NGUYEN HUU CANH, the founder of Saigon-HCM City
Nguyen Huu Canh
Nguyen Huu Canh (1650-1700), was a famous army commander and an excellent administrator. He is credited for expanding our territories to the south and laying foundations for the city of Saigon-Ho Chi Minh City.
Nguyen Huu Canh was born in the year of the Tiger, 1650, in a village in what is nowadays Chuong Tin Commune, Phong Loc District of Quang Binh Province. According to researchers, one of his ancestors was Dinh Quoc Cong (Duke) Nguyen Bac, a famous general under King Dinh Tien Hoang. Nguyen Huu Canh was also a descendant of Vietnam’s most illustrious politician: Nguyen Trai. Canh’s father was Chieu Vu Hau (Earl) Nguyen Huu Dat, a noted general who had helped the Nguyen Lord in the struggle against the Trinh Lord in the Dang Ngoai (Outer Section or North Vietnam).
Growing up during the Trinh - Nguyen War, Nguyen Huu Canh spent all his time in the practice of martial arts so that he would be able to join his father in his military campaigns. Though still young, Canh had won many battles and was promoted by Lord Nguyen Phuc Tan to Cai Co, a high-ranking army officer’s rank, when he was in his twenties.
In 1681, his father died; he and his elder brother, Nguyen Huu Hao, succeeded their father as army commanders. In his manners and relations with people Nguyen Huu Canh was serious and careful; therefore he was well respected. In 1692, relations at the border of Vietnam and Champa turned to strife. Ba Tranh, the king of Champa, led his armies to attack Dien Ninh, a district of today’s Phu Yen Province. By order of Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu, Nguyen Huu Canh fought the attackers and chased them out. He named the new land Tran (district) Thuan Thanh and became the district’s first governor.
After he had pacified the region, Canh drew up programs of reclaiming land for farming, restoring social order, and stabilizing the livelihood of the people in Thuan Thanh District. The district quickly prospered.
At the beginning of the Mau Dan year (the year of the Tiger, 1698), Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu again sent Nguyen Huu Canh, now promoted to Grand Mandarin, to inspect the South, write the civil code, set up legal rule, and determine territorial borders. Nguyen Huu Canh and his troops sailed off to the south and went upstream on the Dong Nai River to arrive at Cu Lao Pho (Pho Island), the region’s largest and busiest river port at that time. Nguyen Huu Canh inspected the area of Saigon and set up two administrative offices in Phuoc Long and Tan Binh districts. These administrative agencies, the first in South Vietnam, were under the rule of Gia Dinh County. Trinh Hoai Duc in the Gia Dinh Chronicle wrote: “The land was extended by over one thousand miles and population increased by 40,000 families.” Nguyen Huu Canh posted several bureaus in charge of the administration such as the Ky Luc (in charge of administrative affairs and tax), the Luu Thu (military), and Cai Bo (justice). Xa Ty (public servants) and some army units were engaged in the service of the mandarins. As for the Chinese ethnic people, Nguyen Huu Canh organized special administrative units like the Thanh Ha Commune (Tran Bien), and the Minh Huong Commune (Phien Tran). He also recruited volunteers from the population for his programs of reclaiming land and building hamlets in remote areas.
In the book Stories Of Dai Nam’s Celebrities (first edition, volume 1) it was noted that “Nguyen Huu Canh had recruited migrant people from Bo Chanh (Quang Binh Province) to the south for reclaiming land (in Tran Bien and Phien Tran); he then ordered the building of communes and hamlets, fixed tax rates and drew up rolls of taxpayers.” Thus, the border of Vietnam was extended to this area. In 1700, Nguyen Huu Canh led his army to the area that is today’s southwestern border of Vietnam. Thanks to his prestige he quickly pacified the troubled area. However, Nguyen Huu Canh fell gravely sick some time later and died, at the age of 50.
Nguyen Huu Canh was a good army commander who had been using his talent and virtue to placate people. He has contributed a great part in the southward march of our people; he brought prosperity to the people. Therefore, he was well respected, much thanked, and adored by the people. Nowadays, temples honoring Le Thanh Hau (Earl) Nguyen Huu Canh exist in many localities. The biggest of these are in An Giang, Dong Nai and Quang Binh provinces. There also is a temple venerating Nguyen Huu Canh in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.