At the beginning of the 19th century, Thang Long-Hanoi experienced many changes. It had been the country’s capital, and had flourished as the metropolis of the north. However, in the late 18th century during the Tay Son period and during Emperor Gia Long’s reign it was no longer the capital and was called Bac Thanh or Northern Citadel. Under the reorganized administrative framework of Minh Mang’s reign it became merely a large town. Therefore, its power as a political force steadily weakened. For the same reason, the glory of the Royal citadel section declined. It was no longer the king’s seat of power and of the imperial administrative apparatus but home to provincial bureaucrats and some permanent military forces. Hanoi then acquired a status equal to dozens of other provinces throughout the country. The assemblage of the Trinh Lord’s palaces and his architectural achievements outside the Royal citadel were completely destroyed and replaced by new villages. Service activities supplying the Royal citadel declined considerably. During the 19th century, the Royal citadel section of Thang Long-Hanoi shrank in comparison to the previous century.
- Hanoi was administratively considered as a province in 1831 during Minh Mang’s reign. In fact, the land area of the province of Hanoi actually expanded over an area which today comprises most of Hanoi except for the three districts of Soc Son, Dong Anh, and Gia Lam, and included part of Ha Tay, Nam Ha and Ninh Binh Provinces. Hanoi Province was governed by the provincial governor of Ha Ninh. (So-called because the jurisdictional area combined Ha Noi and Ninh Binh.) Therefore, the actual territory of the former capital later only comprised two districts: Tho Xuong and Vinh Thuan (the new name of Quang Due district). From being the country’s capital, to becoming two districts of one province, Hanoi was no longer considered a special independent administrative unit. Subsequently, its former urban features much diminished. Rural influence, having already affected the city, increased and pervaded the heart of Hanoi street area. The street life of the former capital and that of its agricultural surroundings became more similar. In the early 19th century, in addition to the old concepts of phuong or guild areas, new administrative units were formed and new names, such as, hamlets and farms, were given to units of land in the surrounding districts and cantons. Similar administrative decisions were made for other localities. With this type of division, during the Nguyen period, Hanoi was on the way to a ruralization and “commune”-ization. But there was still one thing that had not changed from the traditional way of living: the trading area in the east of the city.
- The excellently maintained and somewhat more highly developed level of this residential area of Hanoi nourished, in contrast to its Royal citadel area, which was actually deteriorating. There were reasons for that paradoxical change.
As mentioned above, during the 17th and 18th centuries, the residential area of Thang Long broke its symbiotic tie to the royal area, to become an independent economic unit. This economic momentum continued into the 19th century. The population of the Red River area continuously increased. The urban class of Hanoi was stable and its living standard increased. All these factors stimulated professional handicraft guilds to mass produce goods of sophisticated quality with improved technology and skill. After the central Royal Court apparatus moved to Hue, the state workshops in Hanoi declined. Recruitment of public servants and highly skilled workers decreased. The tight control of the feudal State over the traditional economy was relaxed, encouraging both old and new handicraft professions to develop freely. The development of river transportation and new commercial stations on the way to Kinh Bac, Son Tay and the “Thousand Mile High Road” leading to the capital in Hue all created a large and efficient market with a North-South exchange line. On the other hand, the international focus was also promising for Hanoi’s economy (whether the contacts were official or unofficial) although external contacts were still limited. In fact, these contacts stimulated economic cooperation with neighboring countries, such as Yunnan and Quang Dong Provinces of China, parts of Japan and Southeast Asia.
An especially important element fostered the prosperity of commercial and handicraft activities in Hanoi during the 19th century -the participation of Chinese merchants. From the beginning of Emperor Gia Long’s reign to Minh Mang's reign, a wave of Chinese migration from Quang Dong and Fujian Provinces of China poured into and settled in Thang Long-Hanoi. They lived and worked there for many generations, creating mixed generations through marriages with Vietnamese people. This historical trend continued for centuries but became more vigorous after the Nguyen dynasty formulated a foreign policy aimed at appeasing the Q’ing dynasty. The new policy relaxed controls over Chinese people in Thang Long, at a time when Thang Long was no longer the capital and therefore, no longer required as strict security as before.
Finally, since it was no longer involved political intrigues, Hanoi remained stable with few changes in boundaries, in its architecture, and in the life style of its people from the 1830s until the French attacked the citadel. The first attack occurred in 1873 and the second in 1882. Except for the brief attacks on Hanoi in 1873, and in the 1882-84 period when the French attacked again, the face of Hanoi remained fairly intact during the 19th century until 1888 when it became a French Concession.
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