When the Vietnamese monk physician Tuệ Tĩnh 慧靖 (c. 1330-c.1389) was approximately fifty-five years old he was sent with the diplomatic mission of 1385 as a living present to the Ming Dynasty from the Vietnamese royal court. Tuệ Tĩnh's journey to China and the medical text he wrote while living there had a profound impact on the history of Vietnamese Traditional Medicine. Tuệ Tĩnh wrote his most well known text, Nam Dược Thần Hiệu 南藥神效 (Miraculous Drugs of the South), specifically to explain Vietnamese medicine to the Chinese. Tuệ Tĩnh had attracted the attention of the rulers of the Vietnamese Trần Dynasty (1225-1400) through his work in the medical gardens and clinics which were attached to most Buddhist monasteries in Vietnam at the time. Many of these gardens and charity medical clinics had been founded through grants of land from members of the Trần royal family and those donors, and their descendants, continued to take an interest in the monks and nuns who worked in them. The Trần Dynasty holds an important place in Vietnamese history for a number of reasons. It was arguably the most politically stable of any Vietnamese dynasty that ever existed and the Trần have long been celebrated, within Vietnam, as the only ruling house in the world to defeat the Mongols three times. Thus, although Tuệ Tĩnh's sojourn in China exemplifies the fact that the Trần were willing participants in the economic and cultural aspects of what modern scholars often refer to as the East Asian Tributary System they were, and are, also symbols of Vietnam's political independence from China.
This presentation will argue that the Trần royal family used its connection to Buddhist institutions and support of Buddhist involvement in medical activities to tie different regions of Dai Viet at the grassroots or village level, more closely to the Dynasty and that the Trần leveraged their involvement in Buddhist institutions and the medical activities of them to promote loyalty to the Trần and that this contributed directly to the political stability of the dynasty. This pattern continued until the late 14th century when members of the aristocracy became jealous of the land holdings of Buddhist institutions and eventually effected the overthrow of the Trần. This presentation will conclude by presenting evidence that Tuệ Tĩnh's selection for the tribute mission to China and his resulting stay there was part of an attempt by Buddhist institutions to counter the anti-Buddhist Confucian push at the court of the Trần. by powerful landholders. While the Trần Dynasty has long been acknowledged as the most devoutly Buddhist of all Vietnamese royal dynasties and the political influence of prominent Buddhists has been discussed by several scholars the entwinement between the Trần royal family, Buddhist personages and institutions, and health care in Trần ruled Vietnam has received scant attention and to my knowledge no one has yet published on the political effects of this.