Vietnamese Architect in Beijing's Forbidden City
Posted 10 January 2006 - 08:20 AM
The article claim that he was the chief architect and chief manager-executive of the project. The article quote a statement made by a chinese historian, Beijing-historian, who I fogot the name in around 50s proposed that Beijing should erect a monument for Beijiners to pay respect and thanks to the architect of the city. The article also said that in recent chinese historical text his name purposely being ignored.
I'm curious in the extent of the truth to this, many of you guys have the broad historical knowledge, can anyone shed some light to this matter?
Posted 10 January 2006 - 04:37 PM
In the process of constructing the palaces, Nguyen An recruited some six thousand skilled carpenters and masons. Some of these were convicts serving time who had to wear the cangue (a ninety-one centimeter square wooden board with a hold in the center and weighed fourteen to forty-five kilograms locked around the convicts neck with his hands chained in handcuffs), although their chains were taken off at the construction site so they could work and eat without obstruction. They were not jailed and otherwise allowed to pursue a normal life, except for having to stand for a requiste number of hours a day in public to endure humiliation. Upon completion of their assignments to the satisfaction of their supervisors, they were set free, although it seemed many could not endure the conditions and tried to escape.
I do not think Nguyen An constructed the city of Beijing though, as the city existed before as Beiping, the seat of Yongle's power. The city already had existed during the Yuan, and had palaces and existing fortifications.
I've never heard of any cover-up to hide Nguyen An's contributions to the Forbidden Palace.
Posted 19 May 2007 - 04:18 AM
The Vietnamese Eunuch Architect Who Rebuilt Beijing© John Walsh
Mar 21, 2007
Nguyen An was taken as tribute from Vietnam to China and became a eunuch in service to the Chinese emperor. He achieved a successful career as an architect.
Nguyen An’s reputation is only beginning to be re-established in recent years, after he had been ignored for several centuries. He is coming to be seen as one of the most remarkable architect of China, despite having been taken from Vietnam as a boy and fated to become a eunuch in the service of five Chinese emperors of the Ming Dynasty, between the first and the fifth decades of the C15th.
Although Vietnam had established its independence of China by defeating the Mongol conquerors at the Battles of Bac Danh, a tributary system was still in operation. To demonstrate their willingness to enter into trade and alliance with Imperial China, neighbouring countries such as Vietnam would periodically send tribute missions to the Chinese emperor and would then be permitted to conduct trade at officially designated trading cities. It is unfortunate but nevertheless the case that people could be included as tribute goods, which is what happened to Nguyen An. The Chinese court had a long tradition of castrating male servants and, although it sounds barbaric and painful, becoming a court eunuch was regarded by some young men as a desirable career choice. A Eunuch presented no threat to the Emperor’s court of wives and concubines, it was thought, so would be more likely to participate in court and imperial household affairs. It appears that eunuchs had no limit on achievements and could even rise as high as did the great Admiral Zheng He.
Little is known of Nguyen An’s early years in China but he is recorded in Chinese chronicles as being instructed to design an overall plan for Beijing citadel, including numerous offices, houses and palaces, by the Emperor Taizong. Nguyen An had not yet reached the age of thirty. He gained considerable prestige and respect for his ability in managing a workforce of 10,000 soldiers in building the various buildings swiftly and according to budget. An enormous amount and variety of building materials was necessary and opportunities for error must have been enormous. Nguyen An’s reputation was made: his next task was to rebuild three temples and he managed this so successfully that the emperor rewarded him with fifty taels of gold, one hundred taels of silver, eight tons of silk and 10,000 yuan in cash. From then onwards, he was kept busy with a dizzying array of architectural projects in Beijing and also along the river and canal system of China, on which cities and countryside alike relied for flows of food and goods, as well as transportation. Repairing and strengthening the dykes of the system was a large-scale undertaking.
Nguyen An achieved a great deal and was obviously a talented and diligent individual. It is impossible to know what he might have achieved had he been left to follow his destiny in his home country.
John Walsh, Shinawatra University, March 2007
Posted 16 November 2007 - 11:16 AM
The Cambridge History of CHINA
Volume 7 – The Ming Dynasty (1368 -1644)
The new capital and its administration
Juan An (Nguyen An) Annamese chief Architect play a major role in
rebuilding of Peking during the Cheng-t’ung reing (page 241 line 4)
The strategic considerations that underlay these wars and diplomatic missions also led the emperor to undertake another prodigious task: the transformation by degrees of Peking, his former princely fief, which had once been the Great Capital (Ta-tu) of the Yuan dynasty, into a new capital for the Ming empire. This transformation involved massive replanning and construction in Peking and sweeping institutional adjustments affecting the entire central administration. 9'
The emperor's motives for establishing a new capital at Peking are only vaguely alluded to in imperial pronouncements and in the remarks and memoranda of court officials. They were certainly linked to the political and military situation at the time of his enthronement. The Hung-wu emperor had been dissatisfied with his capital at Nanking; it was too far from the frontiers of the empire, and toward the end of his reign he had considered moving it to the north. In this respect, the Yung-lo emperor's decision to locate his capital at Peking may be seen as a solution to his father's dilemma. But the decision also reflected the emperor's perception that the north was the seat of his own personal power, where he had spent long years before his rebellion and accession to the throne defending the northeastern border or campaigning against the Mongols.93
His base of power and support lay in the north, not in Nanking, where he was a stranger. And he naturally wanted to select a capital that would facilitate the consolidation of the empire. Nanking, situated in the lower Yangtze Valley, enjoyed overwhelming advantages as an economic center. But it was far from the northern and western frontiers of the empire, which the emperor felt were most vulnerable to attack. It was such considerations that had led his father to think about removing his capital to the north, and the same considerations provided a justification for the emperor's own decision.
Finally, for political and military reasons, Peking surpassed all other sites: it served at once as a bastion against invasions from the north and as a center for all the activities that supported the emperor's expansive policies in the north. Also, at this point in history, it appeared to be the only major
92 See Hua Hui, "Ming tai zing cu Nan-Pei-thing ti thing kuo," Yu kung, 2, No. z t (February
1935), PP. 37-41; Wu Chi-hua, "Ming Ch'eng-tsu hsiang pei fang ti fa than yu nan pei chuan yiin ti chien li," in his MTSHCCS, I, pp. 152-62; Edward L. Farmer, Early Ming government: The evolution of dual capitals (Cambridge, Mass., 1976), pp. u4-r7. For details of the construction of Peking as the principal capital, see Hou Jen-chih, Pei-ching shih hua (Peking, r98o), ch. 6; Hsieh Min-ts'ung, Ming Ch'ing Pei-ching it ch'eng yuan yu kung ch'ueh chih yen chiu (Taipei, r98o), ch. 3.
93 Wu Han, "Ming tai thing nan chih i," pp. 919-23; 933-36; Farmer, Early Ming government, pp. I34-40
238 THE MING DYNASTY, 1368-1644, PART I
city on the northern frontier that could be supplied adequately to support a large garrison and a large civilian population. By making Peking his primary capital, the emperor also realized in part his vision of an expansive and outward-looking empire, an empire that embraced the frontier and the interior, the non-Han as well as the Han populations. Thus Peking, which enjoyed a strategic location and had been the capital of two non-Han empires, seemed a practical and logical choice for the new Ming capital.;
The transformation of Peking was a formidable task for the emperor and his advisors, and it imposed heavy burdens on the people. Although some of the Yuan city walls and palaces remained intact, the general plan of the city had to be altered and much new construction undertaken to meet the emperor's specifications. Because the region lacked an adequate economic base, the city depended on massive shipments of grain and provisions from the southeastern
provinces. The military organization had to be restructured to handle this overall reallocation of economic resources. Above all, institutional arrangements had to be changed; this affected imperial agencies in Nanking and in other parts of the empire. The transfer of the capital to Peking was certainly the most complex and far-reaching imperial project undertaken during the Ming dynasty.
Between 1403 and 1416 some modest institutional rearrangements were initiated
and preliminary plans for major construction were drawn up. In February 1403 the emperor formally gave the city the status of Northern Capital (Pei-ching). He sent his eldest son Chu Kao-chih, who later became the Hung-hsi emperor, to administer the new capital. He also established in Peking a branch ministry (h.ring pu) to oversee new branch offices of the six ministries, a national university, and a branch chief military commission. He renamed the metropolitan prefecture of the northern capital Shunt'ien (Obedient to Heaven) prefecture. This change was charged with great symbolic significance, for it linked the emperor to his father, who early in his rise had named the metropolitan prefecture of Nanking Ying-t'ien (Responsive to Heaven); thus the usurper echoed his claim to legitimate succession.9s
In 1404 the emperor moved io,ooo households from nine prefectures in Shansi to Peking to increase the metropolitan population. In 1405 he sent his younger son Chu Kao-sui to assume the military command of Peking and decreed a two-year land tax remission for Shun-t'ien and the two prefectures adjacent to it. Meanwhile, the construction of new palace buildings got under way. Between I408 and I409 a warden's office, a hostel for
94 Dreyer, Early Ming China p.182-86 95 Farmer, Early Ming government pp.115-31
foreign envoys, and a mint were built in the future capital. The emperor still resided in Nanking and issued his orders in the new capital through the heir apparent. He did not himself visit Peking until April 1409, and he stayed there only until the first Mongolian campaign had ended in 1410. Nonetheless, these costly works show that the emperor intended from the first to transfer the imperial capital to Peking, despite objections raised by his court officials.
During this period the physical and economic foundations of the new capital were laid down. Although no really massive construction was undertaken in Peking until 1416, preparations for new palace buildings and for repairs to the city walls began in 1406. In August the emperor ordered Earl Ch'en Kuei, minister of works Sung Li, assistant censor-in-chief Liu Kuan, and others to assemble men and materials at Peking; ostensibly he was responding to a request by senior officials, who thought that a palace should be built for his forthcoming visit. Officials were sent to cut timber in the forests of Kiangsi, Hu-kuang, Chekiang, Shansi, and Szechwan. Others organized the manufacture of bricks in the Northern Metropolitan Region. In 1407 a great work force of artisans, soldiers, and common laborers was recruited from all over the empire; these included over seven thousand Annamese artisans, who had been captured and sent to Peking by Chang Fu. But construction was hampered by an inadequate supply system and a lack of close supervision. Work proceeded slowly, and no major buildings were completed during these years.
To remedy the area's dependence on grain shipments from the south and
to strengthen the local economy, between 1412 and 1416 the heir apparent, Chu Kao-chih, granted land tax remissions or relief grain to the inhabitants of the Peking prefectures and to those parts of Shantung and Honan struck by natural calamities. Grain shipments from the rich ricegrowing lower Yangtze, the Kiangnan provinces, moved to the north more quickly after the completion of work on the Grand Canal in June 1415, after which _grain could be shipped directly from them to Peking. The economic situation of the new capital was now less vulnerable.,6
After the 1414 Mongolian campaign, the emperor spent over three years in Peking, leaving only once late in 1416 to visit Nanking. Since the Grand Canal
had been reconstructed, men and materials had been moved to the north,andtheemperor clearly had decided to reside regularly in
Peking. In 1417 and 1418 improvements were made on the moats, walls,
and bridges of Peking; and the emperor's residence, the Western Palace,
96 See Wu Chi-hua,Ming tai bat yun chi yun bo ti yen chiu (Taipei, 1961)pp 40-42, 76-82;
Hoshi Ayao, Mindai soun no kenkyu (Tokyo, 1963), pp 26-31
Map 12. City plan of Peking
was under construction. In March 1417, shortly before he left Nanking for the last time, the emperor again put Ch'en Kuei in charge of all the imperial construction projects at Peking; Ch'en also took control of the military administration there.
Prior to this, the emperor had requested a court discussion on the construction of his new capital and had received the support of his senior officials. There were some voices of dissent, but they carried no weight. The construction of Peking required massive mobilization of artisans and laborers, often drawn from the ranks of military units or from criminals sentenced to hard labor, as well as the requisitioning of building materials from all over the empire, even from as far away as Annam, which had recently been annexed. The size of the work force is not known, but it must have numbered hundreds of thousands. The chief architect was an Annamese eunuch named Juan An (d.1453),who also played a major role in the rebuilding of Peking during the Cheng-t'ung reign.'
By late 1417, most of the palace buildings had been completed. Sections of the southern city wall, which had been built under the Yuan, had fallen into disrepair. These were restored in 1420, when the bell tower and the Altar of Heaven were also completed. By 1420, enough of the principal construction projects at Peking were completed to permit transfer of the court. The new city was slightly smaller than it had been under the Mongol rulers. It was smaller from north to south, and the number of city gates was reduced from eleven to nine. The emperor was pleased with the result and lavishly rewarded the officials in charge of the construction. In January 1421 Ts'ai Hsin, director of the Construction Bureau, was promoted to vice-minister of works, and appropriate promotions and rewards were also given to lesser officials and to all categories of construction workers. 98
On 28 October 1420 Peking was formally designated the principal capital of the empire. From February 1421, all documents were to refer to Peking rather than Nanking as the imperial capital. During the intervening three months, the central government was thoroughly reorganized. However, in 1421 a fire destroyed the three major audience halls in the Forbidden City, and the emperor, observing ancient precedent, had to call for frank criticism of his rule. Some of the censors and Hanlin scholars, notably Li Shih-mien (1374-1450) and Tsou Chi (d.1422) denounced the economic hardship, abuses, and great inconvenience incurred in moving the capital to Peking. The most vocal critic was a junior secretary named Hsiao I; his remarks were found so abusive that the emperor had him executed.99 This alarmed all the critics, and they fell silent. Of course, the emperor had long before made up his mind on this point. The major construction projects had been completed, and all the institutional readjustments had been worked out; everything was ready to be carried forward, and by this time no protest could have altered his decision.
97 For Juan An’s role in the capital construction,see Chang Hsiu-min,
“Ming tai Chiao-chih jen tsai Chung-kuo chih kung hsien,” Hsueh
yuan, 3, No 1 (1950), pp.53-57; rpt.in Ming tai kuo chi kuan his, Vol.
VII of Ming shihh lun ts’ung, ed. Pao Tsun-p’eng (Taipei, 1968),
p.63-69; and DMB, p. 687.
98 Farmer, Early Ming government, pp.22-23.
99 Li shih-mien was imprisoned as a result, but he was released in
1423. See DMB, p.865.
242 THE MING DYNASTY, 1368-1644, PART I
The reorganization of the central government affected the civil and military establishments in Peking and Nanking. First, the seals of government were recast. Prior to 1421 the seals of offices at Peking had born the characters hsing-tsai or residence pro tempore; but when P-eking was formally designated as the imperial capital, this prefix was dropped. All the offices and agencies in Nanking were given new seals incribed with the prefix Nan-ching or Southern Capital to indicate their now subordinate status.(100). These changes in terminology were intended to reflect political reality. However, all the new designations were reversed whenn the Yung-lo emperor's successor decided in 1425 to return the capital to Nankingg; he reinstituted the previous titles. But on his death late in 1425 the return to Nanking was halted. Matters remained unsettled. When i-lsuan-te emperor again designated Peking as the main capital, he continued to use the term bring-tsai for its offices, perhaps because he anticipated that the court might eventually return to Nanking. It was not until 1441 that this prefix was finally removed from the titles of all government agencies in Peking.
Nanking agencies became auxiliary branches of their counterparts in Peking. For example, the Peking branch of the rear military- commmission in Nanking transferred its files to the Chief Military Commission of the Rear in Peking and sent its seal back to the Ministry of Rites to be destroyed. Activities that concerned the security of the new capital itself were reassigned to the Chief Military Commission of the Center. In the case of military units, the uniform command structure was evenly divided: thirteen guard units were assigned to Nanking and thirteen to Peking. The five guard units assigned to the five military commissions were likewise divided to form five new guards in each capital.
The civil administration also underwent a similar but complex reorganization. Ministries that handled the affairs of Peking were eliminated and their personnel reassigned. The two Peking auxi liary Ministries of Revenue and Justice were integrated into the main ministry. Similarly, the auxiliary censorate was incorporated into the Peking circuit of the main Censorate. The Ministries of War and Works, on the other hand, moved north and took over offices in the new capital, while the National University simply dropped its northern capital designation. At the time, the prefectures and subprefectures of the Northern Metropolitan, Region (Pei Chihli), formerly under the jurisdiction of a branch ministry. :sere placed under the direct supervision of the capital ministries. In 1425 the new
(100 See Hucker, “Governmental organisation of the Ming dynasty, p.6; Farmer EMG p 123
244 THE MING DYNASTY, 1368-1644, PART I
emperor reconstituted the Peking branch ministries and the Pekingg branch of the Chief Military Commission of the Rear. Local authorities in the Northern Metropolitan Region were then:.: required to go through these channels to deal with central ministries or military commissions. However, the procedure turned out to be too cumbersome, and these branch ministries were dissolved in 1428, when jurisdiction wass again returned to the regular ministries and commissions.
The emperor had founded a majestic capital in Peking, one far more grand than the capital of the Yiian dynasty and one that rivaled even Nanking in splendor. The period of "dual capitals," during which both Peking and Nanking functioned as complementary administrative centers, ended in 1441, when the administration of the northern and southern metropolitan provinces was integrated under a single central government. Thereafter Nanking, the residual capital (liu-tu), lost much of its political importance; it was no longer under control of the imperial family, and its palaces and altars fell into disuse. Its skeleton administration remained intact, but for the rest of the dynasty, except for a brief, abortive restoration under the Hung-hsi emperor, its ministries usually were staffed h}• vice-ministers with only nominal authority.Moving the capital to Peking brought about far-reaching changes in military and economic organization, changes tied to the requirements of the new administration and to the defense of the border regions. The human and material costs of the move and of maintaining a vast metropol:tan center so far from the sources of its economic supply remained a constant drain on government revenues and on the population until the e: of the Ming dynasty, and until the end of the imperial era.
Posted 22 October 2008 - 07:55 AM
Posted 24 July 2009 - 04:05 AM
Posted 24 July 2009 - 10:21 PM
From then onwards, he was kept busy with a dizzying array of architectural projects in Beijing and also along the river and canal system of China, on which cities and countryside alike relied for flows of food and goods, as well as transportation. Repairing and strengthening the dykes of the system was a large-scale undertaking.
Sounds very interesting. Perhaps he left behind a detailed account of his works like Sinan, now hidden in some dusty shelf in an old archive, from which we can learn more about his building activities.
Posted 20 August 2009 - 05:24 AM
Quite an interesting factoid this would be, if true.
Posted 20 August 2009 - 01:19 PM
Edited by Lenn, 20 August 2009 - 01:25 PM.
Posted 12 June 2012 - 11:29 PM
He was not the only one, but he played the key role.
I think the title is seriously misleading. ><! I don't know really, there are still other forgotten people such as Cai Xin which is another Chief Architects with Ruan An and Chief Engineers such as Kuai Xiang and Lu Xiang. I call it team work besides it's base on Ming Architect formations. Right ?? I'm not good at history of buildings lolzz xP
Posted 14 June 2012 - 08:35 PM
He was not the only one, but he played the key role.
The problem is that scholars disagree on this.
Henry Tsai gives credit to Nguyen An:
The chief architect of the undertaking was the Annamese eunuch Nguyen An (d. 1453), who worked hand in glove with Ministe rof Public Works Wu Zhong.
But a different scholar, Mallas, citing Yu, says:
There was no single architect or designer in charge of the
design of all or part of the city. Rather, the overall design and
planning was a collaboration of the experts of the different
trades and was then examined by the Ministry of Works, and
finally submitted to the emperor through the eunuchs. The
names of the experts who worked on the original design have
been recorded as follows: master mason, Lu Xiang; master
tiler, Yang Qing; master carpenter, Kuai Xiang; master builder,
major designer and manager, Cai Xin; expert planners, ChenGui, Wu Zhong, Ruan An.22
I think further information is required, but there is no question that Nguyen An - listed above as Ruan An - was one of the head architects.
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