Dinh Bo Linh, The Buffalo Boy Who Became King  

 

Dinh Bo Linh, founder of the Dinh dynasty, is one of the greatest kings of Vietnamese history. He is the namesake of a major street in almost every Vietnamese city. We all are familiar with a popular song celebrating this national hero, particularly popular among Vietnamese children because of his precocity in matters of warfare and leadership (“Dinh Bo Linh nho hoi minh con nien thieu,lay lau lay lau lam co quen minh giup nuoc..”.) Legend has it that in his childhood, while tending the water buffaloes, he used blossoming reeds (“lau”) as pennants in mock combats organized among the village children. He later defeated the twelve feudal lords within a year and was proclaimed as the King of Ten Thousand Victories (“Van Thang Vuong”).

In 968, he ascended to the throne as Tien Hoang De and built his capital city in Hoa Lu.

During his reign (968-979), important administrative, military and legal measures were taken to put order to a recently divided and poorly organized country. In 979, he was assassinated by Do Thich .

 

The following excerpt is from Keith Weller Taylor, in The Birth of Vietnam, University of California Press, 1983, pp 275-276.

“Dinh Bo Linh’s father, Dinh Cong Tru, had served both Duong Dinh  Nghe and Ngo Quyen as governor on the Cham border in the south. According to Chinese records, Bo Linh succeeded his father as governor of Hoan and from this base eventually united all the Vietnamese lands.”

“Vietnamese historians recorded several stories about Dinh Bo Linh . These stories are to some extent hagiographical, so, while the general circumstances described in them may be authentic, many details are later elaborations.”

“Bo Linh was born in Hoa Lu, in a narrow valley running into the Hong River plain from the south, some thirty miles from the sea. He lived with his mother, a concubine of Dinh Cong Tru, beside the temple of a mountain spirit. His father was absent and so, apparently were all other able-bodied men.”

“It was recorded that the village children were responsible for tending the water buffaloes and that Bo Linh was recognized as their leader. The youngsters liked to play at imperial ritual and paraded about with Bo Linh in the role of emperor. On holidays, Bo Linh often led his followers against the youth of neighboring villages and always won the fray. His followers competed in gathering firewood and providing personal services for him.” Seeing this, and feeling proud of it, Bo Linh’s mother cooked a pig and laid a feast.

“All of this impressed the old men of the village, who took counsel together:” This boy’s behavior is extraordinary; he will be able to benefit his generation and bring peace to his people. If we do not support him now, we will certainly regret it later. “Consequently the village acknowledged him as a leader and built him a palisade. Only a younger brother of his father refused to follow him and established a separate palisade.”

“Bo Linh led a band against his uncle but was repulsed. As Bo Linh fled, a bridge collapsed, and he fell in the mud. His uncle rushed up, intending to stab him, but was astonished to see yellow dragons appear and hover over the boy in protection. Realizing that Bo Linh possessed supernatural qualities, the uncle submitted.”

‘This story describes a village society in the absence of authority. As Chinese hegemony faded and the men were absorbed in urgent struggle against its resurgence, village life was left open to the ambitions of a buffalo boy.” (Edited by Hien V. Ho, 7-15-01)