Vietnamese literature in the twentieth century reflects centuries of Chinese occupation, eighty years of French rule, and America's presence during the conflict between communist North Vietnam and democratic South Vietnam. In addition, Roman Catholic missionary work in Asia during the nineteenth and early twentieth century increased Vietnamese literacy and resulted in a greater demand for literature. The twentieth century in Vietnam began under French rule, which, combined with the influence of Chinese culture, produced works of a heavily moralistic nature, as evidenced by the stories of Nguyen Ba Hoc. Poetry as practiced during the first half of the twentieth century by such writers as Tan-Da Nguyen Khac Hieu, A-nam Tran Tuan Khai, and Dong-ho Lam Tan Phat often is described as lyrically romantic. Other writers focused on patriotic themes, eventually becoming known as the Dong-king School of the Just Cause. The advent of Vietnamese literary criticism and journalism in the 1930s occurred concurrently with the Self-Reliance literary group, which consisted of several poets who consciously rejected Chinese writing styles in favor of an indigenous Vietnamese vernacular style and themes that advocated individual and women's rights. The writing of this era continued to focus on traditional themes while introducing new rhyme schemes and rhythms that further relied on the use of Vietnamese language rather than Chinese. In the latter part of the 1930s and continuing through the 1960s, Marxist themes became more prevalent. Social themes of poverty and unfair taxation of Vietnam's peasant population became increasingly popular subject matter for Vietnamese fiction writers.
In the 1950s France signed an armistice that divided the country into the southern Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the communist North Vietnam. France withdrew its colonial government in the 1950s, and the conflict between North and South escalated. The period between the mid-1950s and mid-1960s, however, witnessed a flourishing of literary activity in both countries. Works of this period typically are divided among writers wishing to reunify Vietnam as one communist country, the social realism of South Vietnam, and the heavily political poetry of North Vietnam. The imprisonment of future North Vietnamese president Ho Chi Minh prompted him to write a series of extremely popular poems, while writers in the South continued to advocate democracy and denounce communism. Many of these South Vietnamese writers were incarcerated or exiled for creating works considered “specimens of a depraved culture” after the United States withdrew its military support of the country in 1975, and North Vietnam reclaimed the South. The communist government of Vietnam, however, relaxed many of its restrictions on travel, trade, and culture during the late 1980s and 1990s, which increased the country's literary output and sparked new interest in Vietnamese drama, poetry, and fiction.
Bau tren co dan [The Misunderstood Devotion] (drama) 1996
Hon Dat [The Clod of Earth] (novel) 1966
Bep Lua [The Fireplace] (poetry) 1968
Che Lan Vien
Anh Sang Va Phu Sa [Light and Allusions] (poetry) 1960
Hai Theo Mua [Seasonal Picking] (poetry) 1977
Bao Bien [Storm on the Sea] (novel) 1968
Dat Man [Saltworks] (novel) 1973
Cai San Gach [The Brickyard] (novel) 1959
Vu Lua Chiem [The Rice of the Fifth Moon] (novel) 1960
Doan Quoc Si
Dong Song Dinh Menh [The River of Destiny] (novel) 1959–1963
Ba Sinh Huong Lua [A Life of Love] (novel) 1962
Trinh Trang [Virginity and Candour] (poetry) 1961
Duong Thi Minh Huong
Bong Hoa Rung [The Flower of the Woods] (poetry) 1970
Que Huong [The Native Village] (poetry) 1964
Nguoi Anh Hung Dong Thap [The Hero of the Plain of Rushes] (poetry) 1969
Huong Xuan [The Odour of Spring] (poetry) 1942
Mua Gat [The Harvest] (poetry) 1961
Hoang Ngoc Phach
To Tam (novella)...
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SOURCE: “The Voice of a Heroic People,” in Chinese Literature, No. 8, 1965, pp. 87–93.
[In the following essay. Ying depicts the poetry of Ho Chi Minh as representative of a heroic struggle against United States imperialism in Southeast Asia.]
Deep is the friendship between Viet Nam and China; We are comrades as well as brothers.
This concise description of the close relationship between the Vietnamese and Chinese peoples was written by President Ho Chi Minh of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam. And this deep friendship between two peoples who have long been comrades-in-arms is vividly reflected in all fields of life, including art and literature.
The literary ties between China and Viet Nam go back to the thirteenth century or earlier. Many classical Vietnamese writers had a good knowledge of Chinese literature and sometimes even wrote in Chinese. Similar customs and social conditions as well as related languages facilitated learning from each other and cultural interchange, which reached unprecedented proportions after the Chinese people's liberation. There are now more contacts than ever before between Chinese and Vietnamese writers, and many Vietnamese works have been made available in translation to the Chinese reading public. I want, briefly, to give my impressions of some Vietnamese writing in Chinese translation I have recently read.
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SOURCE: “Some Background Notes on Nhat Linh,” in France-Asie/Asia, Vol. XXII, No. 2, 2nd Quarter, 1968, pp. 205–220.
[In the following excerpt, O’Harrow discusses the political and cultural changes during which Nhat Linh wrote and published.]
This brief essay is intended to shed some light on the early life of Nguyen Tuong Tam who was one of the most widely read authors of his day in Vietnam1. With the present upheaval in Vietnam, it is difficult to tell whether the works of Nguyen Tuong Tam will continue to enjoy the vast readership they had in the past; this apart, Tam was in many ways representative of his generation and for those of us who are interested in modern Vietnamese history, he is a reflection of the troubled period in which he lived.
In the latter third of the Nineteenth and the first part of the twentieth century, Vietnam was undergoing profound changes. Among other things, the newly installed French colonial administration was in need of interpreters and of some means introducing modern methods to the members of the old bureaucracy. To this end, they established the “Franco-Annamite” schools which gave instruction in the quoc-ngu romanized alphabet, and the romanized alphabet began to replace chu nom2 and Chinese characters as the primary written medium. Inevitably, the spreading of the...
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SOURCE: “Reflections From Captivity,” in Reflections From Captivity, translated by Christopher Jenkins, Tran Khanh Tuyet and Huynh Sanh Thong, edited by David G. Marr, Ohio University Press, 1978, pp. 3–8, 59–66.
[In the following excerpt, Marr introduces English translations of the prison writings of Ho Chi Minh and Phan Boi Chau.]
INTRODUCTION TO PHAN BOI CHAU'S PRISON NOTES
Phan Boi Chau is revered today as a Vietnamese patriot of the first order. Streets are named after him in all parts of Vietnam. His birthplace in Nghe An province is a national monument. His writings—at least those that managed to survive colonial proscription and confiscation—are now published widely, analysed minutely, and incorporated in university and secondary school curricula. Several poems by Phan Boi Chau are remembered and recited eagerly by Vietnamese of all ages and backgrounds. His name is synonymous with tough, unyielding resistance to foreign domination.
Yet when Phan died in 1940, he was convinced that he had accomplished very little. For all the public adulation, both today and when he was alive, Phan was a self-confessed failure in almost everything he did. As a youth he helped organize a group to oppose the first French troops entering his home province, only to see them dispersed “like a flock of birds.” His family house was destroyed, his father...
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SOURCE: “The Literature of Vietnam, 1954–1973,” in Literature & Society in Southeast Asia, edited by Tham Seong Chee, Singapore University Press, 1981, pp. 321–345.
[In the following excerpt, Huan surveys the poetry, drama, and fiction of North and South Vietnam between 1945 and 1975.]
Before examining Vietnamese literature over the past twenty years, it would be interesting to take a closer look at the historical and geographical context of Vietnam over the two decades. The period was rich in events of considerable international importance which contributed to the evolution of its literature.
Above all, Vietnam should be considered in its ambient milieu, that is, Southeast Asia, one of the greatest cultural crossroads of the world today. Vietnam extends to the edge of the Indochinese Peninsula and opens to the east on the Pacific Ocean. Its coastline totals over 3,000 kilometres and it has common frontiers to the north with China (1,150 kilometres) and to the west with Laos (1,650 kilometres) and Cambodia [now Kampuchea] (930 kilometres). A fairly low chain of mountains, known to French geographers as “Cordillere Annamitique” (Annamitic Chain), separates it from these two countries of Indian culture. This geographical situation provides it with numerous cultural exchanges with other countries of the world, and it can be easily imagined that influences of both Chinese...
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SOURCE: “The Twentieth Century,” in An Introduction to Vietnamese Literature, translated from the French by D. M. Hawke, Columbia University Press, 1985, pp. 107–155
[In the following essay, which is a revised version of an essay originally published in French in 1969, Durand and Huan outline the history of Vietnamese literature.]
It is no exaggeration to say that in the period 1900–1975 Vietnamese literature reached heights unequalled in all its history. This flowering was no doubt due to a combination of factors—political, economic and social; but the most important single cause was the introduction of quoc-ngu (the system of writing literary and colloquial Vietnamese in the Roman alphabet). It slowly but surely superseded the nôm system of transliteration in Chinese characters, which had always been cumbrous to use—indeed, it was not officially recognized by the majority of emperors. But if quoc-ngu ushered in a new era in Vietnamese literature, it is because politically the situation was opportune. The French had only recently established themselves in Vietnam (1862, for most historians, marks the end of Vietnamese independence and the beginning of the colonial period); and with the French occupation of the whole of Indochina Western civilization burst with shattering impact into a world long closed to it. The conflict between the two cultures, Chinese and French,...
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SOURCE: “Literary Nomadics in Francophone Allegories of Postcolonialism: Pham Van Ky and Tahar Ben Jelloun,” in Yale French Studies, Vol. 1, No. 82, 1993, pp. 43–61.
[In the following excerpt, Lowe compares the literature of French colonialization of Vietnamese author Pham Van Ky and North African writer Tahar Ben Jelloun.]
Even upon first arriving, immigrants sense they have been for a long time traveling in the West.
In discussing decolonization in Les Damnés de la terre (1961), Frantz Fanon argues that one of the challenges facing those movements seeking to dismantle colonialism is to provide for a new order which refuses to reproduce the old colonial system; this new order must avoid, he argues, the replacement of the colonizer by a national party that would merely caricature the old colonialism, and it should be equally suspicious of an uncritical nativism appealing to essentialized notions of precolonial identity. In Fanon's account, old logics and social relations persist, particularly, through the ties of the national bourgeoisie to the colonial order. The assumption of power by the national bourgeoisie may do little to transform the configuration of social relations that existed under colonialism, leaving the economic relationship of the neocolonial society to the former colonial power only...
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SOURCE: “The Pandora's Box of ‘Doi Moi’: the Open-Door Policy and Contemporary Theatre in Vietnam,” in New Theatre Quarterly, Vol. XIII, No. 52, November, 1997, pp. 372–385.
[In the following essay. Diamond examines contemporary Vietnamese drama.]
Although the ‘open-door' policy, or doi moi, was largely adopted by the Vietnamese because other socialist and former socialist countries were encouraging free market economies, and Vietnam's own economy needed a radical opening-up to stimulate it, party leaders were not unaware of the risk posed by the policy to the traditional and developing national culture. A draft report of the Eighth Party Congress made in June 1996 stated that culture was of particular importance during the doi moi period:
Culture is the spiritual foundation of society, a moving force to promote the socio-economic development and a target of socialism. All short- and long-termed cultural activities should be aimed toward a modern culture combined with a strong national character. They should inherit and bring into play moral and aesthetic values as well as the cultural and artistic legacy of the nation.
(Le Minh Ly, 1996)
During both the French and American Wars, culture was closely connected to revolutionary tasks. Ho Chi Minh said, ‘Culture should be a front in which...
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SOURCE: “The Field of Vision in Vietnamese Poetry,” in Mountain River, Kevin Bowen, Nguyen Ba Chung, Bruce Weigl, eds., University of Massachusetts Press, 1998, pp. xi–xvii.
[In the following excerpt, Chung discusses the importance of poetry to Vietnamese cultural identity through French colonialization and American involvement in the Vietnamese conflict to the early 1990s.]
From 179 B.C.E. until 938 C.E., China ruled Giao Chau—the country we now know as Viet Nam. In 1077, during the Sung dynasty, the Chinese sought to reimpose their rule. When the Vietnamese forces, commanded by Marshal Ly Thuong Kiet, faced the superior Sung army along the Cau River, Marshal Kiet composed the following poem to rally his troops:
The Southern Emperor is to reside in the Southern land. This has been clearly marked in the Book of Heaven. If unruly troops from afar dare to encroach, They will certainly face annihilation.
Asserting Viet Nam's right to independence (“The Southern Emperor is to reside in the Southern land”) and claiming that right by divine decree (“clearly marked in the Book of Heaven”), he proclaimed an independent future for a country one-tenth the size and population of its giant neighbor. His words might seem like sheer bravado—except for the confident voice and the unimpeachable grounds for that confidence. And his prediction of “annihilation” for...
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Balaban, John. “Translating from Vietnamese.” Translation IV (Spring-Summer 1977): 91–101.
Discusses distinguishing features of the Vietnamese language and their manifestations in poetry, stressing the difficulty of rendering Vietnamese poetic wordplay into English.
Bich, Nguyen Ngoc. “The Poetry of Vietnam.” Asia, No. 14 (Spring 1969): 69–91.
Contains English translations of poems by six twentieth-century Vietnamese writers.
Burton, Eva. “Communication in Vietnamese Poetry.” Culture Monthly Review XIII, No. 9 (September 1964): 1265– 73.
Analyzes the relative frequency of consonant sounds in examples of “tender” and “aggressive” Vietnamese poetry, concluding that no significant correlation exists between the mood of Vietnamese poems and their sound components.
Cong-Huyen-Ton-Nu, Nha-Trang. “Poetics in Vietnamese Riddles.” Southern Folklore Quarterly 35, No. 2 (June 1971): 141–56.
Analyzes the Vietnamese language to elucidate the country's poetic techniques, particularly in its tradition of riddles.
Tan, Lek Hor. “Interview with Duyen Anh.” Index on Censorship 13, No. 3 (June 1984): 27–29.
Focuses on the career of the novelist Anh since the collapse of Saigon...
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