Le Dynasty of Vietnam

Le Loi, the founder of the Le dynasty
Le Loi, the founder of the Le dynasty

The Le dynasty ruled Vietnam from 1428 to 1788, the longest reign in Vietnam’s history. Le Loi, the founder of the Le dynasty, who ascended the throne as Le Thai To, is one of the most celebrated heroes in the country.

He is credited with freeing the country from Chinese Ming domination in 1428. Le Loi was an aristocratic landowner. He was helped by Nguyen Trai, a Confucian statesman, poet, and military strategist. Vietnam would maintain peaceful relations with China as a vassal state for more than 300 years.

Le Thanh Tong, who ruled Vietnam from 1460 to 1497, is the second-most significant ruler of the Le dynasty. He reorganized the administrative divisions of the country and upgraded the civil service system.

He ordered a census of people and landholdings to be taken every six years, revised the tax system, and commissioned the writing of a national history. He completed the conquest of Champa in 1471 and quelled Lao-led insurrections in the western border area.

He also ordered the formulation of the Hong Duc legal code, which was based on Chinese law but included distinctly Vietnamese features, such as recognition of the higher position of women. Under the new code, parental consent was not required for marriage, and daughters were granted equal inheritance rights with sons.

He also initiated the construction and repair of granaries, dispatched his troops to rebuild irrigation works following floods, and provided medical aid during epidemics. He also encouraged and emphasized the Confucian examination system. Thus his reign was a golden age of literature and science.

Le Thanh Tong presided over a great period of southward expansion. The don dien system of land settlement, borrowed from China, was used to develop territory wrested from Champa. Military colonies were established and soldiers and landless peasants moved to and cultivated a new area and served as a militia to defend it.

After three years, the village was incorporated into the Vietnamese administrative system, a communal village meetinghouse (dinh) was built, and the workers were given an opportunity to share community land granted by the state to each village. The remainder of the land belonged to the state.

As each area was cleared and a village established, the soldiers would move on to clear more land. This method contributed greatly to the success of Vietnam’s southward expansion and eased the land hunger of the peasants. As the Le dynasty declined, landlessness contributed to the turbulence as the peasants rose up in revolt.

Under the Le dynasty there was a division between state and local responsibilities in government. The central government was responsible for military, judicial, and religious functions, while village authorities oversaw the construction of public works projects such as roads, dikes, and bridges. The autonomy enjoyed by the villages, however, contributed to the weakness of the Vietnamese political system.

If the dynasty could not protect a village, the villages would often support a rebel movement, which then had to provide security and to institutionalize their political power. Although it ensured the preservation of a sense of national and cultural identity, the strength of the villages was a factor contributing to the political instability of the society as it expanded southward.

Beginning in 1527, Vietnam came under the control of two families, the Trinh, dominant in the northern, and the Nguyen in the southern part. Their military and political rivalry destabilized Le dynasty and brought its end in 1788. The new Nguyen dynasty ruled Vietnam into the modern period.