Battle of Bạch Đằng (938)

Battle of Bạch Đằng
LocationBạch Đằng River, Vietnam
Result Decisive Ngô Quyền victory
Tĩnh Hải quân period ended
Ngô Dynasty proclaimed
Vietnamese people (Tĩnh Hải quân) Southern Han
Commanders and leaders
Ngô Quyền Liu Yan
Liu Hongcao 
30,000 100,000+

At the Battle of Bạch Đằng River in 938 the Vietnamese forces, led by Ngô Quyền, defeated the invading forces of the Southern Han state of China and put an end to centuries of Chinese imperial domination in Vietnam. It took place at the Bạch Đằng River, near Hạ Long Bay in northern Vietnam.[1]

The victory at Bạch Đằng, ended 1000 years of First Chinese domination of Vietnam (The Long Eclipse) in the History of Vietnam, opening up an independence age for the country.


In 931 AD, Dương Đình Nghệ defeated the Southern Han army – one of the Ten Kingdoms near Tĩnh Hải quân (Army of Peaceful Sea, the name used for Vietnam's army at that time) and achieved the independent status of the Vietnamese at Tĩnh Hải quân; he named himself Jiedushi.[2]

In 937 AD, Đình Nghệ was killed by Kiều Công Tiễn to revoke the Jiedushi title. Đình Nghệ's son in law and also his general, Ngô Quyền, mobilized his army to revenge Công Tiễn.[2]

Fearing Ngô Quyền, Công Tiễn requested help from the Southern Han. Thenceforth, Emperor of Southern Han, Liu Yan, took his chance and prepared to invade Tĩnh Hải (Peaceful Sea) again.[2]

Liu Yan claimed that if Dương Đình Nghệ was dead, then Tỉnh Hãi Quân would be out of good generals. He ordered his ninth son, Liu Hongcao (Vietnamese: Lưu Hoằng Tháo) to become "Bình Hải tướng quân" (Sea-Pacifying Military General) and "Giao Chỉ vương" (King of Giao Chỉ), he commanded the naval forces of Southern Han into Giao Chỉ.[2]


In 937, Liu Yan (Chinese: 劉龑; Vietnamese: Lưu Nham), the Southern Han ruler, took the chance to intervene in Vietnam after the death of the Annam Lord Protector Dương Đình Nghệ. Liu Yan had been previously defeated by Dương Đình Nghệ in 931. Liu Yan placed his son, Liu Hongcao (Chinese: 劉弘操; Vietnamese: Lưu Hoằng Tháo), in command of the expedition, naming him "Peaceful Sea Military Governor" and "King of Giao." He assembled an army at Sea Gate, where he took charge of the reserve force. He ordered Liu Hongcao to embark the army and sail to Giao.

By the time Liu Hongcao arrived in Vietnamese waters with the Southern Han expedition, Liu Hongcao's plan was to ascend the Bạch Đằng River and to place his army in the heart of Giacannoto Chau before disembarking; the Bạch Đằng was the major riverine route into the Red River plain from the north.

Ngô Quyền anticipated this plan and brought his army to the mouth of the river. He had his men plant a barrier of large poles in the bed of the river. The tops of the poles reached just below the water level at high tide and were sharpened and tipped with iron. When Liu Hongcao appeared off the mouth of the river, Quyen sent out small, shallow-draft boats at high tide to provoke a fight and then retreat upriver, drawing the Chinese fleet in pursuit. As the tide fell, the heavy Chinese warboats were caught on the poles and lay trapped in the middle of the river, whereupon they were attacked by Ngô Quyền's forces.

More than half the Chinese were drowned, including Liu Hongcao.[3] When news of the battle reached Sea Gate with the survivors, Liu Yan wept openly. He collected what remained of his army and returned to Canton. This victory ended China's long occupation of Vietnam and began a period of Vietnam's independence until the conquest by Ming China. Ngô Quyền's tactic would later be reused by Trần Hưng Đạo in a battle at Bạch Đằng River against the Mongols in 1288.


The military tactics used by Ngô Quyền were original, as Lê Văn Hưu described: "Great tactic, good combat" (Vietnamese: "Mưu giỏi mà đánh cũng giỏi" or "mưu tài đánh giỏi") in Complete History of Đại Việt (Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư).[4] However, according to militarists, applying the pole-and-tide stratagem to inflict damage upon an enemy navy required the successful combination of two factors:

These two processes were integrally linked, for if the enemy came in at low tide, they would have seen the poles, but if low tide did not come in time, Liu's boats would have easily sailed over the poles. Therefore, for this tactic to take effect, beside preparing the poles secretly and quickly, luring the enemy into the right route at the right time was the most decisive factor. Ngô Quyền achieved success with this tactic by calculating and predicting the tides.

Ngô Quyền knew of Hongcao arrival, and told his generals:[2]

Hoằng Tháo (Hongcao) is such a foolish child, leading his army from the far land. His soldiers were still tired, and eventually they became completely perplexed when they heard that Công Tiễn was killed and there was no information about the situation happening right here. Our army is strong, the enemy is weak; we can surely win victory in this war. However! They have an advantage with their mighty war ships, and if we don't plan our defence first, we don't know who will control the battle. If we order our men to place iron-headed poles under the water of the sea gate, their ships will follow the tide of sea and be caught upon the poles, and then we can easily dominate them without letting any ships of theirs escape.

Ngô Quyền

Ngô Quyền ordered his soldiers to nail the iron-headed poles under the waters of the Bạch Đằng river. At high tide, the poles would be covered with water, and thus, remain unseen by the Chinese. Ngô Quyền intended to lure the enemy into this area when the tide was up. When the tide was down, the enemy's boats would be stranded, and be easy targets for attack.[2]

On a late winter day in 938 AD, on Bạch Đằng River, the entire Han's naval fleet led by Hongcao entered Tĩnh Hải.[2]

The Southern Han's soldiers, seeing the small ships of Ngô Quyền, aggressively marched in, thinking that they could easily defeat the small force of Ngô Quyền. Ngô Quyền ordered his army to retreat upstream. He waited until the tide lowered and ordered his army to fight back. The ships of Southern Han were stranded and penetrated by the poles. At that time, Ngô Quyền used all of his forces to attack. The Southern Han's Army lost the battle and retreated, Liu Hongcao and more than half the force was killed by the Vietnamese.[2]

The Emperor of Southern Han was leading his army at the borders, so he could not respond to the situation. Hearing the news that Hongcao was dead, Liu Yang was horrified, and ordered his remaining forces to retreat ([5]). After that, the dynasty of Southern Han forgot about invading Tĩnh Hải quân.[5]

Year 939, Ngô Quyền became King, took the title Ngô Vương (Ngô King), created Vietnam's Ngô Dynasty, set his capital at Cổ Loa (Today's Đông Anh, Hà Nội).[4]

One general who reused this tactic was Trần Hưng Đạo in the Battle of Bạch Đằng (1288); Trần Hưng Đạo also understood the requisites behind this tactic and applied them successfully in pushing the Mongol army out of the Bạch Đằng River.[6]


For more details on this topic, see Kiều Công Tiễn.

In the year 938 AD, after calling of all the soldiers in the nation to his side, Ngô Quyền led his army from Ái Châu to the North to kill Kiều Công Tiễn. Công Tiễn was surrounded by Ngô Quyền's army and could not resist. He waited for the reinforcements of Southern Han.[2]

The Emperor of Southern Han, Liu Yan, gave his son Liu Hongcao the title Tĩnh Hải quân's Jiedushi,[2] then Hongcao's title was changed rather prematurely into King of Giao (Jiaozhi). He led over twenty thousand troops into Giao Chỉ in the name of "Công Tiễn's Reinforcements".[2] Liu Yan asked Chongwen's courtier (known by the Vietnameses as Tiêu Ích) for advice. Ích said:

Nowadays, rain has fallen for weeks, and the sea's route is dangerous and long. Ngô Quyền was also a talented tactician; we cannot despise him. Our army must be so-cautioned, we should use as many scouts as possible while moving forward (cautiously) to the South.

Chongwen's courtier Tiêu Ích

The Han Emperor wanted to move fast and quickly reconquer Tĩnh Hải, so he didn't listen to the advice of Tiêu Ích. He ordered Hongcao to lead his army into the river of Bạch Đằng immediately. Emperor Liu Yan, as a general himself, stayed at Haimen as an alternative reinforcement.

While Liu Yan was mobilizing his army, Ngô Quyền marched to Đại La to kill Kiều Công Tiễn. Công Tiễn at that time, completely surrounded by Ngô Quyền's forces and was killed beforce the Southern Han's reinforcements march into the borders of Vietnam.[2]


Tiền Ngô Vương could take the newly raised soldiers of Viet to defeat thousand troops of Lưu Hoằng Tháo, created the country and claimed himself King, made the Northerns feared as they didn't want to come again. We could say this is a wrath to ease the people, great tactics, good combat too. Although he just claimed himself a king, not fully heir to it, changed his title, but the formal of our Đại Việt, His Ancestor reconnected it.
Ngô Sĩ Liên[4]

In the first century CE, the population of Han's empire was over 57 million. At the time the population of Vietnam was just over 1 million. After the conquest of Vietnam, the Han Dynasty limited Vietnamese national sovereignty, exploiting the people, scavenging the treasures of Vietnam and sought to assimilate the Vietnamese people, annexing the lands into China. The Chinese assimilation plan is a feature of Han expansionism, was used from the Han's Dynasty to the Tang.[7]

Ngô Quyền – the hero in the great Victory of Bạch Đằng in 938, is the King that has rebuilt Vietnam, King of the Kings, as the Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư described.[5] Phan Bội Châu said: "He is surely worthy with the title "The Mid-Ancestor" of Vietnameses people."

After victory of Bạch Đằng, Vietnam entered a new age to rebuild the country in large-scale. That is the age of the modern Đại Việt, of Thăng Long's traditional, the age of defeating the Song, defending against the Mongols, liberating from the Ming, a golden age of Lý Dynasty, Trần Dynasty, Lê Dynasty.[7]

Historian Ngô Thì Sĩ described:

The Victory on Bạch Đằng River is the basis to rebuild the nation. The victories under the Đinh, Lê, Lý, Trần's Dynasty after then also followed the prestige this victory left. Battle of Bạch Đằng has a great fame, resounded to thousands of Autumns, it didn't just glorious only at it's time.

Việt sử tiêu án[7] - Ngô Thì Sĩ

See also


  1. China and Vietnam: The Politics of Asymmetry - Page 113 Brantly Womack - 2006 "However, the facts that Dinh had consolidated local control, that Nan Han had been defeated by Dinh's predecessor in the battle of Bạch Đằng River in 938, and that Vietnam was difficult terrain for Chinese armies constrained the Song to ..."
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Kỷ Nam Bắc Phân Tranh - Đại Việt Sử ký toàn thư
  3. Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 281.
  4. 1 2 3 Tiền Ngô Vương - Đại Việt Sử ký Toàn thư
  5. 1 2 3 Đại Việt Sử ký Toàn thư
  6. Nhà trần - Đại Việt Sử ký toàn thư
  7. 1 2 3 Đại việt sử ký tiền biên, Ngô Thì Sĩ

External links

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