|The Gentle Scholar of Viet-Nam,
H.I.M. Emperor Minh Mang
| Born in 1791, Emperor Minh Mang succeeded his father, Emperor Gia Long, on the throne of Viet-Nam in 1820 at the age of 29. He chose the title "The Radiant Mandate" and declared his motto: "Conform to the constant moevement of Heaven". Minh Mang had not been the oldest son of Emperor Gia Long, but the Crown Prince, Nguyen-Phuc Canh, had died from illness years before the accession of Minh Mang. From 1820-1841 Emperor Minh Mang reigned over the Empire of Viet-Nam and is remembered as a devout virtuous emperor who ruled with wisdom and majesty. In later years the reign of Emperor Minh Mang would become known as the "Golden Age" of Vietnamese history, when the country was expanding, strengthening, independent and prosperous.
Later many French historians would try to distort the truth of the Emperor's character. To encourage hatred against the Vietnamese and gain support for military action by the French public, they attempted to portray Emperor Minh Mang as harsh and cruel. However, later fair-minded scholars would tell the truth that Emperor Minh Mang was the exact opposite, an extremely gentle man who valued knowledge and wisdom above all things and who encouraged peace and education rather than persecutions. It was his father, Emperor Gia Long, who had built the united Viet-Nam, but it was Emperor Minh Mang who embelished it to its greatest peak of knowledge and strength. He continued the conservative, nationalist policies of his father, cautiously guarding the cultural independence of Viet-Nam from foreign influence, but also made many improvements. He reorganized Vietnam's government administration and improved the examinations for the scholars who worked for the nation as well as broadening general education.
As well as being an effective government leader, Emperor Minh Mang was also a very skilled writer and poet. A famous poem he composed has been used to choose the names of successive members of the Nguyen Imperial Dynasty. He also added greatly to the architectual treasures of Viet-Nam, building many new temples within the imperial capital of Hue. His masterpiece is the Mieu Temple built in 1821 which honors ten of the Nguyen Emperors. He was also the one who ordered the casting of the nine large urns of the Nguyen Dynasty outside the Hien Lam Pavillion and the Mieu Temple.
In his relations with other countries Emperor Minh Mang encouraged friendship with other nations but was very concerned about foreign encroachment on his country. Later on Viet-Nam learned the Emperor had good reason to be suspicious of foreign influences and incursions. He allowed French commerce into the Vietnamese marketplace but refused to open official diplomatic relations with France. The United States of America made its first diplomatic mission to Viet-Nam during the reign of Minh Mang, who was very impressed that these men had come from so far away just to contact his country. Other members of the court worried about the increasing exploitation of other countries by Europe and America. The Emperor learned the full extent of the danger of foreign influences when rebellions were found linked to foreigners living in Viet-Nam. France was becoming more and more interested in Southeast Asia and Emperor Minh Mang was deeply affected by the Opium War and the defeat of China by the British. He worked hard to avoid the same occurence in Viet-Nam.
In all, the reign of Emperor Minh Mang was a successful one. The fragile unity built by Emperor Gia Long was preserved, subversion was ended, an invasion by Thailand was repulsed in a great victory and the country grew in magnificence and prosperity with a flowering culture. Emperor Minh Mang had a large family with many children and upon his death in 1841 he was succeeded by his son, Emperor Thieu Tri.