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The Viet national and cultural identity was formed in the first millennium B.C. with the bronze culture. The first Vietnamese State established its capital at Bach Hac, the apex of the deltaic triangle of the Red River on the demarcation line between the hilly uplands and the swampy, barely cultivated lowlands.


The second State moved its capital to the plain, already grown with rice, to Co’ Loa (18 kilometres from present-day Hanoi). Then came a 1000-year period of Chinese rule; imperial proconsuls first established their administrative seat north of present-day Hanoi in Luy Lau and Long Bien before building the citadel of Dai la in the 9th century on the site of the present capital. Meanwhile, the heads of victorious insurrections against the Chinese were able to stay in power only for brief periods; they preferred to install their headquarters in their native regions with the exception of Ly Nam De 96th century) who took Hanoi (then Long Bien) as the capital of his short-lived kingdom.


The Chinese yoke was broken in the 10th century. The capital was established at Co Loa by the liberating Ngo Dynasty which ended in anarchy. Order was restored by King Dinh Tien Hoang who for the sake of better defense installed the capital at Hoa Ou in a hilly region. The following dynasty stayed there.

It was Ly Thai To who was credited with having asserted the location of Hanoi to be the country’s capital. His choice was no doubt dictated by the geopolitical conjuncture. For several decades Vietnam had had time to remake the apprenticeship of independence. The central power having been consolidated, economic and cultural conditions made it possible to build a prosperous and powerful kingdom which, indeed, was to enjoy great prestige in Southeast Asia over four centuries. The capital had to be moved to a site favourable to these prospects.


Hanoi obviously seemed to fit that role. A glance at the map shows that all the water-ways (and the mountain ranges) converge on Hanoi and continue to the sea like the fingers of one hand. Both river and land routes are the most favourable. Protected on its northern flank against possible invasions by mountain ranges, the city easily communicates with the sea and overseas cultures: plains and mountains meet there.


Of course, in the time of Ly Thai To, geopolitical reasons vindicating the choice of Hanoi as capital were felt rather than analysed. The king was obeying two imperative cultural commands: the Confucian notion of “heavenly mandate” (Thien Menh) and the principles of geomancy.


“Ly Thai To reproached the Dinh and Le dynasties, his predecessors, with having disobeyed the law of heaven by persisting in staying in Hoa Lu, a  place not easily accessible. An unjust reproach, for they were compelled to act as they did by reason of security. As for him, he could allow himself to move the capital away in order to “follow the will of Heaven” and the “aspirations of the people”


Once the decision was taken, he had to conform to the rules of geomancy. The capital would be located “in the head land of the country. Its position evokes that of a coiled-up dragon, a squatting tiger. It is situated at an equal distance of the four points of the compass and corresponds to a favourable orientation of mountains and rivers, which would ensure a royal dynasty lasting ten thousand generations”


The king called his capital Thang Long the “soaring Dragon”, showing that he remained deeply Viet, for the Viet were believed to descend from the union of a Dragon and a fairy. The mythical animal was thought to bring rain to the rice fields. It represented royalty and nobility.

Than Long or Long Thanh (the Dragon City) has been called Hanoi since 1831, in the reign of the Nguyen Dynasty which fixed it s capital in Hue, Hanoi again has resumed the status of capital since the Revolution of 1945.


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