But why did he change his family name?
Ho was Le Quy Ly’s ancestral name, which can be traced back to ninth century Zhejiang, an eastern coastal province of China. From there the family migrated south towards Vietnam. Ho Quy Ly's great-great-
But Ho Quy Ly was adopted by Le Huan, who belonged to an influential family in the royal court. He grew up to be a master politician known for his cunning, courage, and boldness. He had distinguished himself in a successful campaign against Champa and through his scheming and shrewd marriage (to a sister of Emperor Tran Due Tung and Tran Thuan Tung), Ho Quy Ly made himself a court fixture as an advisor to the emperor.
As the Tran dynasty fell asunder, he rose to prominence and by 1399 he had become the prestigious post of Protector or Regent of the country. Planning to seize power for himself, Ly decided to build a citadel, which he called Tay Do (Western Capital). He invited Emperor Tran Thuan Tong to visit this new capital.
There he convinced the emperor to relinquish his throne to Prince An (a three-year-old child) before imprisoning him in a pagoda and later executing him. Prince An “reigned” for one year until Ho Quy Ly deposed of him in 1400 before declaring himself as the new emperor.
Ho Quy Ly changed the country's name from Dai Viet (Great Viet) to Dai Ngu (Great Peace). Taking a page from the ruling book of his Tran predecessors, Ho Quy Ly reigned for less than a year before handing over the throne to his second son, Ho Han Thuong. Ho Quy Ly became known as the Emperor's Highest Father.
The Ho Dynasty was short lived, however. The country was in chaos and the Ming Dynasty of China were keen to take advantage and recapture Vietnam. In 1406, the Ming invaded and by 1407 the Ho had capitulated. Ho Quy Ly and his sons were captured and sent to Guangxi. There Ho Quy Ly was put to work as a Chinese soldier and security guard until the end of his life.
Although the leader of the most unpopular and probably the most hated dynasty in the history of Vietnam, Ho Quy Ly nevertheless initiated many economic, financial and educational reforms. The most notable reform for which Ho is credited was the introduction of a national paper currency in 1400.
Located in four communes in Thanh Hoa province’s Vinh Loc district, approximately 150km from Hanoi, parts of the Ho Citadel still stand as a testament to Ho Quy Ly’s brief rise to power.
The citadel, which was declared the official capital of Dai Ngu in 1400, was square-shaped and included three encirclements – the outer encirclement was called La thanh and boasted a perimeter four kilometers long. The middle encirclement was called Hao thanh and included a moat and a citadel wall. The inner circle was known as Hoang thanh (imperial forbidden citadel).
Much of the citadel has been lost over time. According to historical records once there was a building known as Hoang Nguyen Palace, where the royal court adjourned for meetings. Ho Quy Ly slept at the Ngan Tho Palace, while his son slept in the Phu Cuc Palace.
Restoration and UNESCO support
What remains is being restored and archaeological work continues. The citadel site was recognized as a national-level historical and cultural site by the Ministry of Culture (now the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism) in 1962.
In 2004, archaeologists unearthed numerous valuable artefacts inside the walls of the citadel, including stone pillars and bars in the design style of the Ly and Tran dynasties and two overlapping foundations, which are believed to have formed part of the main royal palace building.
Another excavation of 2004, conducted some 2.5 kilometres from the citadel in Vinh Thanh Commune, unearthed a sacred worshipping site similar in concept to Nam Giao Esplanade in Hue. Here it is believed the king sought the mandate of heaven each year for his rule.
Between June 2006 and September 2009, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism compiled a scientific file on the Ho Citadel site and submitted it to UNESCO, asking for recognition as a world heritage site.
The construction of the citadel also linked with a moving story. Legend has it that Ho Quy Ly ordered a master builder named Coc Sinh to accelerate the construction speed of the citadel’s western wall, which was built alongside a river.
Despite hefty reinforcements being put in place, the wall sank. Ho Quy Ly was infuriated and Sinh was buried alive at the foot of the half-built wall. It is said that Sinh had recently wed. On the day he was brutally executed, his wife Binh Khuong came to see him and as fate would have it she witnessed her husband’s last moments.
Overwhelmed with grief and despair, she bashed her head against the wall and witnesses claimed she had left a dent in the hard rock. Locals erected a temple to worship her and the dented stone block.
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