Minh Mang Tomb: Where Confucius Simplicity Meets Royal Elegance

Each royal tomb in Hue is fascinating in how it encapsulates the character and rule of the monarch. The Ming Mang Tomb and Mausoleum (Vietnamese spelling: Lăng Minh Mạng) is unassuming, yet stately and sublime.

It’s majestic in how it draws one into the inner sanctum and lake through a series of gateways and wide courtyards. In line with Confucius values, its other name is the Tomb of Filial Piety (Hiếu Lăng – 孝陵).

What to Expect at the Minh Mang Mausoleum

Out of all the royal tombs in Hue (Huế), the Minh Mang Mausoleum has the most pleasing architectural design. Ming Mang’s son and successor, Thieu Tri (Thiệu Trị), completed the complex with an army of thousands of workers and artisans. Eventually, 40 buildings were erected over 44 acres. 

The overall design resembles a womb suggesting Mother Earth and rebirth into the heavens through the purifying waters of the lake. The broad angles, bright colors, and detailed ornamentation are a gift to the contemplative photographer, and those seeking inner solace or divine exaltation. 

Notable Things at the Minh Mang Tomb 

The Minh Lau Pavillion of Light
The Minh Lau Pavillion of Light
[ image by katiebordner from CC ] 

The Minh Mang monument is on the watch list of the World Monuments Fund. Periodic renovations continue to the 20 or so remaining buildings. Minh Mang’s tomb attracts half a million visitors each, which includes about 150 000 international tourists. 

  1. Gates have three traditional doorways, and the middle doorways have remained closed ever since the emperor was entombed. 
  2. It’s a 2 300 meter straight line from the entrance to the final sanctuary. 
  3. In the ceremonial courtyard, you will see a double row of elephants, horses, and mandarins.
  4. The Sung An Temple is the worshippable place of the Emperor and his Empress Ta Thien Nhan. 
  5. From the temple, three bridges cross the Trung Minh Lake of Impeccable Clarity which lead to the square-shaped Minh Lau Pavilion of Light with two stories and eight roofs. 
  6. Two obelisks on either side of the pavilion represent the power of the Emperor. 
  7.  A final stone bridge crosses the waters of the crescent-shaped Tan Nguyet Lake of the New Moon. Behind a locked gate is the imperial burial site on an artificial hill. 

Minh Mang Tomb: The Emperor and His Legacy

Broad and Stately Courtyards of Minh Mang Tomb
Broad and Stately Courtyards of Minh Mang Tomb
[ Image by Uwe Aranas from CC ] 

The Emperor Minh Mang was the second of the imperial Nguyen Dynasty following the Emperor Gia Long.  Born Nguyễn Phúc Đảm, Minh Mang was the fourth son of Gia Long and he reigned from 1820 to 1841.

Phúc Đảm’s anti-foreign sentiment won favor with his father, while his older brother Nguyễn Phúc Cảnh, a devout Catholic, died from a common disease while Gia Long was still alive. 

The rule of Minh Mang is noted for its strict adherence to Confucian ideals, anti-foreign sentiment, as well as a consolidation of Vietnamese identity and territorial sovereignty. 

Gia Long and the Rise of the Nguyen Dynasty 

After the Tây Sơn brothers had defeated the Nguyễn Lords, one prince, Nguyễn Phúc Ánh, who later became Emperor Gia Long, managed to escape the massacre of the Nguyen clan and fled to Siam. 

The populist Tây Sơn Dynasty went on to defeat the ruling Trịnh Dynasty in the north, thus unifying Vietnam after endless feuding wars between the northern Trinhs and southern Nguyens. 

Meanwhile, Nguyễn Ánh attempted to regain power in the south via an alliance with Siam, but even a campaign by Rama I ended in defeat for the Thai forces. 

Nguyen Anh sent his eldest son Prince Nguyễn Phúc Cảnh, then aged five, with a Catholic priest to the court of King Louis XVI of France. On behalf of his father, the boy prince, now aged seven, signed the 1787 Treaty of Versailles. 

Although delayed by the onset of the French Revolution, the Nguyen forces were modernized and reinforced with mercenaries. A successful attack was launched in 1802, and on 1 June the Tay Son Dynasty was defeated.

Nguyen Anh established his rule as Gia Long and the Nguyen Dynasty lasted until the abdication of King Bao Dai in 1955.

Emperor Minh Mang Closes the Doors 

Closed Inner Door at Minh Mang Tomb
Closed Inner Door at Minh Mang Tomb
[ image by Dezalb from Pixabay ]

Although Gia Long never felt comfortable with the French, nor trusted their real ambitions in Vietnam, he was indebted and thus allowed French missionaries to continue their work. 

His chosen heir, Minh Mang, felt no obligation towards the French. Furthermore, the end of the Napoleonic wars now meant a more active threat from French interests.

 In 1825, Minh Mang banned missionaries from entering Vietnam. Between 1833 and 1838, several missionaries were executed as part of various rebellions that were put down. 

One of these missionaries was Joseph Marchand who wished to have Minh Mang overthrown and replaced with a Catholic dynasty led by the son of Ming Mang’s late elder brother whom Gia Long never favored.   

Repeatedly throughout his reign, foreign powers, including Britain and the US under Andrew Jackson, tried to establish trade missions, but Minh Mang rebuffed all emissaries. 

Ending of Old Alliances 

Lê Văn Duyệt was a Christian strongman and a governor in the south who had led the Nguyễn forces to victory against the Tây Sơn at Quy Nhơn. Gia Long gave Duyệt ample leeway when dealing with foreigners. 

After his death, there was a rebellion and a Christain revolt led by Lê Văn Khôi. Emperor Ming Mang ended the uprising and in doing so retook Saigon and expelled all missionaries. He also repelled the supporting forces of Rama II of Siam in Cambodia. 

Ethnic Assimilation and Confucian Unity

During his reign, Minh Mang ended the last remaining independent Cham State. The last Mulsim leader Katip Suma, who called for Jihad against Minh Mang, fled with his followers into Cambodia. 

The emperor also enacted ethnic assimilation policies which fostered revolts in the south, especially among Cham, Kmer, and ethnic Chinese. On the other hand, he imposed restrictions on wealthy landowners in order to appease the less fortunate peasantry. 

Other things he did was to support the development of the Imperial College or Quoc Tu Giam (Quốc Tử Giám) and reinforced Confucian fundamentalism. 

The Passing of Emperor Minh Mang 

Ceremony at Minh Mang Tomb
Ceremony at Minh Mang Tomb
[ image by Manhhai from Flickr ]

The emperor passed away on 11 January 1841. He had 43 wives and concubines and may have fathered as many as 142 children. 

The imperial throne passed to Emperor Thiệu Trị, who unfortunately never had the dynamic vision of his father. He continued diplomatic standoffs with increasingly belligerent Western powers. The treatment of foreigners and Catholic priests was then used as a pretext for more aggressive colonization.

How to Get to Minh Mang Tomb 

  • Entrance Fee Adults: 150 000 VND
  • Children 7 to 12 yrs: 40 000 VND

The Minh Mang Tomb is about 13 km due southwest of central Hue on the west bank of the Perfume River (Sông Hương) as you cross over the Tuan Bridge (Cầu Tuần). 

A single taxi fare is around 250 000 VND, however, you’re better off hiring a private car and driver for a half or full day, and that way you can include other places along the way. 

As the Minh Mang Tomb is near the river, you can also get there via river taxi. You can pick up one of these at the main downtown wharf at 5 Le Loi Street, or just outside the Thien Mu Pagoda (Chùa Thiên Mụ). This way you can also include the Hue Nam Shrine (Miếu Huệ Nam) in your itinerary. 

If you want to know more about the places you visit, then it’s always a good idea to join a tour or to get a private guide for the day. 

Other Key Imperial Tombs in Hue 

Gia Long Tomb (Lăng Gia Long) is the furthest away and worth the trip if you’re a history buff or want to enjoy the countryside. The best way there is by boat early in the morning. 

Thieu Tri Tomb (Lăng Thiệu Trị) is just on the opposite back from the Hue Nam Shrine. This tomb combines the architectural styles of Gia Long and Ming Mang. 

Tu Duc Tomb (Lăng Tự Đức) is one of the largest and most opulent imperial burial sites. It’s about 3 km north of the Thieu Tri Tomb. There’s a beautiful lake and nice wooded areas.

Khai Dinh Tomb (Lăng Khải Định) is the final tomb ever built. It’s a popular attraction for its ornate interior and unique combination of European and Vietnamese architecture.

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