Battle of Bạch Đằng (938)

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Battle of Bạch Đằng (938)
LocationBạch Đằng River, Vietnam
Result Decisive Ngô Quyền victory
Tĩnh Hải quân period ended
Ngô Dynasty proclaimed
Tĩnh Hải quân Southern Han
Commanders and leaders
Ngô Quyền Liu Yan
Liu Hongcao 
30,000[citation needed] 100,000+[citation needed]

At the Battle of Bạch Đằng River in 938 the rebel Vietnamese forces, led by Ngô Quyền, defeated the invading forces of the Southern Han state of China and put an end to centuries of Chinese imperial domination in Vietnam. It took place at the Bạch Đằng River, near Hạ Long Bay in northern Vietnam.[1]

The victory at Bạch Đằng, ended 1000 years of First Chinese domination of Vietnam (The Long Eclipse) in the History of Vietnam, opening up an independence age for the country.


In 931 AD, Dương Đình Nghệ defeated the Southern Han army – one of the Ten Kingdoms near Tĩnh Hải Quân (Army of Peaceful Sea, the name used for Vietnam's army at that time) and achieved the independent status of the Vietnamese at Tĩnh Hải quân; he named himself Jiedushi.[2]

In 937 AD, Đình Nghệ was killed by Kiều Công Tiễn, revoking the title of Jiedushi. Đình Nghệ's son in law and also his general, Ngô Quyền, mobilized his army to exact revenge on Công Tiễn.[2]

Fearing Ngô Quyền, Công Tiễn requested help from the Southern Han. Thenceforth, Emperor of Southern Han, Liu Yan, took his chance and prepared to invade Tĩnh Hải (Peaceful Sea) again.[2]

Liu Yan claimed that if Dương Đình Nghệ was dead, then Tỉnh Hãi Quân would be out of good generals. He ordered his ninth son, Liu Hongcao (Vietnamese: Lưu Hoằng Tháo) to become "Bình Hải tướng quân" (Sea-Pacifying Military General) and "Giao Chỉ vương" (King of Giao Chỉ), he commanded the naval forces of Southern Han into Giao Chỉ.[2]


In 937, Liu Yan (Chinese: 劉龑; Vietnamese: Lưu Nham), the Southern Han ruler, took the chance to intervene in Vietnam after the death of the Annam Lord Protector Dương Đình Nghệ. Liu Yan had been previously defeated by Dương Đình Nghệ in 931. Liu Yan placed his son, Liu Hongcao (Chinese: 劉弘操; Vietnamese: Lưu Hoằng Tháo), in command of the expedition, naming him "Peaceful Sea Military Governor" and "King of Giao." He assembled an army at Sea Gate, where he took charge of the reserve force. He ordered Liu Hongcao to embark the army and sail to Giao.[citation needed]

By the time Liu Hongcao arrived in Vietnamese waters with the Southern Han expedition, Liu Hongcao's plan was to ascend the Bạch Đằng River and to place his army in the heart of Giacannoto Chau before disembarking; the Bạch Đằng was the major riverine route into the Red River plain from the north.

Ngô Quyền anticipated this plan and brought his army to the mouth of the river. He had his men plant a barrier of large poles in the bed of the river. The tops of the poles reached just below the water level at high tide and were sharpened and tipped with iron. When Liu Hongcao appeared off the mouth of the river, Quyen sent out small, shallow-draft boats at high tide to provoke a fight and then retreat upriver, drawing the Chinese fleet in pursuit. As the tide fell, the heavy Chinese warboats were caught on the poles and lay trapped in the middle of the river, whereupon they were attacked by Ngô Quyền's forces.

More than half the Chinese were drowned, including Liu Hongcao.[3] When news of the battle reached Sea Gate with the survivors, Liu Yan wept openly. He collected what remained of his army and returned to Canton. This victory ended China's long occupation of Vietnam and began a period of Vietnam's independence until the conquest by Ming China. Ngô Quyền's tactic would later be reused by Trần Hưng Đạo in a battle at Bạch Đằng River against the Mongols in 1288.


The military tactics used by Ngô Quyền were original, as Lê Văn Hưu described: "Great tactic, good combat" (Original:"善謀而善戰者也/thiện mưu nhi thiện chiến giả dã" Modern Vietnamese: "Mưu giỏi mà đánh cũng giỏi") in Complete History of Đại Việt (Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư).[4][5] However, according to militarists, applying the pole-and-tide stratagem to inflict damage upon an enemy navy required the successful combination of two factors:

  • Lure the enemy past the poles when at high tide as the poles are hidden.
  • Know the tide and calculate the time when the tide ebbs, and ensure the enemy ships are above the poles at this point, causing them to be impaled on the poles and sunk.

These two processes were integrally linked, for if the enemy came in at low tide, they would have seen the poles, but if low tide did not come in time, Liu's boats would have easily sailed over the poles. Therefore, for this tactic to take effect, beside preparing the poles secretly and quickly, luring the enemy into the right route at the right time was the most decisive factor. Ngô Quyền achieved success with this tactic by calculating and predicting the tides.

Ngô Quyền knew of Hongcao arrival, and told his generals:[2]

Ngô Quyền ordered his soldiers to nail the iron-headed poles under the waters of the Bạch Đằng river. At high tide, the poles would be covered with water, and thus, remain unseen by the Chinese. Ngô Quyền intended to lure the enemy into this area when the tide was up. When the tide was down, the enemy's boats would be stranded, and be easy targets for attack.[2]

On a late winter day in 938 AD, on Bạch Đằng River, the entire Han's naval fleet led by Hongcao entered Tĩnh Hải.[2]

The Southern Han's soldiers, seeing the small ships of Ngô Quyền, aggressively marched in, thinking that they could easily defeat the small force of Ngô Quyền. Ngô Quyền ordered his army to retreat upstream. He waited until the tide lowered and ordered his army to fight back. The ships of Southern Han were stranded and penetrated by the poles. At that time, Ngô Quyền used all of his forces to attack. The Southern Han's Army lost the battle and retreated, Liu Hongcao and more than half the force was killed by the Vietnamese.[2]

The Emperor of Southern Han was leading his army at the borders, so he could not respond to the situation. Hearing the news that Hongcao was dead, Liu Yang was horrified, and ordered his remaining forces to retreat ([6]). After that, the dynasty of Southern Han forgot about invading Tĩnh Hải quân.[6]

Year 939, Ngô Quyền became King, took the title Ngô Vương (Ngô King), created Vietnam's Ngô Dynasty, set his capital at Cổ Loa (Today's Đông Anh, Hà Nội).[5]

One general who reused this tactic was Trần Hưng Đạo in the Battle of Bạch Đằng (1288); Trần Hưng Đạo also understood the requisites behind this tactic and applied them successfully in pushing the Mongol army out of the Bạch Đằng River.[7]


In the year 938 AD, after calling a large number of soldiers to his side, Ngô Quyền led his army from Ái Châu to the North to kill Kiều Công Tiễn. Công Tiễn was surrounded by Ngô Quyền's army and was unable to break out. He waited for the reinforcements of Southern Han.[2]

Liu Hongcao led over twenty thousand troops into Giao Chỉ to reinforce Công Tiễn's army.[2] Liu Yan sought advice from Chongwen's courtier (known by the Vietnamese as Tiêu Ích). Ích said:

However, the Han Emperor wanted to move fast and quickly reconquer Tĩnh Hải, so he ignored to the warning from Tiêu Ích. He ordered Hongcao to lead his army into the river of Bạch Đằng immediately. Emperor Liu Yan, a general himself, stayed at Haimen as an alternative reinforcement.

While Liu Yan was mobilizing his army, Ngô Quyền marched to Đại La to attack Kiều Công Tiễn. Công Tiễn was completely enveloped by Ngô Quyền's forces and was killed before the Southern Han's reinforcements had a chance to march into Vietnam.[2]


In the first century CE, the population of the Han empire was over 57 million, while the population of Vietnam was just over 1 million. After the conquest of Nam Việt, the Han Dynasty limited sovereignty and plundered the state's treasures. By exploitation of the populace, the Han undertook a process of direct and indirect assimilation of the Nam Việt people, annexing the lands into the Han Empire. The assimilation plan is a feature of Han expansionism, and was implemented in various forms from the Han Dynasty to the Tang.[8]

Ngô Quyền – the victor of the Battle of Bạch Đằng in 938, known in modern times by the title, "The King that Rebuilt Vietnam, as the Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư described.[6] The modern nation state of Vietnam explicitly tries to connect this victory to their national identity, and the author Phan Bội Châu is quoted as saying (of Ngô Quyền: "He is surely worthy with the title "The Mid-Ancestor" of Vietnamese people."

After victory of Bạch Đằng, the people entered a new age, attempting to rebuild the country in large-scale restoration efforts. This age is known as that of the Đại Việt, the eminence of their capital Thăng Long, ushering in the golden age of Lý Dynasty, Trần Dynasty, Lê Dynasty.[8]

Historian Ngô Thì Sĩ described:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ China and Vietnam: The Politics of Asymmetry - Page 113 Brantly Womack - 2006 "However, the facts that Dinh had consolidated local control, that Nan Han had been defeated by Dinh's predecessor in the battle of Bạch Đằng River in 938, and that Vietnam was difficult terrain for Chinese armies constrained the Song to ..."
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Kỷ Nam Bắc Phân Tranh - Đại Việt Sử ký toàn thư".
  3. ^ Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 281.
  4. ^ Tiền Ngô Vương - Đại Việt Sử ký Toàn thư - Nom Foundation
  5. ^ a b c "Tiền Ngô Vương - Đại Việt Sử ký Toàn thư".
  6. ^ a b c Đại Việt Sử ký Toàn thư
  7. ^ "Nhà trần - Đại Việt Sử ký toàn thư".
  8. ^ a b c Đại việt sử ký tiền biên, Ngô Thì Sĩ

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