Lý Thường Kiệt

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Cơ Xá Linh Từ in Hanoi, a shrine to worship Lý Thường Kiệt

Lý Thường Kiệt (; 1019–1105) was a Vietnamese eunuch, general, and admiral during the Lý Dynasty in Vietnam.[1] He was a leading general for Vietnam during the Lý-Song wars.


Portrait of Lý Thường Kiệt

Lý Thường Kiệt was born into a Ngô family in Thăng Long (now Hanoi), the capital of Đại Việt (ancient Vietnam). His real name was Ngô Tuấn. His father was a low-ranking military officer. In 1036, he served the Emperor as a cavalry captain and later the commander of the imperial guard. Because of his demonstrated bravery, intelligence and loyalty, he was granted a royal name, Lý Thường Kiệt, and given an important position in the Court.

In 1075, Chancellor Wang Anshi of China under the Song Dynasty told Emperor Shenzong that Đại Việt was being weakened by Champa and was an easy pick for a Chinese take-over. With less than ten thousand soldiers remaining, so argued Wang, Đại Việt would be in a vulnerable position, and it would be a great opportunity for China to annex its age-old enemy. In response, Shenzong mobilized troops and passed decrees which forbade all of China's provinces to trade with Đại Việt, in effect imposing an embargo on the country in the same way that the United States would do nine centuries later. Upon hearing this, the Lý ruler sent Lý Thường Kiệt and Nùng Tôn Đản with more than 100,000 troops to China to carry out a pre-emptive attack against the Song Dynasty. In the ensuing 40-day battle near modern-day Nanning, Đại Việt troops were victorious, capturing the generals of three Song armies.

In 1076, the Song formed an alliance with the other enemies of Dai Viet, Champa and the Khmer Empire and all three sent troops to invade Đại Việt. Đại Việt Emperor Lý Nhân Tông again sent General Lý Thường Kiệt to lead his forces. Being one of the many great military strategists of Vietnam, Lý Thường Kiệt placed spikes under the Như Nguyệt riverbed before tricking Song troops into the death trap, killing more than 1,000 Chinese soldiers and sailors and forcing the rest of Chinese forces to retreat.

Those two significant Vietnamese victories over the Song ceased the latter's attempts to extend south. Afterwards, Lý Thường Kiệt also led a Vietnamese army south to invade Champa twice, with both invasions being successful.

He died in 1105 at the age of 86.

Nam Quốc Sơn Hà[edit]

He may have been the author of Chinese poem, Nam Quốc Sơn Hà. However there is still controversy surrounding exact authorship.

The poem was written to motivate troops to fight against the Song dynasty.

According to Trần Trọng Kim, Ly was afraid that his soldiers would lose morale so he wrote this poem and said it was done by the Gods to restore their fighting spirit.[2]

In US President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam, he referred to the poem as Vietnam's "declaration of independence" saying that big countries should not bully smaller countries, which is somewhat ironic given the US-waged Vietnam War.[3]

Nonetheless, to this day the poem is still well-known in Vietnam, and Ly is considered a national hero (by Vietnam, not China), with some Vietnamese still delivering tribute to and worshipping him as a deity at his shrine in Hanoi.

Original Chinese Sino-Vietnamese English translation

Nam quốc sơn hà nam đế cư
Tiệt nhiên định phận tại thiên thư
Như hà nghịch lỗ lai xâm phạm
Nhữ đẳng hành khan thủ bại hư.
Over Mountains and Rivers of the South, reigns the Emperor of the South
As it stands written forever in the Book of Heaven
How dare those barbarians invade our land?
Your armies, without pity, will be annihilated.

Phạt Tống lộ bố văn[edit]

General Ly Thuong Kiet was also the author of the Phạt Tống lộ bố văn (chữ Hán : 伐宋露布文, An Account of the Campaign to Punish the Song), another poem against the Song Dynasty.[4]


  1. ^ Bruce M. Lockhart, William J. Duiker The A to Z of Vietnam 2010 Page 227 "Lý Thường Kiệt - Born in 1030 to an aristocratic family in the capital of Thăng Long (Hanoi), Lý Thường Kiệt served Emperor Lý Thanh Tong as a military officer and commanded a successful invasion of Champa in 1069 ..."
  2. ^ 陳, 仲金. 越南史略.
  3. ^ "奥巴马所说的越南"独立宣言"《南国山河》真相--文史--人民网". history.people.com.cn. Retrieved 2019-04-13.
  4. ^ Viet Nam social sciences - Issues 4-6 - Page 86 Ủy ban khoa học xã hội Việt Nam - 2002 "... and author of the epic poems Nam Quoc Son Ha and Lo Bo Van warning foreigners against attempting to follow in the "

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