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Zhao Tuo
Triệu Đà
A statue of Zhào Tuō
King of Nanyue (Nam Việt)
Succeeded by Zhao Mo (Triệu Mạt)
Personal details
Born ca. 240 BC
Died 137 BC (aged 103)

Zhao Tuo (Chinese: 赵佗; pinyin: Zhào Tuó; Jyutping: Jiu⁶ Tō⁴, Vietnamese language: Triệu Đà ), was the founder of the kingdom of Nanyue. Tuo 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 intermarriage and assimilation was encouraged.[1] In Vietnamese, Zhao Tuo is referred to as Triệu Đà, and the dynasty he founded is called the Triệu Dynasty. In traditional Vietnamese history, he is considered an emperor of Vietnam. However, some modern Vietnamese historians regard him as a foreigner who invaded Vietnam in 207 BC.[2]


Early life[]

Zhao was born around 240 BC in Zhending, which is found in the northern Chinese province of Hebei. During that time, the region was part of the state of Zhao. The state of Zhao was defeated and absorbed by the state of Qin 222 BC, whereupon Zhao Tuo became a citizen of the state of Qin. He later served in a Qin expeditionary force that moved to the south.

Conquest of Âu Lạc[]

In 207 BC, Zhao Tuo defeated King An Dương Vương of the kingdom of Âu Lạc (Viet Nam). In 206 BC, he merged the kingdom with Guangdong and Guangxi, which were under his command during the time of Qin.

Creation of Nanyue[]

At the end of the Qin Dynasty, Zhao took control of a region comprising modern-day Guangzhou and Xingu. Zhao Tuo built up his power and took over the territory, partially through alliances with native Yue nobility and chieftains. The Qin Governor of Canton advised Zhao to found his own independent Kingdom, since the area was remote and there were also many Chinese settlers in the area.[3] He then declared himself the King of Nanyue ("Southern Yue") ("Nam Việt" in Vietnamese). His capital was at Panyu, in modern Guangzhou.

For a long time, Nanyue was at war with the state of Changsha to the north, the warlike Minyue state to the east; and the Southwestern Yi (西南夷) state to the west, which did not adopt Han ways. Also, within the Nanyue territory there were rebellions from the Western Ou (Chinese: 西甌; pinyin: Xīōu) and Lạc Việt (Chinese: 駱越; pinyin: Luòyuè) tribes. The largest threat to Zhao came from the Han Dynasty, which claimed the territory of Nanyue; however at the time the Han "was in no position to challenge"[4] his rule.

From tensions to peace and stability[]

In 196 BC, an envoy from the Han Empire gave Zhao Tuo a seal representing him the king of Nanyue.[5] On this occasion, Zhao Tuo squatted and wore his hair in a bun in the Yue manner.[5] Early in his reign, Emperor Gaozu of Han gave three commanderies () to Prince of Changsha Wu Rui (長沙王吳芮), 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 Nanyue kingdom, which made Zhao Tuo worried about a sudden attack. Zhao Tuo took an opportunity to trade and import things in large amounts from the Central Plains (中原). Zhao Tuo also gave tribute to central authority. After Gaozu died, Emperor Hui of Han ascended the throne, and continued his predecessor's treaty obligations to Nanyue.

Empress Lü raising tensions[]

After seven years of the reign of Emperor Hui, Empress Dowager Lü came to power. In 183 BCE, during the later days of her reign, the Empress suddenly declared trade restrictions upon the Han with other states. This included useful products such as iron tools and horses to Nanyue territory. Wu Rui, the King of Changsha and the only non-Liu king in Han territory, was treated well by the Empress. Gao Zu removed all non-Liu kings except Wu Rui since his state was not strong enough compared to Wu's, and the empress wanted to appoint Lü kings. The blockade had a great impact on the Nanyue economy, since Nanyue needs iron plow tools, and his people were unhappy about the decision of blockade.

Zhao Tuo faulted the Prince of Changsha for the blockade, sending messengers to the capital of Chang'an to ask for a release from the blockade. But Prince of Changsha Wu Rui sent the messengers into prison in Chang'an. With the help of Wu Rui's advice, Empress Dowager Lü killed Zhao Tuo's relatives in the Central Plains and destroyed Zhao Tuo's ancestral tomb. Zhao Tuo realized that political approach would no longer succeed.

In response, Zhao Tuo declared himself Martial Emperor of Nanyue (Chinese: 南越武帝; Jyutping: Nām⁴yūd⁶ Mou⁵-Dei³) in 183 BC. He sacked Wu Rui's Changsha country to the North, prompting a counterattack from the Empress of China. However, most of her army died from disease on their way to Nanyue. The military conflict did not stop until the Empress of China died. As the victor, Zhao Tuo extended his territory by conquering towns near the boundary with Han's domains. He also established relationships with Minyue, Xi'ou (西甌), and Lạc Việt. The war almost wiped out the trading relations between the Central Plains and Nanyue.

Back as vassal and death[]

In 179 BC, Emperor Wen of Han ascended the throne. The new Emperor abolished some cruel punishments made by the Qin Dynasty. Zhao Tuo communicated with the Emperor that if he removed the two generals from Changsha and restored his relatives in Zhending, he would make peace with Han. Emperor Wen responded positively, repairing the tombs of Zhao's ancestors, finding a survived member of Zhao family and moving the Han's army out of Changsha. Afterwards, Zhao Tuo revoked his title of emperor. Nanyue became a vassal state of the Han again, although Zhao Tou has retained the autonomy of his Kingdom and was referred to emperor throughout Nanyue until his death in 137 BC, aged 103.


  1. Snow, Donald B., Cantonese as written language: the growth of a written Chinese vernacular (2004), Hong Kong University Press, p. 70.
  2. Brantly Womack (2006). China and Vietnam: the politics of asymmetry. Cambridge University Press, 2006. p. 100. ISBN 0-521-85320-6. 
  3. Taylor (1983), p. 23
  4. Twitchett, Denis; Loewe, Michael, eds (March 2008). "2 - The Former Han Dynasty". The Cambridge History of China: Volume 1: The Ch'in and Han Empires, 221 BC–AD 220. 1. Cambridge University Press. p. 128. ISBN 9781139054737. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Taylor, Keith Weller, The Birth of Vietnam, p. 24. University of California Press, 1991.


See also[]

Zhao Tuo
Triệu Dynasty
Born: 230 BC Died: 137 BC
Preceded by
An Dương Vương
as king of Âu Lạc
King of Northern Vietnam
203 BC – 137 BC
Succeeded by
Zhao Mo
as king of Nanyue

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