Emperor Nhân Tông and the War of Defense in 1288

by Prof. LÊ MẠNH THÁT. Translation into English by ĐẠO SINH

Emperor Nhân Tông and the War of Defense in 1288

On the 6th of the 6th month of Ất Dậu (1285) Emperor Nhân Tông returned to the imperial capital of Thăng Long in triumph. Less than two months later, the 20th of the 7th month, having gathered all reports on the preceding war, Kublai Khan ordered Ch’ü Mi Yuan to send reinforcements to T’o-huan and A-li-hai-ya in their second campaign to invade Đại Việt. According to Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 13, p.10a13-14, “on the Kên-yin day [of the 7th month of Chih Yuan 22], reporting that the entire army that would be commanded by T’o-huan to attack Giao Chỉ had been rather worn out with the long fighting expedition, Ch’ü Mi Yuan proposed selecting 1,000 Mongols from the three Wan Hu of Ao-lu-chih (Aγuruγǎ), 4,000 Hans and recruits from the three Hsin Yuan in Kianghuai, Kianghsi, and Chinghu, who would all be put under the command of an experienced general assisted by T’o-huan and A-li-hai-ya. The [Yuan] King agreed, intending to appoint T’ang-wu-tai to be Tso Chêng Ching Hu Hsin Shêng; but the latter asked to be discharged from the army for retirement. The King decreed his approval and ordered T’o-huan and A-li-hai-ya to deal with military affairs themselves .

Then, on the Canh Dần of the 9th month, Kublai Khan proceeded to give orders for another enlistment of recruits. Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 13, p.11a8-10, says: “Among the troops that had fought in Giao Chỉ, with the exceptions of 100 Mongols and 400 Hans serving as the Guards of Chên Nan Wang T’o-huan, the rest were allowed to retire. On the other hand, Hsin Ch’ü Mi Yuan in Kianghuai received orders to command all Mongol troops encamped in Kianghsi.” Still in the words of Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 13, p.11a12-13, in the 10th month Kublai Khan ordered Ho-san-er Hai-ya (Qasar Qaya), who had ever been appointed Chief- and Vice-Daruyaci (Ta-lu-hua-chih) in our country between 1273 and 1275, to investigate the situation of our country. In the same month, Ch’ü Mi Yuan proposed sending troops to Tanchou, who would be commanded by generals appointed by T’o-huan and A-li-hai-ya, as in the words of An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.8a12-13.

Also in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.8a13-b3, in the 1st month of the year that followed (1286), Kublai Khan called a meeting with the ranking mandarins to discuss the plan of invading Đại Việt, which is clearly mentioned in Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 14, p.1b1-2: “summoning A-li-hai-ya to discuss the campaign to attack An Nam.” This conference is definitely said in Pen Chi to have been held on the Tân Mão, i.e., the 24th of the 1st month of Bính Tuất (1286).

On the 7th of the 2nd month, Kublai Khan appointed “A-li-hai-ya to his former position, that is, Tso Chêng Hsiang of An Nam Hsin Chung Shu Shêng, Ao-lu-chih to be P’ing Chang Chêng Shih Tu Yuan Shuai, Wu-ma-er, Mieh-li-mi-shih (Yiγmiš) [1], A-li Kuei-shun (Ariq Qusun), P’an Chieh to be all Ts’an Chih Chêng Shih. Then he ordered a messenger to tell Prince Chê-hsien Tieh-mu-er (Äsän Tämür) to mobilize approximately one to three thousand men of Ho-la-chang, whose registration would later be fully submitted, and dispatch them to A-li-hai-ya’s expeditionary force,” as recorded in Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 14, p.1b8-10. Furthermore, on the 20th of the 2nd month, Kublai Khan ordered “Hukwang Hsin Shêng to build 300 ships for attacking Giao Chỉ, which would be assembled in Ch’inchou and Lienchou in the 8th month. The day that followed, he ordered Ching Hu Chanch’êng Hsin Shêng to command 30,000 troops of the three Hsin Shêng in Kiangchê, Hukwang and Kianghsi to penetrate into Giao Chỉ. P’ing Chang Ao-lu-chih of Ching Hu Hsin Shêng asked to discuss the campaign to attack Giao Chỉ with the King. The latter ordered him to go to the imperial capital on post-horses.

On the 21st of the 2nd month, Kublai Khan officially bestowed the title ‘King of An Nam’ on Trần Ích Tắc, giving him a seal and a ‘tally’, and appointed Trần Tú Viên to be Fu I Kung, as in the words of Yuan Shih 14, p.2a11, and 209, p.8b2-3. An Nam Chí Lược 13, p.132, mentions a further detail that Kublai Khan also appointed such Vietnamese traitors as Bá Ý, the eldest son of Ích Tắc, to be An Fu Shih of T’okiang Route, Lại Ích Khuy to be An Fu Shih of Nant’sêkiang Route, Trần Văn Lộng to be Hsuan Fu Shih of Kueihuakiang Route, and so on. In effect, Kublai Khan’s intention was to impose a puppet government on our people when T’o-huan could bring the entire country under their control.

According to An Nam Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.8a13-b2, also in the 2nd month, Kublai Khan sent a letter to our court, accusing our emperor of having killed his uncle Trần Di Ái, of having not received Ta Lu Hua Chih Pu-yen Tieh-mu-er (Buyan Tämür) and, at the same time, advising our people to make their living as usual when his troops would come to punish our emperor.

Thus, in the first two months of Bính Tuất (1286) Kublai Khan and his court urgently prepared tactics, men, weapons and supplies for their campaign to invade our country. On the 4th of the 4th month, to increase and boost productivity of Mongol troops who were working in their plantations, Kublai Khan ordered tax exemptions in those plantations which had contributed men to the fighting expedition, as in the words of Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 14, p.3a1-2. Twelve days later, i.e., the 16th of the 4th month, Na-su-la-ting received “orders to lead 1,000 Mongol and Ho-la-chang troops together with experienced officers to assist Prince T’o-huan in Giao Chỉ.

Also in the 4th month, when Ao-lu-chih was discussing the plan of invading Đại Việt with Kublai Khan in Tatu, the latter attempted to lend encouragement to him: “Earlier, by virtue of their loyalty to the imperial house, Mu-hua-li (Muqali) and his companions have maintained their reputation [as outstanding men] so far. Accordingly, you should try your best so that you may, too, become as prominent as they,” as in the words of Ao-lu-chih Chuan of Yuan Shih 131, p.17a2. Simultaneously, to show his concern Kublai Khan appointed Ao-lu-chih’s son, T’o-huan Pu-hua (Toγan Buqa), to the position of Wan Hu. According to Hukwang Hsin Shêng Tso Chêng Hsiang Shên Tao Bei in Yuan Wen Lei 82, p.24b2, the reason Ao-lu-chih received so much attention was that A-li-hai-ya, after the long fighting expedition in Đại Việt, showed to be so seriously deteriorated that he finally died on the 25th of the 5th month of Bính Tuất (1286).

On the 16th of the 6th month Kublai Khan sent a messenger, Yeh-ma-la-tan[2] (Iramadan), to our country. Two days later, i.e., on the Đinh Sửu, Hsien-kê (Sängä) of Hukwang Hsin Shêng, however, made a complaint of having to mobilize his 28,700 men to Shêngkiang, now known as Kwanghsi, where they would join the expeditionary forces. For, according to Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 14, p.4a6-8, apart from the number of well-trained troops that had been mobilized before, the rest, approximately 17,800 men, were not strong enough to serve in his army. The fact is more clearly described in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.8b10-12.

According to Hsien-kê, it was quite true in the report of Hunan Hsin Shêng that people and troops had to suffer too much hardship caused by their incessant invasions of Japan and Champa. Further, a punishment on Giao Chỉ was not worthwhile when it was giving its offerings as usual. If the court intended to attack Giao Chỉ, it should wait for a favorable occasion. This was Hsien-kê’s own view as was reported by Ch’u Mi Yuan. In addition, according to Liu Hsuan Chuan of Yuan Shih 168, p.8a1-10, Li Pu Shang Shu Liu Hsuan also set forth, right in the court, the same reasons for postponing the campaign to fight Đại Việt.

Under the pressure of these suggestions Kublai Khan reluctantly agreed, decreeing that the armed forces’ advance should be postponed. Trần Ích Tắc lonely returned to Ngohchou, the headquarters of T’o-huan, as recorded in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.9a1. Kublai Khan, however, never gave up his intention of invading Đại Việt. Five months later, on the Ất Mão of the 10th month, he gave orders for a supply of 4,000 horses for T’o-huan, and, on the Kỷ Tỵ of the 11th month, Cheng Chiao Chih Hsin Shêng, i.e., the office in charge of the campaign to attack Đại Việt, to be formed with A-pa-chih (Abači) as Yu Chêng, as in the words of Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 14, pp.5b12-13, 6a6-7. Together with the formation of Cheng Chiao Chih Hsin Shêng, on the Bính Thìn of the 12th month, by order of Kublai Khan, money was again bestowed on Trần Ích Tắc, of whom the former continued to make use as a card of his.

By the 1st month of Đinh Hợi (1287), Kublai Khan earnestly carried out further preparations for his plan of invasion. First, on the Đinh Hợi, he ordered 1,000 men of Hsinfu to follow A-pa-chih to An Nam. Then, on the Tân Mão he gave orders for mobilization of 5,000 ships and about 70.000 men, both Mongols and Hans, of the three Hsin-shêng in Kianghuai, Kianghsi and Hukwang, 6,000 men of Yunnan, and 15,000 Li men of the four districts along the coast. At the same time, Chang Wen Hu, Fei Kung Ch’ên and T’ao Ta Ming received orders to transport 17,000 piculs of supplies by sea. To formalize and thereby lay much more emphasis on the nerve center of his apparatus of war, he decreed that Cheng Chiao Chih Hsin Shêng should be renamed Cheng Chiao Chih Hsin Shang Shu Shêng, in which Ao-lu-chih was appointed to be Ping ChangChêng Shih, Wu-ma-er and P’an Chieh to be Ts’an Chih Chêng Shih, and T’o-huan to be Chieh Chih.

Thus, the machinery of Yuan invaders got ready to start its operation under the command of T’o-huan and Ao-lu-chih, who had more than 90,000 men in their hands. In addition, An Nam Chí Lược 4, p.55, mentions the presence of men called ‘Troops of Caves’ from minority groups in Kwanghsi. In Hsi-tu-er Chuan of Yuan Shih 133, p.9b, it is noted that these troops, included in T’o-huan’s Great Army, were put under the direct command of Hsi-tu-er (Šiktur) in their penetration into Giao Chỉ in the 7th month of Chih Yuan 24 (1287). Thus, in this invasion T’o-huan mobilized more than 100,000 men, carefully organized into infantry, navy and convoys of supplies.

Preparations on the Đại Việt Side

According to ĐVSKTT 5, p.50b1-2, on the 6th of the 6th month of Ất Dậu (1285) having just returned to Thăng Long in triumph, Emperor Nhân Tông “ordered Trung Phẩm Phụng Ngự Đặng Du Chi to take a group of thirty Chams, headed by Bà-lậu-kê-na-liên, back to their country. They had been captured by our troops while they were serving in So-tu’s army.” This was obviously taken as a step in his diplomatic policy, aiming at establishing and stabilizing the friendly relations between our country and the neighboring one in the south, which had been preserved by Emperor Nhân Tông for ten years since his enthronement. It was due to such a long and consistent strategy of diplomacy that Đại Việt could reap the best fruit that the country’s boundary was extended for more than 200 kilometers to the south when the two districts of Ô Mã and Việt Lý officially became an inseparable part of the fatherland in 1306.

Also in the words of ĐVSKTT 5, p.50b3-4, his next step was to reward those who had much contribution to the country and punish those who had surrendered to the enemy. It says: “In the fall, the 8th month, [the King] ordered Tả Bộc Xạ Khương Cương Giới to bestow various titles on the subjects who had merits and punish those who surrendered to the enemy.” Thus, even the task of rewarding or punishing some of imperial officials and troops had to be postponed for a long time. For it might have taken some time for the court to collect sufficient evidence for proper judgment of the cases in question.

Of such great merits as those made by Hưng Đạo Vương Trần Quốc Tuấn, Chiêu Minh Vương Trần Quang Khải, Hưng Ninh Vương Trần Quốc Tung, Điện Tiền Phạm Ngũ Lão, and so on, it was naturally rather easy for the court to have proper appreciation. Yet, it would be extremely complicated in regard to people of low ranks in different places throughout the country. An inscription in relation to the Hưng Phúc Temple discovered in Thanh Hóa reveals the fact that Lê Công Mạnh together with his brothers and relatives and other villagers of An Duyên fought courageously against So-tu’s troops at the Cổ Bút ferry:

Around the year of Thiệu Bảo, the ‘barbarian’ enemy came down to the south again. Commanded by Yu Hsiang So-tu, they moved from the sea toward Cổ Khê along the route across the An Duyên village. In order to cut off their retreat, he (Lê Công Mạnh) commanded the villagers to fight them at the ferry of Cổ Bút. Yet, it was owing to a traitor in the village, who had surrendered to the enemy and then shown them the way to his (Mạnh’s) home, that his house was destroyed and thus his task of building the temple was cancelled. After the enemy had been withdrawn [out of our country] and the King had returned to the imperial capital, he reported the fact to the King. The King issued a decree of investigating the fact, then ordering the compensation of local products of the village for his losses for the purpose of praising his own merits and encouraging loyal and diligent men.

This is only one example of a man whose efforts to fight the enemy were actually made but not mentioned in historical books. Nevertheless, it is thanks to his merit of building temples recorded in an inscription at the Hưng Phúc Temple that we can know something of how the imperial court rewarded those who had contributions, great or small, to the war of defense in 1285.

Concerning those who had been killed in the war and their families as well, we have today nothing other than some little information on a few outstanding figures. With respect to the death of the national hero Trần Bình Trọng, for instance, Emperor Nhân Tông himself is said to have wept mournfully and pitifully as in the words of Khâm Định Việt Sử Thông Giám Cương Mục 7, p.37a2. And at the death of the hero Trần Quốc Toản in the battle of Như Nguyệt, the Emperor wrote a verse, showing his extreme regret for a brave and heroic subject of his.

As for traitors, they must have been put on trial with sufficient proof. However, it was nearly a month later, i.e., in the 9th month when his era name was changed into Trùng Hưng, that Emperor Nhân Tông could give the order for the general release of prisoners throughout the country. Although prisoners, particularly those who had been charged with betrayal in the 8th month, were not all set free on this occasion, most of them must have received some favor from the emperor. For these were the indispensable steps to recover the people’s morale, lend more encouragement to those who had devoted themselves to the previous war and, at the same time, wipe out some feeling of sinfulness within traitors who had given in to the enemy’s power.

Next, Emperor Nhân Tông carried out a thorough investigation of population to estimate the people’s force, preparing for his confrontation with the inevitable danger of a war caused by the enemy. In ĐVSKTT 5, p.48b, we read: “In the winter, the 10th month, [the King] issued an decree of examining family registers across the country. His subjects attempted to dissuade him, saying that it was not a necessary task while the people were enduring so much hardship [caused  by the recent war of resistance]. ‘It is now most suitable for completing family registers so that the enemy cannot see the losses of our people,’ said he. All the subjects appreciated his idea.” It was true that his plan had not been approved of by the subjects at the beginning. Yet, having understood its aim and implications, they all agreed with him. Indeed, to cope with the urgent preparation for the coming war, the court had to contrive to control immediately the country’s potential power.

Thus, about six months after the enemy had been completely driven out of the country Emperor Nhân Tông and his court implemented several domestic and diplomatic measures for the purpose of stabilizing and boosting the people’s fighting strength. The following year, when the people of Đại Việt were joyfully holding the New Year Festival of Bính Tuất—the traditional one that they had given up in the previous year (Ất Dậu) due to their struggle against T’o-huan’s invading army, the first action that Emperor Nhân Tông performed was “to release the Yuan troops to their country in the spring, the 1st month,” as recorded in ĐVSKTT 5, p.50b9. These troops had been captured by our army in different campaigns, particularly the campaign of Tây Kết commanded by the emperor himself, in which more than 50,000 troops of the enemy were taken captives. Obviously, this action pointed out, on the one hand, the humane policy and life-loving nature of a government of which the king, his subjects and highest-ranking generals were all Buddhist laymen. It was, on the other hand, the manifestation of a tactful diplomatic policy in an attempt to avoid war and, at the same time, to take advantage of any possible opportunity to achieve a long peace for the country. In effect, his decision to release prisoners of war facilitated partly the diplomatic relation between our country and the Yuan. According to ĐVSKTT 5, p.51a1, “in the 2nd month, the Yuan ordered Hop-tan-er Hai-ya (Qasar Qaya) to come to our country.” Although the Yuan mission arrived in our country with some intention of investigating our situation­—a task that they had been appointed to fulfill earlier in the 10th month of the preceding year, they must have managed to ask our court for the release of their men in spite of the fact that Emperor Nhân Tông had done so in the 1st month. Whether it had taken place earlier or later, the act of releasing prisoners of war by our court undoubtedly exerted some remarkable political impact on the enemy.

As far as the Yuan court’s activities in preparation for their invasion of our country were concerned, the leader of Đại Việt rapidly collected every report on them. ĐVSKTT 5, p.51a1-5 says: “In the 3rd month the Yuan king ordered Shang Shu T’ing Ao-lu-chih, Ping Chang Shih Wu-ma-er, General Chang Wen Hu to mobilize 500,000 troops, and Hukwang to build 300 ships. All of them would gather in the districts of Ch’in and Lien in the 8th month. In addition, he gave the order for troops of the three Hsin Shêng in Kiangchê, Hukwang and Kianghsi to penetrate into the South on the pretext of escorting the traitor Trần Ích Tắc, who would be the king of An Nam, back to our country.” Thus, the information on Kublai Khan’s preparations was promptly collected by Emperor Nhân Tông and his court.

In face of the danger of the coming war Đại Việt, of course, could not maintain a wait-and-see attitude. The first step Emperor Nhân Tông had to take urgently was “to order, in the 6th month, princes and nobles to recruit new men and manage their own armies seriously,” as in the words of ĐVSKTT 5, p.51a5-6. Also according to ĐVSKTT 5, p.51a6-b2, in a conference of the highest-ranking officials Emperor Nhân Tông asked Trần Hưng Đạo, “‘What is the enemy’s situation in this year like?’ ‘When the Yuan invasion occurred last year, some of our people surrendered to the enemy since they did not know anything about military affairs due to their living in peace for a long time. It was, however, thanks to our ancestors’ mystic forces and Your Majesty’s heroic character that Hồ barbarians were eventually wiped out. Now that our troops have been accustomed to fighting and their troops are afraid of moving far, we can defeat them if they enter our country again. Further, the Yuan troops have been so badly demoralized by the defeat of Hêng and Kuan that they cannot have enough courage to fight. In my opinion, we can surely defeat them,’ [answered Trần Hưng Đạo].

No doubt, Hưng Đạo Vương’s remark about the prospect of a victory by our army over the enemy’s forces in their coming invasion indicated a firm belief in the fighting strength and morale of Đại Việt’s people and in the brilliant leadership of the Trần emperors, including Emperor Nhân Tông. Once more, Emperor Nhân Tông “ordered Hưng Đạo Vương to urge princes and nobles to mobilize troops and make weapons and ships. By the 10th month, [he gave orders for] the troops, who had been mobilized, to be concentrated and trained,” as recorded in ĐVSKTT 5, p.51b1-3. Thus, with unshaken confidence in a final victory our people were, too, urgently preparing men, materials, means and various things for facing the ghostly shadow of war that was to be cast over the country.

At the beginning of the year Đinh Hợi (1287) the confidence became stronger and stronger. According to ĐVSKTT 5, p.52a2-3, “in the 2nd month (…) an official proposed recruiting strong men to strengthen our armed forces; yet, Hưng Đạo Vương refuted him with the reason that ‘What we need is not quantity but quality. What was Bồ Kiên able to achieve even though one million men were gathered?’” Accordingly, not only did he refuse to coerce people into joining the army but Emperor Nhân Tông also gave the order for ‘general release of prisoners throughout the country’ in accordance with his policy of relieving the people’s minds. The great release, which took place not more than half a year later than the previous one, must have occurred so urgently as to exhibit not only the humane nature of his regime but also his sense of responsibility for the whole people. That is to say, if a countryman committed some offense, not only he but also the government, or rather, its supreme leader would be responsible for his wrong-doing.

Before the war of 1285 broke out, the people of Đại Việt under the reign of Emperor Nhân Tông had been instructed as follows: “Generally, when the invading enemy come in whatsoever districts of the country, the people there must try their best to fight them. If the enemy are too strong for them to resist, they are allowed to flee to the mountains or marshes but they must not surrender,” as recorded in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.7b1-2. In spite of this, there were some who had given in to the enemy’s force. In the first place, the responsibility for such a betrayal, of course, belonged to those who had committed it. Nevertheless, just as his grandfather, Trần Thái Tông, had treated Hoàng Cự Đà in the war of defense in 1258, so Emperor Nhân Tông realized his responsibility for the surrender of some members of imperial family and common people during the Yuan invasion in 1285. It was surely because of this kind of feeling that the Emperor gave orders for the two consecutive releases of prisoners within a period of not more than a few months.

By the 4th month Emperor Nhân Tông appointed his younger brother Tá Thiên Đại Vương Đức Việp to the position of Tướng Quốc, who conducted the final parade. Simultaneously, he gave the order for the fulfillment of trials left unfinished and issued some edicts concerning civil services. These tasks were urgently implemented during the last days of peace in a country where everybody was getting ready for an approaching war from beyond the northern border.

The Beginning of War: the Battle of Mộc Hoàn

According to ĐVSKTT 5, p.52a6-8, “On the 14th (of the 11th month of Đinh Hợi, 1287) Trịnh Xiển submitted a report on the attack on Phú Lương by the Yuan Prince A-thai”. In effect, this was the attack on Mộc Hoàn by Ai-lu (Aruq), as described in Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 14, p.11a3-5: “On the Nhâm Thìn of the 11th month (…) Ai-lu, Yu Chêng of Yunnan Province, had his troops encamped at Mộc Ngột in Giao Chỉ. The Giao Chỉ General Chiêu Văn Vương commanded 40,000 troops to defend there. Ai-lu launched an attack, capturing their officers Lê Thạch and Hà Anh.

This was the opening battle between our troops and Ai-lu’s Northwest Army from Yunnan. Ai-lu was an eminent general of the Yuan. Ai-lu Chuan in Yuan Shih 122, p.8b3-5, says: “(In Chih Yuan 24) Chên Nan Wang launched an attack on Giao Chỉ, ordering Ai-lu to deploy 6,000 men from Lolo to Giao Chỉ. The Giao Chỉ General Chiêu Văn Vương commanded 40,000 men to defend Mộc Ngột. Ai-lu defeated them, capturing their generals Lê Thạch and Hà Anh. After eighteen combats, great and small, during three months, [his troops] reached the enemy’s capital, where they were joined by other troops and went on to fight with them more than twenty times, most of which were our attacks.

According to Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 15, p.3a5, in the year that followed, that is, on the Quý Mùi of the 4th month of Chih Yuan 25 (1288), when reporting the battle to Kublai Khan, Ai-lu said, “Since leaving Chung-ch’ing for Giao Chỉ via Lolo, Paii, [our army] fought thirty-eight times, cutting off countless heads of the enemy’s troops. The officers who had merits amounted to 474, including Tu Yuan Shuai.

Accordingly, it was a great battle. Though only 6,000 men of the enemy were deployed, they were surely joined by many talented commanders, one of whom was Mang-ku-tai (Mangqudai). He was such an experienced general, who had spent numerous battles with a lot of achievements, that he was dealt with in an entire ‘chuan’ of Yuan Shih 149, p.13a6-7, where were mentioned not only Mang-ku-tai but also other generals such as Prince A-tai (Atai), who has just been referred to above by ĐVSKTT. The account of him says, “Following Prince A-tai to enter Giao Chỉ, [Mang-ku-tai] fought with Chiêu Văn Vương of Giao Chỉ on the Bạch Hạc River, capturing 87 warships.

Besides, in An Nam Chí Lược 4, p.54, we read, “From Yunnan Yu Chêng Ai-lu’s Army advanced to the Tam Đại Giang, fighting with the king’s younger brother, Trần Duật, and capturing Hà Anh and Lê Thạch.” Tam Đại Giang literally means the ‘three large rivers’, which obviously indicates the confluence of the rivers Đà, Lô and Hồng in Việt Trì. It was in this place that “the Ming troops occupied the river-bank of Mộc Hoàn in Việt Trì” and “[our troops] launched a thrust on Hồ troops in Mộc Hoàn District” before reoccupying the town of Đa Bang more than a hundred years later, as recorded in ĐVSKTT 8, p.53b2-7. Thus, the stronghold of Mộc Ngột mentioned in Chinese historical accounts must undoubtedly be Mộc Hoàn recorded in ĐVSKTT. According to Đồng Khánh Địa Dư Chí, the name Mộc Hoàn remained until the end of the nineteenth century. So Mộc Ngột was nothing other than Mộc Hoàn. Another proof is that the word hoàn (桓 ) is rather similar to ngột (杌).

The battle of Mộc Hoàn points out that Kublai Khan, in this invasion, paid much attention to the Yunnan Army through his reinforcement of it with 6,000 men and some experienced officers, who had been entrusted with some important tasks. Obviously, this reinforcement reflected his concern about the absence of an army to the south of our country. It was because of this absence that the Yunnan Army was strengthened; and the Commanding General Ai-lu was ordered to undertake the command of the South Army, which So-tu had attempted to fulfil at the risk of his life before. Indeed, the enemy’s violent blow at the stronghold of Mộc Hoàn, one of our important positions in the line of defense in Phú Lương, showed partly Kublai Khan’s strategy.

In the meantime, the Trần house carried out a quite different strategy from that of the previous war. Regarding the first battle mentioned above, Trần Hưng Đạo affirmed, in his reply to a question of Emperor Nhân Tông’s, that “this year it’s easy to defeat the enemy”, as in the words of ĐVSKTT 5, p.52a6-8. Indeed, in many different fronts our strategy of fighting combined with retreat was brought into action for the purpose of weakening the enemy’s forces and maintaining ours. It was owing to this strategy that we had succeeded in attracting the enemy to places where we could launch our decisive counteroffensives to eliminate them. Therefore, although our army had endured the loss of generals Lê Thạch and Hà Anh and some warships in the battle of Phú Lương, General Trần Nhật Duật excellently achieved the task of maintaining his army in a strategic retreat.

The Advance of T’o-huan’s Army

While Ai-lu’s Army was advancing toward the Phú Lương pass in the northwest, another army commanded by T’o-huan and Ao-lu-chih departed from their base in Ngohchou on the 3rd of 9th month of Đinh Hợi (1287). By the 28th of the 10th month, the latter reached Laihsin District in Kwanghsi. There, T’o-huan ordered the separation of infantrymen from naval troops. Under the command of T’o-huan, Ao-lu-chih and A-pa-chih, accompanied by the Vietnamese traitors Trần Ích Tắc, etc., the first wing marched to Szuming on the 13th of the 11th month. The second wing commanded by Wu-ma-er and P’an Chieh proceeded with their march toward Ch’inchou.

The dates cited above are, for the most part, derived from An Nam Chí Lược 4, p.55, and they may be verified by other sources such as Lai-a-pa-chih Chuan and An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 129, p.2a2-4 and 209, p.9a8 respectively. Similarly, P’an Chieh Chuan of Yuan Shih 166, p.10a10-11, says: “In the next penetration into Giao Chỉ in the year [of Chih Yuan] 24 (1287), [P’an Chieh was] appointed Hsin Chung Shu Shêng Ts’an Chih Chêng Shih. The advance then took three directions: Prince Chên Nan Wang and Yu Chêng Cheng P’êng Fei’s troops were divided into two wings, one entering Vĩnh Bình, the other the frontier pass of Nữ Nhi; whereas [P’an] Chieh and Wu-ma-er commanded their naval troops’ advance by sea.” The above account proves that Lê Sực wrote down the process of the enemy’s advance in which he himself participated—an account that he employed to write partly his An Nam Chí Lược after he had fled to China again together with the Chinese defeated troops. The account was, therefore, of rather high accuracy in relation to the enemy’s operation.

The Naval Battles

Thus, owing to the absence of an army to the south of our country in this invasion, Kublai Khan decided to strengthen the Northwest Army commanded by Ai-lu and organize a navy that was put under the command of Ao-lu-chih’s two assistants, that is, Wu-ma-er and P’an Chieh. According to An Nam Chí Lược 4, p.55, the division of troops occurred on the 28th of the 10th month of Đinh Hợi (1285); and, in addition to 18,000 men commanded by Wu-ma-er and P’an Chieh, there were also some more ten thousand men and 500 warships and 70 supply ships commanded by Wu Wei, Chang Yü, and Liu K’uei.

On the 11th of the 11th month the naval troops crossed the Vạn Ninh Estuary in what is now Móng Cái. But they were later halted by General Nhân Đức Hầu Trần Lang in an ambush at Lãng Sơn, which was aimed at cutting off the enemy’s rear as recorded in An Nam Chí Lược 4, p.55. Being aware of this, the enemy at once besieged the mountain on the very night and launched an attack on our troops right at daybreak. According to their account, the loss of our troops amounted to several hundred men and some dozen ships. Taking advantage of this, Wu-ma-er’s troops pushed forward without any care of their supply ships in the rear, which were eventually trapped in our troops’ ambush.

In the words of An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.9a11-12: “Troops commanded by Wu-ma-er and P’an Chieh advanced by sea toward the An Bang Estuary via the ‘double gate’ at Mount Ngọc [3] . More than 400 warships of Giao Chỉ had been deployed at the estuary. [Our] troops stroke them, cutting off more than 4,000 heads, capturing more than one hundred men and one hundred ships, forcing Giao Chỉ [men] to race away.” So is it described in P’an Chieh Chuan of Yuan Shih 166, p.19a11-13, “Together with naval troops, Chieh and Wu-ma-er advanced by sea. Encountering the enemy’s ships at the An Bang Estuary, Tiep ordered a violent thrust, cutting off more than 4,000 heads, capturing alive more than one hundred men, taking more than one hundred ships and dozens of weapons.” Similarly, the inscription on Li Tien Yu’s tombstone, which was composed by Tsu Tien Chüeh and cited in Hsü Ch’i Wen Kao 18, says, “Encountering Giao [Chỉ] men at An bang, [our troops] cut off more than 2,000 heads, capturing more than 60 warships.” According to Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 14, p.11b1-2, however, the battle might not occur until the Tân Sửu of the 11th month of Đinh Hợi (1287), that is, four days later than that in An Nam Chí Lược: “On the Tân Sửu, Wu-ma-er, P’an Chieh and Cheng P’êng Fei’s men entered Giao Chỉ. Wherever they came, they gained control.

Regarding this battle, ĐVSKTT 5, p.52b-3 says, “On the 28th Nhân Đức Hầu Toàn commanded naval troops in a battle in the lagoon of Đa Mỗ. The enemy’s troops were drowned a lot. [Our army] captured forty men, some ships, horses and weapons, all submitted [to the king].” Thus, it is clearly evident that the naval battle of Đa Mỗ commanded by Nhân Đức Hầu Toàn was also the battle of Lạng Sơn or that of An Bang mentioned in An Nam Chí Lược. The single difference is that it is dated the 11th day in An Nam Chí Lược, the 15th in Yuan Shih and the 28th in ĐVSKTT. These different dates may proceed from either mistaken information or some false recording in accounts. The most remarkable point is that both sides claimed victory in this battle.

According to Lai-a-pa-chih Chuan of Yuan Shih 129, p.2a, shortly after the encounters of our troops with Ao-lo’s Northwest Army and naval troops commanded by Wu-ma-er and P’an Chieh, T’o-huan’s Army reached Szuming from Laihsin together with a thousand men commanded by A-pa-chih as spearheads. Upon reaching there, T’o-huan’s troops were divided into two wings to advance into our country: one commanded by Cheng P’êng Fei and the other by Ao-lu-chih, which was reinforced with ten thousand men directed by A-pa-chih as spearheads.

This fact is more clearly recorded in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.9a8-11: “In the 11th month, Chên Nan Wang reached Szuming, leaving 2,500 men there to keep supplies under the command of Wan Hu Hsia Chih. And by his order, Cheng P’êng Fei and Po-lo-ho-ta-er (Bolqadar) commanded approximately ten thousand Hans to move along the west road via Vĩnh Bình; Ao-lu-chih commanded ten thousand men to follow Chên Nan Wang along the east road via the Nữ Nhi frontier pass, and A-pa-chih commanded ten thousand men as spearheads.” According to Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 14, p.11b1, three days later, i.e., on the Tân Sửu, it was reported that Cheng P’êng Fei had won a battle whereas An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.9a12-13, further says that “on their way across the three frontier passes of Lão Thử, Hãm Nê and Tư Trúc, Cheng P’êng Fei and Po-lo-ho-ta-er won seventeen fights.

T’o-huan’s Army Marching into Đại Việt

According to Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 14, p.11b2-3, five days later, i.e., the 20th of the 11th month, T’o-huan’s Great Army reached Giới Hà and encountered our army’s resistance. By the 24th of the 11th month his army reached Lộc Châu, where he ordered the division of his troops as recorded in An Nam Chí Lược 5, p.55: “[the army commanded by] Yu Chêng Cheng P’êng Fei and Po-lo-ho-ta-er advanced across the Chi Lang Pass; the Great Army together with A-pa-chih’s spearhead troops across the Khả Ly Pass.” In the words of ĐVSKTT 5, pp.52a8-b1, there occurred a combat on the same day: “On the 24th, the King ordered the troops that were being posted inside the citadel to defend the Lãnh Kinh Pass. Hưng Đức Hầu Quán commanded troops to shoot poisoned arrows. A large number of the enemy being killed and wounded, they retreated and halted at the Vũ Cao Pass.

Accordingly, in the invasion of our country this time, T’o-huan ordered his army’s advances along the roads of the former invasion, that is, the west and the east ones. The west wing advanced across the passes of Lão Thử (Chi Lăng), Hãm Nê and Tư Trúc, i.e., on present-day National Route 1, toward Thăng Long. The east wing advanced from Lộc Châu, now known as Ô Bình, via the passes of Khả Ly and Nữ Nhi toward Vạn Kiếp. Thus, their advance followed the road across the present-day Sơn Động District; and the first troops of ours they encountered were commanded by Hưng Đức Hầu Quán. This is the battle of Lãnh Kinh described in Pen Chi of Yuan Shih as “Giao Chỉ troops had been deployed for defense”.

The Battle of Vạn Kiếp

Following the battle of Lãnh Kinh, not any more remarkable one was mentioned in both Vietnamese and Chinese history books. Even the West Army of the enemy, which is said to have been involved in seventeen combats, is nowhere recorded. Regarding the East Army commanded by T’o-huan and Ao-lu-chih, it is said to have moved easily as if it had not encountered any resistance at all. Only one small battle is said to have occurred at Vạn Kiếp on the Giáp Dần of the 11th month according to Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 14, p.11b8, where Wu-ma-er’s army is said to have joined T’o-huan’s.

Liu Yüan Chuan of Yuan Shih 152, p.4b10-11, says, “In (Chih Yuan) 24, [Liu] Yüan joined the Giao Chỉ-invading army. Chên Nan Wang T’o-huan ordered him to command ten thousand men of army and navy to strike [Giao Chỉ’s troops] on the Vạn Kiếp River. Capturing sixteen men, he proceeded to attack the town of Linh Sơn, liquidating mostly the enemy’s resistance.” Further, Hsi-tu-er Chuan of Yuan Shih 133, p.9b6, says that Hsi-tu-er, by order of A-pa-chih, occupied the town of Nhất Tự, capturing seven warships.

According to An Nam Chí Lược 4, p.55, by the 3rd of the 12th month, T’o-huan reached Tứ Thập Nguyên where, being reported that Chang Wen Hu’s ships of supplies had been sunk, he “ordered Wu-ma-er to rob An Nam’s supplies, and A-li and Liu Kiang to build wooden forts on Mounts Phổ Lại and Chí Linh to store supplies.” This fact, however, is recorded in Pen Chi and An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 14, p.12a1-2 and 209, p.9a13-b1, to have occurred on the 15th of the 12th month. On the one hand, it says, “On the Quý Dậu Chên Nan Wang’s troops, posted at Mao La Port, attacked and destroyed Camp Phù Sơn.” On the other hand, An Nan Chuan says, “in the 12th month while Chên Nan Wang’s troops were halted at Mao La Port, Hưng Đạo Vương of Giao Chỉ fled. [The former launched] an attack on Camp Phù Sơn and destroyed it. In the meantime, he also ordered Cheng P’êng Fei and A-li to command twenty thousand men to hold Vạn Kiếp and mend wooden barriers on Mounts Phổ Lại and Chí Linh.

Thus, it is obvious that T’o-huan’s Great Army reached Vạn Kiếp rather easily. The strategy of our army, however, was then that the more deeply the enemy could be attracted to move into our land, the more easily our counterattacks were launched to destroy them. Consequently, in their intensely sweeping blow with an army of more than twenty thousand men, they could capture alive merely sixteen of our troops. Nevertheless, it is, too, obvious that after reaching Vạn Kiếp and joined by Cheng P’êng Fei and Wu-ma-er, T’o-huan was informed that Chang Wen Hu’s convoy of supply ships failed to arrive. Also it was just in this period that Emperor Nhân Tông ordered Nguyễn Thức to deploy the Thánh Dực Army to Hưng Đạo Vương’s position to defend the Đại Than Estuary, as recorded in ĐVSKTT 5, p.52b3-4.

The Enemy’s Control over Thăng Long

According to An Nam Chí Lược 4, p.55, on the 23rd of the 12th month, by T’o-huan’s order naval troops commanded by Wu-ma-er and infantry troops commanded by A-pa-chih started advancing toward Thăng Long. When P’an Chieh’s naval troops reached Bắc Giang, they were stopped by our troops. ĐVSKTT 5, p.52b3-4, writes down General Nguyễn Thức’s victory over the enemy at Đại Than: “On the 16th of the 12th month , the King ordered Nguyễn Thức to dispatch the Thánh Dực Army to Hưng Đạo Vương’s position to defend the Đại Than Estuary. By the 26th day [our army] faced the enemy’s troops and defeated them.” In spite of this victory, our army kept to the strategy of retreat. Accordingly, as in the words of Pen Chi of Yuan Shih  14, p.12a4, by the 29th of the 12th of Đinh Hợi, “Chên Nan Wang commanded his troops to cross the Phú Lương River and then deployed them near the Giao Chỉ stronghold. The troops in charge of the stronghold were defeated; Nhật Huyên and his children raced to their position at Cảm Nam.

When T’o-huan’s army reached Thăng Long, the Vietnamese traitors such as Lê Sực, Nguyễn Lĩnh, Lê Án, etc., who had been halted in Szuming by T’o-huan’s order, thought that they could safely come to Thăng Long under the escort of 5,000 men commanded by Shêng Tu Shih Hou Shih Ta, a Wan Hu Hou (name unknown) and Ch’ien Hu Chiao. Yet, on their arrival at the Nội Bàng frontier pass by the 28th of the 12th month, they were swept out by our troops, only about sixty of them able to flee on horses. Later, when writing An Nam Chí Lược 19, p.181, Lê Sực expressed his feeling at that time as follows: “In such a perilous situation, I found myself on the verge of death. Racing some hundred miles a day, I could, at last, reach the district at dawn. Not until my sight of the gate [of the district], [it occurred to me that] I could welcome the Festival of Mậu Tý New Year.

The Enemy’s Pursuit

Having taken the control of Thăng Long, the enemy discussed how to pursue Emperor Nhân Tông and our army as before. According to Lai-a-pa-chih Chuan of Yuan Shih 129, p.2a5-7, their spearhead general A-pa-chih remarked, “That the enemy have left their base for the mountains and the sea is aimed at waiting for another occasion to counterattack us when we have been exhausted. Our generals and troops, who come mostly from the north, would be gradually weakened due to deteriorating weather conditions in the transition period between the spring and summer. In such a situation we cannot go on with our occupation unless the enemy are all captured. Therefore, the most relevant measure for us at present is to dispatch our troops everywhere, persuading those who are willing to surrender, prohibiting our men from looting, and, most particularly, urgently seeking to capture Nhật Huyên.

To carry out this plan T’o-huan ordered A-pa-chih to attack our base at Hàm Tử on the 29th of the 12th month of Đinh Hợi, as in the words of An Nam Chí Lược 4, p.56: “On the 29th, Kỷ Dậu, (Chên Nan) Wang advanced west across the Lô River whereas A-pa-chih moved along the east bank to attack the Hàm Tử frontier pass. Thế Tử had to withdraw his troops into the pass of Hải Thị but they were defeated by the Great Army.” On the other hand, T’o-huan together with Wu-ma-er launched an attack on our stronghold at Cảm Nam as recorded in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.9b3. From there, after our troops’ retreat as in the words of An Nam Chí Lược 4, p.56, they went on to strike our base at Hải Thị. Hải Thị undoubtedly refers to our base at A Lo, a reach of the Hải Triều River, where Trần Hưng Đạo destroyed, for the first time, Liu Shih Ying’s men at their posts three years earlier. Following their attacks on Cảm Nam and Hải Thị, T’o-huan pursued our army toward Thiên Trường and even close to the Thiên Trường Estuary. Thereafter, nothing is written down as to where our Emperor and army moved.

It was in his pursuit of Đại Việt army early in the spring of the year Mậu Tý that Wu-ma-er, despite his failure in the preceding invasion, assumed that he could bring Đại Việt under his control this time. This may be seen in his statement that whatever Emperor Nhân Tông could do, “fleeing to the Heaven or on the ground, hiding in the mountains or diving in the sea, he would be ready to pursue him,” as is recorded in the fourth letter dated Chih Yuan 25 (1288) of Emperor Nhân Tông cited by Hsü Ming Shan in Tien Nan Hsin Chi of Shu Fu 51, p.19a1-3. Nevertheless, according to Pen Chi and An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 15, p.1a5 and 209, p.9b4 respectively, however aggressive they showed in such a statement, Wu-ma-er and even T’o-huan did not know where Emperor Nhân Tông and the total armed forces of Đại Việt had retreated.

Angrily agitated by their failure to pursue Emperor Nhân Tông and our armies, T’o-huan and Wu-ma-er turned to their mopping-up operations in Thiên Trường, i.e., present-day Nam Định. Regarding the havoc caused by the enemy in this area, Emperor Nhân Tông himself accused them of their crimes in his letter sent to Kublai Khan in the 4th month of Chih Yuan 25 (1288), cited by Hsü Ming Shan in Tien Nan Hsin Chi of Shu Fu 51, pp.18b12-19a1: “None of any brutal destructive offenses were not committed by them, destroying and burning all pagodas and temples across our country, digging our ancestors’ tombs, killing our innocent countrymen, damaging the common people’s properties.” And Chang Li Tao, on his return home after a mission in our country, mentioned in one of his records that Emperor Nhân Tông had directly told him about their destruction in a reception banquet at Thăng Long, as in the words of An Nam Chí Lược 3, p.46: “ ‘Last year, the Great Army came here, destroying and burning houses, digging [our] ancestors’ tombs—bones scattered everywhere…’  The king did not yet finish his words when his subjects all wept.

By the 4th of the 1st month of Mậu Tý (1288), having failed to pursue Emperor Nhân Tông and the army of Đại Việt, T’o-huan commanded his troops to move back to Thăng Long. There, on the one hand, he ordered Ao-lu-chih and A-pa-chih to seek supplies; on the other hand, he ordered Wu-ma-er to lead naval troops to receive Chang Wen Hu’s supply ships via the Đại Bàng Estuary, as in the words of Pen Chi and An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 15, p.1a6-7 and 209, p.9b4-6 respectively. Chang Wen Hu’s supply ships, which had been earlier attacked by our naval troops under the command of Nhân Đức Hầu Trần Lang at Đa Mỗ by the 28th of the 11th month, were finally destroyed totally by General Nhân Huệ Vương Trần Khánh Dư’s naval troops at Vân Đồn and then at Lục Thủy, i.e., the Lục Estuary in what is now Hòn Gai.

The Victory at Vân Đồn

In An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, pp.9b13-10a3, we read, “By the 12th month of the previous year (1287), [our] ships of supplies commanded by Chang Wen Hu reached Đồn Sơn when they encountered thirty ships of Giao Chỉ. In this battle, the enemy’s troops killed and captured were of the same number. Then our ships went on to move toward the Lục Thủy Sea where the enemy’s ships were increasingly massed. Seeing that our troops could not fight against them and our ships were too heavily loaded to move fast, Chang Wen Hu gave the order for loads of rice to be thrown into the sea before traveling to Quỳnh Châu. Fei Kung Ch’ên’s supply ships, which had been halted at Huệ Châu in the 11th month since they could not advance against strong wind, also floated to Quỳnh Châu and joined Chang Wen Hu’s convoy. Hsü Ch’ing’s supply ships, which floated to Champa, were, too, united to them at Quỳnh Châu. Generally speaking, for our part 220 men were killed, and 11 ships with more than 14,300 piculs of rice lost.” According to An Nam Chí Lược 4, p.56, Chang Wen Hu fled to Ch’inchou in a small boat after his ships of supplies had been besieged by our troops, but this might be falsely recorded.

In ĐVSKTT 5, pp.52b6-53a7, we read: “When Yuan naval troops were about to attack Vân Đồn, Hưng Đạo Vương put all military actions at this position under the command of Nhân Huệ Vương Khánh Dư. The latter, however, lost the defense. Being informed of this, the Emperor-Father sent a messenger to the frontier, by his order that Khánh Dư would be tied and brought to the capital. Khánh Dư said to the messenger, ‘In terms of military regulations, I am hardly to be forgiven. Yet, I think it not too late for me to be given a delay of about several days to acquire some merit before returning to the capital for punishment.’ The messenger accepted his request. Knowing that the enemy’s ships of supplies often moved in the rear of their troops, Khánh Dư collected his men and waited for them. Shortly thereafter, they passed by as he had expected. He ordered a sudden thrust on them, capturing a large number of the enemy’s men, weapons, and supplies. When he was informed of this, the Emperor-Father decreed to forgive him, saying, ‘The Yuan troops’ operation depends crucially on weapons and supplies, which have just been captured by our army. They could, however, go on with their actions unless they would be informed of this loss.’ Therefore, he gave orders for the release of the Yuan captives so that they could report everything fully to their commanders on their return to their command post.

Thus, our victory at Vân Đồn was decisive and well known. Even the enemy admitted that it was a great loss for them, as in the remark of ĐVSKTT 5, p.53a6-7: “In that year the people did not fall into so much misfortune as in the previous year. It was partly due to Khánh Dư’s efforts.” As we have seen above, before our victory at Vân Đồn, Đại Việt’s naval troops had fought unceasingly from the 12th of the 11th month to the end of the 12th month of the year Đinh Hợi. During this period, the Đại Việt Generals Nhân Đức Hầu Trần Toàn and Nhân Huệ Vương Khánh Dư must have been defeated by the Yuan invaders. General Trần Khánh Dư himself, as in the words of ĐVSKTT, was nearly tied and brought to Thăng Long by order of the Emperor-Father because of his failure to defend the position. Nevertheless, this talented and unyielding general had succeeded in sinking the enemy’s convoy of supplies for only a few days. It points out not only our troops and people’s resolution to fight and defeat the enemy at that time but also the Đại Việt supreme commanding officers’ attempts to observe closely the military situation in many different fronts in order to make appropriate decisions in the most crucial moments.

The Battle of Đại Bàng

Thus, the convoy of supplies commanded by Chang Wen Hu was totally beaten down; and the enemy captives, who were then returned to their command post by Emperor-Father Trần Thánh Tông, must have informed T’o-huan of this. However, it seemed that the latter had showed so stubbornly suspicious that he ordered Wu-ma-er to receive their supply ships via the Đại Bàng Estuary where our ships, but not Chang Wen Hu’s, were waiting for him. ĐVSKTT 5, p.51a1-3, says, “On the 8th [of the 1st month of Mậu Tý, 1288] our troops faced the enemy’s ships on the sea of Đại Bàng, capturing 300 their scout ships and [cutting off] ten men’s heads. Most of Yuan men were drowned.” According to Khâm Định Việt Sử Thông Giám Cương Mục 7, p.38a4-5, the Đại Bàng Estuary “is located at the local community of Đại Bàng in Nghi Dương District of present-day Hải Phòng Province”. Thus, the Đại Bàng Estuary is the mouth of the Văn Úc River in what is now Hải Phòng City.

After the battle of Đại Bàng, Wu-ma-er led his troops toward Tháp Sơn, that is, present-day Đồ Sơn in the north. There again he met our naval troops with more than a thousand ships waiting for him, as recorded in A Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.9b8-9: “From the Đại Bàng Estuary Wu-ma-er advanced to Tháp Sơn where he met more than a thousand ships of the enemy and defeated them.” According to the inscription on Li Tien Yu’s tombstone cited by Tsu Tien Chüeh in Hsü Ch’i Wen Kao 18, the battle of Tháp Sơn was commanded by Emperor Nhân Tông: “in the spring of the year that followed, [our] troops reached the sea of Tháp Sơn, defeating Thế Tử.”

Hsi-tu-er Chuan of Yuan Shih 133, p.9b6-8, mentions Hsi-tu-er’s fight with Hưng Đạo Vương’s troops: “In the spring, the 1st month, of the year that followed (1288) our great army launched an attack on Hưng Đạo Vương’s command post, fighting with Giao men in Tháp Sơn. Taking away a scimitar from the enemy’s troops, [Hsi-tu-er] advanced to kill them. Being shot with an arrow on the right arm, his wound bled as much as a handful of blood. Wiping off the blood, he shot down more than twenty Giao men, and then urged his men to defeat them.

Thus, Tháp Sơn was an important position of Đại Việt’s naval troops, where were concentrated a large number of our men and ships together with such supreme commanders as Emperor Nhân Tông and General Trần Hưng Đạo by the spring of Mậu Tý (1288). It was in this position that Wu-ma-er and Hsi-tu-er launched their attacks and were more or less defeated by our men, particularly Hsi-tu-er who had been shot with an arrow, losing “a handful of blood”.

T’o-huan’s Retreat into Vạn Kiếp

According to An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.9b8-9, having not met Chang Wen Hu’s convoy of supply ships on his arrival at the An Bang Estuary, now known as Nam Triệu, Wu-ma-er decided to move his troops back to Vạn Kiếp via the Bạch Đằng River, where Yên Hưng, one of our bases that had been founded close to the river, became the first target of their attack. ĐVSKTT 5, p.54a3, says, “On the 19th of the 2nd month of Mậu Tý (1288), Wu-ma-er launched a blow on Camp Yên Hưng.” In effect, according to the strategy generally designed by our army at the time this was only one in a series of battles aimed at weakening the enemy’s strength. In the meantime, the enemy, too, did not intend to pursue our troops since they were on their way to retreat.

Regarding the armies commanded by A-pa-chih and Ao-lu-chih, who had received orders to “seek supplies in the mountains”, they launched some attacks on our positions at Kẻ Trầm, Kẻ Lê, Ma Sơn, and Ngụy Trai. In the words of An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.9b5-6, they cut off over ten thousand our men’s heads; whereas Tich-tu-er’s Army moved to Tháp Sơn and then followed A-pa-chih to Thăng Long. There, on the Đinh Tỵ of the 12th month “Chên Nan Wang deployed his troops back to Vạn Kiếp” as recorded in Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 15, p.2a1-2. This event is dated the 3rd month in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.9b6-8, which further says, “The bridgehead troops commanded by A-pa-chih gained the frontier pass, built a floating bridge, destroyed the Tam Giang Estuary, breached thirty-two posts, cut off tens of thousands of heads, captured 200 ships and more than 113,000 piculs of rice.

Thus, in contrast to their easy penetration into Thăng Long some months earlier, the retreat of the enemy’s troops into Vạn Kiếp was full of difficulty and hardship. From the An Bang Estuary Wu-ma-er also moved his troops towards Vạn Kiếp as we have seen above. After wooden barriers had already been made around the Phả Lại and Chí Linh Mountains, T’o-huan’s troops were posted there together with more than 40,000 piculs of rice, which had been collected by Wu-ma-er and A-pa-chih as recorded in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.9b9-10. An Nam Chí Lược 4, p.56, gives further information on the situation above: “In the 2nd month, Thế Tử ordered his cousin, Hưng Ninh Vương Trần Tung, to go to our camp for some negotiations about their surrender, which was ostensibly set forth for the purpose of weakening our troops’ morale; yet, by night their spearhead troops were ordered to attack our position. Being extremely angry, Chên Nan Wang was about to order Wan Hu Chieh Chên to burn the stronghold but then gave up this intention due to his officers’ advice.

Lai-a-pa-chih in Yuan Shih 129, p.2a7-10, writes down the same fact but mentions nothing of who came to negotiate with them about our emeperor’s pretense of surrendering: “Then, Nhat Huyen ordered his messengers to enter into many negotiations with us about his surrender. To delay our army’s actions, he gave orders for wealth to be given to our troops. Our generals all believed in his words, having the stronghold rebuilt for a plan of long settlement. Waiting for such a long time, our supplies were running out but Nhat Huyen did not come. Not only did he refuse to come but also ordered his troops to be deployed at Truc Dong and the An Bang Estuary.

Thus, since their retreat into Vạn Kiếp the enemy had fallen into an extremely puzzling state, which was worsened when Tuệ Trung Trần Quốc Tung, a hero in our earlier campaign to liberate Thăng Long, undertook the task of enhancing their stress through his ostensible negotiations with them so that T’o-huan once had the idea of burning the very stronghold that was protecting his army. Eventually, it was in such a puzzling state that a military conference was held among the defeated army.

According to An Nam Chí Lược 4, p.56, Chia Jo Yü, an excellent expert in archery, set forth his suggestion that “What our army can do now is to retreat, not to hold [the position].Lai A-pa-chih Chuan of Yuan Shih says, “Then, most of our officers and troops were so badly tormented by epidemics that they could not advance any more. Further, minority groups rose against us; the frontier gates under our control gradually fell into the enemy’s hands again. Accordingly, our army decided to withdraw.” Finally, the enemy had made up a decision of retreat as recorded in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.9b10-11: “Therefore, the generals said, ‘we can hardly bring all the ramparts and moats in Giao Chỉ under our control; nor can we occupy their stores of rice. In addition, Chang Wen Hu’s supply ships have failed to arrive whereas the weather is getting hotter and hotter. If rice ran out, our men would be so exhausted that they could not stand long. To protect our court from being humiliated, we should retreat to maintain our forces.’ Chên Nan Wang agreed.

The Victory at Bạch Đằng

Thus, the invaders finally decided to retreat. But how could they carry out their retreat?

According to An Nam Chí Lược 4, p.56, at the military conference mentioned above the enemy’s naval officers said, “Our convoys of supply ships had been twice besieged. So it would be the best way for us to move by land instead of by water.” The suggestion would have been accepted by T’o-huan if his staff had not shown their disagreement. At last, as in the words of An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.9b11-12, their troops were divided into two wings. The first naval wing commanded by Wu-ma-er and P’an Chieh advanced forwards, whereas the second wing that was composed of infantrymen was commanded by Cheng P’êng Fei and T’a-chu (Taču) to escort the first one. This event is dated the Nhâm Ngọ, i.e., the 27th of the 2nd month of Mậu Tý, in Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 5, p.2b4.

According to An Nam Chí Lược 4, p.56, the second wing encountered a great deal of difficulties: “On the 3rd of the 3rd month of Đinh Hợi, Yu Chêng Cheng P’êng Fei and T’ien Shêng Ta-mu[4]

, who were commanding cavalry to lead naval troops across the ‘market’ of Đông Hồ [5] , could not cross the river because the enemy, who were waiting there to launch a blow on [our] troops, had destroyed all the bridges. Having asked the captured elders of the village about the way, Cheng Yu Chêng had ordered his troops to move overnight to catch the Great Army.” Obviously, the task of escorting the naval troops, which was entrusted to Cheng P’êng Fei and T’a-chu by T’o-huan, failed due to our troops’ destruction of all the bridges. And they attempted to withdraw by land together with T’o-huan’s army in the hope that it would be much safer.

Regarding the naval troops commanded by Wu-ma-er and P’an Chieh, they could not move quickly on their way toward the sea because of our troops’ everyday harassment. Chang Yü Chuan of Yuan Shih 166, p.9a3-4, says, “In [Chih Yuan] 25 (1288), our troops were withdrawn. An Nan troops launched violent attacks [on them] all day.” According to An Nam Chí Lược 4, p.56, by the 7th day, Tân Mão, Wu-ma-er’s naval troops reached Trúc Động, where our troops stroke them but the enemy’s General Liu K’uei counterattacked and captured twenty ships of ours. Trúc Động was an important base of our army, where A-pa-chih, particularly Wu-ma-er, had had a fighting with us a month earlier, as in the words of Lai A-pa-chih Chuan of Yuan Shih 129, p.2a9, and Ku Chêng Shih Lang Hsiang Shan Hsuan Yin Li Hou Mu Bei in Hsü Ch’i Wen Kao 18.

It might be owing to his experience in the fighting at Trúc Động that Wu-ma-er, in spite of being informed of Liu K’uei’s successful counterattacks, dared not lead his naval troops toward the Bạch Đằng River via the Giá River, where was our army’s base, Trúc Động, located. Instead, he chose the way on the Đá Bạc River. Bạch Đằng was the river along which our army had established several fighting positions. According to ĐVSKTT 5, p.54a3, on the 19th of the 2nd month of Mậu Tý (1288) Wu-ma-er launched an attack on Camp Yên Hưng on the left-bank Bạch Đằng before moving back to Vạn Kiếp. Also in the words of ĐVSKTT 5, pp.54a4-b4, by the 8th of the 3rd month “Yuan troops, who had been massed on the Bạch Đằng, failed to receive Chang Wen Hu’s convoy of supplies when they were defeated by Hưng Đạo Vương’s naval troops. Long before, Vuong had had grass-covered stakes driven into the bed of the Bạch Đằng River. That day, taking advantage of the tide rising, Vương ordered his troops to challenge the enemy, then raced northward, pretending to be defeated. The enemy pursued; our troops attempted to counterattack. When the tide lowered, the enemy’s ships were trapped among the pointed stakes. Nguyễn Khoái commanded strong men of the Thánh Dực Army to fight with the enemy, capturing alive Ping Chang Ao-lu-chih. With their reinforcements, the two kings launched a decisive combat on the enemy. So many Yuan troops were drowned that the river looked bloody. When Wen Hu’s supply ships came, our troops from ambushes on the banks continued to beat them down. Being pierced with our pointed posts, almost all of their ships were sunk. A great number of Yuan troops were drowned; more than 400 patrol boats were captured. Nội Minh Tự Đỗ Hành captured alive Wu-ma-er and His-li-chi, carrying them to the Emperor-Father. He gave orders for them to sit with him on his own ship, inviting them to drink wine in a pleasant conversation.

The account mentioned above in ĐVSKTT is fundamentally correct, except for some details that were not truly recorded. In effect, Wen Hu, for example, did not take part in this battle; nor was Ao-lu- chih captured on the Bạch Đằng River. Moreover, some other details that are found in some Chinese sources were not written down in ĐVSKTT. Chang Yü Chuan of Yuan Shih 166, p.9a3-4, for instance, gives an account of Chang Yü, who “gained many military achievements in Ts’an Chih Chêng Shih Wu-ma-er’s expeditionary army to fight Giao Chỉ in Chih Yuan 24 (1287). When it was on its way back [to the country] in [Chih Yuan] 25 (1288), the army was halted by An Nam troops. A great battle took place all day. The water was so low that [our] ships could not move. Yü was killed.

Regarding P’an Chieh’s role in this withdrawal, besides the fact that “Wu-ma-er did not return by sea but on the Bạch Đằng River,An Nam Chí Lược 4, p.56, gives a further detail: “Encountering the enemy, Wu-ma-er himself commanded the troops, who were transporting supplies, to fight. P’an Ts’an Chêng occupied a high mountain to facilitate his assistance [to the army], yet our troops could not make way ahead due to the lowering tide.” In the words of P’an Chieh Chuan of Yuan Shih 166, p.10b2-3, the battle is more clearly described: “When Chieh and Wu-ma-er were withdrawing their naval troops, they were halted by the enemy. Since the tide in the Bạch Đằng River was then lowering, Chieh’s ship could not move. The enemy’s ships were more and more concentrated, and so many arrows were shot away as rain. Chieh did his best to fight from the Mão hour to the Dậu hour[6] until he was shot down with a cannon-ball and fell into water. The enemy pulled him up with a hook, but later poisoned him to death.

Thus, according to P’an Chieh Chuan, the battle occurred from the early morning to the evening and there were deployed a great number of Đại Việt’s ships with “so many arrows were shot away as rain”. In reality, P’an Chieh was killed more than ten days later because he was still present together with His-li-chi (Širägi), Wu-ma-er, T’ang-wu-tai, Ts’en Tuan, Mei Shih Ying, T’ien Yuan Shuai, etc. at a banquet held by Emperor Nhân Tông at Long Hưng on the 17th day.

Until now the position where the enemy’s ships were trapped among our pointed stakes on the 8th of the 3rd month of Mậu Tý (1288) has not been definitely recognized. Yet, we can make sure that the fact that our troops drove stakes into the bed of the Bạch Đằng River must have taken place within not more than three weeks since Wu-ma-er’s blow on Camp Hưng Yên on the 19th of the 2nd month; for by the 8th of the 3rd month he reached the Bạch Đằng River. In the contemporary conditions of war, the fact that the enemy’s naval troops were attracted into such an ambush as was planned by our army was actually a glorious achievement in science and the art of military operation by our supreme staff headed by Emperor Nhân Tông.

The presence of the emperor, his father, and such gifted generals as Trần Hưng Đạo and Nguyễn Khoái points out that the battle in question must have been planned and commanded by the emperor himself or, at least, its plan must have been approved of and agreed on by himself. In effect, Emperor Nhân Tông’s presence at this battle manifested the resolution of a leader of a country, who had, at any cost, to carry out the plan already set forth, considering it the central task that had to be performed to achieve the aim of the war. Nevertheless, the fact that the naval troops commanded by Wu-ma-er were completely liquidated has been so far attributed to Trần Hưng Đạo by some researchers who have not paid enough attention to the emperor’s role in this decisive battle. Indeed, leadership in politics is at all times predominant in every war. It is through political leadership alone that all the forces of a people are able to be concentrated for a war. Without such a total concentration, it would be hard for a country to gain victory no matter how talented its commanding generals, how good its tactics in fighting, and how great the people’s patriotism and their resolution of fighting may be.

T’o-huan’s Army Fleeing

By the eve of our total liquidation of Wu-ma-er’s troops on the Bạch Đằng River, that is, the 7th of the 3rd month according to Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 15, p.2b13, T’o-huan had ordered his great army to retreat to their country. Once more, A-pa-chih was appointed spearhead in opening the way as in the words of an account of him in Yuan Shih 129, p.2a10-11: “Some infantry and cavalry men selected [by A-pa-chih] to open the way had to fight dozens of times a day while moving. The enemy’s troops posted in the lofty and perilous positions shot away poisoned arrows. Seeking to tie their wounds, [our] officers and men attempted to fight against them. Some troops escorted the Prince out of the enemy’s country.

Yet, what road did A-pa-chih order his men to open? The answer is found in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.10a3-6: “Chên Nan Wang’s army was quartered at the frontier pass of Nội Bàng, where the enemy’s troops were more and more massing. Having breached their ring, Wan Hu Chang Chün received orders to command three thousand veteran men to halt the enemy in the rear. They had to try their best to escape out of the pass. Being reported that Nhật Huyên, Thế Tử and Trần Hưng Đạo were deploying more than three hundred thousand men along a line of more than a hundred miles to uphold the Nữ Nhi Pass and the Khâu Cấp Mountain and cut off our army’s withdrawal, Wang had to follow a short cut to Lộc Châu via Đơn Kỷ District so that his army could be quartered at Szuming District.”

The short cut mentioned above was the eastern road from Sơn Động to Lộc Bình in what is now Lạng Sơn Province. In the meantime, Hsi-tu-er was appointed to march his troops on the western road, i.e., present-day National Route I, from Chi Lăng to Vĩnh Bình. Hsi-tu-er Chuan of Yuan Shih 133, p.9b10-13 says, “Chên Nan Wang withdrew his army; Hsi-tu-er was appointed to command spearhead troops. Reaching the frontier gate of Hãm Nê, the latter fought with Giao men a dozen times. After Giao men retreated, he went back, intending to receive Chan Nan Wang at the Nữ Nhi Pass. Yet, the main road had been stopped by more than four hundred thousand Giao men. Being exhausted due to lack of food and the recent combat, our officers looked at each other, their faces turning pale. Hsi-tu-er commanded strong men armed with spears and scimitars to advance. Giao men retreated over twenty miles. At last, our army could retreat safely.

Thus, only two days later than their departure, i.e., the 10th of the 3rd month, when T’o-huan had just reached the Nội Bàng Pass, our troops launched a violent attack on them. This attack, as in the words of Pen Chi of Yuan Shih 15, p.3a-4, was aimed at cutting off the retreat of T’o-huan’s army. T’o-huan, then, had to follow a short cut to Lộc Châu via Đơn Kỷ District to leave our country, as recorded in An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 209, p.10a3-6. An Nam Chí Lược 4, p.56, gives us further details that in their retreat out of Vạn Kiếp toward the Nội Bàng Pass, T’o-huan’s troops fell into our troops’ ambush. Wan Hu Ta-la-chih (Darači) and Liu Shih Ying attempted to fight and captured two of our generals, Phạm Trù and Nguyễn Kỵ, whom they cut down immediately in resentment.

This might probably be the battle of Xóm Hàn mentioned in Hsi-tu-er Chuan of Yuan Shih 133b8-10: “In the 4th month, in an attack on their position at Xóm Hàn, our troops captured their General Hoàng Trạch. That night, when the drum sounded the second watch of the night, Giao men suddenly appeared, seeking to occupy our camp. Our troops did their best to uphold the fence, waiting for the moment the enemy would lose their power. At daybreak, beating drums, our troops began to march out of camp. Giao men withdrew. Having pursued and killed a great number of them, our troops went back to camp, mending the wooden fence and increasing patrolmen. Thereafter Giao men dared not challenge us.

On his arrival at Nội Bàng, T’o-huan, having heard that our troops were carrying out the defense of the Nữ Nhi Pass by digging holes for trapping his cavalry, ordered the chief of Szuming District, Huang Chien, to guide him toward Lộc Châu via another short cut in the hope that his troops could be safely protected in their retreat.

In the Chinese sources mentioned above, we see that T’o-huan’s retreat was actually an extremely hard flight in his attempts to avoid any possible confrontation with our armed forces. The impression is to become much stronger when we read the very accounts of generals who participated in this battle in Yuan Shih. The account of Lai-a-pa-chih found in Yuan Shih 129, p.2a10-12, for instance, points out that our army attacked the enemy so unceasingly with poisoned arrows from the high mountain that they had to seek to tie their wounds while fighting against us. The most impressive description was of A-pa-chih. Having been shot with three poisoned arrows on the head, neck and leg respectively, he tried his best to command the resistance until his death because of swollen wounds. Another account concerning Hsi-tu-er recorded in Yuan Shih 133, p.9b10-13, gives us another picture of Yuan troops who were so exhausted due to lack of food and the recent fighting that they looked at each other extremely frightened. In face of our intense pursuit, however, they had to advance in hopes of escaping from our army’s fatal siege. The picture of the generals and their men, who were most likely to fall into starvation and thus sought to race to the other side of the frontier, was in sharp contrast with that of their pride and brutality in the early days of their control over our country.

In this flight, the Yunnan Army commanded by Ai-lo seemed to join T’o-huan’s army in their retreat toward Szuming. This may be proved through the fact that in his retreat to Szuming by the 15th of the 3rd month of Mậu Tý (1288), T’o-huan ordered Ai-lo to lead his own army back to Yunnan, whereas Ao-lo-chih marched the Great Army to the north, as recorded in Pen Chi and An Nan Chuan of Yuan Shih 15, p.3a8 and 209, p.10a6.

As to our history books, ĐVSKTT 5, p.54b4-5, says, “T’o-huan and A-thai commanded their men to flee to Szuming, where they were captured by the local official, Hoàng Nghệ, and carried [to our capital].” In effect, it was not possible for our troops to capture T’o-huan in his flight because he was later to be mentioned in Chinese historical documents as we have seen above. Regarding A-thai, he might probably be captured in this flight because his name has, since then, not appeared in any history books of China.

The Return to Thăng Long in Triumph

Once more, the invaders were entirely swept out of our country. Many years later, the terrible nightmare they had undergone during this invasion remained to be vividly perceived by their messenger Trần Phu in his poem Sứ Hoàn Cảm Sự in Trần Cương Trung Thi Tập, particularly in the two lines:

金 戈 影 裏 丹 心 苦

銅 鼓 聲 中 白 髪 生

In the image of bright spears their faithful hearts suffered;

And in the sound of bronze drums their hair turned white.

On the 17th of the 3rd month of Mậu Tý (1288), Emperor Nhân Tông and his Emperor-Father returned to the Long Hưng Prefecture. Following them were the enemy’s generals taken captives, such as Hsi-li-chi, Wu-ma-er, P’an Chieh, T’ang-wu-tai, Mei Shih Ying, Ts’en Tuan, A-thai, T’ien Yuan Shuai, and so on, who would prostrate themselves in front of the altar of the late Emperor Trần Thái Tông, the national hero of our country in the War of Defense in 1258. Standing before his heroic grandfather’s mausoleum, which had been so ravaged by the enemy that the stone horses situated there were tainted with mud, Emperor Nhân Tông, the talented militarist of the history of Vietnam, could not help uttering two lines of verse expressing the great compassion, even for such inanimate beings as stone horses, of a hero who had just said farewell to fire and smoke of war as well as his strong confidence in the eternal existence of his country:

For the country’s sake, even stone horses were sometimes engaged;

As firm as a gold basin, the fatherland would forever remain.

Then, on the 27th of the same month, together with his Emperor-Father, Emperor Nhân Tông returned to Thăng Long in the thundering cheers arising from the heart of a capital that had swept out the most brutal invaders of the world.

The homeland in peace was awaiting the national hero’s leadership.

Translation into English by Đạo Sinh

[1] Correct transliteration: Mieh-hei-mi-shih. [LMT]

[2] Correct transliteration: Yeh-la-ma-tan. [L.M.T.]

[3] “Mount Ngọc Vương” in the original. It may be a mistake. [LMT]

[4] correct transliteration: Ta-shu. [LMT]

[5] correct transliteration: Đông Triều. [LMT]

[6] the period between 5 a.m. and 7 p.m.


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