Nguyen Hoang

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  • Died: 1613
  • Vietnamese: (Nguyễn Hoàng)

Nguyễn Hoàng was Chúa (Lord) of central-southern Vietnam (a territory known as Quang Nam) from 1600 until his death in 1613. He played a significant role in the development of the region, and especially of its chief port, Hoi An, as well as being the Lord of Quang Nam who established formal relations with Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Hoang was the second son of Nguyen Kim, who fought to restore the Le Dynasty following the rebellion of Mac Dang Dung, who had seized Hanoi and declared himself Emperor. Nguyen Hoang fought for his father in these battles; Nguyen Kim eventually re-established the Le at Tay Do in Vietnam's Thanh Hoa province, but was killed in 1545 and was succeeded as caretaker of the Le court by his son-in-law Trinh Kiem. Hoang, meanwhile, was named garrison commander of Thuan Hoa in 1558, and later led his forces south, to establish a new base at Ai Tu.[1]

The duke of Quang Nam, under whom Nguyen Hoang had served as garrison commander, died in 1568, and the following year, Nguyen Hoang traveled to the north, where he met with the dying Trinh Kiem and formally received authority over the territory; this is said to have been Kiem's last command, as he died a month later. Over the next several years, Nguyen Hoang also suppressed a rebellion seeking to reestablish Mac power, and confirmed friendly relations with Trinh Kiem's successor, Hoang's nephew Trinh Tung. He then returned to the north once again in 1593-1600, spending seven years there combatting Mac forces; though the Le remained dominant, Trinh and Nguyen both would continue to fight the Mac for the following seventy years, as the Mac continued to hold out from a small foothold on the Chinese border.[2] In 1596-1597, during his time in the north, Hoang also accompanied the Le Emperor in traveling to China, where they negotiated the resumption of formal Ming Chinese recognition of the Le Dynasty. At some point in the 1590s, Nguyen Hoang was formally named "grand duke" (國公, V: quoc cong) by the Le emperor.[3] Trinh Tung was named king (王, V: vuong), however, in 1599/4. Nguyen Hoang had been seeking to gain control of the north himself, but now returned south, in defiance of his obligations of service to his king, and worked to secure his control over the south. Accounts differ as to whether Hoang raised banners or armies against Trinh at that time, or even arranged for the Mac rebels to attack the Trinh; but, in any case, his departure from the court was certainly a point of strong contention.

While acknowledging the authority of the Le Emperors, Nguyen ruled the central-southern portion of Vietnam as his own domain, while the Trinh retained control of the north, and the separate polity of Champa remained in the south, for the next 170 years.

The earliest extant document reflecting communications between Nguyễn and Japan is a letter from Nguyễn Hoang dated 1591. Addressed to the "King of Japan" and likely carried to Japan by a Japanese merchant active in regional maritime trade, the letter essentially offers gifts and asks for the establishment of formal relations.[4] The outcome of this communication is unclear. However, Nguyễn is known to have contacted Japan again c. 1599-1601, after having captured the pirate Shirahama Kenki, and requesting instructions as to what to do with him. Tokugawa Ieyasu's response, dated 1601, was long considered the earliest extant evidence of formal Vietnamese-Japanese relations, prior to the 2013 discovery of the 1591 document. In this 1601 letter, Ieyasu explained the red seal ship system - essentially, that authorized Japanese merchants possessed a license with an official red seal, and that others, who did not possess such a license, such as Shirahama, were under no protection of the Japanese authorities and could be dealt with as Nguyễn chose. Some fifteen letters exchanged between Nguyễn and Tokugawa, dated between 1601 and 1613, are known to be extant.[5]

In 1604, Nguyễn formally adopted the Japanese merchant Funamoto Yaheiji. From then on, he had Yaheiji serve as his official representative in communications and relations with Japan.[6]

In his final years, Nguyen Hoang led his domain in expanding to the south. Quang Nam was already considered a rebellious and somewhat Other South, as compared to the Trinh north, based at Hanoi, the center of traditional Vietnamese political identity & culture; just as Vietnam as a whole was considered a somewhat exotic South in Chinese conceptions, so was Quang Nam seen from the Trinh perspective. The split between north and south marked a significant moment in the ongoing development of Vietnamese identity, as Nguyen lands now represented a new and additional Vietnamese identity, beyond that of the north. Now, Nguyen was expanding even further south, absorbing formerly Cham lands, stemming from a significantly less Sinicized, Austronesian, cultural foundation.[7]

Preceded by:
Lord of Quang Nam
Succeeded by:
Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên


  1. Keith Taylor, "Nguyen Hoang and the Beginning of Vietnam's Southward Expansion," in Anthony Reid (ed.), Southeast Asia in the Early Modern Era, Cornell University Press (1993), 43.
  2. Taylor, 43-45.
  3. Taylor, 52-53.
  4. 「ベトナムから秀吉に?「日本国王」あての書簡発見」, Asahi Shimbun, 17 April 2013.
  5. Hoang Anh Tuan, "Vietnamese-Japanese Diplomatic and Commercial Relations in the Seventeenth Century," Institute for Cultural Interaction Studies, Kansai University, The International Academic Forum for the Next Generation Series, vol. 1 (March 2010), 22.
  6. Li, Tana. Nguyễn Cochinchina: Southern Vietnam in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 1998. p64.
  7. Taylor, 62.
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