The bamboo (Cây Tre)

French version


It is a plant with multiple use in Vietnam. Thanks to this plant, everything is possible in a country where nothing is easy, and where the people will not let any obstacles reject or stop them. It is the plant that lulls the life of a Vietnamese from the cradle to the tomb. Once deceased, the body of the dead person rests upon a tray made of bamboo. In a somewhat humoristic manner, J.C. Pomonti, a specialist in matters on Asia, has often labeled our civilization in his index of Le Monde newspaper as “the bamboo civilization” or “the chopsticks civilization”. It is true that there are only four countries in Asia that make up this civilization ( China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam ). But in Vietnam, the culture of the bamboo is very significant. The bamboo is quoted in poetry, as well as in proverbs and folks songs.

Friend, enjoy your life now before you become too old
The bamboo has only one growth and man has only one life
Let’s enjoy springtime before it goes away
Otherwise old age will catch us on its way

It is also said in Vietnamese:
Tre già làm sao uốn

Difficult to bend a bamboo when it is old

to remind parents that it is easier to educate their children in their tender age as it is harder to do it when they grow older.

In the old days, Vietnamese people used this hollow, lightweight, and sturdy wood to build partitions, fences several meters high to protect their village against robbers. In the village, bamboo gives you everything. It provides the whole house; timber for walls, partitions and floors are made of slats of bamboo. Everything in the house is made with this hollow wood (furniture, beds, tables, various accessories, etc…) even drinking glass. Split into thin strips, it is used to weave ropes and strings. One makes use of the filament of bamboo called kelates to make baskets of any kind for transport as well as the conic hat to provide shelter from rain and the sun. One knows how to make good use of this wood to create usual tools ( the water bucket, the smoking pipe etc…). Bamboo also provides food for animals and even to the villagers, who eat as asparagus, the most tender bamboo shoots.
Even the roots of this hollow wood, unearthed and dried in the sun for entire weeks, would be used at the approach of Tet as firewood to cook sweet rice cakes, or to provide heat during the cold winter months in north and central Vietnam. The bamboo becomes thus something “sacred”, intimate, and peculiar to the village. It is thanks to the hedges made with this plant that the Vietnamese village finds its tranquility and intimacy as well as its traditions and virtues. Bamboo thus becomes the guardian angel of the villagers. That is why it is said in a Vietnamese proverb that:

Phép vua thua lệ làng

The King’s authority stops at the gate of the village’s bamboo hedge.

It is also why nowadays this incomparable plant that facilitated our lives for so long can only be found in the village. The bamboo and the village are so closely dependent that a comparison is made of a man followed by his shadow. That is why one finds this evocation every now and then in the Vietnamese poetry. Every Vietnamese probably has that feeling on his or her passage to his or her native village through the following four verses:

Thì bao nhiêu cảnh mơ màng
Hiện ra khi thoàng cỗng làng tre xanh.

One’s dream becomes reality
Upon seeing the village’s gate among the bamboo trees

Dừng bước nơi đây lòng ngỗn ngang
Ngùi trông về Bắc nhớ tre làng

As I stop here, a feeling of disorientation falls upon my heart
Forlornly looking north, I begin to miss the bamboo hedge of my village.

To find the bamboo is to find the village.

That is why

the bamboo becomes the representative symbol of Vietnam.

Gia Long ( Founder of Nguyễn dynasty)

French version


Gia Long is the imperial title prince Nguyễn Phúc Ánh took in 1802 for his reign at the time of the reunification of the Vietnam empire which extended from the border of Lạng Sơn to the point of Cà Mau on the gulf of Siam.

Gia long results from the combination of two following words: Gia and Long (Gia being a word extracted from the name Gia Định, the ancient city of Saïgon and Long that of the name Thăng Long, the ancient capital Hànội). During the 25 years of fighting against the Tây Sơn, he roamed the whole Cochinchina. He knew perfectly well all the corners of the Mekong delta. Prince Nguyễn Ánh was so attached to the people of the South and in particular to Saigon city that he was khnown at the time as “General Gia Định”.

Before the unification of Vietnam (1801), the last survivor of the Nguyen was hunted down several times by the Tây Sơn ( or the people from the West ) of Nguyễn Huệ. He owed his safe life to a French missionary Pierre Joseph Pigneaux de Behaine who shared with him his meal brought in by a confidant, P. Paul Nghi, and who did not hesitate to organize his escape in the Cancau principality of Mạc Thiên Tứ, the son of his allied Mạc Cửu Hà Tiên region) after the assassination of Nguyễn Huệ. Vương by the Tây Sơn, which is told by the British John Barrow in his book ” Voyage in Cochichina” in 1793.
The tough life he experienced during his years of vicissitude gave his partisans an occasion to interpret later his exploits and perils that he succeeded in overcoming as a sign of God’s will in helping him to regain the throne. The grotto of coins (Hang Tiên) in the region of Ha Tien, accessible nowaday by boat, evokes the souvenir of the young prince Nguyễn Ánh, who took shelter there with his troops while waiting for French reinforcements, finding coins left by pirates. Vietnamese sayings go with his exploits, such as:

Kỳ đà cản mũi”

The varanus is in front of the prow

to mean a task cannot be done because of the obstruction of someone. Thanks to the presence of a monitor that blocked his junk on its way to the sea, he was narrowly saved because his enemies were waiting for him there. Another time in the region of Ha Tien, his junk was bothered by the presence of snakes. He was forced to give order to his subordinates to row faster so as not to be pursued by the snakes. This allowed him to reach Phú Quốc island sooner and avoid the trap set by his adversaries. That is why a Vietnamese saying goes:

“Gặp rắn thì đi, gặp qui thì về”

to mean it is possible to keep going when encountering snakes and it is better to go back when encountering turtles.

Thoughout historical accounts, it is noted that Nguyen Anh was lucky during the years of fighting with the Tây Sơn. One time he was chased by the enemies. He was forced to cross a river by swimming. He was aware that the river was infested with crocodiles. He had to resort to buffaloes that splashed about the riverside to take him over. Even the perilous rescue of his boat engulfed by waves by the young intrepid Lê Vân Duyệt (15 years of age ) who later became his talented general, in a stormy night was the object of prophecy discussed for so many years by the people of Long Hưng Tây village before the event took place.

In spite of these facts having something to do with legitimizing by divine protection the struggle led by Nguyễn Ánh, it is not fair to ignore the qualities in this outstanding personage. He did not have the genius of strategy of his adversary, general Nguyễn Huệ. But he had an incommensurable patience parallel only to that of Gou Jian (or Cẩu Tiễn in Vietnamese ), the prince of Yue in the North at the episode of Spring and Autumn ( thời Xuân Thu )( 476 B.C ) who waited long years to get ready for revenge against Fu Chai ( Phù Sai ) the Wu State’s sovereign ( nuớc Ngô của Ngủ Tử Tư ).

He was gifted at being able to recruit as subordinates individuals of valor ( Võ Tánh, Lê Văn Duyệt, Nguyễn Văn Thành etc…) and grant to frienship a particular signification during his reign, which has been noted towards French missionary Pigneaux de Behaine or his French lieutenants Jean Baptist Chaigneau ( Nguyễn Văn Thắng), Philippe Vaniera, Olivier Puymanel or Siamese king Rama I ( or Chakkri ).

In acknowledgement of the debt that Nguyễn Ánh had let him go back safe and sound with his army to rescue his imprisoned family, the latter was fast to offer many years of hospitality to prince Nguyễn Ánh and his suite when he was forced to take refuge in Bangkok after his scathing defeats against the Tây Sơn at Mỹ Tho (1785).

Nguyễn Ánh was a brave and tough man. With him it seems like there is no one in the South who dares to oppose him. To repay the debt toward his family assassinated by the Tay Son, he remained unruffled before the tortures he reserved for his adversaries. The vanquished enemies were put to death by appalling tortures. Men were torn and women and children were stamped by elephants. Their corpses were thown in the field for crows to eat. It was the fate reserved for the female general Bùi Thị Xuân, the son of emperor Nguyễn Huệ, king Nguyễn Quang Toản etc…

This pact of friendship was born in a military confrontation between his lieutenant Nguyễn Hữu Thùy and Chakkri which was still a general sent by the Siamese king Taksim (Trịnh Quốc Anh ).

Before the volte-face of Taksim imprisoning his family, Chakkri was forced to compromise with Nguyen Anh and return to Bangkok to overthrow Taksim. To recognize this debt and to assist Nguyen Anh to recover the throne, Chakkri sent an army of 50,000 men which was completely decimated in 1785 by the strategist Nguyễn Huệ in the western Mékong (Mỹ Tho).
For political reasons, he did not hesitate to kill people who had served him with devotion when he was still a young prince hunted down by the Tây Sơn. It is the case of Nguyễn Văn Thành, Ðặng Trần Thường. That is why he was ofen compared to Liu Bang (Lưu Bang), the great Han emperor having reserved the same treatment toward his comrades-in-arm. Despite that, he was also seen as a man of the heart. He was fast to render great homage to his comrade-in-arm Nguyễn Văn Thành whom he forced to commit suicide for a calomnious insinuation and burst into tear before the altar set up in honor of the latter. He ordered freedom for his family and restitution of confiscated possessions and titles. One also finds his profound attachment to his subordinates’ lives through the message addressed to his brother-in-law, general Võ Tánh in charge of defending Qui Nhơn or to Pigneaux de Behaine, his spiritual father, military advisor through the ceremony arranged at the funeral of the latter, which was reported by Father Lelabrousse at the Missions Etrangeres on April 24, 1800.

He was also a seducing warrior. His consideration toward queen Ngọc Bích, the young wife of his adversary, young king Cảnh Thịnh (son of king Quang Trung) was exemplary. She was crying out when she saw a very majestuous man standing in front of her:

-General Gia Ðịnh, what do you want of me?

He smiled and answered her with kindness:

Don’t be afraid and stop crying please. General Gia Dinh will be more gentle than a Tay Son one. This residence remains the same for you despite of the change of ownership.

Since his gentleness and his will to conquer the heart of the queen was so strong the latter could not resist. She became thus his first rank concubine and had two sons with him. She was married two times to two kings (Cảnh Thình and Gia Long) and was the last daughter of the Le kings. That is why the two implacable adversaries became “brothers-in-law” because Nguyễn Huệ was the spouse of Ngọc Hân and Gia Long that of Ngọc Bích. It is also for the latter that a Vietnamese saying goes:

Số đâu mà số lạ lùng
Con vua mà lấy hai chồng làm vua

What a bizarre fate she has
Daughter of a king, she got twice married to kings.

In spite of his reputation of being a warrior hardened by years of war and vicissitudes, he was also as vulnerable as any ordinary man. A great number of worries has come upon him that he did not wish to hide and reveal to his confidant, Frenchmen Jean-Baptiste Chaigneau:

Ruling country is easier than managing a harem.
This was revealed by Michel, the son of J.B. Chaigneau in his journal “Le Moniteur de la Flotte” in 1858.

Despite the treaty initialed at Versailles in 1787 by Counts de Vergennes and de Montmorin for king Louis 16th and by his son Nguyễn Phúc Cảnh witnessed by bishop of Adran, Pigneaux de Behaine, the collaboration of a great number of French subordinates in his ranks and his interest in science and Western techniques, he continued adopting a very ambiguous policy toward the Europeans, in particular the missionaries. Was this benevolent attitude due to the friendship he tried to honor toward his friend Pigneaux de Behaine or to his open mindedness like KangXi in China aiming at better utilizing the catholic missionaries’s competences?

One keeps asking these questions up to now. However, one knows that throughout the construction of the Purple City, the maintenance of the mandarinal system, the reform of the Le code based on that of the Qing in China, he appeared to be more than never an admirer of the Ming and Qing dynsties, a convinced Confucianist and a more retrograde emperor. During his last years, he began a policy of folding back by choosing as his successor prince Nguyễn Phúc Ðảm supported by most of the Confucianist mandarins in lieu of the children of prince Cảnh who deceased of an illness. The prince known under the name of Minh Mang did not hesitate to do away with the children and wife of Cảnh (Mỹ Ðường ) and gave the Europeans an opportunity, especially the French government to intervene militarily, by deliberately leading an anti-western and anti-catholic policy and thus renewing a policy in line with the Chinese policy. Nguyen Anh could have become a great emperor at the image of a Japanese “Meiji” when he had the advantage of being circled by a great number of Frenchmen including his private physician (a certain Despiaux) and he had an open mind to Western techniques and sciences.

It is a shame for Vietnam to have lost an opportunity to enter the era of modernization.

It was unfortunate for the Vietnamese people to have written later their history with blood and tears

He does not deserve being forgotten in our history because he arrived at enlarging our territory and unifying the country under his banner. But he is no longer a great emperor of Vietnam because grandeur is measured by not only the enlargement of Vietnam but also by the good deeds he brought to the Vietnamese people and by the magnanimity toward his adversaries.

It is regrettable to say so because Nguyễn Ánh with the qualities he showed us during his 25 years of vicissitude could have done better to his country and people more than any other kings of Vietnam (including king Quang Trung ).

Concubines under the Nguyễn dynasty (Cung tần mỹ nữ)

French version



Trong cunq quế âm thầm chiếc bóng
Ðêm năm canh trông ngóng lần lần
Khoảnh làm chi bầy chúa xuân
Chơi hoa cho rữa nhị dần lại thôi.

In the royal genaeceum, I stay alone with my shadow,
All night long, I eagerly wait for his visit.
Instantly, many springs have gone by,
He ceased coming in as this flower is withering.

Ôn Như Hầu

Except Gia Long, the founder and Bảo Ðại, the last emperor of the Nguyen dynasty no emperors of this dynasty granted a title to their principal spouse during their reign. No historic documents found today show why there was that systematic refusal since the application of Minh Mang’s decree. On the contrary, only this spouse received her title after her disappearance.

First imperial concubine ( Nhất giai Phi ) ( 1st rank )
Second imperial concubine ( Nhị Giai Phi ) (  2nd rank )
Superior concubines ( from 3rd to  4th rank ) (Tam Giai Tân và Tứ Giai Tân ), simples concubines ( from 5th to 9th rank ) ( Ngũ Giai Tiếp Dư , Lục Giai Tiếp Dư, Thất Giai Quí Nhân, Bát Giai Mỹ  Nhân, Cữu Giai Tài Nhân ).

Then came the Ladies of the Court, next, the subordinate servants. It was estimated that those women along with the eunuchs, the queen mothers and the emperor made up a purple forbidden society of Huế. The status of those women (even that of the servants) no matter what it was, went up considerably when they gave birth to a son.
Speaking of those concubines, it is impossible not to evoke the love story of Nguyễn Phi, the future empress Thừa Thiên Cao Hoàng Hậu with prince Nguyễn Ánh, the future emperor Gia Long. This one, beaten by the Tây Sơn (or the peasants of the West) in the Fall of 1783, had to take refuge on the Phú Quốc Island. He had to send his son Nguyễn Phúc Cảnh, 4 years old, accompanied by archbishop Pigneau de Behaine to France to ask for military aid before king Louis XVI (Treaty of Versailles 1787), and took refuge in Bangkok ( Thailand) waiting for French reinforcement. Before the time of separation, he hastened to cut a gold bar into two halves and gave one to his spouse, Nguyễn Phi telling her:

Our son has already gone. I am about to leave you to resettle in Thailand. You stay here to take care of our queen mother. I do not know the date of my return nor the place of our reunion . I leave with you this half gold bar as the token of our love. We will have the chance to see each other later if God helps us to defeat the Tây Sơn.

During Nguyễn Anh’s years of exile and setback in his reconquest of power, Nguyên Phi continued to take care her mother-in-law, queen Hiếu Khương (spouse of Nguyễn Phúc Luân ) and to make uniforms for recruits.

She arrived at overcoming all the difficulties destined to her family and showed her courage and bravery in escaping traps set up by their adversaries.

Thanks to his perseverance and stubbornness, Nguyễn Ánh succeeded in defeating the Tây Sơn in 1802 and became our emperor Gia Long. The day following their touching reunion, he asked her about the other half of the gold bar he had given her at the moment of their separation. She went looking for it and gave it back to him. Seeing the half of the bar in the state of shining, emperor Gia Long was so touched he told his spouse Nguyễn Phi:

This gold that you succeeded in keeping in its splendor during our difficult and eventful years shows well the blessings and grace of God for our reunion today. We should not forget that and should talk about it to our children.

Then he reassembled the two halves of the gold bar to make it whole again and gave it to Nguyễn Phi. This gold bar later became under the reign of Minh Mạng, not only the symbol of eternal love between Nguyễn Ánh and his spouse Nguyễn Phi but also an object of veneration found on the altar of emperor Gia Long and empress Thừa Thiên Cao Hoàng Hậu in the Ðiện Phụng Thiên temple in the purple city of Huê.

No one was surprised that thanks to his daughter Ngô Thị Chánh, former Tây Sơn general Ngô Vân Sở was spared from summary execution by emperor Gia Long during the victory over the Tay Son, because his daughter was the favorite concubine of his crown prince Nguyễn Phúc Ðảm, our future emperor Minh Mang. When this one acceded to power, he did not hesitate to grant her all the favors uniquely reserved up until then for his principal spouse. This concubine, when alive, often had the chance to tell the emperor:

Even you love me as such, the day I decease, I will be alone in my tomb empty-handed.

That was why when she died a few years later, the emperor followed her to the place of burial taking with him two ounces of gold. He then asked the eunuch to open the two hands of the concubine. The emperor himself put an ounces of gold in each hand saying with emotion:

I give you two ounces of gold so that you do not go empty-handed.

One found this love fifty years later in poet emperor Tự Ðức. At the funeral of his favorite concubine, he composed a poem entitled “Khóc Bằng Phi” whose two following verses immortalized love and affection emperor Tự Ðức reserved for his concubine Bằng Phi:
Ðập cổ- kính ra, tìm lấy bóng
Xếp tàn-y lại để dành hơi

I break the old mirror to find your shadow
I fold your fading clothes to keep your warmth.

Under the Nguyen dysnasty, the genaeceum took an important dimension. To consolidate his authority and gain fidelity from his subordinates, emperor Gia Long himself did not hesitate to establish the politics of alliance in taking for concubines most of the daughter of the subordinates. This was revealed by his confidant, the French mandarin J.B. Chaigneau in his ” Souvenirs of Huế 1864 “. But sometimes the concubine of the emperor may be issue of a different medium. It is the case of the concubine of emperor Thành Thái, the father of Duy Tân. This concubine was the rower of a ferry boat in the region of Kim Long known for the charm and grace of its inhabitants. That is why people did not hesitate to sing the following popular song to evoke the idyllic love that emperor Thanh Thai reserved for the charming rower of the ferry and his audacity to disguise himself as a common traveler to visit Kim Long.

Kim Long có gái mỹ miều
Trẩm yêu trẩm nhớ trẩm liều trẩm đi

Kim Long is known for its charming girls
I love, I miss, I dare and I go.

One beautiful morning of our new year, Thành Thái intrigued by the charm of the Kim Long region decided to go there alone. He disguise himself as a young traveler to visit that famous region. On his way back, he had to take the ferry the rower of which was a charming girl. Seeing her timid in gait with her red cheeks under the overwhelming sun, emperor Thành Thái began to flirt with her and tease her with this idea, saying:

Miss, do you like to marry the emperor?

Stunned by this hazardous proposal, the girl looked attentively at him and replied with sincerity: Don’t you talk nonsense, they are going to cut off you head.

Seeing her in a fearful state, the emperor was determined to bother her more: That’s right, what I have proposed with you. If you agree, I will be the intermediary in the matter! Caught by a sense of decency, she hid her face behind her arm. On the ferry, among the passengers, there was an older and well dressed person. This one, having heard their conversation, did not hesitate to push on by saying to the girl:

Miss, just say “Yes” and see what happens!

Encouraged by the daring advice, the ferry rower responded promptly: Yes Happy to know the consent of the rower, Thành Thái stood up, went toward the rower and said with tenderness:

My dear concubine, you may rest. Let me take care of rowing the ferry for you.

Everyone was surprised by that statement and finally knew that they were in front of young emperor Thành Thái, known for his anti-French activities, deposed and exiled later by the French authorities to the Reunion island because of his excess in “madness”. When the ferry reached the Nghinh Lương dock, Thành Thái ordered the passengers to pay for their tickets and led the young rower into the forbidden city.

Generally speaking, the concubines lived surrounded by Ladies of the Court, eunuchs and devoted their time in embroidering and weaving. Some died without ever having received the emperor’s favor, or having got out of the palace.

A famous poet of 18th century Nguyễn Gia Thiều known under the name of Ôn Như Hầu (because of his title), had denounced the injustice inflicted upon these women, their sadness and isolation, in his work ” Cung Oán Ngâm Khúc” (or Sadness of the Palace ). Others enjoyed their status of a favorite but none was equal to Ỷ Lan, the favorite of Lý Thánh Tôn of the Lý dynasty, who had assumed brilliantly the regency of the kingdom during her husband’s campaign against Champa.

Yếm (The bra)

French version

Being an integral part of four -paneled gown, Yếm is the most popular bra worn by Vietnamese women in the past. One finds in its manufacture a silk or cotton fabric square whose the ends are fixed by the strings tied behind the back and at the level of the neck. This is intended to cover and to support the chest and to leave naked the rest of the upper part of the body. Yêm causes not only lure of seduction but also pleasant freshness during the summer days.

However in winter, it becomes a kind of the underwear to which is added the four-paneled dress that allows the Vietnamese women to protect themselves against the cold.

In the Vietnamese tradition, the wasp’s waist is one of the characteristic features of female beauty. That is perhaps why the birth of this bra is related to this design to highlight the women’s line by showing the segmented body of the wasp with the association of “halter-neck” and tie on the back of this undershirt ( camisole in French ).

It was worn by all sections of the population without exception. But the notion of color which differentiate between the categories of people who wear it. The brown colour is intended for the farmers while the educated girls prefer the harmonious, elegant and discrete colors. For the elderly, the dark remains the most widely used. Despite this observation, it is possible to see Yếm with eccentric colours.

One does not known its origin but there Yếm was appeared for the first time in the 11th century under the Ly dynasty. It undergoes many changes over time before being again recently an glamourous fashion article, competitor of “Áo dài”. In the old days, it was accompanied by wearing a skirt and a turban cloth (black or brown) or purple gauze or a scarf that ends with a “Crow beak” at the top of the front. (khăn vuôn mõ quạ ). It is only during the Emperor Minh Mạng’s reign that the black pants was imposed instead of the skirt.

Yếm is an inexhaustible source for Vietnamese poets among which is the famous Hồ Xuân Hương. She has had the opportunity to describe not only the romantic and glamourous picture of this Vietnamese undershirt but also the innocence of a young girl living in a society ruled by Confucian immutable ethic, in his poem entitled “the girl asleep in the daytime” (Thiếu nữ ngủ ngày).

Mùa hè hây hẩy gió nồm đông
Thiếu nữ nằm chơi quá giấc nồng
Lược trúc lỏng cài trên mái tóc
Yếm đào trễ xuống dưới nương long
Ðôi gò Bông đảo sương còn ngậm
Môt lạch đào nguyên suối chưa thông
Quân tử dùng dằng đi chẳng dứt
Ði thì cũng dở ở không xong.

Summer breeze is sporadically blowing,
Lying down the young girl slides into sleeping.
Her bamboo comb loosely attached to her hair,
Her pink bra below her waist dropped down fair.
On these two Elysian mounds, the nectar is still remaining,
In that one Fairy rivulet, the current seems to stop flowing.
At such a view, the gentleman hesitated,
Odd to leave, yet inconvenient if he stayed.

Yếm is mentioned so many times in the popular poems. It reflects the strength and intensity of the love through these two following verses:

Trời mưa trời gió kìn kìn.
Đắp đôi dải yếm hơn nghìn chăn bông.

It’s raining and it made the wind with intensity.

To be covered with a pair of Yếm better than to get thousand duvets

It is difficult to separate from the person we fell in love unless we have become this undershirt to retain. That is what we have in the two following verses:

Kiếp sau đừng hóa ra người
Hóa ra dải yếm buộc người tình nhân.

In the future life, one should not be born a man
But it is necessary to be transformed into undershirt to retain the lover.

Museum of Cham sculpture (Bảo tàng viện Điêu Khắc Cổ)

French version


It is the unique museum of Chămpa sculpture in the world where one finds the most famous pieces of statues from Mỹ Sơn, Đồng Dương, Trà Kiệu and Po Nagar (Nha Trang) sites.

  • Mỹ Sơn E1 style (Phong cách E1)
  • Chính Lộ style (Phong cách Chính Lộ )
  • Đồng Dương style (Phong cách Đồng Dương)
  • Tháp Mắm style … (Phong cách Tháp Mắm)

Tháp Mắm style



  • Mỹ Sơn E1 style : vivacity in ornamentation, dedicacy in the details..style_dongduong
  • Khương Mỹ style : gentleness in the faces, harmony and symmetry…
  • Trà kiệu style : beauty in the adornments, the half-smile, the development of feminine beauty ( fully developed breasts, new freedom in the hips etc ..)
  • Đồng Dương style :typical facial appearance (protruding eyebrowns, thick lips with the corners…
  • Tháp Mắm style : art reached in its limits with a lack of realism and extravagance….

© Đặng Anh Tuấn

Birth of the thaï nation (Thaïland)

French version

According to Thai historical inscriptions found in Vietnam, there are three important waves of migration initiated by the Thai of Yunnan in northwest of Vietnam during the 9th and 11th centuries. This corresponds exactly to the period where Nanzhao was annexed by Dali destroyed, in turn, three centuries later by Kubilai Khan Mongols in China. During this penetration, the Proto-Thaïs were separated into groups: the Thaï of Vietnam, the Thaï in Burma (or Shans), the Thaï in Laos (or Ai Lao in Vietnamese) and the Thaï in Northern Thailand. Each of these groups began to adopt the religion of these host countries. The Thaï of Vietnam do not have the same religion as those of other territories. They continue to keep animism (vạn vật hữu linh) or totemism.

This is not the case of the Thaï living in Northern Thailand, Upper Burma, Laos which were occupied at this time by Indianized and Buddhist theravàda Môn-Khmer kingdoms (Angkorian empire, Môn Dvaravati, Haripunchai, Lavo kingdoms etc …) after the dislocation of Indianized Funan kingdom. The Môn had a key rôle in the transmission of Theravadà Buddhism from Sinhalese tradition for Thai newcomers.

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A long common history with the Vietnamese (Thaïland)

French version



The Lạc Long Quân-Âu Cơ myth insinuate so skilfully the union and the separation of two Yue ethnic groups, one being of Lạc branch (the Proto-Vietnamese) coming down to the plains by the pursuit of water courses and rivers, the other (the Proto-Thaïs) taking refuge in mountainous areas. There are the Mường in this exodus. Being close to the Vietnamese at the linguistic level, the Mường have managed to keep their ancestral customs because they were sent away and protected in high mountains. They had a social organization similar to that of the Tày and the Thaïs.

Located in Kouang Tong (Quãng Đông) and Kouang Si (Quãng Tây) provinces, the Si Ngeou (Tây Âu) kingdom is none other than the land of the Proto-Thaïs (Thai ancestors). It is here that Shu prince Thục Phán took refuge before the Văn Lang kingdom conquest. It should also be remembered that Chinese emperor Shi Houang Di had to mobilize at this time more than 500.000 soldiers for the Si Ngeou kingdom conquest after having successfully defeated the Chu kingdom (Sỡ Quốc) army with 600.000 soldiers. You have to think that in addition to the implacable resistance of its warriors, the Si Ngeou kingdom should be very large and densely populated for the commitment of the substantial military force from Shi Houang Di (Tần Thủy Hoàng).

Despite the premature death of Si Ngeou king named Yi-Hiu-Song (Dịch Hu Tống),the resistance led by the Yue of Thai branch or (Si Ngeou)(Tây Âu) succeeded in obtaining a few expected results in Southern Kouang Si with the death of general T’ou Tsiu (Uất Đồ Thư) leading a Chinese army of 500.000 men, which has been mentioned in Master Houa-nan annals (or Houai–nan –tseu in Chinese or Hoài Nam Tử in Vietnamese) written by Liu An (Lưu An), grandson of Kao-Tsou emperor (or Liu Bang), founder of Han dynasty between 164 and 173 before our era. Si Ngeou was known for the courage of its formidable warriors. This corresponds exactly to the temperament of the Thai living in the past, described by French writer and photographer Alfred Raquez:(3)

Being belligerent and adventure racer, the old-time Thai were almost constantly at war with their neighbours and often saw their successfull excursions. After each victorious campaign, the prisoners were taken with them and deported in a part of Siam territory as far away as possible from their countries of origin.

After the disappearance of this kingdom and that of Âu Lạc, the Proto-Thaï remaining in Vietnam at this time under the bosom of Zhao To (a former general of Tsin dynasty who later became the first emperor of Nan Yue kingdom) had their descendants forming properly today the ethnic minority Tày of Vietnam. Other Proto-Thaï fled to Yunnan where they united at the eighth century in Nanzhao kingdom (Nam Chiếu) then Dali (Đại Lý) where buddhism of Greater Vehicle began to take root. Unfortunaly, their attempt was in vain. Shu, Ba, Si Ngeou, Âu Lạc (5), Nan Zhao, Dali countries are part of the list of kingdoms annexed one after the other by the Chinese during their exodus. In these countries submitted, the Proto-Thaïs presence was very important. In front of the Chinese continous pressure and the Himalaya inexorable barrier, the Proto-Thaï had to get back in the Indochinese peninsular (4) by penetrating slowly like a fan in Laos, northwest region of Vietnam (Tây Bắc), northern Thailand and Upper Burma.

(4) Indochina in wider sense. This is not French Indochina.

(5) The Âu Lạc kingdom of An Dương Vương was annexed by Chinese General Zhao To (Triệu Đà) who later became the founder of Nanyue kingdom. This one will be in turn under the control of Han dynasty, half a century later.


(3): Comment s’est peuplé le Siam, ce qu’est aujourd’hui sa population. Alfred Raquez, (publié en 1903 dans le Bulletin du Comité de l’Asie Française). In: Aséanie 1, 1998. pp. 161-181.

Sukothaï kingdom (Vương quốc Sukhothaï)

French version

Sukhothaï kingdom

Taking advantage of the exhaustion of Angkorian empire due to ceaseless wars against its neighbors (Champa, Vietnam) and gigantic works in the construction of temples (Bayon, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, Angkor Vat etc.) of Jayavarman VII, the death of the latter and the Mongolian invasion against Indochina (Khmer empire in 1283, Champa (between 1283-1285), Ðại Việt (or Vietnam) of the Trần (1257-1288)) and Pagan kingdom (Burma), the Thai began to etablish their political power as well in Thailand as Burma.

In Thailand, on the northern fringe of the Ménam basin, two Thai princes named Po Khun Bangklanghao and Po Khun Phameung managed to free Sukhothai from the influence of the Môn and the Khmers in 1239. Po Khun Bangklanghao thus became the first king of the Thai independent kingdom Sukhothai whose name means “the dawn of the happiness”. But it is rather to his son Rama Khamheng the great task to enlarge the Thai kingdom by conquering not only the northern Malaysia until Ligor (or Nakhon Si Thammarat) but also Khmer possessions in the direction Luang Prabang (Laos). At the same time, in the northern Thailand, after the annexation of Haripunjaya in 1292, another allied Thai prince named Mengrai, founded his kingdom Lannathai (kingdom of the million rice fields) by taking Chiang Mai for capital.

Rama Khamheng and Mengrai, two Thai princes shared the supremacy, the one in the centre and the other in northern Thailand. Other small Thai kingdoms were founded in Phayao and Xiang Dong Xiang Thong (Luang Prabang) in Laos. In Burma, the Pagan kingdom did not manage to resist to the invasion of the Mongols. The Thai of Burma (or Shan) took advantage of this opportunity to dismember the kingdom in several states shan.

Being student (Đạo nghĩa làm người học trò)

French version

In memory of my teachers,
the Brothers of Jean Baptiste de la Salle.

No Vietnamese can remain impassible when it comes to recall the years of study spent at school with their teacher. The image of their school keeps on being intimately carved in their memories.

That is the way composer Phạm Trọng Cầu felt in his song Trường Làng Tôi ( My village school ). How could they forget what has contributed in giving them their education, teaching them, and putting them on the road of apprenticeship in life? For them, one word taught by or one day of study with their teacher is enough to justify the obligation toward him.

Trường Làng Tôi ( My village school )

That is why it was repeated time and again when they were young that

Nhất nhật vi sư
Bán tự vi sư

Học một ngày cũng thầy
Học nữa chữ cũng thầy

The one who teaches us for one day or even half a word is worth being our teacher. Without the teacher, they cannot become who they are today. They owe him part of their life, their success and above all their education because it is him that gave them not only knowledge but also taught him the wisdom and apprenticeship of life. The following famous remark : Không thầy đố mầy làm nên ( Without the teacher you cannot succeed ) continues to occupy their mind and justify their behavior, their deep feelings toward their teacher. They give him such a crucial role that they do not hesitate to use the word “teacher” ( or Thầy in Vietnamese ). Thầy is sometimes used to address the father because it is he that gave them the first lesson in education. That is why the teacher remains the second person to be respected in the unchanging following Confucian trilogy: Quân, Sư, Phụ.

Whichever their age, position and level of education, they continue to remain the little pupil, the young disciple of their teacher.

They are not willing to neglect their respect toward their teacher even in moments the most perilous in their life. This was shown by emperor Hàm Nghi toward his teacher before the colonial authorities who were not able to identify Hàm Nghi physically when he was captured. The only person who could identify him was his teacher; therefore the latter was brought by force before the young Hàm Nghi. For the respect of his old teacher, he could not let him kneel down. He was obliged to prevent his teacher from executing this gesture. Because of this inopportune attitude, he was thus identified by the colonial authorities. He preferred to die instead of making an irreparable mistake toward the one who had taught him not only dignity and courage but also the duty toward his people and country. It was also the case of emperor Duy Tân with is tutor Eberhard in charge of supervising and reporting all his activities to the colonial authorities. Instead of being hated, he became one of the people that Duy Tân continued to respect during his reigning years. It was a habit to say in Vietnamese:
Kính thầy mới được làm thầy.
We should respect our teacher before becoming a teacher later.

It is in this Confucian spirit that young Vietnamese students were raised. They always try to listen to their teacher. They sometimes adopt an ambiguous attitude so as not to vex or bother their teacher even though when they are not entirely in agreement with him. It is the respect that emperor Gia Long knew how to maintain toward his tutor and spiritual guide, the bishop of Adran, His Highness Pigneau de Behaine during his reigning years. Age is not a factor in the behavior of a student toward his teacher who in several occasions was younger than him. It is shocking and moving to see sometimes an old student crossing arms in front of a young teacher but that never contradicts the intimate sentiments, the profound and sincere attachment he continues to keep for his teacher the way he does for his mother and his country. He knows what his teacher expects from him. He tries to keep up with this expectation, which sometimes puts him in a delicate and aberrant situation where he is himself in competition with his teacher.

It was the case of Phạm Duy Tri with his teacher Nguyễn Khắc Kínhduring a royal examination that took place in 1562 under the Mac dynasty. Issue of a very poor family and orphan of father at very early age, he was raised by his mother who did not hesitate to offer the teacher the only buffalo she possessed in order for the latter known for his years of experience in teaching in the village, to accept her son as his disciple. Moved by this mother’s sacrifice, teacher Nguyễn Khắc Kính agreed to take him as his student. A few years later, thanks to his assiduity and intelligence, he ended up in surpassing his teacher, which the latter saw during the provincial and general exams where he was himself a candidate. Knowing perfectly well his student’s state of mind and his profound sentiments the latter always reserved for him, he did not want his student, because of the respect he had toward him, to be penalized and would not put all his weights and ardor in the royal examination. For that, he told his student:

If you do not want to be brilliant in that exam, I would understand your behavior, your feelings. But you have to remember that this examination is reserved for the one who deserves to be chosen to serve the country. You must take into account the interest of the nation before any personal considerations. You should not betray your ideals and your country.

He reminded him the sentence that any school teacher would repeat to his student:
Bất nhượng ư sư
Không nên nhường thầy.

Do not concede to your teacher what you deserve.
Moved by the advice, Phạm Duy Tri nodded his head and kept what his teacher had told him. He passed the royal exam and acquired the title of Trạng Nguyên ( 1st doctor ). As for his teacher, he was classified second and received the title of Bảng Nhãn ( or 2nd doctor ).

The feelings that a Vietnamese has for his teacher never fade with the time, which was shown by lord Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên toward his spiritual teacher and counselor Ðào Duy Từ. To thank him, lord Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên did not hesitate to grant him a vibrant homage by giving to one of his fortifications located in central Vietnam the name “Lũy Thầy” (fortification of the Teacher ). This fortification was built to counter the Trinh from the north. Thanks to this naming, he was successful in giving gratitude a wide range through history and the entire nation. Today the fortification is still known by this name.

On the other hand those feelings become as the time goes by a kind of cement that link a Vietnamese a little more to his school, his village and his native country. They are also a gift of affection and respect that Vietnamese love to give their teacher in the Confucian spirit.

Culinary art ( Nghệ Thuật Ẩm Thực của người Việt)

French version

Vietnamese people grant a great importance to eating. It is the first necessity in their daily life and culture. Nothing is more amazing to see the use of “an” as the prefix in a great number of words. Among them we find: ăn nói ( to speak ), ăn mặc ( to wear ), ăn ở ( to live ), ăn tiêu ( to consume ), ăn ngủ ( to sleep ), ăn trộm ( to steal ), ăn gian ( to cheat ), ăn hiếp ( to bully ) and so on…It is usually said: Trời đánh tránh bữa ăn to means even God dare not disturb the Vietnamese during their meal.

Their eating is carefully elaborated according to the concept of Yin and Yang and the five elements (Thuyết Âm Dương Ngũ Hành) which serves as the fundamental basis of their Van Lang civilization.
Yin-Yang ( Âm Dương ) is the representation of the two poles of all things, a duality that is at the same time contradictory and complementary. Of the nature Yin is whatever is fluid, cold, humid, passive, somber, interior, female in essence like the sky, the moon, night, water, winter. Of the nature Yang is whatever is solid, hot, luminous, active, exterior, male in essence like the earth, the sun, fire, summer. Human is the hyphen between these two poles or rather between the Earth (Dương) and the Sky ( Âm ). Harmony may only be found in the equilibrium that human brings to its environment, universe and body. Vietnamese food therefore finds all its meticulous preparation and particularity in the dialectic relationship of the theory of Yin and Yang. It also shows the respect of the millennial cultural tradition of a farming country and of a civilization known for its rice farming on flooded rice fields (trồng lúa nước).

Yin – Yang in Vietnamese culinary art

© Đặng Anh Tuấn

That is why rice should not be missed in a Vietnamese meal. It is at the basis of several Vietnamese dishes (bánh cuốn, bánh xèo, phở, bún, bánh tráng, bánh chưng vân vân ) (ravioli, crepe, pho, vermicelli, rice paper, sweet rice cake etc..) Rice can be whole, round, long, crushed, scented, glutinous etc… More than a food, rice is for the Vietnamese people a tangible proof of their Bai Yue culture, a trace of civilization that is not lost under the weight of long Chinese domination.

The manner in Vietnamese eating is not foreign to the search for the middle-of-the-road attitude encouraged in the concept of Yin and Yang. ” Eating together ” requires in their view a certain respect, a certain level of culture in the art of eating because there exists an undeniable interdependence among the guests in the share of food and space. It is usually said: Ăn trông nồi , ngồi trông hướng.

When eating look for where the rice cooker is and when sitting look for where the direction is. That is the maxim that Vietnamese parents used to tell their children about their table manners. One has to behave oneself when invited to a meal. One should not eat too fast for not to be called impolite but should neither eat too slowly as one should not make other guests wait. Emptying one’s plate or the cook pot is not allowed because it gives the feeling of being greedy. On the contrary, eating too little implies a lack of mannerliness, which may vex the host. This cautious behavior could be summed up by the following statement: Ăn hết bị đòn, ăn còn mất vợ. (Emptying the cook pot deserves spanking, leaving some leftover leads to losing the spouse ). It is in the constant search for equilibrium evoked in the Yin and Yang theory that a Vietnamese must exercise in due course at a meal. It should not be ignored the “varied” nature brought in by Vietnamese food that is characterized by the diversity and visible exuberance in colors of the ingredients in the preparation.

Around a bowl of rice is the creation of a multitude of colors, flavors and dishes. The expression of the 5 senses (ngũ giác) is also found in a Vietnamese meal:  
smell: by the release of aromas and flavors of foods served,
sight: by various coloration of the ingredients that go in the preparation of the dishes,
taste: by the flavors of the dishes,
hearing: by the sound made by the sucking of tea or stock with the mouth,
touch: by the nonstop handling of chopsticks.

For some Vietnamese specialties (gà nướng (roasted chicken), gà luộc ( boiled chicken ), gỏi cuốn (spring rolls) ), the use of hand is highly appreciated. Most Westerners used to attribute to the Chinese the holder of chopstick civilization. However it is the product of the cradle of the rice growing civilization of South East Asia. It is what the Chinese historian Ðàm Gia Kiện has written in his book entitled “Cultural History of China” ( Lịch sử văn hóa Trung Quốc ) ( 1993, page 769 ):
At the time prior to the unification of China by Qin Shi Huang Di, the Chinese continued to use their hands to grasp food. It was a tradition found in people growing millet (kê), barley (mạch) and eating bread, hum bao ( bánh bao ) and meat. They only began to use chopsticks during their expansion toward Southern China.
That assertion has been justified by recent scientific discoveries. Chopsticks can only be made in a region where abundance of bamboo is not in doubt. That is the case of Southern China and South East Asia. They are the rudimentary tool shaped to the image of the bird’s bill to efficiently pick up grains of rice and fish without having to soil the hands with the plates containing water (soup, broth, fish cauce etc…). It is found in the Vietnamese use of chopsticks a simple as well as humoristic philosophy. A pair of chopsticks is always compared with a married couple.

That is why one used to say:
Vợ chồng như đôi đũa có đôi
Bây giờ chồng thấp vợ cao như đôi đũa lệch so sao cho bằng.

Husband and wife are like a pair of chopsticks
Now that husband is short and wife is tall
Like mismatched chopsticks can’t be paired at all.

During the Lê dynasty, breaking a pair of chopsticks is like a dissolution of marriage. One prefers having a stupid spouse to having a disastrous pair of crooked chopsticks. This preference is evoked many time in the following statement:

Vợ dại không hại bằng đũa vênh.

Besides the “vivacious” and “lively” characteristics found in the handling of chopsticks, the “collective” characteristics should not be ignored as an attribute to this rudimentary utensil. It is often referred to a bundle of chopsticks to evoke solidarity. The saying: Vơ đũa cả nắm( gather chopsticks in a bunch) reflects that idea when we want to criticize someone and his family in a dispute or debate.

The Vietnamese fierce will to give a big attention to the balance of Yin and Yang is found again in their way of eating. A good meal must meet a certain number of criteria where interdependence cannot be ignored:

  • 1) It must be in agreement with the weather. It cannot be defined as good even when it is served with tasty dishes.
  • 2) It must occur at a pleasant place and time otherwise it is not deemed good either.
  • 3) It must be shared with close friends otherwise the word good cannot be attributed to it.

That is why coming from the criteria mentioned above, a good Vietnamese meal is not necessarily well stuffed. Sometimes meagerness is found in a good meal. It is that of Vietnamese poor peasants where a clever mixture of aromatic herb flavors plays a preponderant role.
The judicious search for balance of Yin and Yang is undeniably shown in the dishes, the human body and between man and the environment. In the Vietnamese culinary art three following important points are turned up: 
1) Yin-Yang equilibrium in the makeup of the dishes.
Vietnamese people tend to distinguish dishes according to classification they established in relation to the five elements of Yin-Yang: hàn ( cold ) ( Water ), nhiệt ( hot ) (Fire), ôn ( warm ) ( Wood ), lương ( fresh ) ( Meta l) and bình ( temperate ) (Earth). They take into account the compensation, interaction and combination of ingredients and condiments in the elaboration of a dish. One notices a series of vegetables and condiments in in the makeup of Vietnamese recipes. Known for curing illnesses caused by the “cold” ( coughs, colds etc…), ginger (gung), the condiment of the Yang characteristics, is visible in all the dishes having tendency to bear the cold: Bí đao ( marrow quash ), cải bắp ( cabbage ) rau cải ( lettuce ) and cá ( fish ). Hot pepper is of Yang nature ( hot ) and frequently used in dishes having cold, temperate or foul-smelling characteristics ( seafood, steamed fish for example ). One used to eat fermented chicken’s or duck’s eggs ( trứng gà lộn, trứng vịt lộn ) having the Yin characteristics ( Âm ) along with a very flavorful leaf ( rau răm ) of the Yang ( Dương ) tendency. The Yin (Âm) bearing water melon is always eaten with the Yang ( Dương ) natured salt. The most typical Vietnamese dish remains the fish sauce. In the preparation of this national sauce, it is noticed there are 5 flavors classified according to the 5 element of Yin and Yang: mặn ( salty ) with the fish juice ( nước mắm ), đắng ( bitter ) with the zest of lemon ( vỏ chanh ), chua ( sour ) with the juice of lemmon ( or vinegar ), cay ( hot ) with powdered or crushed hot pepper and ngọt ( sweet ) with powdered sugar. Those five flavors ( mặn, đắng, chua, cay, ngọt ) combined and found in the national sauce of Vietnamese people correspond respectively to five elements defined in the theory of Yin and Yang( Thủy, Hỏa, Mộc, Kim, Thổ) ( Water, Fire, Wood, Metal, Earth).
2) Yin-Yang equilibrium in the human body.

Vietnamese food is sometimes used as an effective medicine to cure dysfunctions caused by the loss of balance in Yin and Yang in the human body. For the Vietnamese, the scenario seen in nature is also found inside their bodies. When an organ becomes too Yin, it leads to a slowdown in physical metabolism (feeling cold, slow heartbeats, indigestion etc…). On the other side, if it becomes too Yang, it triggers an acceleration of physical metabolism ( feeling hot, fast heartbeats, physical and mental hyperactivity etc…). A well-balanced Yin-Yang maintains life and assure good health. To regain this balance a person whose illness is of Yin nature ( Âm ) must eat dishes bearing Yang (Dương) characteristics. On the contrary a Yang-natured illness must be treated with Yin-natured dishes. To the Vietnamese, eating is taking care of oneself. Constipation (a Yang illness) can only be cured among the Yin dishes (chè đậu đen, chè đậu xanh etc..( meung bean, black bean compote, a Vietnamese desser t). On the other hand, Yin-natured diarrhea or stomach ache can be treated effectively with Yang-natured seasoned dishes (ginger (gừng, galangal (riềng)). The cold (a Yin-natured illness must find its solution in a bowl of rice porridge full of ginger slices.

3) Yin-Yang equilibrium with the environment. 
One used to say in Vietnamese : Ăn theo mùa ( Eating according to season ). This saying reflects the state of mind of the Vietnamese to be always in phase with nature and the environment in food.

In Summer, the supply of heat favors an abundance of vegetables, seafoods and fish. Therefore the Vietnamese people tend to eat vegetables and fish. They used to boil vegetables, pickle them (dưa) or make salads (gõi). Dishes that contain water are appreciated. It is the case of pho, the national stock of the Vietnamese people. Bitter and sour flavors cannot be absent either in the Vietnamese cuisine. It is the case of a mildly sour soup prepared with fish (or shrimps), tamarind (or pine apple) and tomatoes ( canh chua cá, canh chua tôm ).

On the other hand in Winter, to resist the cold, the Vietnamese prefer to eat meat and fatter dishes (of Yang characteristics). We notice a massive use of oily liquids (vegetable or animal) and condiments (ginger, chilly, garlic, pepper etc…). Slow cooking meat on low heat in fish sauce (rim thit), sauteing (xào) or frying meat (rán) are the cooking methods frequently used and conformed to climatic variations. Known as a tropical country (Yang)(Dương), Vietnam possesses a great number of dishes of cold characteristics ( Âm ). That is what the father of Vietnamese traditional medecine Hải Thượng Lãn Ông ( Lê Hữu Trác ) had an opportunity to emphasize in his work entitled “Nữ Công Thắng Lãm”. Out of 120 foodstuffs, he succeeded in picking about a hundred of Yin characteristics. This remark puts in evidence the unquestionable preference of Vietnamese for Yin dishes in their traditional food structure and the importance they keep granting to the search for a balance with nature and the environment. Vietnamese cuisine finds more and more followers in the West. Unlike other cuisines that play with sauces, it prefers using a lot of aromatic herbs and condiments. It is a cuisine that stands out for its lightness and digestibility. Much less fatty than Chinese cuisine, it does not miss showing its subtlety and originality. No less than 500 dishes are counted among them remains the imperial roll ( chả gìo). In this cuisine one finds not only a harmony of flavors and a multitude of subtle variations around a bowl of rice but also a profound and intimate agreement with nature and the environment.

There, Yin-Yang does not lose its vitality, the Vietnamese people, their soul and their temperament.

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