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Independence Restored, March to the South

Mongol armies, Vietnamese capital, Yuan dynasty, invading forces, new foe

Under the Ly dynasty Vietnam gradually became a dynamic force in Southeast Asia, and this power increased under the succeeding Tran dynasty. The Tran took power from the Ly in 1225, when the eight-year-old Ly empress transferred power to her new Tran husband. During the remainder of the 13th century, the Tran were preoccupied with the growing power of the Mongols, pastoral warriors from northern Asia. The Mongols completed their conquest of China in 1279 and established a new empire there known as the Yuan dynasty. A few years later, Mongol armies invaded Vietnam in an effort to reincorporate the Red River Valley into China. Under the leadership of General Tran Hung Dao, the Vietnamese vigorously resisted; after several bitter battles they defeated the invading forces and drove them back across the border.

While the Vietnamese maintained their guard to the north, an area of equal and growing interest lay to the south. For centuries, the Vietnamese state had been restricted to its heartland in the Red River Valley and the mountainous perimeter. Determined to obtain an outlet for their growing population, in the 10th century Vietnamese rulers began turning their attention south to the kingdom of Champa, a seafaring state inhabited by Malay-speaking peoples. The two states competed bitterly for advantage. On several occasions, Cham armies broke through Vietnamese defenses and occupied the Vietnamese capital. More frequently, Vietnamese troops were victorious, and they gradually drove the kingdom of Champa to the south. In the 15th century Vietnamese forces captured the Cham capital, south of present-day Da Nang, and virtually destroyed the kingdom. For the next several generations, Vietnam continued its historic “march to the south,” wiping up the remnants of the Cham kingdom and gradually penetrating the marshy flatlands of the Mekong Delta. There it confronted a new foe, the Khmer kingdom of Angkor, which had once been the most powerful state in mainland Southeast Asia. By the late 16th century, however, it was in a state of decline and unable to offer sustained resistance to Vietnamese encroachment. A hundred years later, Vietnam occupied the lower Mekong Delta and began advancing westward, threatening to transform the disintegrating Khmer state into a mere protectorate.

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