Les Mayas (Nền văn minh Maya): Partie 2

 

Version vietnamienne

Version française

Malgré cela, une percée significative dans le déchiffrement de l’écriture maya eut lieu dans les années 1950 grâce aux travaux du linguiste russe Yuri Knorosov. Ce dernier parvint à prouver que l’écriture utilisée par les Mayas pour la transcription de leur langue, était de type logo-syllabique (de 900 à 1200 signes) comparable à l’égyptien classique (734 signes). Puis en 1978, l’épigraphiste américain de l’université Stanford, J. Justeson introduisit dans sa thèse consacrée à l’écriture maya, l’idée de compléments phonétiques. Même une grammaire se constitua récemment dans les années 1980-1990 avec les travaux de L. Schele (1982), B. Macleod (1983) et V. Bricker (1986). Cela facilite la meilleure compréhension de la tradition écrite par des Mayas.

Aujourd’hui, on peut dire que l’écriture maya est de type logo-phonétique. Grâce à cette avancée dans le décryptage et dans les fouilles archéologiques, on est obligé de modifier la vision qu’on a eue à l’égard des Mayas en saisissant tout ce qu’ils avaient laissé dans le corpus hiéroglyphique composé actuellement de plus de dix mille textes.

 

 Cho đến năm 1950, nhờ  nhà ngôn ngữ nga Yuri Knorosov mà  hệ thống chữ viết Maya được giãi mã.  Ông nầy đã  chứng minh  lối  viết của người Maya trong việc phiên âm là loại logo âm tiết (từ 900 đến 1200 dấu) so với lối viết của người Ai Cập (734 dấu). Rồi đến 1978, nhà nghiên cứu  văn khắc người Mỹ, ông J. Juteson của đại học Stanford đưa vào trong luận án dành về văn tự của người Maya, một ý niệm về việc bổ sung ngữ âm. Có luôn cả văn phạm của người Maya được cung cấp gần đây trong những năm 1980-1990 với các công việc của L. Schele (1982), B. Macleod (1983) và  V. Bricker (1986). Nhờ đó mà sự hiểu biết về lối viết của người Maya đuợc thông suốt từ đây. Ngày nay, có thể khẳng định là chữ viết của người Maya là loại logo âm tiết.  Nhờ viêc tiến triển trong việc giãi mã và các cuộc khai quật mà  cái nhìn về người Maya cũng được thay đổi nhất là với những gì họ để lại trong kho tàng tượng hình gồm có hiện nay hơn mười ngàn  văn bản.

Les Mayas (Nền văn minh Maya): Partie I

Version vietnamienne

Qui sont ces mayas?

Selon certains archéologues, les Mayas ont leur origine asiatique avec leurs traits. On pourrait penser à l’arrivée, sur le territoire vierge d’Amérique, de leurs ancêtres, des chasseurs venus d’Asie, à la poursuite du gibier en franchissant le détroit de Behring au cours de la dernière période glaciaire. Cette théorie reste séduisante et convaincante dans la mesure où on trouve chez les Mayas des techniques rencontrées en Asie: céramique, filage et tissage ainsi que certains concepts d’ordre religieux (chamanisme) et cosmique comme les associations de couleurs et d’animaux célestes aux quatre points cardinaux. (Ngũ hành). Grâce à la découverte des monuments de la ville de Copán (Honduras) envahis par la végétation dans les vapeurs de la jungle tropicale par l’explorateur américain John Lloyd Stephens et son compagnon illustrateur Frederick Catherwood en 1840, on recommence à s’intéresser à leur civilisation, leur mode de vie, leurs connaissances scientifiques (astronomie, mathématiques, architecture, agriculture etc…) et surtout leur écriture glyphique. Celle-ci est un système d’écriture complexe et incompréhensible qui n’est pas conçu pour les transactions commerciales comme les autres écritures anciennes. Elle n’est pas destinée à la basse couche de la société maya mais elle est un moyen pour les nobles et les scribes de s’adresser aux dieux et de légitimer le pouvoir de leurs souverains considérés à l’égal des dieux. Cela décourage un grand nombre de savants et de chercheurs qui qualifiaient avec résignation dans le passé cette écriture maya de “problème insoluble”. Leur déchiffrement devient de plus en plus ardu car lors de l’arrivée des conquistadors espagnols sur le territoire des Mayas, la plupart de leurs manuscrits (ou codex) furent brûlés sur un bûcher par l’évêque Diego de Landa à Mani (Yucatan). 

Ce dernier trouva dans ces codex des formules de rituel avec une écriture glyphique incompréhensible, une entrave à sa mission de christianisation et un caractère de superstition et de mystification du démon. On estime qu’il fit détruire 70 tonnes de témoignages écrits par les Mayas ainsi que 5000 idoles. Pourtant il fut l’un des meilleurs chroniqueurs de la civilisation maya. Beaucoup de gens eurent du mal à croire, à cette époque, que ces Indiens misérables vivant à côté des ruines mystérieuses de Copán découvertes par John Lloyd Stephens et Frederick Catherwood, étaient les descendants des bâtisseurs de cette civilisation. Pourtant ils furent, à l’époque précolombienne, le seul peuple d’Amérique centrale à avoir poussé aussi loin l’exploration d’un système complexe d’écriture dans le but de donner cohésion et unité à leur culture autant diverse que variée, d’une région à une autre, au niveau de la composition ethnique et matérielle. Malgré un grand nombre élevé de dialectes (une trentaine en tout), on a retrouvé les mêmes hiéroglyphes, la même écriture en divers points de l’Amérique centrale soit sur les basses terres de tout le Yucatan soit dans les hautes terres du Guatemala ou dans le territoire traversé par les rivières Usumacinta et Sarstoon. Analogues aux Egyptiens avec le papyrus et aux Chinois avec la fibre de mûrier, les Mayas ont réussi à fabriquer le papier avec les fibres d’une espèce de figuier. Cela leur permit d’enregistrer leurs rites religieux, leurs observations scientifiques et leurs annales dans des codex présentés sous la forme des grandes feuilles de papier plissées verticalement en accordéon. À cause de l’autodafé de livres mayas organisé par Diego de Landa, il ne reste aujourd’hui que 4 codex mayas dont les trois premiers sont: le Codex de Dresde (Codex Dresdensis), le Codex Tro Cortesianus (ou Manuscrit de Madrid), le Codex Peresianus (ou Manuscrit de Paris) dans les bibliothèques de Dresde, de Madrid et de Paris et le quatrième connu comme le Codex Grolier découvert en 1971 par Michael Coe, un chercheur américain de l’université Yale.(Suite: Partie 2)

Người Maya

Theo các nhà khảo cổ học, người Maya có nguồn gốc đến từ Châu Á nếu dựa trên nét mặt. Có thể nghĩ rằng trên mảnh đất hoang sơ của Châu Mỹ, ông cha họ đến khi còn là những người đi săn bắn đến từ Châu Á . Vi đeo đuổi các thú rừng nên họ vượt qua eo biển Behring trong thời kỳ cuối băng hà. Giả thuyết nầy có vẽ thuyết phục và hấp dẫn vì chúng ta nhận thấy ở những người Maya có những kỹ thuật thường được trông thấy ở Châu Á : gốm, việc xe sợi và dệt vải, những khái niệm mang tính chất tôn giáo (saman giáo) và vũ trụ cũng như sự kết hợp các màu và động vật thiên ở bốn phương (Ngũ hành). Nhờ nhà thám hiểm người Mỹ, ông John Lloyd Stephens cùng bạn đồng hành họa sỹ Frederick Catherwood khám phá vào năm 1840, các công trình của thành phố Copán (Honduras) bị bao phủ bởi cây cối và chìm đắm trong sương mù của rừng nhiệt đới mà văn minh của người Maya được quan tâm lại nhất là lối sống của họ, những kiến thức khoa học ( thiên văn, toán học, kiến trúc, canh nông và nhất là chữ viết của họ. Lối viết nầy rất phức tạp không dùng trong việc buôn bán cũng như các văn tự cổ khác. Nó không dành cho giới hạ tầng cũa xã hội mà nó là một phương tiện cho giới qúi tộc và các biện lại để tiếp cận với thần thánh và hợp pháp hóa quyện lực của vua chúa được xem như ngang hàng với các thần thánh. Chính vì vậy biết bao nhiêu nhà khảo cứu xem vặn tự của họ là một vấn đề nan giải nhất là với sự xâm nhập của đoàn viễn chinh Tây Ban Nha trên lãnh thổ của người Maya thì bao nhiêu sách vỡ (hay codex) ở Mani (Yucatan) đều bị giám mục Diego de Landa đốt cả. Qua những công thức nghi lễ được tìm thấy trong các codex với lối viết theo những họa tiết không thể hiểu nổi, ông cho rằng đây là một trở ngại trong việc truyền bá đạo công giáo và nó có tính chất dị đoan mê tín. Có ít nhất 70 tấn tang chứng văn tự của người Maya bị tiêu hủy cùng 5000 thần tượng.

Tuy nhiên ông Diego de Landa là một trong những nguời thời luận xuất sắc về văn hóa Maya. Rất nhiều người không nghỉ rằng ở thời đó có những bộ tộc nghèo đói sống ở vùng đất hoang tàn Copán mà được John Lloyd Stephens và Frederick Catherwood khám phá là con cháu của những người xây dựng một nền văn minh Maya cổ. Tuy nhiên ở thời kỳ tiền Colombo, họ là một dân tộc duy nhất ở Trung Mỹ đã khảo sát tĩ mĩ một hệ thống chữ viết phức tạp để mang lại sự liên kết chặt chẽ và thống nhất cho nền văn hóa của họ nhất là nó rất phong phú và khác nhau từ vùng nầy qua vùng kia trên phương diện sắc tộc và vật chất. Mặc dầu có 30 thổ ngữ, người ta vẫn tìm thấy một loại chữ viết tượng hình như nhau ở khắp nơi vùng Trung Mỹ dù nơi đó là đồng bằng Yucatan hay là vùng cao nguyên của Guatemala hoặc là vùng đất có các con sông Usumacinta và Sarstoon. Cũng như người Ai Cập với giấy cói và nguời Trung Hoa với sợi dâu, người Maya họ tìm ra trong việc chế tạo giấy với sợi của cây vả ( hay cây sung). Nhờ vậy họ ghi chép lại tất cả lễ nghi tôn giáo, các cuộc quan sát khoa học cùng các biên sử trong các codex dưới dạng các tấm giấy lớn được gấp dựng đứng như đàn phong cầm. Vì sự thiêu hủy sách vở do ông Diego de Landa đề xướng, chỉ còn hiện nay 4 codex của người Maya: codex de Dresde, codex Tro Cortesianus (hay là bản thảo Madrid) và codex Peresianus (hay là bản thảo Paris) thì thuộc về các  thư viện Dresde, Madrid và Paris còn  codex thứ tư được gọi là codex Grolier khám phá vào năm 1971 bởi Michael Coe, một nhà nghiên cứu Mỹ của đại học Yale. (Tiếp theo)

Duy Tân (1907-1916) (English version)

duytan_empereur

Version française

 A great homage to the man who has dedicated all his life for his people and his country.

Một đời vì nước vì dân
Vĩnh San đứa trẻ không cần ngôi vua
Tù đày tử nhục khi thua
Tử rồi khí phách ông vua muôn đời

With the agreement of the Vietnamese authorities, the ashes of emperor Duy Tân interred up to now in the Republic of Central Africa were gathered with great pomp on April 4th, 1987 in Huế, the city of imperial mausoleums of the Nguyen dynasty. This has brought an end to a long and painful banishment that has had prince Vĩnh San often known as Duy Tân ( or Friend of Reforms ) since his uprising plan against the colonial authorities was discovered on May 4, 1916 because of the treason of a collaborator, Nguyễn Ðình Trứ.

Duy Tân is an outstanding character that none of the last emperors of the Nguyễn dynasty could be equal to. One can only regret his sudden disappearance due to a plane crash that took place at the end of 1945 on his way back from a mission from Vietnam. His death continues to feed doubt and remains one of the mysteries not elucidated until today. One found in him at that time not only the unequal popularity he knew how to acquire from his people, the royal legitimacy, but also an undeniable francophile, an alternative solution that general De Gaulle contemplated to propose to the Vietnamese at the last moment to counter the young revolutionary Hồ Chí Minh in Indochina. If he had been alive, Vietnam probably would not have known the ill-fated decades of its history and been the victim of the East-West confrontation and the cold war.

It is a profound regret that every Vietnamese could only feel when talking about him, his life and his fate. It is also a misfortune for the Vietnamese people to have lost a great statesman, to have written their history with blood and tears during the last decades.

His ascension to the throne remains a unique occurrence in the Annals of history of Vietnam. Taking advantage of suspicious anti-french schemes and the disguised lunacy of his father, emperor Thành Thái, the colonial authorities compelled the latter to abdicate in 1907 and go into exile in the Reunion at the age of 28. They requested that Prime Minister Trương Như Cường assume the regency. However this one while categorically refusing this proposal, kept demanding the colonial authorities to strictly respect the definite agreement in the Patenôtre Treaty of Protectorate (1884) providing that the throne comes back to one of the emperor’s sons in case he ceases reigning ( Phụ truyền tử kế ). Facing popular opinion and the infallible fidelity of Trương Như Cương to the Nguyen dynasty, the colonial authorities were forced to choose one of his sons as emperor. They did not hide their intention of choosing the one that seemed docile and without caliber. Except Vĩnh San, all of about 20 other sons of emperor Thành Thái were present at the moment of selection made by the General Resident Sylvain Levecque. The name Vĩnh San missed at the roll-call, which forced everyone to look for him everywhere.

Finally he was found under the beam of a frame, his face covered with mud and soak with sweat. He was chasing the crickets. Seeing him in this sordid condition, Sylvain Levecque did not hide his satisfaction because he thought only a fool would choose the day of ascession to the throne to go chasing the crickets. Upon the recommendation of his close collaborator Charles, he decided to designate him as emperor of Annam as he found in front of him a seven-year old child, timid, reserved, having no political ambition and thinking only to devote himself to games like children of his age. It was an erroneous judgment as stated in the comment of a French journalist at that time in his local newspaper:

 A day on the throne has completely changed the face of an eight-year old child. 

One noticed a few years later that the journalist was right because Duy Tân has dedicated all his life for his people and his country until his last breath of life.
At the time of his ascension to the throne he was only 7. To give him a stature of an emperor, they had to give him one more year of age. That is why in the Annals of history of Vietnam, he was brought to the throne at 8 years of age. To deal with this erroneous designation, the colonial authorities installed a council of regency constituted of Vietnamese personalities close to General Resident Sylvain Levecque ( Tôn Thất Hân, Nguyễn Hữu Bài, Huỳnh Côn, Miên Lịch, Lê Trinh, Cao Xuân Dục) to assist the emperor in the management of the country and requested that Eberhard, the father-in-law of Charles be Duy Tân’s tutor. It was a way to closely supervise the activities of this young man.

Trần Cao Vân

In spite of that, Duy Tân succeeded in evading the surveillance network placed by the colonial authorities. He was one of the fierce partisans for the revision of the Patenotre agreements (1884). He was the architect of several reforms: Tax and chore duty reduction, elimination of wasteful court protocols, reduction of his own salary etc… He forcefully protested the profanation of emperor Tự Ðức’s tomb by General Resident Mahé in his search for gold, with the governor of Indochina Albert Sarraut. He claimed the right to look at the management of the country. This marked the prelude of dissension which grew more and more visible between him and the French Superior Resident. On May 4, 1916, with Trần Cao Vân and Thái Phiên, he fomented a rebellion which was discovered and put down due to the treason of one of his collaborators. Despite his capture and flattering advice of the Governor of Indochina asking him to reexamine his comportment and conduct, he continued be impassible and said: 

If you compelled me to remain emperor of Annam, you should consider me as an adult emperor. I should need neither the council of regency nor your advice. I should manage the country’s business on the same footing with all foreign countries including France.

Facing his unwavering conviction, the colonial authorities had to assign the Minister of Instructions of that time, the father-in-law of future emperor Khải-Ðịnh, Hồ Ðắc Trung to institute proceedings against his treason toward France. For not compromising Duy Tân, the two older collaborators Trần Cao Vân and Thái Phiên made it known to Hồ Đắc Trung their intent to voluntarily accept the verdict provided that emperor Duy Tân was exempt from the capital punishment. They kept saying:

The sky is still there. So are the earth and the dynasty. We wish long live to the emperor.

 

Faithful to the Nguyen dynasty, Hồ Ðắc Trung only condemned the emperor to exile in justifying the fact that he was a minor and that the responsibility of the plot rested with the older collaborators Trần Cao Vân and Thái Phiên.

The men were guillotined at An Hoà. As for emperor Duy Tân, he was condemned to exile to the Reunion on November 3, 1916 on board of the steamship Avardiana. The day before his departure, the representative of the General Resident visited him and asked:

Sir, if you need money you may take it from the state coffer.

Duy Tân replied politely :

The money that you find in the coffer is intended to help the king to govern the country but it does not belong to me in anyway especially to a political prisoner.

To entertain the king, the representative did not hesitate to remind him that it was possible to choose preferred books in the library and take them with him during his exile because he knew the king loved to read very much. He agreed to that proposal and told him:

I love reading very much. If you have the chance to bring books for me, don’t forget to bring the entirety of all the volumes of “History of the French Revolution” of Michelet.

The representative dared not report to the Resident what Duy Tan had told him.

His exile marked not only the end of the imperial resistance and the struggle monopolized and animated up until then by the scholars for the defense of the Confucian order and the imperial state but also the beginning of a national movement and the emergence of a state nationalism placed in birth by the great patriot scholar Phan Bội Châu. It was also a lost chance for France for not taking the initiative to give freedom to Vietnam in the person of Duy Tân, a francophile of the first hour.

His destiny is that of the Vietnamese people. For a certain time, one has deliberately made all streets bearing his name disappear in big cities ( Hànội, Huế, Sàigon ) in Vietnam, but one cannot forever erase his cherished name in his people’s heart and in our collective memory. He is not the rival of anybody but he is on the contrary 

the last great emperor of Vietnam.

To this title I dedicate to him the following four verses:

Devoting his whole life to his country and people,
Duy Tan the kid did not hang on to his throne.
Facing exile and humility when defeated,
His uprightness lives forever in history unabated.

Thành Thái (1879-1954) (English version)

 

 

Version française

Thành Thái 

A great homage to a man who devoted his whole life for his country and people through my Six-Eight verses:

Ta điên vì nước vì dân
Ta nào câm điếc một lần lên ngôi
Trăm ngàn tủi nhục thế thôi
Lưu đày thể xác than ôi cũng đành

His madness for the love of  his country  and people.

I am mad for the love of my country and people
Once on the throne, I can’t stay deaf-mute
It wouldn’t matter I feel self pity and shame
And my body suffers years of exile with resignation

Prior to becoming emperor Thành Thái, he was known as Bửu Lân. He was the son of emperor Dục Ðức who had been vilely assassinated by the two Confucianist mandarins Tôn Thất Thuyết and Nguyễn Văn Tường, and the grand son of the mandarin Phan Ðình Bình. Because the latter was maladroitly opposed to the enthronement of emperor Ðồng Khánh by the colonial authorities, Ðồng Khánh was fast to take revenge by cowardly getting rid of this old mandarin and by putting Bửu Lân and his mother under house surveillance within the surrounding wall of the purple city at the Trần Võ palace in order to avoid all seeds of revolt. That was why at Ðồng Khánh’s death and upon the announcement of the choice of her son as the successor by the colonial authorities, Buu Lan’s mother was surprised and cried so much because she was always obsessed by the idea that her son would probably meet the same fate as her husband, emperor Dục Đức and her father, the mandarin Phan Ðình Bình. If Buu Lan was preferred to other princes, it was incontestably due to the ingenuities of Diệp Văn Cương, the presumed lover of his aunt, princess Công Nữ Thiên Niệm because Diệp Vân Cương was Resident General Rheinart‘s personal secretary, in charge of conducting business with the Imperial Court to find a compromise on the person to be chosen to succeed emperor Ðồng Khánh.

Thus he involuntarily became our new emperor known as Thành Thái. He was fast to realize that his power was very limited, that the Patenôtre treaty was never respected and that he had no right with regard to the management and future of his country. Contrary to his predecessor Ðồng Khánh, close to the colonial authorities, he took a passive resistance by trying to thwart their policies in a systematic manner with his provoking remarks and amicable gestures. His fist virulent altercation with the Resident General Alexis Auvergne was noticed at the inaugural ceremony of the new bridge spanning across the Perfume river. Proud of technical prowess and confident of the sturdiness of the bridge, Alexis Auvergne did not hesitate to tell Thành Thái with his habitual cynicism:

When you would have seen this bridge collapse, your country would be independent.

To show the importance that the colonial authorities has given to the new bridge, they named it “Thành Thái”. This made the emperor mad. Using as a pretext that everyone can walk over his head when crossing the bridge, he forbade his subjects to call the bridge by its new name and incited them to use the old name “Tràng Tiền”.

Tràng Tiền bridge (Huế)

Some years later, the bridge collapsed during a violent storm. Thành Thái was fast to recall Alexis Auvergne of what he had said with his black humor. Alexis Auvergne was red with shame and had to clear off at these embarrassing remarks. The dissension with the authorities grew day by day until the replacement of the old Resident General by Sylvain Levecque. The latter was fast to place a network of strict surveillance when he learned that Thanh Thai continued to approach his people through the bias of his reforms and his disguise in plain clothes or as a beggar in villages. He was the first emperor of Vietnam to take the initiative of having his hair cut the European fashion, which astonished so many of his mandarins and subjects when he first appeared. But he also was the first emperor to encourage his subjects to follow French education. He was the artisan of several architectural projects. He was also the first emperor of the Nguyen dynasty who wanted to pay enormous attention to the daily life of his subjects and to know their daily difficulties. It was reported that during an escorted excursion, he met on his way a poor man who was hauling a heavy load of bamboo. He body guard wanted to ease the way but he stopped him by saying:

I am neither citizen nor emperor as I should be in this country. Why do you chase him away?

During his excursions, he often used to sit on a mat, surrounded by the villagers and to discuss all the issues with them. It was in one of his excursion that he brought back to the purple city an oarswoman who accepted to marry him and became his concubine. He was well known as an excellent drummer.

That is why he summoned all the best drummers in the country to the purple city, asked them to play drums before his court and reward them generously according to their merit. It was reported that one day, he met a drummer who used to tilt his head when playing. Wanting to help him correct this funny habit, he told him jokingly:

If you keep on playing that way, I will have to have your head rolled.

From then on, the drummer, worrying incessantly about the next call, was overwhelmed by fear and died of a heart attack. One day, knowing the death of the drummer, Thanh Thai was taken my remorse, summoned his family and gave them a large sum of money to take care of their daily needs.

His way of joking, his frequent disguises, his sometimes strange behavior incomprehensible to the colonial authorities gave them an opportunity to brand him a lunatic.

As for Thành Thái, he was deported first to Vũng Tàu (former Cap St. Jacques) in the Fall of 1907, then later to the Reunion Island with his son, emperor Duy Tân in 1916. He was only allowed to return to Vietnam in 1945 after the death of Duy Tân and to stay confined within Vũng Tàu, South Vietnam during the last years of his life.

Is it possible to brand him lunatic when it is known through his poem titled “Hoài Cổ” ( Remember the Past ) that Thành Thái was so lucid and never stopped to groan with the pain facing the alarming situation of his country? Other eight seven-foot verses we know such as The storm of the year of the Dragon in 1904 ( Vịnh Trần Bão Năm Thìn ) or Profession of Faith ( Cảm Hoài ) not only show Thành Thai’s perfect mastery in the strict application of the difficult rules in Vietnamese poetry but also the painful pride of a great emperor who, in spite of a forced exile for almost half a century ( 1907-1954 ) by the colonial authorities, continued to display his conviction and unshakable faith in the liberation of his country. Through him it is already seen forging on this land of legends the instruments of a future revolt.

For him, his incurable illness was the goal to realize his intention, to give his people the dignity so long waited and to show future generations the sacrifice and the price which even he, a person considered alienated by the colonial authorities, had to pay for that country ( 47 years of exile ). In the political context of the time, he should not reveal himself of this “illness”.

Up to now, no historic document show us Thành Thái’s insanity but rather it reveals a great emperor’s lunacy of the love of his country and people, neverending affliction of a great patriot facing the destiny of his country.

Sacrifice (English version)

Version Française

sacrifice_1f

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
 

Eastern Han dynasty (Nhà Đông Hán)

titre_dynhan_9 Guimet museum of Asian art (Paris)

 

Chronology of Eastern Han dynasty 

icon_daihan

 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.

 

icon_tigre

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)

 

Con rồng cháu Tiên (English version)

French 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 became a mountain named Cầu Dầu Sơn, the body Cầu Dầu Thủy and the tail the name of Bạch Long Vỹ.

Lạc Long Quân and Âu Cơ

conrongchautien
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

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

(1753-1792)

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)

French version

History

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 soil, water, and nature, 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.

The country I love is lost forever.

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

Fire->Earth->Metal->Water->Wood

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