Yin and Yang theory (Âm Dương : Phần 1)

French version 

Part 1 (Yin and Yang theory)
Part 2 (Yin and Yang theory)
Part 3 (Yin and Yang numbers)

The Yin and Yang theory continues to manage the daily life of the Vietnamese,   down to the last detail. The Yin nature is everything being  fluid, cold, humid, passive, dark, interior, immobile and originating from  feminine  essence as the  sky, moon,  night,  water and  winter. But everything being solid, hot, light, active, exterior, mobile and coming from the male essence as  soil, sky, fire and  summer belongs to the Yang nature. This  bipolarity is even  found   in the Vietnamese grammar by using the words « con » and « cái ».  Similar to French articles defined « le » and « la », these are employed to indicate the type in certain cases but one can rely on the nature « mobile » or « immobile » of the object accompanied for indicating its belonging in the corresponding semantic class. The word cái is used in case where the object carries the character « immobile » (tĩnh vật) : cái nhà (house), cái hang (cave), cái nồi ( pot) etc… However, when the state « mobile » (động vật) belongs to the object nature, the word « con » is used instead of « cái ». It is the case of the following words: con mắt (eye), con tim ( heart), con trăng ( viper),  con ngươi ( pupil), con dao ( knife) etc… The eye moves incessantly as the throbbing heart. Similarly, the viper moves as well as the pupil. The knife is considered by the Vietnamese as a sacred animal. It is nourrished with blood, wine and rice.  The same name beared by an object can lead to two different interpretations depending on the use of the word « cái » or « con« . The following example reflects the character « mobile » or « immobile » of the object « thuyền » ( or boat ) employed : Con thuyền trôi theo dòng nước (The boat moves on the water). This mean  someone drives forward the boat with oar or  engine. However, when one says  « cái thuyền trôi theo dòng nước » (The boat moves on the water), one insists on the fact that nobody does not manoeuvre the boat. It is the flood waters that drives forward the boat alone. This notes the character « immobile » of the boat. The influence of Yin and Yang is no stranger to the way of attributing the sex to common objects. It is the case of the knife (dao): dao cái (large knife), dao đực ou dao rựa (or machete).  This remark has been notified by French archeologist and sinologist Alain Thote in his article intituled « Origine et premiers développements de l’épée en Chine « : The Yue  swords enjoyed the very  high celebrity in ancien times. Some swords had the name  and one was brought to consider their belonging to the male or female sex. The expression  « đực rựa »  used frequently in conversations for designating the men,  is from the custom  of the old Vietnamese  carrying machetes during the walk.

The gender  association is  also visible for a long time in Vietnam in rice cultivation: the man ploughs and the woman pricks out in the field. The plougshare penetrating the soil (Yin)  symbolizes the male sex (Yang) while the woman transmits the power of fertilization (Yin) to rice plants (Yang)  by transplantation. For showing the complete perfection in the harmonious union of Yin and Yang, one has the habit of saying in Vietnamese: Being together, husband and wife achieve to scoop all the  water from the East sea. (thuận vợ thuận chồng tát biển Đông cũng cạn).

Being ric farmers, the Proto-Vietnamese were attached not only to the soil but also to the environment because thanks to the natural  phenomena ( rain, sky, wind, cloud etc…) , they had successful  harvests or not. The extensive agriculture in slash/burning or in flooded terrains  depended on  the vagaries of climate. That is why they needed to live in harmony with nature. They considered that they were the link between  Heaven and Earth (Thiên-Nhân-Địa). From this notion, one has the habit of saying: Thiên Thời, Địa Lợi, Nhân Hòa (to be aware of  weather,to  know the environment and to  have popular support or national harmony). There are three  key   factors of success  to which Vietnamese strategists (Trần Hưng Đạo, Nguyễn Trãi or Quang Trung) referred,  in their struggle against foreign invaders. The Vietnamese  take into consideration this triad in their way of thinking and their daily life. For them,  there is no doubt that this notion has an undeniable influence on man himself: his destinity is imposed by the will of Heaven and depend on his date  of birth. With the exterior and interior environment of his home, he can receive the harmful or beneficial  breath (qi) generated by the Earth. The art of harmonizing the exterior and interior  environmental energy of his housing allows him to minimize his troubles and promotes his welfare and his health. A flat terrain without any undulations and no hills is the lifeless soil and shortness of breath qi (Khí). The Vietnamese call  mountains and hills with the names Dragons and Tigers. Buildings should have respectively  a green  Dragon  and  a white tiger in the  west and east facing.  The caring dragon must be more powerful than the tiger (Hữu Thanh Long, Tã Bạch Hổ), that means the Dragon mountain is higher than the Tiger hill.  The best site is that which has a hill behind one another, which enables to show the interlacing between the Dragon and the Tiger. The concept of harmony takes on its full meaning when a site backed by a mountain and surrounded on two sides by ranges of hills allowing its protection against winds for avoiding the dissipation of Chi (or cosmic energy), provides access to a lake or a river where there are  both water and nourrishment and the accumulation of cosmic energies.  This model is found by taking the example of  historic city of Huế.  The enclosure of this latter is a defensive  military structure based on the technique of strengthened fortifications of  renowned engineer, Vaubanand covers near the southern front,   the imperial city delimited by a second square-enclosed area mesuring approximatively  622m x606 m. Therein, one finds the   Forbidden Purple City forming the symbolic heart of the empire in the third and last enclosure, having  nearly  a square in shape  and mesuring 330×324 m. The imbrication of three enclosures refers to the triad  (Thiên, Nhân, Ðịa). Facing to the 105 m high  mountain Royal Screen (or Ngự Bình in Vietnamese)  that, according to the geomancers interpretation (Feng Shui)(Phong Thủy),  is the imperial shield created by  Gods,  the citadel’s southern front including the moon gate (or Ngọ Môn), follows the convex alignment along  the Perfume river (Hương giang). Being similar to the dragon lying in the West, this river undulates and goes up  in the north  by penetrating the soil through small hills and  making a 45°  bend towards the east. It   reachs  firstly  protectives isles Dã  Viên and Cồn Hến  before ending in the sea.  That creates the ideal position (Chi Huyền Thủy) corresponding to the above described scheme with a green Dragon in the West  and a white Tiger in the East. These animals are respectively represented by the shell isles Dã Viên and Cồn Hến  in the face of the natural screen symbolized by the mount of Royal Screen (Núi Ngự Bình). 

The man can affect his own life. By accomplishing acts of caring towards others,  he can find his joy and improves his karma. In ancient times, Vietnam had a sacrificial ceremony named « Nam Giao » or « Tế Giao »  intended  to Heaven and  Earth. It goes back to the king  to pay homage  to Heaven and Earth every year with his deified ancestors on the monumental esplanade built in 1806 in the southern suburb of Huế. One finds in this esplanade a  square mound representating the Earth temple, in the center of which is an other round mound symbolyzing the Heaven temple. Being firstly  subjected in complete isolation and fast,  the king climbs the sacrificial  esplanade and acts on behalf of his people for communicating  with universe natural forces in order to ask them to improve the environment on earth. The king is the only figure eligible for being an intermediary between Earth and Heaven. This Triad (Thiên, Nhân, Địa) has also evoked in Vietnamese legends. One finds the narrator willingness to show the deep attachment  of Vietnamese people to the triad notion in accordance with nature and moral. In  the legend intituled « The God of Mountains and the God of Rivers (Sơn Tinh Thủy Tinh), a girl named Mị nương is requested in marriage by these two geniuses or in the Kitchen genius myth  (Chuyện Táo quân),  one finds a woman torn between  the love of her old husband and that of her new companion. In the betel quid (Trầu Cau), the triad (wife, husband and brother) is represented by the woman, her husband and her twin brother-in-law who, once deceased,  respectively become betel,  arecanut palm  and  limestone.  The betel  quid reflects well the equilibrium notion and harmony found in the Yin and Yang theory.  For preparing the betel quid,  a little of slaked lime is smeared on a betel leaf.  Then one adds some root bark of Artocarpus tonkinese in yellow-orange colour and finally incorporates a areca nut finely sliced. All this  is introduced in the mouth and chewed slowly.  After twenty minutes of chewing, one spits out what remains. Five tastes can  be  found in the betel quid: sweet with areca nut, spicy with betel leaf,  sour with root bark,  salty with lime and acidulous  with saliva.  By the image  of  fresh betel liana coming from Earth symbolized by lime stone and embracing the slender  arecanut palm trunk in this legend, one wants to mention the intermediary   character between the Yin and Yang in a perfect accord.  The old Vietnamese adage says that   the betel quid is the prelude to the conversation (Miếng trầu là đầu câu chuyện).  The acceptation implies heavy consequences and is equivalent to a firm commitment, a word given that no one would  ever  think of taking back. If the exchange has taken place between girl and boy , this is equivalent to a proposal of marriage. In the Vietnamese tradition, the betel quid is the symbol of marital happiness. It cannot be missing in marriage riruels.

In the swamp rice civilization, others trinities are important as the triad (Heaven, Earth, Man). There is the case of  the triad  (Thủy, Hỏa, Thổ) (or (in English  Water-Fire-Soil) or that of the triad (Mộc, Kim, Thổ)(or Wood, Metal, Soil).  One needs soil  for the rice cultivation, water and fertilizers coming from  ashes caused by fire for enriching soils. Likewise, one needs plants for food and metals for making appropriate tools in agriculture.  One oberves that these triads have a common element that is the soil. That is why this latter occupies a central position in the management of 4 cardinal points. There is the pivot around which fourth others elements take place. In  the farm life,  the most important element following the soil is water.  One the habit of hearing from Vietnamese  peasant  the following saying: Nhất nước nhì phân (Firstly water, secondly fertilizers). Being of Yin nature, water is attributed to the northern direction because it is compatible with the cold (winter). On the contrary, being of Yang nature, fire found in the triad (Water-Fire-Soil) is better associated in the  southern direction with the warmth and radiation (summer). The element « Wood » evokes plants, the birthday of which takes place in spring. It derserves to occupy the eastern direction with the development of  Yang. Being  element of malleable character and  taking different forms, Metal is associated to the western direction (autumn).

The Vietnamese are  founding in the Yin and Yang theory a practice of alternation rather than a idea of opposition. Yin and its complementary Yang form an identity that  allows to result in the installation of right balance and harmony. For them,  the word represents  the totality of cyclical  sequences constitued by the combination of two alternating and complementary   events. One knows that in the relation of opposition, Yin as Yang each of them carries within himself or herself the germ of the other. (Không có gì hoàn toàn âm hoặc hoàn toàn dương, trong âm có dương và trong dương có âm).  Yin and  Yang are like  a wheel in motion. By coming at their end, they must start again. Once their limit  is reached,  they go come back again. A lot of popular sayings evoking the law of causality, concretely testify to  the Yin and Yang mutation.

That is why one is accustomed to saying in Vietnamese « Trong cái  rũi có cái may » (In the bad luck, there will have the chance), « Trong cái dỡ  có  cái hay (In what appears to be bad,  one also finds something  good) »,« Trong họa có phúc ( In the misfortune , there will have the happiness) ». « Sướng lắm khổ nhiều (The more one is  satisfied by desire,  the more  one will suffer ) », «Trèo cao ngã đau ( The more one climbs high,  the more one has a painful drop)». « Yêu nhau nhiều cắn nhau đau. The more we are in love, the more  we hurt each other’s feelings». The lost goods  sometimes  are the price of life. There is what the Vietnamese saying clearly expresses: Của đi thay người ( Goods are going out in the place of people). The factors Phúc and Họa have to vary in opposite directions. It’s because of the bipolarity Yin and Yang that the Vietnamese are accustomed to  strike  a good balance in the daily life.  They try to look for a perfect  arrangement with everyone and nature and even beyond their death. There is what one discovers in the necropolis of Lạch Trương (Thanh Hóa) dating from three centuries before J.C. with wooden burial objects (Yang) placed in the northern direction and that in terracotta (Yin)  at the southern  direction (Yang).  This equilibrium notion is even found in pagoda with geniuses of good and evil. (Ông Thiện Ông Ác). It’s thanks to this equilibium philosophy that the Vietnamese have the ability to adapt to any situation, even in the extreme case. It’s also this principle of balance that  Vietnamese leaders have continued to keep in the past during the confrontation with  foreign countries. For avoiding the humiliation of the Mongols twice defeated in Vietnam, General Trần Hưng Đạo proposed to pay tribute to  Koubilai Khan in exchange for lasting peace. After defeating the Ming, the  strategist and advisor  of Lê Lơi king, Nguyễn Trải did not hesitate  to let Wang Toung ( Vương Thông ) come back in China with 13000 captured soldiers and  proposed  a pact of vasselage with a triannual toll  of two  fine metal statues in standard size as compensation for two generals died in combat. Likewise,  Quang Trung king, guided by humility, sent an emissary to seek peace with Qianlong emperor after defeating the Qing army at Hànội in 1788 for a very short period of time.(6 days).  One cannot forget the conducting and flexibility carried out by communist leaders in diplomacy during the confrontation with the  French and  Americans. The  Geneva (1954) and Paris (1972) agreements once more testify  of the  search for balance or the middle way that the Vietnamese have found with ingenuity   in the Yin and Yang theory. In Vietnam,  the circular shaped objects (hình tròn)  are integrated  in the Yang and square shaped objects (hình vuông) in the Yin. It is the tendancy dating back  to the period when one believed that the sky was round and the soil  square and flat. The Vietnamese  were obliged to square the latter before using it in the plowing and house construction. It is in the state of mind that the Bai Yue ( to which the Proto-Vietnamese belonged ) had the habit of dividing a portion of land into nine  lots by taking for model the character   tĩnh (giếng nước). The central lot was expected for the construction of a water well and eight remaining lots were  destined for the housing construction, which is the first housing unit in the agricultural society.  The following Vietnamese popular saying: trời xanh như tán lọng tròn ; đất kia chằn chặn như bàn cờ vuông (The blue skue  ressembles  a round   parasol as this perfect soil similar to the square chessboard ) reflects this popular belief. NEXT (More reading Part 2)


–Alain Thote: Origine et premiers développements de l’épée en Chine.
–Cung Ðình Thanh: Trống đồng Ðồng Sơn : Sự tranh luận về chủ quyền trống đồng giữa học giã Việt và Hoa.Tập San Tư Tưởng Tháng 3 năm 2002 số 18. 
-Brigitte Baptandier : En guise d’introduction. Chine et anthropologie. Ateliers 24 (2001). Journée d’étude de l’APRAS sur les ethnologies régionales à Paris en 1993.
-Nguyễn Từ Thức : Tãn Mạn về Âm Dương, chẳn lẻ (www.anviettoancau.net) 
-Trần Ngọc Thêm: Tìm về bản sắc văn hóa Việt-Nam. NXB : Tp Hồ Chí Minh Tp HCM 2001. 
-Nguyễn Xuân Quang: Bản sắc văn hóa việt qua ngôn ngữ việt (www.dunglac.org)
-Georges Condominas : La guérilla viêt. Trait culturel majeur et pérenne de l’espace social vietnamien, L’Homme 2002/4, N° 164, p. 17-36. 
-Louis Bezacier: Sur la datation d’une représentation primitive de la charrue. (BEFO, année 1967, volume 53, pages 551-556) …..




Sacrifice (English version)

Version Française


Life is a game of chance. The chance is against us. It’s worth dying now for the country and set an example of sacrifice

Nguyễn Thái Học

Vietnam is not only a land of legends and learned men but also a land that men have acquired acre by acre in a crual mother nature for more than four thousand years. The cradle of the Vietnamese nation, the delta of Tonkin bordered by mild hills of the Hundred Thousands Mounts of China and squeezed in the South by a quasi impenetrable range, the Annamitic Cordillera, reduced to 15,000 km2 but rich of all the mud pulled out by the Red river, continues to be threathened by the latter with the discharge of 500m3 at low tide up to 3500m3 during the highest crests.

To master the blows of sword of the Red River, the Vietnamese people resort to a method of building dikes, which requires not only an increased watch of dikes but also a perpetual struggle. Facing the never-ending change of nature, the caprice of the Red river and the territorial ambitions of China, the Vietnamese people owe their safety at the cost not only of their labor and courage but also of their sacrifice in the long march toward the South.

This sacrifice is not foreign to the majority of Vietnamese in particular the men and women of character. It also becomes a cult that one likes to maintain and ceaselessly praise for Vietnam to excite the whole people before the threat of foreigners.

The sacrifice is the surest way to maintain the perfection of the homeland but it is also the synonym of loyalty and dignity. A great person is the one who dares take the responsibilities in moments of difficulty in his or her life but it is also the one who knows how to sacrifice himself or herself for a good cause, in particular for his or her country. The sacrifice is indispensable to the word « honor » in Vietnam.

Because of this moral dignity, many military people prefered suicide to surrender (Trưng Trắc, Trưng Nhị, Trần Bình Trọng, Võ Tánh etc..). That is why it is the habit to say:

Hùm chết để da, người chết để tiếng.
A dead tiger leaves its hide, a deceased person his reputation. 
The history of Vietnam is also that of sacrifices. The duty of a Vietnamese is to serve his or her country wholehreatedly. The greater the danger, the better his or her loyalty seems to be.



Heroes sacrifice for their fatherland. No matter what happens, his honor is never tainted. It is the case of the scholar Phan Thanh Giản, signatory of the Franco-Vietnamese treaty of 1868. After having failed to put up with the French in the defense of the three western provinces of the Mekong delta (Vĩnh Long, An Giang and Hà Tiên) he chose to surrender and decided to poison himself in 1967 because he thought it was the only way to save the people and to show his fidelity to emperor Tự Ðức. The same, Nguyễn Tri Phương (1873), adversary of Francis Garnier and Hoàng Diệu (1882), adversary of Henri Rivière preferred suicide after having failed to defend Hànội city.

During the French occupation, sacrifice became the flame of hope lit by unknown people such as Nguyễn Trung Trực, Phạm Hồng Thái. The former accepted to die in the stead of his mother captured after having succeeded in blowing up the French « Espérance » on its passage on the « Nhựt Tảo » river in Long An while the latter, chased by the Chinese police in his escape, preferred to throw himself in the river after having failed to assassinate the French governor Merlin during his passage by Canton in 1924. Admiror of his courage and sacrifice for his fatherland, the governor of Canton later buried his remains in a cemetery solely reserved for the 72 Chinese heroes and known as « Hoàng Hoa Cương » in Vietnamese. 

If this sacrifice is not a vain word for men, it carries a particular meaning for the Vietnamese women. Princess Huyền Trân of the Trần dynasty was proposed to become in 1306 the wife of king Chế Mẫn (Jaya Simhavarman)  in exchange of the two territories of Champa Chau Ô and Châu Rí. She had to sacrifice her life, her love for reason of State.

The same, three centuries later, a princess of the Nguyễn dynasty, of the name Ngọc Vạn to whom the word « Cochinchina » or (Cô chín xin) was attributed, was not late in following Huyen Tran’s footsteps in becoming the concubine of Cambodian king Prea Chey Chetta II in 1618 in exchange of the facilities granted to Vietnamese in their settlement in the region Ðồng Nai Mô Xoài which is no other than the Saigon-Cholon region today.

Her presence on the Cham soil served as a pretext for lord Nguyễn Phúc Tần to launch an expedition and annex the last territory of Champa in 1651. One cannot blame the Cham for hating princess Ngoc Khoa at that time because of her, they have lost their homeland. But Ngọc Khoa illustrates for us Vietnamese the sublime sacrifice she consented for her country and her people.




Eastern Han Dynasty (Nhà Đông Hán)

 Version française
 Vietnamese version

Eastern Han dynasty (Nhà Đông Hán)

titre_dynhan_9 Guimet museum of Asian art (Paris)


Chronology of Eastern Han dynasty 


 Đông Hán

25-57: Guangwudi reign

57-75: Mingdi’s reign

75-88: Zhandi reign

88-106: Heidi reign

106: Shangdi reign

106-125: Andi reign

125: Shaodi reign

125-144: Chongdi reign

145-146: Zhidi reign

146-168:  Huandi reign

168-189: Lingdi reign

184: Yellow turban rebellion

189: Shaodi impeachment.

189-220: Xiandi reign.

190: Increasing power of General Cao Cao (Tào Tháo)

220: Death of  Cao Cao and Xiandi.

End of Eastern Han dynasty


In the  territories conquered by  the Han, in particular in the South China, the Chinese assimilation continued in full swing. That is why revolts firstly  succeeded each other in the Dian kingdom (Điền Quốc)  (86, 83  before J.C., 14 after J.C., from 42 to  45 ). They were repressed with severity. These upheavals were largely due to   the Han officials exactions and the Chinese settlers’ behaviour in possession of fertile soils and expulsion of local people in remote  corners on his territory.  In addition, the latter had to adopt the language, customs and religious beliefs practiced by the Han.

In year 40, a serious rebellion broke out in Jiaozhou province (or Giao Châu in Vietnamese) including at this time, a great  part of  Kouangsi  and Kouang tong territories. It was led by the local prefect’s daughters, the elder Trưng Trắc (Zheng Cè)  and  her youngest daughter Trưng Nhị (Zheng Èr). As the husband of the elder Shi Suo (Thi Sách) opposed the Chinese assimilation policy conducted  brutally  by the Chinese proconsul Su Ding (Tô Định), the latter did not hesitate to kill him for making an example against Yue rebels. This killing revolted sisters Trưng and trigged immediately the insurgent movement in Yue territories.



Mat weight 

intended to maintain the mat edges thanks to its weight.


Sisters Trưng succeeded in gaining control of 65 citadels for a very short period of time.  They were  proclaimed Queens on conquered territories and etablished themselves in Meiling (or Mê Linh). In year 41, they were defeated by Chinese general Ma Yuan ( Mã Viện, Phục Ba tuớng quân)(the flow tamer) and preferred the suicide instead of the reddition by pluging into the Hát river. They thus became the symbol of Vietnamese resistance. They continue to be venerated today not only in Vietnam but also in certain areas of Yue territories belonging to China (Kouangsi et Kouang Tong). Ma Yuan began to apply a policy of terror and assimiltaion at forced march by placing at all level administration, Chinese trustwothy men and imposing the Chinese as the official language over the territory of the Vietnamese. It is the first Chinese domination during just 1000 years before the war of liberation started by General Ngô Quyền. In the meantime, Guangwudi  (Quang Vũ Đếsucceeded to bring prosperity and stability in his empire by reducing the tax on crops and profits. After his death,   his son Mingdi (Hán Minh Đế) imitating Wudi, pursued the policy of expansion by taking an offensive against the northern Xiongnu (Hung Nô)  with the aim of releasing the States of Central Asia from the guardianship of the latter and restoring the security of the silk road (con đường tơ lụa) for the benefit of China. Being the brother of Ban Gu (*)(Ban Cố) historian of this time, General Ban Chao (Ban Siêu was in charge of this  military expedition. He succeeded in reaching the sea Caspienne and subduing the  Yuezhi (Nguyệt Chi or Nhục Chi) thanks to the Kusana assistance.


 (*) Author of Hanshu (Hán Thư)


Galerie des photos


Con rồng cháu Tiên (English version)

French version

Vietnamese version

 Long time ago, Vietnam was a country half-wild, half-cultured, infested with wild beasts that cohabitated with men in deep caves in the forest. Lived then a young man named Lạc Long Quân intelligent and endowed with extraordinary powers. In his vein flowed a bloodstream mixed with the blood of the Dragons form Bách Việt country. During his travels through mountains and valleys, he arrived at a maritime region of southeast Lac Việt. Seeing the population decimated by a marine monster, he took a spear that he got red hot in fire and threw in the mouth of the monster killing it. He cut its body in three pieces which he threw into three different places that received three geographical names: the head was in a mountain named Cầu Dầu Sơn, the body in another mountain Cầu Dầu Thủy and the tail in the islet called Bạch Long Vỹ.

Lạc Long Quân and Âu Cơ

Once the people of Lac Viet in peace, the hero headed for the Long Bien region where its inhabitants were terrorized by a fox which became a monster. The latter often turned itself into a young man to enter villages taking away women and young girls. Lac Long Quan had to fight for three days and three nights before beating the monster and entering its cave to free his survivors. Arriving at the Phong Châu area, he confronted the monster of trees so ferocious he had to turn to his father Kinh Dương Vương to chase it to the South. After having brought peace to the three countries, he was so moved by compassion for such an unfortunate and simple people. He decided to stay to protect and teach them how to grow rice, cook it, cut trees to build homes that sheltered them from rain, wind and savage beasts. He educated them in the family virtues of parents and spouses. The people revered him and considered him as their Chief. They also considered him as their father, the one who gave them their lives.

Before he joined his mother in the Palace of Waters, he recommended to his people, in case of misfortune, to call him aloud: Father. And he would come back right away. Some time later, the Lord of the High Regions of the North, Ðế Lai, leading his troops, invaded Lac Viet while bringing with him his delightful daughter Âu Cơ. De Lai oppressed and fleeced the people who had to supply his army with meat and rice. In distress people called: Father, come back and save us. Lạc Long Quân was on the spot, but did not find De Lai. Au Cơ was there alone, out for a walk amid her servants. Dazzled by her beauty, he took Au Cơ to his palace. Au Cơ herself, charmed by the young man, consented to live with him. Ðế Lai, coming back in rage, sent his troops out to besiege the town.

But Lac Long Quan commanded savage beasts to push him back. Incapable of struggling against such a strong son-in-law, Ðế Lai withdrew from Lạc Việt, leaving his daughter on the strange land.

Lac Long Quân with the monster

Amid their happiness, Au Cơ brought to the world a big pouch from which got out one hundred eggs that gave birth to one hundred sons as robust as their father. When came the time to separate and return to his mother, Lạc Long Quân told his wife Au Cơ : « You are of the race of Immortals. I am of that of the Dragons. We cannot stay together for the rest of our lives. You need to live up high. I need to live down by the sea. So you stay here with fifty children. I will bring the other fifty to the maritime region, we settle on the same land ». From then on, Au Cơ stayed in the mountains with her fifty children. Those became the ancestors of all the peoples living nowadays on high plateaus and mountains (these are the montagnards and minorities ). As for Lạc Long Quân, he descended on the plain, by the sea, with his children that he taught how to clear the land to establish a kingdom there. His eldest son became thus the first king of Vietnam and took the dynastic name of Hùng Vương and called his country Văn Lang.

That’s why Vietnamese are proud of being  » Children of the Dragon, Grandchildren of the Immortal »
(Con Rồng Cháu Tiên).

Vietnamese heroes (Anh hùng dân tộc)

Version française

Version vietnamienne

History museum of Saïgon

On the road of the history of Vietnam, the list of heroes is so long it is difficult to cite them all. But it would be unbelievable for a young Vietnamese not to know heroes such as Lê Lai, Trần Hưng Ðạo and Quang Trung Nguyễn Huệ because these characters illustrate each of them a model example to follow.

Lý Thường Kiệt: winner of the  Song and the Cham.

Trần Hưng Đạo: winner of the Mongol (or the Yuan).

Nguyễn Trãi: winner of the Ming of Chou Di.

Nguyễn Huệ:  winner of the  Qing and the Siamese (Thaïs)

histoire1Unforgettable words

Better being a phantom in the South is worth than to become a prince of North.

Trần Bình Trọng (the general of the Trần dynasty captured and sentenced to death by the Mongols))

The life is a game of chance. The chance is against us. Better is worth to die now for this country and to give the example of the sacrifice.

Nguyễn Thái Học (the nationalist leader guillotined by the French colonialists)

Trời đất nể nang người khí khái
Nước non tây vị kể tài tình

Heaven and Earth have consideration for men of character,
Mountains and Rivers favour great-hearted and talented people.

Hưng Đạo Vương Trần Quốc Tuấn

(1228- 1300)

The great destiny belongs to people of talent and heart
Nghiệp lớn thuộc về người tài đức.

Facing a Mongolian army of 500,000 warriors of Kubilai Khan, it is difficult for a country as small as Vietnam to resist this barbarous invasion. In spite of that, Vietnam has arrived at defeating the Mongolian army repeatedly twice in 1257 and in 1287 with shining victories on Bạch Ðăng river thanks to the talent of general Hưng Ðạo Vương Trần Quốc Tuấn. As for historians, Vietnam is the only country in Asia and Europe that succeeded in countering Mongolian invasion in this episode.

Nothing is surprising if a glance is made on the autobiography of this general. Coming from the royal family, he was a beyond-common character.  

He knew how to conciliate all the political forces of the country at that time, to galvanize the spirit of unity and the enthusiasm of all the people with the Vietnamese army through popular gatherings ( Hội Nghị Diên Hồng ) and surrounding himself with talented people among whom figured a character of exceptional value of the name Phạm Ngũ Lão.

Kubilai khan

Grandson of Genghis Khan (1215-1294)

Thanks to the strategy of this one, the Vietnamese people’s army entirely decimated the Mongolian army by planting stakes in the bed of the Red river to break all the joncs.Despite the shining victories, Hưng Ðạo Vương knew it was difficult to win the war facing a strong enemy such as the Mongolian army.

Ðằng giang tự cổ huyết do hồng
The river Bạch Ðằng continues to be stained with blood red.

Aware of geographic realities and potilical necessities, he knew how to avoid cutting completely all ties with his powerful neighbor by proposing that Vietnam continued to pay tribute in exchange for a long lasting peace. Thanks to this general’s perceptiveness, Vietnam found a period of peace and independence. This general is highly praised by the Vietnamese people because it is found in him all the qualities of a politician. His memory is honored every year at the temple of Kiếp Bắc.

His advice to king Trần Anh Tôn before his death in 1300 served several times as reference for most of Vietnamese in the struggle for independence:

When the enemy advances roaring like fire and wind, it is easy to overcome them. If they use patience like the silkworm nibbling berry leaves without looking for a quick victory and without fleecing people, we need to have not only good generals but also an elaboration of adequate tactics like in a chess game. In any way, the army should be united, having only one heart like father and sons in a family, the people should be treated with humanity so we can guarantee deep roots and durable bases.

Người anh hùng của dân tộc

Nguyễn Huệ


Quang Trung Nguyễn Huệ was a native of Tây Sơn where his ancestors resettled to get away from the war between the Trinh and the Nguyen. With his two brothers Nguyễn Nhạc and Nguyên Lữ, he led the uprising of Tây Sơn. (this region is located near Quy Nhơn in the south of Vietnam). Despite his young age, it was he who played the role of a leader in the revolt and also in the management of state affairs of Ðại Việt after having eliminated the Nguyen and the Trinh. His first success was the victory he knew how to get with an alarming rapidity in 1785 west of the Mekong against the Siamese (Battle Rạch Gầm-Xoài Mút (Mỹ Tho)). The latter were dispatched by the Siamese monarchy to reestablish Nguyễn Ánh to the throne. From an army of 50,000 troops at the start, it remained only 2,000. That permitted to cut dry the Siamese expansion in the direction of Cochinchina.

His fame was due a great deal to the way of making a lightning war against the Qing in 1788.

That year, allied with the puppet king Lê Chiêu Thống, the Chinese arrived in front of the capital Thăng Long without any resistance, Ngô Văn Sỡ, the chief of the Tây Sơn at Thăng Long having preferred to withdraw his troops to Thanh Hóa

Nguyễn Huệ decided to attack the Qing on the day of Tet when the discipline was relaxed with the Qing. In five days, he succeeded in retaking the capital Thăng Long. Like Hưng Ðạo Vương Trần Quốc Tuấn, Nguyễn Huệ showed proof of humility before China whose power was incomparable in spite of her defeat, which restored peace along the border. During his years of reign, he imposed the nom as the official script to get away from the Chinese cultural domination. Despite his will to reform the country, he did not have the time to reign. He died in 1792, leaving an heir only 10 years of age.

This allowed Nguyễn Ánh, the last survivor of the Nguyễn dynasty to conquer little by little all Vietnam and become later emperor Gia Long.

For the majority of Vietnamese, Quang Trung is not only a reforming king but also one of the strategists the best known.

Người anh hùng áo vải

Lê Lai

It was in a phase of decisive struggle that Lê Lợi was besieged at the Chí Linh mountain by the Chinese determined to capture him to render the resistance leaderless. Le Loi had an idea of looking for someone who would accept to disguise himself under his traits, fight in retreat in another direction to trick the Chinese in their pursuit and thus allow him to escape and continue the struggle for liberation.

Among his troops there was a soldier of the name Nguyễn Thân who consented to play this stratagem. As foreseen, the Chinese followed the false Lê Lợi, captured him and killed him. Thanks to Nguyễn Thân, Lê Lợi, after 10 years of struggle, triumphed and founded the dynasty of the Le who would reign almost one hundred years. Admiring the man who had accepted to die in his stead, and the sacrifice of Nguyễn Thân for the great national cause, Lê Lợi granted the latter the privilege of bearing the royal family name Le and the individual name Lai, and ordered posterity to perpetuate Le Lai’s anniversary which falls on the eighth month of the lunar year. This has recalled in the Vietnamese youth a sublime sense of solidarity between the individual and the great cause, of which Lê Lai is the supreme illustration.

Vietnam history (Lịch Sữ Việt Nam)


Vietnamese version

French version

The word Vietnam was first known only in the 19th century when Emperor Gia Long decided to rename the country from Nam-Viêt. Marco Polo evoked it in the account of his voyage entitled The Book of Marvels under the name of Caugigui ( Giao Chỉ Quán ). Vietnam’s history can be summarized in a few words: struggle for independence, conquest of new land, and reunification of the country. The Vietnamese appear for the first time at the Bronze age ( Ðồng-Sơn civilization ). The Vietnamese tribes who lived scattered south of China and north of Vietnam were undoubtedly wandering hunters kind of people who, because of hunting, liked to move constanly beyond the borders. The Chinese character « nam » ( or « nan » in Mandarin ), meaning « southern », was used to indicate these Vietnamese of the South as to differentiate from the Vietnamese of the North who remained in China. As for the word Viet (or Yuê in mandarin ), it was used by the Zhou dynasty ( 1050-249 B.C ) to indicate the territories located south of China. These Vietnamese of the south, or Southern Vietnam had, by the end of the second millenium ( two thousand years ) formed kingdoms.

The first kingdoms of the legendary dynasties were located north in Tonkin. By the 10th century they had, as a name kingdom Văn Lang, then kingdom Âu Lạc, started from the Red River delta, the cradle of the Vietnamese nation, a movement characterized as Nam Tiến (Advancement toward the South)

This nation relentlessly pushed new cells in each parcel of land favorable to its mode of growth. It was based on a multitude of small, politically independent hearths consisted of soldier-peasants reeinforced sometimes by troops from the central authority and behaved like a gigantic madrepore forming its atoll littlle by little, ending up with enclircling and assimilating the new country and thus enlarge Vietnam. It constituted an undeniable advantage for a policy of expansion but would on the other hand always require a strong central authority. The Wise  Confucius had already talked about these Vietnamese in his Book of Rites ( Kinh Lễ ). Thanks to the prehensile capability of their well detached big toes from the others, these Viets could cross rice fields and climb mountains without ever being tired. The history of Vietnam is not that of dynasties or great movements of thoughts. But it is the history of a people of stubborn peasants who work hard in their rice fields and leave their marks in the landscape.



At the least relaxation of the latter, the country crumbles easily. This is one of the main reasons of why the history of Vietnam is filled with disorders and eternal wars. It had the advantage of a triple coherent national structure: a bureacratic state built on the Confucian model around an imperial function having the mandate of Heaven, the family, and the village. This helped in preserving the country’s civilization lived by each and every Vietnamese like a total attachment to the forces of the land and the ancestors. This policy of nibbling silkworms allowed the slow absorption of the space occupied by the Khmer and the Chàm people. Their vestiges currently found in central Vietnam ( Phan Thiết, Ðà Nẫng etc.) and in the delta of the Mekong River illustrate very well this conquest.

The attachment to independence has been proven many times in the past and in the war in Vietnam. It requires long centuries of struggle, wars, pains and jolts for Vietnam to finally become the size of a dragon today. One finds in the history of Vietnam a succession of small stories that the draftmen and storytellers Vink and Sơn succeeded in telling through theircomic strips. They know how to give to each a resonance of grandeur of a people who witness the dignity and the nobility in their poverty and sufferings. One finds in this history two thousand years of constant fight against the  nature and water, which translates into not only a close attachment to the land but also an intimate and profound agreement between these peasants and this nature. Paul Mus did not hesitate in underscoring it in his work entitled « Vietnam, Sociologie d’une guerre, Paris, le Seuil 1952 ». This agreement proved to be so intimate that, everywhere where these circumstances were realized no people has resisted the thrust of the Vietnamese, nor any foreign force then came to the end of their engagement on the ground.

In spite of the Chinese occupation for one millenium, the Vietnamese ingrained of their culture, have preserved their language although it was transcribed in Chinese characters and later romanized after the arrival of Alexandre de Rhodes. If the Vietnamese have not refused any contribution from abroad, it is because they have succeeded with the « Vietnamization » in keeping what is dear to any people in the world, and that is the traditions. It is those that have been transmitted from one generation to the next by the frail men whose feet are buried in the mud of the rice field.

How not to stick to this Vietnam, this lost country where sacrifice is not a vain word? This sacrifice is found time and again in the Annals of the history of Vietnam. I would rather be a ghost in the South than a prince in the North, declared General Trần Bình Trọng before being executed by the Mongols in 1257. Life is a game of chance. The chance is against us. It’s worth dying now for the country and set an example of sacrifice, said the nationalist leader Nguyễn Thái Học before being guillotined on June 17, 1930 in Yên Bái. How to erase in the collective memory the innocent face of the young captive emperor Hàm Nghi, exiled to Algeria at the age of 18 with tears in the eyes? How to forget the tragic death of the exiled emperor Duy Tân ( an aircrash in OuBangui-Chari, Africa ) whose announced return could probably change in 1945 the regrettable events of the history of Vietnam during the last decades?

How not to regret this native country that was however not tender ?. It was the feeling expressed by writer Huỳnh Quang Nhường in his best-seller « The land I lost », published by Castor Poche Flammarion.

Is a country that I like to exist still in the course of its history?.

Văn Lang civilization (Thời kỳ Hồng Bàng: Part 2)

French version

One also retains the outstanding event underlined by the Chinese historian Trịnh Tiều in his work « Thông Chí« : In the southern China, under the reign of  Nghiêu king  (2253 before J.C.), there was the emissary of a tribe named Việt Thường who offered to the king as a pledge of allegiance, an old tortoise living more than 1000 years and 3 meters long. One found on its back, the inscriptions carrying the characters in the shape of a tadpole (văn Khoa Ðẩu) and allowing to interpret all the changes of the Sky and nature. King Nghiêu decided to attribute to them the name Qui Lịch (or tortoise calendar). This form of writing was recently found  on a stone belonging to the cultural vestiges of the region Sapa-Lào Cai in the North of Vietnam. The Vietnamese historian Trần Trọng Kim raised this question in his work entitled Việt Nam sử lược (Abstract of the history of Vietnam). Many clues have been found in favour of the interpretation of the same tribe and  people. One cannot refute  there is an undeniable bond between the writing in the shape of tadpoles  and the toad found either on the  bronze drums of Ðồng Sơn or the  Ðông Hà popular Vietnamese stamps,  the most of which known remains the stamp « Thầy Ðồ Cóc » (or the Master toad). On the latter, one finds the following sentence: Lão oa độc giảng ( the old toad holds the monopoly of teaching ). Although it had appeared 400 years ago only, it ingeniously reflected the perpetual thought of the Hùng vuong time. It is not by chance that one attributed to the toad the Master role  but one would like to highlight the importance of the representation and the significance of this image.

The toad was the carrier of a civilization whose the writing in the shape of tadpoles was used by the  Lac Viet tribe  at the Hùng Vương time  because he was the father of the tadpole. In the same way, through the stamp of « Chú bé ôm con cóc » (or the child embraces the toad ), one detected all the original thought of  Lạc Việt people. The respect of the child towards  the toad or rather  its Master (Tôn Sư trọng đạo) was an already existing concept at the Hùng vương time. Could one conclude from it there was a correlation with what one found later in the confucean spirit with the sentence « Tiên học lễ, hậu học văn  » ( First learn the moral values then  the culture )?

The master toad (Thầy Ðồ Cóc)
 In Vietnam, the tortoise is not not only the symbol of longevity and immortality but also that of transmission of  spiritual values in the Vietnamese tradition. One finds its representation everywhere, in particular in commonplaces like communal houses, pagodas and temples. It is used at the temple of literature ( Văn Miếu ) to raise steles praising the merits of laureates to the national contests.


The crane on the tortoise back
On the other hand, in the temples and communal houses, one sees the tortoise  always carry a crane on its back. There is an undeniable resemblance between this crane and the bird wader with a long beak found on the bronze drums of Ðồng Sơn. The  crane statue on the tortoise  back probably reflects the perpetuity of all the religious beliefs resulting from the  Văn Lang  civilization through the time.

The tortoise  omnipresence in the history and culture of the Vietnamese results neither from the long domination of the Chinese nor the effect of chance but it  owed  to the fact that the Văn Lang kingdom should be located in an area populated by large tortoises. It was only in the south of  the Basin  Yang Tsé river (Sông Dương Tữ) that one can find this species of large tortoises in extermination. It is what was reported by the Vietnamese author Nguyễn Hiến Lê in his work entitled « Sử Trung Quốc  » (History of China ) (Editor Văn Hoá 1996) « .

It is not very probable to  find one day, the archaeological vestiges proving the existence of this kingdom like those already found with the Shang  dynasty. But nothing invalidates this historical truth because in addition to the facts evoked above, there is even  in this kingdom the intangible proof of a very old civilization often named  « the Văn Lang civilization » , one found the base of which  in the theory of Yin and Yang and  the five elements (Thuyết Âm Dương Ngũ Hành ). 

Âm Dương
This one was highlighted through the sticky rice cake « Bánh Chưng Bánh dầy » which was exclusively specific to the Vietnamese people since the   kings Hùng period.  One could raise questions about the origin of this theory which was attributed until now to the Chinese. According to the historical Memoires of Si Ma Qian ( Sử Ký Tư Mã Thiên ), one knew that  the philosopher of the country of Qi ( Tề Quốc ) ( 350-270 before J.C.) Tseou Yen (Trâu Diễn), was the first Chinese to highlight the relation between the theory of Yin and Yang and that of the 5 elements ( Wu Xing )(Thuyết Âm Dương Ngũ Hành)  at the time of the Warring States (thời Chiến Quốc). 

The Yin and the Yang  was evoked in the  Zhouyi book (Chu Dịch) by the son of king Wen (1)or Duke of Zhou (Chu Công Đán) while the theory of the five elements had been found by Yu the Great (Đại Vũ) of the Xia dynasty ( Hạ ). There was practically an interval of 1000 years between these two theories. The concept of the five elements was quickly integrated into  the yin and the yang to give an explanation on the « tao » which is at the origin of everything. In spite of the success met in a great number of domains (astrology, geomancy, traditional medicine), it is difficult to give a coherent justification to the level of the publication date of these theories because the concept Taiji  (thái cực) ( supreme limit ) from which the two principal elements were born ( the yin and the yang ), was introduced only at the time of Confucius (500 years before J.C. ).  Taiji was the object of meditation for  philosophers from all horizons  since the philosopher of the Song  period  and  founder of the Neo-Confucianism, Zhou Dunyi ( Chu Ðôn Di ), had given to this concept a new definition in his bestseller: « Treatise on the figure Taiji » ( Thái Cực đồ thuyết ):

Vô cực mà là thái cực, Thái cực  động sinh Dương, động đến cực điểm thì tĩnh, tĩnh sinh Âm, tĩnh đến cực đỉnh thì lại động. Một động một tĩnh làm căn bản cho nhau….

From Wuji (no limit) to Taiji (supreme limit or  grand extreme). The supreme limit, once in motion, generates the yang and at the limit of motion, it is in the rest state.   In turn, this one generates the yin and at the limit of the rest state, it is  the return to  the motion state.  For the latter  and the rest state, each takes roots in the other.

For the Chinese, there is a sequence in the beginning of the universe:
Thái cực sinh lưỡng nghi là Âm Dương, Âm Dương sinh Bát Quái

Taiji is  the « One » referred to in the Dao principle of creation. From Taiji,  Yin and Yang which are the basic attributes of the universe give rise to the eight trigrams.

 Hà Đồ (Map of the River)
The incoherence is so visible in the chronological order of these theories because one had attributed to Fu Xi (Phục Hi)(1) the invention of the eight trigrams 3500 years ago before J.C. while the concept of Yin and Yang was introduced at the time of Zhou (1200 years before J.C.). While relying on the recent archaeological discoveries, in particular on the discovery of the manuscripts on silk  at Mawangdui (1973), the Chinese specialists of today advance unimaginable statements: The hexagrams precede the trigrams…, which proves that the chronological order of these theories is likely to be modified unceasingly in accordance with the new situations. One is brought to find in this imbroglio, an another explanation, an  another approach, an  another assumption according to which the theory of Yin and  Yang and  5 elements was adequated to an  another civilization. It would be that of Văn Lang. The confusion continues to be anchored in the  reader mind with the famous River map and Writing of Luo (Hà Ðồ Lạc Thư). 

The Writing of Luo was to be found before the appearance of the Plan of the River. That highlights the contradiction found in the chronological order of these discoveries. Certain Chinese had the occasion to call in question the traditional history established up to that point in the confucian orthodoxy by the Chinese dynasties. It is the case of Ouyang Xiu (1007-1072) who saw in this famous plan the work of man. He refuted the « gift from heaven » in his work entitled « Questions of a child about Yi King ( Yi tongzi wen ) » (Zhongguo shudian, Peking 1986). He preferred the version of the human invention.

How can  one grant  the veracity to the Chinese legend when  a complete inconsistency is known in the chronological order of the discovery of these famous Plan of the River and Writing of Luo?

Fou Xi (Phục Hi) (3500 before J.C.) discovered first, the River map ( Hà Ðồ ) at the time of an excursion on the Yellow River (Hoàng Hà). He saw leaving the water a dragon horse (long mã) bearing on its back this plan. It is to You the Great (Đại Vũ)  (2205 before J.C.) that one attributed the discovery of the Writing of Luo found on the  tortoise back. However it is thanks to the Writing of Luo and with its explanation (Lạc Thư cửu tinh đồ) that one manages to establish and  interpret correctly the stellar diagram drawn  from the polar star (Bắc Ðẩu) and found on this famous Plan of the river according to the Yin and Yang and 5 elements.

The famous word « Luo » ( Lạc ) found in the text of the Great Commentary of Confucius:

     Thị cố thiên sinh thần vật, thánh nhân tắc chi, thiên địa hóa thánh nhân hiệu chi; thiên tượng, hiện cát hung, thánh nhân tượng chi. Hà xuất đồ, Lạc xuất thư, thánh nhân tắc chi

     Cho nên trời sinh ra  thần vật, thánh nhân áp dụng theo; trời đất biến hoá, thánh nhân bắt chước; trời bày ra hình tượng. Hiện ra sự  tốt  xấu, thánh nhân phỏng theo ý tượng. Bức đồ hiện ra sông Hoàng  Hà, hình chữ hiện ở sông Lạc, thánh nhân áp dụng.

The Heaven gives rise to the divine things, the Wise men  take them as criterion. The Heaven  and the Earth know changes and transformations, the Wise men  reproduce them. The images expressing fortune and misfortune are suspended    in the Heaven, the Wise mens imitate them. The Plan comes from the Yellow River, the Writing  from the Luo river, the Wise men take them as models.

continues to be interpreted until today like the name of the Luo river, an affluent of the Yellow River which crosses and nourishes the center of China. One continues to see in these famous Plan of the River and Writing of Luo the first premises of the Chinese civilization. From the drawings and figures to the trigrammatic signs, from the trigrammatic signs to the linguistic signs, one thinks of the march of the Chinese civilization in Yi King without believing that it could be the model borrowed by the Wise one from another civilization. However if Luo is associated with the word Yue, that indicates the tribe Lạc Việt  (Luo Yue ) from which the Vietnamese come.  Does it seem  like  a sheer coincidence or a name used by the Wise men  You the Great  or Confucius to refer to the Văn Lang civilization? Lạc Thư indicates effectively the writing of the tribe Luo, Lạc tướng its generals, Lạc điền its territory, Lạc hầu  its marquis etc…..

It is rather disconcerting to note that the theory of Yin – Yang and  5 elements finds its perfect cohesion and its functioning in the  intangible proof of the  Văn Lang civilization, the sticky cake. In addition to the water, one finds in its constitution the 4 essential elements (meat, broad beans, sticky rice, bamboo or latanier leaves). The cycle of generation (Ngũ hành sinh) of 5 elements is quite visible in the making of this cake. At the interior of the cake, one finds a red  piece of porkmeat  (Fire) surrounded by a kind of paste made with  yellow broad beans (Earth). The whole thing is wrapped by the white  sticky rice (Metal) to be cooked with boiling water  (Water) before finding a green colouring on its surface thanks to the latanier leaves (Wood).

The two geometrical forms, a circle and a square which this cake takes, correspond well to the  Yin ( Âm ) and  the Yang (Dương). As the Yang breath reflects plenitude and purity, one gives it  the shape of a circle. However, one finds in the  Yin breath the impurity and  limitation. That is why it recovers the form of a square. A light difference is notable in the definition of Yin-Yang of the Chinese and that of the Vietnamese. For the latter, Yin tends to be in motion (động).

Cycle of generation


Ngũ hành tương sinh

It is for that reason one finds only the presence of the 5 elements in the Yin (Âm) represented by the rice cake in the form of a square ( Bánh chưng ). It is not the case of the cake in the shape of a circle that  the Yang (Dương) symbolizes, this latter tending  to carry the « motionless » character  (tĩnh). It is probably the reason which explains until today why the theory  of Yin-Yang and 5 elements does not know a giant leap in its evolution and that its applications continue to carry the mystical and confused character in the public opinion because of the error introduced into the definition of Yin-Yang by the Chinese.

One is accustomed to saying « Mẹ tròn, con vuôn » in Vietnamese to wish the mother and her child a good health at the time of birth. This expression is used as a phrase of courtesy if it is not known that it was bequeathed by our ancestors with an aim of holding our attention on the creative character of the Universe. From this latter were born Yin and Yang which are not only in opposition but also in interaction and correlation. The complementarity and the indissociability of these two poles are at the base of the satisfying development of nature. The typically Vietnamese game « Chơi ô ăn quan » also testifies to the perfect operation of the theory of Yin-Yang and 5 elements. The game stops when one does not find any more tokens in the two extreme half-circles corresponding to the two poles Yin and Yang.

Ancestor altar

No Vietnamese hides his emotion when he sees on his ancestor altar  the sticky rice cake at the time of the  Tết festival. For him, this dish looking less attractive and not having any succulent taste,  bears a particular significance. It testifies not only to the respect and affection that  the Vietnamese likes to maintain with regard to his ancestors but also the impression of a 5000-year old civilization. This sticky rice cake is the undeniable proof of the perfect  functioning  of Yin and Yang and 5 elements. It is the only intact legacy that the Vietnamese succeeded in receiving on behalf of his ancestors in the swirls of history. It cannot compete with the masterpieces of other civilizations like the Wall of China or pyramids of the Pharaohs built with sweat and blood. It is the living symbol of a civilization which bequeathed to humanity a knowledge of priceless value.  One continues to use it  in a great number of domains of application (astronomy, geomancy, medicine, astrology etc….). Return to Part 1




Văn Lang civilization (Thời kỳ Hồng Bàng): Part 1

Version française

Thời kỳ Hồng Bàng

Văn Lang civilization

The Vietnamese are accustomed to saying: one remembers the source from which one drinks the water (Uống nước nhớ nguồn). It is therefore not surprising to see them continue to celebrate in grand pomp on the 10th day of the third lunar month of each year, the commemorative day of the Hùng kings of the Hồng Bàng dynasty, the founding fathers of the Vietnamese nation.

Until today, no archaeological vestige is found to confirm the existence of this dynasty except for the ruins of the citadel Cỗ Loa (Old snail city) dating from the period of the  An Dương Vương‘s reign and the temple built in honor of these  Hùng kings at  Phong Châu in the province of Phú Thọ.

Many clues do not invalidate this existence if one refers to the legends reported of this mythical time and  the Annals of Vietnam and China. The Chinese domination (IIIrd century before J.C. – 939 after J.C.) is not foreign to the greatest influence on the development of the Vietnamese civilization. All that belongs to the Vietnamese became Chinese and vice versa during this period.

One notes it is a policy of assimilation deliberately wanted by the Chinese. That does not let the Vietnamese  the possibility for maintaining their culture inherited from an old civilization of 5000 years and called « Văn Lang civilization » without resorting to the oral traditions (popular proverbs, poems or legends).

Two verses found in the following popular song (ca dao):

Trăm năm bia đá thì mòn

Ngàn năm bia miệng vẫn còn trơ trơ

The stele of stone erodes after a hundred years
The words of people continue to remain in force after a thousand years

testify to the practice carried out knowingly by the Vietnamese with the goal of preserving what they inherited from the Văn Lang civilization.

This one bears the name of a kingdom which was bordered at that time by the East sea, to the west by the Shu Ba kingdom (Ba Thục)(Tứ Xuyên or Szechuan in English), to the north by the territory of the lake Ðông Ðình (Hu Nan) (Hồ Nam) and to the south by the  kingdom of Chămpa (Champa). This state was located in the  Yang Tse river (Dương Tữ giang) Basin region and was placed under the authority of a king Hùng. This one had been elected for his courage and his values. He had divided his kingdom into districts entrusted to his brothers known under the name « Lạc hầu » (marquis). His male children have the title of Quang Lang and his daughters that of Mỵ nương. His people was known under the name « Lạc Việt ». His men had a custome of  tattooing their body. Being often revealed in the Chinese annals, this « barbarian » practice was intended to protect men from the attacks of  water dragons (con thuồng luồng) if one believes the Vietnamese texts. It is perhaps the reason why the Chinese often designated them under the name Qủi (demons). Loincloth and chignon constituted the usual costume of these people to which were added bronze ornaments. The Lac Viet lacquered their teeth in black, chewed betel nuts and crushed rice with their hand. Being farmers, they practiced the cultivation of rice in flooded field. They lived in plains and coastal areas while in the mountainous areas of  Việt Bắc and on the part of the territory of the  Kuang Si province, took refuge the Tây Âu, the ancestors of the ethnic groups Tày, Nùng and Choang.

Towards the end of the third century before our era, the leader of Tây Âu tribes defeated the last king Hùng  and succeeded in reunifying under his banner the territories of Tây Âu and  Lac Việt to form the  Âu Lạc kingdom, in the year 258 before our era. He took as the reign name, An Dương Vương  and transferred his capital to Cỗ Loa located  just over 20  kilometers from Hànội.

Is the kingdom of Văn Lang a pure fabrication supplied by the Vietnamese with an aim of maintaining a myth or a kingdom really existing and disappeared in the swirls of history?

Geographic map of Văn Lang kingdom

According to the Vietnamese myth, the land of the Proto-Vietnamese was delimited in the north, at the time of Hùng kings (first vietnamese dynasty 2879 before J.C.)  by the Dongting lake (Động Đình Hồ) located in the land of the Chu kingdom (Sỡ Quốc in Vietnamese). A part of their territory returned to this latter during the Warring States period (thời Chiến Quốc).  Their descendants living in this part reattached  probably became inhabitants of the Chu kingdom. There were a relationship, an  intimate connection between in this kingdom and the Proto-Vietnamese. There is a hypothesis suggested and proposed recently by a Vietnamese writer Nguyên Nguyên (2). According to the latter, it is not rare that in the old writings, ideograms are replaced by other ideograms with the same phonetics. It is the case of the title Kinh Dương Vương whom had taken  the father of the ancestor of the Vietnamese, Lộc TụcBy writing it in this way in Chinese , we  see appearing easily the names of two cities Kinh Châu (Jingzhou) (3) and Dương Châu (Yángzhou) (4) where lived respectively the  Yue ethnic groups  of Thai branch  and Lạc branch. There was the  expression of a  desire employed by the narrator for evoking intelligently the installation and  fusion of yue ethnic groups of Thai branch and Lạc branch coming from these cities during the conquests of the Chu kingdom.  On the other hand, the ideogram  (Thái dương) is translated as light or solemn. It is employed with  the aim of avoiding its use as surname. By using this word, it allows to translate Kinh Dương Vương   into solemn king Kinh. But there is also a synonymic word Kinh  of the word Lạc (), nickname of the Vietnamese. In short,  Kinh Dương Vương can be translated as solemn king Việt. Concerning the title whom took the Âu Việt king , the author does not question his explanation: it is the pacification of the country of the Yue ethnic group from the Lạc branch by a Yue son from the Thái branch. This can only strengthen the argument given by Edouard Chavannes and  Léonard Aurousseau(5): the Proto-Vietnamese  and the inhabitants of the Chu kingdom have had common ancestors. Moreover,  there  is a striking coincidence found in the clan name Mi (bear or gấu in Vietnamese) written in the Chu language, translated into Hùng  () (in Vietnamese) and beared  by Chu kings and that of Vietnamese kings. By relying on Sseu-Ma Tsien historical memories translated by  E. Chavannes (6), one knowns that the king of the Chu principality  is from bararian hordes living in the South China (or Bai Yue): Hiong-K’iu (Hùng Cừ) says: I am a barbarian man and does not participe in titles and posthumous names  granted by the Middle kingdom.

American linguists  Mei Tsulin and  Norman Jerry (7) identified a number of borrowed words in the Austro-Asiatic language and recognized them in Chinese writings during  the Han period. There is the case of the Chinese word  囝 (giang in Vietnamese or river  in French ) or nu (ná     in Vietnamese or  crossbow in English). They demonstrated the high likelihood of the   Austro-Asiatic language presence  in South China and concluded that there was a contact between the Chinese language and the Austro-Asiatic language in the territority of the former kingdom of Chu between 1000 and 500 years before J.C.

The geographical argument was never taken seriously  into account by Vietnamese historians in the past because for them, this dynasty belonged to the mythical period. Moreover, according to Chinese writings,  the   territory of ancestors of the Vietnamese  (Kiao-tche (Giao Chỉ))  was confined in the current Tonkin, thus annoying them to accept without explanation or justification the territorial spread  of the Hồng Bàng dynasty   until the  Dongting lake. They did not see in the narration of this myth, the willingness of the ancestors   of the Vietnamese to indicate their origin, to show their belonging in the Bai Yue group and their unwavering resistance facing formidable Chinese conquerors.

In the Chinese annals,  one has reported that, at the Spring and Autumn period,   Gou Jian king of the  Yue state  was interested to get an alliance with the Văn Lang kingdom  in order to hold supremacy on  other powerful  principalities of the region. It is likely that the Văn Lang kingdom had to be a  country  neighbouring the state of  Gou Jian king  of  Yue. This one had no interest in contracting this alliance if  the Văn Lang kingdom was geographically confined in Vietnam today. The recent discovery of the Gou Jian king’s sword  (reign of 496-465 before J.C.)  in the grave  n°1 of Wanshan (Jianling) (Hubei) allows to better discern the  contours of the Văn Lang kingdom. It would probably be located in the Guizhou region (Qúi Châu).  But Henri Masporo has contested this speculation in the book  intituled « Le royaume de Văn Lang « (BEFEO, t XVIII, fasc 3 ) ». He has attributed to Vietnamese historians the mistake of confusing the Văn Lang kingdom with that of Ye Lang (or Dạ Lang in Vietnamese)  the name of which has been badly by Chinese historians to their Vietnamese colleagues at the time of  the Tang dynasty (nhà Đường).  This is not exactly true because in Vietnamese legends, in particular in that of Phù Ðổng Thiên Vương (or  Skylord of  Phù Ðổng village), one realizes that the Văn  Lang kingdom was in armed conflict with the Yin-Shang dynasty (Ân Thương) at the time of the  Hùng  VI king  and it was much larger in area than the Ye Lang kingdom found at the time of  the unification of China by Qin Shi Huang Di (Tần Thủy Hoàng)

In the Vietnamese annals, one took about the long period of the Hùng kings reign (from 2879 to 258 before J.C.). The discovery of bronze artefacts in Ningxiang (Hu Nan) during the years 1960 does not put into question the existence of the contemporary centres of the Shang civilization ignored by  writings in the southern China. There is the case of the culture of Sangxindui (Di chỉ Tam Tinh Đôi)(Sichuan (Tứ Xuyên)) for example. The wine vase in bronze decorated with the anthropomorphic faces testifies obviously to the contact established by the Shang with    people of Melanesian type because one finds on these sides,  the round human faces with a flat nose. The moulding of this bronze used in the manufacture of this vase requires the tin incorporation which the northern China did not have at that time.  

Would there be any  real contact, a war between the  Shang and the   Văn Lang  kingdom  if one held on to the legend of the skylord Phù Ðổng? Could  you  grant the  veracity to a fact brought back by a Vietnamese legend ? Many western historians always perceived the  Dongsonian  civilization period as the beginning  of the Vietnamese nation (500-700 before J.C.). It is also the shared opinion  found in the anonymous historical work intituled  « Việt Sử Lược« .

Under the reign of Zhuang Wang (Trang Vương) of Zhou (nhà Châu)  ( 697-682 before J.C.), in the district Gia Ninh, there was a strange character managing to dominate  all the tribes with his sorceries, taking for title the name Hùng and establishing his capital at Phong Châu. With the hereditary filiation, that made it possible for his line to maintain power with 18 kings, all bearing the name Hùng.

On the other hand, in other Vietnamese historical works, one granted a long period of reign to the Hồng Bàng  dynasty (from 2879 to 258 before J.C.) with 2622 years. It appears inconceivable to us if one maintains 18 as  the number of kings during this period because this means that each king Hùng  reigned on average 150 years. One can only find a satisfactory answer if one accepts the assumption established by Trần Huy Bá in his expose published in the newspaper  Nguồn Sáng n°23 on the commemorative day of Hùng kings (Ngày giỗ Tổ Hùng Vương) (1998). For him, there is a false interpretation on the word « đời » found in the sentence « 18 đời Hùng Vương« . The word « Ðời » must be replaced by the word Thời meaning « period ».

Mouth organ player

With this assumption, there are therefore  18 periods of reign,   each of which  corresponds to a branch being able to be made up of one or several kings in the family tree of the  Hồng Bàng dynasty . This argumentation is reinforced by the fact that king Hùng Vương was elected for his courage and his merits if one refers to the Vietnamese tradition to choose men of value for the supreme function. That was reported in the famous legend of the sticky rice cake (Bánh chưng bánh dầy). One can thus justify the word Thời by the word branch (or chi ).

There is a need to give a more coherent explanation for the number 2622 with 18 branches following in the work  intituled « Văn hoá tâm linh – đất tổ Hùng Vương » by the author  Hồng Tử Uyên.

Chi Càn Kinh Dương Vương húy Lộc Túc   
Chi Khảm Lạc Long Quân húy Sùng Lãm
Chi Cấn Hùng Quốc Vương húy Hùng Lân
Chi Chấn Hùng Hoa Vương húy Bửu Lang
Chi Tốn Hùng Hy Vương húy Bảo Lang
Chi Ly Hùng Hồn Vương húy Long Tiên Lang
Chi Khôn Hùng Chiêu Vương húy Quốc Lang
Chi Ðoài Hùng Vĩ Vương húy Vân Lang
Chi Giáp Hùng Ðịnh Vương húy Chân Nhân Lang
………….. manquant dans  le document historique …
Chi Bính Hùng Trinh Vương húy Hưng Ðức Lang
Chi Ðinh Hùng Vũ Vương húy Ðức Hiền Lang
Chi Mậu Hùng Việt Vương húy Tuấn Lang
Chi Kỷ Hùng Anh Vương húy Viên Lang
Chi Canh Hùng Triệu Vương húy Cảnh Chiêu Lang
Chi Tân Hùng Tạo Vương húy Ðức Quân Lang
Chi Nhâm Hùng Nghị Vương húy Bảo Quang Lang
Chi Qúy Hùng Duệ Vương

That enables us to also find the thread of history in the military conflict between the  Văn Lang kingdom  and the Shang  via the legend of « Phù Ðổng Thiên Vương (Thánh Gióng)« . If this conflict took place, it could only be at the beginning of the period of  the Shang’s reign  for several reasons:

  • 1) No Chinese or Vietnamese historical document spoke about the trade between the kingdom of Van Lang and the Shang. On the other hand, one noted the contact established later between the Zhou dynasty (nhà Châu) and  Hùng king. A silver pheasant had been offered even by this latter to the king of Zhou according to the book  intituled « Selection of Strange Tales in Lĩnh Nam » (Lĩnh Nam Chích Quái).
  • 2) The  Shang dynasty  only reigned from 1766 to 1122 before J.C.  There would be approximately a time lag of 300 years  if one tried to compute the arithmetic mean of the 18 periods under the  Hùng kings reign: (2622/18) and to multiply it by 12 to give rougly  a date to the end of  the sixth branch of the Hùng reign ((Hùng Vương VI) by adding to which the number  258, the year of the annexation of the Văn Lang  kingdom by  An Dương king. One would have fallen about at the year 2006 dating  the end of the sixth branch Hùng reign (Hùng Vuong VI). One can deduce from this date that the conflict if happened, should be at the beginning of the  Shang dynasty era. This gap is not completely unjustified because one only has until then few precise historical details beyond the  reign time of  Chu Lệ Vương (Zhou LiWang)  (850 before J.C.).

One notes a military expedition undertaken during three years by   Wuding (Vũ Ðịnh) king of the Shang in  the  region of  Ðộng Ðình lake against the nomadic people, the Gui  alias « Demons », which was mentioned in the  Yi King book (Kinh Dịch) translated by Bùi Văn Nguyên, Khoa Hoc Xã Hội Hà Nội 1997. In his work published in the newspaper Nguồn Sáng no 23, Trần Huy Bá rather thought of King Woding (Ốc Ðinh) who was one of the first kings of the Shang  dynasty. With this assumption,  there is no doubt or ambiguity because there is a perfect coherence reported in the Chinese and Vietnamese annals. One must know that at the time of An Dương Vương, one was accustomed to indicating the country Việt Thường under the name « Xích Qủi ». The term Xích is employed for referring to the equator (Xich đạo). About Qủi, this  wants to evoke the red star Yugui Qui, one of the seven stars of the South. This one  happened under the skies of the Jingzhou city of the Yue at the time the Shang king had installed his troop. It is also the opinion shared by the Vietnamese author Vũ Quỳnh in his work « Tân Ðinh Linh Nam Chích Quái »:

Ở đây có bộ tộc Thi La Quỷ thời Hùng Vương thứ VI vào đánh nước ta nhân danh nhà Ân Thương.

It is here that at the reign time  of king Hùng VI , one found a tribe Thi La Qủy who invaded our country in the name of Yin-Shan.

This conflict could explain the principal reason for which the Văn Lang kingdom did not establish any trade with the Shang. The discoveries of the bronze objects in Ningxiang  (Hu Nan) during the years 1960 gave the evidence that they could be the spoils brought back during the expedition into the southern China because there was no explanation to give to the bronze wine vases decorated with  Melanesian anthropomorphic faces.

  • 3°) In the Vietnamese legend « Phù Ðổng Thiên Vương », one noted the escape and  dislocation of the Shang army  in the district Vũ Ninh at the same time  the immediate disappearance of the celestial hero coming from the  Phù Ðổng village. One also told of his spontaneous appearance at the time of the Shang  invasion without any preparation in advance. This gave the evidence that he should be present on the territory at the  invasion time  of this latter. The territories conquered by the Shang could not be taken back entirely by the Lạc Việt because  one could say that they were driven out of the  Văn Lang territory in the legend. It was not completely the case because it was noted that with the advent of the Zhou dynasty, one saw appearing  vassal countries like the state of Yue  Goujian (Wu Yue) (Ngô Việt), the  Chu  kingdom ( Sỡ ) etc…on an old part of the Văn Lang territory.

 It would not be known for whatever reason , the Văn Lang kingdom was reduced and thus confined in the north of Vietnam of today  by glancing  at  the geographical map found during  the time of Springs and Autumn and that of king Qin Shi Huang Di. Why was Goujian interested to the alliance with the Văn Lang kingdom if the latter was confined in the north of the Vietnam today? One could give to the dismemberment of this kingdom the following explanation:

At the time of the Yin-Shan  invasion, a certain number of tribes among the 15 tribes of  Lạc Việt people, succeeded in routing away the Shang  army  and continued to shown  their attachment and their honesty to the Văn Lang kingdom. That did not prevent them from keeping their autonomy and  maintaining a development rather high at  the social and cultural level. That could give later  an explanation to the emergence of  independent states   located at  the geographical map  of the  Tsin period (Qin Shi Huang Di) as  Ye Lang (Dạ Lang), Dian (Ðiền Việt), Si Ngeou (Tây Âu) and  the  significant reduction of the Văn Lang kingdom in  area  to the current state (in the north of Vietnam).

It is possible that this reduced kingdom restructured itself  in an identical way sus as the Văn Lang kingdom established at the beginning of its creation by last king Hùng in order to remind to his people the greatness of his kingdom.  The king  thus  kept  the names of 15  ancient tribes and gave to his reduced territory the name Vũ Ninh for commemorating the brilliant success earned by Lạc Việt people under the reign of Hùng VI  king. Việt Trì probably could be the last capital of the Văn Lang kingdom.  One notes a part of historical  reality  in the Vietnamese legend because one has recently discovered in China the use of iron at the time of the Shang dynasty. On  the other hand, the  iron could be replaced by an other metal like the bronze without losing however the real significance in the content of the legend. It was only used for reflecting the courage and the bravery which one loved  to attribute to the skylord. If the iron was well  quoted, this  no longer doubted its  discovery  and its use very early in the Văn Lang kingdom. This  also justifies  the coherence given by this legend to the conflict which opposed  the Văn Lang kingdom and  the Shang. Read more 



(1) Paul Pozner : Le problème  des chroniques vietnamiennes., origines et influences étrangères.  BEFO, année 1980, vol 67, no 67,  p 275-302
(2) Nguyên Nguyên: Thử đọc lại truyền thuyết Hùng Vương 
(3)Jīngzhōu (Kinh Châu) : la capitale de vingt rois de Chu, au cours de la période  des Printemps et Automnes (Xuân Thu) (-771 — ~-481) 
(4) Yángzhōu (Dương Châu) 
(5) Léonard Rousseau: La première conquête chinoise des pays annamites (IIIe siècle avant notre ère). BEFO, année 1923, Vol 23, no 1.
(6) Edouard Chavannes :Mémoires historiques de Se-Ma Tsien de Chavannes, tome quatrième, page 170).
(7) Norman Jerry- Mei tsulin 1976 The Austro asiatic in south China : some lexical evidence, Monumenta Serica 32 :274-301

Sơn mài (Laques)

English version

Vietnamese version

À quelle date la technique de la laque a-t-elle été introduite au Vietnam? Sa date d’introduction  continue à alimenter les débats et reste toujours d’actualité  l’objet de discussions. Pour certains archéologues, l’utilisation de l’ornement laqué remonta à la première invasion chinoise grâce à la découverte des objets laqués dans des tombes des IIIème- IVème siècles de notre ère. Pour d’autres chercheurs, cette technique fut introduite au XV ème siècle par Trần Tường Công, un ambassadeur vietnamien à la cour de Chine. Celui-ci fut chargé par le roi Lê Nhân Tôn (1443- 1460) de trouver un métier susceptible de procurer de nouvelles ressources pour les paysans. Il fut initié dans des ateliers chinois de la province Hunan aux mystères de la laque.  Personne n’est vraiment convaincue jusqu’à ce jour car les affabulations chinoises ne manquaient pas  à cette époque pour légitimer leur politique d’assimilation  et de conquête territoriale vis à vis à d’autres peuples.

Par contre, on sait que Hunan fit partie du royaume de Chu (Sỡ Quốc) établi sur la fleuve Yangzi (Dương Tử Giang) à l’époque des Royaumes Combattants. Ce dernier fut annexé plus tard par Qin Shi Huang Di (Tần Thủy Hoàng). C’est aussi dans ce royaume de Chu qu’on a découvert les tombes  de Mme Dai et de son fils à Mawangdui (Mã Vương Đôi) (Changsa, Hunan), (168 av. J.C.) où l’artisanat local  montrait une maîtrise parfaite de la forme et de la couleur, en particulier les boiseries de la laque.  Cela nous amène à avoir une idée précise et pouvoir conclure  que la technique de la  laque venait probablement des Bai Yue car  le royaume de Chu  était en contact étroit  avec ces derniers et  en recevait une influence notable en ce qui concerne la soie, la laque, les rites chamaniques des Hmong, les épées etc…

Sơn mài

La laque est en fait le suc laiteux obtenu par incision du laquier. Grâce à la solidification à l’air libre et à la résistance à l’acide et aux éraflures, la gomme résineuse constitue une protection idéale pour les bois et pour les bambous. On se sert de cette résine dans la fabrication des objets laqués. Ceux-ci offrent une grande diversité: paravents, coffres, plateaux, vases, échiquiers etc … Le travail de laque nécessite beaucoup de préparations et de soins.

Version vietnamienne

Kỹ thuật  sơn mài đã được du nhập  vào Việt Nam từ lúc nào? Câu hỏi  nầy vẫn tiếp tục duy trì các cuộc tranh luận và vẫn còn ngày nay là một đề tài bàn cãi. Đối với các nhà khảo cổ học, việc trang sức sơn mài đã bất nguồn từ cuộc xâm nhập đầu tiên của người Trung Hoa nhờ sự khám phá các di vật sơn mài tìm thấy trong các cổ mộ cố có từ thế kỷ 3 và 4 trước Công Nguyên.  Còn các  nhà nghiên cứu khác thì kỹ thuật sơn mài được du nhập ở thế kỷ 15 bỡi Trần Tường Công. Ông nầy được vua Lê Nhân Tôn (1443- 1460) phái đi  sang Trung Quốc làm sứ thần và có trọng trách để tìm một nghề có thể đem lại nguồn  lực mới   cho người nông dân Việtnam. Ông được kết nạp  bước đầu ở các xưởng Trung Hoa ở tỉnh Hồ Nam để thông hiểu kỹ thuật sơn mài. Nhưng ít có người tin về việc nầy cho đến ngày nay nhất là ở  thời điểm đó những  chuyện bia đặt nầy  không thiếu nhằm  với chủ đích hợp pháp hóa chính sách xâm lược đất đai và đồng hóa tất cả dân tộc bị cai trị. Ngược lại, chúng ta biết rằng Hồ Nam thuộc về Sở Quốc đựợc thiết lập trên sông Dương Tử thời Chiến Quốc.  Sau nầy nước Sở bị Tần Thủy Hoàng thôn tính. Chính ở Sở quốc mà người ta khám phá được  các  ngôi  mộ  cổ của bà phu nhân tên  Đại và con bà   ở Mã Vương Đôi (Trường Sa, tỉnh Hồ Nam),  vào  thời  nhà Hán (năm 168 trước Công Nguyên) mà thủ công nghệ đia phương biểu hiện sự khéo léo về màu sắc cũng như về hình dạng nhất là  ở các gỗ  sơn mài. Nhờ đó chúng ta có một cái nhìn chính xác và có thể kết luận là kỹ thuât sơn mài đến từ đại tộc Bách Việt vì Sở quốc thường có liên hệ thân thiết và nhận đuợc ở đại tộc nầy một ảnh hưởng trọng đại nhất là ở các lĩnh vực như tơ lụa, gươm giáo, nghi lễ  đạo saman của dân tộc Hmong vân vân …..Sơn mài  thật sự là  nhựa sữa được lấy  từ cây sơn ta qua các  đường rach vào thân cây.  Nhờ sự đông đặc ngoài trời và  kháng cự hữu hiệu chống  axit và các vết trầy nên  gôm nhựa rất được  thông dụng trong việc bảo vệ thích hợp cho các đồ vật làm bằng  cây và tre.  Vì vậy chất nhựa nầy được dùng trong việc chế tạo các đồ  nội thất như  các bình phong, rương, mâm, bình, bàn cờ tướng vân vân… Kỹ  thuật sơn mài   cần phải có nhiều giai đoạn  chuẩn bi và chăm sóc tĩ mĩ. 

Version anglaise

At what  date was the  lacquering technique introduced in Vietnam? Its date of introduction continues  to sustain debates and always remains the object of discussions. For some archaeologists, the use of lacquer adornment dated back to the first Chinese invasion (discovery of lacquerwares in the tombs of 3rd – 4th centuries of our era). For others researchers, this technique was introduced by Trần Tường Công, an ambassador at the court of China. He was assigned by king Lê Nhân Tôn (1443-1460 ) to find a trade contributing  to provide new resources for peasants. He was introduced to the secrets of lacquer in Chinese workshops of Hunan province. Nobody is not really convinced  until today because the Chinese pretence did not lack  at this time for legitimating  the policy of assimilation and territorial conquest vis à vis other people. On the other hand, one knowns Hunan was an integral  part of the Chu kingdom (Sở Quốc) established on the Yangzi river  (Dương Tử Giang)  during the Warring States period. The latter was annexed thereafter by  Qin Shi Huang Di (Tần Thủy Hoàng). It is also in the Chu kingdom  one has discovered  the tombs of Mrs Dai and her son at  Mawangdui (Mã Vương Đôi) (Trường Sa, Hồ Nam), (168 before J.C.) where the local craft  showed the master’s degree in  shape and color, in particular the lacquer panelling. We are brought to have  a precise idea and conclude that the lacquering techniques probably came from the Bai Yue because the Chu kingdom was  in close contact  with the latter and got from which  an important influence  concerning  silk,  lacquer, shamanic rites of Hmong people, swords etc… 

Lacquer is in fact the milky juice obtained from the incision of the lacquer tree. Thanks to the solidification in open air and the resistance to acid and scratches, the resinous gum constitutes an ideal protection for wood and bamboo. One uses this resin to make lacquerwares. They offer a great diversity: folding screens, chests, trays, vases, chessboard etc….Lacquerwork requires a lot of preparations and care

Civilisation Văn Lang (Thời kỳ Hồng Bàng): 2ème partie


Version vietnamienne

On retient  aussi l’événement marquant souligné par l’historien chinois Trịnh Tiều dans son ouvrage Thông Chí: Dans le sud de la Chine, sous le règne du roi Nghiêu (2253 av J.C. ), il y avait l’émissaire d’une tribu nommé Việt Thường qui offrît au roi comme gage d’allégeance, une vieille tortue vivant plus de 1000 ans et longue de 3 mètres. On trouva sur son dos, des inscriptions portant des caractères en forme de têtard (văn Khoa Ðẩu) et permettant d’interpréter toutes les mutations du Ciel et de la nature. Le roi Nghiêu décida de leur attribuer le nom Qui Lịch (ou calendrier de la tortue). Cette forme d’écriture a été retrouvée récemment sur une pierre faisant partie des vestiges culturels de la région Sapa-Lào Cai dans le Nord du Vietnam.

L’historien vietnamien Trần Trọng Kim a soulevé cette question dans son ouvrage intitulé Viet Nam sử lược (Précis de l’histoire du Vietnam).

Beaucoup d’indices ont été trouvés en faveur de l’interprétation d’une même tribu, d’un même peuple. On ne peut pas réfuter qu’il y a un lien incontestable entre l’écriture en forme de têtards et le crapaud trouvé soit sur les tambours de bronze de Ðồng Sơn soit sur les estampes populaires vietnamiens de Ðông Hồ dont la plus connue reste l’estampe « Thầy Ðồ Cóc » (ou Le maître crapaud) . Sur cette dernière, on trouve la phrase suivante: Lão oa độc giảng (Le vieux crapaud détient le monopole d’enseignement). Bien qu’elle fut apparue il y avait 400 ans seulement, elle refléta ingénieusement la pensée perpétuelle de l’époque des rois  Hùng (Hùng Vương). Ce n’est pas par hasard qu’on attribue  au crapaud le rôle du maître mais on voudrait mettre en évidence l’importance de la représentation et de la signification de cette image. Le crapaud était le porteur d’une civilisation dont l’écriture en forme de têtards était employée par la tribu Lạc Việt à l’époque des Hùng Vương car il était le père du têtard. De même, à travers l’estampe de « Chú bé ôm con cóc » (ou l’enfant embrasse le crapaud ), on décela toute la pensée originale du peuple Lạc Việt. Le respect de l’enfant à l’égard du crapaud ou plutôt son maître (Tôn Sư trọng đạo) était une notion déjà existante à l’époque des Hùng Vương. Pourrait-on en conclure qu’il y avait une corrélation avec ce qu’on trouva plus tard dans l’esprit confucéen avec la phrase  Tiên học lễ, hậu học văn  (D’abord l’éducation puis l’enseignement) ?

Au Vietnam, la tortue n’est pas non seulement le symbole de longévité mais aussi celui de transmission des valeurs spirituelles dans la tradition vietnamienne. On trouve sa représentation partout, en particulier dans des lieux communs comme les maisons communales, les pagodes et les temples. Elle est employée au temple de la littérature (Văn Miếu) pour soulever des stèles vantant les mérites des lauréats aux concours nationaux. 

La grue sur le dos de la tortue

Par contre, dans les temples et dans les maisons communales, on la voit porter toujours une grue sur son dos. Il y a une ressemblance indéniable entre cette grue et l’oiseau échassier à long bec trouvé sur les tambours de bronze de Ðồng Sơn. L’image de la grue sur le dos de la tortue reflète probablement la pérennité de toutes les croyances religieuses issues de la civilisation Văn Lang à travers le temps. L’omniprésence de la tortue dans l’histoire et la culture des Vietnamiens ne résulte ni de la longue domination des Chinois ni de l’effet du hasard mais elle doit tenir du fait que le royaume de Văn Lang devrait être situé dans une région peuplée de grosses tortues. C’est seulement dans le sud du bassin du fleuve Yang Tsé (Sông Dương Tữ ) qu’on peut trouver cette espèce de grosses tortues en extermination. C’est ce qu’a rapporté l’auteur vietnamien Nguyễn Hiến Lê dans son ouvrage intitulé « Sử Trung Quốc » (Histoire de la Chine) (Editeur Văn Hoá 1996).

Il est peu probable de trouver un jour les vestiges archéologiques prouvant l’existence de ce royaume comme ceux déjà trouvés avec la dynastie des Shang. Mais rien n’infirme cette vérité historique car outre les faits évoqués ci-dessus, il y a  même la preuve intangible   d’une civilisation très ancienne dans ce royaume, celle qu’on dénomme souvent « la civilisation de Văn Lang » dont on a trouvé le fondement dans la théorie du Yin et du Yang et de 5 éléments (Thuyết Âm Dương Ngũ Hành). Celle-ci a été mise en évidence à travers le gâteau de riz gluant « Bánh Chưng Bánh dầy » qui était exclusivement propre au peuple vietnamien depuis la période des rois Hùng Vương. On pourrait se poser des questions sur l’origine de cette théorie qui a été attribuée jusque-là aux Chinois. On savait que selon les Mémoires historiques de Si Ma Qian (Sử Ký Tư Mã Thiên), Trâu Diễn (Tseou Yen, philosophe du pays de Qi (Tề Quốc) (350-270 avant J.C.) était à l’époque des Royaumes Combattants (thời Chiến Quốc), le premier Chinois à mettre en évidence la relation entre la théorie du Yin et du Yang et celle des 5 éléments (wu xing).

Âm Dương

La première a été évoquée dans le livre Zhouyi (Chu Dịch) par le fils du roi Wen (1), Chu Công Ðán (le Duc de Zhou), tandis que la seconde avait été trouvée par Yu le Grand (Ðại Vũ) de la dynastie des Xia (Hạ). Il y a pratiquement un écart de 1000 ans entre ces deux théories. Le concept des cinq éléments est rapidement intégré à la théorie du yin et du yang pour donner une explication sur le tao qui est à l’origine de toute chose. Malgré le succès rencontré dans un grand nombre de domaines d’application (astrologie, géomancie, médecine traditionnelle), il est difficile de donner une justification cohérente au niveau de la date de parution de ces théories car la notion Taiji (thái cực) (la limite suprême) à partir de laquelle les deux éléments principaux sont nés (le yin et le yang), fut introduite seulement à l’époque de Confucius (500 ans avant J.C.). Le Taiji a été l’objet de méditation des philosophes de tous les horizons depuis que le philosophe de l’époque des Song et le fondateur du néo-confucianisme, Zhou Dunyi (Chu Ðôn Di), avait donné à ce concept une nouvelle définition dans son best seller: « Traité sur la figure Taiji » (Thái Cực đồ thuyết):

Vô cực mà là thái cực, Thái cực động sinh Dương, động đến cực điểm thì tĩnh, tĩnh sinh Âm, tĩnh đến cực đỉnh thì lại động. Một động một tĩnh làm căn bản cho nhau…. 

Du Wuji (Sans limite) au Taiji ( limite suprême ). La limite suprême, une fois en mouvement, génère le yang et à la limite du mouvement c’est le repos; celui-ci, à son tour, génère le yin et à la limite du repos c’est le retour au mouvement. Un mouvement et un repos , l’un prend racine dans l’autre..

Pour les Chinois, il y a un enchaînement dans le commencement de l’univers:

Thái cực sinh lưỡng nghi là Âm Dương, Âm Dương sinh Bát Quái
De Taiji sortent le Ciel et la Terre, un Yin et un Yang qui donnent naissance aux huit trigrammes.

Hà Đồ (Plan du fleuve)

L’incohérence est tellement visible dans l’ordre chronologique de ces théories car on avait attribué à Fu Xi (1) l’invention des huit trigrammes il y avait 3500 ans avant J.C. tandis que la notion de Yin et de Yang fut introduite à l’époque de Zhou (1200 ans avant J.C.). En s’appuyant sur les découvertes archéologiques récentes, en particulier sur la découverte des manuscrits sur soie de Mawangdui (1973), les spécialistes chinois d’aujourd’hui avancent des énoncés inimaginables : Les hexagrammes précèdent les trigrammes etc., ce qui prouve que l’ordre chronologique de ces théories est susceptible d’être sans cesse remodifié conformément aux situations nouvelles. On est amené à trouver dans cet imbroglio, une autre explication, une autre démarche, une autre hypothèse selon laquelle la théorie de Yin -Yang et de 5 éléments a été appropriée à une autre civilisation. Ce serait celle de Văn Lang. La confusion continue à être ancrée dans l’esprit du lecteur avec les fameux Plan du fleuve et Ecrit de la Luo (Hà Ðồ Lạc Thư).

L’Ecrit de la Luo devait être trouvé avant l’apparition du Plan du Fleuve. Cela met en évidence la contradiction trouvée dans l’ordre chronologique de ces découvertes. Certains Chinois ont eu l’occasion de remettre en question l’histoire traditionnelle établie jusque-là dans l’orthodoxie confucéenne par les dynasties chinoises. C’est le cas de Ouyang Xiu (1007-1072 ) qui a vu dans ce fameux plan le travail de l’homme. Il a réfuté le « don du Ciel » dans son ouvrage intitulé « Questions d’un enfant sur le Yi King ( Yi tongzi wen ) «  ( Zhongguo shudian, Pékin 1986 ) . Il y a préféré la version de l’invention humaine.

Peux-t-on accorder de la véracité à la légende chinoise lorsqu’on sait qu’il y avait aussi une incohérence complète dans l’ordre chronologique de la découverte de ces fameux Plan du Fleuve et Ecrit de la Luo?

Fou Xi (Phục Hi ) ( 3500 avant J.C. ) découvrit le premier, le Plan du Fleuve (Hà Ðồ) lors d’une excursion sur le fleuve jaune. Il vit sortir de l’eau un dragon cheval (long mã) portant sur son dos ce plan. C’est à You Le Grand (Đại Vũ) (2205 avant J.C.) qu’on attribua la découverte de l‘Ecrit de la Luo trouvé sur le dos de la tortue. Pourtant c’est grâce à l’Écrit de la Luo et à son explication (Lạc Thư cửu tinh đồ) qu’on arrive à établir et à interpréter correctement le schéma stellaire établi à partir de l’étoile polaire (Bắc Ðẩu) et trouvé sur ce fameux Plan du fleuve selon le principe du Yin et du Yang et de 5 éléments.

Le fameux mot « Luo » (Lạc) trouvé dans le texte du Grand Commentaire de Confucius :

Thị cố thiên sinh thần vật, thánh nhân tắc chi, thiên địa hóa thánh nhân hiệu chi; thiên tượng, hiện cát hung, thánh nhân tượng chi. Hà xuất đồ, Lạc xuất thư, thánh nhân tắc chi

Cho nên trời sinh ra thần vật, thánh nhân áp dụng theo; trời đất biến hoá, thánh nhân bắt chước; trời bày ra hình tượng. Hiện ra sự tốt xấu, thánh nhân phỏng theo ý tượng. Bức đồ hiện ra sông Hoàng Hà, hình chữ hiện ở sông Lạc, thánh nhân áp dụng .

Le Ciel donne naissance aux choses divines, les Sages les prennent comme critère. Le Ciel et la Terre connaissent des changements et des transformations, les Sages les reproduisent. Dans le Ciel sont suspendues des images manifestant la fortune et l’infortune, les Sages les imitent. Du Fleuve jaune sort le Plan, de la rivière Luo sort l’Ecrit, les Sages les prennent comme modèles.

continue à être interprété jusqu’à aujourd’hui comme le nom de la rivière Luo, un affluent du fleuve jaune qui traverse et nourrit le centre la Chine. On continue à voir dans ces fameux Plan du Fleuve et Ecrit de la Luo les prémices de la civilisation chinoise. Des dessins et des figures aux signes tri-grammatiques, des signes tri-grammatiques aux signes linguistiques, on pense à la marche de la civilisation chinoise dans Yi King sans croire qu’il pourrait être le modèle emprunté par le Sage à une autre civilisation. Pourtant si Luo est associé au mot Yue, cela désigne la tribu Lạc Việt (Luo Yue) dont les Vietnamiens sont issus. S’agit-il d’une pure coïncidence ou de l’appellation employée par les Sages You le Grand ou Confucius pour se référer à la civilisation de Văn Lang? Lạc Thư désigne effectivement l’écrit de la tribu Luo, Lạc tướng ses généraux, Lạc điền son territoire, Lạc hầu ses marquis etc …..

Il est merveilleux de constater que la théorie de Yin -Yang et de 5 éléments trouve sa parfaite cohésion et son fonctionnement dans le gâteau de riz gluant, preuve intangible de la civilisation de Văn Lang. Outre l’eau dont on a besoin pour faire cuire le gâteau, on trouve dans sa constitution les 4 éléments essentiels (viande, fèves jaunes, riz gluant, feuilles de bambou ou de latanier) . Le cycle d’engendrement (Ngũ hành tương sinh) de 5 éléments est bien visible dans la confection de ce gâteau. A l’intérieur du gâteau, on trouve un morceau de viande de porc de couleur rouge ( le Feu ) entouré par une sorte de pâte faite avec des fèves de couleur jaune ( la Terre ). Le tout est enveloppé par le riz gluant de couleur blanche (le Métal) pour être cuit avec de l’eau bouillante (l’Eau ) avant de trouver une coloration verte sur sa surface grâce aux feuilles de latanier ( le Bois ).

Les deux formes géométriques, un carré et un cercle que prend ce gâteau, correspondent bien au Yin (Âm) et au Yang (Dương ). Du fait que le souffle Yang reflète la plénitude et la pureté, on lui attribue la forme d’un cercle. Quant au Yin, on trouve en ce souffle l’impureté et la limitation. C’est pourquoi on lui donne la forme d’un carré. Une légère différence est  notable dans la définition du Yin-Yang des Chinois et dans celle des Vietnamiens. Pour ces derniers, le Yin a tendance d’être en mouvement (động).

Cycle d’engendrement


Ngũ hành tương sinh

C’est pour cela qu’on ne trouve que la présence des 5 éléments dans le Yin représenté par le gâteau de riz en forme de carré (Bánh chưng). Ce n’est pas le cas du gâteau en forme de cercle que symbolise le Yang ayant tendance de porter le caractère « immobile » (tĩnh). C’est probablement la raison qui explique jusqu’à aujourd’hui que la loi des Yin-Yang et de 5 éléments ne connaît pas un grand pas dans son évolution et que ses applications continuent à porter le caractère mystique et confus dans l’opinion publique à cause de l’erreur introduite dans la définition du Yin-Yang par les Chinois.

Temples des rois Hùng 


On a l’habitude de dire « Mẹ tròn, con vuôn » en vietnamien pour souhaiter à la mère et à son enfant une bonne santé au moment de la naissance. Cette expression est employée comme une phrase de politesse si on ne sait pas qu’elle a été léguée par nos ancêtres dans le but retenir notre attention sur le caractère créateur de l’Univers. De ce dernier sont nés le Yin et le Yang qui sont non seulement en opposition mais aussi en interaction et en corrélation. La complémentarité et le fait d’être indissociable de ces deux pôles sont à la base du développement satisfaisant de la nature. Le jeu typiquement vietnamien «  Chơi ô ăn quan » témoigne aussi du parfait fonctionnement de la théorie de Yin-Yang et de 5 éléments. Le jeu s’arrête quand on ne trouve plus des jetons dans les deux demi-cercles extrêmes correspondant aux deux pôles Yin et Yang.

Autel des ancêtres

Aucun Vietnamien ne cache son émotion lorsqu’il voit sur l’autel de ses ancêtres le gâteau de riz gluant lors de la fête du Tết. Pour lui, ce mets d’apparence peu séduisante et n’ayant aucun goût succulent a une signification particulière. Il témoigne non seulement du respect et de l’affection que le Vietnamien aime entretenir à l’égard de ses ancêtres mais aussi de l’empreinte d’une civilisation vieille de 5000 ans. Ce gâteau de riz gluant est la preuve incontestable du parfait fonctionnement de Yin et de Yang et de 5 éléments. Il est le seul legs intact que le Vietnamien a réussi à recevoir de la part de ses ancêtres dans les tourbillons de l’histoire. Il ne peut pas rivaliser avec les chefs d’œuvre des autres civilisations comme la muraille de Chine ou les pyramides des pharaons faites avec de la sueur et du sang. Il est le symbole vivant d’une civilisation qui a légué à l’humanité un savoir d’une valeur inestimable dont on continue à se servir dans un grand nombre de domaines d’application ( astronomie, géomancie, médecine, astrologie etc ..).

[Civilisation de Văn Lang: 1 ère partie]