On the 5th of every Lunar New Year, while the last firecrackers still resound in Hanoi, many of its inhabitants rush to its Southeastern part, going past the O Cho Dua roundabout and striding along Nguyen Luong Bang Street down to Dong Da Hill in order to take part in the Dong Da Festival, which celebrates a historic victory, over the Qing invaders in 1789. Dong Da is the place where, over 200 years ago, Emperor Quang Trung (reigning 1788-1792) defeated the 290,000-strong Qing invading army. In the evening of the 4th and on the 5th days of the 1st lunar month – that is 29-30 January 1789 – the enemy redoubt in Khuong Thuong was overwhelmed by Vietnamese forces and its Commanding Officer, General Sam Nghi Dong, committed suicide. Thereafter, the Commander-in-Chief of the Expeditionary Corps, General Ton Si Nghi, hurried away from the Vietnamese capital and ran back to China in panic.
After the battle, there were heaps of enemy corpses almost everywhere, in the fields and along the roads, and they had to gathered up and buried in 12 mass graves which were so big that they became in the end hills and hillocks over which grew trees. In 1851, that is half a century later, as work started on the construction of Nam Dong Market, more skeletons of enemy troops were found in the area and were gathered for burial in a mass grave in Nam Dong Village. That is the 13th hillock. The inhabitants of Nam Dong and Thinh Quang Villages also built a pagoda, called Dong Quang Pagoda, in front of the 13th hillock. From then on, Dong Quang Pagoda annually organized a religious ceremony to commemorate the Dong Da Battle on the 5th day of the Lunar New Year. After the ceremony, there were a number of games such as wrestling, swinging, cock-fighting, and so on.
After the liberation of Hanoi in 1954, the municipal authorities held annual celebrations of the 1789 Victory in Dong Da Hillock. Gradually, the commemoration became a festival, involving many games and plays. An outstanding item of these games is the Fire Dragon, a 15-m-long dragon made of cloth and paper. A group of young men wearing close-fitted white clothes, with red stripes and belts, and blue puttees, raise the dragon to their heads and perform the dance of the “hovering dragon.” Another group of young men walks around the dragon procession, performing martial arts to show their ability and also to simulate the historical battle. The people in the neighboring area also make a repeat performance of the old tactic of using fire to attack the besieged enemy in Khuong Thuong and Dong Da area by burning oil-soaked straw cords and producing fire lines and fire circles. The general picture is that of a dragon pouncing on and belching fire at the enemy.
During the festival, the Dong Quang Pagoda – located opposite to the Dong Da Hillock – also performs religious rites, with big groups of the devout presenting joss-sticks and offerings to the souls of the national heroes, and to the souls of enemy troops killed in the battle as well.
On the same day, a number of people also visit the Boc Pagoda, and present their respects and offerings before the Duc Ong Statue which, in the view of many, is actually dedicated to Emperor Quang Trung.
Today the Dong Da festival to people living in Hanoi has become an indispensable demand in the first days of spring.