Zhao Tuo

Zhao Tuo
Zhào Tuō
King of Nan Yue
A statue of Zhào Tuō
King of Nam Việt
Reign 203 BC-137 BC
Predecessor An Dương Vương as king of Âu Lạc
Successor Zhao Mo
Posthumous name
Emperor Wu 武帝
Vietnamese: Khai Thiên Thể Đạo Thánh Vũ Thần Triết Hoàng Đế
Chinese: 開天體道聖武神哲皇帝
Temple name
Triệu Vũ Đế
House Zhao Dynasty
Born ca. 240 BC
Died 137 BC (aged 103)
Burial Guangzhou

Zhao Tuo (Chinese: ; Mandarin Pinyin: Zhào Tuō; Jyutping: Jiu⁶ Tō⁴), was the founder of the kingdom of Nanyue (Chinese: 南越; Mandarin Pinyin: Nányuè; Jyutping: Nām⁴yūd⁶; Vietnamese: Nam Việt.[1] He was a Chinese military commander who gained independence upon the collapse of the Qin Dynasty. Nanyue included northern Vietnam and parts of southern China. His capital was in Panyu, modern Guangzhou, China. His ruling circle included both ethnic Chinese and native Baiyue, and he encouraged intermarriage and assimilation.[2] In Vietnamese, he is referred to as Triệu Đà. The dynasty he founded is called the Triệu Dynasty (Chinese: 赵朝). In traditional Vietnamese history, he was considered the first emperor of Vietnam. However, in the history of Vietnam he is regarded as a foreign invader who invaded Vietnam in 207 BC.[3]



Early life

Zhao was born in approximately 230 BC in Zhending, in what is today the Hebei province of northern China, while that region was part of the state of Zhao. The state of Zhao was defeated and absorbed by the state of Qin in 222 BC, whereupon Zhao Tuo became a citizen of the state of Qin. He later served in a Qin expeditionary force that was sent south. In 206 BC, Zhao Tuo, according to Vietnamese legends defeated the Au Lac kingdom of An Dương Vương and merged it with Guangdong and Guangxi, which were under his command during the time of Qin rule.

Creation of Nanyue

At the end of the Qin Dynasty, Zhao took control of the region of modern-day Guangdong and Guangxi. Zhao Tuo built up his power and territory, partially through alliances with native Yue nobility and chieftains. He then declared himself the King of Nanyue ("Southern Yue") and set up his capital at Panyu (Chinese: ; Jyutping: Pūn¹yū⁴), the site of modern-day Guangzhou.

The state was not peaceful. There was the state of Changsha to the north, with which it had long been in conflict; to the east there was the warlike Minyue state; and to the west there were the Southwestern Yi (西南夷) which did not adopt Han ways. Also, within the Nanyue territory there were Western Ou (Chinese: 西甌; pinyin: Xīōu) and Lạc Việt (Chinese: 駱越; pinyin: Luòyuè), which were not very submissive. But the largest threat came from the Han Dynasty which coveted the Nanyue state.

From tensions to peace and stability

In 196 BC, an envoy from the Han Empire gave Zhao Tuo a seal recognizing him as king of Nanyue.[4] On this occasion, Zhao Tuo squatted and wore his hair in a bun, in the Yue manner.[4] Early in his reign, Emperor Gaozu of Han gave three commanderies (郡) to Prince of Changsha Wu Rui, and appointed Yao Wuyu, Marquis of Haiyang (海陽侯徭無餘) and Zhi, Prince of Nanhai (南海王織). Emperor Gaozu also put an army in Changsha state to watch over the movements of the Nanyue kingdom, which made Zhao Tuo worry about this situation. Zhao Tuo took opportunity on trading and imported things in large amounts from the Central Plains, and Zhao Tuo also gave tribute to central authority. After Gaozu died, Emperor Hui of Han (汉惠帝) succeeded him. The new emperor respected the treaty made by his father, and so did Zhao Tuo.

Empress Lü raising tensions

After seven years of the reign of Emperor Hui, Empress Dowager Lü came to power. In the beginning everything went on as usual. But in 183 BCE, she suddenly declared to restrict the trade of Han with others, this included useful products such as iron tools and horses to Nanyue territory. This was because Wu Rui, King of Changsha, who was the only non-Liu king in Han territory, who was treated well by the Empress (Gao Zu removed all non-Liu kings except Wu Rui since his state was not much of power, and the empress wanted to appoint Lü kings). The blockade had a great impact on the Nanyue economy, since Nanyue needed iron plow tools, and people were unhappy about the blockade.

Zhao Tuo thought that this must be the trickery of the Prince of Changsha. He realized that the Han Dynasty was powerful, so he sent messengers to the Chinese capital of Chang'an to request to release the blockade. But Prince of Changsha Wu Rui made the messengers prisoners in Chang'an. Wu Rui further said bad things about Zhao Tuo, which made Empress Dowager Lü angry. Then she killed Zhao Tuo's relatives in the Central Plains and destroyed Zhao Tuo's ancestral tomb (destruction of ancestral tombs was in ancient times viewed as a very serious thing). Zhao Tuo realised that political approach would no longer succeed.

So, in 183 BC, he declared himself Emperor Wu of Nanyue (Chinese: 南越武帝; Jyutping: Nām⁴yūd⁶ Mou⁵-Dei³). He had been long in conflict with Prince of Changsha Wu Rui, so he sacked Changsha country to the North. Then the Empress ordered an attack on Nanyue, but most of the army died by disease and could not march to Nanyue successfully, but the military conflict did not stop until the Empress died. As the victor, Zhao Tuo also extended his territory by conquering towns near the boundary. He also established relationships with Minyue, Xi'ou, and Luoyue with valuables. But this war almost completely wiped out the trade relationship between the Central Plains and Nanyue.

Back as vassal and death

In 179 BC, Emperor Wen of Han inherited the throne. The new Emperor abolished some cruel punishments made by Qin. Zhao Tuo took opportunity of this, and communicated to the Emperor that if he removed the two generals from Changsha and restored his relatives in Zhending, he would be at peace with Han. Emperor Wen immediately took action. He repaired the tomb of Zhao's ancestors, and found one Zhao family member who survived, and also moved the Han army out of Changsha. Then Zhao Tuo revoked his title of emperor and Nanyue became a vassal state of the Han once more. Zhao Tuo died in 137 BC at the age of ninety-three.


  1. ^ Keat Gin Ooi (2004). Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 932. ISBN 1-57607-770-5. http://books.google.com/books?id=QKgraWbb7yoC&pg=PA932. 
  2. ^ Snow, Donald B., Cantonese as written language: the growth of a written Chinese vernacular (2004), Hong Kong University Press, p. 70.
  3. ^ Brantly Womack (2006). China and Vietnam: the politics of asymmetry. Cambridge University Press, 2006. p. 100. ISBN 0521853206. 
  4. ^ a b Taylor, Keith Weller, The Birth of Vietnam, p. 24. University of California Press, 1991.
Zhao Tuo
Born: 230 BC Died: 137 BC
Preceded by
An Dương Vương
as king of Âu Lạc
King of Nam Việt
203 BC – 137 BC
Succeeded by
Triệu Mạt

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