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Bronze drum in Vietnamese history
« on: June 17, 2019, 03:51:42 PM »
Users of bronze drums

Source: Liam C Kelly Vietnamese history blog
https://leminhkhai.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/l%E1%BA%A1o-t%E1%BB%AD-in-giao-ch%E1%BB%89/
_______________________________________ ________________________

Lạo Tử in Giao Chỉ (Jiaozhi)

I was looking through the fourteenth century Brief Treatise on An Nam (An Nam chí lược) a while ago and came across a passage on “Lạo Tử” (獠子). This term refers to a type of people who at that time lived in an area stretching from what is today southwestern China through parts of northwestern Vietnam and eastern Laos.

This first character can be pronounced Liêu in Vietnamese and Liao in Chinese. However, when referring to these peoples who inhabited an area from southwestern China into the Vietnam-Laos border regions, this character is usually pronounced Lạo/Lao.

While it would be tempting to call these people “Lao,” in actuality this term probably referred to various peoples, from Lao to Black Tai to even some speakers of languages that were not part of the Tai language family.

In any case, this is what the Brief Treatise on An Nam had to say about them:

Lạo Tử is another name for savages. There are many in Huguang and Yunnan. Some serve Giao Chỉ.* There are also some who tattoo their foreheads and bore their teeth. There are quite a few different types of them. It was recorded in the past that there are Head-Shaped Lạo Tử, Red-Pants Lạo Tử and Nose-Drinking Lạo Tử.** They all live in cliff caverns or nest huts. They drink wine through reeds. They are fond of warring with enemies and they beat bronze drums. They value big ones. When a drum is first completed, they place it in a courtyard with wine and invite their fellow kind. Those who come fill [the courtyard] to the gates. The daughter of the notable takes a gold or silver hairpin and strikes the drum, after which she leaves it with the owner. Some say that the bronze drums were the gongs used by Zhuge Liang when he campaigned against the savages [in 225 A.D.].

*“Huguang” refers to the area of what is today Hunanand Guangxi Provinces. “Giao Chỉ” (Chn., Jiaozhi) is an old name for the Red River delta region. It is not clear how the Lạo Tử “served” (服役, phục dịch) Giao Chỉ as this term can refer to labor or military service.

**The name “Head-Shaped Lạo Tử” (頭形獠子, Đầu Hình Lạo Tử) is likely a mistake for the name “Flying-Head Lạo Tử” (飛頭獠子, Phi Đầu Lạo Tử). That at least is how a certain type of Lạo Tử was referred to in Chinese sources, and all of these other names are the same as names of Lạo Tử that are mentioned in Chinese sources.

This is from Lê Tắc 黎崱, An Nam chí lược 安南志略 [Brief treatise on An Nam], (Siku quanshu ed., orig. comp., 1333) 1/20a. The Vietnamese translation below is based on a slightly different version of this text which says that “most of them know how to use crossbows and beat bronze drums” where the above text has “they are fond of warring with enemies and they beat bronze drums.”

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Re: Bronze drum in Vietnamese history
« Reply #1 on: June 17, 2019, 03:53:24 PM »
The lack of cultural relation between the users of bronze drums & Vietnamese

Source:
https://leminhkhai.wordpress.com/2012/12/04/what-do-dong-son-bronze-drums-have-to-do-with-the-viet
_______________________________________ ________________________

Đông Sơn bronze drums are beautiful artifacts that attest to the sophistication of the people who made them, but how were those people related to the people who eventually came to refer to themselves as the Việt?

I was thinking about this question while reading an entry in Lê Tắc’s fourteenth-century Brief Treatise on An Nam (An Nam chí lược) about the “Lạo Tử” (獠子).

Lạo Tử were “savages” who lived in areas stretching from modern Hunan Province to northern Vietnam. Lê Tắc describes some of their characteristics, and then says the following about them:

“They are fond of warring with enemies and they beat bronze drums. They value big ones. When a drum is first completed, they place it in a courtyard with wine and invite their fellow kind. Those who come fill [the courtyard] to the gates. The daughter of the notable takes a gold or silver hairpin and strikes the drum, after which she leaves it with the owner.”

In this passage, Lê Tắc clearly indicates that bronze drums were important for the Lạo Tử. He also makes it clear that he considered them to be “savages.”

What this shows is that Lê Tắc saw himself as different from people who made use of bronze drums. What is more, Lê Tắc was Việt. So if Việt in the fourteenth century saw themselves as different from people who made use of bronze drums, then how were they related to the people who had created Đông Sơn bronze drums in the same area during the first millennium BC?

Were they the same people, but their culture had changed? If that is the case, then that was a major change. In fact, it means that they changed so much that they came to identify themselves in opposition to the people they used to be.

In such a situation, what continues? If people change their lives this dramatically, is there something that doesn’t change? If so, what? And how can we identify it?

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Re: Bronze drum in Vietnamese history
« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2019, 03:55:51 PM »
How Vietnamese incorporate bronze drum into their history

Source:
https://leminhkhai.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/viet-chinese-savages-and-bronze-drums/
_______________________________________ ________________________

Having talked in the previous post about how bronze drums were not important to the Việt in the past, there is one case in which they were, and that is in regards to a shrine known as the Shrine of the Spirit of the Bronze Drum (Đồng Cổ Thần Tự 銅鼓神祠) which was in the area of Thanh Hóa Province on a mountain called Mount Đan Nê, but which was also known as Mount Khả Lao (可牢山).

There is a passage about this shrine in the nineteenth-century geographical text, the Đại Nam nhất thống chí 大南一統志. That passage is a bit confusing because in addition to the shrine on Mount Đan Nê, an altar dedicated to this spirit was also later set up in the capital. So this information is about one spirit who was honored in two locations.

I will translate the passage here and then comment on it below.



[17 hạ/5a] The Shrine of the Spirit of the Bronze Drum [Đồng Cổ Thần Tự 銅鼓神祠] is on Mount Đan Nê (also called Mount Khả Lao) in Yên Định District. In the past, when the Hùng king [17 hạ/5b] went on a campaign against Champa [Chiêm Thành 占城], he stationed his troops on Mount Khả Lao. At night he dreamed that a divine man [thần nhân 神人] declared that “I will obtain for you a bronze drum and bronze drumstick to aid you in obtaining a victory in battle.” When the two sides faced off, the sound of a metallic drum came through the air, and as predicted, [the Hùng king] obtained a complete victory. [The Hùng king] invested [the spirit] as the Great King of the Bronze Drum [Đồng Cổ Đại Vương 銅鼓大王].

When Lý Thái Tông was heir apparent, he received orders to campaign against Champa. At night he dreamt that a man dressed in military garb and holding a precious sword directly stated that “I am the spirit of the bronze drum. Let me follow you and establish merit.” When the situation had been pacified, Lý Thái Tông erected a temple to make sacrifices to [the spirit].

Later, after the emperor had ascended the throne, he dreamt that the spirit came with a poem which indicated that there were three princes planning to overthrow him. It turned out to be true. The emperor then invested [the spirit] with the additional title of “Alliance Master of All Under Heaven” [Thiên Hạ Minh Chủ 天下盟主] and promoted it to the rank of an upper-level spirit. Every year an altar was erected before the shrine and the various officials were ordered to read an oath which said, “The way of officials is bound with to cardinal relationships [cương thường 綱常]. If one is unfilial as a son or disloyal as an official, let the spirit make its silent observations and then eradicate his family.”

During the early years of the Lê restoration, Mạc troops harassed the districts of Vĩnh Ninh (now Vĩnh Lộc) and Yên Định. The naval forces of the Lê moored on the upper reaches of the Mã River. At night they heard three strikes of a drum come from several hundred leagues away. A Lê general sent someone to investigate, and he learned that the drum sound had come from Mount Khả Lao.

The next morning they went in pursuit of the Mạc troops. When they met in battle, the wind became fierce and the water level rose. The [Lê] naval forces raised their sails and took advantage of the wind. Their bravery increased one hundred fold. The Mạc troops were completely defeated.

In the Hoàng Định era [the spirit] was invested [with a new title]. [17 hạ/6a] There was a poem which went, “The wind and waves on the river greatly aided the military’s victory.” This was indeed the case.

During the Cảnh Hưng era, there was often a yellow parasol seen in the Obeisance to Heaven Hall [Triều Thiên Quán 朝天館]. Only after three days would [the apparition] disappear. Then one day as evening was setting in, dark clouds converged from the four directions, and there was fierce wind and rain. Looking from afar, people saw a black dragon wind its way down from Heaven to the temple [of the Spirit of the Bronze Drum]. When morning broke, they went and found its traces. Its numinous power was still like this.

From the Lý through the Lê, in the spring of each year when the army would go on a campaign, the officers and soldiers would make an oath, and would respectfully invite the spirit to oversee [the ritual]. The Lê junior mentor, Nguyễn Văn Khải, had a poem which went [This poem does not appear in the Vietnamese translation of this text that I have seen. Poems take a long time to translate. For now I will just translate the two lines that relate to the point that I wish to make about this passage.]:

台峰拱炤水灣環

毓秀鐘靈在此閒

壇上翻瓢消旱魃

The overturned ladle on the alter eradicates the drought demon,

空中敲鼓走狂蠻

The sounding of the drum drives away the mad savages.

龜碑石篆經霜綠

鳳札金章炤日丹

今古迭更棋幾局

凛然正氣舊江山

Within the shrine there is a bronze drum that is about 100 catties in weigh. It is about one xích and five thốn in diameter, and over two xích tall. The inside is empty, and it does not have a base. Its edges are slightly damaged. Its face has nine concentric circles on it. The waist [of the drum] is tied [or wrapped with something?] so its midriff is concealed. On four sides it is tied with rope. It has swastika character [vạn tự 卍字] writing like tadpoles. Over time it wore away and now it is indecipherable. It is said that this was made during the time of the Hùng kings.

At the end of the Lê, the usurping Tây [Sơn] trespassed here and took [the drum] back to Phú Xuân. Later, a man from Hậu Lộc District [17 hạ/6b] found it on a riverbank. The provincial [authorities] declared that it should be returned to the shrine. It is still there today.



– The above passage begins by talking about a Hùng king going on a military campaign against Champa [Chiêm Thành]. While I think that it is obvious that there were no Hùng kings, even if we believe that there were, this passage is still problematic as there is no record of this in any historical chronicle, and Champa did not exist in the time that this would have been (first millennium BC).

What is not problematic is this general idea that a king had a dream in which a spirit manifested itself and offered its assistance. This is a “trope” or “theme” that we can find in many other stories from the past created by the educated elite all across the “Sinitic world,” from the Red River Delta to the Korean Peninsula. We see it again here in reference to Lý Thái Tông.

What kind of assistance did the spirit provide? Assistance in attacking people who were different from the Việt.

Here I find it interesting that the place where the shrine was located was called Mount Đan Nê, or Mount Khả Lao. “Đan Nê” and “Khả Lao” are not Việt names, and this suggests that the people who, at least originally, lived there were different from the Việt. Meanwhile, as I mentioned in the post below, the educated Việt in the past associated the bronze drums with people who were different from them.

So the people who used bronze drums were different from the Việt, and the Việt created a temple on Mount Đan Nê/Khả Lao (a place that was, at least originally, the home of people who were different from the Việt) that was dedicated to the spirit of the bronze drum. That spirit then helped the Viêt when they fought against people who were different from them – “The sounding of the drum drives away the mad savages.”

What this looks like to me is that the Việt took something powerful (i.e., the bronze drum) from “savages” and then tried to use the power associated with that object to help them defeat “savages.”

In the first century AD, the “Chinese” general, Ma Yuan, reportedly took bronze drums from this region, melted them, and recast them as bronze horses. This was also likely done in part to take away power from the ruling elite in the region, whom Ma Yuan viewed as “savages.”

Roughly 1,000 years later, we find the Việt doing the same thing.

So what is the relationship between the savages with bronze drums that Ma Yuan attacked, and the savages with bronze drums 1,000 years later that the Việt attacked? And who were the Việt at that time (~1100 AD)? Why were they so similar to a “Chinese” general like Ma Yuan, and so unlike the people that Ma Yuan had defeated? Why did they view people who had bronze drums as “savages”?

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Re: Bronze drum in Vietnamese history
« Reply #3 on: June 17, 2019, 03:57:30 PM »
Bronze drum - a modern symbol of Vietnamese nationalism

Source: Liam C Kelly Vietnamese history blog
https://leminhkhai.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/the-unimportance-of-bronze-drums-in-viet-history/
_______________________________________ ________________________

In the second half of the twentieth century, the bronze drum became a symbol of “the antiquity of Việt nation.”

However, from the time that the people we refer to as the Việt started to record information about themselves until the present – a time period roughly equivalent to the thousand years of the second millennium AD – bronze drums were never part of the cultural lives of the Việt. Instead, it is people whom the Việt perceived to be different from themselves, and whom the Việt looked down upon, who employed bronze drums in their cultural lives.

As such, no Việt prior to the twentieth century ever saw bronze drums as a symbol of “the antiquity of the Viêt nation.” Indeed, for many centuries most Việt probably lived and died without ever having seen, or heard of, a bronze drum.

As for the Việt who wrote about bronze drums before the twentieth century, they also didn’t know anything about them. In the few instances when they wrote about bronze drums, they did so by citing information from extant “Chinese” sources. This is because they did not know anything about the drums themselves.

Let’s look, for instance, at what Lê Tắc had to say about bronze drums in his fourteenth-century An Nam chí lược 安南志略. In that work, Lê Tắc associated bronze drums with a different ethnic group, the Lão/Liêu Tử 獠子, a group of people whom Lê Tắc referred to in derogatory terms as “savages” (man tử 蠻子). This is what he wrote:

“Lão/Liêu Tử is another name for savages. There are many in Huguang and Yunnan. Some serve Giao Chỉ. There are also some who tattoo their foreheads and bore their teeth. There are quite a few different types of them. It was recorded in the past that there are Head-Shaped Lão/Liêu Tử (頭形獠子 – probably a mistake for ‘Flying-Head Lạo Tử’ 飛頭獠子), Red-Pants Lão/Liêu Tử (赤裸獠子) and Nose-Drinking Lão/Liêu Tử (鼻飲狻子). They all live in cliff caverns or nest huts. They drink wine through reeds. They are fond of warring with enemies and they beat bronze drums. They value big ones. When a drum is first completed, they place it in a courtyard with wine and invite their fellow kind. Those who come fill [the courtyard] to the gates. The daughter of a notable takes a gold or silver hairpin and strikes the drum, after which she leaves it with the owner.”

So in this text, bronze drums are associated with a people who are different from the Việt – Lão/Liêu Tử, whom Lê Tắc derogatorily labeled “savages.” It would be convenient to say that this name refers to the same people that we today call the “Lao,” but that’s probably not accurate, as the use of bronze drums was probably not limited to the ancestors of the people whom we today call the Lao.

In any case, none of the details that Lê Tắc provided were his own. Instead, they can be found in earlier “Chinese” sources. Some people will argue that Lê Tắc probably wrote this way because he wrote this book when he was in “China,” but the nineteenth-century geographical text, the Đại Nam nhất thống chí 大南一統志, likewise cited “Chinese” sources to explain what bronze drums were.

There is a passage in that work on a shrine called the Shrine of the Spirit of the Bronze Drum (Đồng Cổ Thần Tự 銅鼓神祠), which I will write about later, and at the end of that passage several “Chinese” texts are cited to explain what bronze drums are. And I think it is significant to note that the Vietnamese translation of this text omits this information (yet one more example of why the quốc ngữ versions of Hán texts are hopelessly flawed).

This is what that text says:

“According to the History of the Later Han [Hou Hanshu 後漢書], Ma Yuan obtained Lạc Việt bronze drums in Giao Chỉ/Jiaozhi. The Record of Guang Region [Guangzhou ji 廣州記] [records that] the Li and the Liao cast drums out of bronze. Only those that are tall are valued, and over a meter wide. When a drum is first completed, it is hung in a courtyard. Wine is placed there and they invite their fellow kind. The daughter of a notable takes a gold or silver hairpin and strikes the drum, after which she leaves it with the owner. Also, the History of the Sui [Suishu 隋書] the various savages all cast large bronze drums. When there was some incident they would sound it and people would arrive like clouds. . .”

So prior to the twentieth century, bronze drums, which are now the symbol of “the antiquity of the Việt nation,” were basically unknown to the Việt.

So why is it that it is only after Europeans dug bronze drums out of the ground in the twentieth century and introduced the concept of nationalism to the Việt that the Việt started to see the bronze drums as such important symbols?

Oh, I think I just answered my own question. . .

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Re: Bronze drum in Vietnamese history
« Reply #4 on: June 17, 2019, 04:47:38 PM »
The real history of bronze drum users - "The People between the Rivers" book

Source:
https://leminhkhai.wordpress.com/2016/09/27/a-review-of-the-people-between-the-rivers-plus-a-30-discount/
https://leminhkhai.wordpress.com/2017/04/06/ta-duc-cao-son-bronze-drums-nationalism-and-history/
_______________________________________ ________________________

Summary of the book

The people we today refer to today as the Vietnamese created a culture (starting in the first millennium AD, and continuing through the centuries after that) through interactions with the people who lived to their north (the “Chinese”), and as they did so, they rejected the indigenous bronze drum cultural world.

This is a process that Catherine Churchman has clearly documented in a recent work on the Li and Lao peoples who inhabited the mountainous region between the Red and Pearl River deltas (The People between the Rivers: The Rise and Fall of a Bronze Drum Culture, 200–750 CE). In that work, Churchman clearly demonstrates how the Li and Lao gradually “Sinicized” their cultural and political lives, and in the course of this transformation, bronze drums ceased to be important to their world.

Review of the book

In 1976, Edward Schafer published a book about “the South” in the medieval Chinese imagination called The Vermilion Bird: T’ang Images of the South. Filled with fascinating details about everything from plants to people, Schafer’s book demonstrated how vast and rich the information in Chinese sources is for the region of what is now Guangdong and Guangxi provinces, as well as northern and parts of central Vietnam, in the first millennium CE.

At the same time, however, in focusing on how Chinese “thought” about the south, The Vermilion Bird is not an ideal work to read in order to gain a sense of “what actually happened” in that region during that time period. This is a gap that Keith Taylor’s 1983 work, The Birth of Vietnam, partially filled as it provided a very detailed narrative of the history of the Red River Plain, part of the larger region that is examined in The Vermilion Bird, from the earliest times up through the period of Tang Dynasty rule.

Another important contribution toward establishing a picture of the early history of this region came in 1997 when Charles Holcombe published an article entitled “Early Imperial China’s Deep South: The Viet Regions through Tang Times” (Tang Studies 15-16, [1997-8]: 125-157).

What Holcombe essentially argued in this article was that in the first millennium CE Hanoi and Guangzhou were like two Sinicized islands that were more like each other than the surrounding areas. Holcombe also argued that over the course of this period trade became more centralized at Guangzhou and that this led the Red River Plain to become more peripheral to the Chinese world by the time of the Tang.

As helpful as these three works are for learning about various aspects of the early history of the area that stretches from what is today central Vietnam to Guandong Province in China, to really gain a solid understanding of the history of this region would require a bold work of synthesis that would place Taylor’s detailed study of the Red River Plain in the larger context of an equally detailed understanding of the history of the areas of Guandong and Guangxi provinces at the same time, and that would examine the region between Hanoi and Guangzhou that Holcombe did not discuss, and that would discover how the many products from the natural world that Schafer wrote about tie into the historical developments of the region.

Fortunately for all of us who are interested in the early history of that region, such a synthesis has just been completed. It is Catherine Churchman’s The People between the Rivers: The Rise and Fall of a Bronze Drum Culture, 200–750 CE (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).

Churchman’s monograph focuses on the mountainous lands between the Red and Pearl River deltas in the period from roughly the end of the Han Dynasty up to the period of Tang Dynasty rule.

The people who lived in this region were known to Chinese authors as “Li” and “Lao” peoples, or more generally as “savages” or “barbarians.” Indeed, they were distinct in some ways from their counterparts in the Yellow River valley, and there is no better sign of this than the (Heger II style) bronze drums that they produced from around the second or third century CE until around the eighth century CE when their separate polities ultimately came to be incorporated into the Tang Dynasty realm.

Churchman documents the history of the rise and fall of Li and Lao polities during this period, and in the process, she also ultimately rewrites the history of the larger region, particularly as it has been represented by modern Vietnamese historians.

So what is this history? To grossly simplify Churchman’s richly documented and detailed study, it is as follows:

The Qin and Han Dynasties expanded their authority southward to the Pearl and Red River Plains. In the process, they largely bypassed the mountainous region in between, and after the Han Dynasty collapsed, there was no dynasty that was strong enough to take direct control of that region until the time of the Tang Dynasty.

This does not mean, however, that the land between the rivers remained isolated. Instead, what Churchman demonstrates is that there were polities in that region that became increasingly powerful over that same time period through their interactions with various Chinese states. In particular, in accepting nominal titles from Chinese dynasties, local rulers gained trade privileges that then provided them with the wealth and resources to expand their domains.

While this region did ultimately end up being incorporated into the Chinese empire, through conquest and gradual political expansion, Churchman’s main focus is to examine a very different development that occurred prior to that – the rise and expansion of Li 俚 and Lao 獠 polities.

While that is the gist of the overarching historical narrative that Churchman presents, there are many other issues that she covers that enrich our understanding of the history of not only the land between the two rivers but also the Pearl and Red River Plains themselves.

First and foremost, she does a wonderful job of explaining how we should understand terms like “Li” and “Lao.” While many scholars have viewed such names as designating ethnic or linguistic groups, Churchman demonstrates that they are more like markers on a continuum of political recognition. (Erica Fox Brindley’s recent book on the Yue similarly problematizes the term “yue” 越.)

To simplify Churchman’s more complex discussion, people who were completely outside of the world of Chinese administration were “Lao,” people who participated fully within the world of Chinese administration were “people” 人 (Chn., ren; Viet., nhân), and local chiefs who accepted titles from Chinese administrators were “Li.”

Again, this is a simplification of Churchman’s discussion of this issue, but the important point is that the divide between “Li” and “ren/ nhân/people” was ambiguous as local peoples who participated in Chinese administrations inhabited an ambiguous space, and as evidence of this Churchman presents several illuminating examples of how the same individual could be referred to in different sources in different ways, from “Li” to “barbarian chief” to “person” to the title that the local Chinese administrator had given him.

Adding to this ambiguity is the fact that the style of rule of Chinese administrators in the south also changed over time. In particular, following the Han Dynasty period many Chinese administrators essentially became hereditary local lords, as many of the various Chinese states between the Han and Tang either did not have the resources or were too short-lived to dispatch officials to the region, and as a result, chose simply to approve of the continued service of the men who were already there.

As such, on one level there was not all that much difference between hereditary Chinese governors in the south and the hereditary Li chiefs who ruled over mountainous regions on their behalf. On another level though, the fact that those Li chiefs continued to produce bronze drums as a sign of their political power and legitimacy was a sign that some differences did indeed exist.

This trend towards the rule of hereditary officials was eventually put to an end in the Pearl River delta as Chinese states, such as the Liang dynasty (502–587), sent their own officials or members of the royal family to take up positions there. However, it continued in the Red River Plain.

While the history of the Red River Plain is not the focus of Churchman’s monograph, she does bring up numerous points about the history of that region, and taken together these points represent a full challenge to the narrative of that region that was produced by Vietnamese historians in the twentieth century and which was presented in English in Keith Taylor’s 1983 work The Birth of Vietnam.

That narrative is that there was a distinct society, culture and language in the Red River Plain before the Qin and Han extended their empires into that region, and that for 1,000 years, the inheritors of that society, culture and language resisted Chinese rule and eventually became “independent” again.

Taylor’s more recent A History of the Vietnamese offers a very different understanding of this period by arguing that the people whom we today refer to as “the Vietnamese” are in countless ways a product of 1,000 years of incorporation in Chinese empires. Churchman doesn’t address this issue of cultural and social change in the Red River Plain, but by discussing that region alongside the Pearl River Delta and the lands between the Red and Pearl rivers she makes it obvious that the Red River Plain did not fit the characterization of a “rebellious” region.

In fact, Churchman demonstrates clearly that the narrative of maintaining cultural distinctness and resisting incorporation into the Chinese empire is a much more appropriate narrative for the lands between the rivers than it is for the Red River Plain.

Whatever cultural and social distinctness existed in the Red River Plain came to a rather abrupt end as Đông Sơn bronze drums ceased to be produced and as that region became comparatively peaceful following Ma Yuan’s crushing of the Trưng Sisters’ rebellion in the first century CE.

By contrast, for the next few centuries a bronze drum cultural world continued to exist in the mountains to the north of the Red River Plain, and the Li and Lao peoples proved to be much more rebellious than their counterparts to the south.

Finally, Churchman makes it clear that by the time of the Tang Dynasty the Red River Plain had become increasingly distant from, and peripheral to, the concerns of Chinese courts. Advances in shipbuilding had made it possible for ships to sail across the open sea directly to Guangzhou instead of following the coast and stopping in the Tonkin Gulf as they had done during the time of the Han Dynasty.

Also, with no serious effort to replace hereditary Chinese officials, unlike what happened in the Pearl River Delta, the “independence” of the region in the tenth century can be more accurately seen as more the result of imperial neglect than of the manifestation of a popular will.

While I find this characterization of the period of Chinese rule of the Red River Plain to be accurate, and while Churchman’s detailed examination of the rise and fall of bronze drum kingdoms in the lands between the rivers is clear and convincing, we are left with one obvious and essential question: what happened to the earlier bronze drum kingdom(s) of the Red River Plain?

The recent book by Nam Kim on the ancient citadel of Cổ Loa (The Origins of Ancient Vietnam, Oxford University Press, 2015) makes it clear that there was a powerful kingdom in the Red River Plain in the first millennium BCE. Churchman shared with me in an email correspondence that she thinks that it may have been easier to control such a large state in a river plain after eliminating or subjugating its rulers than it was to try to conquer numerous mountain polities.

Indeed, this is a central aspect of Churchman’s argument for the bronze drum kingdoms in the lands between the rivers – as kingdoms became larger and more connected to Chinese empires, they ultimately became easier to subjugate and fully incorporate once a Chinese empire had the military resources to do so.

This then reminded me of a famous passage in Li Daoyuan’s sixth-century Annotated Classic of Waterways (水經注, Shuijing zhu) in which he cites an earlier text called the Record of the Outer Territory of Jiao Region (交州外域記, Jiaozhou waiyu ji) for information about the Red River Plain.

This is what the passage says:

交州外域記曰,交趾昔未有郡縣之時,土地有雒田,其田從潮水上下,民墾食其田,名為雒民。設雒王雒侯主諸郡縣。縣多為雒將。雒將銅印青綬。

“The Record of the Outer Territory of Jiao Region states that ‘In the past, before Jiaozhi had commanderies and districts, the land had lạc fields. These fields followed the rising and falling of the floodwaters. The people who opened these fields for cultivation were called lạc people. Lạc princes and lạc marquises were appointed to control the various commanderies and districts. Many of the districts had lạc generals. The lạc generals had bronze seals on green ribbons.’”

I have long struggled to understand this passage because it purports to describe the region before it had “commanderies and districts,” which is shorthand for saying “before it was under ‘Chinese’ rule,” and then it goes on to talk about people controlling districts and having the accoutrements of “Chinese” rule – bronze seals on green ribbons.

If this was really a time before the Qin and Han Dynasties sought to control the region, then shouldn’t the local rulers have had bronze drums?

While Churchman does not discuss this passage in her book, in discussing the bronze drum kingdoms between the two rivers she points out that one of the forms of Chinese indirect rule in the region was to establish what she calls “left-hand districts” (zuoxian 左縣), or what one could probably also call “subsidiary districts.”

These were districts that were under the control of local (Li/Lao) rulers, but were nominally recognized by the Chinese administrator of an officially established district nearby.

And how did that Chinese ruler indicate that he was recognizing a local person as the ruler of a left-hand district? By granting him a bronze seal on a green ribbon (or more generally, a seal and a sash).

In other words, this earliest passage that we have about the Red River Plain looks to be not about a time before that region came under Chinese control, but before it became under “complete” or “direct” Chinese control.

As Churchman explains in her book, during the second half of the Han Dynasty period such efforts were made by Chinese administrators, and the Trưng Sisters’ rebellion, she argues, may have been a reaction to efforts on the part of Chinese administrators to transform indirect rule into direct rule.

That rebellion was of course put down, and from that point onward there is essentially no more evidence of the world of bronze drum kingdoms or chiefs or bronze drum culture in the Red River Plain. Instead, it’s in the lands between the Red and Pearl Rivers that this world continued and evolved, as Churchman so ably demonstrates.

In conclusion, I could write much more about this book as well as about the ideas that it inspires, suffice it to say that our understanding of the early history of the area stretching from what is today central Vietnam to the provinces of Guangxi and Guangdong in China has just taken a massive step forward thanks to the work of Catherine Churchman.

The People between the Rivers: The Rise and Fall of a Bronze Drum Culture, 200–750 CE is a masterpiece of synthesis and insight that provides a lucid overarching framework for several centuries of regional history as well as nuanced discussions of countless ground-level issues, from problematizing the concepts of “Sinicizaton” and “ethnicity” to mapping out trade patterns between the Red River Plain and southern China. It is indeed a masterpiece.
_______________________________________ ________________________

My criticism: Later Han records about Vietnam is definitely not reliable and how much influence the Han empire actually had over Vietnam is not clear. Nevertheless the book is definately worth reading if people want to know more about sinabs history & culture before Tang empire.

 
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