Impact of Historical, Economic, Social Conditions on Architecture


From its formation to the 20th century, Vietnam was successively ruled by the following dynasties:

Dynasty of Hung Kings (3rd century BC to 2nd century BC)
From its formation to the 20th century, Vietnam was successively ruled by the following dynasties:

Dynasty of Hung Kings (3rd century BC to 2nd century BC)
Thuc dynasty (second half of 3rd century BC)
Chinese rule (2nd century BC to 543 AD)
Early Ly dynasty with the name of the country: Van Xuan (544- 603AD); followed by the 2nd struggle against Chinese rule.
Ngo dynasty (939-965 AD); Capital; Co Loa (nowadays, in Hanoi’s suburbs);
Dinh dynasty (968 – 980); Capital: Hoa Lu (nowadays, Ninh Binh province). Name of the country: Dai Co Viet
Early Le dynasty (980-1009). Capital: Hoa Lu. Name of the country: Dai Co Viet.
Ly Dynasty (1009 -1226). Capital: Hoa Lu. Name of the country: Dai Co Viet. In 1010, the King moved the capital to Thang Long (present-day Hanoi). Name of the country: Dai Viet.
Tran dynasty (1226 – 1400). Capital: Thang Long. Name of the country: Dai Viet.
Ho dynasty (1400 – 1407). Capital: Tay-Do (presently, Thanh Hoa province). Name of the country: Dai Ngu.
Later Le dynasty, first period (1428 – 1527). Capital: Dong Kink (present-day Hanoi). Name of the country: Dai Viet.
Mac dynasty (1527 – 1592)
Later Le dynasty, the second period (1599 – 1788). Capital: Dong Kinh (present-day Hanoi), Name of the country: Dai Viet
Tay Son dynasty (1788 – 1802). Continuous civil war and war against foreign aggression
Nguyen dynasty (1802 – 1945). Capital: Hue. Name of the country: Vietnam.

The dynasty of Hung Kings, which marked the beginning of the Vietnamese State, was credited with brilliant achievements culminating in the Dong Son Culture (Bronze Age). Thereafter, Vietnam fell under Chinese feudal rule for over 1,000 years and could win back national independence only by the 10th century. The Ngo, Dinh, and anterior Le dynasties marked the period of national restoration while the subsequent Ly and Tran dynasties (11th – 14th centuries) developed the Vietnamese feudal State to its apex. But by the end of the later Le dynasty, the Vietnamese monarchy fell into decline. The whole period was marked by continuous wars against aggression from the North and by civil wars. The Nguyen dynasty took over but soon afterward Vietnam was invaded and ruled over by French colonialists (1884 – 1945).

Throughout these 20 centuries, Vietnam was a backward agricultural economy in which the individual peasant household was the main production unit and the land was the property of the State. Under the reign of Tran Kings (11th – 14th century) land was allocated to court dignitaries and other officials on an interim basis. Three years after the beneficiary’s death, a major portion of the allocated land had to be returned to the King and only a small remaining portion could be inherited by the family. This practice guaranteed the State’s monopoly over land and, consequently, the stability of the centralized monarchy. As a result, court dignitaries and officials were not in a position to hand over land to their offspring, not were they able to build palaces or spacious houses on their allotments.

From the 16th century, feudal landowners increasingly grew in number and strength, and from the 18th century onwards, a major part of land was concentrated in the hands of feudal landowners and mandarins. With their wealth, they could build big houses, but the size of the houses was constrained by the law. The growing prosperity of the landowning class went hand in hand with the steady impoverishment of peasants and, consequently, the emergence of a class of landless peasants.

Exploitation, poverty, and natural calamities (drought, floods, and subsequent crop failures) brought about widespread famines. By the end of the 18th century, out of a total of 11,767 villages and hamlets in the whole country, 1,488 villages and hamlets in the Red River Delta, Thanh Hoa and Nghe An provinces were affected by serious famine.

In these conditions, the shabby huts of the poor and hungry peasants could in no way reflect the characteristics of the architecture in rural Vietnam. In feudal Vietnam, handicraft was considered as a sideline for peasants to do in their leisure time and as a household activity. Many artisans engaged in the same craft would be grouped into specific guilds.
There was a wide range of crafts:
– Production of daily necessities: foodstuffs (salt, fish sauce) cloth, silk, mats, paints, paper, leather, woodblock prints;
– Manufacturing and construction: furniture, boats, arms, ramparts, fortresses, royal palaces, etc;
– Mining, production of iron, bronze, gold, silver, lead, zinc, etc.

Between the 16th and 18th centuries, the development of handicrafts (carpentry, ceramics, wood and stone carving, metal-work, etc.) created favorable conditions for the development of architecture and laid the initial basis for trading centers and, subsequently, ancient towns to emerge.

The ruling class paid little attention to developing trade. Therefore, traders were ranked last in the traditional classification of social strata: si (mandarin, scholar), nong (peasant), cong (artisan), thuong (trader). Trading was confined to the exchange of goods between various regions.

Neither was foreign trade developed. Indeed, foreign traders came to Vietnam more frequently than Vietnamese went abroad trading. It was because Vietnam at the time lacked strong oceangoing ships and goods attractive to foreigners. In the 11th century, and especially in the 17th – 18th centuries, many traders from China, Japan, Holland, Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, etc, came to Vietnam. Pho Hien (Hai Hung province nowadays) and Hoi An (Quang Nam – Da Nang provinces nowadays) were their ports of call. But then foreign trade was used as a means to meet only the needs of the Royal Court and therefore could in no way stimulate the national economy or promote the development of science and technology, including architecture.

In view of the repeated threat of aggression from imperial China, the feudal rulers of Vietnam could not, both in terms of resources and intent, build giant royal palaces. Indeed, numerous wars of aggression waged by the Tang (8th century), the Sung (1075), the Yuan – Mongolian (1258, 1285, 1287, and 1288), the Ming (1407 -1427), the Siamese (1748 -1785) and the Qing (1786-1789) feudal dynasties greatly devastated Vietnam, including its Royal Palaces. In a letter to Kublai Khan in 1288, King Tran Nhan Tong complained that because of the destruction brought about by the Yuan invading troops, his father Tran Thanh Tong had to live in the quarters of the Royal Guards, pending the reconstruction of the Royal Palace. Civil wars and feuds among members of the ruling class also played their role in destroying Royal Palaces. One can cite a few examples: Tran Tu Khanh rose up and destroyed 19 structures in the Royal Palaces of the Tran dynasty (13th century). Sometime later, Le Tinh Thanh set ablaze the Palace of Lord Trinh (for three days and nights). Consequently, only the palaces and other monuments of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945) have survived as they are relatively recent. view more

In short, natural, historical, economic, and social factors did not favor the development of architecture and industry in feudalistic Vietnam.