Lý Nhân Tông

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Lý Nhân Tông
Emperor of Vietnam
Lý Nhân Tông.JPG
Bronze statue of Emperor Lý Nhân Tông, Temple of Literature, Hanoi.
Emperor of Lý Dynasty
Reign 1072–1127
Predecessor Lý Thánh Tông
Successor Lý Thần Tông
Born 22 February 1066
Thăng Long, Đại Việt
Died 15 January 1127
Burial Thiên Đức Lăng
Spouse Empresses Lan Anh, Khâm Thiên and Chấn Bảo
Full name
Lý Càn Đức (李乾德)
Era dates
Thái Ninh (1072–1076)
Anh Vũ Chiêu Thắng (1076–1084)
Quảng Hựu (1085–1092)
Hội Phong (1092–1100)
Long Phù (1101–1109)
Hội Tường Đại Khánh (1110–1119)
Thiên Phù Duệ Vũ (1120–1126)
Thiên Phù Khánh Thọ (1127–1127)
Posthumous name
Hiếu từ Thánh thần Văn vũ Hoàng đế
Temple name
Nhân Tông (仁宗)
House Lý Dynasty
Father Lý Thánh Tông
Mother Ỷ Lan
Religion Buddhism

Lý Nhân Tông (22 February 1066–15 January 1127), given name Lý Càn Đức, was the fourth emperor of the Lý Dynasty, reigning over Vietnam from 1072 to his death in 1127. Succeeded his father Lý Thánh Tông at the age of only 7, during the early years Lý Nhân Tông reigned with the assistance of his mother the Empress Mother Ỷ Lan and the chancellor Lý Đạo Thành who were both considered competent regent and able to help the emperor to keep the prosperity of the country. Appreciated as a great emperor of the Lý Dynasty, Lý Nhân Tông had important contribution to the development of Đại Việt, especially the national education for Confucian learning with the first imperial examination and the first imperial school for Confucian students that were established by the order of the emperor. During his 55-year ruling that is the longest reign in the history of Vietnamese monarchs, Lý Nhân Tông also experienced several conflicts against Đại Việt's neighbours the Song Dynasty and the kingdom of Champa in which the Song-Đại Việt War (1075–1076) was the fiercest.


Nhân Tông was born in the first month of lunar calendar in 1066 as Lý Càn Đức to the emperor Lý Thánh Tông and his concubine Ỷ Lan.[1][2] It was said that Lý Thánh Tông was unable to have his own son up to the age of 40, so he paid a visit to Buddhist pagodas all over the country to pray for a child.[3][4][5] Therefore, right after the birth, Lý Càn Đức was entitled crown prince of the Lý Dynasty while Lady Ỷ Lan was granted the title Imperial Concubine. To celebrate the event that lifted the emperor's constraint of dying without issue,[5] Lý Thánh Tông changed his era name from Chương Thánh Gia Khánh () to Long Chương Thiên Tự () and gave out a general amnesty for prisoners.[2]

In the first month of the lunar calendar in 1072, the emperor Thánh Tông died and thus the crown prince Càn Đức, now Lý Nhân Tông, took the throne at the age of only 7.[6] The emperor changed the era name to Thái Ninh (1072–1076), during his reign Lý Nhân Tông had seven more era names which are Anh Vũ Chiêu Thắng (1076–1084), Quảng Hựu (1085–1092), Hội Phong (1092–1100), Long Phù (1101–1109), Hội Tường Đại Khánh (1110–1119), Thiên Phù Duệ Vũ (1120–1126) and Thiên Phù Khánh Thọ (1127–1127).

As emperors[edit]

Early years[edit]

Initially, the regency of the young emperor was placed in the hand of the chancellor (Vietnamese: thái sư) Lý Đạo Thành and the Empress Mother Thượng Dương, but she was soon dismissed by Lý Nhân Tông after the influence from the emperor's natural mother Ỷ Lan.[7] Later the Empress Mother Thượng Dương and her 76 imperial maids were imprisoned in the Thượng Dương palace; they ultimately were killed and buried in the tomb of Lê Thánh Tông.[6][8]

Lý Nhân Tông
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese Lý Nhân Tông

After the event, Ỷ Lan was entitled Empress Mother Linh Nhân and replaced the Empress Mother Thượng Dương in the position of regent for the emperor.[9] About this event, the historian Ngô Sĩ Liên commented that although having a devotion for Buddhism, Ỷ Lan was too ruthless in killing the innocent empress mother, he also remarked that the chancellor Lý Đạo Thành was transferred to a position in the southern border likely because he advised against the act of Ỷ Lan and the emperor.[10]

Once Ỷ Lan held the control of the country on behalf of Lý Thánh Tông during his military campaign in Champa, she continued to proved her ability in successfully assisting the emperor in ruling the country, together with the chancellor Lý Đạo Thành and the commander-in-chief Lý Thường Kiệt. In the second month of 1117, after Ỷ Lan's advice, Lý Nhân Tông issued the law of prohibiting people from killing buffaloes, reasoning that since buffalo was essential for farming, a buffalo being killed would cause serious effect on many people; therefore, a criminal accused of killing buffalo and the occasional accomplice had to be heavily punished.[11][12] The chancellor Lý Đạo Thành was also famous for his competence and righteousness that helped the young emperor Nhân Tông to keep the prosperity of the country and the strength of the Lý army.[6]

Birth name
Vietnamese alphabet Lý Càn Đức

The ruling of Lý Nhân Tông is highly appreciated, above all in national education.[7] After the order of the emperor, the first imperial examination of a Vietnamese monarch based on Confucian learning was organized in the second month in 1072 with Lê Văn Thịnh becoming the first first-rank laureate in history of imperial examination in Vietnam.[13] Afterwards Lê Văn Thịnh was promoted to the position of chancellor in 1086 but was deprived of all titles and banished to a remote region after a controversial treason case in 1096.[6] Besides Lê Văn Thịnh, Mạc Hiển Tích was also a capable official who found his way to the royal court from Confucian learning that was continuously developed by the emperor, especially after his decree of establishing the first school for Confucian students in Đại Việt, Quốc tử giám (國子監, National Academy), in 1076. In 1089 Lý Nhân Tông made another important decision when he restructured the system of officials in royal court and in the country.[6] To protect the capital Thăng Long against floods, Lý Nhân Tông initiated the construction of the Cổ Xá Dike, one of the first dike systems in Đại Việt.[7]

Conflicts with neighbours[edit]

The relation between the Lý Dynasty and the Song Dynasty began to deteriorate when the Song chancellor Wang Anshi brought out his reforms in 1069. According to Trần Trọng Kim in his Việt Nam sử lược, knowing that the Song emperor prepared for an invasion in Đại Việt, Lý Nhân Tông decided to get ahead by ordering the generals Lý Thường Kiệt and Tôn Đản to open a military campaign under the pretext of "rescuing Chinese people from the cruel reform."[14] In 1075 the Lý army led by Lý Thường Kiệt attacked the Lian and Qin provinces of the Song Dynasty while another group of Tôn Đản besieged the citadel of Yongzhou. Although Lý Thường Kiệt succeeded in defeating the reinforcing troops of the Song Dynasty for Yongzhou, the Song army and people in the citadel were still able to stand the besiegement for 40 days and inflicted high casualties for the Lý forces. As a result, when the Lý army finally took down the defence of Yongzhou, Lý generals decided to revenge by killing more than 58,000 people of the city. Several sources estimate that the total number of people killed by Lý troops during this campaign was about 100,000.[14][15] In response to the sudden attack, the Song emperor opened an invasion in Đại Việt in the twelfth month in 1076 with the support of Song's vassal kingdoms Champa and Khmer.[16]:71 After a rapid advance in the territory of Đại Việt, the Song forces were stopped by the Lý defence line along the Như Nguyệt River led by Lý Thường Kiệt.[15] In avoiding this strong defence system, the commander of the Song army decided to change the operating direction towards the nearby region of Phú Lương, where they had a major victory over the troops of Lý Thường Kiệt. As the Song forces took the advantage in battlefield while the Lý Dynasty had to strenuously keep the defence line, Lý Thường Kiệt tried to boost the moral of his soldiers by a poem named Nam quốc sơn hà. Afterwards this poem is considered the first Declarations of independence of Vietnam.[14] Being aware of the unfavourable situation of the Lý army, Lý Nhân Tông finally decided to propose a cease-fire which was accepted by the Song Dynasty since its troops already lost about 400,000 men[15] by battles and the harsh weather of Đại Việt. The Song army retreated after occupied a vast region near the border between two countries; however, this region was gradually returned to the Lý Dynasty after several diplomatic efforts of the Đại Việt envoys Đào Tôn Nguyên and Lê Văn Thịnh.[15][17]

In the southern border, the Lý Dynasty also had conflicts with the kingdom of Champa. Appointed for the position of commander-in-chief of the Lý army by Lý Nhân Tông, Lý Thường Kiệt often personally commanded operations in the southern border where he defeated the army of Champa several times with the last one in 1104, only one year before his death in 1105. The success of Lý Thường Kiệt during his military campaigns against the kingdom of Champa helped Lý Nhân Tông to stabilize the southern region for the later years of his ruling.[17][18]


Although Lý Nhân Tông had three empresses, Lan Anh, Khâm Thiên and Chấn Bảo, he was unable to have his own son;[18] thus, decided to adopt sons of the Marquises Sùng Hiền, Thành Khánh, Thành Quảng, Thành Chiêu, Thành Hưng, so that the emperor could choose a capable successor to maintain the throne for the Lý Dynasty. Finally, being an intelligent and vivacious boy, Marquis Sùng Hiền's son Lý Dương Hoán was made by Lý Nhân Tông the crown prince of the Lý Dynasty at the age of two in 1117.[12] In December 1127 after 56 years reigning, Lý Nhân Tông died at Vĩnh Quang Palace at the age of 61 and was succeeded by Lý Dương Hoán, now the emperor Lý Thần Tông.[19] In his last will, Lý Nhân Tông still expressed his concern for the country when he only wished for a prosperous nation (bốn bể yên vui) and a stable frontier (biên thuỳ ít loạn).[1]


The 55-year rule of Lý Nhân Tông is the longest reign in the history of Vietnamese monarchs.[20] For his contributions, Lý Nhân Tông is still considered today a great emperor of the Lý Dynasty who is credited with solidifying the ruling of the Lý Dynasty in Đại Việt and improving the independent status of the country. During his 56 years of reigning, Lý Nhân Tông not only developed the agriculture and military strength of Đại Việt but also initiated a national education for Confucian learning with the establishment of the first imperial examination and the first imperial school for Confucian learning in Thăng Long which are still preserved today. Besides, Lý Nhân Tông is well known for his talent in writing poetry with three poems that still remains, Tán Giác Hải thiền sư, Thông Huyền đạo nhân, Truy tán Vạn Hạnh thiền sư and Lâm chung di chiếu.[1] To commemorate the successful reign of Lý Nhân Tông, a stele was erected in 1121 with the content composed by the minister of justice Nguyễn Công Bật, called Sùng Thiện Diên Linh Stele, this work still stands today and is considered one of the most important steles in the History of Vietnam.[21]



  1. ^ a b c "Lý Nhân Tông" (in Vietnamese). Từ điển Bách khoa toàn thư Việt Nam. 
  2. ^ a b Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 107
  3. ^ Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 106
  4. ^ National Bureau for Historical Record 1998, pp. 135–136
  5. ^ a b Tarling, Nicholas (2000). The Cambridge history of Southeast Asia, Volume 1. Cambridge University Press. p. 145. ISBN 0-521-66369-5. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Trần Trọng Kim 1971, p. 42
  7. ^ a b c Chapuis 1995, p. 76
  8. ^ National Bureau for Historical Record 1998, pp. 139–140
  9. ^ "Ỷ Lan" (in Vietnamese). Từ điển Bách khoa toàn thư Việt Nam. 
  10. ^ Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 109
  11. ^ National Bureau for Historical Record 1998, p. 150
  12. ^ a b Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 117 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Ngo117" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  13. ^ Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 110
  14. ^ a b c Trần Trọng Kim 1971, p. 43
  15. ^ a b c d Chapuis 1995, p. 77
  16. ^ Maspero, G., 2002, The Champa Kingdom, Bangkok: White Lotus Co., Ltd., ISBN 9747534991
  17. ^ a b Trần Trọng Kim 1971, p. 44
  18. ^ a b Chapuis 1995, p. 78
  19. ^ Ngô 1993, pp. 123–124
  20. ^ Bắc Phương (2009-12-26). "Nguyên phi Ỷ Lan - Người phụ nữ nửa thế kỷ "phò vua trị quốc bình thiên hạ"" (in Vietnamese). Báo Cần Thơ. 
  21. ^ "Bia Sùng Thiện Diên Linh". Từ điển Bách khoa toàn thư Việt Nam. 


Lý Nhân Tông
Born: 1066 Died: 1127
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Lý Thánh Tông
Emperor of Lý Dynasty
Succeeded by
Lý Thần Tông