3. Great Social Migrations
One of the main causes of Thang Long-Ke Cho’s population growth in the 17th and the 18th centuries was continuous migrant movements. They were either individual migrants or mass migrations pouring in from surrounding areas.
Surely, those movements had begun several centuries previously. The number of people moving to Thang Long at the end of the 15th century was so great that the Adjunct Governor of Phung Thien Prefecture drove the immigrants out, forcing them to return to their native villages. That was also the reason why in 1481 Censor Quach Dinh Bao submitted a proposal which distinguished between taxpaying traders and other unwanted migrants and to encourage traders to settle down permanently to work there. (8-III-277)
During the 17th and 18th centuries the flow of migrants from surrounding provinces into Ke Cho continued. Their motives were mainly economic, but also non-economic. Among the non-economically motivated type were scholars who came to the capital for study, and then settled permanently. They were also people appointed to the capital to work as mandarins, and others who were offered privileges and later brought their relatives to the capital with them. Gradually, those people formed complex inter-relationships in their new residences, creating blood relations among them. For example, in the early 18th century, inhabitants of Phat Loc village, in Dong Quan district of Thai Binh Province followed a village man of the Bui family who had come to the capital to study. They lived in the city center in a small street later named Phat Loc alley in memory of their home village.
During years of famine and turbulence in the first half of the 18th century, peasant uprisings occurred and peasants fled to the capital, hoping to avoid high taxes, difficult conscripted labor services [corvée] in their hometowns. Families of some Confucian scholars also moved to the capital, searching for a safe place to avoid the ravishing of wars. The families of Hoang Hy Do and Nguyen Nghieu Minh - friends of writer Pham Dinh Ho - moved from Hai Duong Province at the end of the Le dynasty. They can be accounted for in this scholar class. (35-77-78)
The second type of immigrant included artisans from locales specializing in particular crafts. They brought along their craft techniques and their tools to settle centrally on certain streets, where they worked in public workshops or independently. Some examples of this type of immigrant were the dyers from Dan Loan (Binh Giang district, Hai Duong Province) who migrated to Hang Dao Street, the embroiderers from Quat Dong and Huong Duong villages (Thuong Tin district, Son Nam Province) who moved to Yen Thai alley and Tu Thap hamlet (Hang Trong Street today), the silver carvers from Trau Khe village (in Binh Giang district, Hai Duong Province) came to Hang Bac Street, and shoemakers from the three related villages called the three “Cham” villages (True Lam, Van Lam, Phong Lam, in Tu Ky district of Hai Duong Province) migrated to Hai Tuong alley (Hang Giay Street today). Those were economically motivated migrant movements. People of this type were related by profession and the community mores of their old countryside. Traditional values were consolidated and strengthened through generations. Thus, the second type of immigrant became more firmly settled than the first.
Throughout the 17th and the first half of the 18th century, such migratory movements took place under an especially favorable condition, that is, the demolition of Dai La citadel wall. During the nearly 150 years [from 1592-1749] when there was no confining city wall there were almost no restrictions or controls on traffic from the outside to the inside of the citadel, or from the rural to urban areas.
In 1749 the Dai La citadel wall was rebuilt, but it was used for security purposes for only a short time Then it became a specialized traffic route -a “dike road“- facilitating and making the traffic flow of Thang Long even more convenient rather than obstructing it.
In the 19th century, during the Nguyen dynasty, Thang Long-Hanoi experienced a new migrant movement. Taking advantage of a lenient policy towards Chinese nationals by the first kings of the Nguyen dynasty, and because Hanoi was no longer the capital of Vietnam, a large number of Chinese traders from the southern provinces of China flooded into this city, forming a new class of wealthy merchants.
Migrant movements to Thang Long-Hanoi changed the collective face of its people, resulting in a population boom. The exact population of Thang Long-Hanoi at this stage is still unknown but Alexander de Rhodes estimated that “the population of this crowded city might reach a million.” (206:109) This figure was probably greatly exaggerated. In Dampier’s opinion, “There may be in Cachao [Ke Cho] about 20,000 houses.” (150:36) However, all visitors agreed that Ke Cho was the most populated city in Vietnam at that time, and one of the most densely populated cities in Asia and in the entire world.
These social migrations made Ke Cho’s working class the core class among its mixed population. This class comprised specialized artisans, most of them originally from the countryside. The movements also created permanent ties and easy communication channels between urban and rural areas. This relation has been maintained and consolidated since then. It should be noted that the great migratory movements in Vietnam, which led to revitalization of Thang Long-Ke Cho, were unlike the migrations of serfs and artisans who flowed into Western European cities in the Middle Ages. The migration there took place in only one direction. Artisans and serfs moved into cities and in a short time (often about a year), they became permanent city dwellers. In Vietnam generally and in Thang Long-Ke Cho especially, the movements were different. There was also a reverse migration, a two-way migration. Artisans migrated to Ke Cho to find jobs and earn their living. Once they were better off, they returned to their villages to build houses and purchase land. Some returned to the countryside to avoid social turmoil or to retire. Moreover, the feudal state often forced peasant immigrants to return to their home villages in order to impose military service, taxes and corvée labor services. These regulations helped control and ease the pressure on the urban population.
In conclusion, in the 17th and 18th centuries Thang Long-Ke Cho was vigorously thriving. That prosperity was the cumulative result of many factors: political factors (the state policy of expanding the citadel), economic ones (the development of a commodity economy), and social (great migrant movements). Among them, political reasons were primary, while economic and social reasons became more important later. Like other typical Asian cities, in Hanoi the royal family area and its bureaucrats played the decisive role in the growth of the residential area. In the West, cities evolved differently. European cities in the Middle Ages resurrected from ancient moribund ones without a directly dominating aristocrat class. Thus, economic factors there were virtually the only reason for the cities’ thriving, and right from the start, cities were the meeting places of artisans and traders.
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