Yên Bái (Nguyễn Thái Học- Cô Giang)



A great homage to the idyllic couple through my poem in Six-Eight:

He is young and talented;
Dying for his Father Land, he deserves being a valorous man.
She does not worry about her own life;
Dying for her love and duty, she is unforgettable forever.

Version française

Contrary to other Vietnamese towns, Yên Bái has no tourist attractions. It is only the provincial capital, a riverside town located in the valley of the Red river half way on the road going from Hànội to the Chinese border Lào Cai. In spite of that, it continues to be famous in the past by its armed resistance driven by Vietnamese nationalists in the struggle for independence. It incarnates not only the hope of the Vietnamese people to regain their freedom by force but also the dauntlessness of the nationalists before death after the failure of their revolt in 1930. It should be looked at in the political context of that time to understand not only the causes of that revolt but also the Vietnamese people’s profound aspiration for independence after Phan Chu Trinh ‘s failure in advocating priority of overall progress of society over political independence followed by his death, and the house arrest of Phan Bội Châu, another important figure, by the colonial authorities at the capital of Huế.

Despite the warning of colonel Parfait-Louis Monteil in 1924, few reforms were made in favor of the native people. On the contrary, the exploitation of cheap labor in rubber tree plantations was at the top of its efficiency and horror. Writer Roland Dorgelès talked about it in his work « The Mandarin Road« . This virgin land, when it opens on impact, releases a mortal breath. As many as traced paths, as many as open tombs. The rubber trees coming out of the ground, spindly, and well in lines, look like the rows of cross. The dead numbered in the tens of thousand because of diseases and malnutrition. That is why through the following poem, this complaint is heard:

Kiếp phu đỗ lắm máu đào
Máu loang mặt đất máu trào mủ cây
Trần gian địa ngục là đây
Ðồn điền đất đỏ nơi Tây giết người

The coolies’ blood has much shed,
It shed on the ground, it shed through the sap.
This is the hell on earth,
The rubber tree plantation is where the French colonists commit murder.

For half of a century, the colonists harvested latex they converted into gold. It was in the plantations that sprouted the revolt. Someone like Nguyễn Văn Viên arrived at getting out of this hell and joining the Vietnamese nationalist party ( Việt Nam Quốc Dân Ðảng ) led by Nguyễn Thái Học. To show this fervor and find a favorable echo among the deprived, especially the plantation coolies, Nguyễn Văn Viên took the initiative, in spite of Nguyễn Thái Học’s reluctance, to assassinate Bazin known for his opulence in recruiting coolies and shipping them to rubber tree plantations in South Vietnam. The death of this man gave the colonial authorities an opportunity to launch the policy of repression all over the place.

Thus the nationalist party became the favored target in this crusade. It could no longer move easily. If it did not react, it would be a slow death because its members would be captured sooner or later by the colonial authorities. If it did react by the revolt, it knew that it would be a collective, hazardous, and exemplary suicide. That is why Nguyễn Thái Học had the habit of saying to his party companions:

Ðại hà chi thanh, nhân thọ kỷ hà?
Ðợi sông Hoàng Hà trong trở lại, đời người thọ là bao?

Waiting for the Yellow River water to be clear, how many live spans can we count?

The real photo of Nguyễn Thái Học

According to the Chinese, the Yellow River water only regains its clearness every three hundred years. Nguyen Thai Hoc knew for sure he was going to lead his party companions to a definite death. He could not wait any longer. But this death seemed useful because it recalled to the Vietnamese people that there was no other choice but the struggle. It also marked the beginning of   an   awareness and awakening of the whole people facing its destiny that was, up until then, led by the unworthy heirs of the Nguyễn dynasty (Khải Ðịnh, Bảo Ðại). The revolt of  Yên Bái was an indisputable failure because most of the nationalists leaders were captured.

On the other hand, it threw in a sound and long lasting basis upon which the communist party laid its authority and popularity among the people in the following years in the conquest of independence. It also tolled the death knell for a colonial empire that had vainly lost so many opportunities to reestablish the dialogue and cooperation with the native people. This was translated by the death sentence imposed on all the nationalist leaders. Nguyễn Thái Học was the last one to be guillotined. Before his execution, he was impassible. In spite of his weakness, he tried to shout out loud in French:

Dying for one’s country
Is the most beautiful fate
The most envied lot….

Then he lay down on his back facing the blade of the guillotine. « Long live Vietnam » was the last words heard before the fall of the guillotine’s blade. His blood spurted everywhere under a covered sky. His head fell in a bucket containing saw dust (June 17 1930). He was only 27. Faithful to her Vietnamese tradition, his wife Nguyễn Thị Giang did not take long to follow him to commit suicide on June 18, 1930 at the inn where they had met often before their marriage. She left a letter whose sentences illustrated well the indefectible love she had for her husband and her country:

Sống nhục sao bằng sự thoát vinh
Nước non vẹn kiếp chung tình
Cuộc đời xá kể chi thành bại
Trai trung thì gái phải trinh

Dying in pride rather than living in humiliation
I make it whole the love for you and the nation
Success and failure do not matter in life
As long as man is faithful and woman has fidelity.

The remains of the thirteen Vietnamese nationalists were buried the following day on a hill near the Yên Bái railway station.

If this town is not as well known as most of Vietnamese cities, it incarnates on the contrary something the other towns cannot have. It is the symbol of maturity and dignity rediscovered in a people facing its own fate. It grew valiantly in the past along with the Vietnamese people in its struggle for independence.

(Việt Nam Quốc Dân Ðảng)

Concubines under the Nguyễn dynasty (Cung tần mỹ nữ)

French version



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

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

Ôn Như Hầu

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

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

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

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

During Nguyễn Anh’s years of exile and setback in his reconquest of power, Nguyên Phi continued to take care her mother-in-law, queen Hiếu Khương (spouse of Nguyễn Phúc Luân ) and to make uniforms for recruits. She arrived at overcoming all the difficulties destined to her family and showed her courage and bravery in escaping traps set up by their adversaries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One found this love fifty years later in poet emperor Tự Ðức. At the funeral of his favorite concubine, he composed a poem entitled « Khóc Bằng Phi » whose two following verses immortalized love and affection emperor Tự Ðức reserved for his concubine Bằng Phi:

Ðập cổ- kính ra, tìm lấy bóng
Xếp tàn-y lại để dành hơi

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

Cung tần mỹ nữ

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

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

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

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

Miss, do you like to marry the emperor?

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

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

Miss, just say « Yes » and see what happens!

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

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

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

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

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

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

French version

Vietnamese version


Before it became the Champa Sculpture Museum today, it was known as the Sculpture Garden in the distant past. It was here that they began to collect and preserve for the most part, under the aegis of archaeologist-architect Henri Parmentier and members of the French School of the Far East (EFEO) in the late 19th century all the artifacts found  during archaeological excavations in the central regions (from the Hoành Sơn Anamitic Range, Quãng Bình in the north to Bình Thuận (Phan Thiết) in the south) where an ancient Indochinese kingdom existed known in the early 2nd century as Linyi and then Huanwang and finally Champa until its annexation by Vietnam in 1471. Opened to the public in 1919, this museum initially took the name of its founder « Henri Parmentier Museum » and housed 190 artifacts among which was the famous pedestal of the Buddhist site Đồng Dương. Then the museum did not cease to expand since 1975 to reach today an area of 2,000 m² out of a total of more than 6,600 m² and to acquire in the year 1978 the great masterpiece of bronze art, the statue of Laksmindra-Lokesvara (Quan Âm chuẩn đề) often known as Tara. It becomes over the decades the unique museum in the world in the field of Champa art. It allows the tourist to also know the chronology of Champa history as all styles are present through artifacts from the famous sites Mỹ Sơn, Đồng Dương, Trà Kiệu and Pô Nagar (Nha Trang). For French researcher Jean Boisselier, Chame sculpture is always closely linked to history. Despite the evolution of styles throughout its history, chame sculpture continues to keep the same divine and animal creatures in a constant theme. This is a museum not to be missed if one has the opportunity to visit Đà Nẵng

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

Tháp Mắm style



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

no images were found

© Đặng Anh Tuấn

Birth of the thaï nation (Thaïland)

French version

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

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

A long common history with the Vietnamese (Thaïland)

French version



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Sukothaï kingdom (Vương quốc Sukhothaï)

French version

Sukhothaï kingdom

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

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

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

Being student (Đạo nghĩa làm người học trò)

French version

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


Being student in Vietnam

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

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

Trường Làng Tôi ( My village school )

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

Nhất nhật vi sư
Bán tự vi sư

Học một ngày cũng thầy
Học nữa chữ cũng thầy

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

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

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

Kính thầy mới được làm thầy.
We should respect our teacher before becoming a teacher later.

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

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

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

He reminded him the sentence that any school teacher would repeat to his student:

Bất nhượng ư sư
Không nên nhường thầy.

Do not concede to your teacher what you deserve.

Moved by the advice, Phạm Duy Tri nodded his head and kept what his teacher had told him. He passed the royal exam and acquired the title of Trạng Nguyên ( 1st doctor ). As for his teacher, he was classified second and received the title of Bảng Nhãn ( or 2nd doctor ).

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

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

Nguyễn Huy Thiệp (Version anglaise)

French version



Assigned up until 1986 to the job of drawing illustrations for school manuals in an office of Publishing and Education in Hà-Nội, Nguyễn Huy Thiệp, taking advantage of the openness policy known as Ðỗi Mới ( Renovation ) at the time the Vietnamese communist party held its 6th congress, published in 1987 his first book called  » The breezes of Hứa Tát » printed in  » Literature and Art », the prestigious magazine of the National Association of Writers.

His success was not slow. But it was due mostly to his work entitled « The retirement of a general » when it was published in June 1987. This has provoked not only an earthquake in Vietnamese public opinion but also a hope to see draining in its trail a new generation of young writers without shady deal and having an independent and critical mind that seemed almost non-existent up until then in the Vietnamese literature.

His success was not slow. But it was due mostly to his work entitled  » The retirement of a general » when it was published in June 1987. This has provoked not only an earthquake in Vietnamese public opinion but also a hope to see draining in its trail a new generation of young writers without shady deal and having an independent and critical mind that seemed almost non-existent up until then in the Vietnamese literature.

· A general in retreat (in retirement)
· The heart of the tiger
· The vengeance of the wolf
· Demons live among us.
· Tale of love. A rainy evening
· The gold and fire
· My uncle Hoat
· In our twenties

licorneThanks to his collection of tales, Nguyễn Huy Thiệp became overnight a shining figure in the Vietnamese literature. His readers including the diaspora find in him not only the talent of a writer but also the boldness to break the taboo and the unspoken kept until then by customs and a system fallen into disuse. At present, he is considered a great Vietnamese writer. With his much sober style, he succeeds in sensitizing easily the reader because he uses metaphors and allusions with his raw language to describe the reality of today in Vietnam, the one with all alienation presently forming the social fabric of the country.

Selecting typical situations and characters in his novels and tales, he makes us uncover with terror all the contradiction of the Vietnamese society, all the unbearable truths, the gangrene of the Bad, the collapse of moral values of a society. He dares to display in public forum the collapse of a system, to scour the social flesh with his black humor and his freezing realism. He succeeds in showing us all the facets of society through his short and bare passages with a talent of a storyteller and that of a writer in total breaking off with the generation of writers compromising with the regime. If he succeeds in building news with an astonishing ease, it is a great deal due to his growing up in the countryside with his mother during his youth, and to his training as a historian when he attended teaching college in 1970 in Hanoi. The work of the Chinese historian Si Ma Qian (Tư Mã Thiên ) has an enormous influence on his tales, especially on his style. He has said one day in 1990 to the French magazine Libération: I don’t think people can write when uprooted. He preferred to stay in Vietnam in order to be able to write his tales, to reveal the true nature of a system and to express the anger and hidden feeling of a human being crushed by years in mud, war and deprivation. Although he has never been in politics, he is always a suspect in the eyes of the Vietnamese authorities because of his liberal words that shake state apparatus. He embodies the symbolic expression of the state of mind of the whole people in search of a stolen and lost treasure.

All those who defended him, in particular the manager of the Văn Nghệ. Review, have been fired. A campaign of denigration in the official media was launched in the past. He was blamed for having published the trilogy to historical argument that attacked national hero Quang Trung through his work « Dignity ». Despite censorship, threats and intimidation, the courageous newspapers continue to publish today his collections. Some of them have already been printed in French at l’Aube publishing house.

The characters in his tales are human beings sexually, morally and socially alienated. They are ordinary people that are thrown, by the ups and downs of life and the system, in perversion, humiliation, abuse, lunacy and profit. In  » There is no king », dirty old man Kiên prefers to eye quietly hairy young women, in particular his daughter-in-law Sinh who because of her 5 children she has to raise, has no means to get remarried, that’s what he said to his son Ðoài when the latter overtly criticized him. It is shocking to see an 80-year old man dying of heart attack in « The Forgotten Land », Panh who tried to fell a tree to contest a challenge and to be able to marry a 14-year old girl that he has known during his passage to Yên Châu. In « The Retirement of a general », his character, retired general Thuận cannot keep his mouth shut when he dares to speak in front of his superiors about the three activities forming the indispensable economic model in the present system: gardening, fish farming and animal husbandry. He expiates a mistake of not knowing how to protect himself. He prefers an honorable death to an ignominious life. He was buried with all military honors. He was a great man. He died for his country during a mission, which was said by general Chương to his son. One sees profit and cronyism growing in all layers of society and new people. Each country has its own customs, said by Mr. Thuyết to his sawing employees in the novel « Sawyers in the long ». Likewise, the daughter-in-law of general Thuâ.n, taking advantage of her physician role, assigned to do abortion and curettage, takes home every night abandoned fetuses in a Thermos flask to cook and feed the pigs and shepherd dogs, which presently constitutes a significant financial resource for a Vietnamese family.

Nguyễn Huy Thiệp continues to angrily munch Vietnam with his tales and stories. Like everyone in Vietnam, he tries to find a solution to his daily needs and above all to give a meaning, a signification to his existence like his character Mr. Quý in his « Nostalgia of the Campaign »: To be intellectual is to be capable of giving a meaning to the life we live. In spite of a bitter heritage, he is at least content of the consolation though his tales and stories.



Independent Literary group (Tự lực văn đoàn)

French version

  • Hoàng Đạo
  • Thế Lữ
  • Thạch Lam
  • Xuân Diệu
  • Tú Mỡ
  • Trần Tiêu etc…

Titles of best-known novels

Hồn Bướm Mơ Tiên (1933)
Nữa Chừng Xuân (1934)
Ðoạn Tuyệt (1935)
Trống Mái (1936)
Lạnh Lùng (1937)
Tiêu Sơn Tráng sĩ (1937)
Thoát Ly (1938)
Tắt đèn (1939)
Bướm Trắng (1941)

Articles founded on the Net

Anh phải sống (1937)

Tiểu sữ Tự Lực Văn Đoàn 1930-1945

It is regrettable not to see appearing Nhất Linh et Khá’i Hưng’s names in today’s school curriculum or in anthologies published recently in foreign languages in Vietnam. However, they are the two best Vietnamese novelists at the dawn of 20th century.

People continue to look for and tear off rare issues published in South Vietnam before 1975. In spite of their selected topics generally relating to love, sentimental twists, dramas of the middle-class etc… at colonial time, they however continue to gain unanimous admiration of Vietnamese youth today, in particular of young Vietnamese living abroad because their writings are carrying not only a more or less occidentalized culture but also a purely Vietnamese romanticism. They succeeded in bringing to their works an innovative style, in using a simple vocabulary free of Sino-Vietnamese words perceived by Vietnamese young people as erudite words, and in approaching topics capable of adhering the youth: love-sacrifice, impossible love, vagueness in the soul etc…with a Cornelian glance as well as with Alfred de Musset’s romantic manner.

It is regrettable not to see appearing Nhất Linh et Khá’i Hưng’s names in today’s school curriculum or in anthologies published recently in foreign languages in Vietnam. However, they are the two best Vietnamese novelists at the dawn of 20th century.

People continue to look for and tear off rare issues published in South Vietnam before 1975. In spite of their selected topics generally relating to love, sentimental twists, dramas of the middle-class etc… at colonial time, they however continue to gain unanimous admiration of Vietnamese youth today, in particular of young Vietnamese living abroad because their writings are carrying not only a more or less occidentalized culture but also a purely Vietnamese romanticism. They succeeded in bringing to their works an innovative style, in using a simple vocabulary free of Sino-Vietnamese words perceived by Vietnamese young people as erudite words, and in approaching topics capable of adhering the youth: love-sacrifice, impossible love, vagueness in the soul etc…with a Cornelian glance as well as with Alfred de Musset’s romantic manner.

« Hồn Bướm Mơ Tiên » (or Heart of a Butterfly in a Dream of Immortality),  » Nữa Chừng Xuân » ( or Mid-Spring ), « Ðoạn Tuyệt » ( or Rupture ,), « Anh Phải Sống » ( or You Must Live ) etc… continue to be the best-sellers preferred by Vietnamese youth today. It is not surprising to find that the topic of sacrifice approached about fifty years ago by Khai Hung in his works, is taken again recently by a young talented novelist Nguyễn Huy Thiệp in his novel  « Chảy đi sông ơi » ( or Run! Run! Oh River ) in spite of a completely different political context.

In their writings, one finds not only modern use of clauses, adverbs, tense forms that were until then absent in Vietnamese prose, but also the use of personal pronouns. The « I, me » make their way in, with words like « anh », « em », « mình », « cậu » that had not been used before in a sentence. It is noticed in the construction of their sentences a great economy of means, an unprecedented clarity, and a great effectiveness.

Coming from urban environment, influenced by the French culture since their younger age, they are unsurprisingly found inspired in their works by the models of Musset, Lamartine, Daudet, etc…when it is known that these French writers’ works formed part of the teaching curriculum at French lycee Albert Sarraut ( Hà-Nội ) where Khai Hung took his classes at colonial time. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1927 and taught at Thăng Long high school when Nhất Linh returned to Vietnam in 1930 after four years of scientific studies from France

His encounter with Khái Hưng at Thăng Long high school has overnight made them a famous and inseparable couple. They founded together the writing club Tự Lực Vân Ðoàn ( or Self-Sufficient Literary Group ) in 1933. Khái Hưng, who was nine years older than Nhất Linh, was however regarded as the « second » of this couple and was given the pseudonym of  » Nhị Linh » because Nhất Linh had already been author of two novels in 1926 and 1927. They acquired the merit of having brought clarity, concision, modernity to the Vietnamese literature and especially of knowing how to give to this modernity the soul of Vietnamese romanticism.

Contrary to other novelists of their time ( Vũ Trọng Phụng, Ngô Tất Tố for example), they did not have a critical view on social inequalities, virtues, and rural customs. They did not know how to help in fighting and denouncing these inequalities. But on the other hand, they tried to depict the most disfranchised social layer with much fineness and accuracy without having to defend it with horn and fanfare.

Is it why they are reproached of lacking combativeness and realism, tepidity in their manner of depicting the reality of urban society, and being influenced by western culture? It is certain that the episode of Musset’s Tales could be used as model by Khái Hưng because the heroine in the novel Anh Phải Sống, the young wife of the Vietnamese mason Thuc, let herself drowned in the flood like Madame des Arcis in the tales « Pierre et Camille » of Alfred de Musset in 1844. But Khái Hưng knew how to give his heroine the nobility and grandeur in the Vietnamese tradition.

Neither could be doubful their patriotism, their political involvement in Vietnamese nationalist movements. Because of their nationalist political orientation and especially their simple idealism, both have perished respectively like their heroines in Khái Hưng’s Anh Phải Sống ( You Must Live ) and in Nhất Linh »s « A Silhouette in the Fog ». Khái Hưng has deceased in 1947 under mysterious conditions near the Cửa Gà dock, in the district of Xuân Trường ( Hà Nam Ðịnh provine ) while Nhất Linh, disappointed for being misunderstood, took his life with poison on July 7, 1963 in Saigon. 

butvietBoth of them tried to live their lives the way their heroines did with an exemplary stoicism. The literary heritage they left to the Vietnamese people is priceless. In a word, they are not only the pioneers of modern literature of Vietnam but also the most romantic novelists that Vietnam has ever known.

Being young (Thiếu niên)


French version

In spite of the war which devastated this country for so many years, the Vietnamese young people continue to crave for life. That amazes enormously those who do not know Vietnam. In this country,  » Being Young » concerns always boldness because the living conditions are extremely hard and nature is also extremely rude and pitiless, in particular for those who live in the North and on the Central highlands. It is necessary to know how to resist bravely the forces of nature but it is also necessary to learn how to live with wild creatures, tricking them and fighting them.

One also starts to work very young in Vietnam. From their youth in rural areas, boys tend buffaloes, make them feed on small floodbanks while girls help in the household chores. Very young, from six or seven years old, they know how to cook rice, carry their little brothers, feed the pigs and ducks, carry drinking water to the familiar animals or taking part in family artisanal work. During the years when the war was at its height, young people were also assigned to dig trenches along the small floodbanks to throw themselves in when airplanes approached, live in undergrounds and tunnels to escape the bombings. Girls have twice as much work as boys. It was they who were the first being proposed and sold like slaves or concubines for a few kilos of rice when one could not manage any more to feed a family of several children in the years 30’s and 40’s. Ngô Tất Tố, in his novel  » When The Lamp Dies Out « , appeared in 1930, reminds us this reality. To pay a corrupt official, a country-woman had to sell her daughter for one piastre.

Nowadays, even this practice is prohibited, one nevertheless notes a great number of young female prostitutes on the streets of big cities. There, in spite of free education, many of young people must work on little jobs such as selling cigarettes or newspapers, collecting plastic bags etc… , to provide for the subsistence of their families. The living conditions are also distressing. Many young people coming from families afflicted by poverty and war continue to always crawl in tangles of badly erected huts that are dark and terribly dirty. There would be 67000 slums in Saigon at the end of 1994. It is the number maintained by the authorities and published by the press. One still finds the scenes described by novelist Khái Hưng in his work entitled  » The Gutters » ( Ðầu Ðường Xó Chợ ) with pavements and drains encumbered permanently with vegetable peelings, sheets of banana tree leaves and scraps of rags in the poor districts of the big cities.
Facing the indifference of society, novelist Duyen Anh did not hesitate to denounce the indigence of these young people in his novels, among which the most known remains the best-seller « The Hill of The Phantoms ». Inspired by this novel, movie maker Rachid Bouchareb recalled the history of the « Amerasians » who pay the price of the madness of the adults and the war in his film  » Dust of Life  » in 1994.


In spite of the deficiencies of life, one likes to be young in this country because, if there are no mountains of toys and gifts which submerge our children in the west as Christmas approaches, there are on the other hand popular games, unforgettable memories of childhood. In the countryside, one could go fishing in rice fields and placing hoop nets in the streams to catch shrimps and small fish. One could hunt butterflies and dragonflies with traps made with the stems of bamboo. One could climb trees to seek bird’s nests. Hunting the crickets remained the preferred game of the majority of Vietnamese young people.

She did not hesistate to point out her Indochinese childhood in her novel « The places » : My brother and I did not spend whole days in the trees but in the woods and on the rivers, on what is called the racs ( rạch ), these small streams that go down towards the sea. We never put on our shoes, we lived half naked, we bathed in the river.

In this country where the war devastated so much and where thirteen million tons of bombs and sixty million liters of defoliants were poured, being young in the years 60-75 was already a favor of destiny. The young people of Vietnam today no longer know the fear and the hatred of their elders but they continue to have an uncertain future. In spite of that, in their look, there is always a gleam of intense life, a glimmer of hope. It is what is often called  » the magic of Vietnamese childhood and youth « .


It is necessary to be young in this country to have  such an attachment, an impression always poignant.