Annam has always been tributary to China, and, from the time of its becoming a self-governed state, has occasionally sent presents and tribute to the Son of Heaven. When-ever she has not done so, a war with China has been the inevitable result. China, on her side, has attached great importance to this tribute, and has fixed not only the dates on which it was to be paid, but also the nature of the presents to be made to her by Annam.
In 1252, China being under MONGOL rule, Annam had to pay tribute every three years. Under the 明 MING Dynasty the regulations for payment of tribute by Annam were altered, and those now in force are to be found in Mr. DEVERIA'S work Histoire des Relations de la Chine avec l'Annam-Vietnam, du XVI au. XIX siecle. (Paris, Ernest Leroux, 1880.)
That Annam is a country under the sovereignty of China, is still more clear by the fact, that, on an Annamese king coming to the throne, he has to ask for investiture at the hands of the Emperor, in the same way as in the Middle Ages monarchs of Catholic countries had to obtain this confirmation of power from the Pope. Moreover, although in his relations with his subjects and in treaties with western powers the King of Annam is designated 大皇帝 Dai-hoang-de, or Supreme Emperor, the characters 國長 Kuo-tchang, or Chief of a Kingdom, are applied to him in China when soliciting investiture; and he is afterwards simply called 王 Wang, meaning King or Prince. In addressing the Emperor, the King of Annam makes use of the form 表 Piao, i.e. stateman presented to the Emperor; and in replying to him the form 勅書 Tche-chu, or letter sent by special command of the Emperor, is used.
When in 1790 the 西山 Tay-son rebel 阮惠 NGUYEN-HUE, already invested as king of Annam by 乾隆 K'IEN-LUNG, came to China to salute the Emperor on the occasion of the 55th anniversary of his reign, he took part in the ceremonies of the palace in company with the Tartar Princes of the first and second rank, performing with them the various court rites, such as kneeling three times and bowing nine times before His Imperial Majesty.
This state of affairs would seem to have been changed by the treaty signed at Saigon on the 15th March 1874 between the French Rear-Admiral DUPRE, Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Lower Cochinchina, and the Annamese Ambassadors 黎順 LE-THUAN and 阮萬 NGUYEN-VAN. Article II. of that treaty states that the President of the French Republic, recognizing the sovereignty of the King of Annam and his entire independence of all foreign powers whatsoever, promises him aid and assistance, and engages to give him, on his demand and gratuitously, the necessary means for maintaining order and tranquility in his state, to defend it against all attacks, and to destroy the piracy which desolates a portion of the coasts of the kingdom. In recognition (Art. III.) of this protection, His Majesty the King of Annam engages to conform his foreign policy to that of France, and in no way to change his present diplomatic relations.
The independence of Annam cannot be stated in more explicit terms than those given above; nevertheless, three years later, in 1877, King 嗣德 TU-DUC suddenly recalled to his mind that he was still a vassal of China and sent an embassy to Peking bearing tribute. The Peking Gazette of the 31st March 1878 publishes a Memorial from 涂宗瀛 T'U TSUNG-TING, Governor of Kuang-si, reporting the arrival of this mission on its way back to Annam. The report says that the members expressed themselves profoundly grateful for the generous and liberal treatment they had received from the hands of His Majesty the Emperor, who, they informed the memorialist, had been graciously pleased to grant them an audience, and bestow upon them some complimentary scrolls. His Majesty had also given them an Imperial Letter for the King of Annam, with presents of silks, satins and other articles. After resting a few days at the provincial capital, they were sent on under escort to their own country.
This political constitution of a double character, which in European states would lead to endless warfare, does not seem to affect to any great extent the authority of eastern monarchs. In Annam, for instance, the king yields to outside pressure only when obliged to do so by, force of arms; within his own territories his rule is absolute and despotic; he neither takes into consideration his state of vassalage to the Emperor of China, nor docs he hold himself bound by treaties signed by him with other Powers.