The Nguyễn Dynasty or House of Nguyễn (Vietnamese: Nhà Nguyễn; Hán-Nôm: , Nguyễn triều) was the last ruling family of Vietnam.[1] Their rule lasted a total of 143 years. It began in 1802, when Emperor Gia Long ascended the throne after defeating the Tây Sơn dynasty, and ended in 1945, when Emperor Bảo Đại abdicated the throne and transferred power to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. During the reign of Gia Long, the nation officially became known as Việt Nam (越南), but from the reign of Emperor Minh Mạng onward, the nation was renamed to Đại Nam (大南, literally "Great South"). Rule was marked by the increasing influence of French colonialism; the nation was eventually divided into three parts: Cochinchina became a French colony, and Annam and Tonkin became nominally-independent protectorates.


The Nguyễn clan had been one of the major families in Vietnamese history, dating back to the first grand chancellor of the Đinh dynasty Nguyễn Bặc and the era of Later Lê dynasty under Emperor Lê Lợi. After the flourishing era of Later Lê dynasty, Mạc Đăng Dung of Mạc clan took the throne from emperor Lê Cung Hoàng, after which Lê dynasty temporarily collapsed. Nguyễn Kim, who was the loyal subject of Lê dynasty tried to restore the power of Lê which was followed by marking the civil war between Lê dynasty and Mạc dynasty. Due to a civil war and the weakness of the Later Lê dynasty, the Nguyễn clan and the Trịnh clan (another of the major families) joined together in opposition to the Mạc clan. Nguyễn Kim, the leader of this alliance, was assassinated in 1545 by a surrendered general of the Mạc clan. After that, Kim's son-in-law (Trịnh Kiểm), who killed the eldest son of Nguyễn Kim(Nguyễn Uông) and took over the alliance. In 1558, Nguyễn Hoàng, the second son of Nguyễn Kim was given lordship over the southern, newly conquered territory of middle and the South of Vietnam from Champa. He ruled from the city of Huế for the rest of his life and established the dominion of the Nguyễn lords in the southern part of the country(Cochinchina). While the Nguyễn lords and Trịnh lords, both paid tribute to the Lê Emperors, the fact was they were the real rulers of the country whereas the Emperors were the figurehead government. Nguyễn Hoàng and his successors continued to fight against Trịnh lords and expanded their territory by making Kampuchea as protectorate, and by invading Laos, Champa and many small countries in the area. The Nguyễn lords styled themselves as "lord" (Chúa in Vietnamese).

Political History of Nguyễn clan

First Tây Sơn – Nguyễn lords civil war (1771–1785)

The collapse of Nguyễn clan

Portrait of Lord Nguyễn Phúc Ánh in Siam in 1783

In 1775, the Tây Sơn dynasty and Trịnh lords joined together to destroy the capital of the Nguyễn lords, Phú Xuân. Nguyễn leader Nguyễn Phúc Thuần failed to oppose the alliance forces, then fled the Quảng Nam province. Nguyễn Nhạc took that opportunity to pursue water and land routes. The Tây Sơn force defeated the Nguyễn army and seized Quảng Nam, and lord Nguyễn Phúc Thuần had to escape to Gia Định by sea, leaving co-ruler lord Nguyễn Phúc Dương to defend Quảng Nam.[2] In early 1777, the Tây Sơn army was led by Nguyễn Huệ to ambush Gia Định. The battle lasted six months, and lord Nguyễn Phúc Thuần, Nguyễn Phúc Dương, some siblings of Nguyễn Ánh and many Nguyễn family members were captured and executed. Nguyễn Ánh (13-years-old) escaped and hid by the children of the theater.

The background picture of the books "Gia Long tẩu quốc" of Tân Dân Tử (1875-1955) portrayed the exile of Lord Nguyễn Ánh.

Later, Nguyễn Ánh declared himself as the next leader of Nguyễn clan, and he was protected by the Vietnamese Catholic priest Paul Hồ Văn Nghị and his math teacher in Rạch Giá. They helped Nguyễn Ánh to flee to Hà Tiên, where he stayed at the mansion of Catholic missionary of Paris Foreign Missions Society Pigneau de Behaine.[3] He then fled into the jungle to avoid the pursuit of Tây Sơn army.[3][4][5] Pigneau de Behaine returned from Cambodia to avoid the pursuit of anti-Catholic force of Tây Sơn, together with him was a Frenchman named Jean, who came to meet and support Nguyễn Ánh.[6] After hiding himself for a month, Nguyễn Huệ returned to Quy Nhơn, while Nguyễn Ánh returned to Long Xuyên and formed the army against the Tây Sơn.[7] At the end of 1777, he started the campaign to raid the palace of Long Hồ in Gia Định in December. Immediately, in February 1778, the Tây Sơn came back to fight in Gia Định and quickly captured the province. Nguyễn Ánh led the army against the invasion of Tây Sơn under the assistance and consultancy of Pigneau de Behaine. As a result, Tây Sơn had to retreat back to the base to seek a chance to revenge.[7] After two years of peace, by summer 1781 the armed force of Nguyễn Ánh had grown to 30,000 soldiers, 80 battleships, three grand ships and two Portuguese mercenary battleships recruited by de Behaine. Then, Nguyễn Ánh planned to organize an ambush of Tây Sơn base camps in the Phú Yên province, but the Tây Sơn force was stronger, so this strategic decision led to the loss of the battle. In March 1782, Nguyễn Huệ and his older brother emperor of Tây Sơn Thái Đức used the navy force to attack Nguyễn Ánh. Although they had fewer battleships than Nguyễn Ánh's force, the whole army had fought the enemy with all courage. Consequently, Nguyễn Ánh's army was defeated and fled to Ba Giồng, then to Romdoul District, Svay Rieng province of Cambodia.

Nguyễn clan – Cambodia alliance against Tây Sơn

Nguyễn Ánh escaped to Cambodia and met the king Ang Eng. The king allowed Nguyễn Ánh to live in exile and form an alliance against Tây Sơn. In April 1782, Tây Sơn army dispatched the army to pursue Nguyễn Ánh. Nguyễn Ánh failed to oppose and fled to different regions. Tây Sơn captured the Ang Eng and forced him to surrender and pay tribute to the Tây Sơn, forcing all Vietnamese people who had been living in Cambodia to go back to Vietnam.[8]

Chinese Vietnamese support to Nguyễn Ánh

Pigneau de Behaine, the French priest who recruited armies for Nguyễn Ánh during the war against the Tây Sơn.

The support of Chinese Vietnamese began when the Qing dynasty overthrew the Ming dynasty. Han Chinese people refused to live under the Manchu Qing and fled to South East Asia including Vietnam. Most of them were welcomed by Nguyễn lords to resettle in Southern Vietnam to create business and trade. Therefore, Chinese people enjoyed the rule of Nguyễn clan and showed the favor and loyalty to this family.

In 1782, Nguyễn Ánh escaped to Cambodia and the Tây Sơn seized Southern Vietnam (now Cochinchina). The Tây Sơn discriminated against the ethnic Chinese, resulting in displeasure for the Chinese Vietnamese. In April 1782, Nguyễn loyalists Tôn Thất Dụ, Trần Xuân Trạch, Trần Văn Tự and Trần Công Chương sent the military support to Nguyễn Ánh. The Nguyễn army killed the grand admiral Phạm Ngạn who had closed relations with the emperor Thái Đức at Tham Lương bridge.[8] Thái Đức felt angry and thought that ethnic Chinese had joined in this murder. Thus, emperor Thái Đức of Tây Sơn dynasty attacked and sacked the town of Cù lao (now Biên Hòa city), which had a large Chinese community settlement.[9][10] He also ordered to murder and oppression of the Chinese community to avenge their assistance to Nguyễn Ánh in war. Before that, this ethnic cleansing had also happened in Hoi An, leading to the support of wealthy Chinese people for Nguyễn Ánh, who gave their full support to fund him back to power. Nguyễn Ánh got a chance to come back to Giồng Lữ, Vietnam. Nguyễn Ánh defeated the admiral Nguyễn Học of Tây Sơn and collect 80 battleships from the enemy. After that, Nguyễn Ánh began the new campaign to reclaim Southern Vietnam, but Nguyễn Huệ had deployed to the navy force in the river and destroy Nguyễn Ánh's navy forces. Nguyễn Ánh once again escaped with his loyal subjects to Hậu Giang. Cambodia later cooperated with the Tây Sơn to destroy Nguyễn Ánh's force and made him retreat to Rạch Giá, then to Hà Tiên and in a small boat to Phú Quốc island.

Nguyễn clan – Thailand alliance against Tây Sơn

After consecutively losing battles against Tây Sơn, Nguyễn Ánh sent the general Châu Văn Tiếp as the envoy to Kingdom of Siam (now Thailand) to ask for the military assistance.

King Rama I of Siam

Siam under the house of Chakri had the ambition to conquer Cambodia and Southern Vietnam, so king Rama I of Siam agreed to ally with the Nguyễn clan and allowed military intervention in Vietnam. After the alliance was installed, Châu Văn Tiếp sent a secret letter to lord Nguyễn Ánh about the alliance establishment. After the meeting with Siamese generals at Cà Mau, lord Nguyễn Ánh with 30 mandarin officials and some soldiers visited Bangkok to meet king Rama I in May 1784, although the governor of Gia Định Province Nguyễn Văn Thành advised his master not to seek the foreign assistance.[11][12]

Portrait of Nguyễn Văn Thành

Rama I feared the rising influence of the Tây Sơn dynasty in Cambodia and Laos, so he decided to dispatch the army against the Tây Sơn. At Bangkok, Nguyễn Ánh started to recruit the Vietnamese refugees in Siam to join Nguyễn's army together with the rest of the old force (total was more than 9000).[13] In June 1784, Nguyễn Ánh returned to Vietnam and prepared the forces to start the campaign against Tây Sơn, after which he captured Gia Định. In July, Rama I nominated his nephew สมเด็จพระสัมพันธวงศ์เธอ เจ้าฟ้าตัน กรมหลวงเทพหริรักษ์ (Vietnamese: Chiêu Tăng) as admiral, leading Siamese forces including 20,000 marine corps with 300 battleships departed from Gulf of Siam to Kiên Giang province in a campaign to assist Nguyễn clan-Siam alliance. In addition, more than 30,000 Siamese land infantry invaded through Cambodia's border to An Giang province.[14] On 25 November 1784, Admiral Châu Văn Tiếp died in the battle against the Tây Sơn at Mang Thít District, Vĩnh Long Province. From July to the end of November, the alliance won most of the battles, and the Tây Sơn army had to retreat to the north. However, in December, the emperor Nguyễn Huệ stopped making the military retreat and counter-attacked the Siamese forces. Both armies fought in the decisive battle of Rạch Gầm – Xoài Mút. As a result, more than 20,000 Siamese soldiers were killed and the rest of them had to retreat to Siam and the expedition was failure.[15]

Nguyễn Ánh lost all belief in Siam and escaped to Thổ Chu Island in April 1785, then to Ko Kut island of Trat Province of Thailand. There, Siamese army escorted him back to Bangkok. Nguyễn Ánh was in exile in Thailand in a short time.

Nguyễn clan – France alliance against Tây Sơn

King Louis XVI of France.
Signatures of the Treaty of Versailles (1787) by King Louis XIV

The war between Nguyễn clan and Tây Sơn forced Nguyễn Ánh to try to find more allies. Hence, the relation between Nguyễn Ánh and Pigneau de Behaine improved, and support for allying with France was increasing. Before the request of Siam military assistance, Pigneau de Behaine was in Chanthaburi, Thailand and was asked to come to Phú Quốc island by Nguyễn Ánh.[16] He was asked to contact King Louis XVI of France to send the assistance to Nguyễn Ánh, and Pigneau de Behaine agreed to coordinate the alliance between France and Vietnam. Nguyễn Ánh then gave Pigneau the national letter with 14 articles to France on behalf him at the French court. The first son of Nguyễn Ánh, prince Nguyễn Phúc Cảnh, was also selected to go on the voyage to France with Pigneau as a captive. However, due to the bad weather, the voyage had to be postponed until December 1784. The group departed from Phú Quốc island to Malacca, followed by Pondicherry of India, whereas Nguyễn Ánh reallocated his family in Bangkok.[17] Because of some issues at Pondicherry, the group arrived in Lorient port of France in February 1787 and they had to wait until May 1787 when King Louis XVI accepted them to meet him.

Treaty of Versailles (1787)

On 28 November 1787, Pigneau de Behaine, on behalf of Nguyễn Ánh signed the Treaty of Versailles (1787) with French Minister of Foreign Affairs Armand Marc at Palace of Versailles.[18] The content of treaty demonstrated that France committed to providing 4 warships type of Frigate (frégaté) with 1,200 land infantries, 200 artillery and 250 Cafres soldiers(African soldiers) and other equipment, and in exchange, Nguyễn Ánh had to cede the Đà Nẵng estuary and Côn Sơn Island to France.[19] Moreover, French people were allowed to trade freely and controlled all foreign trade in Vietnam. Annually, Vietnam had to make a ship which was similar to the French ship giving an aid to Vietnam, then give it to France. Vietnam also needed to supply food and aid to France when they were at war with the other nations in the Oriental area.

French Revolution

On 27 December 1787, Pigneau de Behaine and prince Nguyễn Phúc Cảnh left France and returned to Pondicherry to wait for the military supports of Louis court. However, due to the French revolution and the abolition of French Monarchy, the treaty was never executed. Moreover, the Count Thomas Conway(Le comte Thomas Conway), who was responsible for the assistance, refused to give aid. Although the treaty was abolished, de Behaine had recruited French businessman who intended to trade in Vietnam, and raised funds to assist Nguyễn Ánh. de Behaine personally used all the 15,000 francs supported by his family to purchase guns and warships. In 1788, he and Prince Cảnh returned to Gia Định after Nguyễn Ánh had recaptured it, followed by the trading boat transporting the war equipment. Some French people recruited including Jean-Baptiste Chaigneau, Philippe Vannier, De Forcant, Olivier de Puymanel, Jean-Marie Dayot. In total, 20 people joined the army of Nguyễn Ánh. The French participated in some activities in Vietnam like the purchase and supply of equipment and weaponry, reinforcing the defense of the citadel of Gia Định, Vĩnh Long, Châu Đốc, Hà Tiên, Biên Hòa, Bà Rịa and training the Nguyễn's artillery and land infantry based on the European model.[20]

Second Tây Sơn - Nguyễn lords civil war (1787–1802)

Depression of Tây Sơn dynasty

Map of Vietnam at the end of the 18th century: Tây Sơn army including Nguyễn Huệ ruled the north (purple), Nguyễn Nhạc ruled the middle (yellow), while Nguyễn Ánh ruled the south (green).

In 1786, Nguyễn Huệ led the army to defeat Trịnh lords, and lord Trịnh Khải escaped to the North and committed suicide. After Tây Sơn army returned to Quy Nhơn, some loyal subjects of Trịnh clan restored the son of lord Trịnh Giang, Trịnh Bồng as the next leader of Trịnh family. The emperor of Lê dynasty Lê Chiêu Thống wanted to restore the power of dynasty out of the rule of Trịnh lords, so he summoned the governor of Nghệ An Nguyễn Hữu Chỉnh to attack Trịnh clan in Imperial Citadel of Thăng Long. Trịnh Bồng surrendered to the royal force of Lê dynasty and he became a monk. Nguyễn Hữu Chỉnh wanted to unify the whole country under the rule of Lê dynasty, and he began to prepare the army to march to the south to attack Tây Sơn. Nguyễn Huệ led the army to fight back and killed Nguyễn Hữu Chỉnh as well as capturing the capital of Later Lê dynasty. Lê royal family were sent into exile in China. Later Lê dynasty officially collapsed.

At that time, the influence of Nguyễn Huệ became stronger in Northern Vietnam so it made the emperor Nguyễn Nhạc of Tây Sơn dynasty start being suspicious about the loyalty of Nguyễn Huệ. This led to a dispute between the two brothers and the relationship became tense until they fought against each other. Nguyễn Huệ led the army to surround the capital of Nguyễn Nhạc at Quy Nhơn citadel in 1787. Nguyễn Nhạc had to beg Nguyễn Huệ not to kill him and both of them reconciled. In 1788, the Emperor of Lê dynasty Lê Chiêu Thống fled to China and asked for military assistance. The emperor Qianlong of Qing ordered Sun Shiyi to lead the military campaign to invade Vietnam, but they failed to conquer and accepted to normalize the diplomatic relation with Vietnam. The Tây Sơn dynasty began to weaken.

Nguyễn Ánh counter-attack

Nguyễn Ánh started to reorganize the new strong armed force in Siam. He left Siam after conveying grateful message to King Rama I and went back to Vietnam.[21][22] However, while the war between Nguyễn Huệ and Nguyễn Nhạc was happening in Northern Vietnam (1787), Nguyễn Ánh took that opportunity to recapture Southern Vietnam capital Gia Định. Southern Vietnam used to be under the rule of Nguyễn lords and their popularity had still remained in the most of local people, especially Chinese ethnic. Nguyễn Lữ, the youngest brother of Tây Sơn brother who ruled Southern Vietnam, could not defend the citadel and had to retreat to Quy Nhơn. The citadel of Gia Định was seized by Nguyễn lords.[23]
In 1788, Pigneau de Behaine and Nguyễn Ánh's son Prince Cảnh arrived in Gia Định with the modern war equipment with more than 20 French people who wanted to join the army. Then, the force was trained and strengthened by French assistance.[24]

Defeat of Tây Sơn

After the fall of the citadel of Gia Định, Nguyễn Huệ prepared the expedition to reclaim the loss, but died on 16 September 1792. His son Nguyễn Quang Toản succeeded the throne and become the emperor of Tây Sơn dynasty at a young age with lack of good leadership.[25] In 1793, Nguyễn Ánh started the expedition campaign against Nguyễn Quang Toản. Due to internal conflict between the officials of Tây Sơn court, Nguyễn Quang Toản consecutively lost the battles. In 1797, Nguyễn Ánh and Nguyễn Phúc Cảnh ambushed the Phú Yên and Quy Nhơn in the battle of Thị Nại and won the battle with the large number of Tây Sơn's equipment collected.[26] The emperor Nguyễn Quang Toản lost his popularity to his loyalists because his doubtful mind made him murder lots of generals and officials, leading to a decline in the efficiency of the army. In 1799, Nguyễn Ánh successfully captured the citadel of Quy Nhơn with the fortress defense guard Vũ Tuấn. In 1801, he seized the capital Phú Xuân of Tây Sơn on 3 May 1802. and Nguyễn Quang Toản had to retreat to the north. In early of 1802, Tây Sơn was defeated and all of the members of Tây Sơn dynasty were executed by Nguyễn Ánh.

Birth of the dynasty

Unification of Vietnam

Nguyễn Phúc Ánh finally united Vietnam after the division of the country for 300 years. On the 1 June 1802, he celebrated his coronation at Huế and declared himself as the emperor (Viet: Hoàng Đế) with the Era name Gia Long (嘉隆) and with Temple name Nguyễn Thế Tổ (阮世祖). The Nguyễn dynasty officially was established, marking the rule of Nguyễn clan throughout Vietnam.[citation needed]
Emperor Gia Long cared about the defense of the nation and he feared that the country could be broken into civil war again. Therefore, he gently replaced the feudal system with the Doctrine of the Mean with some new reform. The ruling style was applied to the strict law of Ruism.[27][28]

Government System


Nguyễn dynasty fundamentally maintained the same bureaucracy and hierarchic system of the former dynasties. The head of state was emperor and held the full power and absolute authority. Under the emperor, there was the Ministry of Interior to assist the emperor working on papers, royal message and record the history of and four Grand Secretariats, (Viet:Tứ trụ Đại thần) later renamed as Ministry of secret council. In the monarchic system of East Asia, there was two type of system of the Ennoblement and Mandarinate differentiated by the rank and title of mandarin and nobility. The Ennoblement includes King, Duke, Marquis, Count, and Viscount that all the title for princes, royal family members, and meritorious official; a person who has rendered outstanding service, including the rewards such as land or treasure. Mandarin contained Civil mandarin and Military mandarin.

Civil service and bureaucrat system

Hoàng Việt luật lệ Vietnamese law introduced by emperor Gia Long
Rank Civil Positions Military Positions
Upper first rank (Bậc trên nhất phẩm) Imperial Clan Court (Tông Nhân Phủ "Tôn nhân lệnh")
Three Ducal Ministers (Tam công) :
* Grand Preceptor (Thái sư)
* Grand Tutor (Thái phó)
* Grand Protector (Thái bảo)
First senior rank (Chánh nhất phẩm) Left Right Imperial Clan Court (Tôn nhân phủ "Tả Hữu tôn chính")
Three Vice ducal Ministers (Tam Thiếu)
* Vice Preceptor (Thiếu sư)
* Vice Tutor (Thiếu phó)
* Vice Protector (Thiếu bảo)
First junior rank (Tòng nhất phẩm) Council of State (Tham chính viện)
House of Councillors (Tham Nghị viện)
Grand Secretariat (Thị trung Đại học sĩ)
Banner Unit Lieutenant General, General-in-Chief, Provincial Commander in Chief
Second senior rank (Chánh nhị phẩm) 6 ministries (Lục bộ):
* Ministry of Personnel (Bộ Lại)
* Ministry of Rites (Bộ Lễ)
* Ministry of Justice (imperial China) (Bộ Hình)
* Ministry of Finance (Bộ Hộ)
* Ministry of public works (Bộ Công)
* Ministry of Defense (Bộ Binh)
Supreme left-right state Censorate (Đô sát viện " Tả Hữu Đô ngự sử")
Banner Captain General, Commandants of Divisions, Brigade General
Second junior rank (Tòng nhị phẩm) 6 Left Right Ministerial Advisor (Lục bộ Tả Hữu Tham tri)
Grand coordinator and provincial governor (Tuần phủ)
Supreme vice left-right state Censorate ( Đô sát viện "Tả Hữu Phó đô ngự sử")
Major General, Colonel
Third senior rank (Chánh tam phẩm) Senior Head of 6 ministries (Chánh thiêm sự)
Administration Commissioner (Cai bạ)
Surveillance Commissioner (Ký lục)
State Auxiliary Academician of Secretariat (Thị trung Trực học sĩ)
State Academician of Secretariat (Thị trung học sĩ)
Court Auxiliary Academician (Trực học sĩ các điện)
Court Academician (Học sĩ các điện)
Provincial governor (Hiệp trấn các trấn)
Brigadiers of Artillery & Musketry, Brigadier of Scouts, Banner Division Colonel
Third junior rank (Tòng tam phẩm) Junior Head of 6 ministries (Thiếu thiêm sự)
Senior Palace Administration Commissioner (Cai bạ Chính dinh)
Chargé d'affaires (Tham tán)
Court of Imperial Seals (Thượng bảo tự)
General Staff (Tham quân)
Banner Brigade Commander
Fourth senior rank (Chánh tứ phẩm) Provincial Education Commissioner of Guozijian (Quốc tử giám Đốc học)
Head of 6 ministries (Thiếu thiêm sự)
Junior Court of Imperial Seals (Thượng bảo thiếu Khanh)
Grand Secretaries (Đông các học sĩ)
Administration Commissioner of Trường Thọ palace (Cai bạ cung Trường Thọ)
Provincial Advisor to Defense Command Lieutenant Governor (Tham hiệp các trấn)
Lieutenant Colonel of Artillery, Musketry & Scouts Captain, Police Major
Fourth junior rank (Tòng tứ phẩm) Provincial Vice Education Commissioner of Guozijian (Quốc tử giám phó Đốc học), Prefect (Tuyên phủ sứ), Captain, Assistant Major in Princely Palaces
Fifth senior rank (Chánh ngũ phẩm) Inner Deputy Supervisors of Instruction at Hanlin Institutes, Sub-Prefects Police Captain, Lieutenant or First Lieutenant
Fifth junior rank (Tòng ngũ phẩm) Assistant Instructors and Librarians at Imperial and Hanlin Institutes, Assistant Directors of Boards and Courts, Circuit Censors Gate Guard Lieutenants, Second Captain
Sixth senior rank (Chánh lục phẩm) Secretaries & Tutors at Imperial & Hanlin Institutes, Secretaries and Registrars at Imperial Offices, Police Magistrate Bodyguards, Lieutenants of Artillery, Musketry & Scouts, Second Lieutenants
Sixth junior rank (Tòng lục phẩm) Assistant Secretaries in Imperial Offices and Law Secretaries, Provincial Deputy Sub-Prefects, Buddhist & Taoist priests Deputy Police Lieutenant
Seventh senior rank (Chánh thất phẩm) None City Gate Clerk, Sub-Lieutenants
Seventh junior rank (Tòng thất phẩm) Secretaries in Offices of Assistant Governors, Salt Controllers & Transport Stations Assistant Major in Nobles' Palaces
Eighth senior rank (Chánh bát phẩm) None Ensigns
Eighth junior rank (Tòng bát phẩm) Sub-director of Studies, Archivists in Office of Salt Controller First Class Sergeant
Ninth senior rank (Chánh cửu phẩm) None Second Class Sergeant
Ninth junior rank (Tòng cửu phẩm) Prefectural Tax Collector, Deputy Jail Warden, Deputy Police Commissioner, Tax Examiner Third Class Sergeant, Corporal, First & Second Class Privates
The uniform of Civil mandarin (left) and Military mandarin (right) painted by British artist.


Vietnamese cash under emperor Gia Long.
Vietnamese cash under emperor Minh Mạng.
Vietnamese cash under emperor Tự Đức.

The monetary subunit of Vietnam was quan (貫). 1 quan = 10 coins (equivalent to 600 VND). Beside that, the official can receive the part of tax per capital (Vietnamese: thuế đầu người) collected from people.

  • First senior rank (Chánh nhất phẩm): 400 quan, rice:300 kg, tax per capital: 70 quan.
  • First junior rank (Tòng nhất phẩm): 300 quan, rice:250 kg, tax per capital: 60 quan.
  • Second senior rank (Chánh nhị phẩm): 250 quan, rice: 200 kg, tax per capital: 50 quan.
  • Second junior rank (Tòng nhị phẩm): 180 quan, rice: 150 kg, tax per capital: 30 quan.
  • Third senior rank (Chánh tam phẩm): 150 quan, rice: 120 kg, tax per capital: 20 quan.
  • Third junior rank (Tòng tam phẩm): 120 quan, rice: 90 kg, tax per capital: 16 quan.
  • Fourth senior rank (Chánh tứ phẩm): 80 quan, rice: 60 kg, tax per capital: 14 quan.
  • Fourth junior rank (Tòng tứ phẩm): 60 quan, rice: 50 kg, tax per capital: 10 quan.
  • Fifth senior rank (Chánh ngũ phẩm): 40 quan, rice: 43 kg, tax per capital: 9 quan.
  • Fifth junior rank (Tòng ngũ phẩm): 35 quan, rice: 30 kg, tax per capital: 8 quan.
  • Sixth senior rank (Chánh lục phẩm): 30 quan, rice: 25 kg, tax per capital: 7 quan.
  • Sixth junior rank (Tòng lục phẩm): 30 quan, rice: 22 kg, tax per capital: 6 quan.
  • Seventh senior rank (Chánh thất phẩm): 25 quan, rice: 20 kg, tax per capital: 5 quan.
  • Seventh junior rank (Tòng thất phẩm): 22 quan, rice: 20 kg, tax per capital: 5 quan.
  • Eight senior rank (Chánh bát phẩm): 20 quan, rice: 18 kg, tax per capital: 5 quan.
  • Eight junior rank (Tòng bát phẩm): 20 quan, rice: 18 kg, tax per capital: 4 quan.
  • Ninth senior rank (Chánh cửu phẩm): 18 quan, rice: 16 kg, tax per capital: 4 quan.
  • Ninth junior rank (Tòng cửu phẩm): 18 quan, rice: 16 kg, tax per capital: 4 quan.
Vietnamese cash coins of the Nguyễn dynasty.


When the mandarins began their retirement, they could receive 100 to 400 quan as the Emperor's promotion. When they passed away, the royal court will support 20 to 200 quan for funeral ceremony.[29]

Administrative division

Ngọ Môn (午門) is the main gate to the imperial city of the Nguyễn Dynasty.
Representation of a Vietnamese marriage ceremony in Tonkin, at the beginning of the colonial period.
Elephant army of Nguyễn dynasty

After Gia Long, other rulers of the dynasty would soon run into problems with Catholic missionaries and, subsequently, the involvement of Europeans in Indochina. The Qing Jiaqing Emperor of China refused the Vietnamese ruler Gia Long's request to change his country's name to Nam Việt, instead the Jiaqing Emperor changed the name instead to Việt Nam.[30]

His son Minh Mạng was then faced with the Lê Văn Khôi revolt, when native Christians and their European clergy tried to overthrow him and install a grandson of Gia Long who had converted to Roman Catholicism. This was only the start, as frequent revolts were launched by the missionaries in an attempt to Catholicize the throne and the country. Conversely[31] Minh Mạng is also noted for the creation of public lands as part of his reforms.[32]

Minh Mang enacted the final conquest of the Champa Kingdom after the centuries long Cham–Vietnamese wars. The Cham Muslim leader Katip Suma was educated in Kelantan and came back to Champa to declare a Jihad against the Vietnamese after Emperor Minh Mang's annexation of Champa.[33][34][35][36] The Vietnamese coercively fed lizard and pig meat to Cham Muslims and cow meat to Cham Hindus against their will to punish them and assimilate them to Vietnamese culture.[37]

Minh Mang sinicized ethnic minorities such as Cambodians, claimed the legacy of Confucianism and China's Han dynasty for Vietnam, and used the term Han people 漢人 (Hán nhân) to refer to the Vietnamese.[38][39] Minh Mang declared that "We must hope that their barbarian habits will be subconsciously dissipated, and that they will daily become more infected by Han [Sino-Vietnamese] customs."[40] These policies were directed at the Khmer and hill tribes.[41] The Nguyen lord Nguyen Phuc Chu had referred to Vietnamese as "Han people" in 1712 when differentiating between Vietnamese and Chams.[42] The Nguyen Lords established đồn điền after 1790. It was said "Hán di hữu hạn" 漢夷有限 ("the Vietnamese and the barbarians must have clear borders") by the Gia Long Emperor (Nguyễn Phúc Ánh) when differentiating between Khmer and Vietnamese.[43] Minh Mang implemented an acculturation integration policy directed at minority non-Vietnamese peoples.[44] Thanh nhân 清人 or Đường nhân 唐人 were used to refer to ethnic Chinese by the Vietnamese while Vietnamese called themselves as Hán dân 漢民 and Hán nhân 漢人 in Vietnam during the 1800s under Nguyễn rule.[45]

"Trung Quốc" 中國 was used as a name for Vietnam by Emperor Gia Long in 1805.[46]

Due to its dominance during the 19th century Vietnam regards Cambodia and Laos as vassal tributary states.[47]

The Nguyen dynasty implemented and spread Chinese style clothing.[48][49][50][51][52][53] Trousers were adopted by the White H'mong,[54] replacing the traditional skirts of White Hmong women.[55] The tunics and trouser clothing of the Han Chinese on the Ming tradition was worn by the Vietnamese. The Ao Dai was created when tucks which were close fitting and compact were added in the 1920s to this Chinese style.[56] Trousers and tunics on the Chinese pattern in 1774 were ordered by the Vo Vuong Emperor to replace the sarong type Vietnamese clothing.[57] The Chinese clothing in the form of trousers and tunic were mandated by the Vietnamese Nguyen government. It was up to the 1920s in Vietnam's north area in isolated hamlets wear skirts were worn.[58] The Chinese Ming dynasty, Tang dynasty, and Han dynasty clothing was ordered to be adopted by Vietnamese military and bureaucrats by the Nguyen Lord Nguyễn Phúc Khoát (Nguyen The Tong).[59]

In 1841 a polemic "On Distinguishing Barbarians" was written about how Confucian the Vietnamese were compared to the Qing, in response to the Qing using the sign "Vietnamese Barbarians' Hostel" 越夷會館 for the Nguyen dynasty diplomat and ethnic Han Chinese Lý Văn Phức 李文馥.[60][61][62][63][64][65][66][67][68][69] It argued that the Qing did not subscribe to all neo-Confucianist texts from the Song and Ming dynasties of China which were learned by Vietnamese.[70] A single civilization which was identical was regarded to be shared by Vietnam and the Qing by the Vietnamese, who viewed themselves as having an Emperor and their own country as a "Middle Kingdom" with the essential argument that Vietnam "are Chinese, not barbarians" in his rant over the barbarian label in 1841.[71] Highland tribes and other non-Vietnamese ethnicities living near or within Vietnam were referred to as "barbarian" by the Vietnamese Imperial court, anything was barbarian if it was not "Chinese" in the eyes of the Vietnamese who had copied Chinese culture and governmental system and this was illustrated by the hostel incident.[72] "Hostel for the An Nam Barbarians" was written on the hostel in Fujian when Ly Van Phuc came to China to conduct diplomacy for the Nguyen.[73] In the essay he mentions the distinction between Yi and Hua and mentions Zhao Tuo, Wen, Shun and Taibo.[74][75][76][77][78] Professors Kelley and Woodside wrote on Vietnam's Confucianism.[79]

Emperors Minh Mạng, Thiệu Trị and Tự Đức, were opposed to French involvement in the country and tried to reduce the growing Catholic community in Vietnam at that time. The imprisonment of missionaries who had illegally entered the country was the primary pretext for the French to invade and occupy Indochina. Much like what had occurred in Qing China, there were also numerous incidents involving other (European) nations during the 19th century.

The last Nguyễn Emperor to rule with complete independence was Tự Đức. After his death, there was a succession crisis as the regent Tôn Thất Thuyết orchestrated the murders of three emperors in a year. This allowed the French to take direct control of the country and eventually gain complete control of the monarchy. All emperors since Đồng Khánh were chosen by the French and had only a symbolic position.

French protectorate

Napoleon III took the first steps to establishing a French colonial influence in Indochina. He approved the launching of a naval expedition in 1858 to punish the Vietnamese for their mistreatment of European Catholic missionaries and force the court to accept a French presence in the country. An important factor in his decision was the belief that France risked becoming a second-rate power by not expanding its influence in East Asia. Also, the idea that France had a civilizing mission was spreading. This eventually led to a full-out invasion in 1861.

Signature of the Treaty of Huế, 25 August 1883

By 1862 the war was over and Vietnam conceded three provinces in the south, called by the French Cochinchina, opened three ports to French trade, allowed free passage of French warships to Kampuchea (which led to a French protectorate over Kampuchea in 1863), allowed freedom of action for French missionaries, and gave France a large indemnity for the cost of the war. France did not however intervene in the Christian-supported Vietnamese rebellion in Bắc Bộ, despite the urging of missionaries, or in the subsequent slaughter of thousands of Christians after the rebellion, suggesting that although persecution of Christians was the prompt for the intervention, military and political reasons ultimately drove colonialism in Vietnam. France completely conquered in 1885 the rest of Vietnam. They also promoted the further occupation and development of the Mekong Delta region by the Vietnamese. The Nguyễn Dynasty nominally ruled the French protectorates of Annam and Tonkin, which were, like Cochinchina, constituent territories of French Indochina. France added new ingredients to the cultural stew of Vietnam. The French added Catholicism and a writing system based upon Latin letters (see Vietnamese alphabet). The spelling used in this transliteration of Vietnamese surprisingly was Portuguese because the French relied upon a dictionary compiled earlier by a Portuguese cleric.

World War I

While seeking to maximize the use of Indochina's natural resources and manpower to fight World War I, France cracked down on all patriotic mass movements in Vietnam. Indochina, mainly Vietnam, had to provide France with 70,000 soldiers and 70,000 workers, who were forcibly drafted from the villages to serve on the French battlefront. Vietnam also contributed 184 million piasters in the form of loans and 336,000 tons of food.

These burdens proved all the heavier as agriculture was hard hit by natural disasters from 1914 to 1917. Lacking a unified nationwide organization, the Vietnamese national movement, though still vigorous, failed to take advantage of the difficulties France was experiencing as a result of war to stage any significant uprisings. In May 1916, the sixteen-year-old emperor, Duy Tân, escaped from his palace in order to take part in an uprising of Vietnamese troops. The French were informed of the plan and the leaders arrested and executed. Duy Tân was deposed and exiled to Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean.

World War II

Nationalist sentiments intensified in Vietnam, especially during and after the First World War, but all the uprisings and tentative efforts failed to obtain any concessions from the French overseers. The Russian Revolution which occurred at this time had a tremendous impact on shaping 20th century Vietnamese history.

The sequels to the Second World War: for Vietnam, the explosion of World War II on 1 September 1939 was an event as decisive as the French taking of Đà Nẵng in 1858. The Axis power of Japan invaded Vietnam on 22 September 1940, attempting to construct military bases to strike against the Allies in Southeast Asia. In 1941–1945, a communist resistance movement called the Viet Minh developed under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh. From 1944 to 1945 there was a famine in northern Vietnam in which over one million people starved to death. In March 1945, realizing the allied victory was inevitable, the Japanese overthrew the French authorities in Vietnam, imprisoned their civil servants and proclaimed Vietnam "independent" under Japanese "protection" with Bảo Đại as emperor.

Collapse of the dynasty

Japan surrendered on 15 August, triggering a revolt by the Vietminh.[citation needed] After receiving a "request" for his resignation, Bảo Đại abdicated on 30 August and handed power over to the Vietminh.[citation needed] Bảo Đại was named "supreme counsellor" to the new government.[citation needed] Bảo Đại left shortly afterward since he did not agree with the policies of the Vietminh and went into exile in Hong Kong.[citation needed] Following the return of the French in October, the French-Indochina War (1946–54) was fought between France and the Vietminh.[citation needed]

Succession and heads of dynasty

In 1948, the French persuaded Bảo Đại to return as "Chief of State" (Quốc Trưởng) of the "State of Vietnam" (Quốc Gia Việt Nam) set up by France in areas over which it had regained control, while a bloody war with the Viet Minh under Ho Chi Minh continued. Bảo Đại spent much of his time during that conflict enjoying a good life either at his luxurious home in Đà Lạt (in the Vietnamese Highlands) or in Paris, France. This came to end with the French defeat at Điện Biên Phủ in 1954.

The French negotiated with the U.S. to divide Vietnam. It was divided into North Vietnam going by the name Viet Minh and South Vietnam going by a new government. Bảo Đại's prime minister, Ngô Đình Diệm, overthrew him in a 1955 referendum that, by most accounts, was flagrantly rigged. Not only did an implausible 98 percent of voters support Diem's proposal for a republic, but the number of votes for a republic far exceeded the number of registered voters. Diem then assumed the position of President of the Republic of Vietnam (Việt Nam Cộng Hòa), once more ending Bảo Đại's involvement in Vietnamese affairs – this time permanently.

Bảo Đại went into exile in France, where he died in 1997 and was buried in Cimetière de Passy. Crown Prince Bảo Long succeeded on the death of his father Emperor Bảo Đại as Head of the Imperial House of Vietnam on 31 July 1997. He was in turn succeeded by his brother Bảo Thắng on 28 July 2007.



History records

List of Nguyễn emperors

Imperial crown of Nguyễn emperors

The following list is the emperors' era names, which have meaning in Chinese and Vietnamese. For example, the first ruler's era name, Gia Long, is the combination of the old names for Saigon (Gia Định) and Hanoi (Thăng Long) to show the new unity of the country; the fourth, Tự Đức, means "Inheritance of Virtues"; the ninth, Đồng Khánh, means "Collective Celebration".

Emperors of Nguyễn dynasty (1802–1945)
Portrait Temple name Posthumous name Personal name Lineage Reign Regnal name Royal Tomb Events
GiaLong.jpg 世祖
Thế Tổ
Khai Thiên Hoằng Đạo Lập Kỷ Thùy Thống Thần Văn Thánh Vũ Tuấn Đức Long Công Chí Nhân Đại Hiếu Cao Hoàng Đế
Nguyễn Phúc Ánh
Nguyễn lords 1802–20 嘉隆 1802–20
Gia Long
Thiên Thọ lăng
unified the whole country, founder of Vietnam's last dynasty, named the country as Vietnam for the first time
Minh Mang.gif 聖祖
Thánh Tổ
Thể Thiên Xương Vận Chí Hiếu Thuần Đức Văn Vũ Minh Đoán Sáng Thuật Đại Thành Hậu Trạch Phong Công Nhân Hoàng Đế
Nguyễn Phúc Đảm
son 1820–41 明命 1820–41
Minh Mệnh
Hiếu Lăng
annexed the remaining of the Panduranga kingdom, renamed the country Đại Nam, suppress religion
Gold lang Thieu Tri CdM.jpg 憲祖
Hiến Tổ
Thiệu Thiên Long Vận Chí Thiện Thuần Hiếu Khoan Minh Duệ Đoán Văn Trị Vũ Công Thánh Triết Chượng Chương Hoàng Đế
阮福綿宗Nguyễn Phúc Miên Tông son 1841–47 紹治 1841–47
Thiệu Trị
Xương Lăng
Vua Tu Duc.jpg 翼宗
Dực Tông
Thể Thiên Hanh Vận Chí Thành Đạt Hiếu Thể Kiện Đôn Nhân Khiêm Cung Minh Lược Duệ Văn Anh Hoàng Đế
Nguyễn Phúc Hồng Nhậm
son 1847–83 嗣德 1847–83
Tự Đức
Khiêm Lăng
faced the French invasion and cede Cochinchina to France.
An lang.jpg 恭宗
Cung Tông
Huệ Hoàng Đế
Nguyễn Phúc Ưng Chân
nephew (adopted son of Tự Đức) 1883 育德 1883
Dục Đức
An Lăng
Three-days Emperor (20 July 1883 – 23 July 1883)

Văn Lãng Quận Vương

Nguyễn Phúc Hồng Dật
uncle (son of Thiệu Trị) 1883 協和 1883
Hiệp Hòa
Four-Month Emperor, ruled during a period of turmoil (30 July 1883 – 29 November 1883)
Giản Tông
Thiệu Đức Chí Hiếu Uyên Duệ Nghị Hoàng Đế
Nguyễn Phúc Ưng Đăng
nephew (son of older brother of Hiệp Hòa) 1883–84 建福 1883–84
Kiến Phúc
Bồi Lăng
Eight-Month Emperor, ruled during a period of turmoil (2 December 1883 – 31 July 1884)
Emperor Ham Nghi.jpg 阮福膺𧰡
Nguyễn Phúc Ưng Lịch
younger brother 1884–85 咸宜 1884–85
Hàm Nghi
Thonac Cemetery, France was dethroned after 1 year because stratagem piles the West, but continued the rebellion until was captured in 1888 and forced to exile to Algeria
DongKhanh.jpg 景宗
Cảnh Tông
Hoằng Liệt Thống Thiết Mẫn Huệ Thuần Hoàng Đế
Nguyễn Phúc Ưng Kỷ
older brother 1885–89 同慶 1885–89
Đồng Khánh
Tư Lăng
Emperor Thanh Thai.jpg 懷澤公

Hoài Trạch Công

Nguyễn Phúc Bửu Lân
cousin (son of Dục Đức) 1889–1907 成泰 1889–1907
Thành Thái
An Lăng
Vua Duy Tan nho.jpg 阮福永珊
Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh San
son 1907–16 維新 1907–16
Duy Tân
An Lăng
Emperor Khai Dinh 1916.jpg 弘宗
Hoằng Tông
Tự Đại Gia Vận Thánh Minh Thần Trí Nhân Hiếu Thành Kính Di Mô Thừa Liệt Tuyên Hoàng Đế
Nguyễn Phúc Bửu Đảo
cousin (son of Đồng Khánh) 1916–25 啟定 1916–25
Khải Định
Ứng Lăng
Closely collaborated with the French regime and was effectively a puppet political figurehead for French colonial rulers. He was very unpopular with the Vietnamese people. The nationalist leader Phan Châu Trinh accused him of selling out his country to the French and living in imperial luxury while the people were exploited by France.
Baodai.jpg 阮福永瑞
Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy
son 1926–45 保大 1926–45
Bảo Đại
Cimetière de Passy, France Created the Empire of Vietnam under Japanese occupation during World War II, then abdicated and transferred power to the Viet Minh in 1945, ending the Vietnamese monarchy. Later removed as head of state of the State of Vietnam, changing it into a republic with President Ngo Dinh Diem as head of state. Bao Dai remained unpopular amongst the Vietnamese populace as he was considered a political puppet for the French colonialist regime, for lacking any form of political power, for his cooperation with the French and for his pro-French ideals.
  1. Following the death of Emperor Tự Đức, and according to his will, this Emperor ascended to the throne on 19 July 1883. However, he was dethroned and imprisoned three days later, after being accused of deleting one paragraph from Tự Đức's will. He had no time to announce his dynastic title (era name); hence his was named after his residential palace as Dục Đức.
  2. Crown Prince Bảo Long succeeded on the death of his father, Emperor Bảo Đại, as Head of the Imperial House of Vietnam on 31 July 1997.
  3. Prince Bảo Thắng following the death of his brother, Crown Prince Bảo Long, succeeded as head of the Nguyễn dynasty on 28 July 2007.


Gia Long
Minh Mệnh
Thiệu Trị
Tự Đức
  Thoại Thái Vương   Kiên Thái Vương   6
Hiệp Hoà
Dục Đức
Đồng Khánh
Hàm Nghi
Kiến Phúc
Thành Thái
Khải Định
Duy Tân
Bảo Đại


Royal house
Nguyễn dynasty
Founding year: 1802
Deposition: 1945
Preceded by
Tây Sơn dynasty
Dynasty of Vietnam
1 June 1802 – 30 August 1945

See also


  1. ^ Member of the Imperial Chinese tributary system (1802–1839)


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