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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cycle of generation


Ngũ hành tương sinh

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

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

Ancestor altar

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




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

Version française

Thời kỳ Hồng Bàng

Văn Lang civilization

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

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

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

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

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

Trăm năm bia đá thì mòn

Ngàn năm bia miệng vẫn còn trơ trơ

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

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

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

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

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

Geographic map of Văn Lang kingdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mouth organ player

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Sơn mài (Laques)

English version

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

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

Sơn mài

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

Version anglaise

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

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

Lacquerwork requires lots of preparation and care.

Tết du bûcheron (Sữ tích cây nêu ngày Tết)


English version

Jadis, un bûcheron parti dans les bois pour couper son bois, voulût ramener quelques bamboux. Il s’apprêta à couper un bambou avec sa hache quand il entendit ce dernier lui parler. En fait,ce bambou n’était pas ordinaire: c’était un Génie du Ciel transformé en bambou par un sortilège. Le bûcheron, surpris, accepta de laisser la vie sauve au Génie. Pour le remercier, le Génie exauça son vœu ( passer 3 merveilleux jours de Têt, comblés de bons mets et de vins délicieux). Sur le conseil du Génie, le bûcheron continua sa route et rencontra l’ermite Za-Xoa qui l’invita dans son temple à célébrer le Têt…

A minuit, assailli par une nuée de démons, le bûcheron et ses compagnons affrontèrent ces derniers. Bouddha, venu du Ciel pour les aider, offrit aux démons de leur acheter un lopin de terre en échange de pièces précieuses, d’or et d’argent qu’il déposa devant eux. De quelle superficie ? demandèrent aussitôt les génies. De la taille de ma robe,leur répondit-il.Ceux-ci s’empressèrent d’accepter, pensant faire là une excellente affaire. Or quand le Bouddha étendit son vêtement, ce dernier se révéla aussi grand que le territoire vietnamien. Les démons étaient furieux de s’être laissés duper, mais le marché était conclu.

Le Bouddha s’adressa au bûcheron et à ses amis en ces termes: “Lorsque vous inviterez les mânes de vos ancêtres à venir chez vous pour les cérémonies du Têt, des esprits maléfiques peuvent se glisser parmi eux. Vous devrez donc élever une perche de bambou au bout de laquelle vous ferez frotter un morceau de tissu jaune marqué de mon emblème. Ainsi, tous les mauvais génies ne viendront pas vous importuner.”

Au Vietnam, on observe encore cette coutume dans certaines campagnes. Dans le milieu urbain, elle a virtuellement disparu. Cependant, le pétard est rentré dans les moeurs et depuis,le Têt débute dans un concert de pétard qui est censé chasser les démons durant toute l’année.

Sữ tích cây nêu 

Version anglaise

Long ago,  a woodcutter going to the woods to cut wood, wanted to bring home some bamboos. He was ready to cut a bamboo tree with his ax when he heard the tree talking to him. In fact, this bamboo tree was not ordinary: it was the Genie of the Sky transformed into a bamboo tree by a spell. The woodcutter, surprised, agreed to let the Genie’s life safe. To thank him, the Genie granted him his wish ( spending three marvellous days of Tet, loaded with good foods and delicious wines). Upon advice of the Genie, the woodcutter continued his route and met hermit Za-Xoa who invited him to his temple to celebrate Tet…

At midnight, assailed by a horde of demons, the woodcutter and his companions confronted them. Buddha coming from Heaven to help, offered to the demons to buy from them a piece of land in exchange of precious stones, gold and silver that he displayed before them. Of how large the area? asked the demons right away. The size of my robe, he replied to them. The demons thinking it was a good deal hurried to accept the offer. Yet when Buddha extended his clothe, it shows as big as the Vietnamese territory. The demons were furious for having been duped, but the deal was closed.

Buddha told the woodcutter and his friends in these words: ” When you will invite the spirits of your ancestors to your homes to celebrate Tet, the evil spirits may slip in among them. So you must set up a bamboo pole, at the end of which you will fly a apiece of yellow cloth marked with my emblem. Thus, the evil spirits will not come to bother you.

In Vietnam, one still observed this custom in certain rural areas. In the urban environment, it has virtually disappeared. However, fireworks have entered the customs and from then, Tet begins in a concert of fireworks that are deemed to chase away demons for the whole year.



Edouard Hocquard

Le regard d’un homme au destin exceptionnel

English version

Charles Edouard Hocquard, médecin militaire et  reporter correspondant pour l’agence Havas au Tonkin de 1884 à 1886 nous a légué en héritage une collection d’images de beauté de la première guerre coloniale du Vietnam. Il a rapporté plus de 200 clichés composant une porte-folio de 80 planches en photoglyptie (1) publié en 1887. Il a relaté avec acuité et humour dans “Une expédition au Tonkin”, les anecdotes pittoresques avec les paysans de la région, la connaissance de la flore locale, les souvenirs  de la guerre du Tonkin et du peuple vietnamien etc..

Il n’a pas obtenu le succès commercial escompté avec la publication de ses reportages photographiques.  Mais il a réussi à montrer qu’il est possible de trouver dans le conflit franco-vietnamien un autre regard plus objectif, celui d’un homme de science à la rencontre d’une autre culture à l’aube du  XXème siècle. Il est décédé d’une grippe infectieuse le 11 Janvier 1911 à l’âge de cinquante huit ans.


Galerie des photos

Version anglaise

The look of a man with  extraordinary destiny

Being a medical officer and reporter for the Havas agency in Tonkin from 1884 to 1886,  Charles Edouard Hocquard  has bequeathed us as heritage a collection of  beautiful digital pictures  coming from the first colonial war in Vietnam. He brougth  back more than 200 clichés composing a portfolio of 80 boards in  “photoglyptie“(1)  and published in 1887. He related picturesque anecdotes with  local peasants, knowledge  of local flora,  memories of war and Vietnamese people with acuity and humor in the book “Une expédition au Tonkin (An expedition in Tonkin)” etc…

The commercial success was not obtained  with the publication of its  photographic articles. But he succeeded in showing that it is possible to find in the franco-vietnamese conflict an other look very impartial, that of a scientific man going out to meet with an other culture at the dawn of the twenty century. He died from an infectious influenza on 11 January 1911 when he was fifty-eight years old.

(1) photoglyptie: un procédé d’impression photomécanique inaltérable destiné à remplacer les tirages argentiques.

      An immutable  photomechanical printing process is  intended to replace silver printings.

In Search of the Origin of the Vietnamese People: Part 1 (Đi tìm nguồn gốc dân tộc Việt)

Version française


The discovery of the Hemudu site ( Zhejiang ) in 1973 was a great event for Chinese archaelologists because the site traced back to more than 7000 years the most ancient civilization of rice found on earth. Also found there were remnants of lacustrine wooden housing built on piles, the type of construction quite different from the earthen houses in Northern China. The people who lived there possessed traits characterized Mongoloid as well as Australo-Negroid. Because Zhejiang is part of the most beautiful provinces in Southern China for a long time, that famous civilization has been attributed to the Chinese people even though the cradle of their civilization was known to be narrowly tied to the basin of the Yellow River ( or Huang He ) ( Hoàng Hà ) where Anyang is its ancient heart. One cannot deny that their civilization has found all its quintessence in the neolithic cultures of Yang-Shao ( Henan Province ) ( 5000 years BC) and Longshan ( Shandong Province ) ( 2500 years BC ) respectively identified by the Swedish Johan G. Andersson in 1921 and the father of Chinese archaeology Li Ji a few years later. Thanks to phylogenetic works done by the American team led by professor J.Y.Chu of the University of Texas, which was published in the American Review of Sciences Academy under the title “Genetic Relationship of Population in China” (1), an accurate idea about the origin of the Chinese people began to emerge. Three points were raised from these works:

  • 1) It is clear that genetic evidence does not support that Homo-sapiens in China has an independent origin. The ancestors of the populations presently living in the East of China came from South East Asia.
  • 2) Thereafter, it is probably safe to conclude that “modern” folks native of Africa constitute largely the genetic capital found presently in East Asia.

At her birth a person possesses her genoptype ( collection of genes ) that is a gem capable of making itself an infinity of copies transmitted from generation to generation. These genes, which are made of immense molecules in the form of double-helix DNA (3) are the basis of heredity. It is possible that the tiny biochemical computers made of DNA portions in our body make radical changes in a specific context where all essential factors combine to allow them to do so. It is at the point of spontaneous mutation in response to climatic changes or solar radiation or a genetic drift that the genotype of one species can be completely modified to become the genotype of another species as the years go by. That mutation can take place at snail pace ( theory of gradualism of Ernst Mayr ) or by giant’s leaps (theory of punctuated equilibrium put forth by two American paleontologists Nils Elredge and Stephen Jay Gould ). That better facilitated the understanding of the human race evolution ( from Homo-Erectus to Homo-sapiens sapiens ) and of the phenotype that the latter can acquire in an encountered environment ( skin color, size, blood system, different behavior etc…).

In his conclusion, professor J.Y. Chu recognized that it is probable the ancestors of the populations speaking Altaic languages ( or the Han ) were issues of the population of South East Asia and the tribes coming from Central Asia and Europe.

That discovery did not call into question what has been proposed some few years before by anthropology professor Wilhelm G. Solheim II of the University of Hawaii in his book “A New Light in a Forgotten Past” (2). For this anthropologist, there is no doubts that the Hoa Binh culture (15,000 years B.C.) discovered in 1922 by the French archaeologist Madeleine Colani in a village near Hoà Bình province in Vietnam was the birth place of future evolution of Neolithic cultures of Yang Shao and Longshan found in Northern China. British physicist Stephen Oppenheimer has gone far beyond what was thought at that time by showing in logical and scientific processes that the cradle of civilization of humanity was in South-East Asia in his work “Eden in the East: the Drowned Continent of South-East Asia“.(4) He concluded basing on geological evidence found at the bottom of the East sea (Biển Đông)  and carbon-14 dating methods on foodstuff (yam, taro, rice, cereals etc…) found in South-East Asia ( Non Sok Tha, Sakai ( Thailand ) , Phùng Nguyên, Ðồng Ðậu ( Vietnam ), Indonesia ), that a huge flood took place and forced the people in the region who, unlike what western archaeologists had described as folks living on fishing, hunting and gathering, were the first to know how to perfectly master rice growing and farming to migrate all over the place ( either southward in Oceania, or eastward in the Pacific, or westward in India, or northward in China ) for their survival. Those folks had become the seeds of great and brilliant civilizations found later in India, Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Mediterranean.

From those archaeological and scientific findings, one is led to pose questions on what has been reported and falsified by history in this region of the world and taught until then to the Vietnamese. Could one ignore any longer those scientific discoveries? Could one continue to believe any longer in Chinese writings ( Hậu Hán Thư for example ) where Chinese prefects such as Tích Quang ( Si Kouang ) and Khâm Diên were imputed the care of teaching the ancestors of the Vietnamese how to dress and use the plow that they did not know at the first century of our era?. How could they not know rice growing, the legitimate descendants of king Shennong ( Thần Nông )(4), when one knows that the latter was a specialist in agrarian domain? No one dares to pick out this contradiction.

Shennong (Thần Nông)

One does not even raise questions on what the people from the North have given to this devine hero the nickname Yandi ( Viêm Ðế )( king of hot country of Bai Yue ). Is it about the way to refer to the king of the region of the South, because at the Zhou era, the Yue territory was known as Viêm Bang? Is it possible for nomad folks from the North whose origin is Turco-Mongol, the ancestors of the Han and of the Southern folks, the Yue to have the same ancestors? Is it the matter of a pure making up stories at the glory of the conquerors in order to justify their policy of assimilation?

All the traces of the other peoples, the “Barbarians” have been wiped off at the time of their passage. The conquest of the Chinese continent began at the borders of the loess and the Great Plain and hard to please for almost four millennia. That has been noted by the French scholar René Grousset in his work “History of China” when speaking of the expansion of a Chinese rude pioneer race of the Great Plain.

Facing their brilliant civilization, very few people including the Europeans when they first arrived in Asia dared to raise any doubts about what has been said in Chinese and Vietnamese annals and think of the existence of even another civilization that the dominators succeeded in monopolizing and erasing on the submissive land of the Bai Yue people. The name Indochina has already reflected a great deal this attitude because for a large number of folks, there are only two civilizations in the world worth mentioning in Asia: That of India and of China. It is also regrettable to note the same mistake made by some Vietnamese historians influenced by by the Chinese culture in their history works. By dint of being indoctrinated by the Northern folks’ policy of colonization, a certain number of Vietnamese continue to forget our origin and to think nowadays that we are issues of the Chinese who will not hesitate to set going their policy of assimilation and annexation in territories they have succeeded in conquering since the creation of their nation. The success of “Sinisation” of the Han was visible as the centuries went by at the time of contact with other “barbarian” peoples. The process would not be different from the one that marked their footsteps on the Mongolian “land of grass” in 19th century and in the Manchurian forest in 20th century.

One does not refute their brilliant civilization having an undeniable impact on the development of the Vietnamese culture during their long domination, but one cannot forget to recognize that the ancestors of the Vietnamese, the Luo Yue ( ou Lạc Việt ) have had their own culture, that of Bai Yue. The Vietnamese were the sole survivors of this people for not to be “sinised” in the turmoil of history. They were the legitimate heirs of the Bai Yue people and of their agricultural civilization. The bronze drums of Ðồng Sơn have witnessed their legitimacy because on these objects were found patterns of decoration recounting their agricultural and maritime activities of this brilliant era before the arrival of the Chinese on their territory ( Kiao Tche or Giao Chỉ in Vietnamese).

Now we know that the agricultural civilization of Hemudu has given birth to the culture of Bai Yue (or Bách Việt in Vietnamese). The term Bai Yue literary meaning One hundred Yue, has been used by the Chinese to call all the tribes thought to belong to one group, the Yue. According to Bình Nguyên Lộc, a Vietnamese writer, the tool frequently used by the Yue is the axe ( cái rìu in Vietnamese) found in several forms and made of different materials ( stone, iron or bronze ). For this reason that at the moment of contact with the nomad folks from the North of Turco-Mongol origin, the ancestors of the Han ( or Chinese ) called them by the name of “Yue”, the folks who use the axe, which at that time looked like this :

and served as the model of representation in Chinese writing by the pictogram  . This pictogram also appears in the word Yue where is found the root word mễ ( ) (or rice or gạo in Vietnamese ) to mean the folks who practice farming at the era of Confucius. 

Nowadays, the word Yue ( ) besides the radical (   pass or vượt in Vietnamese), the picture of the axe continues to be represented by the pictogram     endlessly modified as time goes by. Perhaps the word Yue phonetically comes from the sound Yit used by the Muong tribe to call the axe. It is important to remember that the Muong tribe has the same origins as the Luo Yue ( ou Lạc Việt ) tribe whose the Vietnamese are issues. ( The famous Vietnamese kings Lê Ðại Hành , Lê Lợi being Muong people). Recently, archaeologist and researcher of CNRS Corinne Debaine-Francfort has talked about the use of the ceremonial axes by the Chinese in the sacrifice of humans or animals in her work titled “The Rediscovery of Ancient China” ( Editeur Gallimard, 1998 ). The sage Confucius had the opportunity to talk about the Bai Yue people in conversations with his disciples.

The Bai Yue people living south of the Yang Tse river ( Dương Tử Giang ) has a life style, a language, traditions, moral standards and a specific foodstuff… They devote themselves to rice growing, which makes them different from our people who grow millet and wheat. They drink water coming from a kind of plant plucked from the forest known as “tea”. They like dancing, working while singing and alternate their reply in the songs. They often disguise themselves in the dance with leaves and plants. We should not imitate them ( Xướng ca vô loại ).

Confucian influence is not unfamiliar to the bias that Vietnamese parents still hold today when their children devote themselves a bit too much to musical or theatrical activities. it is in this spirit that they are seen with a negative view. But it is also the attitude adopted by Chinese governors in forbidding the Vietnamese to manifest musical expressions in their ceremonies and festivities during their long domination.

Historian Si Ma Qian ( Tư Mã Thiên ) had the opportunity to talk about the Yue in his Memoires historiques ( Sử Ký Tư Mã Thiên ) when he recounts the life of the famous lord , Gou Jian ( Câu Tiễn ),prince of the Yue for his incommensurable patience facing the ennemy governor Fu Chai ( Phù Sai ), king of principality Wu ( Ngô ) at the war time of Srpings and Autumns. After his death, his kingdom was absorbed completely in 332 B.C. by the kingdom of Chu ( Sở Quốc ) which was in its turn annexed later by Qin Shi Huang Di during the unification of China. It is important to stress that the Hemudu site is located in the kingdom Yue of Gou Jian.( Zhejiang ).

As for the groups sharing the same culture of Bai Yue, one finds the Yang Yue, Nan Yue ( Nam Việt ), Lu Yue, Xi Ou, Ou Yue, Luo Yue ( Lạc Việt ), Gan Yue, Min Yue ( Mân Việt ), Yi Yue, Yue Shang etc… They lived north of the basin of the blue river, from Zhejiang ( Triết Giang ) to Jiaozhi ( Giao Chỉ ) ( the North of Vietnam today ). It is found in this area of distribution the current provinces of Southern China: Foujian ( Phúc Kiến ), Hunan ( Hồ Nam ), Guizhou ( Qúi Châu ), Guangdong ( Quảng Ðông ), Jiangxi, Guangxi ( Quảng Tây ) and Yunnan ( Vân Nam ).

The Bai yue were probably the heirs of the Hòa Bình culture. They were a people of skilled farmers: They grew rice on burned land and flooded fields and raised buffaloes and pigs. They lived also by hunting and fishing. They have the custom of tattooing their bodies to protect themselves from attacks of water dragons (con thuồng luồng). Relying on the support of Si Ma Qian’s Memoires Historiques the scholar Léonard Aurousseau evoked the Goujian ( king of the East Yue ) ancestors’ custom to paint their bodies with dragons or other aquatic beasts similar to the ones found on the South Yue.

They wore long hair in chignon held by a turban. According to some Vietnamese texts, they cut their hair short to facilitate their walk in the mountain forests. Their clothes were made of vegetal fibers. Their houses were elevated to avoid being attacked by wild animals. They used bronze drums as ritual objects in their ceremonies for invocation of rain or as an emblem of power in case there is the need to call warriors for combat. The Giao Chi possessed a sacred instrument: The bronze drum. In listening to the drum, they were so enthusiastic during the war…”, that is what we found in the first volume of Hậu Hán Thư ( Late Hán Book ). Their warriors wore a simple loincloth and armed with long spears decorated with feathers. They were also bold navigators who, in their long pirogues traveled all over East sea (Biển Đông) and beyond in part of southern seas. In spite of their high technicity and perfect mastering of farming and rice growing, they were a very peaceful people. More reading (Part 2)

Papyrus vietnamien (Giấy dó)


English version

Papier dó

Celles-ci sont proposées souvent dans les kiosques réservés aux touristes étrangers. Le papier dó (papier de rhamnomeuron) est utilisé dans l’impression de ces imageries. Selon certains chercheurs vietnamiens, ce papier fut apparu vers le IIIème siècle et connût son apogée du VIIIème au XIVème siècles. Hồ Qúi Ly s’en servit à la fin du XIVème  siècle pour l’impression des monnaies fiduciaires.

La production de ce papier nécessite une préparation minutieuse. Il est fabriqué avec l’écorce de l’arbre do. Après la récolte de celle-ci entre les 8è et 10è mois lunaires, on a besoin de l’immerger dans l’eau pendant un ou deux jours. On la traite ensuite en la macérant dans une solution de chaux condensée durant 5 heures. Puis on la fait bouillir

L’enfant et le coq

durant une vingtaine d’heures avant de la piler pendant 5 heures. La farine obtenue par le pilage est diluée dans une bassine remplie d’un mélange d’eau et de résine de la plante mò ( clerodendron ). Le papier est obtenu grâce à un moule après avoir été pressé et séché.

Papyrus vietnamien

Galerie des photos

Pour cent kilos d’écorce, on obtient seulement 5 ou 6 kilos de papier. Cela explique la raison pour laquelle le marché est très limité. De plus le papyrus vietnamien do ne pousse que dans les hautes régions au Nord. Connus pour la fabrication des imageries populaires sur papier do, les villageois de Dương Ô et de Ðông Hồ ont subi le même sort. Le prix de revient  dans  la production du papier recyclé est supérieur à celui de vente  du papier dó. C’est pourquoi peu de gens continuent à s’intéresser encore à ce métier ancestral qui se perd au fil des années.

Version anglaise

Those are often proposed in the kiosks reserved to  foreign tourists. Paper dó (rhamnomeuron paper) is used in the printing of these images. According to certain Vietnamese researchers, this paper had appeared around the 3rd century and knews its apogee from the 8th to the 14th century. Hồ Qúi Ly made use of it at the end of  14th century for the printing of  fiduciary currencies. The production of this paper requires a meticulous preparation.

It is manufactured with the bark of the tree dó. After the harvest of this one between the 8th and 10th lunar months, one needs to immerse it in water during one or two days. After one treats it by macerating it in a lime solution condensed during 5 hours. Then one makes it by boiling  during about twenty hours before crushing it during 5 hours. The flour obtained by crushing is diluted in a basin filled with a mixture of water and resin of the plant mò (clerodendron). Paper is obtained thanks to a mould after being pressed and  dried.

For two hundred kilos of bark, one  gets only 5 or 6 kilos of paper. That explains why the market is very limited. In addition, the Vietnamese papyrus dó grows only in the northern  highlands. Known for making popular imagery on paper dó,  villagers of Dương Ô and Đông Hồ suffered the same fate. The cost price in the production of recycled paper is higher than the selling  price  of dó paper. That is why a few people still continue to be interesting to this ancient craft that is lost over the years.

Ceramic (Gốm Vietnam)

French version



It is greatly surprising to see that, despite the everlasting domination of China on Viet-Nam, the latter was able to distinguish brilliantly starting from 14th century in the domain of ceramics. It became thus an active participant in the flourishing trade of South-East Asia in this domain with its junks and its compass known since 11th century. Tome Pires in his Suma Oriental (1515) summarized all these exchanges and foot-noted even the existence of a Vietnamese ceramic production intended for sale in China. At that time, there was even the counterfeit of Vietnamese blue and white in the Chinese furnaces of Snatow.

Its success was mainly due to the cobalt blue that blew into Vietnamese ceramic art a spirit which will have lasted for two centuries and enabled it to capture a foreign market as far as even the most remote corners of Asia.

It is the case of large a vase-bottle found at the Topkapi palace of Istanbul, carrying an inscription in Chinese characters, in blue under glaze that one can read in Vietnamese: Painted for pleasure by Pei de Nam Sách in the 8th year of Thái Hoà, or of a dish with blue and white floral decoration at the Treasury of Ardebil (Museum of Teheran)

If the cobalt blue was known in Vietnam for a long time even before the Chinese invasion of Ming, it appears that it was used only around the years 1430-1450. It is from this time that the blue and white definitively replace monochromic ceramics. 


Vase (Lê dynasty)

It is thanks to the perfect control of manufacturing, decorating and baking techniques that the Vietnamese potter can improve his imagination. Even though constraints of painting under glaze do not prevent any repentance, there appear on the sandstone not only more and more sophisticated drawings but also a variety of pigments, an eruption of form s and original decorations, which made him an artist. If he does borrow a good number of decorative drawings from China ( peonies, lotus, flowers, foliated scrolls etc..), he has on the other hand the idea to create an autonomous style which is less hieratic and more vivacious than his Chinese homologous by the liveliness of his feature and his spontaneity. He can adapt these decorative elements to the Vietnamese style: the Chinese red fish becomes thus the Cá Bông, a Vietnamese freshwater fish.

It is no longer the case of China since China discovers the perspective starting from the reign of Jiajing (1522-1566). On the other hand, the quality of the central motif found on the plates, is definitely higher than that of the surrounding ones. This proves there is an intervention of several craftsmen in the realization of these plates. Because of the war, Viêt-Nam did not set up a systematic program of archaeological excavations. Few sites were exhumed so far. On the other hand one knows that the areas of Tam Tố north of Thanh Hoá, Nam Sách in the province of Hải Dương, Bát Tràng north of Hanoi to name a few sites, are surely witnesses of the manufacture of these Vietnamese ceramic pieces.

Pictures gallery of Vương Hồn g Sển collection


La céramique vietnamienne (Philippe Colomban CNRS)

Des céramiques vietnamiennes chargées d’histoire  (Philippe Colomban CNRS)


The Hmong (English version)

French versiondantoc_hmong

The Hmong are divided into local  sub-groups: the Green Hmong, the Red Hmong, the variegated Hmong, the Black Hmong and the Na Mieo.

The Hmong (The Miao or Miêu in vietnamese) actually  living in Vietnam are  descendants of emigrants from South China. Around the end of 18th century and the beginning of 19th century, the Hmong emigrated to Indochina peninsula (Laos, Vietnam and Thaïland)  and settled  away from plains already occupied by  majority ethnic group  in mountainous areas of Hà Giang and Lào Cai provinces.

Their migration story was closely related to the insubordination to the Chinese culture and the policy of asssimilation practiced by northerners. According to mythic tales passed down from generation to generation, their ancestors lived in snow and  ice covered regions where the night lasted almost 6 months. That is why, being accustomed to living in tropical regions and not having the opportunity to see the snow, the Hmong use terms such as “nước cứng” (or solid water) and “cát trắng mịnh” (or fine white sand) to designate respectively the ice and the snow. According to historians, their origin would be in Siberia (Tây Bá Lợi Á) and in vast plateaus of Mongolia. Some Caucasian proeminent traits are detected among the Hmong today. Others preferably opt for Tibet because shamanic rituals.  One has speculations more than certainties about the accuracy of the Hmong geographic origin. In the Chinese writings, the Hmong were designated under the Miao name including initially all the  ethnic peoples non han living in South West China. Today,  this name is reserved to the population group specifically identified and distinct gathering together the Hmong living in Indochina peninsula and  the Miao ethnic minority populations  (The Hmong, the Hmou, the Qoxiong and the Hmau)  closely related at the linguistic and cultural level in China.

Originally related to the drawing of  rice field (Điền) above which is added the pictogram Thảo” (cỏ) (herb)(key 140), the Chinese character Miao (or Miêu in vietnamese) clearly shows the way that the Chinese adopt  to call  the people knowing  the rice cultivation with their language. Being initially rice farmers, the Miao  had  the sedentary lifestyle in plains. As the Miao were chased by successive waves of the Chinese who dispossessed them of their  arable land and their rice field, they were forced to become highlanders  and stayed until today. Being rushed to high altitudes in inaccessible and hostile mountain areas, they were forced to adapt themselves to each environment where they looked  for an agricultural model allowing them to practice the rice cultivation (rice terraces). In spite of that, the Chinese had the habit of traiting them as the barbarians. The Chinese have gone as far as making a distinction between the shu Miao ( or the  cooked Hmong) and the sheng Miao (the uncooked Hmong), that means the assimilated  Hmong  and the  diehard Hmong  on the margins of Chinese civilization.  They  had the task of transforming these sheng Miao into shu Miao.  Myths and facts are not miss to enrich the history of the Miao (or the Hmong).  The latter is punctuated by endless conflicts with the Chinese since time immemorial. This long history of resistance to oppression gives them a particular reputation: they cannot be assimilated and very belligerent.

A people in search of freedom

The Miao ( or the Hmong ) lived together with Hsia(1) tribes since prehistoric times in the middle of Yellow River  Basin (Honan or Hà Nam in vietnamese).  Being associated with Chi You ( Suy Vưu ), they engaged the first confrontation leading to failure with the death of the latter at Zhuolu (Trác Lộc) in Heibei province (Hồ Bắc) (approximatively 2690 before J.C.).They were  henceforth  repelled by Yellow emperor Huang Yuan (Hiên Viên) and Yu the Great (Ðại Vũ) in the Bai Yue territory at  the Yang Tsé Basin River. Other conflicts were evoked with Miao groups in Chinese historical writings  of Shan and Zhou dynasties (1121 – 256 before J.C.). In the middle course of Yang Tsé River (Dương Tữ Giang), they exercised  significant influence over the political and social life of the Chu kingdom (Sỡ Quốc). The latter was considered as one of three principalities fighting among themselves for supremacy  during the Warring States period (Thời Chiến Quốc)In addition to the soul recalling, we noted the close ties between the  Chu culture and the Miao on the various cultural  traits (lifestyle, habitat, language etc…)(2). They constituted probably the force majeure in the Chu population with the Luo Yue (the Proto-Vietnamese) and the ancestors of Thaï today (The Si Ngeou or Tây Âu).  This force majeure became the first bulwark of Yue and Miao tribes in the committed fight against the Chinese.

Pictures of Hmong women




Being in hemp, silk or cotton, the  Hmong pleated skirt whose decoration is own to every group, requires more than 20 meters for the length of the fabric. The method of pleating is one of the characteristics of Hmong women skirt.


© Đặng Anh Tuấn

After the disappearance of this kingdom, the Miao continuated to be repelled in Guizhou (Quí Châu), Sichuan and Yunnan mountains.  Other military conflicts had emerged with Miao groups in the era of the first dynasty of the Han (140 – 87  before  J.C.) and during Five Dynasties (140 – 87 before  J.C.).  The Miao name was forgotten temporarily in Chinese writings until the establishment of Chinese suzerainty on these provinces by the Yuan ( or the Mongols of China). Then it was regularly mentionned again under the Ming dynasty. Because the Chinese strong demographic growth  ( from 100 millions to 450 millions between  13th and 18th centuries), the Chinese of the Ming dynasty continued to deprive the Hmong of their plateaus and their rice fields, which caused simultaneously the exodus and the fight engaged by the Hmong in the defense of their land. Some Hmong took up arms.  Other preferred to seek refuge in Indochina pensula, in particular in Vietnam by three  successive waves of which the most important was maked by  the  Taiping mystical insurrection   known under the name of Tai Ping Tian Guo (Thái Bình Thiên Quốc)  against the Qing  (from  1840 to 1868). The Hmong thus became a minority ethnic group of Vietnam since three centuries.

(1): There is the ancient name given to the Chinese.
(2): First  symposium on the history of  Chu kingdom (Jingzhu, Hubei, december 1981).




Art vietnamien (Nghệ thuật)