As Vietnam is an agricultural country, the buffalo is always regarded as a familiar animal for the Vietnamese people, in particular the peasants. The image of the buffalo is closely tied to the rural landscape of Vietnam. Like many other countries in the world, Vietnam has legends among which there is one concerning the buffalo.
Once upon a time, to help the Vietnamese peasants, God was assigned an angel to descend in Viet-Nam with two bags, one filled with cereal seeds to feed people and the other with grass seeds for the cattle. The angel was advised to sow the cereals seeds first, and grass seeds next. Being so absent minded, he forgot the recommendation by doing the opposite: grass seeds first, and cereal seeds next. That is why Viet-Nam was covered with so much grass and forests that the peasants had to make a complaint which echoed to Heaven. Furious, God condemned the angel to exile by turning him into a buffalo and sent him to Viet-Nam. That is why the buffalo was compelled to spend all day long munching grass and pulling the plough to pay for his errors.
The buffalo is a very useful animal in agricultural countries, in particular Vietnam where farming technologies are not very developed. In certain countries, if the dog is the best friend of man, then in Vietnam the buffalo is an inseparable companion of the farmer. Without this animal, the latter will be deprived of everything because it is the buffalo that helps the peasant to till the land everyday, to cart the burdens, to replace him in tiring and ungrateful tasks. This ruminant is also the animal that mountain and highland dwellers sacrifice when it comes to asking God for blessing harvest.
The buffalo is the Vietnamese peasants’ benefactor. This is why it is generally quoted in folk songs and proverbs. It is one of enriching subjects in the Vietnamese poetry. For the peasant, the buffalo forms part of his heritage. That is why the saying:
Ruộng sâu, trâu nái
The deep rice field, the standard buffalo
indicates a well to do person in the village.
Tậu trâu, lấy vợ, làm nhà
Trong ba việc đo’ trong là khó thay.
Purchasing a buffalo, looking for a wife, and building a home
Among these three jobs, none of them seems to be easy.
As it is the case of fish farming, the breeding of buffaloes is a mean to get rich quick. That is why it is customary to quote in folk songs the following words:
Muốn giàu thì nuôi trâu cái,
Muốn lụn bại thì nuôi bồ câu.
Want to become rich, buy female buffaloes.
Want to be in debts, breed pigeons.
In short, one finds through the image of the buffalo most of the image of Viet-Nam, our country. For the overseas Vietnamese, to find the buffalo is to find Vietnam. This animal, along with the bamboo, is one of the representative symbols of Viet-Nam. The buffalo reflects at the same time the tender way of life and the unshakable resistance of the Vietnamese people.
Không có cây thủy sinh nào được người Việt ngưỡng mộ và qúi trọng bằng cây hay hoa sen. Ngoài biểu tượng của Phật Giáo, Sen còn đồng nghĩa với sự tinh khiết , thanh thản và vẻ đẹp nữa. Nó còn khác biệt hơn những cây thủy sinh khác không những nhờ vẻ đẹp đơn sơ thanh nhã của hoa mà còn được nhắc nhở nói đến rất nhiều trong phong phú truyền thống ở Á Châu nhất là ở Việt Nam. Nơi nầy, Sen được liệt kê vào 4 cây cao qúy nhất đó là mai , liên , cúc và trúc biểu tượng cho bốn mùa ( tứ thì) đấy.
Nhìn lại trong nghệ thuật của người Việt, phong cảnh thường đựợc dàn dựng theo một sơ đồ bất di bất dịch và cổ điển mà thường có sự xác định cần thiết để trước những yếu tố nào, nhất là các nhân vật trong cảnh tượng. Cho nên thường thấy một tương quan nghệ thuật độc đáo, một kết hợp bền vững giữa một loại cây và một loại vật trong các bức tranh nho nhỏ của người Việt. Vì vậy thường thấy sen liên kết với vịt (Liên Áp). Ít khi thấy sen liên kết với con vật nào khác chỉ trừ khi nào tác giả không còn tôn trọng những quy ước cổ điển nữa. Với hoa , sen thường được người Việt gọi là Hoa Sen hay là Liên Hoa. Sen nó thuộc họ Nymphéacées và có tên khoa học là Nelumbo Nucifera hay là Nelumbium Speciosum. Nơi nào ở Việt Nam cũng tìm thấy Sen cả ( đầm, ao bùn, vườn công cộng, đình vân vân…). Sự hiện diện của nó ở chùa hay ở đền làm giảm đi nhuệ khí sân si dục vọng của các tu sĩ và làm người khách cảm thấy lòng lân lân thả hồn về cõi hư vô, ấy cũng nhờ mùi hương thơm nhẹ nhàng của hoa sen. Nó sống rất dễ dàng và thích nghi ở mọi môi trường. Nó còn sinh sôi nảy nở với cuộc sống dưới nước bằng cách chọn lọc đi tất cả nước đọng ô uế mà nó xâm nhập . Vì vậy thường ví nó như người có đức tính trong đạo Khổng (junzi)(quân tử). Người nầy, dù ở môi trường nào đi nữa vẫn không thay đổi bản chất thanh cao trong cuộc sống, vẫn giữ đựợc sự thuần khiết giữa chốn đầy dẫy tham nhũng. Người nầy cũng không để bị lôi cuốn cám dỗ bởi những tật xấu của xã hội cũng như sen không bi mùi hôi thúi ờ chốn bùn nhờ mùi hương thơm của hoa. Bởi vậy trong thơ ca của người Việt có môt bài đề cao đức tính của người quân tử dựa trên hình ảnh của cây Sen:
Ðố ai mà ví như sen? Chung quanh cành trắng, giữa chen nhị vàng Nhị vàng cành trắng lá xanh, Gần bùn mà chẳng hôi tanh mùi bùn.
Để ca ngợi đức tính nầy của người quân tử hay của Sen, người ta thường nói : Cư trần bất nhiễm trần. Sen có nhiều đức tính khác nên lúc nào cũng được đứng đầu trong các loại cây qúi trọng của người dân Việt và Trung Hoa. Chính Sen đem lai nguồn cảm hứng cho các tu sĩ của một phái thiền Phật giáo Trung Hoa tên là “Pháp Hoa Tông” dưới đời nhà Đường. Dựa trên lý thuyết của kinh “Diệu Pháp Liên Hoa” , dòng nầy chỉ lấy đức tính của Sen để tu luyện. Trong phái nầy, thời đó có nhiều hòa thượng thi sĩ nổi tiếng như Phong Cang và Thập Đắc không thua chi Lý Thái Bạch (1) và Bạch Cư Dị (2) . Trụ sở của phái nầy là chùa Hàn Sơn nằm ở vùng lân cận của thành phố Cô Tô (Hàng Châu) chỉ chuyên trồng Sen trong các hồ. Phái nầy họ nghĩ rằng muốn đựợc an lạc trong tâm hồn và tránh đi sự luân hồi và dục vọng thèm muốn thì cần áp dụng lý thuyết “Diệu Pháp Liên Hoa” dựa trên các đức tính của Sen như sau:
–vô ưu : mùi thơm của hoa sen khi có dịp ngử nó vào thì sẻ thấy sự thanh thản và yên tĩnh. Theo các người xưa, Sen còn là một loại cây chóng tăng dục cũng như rau diếp.
–tùy thuận: Sen có thể sống ở bất cứ nơi nào luôn cả những nơi khô cạn cằn cỗi.
–tỏa mùi thơm: (Cư trần bất nhiễm trần) Dù nơi nào có hôi thúi , Sen cũng vẫn lấn áp thay thế bẳng mùi hương thơm của nó, có thể tăng trưởng tuỳ theo cường độ của ánh sáng trong ngày.
–vô cấu: trên cơ sở sinh sản. Sen có một cơ chế cá biệt cho việc sinh sản thực vật. Không có sự thành hình của giao tử như các loại hoa khác. Hoa sen không những xuất sắc về kích thước mà còn về trạng thái dày và vàng sáp của các cánh hoa và nhất là hương thơm của nó có thể tăng trưởng thay đổi trong ngày. Hoa sen chỉ sống được 4 ngày. Người Nhật diển tã sự chớm nở của hoa sen như sau: ngày đầu hoa sen có hình dáng của chai saké, ngày thứ nhì bằng chén saké, ngày thứ ba bẳng chén súp và ngaỳ thứ tư thì thành cái đĩa. Dần dần quả của nó tựu hình, tựa như cái côn lật ngửa mà thường gọi là gương sen. Trên mặt bằng phẳng nầy thì có chừng hai chục trũng chứa những hạt nhận. Rồi sau đó khi quả nó chín, nó tách rời cuống, nổi lềnh bềnh và tan rã một khi gương sen đụng chạm với mặt nước qua ngày tháng. Nhờ vậy các hạt nhân nó theo dòng nước mà trôi xa hơn nơi mà Sen nảy nở. Những hạt sen nầy nặng hơn nước nên chìm lún vào đất và đâm chồi mọc rễ. Hoa sen khi tượng hình đã có hạt từ trong mầm non. Bởi vậy ngưởi Việt thường nói “nhân quả đồng hành” khi nhắc đến Sen đấy. Đức Phật cũng thường dùng hoa Sen, để nói đến những người thoát khỏi ái tình và dục vọng vì chính ái dục là nguồn gốc của mọi tội lỗi khổ đau (duhkha) và luân hồi sinh tử.
Để ca tụng đức tính của Sen qua những lời giảng dạy của Đức Phật (3), thiền sư Minh Lương thuộc phái Lâm Tế có làm một bài kệ như sau:
Ngọc quí ẩn trong đá Hoa Sen mọc từ bùn Nên chỗ biết sanh tử Ngộ vốn thiệt bồ đề
Sen được trông thấy nhiều trong nghệ thuật của người Việt, nhất là ở trong kiến trúc của Phật giáo. Để nhận dạng cây sen mô típ trong kỹ thuật trang trí thường có 8 cánh hoa chỉ định 8 hướng chủ yếu và biểu hiện lại đồ hình Mandala, một dạng hình học và biểu tượng của vũ tru Phật giáo. Còn trong ngành y dược Việtnam thì hạt sen dùng để trị bệnh tiêu chảy, kiết lỵ và mộng tinh. Các hạt sen khi ăn nhiều và ăn sống, thường được xem như thuốc chữa bệnh mất ngủ. Người dùng sẻ ngủ trong giây lát nếu ăn luôn cái mầm xanh ở giữa hạt sen. Thưở xưa, ở Việtnam, các cậu trai muốn tỏ tình yêu thương các cô gái thường tặng hoa sen. Trong các lễ truyền thống của người Việt nhất là những ngày Tết , không bao giờ có thể thiếu được mứt hạt sen và trà ướp sen cả. Còn ẩm thưc thì những người sành điệu ăn uống ai cũng biết món gỏi ngó sen.
Đất nước Việt Nam đã bị chìm đắm triền miên trong chiến tranh, tham nhũng và bất công. Người Việt yêu chuộng hòa bình, công bằng và tự do lúc nào cũng nuôi hy vọng không ngừng, sẻ có một ngày đất nước được có lại sự thanh thản, huy hoàng và kính nể cũng như hình ảnh của cây Sen. Trong bải thơ tựa đề “Hoa Sen”, vua Lê Thánh Tôn ngư trị một thời hoàng kim mà Việt Nam lúc đó đang ở trên đỉnh cao của vinh quang, không ngớt lời khen ngợi vẻ đẹp duyên dáng của Sen:
Nỏn nà sắc nước nhờ duyên nước Ngào ngạt hương thơm nức dặm Trời ..
(1) Lý Bạch, một trong những thi sĩ danh tiếng nhất dưới thời của vua Đuờng Huyền Tông (701-762).
It is a plant with multiple use in Vietnam. Thanks to this plant, everything is possible in a country where nothing is easy, and where the people will not let any obstacles reject or stop them. It is the plant that lulls the life of a Vietnamese from the cradle to the tomb. Once deceased, the body of the dead person rests upon a tray made of bamboo. In a somewhat humoristic manner, J.C. Pomonti, a specialist in matters on Asia, has often labeled our civilization in his index of Le Monde newspaper as “the bamboo civilization” or “the chopsticks civilization”. It is true that there are only four countries in Asia that make up this civilization ( China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam ). But in Vietnam, the culture of the bamboo is very significant. The bamboo is quoted in poetry, as well as in proverbs and folks songs.
Friend, enjoy your life now before you become too old The bamboo has only one growth and man has only one life Let’s enjoy springtime before it goes away Otherwise old age will catch us on its way
It is also said in Vietnamese:
Tre già làm sao uốn
Difficult to bend a bamboo when it is old
to remind parents that it is easier to educate their children in their tender age as it is harder to do it when they grow older.
In the old days, Vietnamese people used this hollow, lightweight, and sturdy wood to build partitions, fences several meters high to protect their village against robbers. In the village, bamboo gives you everything. It provides the whole house; timber for walls, partitions and floors are made of slats of bamboo. Everything in the house is made with this hollow wood (furniture, beds, tables, various accessories, etc…) even drinking glass. Split into thin strips, it is used to weave ropes and strings. One makes use of the filament of bamboo called kelates to make baskets of any kind for transport as well as the conic hat to provide shelter from rain and the sun. One knows how to make good use of this wood to create usual tools ( the water bucket, the smoking pipe etc…). Bamboo also provides food for animals and even to the villagers, who eat as asparagus, the most tender bamboo shoots.
Even the roots of this hollow wood, unearthed and dried in the sun for entire weeks, would be used at the approach of Tet as firewood to cook sweet rice cakes, or to provide heat during the cold winter months in north and central Vietnam. The bamboo becomes thus something “sacred”, intimate, and peculiar to the village. It is thanks to the hedges made with this plant that the Vietnamese village finds its tranquility and intimacy as well as its traditions and virtues. Bamboo thus becomes the guardian angel of the villagers. That is why it is said in a Vietnamese proverb that:
Phép vua thua lệ làng
The King’s authority stops at the gate of the village’s bamboo hedge.
It is also why nowadays this incomparable plant that facilitated our lives for so long can only be found in the village. The bamboo and the village are so closely dependent that a comparison is made of a man followed by his shadow. That is why one finds this evocation every now and then in the Vietnamese poetry. Every Vietnamese probably has that feeling on his or her passage to his or her native village through the following four verses:
Thì bao nhiêu cảnh mơ màng Hiện ra khi thoàng cỗng làng tre xanh.
One’s dream becomes reality Upon seeing the village’s gate among the bamboo trees
Dừng bước nơi đây lòng ngỗn ngang Ngùi trông về Bắc nhớ tre làng
As I stop here, a feeling of disorientation falls upon my heart Forlornly looking north, I begin to miss the bamboo hedge of my village.
To find the bamboo is to find the village.
That is why
the bamboo becomes the representative symbol of Vietnam.
Tình nào thổn thức đêm dài Ðò nào bến cũ tháng ngày tiếc thương Bao năm chồng chất tóc sương Sông nào đãi hết, tỏ tường với ai
For which love does one torment oneself with long nights? For which sampan and its old dock, does one continue to be overcomed with affections and regrets? White hair accumulate under the weight of the years The river not being able to erase all, with whom does one reveal the confidences?
As Vietnam is a water country, it is not surprising to see the proliferation and large variety of boats used by the Vietnamese in their transport by water: from the lightest and smallest to the largest ones found until then only in the neighbouring countries like China or Indonesia. One finds in the construction of these vietnamese boats a notable foreign influence, chinese in the North and indonesian or even western indian in the South of Vietnam. This influence is more perceptible in the Center of Vietnam that has been occupied until the XIIIth century by the Vikings of Asia, the Chàms whose civilization has disappeared in the wirlwind of history by the secular march of the>Vietnamese towards the South.
In spite of that, the Vietnamese showing an acute sense of observation and of living experience due to the incessant coming and going of typhoons on the vietnamese coast, know to harmoniously combine the data of these different foreign techniques to construct boats often more handy than the chinese, malayan or indian models, as has noticed P. Paris in his work entitled “Search of relationship to four Indochise boats, BIIEH, 1946″.
Because of the harshness of nature and of the quasi permanent fight against their chinese neighbors, the Vietnamese centered their efforts in the conquest of the rice plains. Locked up in the isolationism adopted by the Far East and comforted by the quasi permanent presence of the foreign boats in their ports ( Faifo, Tourane, Saigon etc), the Vietnamese do not see any interest to privilege the maritime transport although they are regarded as the most skilful sailors of the Far East. The Chinese recognized their superiority on water. A high chinese mandarin, Bao Chi, noted this in his confidential report submitted to the emperor of Song. The majority of the Vietnamese victories against the chinese neighbors took place on water. The Vietnamese are accustomed to using boats as means of transport for food or troops, as the abbot Prévost revealed in his ” History of the Voyages ” from 1751 while relying upon the description of Samuel Baron published in 1732.
The Vietnamese navy knew its apogee only in the first half of the XIXth century. It is the period when the emperor Gia Long assisted by his French lieutenants Jean-Baptiste Chaigneau ( Nguyễn Văn Thắng ), Philippe Vannier ( Nguyễn Văn Chấn ) etc. succeeds in defeating the army of Tây Sơn at Qui Nhơn with his royal navy made up of a hundred or so large galleys of 50 to 70 oars with guns and stone drains and of three european style vessels ( the Phoenix ( tàu Phụng ), the Eagle and the Flying Dragon ( tàu Long ). These last ones were built with such skill and remained no more than three months on the building site, as has noted father Lelabousse in his report dated at Nha Trang, the 24th of April 1800.
To request his investiture with the chinese emperor, in 1802, Gia Long sent the great poet Trinh Hoài Ðức (1), the first vietnamese delegate to travel by sea to Peking. Unfortunately, this apogee was only of short duration because his successors, surrounded by confuciasnist mandarins and entangled in the obscurantism, continued to adopt a policy of exacerbated isolationism in spite of the memorandum of the modernistic scholar Nguyễn Trường Tộ, which made it possible for the french navy to succeed in dropping anchor a few decades later in the vietnamese waters after having sunk in the port of Tourane ( Danang ) the first five armored junks of the vietnamese fleet on April 15, 1847.
Although the Vietnamese neglect the maritime transport, paradoxically they do not haggle the means of manufacturing a large variety of boats to facilitate their daily displacement because Vietnam has, in addition to the second mangrove of the world (the forest U – Minh 1000km2) after that of Brazil in the peninsula of Cà Mau, thousands of small rivers, affluents and distributaries, streams and rivers (Red River, Mekong River ).
Moreover, the vietnamese road network is quasi non-existent. The vietnamese boats are divided into two categories: those manufactured with bamboo plates coated in lacquer (thuyền nan) and those carved from tree trunks or made with wooden plates ( thuyền gỗ). With regard to the first category, if the boat is of a small size, it is often called in Vietnamese (thuyền câu). It is a small boat where only one person can be placed. If the light boat is of a round shape, it is called ” thuyền thúng ” and is frequently used by the fishermen of the Center of Vietnam.
This tight round basket existed in the Xth century. Dương Vân Nga, a girl from Hoa Lư, was known at that time to excel in the art of rowing with this floating basket. But on the day of competition, Ðinh Bộ Lĩnh, the leader of a rival band of boys, succeeded in immobilizing her floating basket by perforating it with the means of a pole.
This victory enabled him to win not only the admiration but also the love of Duong Vân Nga. This floating basket allowed the fast transport of the troops through the marshes and the rivers and ensured the couple Dương Vân Nga and Đinh Bô. Lĩnh the victory over the Chinese a few years later. As for the second category, the basic constitution is made with wood. There is a multitude of different boats but the most known and the most used by the Vietnamese is the sampan or the boat with three boards (Thuyền tam bản). It is that which is employed to cross the streams or the rivers. The majority of the people who advance the sampans are young girls.
This is why there are many stories of love born of these boats. One continues to tell them, in particular the story of emperor Thành Thái with the oarswoman. If a Vietnamese man was used to crossing the river in his youth, this could probably incite in him intense regrets, memories and emotions when he has the occasion to return to the river bank to take the vat. He feels more or less distressed when he learns that the oarswoman, the girl whom he continues to pity the fate and whom he is not far from falling in love with is no longer there. Probably, she is now the mother of a family or she has joined another world but she is no longer there to welcome him with her charming and ingenuous smile. He is not long to recall that he no longer has the occasion to hear her refrain, or to see the sides of her worn tunic flying in the wind of the river during the crossing. It is in this unusual context that he feels an indescribable affliction. He regrets missing so many occasions to find his dock, his river, his native land and to leave for too long in the lapse of memory the eternal charm of the sampan, that of a Viet-Nam bygone .
The film director Ðặng Nhật Minh, most known currently in Vietnam, does not hesitate to show the opposite case, the discrete love of the young boatwoman living on the River of the Perfumes, to the foreign and vietnamese public through his film.
The girl from the river ( Cô gái trên sông ) 1987
It is the story of its heroine Nguyệt who, to the peril of her life, does not hesitate to save a wounded young man known for his subversive activities by the south vietnamese police during the war. She tries to hide him in her sampan. Once peace is returned, this young man becomes an important communist cadre. The girl tries to find him because she continues to harbor deep feelings for this man. Unfortunately, she feels afflicted and betrayed because this man pretends not to know her and does not like to recollect the troubling periods of his life… She tries to remake her life with her former lover Sơn whom she rejected a few years earlier and who had the occasion to spend a few years in the reeducation camp for having the offence of being enlisted in the south vietnamese army.
In spite of the few things in their constitution, the boats, in particular, the sampans (đò ngang ) continue to charm the Vietnamese. They do not hésitate to integrate them not only in their everyday life but also in the songs and the poems. The songs ” Con Thuyền Không Bến ” ( The sampan without dock ) from the composer Ðặng Thế Phong and Ðò Chiều ( the sampan of the Evening ) from Trúc Phương going back to several decades and several generations continue to be appreciated and show at such point the profound attachment of all the Vietnamese to their rudimentary boats.
As for the poems describing them, there is only the Vietnamese having the occasion to take the vat who manages to appreciate the finesse and the beauty found in the verses because one perhaps rediscovers through these poems a fragment of one’s life so animated and so closely hidden in one’s memory with more emotions and sadness than joy and happiness. By reading the following verses,
Trăm năm đã lỗi hẹn hò Cây đa bến cũ con đò khác đưa Our rendezvous did not take place a long time ago The banian and the dock are always the same but the sampan has changed owner.
The reader could realize that he is also caught up as so many other Vietnamese by memories that he thinks of erasing from his memory with the passing of the years. He cannot continue to sadden himself as that could be made when one was young and in love through the two following verses: Tương tư thuyền nhớ’ sông dài Tương tư là có hai người nhớ’ nhau
It is no longer worth seeing each other again It is best to leave definitively when one loves intensely
But one should have the courage to forget when the sampan is no longer there as that was said in the following four verses: Vô duyên đã lỗi hẹn hò Mong làm chi nữa con đò sang sông Thôi đành chẳng gặp là xong Nhớ thương bền chặt bền lòng ra đi
One misses the chance to be at the rendezvous One no longer hopes when the sampan has already left It is no longer worth seeing each other again It is best to leave definitively when one loves intensely
What becomes of her at this moment? Is she dead or happy? Does she deserve the life she leads? Is she like the young boatwoman, sister Tham who saved many people from drowning and who died drowning without anybody rescuing her in the story “Chảy đi sông ơi ( Run, my river, 1988 ) ” of the talented writer Nguyễn Huy Thiệp? Is she like the young boatwoman Duyên who continues to hum a lullaby for her child:
Nước chảy đôi giòng … …Con sông Thương …nước chảy đôi giòng …
One can go up or descend the current… of the river Love… one can go up or descend the current..
and never asking questions about the life that was layed out for her just like the river that follows its course to the sea in the short story ” Nước Chảy Ðôi giòng ( At counter-current, 1932 ) from Nhất Linh?. These are the questions that the reader overcomed by memories continues to ask intimately. It is also the deep sadness, the poignant pain of the one who no longer has the occasion to find the freshness of his youth through the sampan and its dock which he was accustomed to take at a distant time. He had thought that with time this could erase all the memories as the water of the river evoked in the song with a strange sadness which sister Thắm likes to sing on the bank in the story ” Chảy đi sông ơi ( Run, my river, 1988 ) ” from Nguyễn Huy Thiệp:
Chảy đi sông ơi Băn khoăn làm gì ? Rồi sông đãi hết Anh hùng còn chi ? …
Run my river Why be tormented? The river erases all Even memories of the heroes…
Chuyện Tình Buồn ( The story of sad love ) of Phạm Duy
(1) Author of two works Bắc sứ Thi Tập ( Collection of poems written during a mission in China ) and Cấn Trai Thi Tập ( Collection of poems from Cấn Trai ).
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
Thanks 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.
But for how long ? It is a question no one can give an answer to.
Cantonné jusqu’en 1986 dans le travail de dessin des illustrations pour manuels scolaires dans un bureau des Editions de l’Education à Hànội, Nguyễn Huy Thiệp, profitant de la nouvelle politique d’ouverture connue sous le nom ” Ðỗi Mới “( Renouveau ) lors du 6ème congrès du parti communiste vietnamien, publia en Janvier 1987 son premier recueil intitulé “Les vents de Hứa Tát” paru dans le journal prestigieux de l’Association des écrivains nationaux “Littérature et Art”.
Son succès ne tarda pas. Mais il le dut surtout à son recueil intitulé “La retraite du général” quand celui-ci parut en Juin 1987. Cela provoqua non seulement un séisme dans l’opinion publique vietnamienne mais aussi un espoir de voir drainer dans son sillage une nouvelle génération de jeunes écrivains sans compromission et ayant un esprit d’indépendance et de critique qui semble être quasi inexistant jusqu’alors dans la littérature vietnamienne.
Un général à la retraite Le coeur du tigre La vengeance du loup Les démons vivent parmi nous. Conte d’amour. Un soir de pluie L’or et le feu Mon oncle Hoat A nos vingt ans
Grâce à ses recueils de nouvelles, Nguyễn Huy Thiệp devint du jour au lendemain la figure de proue de la littérature vietnamienne. Ses lecteurs y compris ceux de la diaspora retrouvèrent en lui non seulement le talent d’un écrivain mais aussi l’audace de briser le tabou et le non-dit entretenus jusqu’alors par les coutumes et par un système tombé en désuétude. On le considère actuellement comme le plus grand écrivain vietnamien. Avec son style très sobre, il arrive à sensibiliser facilement le lecteur car il sait se servir des métaphores et des allusions avec son langage cru pour décrire la réalité d’aujourd’hui du Vietnam, celle de toutes les aliénations formant actuellement le tissu social du pays.
En sélectionnant des situations et des héros types dans ses nouvelles et ses contes, il nous fait découvrir avec effroi toutes les contradictions de la société vietnamienne, toutes les vérités insupportables, le gangrène du Mal, l’effondrement des valeurs morales d’une société. Il ose déballer sur la place publique la débâcle d’un système, fouailler la chair sociale avec son humour noir et son réalisme glacial. Il arrive à nous montrer toutes les facettes de la société à travers ses textes brefs et dépouillés avec le talent d’un conteur et celui d’un écrivain en rupture totale avec la génération des écrivains compromis avec le régime. S’il arrive à construire ses nouvelles avec une facilité étonnante, cela est dû en grande partie à sa jeunesse qu’il a vécue dans le milieu rural avec sa mère et à sa formation d’historien qu’il a suivie à Hànội dans l’université de Pédagogie à partir de 1970. L’oeuvre de l’historien chinois Si Ma Qian (Tư Mã Thiên) a influé énormément sur ses recueils, en particulier sur son style. Il a déclaré un jour en 1990 au journal français Libération: Je ne crois pas qu’on puisse écrire quand on est déraciné. Il a préféré rester au Viêt-Nam dans le but de pouvoir écrire ses recueils, de relever le constat d’un système et d’exprimer la colère et l’exil intérieur d’un être broyé par des années de boue, de guerre et de privations. Bien qu’il ne fasse jamais de politique, il est toujours suspect aux yeux des autorités vietnamiennes car sa parole libre fait trembler les appareils de l’état et il incarne l’expression symbolique de l’état d’âme de tout un peuple à la quête d’un trésor perdu et volé.
Tous ceux qui ont pris sa défense en particulier le directeur de la revue Văn Nghệ ont été limogés. On n’a pas hésité à lancer dans le passé une campagne de dénigrement dans la presse officielle. On lui reprocha la publication de la trilogie à argument historique qui portait atteinte au héros national Quang Trung à travers l’oeuvre “Dignité”. Malgré la censure, les menaces et les intimidations, les journaux courageux continuent à publier aujourd’hui ses recueils dont certains sont déjà parus en français aux éditions de l’Aube.
Les héros de ses recueils sont des êtres aliénés sexuellement, moralement et socialement. Ce sont des gens ordinaires que les aléas de la vie et le système précipitent dans la perversion, l’humiliation, l’abus, la folie et le profit. Dans “Il n’y a pas de roi”, le vieux Kiên préfère reluquer en douce sur les jeunes femmes à poil, en particulier sa bru Sinh car à cause de ses 5 enfants qu’il est obligé de nourrir et d’élever, il n’a pas le moyen de se remarier, ce qu’il dit à son fils Ðoai lorsque ce dernier l’a critiqué ouvertement. C’est choquant de voir mourir d’une crise cardiaque dans “La terre oubliée” un homme âgé de 80 ans, Panh qui a tenté d’abattre un arbre pour relever le défi et pour pouvoir épouser une jeune fille de 14 ans qu’il a connue lors de son passage à Yên Châu. Dans ” Un général à la retraite”, son héros, le général retraité Thuận ne sait pas retenir sa parole en osant parler devant son supérieur des trois activités formant le modèle économique indispensable dans le système actuel: le jardinage, l’élevage des poissons et des animaux domestiques. Il expie une faute dont il n’a pas su se préserver. Il préfère une mort honorable à la vie ignominieuse. On l’a enterré avec tous les honneurs militaires. C’est un grand homme. Il est mort pour la patrie au cours d’une mission, ce que le général Chương a dit à son fils. On voit se développer à toutes les couches de la société et à tous les niveaux le profit et le copinage. A chaque pays, ses coutumes, ce qu’a dit Mr Thuyết à ses employés scieurs dans la nouvelle “les scieurs de long”. De même, la bru du général Thuận, profitant de son rôle médecin, chargé des avortements et des curetages, récupère les foetus abandonnés qu’elle ramène à la maison tous les soirs dans une bouteille Thermos pour les faire cuire et pour nourrir les cochons et les chiens bergers constituant actuellement une ressource financière non négligeable pour une famille vietnamienne.
Nguyễn Huy Thiệp continue à croquer rageusement le Viêtnam avec ses recueils et ses contes. Comme les gens du Vietnam, il essaie de trouver une solution à ses besoins quotidiens et de donner surtout un sens, une signification à son existence comme son héros Mr Quý dans “Nostalgie de la Campagne (Thương Nhớ Ðồng Quê)”: Être intellectuel c’est être capable de donner un sens à la vie qu’on mène. Malgré un héritage amer, il se contente d’avoir néanmoins sa consolation à travers ses récits et ses contes.
Mais pour combien de temps encore?
C’est une question à laquelle personne n’est capable de répondre.
Vietnam possesses an important literature, ancient as well as modern. Because of Chinese influence, the ancient literature was written in Chinese characters. It was only in about 13th century that the “nôm” began to replace the Chinese characters. Although the “nom” remains the expression of the common Vietnamese, it supposes the mastering of classical Chinese penmanship and the Vietnamese pronunciation of Chinese characters.
The Vietnamese literature tried to develop and freed itself from the Chinese model since 15th century, not only in style but also in theme.Nguyễn Trãi is one of the poets the most known by Vietnamese people. We owe him a collection of 254 poems in national language ( Quốc Âm Thi Tập ), whose translation into French language under the direction of P. Schneider is found in the Edition of CNRS, 1978, Paris. Nguyễn Trãi famous was his Bình Ngô Ðại Cáo ( Great Proclamation of The Pacification of The Ngô ). It is one of the most beautiful monuments of the Vietnamese literature.
But the most famous poems remain Chinh phu ngâm of poetess Ðoàn Thị Ðiểm and Kim Vân Kiều of Nguyễn Du( 1756-1820 ). The latter composed during his retirement a novel composed of 3254 verses which symbolises for the majority of Vietnamese the heart and soul of the nation .
Everyone of Vietnamese knows it or many parts of it by heart. It is important to note that this masterpiece of the Vietnamese literature is also one of the masterpieces of world literature.
It is a poignant love story adapted from a Chinese novel, depicting an abundance of thoughts on the meaning of life, war, love and above all the purity of the soul inaccessible to bodily taints. The three key characters in this novel are Kim, Vân and Kiều. Separated from Kim by cruel circumstances and after so many years of suffering and humiliation, Kiều was rescued from suicide by fishermen who fished her from the river where she had wanted to drown herself. Following is an excerpt of this novel that describes the reunion of Kim and Kieu at the temple where she had spent her peaceful days.
In the joy of their reunion, they are moved by thought of their love of days before, From the time their youth blossomed, tender like a lotus, delicious like a peach, Fifteen years have gone by and now the dream has come true.
The detachment from the Chinese models has been accelerated by the development of the “quốc ngữ” ( Vietnamese writing in Roman alphabet ) favored by the colonization. In 1932, motivated by Nguyễn Tường Tam also known as Nhat Linh, writing club Tự Lực Văn Ðoàn was founded. This movement endeavored itself to the creation of a national literature starting from traditional bases and the most acceptable foreign influences. It relied on a review called Ngày Nay whose editors team was made of known writers such as Khái Hưng, Thạch Lam, Thế Lữ etc..
The Vietnamese literature written in French began with Phạm Quỳnh through articles of reflection on Vietnamese culture and the difficulty of dialogue between eastern and western cultures. Phạm Duy Khiêm published legends and an autobiographic novel. Phạm Văn Ky elicited in a profound manner the dialogue of the East and the West in his romanesque works ( Blood Brothers, 1947; Those Who Will Reign, 1954 etc…). While historical evolution and mostly the war seemed to drain that literature, the arrival in France of several refugees has revived a literature of witnessing ( Kim Lefèvre ) and also one in search of identity.
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 clubTự 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.
Both 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.
Il est regrettable de ne pas voir figurer les noms de Nhất Linh et Khái Hưng dans les programmes d’enseignement d’aujourd’hui ou dans les anthologies publiées récemment en langues étrangères au Vietnam. Pourtant, ce sont les deux meilleurs romanciers vietnamiens à l’aube du XXème siècle.
On continue à chercher et à s’arracher les rares rééditions parues au Sud-Vietnam d’avant 1975. Malgré leurs thèmes choisis portant d’une manière générale sur l’amour, sur les contorsions sentimentales, sur les drames de la bourgeoisie latifundiaire etc.. à l’époque coloniale, ils continuent à bénéficier pourtant de l’admiration unanime de la jeunesse vietnamienne d’aujourd’hui, en particulier de celle des jeunes Vietnamiens vivant à l’étranger car leurs écrits sont porteurs non seulement d’une culture plus ou moins occidentalisée mais aussi d’un romantisme purement vietnamien. Ils ont réussi à apporter à leurs œuvres un style novateur, à utiliser un vocabulaire simple débarrassé de tous les mots sino-vietnamiens perçus par les jeunes vietnamiens comme des mots savants, à aborder des thèmes susceptibles d’avoir l’adhésion de la jeunesse: l’amour-sacrifice, l’amour impossible, le vague à l’âme etc.. avec un regard à la fois cornélien et romantique à la manière d’Alfred Musset.
“Hồn Bướm Mơ Tiên” (ou Ame de papillon dans un rêve d’immortalité”,”Nữa Chừng Xuân” (ou A mi-printemps)” “Ðoạn Tuyệt ( ou La Rupture )”, “Anh phải sống ( ou Tu Dois Vivre )” etc … continuent à être les best-sellers préférés par la jeunesse vietnamienne d’aujourd’hui. Il n’est pas étonnant de trouver que le thème du sacrifice abordé, il y a eu une cinquantaine d’années, par Khái Hưng dans son oeuvre, est repris récemment par le jeune romancier talentueux “Nguyễn Huy Thiệp” dans son roman Chảy đi sông ơi (ou Coule, coule ô fleuve) malgré un contexte politique tout à fait différent.
On trouve non seulement dans leurs écrits la modernité au niveau d’emploi des propositions, d’adverbes, d’indicateurs de temps qui étaient absents jusqu’alors dans la prose vietnamienne mais aussi au niveau d’emploi des pronoms personnels. Le “moi” fait son entrée ainsi que les mots “anh”, “em”, “mình”,”cậu” qui, auparavant n’étaient pas employés dans la phrase. On note aussi dans la construction de leurs phrases une grande économie des moyens, une clarté inouïe et une grande efficacité.
Issus du milieu urbain, imprégnés dès leur plus jeune âge de la culture française, il n’est pas étonnant de trouver qu’ils s’inspirent dans leurs oeuvres des modèles de Musset, Lamartine, Daudet etc.. lorsqu’on sait que les oeuvres de ces écrivains français firent partie du programme d’études au lycée français Albert Sarraut ( Hà-Nội ) où Khái Hưng fit ses études à l’époque coloniale. Il fut reçu bachelier en 1927 et enseigna au collège Thăng Long tandis que Nhất Linh rentra au Viêt-Nam en 1930 après avoir suivi ses quatre années d’études scientifiques en France.
Sa rencontre avec Khái Hưng au collège Thăng Long fit d’eux du jour au lendemain un couple littéraire célèbre et inséparable. Ils fondèrent ensemble le club Tự Lực Văn Ðoàn (ou Groupe Littéraire indépendant) en 1933. Khái-Hưng, plus âgé que Nhất-Linh de neuf ans, se considérait pourtant comme le “second” de ce couple et se donnait comme pseudonyme “Nhị Linh” car Nhất-Linh était déjà l’auteur de deux romans en 1926 et 1927. Ils ont eu le mérite d’apporter à la littérature vietnamienne la clarté, la concision, la modernité et de savoir donner surtout à cette dernière l’âme du romantisme vietnamien.
Contrairement à d’autres romanciers de leur époque ( Vũ Trọng Phụng, Ngô Tất Tố par exemple ), ils n’avaient pas un regard aussi aigu sur les inégalités sociales, sur les moeurs et les coutumes rurales. Ils n’avaient pas su s’en servir pour combattre et dénoncer ces inégalités. Par contre, ils tentaient de dépeindre avec beaucoup de finesse et de justesse la couche sociale la plus déshéritée sans être obligés de la défendre à cor et à cri.
Est -ce pour cela qu’on leur reproche le manque de combativité et de réalisme, la tiédeur dans leur manière de dépeindre les réalités de la société urbaine et l’imprégnation d’une culture à l’occidentale. Il est certain que l’épisode des Contes de Musset a pu servir de modèle à Khái-Hưng car l’héroïne de la nouvelle “Anh Phải Sống“, la jeune femme du maçon vietnamien Thức, se laissa couler dans les flots comme Madame des Arcis des Contes “Pierre et Camille” d’Alfred de Musset en 1844. Mais Khái-Hưng a eu le mérite de savoir donner à sa héroïne la noblesse et la grandeur dans la tradition vietnamienne.
On ne peut pas remettre en doute non plus leur patriotisme, leur engagement politique auprès des mouvements nationalistes vietnamiens. A cause de leurs orientations politiques nationalistes et surtout à cause de leur simple idéalisme, tous les deux ont péri comme leurs héroïnes respectives dans “Tu dois Vivre” de Khái Hưng et dans ” Une silhouette dans la brume ” de Nhất Linh. Khái-Hưng est décédé en 1947 dans des conditions mystérieuses près du débarcadère Cửa Gà dans le district de Xuân Trường ( province Hà Nam Ðịnh) tandis que Nhất Linh, déçu d’être incompris, s’empoisonna le 7 Juillet 1963 à Saïgon.
Leur vie, tous les deux ont essayé de la mener comme leurs héroïnes avec un stoïcisme exemplaire. Leur héritage littéraire qu’ils ont laissé au peuple vietnamien est inestimable. En un mot, ce sont non seulement les pionniers de la littérature moderne du Vietnam mais aussi les romanciers les plus romantiques que le Vietnam ait connus.
Young or old, a scholar (Sĩ) is always well considered in the Vietnamese society. Much regard is given to him as well as the first place in social hierarchy before the farmer (Nông), the craftman ( Công ), and the merchant ( Thương ).
That’s why the latter does not cease to ridicule him in folk songs.
Ai ơi chớ lấy học trò Dài lưng tốn vải ăn no lại nằm
Never marry a student, His long back costs a lot of fabrics
Once full, he just keeps lying down
Equipped with intellectual kowledge, the learned man does not let himself be upset by these remarks and tries to reply with a snicker:
Hay nằm đã có võng đào Dài lưng đã có, áo trào nhà vua Hay ăn đã có thóc kho Việc gì mà chẳng ăn no lại nằm
Lying down, here is the luxury hammock My long back, this is the gown granted by the King Eat until full, there is plenty of rice in the warehouse I don’t have to worry, just eat until full, then lie down and rest
This consideration dated back from the time when Confucianism was implemented as the single model structure of the society.
This consideration dated back from the time when Confucianism was implemented as the single model structure of the society. The recruitment of the learned man as a mandarin was essentially based on the literary contests which took place every three years at the great temple of Confucius or the Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu). This temple was built by King Lý Thánh Tôn in 1070 and was changed to The College of the Nation’s Children (Quốc Tự Giám) in 1076. From 1484, the name of the scholar who passed the mandarinal contests was inscribed on a stele including his date of birth and his works. This practice of inscription on the stele was stopped only in 1778. Therefore, the dream of passing the mandarinal contests became an obsession for the majority of the learned men. Some of them passed their tests with an astonishing ease such as Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm, Chu văn An and Lê Quí Ðôn. Others failed several times as was the case of the learned man Trân Tế Xương whose poems always convey a caustic irony. His everlasting failure has influenced his works enormously. Besides litterary knowledge, the passing candidate or future mandarin must possess all the concepts of mandate of Heaven, filial piety, loyalty to the king (Nghĩa tôi ) and all the values that provide a cohesion to the confucian vision. Armed with these concepts, the learned man will try to accomplish his mission not only until the end of his days but also to the detriment of his life.
It was the case of the poet laureate Nguyễn Du who prefered retiring to serving the new regime after the fall of the Lê dynasty. It was also the case of the learned man Phan Thanh Giản who decided to take his own life with poison while advising his children to farm the land and not to accept any position during the French occupation of Cochinchina in 1867. As for the learned man Nguyễn Ðình Chiễu, author of the popular poem Lục Vân Tiên and one of the noblest figures of scholars, he never stopped giving moral support to the resistance during the colonial time.
In his Confucian vision, the scholar tried to maintain at any costs and strictly apply these principles unless the king becomes no longer worthy of the obedience owed to him. In this case, the learned man being keen on justice, may overthrow the king because the latter has been dispossessed of the mandate of Heaven. It was the case of Cao Bá Quát who participated in the famous Locust uprising ( Giặc Châu Chấu ) in the name of the Le family against king Tự Ðức, and who was captured and executed by the latter in 1854.
Although the Scholar was one of the cornerstones of a society upon which rested so many Vietnamese dynasties to govern the country and the legitimate defender of moral values particularly the five human relations ( Ngũ Luân ), i.e. between the King and his subordinates, the Father and his son, the Husband and his wife, the Brother and his younger siblings, and the Friend and his friend), which enables us to have a social cohesion and a national identity through centuries, He is however the factor of inertia and cultural isolationism which proved to be mortal for the Nguyễn’s Empire since 1840.
While continuing to underestimate the foreign power and by maintaining his conservatism, the Scholar was incapable of adapting to modernizational reforms advocated by the modernistic learned man Nguyễn Trường Tộ. Thus, He became the major obstacle to reforms that Vietnam needed in facing the ambitions of the foreign powers. This compelled Him to disappear at the same time with the Empire during the French conquest.
The Scholar formed part of a population of 40,000 learned men, approximately 20,000 of whom were holders of ranks in 1880. The last learned man known for his patriotism and reformism was Phan Chu Trinh. This one was in favor of reforms and insisted on the priority of total progress of society, of the diffusion of the modern knowledge on simple political independence.
His banishment to Poulo Condor and especially his death in 1926 has brought an end to the dream of all Vietnamese to find an independent Vietnam with a policy of non-violence and gradual decolonization that he advocated and defended with enthusiasm and conviction for so many years.
Phan Chu Trinh
He tried to reveal his state of mind in his poem entitled
He wants the flame to shed light to the bottom of darkness Because his heart is burned with anxiety of lighting But the half-opened door lets in the north wind In the ending night, with whom to share his tears?
It was the tears of the last great Vietnamese learned man. But it is also a cry of despair of a great
Vietnamese patriot facing the destiny of his country.