Yuan Ying (essay date 1965)
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.
At the end of the eighteenth century Nguyen Du wrote a poem of more than 3,200 lines entitled Kim Van Kieu which was adapted from a Chinese novel. As soon as this was published in Chinese in 1959 by the People's Literature Publishing House, Peking, it aroused great interest among Chinese readers, who find its content and historical background familiar since it gives a picture of sixteenth-century China. It tells of a beautiful and talented girl named Thuy Kieu, who was kidnapped and sold to a brothel, but through all her sufferings and hardships her heart remained as innocent as a white lotus flower unstained by mud. Nguyen Du ruthlessly exposed the feudal rulers and voiced the people's longing for freedom and justice. This poem conveys his sympathy for the people and his admiration for virtue and pure love.
This long poem is still so popular in Viet Nam that when I visited the country with the Chinese Writers' Delegation in October 1956 I heard an old village woman and a young woman worker in town reciting some of the most moving stanzas. The poem is widely read in China too. To me it represents the union of Chinese and Vietnamese literature and is a monument to the close literary ties between our countries.
But the most popular Vietnamese poems in China are those written in Chinese by President Ho Chi Minh. I saw the original manuscripts in the Central Library in Hanoi in 1956, and they were published here in 1960 to celebrate the president's 70th birthday. Our Chinese Writers' Delegation was privileged to hear from Ho Chi Minh himself how these poems came to be written. Holding his hands together as if he were handcuffed, he told us that after his arrest by the Kuomintang reactionaries in the province of Kwangsi in 1942, he was imprisoned for a whole year, and during that time he put all his joy, anger and grief into the hundred short poems which make up this collection. At the beginning of the book he wrote:
My body is in prison But my spirit roams free outside; To achieve a great task In spirit we must range wide.
These lines indicate the lofty tone of the whole book. Reading it, one forgets that these poems were written in prison but seems to hear a great revolutionary talking to his comrades. Here are three examples:
Every morning the sun rises over the wall To shine on our locked cells; The cells are still dark, But ahead of us is light.
You are simply an ordinary cock Yet how loudly you crow each day to announce the dawn; And it is no little thing To arouse men from their dreams.
Roses bloom, roses fade, Bloom and fade relentlessly; But their fragrance seeps into our cells Conveying their sympathy for the men inside.
There is not a hint of gloom or sorrow in these poems which express high ideals and infinite faith in freedom, using homely yet poetic images to voice the confidence and optimism of a revolutionary.
President Ho Chi Minh was writing in dark days for the Vietnamese people under the rule of the French colonialists, but at the same time a resolute underground struggle was being waged under his leadership and that of the Communist Party. After the revolution of August 1945, the Vietnamese fought for...
(The entire section is 1959 words.)