Tran Thanh Tong was a 13th century Vietnamese poet and scholar who ruled his country as king for a little over twenty years. He voluntarily abdicated in the year 1279 in favour of his son Tran Nhan Tong. His reign was remarkable for a number of reasons. As well as being a great military leader, he believed in education and actually set national examinations when he was considering who might be capable of helping his son to govern the country when he retired as king. He was well read himself and a supremely talented poet. His work was a fusion of folk lyricism and traditional Chinese poetry models. Unfortunately not much of his work survived and historians have laid the blame for that on the long occupation of his country by Ming Dynasty forces who set about destroying a great deal of Vietnamese culture.
He was born Trần Hoảng in either September or October 1240, the son of Emperor Trần Thái Tông and Empress Consort Thuận Thiên. Tran succeeded his father as king in 1258, a reign which lasted until 1279. He was a compassionate ruler, no doubt influenced by his faith as a lay Buddhist. Like all rulers at this time, he was constantly under threat from neighbouring states, his greatest threat coming from the Mongol Yuan Dynasty of China. It was unheard of in Vietnamese history, but he organised conferences to mobilise everyone against this threat. The country’s elders were invited to the Dien Hong conference while military commanders attended the Binh Than conference.
His efforts were rewarded and at least two victories are recorded in history against the Mongols – the first in 1285 and the second in 1288. By this time he had already abdicated as king and, having handed the reins to his son, he set about living the peaceful life as a Buddhist. Despite this though, he retained the role of co-emperor and became known as Retired Emperor until he died. It was a similar arrangement to that enjoyed during the latter stages of his own father’s life where, between them, they took steps to improve the country’s economy, administration and educational standards.
Thanh Tong was a skilful poet and a renowned scholar. As well as being concerned with the education of his people he made sure that his royal princes would also learn, often using his own poems as a tool of learning. At least one piece of work was published under his name, given the title Di hậu lục. Historians have occasionally criticised him for his Buddhist faith, but only from the point of view that someone in such a powerful position should not be swayed by such perceived distractions. It is, therefore, to his great credit that he was not only a good and respected ruler but that he also retained his strong faith. Family ties were very important to him, being a dutiful son to his own father and also a kind-hearted brother, and loving father to his own son. History records that the country and its royal family achieved a great deal of stability during his lifetime.
Here is an example of his poetry, a piece called On a trip to the…..
Retired Emperor Trần Thánh Tông died on the 25th May 1290 at the age of 49. After burial he was given the posthumous name