Tran Khanh Du – talented but defective general

THỨ SÁU, 03/09/2021 10:35:45

Tran Khanh Du was a famous general of Dai Viet (old name of Vietnam) at the end of the Tran dynasty.

Gom temple in Co Thanh ward, Chi Linh city, worships Prince Nhan Hue Tran Khanh Du

He had great merit in the 3rd resistance war against Yuan invaders. Though a talented general, Tran Khanh Du was criticized by historical books for his personality.

Talented general…

Tran Khanh Du was the son of Senior Lieutenant General Tran Pho Duyet, titled Prince Nhan Hue, and from Chi Linh.

The 42nd woodblock of the 5th volume of the book Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu (Complete Annals of Dai Viet) reads: “Last time, the Yuan troops invaded our country, Prince Nhan Hue Tran Khanh Du took advantage of their weaknesses to make a raid on the enemy.

“The emperor praised him for his intelligence and made him Thien Tu Nghia Nam (Adopted Son of the Emperor).

“After that, he defeated Man people in the highland, won a great victory, and was promoted to Phieu Ky Dai Tuong Quan (Commander in Chief). Unless a prince, anyone would not be granted the Phieu Ky Dai Tuong Quan title, but Tran Khanh Du was the adopted son of the king, resulting in the conferment.

“He was loved by the king and continuously promoted from trat hau (marquis) to Tu Phuc Thuong Vi Hau (high-ranking marquis title for sons of princes).”

However, for committing adultery with Princess Thien Thuy, a daughter of King Tran Thanh Tong, wife of Tran Quoc Nghien (son of famous general Tran Quoc Tuan), Tran Khanh Du lost his position and all of his assets were seized.

A woodblock of the book Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu reads: “Afraid of offending Quoc Tuan, the king had Khanh Du beaten to death in Ho Tay but told his servants not to hit him hard to spare his life. Shortly after that, the king issued an edict to take away all of his titles and assets.”

Tran Khanh Du had to return to Chi Linh to work as a coal seller.

In the 10th month of Nham Ngo year (1282), the Yuan dynasty sent troops to Vietnam. King Tran held a meeting with aristocrats and a hundred mandarins in Binh Than to discuss plans to fight the enemy.

The 27th woodblock of the 7th volume of the book Kham Dinh Viet Su Thong Giam Cuong Muc (Imperially Ordered Mirror and Commentary on the History of Vietnam) reads: “At that time, Khanh Du sailed across Binh Than wharf, wearing a sedge hat and a short jacket made of hemp cloth.

“The king saw and pointed at Khanh Du’s boat, telling his attendants: “That person is Prince Nhan Hue, isn’t he?”, and then ordered soldiers to take a small boat to chase him.

“When the soldiers caught him up, they shouted: “The king summoned you!” Khanh Du replied: “What did the king summon this old man, a coal seller, for?” The soldiers returned, repeating that response. The king said: “He definitely is Prince Nhan Hue because ordinary people will not dare say that” and ordered court servants to come and summon him.

“When Khanh Du came, he wore the short jacket made of hemp cloth and the sedge hat to meet the king. The king said: “I did not expect such a man to drift that much” and issued a royal proclamation to forgive his sin.

“Khanh Du boarded the king’s ship and thankfully bowed. The king granted clothes he used to wear and let him sit below princes. Khanh Du's arguments met the king’s opinions.”

At that time, Tran Khanh Du was appointed to vice admiral.

When Omar brought his troops to Dai Bang seaport to pick up Wenhu’s food boats, Tran Khanh Du fought the enemy and lost. Hearing the news, the king ordered his servants to arrest and escort him to the capital.

A rubbing of a woodblock of the book Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu that records the biography of Tran Khanh Du (Source: The National Archives Center IV)

However, he knew that after the enemy had passed, the food boat would definitely follow, so he asked the envoy for two or three-day delay to achieve a feat before returning to bear the crime.

Soon the food boats indeed arrived, Tran Khanh Du defeated them and captured many prisoners, military provisions, and weapons.

… with many defects

Making the great achievement, Tran Khanh Du was forgiven but in the end could not correct his old mistakes.

When defending Van Don and reviewing the troops in estates, he said that the soldiers guarded Van Don to prevent Hu invaders, so they could not wear Northern hats, fearing that it would be difficult to distinguish them when in a hurry, but Ma Loi hats instead, and anyone who disobeyed the order must be punished.

However, before that, he had told his family members to buy and take hats to the port for selling to people. One hat cost less than one tien (an ancient currency unit of Vietnam) at first but then up to a piece of cloth. The amount of cloth obtained rose to thousands of pieces.

A guest from the north wrote a poem, including the line: “Van Don ke khuyen diec giai kinh” (Both chickens and dogs in Van Don are afraid), which means they were afraid of and admired the prestigious fame of Tran Khanh Du, but it is actually a tacit satire.

In the 4th Hung Long year, Tran Khanh Du entered the court. People in the province said that he was a corrupt official, so Hanh Khien (Deputy Prime Minister) reported to the king. He replied: “Generals are hawks, soldiers and people are ducks, why would feeding ducks to hawks be any surprise?”

He was allowed to return to his old province and passed away in the reign of King Minh Tong.

After Tran Khanh Du’s death, remembering his merit in fighting the enemy to save the country, Hai Duong people built a temple to worship him in Linh Giang commune, Chi Linh district (now in Co Thanh ward, Chi Linh city).

It can be said that Tran Khanh Du was a strategist with a talent for leading troops and profound learning but not respected because of self-interest.