Song–Vietnamese war (981)

Song–Đại Cồ Việt War or First Song–Vietnamese war was a military conflict between the Song dynasty of China and the kingdom of Đại Việt fought in 981. It resulted in a victory for Đại Việt over the Chinese forces.

Song–Đại Cồ Việt war
DateJanuary – April 981 (4 months)
Result Vietnamese victory
Đại Việt (Early Lê dynasty) Song dynasty
Commanders and leaders
Lê Hoàn Emperor Taizong of Song
Hou Renbao  
Sun Quanxing  (POW)
10,000[1] Unknown
Casualties and losses
On Bạch Đằng River: 1,000 killed, 200 junks captured
Overall: Unknown
Unknown, half of land force were killed[2]


Since the late 9th century, the Tang circuit of Jinghai was no longer under Chinese control. Local Vietnamese chieftains and warlords successive ruled it autonomous until 939 when Ngô Quyền abolished the military governor and proclaimed himself king, thus declared Vietnamese independence from China.[3][4] However the Ngô family's reign was short-live, and their power had been dissolved during the civil war of 965–968. In 968, Đinh Bộ Lĩnh, the Duke of Hoa Lư defeated all the warlords and established the kingdom of Đại Cồ Việt (classical Vietnam). In 970, the Song dynasty recognized Đinh Bộ Lĩnh only as an internal vassal King of Jiaozhi (quận vương). The next year, the Song emperor ordered the subjugation of Lingnan (the lands south of the passes), implicitly including Đại Việt. This provoked its anxious self-proclaimed king, Đinh Liễn, to request his own recognition as a vassal. The Song emperor duly named him imperial commissioner and prefect-general of Annam.[5][6] Although the Vietnamese state frequently presented tribute to the Song and received Chinese titles, this was only done to maintain trade relations; Song suzerainty over Đại Việt was an empty formality.[7]

War pretextEdit

In October 979, a eunuch named Đỗ Thích killed Đinh Bộ Lĩnh and Đinh Liễn. The general Lê Hoàn took power as regent while five-year-old Đinh Toàn occupied the throne.[8] Rebellions erupted. At this juncture, Northern Song sent troops under Hou Renbao in attempt to restore the throne of the young king. However, the threat of renewed Chinese intervention in Vietnam caused court officials to support Lê Hoàn's bid for power. They urged him to become king and establish a more stable government, prepare for the Chinese invasion.[2] In 980, officials and generals gathered at Hoa Lư and queen Dương Vân Nga brought out the king's robe to put on Lê Hoàn, offering him the throne.[1][9]

Meanwhile, the Song emperor Taizong sent Hoa Lư a warning: "The empire’s orders extend everywhere, its power is known in every country. Why then has the country of Yuenn-zhi not yet sent in the map of its territory?"[8]

The Song emperor then dispatched another edict:

"China and the Man barbarians are like the body of a man and his four limbs... It is said that the heart is the body’s emperor. And bitter medicines were small pain for a great good that only he who governs the universe can provide. His imperial predecessor had successfully practiced acupuncture on the Yuè and other breakaway regions, and now the Song suzerain was turning his attention to your Jiaozhou, which is far away on the horizon... One might compare it to a finger. You should return for forming part of the empire. Refusal would force us to punish you, and cause the ruin of your little kingdom. Imperial power, loftily concerned with neither the pearls of your waters nor the gold of your mountains, offered superior civilization. Your people wear your hair short, while we wear hats and clothes. Your language resembles the calls of shrikes, while we have a literature in which we will instruct you... So leave your barbarous islands and come to visit our temples of Confucius. But if you refuse, our soldiers will set out."[1]


In early 981, two Song armies attacked Đại Việt through land, and another naval fleet strike through the Bạch Đằng River. Lê Hoàn's naval military fought the Song fleet on the river, but were greatly outnumbered and forced to retreat.[2] The victorious Song fleet captured and beheaded 1,000 Vietnamese sailors and seized 200 junks.[1] Then Lê Hoàn switched the army to the north, endeavouring to stop the Song land force by ambushing the Song army in Chi Lăng (near modern-day Lạng Sơn). The ambush was successful with two Chinese generals captured and half of the Song force killed. As a result, the Song naval forces were forced to withdraw and the Song invasion ended in April 981.[2]


After the war, Lê Hoàn returned the two Chinese generals and request tribute relations with Song dynasty, and the Song accepted the offer. A Song delegation arrived Đại Việt in 990.[10] In 993, Lê Hoàn was given the title King of Jiaozhi Prefecture, and in 997, was also accorded the title Nam Bình Vương (King of Southern Peace).[2] With the Chinese threat out of the way, Lê Hoàn now began the Vietnamese southward advance against the Cham state of Champa,[2] who in 979 failed in an attempt to invade Đại Việt with the advice of Ngô Nhật Khánh, a former Ngô prince.[8]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Kiernan 2019, p. 145.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Walker 2012, p. 212.
  3. ^ Walker 2012, p. 210.
  4. ^ Coedes 2015, p. 80.
  5. ^ Kiernan 2019, p. 142.
  6. ^ Womack 2006, p. 113.
  7. ^ Hsu 2012, p. 267.
  8. ^ a b c Kiernan 2019, p. 144.
  9. ^ Coedes 2015, p. 82.
  10. ^ Kiernan 2019, p. 146.


  • Coedes, George (2015). The Making of South East Asia (RLE Modern East and South East Asia). Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9781317450955.
  • Hsu, Cho-yun (2012). China: A New Cultural History. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-52818-4.
  • Kiernan, Ben (2019). Việt Nam: a history from earliest time to the present. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-190-05379-6.
  • Walker, Hugh Dyson (2012), East Asia: A New History, ISBN 1477265163
  • Womack, Brantly (2006), China and Vietnam: The Politics of Asymmetry, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-5216-1834-7