The Confucian model of absolute monarchy in Vietnam gave rise to two contradictions: one among the various factions of the ruling class, and the other, between the elite and the people. During the 16th century, the explosive development of these contradictions brought about the collapse of the early Le Dynasty, which was replaced in 1527 by the Mac (1527-1592).
The new Dynasty adjusted certain policies and, at the initial period, could ensure social stability, and boost production and the restoration of Buddhism and Taoism. But this regime failed to create the basic conditions for a steady development of society. In the meantime, opposition forces, relying o¬n the influence of the monarchy and Confucian ideology, rose up in many localities under the guise of restoring the Le Dynasty. In 1533, these forces rallied in Thanh Hoa, set up a puppet Le Court against the Mac. From 1545, all the powers of the restored Le Court were actually concentrated in the hands of the Trinh family. This was the beginning of the “Le King-Trinh Lord” period which lasted until 1786.
Dong Kinh remained the capital but was renamed Thang Long. New architectural masterpieces were created in Thang Long. In addition to the Royal Enclosure reserved for the Le Kings, there had appeared a palace for the Trinh Lords, the true center of power over the country. As a metropolis, Thang Long boasted its fast development and prosperity.
Thanks to the growth of the commodity economy and the expansion of foreign trade, the 17th and 18th centuries witnessed a stage of national prosperity. Old towns thrived while new towns and commercial ports emerged. Thang Long headed the list of these towns and cities, and people from all around flocked there. According to Alexandre de Rhodes, Thang Long then had a population of about o¬ne million people, but Dampier estimated that there were 20,000 houses.
Thang Long’s economy was based on agriculture, handicrafts and trade. Many of town people became wealthy shop owners but the majority was small producers and traders. Thang Long could not as yet break out of structure of a medieval town of the East to become a “liberal city” like those in the West.
Thus, Thang Long was still a major cultural center of the country. Its inhabitants prided themselves on their refined lifestyle and architectural and artistic works (temples, pagodas, communal houses, exquisitely carved statues, altars, and sagging doors). Thang Long was also proud of its Tu Thap painting village (on the bank of the Lake of Restored Sword), which was later called Hang Trong painting school.