Tran Thai Tong Establishes Tran Dynasty Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Tran Thai Tong, who established the long-lasting Tran Dynasty in Vietnam, firmly upheld the traditional Buddhist scholar’s ideal of serving the people, protecting the country against foreign invasion, and pursuing spiritual salvation.

Summary of Event

Though Tran Thai Tong was one of the best rulers in Vietnam’s history, his ascension to power was through the manipulation of his ambitious, ruthless uncle Tran Thu Do Tran Thu Do . Ly Hue Tong Ly Hue Tong ’s close adviser, Tran Thua Tran Thua , used his influence to secure for Tran Thu Do the position of commander of the imperial guards in the Ly Dynasty Ly Dynasty (1009-1225) court. With an eye on the Ly throne, in 1224, Tran Thu Do arranged a marriage between Ly Chieu Hoang Ly Chieu Hoang , Ly Hue Tong’s eight-year-old daughter, and his seven-year-old nephew Tran Canh (later known as Tran Thai Tong) and forced the ailing monarch to name his daughter as his successor and to retire and become a Buddhist monk. [kw]Tran Thai Tong Establishes Tran Dynasty (1225) [kw]Tran Dynasty, Tran Thai Tong Establishes (1225) Tran Dynasty Tran Thai Tong China;1225: Tran Thai Tong Establishes Tran Dynasty[2310] Southeast Asia;1225: Tran Thai Tong Establishes Tran Dynasty[2310] Government and politics;1225: Tran Thai Tong Establishes Tran Dynasty[2310] Tran Thai Tong Tran Thu Do Ly Chieu Hoang Kublai Khan

In 1225, Ly Chieu Hoang turned over power to her husband, but because Tran Thai Tong was too young to assume power, Tran Thu Do was the de facto ruler of the country. When Tran Thai Tong became old enough to rule, the transition of power did not go smoothly. Because Ly Chieu Hoang did not produce a male heir, in 1238, Tran Thai Tong was forced by Tran Thu Do to wed the pregnant wife of his brother Tran Lieu in order to maintain the Tran lineage. Tran Thu Do’s maneuver had two disastrous consequences: the armed rebellion of Tran Lieu and Tran Thai Tong’s flight from his palace to seek refuge in a Buddhist temple. He did not return to the capital until Tran Thu Do threatened to build a new court around the temple and the abbot entreated him to listen to his uncle. A devout Buddhist who did not want to disturb the sacred environment, Tran Thai Tong eventually bowed to Tran Thu Do’s demand.

After he had wrested power from Tran Thu Do, Tran Thai Tong began laying the groundwork for a promising new dynasty and proved himself a strong king. Despite Tran Thu Do’s protest, he granted amnesty to Tran Lieu and made him a prince. Numerous important reforms were implemented during his thirty-three-year reign, paving the way for a government strong enough to defeat foreign invasions and to bring security and welfare to its people for several centuries.

Beginning in the early 1230’, Tran Thai Tong’s government launched major reforms. In 1232, the doctoral examination was first offered as a means of recruiting candidates for top positions in the king’s mandarinate. In 1242, as part of his attempt to prevent civil disobedience, reduce the central government’s administrative burden, and gain firmer control of the population, Tran Thai Tong divided the country into twelve regions, each of which was headed by a governor appointed by the court. Each region was then split into numerous villages with their own governments, made up of local dignitaries. The court fully recognized each village’s constitutional privileges but reserved its right to access the local registry for information about males of draft age. Using this method, by 1258, Tran Thai Tong was able to have a 200,000-man-strong army capable of resisting the first Mongol invasion.

Because Vietnam was an agricultural society, Tran Thai Tong’s social programs were geared to meet the peasants’ needs. Soldiers periodically returned to their own villages to participate in agriculture Agriculture;Vietnam and other local welfare projects. In 1244, the Red River dam, the first of its kind, was built to protect the delta from annual floods. The king not only appointed qualified officials to supervise the project but also went on an inspection tour in the rainy season. In other areas of the country, if private land had to be used for public programs, appropriate compensation was paid to its owner. Sale of public land for whatever reason was strictly prohibited.

Tran Thai Tong also saw to it that commerce and industry, which primarily consisted of handicrafts, was in his reform program. Under his reign, the capital of Thang Long was a center of booming business transactions with foreign countries. Close by was Quay Van Don, where merchant ships from China and other countries in Southeast Asia came to engage in trade and commerce with Vietnam. Trade;Vietnam

Tran Thai Tong planned to build national identity through cultural independence in order to prevent China from assimilating Vietnam culturally and militarily. In 1253, Quoc hoc Vien Quoc hoc Vien , Vietnam’s first academy of letters, was founded to provide scholarship opportunities for first-rate intellectuals. In the same year, Giang vo Duong, the nation’s first military academy, was inaugurated to train officers for the Vietnamese army. Education;Vietnam

The greatest test of Tran Thai Tong’s leadership came in 1257, when Kublai Khan Kublai Khan , who had unified China under the Yuan Dynasty Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), sent a powerful force southward to conquer Vietnam Vietnam;China and and the Champa. Under Tran Thai Tong’s skilled command and with the Vietnamese people’s support, the Mongols were defeated and withdrew from Vietnam in 1258.

Soon after his victory over the Mongols in 1258, Tran Thai Tong transferred power to his son Tran Thanh Tong and retreated to Thien Truong to practice Zen Buddhism. While studying Buddhism Buddhism;Vietnam , he served as the new king’s supreme counselor until his death in 1277.

The author of several works on poetry and Buddhism, Tran Thai Tong was best known for his famous Khoa hu luc (1258-1277; essays on the practice of emptiness). The book offers a fascinating interpretation of Buddhism. According to Tran Thai Tong, the purpose of practicing Buddhism is to rid oneself of suffering, not to give up one’s life for the practice of Buddhism.


As he matured, Tran Thai Tong, who was crowned king at the age of nine, was able to escape the influence of his powerful uncle and become a full-fledged ruler. Existing records show no significant role played by Tran Thu Do after Tran Thai Tong agreed to return to the capital, so it is likely that the king initiated and conducted all the reforms himself.

Tran Thai Tong epitomized the ideal Buddhist man in thirteenth century Vietnam. He devoted all his energy to the service of his country but did not lose sight of his self-cultivation. Although his social reforms show that he was a far-sighted and compassionate statesman in the Confucian tradition, his writings place him squarely in the Buddhist canon as they examine the root cause of human suffering and suggest ways of eliminating it. He devoted time and energy to improving his people’s well-being and also pursued his spiritual salvation, maintaining a dual approach to life.

Tran Thai Tong was the first ruler to create a system of government involving a supreme counselor to the king, a practice that was followed the entire Tran Dynasty. Under this system, the crown prince served as apprentice under his ruling father, then after his coronation, retained his father as supreme counselor. This system helped eliminate the family feuds that occurred after a king’s death when the crown prince was not well prepared for the job. Internally, the Tran Dynasty was perhaps one of the longest and most stable dynasties in Vietnam’s history.

According to Vietnamese historians, the most important achievement of Tran Thai Tong’s rule was his leaving his descendants fully prepared to resist foreign invasions. Twenty-seven years after his death, his grandson Tran Nhan Tong defeated a Chinese force of 800,000 men and 500 vessels that invaded Vietnam twice to avenge China’s military debacle under Tran Thai Tong’s reign.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Buttinger, Joseph. The Smaller Dragon. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1958. Provides an account of Vietnam’s struggle for independence from foreign rule since the tenth century. Argues that dynastic strength stemmed from political, agricultural, military, and educational reforms.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Huynh, Sanh Thong, ed. and trans. An Anthology of Vietnamese Poems from the Eleventh to the Twentieth Centuries. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1966. Includes poems by Tran Thai Tong that describe his perception of life and methods for achieving spiritual salvation according to Buddhism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kenny, Henry J. Shadow of the Dragon: Vietnam’s Continuing Struggle with China and the Implications for U.S. Foreign Policy. Washington, D.C.: Brassey’, 2002. Argues that United States policy toward Vietnam should be considered in light of this country’s past and its recent disputes with its giant neighbor.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Whitfield, Danny J. Historical and Cultural Dictionary of Vietnam. Mechuen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1976. Contains references to Vietnamese history and culture. The Tran Thai Tong section covers the king’s victorious campaigns against the Mongol army and his major reforms after the war.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Woods, Shelton L. Vietnam: A Global Studies Handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2002. Provides an overview of Vietnam’s history, geography, culture, and customs.

Categories: History