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Lê Lợi
Lê Lợi statue in front of the Municipal Hall of Thanh Hóa Province, the place of his birth
Emperor of Vietnam
Preceded by None, Emperor Xuande as Emperor of the Ming Dynasty
Succeeded by Lê Thái Tông
Personal details
Born 1384/1385
Died 1433 (aged 48–49)

Lê Lợi (1384 or 1385? – 1433), posthumously known with the temple name Lê Thái Tổ, was emperor of Vietnam and founder of the Later Lê Dynasty.[1] Lê Lợi is among the most famous figures of Vietnamese history and one of its greatest heroes.


Lê Lợi was the youngest of three sons. His father was an aristocratic nobleman in Lam Son (northern-Vietnam). The town was in a newly colonized area of Vietnam which would eventually be called Thanh Hóa Province. Lam Son had been established by Lê Lợi's great-grandfather Le Hoi sometime in the 1330s. His exact date of birth is not certain, but 1384 is generally agreed on by historians. Lam Son was on the frontier of Vietnam, as a result it was further and hence more free from government control.

This was a troubled time in Vietnam's history as the Hồ Dynasty in 1400 finally displaced the Trần Dynasty and set about reforming the kingdom. Hồ rule was short lived as members of the Trần Dynasty petitioned for intervention from the mighty Ming Emperor Yongle (永樂 Vĩnh Lạc) to the north. He responded by sending a powerful army south into Vietnam and vanquished the Hồ. Upon failing to find a Trần heir, the Ming choose to re-establish sovereignty over Vietnam, as was the case in the days of the Tang empire, some 500 years previously.

The Ming enjoyed some support from the Vietnamese, at least in the capital of Hanoi but their efforts to assert control in the surrounding countryside were met with stiff resistance. The Vietnamese claim that the Ming stole valuable artifacts from Vietnam such as gems, jade, golden pieces of art as well as books. Lê Lợi himself said that he chose the path of revolt against China's brutal government when he personally witnessed the destruction of a Vietnamese village by Ming forces.

Revolt of 1418–1427

Lê Lợi
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese Lê Lợi

Lê Lợi began his campaign against the Ming on the day after Tết (New Year) February 1418. He was supported by several prominent families from his native Thanh Hóa province, most famously were the Trịnh and the Nguyen families. Initially, Lê Lợi campaigned on the basis of restoring the Trần to power. A relative of the Trần Dynasty emperor was chosen as the figurehead of the revolt but within a few years, the Trần pretender was removed and the unquestioned leader of the revolt was Lê Lợi himself, under the name "Pacifying King" (Binh Dinh Vuong).[2]

Birth name
Vietnamese alphabet Lê Thái Tổ

The revolt enjoyed patchy initial success. While Lê Lợi was able to operate in Thanh Hóa Province, he was, for 2–3 years, unable to muster the military forces required to defeat the Ming army in open battle. As a result he waged a type of guerrilla war against the large and well organized Chinese army.

In 1421, one famous story from this time is about the heroism of one of Lê Lợi's commanders, Le Lai. One time during the early years of the revolt, the Chinese had Lê Lợi's army surrounded on a mountaintop. In an effort to break the siege, Le Lai devised a plan that would allow Lê Lợi and the main bulk of the force to escape. He pretended to be Lê Lợi to divert the Ming army's attention by dressing himself in Lê Lợi's attire and lead a kamikaze-like cavalry charge down to attack the Ming. Le Lai fought bravely but was captured and executed. During the battle, Lê Lợi and the rest of the main contingency were able to escape. (Le Lai Story).

Besides fighting Ming forces, Le Loi and his army also had to fight against ethnic minorities' forces whom the Ming bribed known collectively as Ai Lao (Laos) . Although there were many difficulties, Le Loi's army was able to suppress Ai Lao multiple times. However because his force was not strong enough at the time, he had to lurk in the forests or mountains of Thanh Hoa province. Often due to lack of food supplies, Le Loi had to order the killing of army horses and elephants for use as food. In one particularly dangerous situation in 1422, Le Loi made peace with the Ming army. But in 1423 when his forces were built up better, Le Loi broke the peace agreement when the Ming army captured and killed his envoy.

By 1427, the revolt had spread throughout Vietnam and the original Ming army of occupation had been ground down and destroyed. The new Ming Emperor, Xuande, wished to end the war with Vietnam, but his advisors urged one more effort to subdue the rebellious province. The result was a massive army (some 100,000 strong[3]) being sent into Vietnam. While the Chinese thought this troop number sufficient, Lê Lợi's army by this point was much bigger at about 350,000 men.[citation needed]

The final campaign did not start well for the Chinese. Lê Lợi's forces met the Ming army in battle but quickly staged a mock retreat. The Chinese general, Liu Sheng (Liễu Thăng in Vietnamese), urging his troops forward, was cut off from the main part of his army, captured and executed by the Vietnamese. Then, by sending false reports of dissent within the ranks of Lê Lợi's own generals, the Chinese army was lured into Hanoi where it was surrounded and destroyed in a series of battles. A Vietnamese historian, Trần Trọng Kim, told that the Chinese army lost over 90,000 men (60,000 killed in battle and 30,000 captured).[4] By Nguyen Chich tactic, 1424 Le Loi decided to march his army to Nghe An plain. On the way, Lam Son army defeated Da Cang rampart, beaten back Cam Banh forces, a commander following Ming. Then Lam Son attacked Tra Long, Ming general is Tran Tri who took his army from Nghe An to Tra Long to rescue Cam Banh but was repelled by Lam Son forces. Le Loi surrounded Cam Banh but Tri didn’t dare to rescue and after being surrounded for a prolonged peroid, Cam Banh was forced to surrender.

Reaching South

By Nguyen Chich tactic, 1424 Le Loi decided to march his army to Nghe An plain. On the way, Lam Son army captured Da Cang fortress, beaten back Cam Banh forces, a commander who worked for the Ming. Lam Son forces attacked Tra Long garrison. Ming general Tran Tri led reinforcement from Nghe An to Tra Long to rescue Cam Banh but was beaten back by Lam Son forces. Besieged by Le Loi, with Tran Tri unable to rescue, Cam Banh eventually surrendered.

Le Loi sent Dinh Liet with a detachment to attack Nghe An, and the same time he took the main part of the army. Tran Tri was repeatedly defeated and had to retreat inside the Nghe An castle.

Ly An, Phuong Trinh from Dong Quan came to Nghe An to rescue Tran Tri, Tran Tri also moved out his forces from the castle to join force with them. However the Ming forces were defeated, Tran Tri had to retreat to Dong Quan, An and Chinh withdraw in Nghe An castle.

In May 1425, Le Loi commanded Dinh Le to attack Dien Chau. Ming army lost and retreated to Dong Do (Thanh Hoa). Then Le Loi also sent Le Sat, Le Nhan Chu. Le Trien supported Dinh Le for attack Tay Do, Ming army must retreat inside the castle.

Le Loi on one hand surrounded Nghe An and Tay Do, and on the other hand sent Tran Nguyen Han, Doan No, Le Da Bo to attack Tan Binh, Thuan Hoa. Ming general Nham Thang was defeated. Then Le Loi sent Le Ngan, Le Van An to support Tran Nguyen Han. Ming army had to retreat.

As a result of these victories, from the end of 1425, Le Loi was in control all land from Thanh Hoa to the south, and besieged all the Ming's forces in the region. Difficult to understand English...

Tot Dong-Chuc Dong Victory

1426 August, Le Loi divided into 3 parts for moving to north. Pham Van Xao, Do Bi, Trinh Kha, Le Trien went North west, Luu Nhan Chu, Bui Bi went East North. Dinh Le, Nguyen Xi moved Dong Quan. Le Trien was coming Dong Quan, suddenly met Tran Tri and defeated Tri. Hear Ming army was incoming from Van Nam (the province of China). Trien divide force to Pham Van Xao, Trinh Kha for intercepting, and combined Doanh Le, Nguyen Xi attached Dong Quan. Pham Van Xao defeated Van Nam reinforcement. Van Nam forces fled and entrenched Xuong Giang rampart. Tran Tri lost reinforcement, go to sought Ly An reinforcement at Nghe An. Ly An, Phuong Chinh commanded Thai Thuc to keep Nghe An rampart, took forces to rescue Dong Quan. Le Loi commanded Le Van An, Le Van Linh surrounded the rampart, he himself moved main forces to the north. Ming King sent Vuong Thong, Ma Anh to rescue. They combined Dong Quan forces and be became 100.000 forces and dive to Phuong Chinh, Ma Ky. Le Trien, Do Bi defeated Ma Ky at Tu Liem and attached Chinh forces. Chinh and Ky fled and combined with Vuong Thong forces at Co So. Le Trien attacked Vuong Thong but Thong was prepared before, Thien lost, retreat back Cao Bo and made a help from Nguyen Xi. Dinh Le, Nguyen Xi took their forces to Tot Dong Chut Dong to make the ambush. They know Vuong Thong would divide forces into two part to make a raid Le Trien, they enticed Vuong Thong to place have ambush force. Vuong Thong army lost heavily, Tran Hiep, Ly Luong and 50,000 soldiers were killed, 10,000 ones took alive. Thong fled and entrenched at Dong Quan. Le Loi got victorious news and then sent Tran Nguyen Han, Bui Bi divide two ways into to move to near Dong Quan. Unable to understand English...

Made Tran Cao King

Vuong Thong was lost and retreated, found the reason The Ming want to help Tran empties defeated Ho, sent to Le Loi withdrawn condition which made Tran descendant to be become King.

Le Loi wanted Ming to withdraw fast. So he found Tran Cao, made the King. Vuong Thong agreed mutual agreement in the outward appearance but made a help from everywhere to rescue. When Le Loi knew this, he broke mutual agreement. English difficult to understand...

Surrounded Dong Quan rampart

After broke mutual agreement, Le Loi sent some generals to attack and occupy some ramparts at North such as: Dieu Dieu, Tam Giang, Xuong Giang. They were occupied soon after.

At the beginning of 1427, he moved his troop to Nhi river, and attacked Dong Quan. Le Loi create strict troop rule to assure the people.

Ming general is Thai Thuc surrendered and hand over Nghe An rampart. Le Loi demand foreign minister Nguyen Trai write a letter for placating others general to surrender.

When Lam Son force at Dong Quang was lax, Ming attacked suddenly. Le Trien died at Tu Liem. Dinh Le. Nguyen Xi was captured at Thanh Tri. After that Dinh Le was killed, Nguyen Xi fled. English difficult to understand...

Chi Lang Xuong Giang Victory

At the ending of 1427, the Ming Emperor sent reinforcements to rescue Vuong Thong. Lieu Thang took 100,000 soldiers from Quang Tay; Moc Thanh with 50,000 ones from Van Nam. They were generals who participated in the battle with Ho's and Tran's dynasty. According to some historians, 150,000 soldiers were magnified in number; in fact, the number was 120,000 and the main forces were belonged to Lieu Thang.

Heard this information, Le Loi and the generals wanted to attack and occupy Dong Quan immediately. However they listened to Nguyen Trai's advice, attacking rampart was a bad solution because the Ming forces in the rampart were so crowded and food was full. So Le Loi and generals decided to attack reinforcements first to discourage Ming force at Dong Quan. At first, Le Loi commanded to move the residents at Lang Giang, Bac Giang, Quy Hoa, Tuyen Quang to segregate Ming troops. He knew Lieu Thang kept the main forces, so he sent Le Sat, Le Nhan Chu, Le Van Linh, Dinh Liet to wait at Chi Lang, and the same time commanded Le Van An, Le Ly to take alternative forces to support. With Moc Thanh ‘s forces, he knew Thanh was an experienced general and will be waiting for Lieu Thang's results before taking actions, so Le Loi commanded Pham Van Xao and Trinh Kha entrenched all time.

The border general, Tran Luu, faked losing and ran away from Nam Quan gate to Luu gate and then moved to Chi Lang. On 18 September at lunar calendar, Thang followed to Chi Lang after. Thinking Tran Luu have lost continuous, Thang was too optimistic and just took 100 cavalries for come after. On 20 September, Thang was killed by Tran Luu and Le Sat ‘s forces and they shed all the remaining troop. All Le Loi's generals got the opportunities and attacked Minh troops, killed 10,000 soldiers, cut Luong Minh, Ly Khanh committed suicide. Some remain Ming generals such as Hoang Thuc, Thoi Tu tried to retreat at Xuong Gaing but they came there and knew the rampart was occupied. They forced to gather troops in empty field. Le Loi sent Tran Nguyen Hang to block Ming's food transporting way, sent Pham Van, Nguyen Xi supported Le Sat and get close to attack, killed 50,000 Ming soldiers at Xuong Giang. Hoang Thuc with 30.000 Ming soldiers were arrested, Thoi Tu didn’t surrender and was killed.

Moc Thanh heard Lieu Thang was killed so he retreated and ran away. Pham Van Xao, Trinh Kha followed, killed 10,000 soldiers, arrested 1,000 ones and horses.[5]

English difficult to understand...


In 1427, after 10 years of war, Vietnam regained its independence and China officially acknowledged Vietnam as an independent state. Lê Lợi took the throne and was declared Emperor of Đại Việt (大越) (though King is a more accurate term for the ruler of Vietnam).

Le Mi (黎秘), the chief eunuch of Le Loi and 10,000 Vietnamese were killed after Ming China crushed and defeated their invasion in 1427 of a Chinese town.[6]

Lê Lợi's proclamation of independence reflected the Sino-Vietnamese tensions as well as Vietnamese pride and patriotism:

The Vinh Lang stele from Lê Lợi's mausoleum, erected in the 6th year of Thuận Thiên reign (1433)

Our Great Viet is a country where prosperity

abounds. Where civilization reigns supreme.
Its mountains, its rivers, its frontiers are its own;
Its customs are distinct, in North and South.

Trieu, Dinh, Ly and Tran
Created our Nation,
Whilst Han T'ang, Sung and Yuan
Ruled over Theirs.

Over the Centuries,
We have been sometimes strong, and sometimes weak,
But never yet have we been lacking in heroes.
Of that let our history be the proof."[7]

Lê Lợi formally established the Lê Dynasty as the Ming Xuande Emperor officially recognized Lê Lợi as the new ruler of Vietnam. In return, Lê Lợi sent diplomatic messages to the Ming Court, promising Vietnam's loyalty as a vassal state of China and cooperation. The Ming accepted this arrangement, much as they accepted the vassal status of Korea under the Joseon Dynasty. The Chinese largely left Vietnam alone for the next 500 years, intervening only about once every hundred years.

Lê Lợi embarked on a significant reorganization of Vietnamese government, clearly based on the Confucian system of government which was developed by the Tang Dynasty and Sung Dynasty. He also elevated his longtime comrades and generals such as Nguyễn Trãi,[8] Tran Nguyen Han, Lê Sát, Pham Van Sao, and Trịnh Khả to high official rank.

The Le government rebuilt the infrastructure of Vietnam: roads, bridges, canals. Land distribution were rewarded to soldiers that contributed in the war against the Ming. New money currency was minted and new laws and reforms were passed. The system of selecting government administrators by examination was restored and exams were held at regular intervals throughout Lê Lợi's reign.

From 1430 to 1432, Lê Lợi and his army fought a set of campaigns in the hills to the west of the coastal area. Then, in 1433, he became sick and his health declined. On his death bed he appointed Lê Sát as the regent for his second son, who would rule after him as Lê Thái Tông.

Internal palace politics quickly decimated the ranks of Lê Lợi's trusted counselors, Tran Nguyen Han and Pham Van Sao were executed in 1432 and Lê Sát, who ruled as regent for five years, was executed in 1438. Nguyễn Trãi was killed in 1442 (it was claimed he was linked to the death of Lê Thái Tông). Only Trịnh Khả survived to an old age and even he was executed in 1451.

Myth and Legend

File:Le Loi, Saigon 1960s.jpg

Le Loi street, Saigon in 1960s

Water puppet of Lê Lợi on the Lake of the Returned Sword

The Lake of the Returned Sword in Hanoi is where Lê Lợi returned the sword to the Golden Turtle, according to the legend.

Many legends and stories were told about Lê Lợi. The most famous story concerns his magical sword. Much like King Arthur and his sword Excalibur, Lê Lợi was said to have a magic sword of wondrous power. One story tells that he obtained the sword, inscribed with the words 'The Will of Heaven' (Thuận Thiên) from a Golden Turtle (Kim Qui 金龜) a demi-god to the local people. The stories claim Lê Lợi grew very tall when he used the sword and it gave him the strength of many men. Other stories say that the sword blade and the sword hilt came together from different places, the blade fished out of a lake, the hilt found by Lê Lợi himself.

The stories largely agree on what happened to the sword: One day, not long after the Chinese had accepted Vietnam as independent, Lê Lợi was out boating on a lake in Hanoi. Suddenly a large turtle surfaced, took the sword from Lê Lợi's belt, and dived back into the depths. Efforts were made to find both the sword and the turtle but without success. Lê Lợi then acknowledged the sword had gone back to the Golden Turtle and caused the lake to be renamed 'The Lake of the Returned Sword' (Hoan Kiem Lake) located in present-day Hanoi.

Countless poems and songs were written about Lê Lợi, both during his lifetime and in later years. Lê Lợi is looked upon as the perfect embodiment of the just, wise, and capable leader. All future Vietnamese kings were measured against the standard of Lê Lợi and most were found wanting.[9][10]

Every town in Vietnam has one of the major streets named after Lê Lợi, but in Hanoi the name is Lê Thái Tổ Street.[11]


  1. H. K. Chang From Movable Type Printing to the World Wide Web Page 128 2007 "However, in 1418, another leader, Lê Lợi, staged an uprising, which led in 1428 to the establishment of the Lê dynasty, from which time Vietnam broke free of China and became independent."
  2. Le Loi. The Encycloaedia Brittanica. Micropedia, Volume VI, 15th Edition. ISBN # 0-85229-339-9
  3. Trần Trọng Kim (2005) (in Vietnamese). Việt Nam sử lược. Ho Chi Minh City: Ho Chi Minh City General Publishing House. pp. 212–213. 
  4. Trần Trọng Kim (2005) (in Vietnamese). Việt Nam sử lược. Ho Chi Minh City: Ho Chi Minh City General Publishing House. pp. 214–215. 
  5. Nola Cooke, Tana Li, James Anderson The Tongking Gulf Through History Page 15 2011 "... forced to withdraw by Lê Lợi's victorious Thanh Hóa-based army."
  6. Tsai (1996), p. 15
  7. Quoted in Ralph Smith, Viet-Nam and the West (London: Heinemann, 1968), p.9.
  8. Burke Origines "Nguyễn Trãi is best known, however, as the military strategist who assisted Lê Lợi in driving the Ming out of Vietnam between 1407 and 1427. From these experiences he drew the inspiration to write Bình Ngô Đại Cáo, Proclamation of Victory over the Minh Invaders. Upon the death of Lệ Lợi (King Lê Thái Tổ)..."
  9. Education As a Political Tool in Asia - Page 147 Marie-Carine Lall, Edward Vickers - 2009 "New heroes enter the national pantheon, first of all King Lê Lợi and the cultured Nguyễn Trãi who defeated the Chinese in 1427."
  10. Van Dao Hoang Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang: A Contemporary History of a National ... Page 7 2008 "... expression of the traditional attitude against foreign invasion derived from such heroes as Trưng Sisters Queens, Ngô Quyền, Lê Lợi, Hưng Đạo, and Quang Trung."
  11. Vietnam Country Map. Periplus Travel Maps. 2002–03. ISBN 0-7946-0070-0. 


Very little in English has been written about Lê Lợi. The most detailed source is the doctoral thesis of John K. Whitmore, "The Development of the Le Government in Fifteenth Century Vietnam" (Cornell University, 1968). The thesis is mostly concerned with the structure and make-up of the Le government from 1427 to 1471.

See also

  • List of Vietnamese dynasties

External links

Preceded by
Hồ Dynasty
Emperor of Vietnam
Succeeded by
Lê Thái Tông

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