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Van don

  1. 1. VAN DON- AN INTERNATIONAL SEA PORT OF DAI VIET<br />Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Van Kim<br />Vietnam National University, Hanoi<br />Based on historical and archaeological documents, this article shall concentrate on analyzing the role of national and international economic activities of Van Don trade port and the systematic characteristic of the port in the history.<br />1. Tradition and position of the port <br />In the northeast and southwest territories of Vietnam, there are two gulfs which hold very important geo-economic and geo-strategic positions. The Tonkin’s gulf had close historical, economic, and cultural relations with Northeast Asian countries from the beginning of history. Meanwhile, in the Western sea-area, or the so-called the Siam gulf, from the early centuries AD, the marine polity, Phu Nam (Funan) established its wide relations with countries in Southeast Asia and South Asia (1). With an area of 126.250 km2 (36.000 miles square), Tonkin gulf is one of the largest gulfs in Southeast Asia, as well as in the World. It is bounded by the Vietnamese and Chinese coasts in the north and the west and the East Sea in the south. The northeast coastal area of Vietnam embracing ten provinces and cities with the length of 763 km is a large part of the Tonkin gulf. Three Chinese provinces, Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan located nearby the Tonkin gulf had their long-standing commercial, political and cultural contacts with the Southeast Asian countries.<br />The Tonkin gulf, an important part of the East Sea, with its economic potentialities and rich cultural environment was the foundation for the famous maritime culture of Ha Long. “The cultural vestige of Ha Long has been found not only on the northern area, but also in the south and the middle of Vietnam. Ha Long culture also extended its influence to South China, Southeast Asia mainland and Southeast Asia island (2). In the process of establishment and development, Ha Long culture established its wide relations with many countries in the region through commercial routes and the sequence of islands (3).<br />Since the Dong Son culture, learning from the dynamic culture of Ha Long, groups of the ancient Viet increased their relations with Hainan and Taiwan in southeast China, Ryukyu and Kyushu in Japan, and several places in Korea and other maritime cultures in East Asia (4). The discoveries of bronze drums and tools of Dong Son culture in various parts of Southeast Asia reflect the wide spread and strong vitality of this culture. Moreover, they are also the evidences of the existence of a long-distance trade established amongst East Asian countries at that time.<br />As a gateway having connections with the southeast and southwest coast of China, the Tokin gulf, especially its centre at the port of Van Don, was considered as the major trade route and the intermediate location between continent and ocean. Van Don was situated at the centre of relations not only between the East and West, namely between Southeast Asian peninsular and Southeast Asian island, but also between the North and the South, i.e. between Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia, and even South and West Asia. In other words, thanks to the Southeast Asian waters, the Chinese World and the Indian World were able to be connected to each other. Also through the frequent contacts by sea routes the two civilizations expended their influences to other worlds. In the pre-modern time, owing to the ports in Southeast Asia, the western ships were able to approach Southeast Asia and to trade with various countries in the world. It is important to note that behind the economic relations, there were flows of culture and civilization. As a dynamic area of the East Sea, Tonkin gulf was a base for cultural exchanges amongst countries inside and outside the region. Thus, if the East Sea was considered as Mini Mediterranean of Asia, the Tonkin gulf, especially the port of Van Don played an important role in exchanging, connecting, as well as creating cultural values in the region (5).<br />Because of its nearby location with the economic and cultural centre of South China, since the early centuries AD, ships from various Asian countries came to Giao Chau to trade and exchange goods. During the time, monks and followers of Buddhism and Brahmanism also came to Giao Chau to propagate their religious rituals (6). Giao Chau had been a flourishing place, a meeting - point of migration flows and the destinations for envoys, missionaries, merchants who visited Southeast Asia and China. By the tenth century, several Southeast Asian countries had established their relationship with China and India. Consequently, the areas of Guangdong and Fukien and the northeast of Giao Chau became the gathering places of merchants and delegations (7). These areas were also the crossroad of the two great civilizations in the Eastern World, the China and India. <br />In the third century, after occupying Nam Viet, the Qin dynasty (221-206BC) and subsequently the Han dynasty (206BC-220AD) intensified to exploit inhabitants in the southern regions. Commerce with areas in the Southern Sea (Guangdong) made gross profits for Chinese mandarins and merchants. According to Pre-Han dynasty books, this region was located “close to the sea, having plenty of rhino horn, ivory, tortoise-shell, pearls and gem, silver, copper, fruits, cotton. The Chinese came there to trade and became wealthy” (8). In the East Han dynasty (25-220), economic relations with the Southern Sea areas, basically with Guangchau and Giao Chi flourished. Chinese and Viet merchants often brought rice from Giao Chi to sell in districts of Cuu Chau and Hop Pho. They also visited Hop Pho to trade for pearls. In the Tang dynasty (618-907), trade became flourishing in the area of Giao Chau. Giao Chau’s commerce even caused the sharp decline of Guangchau trade (9).<br />In the independent era, the Ly dynasty (1009-1225) more and more realized the importance of the northeast sea in the relations with other countries in the region. As a result, in 1149, the king Ly Anh Tong (1138-1175) set up “Van Don trang” (莊,Van Don’s village or station) to stimulate relations with foreign countries, as well as to ensure national security. Shortly after its establishment, Van Don emerged as one of the most international ports of Vietnam. In the Tran dynasty (1225-1400), Thang Long’s government was more concerned with the Northeastern Sea in the strategy of ensuring national security and economic advantages. With the transition from trang (莊) to tran (鎮, essential district), Van Don became an economic zone with a system of ports, settlements, administrative town, and several stations to control the traffics, cargos, tolls, and security. Under the Tran dynasty, there were a number of densely-populated settlements in Van Don. In fact, Van Don developed as a fully-constituted entity receiving much heed from the dynasties of Ly, Tran, and Le (1428-1788).<br />Playing the role as a primary port in Vietnam and one of the important ports in Southeast Asia, Van Don maintained its commerce for seven centuries (10). It was the Vietnamese major port, playing the important economic and political role and having the most long-standing and continuous process of development in the history of Vietnamese ports. This port had close ties with the inshore stations, ports and islands, estuarial ports, and remote areas, such as Van Ninh, Mong Cai, and Cat Ba island, as well as with the trade villages of silk, ceramics, and other crafts in the Red River delta and the Northeast and Northwest areas. Through the time, Tonkin gulf became the strategic position not only for the northeast area, but also for national security and strategies of economic development. The northeast area, especially the provinces of Quang Ninh, and Hai Phong were always the initial places to stimulate foreign economic affairs, as well as to receive the influences of cultural tendencies, intrusions, invasions, and military and political challenges from outside. <br />2. Systematicness and scale of Van Don<br />Although the connections between northeast Vietnam and the countries in the region began early, it was not until the reign of Ly Anh Tong that station of Van Don was established. The initial function of Van Don was to receive ships from Trao Oa (Java), Lo Lac (Lavo), and Xiem La (Siam) which came to exchange precious goods and present their home products (11). Since then, the name of Van Don often appeared in the Vietnamese history. When Van Don was established, it was an administrative unit consisting of numerous islands in a large area. The inhabitant did not practise agriculture, but lived by trading and harvesting sea products. The natural advantages and profits from trade contributed not only to the home economic development, but also to the extension of Vietnamese knowledge and political view in regional scale.<br />In 1349, king Tran Du Tong (1341-1369) decided to promote the status of Van Don from trang to tran. The strategic position of the northeast sea-border therefore was confirmed. In addition, Thang Long government also carried out foreign liberal policies towards the countries in the region. Like other foreign economic exchange centres in southern region, particularly the ports in the Thanh, Nghe - Tinh, Van Don also established its relations with Lao, Chen-la, and Champa and became the most important foreign economic exchange centre in the north. During the occupation of the Chinese Ming (1407-1427), Van Don changed its status from tran to huyen (縣,district). After regaining independence, in the Early Le dynasty (1428-1527), emperor Le Thanh Tong changed the Northeastern Sea area to chau (州, remoted district in 1466) which was restored to huyen (縣,district) under the Nguyen (1802-1945).<br />The administrative border of Van Don changed through history. Thus, when carrying out research about Van Don, we should have an objective and comprehensive view about the spatial circles of the port. Moreover, we also have to distinguish the terms of “Cua bien Van Don” (Van Don’s harbour), “Nui Van” (Van mountain), “Trang Van Don” (Van Don station), “Tran Van Don” (Van Don district), “Chau Van Don” (Van Don remoted district), “Cang Van Don” (Van Don port), and so forth. Each name referred to differences in administrative border, function, and importance, although surely they had certain common characteristics.<br />Basing on a variety of historical records, modern historians have had many efforts to locate the port of Van Don. In 1936, Prof. Yamamoto Tasturo stated that “relying on the records of Annam which defined Van Don as Van Hai district. Thus, the centre of the district of Van Don was probably on the island of Van Hai” (12). According to Prof. Tran Quoc Vuong “Van Hai district was located on an island in Ha Long bay, namely Van Hai island or Lon loi isle (Boar isle), just nearby the Cai Ban isle. In the reformation period, Van Hai island and its surroundings were gathered into the district of Van Hai” (13). Having the same view with Prof. Tran Quoc Vuong, in the annotation of Nguyen Trai’s Du dia chi (Treatises on geography), Prof. Ha Van Tan claims that “Van Don was an island in Ha Long bay located on the eastern side of Cai Ban isle. It was named Van Hai island or Lon Loi isle (Boar isle) (14). Similarly, Assoc. Prof. Do Van Ninh suggests that the port of Van Don was a system of harbours with its centre at Cai Lang and Son Hao (15). Hence, Do Van Ninh is the first one who offers the term of “system” of Van Don trading port, but in his explanations, the system only embraced some harbours and inlets in the nowadays villages of Quan Lan and Minh Chau.<br />Basing on results from fieldworks and archaeological excavations carried out during 1990 and 2008 in several island-villages in Van Don, from 2002, we believe that within seven centuries, Van Don was founded and developed as a system of harbours, not just a single port or harbour. Therefore, from the beginning of its establishment, Van Don had a rather large system of harbours and ports, many of which had relations with the countries in the region.<br />In fact, in each period, at least economically, there were always certain trading centres in the area of Van Don which kept removing through history. Relying on various historical sources, it is affirmed that the area of Cong Dong - Cong Tay was the most important centre of Van Don during the Ly - Tran. Under the Ming occupation, the centre of Van Don was probably still located here. The appearance of the name “Vung Huyen” (District wharf) might referred to this hypothesis. In the Early Le dynasty, especially under the reign of Le Thanh Tong (1460-1497) when the concept of the national position and territorial sovereignty became strong, Thang Long government paid much attention to the Northeast area. Therefore, the centre of Van Don moved eastwards, further to the East Sea, namely to the villages of Quan Lan and Minh Chau. This is the reason explaining the rapid development of large harbour of Cai Lang, Son Hao, and Con Quy during the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. <br />Relying on various documents and results from studying geographical names, archaeological objects, and cultural and religious architectures it is suggested that from the Ly and Tran dynasties, the port of Van Don was established in a rather large area (16). In the Mac dynasty (1527-1593), especially the period of Le Trung Hung (1583-1788), under the impacts of development of Asian commerce system, Van Don was enlarged with a new system of harbours as a port complex which according to the viewpoint of area studies could be labelled region and sub-region. The regions and sub-region explicitly had close ties with each other in the sense that they were parts of the whole system. In this system, Van Don consisted of not only seaports, but also river ports, attracting not only indigenous traders, but also foreign merchants, connecting not only with Northeast Asian countries, but also with the countries in Southeast Asia and Southwest Asia. Any changes or commercial affairs at Van Don directly influenced to the kingdom of Thang Long. Thus, Thang Long government undertook many efforts to control the port area.<br />Since the Ly - Tran and Le dynasties, there were three sub-regions in the area of Van Don. The first sub-region was concentrated in the area of Cong Dong and Cong Tay (Thang Loi village nowadays). The administrative base of “Van Don station” in the Ly dynasty and “Van Don district” in Tran dynasty was probably located here (17). The historical relics of Buddhist architectures such as pagodas of Lam, Cat, and Trong suggests to the subsistence of a cultural and administrative centres influenced by religious nuance. The presence of these pagodas in the sea-area reflected not only the wide-spread influence of Buddhism and the sea-oriented vision of the Tran dynasty, but also the concern of the authority with religious life of merchants and inhabitants. Unfortunately, these temples were ruined and just only some archaeological traces were left. They were probably destroyed during the Ming occupation or in the time when the administrative centre were moved to the area of Cai Lang in the late fifteenth century and beginning of sixteenth century.<br />Religious architectures and ceramic objects found in several harbours indicate the economic roles of Cong Dong and harbours in both sides of the island of Cong Tay. In addition to numerous ceramic objects found along the northwest bays, namely from hamlet 1 to hamlet 5, on the south - eastern side of the island of Cong Tay, ceramic objects were also discovered. The areas of Cong Dong and Cong Tay possess a vast storage of ceramics which are significant for studies and preservation, not only for the historical relic of Thua Cong, but also for the port of Van Don (18). Because of its favourable location, the area of Thua Cong (or Thong Dong “river”) was the economic, diplomatic and cultural centre of Van Don in the periods of the Ly and Tran dynasties. The variety of historical objects found in harbours and coastlines also suggests to the presence of different merchant groups distinguished by their occupations and specialization in trade (19). It is possible that foreign ships from nearby countries came to trade, offer tributes and establish diplomatic relationship with Dai Viet. It is important to note that while Thang Long government paid much attention to protect the political security, they also respected to the tradition and customs of foreign merchants. In the beginning of fifteenth century, in his Du dia chi (treatises on geography), Nguyen Trai wrote that “foreign merchants could followe their own traditional cloths and custom” (20). This is the lively evidence of the flexibility and activeness and cultural views of Thang Long government.<br />Meanwhile, the second sub-region was situated in the nowadays villages of Minh Chau and Quan Lan. In the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, this region played an important role in protecting security, controlling tolls, and ensuring the diplomatic and commercial activities of the first sub-region, i.e. the centre of Van Don in the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. Since the late fifteenth century, this sub-region replaced the area of Cong Dong and Cong Tay as the most important centre of Van Don enduring until the early eighteenth century. The dense gathering of objects of Chu Dau ceramics or Chu Dau ceramic styles, various types of earthenware produced by kilns in northeast Vietnam, and Chinese ceramics during Ming and Chi’ng dynasties in the area prove this argument. Additionally, the traces of old settlements, wells, and religious relics indicate the existence of a thriving and thickly-populated area. From the late eighteenth century to the early nineteenth century, due to various reasons together with the decline of the international port, a new social institutions based on Confucianism began to spread to this region. <br />Besides the above-mentioned sub-regions, in the Ly - Tran and Le dynasties, the third sub-region was also established on the eastern side of Van Don, situated in the Ngoc Vung village nowadays. Trade were probably carried out in the area of Cong Yen and Cong Hep. Ceramic objects found in this area had the same features with the ones in Cai Lang, Cong Dong and Cong Tay, except for the more density of sixteenth and early eighteenth century-ceramic wares. In my view, the area of Ngoc Vung was not only the trading place, but also the southern base of security of the port. <br />The three sub-regions formed a system, which can be labelled the first region or the first area. This region consisted of Cong Dong, Cong Tay, Cai Lang and the group islands of Ngoc Vung. This is the central region, playing the most important role in the political, economic and social activities of the port of Van Don for about six centuries. <br />Within such period of time, Van Don was explicitly not able to exist and develop while isolating from outside. The port was always placed in the supervision, monitoring, and supplies of goods from the interior which included the craft centres in the Red River delta and forest products from northeast and northwest mountainous areas. Stations were established at the river-mouths in order to guard security for the area of Van Don and also for the economic and political centres in the interior (21). In that sense, the establishment of a group of harbours and coastal ports included some sub-regions stretching from Yen Hung (22), Cua Luc, Bai Chay (23), Cua Ong (24), and Cai Bau (25) to Tien Yen - Van Ninh in the North and Cat Ba in the South (26) and should be Co To in the East. Nowadays, in these areas, Chinese and Vietnamese ceramics and potteries are densely exposed on the ground surface. The similarities in styles and date of the objects reflect the close ties between estuarial harbours and Van Don. This is the second region established at river-mouths and on islands in the area of Van Don. This region played an important role in transporting goods from domestic political and economic centres to external trading ports and ensuring security in ports and interior political and economic centres, as well as receiving and delivering commodities from the first region.<br />Noticeably, together with the close ties with harbours and ports, the sub-regions in the second region were also in contact with each other following the axis from South to North, i.e. from Yen Hung to Van Ninh. Traders brought ceramics and other commodities to the northeast areas for export and then carried back foreign products to the centre. Following this journey, the roles of Van Ninh and Yen Hung were switched to each other. In his voyages and discoveries, written in 1688, the English explorer, William Dampier described the route from the river-mouth of Thai Binh river to Tenam (Tien An or Tien Yen). His boat mostly “went along the shore, throughout narrow canals and currents of water amongst numerous islands on the eastern side of the bay” (27). Results from field researches in the areas of Van Ninh, nearby the Ka Long bordering river show that ceramic and earthenware objects are densely exposed on the ground surface of many large fields. Particularly in the hamlets of Thoi Sanh, Va Dat, and Rung Mieu, the objects were gathered thickly with the cultural layer at over two-meter deep in some places. This fact reflects the trade relations and influence of this leading centre over the foreign diplomatic and economic activities. In centuries, some of export products in the area of Red River delta were brought to the north and subsequently to foreign markets. Besides silk, forest and sea products, An Nam ceramics and pottery undoubtedly were in favour in the markets in Southern China. Founded under the Ly dynasty, Van Ninh maintained its position as an important regional trading centre of Dai Viet until the eighteenth centuries. (28) The area of Va Dat nowadays is still called by the inhabitant “Van Don”, where “Van Don market” is located (see figure 1). <br />As an international trading port playing a role in foreign trade in many centuries, Van Don extended its trading activities to Southern China and Southeast Asian countries. According to Kenneth R. Hall, in the fourteenth century, there were six trading zones in the world, in which the economic zone in Southern China and seaports in Vietnam played a crucial role. This system extended to the Siam gulf, Malay peninsular and some areas in Java island, where the second zone was formed (29).<br />Besides the function as a promising place for trade and sea product harvesting, Van Don was also a rendezvous for ships arriving from Southeast Asia and probably from Ryukyu (Japan) (30). Ships following the maritime silk route from Northeast to Southeast Asia often anchored at Van Don. Consequently, ports in the areas of Thanh - Nghe Tinh (Chau Hoan, Chau Ai, Thuan Chau, and Hoa Chau) were not only the foreign economic exchange centres in southern Dai Viet, but also the entrepôt in the northeast area, especially Van Don (31). The trading, diplomatic and tributary activities created the diversified nuance and dynamic activities, which contributed to the development of the port for a long time in history. This is the third region of the port of Van Don. The region had a complex of economic and diplomatic activities, but it also reflected the political sensitiveness, the inventive and adaptableness of Thang Long governments, as well as the economic strength of Dai Viet.<br />Moreover, in the seventeenth century, under the impacts of international trading activities, Dai Viet’s commerce expanded forwards to the mainland. Foreign merchants could come to economic and political centres, densely-populated areas, handicraft centres to buy up commodities. The establishment of system of estuarial harbours had effects one way or another to the economic position of Van Don, and absolutely became one of the main reasons for the decline of the port. In other words, in the commercial relations in Tonkin in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and the rising of the system of estuarial harbours and ports in the northeast area with the centres of Domea (Tien Lang in Hai Phong city) (32), Hien town (Hung Yen province), and Thang Long to make the heyday of Van Don ended. But based on archaeological evidents it still maintained some foreign trading activities untill early eighteenth century. In 1661, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) even had a plan to promote its trading activities in this area (33). Thus, together with the system of estuarial harbours, Dai Viet’s commerce still developed based on the system of seaports. <br />Additionally, it can be supposed that while the Le - Trinh authorities paid attention to the estuarial ports, the seaport of Van Don had a fresh environment for the development of the official or unofficial, central or local economic activities. The dense presence of Chinese and Vietnamese ceramic objects in the large areas of Cai Lang, Son Hao, and Con Quy indicates the lively trading activities in the port of Van Don (34). It is certain that after the flourishing period of the Tran dynasty, Van Don was still the meeting point of economic flows between Dai Viet and foreign countries, between Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia, between the East and the West. The diversified economic activities were the dynamism for the development of Van Don as an important seaport in Southeast Asia. <br /> <br />Figure 1: Van Don - Sea port system<br />In order to understand the role of Van Don as an economic and diplomatic centre of Vietnam in history, one needs to put it in a comprehensive and systematic point of view, in its wide and diversified connections with the areas in the Vietnamese northeast sea, as well as the changes in the economic and diplomatic relations between the countries in the region. The establishment of three regions were significance in ensuring activities and promoting the development of each region. In these economic, cultural and political activities, the fist region or the centre of the port of Van Don played the crucial role. Nevertheless, it could only perform its position in the connections and helps of the second and third regions. It is worth to note again that this system was always moving according to the changes in the economic and political environment, as well as the policies of polities (see figure 2). <br /> Figure 2: Van Don sea port and its relations with international trading network<br />Nowadays, in the tendency of regional and international integration, Tonkin gulf had a strategic important position in economy, security and national defence. Tonkin gulf with its centre at Van Don possesses very rich natural resources, especially sea products, oil, and advantages of tourism. It is also the gateway and the meeting-place of some trading routes between Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia, between the northeast Vietnam and southeast and Southwest China. Amongst the potentialities and advantages of Van Don, the cultural legacy, trading position and the echoes of glorious feat of arms in resistances against foreign invasions are the motivations for the development of the northeast sea-area. With its potentiality and strategic position, Tonkin gulf sufficiently had capacity to be a dynamic economic zone with great advantages. Nevertheless, this area has been the disputed place of many countries which have nourished ambition to expand their influence over the region. <br />Vietnam Historical Science Association, Van Hoa Oc Eo - Vuong quoc Phu Nam (Oc Eo Culture - Funan kingdom), Hanoi: The Gioi Publishers, 2008. Also, Ha Van Tan, “Oc Eo - Nhung yeu to noi sinh va ngoai sinh (Oc Eo - Its internal and external dynamism)”. In: Theo dau cac nen van hoa co (Tracing the old cultures). Hanoi: Social Sciences Publisher, 1997. pp. 833-847. <br />Ha Van Tan, Khao co hoc Viet Nam (Vietnames Archaeology), Vol.1. Thoi ky do da (Stone age). Hanoi: Social Sciences Publisher, 1998, pp. 267.<br /> Ha Huu Nga - Nguyen Van Hao, Ha Long thoi tien su (Halong in prehistory), Administration Board of Halong bay, 2002. pp. 233.<br /> Karashima Noburu, Trade Relations between South India and China during the 13th and 14th Centuries; and Nagashima Hiromu, Muslim Merchants’ Visits to Japan; in: East- West Maritime Relations, Vol.1, The Middle Eastern Cultural Center in Japan, 1989, pp. 59-82, 1-30.<br /> Nguyen Van Kim - Nguyen Manh Dung, “Truyen thong va hoat dong thuong mai cua nguoi Viet: Thuc te lich su va nhan thuc (Commercial tradition and activities of Vietnamese: The historical fact and comprehension)”. In: Viet Nam trong he thong thuong mai chau A the ky XVI-XVII (Vietnam in the Asian trading system in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries). Hanoi: The Gioi Publishers, 2007, pp.315. In 1988, the French scholar, Danys Lombard introduced the concept of “Another Mediterranean in Southeast Asia” in French Geographical Journal. This idea mostly focused on the internal factors of Southeast Asian culture, especially the maritime environment (Southeast Asian Sea). See more in the English translation of Nola Cook. <br />Nguyen Tai Thu, Lich su Phat giao Viet Nam (History of Vietnamese Buddhism). Hanoi: Social Sciences Publisher, 1988.pp.12-70.<br /> Wang Gungwu, The Nanhai Trade - The Early History of Chinese Trade in the South China Sea, Times Accademic Press, 1998.<br /> Pre-Han dynasty books, Vol.1. pp.21. Quoted from Truong Minh Hang, Buon ban quan bien gioi Viet - Trung trong lic su (Trades through the borders of Vietnam and China: History, actuality and prospect). Hanoi: Social Sciences Publisher, 2003. pp.15.<br /> Le Tac, An Nam chi luoc (Short history of Annam), ibid. pp.289.<br /> In his paper, The Disappearance of Van Don: Trade and State in Fifteen Century Dai Viet - A Changing Regime? presented at the conference A Mini Mediterranean Sea - Gulf of Tongking through History organized by National University of Australia and Southeast Asia study Institute, China on 14 and 15 March 2008, John K.Whitmore states that Van Don was established in the middle of twelfth century and declined in the late fifteenth century (1467). Historical records and archaeological and anthropological evidences in Vietnam, however, suggest that although Van Don came to decline in several times, it maintained its some operations until the early eighteenth century. <br />Ngo Si Lien and historians of Le dynasty, Dai Viet su ky toan thu (Complete history record of Great Viet), Vol.I. Hanoi: Social Sciences Publisher, 1993. pp.317. <br />Yamamoto Tasturo, Vân Đồn - A Trade Port in Việt Nam, The Toyo Bunko, No. 39, 1981.<br /> Tran Quoc Vuong, Ve dia diem Van Don (About the location of Van Don), History Department, USSH,VNU, Hanoi. Archival Number 130. <br />Nguyen Trai, Du dia chi (Treatises on geography ), Hanoi: Van hoc Publisher, 2001, pp. 587.<br /> Do Van Ninh, Huyen dao Van Don, (Van don district), People committee of Van Don, 1997, pp.145-146.<br />Do Van Ninh, Huyen dao Van Don (Van Don district), ibid. Nguyen Van Kim, “He thong thuong cang Van Don qua tu lieu lich su va khao co hoc (The system of Van Don port in historical records and archaeological evidence)”, Journal of Archaeology, 4 (2006). Han Van Khan, “Archaeological report in Cong Tay’s site in 2002,” Pham Nhu Ho, “Archaeological reports in Cai Lang’s site”. In: New archaeological discoveries in 2003. Hanoi: Social Sciences Publisher, 2004. pp.356-358.<br /> The statement of the administrative centre of Van Don at Thua Cong can be seen as a supposition. A few scholars have argued that only in the case the Ly ceramics discovered can we demonstrate this statement. So far, some pieces of Sung ceramics have been found, however. Archaeological researches in Thua Cong in particular and Van Don in general have been restricted in few small surveys and excavations. Moreover, under the Ly dynasty, commodities for exchange were often the strange, light, and precious products, such as silk, spices, pearl, coral which hardly left their evidence to present. The export of Ly ceramics was not much because of the competition of Chinese ceramics. Additionally, ceramics was only one of various criteria to assert the position of a region or trading port. This is an interesting point to study the establishment and development of the port of Van Don. <br />Nguyen Van Kim, “He thong thuong cang Van Don qua tu lieu lich su va khao co hoc (The system of Van Don port in historical records and archaeological evidence)”, Journal of Archaeology, 4 (2006), pp. 56.<br /> Amongst 1.976 objects discovered in the excavation in July 2002 in Hamlet 5 with an area of 12 meter square, there were 599 Chinese glazed pottery objects and 747 Chinese porcelain objects. Most of them were the Long Tuyen styles dated the fourteenth century. Although the excavation ditch was relative narrow, it has been the richest site for the Long Tuyen ceramics in Vietnam. This evidence suggests that after the three wars with Mongol in thirteenth century, Dai Viet still maintained relations with China and imported from there high-grade goods. The analysis of ceramic objects in excavations and field researches reflect the differences in distribution of objects amongst the harbours of the island of Cong Tay. It is probably that this was the traditional stations of a family or ship’s master who traded in some particular products. This fact reflects the division of production and specialization of merchants in Van Don.<br /> Nguyen Trai, Du dia chi (Book of geography), ibid, pp. 466.<br /> To levy tax and control the trade in the northeast area, the Le and Trinh dynasties established stations at Cua Doi, Ngoc Vung, and several estuarial harbours. According to Phan Huy Chu, there were two main stations, the Suat Ty in Yen Hung and An Luong in Van Ninh. The Suat Ty station in Quynh Lau (Yen Hung) controlled the ships from Bach Dang river and Chanh river to the sea and Anh Luong station situated at the river-mouth of Bach Long Vi river controlled ships trading in the Chinese-Vietnamese borders. See: Phan Huy Chú: Lịch triều hiến chương loại chí, (History book of dynasties). Vol.I. Hanoi: History study Publisher. 1960, pp.114. <br />In many fieldworks during 1992 and 2006, we conduced surveys in the villages of Hoang Tan, Tan An, Ha An and Hoang Tien and discovered in the areas of Duong Hac, Go Vat, Seo Be, Hon Dau various types of ceramic objects on the ground surface dated Tran, Mac and Le dynasties. In Duong Hac, Hoang Tan villages, we also discovered a sign of ceramic kiln and a pagoda of Tran dynasty.<br /> Passing along Cua Luc westward to Gao Rang where the ancient Mac fort located, we will encounter a bay densely gathered by ceramic objects. Like in Yen Hung, ceramic objects here are similar to the ones founded in Van Don. In Tuan Chau and Bai Chay, many objects of Han, Tang and Six Dynasties periods were founded. In 1997, paracel ceramic object dated the ninth and tenth century was also founded in Bai Chay. In Tuan Chau, a sign of ceramic kiln of eighth and ninth century were found.<br /> This area has Cua Ong temple which refers to merits of royal commander Tran Quoc Tang and Hoang Can. According to Dampier, this area had 5 or 6 local service offices, one of them, Cua Suot office, maintained till today.<br /> In recent survey in June, 2008, we discovered in the coastal areas of Bi Lap hamlet, Van Yen village, on Cai Bau island a field with numerous Vietnamese ceramic objects of Tran and Le periods, Chinese ceramic of Qing dynasty. We would like to express our thanks to Dr. Trinh Nang Chung to recommend us this archaeological site.<br /> Results from a survey in July 2007 reveal that in the bay of Lang Cu, Xuan Dam village, numerous Vietnamese ceramics and porcelains of Chu Dau and My Xa of Tran period. Chinese ceramics of Yuan and Ming dynasties were also found. Local inhabitants told that by 1978, the area around the bay of Lang Cu had been populated by the Chinese. It is indicated from this fact that in Cat Ba, there were probably a number of bays participating in the commerce of Van Don. <br />William Dampier: Mot chuyen du hanh den Dang Ngoai nam 1688 (Voyages and Discoveries). Hanoi, The Gioi Publisher. 2006. pp.105.<br /> In Van Ninh, we discovered the sign of some ceramic kilns. This fact indicates that in addition to ceramics brought from the kilns in the Red River delta, the inhabitant in Van Ninh also produced few local products. Together with Chinese merchants, in history traders from the countries in Southeast Asia also visited Van Ninh. <br />Kenneth R. Hall, Maritime Trade and Development in Early Southeast Asia, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1985, pp. 223-225.<br /> Nguyen Van Kim, Quan he Nhat Ban voi Dong Nam A the ky XV-XVII (Japanese relations with Southeast Asia in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries), Vietnam National University, Hanoi Press. 2003, pp.83-89. Also, Atsushi Kobata & Mitsugu Matsuda: Ryukyuan Relations with Korea and South Sea Countries, Kawakita printing Co., Ltd, Kyoto, 1969, pp. 186.<br /> Concerning to the position of Nghe An - Ha Tinh ports and their transition to the Tonkin gulf please see Momoki Shiro: Dai Viet and South China Sea Trade from the Xth to the XVth Century, Crossroad - An Interdisciplinary Journal of South Asian Studies, Northern Illinois University, 1998. According to Le Tac’s An Nam chi luoc (Short history of Annam), aloe wood, ivory, and rhino horns collected from the areas of Cuu Chau and Nhat Nam were often used as tributes to the courts. Under the Ly and Tran dynasties, the countries like Ailao, Champa, and Chenla on their way to China had to stop at the ports of Nghe Tinh of Dai Viet. On the contrary, Champa was also an important point in the Chinese routes to the South. In his book, part of Champa, Le Tac stated that “(Champa) located on the coast, Chinese vessels reaching to Chinese vassals often stopped at Champa to exchange for wood and water. It was the largest harbour in the South”. Le Tac, An Nam chi luoc, pp. 72.<br /> John Kleinen - Bert van der Zwan - Hans Moors - Ton van Zeeland, Su tu va Rong - Bon the ky quan he Ha Lan-Viet Nam (Lion and Dragon: Four centuries of Dutch and Vietnamese relations. Hanoi: The Gioi Publisher,.2008.<br /> Hoang Anh Tuan, “Hai cang mien Dong Bac va he thong thuong mai Dang Ngoai the ky XVII (qua cac nguoi tu lieu phuong Tay) (The ports in Northeast Vietnam and the trading system in Tonkin in seventeenth century) (based on the Western sources)”. Historical Study Journal, No. 2 (2007), pp. 58-59.<br /> In the international relations at that time, Vietnamese ceramics and porcelains were virtual commodities. The discoveries of Annam ceramics in Saika, Osaka, Edo, and Nagasaki reflect the popularity of Vietnamese ceramic in Japan. On the other hand, Vietnamese ceramics have been found in over thirty sites in Southeast Asia and some in international ports. See: Hasebe Gakuji, “Tim hieu moi quan he Viet - Nhat qua do gom su (Learning Vietnam - Japan relations through ceramics)”, and Aoyagi Yoji, “Do gom Viet Nam dao duoc o quan dao Dong Nam A (Vietnamese ceramics found in Southeast Asia Island)”. In: Ancient town of Hoi An. Hanoi: Social Sciences Publisher, 1991, pp. 81-85, 113-123. Other contributions about the discoveries of Vietnamese ceramics and porcelains in Japan written by Kin Seiki, Ojiura Masayoshi, Tsuzuki Shinchiro and Mori Tsuyoshi are in report of international conference Vietnam - Japan relations through ceramic exchanges organized by Vietnam National University and Showa Women’s University in Dec.1999. <br />