Vietnamese Culture - A 1970's Perspective
                     Copyright 1996 Vn-families

Issue #14. Legend about Emperor Ly Thai-To, George F Schultz, Vietnam 
Bulletin, October  1970.

We will run this column weekly until we run out of interesting cultural 
Please direct all questions to [email protected]
Here is the proposed schedule of this column.

Issue #1:  Tet 1971 in Vietnam! by Phu Si, VB710118 - Jan 17, 1996
Issue #2:  The Unicorn dance at Tet, by Minh Tam, VB710118.
Issue #3:  The origin of Tao Quan, the three kitchen gods, by
           George F. Schultz, VB710118.
Issue #4:  1971 - The year of the Pig, by Van Ngan, VB710118.
Issue #5   The Joy of "first writing of the new year", by Thuy Ngoc,
Issue #6:  Traditional Vietnamese male attire, by Van Ngan, VB710208
Issue #7:  The legend of Princess Lieu Hanh, George F. Schultz, VB710215 
Issue #8:  The dialogue on Mount Na-Son, George F. Schultz, VB710222
Issue #9:  The secret housewife, George F. Schultz, VB710301
Issue #10: The golden axe, George F. Schultz, VB710308
Issue #11: Golden age of Viet Nam under the Hung Kings, Pham Tung, 
           TAS720506 - March 27, 1996.
Issue #12: The legend of Chu Van Dich, George F Schutlz, VB701221 - 
           April 3, 1996
Issue #13: The sandalwood maiden, George F. Schultz, VB7010?? - 
           April 10, 1996.
Issue #14: Legend about Emperor Ly Thai-To, George F Schultz, VB7010?? -
           April 17, 1996.
Issue #15. Chu Dong-Tu and Princess Tien Dung, George F. Schultz,
           VB701005 - April 24, 1996.
                    Adapted by George F. Schultz

Emperor Ly Thai-To[1], founder of the Ly dynasty (1O1O-1225), was of 
obscure origins. According to legend, he was fathered by a genie who 
violated his mother as she was on her way to the Tieu Son pagoda in the 
village of Co Phap (province of Bac Ninh). Being pregnant and unmarried, 
the woman was forced to leave her native village and for three years 
wandered about the country before reaching the pagoda of Ung Tam, where 
she entrusted her child to the care of the Superior, a bonze[2] named Ly 
Khanh Van. In the version that follows, however, the mother gives birth 
and dies at the gates of the pagoda.

One night, Ly Khanh Van, Superior of the Ung Tam pagoda dreamed that a 
genie had appeared to him in his sleep.

"His Majesty the Emperor is waiting at your gates," said the genie. "Go 
forth and receive him."

When the Superior awakened in the early hours of the morning, he 
recalled the dream and went to the gates of the pagoda to investigate. 
There he found the body of a young woman who was already dead; at her 
side lay a newborn male child. The Superior gave the woman a decent 
burial and himself took charge of the child, whom he named Ly Cong Uan, 
adopting him as his own son.

As soon as the lines of the orphan's hands had formed, it was seen that 
they vaguely resembled the characters son ha (mountains and rivers) and 
xa tac (Genie of the Earth and Genie of the Harvests), which, taken 
together meant "empire".

Early in life, Ly Cong Uan showed that he was endowed with extraordinary 
intelligence. At six years of age he could read the prayer books as well 
as any bonze. But he was also somewhat mischievous and one day removed 
the fillings from the rice cakes destined for the altars and ate them. 
The Guardian Genie of the pagoda appeared in a dream to the Superior and 
told him about his adopted son's misbehavior. When Ly Khanh Van awoke, 
he verified the facts related in the dream and severely reprimanded the 
young rogue.

"But who told you about my misdeed, master?" he asked.

"The Guardian Genie, of course," was the reply.

Ly Cong Uan became very angry at the Genie and on the back of his statue 
wrote the following threat: "You are sentenced to exile at a distance of 
3,000 leagues."

That night the Genie again appeared to the Superior in a dream.

"His Majesty the Emperor has just banished me from the pagoda," he said. 

On awakening the Superior examined the Genie's statue and discovered the 
judgment written on the back. In vain he tried to erase it. Then he sent 
for his son, who erased it easily, using only his spittle.

When Ly Cong Uan reached the age of nine, the Superior realized that he 
was incapable of teaching him further. Accordingly, he was enrolled in 
the school conducted by Van Hanh, a bonze who had the reputation of 
being the most learned scholar of his time. Under the tutelage of this 
wise master, Ly Cong Uan progressed rapidly, not only in theology but 
also in Confucian philosophy and military science.

One day, for having committed another of his pranks, the young student 
was ordered by his master to remain kneeling throughout the night. At 
the imposition of this punishment he improvised the following lines:

"In the deep night I dare not stretch my legs
For fear of upsetting mountains and rivers (the empire)."

When he read these bold lines, Van Hanh knew that his disciple had the 
stuff of which kings are made.

In recognition of his vast knowledge, Ly Cong Uan was named a court 
mandarin. When, at the age of twenty-three, Emperor Le Trung Tong was 
assassinated by his brother Le Long Dinh, Ly Cong Uan was the only 
person who had the courage to remain with the dead monarch and to weep 
over his body. Impressed by such loyalty, Le Long Dinh, who had 
succeeded his brother on the throne, respected him greatly and even 
entrusted him with the command of his personal guard.

In 1009, with the death of Le Long Dinh (known as Ngoa Trieu � "the 
Reclining Emperor"), the Le dynasty came to an end and in the following 
year Ly Cong Uan was unanimously acclaimed emperor by the other court 
mandarins. His old tutor contributed to the preparation for his former 
disciple's succession by spreading prophecies among the people of a 
coming change of dynasty. On ascending the throne he took the reign name 
of Ly Thai-To.

In the seventh month of the first year of his reign (1010), Ly Thai-To 
moved the capital from Hoa Lu to La Thanh. On reaching the latter city, 
he saw in a dream a golden dragon rising in the air; therefore he 
changed  the name of his future capital to Thang Long (Ascending 
Dragon). Today it is called Hanoi.

Since Ly Thai-To was a fervent Buddhist, the bonzes enjoyed many 
privileges during his reign. For example, in 1O18, public funds were 
used for the manufacture of their bells. Later, he sent an embassy to 
China to look for authentic Buddhist prayer books.

Ly Thai-To ruled for nineteen years and died in the year 1028 at the age 
of fifty-five.
[1] � Thai: great, supreme; to: ancestor. Name or title bestowed on the 
founder of a dynasty.

[2] � Bonze: a term applied to Buddhist priests in Viet Nam by French 
missionaries (from the Japanese bo-zu, priest). The Sino-Vietnamese term 
is thien-su or thien-gia.