen Qia, [18] the enemy’s brains, was beheaded.
69) Li Liang, [19] a blood-sucking mandarin, also lost his life.
70) Wang Tong, [20] who was sent to reinforce the legion, caused the war to be more intense.
71) Ma Ying, [21] who led a rescue effort, raised our fighting spirit even higher.
72) Besieged and exhausted, they had no choice but surrendered.
73) With a superior stratagem and a humane policy, we defeated the enemy without much effort.
74) I had thought that they would change their mind and ambition.
75) Instead, they were secretly plotting further aggression, inviting death and destruction on themselves.
76) Because of the stubborn idea of one person, calamities befell on thousands of others.

77) He might have enjoyed a momentous fame, but made himself a laughing stock to the world. [22]
78) Thus, they urged the baby Xuan De [23] to mobilize for war.
79) He sent two bashful generals, Mu Sheng [24] and Liu Sheng [25], to add fuel to the fire.
80) In the ninth month of Đinh Mùi (1427), Liu Sheng with his troops entered from Qiu Wen. [26]
81) In the tenth month of the same year, Mu Sheng took another road to approach from Yunnan. [27]
82) In anticipation of the moves, we set up defenses at critical locations to stop the advance units.
83) At the same time, troops were sent to cut off their supply lines to starve them.
84) On the eighteenth, we foiled Liu Sheng at Chi Lăng.
85) On the twentieth, he was beheaded at Mã Yên.
86) On the twenty-fifth, Lord Liang Ming [28] was killed on the battlefield.
87) On the twenty-eighth, Minister Li Qing [29] committed suicide when there was no other way to escape.
88) Having an upper hand, we struck hard at the enemy.
89) Checked at both ends, hopeless the enemy turned around to attack one another.
90) More troops arrived to surround the fortresses.
91) The Middle of October was the day of general assault.
92) Brave soldiers voluntarily lined up; talented generals were all prepared.
93) Rivers were drying when elephants scooped up water.

94) Mountain stones wore off as swords were sharpened on them.

95) At first drum, sea-monsters disappeared; at second drum, vultures were driven off.
96) Little ants scattered as great dikes broke; strong winds blew off all dry leaves.
97) Commander Cui Ju [30] dropped on his knees to beg for pardon.
98) Minister Huang Fu, [31] who himself had his hands tied, surrendered.
99) At Lạng Giang and Lạng Sơn, corpses were strewn all over.
100) At Xương Giang and Bình Than, rivers were reddened with blood.
101) The sky was gloomily overcast.
102) So saddened, the moon and sun turned dim.
103) The column that came by way of Yunnan was stunned when blocked at Li Hua, [32] the entry port.
104) Mu Sheng troops broke up and ran for their lives when informed of Liu Sheng being defeated at Cần Trạm.
105) Lãnh Câu brook was full of blood, its water ringing the moaning of wandering souls.
106) At Đan Xá fortress, dead bodies piled up like mountains; its plain was covered with blood that had been darkened.
107) The two rescue columns were completely wiped out.
108) Soldiers at besieged fortresses took off their uniforms to turn themselves in.
109) We took rebel generals prisoners, who like hungry tigers wagged tails begging for lives.
110) The Mighty God did not kill, I bestowed upon them mercy.
111) I provided Ma Qi [33] and Fang Zheng with five hundred boats, who when reaching the sea were still like in a daze.
112) Wang Tong and Ma Ying were given some thousand horses to repatriate and as they were leaving their hearts were still beating fast and their legs still trembling.
113) They coveted life and feared death, wishing for peace.
114) I chose to nourish our troops and permit our people to have more time to recover.
115) This ought to be a right and wise course of action, which was unprecedented.
116) From now on, our nation will be stronger and more resolute.
117) The citizens will see a new life of prosperity.
118) The affairs of a nation often go through a period of ebb and flow

119) The sun and the moon naturally go dark and then shine again.
120) The humiliation of a thousand years has now been redressed.
121) It is now time for the nation to enjoy peace and prosperity.
122) We owed this to the blessing of Heaven and our revered ancestors.
123) Oh! A single sword brought success and glory. [34]
124) Victory is here to celebrate for thousands of years.
125) Peace prevails throughout the nation.
126) Reform is hereby solemnly proclaimed to all four corners of the nation.


Nguyen Trai (1380 - 1442)

Translation and Annotations: Vũ-đình Đỉnh, Ph.D.



1 This title of the text is given by the researcher. Popularly, the text carries the name ‘Bình Ngô Đại Cáo’ [平吳大告] (Proclamation of the Pacification of the Marauding Chinese) that puzzled a university professor (O’Harrow, Stephen, ‘Nguyen Trai’s Binh Ngo Dai Cao of 1428: The Development of a Vietnamese National Identity’ in Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 10, No. 1, 1979, p. 165). I believe that the title was added to the text as late as the middle part of the seventeenth century because, first of all, a royal proclamation normally did not have a title and secondly, the offending meaning of the title did not fit the political climate in 1428, when Lê Lợi and Nguyễn Trãi were still trying to persuade Emperor Xuan De to withdraw his troops and name Lê Lợi king of Vietnam. None of the history books mentioned the name 'Bình Ngô Đại Cáo’ directly.

To translate a document written in the fifteenth century by a Vietnamese who used classical Chinese is a daunting task. It requires not only knowledge of classical Chinese but also what we called Hán-Việt (Sino- Vietnamese), or Chinese that had been Vietnamised. Lacking knowledge of classical Chinese, I relied chiefly on the efforts of those Hán-Việt scholars who had already converted this text into present-day Vietnamese. In an effort to get close to the so-called ‘original’ version, I consulted six translations by these individuals: Bùi Kỷ, Ngô Tất Tố, Mạc Bảo Thần, Đào Duy Anh, Hoàng Văn Lâu and Trần Nghĩa. Into English there was only one
translation by Trương Bửu Lâm(Trương Bửu Lâm ‘Nguyen Trai (1380-1442): A Great Proclamation upon the Pacification of the Wu (1428)’ in Patterns of VietnameseResponse to Foreign Intervention: 1858-1900, Southeast Asia Studies, Monograph Series No. 11, (Yale: Yale University, 1967), pp. 55-62.

2 Đại Việt is the name Lê Lợi gave to the country after his coronation in 1428. This name existed since 1054 under the reign of Lý Thánh Tông but was renamed Đại Ngu by Hồ Quý Ly in 1400. To China, the country was usually called Annam.

3 Liu Kung [劉龔], Lưu Cung in Vietnamese; Liu Kung was king of Nan Han, a state south-east of China and adjacent to Vietnam, which he wanted to annex. In 938, his son led an invasion into Vietnam but was defeated at Bạch Đằng River and later killed by General Ngô Quyền who opened up a new era of independence for Vietnam after more than a thousand years of Chinese domination.

4 Zhao Jie [趙禼], Triệu Tiết in Vietnamese; Zhao Jie was second in command of an invasion into Vietnam in 1076 by a Song army of more than 70,000 men. The attack was repelled and Zhao Jie was killed at the battle on Như Nguyệt River by Generalissimo Lý Thường Kiệt. It is widely believed that when confronting the Song army at Như Nguyệtt River he composed a poem with these verses: ‘Southern Land is the home of Southern King;/ So was it recorded in the Heavenly Book./ Then, why did you, marauders, dare to invade our land?/ You’ll see how you will be sent home with empty hands.’ and had it read over loudspeakers to dispirit the enemy.

5 Suo Du [唆都], Toa Đô in Vietnamese

6 Wu Ma [烏馬], Ô Mã in Vietnamese

7 Actually, there is no such name as Bạch Đằng Sea.  The author of the proclamation wanted to reflect the fact that Wu Ma was captured alive at Bạch Đằng River and later drowned at sea on the way back to China.

8 In the past, Chinese cherished the metallic blue feathers  of kingfishers.

9 Lying on thorns to keep oneself awake and tasting gall to dull the taste for food are legendary  ways to focus on the mission rather than waste time over sleep and eating.

10 The Eastern Capital is present-day  Hanoi.

11 Traditionally, the seat on the left side of the king is reserved for the highest-ranking official called ‘Tả tướng quốc,’ which means Minister of the Left.

12 The story goes that a Chinese general upon victory was honoured with a bottle of wine.  Since there was no way for him to share the honour with his troops with only one bottle of wine he poured the wine into the river and drank water from it together with his men to show solidarity.

13 Chen Zhi [陳智], Trần Trí in Vietnamese

14 Shan Shou [山壽], Sơn Thọ in Vietnamese

15 Li An [李安], Lý An in Vietnamese

16 Fang Zheng [方政], Phương Chính in Vietnamese

17 Western Capital or Tây Kinh is the fortress Tây Nhai built by the Hồ family.

18 Chen Qia [陳洽], Trần Hiệp in Vietnamese

19 Li Liang [李亮], Lý Lượng in Vietnamese

20 Wang Tong [王通], Vương Thông in Vietnamese

21 Ma Ying [馬瑛], Mã Anh in Vietnamese

22 This statement refers to Wang Tong, who as Administrator and Commander-in-Chief  of the Ming forces had wanted to surrender but changed his mind after a Vietnamese collaborator by the name Lương Nhữ Hốt reminded him of the death of Wu Ma.  Legend has that Wu Ma was captured alive at Bạch Đằng River and allowed to return to China.  However, because he had caused too many deaths to Vietnamese soldiers, General Trần Hưng Đạo had skilled divers accompany him on his boat trip home during which the divers at night drilled holes to the boat to sink it and kill everybody on board.

23 Xuan De [宣德], Tuyên Đức in Vietnamese; the original text belittled Emperor Xuan De who reigned from 1425-1435. During this period China enjoyed a time of peace free of turmoil.

24 Mu Sheng [木晟], Mộc Thạnh in Vietnamese

25 Liu Sheng [柳昇], Liễu Thăng in Vietnamese; Emperor Xuan De had counted on the veteran general Liu Sheng to rescue Wang Tong as he had been to Vietnam twenty years earlier and had defeated  the regent king Hồ Quý Ly and his son Hồ Hán Thương in 1407.  Proud of his previous success, he led a small contingent of horsemen to chase the Vietnamese retreating forces but fell into an ambush at Chi Lăng about ten miles from the border.  He was killed two days later.

26 Qiu Wen [邱溫], Khâu Ôn in Vietnamese

27 Yunnan [雲南], Vân Nam in Vietnamese

28 Liang Ming [梁銘], Lương Minh in Vietnamese

29 Li Qing [李慶], Lý Khánh in Vietnamese

30 Cui Ju [崔聚], Thôi Tụ in Vietnamese

31 Huang Pu [黃福], Hoàng Phúc in Vietnamese