Le Dai Hanh Invades Champa

The invasion of Champa by the Vietnamese emperor Le Dai Hanh culminated in the destruction of the Champa capital of Indrapura and led to centuries of warfare between the Vietnamese and the Chams that ended with Champa’s eventual elimination.

Summary of Event

When the first emperor of Vietnam, Dinh Bo Linh Dinh Bo Linh , was assassinated in 979, the recently independent state of Dai Co Viet (“great empire of the Vietnamese”) faced a serious crisis. The assassin, Do Thich Do Thich , was captured and beheaded, and his corpse cut into small pieces that were given to the people to eat. The only surviving heir was Dinh Toan Dinh Toan , a young prince of five, who was crowned emperor. His mother, one of Dinh Bo Linh’s five wives, was young and beautiful and deeply in love with the military commander in chief, Le Hoan. [kw]Le Dai Hanh Invades Champa (982)
[kw]Champa, Le Dai Hanh Invades (982)
Champa;Vietnamese invasion of
Le Dai Hanh
Southeast Asia;982: Le Dai Hanh Invades Champa[1310]
Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;982: Le Dai Hanh Invades Champa[1310]
Dinh Bo Linh
Le Dai Hanh
Indravarman IV

Emperor Taizong Taizong (Song emperor) (T’ai-tsung; r. 976-997) of the Chinese Song Dynasty Song Dynasty;Vietnam and (Sung; 960-1279) tried to use the opportunity to reestablish Chinese domination over the Vietnamese, which had lasted for more than a thousand years and had been ended in 939. Faced with this danger, the Vietnamese military supported Le Hoan’s assumption of imperial power. His lover agreed to have her son give up the throne. Le Hoan became emperor in 980 and took the imperial name of Le Dai Hanh, under which he is most widely known.

The Chinese emperor refused to acknowledge Le Dai Hanh and demanded that the child Dinh Toan and his mother travel to China to pay their respects. Le Dai Hanh was unwilling to let go of his lover, so he refused the Chinese and readied for war.

In 981, the Chinese send an invasion fleet to northern Vietnam. Le Dai Hanh lost a battle on the Bach-dang, the most northern tributary of the Red River delta near modern Hanoi. However, he managed to capture and kill the Chinese commander and captured two more senior Chinese generals. Because China was busy fighting off Mongol invaders, the Chinese court accepted Le Dai Hanh’s offer to exchange his prisoners in return for peace and his formal recognition as ruler of Vietnam, who officially paid tribute to China.

Having secured his and his people’s position against China, Le Dai Hanh turned his attention south to deal with the kingdom of Champa. The first kingdom of Champa was founded by southern rebels against Chinese rule in 192 c.e., and it was known as Lin-yi by the Chinese and Lam Ap by the Vietnamese. In the fifth century, Malay settlers from Indonesia, especially Java, changed the ethnic nature of the Cham people and enlarged the kingdom’s territory. At the height of its power, Champa stretched over a coastal area ranging south from modern Da Nang up to Cape Vung Tau just east of modern Ho Chih Minh City (Saigon). A dark-skinned people with curly black hair, the Chams had a reputation for cleanliness and survived by fishing, trading, and piracy. After its foundation, Champa maintained an uneasy relationship with its neighbors, including the Vietnamese and the Chinese. During the Nanzhao war of the ninth century, Cham raiders were seen in northern Vietnam.

In 979, after the assassination of Dinh Bo Linh, the Cham king Paramesvaravarman Paramesvaravarman decided to invade Vietnam. He led a great attacking fleet north, but a fierce tempest dispersed his ships and prevented the landfall of the invaders. A year later in 980, Le Dai Hanh sent an embassy to the Cham capital of Indrapura, near modern Da Nang. Instead of receiving the Vietnamese envoy with courtesy and respect, king Paramesvaravarman threw the messengers in jail.

In 982, having successfully dealt with the Chinese, Le Dai Hanh led a Vietnamese army to invade Champa. Le Dai Hanh won in battle and killed the Cham king. The Cham capital of Indrapura Indrapura;fall of (982) was captured, plundered, and destroyed. The victorious Vietnamese took much booty and led the royal ballet troop of Champa into captivity to Vietnam.

With his people defeated and his capital razed, the new king Indravarman IV Indravarman IV had to agree to pay tribute to Vietnam. The new capital became Vijaya, near modern Qui Nhon, 200 miles (320 kilometers) farther south. Le Dai Hanh’s invasion had been a resounding success for the Vietnamese.


Le Dai Hanh’s victory over the Champa indicated that in the late tenth century, Vietnam had not only gained its long sought independence from China but was ready to embark on its own aggressive course of expansion. Provoked by the abortive Cham raid against Vietnamese shores in 979 and the imprisonment of his envoy in 980, Le Dai Hanh retaliated with force. His invasion of Champa and the destruction of Indrapura marked the beginning of a century-long struggle between the Vietnamese and the Chams. Eventually, warfare between the two people would end only with a set of total Vietnamese victories in the fifteenth and the early nineteenth centuries. These victories in effect eliminated Champa and erased it from the map of Southeast Asia. Much of modern central and southern Vietnam is land gained by the Vietnamese from their defeated Cham enemies.

However, up to the final dissolution of the Champa kingdom in the nineteenth century, the struggle with the Vietnamese that began in earnest with the battle of Le Dai Hanh against king Paramesvaravarman would be long and arduous. The fortunes of both sides would rise and fall, a pattern already revealed the immediate aftermath of Le Dai Hanh’s initial triumph.

While the new Cham king Indravarman IV ruled from the city of Vijaya and fruitlessly asked the Chinese for help against Vietnam, a Vietnamese man, Luu Ky Tong Luu Ky Tong (d. 989), seized power in northern Champa, still littered with the ruins of Indrapura. Luu, dreaming of a kingdom of his own, even defied emperor Le Dai Hanh’s order to relinquish power over the Chams.

When Indravarman IV died in 986, Luu dared to proclaim himself king of Champa, an audacious move for an ethnic Vietnamese. The Chams resisted this alien ruler. Many Chams fled into southern China. They preferred to live there rather than under a Vietnamese king. Yet at Vijaya in 988, a Cham rebel proclaimed himself the true king of Champa. The rebel took the name of Harivarman II Harivarman II (d. 1000). When Luu died suddenly in 989, Harivarman II’s authority in Champa was ensured. In 990, he defeated an attacking Vietnamese army that could not duplicate Le Dai Hanh’s triumph of eight years earlier. Harivarman II and Le Dai Hanh exchanged prisoners of war, and Champa continued to pay regular tribute to the Vietnamese. Harivarman II even rebuilt Indrapura Indrapura , which served again as capita of Champa.

The Chams soon resumed their raids against the Vietnamese, who responded with force. In 1000, the new Cham king, Harivarman III Harivarman III (d. 1021), had to abandon Indrapura for the safety of the more southern Vijaya. In the last years of Le Dai Hanh’s reign, the Vietnamese again assumed the upper hand against the Chams.

Thus, beginning with Le Dai Hanh’s invasion of Champa, even though the Vietnamese occasionally lost ground, their war with Champa would ultimately be successful. In addition to asserting Vietnamese power in the south, Le Dai Hanh also managed to establish a stable position for Vietnam’s independence from China that enabled the Vietnamese to focus their energies south to the acquisition of new territory wrested from its weaker neighbors. From the reign of Le Dai Hanh, China recognized the Vietnamese emperor as a king who nominally paid tribute to the Chinese court but who really enjoyed full independence. This diplomatic solution saved face for the Chinese and guaranteed Vietnamese independence and expansion.

Further Reading

  • Chapuis, Oscar. A History of Vietnam. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. Good history of Champa, and a concise discussion of the reign of Le Dai Hanh. Maps, bibliography, index.
  • Hall, Daniel George. A History of Southeast Asia. 4th ed. London: Macmillan Press, 1981. Still a standard work on the period. Chapter 8 surveys the history of Champa, chapter 9 that of Vietnam, from the beginnings to the sixteenth century. Illustrations, maps, bibliography, and index.
  • Huard, Pierre, and Maurice Durand. Viet Nam: Civilization and Culture. Translated by Vu Thiěn Kim. 2d ed. Hanoi: Ecole Française d’Extrěme-Orient, 1994. General overview that contains a historic survey and much background on Vietnamese culture through the ages. Richly illustrated.
  • Lockard, Craig A. “The Unexplained Miracle: Reflections on Vietnamese National Identity and Survival.” Journal of Asian and African Studies 29 (January-April, 1994): 10-35. Provides a framework for appraising Le Dai Hanh’s achievement of safeguarding Vietnamese independence in the face of foreign attempts to eradicate its culture.
  • Raj, Hans. History of South-East Asia. Delhi, India: Surjeet, 2002. Comprehensive account incorporating fresh historical, archaeological, and anthropological research and insights. Maps, bibliography, index.