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Interests, Institutions, and Identity: Strategic


Adaptation and the Ethno-evolution of Minh Hng
(Central Vietnam), 16th19th Centuries

Charles Wheeler

Itinerario / Volume 39 / Issue 01 / April 2015, pp 141 - 166


DOI: 10.1017/S0165115315000169, Published online: 13 July 2015

Link to this article: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0165115315000169

How to cite this article:


Charles Wheeler (2015). Interests, Institutions, and Identity: Strategic Adaptation and the
Ethno-evolution of Minh Hng (Central Vietnam), 16th19th Centuries. Itinerario, 39,
pp 141-166 doi:10.1017/S0165115315000169

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Itinerario, Vol. 39, No. 1, 141166. 2015 Research Institute for History, Leiden University
doi:10.1017/S0165115315000169

Interests, Institutions, and Identity:


Strategic Adaptation and the
Ethno-evolution of Minh Hng
(Central Vietnam), 16th19th Centuries

CHARLES WHEELER
E-mail: charles@academiceditorial.com

Minh Hngoften translated as Ming Refugees, became a powerful interest group


in Vietnamese commerce, colonization, and politics between the seventeenth and
nineteenth centuries. Curiously, they remain understudied and misunderstood by both
Vietnamese and Overseas Chinese specialists. This results from confusion about Minh
Hng identity and origins, which this article addresses by analyzing the evolution of the
groups identity and the interests and institutions that shaped it. Far from static, Minh
Hng identity formed, metamorphosed, and all but disappeared due to the interplay
between changing circumstances and adaptive responses that continually reshaped the
content of Minh Hng identity whenever outside circumstances challenged them.
In this way, the Minh Hng evolved from its merchant diaspora origins into a powerful
merchant-bureaucratic class that exploited the institutions that Vietnamese matrilineage
and Chinese patrilineage afforded them in order to advance its commercial and political
interests. When their status eroded in the nineteenth century, the Minh Hng redened
their group as a minority ethnicity in defense of diminishing rights. Far from the
powerless refugee minority image their name implies, their behaviour so reminiscent of
merchant cultures from the Sogdians to the Swahili, the Minh Hng deserves greater
consideration in the literature on merchant cultures in world history.

Key words: Vietnam, Minh Huong, Chinese, ethnicity, merchants.

In the literature about the history of Chinese of Southeast Asia, there is a small but
important sub-category of studies that address the regions Sino-indigne sub-
cultures. The best known groups include: the Peranakan of Indonesia; the Baba of
Malaysia; and the Mestizo/a of the Philippines. Collectively, they have been known
by many names. Past works often employed the term mestizo, while more recent
works have attempted to t these groups under rubrics such as creolized or hybrid.1
142 Charles Wheeler

No history of Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, or the Philippines would be complete


without an account of these intermediate social groups, given the role they often
played as entrepreneurs; as governors of Chinese commerce and community; as
brokers of capital (in all its forms); and, as translators of languages, cultures, and
technologies. In their heyday, they exerted a great deal of inuence on the economic,
political, and cultural development of their host societies and Chinese societyin
both Southeast Asia and the world at large.
This kind of Sino-indigne community existed in Vietnam, too. It still does,
although its distinctive features have all but vanished through assimilation into
Vietnamese society so that, by all appearances, it exists in name only. The pattern of
this communitys evolution appears to parallel that of the Mestizo: Having creolised
in the seventeenth century, it rose to prominence in the eighteenth century, suffered
decline in the nineteenth, and then nally met its end in all but cultural identity as the
twentieth century approached.2 Obscure outside their country, this group is still well
known within Vietnam and by those who study it. The people of this community are
called Minh Hng (pronounced approximately ming hung), typically known in
Western languages as the Ming Loyalists or Ming Refugees.
Vestiges of Minh Hng villages (called Minh Hng x)including inscriptions,
placards, bells, urns, and written recordscan be found in or around the towns once
active in the sea trade that thrived along the Vietnamese littoral during the early
modern era. Such relics are especially abundant in places like Hu, H i An,
Qui Nhn, Ch Ln, Ha Tin and other seaport centres in Central and Southern
Vietnam where Minh Hng rst settled. Scholars once thought that these villages
were peculiar to the old southern domain of Cochinchina (V: ng Trong), one of two
powerful domains that one of two powerful Vietnamese warlord clans, surnamed
Nguyn, ruled on behalf of i Vits powerless L emperor from the sixteenth
through eighteenth centuries. In recent years, however, scholars have acknowledged
the presence of villages like Ph Hin and Phu Thach in the northern domain of
Tonkin (V: ng Ngoi), ruled by the Trnh clan, the rival of the Nguyn.3 Many of
their temples, some Buddhist, others venerating Chinese deities like the God of War
(V: Quan Cng or C: Guangong or Guandi), Goddess of Mercy (V: Quan m;
C: Guanyin), and Empress of Heaven sea goddess (V: Thin Hu Ma T ;
C: Tianhou Shengmu or Mazu), continue to function; some still function as religious
institutions, others as tourist attractions. People still claim Minh Hng identity or
descent, however, the name appears to be their only distinguishing trait. Other traits,
such as language, culture, and political identity, eroded in the waves of Vietnamese
assimilation generations ago. Little remains to remind the world of the wealthy,
powerful elite that shaped the evolution of Vietnamese commerce, society, and state
on the threshold of the modern era, and its peculiar culture.
The very name Minh Hng implies the story behind their creation. It derives from
a Sino-Vietnamese termtwo Sinitic characters (pronounced Mingxiang in
Mandarin Chinese) that literally means Ming incense.4 The name invites the
memory of Chinas Ming Dynasty, whose fall in 1644 compelled many loyalists to
Interests, Institutions, and Identity 143

ee overseas, in particular to the Vietnamese domain of Cochinchina. Given the


connotations of incense with ritualized fealty in Chinese culture, many people have
preferred to translate the name as Ming Loyalist. This makes sense. Chinese who
remained loyal to the vanished Ming dynasty set themselves apart from the majority
of Chinese who accepted the new Qing dynasty by wearing Ming-style hair and dress
and adopting the two-character name. Many of these loyalist exiles lived along the
southern Chinese seaboard or in the Chinese merchant colonies that proliferated
overseas during the seventeenth century. Other people prefer to translate the
characters as Ming Refugees, based on the accepted tale of Minh Hng origin,
in which an exodus of Ming vassals, unwilling to be vassals in service to the
Qing, are said to have landed on the shores of Cochinchina in 1679 and appealed to
the compassion of Cochinchinas Nguyn lord, who permitted them to remain as his
subjects.5
Scholars who study the Minh Hng commonly belong to one of three disciplines
Vietnamese, Chinese, or Overseas Chinese studiesall of which either accept the
communitys self-identity as Chinese political exiles or refugees intent on eventual
return or identify them by one of the Sino-indigne labels (mestizo, crole, hybrid, etc.)
that fall under the Overseas Chinese rubric. This uncritical acceptance of the groups
self-identity, assumptions about the groups ethnicity, and the urge to categorize has
ensured that the true measure of Minh Hng wealth, power, and inuence, manifested
through the functions that made them essential to Vietnamese elites and maritime
entrepreneurs, remains unrecognizable or misunderstood. Thats because, to put it
another way, the historical signicance of the Minh Hng did not depended on who
they were, but rather on what they did. Indeed, there is more to the name Minh Hng
than meets the eye.
This article consults the literature and published sources relevant to the Minh
Hng community of southern Vietnam, in order to analyse their changing norms
and functions over a long period of time and within the uctuating context of their
social world. What we nd is that behind the Minh Hng appellation, the groups
cultural norms, social networks and functions, political loyalties, and other traits that
underlay their identity (as dened by self and others) continually changed. This
continual change in cultural content frustrates attempts to arrive at a singular
denition of the Minh Hng, which may explain why historians have failed to notice
them and recognise their signicance to several streams of history. Minh Hng
redened their identity in this way as part of a set of adaptive processes that changed
cultural content in response to environmental change, a typical cultural strategy
among several merchant elites in world history. Ultimately, I hope to attract attention
from beyond the conventional niches of Vietnamese and Southeast Asian history or
Overseas Chinese studies by demonstrating the groups value to the comparative
study of early modern merchant cultures in world history.
The following section reviews the extant literature on the Minh Hng in order to
get beyond the creation story and at categorisations that overlook the subtle com-
plexities of identity, historical nature of ethnic heritage and cultural content, and
144 Charles Wheeler

shifting parameters of social context. Doing so reveals the important function of


identity as part of the groups overall cultural strategy for capturing and preserving
the interests that made them a powerful elite within Vietnamese society, in the face of
profound environmental change, for over two centuries. The remainder of the article
tests this assertion of strategic identity. The Minh Hng community evolved from
four integrated networks that had developed before the 1650s: (1) militarised trading
syndicates dominated by ethnically Min seafarers based in Chinas Fujian and
Guangdong provinces, which sustained (2) overseas merchant colonies of Tang or
southern Chinese protected by (3) commercial warlords like the Vietnamese lord of
Cochinchina, who by the 1650s provided a base for agents of (4) offshore Ming
loyalist resistance centred in Fujian seaports and later Taiwan. By the end of the
seventeenth century, Minh Hng identity had come into fruition. It continued to
evolve, thanks to a series of adaptive social responses to changes in their eld of
interests, which included a set of cultural institutions whose networks spanned the
East and Southeast Asian maritime world. By the nineteenth century, the localisation
of their interests and the cataclysm of civil war in the previous century gave Vietnamese
monarchs opportunities to undermine Minh Hng institutions and even change their
identities. Only then did community members begin to assert themselves as a distinct
ethnicity. But by then, it was too late, and Minh Hng power continued to decline
until, by centurys end, their formal status ceased to exist, their wealth and institutional
vigour dissipated.

Who Were the Minh Hng?


The literature about the Minh Hng is small. Scholars of Southeast Asia rarely
mention them; Overseas Chinese historians hardly at all. Those who do reiterate the
creation tale recited above.6 Until recently, Chen Ching-hos superb studies of the
Minh Hng, published from the 1950s through the 1970s, provided the bulk of our
knowledge about the Minh Hng. Thankfully, the situation is changing. In the last
decade, Claudine Salmons analysis of Ming Loyalist communities in Tonkin and
Cochinchina during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Naoko Iiokas fasci-
nating studies of the loyalist-merchant-musician-Buddhist patron Wei Zhiyuan, and
Li Qingxins burgeoning scholarship about the Minh Hng and the Ming loyalist
eets that helped create them have pushed scholarship forward substantially.
Understanding Minh Hng identity is important. Outside contemporary observers
dene them quite differently from each other, depending on their own vantage. Eur-
opean observers of seventeenth and eighteenth-century Vietnam, like John Barrow and
Pierre Poivre, typically identied Minh Hng as Cochinchinese, having perceived no
difference between the Vietnamese and Minh Hng with whom they transacted.7
However, an early nineteenth-century European observer found it peculiar that a
Chinese he met in Saigon wore Vietnamese dress; obviously, these people were Minh
Hng.8 Chinese authors, by contrast, did not see them as fundamentally different from
Min back home (the Chinese dialect group from which most Minh Hng descend),
Interests, Institutions, and Identity 145

even as late as 1835 when Cai Tinglan commented on the strange practice of
Ming worship among the Min (Fujian Chinese) people of Hi An.9 Different groups
mislabel them differently, but they mislabel them just the same.
In Overseas Chinese studies, research on Vietnams Chinese generally treat Minh
Hng identity supercially, as essentially Chinese exiles who might consider
themselves sojourners wishing one day to return to China permanently after the
Manchus were overthrown.10 Such a thesis evokes the streams of Chinese exiles
ofcials, literati, monks, and otherswho dispersed throughout Asia, primarily to
Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, seeking refuge overseas after the Ming collapse in 1644
and, moreover, whose descendants still yearn to return three centuries later.11
If Minh Hng considered themselves sojourners in Vietnam, however, they did
so only rhetorically. The evidence all points to a long-term political commitment to
Vietnamrst to the lord of Cochinchina, then the emperor of i Nam, and later the
nation-state. The roster of loyal Minh Hng subjects of the Vietnamese empire dates
back to the seventeenth century. Trinh Hoai c , H H Vn, and Trn Tin Thnh
were just a few of many Minh Hng who were distinguished servants of Vietnamese
monarchs during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.12 Phan Thanh Gian, the
Nguyn ofcial who committed suicide in the face of defeat to French invaders in 1867,
ranks high on Vietnamese lists of anticolonialist patriots; histories of Vietnam and the
Vietnam War regularly recite his letter of surrender.13 Chu Th ng Vn, the anti-
colonialist better known as Minh Hng, fasted to death during the Tax Revolt of 1908
against French colonial rule.14 Ng nh Dim, the rst president of the Republic of
Vietnam (South Vietnam) and a staunch anti-communist nationalist (who pursued
policies bent on assimilating Chinese), descended from a lineage that traced back to one
of the original Minh Hng villages near Hu in the 1600s. Trnh Cng Sn, Vietnams
beloved anti-war songwriter and poet, descended from a lineage that includes the famed
nineteenth-century statesman Trinh Hoai c .15 Despite their invocations of fealty to
the fallen dynasty, Minh Hng individuals repeatedly and explicitly demonstrated
their de facto political allegiance to Vietnamese monarchs and, by the twentieth century,
the Vietnamese nation. In contrast, Minh Hng names remain so far absent in the
annals of anti-Qing and nationalist movements in China. Thus, the Minh Hng
community was more complexly created than the current literature maintains.
Western- and Vietnamese-language studies of Vietnams Chinese, by comparison,
acknowledge the tale of Chinese refugee origins but instead regard Minh Hng as a
fundamentally ethnic label. These works refer back to a small but inuential body of
work produced by French scholars during the turn of the twentieth century that
addressed the problem in order to help colonial policymakers resolve whether they
were best categorized as either Vietnamese or Chinese.16 These studies from the
French colonial period tended to characterise the Minh Hng as une race de
mtis, dened foremost by their Sino-Vietnamese parentage.17 Yet even works such
as these, which cast Minh Hng as mestizo, metis, or hybrid offspring of both
Vietnamese and Chinese parents, place emphasis on patrilineage over matrilineage;
even as they acknowledge the complete shift of Minh Hng culture from Chinese to
146 Charles Wheeler

Vietnamese norms, they continue to categorise the them as a sub-category of Chinese


in Vietnamin conformity with the habit of analysts in Overseas Chinese studies. As
Choi Byung Wook puts it, Minh Hng showed their readiness to join Vietnamese
society in dress, language and lifestyle, yet they still maintained their distinct origin
and identity as Chinese.18 In other words, no amount of assimilation could ameliorate
their primordial Chinese core.
This taxonomic impulse to lump Minh Hng among a generalised group of Chinese
is easy enough to understand. The core stories and symbols of the Minh Hng
community reinforce their self-identication, and their identication by others, as the
descendants of Chinese refugees. There is nothing inherently wrong with this practice, of
course, and it is interestingly common among communities that possess a refugee lineage.
However, biological and cultural lineages diverged quite sharply as the effects of
Vietnamese matrilineage took effect over the course of their history, despite the con-
stancy of their communal identity. This is just one way in which the refugee character-
isation can oversimplify a communitys complex past in ways that mislead historians.
In reality, Minh Hng families trace their heritage mostly to economic migrants,
not political exiles. Historical and genealogical information supports this.19 Scholars
who identify the community as the descendants of political exiles typically point out
Zhu Shunshui, the well-known Ming loyalist scholar who travelled to Cochinchina
during the 1650s. But Zhu merely sojourned there.20 More tellingly, membership in
the Minh Hng villages remained open throughout most of their history. When the
Ty Sn Uprising decimated Cochinchina in the 1770s, it laid waste to most of the
countrys Minh Hng villages. When rival Ty Sn and Nguyn rulers resurrected
them in the 1780s, they used membership as a tool of recruitment (see below).
This created a powerful incentive among Vietnamese and Chinese alike to obtain
membership in Minh Hng communities, so much so that periodically community
leaders sought help from the royal court in limiting access.
None of these facts diminish the importance of the Ming resistance against the
Qing to the communitys genesis, in both its mythological and material forms. Nor do
they negate the importance of the refugee ideal to creating and sustaining community
solidarity. Indeed, the peculiar aspects of their identity offered Minh Hng an array
of commercial and political strategies that produced prosperity, security, and power
for themselves and maintained it for over two centuries. That identity rested upon
their founding mytha myth rooted in real events, but a myth just the same. It is a
useful myth, however. When analysed in a different perspective, the refugee myth
helps to make sense of the communitys complex evolution, which began with a
convergence of interests in the maritime world of Chinas Min people.

The Evolution of Minh Hng identity: A Convergence of Interests,


1550s1650s
The currents that encouraged the creation of Minh Hng society trace back to the
hemispheric ripple effects of a policy made in China. The Ming governments ban on
Interests, Institutions, and Identity 147

maritime commerce at the end of the fourteenth century encouraged the development
of a large informally organized commercial shadow economy at sea, which brought
sher folk, ofcials, merchants, and gentry along the coast into cahoots with syndicates
of military entrepreneurspirates, privateers, smugglers, and merchantsand greatly
expanded subversive maritime trade.21 When Ming court nally rescinded the state ban
on maritime trade in 1567 and instituted state-sanctioned forms of Sino-foreign
sea trade, these syndicates of military entrepreneurs and their supporting networks
survived, and indeed grew, as a new age of commerce commenced and a complimentary
realm of legitimate Sino-foreign trade developed.
Out of this smuggling economy, a dispersed network of self-sustaining settlements
of Min-speaking Chinese from Fujian grew. It began rst in Japan, where powerful
domain lords or daimy in Satsuma and Kyushu discovered mutually benecial
interests with Chinese syndicates in promoting the informal commercial economy at
sea. They granted charters to Min mariners to build settlements in the harbours where
they were based. One observer noted that, once established, these Chinese tended to
marry Japanese women, and raise children there. They formed their communities
around the great boulevard named Great Tang and the Tang markets where
those who have capital band themselves with the Japanese seafarers to conduct
trade.22 The name of Chinas ancient dynasty had long been a popular name for
southern Chinese, like the Min, both at home and abroad. Japanese references to
Tang settlements begin in 1523, and grow more frequent in the late sixteenth century,
when commerce surged and merchant colonies proliferated throughout maritime
Asia.23
One of these places was Cochinchina. In 1558 and 1570, a lord named Nguyn
Hoang, himself a navy man, assumed the governorship of ai Vits two southern-
most territories, located in what is today Central Vietnam.24 By the turn of the
seventeenth century, Lord Nguyn initiated moves that transformed the kingdoms
southern frontier into the autonomous domain of Cochinchina. The success of the
Nguyn lord and his descendants lay partly in their commercial strategy, in which his
new state tapped into Asias growing sea trade, in part as a source of revenue and in
part as a way to secure access to arms markets in places like Macau.25 To ensure this,
the entrepreneurial warlord began to create policies and build strategic alliances that
entrepreneurs turned to his edgling domain as an offshore market for Sino-foreign,
in particular Sino-Japanese, trade, which a number of syndicates served in deance of
Chinas longstanding trade restrictions.
Before breaking out on his own, however, Nguyn Hoang developed a relationship
with Japans new government under Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who (like Nguyn
Hoangs Vietnamese rival), wished to quash his sea-trading daimy rivals (people just
like Nguyn Hoang) by centralizing maritime trade under the Shuinsen or Red Seal
system that he launched in 1592.26 Under this system, the Japanese government
annually awarded ship merchants licenses to trade in places like Cochinchina.27 Once
ships arrived in the Vietnamese domain, entrepreneurs encountered other, mostly
Min, Chinese (among other groups, like Portuguese) ready to trade. Lord Nguyn
148 Charles Wheeler

and his followers had secured an offshore source of wealth able to help them resist
the Trinh and build an everlasting fortune.28 It also led to the formation of
prosperous, permanent Tang communities in Cochinchina.
Explicit references to a Tang (V: ng) Street in Cochinchina appear in docu-
ments written as early as the early- to mid-seventeenth century, however, it seems
more likely that they developed in tandem with Tang colonies that grew all over East
and Southeast Asia during the late 1500s.29 Sources conrm other Tang streets in
other Cochinchinese seaport towns that formed as secondary, regional centres serving
H i An as both clearinghouses for imports and exports and centres for Cochinchinas
large coastal carrier trade. In addition to H i An, early colonies during this phase
include Thanh Ha, N c Man, and Vng Lm.30
As in Japan, Tang communities governed themselves informally. The Nguyn
court ruled foreign merchants indirectly through a headman or kapitan system that
conned merchants to ethnic enclaves and assigned a reputable individual from
among the quarters merchants to govern them on Lord Nguyns behalf. In
exchange for this autonomy, headmen accepted the responsibility of ensuring
the steady ow of customs duties and other periodic tributes and taxes from their
community to the Vietnamese court.31 Given their autonomy and control over tax
collection and local governance, the sea trade that moved through Cochinchinas
ports placed elders of H i Ans Tang quarter in a powerful position. Institutions
helped them to secure these growing interests.
Common cultural institutions reinforced the merchant-monarch relationship in
Cochinchina, as part of the Nguyn strategy to maintain trade relations and control
Cochinchinas foreign merchants through informal, parochial ties that encouraged
ctive kinship, like their practice of adoption with members of the Japanese com-
munity.32 As the Tang community introduced the cultural institutions of self-rule into
their community, be they kin, native-place, or religious, the Nguyn court sought to
subsume them under their authority through a variety of institutional means,
including the patronage of Buddhist or deity temples.33 For example, a 1646 temple
inscription located in mountains north of H i An that Vietnamese called Ph Sn,
named after the Chinese coastal island of Putuoshan, a long-time hub for pirates,
smugglers, merchants, and monks, lists among its donors subjects of the Great
Ming (V: i Minh; C: Da Ming) and many wives of H i An Chinese.34 Temples
provided the institutional nexus for creating a reinforcing web of relationships that
wedded the interests of Cochinchinas Tang community tightly to that of the Nguyn.
These bonds remained relatively weak until macroregional circumstances demanded
greater integration, both locally with Vietnamese and across the seas with other Tang
Chinese.
The most important of these Tang entrepreneurs in Cochinchina was the family
syndicate that produced the famed merchant warlord Zheng Chenggong. During the
Red Seal era between 1592 and 1639, sea traders who operated in Japan enjoyed a
privileged place in Cochinchina. Historians have emphasized Japanese traders, but
Chinese played important roles as well. In 1610, the Tokugawa court ofcially
Interests, Institutions, and Identity 149

earmarked the powerful Min sea trader Li Dan (Captain Chyna), who operated
between Nagasaki and Macau, to receive the coveted licenses. He traded in Vietnam
as well: his sons Zheng Zhilong (Iquan) and Huayu (Niquan) both won the coveted
licenses to trade with Tonkin and Cochinchina between 1614 and 1621.35
The Zheng clan was crucial to the smooth development of ng Trongs commercial
economy during the volatile late 1600s. Perhaps the best indication of this can be seen in
what happens after the Red Seal system endswhich was nothing. In the 1630s, the
Tokugawa bakufu eliminated the Red Seal system, banned all large Japanese ocean
carriers, forbid Japanese to travel abroad, and cast out the Portuguese.36 This raises
the question: If Cochinchina was dependent on its position as an offshore base for
Sino-Japanese commerce, why didnt it fail? After all, the Nguyn clan was at war
with its northern Trnh rival, and needed a steady supply of arms and cash to pay for
them. Strangely, the domain did not fall. In fact, Japanese customs records verify the
continued movement of the Chinese carrier trade between Japan, China, and
Cochinchina throughout the volatile decades of the seventeenth century.37 Why?
The answer lies with the Zheng clan. By 1628, patriarch Zheng Zhilong (Iquan)
controlled the Taiwan Straits through which shipping to Japan passed; a few years
later, the Ming government placed Fujians regional force under his control.38 When
the Tokugawa government resettled Japans Tang Chinese in Nagasaki in 1641, it
placed authority over the Chinese communityand its tradein his son, Zheng
Chenggong, who continued to trade in Cochinchina.39 This helped to guarantee
shipping trade, which stabilized the commercial economy upon which the Nguyn
regime depended. Even as violence caused Chinas sea trade to falter, however, the
informal shadow economy prevailed, and Cochinchina grew. Soon, a new threat
emerged: the 1644 collapse of the Ming Dynasty. Again, institutional responses
maintained stability and helped coordinate strategic responses.

Development of Institutions and Identity, 1650s1770s


In 1644, the Ming government collapsed, and with it whatever vestiges of centralised
state power remained along Chinas littoral. This event sparked an era of volatility
and ux that vexed the East Asian maritime until 1683, when the Qing nally pre-
vailed in their contest with the Ming Loyalist Zheng clan and thereby subjugated the
Chinese maritime and the Taiwan Straits, a critical strategic chokepoint.
Allegedly, in 1646 a monk named Guangji sailed to Cochinchina and other
Southeast Asian countries in order to help Ming loyalists raise an army to resist
the Qing advance on south-coastal China.40 Thus began a region-wide effort by the
Zheng clan and their supporters to obtain the help of neighbouring countries and the
leaders of Tang merchant colonies overseas. They dispatched loyal Ming ofcials,
too, like Zhu Shunshui, who spent thirteen years sailing between Cochinchina
and Japan on behalf of the cause.41 Five years later, in 1651, Zheng Chenggong
personally led a eet of 24 ships to various places in Southeast Asia, sending seven
ships to Batavia, two ships to Tonkin, ten ships to Siam, four ships to Guangnan
150 Charles Wheeler

[the most common Chinese name for Cochinchina], and one ship to Manila, to pursue
trade relations [emphasis added].42 This coincided with the organization of a system
of sea-trading management under a ve bang system of shipping rms.43 At the
same time, Zheng Chenggong and his followers created eets charged with patrolling
the seas to protect this maritime commercial base, including a southern eet that
patrolled the seas between Guangzhou and Cambodia. Only two years later, the
earliest signs of Ming Loyalist identity in Cochinchina appeared: the placards that
commemorate the Lm clan temple, the newly constructed Quan Cng temple
(AKA Chua ng) and the nearby Qun m temple, all dated 1653.44 All this was done
to ally the interests of coastal elites, shipping syndicates and Tang colonies to the
interests of Ming restoration under the banner of the Zheng. Political ambitions
rested on the success of his commercial empire centred in the Taiwan Straits.
These events were part of an interfusion of networks that helped trade, diaspora,
and local warlords like the Nguyn survive the volatile environment of the late
seventeenth-century, and ourish. People created these networks. As Ming Loyalist
literati-ofcials, Buddhist monks, and armed traders circulated throughout the Min
Stream, they helped to integrate Min-Tang inhabitants of diasporic settlements into
an integrated, elastic unit under the new Ming Loyalist banner of Zheng Chenggong.
The merchant-warlord controlled all Tang Chinese shipping that sailed into Naga-
saki between 1647 and 1662, and continued to dominate it in the 1670s as his military
power declined;45 since Nagasaki customs reports usually identify Chinese merchants
trading in Cochinchina with Zheng, we can speculate that the percentage was similar
for the Vietnamese domain. This explains why Cochinchinas shipping remained
steady in the face of war, trade bans, and violent coastal evacuations that scourged
seventeenth-century China.46 Zheng ships guaranteed Cochinchina continued access
to Chinese and Japanese markets, thanks to its connections with the elaborate
smuggling networks and undertow shipping trade that survived the Qing conquest.
Zheng eets engaged Chinese smugglers, often with the help of Qing ofcials, and
despite Qing coastal prohibitions and terror, just as they had done in Ming times.47
The size of this shadow trading economy may seem small from the Chinese per-
spective, but it was enough to expand and maintain Cochinchinas commercial base.
From its perspective, the China pattern of carrier trade between it, Japan, and China
continued almost unchanged from the Red Seal era.
Institutions enabled this process of adjustment and adaptation. Some of these
institutions were purely economic, like the mint that Ming Loyalists established in
Nagasaki in 1661 to manufacture Ming dynasty coins, and upon which the Nguyn
economy came to rely.48 Most were cultural, and organized around temples, like the
temple for the sea goddess Mazu (V: Ma T ) made of wattle and thatch in Hoi Ans
Amitabha (Buddhist) temple, the clan halls, and the Quan Cng and Qun m
templesChua ng, the lords temple and Cha B, the ladys temple.the
latter two of which formed the core of every Minh Hng community (x) that
developed in Cochinchina.49 Vietnamese and Min-Tang-Ming Chinese in Cochin-
china continued to organize transoceanic community through institutions formed
Interests, Institutions, and Identity 151

around kinship, native-place, and deities. This provided the stabilising functions that
anchored a transoceanic network of Tang colonies more deeply into the fabric of
Cochinchinese society and politics, wedding Ming Loyalist identity with the preceding
facets of Min and Tang identity that had manifested in the sixteenth century.
This development began long before the arrival of the original Ming Refugees in
1682. In a memorial to the Kangxi emperor in 1669, a provincial censor named
Yu Jin reported: Millions of Chinese commoners have dispersed and remain abroad
in [Cochinchina] Among these refugees, there are some rascals who have submitted
to the foreign state in order to survive. He was referring to Chao Wenbo (Triu Vn
B), a Min Chinese ofcial of the Nguyn court, who escorted a Guangdong dusi
(District Brigade Commander) named Liu Shihu and his soldiers back to Guangdong
after their patrol ship drifted into Cochinchina during a storm.50 At least that is what
they reportedanother passage on the incident in the Chinese imperial court record
reports that Liu and his crew arrived home on a sea trader loaded with commodities,
disregarding the current sea ban on travel and trade that the Qing were trying to
enforce.51 It is not clear why these migrs chose Cochinchina; perhaps because more
preferable countries like Japan discouraged immigration. In a letter to a merchant
friend, the Confucian scholar Zhu Shunshui reported: letting one [Tang person] stay
[in Nagasaki] is ten times harder than passing the most advanced civil-service exam.52
In any case, the Chinese imperial record for that year reports that nineteen crew-
members have not yet returned.53 We can only assume, as Yu noted, that these
seafarers joined the innumerable compatriots that lived in Cochinchina.54
Evidence supports Chen Ching-hos thesis that Ming Loyalist communities began
to form in Cochinchina sometime between 1644 and 1653, three decades before the
allegedly rst refugees described above. Thus, the process of absorbing Ming
Loyalist Chinese into Cochinchinese society was well underway, too.55 This is sig-
nicant. When the Zheng commercial empire and Ming resistance began to crumble
in the 1670s, Ming identity and the collective institutions of Ming, Tang, and Min
endured thanks to the elastic institutional web that gradually formed throughout the
preceding century. With bonds this strong, Ming Loyalists and Cochinchinese elites
found ways to adapt and restructure their interests when the Qing Empire defeated
their proto-state in Taiwan in 1683 and began to impose order over its hard-won
maritime dominion in 1684. In this context, the actual signicance of the so-called
original Ming Refugees becomes clear.
Typically, historians who have studied the Minh Hng refer to two early works.
The most popular source appears to be the i Nam thc lcthe Veritable Record
of Dai Nam, a chronicle of the empire that a Nguyn clan scion founded in 1802,
and written by court historians under his successors. Actually, these court historians
drew from the second, earlier source, Gia nh thnh thng ch (Unied gazetteer of
Gia nh Citadel), a small gazetteer of the Saigon region compiled by Trnh Hoi
c, the statesman and a Minh Hng mentioned above, which he completed in
1820. This work relied on a much earlier source, Nguyn Khoa Chims Nam Triu
cng nghip din chi (Historical romance about the achievements of the Southern
152 Charles Wheeler

court), written in the early 1700s, about thirty years after the alleged Minh Hng
arrival.56 Historians do not consult this source, perhaps because the author modelled
the book on the classic Chinese literary genre of historical romancepronounced
yanzhi in Chinese, din chi in Vietnamese. Despite its ctional appearance, the work
contains reliable, veriable, data.
The conventional sources mentioned above say little about the conditions under
which the original Ming refugees arrived in Cochinchina. Nguyn Khoa Chim, in
contrast, paints an elaborate but bleak picture of their plight. In his version, Yang
Yangdi, a quelled pirate general from Longmen, a city and island on the Gulf of
Tonkin in China, led his eet of 200 ships and 40,000 troops away from the Qing forces
that had seized his base.57 Becalmed for a month and then ravaged by typhoons, the
Longmen Fleet shrank to a mere fty ships, and its crew was decimated to a mere 3,000
souls reduced to drinking dew and raindrops and eating the leather hides of their
shoes. When a sailor nally spotted land, the Longmen eet sought refuge in the
domains estuaries, where the countrys harbours lay. Seeing the ships, the harbour
patrols notied the lord, who, alarmed, ordered his admirals to lead warships stealthily
into each harbour, in order to plan an attack to annihilate them. Instead, one of his
ofcers approached Yangs ship, and initiated negotiations. As a result, Yang dis-
patched one of his ofcers to the capital, where he submitted to Lord Nguyn on behalf
of the emaciated crew. In the midst of this meeting, the author claims, the lord hatched a
plan: he would send the Longmen eet to settle in the Kingdom of Cambodia.58
Yang Yandi agreed. Actually, however, it is unlikely that the choice of refuge in
Cambodia was entirely the Vietnamese monarchs idea, because Yang and his
Longmen eet knew Cambodia well. After all, they had operated there since at least
1647.59 Japanese customs reports about Yang and his confederates sailing the waters of
Cambodiainterestingly, as marauders, rather than merchants or naval guards
date back to the 1660s.60
Yangs Longmen eet was part of a much larger force of thirteen smaller eets that
together formed the Southern Fleet, organized by the Zheng government in Taiwan
to secure ports, islands, and sea-lanes strategic to Zheng commerce, and based in
Longmen.61 The city offered Yang a vantage from which he could control the shipping
trafc between Southeast Asia and China as it moved along the Vietnamese coast.
Cambodia lay only a few days away by sailweather permittingwhich placed the
Longmen eet almost exactly between three of its most important interests: the Pearl
River Delta that served Guangzhou and Macau; the Vietnamese kingdoms of Tonking
and Cochinchina, important trade partners; and the Lower Mekong Delta, still then a
part of Cambodia, but quickly succumbing to Cochinchinese conquest, colonization
and incorporation.
To be precise, Yang and his confederates now settled in a territory that Vietnamese
were only beginning to subjugate and colonise. This is evident in a memorial written
in 1683 by the admiral who defeated the Zheng clan and captured Taiwan, Shi Lang,
who reported to the emperor: The ships of Yang Yandi are now in Cambodia
[Jianbuzhai] in Cochinchina [Guangnan].62 By Cambodia, Shi meant southern
Interests, Institutions, and Identity 153

Cambodia, which in the 1600s meant the region surrounding the Mekong Delta,
which included the nearby Saigon River where the Minh Hng settled. The admirals
choice of wordsCochinchinese Cambodiabelies the transitional condition of the
region. Growing military power in Cochinchina and weak state power and internecine
struggles in northern Cambodia had emboldened the Nguyn lords to make southern
Cambodia Vietnamese.
However weak Yang and his crew were when they arrived in Cochinchina, their
strategic position in Cochinchina was actually quite strong. Ming loyalists already
populated Cochinchinas urban centres, ran its sea trade, and lled positions in its
government. At some point between the rst signs of Minh Hng identity in
Cochinchina in 1653 and their nal and formal incorporation into the Nguyn state
in 1698, the Ming loyalists won a host of liberties from the Nguyn court that far
exceed anything one would expect to nd even among a merchant elite, much less a
band of starving refugees. The list of privileges included the right to manage overseas
shipping, port management and trade customs. They governed the foreign merchant
community in the kingdoms sea-trading cities. Moreover, members of Ming Loyalist
villages enjoyed a host of liberties that normally were reserved for Vietnamese: They
could legally marry Vietnamese, own land, take the civil service examinations, hold
government ofce, and hold royal titles. Taken altogether, the new Ming Loyalist
subjects enjoyed privileges that surpassed even the privileges of Lord Nguyns
Vietnamese subjects. Still, the advantages did not end there, because Minh Hng
retained their informal status as Chinese, too. They used this privilege to maintain
memberships in the key cultural institutions of trade and merchant society within the
Tang Chinese colonies proliferating everywherenamely clan halls, spirit temples
and monasteries (the same is true for the rst Fujian Guild Hall or hi qun in the
town, created sometime before 1695). This compact between Nguyn court and Ming
Loyalists that institutionalised a bureaucratic-mercantile minority elite hardly
suggests the kind of marginalized, disempowered exiles that typically characterizes
refugees. It was not a gift, but rather the outcome of competition and negotiation that
placed them there in the last decades of the seventeenth century.
Indeed, the process of transforming Ming loyalists into Minh Hng had only
begun. Two facts suggest that Yangs arrival marked the beginning of a period of
competition and renegotiation of status that ended only in 1698 with the Nguyn
courts formal incorporation of the Minh Hng as a minority elite. First, the
Longmen Fleets formal incorporation into Minh Hng villages does not appear to
have happened until 1698, almost sixteen years after their arrival.63 Almost as soon as
they settled in ng Ph, Yangs allegedly malnourished soldiers broke apart into
rival factions and quickly jumped into the internecine conicts then raging all over
Cambodia. During this interlude, these same Ming refugees came into regular
contact with the Nguyn as both allies and foes.64 Until 1698, then, the fealty of many
of the Ming Loyalists living in southern Cambodiaperhaps all over Cochinchina
must have been in doubt. The Nguyn courts formal incorporation of both the Minh
Hng villages and Saigon region into the Cochinchinese state and creation of a
154 Charles Wheeler

Minh Hng village in 1698 marked a watershed in the evolution of Minh Hng
community and identity.
The Longmen Fleets arrival in Cochinchina thus marks the beginning of a critical
reorientation and incorporation, when the institutions of Vietnamese state, Tang mer-
chant diaspora and Minh Hng community began to respond to the Qing victory over
the Zheng. With maritime resistance vanquished, Qing control of the coast was complete.
Throughout maritime Asia, state responses to the new Qing order differed, forcing Tang
communities and their Ming loyalists to adapt differently as well. In Japan, for
example, the Tokugawa court overhauled Nagasakis Chinese quarter and the rules
governing Chinese ethnicity in 1689, formally erasing Ming loyalist identity.65 In
Cochinchina, the opposite happened: the court recognized Minh Hng community
and raised it to elite status. Here, cultural institutions like temples continued to play an
important role in managing adaptation. It deepened the commitment between Tang
colonies and their local sovereigns and solidied the elevated status they had won.
Temples helped to sanction these new commitments. Across from Hi Ans Quan
Cng hall, merchants sponsored a monastery dedicated to the Amitabha, whom
Vietnamese call Di . Local lore credits the widow of a wealthy Ming Loyalist mer-
chant for the land and funds to build the monastery 1688.66 It is not entirely clear who
oversaw the development of the temple and its grounds, however, sources
suggest a master from Guangzhou named Xinglian Guohong, a disciple of Shilian
Dashan (V: Thch Lim i Sn) with strong Minh Hng connections to Minh
merchants in Hi An who had restored another monastery in the mountains north of
Hi An. A few years later, Hi An patricians also raised funds to build three Zen
Buddhist monasteries: Chc Thnh in 16945, Kim Sn in 16967, and Phc Lm
in 1698.67 This wave of Buddhist temple building was not conned to Hi An, of
course. At the same time that the Fujian merchants sponsored temple-building
enterprises in Hi An, their compatriots funded building activities in ng Trongs
other port towns, wherever Ming Loyalist villages formed: in Thanh H, Hi An,
Quang Ngha, Qui Nhn, Nha Trang, ng Nai, and H Tin.68 These were done
with strong merchant support.
The period between the Longmen Fleets arrival in 1682 and the formal
incorporation of Minh Hng into the Cochinchinese state in 1698 also turns out to
be one of intense religious development, led by Buddhist masters. In the midst of the
Longmen Fleets arrival in Cochinchina, Lord Nguyn expelled the quc s or Royal
[Buddhist] Master from his capital.69 He replaced him with Yuanzhao (known
popularly among Vietnamese as Nguyn Thiu)a Chinese monk from a monastery
in the western suburbs of Guangzhou where sea traders gathered, and who had
migrated to Cochinchina in 1677 aboard a merchant ship and built a monastery
there with merchant donations. Like his monastic brethren in Japan, Yuanzhao
sought to spread the values of Hong Bch (C: Huangbo, most widely known by
the Japanese name, Obaku), a form of Zen Buddhism that venerated both Min and
Ming cultures in their practice. Twelve years later, Yuanzhao moved south
to ng Nai in Cochinchinese Cambodia, to settle among the Minh Hng.
Interests, Institutions, and Identity 155

Dashan himself sailed to Cochinchina the following year in order to formally bestow
his dharma lineage on Lord Nguyn Phuc Chu (Dashan claimed authority over
both schools). The lord then appointed Chinese disciples of both Yuanzhao and
Dashan to monasteries throughout Cochinchina, while Yuanzhao oversaw the
creation of new temples in the old Cambodian territories of the Lower Mekong. At
the same time, Dashan promoted the elevation of the sea goddess Mazu, which the
Qing court had recently elevated to imperial status and Tang merchants had
embraced as the benefactor of the new institution of sea trade, the huiguan (hi qun)
or merchant guild, which was created Hi An sometime before the masters visit in
1695. He also called for the strengthening of orthodox sinitic institutions, including
proper cemeteries.70
At the dawn of the eighteenth century, Minh Hng enjoyed an ubiquitous
presence in the institutions of political, commercial, and religious power in Cochin-
china. Internationally, Minh Hng played important functions as political, cultural
as well as commercial brokers for the Nguyn, leading diplomatic missions, offering
intelligence, and acting as cultural emissaries to Buddhist temples and other cultural
institutions in China. They continued to control the foreign trade customs and their
near monopoly in the countrys overseas commerce. However, their seventeenth-
century control over Chinese shipping and shipbuilding gravitated toward the
expatriate Qing subjects who ooded the ports of maritime Asia in 1684, a year after
the Zheng surrender, including those in Cochinchina. At the same time, the Minh
Hng community appears to have grown more deeply invested in the domestic
business of the ng Trong realm, much of it export-oriented, especially rice.71 Their
position at the apex of the sea trade gave them advantages in the growing commerce
in forest and sea products for export, while their right to own land would have given
them a central role to play in the development of commercial agriculture.
Temples stabilized, but continued to adapt when necessary. Sometime during the
1710s or 20s, for example, a second guild hall was built for members of the Merchant
Mariner Guild (V. Thng Dng hi quan; C. Yangshang huiguan). This temples
origins remain vague, but its timing suggests that it owed its genesis in some way to
changes in trade policies in China (1717, 1727) and Japan (1715), which had the effect
of encouraging greater interest in Southeast Asia. This makes sense, because the
Sino-Japanese entrepot trade that once had been ng Trongs mainstay had faded
away by this time and the economy now depended upon export production, mainly to
China.72 Mazu was installed here, signalling the migration of the goddess temple
from Buddhist monasteries to merchant guildhalls, a clear indication of the changing
relations between monks and merchants.73

Institutional Decline and the Survival of Identity, 17731898


The third long century under study, from 1773 to 1898, reveals a wholly different set
of circumstances and content that the formal resurrection of Minh Hng identity in
Ty Sn and Nguyn Vietnam belie. Here, we see that culture comes to play the
156 Charles Wheeler

predominant role in maintaining group integrity in the face of a cataclysm. In the end,
however, changes to their political status and economic roles in Cochinchina under-
mined their old interests, which encouraged a new Vietnamese dynasty to take steps
to undermine their institutional power. At this moment in their history, we see the
community turn to identity in order to prevent this erosion of status.
The Ty Sn Uprising decimated Minh Hng communities in its early years.
Curiously, Minh Hng played a key role in fomenting the rebellion in the rst place.
The early successes of the Ty Sn brothers depended upon the support of Qui Nhns
Qing (V. Thanh) merchants, sources say. Two merchants stood above the others:
Li Cai (V. L Tai ; AKA Li Azhi) and Ji Ting (Tp inh; AKA Li Aji), who raised the
Chinese land and naval force that was critical to initial Ty Sn successes.74 Li was from
Fujian, Ji from Min-speaking Chaozhou Prefecture in Guangdong. Both had migrated
as youths to Hi An to become merchants, and later settled in Qui Nhn where they
became leaders in the community. It is not clear whether they became members of the
Minh Hng, but other Minh Hng participated in the civil war, on both sides.75 Trnh
Hoi c served Nguyn nh. The genealogy of a nineteenth-century ofcial named
Trn Tin Thnh, a Minh Hng, lists family members on both sides of the conict.76
During this war, both sides used Minh Hng identity as a means for recruiting
and rewarding military assistance from a new generation of Chinese military
entrepreneurs, or pirates. When Qing authorities interrogated Wang Guili, the
Chinese leader of a eet of Vietnamese pirates, they remarked on the long hair he
wore, different from the shaved head and queue mandated for all Qing subjects.
Wang reported that after he had joined the naval forces of the Ty Sn, and rose to
the ranks of duke and brigadier general, he took a Vietnamese wife and adopted
Vietnamese customs, including hairstyle.77 H H Vn (C. He Xiwen) started out in
landlocked Sichuan as a member of a White Lotus band, a Buddhist millenarian
school whose uprising threatened the stability of the Qing, and somehow ended up in
a pirate band that belonged to the Tiandihui secret society, where he raided the
coasts of Fujian and Guangdong.78 By 1786, he had joined Nguyn nh in his effort
to return to power.79 Nguyn nh, like his adversary, used titles to encourage loyalty
and military service. Apparently, it worked. He distinguished himself in battle,
securing critical naval victories that led to Nguyn nhs victory over the Ty Sn in
1801 and his subsequent creation of the Nguyn dynasty (18021945).80
After the apocalypse of the wars early years the Ty Sn began resurrecting devastated
Minh Hng communities from the ashes. In Hi An, for example, a 1783 inscription
memorializing the towns restoration of its Quan Cng hall reveals the rst sign of Minh
Hng resurrection.81 Foreign accounts and a village register show that by the 1790s the
citys Minh Hng were beginning to breathe and their commerce revive.82 Curiously,
this commercial revival appears to coincide with the spike in Ty Sn-sponsored piracy.
Given the Qing courts designation of the old Cochinchina as the piracys rat hole, one
can only wonder whether the communitys early and quick resurrection derived from
commerce in pirated goods. In any case, the Ty Sn resurrected the old Nguyn
system of Minh Hng status and reconrmed their rights.83
Interests, Institutions, and Identity 157

Like his Ty Sn rivals, and like past warlords, Nguyn nh looked to combine
commercial and military means to his political goal of Tay Sn destruction and
Nguyn restoration. Chinese and Minh Hng mariners and merchants proved
crucial to his efforts. For example, a number of rice merchants led missions to Siam to
buy rice on behalf of Nguyn nh in the 1780s and 90s.84 He did not restore the
system of his ancestors, however. After conducting a census of the Mekong, in 1789
he divided Chinese and Minh Hng; rst into ng (C: Tang) and Minh Hng,
then in 1790 into Thanh nhn (Qing compatriots) and Minh Hng.85 Minh Hng
governed themselves as before. Thanh or Qing expatriates ruled themselves according
to bang, or cliques based on dialect group, with each clique governed by a bang tr ng
or headman. This laid the foundation for the system of rule that governed expatriate
Chinese and Minh Hng under the empire that followed, and it also appears to have
set the stage for the Minh Hngs demise.
The empire that emerged in 1802 after Nguyn nh defeated the Ty Sn does not
appear to have taken any immediate action to dilute Minh Hng power. In 1814,
Nguyn nh, now the Gia Long Emperor, mandated that the bang system he created in
1789 be instituted nationwide. Any group of thirty Chinese had to form a bang under one
of seven identities. This now included Minh Hng.86 Minh Hng protested loudly,
arguing their Vietnamese matrilineage distinguished them from expatriate Chinese, and
the plan was halted. This marked the rst time that Minh Hng leaders began to use
explicitly ethnic identity as a defensive political strategy. It did not work. Gia Longs
successor, Emperor Minh Mnh, imposed it several years later, with one exception: Minh
Hng did not have to join the bang system, but did have to reorganize as a Vietnamese
style village, complete with a Vietnamese style inh village temple, administrative struc-
ture, and periodic compilation of a village census.87 In 1827 the emperor further ordered
that the Chinese characters used to symbolize Minh Hng x be changed, replacing the
word hng, incense with its homophone hng, village. This changed the meaning
of the communitys name from Ming Incense [Loyalist] Community to Ming Village
Community, which removed the political loyalist signier at the core of its identity.88
Two years later, he went even farther. He ordered a reclassication of Minh Hng along
ethnic lines. Redening Minh Hng as the descendants of a Chinese father and Viet-
namese mother, Minh Mang forbid all expatriate Chinese to return to China with their
wives or children, and forbid Qing dress. Furthermore, he reiterated: each time a
people comes to trade, then wherever there are people who want to come, they must
have the elder [bang truong] of the Minh Huong write a letter of guarantee.89 At the
same time, statues and edicts show that Minh Mang preserved their separate tax status
and corvee exemptions, and reafrmed longstanding practices. For example, the new
statutes conrmed the duty of Minh Hng to act as interpreters or as market super-
visors regulating prices, coinage, weights, etc.90 His successor, Thiu Tr, mandated
that Minh Hng communities should form throughout the empire wherever there
were a sufcient number of offspring of Chinese fathers and Vietnamese mothers.91
Whatever privileges still existed, an important shift had occurred. No longer
distinguished by their political loyalty to a long-lost dynasty, Minh Hng now
158 Charles Wheeler

formally constituted an ethnic minority, rather than a minority elite set betwixt
Vietnamese and expatriate Chinese.
We see the results of this policy change in the declining inuence of the wider world
on Minh Hng society. First, the Minh Hng decline seems nearly to parallel the
decline of the junk trade in the early to mid-nineteenth century. Having lost their
prized role as intermediary in the undertow Sino-Vietnamese trade as Japan and
China patched things up in the 1700s, Minh Hng power continued thanks to their
traditional role in governing the sea trade, cultivating domestic commerce, and
stafng much of the Nguyn government. All this changed with the rise of the Empire
of ai Nam in 1802. The bureaucratic order that Nguyn monarchs envisioned had
no room for the informal tax-farming style of customs governance, another long-
standing domain of the Minh Hng. The incorporation of all Vietnamese-speaking
peoples gave the Nguyn emperors the opportunity to dilute the Minh Hng role
in government. The imperial Nguyn didnt need Minh Hng to act as their
go-between in diplomatic, political or even commercial affairs any longer. The scale
of the Vietnamese economy had changed as well, shifting the proportional balance in
the tax base between sea commerce to rice agriculture, and thus the political balance,
evident in the Nguyn shift to a more agrarian emphasis in their policies.
For the rest of the century, Minh Hng resorted to a defensive strategy of ethnic
preservation as it fought the erosion of its community from Vietnamese imperial then
French colonial governments. The interest to preserve Minh Hng identity
increasingly came solely from within the community, and as the last Minh Hng
institutions faded, identity increasingly asserted itself purely on an ethnic basis.
Minh Hng powers began to erode quickly after the French conquests. The
category was eliminated in the French colony of Cochinchina in 1871; Minh Hng
were given the choice of registering as Vietnamese or Chinese, and were accorded the
rights of colonial subjects, even the right to apply for French citizenship.92 In 1898,
the Thnh Thi Emperor formally abolished the Minh Hng in the remnant empire,
transferring the identity of these people to Vietnamese status.93 Why it was done is
not clear, and has never really been explored. Perhaps the French, deeply concerned
about Vietnamese ties to China, saw the Minh Hng as a potential subversive threat.
The French did wish to marginalize the Chinese community as much as possible, and
eradicating a potential mediator between Chinese and Vietnamese would have been a
logical decision. Therefore, unlike other colonies who exploited hybrid or creole
Chinese groups, the French eliminated theirs.

Conclusion
Minh Hng were a powerful merchant-bureaucratic elite, far from the ragged
refugee or recalcitrant political exiles that its name or mythology suggests. The
community and its ethnic identity developed in response to events that began with the
convergence of interests in the dynamic world of maritime Asia that happened over
the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It began in the streams of a
Interests, Institutions, and Identity 159

seafaring Min social world, with groups of militarized trading syndicates whose
convergence of interests with local, entrepreneurial warlords in Japan and Vietnam
encouraged the creation of permanent Tang communities in the late 1500s. In the
Tang communities developed a set of institutions, parochial to Min Chinese culture,
that formed an elastic network of transoceanic community that empowered members
to coordinate their large-scale and local interests, yet also adapt to local exigencies,
and even integrate into local society, when the situation demanded it. Anti-Ming
politicization and shifting commercial interests in the Tang community helped to
create the commercial network that supported the Zheng sea-trading proto-state in
the late 1600s. In the Tang enclaves of Cochinchina, a new Ming loyalist identity
grew. Indeed, they thrived so much that, when a Zheng eet based across the Gulf of
Tonkin in Longmen sought exile in Cochinchina, they had already developed into a
powerful elite whose status the domains Nguyn lord had to recognise. In this
context, Minh Hng identity evolved.
Minh Hng society ourished for the next century as a powerful mercantile and
bureacratic elite in Cochinchina, proting from its strategic position in Cochinchina,
the Min sea world, and the Tang colonies. Strong institutional structures protected
them. Inevitably, the situation changed. Qing victory reshaped the Chinese maritime,
producing local responses throughout maritime Asia that more narrowly localised
Minh Hng interests over time. Identity proved a handy tool in dening corporate
rights and institutional norms in order to protect the community from attempts to
undermine their privileged status in Vietnamese economy and politics during the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Eventually, external forces would have their
way, and the Minh Hng would gradually disappear as a formal institution. Even
still, identity proved a useful tool in asserting historical privileges when their formal
political-economic status eroded.

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Notes
11
The list includes Guo, Zhong-Yue; Hua-
1
See Skinner, Creolized, on the term qiao zhi: Yuenan; and Zheng, Qingdai
crole. For a recent example of hybrid, see Yuenan.
Chan, Hybrid Diaspora. 12
Minh Hng distinguished in a
2
Wickberg, Chinese Meztizo. nineteenth-century imperial biography,
3
See, for example, Iioka, Trading Environ- i Nam lit truyn [Eminent biogaphies
ment; Pho Hien, 110, 211, 2201; Salmon, of Dai Nam, hereafter Lit truyn],
Rfugis Ming, 1971; and on Phu include: Trn Th ng Xuyn (quyn 1:
Ph c Ph Thch.
Thach, see Trn, 1959); L Quang inh (q. 2: 19698);
4
For an etymological discussion of the Trinh Hoai c (q. 2: 198205); Ng
term Minh Hng, see Chen, Shiqi, Nhn Tinh (q. 2: 2057); Ha Hy Vn (q. 2:
shiba, 32830. 5002); Lm Duy Thip (q. 4: 4851);
5
Trinh Hoai c, Cn Trai thi tp, Trn Tin Thanh (q. 4: 16273); Phan
75 [Viet.], 200 (4a) [Han]. Trung (q. 4: 2568); H Tro ng inh
(q. 4:
6
For examples, see Lieberman, Strange
n.p); Phan inh Tho a (q. 4, 3412);
Parallels, vol. 1: 408; and Reid, Age of Thanh Ngo c U n (q. 4, 3545); and
Commerce, 3145. In Vietnamese history Nguyn Trac Chi (q. 4: 441).
see Boudet, La Conqute de la 13
Phan, Letter.
Cochinchine, 1157; Chen Ching-ho, 14
X Qung. Chu Th ng Vn.
My iu nhn xet v Minh-hng-xa, 15
Schafer, Trnh Cng Sn.
and Notes on Hoi-an; L, Histoire du Vit 16
Clammer, French Studies.
17
Nam, 50, 267; Li, Nguyen Cochinchina; Dubreuil, De la condition, 12; see also
Phan Khoang, Vit s x ng Trong, Aubaret, Histoire et description, 10;
209; and Yang, Contribution, 171. Nguyn, La formation, 359; Nguyen,
7
Cordier, ed., Voyage, 366. See also Les Congregations; and Wang, Les rela-
Bowyear, Voyage. tions, 55 passim. For a slightly different
8
Finlayson, Mission, 316. view, see Schreiner, Les institutions, 68.
9 18
Cai, Hainan, 11. Choi, Southern Vietnam, 38.
10 19
Purcell, Chinese, 17980, 184; and Wang, Chen, Notes, 4751.
China, 7. 20
Zhu in Chen, Zhu Shunshui, 315.
Interests, Institutions, and Identity 165

21
For examples, see Antony, Froth, 27; Lin Jindai lu Ri huaqiao, 723; Zheng Cheng-
Renchuan, Mingmo Qingchu, 4084; Ng gong yanjiu, 197, 199, 22231.
Chin-keong, Gentry-Merchants; Zhang 44
Chen, Notes, 40, 60, 61.
45
Guangnan, Zhongguo haido shi, 117209. Fu, Ming Qing, 12730, 141, 148; Innes,
I borrow the term military entrepreneur Trade, 2830; Kai hentai, 357, 371, 375,
from Gallant; see Transnational Crime, 392; and Zheng Chenggong yanjiu, 22326.
46
2627. On Chinas coastal evacuation, see
22
Quoted from Iwao, Li Tan, 3234; see Dahpon Ho, Sealords.
47
also Fu Yiling, Ming Qing, 116, 121; Hang, 7172, 79, 81, 95, 97, 106, 218.
Iwao, Japanese Foreign Trade, 5; Lin 48
Hayashi, Kai hentai, 172122; Jiang,
Renchuan, Fukien's Private Sea Taiwan waiji, j. 6, 25; Innes, Trade,
Trade, 182. 19; Hall, Notes, 4512.
23 49
Fu Yiling, Ming Qing, 125. Chen, Notes, 55, 634, 103, 144; Trn
24
The territories were Thun Hoa (1558) Quc Vng, personal communication,
and Qua ng Nam (1570). May 1999.
25
Manguin, Les Nguyen, 45. 50
Yu Jin, Shuguo. See also Lin, Mingmo
26
Carioti, Zheng's Maritime Power, 32. Qingchu, 188; and Sun 2007.
27
Innes, Trade, 1213. 51
Ibid.
28
i Nam thc lc tin bin (hereafter Tin 52
Zhu, Da Wei Jiushi, 4849.
53
bin), 19. Kangxi shilu, juan 29: s.n.
29
Wheeler, One Region, 16771. 54
Yu Jin, Shuguo.
30
Bang, Ph cng, 856, 1057, 1528; 55
Chen, Notes, 41.
and on Vng Lm, Laborde, Phu 56
ao, preface, in Trinh, Gia inh, 11.
57
Yen, 248. Nguyn, Vit Nam khai quc, 301.
31 58
For a description, see Chen, Notes, 3455; Ibid., 290.
59
Li, Nguyen Cochinchina, Chapter 3. Lin, Mingmo Qingchu, 187.
32 60
Li, Nguyen Cochinchina, 65. Hayashi, 1: 327, 338, 351, 367, 398, 422,
33
Wheeler, Buddhism, 30718. 439, 4523.
34
Ph Sn; Sallet, Le montagnes, 61
Li, Mingmo Qingchu, s.n; Li, Maoyi,
13133. yizhi, s.n.; Niu and Li, Chinese Poli-
35
Carioti, Zhengs Maritime Power, 33; tical Pirates, 13342.
62
Foccardi, Last Warrior, 10; and Iwao, Fu, Documentary, vol. 1, 61.
Li Tan, 3738. 63
Tin bin, 152.
36 64
On saokaku policy, see summary in Iioka, Yunio Sakurai, in Cooke, Water Frontier,
Literati Entrepreneur, 19096. 4041.
37
Chen, Qingchu huabo, 15, 18, 1950. 65
Dai, Jindai, 77.
38
Carioti, Zhengs Maritime Power, 36; 66
Chen, Notes, 55; Shilian, Haiwai jishi,
see also Antony, Froth, 32; and Lin, 108.
67
Mingmo Qingchu, 23851. Chen, Notes, 39; Nguyn, vol. 2, 8, 48.
39 68
Toby, State and Diplomacy, 139. Nguyn, Pht gio, q. 1, 12646, 16770,
40
Wu, Orthodoxy, 26566. 183, 2006, 25657, 18189; vol. 2, 64386;
41
Chen, Zhu Shunshui. i Nam nht thng ch, q. 1, 8184,
42
Yang, 1650 zhi 1662 nian, 222. 199202; q. 7, 38587; q. 8, 44142; q. 9,
43
On trade see He Taoli, Zheng Cheng- 4951; q. 26, 2930; q. 27, 79; q. 31, 23637.
69
gong, 31728; Jiang, Shilian Dashan, L, Kin vn, 4045.
70
141; Lin Renchuan, Mingmo Qingchu, Shilian, Haiwai jishi. See also Wheeler,
197; Whitmore, Vietnam, 38283; On Missionary Buddhism.
the Five Bang and shipping management 71
Li, Mekong.
72
system under the Zheng see Carioti, Dng thng Hi qun.
Zhengs Maritime Power, 66; Dai, ed., 73
Wheeler, Buddhism, 313.
166 Charles Wheeler

74
Tin bin, 78; Gudai Zhong-Yue, 655; 82
Nguyn. La formation, 365. See also
Zheng, Qingdai Yuenan, 45. an observers description of the Hoi An
75
Choi, Southern Vietnam, 3637. area in the 1790s in Staunton, Authentic
76
Chen, Zhengtian, 67; Lit truyn, q. 4: Account, 166.
16273. 83
ao, Pho-lo, 253; Chen, My iu
nhn
77
Jiao Xun, Shenfeng, 11617. xet, 1416; Choi, Southern Vietnam, 37.
78 84
Lit truyn, q. 2, 500. On He see Tin bin, 275; Choi, Southern
Lit truyn, 5002; Trnh, Gia nh, Vietnam, 41.
134; Zheng, Qingdai Yuenan, 85
Nguyen Hoi Chan, Aspects, 114;
1921. Fujiwara, Vietnamese Dynasties Policies,
79
Murray, Pirates, 187, n. 6. 6061.
80
Wheeler, Charting, s.n. Charting 86
Tsai, Chinois, 30; Nguyen, Aspects, 115.
87
the Social Fields of the Sea: Placing the Choi, Southern Vietnam, 13.
Chinese Pirates of the Gulf of Tongk- 88
i Nam thc lc chnh bin, 649.
ing at the End of in the Eighteenth 89
Minh Manh chinh yu, q. 6, 241.
Century. In Trading Empires of the 90
Khm nh i Nam hi in s l, q. 44,
South China Coast, South Asia, and the Minh nhan, 304.
Gulf Region, vol. 1: Place, ed. E. Taglia- 91
Khm nh, q. 44, Minh nhan, 31011;
cozzo et al. Durham: Duke University Fujiwara, Policies, 6566; Choi, South-
Press, forthcoming, 2015 ern Vietnam, 14648.
81 92
Chua ng inscription; Chen, Notes, 60, Amer, Ethnic Chinese.
93
8182; 13031. Marsot, Chinese Community.

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