Another important moment in the history of pre-colonial Vietnam was this pivotal battle with the Chinese. For almost one thousand years, Vietnam's northern neighbor had dominated Vietnam. China regarded Vietnam (the northmost area at the time) a southern Chinese province and gave Vietnam at least four different names. (See Interactive History of Vietnam chart.) The final name for Vietnam was Annam or An Nam, which meant "Pacified South." It was a name much resented by the Vietnamese then and later when Annam was part of French Vietnam.
In the battle of Bach Dang in 938 C.E., the Vietnamese defeated China. China would not dominate Vietnam again, except briefly from 1407 to 1427. Vietnam's General Ngo Quyen was the leader of the victorious Vietnamese forces. From 939 to 1940, a millenium in length, only the twenty-year return of Chinese administration and French colonialism were major challenges to relative autonomy for Vietnam. The domination of China, followed by a long experience with a degree of independence and nation building, produced an historic consciousness among Vietnamese generations -- one which cherished freedom from domination by others.
The 938 battle occurred in the Bach Dang River, which is often crossed on ferryboat today when one travels toward Ha Long Bay from Haiphong.
The naval strategy used by Ngo Quyen involved implanting wooden poles with iron tips in the river. These "armed stakes" would be invisible during high tide. General Ngo Quyen and his fleet lured the Chinese over the hidden stakes, and as low tide occurred, the stakes impaled and disabled the enemy's vessels. This victory ended China's long domination of Vietnam and began Vietnam's period of "relative autonomy."
Ngo Quyen pronounced himself king and moved Vietnam's capital back to Co-Loa. He died in 944.
For additional information about this tenth-century naval battle, see Taylor, pp. 267-271. The Tenth-Century Vietnam map on page 268 shows Co-Loa, the Bach Dang River, and the former capital of the last Chinese rulers, Dai-La.