Zhao Tuo

Zhao Tuo

Triệu Đà
King of Nanyue (Nam Việt)

A statue of Emperor Zhao Tuo (Triệu Vũ Đế) in Xuân Quan communal temple, Văn Giang District, Hưng Yên Province, Vietnam
King of Nanyue
Reign 203–137 BC
Successor Zhao Mo (Triệu Mạt)
Born ca. 240 BC
Died 137 BC (aged 103)
Burial Guangzhou
Posthumous name
Emperor Wu 武帝
Chinese: 開天體道聖武神哲皇帝
Vietnamese: Khai Thiên Thể Đạo Thánh Vũ Thần Triết Hoàng Đế
House Triệu dynasty
Zhao Tuo
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese Triệu Đà
Emperor Wu
Chinese name
Chinese 武帝
Literal meaning The Martial Emperor
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese Vũ Đế
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Zhao.

Zhao Tuo, known in Vietnamese contexts as Trieu Da, was a Qin Chinese general who directed its conquest of the Baiyue peoples of Guangdong and North Vietnam before establishing the independent kingdom of Nanyue (Nam Viet). His forces established the city of Panyu (now Guangzhou) in 214 BC; it subsequently served as Nanyue's capital. In traditional Vietnamese history, he is considered an emperor of Vietnam and the founder of the Trieu dynasty, although some modern historians regard him as a foreign invader.[1]


A statue of Zhao in front of Heyuan Railway Station
A statue of Zhao Tuo in Hebei, China

Early life

Zhao was born around 240 BC in Zhending in the state of Zhao (within modern Hebei). The kingdom of Zhao was defeated and annexed by Qin in 222 BC, whereupon Zhao Tuo joined it, serving as one of its generals in its conquest of the Baiyue lands to its south.

Conquest of Au Lac

In 207 BC, Zhao Tuo defeated An Duong Vuong, king of Au Lac in north Vietnam. The next year, he annexed Au Lac into his province.

Creation of Nanyue

At the end of the Qin Dynasty, Zhao took control of a region comprising modern-day Guangzhou and Xingu. Zhao Tuo built up his power and took over the territory, partially through alliances with native Baiyue nobility and chieftains. The Qin governor advised Zhao to found his own independent kingdom, since the area was remote and there were many Chinese settlers there.[2] He then declared himself king of Nanyue ("Southern Yue"). His capital was at Panyu (modern Guangzhou).

For an extended period, Nanyue was at war with Changsha to the north, Minyue to the east, and the Southwestern Yi (西南夷) to the west. Within Nanyue, there were rebellions from the Tay Au (Chinese: 西甌; pinyin: Xīōu) and Lac Viet (Chinese: 駱越; pinyin: Luòyuè) tribes. The largest threat to Zhao came from the Han Dynasty, which continued to claim the territory as a province. However, at the time, the Han Dynasty was in no position to challenge his rule.[3]


In 196 BC, the Han official Lu Jia gave Zhao a seal legitimizing him as king of Nanyue in return for his nominal submission to the Han emperor.[4] On this occasion, Zhao Tuo squatted and wore his hair in a bun in the Baiyue manner.[4] Early in his reign, Emperor Gaozu gave three commanderies to the prince of Changsha Wu Rui (長沙王吳芮) and appointed Yao Wuyu as marquis of Haiyang (海陽侯徭無餘) and Zhi as prince of Nanhai (南海王織). Emperor Gaozu also put an army in Changsha state to watch over the Nanyue kingdom, which made Zhao Tuo worried about a sudden attack. Zhao Tuo took an opportunity to trade and import things in large amounts from the Central Plains. Zhao Tuo also gave tribute to central authority. After Gaozu died, Emperor Hui ascended the throne and continued his predecessor's treaty obligations to Nanyue.

Han hostility

After seven years of the reign of Emperor Hui, Empress Dowager Lü came to power. In 183 BC, during the later days of her reign, the Empress suddenly declared trade restrictions. This included useful products such as iron tools and horses to Nanyue territory. Wu Rui, the king of Changsha, was treated well by the Empress. The Han Empire had originally been founded through alliances with other houses, but Gaozu had removed all the kings from other dynasties except for Wu Rui. The empress, however, wanted to appoint kings from her own family. The blockade had a great impact on the Nanyue economy, since Nanyue needed iron plow tools. Zhao Tuo faulted the Prince of Changsha for the blockade, sending messengers to the capital of Chang'an to ask for its end. But Wu threw the messengers into prison and, upon his advice, the empress dowager killed Zhao's relatives in the Central Plains and destroyed his ancestral tomb.

In response, Zhao Tuo declared himself the Martial Emperor of Nanyue in 183 BC; from this, he is traditionally counted the first emperor of Vietnam. He sacked Changsha to the North, prompting a counterattack from Han. However, most of the empress dowager's army died from disease on their way to Nanyue. The military conflict did not stop until her death. As the victor, Zhao Tuo extended his territory by conquering towns near the boundary with Han's domains. He also established relationships with Minyue, Xi'ou (西甌), and Lac Viet. The war almost wiped out the trading relations between the Central Plains and Nanyue.


In 179 BC, Emperor Wen ascended the throne. The new emperor abolished some of Qin's cruel forms of punishment. Zhao communicated with the Emperor that if he removed the two generals from Changsha and restored his relatives in Zhending, he would make peace with Han. Emperor Wen responded positively, repairing the tombs of Zhao's ancestors, promoting a surviving member of Zhao family, and moving the Han army out of Changsha. Afterwards, Zhao Tuo abandoned his title of emperor. Nanyue became a vassal state of the Han again, although Zhao Tuo retained the autonomy of his kingdom and was referred to as emperor throughout Nanyue until his death in 137 BC, aged 103.


A street in Hiệp Phú Ward (District 9) in Ho Chi Minh City is named after him.[5]



  1. Brantly Womack (2006). China and Vietnam: the politics of asymmetry. Cambridge University Press, 2006. p. 100. ISBN 0-521-85320-6.
  2. Taylor (1983), p. 23
  3. Twitchett, Denis; Loewe, Michael, eds. (March 2008). "2 - The Former Han Dynasty". The Cambridge History of China: Volume 1: The Ch'in and Han Empires, 221 BC–AD 220. 1. Cambridge University Press. p. 128. ISBN 9781139054737.
  4. 1 2 Taylor, Keith Weller, The Birth of Vietnam, p. 24. University of California Press, 1991.
  5. Hồ Đình Quý (2007-11-20). "Vì sao chọn Triệu Đà để đặt tên đường? (Why choosing Triệu Đà to name the street)". Retrieved 2014-09-07.


See also

Zhao Tuo
Born: 240 BC Died: 137 BC
Preceded by
An Dương Vương
as king of Âu Lạc
King of Northern Vietnam
203 BC – 137 BC
Succeeded by
Zhao Mo
as king of Nanyue
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