Nguyễn Huy Thiệp (Version Française)

English version
huythiep

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

licorneGrâce 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.

Seul l’avenir politique du Viêtnam nous le dira. 

Literature (Văn chương)

French version

litterature

 

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.

 

Independent Literary group (Tự lực văn đoàn)

French version

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

Titles of best-known novels

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

Articles founded on the Net

Anh phải sống (1937)

Tiểu sữ Tự Lực Văn Đoàn 1930-1945

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Groupe littéraire indépendant (Tự lực văn đoàn)

 
English version

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

tulucvandoan

Titres des romans connus

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

Articles trouvés sur le Net
Anh phải sống (1937)

Tiểu sữ Tự Lực Văn Đoàn 1930-1945

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.

butviet

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being scholar (Sĩ Phu)

French version

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.
mandarin

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 downischol

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.

Pictures gallery

Il n'ya pas de galerie sélectionné ou la galerie a été supprimé.

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.

cierge

 

Phan Chu Trinh

He tried to reveal his state of mind in his poem entitledphanchutrinh

The candle

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.

The animal world in the Vietnamese belief

French version

conseu

© Đặng Anh Tuấn 

Since the beginning of time, the Vietnamese were used to living in an inhospitable environment. Their living conditions were very hard and nature is extremely tough and pitiless. They must learn how to live with wild animals, tricking them and beating them. From that came a number of prejudices and superstitions. It is found in popular songs not only a kind of experience lived by the Vietnamese in the animal reign but also a certain philosoply sometimes just and simple. Based on observations and behavior found in the animal world, they succeeded in enriching their popular songs giving them a more invigorating, humorous, attractive and moralizing characteristic. Without referring to these wild and familiar creatures, popular songs would probably have lost their attractiveness they have kept so far. The following example indisputably illustrates this agreement borrowed from the animal reign:

Chim khôn tiếc lông
Người khôn tiếc lời

An intelligent bird keeps it feathers,
Wise people do not waste their words.

Without alluding to the bird and its feathers, the second verse would probably not have its significant range of subtlety. Likewise, in a concise manner, the following proverb depicts and sums up everything :

Một con quạ, đồn ba con ác

Rumor turns a crow into three magpies

to refer to a brag.

Instead of using the word « quạ » to mean a crow, the word « ác » is prefereed because in Chinese-Vietnamese dictionary « ac » also means evil. By its pronunciation and connotation, it brings us into inescapably thinking of something harmful while keeping intact the significant range of the proverb. It is not surprising to see a crow here because it is the bird the Vietnamese hate and spit upon. Thanks to this detestable bird, the degree of importance can be measured given the reflection contained in the proverb.

By using popular songs, proverbs and legends, the Vietnamese have on several occasions shown their opinion on the animal reign. Certain wild animals are respected and sacred, others are not. Having to share the same environment with wild animals, they do not hesitate to associate them in their daily life, to reserve a particular regard to each of them, and to give them a hierarchic classification to the image of the Vietnamese society. All that has unquestionably been dictated by their live observations and experiences that with the flow of time become transmitted from generation to generation and anchored intimately in their mind.

The egret is a kind of heron that we used to see in company with the peasants on rice fields. Leaning on its long legs, she ceaselessly tiptoes quietly there in search of food or advances seriously in long strides.

This picture is not foreign to the impression the Vietnamese give to this creature. Is she the mysterious wader that we see carved on the bronze drums of Ðồng Sơn. In anyway, she is the symbol of purity and sacrifice. That is what we found in the following popular song:

Con cò lặn lội bờ ao
Tôi có tội nào ông sáo với măng
Có sào thì sáo nước trong
Chớ sáo nước đục đau lòng cò con !

The egret searching for food at night time
Landing on a weak branch, she tumbles in the pond.
Sir, please fish me out of here,
If I am unfaithful you may want to cook me with bamboo shoot.
Cooking me you have to use clear water,
Don’t use dirty water, it hurt the feeling of this tiny egret!

She is also evoked in another song, identifying herself to a Vietnamese woman:

Con cò lặn lội bờ sông,
Gánh gạo đưa chồng tiếng khóc nĩ non,
Nàng về nuôi cái cùng con,
Ðể anh đi trãy nước non Cao-Bằng.

Like an egret wading at the river side,
Hauling rice accompanying her husband she sobs:
I am returning home to take care of mother and children,
So you may rest assured trekking the Cao Bang rugged terrain.

The egret is appreciated such that in some regions of Vietnam it is given the title of nobility: Mister Farmer ( Ong Nông ). This respect may probably be due to its beautiful plumage and its imposing look in the middle of the rice fields. Being alongside with it, the peasants consider it as a companion that know how to participate in their daily occupations. The same for the heron ( vạc) who is synonymous with elegance and longevity. We use to say : Cưỡi hạc chầu trời to allude to an old person who passes away. On the contrary, a crow is seen unfavorably. Because of its black feathers, this creature is synonymous with misfortune. Its sudden appearance in front of the house or on the way calls for a bad omen. To blame the public for having an erroneous opinion, we borrow this proverb:

Quạ ăn dưa bắt cò phơi nắng
Nghĩ lại sự đời quạ trắng cò đen

The crow eats the melon but the egret is punished by having to stay in the sun
Reflecting on life gives the feeling that the crow is white and the egret is black.

Likewise, the bear is not so much favorite. It is called « Cha Cụ » or « Cha Gấu ( father bear ). The term « Cha » is very derogatory. It is seen in this designation a contemptible and ridiculous character. The allusion is probably made to show someone who, even he is the head of the family, does not live up to his role and deserve a particular regard. Would it have anything to do with the weight and slowliness of this plantigrade in its gait? In spite of that unjustified appellation, the bear is not as unfortunate as other creatures against whom the discrimination is even more visible. The pelican (chim bồ nông ), despite its respectable size and its extensible pouch where fish are stored for feeding its chicks, receives only a little title « thằng bè » ( or the heavy guy ). The teal ( con le le ) is often called  » thằng bồng » while the kingfisher ( chim bói cá ) is often labeled as « thằng chài » ( the one who fishes with a net ).

For the latter, there is no doubt on the choice of this attribution which is probably tied to the agility of this bird in its dive and capture of fish. The term « thằng » is intentinonally used to show a state of inferiority of the creature or the person in question in relation with other species or individuals. It is also the case of the loon that is often called « thằng cộc » thằng cha cộc ». Some birds are bluntly feminized because we grant them the title « mệ »( grandma ) or « mạ » ( mother ). It is the case of the heron ( con diệc ) that we use to called « mạ diệc » ( mother heron ). Another creature of the same family as the heron, the squacco heron, receives the title « mệ thợm » ( the crabeating gossiper ).heron

Nothing contradicts the description of those creatures in the following proverb:

Chống cậy mà đi là con cha cộc
Con độ mũi nốc là con thằng chài

The bird that walks with canes is the loon
The bird that perches forward is the kingfisher

Some creatures are considered as those who come from Heaven living in open sky. The word « Trời » ( or sky, heaven ) is found in their names. It is the case of « vịt trời » ( wild duck ) « ngỗng trời »( wild goose ) or ngựa trời ( religious mantis ) or horse from the sky.On the other hand, the Vietnamese think that other creatures can capture their thoughts, and out of fear and reprisals they pay respect to those creatures in order to escape their mortal traps. That is why the word « Thiêng » is used to depict supernatural creatures.

It is the case of the little mouse ( con chuột ). They dare not call it by its name despite its minuscule size. They prefer to give it the tittle  » Ông Thiêng  » ( or Mister Sacred ) because it is capable of carrying out reprisals and of knowing all the secrets and privacy in their house. Likewise, the sparrow ( chim se sẽ ) receives the same honor as the mouse’s. By its supernatural force the sparrow can escape from the trap and cause big damages by destroying their rice stocks.

 

The ant takes part in the supernatural creatures the same way as the elephant ( ông voi) and the tiger ( ông cọp, ông Ba Mươi ) . The latter two have the capability of listening to their conversations, which makes them known as « ông Thính » ( Mister Listener ). It is attributed to the tiger the aptitude of bearing on its shoulder the soul of its victim. This one, wandering and known under the term « Ma » ( ghost ) compels the tiger to return to where the victim lived in search for offerings. It is the way to interpret the return of the tiger around the area where the victim was devoured in order to catch another prey. That is why it is very necessary to find at any costs what belongs to the victim, burn it together with a double made of paper and that of the tiger and bury them carefully in order to return the soul indefinitely into the tomb. It is ceaselessly believed that the tiger’s whiskers possess a character harmful to health. That is why in order to avoid the damages that may be caused by these whiskers, they decide to burn them immediately at the capture of this big cat. It is attributed that caterpillars would come from the tiger’s foam. It is impossible to find a medicine to heal a wound caused by the unexpected contact with these tiny creatures. For most Vietnamese, the tiger is sometimes feared and revered. For fear of reprisals, they keep not only signs of respect but also temples and altars dedicated in its honor and scattered here and there in the forest. Even before killing it after capturing it, they do not even forget to give it the last homage in holding a preliminary ceremony. They use to compare themselves with the tiger by means of the following maxim:

Hùm chết để da, người chết để tiếng.
Le tigre mort laisse sa peau et l’homme décédé sa réputation.

and to grant the king of the animals an irreproachable veneration. Despite that, the animal the most preferred remains the dragon. This one is part of the four animals with supernatural power ( Tứ Linh ) ( the dragon ( rồng, long ) , the unicorn ( lân ), the turtle ( quy, rùa ) and the phoenix ( loan, phượng, phụng ) ) and occupies the first place. It is the emblematic animal traditionally chosen by the king on his clothes. It appears as a key element of the Vietnamese mythology. All Vietnamese strongly believe they are descendents of this fabulous and mythical animal. The unicorn is synonymous with happiness. As for the turtle, it is not only the symbol of longevity but also that of the transfer of spiritual value in the Vietnamese tradition. Its presence has been mentioned many times in the history of Vietnam by means of legends. ( The magic crossbow offered by the golden turtle god to king An Dương Vương in his struggle against Chinese general Triệu Ðà ( Zhao Tuo ), the return of the sword to the turtle god by the future king Lê Lợiafter his shining victory over Chinese invaders, the Ming at the Hoan Kiem lake). The phoenix always identifies with beauty. This mythical bird is often referred to in marriage. Someone having the profile of the son of Heaven ( tướng thiên tử ) is depicted as having the nose of the dragon and the eyes of the phoenix ( mũi rồng mắt phượng).

To separate the lovers, it is said: Chia loan rẽ phượng. Loan is the meaning of the female phoenix while phượng is used for the male one.

Besides these mythical animals, there is another one often spoken of in Vietnamese annals and that is the water dragon ( con thuồng luồng ). It is a serpent resembling an eel, which has been described in P. Genibrel’s dictionary. To protect themselves against the water dragons, the Vietnamese used to tattoo their body so that they would not look different and be killed by these animals when they go fishing. This custom disappeared only during the reign of Trần Anh Tôn who himself renounced this practice. The water dragon is also the subject of the following proverb:

Thuồng luồng không ở cạn
The water dragon don’t live in the places where there is no water.

to mean that people of quality do not associate with lower people.

In the coastal regions, the animal the most revered remains the whale (or cá voi, cá ông). It is not surprising to see in each village along the coast, springing up an altar dedicated for this mammal. The profound attachment to this cetacean from Vietnamese fishermen is due to a great number of blessings it brought them.

Altar reserved for the whale.( Poulo Cham)

autel_baleine

In Vietnam, attention is made to precursor of natural phenomena seen in the behavior of wild creatures. Out of the roar of a tiger in search for food, the dry and staccato sound made by a deer or the squeal of a squirrel, a change of weather could be forecast (incoming wind or rain from the north). The hooting of a rooster of pagoda ( chim bìm bịp ) is a sign of an incoming flood. Seeing the ants building their big earthen nests in a hurry in the trees along the riverside, it would be possible to predict that a rise in water level is imminent. The unjustified song of a rooster predicts a bad news. The nibbling of mice in the house is not a good omen at all. The hooting of an owl near the house announces the imminent death of the sick if any in it. The drop of a spider from the ceiling is a mark of an infidelity in the household. The flight of a dragonfly on the ground level signals the imminent arrival of sunshine or rain. It is said in the following little saying:

Chuổn chuổn bay thấp thì mưa
Bay cao thì nắng, bay vừa thì râm

The dragonfly flying low brings rain
Flying high gives sunshine, flying average height predicts shadow.

A scientific explanation can be provided to that saying because the dragonfly possesses a pouch of water enabling it to regulate the altitude of its flight in function with air humidity. It is the application of the Archimedean push in air that we find in this behavior.

This superstition has been exploited in the past with ingenuity by a great number of Vietnamese leaders to consolidate their legitimacy in the conquest of power. It becomes a formidable and efficient weapon in the struggles against foreign invaders. It can be said that it was at the time what we have now with psychological warfare. The credulity has been put in evidence several times in the history of Vietnam. To facilitate access to the throne of the young virtuous Lý Công Uẩn, the future king of the Lý dynasty, the erudite monk Vạn Hạnh decided to mark discreetly the word  » thiên tử  » ( son of Heaven ) on the back of a white dog in the village Cổ Pháp and spreaded the rumor that in the current year of the Dog, there will be a new king born under the sign of the Dog to bring peace to people. That was why people did not contest the legitimacy of Lý Công Uẩn the day he took power and ascended the throne in the year of the Dog ( Canh Tuất 1010 ) under the pressure of Ðào Cam Mộc and his close relations led by monk Vạn Hạnh because people thought everything was decided in advance and that he was sent by Heaven to become king and that he was born in the year of the Dog (Giap Tuat) in 974. To shelter the capital from the caprices of the Red river, Lý Công Uẩn, heeding the advice of geomancers, intended to move the capital to Thăng Long ( or later Hà Nội). For this moving, it was necessary to make people believe that he had seen in his dream a golden dragon flying over this locality. That would help him neutralize peacefully any ideas of contestation and revolt. Likewise, several centuries later, it is not surprising to see the building of a fantastic story of the legend on the character of Lê Lợi, a rich Mường farmer at Lam Sơn in the goal of unifying all the Vietnamese people facing their destiny and of stopping all claims of submission in the struggle against Chinese invaders ( the Ming ). It was also the resistance led by a Vietnamese of Muong origin for the first time in the history of Việtnam. It was successful to make people believe that before Lê Lợi’s birth, there was a black tiger roaming around his village. Since his birth, the tiger was no longer seen in the area. It was attributed to Lê Lợi the reincarnation of that king of animals. It was Nguyễn Trãi, his political and military counsel that described it in his work « Lam Sơn Thục Lục using the following terms:

Vua Lê vai tả có bảy nốt ruồi, long lá đầy người, tiếng như chuông lớn, ngồi như hổ ….

King Lê has 7 moles on his right shoulder, a hairy body, a voice that sounds like a big bell, a look like a tiger when seated.

It was also Nguyen Trai’s clever idea to spread for several months the following message written with toothpicks and honey on leaves that people found nibbled by ants:

Lê Lợi vì dân, Nguyễn Trãi vì thân

Lê Lợi for the people, Nguyễn Trãi for Lê Lợi

in the goal of showing the people that it was Heaven’s will and that Le Loi was designated as the sole and legitimate heir in the struggle against the Ming invaders.

To make disappear the visible affliction of a great number of people before the fate reserved for Gia Long’s foes, especially the family of emperor Quang Trung ( beheading king Cảnh Thinh, exhuming his tomb, torturing by means of elephant stamping on all his people and relatives ) and to legitimize his grab of power, many of legends around Gia Long have been brought into daylight. First is the story of encounter with his eunuch general Lê Văn Duyệt. This one, known by his courage and strength, having up until then led a hidden and reserved life with his mother in a remote corner of South Vietnam, did not hesitate to kill anyone who dared disturb him. Having known this motto and been pursued relentlessly by the Tây Sơn ( the Peasants of the West ), Nguyễn Ánh, the future emperor Gia Long decided to go see him and make friend with him. With his lieutenant Nguyễn Văn Thành, he found his house but Lê Văn Duyệt was absent at the moment. His mother invited them for lunch but advised them go withdraw immediately because she knew well the character of her son. Seeing the strangers in his house, he would not hesitate to kill them. Facing Nguyen Anh’s resolution to see her son, she was obliged to let them stay overnight. On his returning home, Le Van Duyet was annoyed by the presence of strangers in his home. But he noticed hat the young man was surrounded by a snake whose head leaned on his chest. Troubled by this protection, he timidly asked his mother: Who is the person protected by the snake? Surprised by his question, she went to the room where Nguyen Anh was sleeping. She found no snake. Only Lê Văn Duyệt had seen that scene. For him there is no doubt that he was face to face with the person uncommon and under divine protection. He went to wake him up and asked him of the news. Lê Văn Duyệt became from that day one of his best and brilliant faithful in the conquest of power. According to the French erudite Léopold Cadière, the fabulous animal resembling the dragon found on Gia Long’s imperial costume or on the stage of his throne would probably evoke the snake’s protection that Nguyen Anh benefited during his years of vicissitude. Another time when he had to take refuge on the Phú Quốc island, Nguyen Anh was almost captured by the Tay Son if his boat was not held back and hampered by crocodiles. Intrigued by this omen, he knelt at the front of his boat and called upon Heaven:

If the enemies are hanging a trap at the mouth of river Ông Ðốc , please let me know by making disappear and reappear these crocodiles three times at once, if not, let me go now because time is very important for me.

Effectively, the disappearance and reappearance of the reptiles took place three time at once. Witnessing this unusual phenomenon responding to his wish, he did not want to go. To make sure of the presence of the enemies, a scout was sent out immediately. There was no more doubt that the enemies were waiting for him outnumbered on that day. If we do not know whether Nguyen Anh were under divine protected, then by means of historical stories we notice that he was a young prince, very courageous and intrepid. He was once chased by his enemies. He was compelled to swim across a river despite a great number of crocodiles. He had to resort to a buffalo to wade at the riverside in order to make the crossing.

The Vietnamese man is born with this belief. Without it, it would appear hard for him to overcome his daily life difficulties encountered in his inhospitable environment where fatality is in place. If superstition bears a certain image of pusillanimity, it remains nevertheless a effective weapon that the Vietnamese man does not miss an occasion to use in forging his destiny and purpose. He does not let himself being dragged too much into Cartesian mind to refute what belongs to the heritage of beliefs of his people.

 

Le monde des animaux dans la croyance vietnamienne

English version

conseu

© Đặng Anh Tuấn

Depuis la nuit des temps, les Vietnamiens ont l’habitude de vivre dans un environnement inhospitalier. Leurs conditions de vie sont très dures et la nature est extrêmement rude et impitoyable. Il faut apprendre à vivre avec les créatures sauvages, à ruser et à les combattre. C’est avec elles que sont nés un grand nombre de préjugés et de superstitions. C’est dans la plupart des chansons populaires qu’on relève non seulement une sorte d’expérience vécue par les Vietnamiens avec le règne animal mais aussi une certaine philosophie à la fois juste et simple. En s’appuyant sur des observations et des comportements trouvés dans le monde des animaux, ils ont réussi à enrichir leurs chansons populaires en donnant à ces dernières un caractère plus tonique, plus humoristique, plus attrayant et plus moralisateur.

heron

Sans se référer à ces créatures sauvages et familières, elles perdraient probablement l’attrait qu’elles continuent à garder jusqu’alors. L’exemple suivant témoigne incontestablement de cet agrément emprunté dans le règne animal:

Chim khôn tiếc lông
Người khôn tiếc lời
L’oiseau intelligent tient à ses plumes
L’homme intelligent ne prodigue pas ses paroles.

Sans faire allusion à l’oiseau et à son plumage, le deuxième vers n’aurait pas probablement toute sa portée significative et sa subtilité. De même, tout est décrit et résumé d’une manière concise dans le proverbe suivant:

Một con quạ, đồn ba con ác

Il existe un seul corbeau. Avec la rumeur, on se retrouve avec trois pies pour désigner un hâbleur.

Au lieu de réutiliser le mot « quạ » désignant le corbeau, on préfère le mot « ác » qui, malgré la même signification trouvée dans le dictionnaire sino-vietnamien, est aussi synonyme du mal. Par sa prononciation et sa connotation, cela nous fait penser inéluctablement à quelque chose nuisible tout en gardant intacte la portée significative de ce proverbe. Rien n’est étonnant de voir le corbeau y figurer car cet oiseau est détesté et honni par les Vietnamiens. Grâce à cette créature haïssable, on pourrait mesurer le degré d’importance accordé à la réflexion qu’on aime retenir avec ce proverbe.

Par le biais de ces chansons populaires, des proverbes et des légendes, les Vietnamiens ont l’occasion de montrer maintes fois leurs opinions sur le règne animal. Certaines créatures sauvages sont respectées et sacrées, d’autres ne le sont pas. À force de partager le même environnement, ils n’hésitent pas à les associer dans leur vie journalière, à réserver à chacune d’elles un égard particulier et à leur donner un classement hiérarchique à l’image de la société vietnamienne. Tout cela a été dicté indiscutablement par leurs observations et leurs expériences vécues qui deviennent au fil des années des préjugés transmis de génération en génération et ancrés intimement dans leur esprit.

L’aigrette est une sorte de héron qu’on est habitué à voir en compagnie avec des paysans sur les champs des rizières. S’appuyant sur de longues jambes, elle ne cesse pas d’y barboter silencieusement à la recherche de la nourriture ou elle s’avance gravement aux longues enjambées.

Cette image n’est pas étrangère à l’impression que les Vietnamiens ont accordée à cette créature. Est-elle l’échassier mystérieux qu’on a vu gravé sur les tambours de bronze de Ðồng Sơn? En tout cas, elle est le symbole de la pureté et du sacrifice. C’est ce qu’on a retrouvé dans la chanson populaire suivante:

Con cò lặn lội bờ ao
Tôi có tội nào ông sáo với măng
Có sào thì sáo nước trong
Chớ sáo nước đục đau lòng cò con !

Je suis l’aigrette qui barbote au bord de la mare
Si j’ai mal fait, vous pourrez me faire cuire avec les jeunes pousses de bambou
Mais en cas de préparation, faites-moi cuire dans de l’eau claire et propre
Ne me faites pas cuire dans l’eau malpropre. Cela fera mal au coeur à la pauvre petite aigrette!

S’identifiant à la femme vietnamienne, elle est évoquée dans une autre chanson:

Con cò lặn lội bờ sông,
Gánh gạo đưa chồng tiếng khóc nĩ non,
Nàng về nuôi cái cùng con,
Ðể anh đi trãy nước non Cao-Bằng.

Analogue à l’aigrette barbotant au bord du fleuve,
Portant le riz paddy, elle accompagne son mari avec douleurs et pleurs
En rentrant à la maison, elle s’occupe de sa belle- mère et de ses enfants,
Elle lui laisse le temps d’accomplir le service militaire.

L’aigrette est tellement appréciée que dans certaines régions du Việt Nam on n’hésite pas à lui accorder le titre de noblesse: Monsieur le Paysan (Ông nông). Ce respect est dû probablement à son beau plumage et à son allure imposante au milieu des champs des rizières. À force de la côtoyer, les paysans la considèrent comme un compagnon qui sait participer à leurs occupations journalières. De même le héron (vạc) est synonyme de l’élégance et de la longévité. On a l’habitude de dire: Cưỡi hạc chầu trời pour faire allusion à une personne âgée qui rend l’âme en douceur. Par contre, on voit d’un mauvais oeil le corbeau. À cause de son plumage noir, cette créature est synonyme du malheur. Son apparition instantanée devant la maison ou son passage annoncent un mauvais présage. Pour reprocher au public d’avoir une opinion erronée, on n’hésite pas à emprunter ce proverbe.

Quạ ăn dưa bắt cò phơi nắng
Nghĩ lại sự đời quạ trắng cò đen

Le corbeau est en train de manger la pastèque tandis que l’aigrette est punie sous un soleil accablant
En s’adonnant à la réflexion sur la vie, on s’aperçoit que le corbeau est blanc et l’aigrette devient noire

De même l’ours n’est pas très choyé. On l’appelle « Cha Cụ » ou « Cha gấu » (le père ours). Le qualificatif de « Cha » est très péjoratif. On voit dans cette désignation le caractère méprisable et ridicule. On voudrait faire allusion probablement à quelqu’un qui, étant pourtant père d’une famille, n’est pas à la hauteur de son rôle et ne mérite pas d’avoir un égard particulier. S’agit -t-il de la lourdeur et de la lenteur de ce plantigrade dans sa démarche? Malgré cette appellation injustifiée, l’ours n’est pas aussi malheureux par rapport aux autres créatures auxquelles la discrimination est encore plus visible. Le pélican (chim bồ nông), malgré sa taille respectable et sa poche extensible où sont emmagasinés les poissons destinés à nourrir ses jeunes, ne reçoit que le mince titre « thằng bè » ( ou le mec mastoc ). La sarcelle (con le le) est désignée souvent par le nom « thằng bồng » tandis que le martin pêcheur (chim bói cá) est connu souvent sous l’étiquette « thằng chài » (celui qui pêche à l’épervier) .

Pour ce dernier, il n’y a pas de doute sur le choix de cette attribution qui est liée probablement à l’agilité de cet oiseau dans sa plongée et dans la capture des poissons. Le qualificatif de thằng est employé intentionnellement dans le but de signifier l’état d’infériorité de la créature ou de la personne en question par rapport à d’autres espèces ou à d’autres individus. C’est aussi le cas du plongeon qu’on appelle souvent sous le nom thằng cộc ou thằng cha cộc. Certains oiseaux sont carrément féminisés car on leur accorde le titre « mệ » (ou grand-mère) ou mạ (ou mère). C’est le cas du héron (con diệc) qu’on a l’habitude d’appeler sous le nom  » mạ diệc  » (la mère héron). Une autre créature de la même famille que le héron, le crabier, reçoit le titre « mệ thợm » (la commère crabier).


Rien n’est contredit par la description de ces créatures dans le proverbe suivant:

Chống cậy mà đi là con cha cộc
Con độ mũi nốc là con thằng chài

L’oiseau qui s’appuie sur les bâtons dans sa marche est bien le plongeon
L’oiseau qui perche à l’avant de la barque est bien le martin-pêcheur

Certaines créatures sont considérées comme celles provenant du Ciel ou vivant à ciel ouvert. On trouve dans leur nom le mot « Ciel » (trời). C’est le cas de vịt trời (canard sauvage), ngỗng trời (oie sauvage) ou ngựa trời (mante religieuse) ou cheval du ciel. Par contre, pour d’autres créatures, le respect dicté par la crainte et les représailles n’est plus mis en doute. Les Vietnamiens pensent que ces créatures arrivent à capter leur pensée et qu’elles arrivent à s’échapper par conséquent de leur piège mortel. C’est pourquoi le mot « Thiêng » est utilisé dans le but de désigner ces créatures surnaturelles. C’est le cas de la petite souris (con chuột). Malgré sa taille minuscule, ils n’osent pas l’appeler par son nom. Ils préfèrent de lui attribuer le titre « Ông thiêng » (ou Monsieur le Sacré) car il est capable d’effectuer des représailles et de connaître tous les secrets et les intimités de leur famille et de leur maison. De même, le moineau (chim sẽ) reçoit le même honneur que la petite souris. Par sa force surnaturelle, il arrive à s’échapper de leur piège et peut leur causer de gros dégâts en détruisant tous leurs stocks de riz. 

La fourmi fait partie aussi des créatures surnaturelles en même temps que l’éléphant (ông voi) et le tigre (ông cọp, ông Ba Mươi). Ces derniers ont la capacité d’écouter leurs conversations, ce qui fait d’eux connus souvent sous le nom « Ông thính » (Monsieur l’écouteur). On attribue au tigre l’aptitude d’emporter sur son dos l’âme de sa victime. Celle-ci, errante et connue sous le nom « Ma » oblige le tigre à revenir sur le lieu ou l’endroit où la victime habite pour chercher ses offrandes. C’est une façon d’interpréter le retour du tigre aux alentours de l’endroit où la victime a été dévorée dans le but de s’emparer d’autres proies. 

C’est pour cette raison qu’il est indispensable de retrouver à tout prix ce qui appartient à la victime, de le brûler ensemble avec son sosie en papier ainsi que celui du tigre. Puis il faut les enterrer avec soin dans le but de faire entrer définitivement l’âme dans la tombe. On ne cesse pas de croire que les moustaches du tigre ont un caractère nuisible pour la santé. Pour parer à des dégâts que peuvent provoquer ces moustaches, on décide de les brûler immédiatement lors de la capture de ce fauve. On attribue également la formation des chenilles hérissonnes à partir de la bave du tigre. Il est impossible de trouver un médicament pour cicatriser une plaie provoquée par le contact inopiné avec ces bestioles.

Pour la plupart des Vietnamiens, le tigre est à la fois un animal redouté et vénéré. Par crainte des représailles, ils lui réservent non seulement des signes de respect mais aussi des temples et des autels dédiés en son honneur et éparpillés un peu partout dans la forêt. Même avant de le tuer après sa capture, ils n’oublient pas non plus de lui rendre un dernier hommage en célébrant préalablement une cérémonie. Ils sont habitués à se comparer au tigre par le biais de la maxime suivante:

Hùm chết để da, người chết để tiếng.
Le tigre mort laisse sa peau et l’homme décédé sa réputation.

et à accorder au roi des animaux une vénération irréprochable. Malgré cela, l’animal préféré reste le dragon. Celui-ci fait partie des quatre animaux au pouvoir surnaturel (Tứ Linh) ( dragon ( rồng, long ), licorne ( lân ), tortue ( qui, rùa ) et phénix ( loan, phượng, phụng ) ) et occupe la première place. Il est l’animal emblématique choisi traditionnellement par l’empereur sur ses vêtements. Il passe aussi pour un élément clé de la mythologie Việt. Tout Vietnamien se croit fermement descendant de cet animal fabuleux et mythique. La licorne est synonyme du bonheur. Quant à la tortue, elle est non seulement le symbole de la longévité mais aussi celui de transmission des valeurs spirituelles dans la tradition vietnamienne. Sa présence a été citée maintes fois dans l’histoire du Viêt-Nam par le biais des légendes. (L’arbalète magique offerte par le génie de la tortue d’or au roi An Dương Vương dans la lutte contre le général chinois Triệu Ðà, la remise de l’épée au génie de la tortue d’or par le futur roi Lê Lợi après sa victoire éclatante sur les envahisseurs chinois, les Ming dans le lac Hồ Hoàn Kiếm). Le phénix s’identifie toujours à la beauté. On fait référence souvent à cet oiseau mythique dans le mariage. Pour décrire quelqu’un ayant le profil de fils du ciel (tướng thiên tử) on lui dit qu’il a le nez du dragon et les yeux de phénix ( mũi rồng mắt phượng ).

Pour séparer les amoureux, on a l’habitude de dire: Chia loan rẽ phượng. Loan est employé souvent pour faire allusion à un phénix femelle tandis que le vocable « phượng » est réservé pour un mâle.

Outre ces animaux mythiques, il y a un animal dont on a parlé souvent dans les annales vietnamiennes. C’est le dragon d’eau (ou con thuồng luồng). C’est un serpent ressemblant beaucoup à l’anguille, c’est ce qui a été décrit dans le dictionnaire de P. Génibrel. Pour se protéger contre les dragons d’eau, les Vietnamiens avaient l’habitude de se tatouer. Ils n’étaient pas ainsi reconnus différents et ils évitaient d’être tués par ces animaux au moment de leur pêche. Cette coutume disparut seulement sous le règne du roi Trần Anh Tôn lorsque celui-ci renonça lui-même à cette pratique. Le dragon d’eau est aussi le sujet du proverbe suivant:

Thuồng luồng không ở cạn
Le dragon d’eau ne vit pas dans les endroits où il y a peu d’eau.

pour dire que les gens de qualité ne fréquentent pas le petit peuple.

Dans les régions côtières, l’animal vénéré reste la baleine (ou cá voi, cá ông). Rien n’est surprenant de voir surgir dans chaque village longeant la côte, un autel réservé à ce mammifère. L’attachement profond des pêcheurs vietnamiens à ce cétacé est dû en grande partie aux bienfaits qu’il leur rend. 

Autel réservé à la baleine (Poulo Cham) (Cù Lao Chàm) 

autel_baleine

Au Vietnam, on fait attention aux signes avant-coureurs des phénomènes naturels en observant le comportement des créatures sauvages. Par le feulement du tigre à la recherche de la nourriture, le bramement sec et saccadé du cerf ou le cri de l’écureuil, on pourrait s’informer des changements climatiques (la venue de la pluie ou du vent venant du nord). Le hululement du coq des pagodes (chim bìm bịp) annonce la descente des crues. En voyant les fourmis de terre se hâter à construire de gros nids en terre sur les arbres longeant la berge du fleuve, on peut deviner que la montée des eaux serait imminente. Le chant injustifié du coq prévoit une mauvaise nouvelle. Le grignotement des souris dans la maison n’est pas non plus de bon augure. Le chuintement de la chouette ou du hibou près de la maison annonce la mort imminente du malade s’il y en a dans la maison. La chute de l’araignée accrochée au plafond est une marque d’infidélité dans le ménage. Le vol de la libellule au ras du sol ou en hauteur     signale la venue imminente de la pluie ou du soleil. C’est ce qui a été dit dans le petit dicton suivant:

Chuổn chuổn bay thấp thì mưa
Bay cao thì nắng, bay vừa thì râm

La libellule qui vole au ras du sol entraîne la pluie
En prenant de la hauteur, elle emmène le soleil et en volant à une altitude moyenne, elle ramène l’ombre.

On peut trouver une explication scientifique à ce dicton car la libellule possède comme le poisson une poche de vapeur permettant de réguler les altitudes de son vol en fonction de l’humidité de l’air. C’est l’application judicieuse de la poussée d’Archimède dans l’air à travers ce comportement. Cette superstition a été exploitée dans le passé avec ingéniosité par un grand nombre de dirigeants vietnamiens pour consolider leur légitimité dans la conquête du pouvoir. Elle devient aussi une arme redoutable et efficace dans la lutte contre les agresseurs étrangers. On peut dire qu’elle fut à cette époque ce qu’on a aujourd’hui avec la guerre de communication. La crédulité a été mise en évidence maintes fois dans l’histoire du Viêt-Nam. Pour faciliter l’accès au trône du jeune vertueux Lý Công Uẩn, le futur roi de la dynastie des Lý, le bonze érudit Vạn Hạnh, décida de marquer discrètement le mot « Thiên tử » (fils du ciel) sur le dos d’un chien blanc dans le village Cổ Pháp et de faire circuler la rumeur de l’apparition prochaine d’un nouveau roi né sous le signe astrologique du chien dans le courant de l’année du chien de métal pour ramener la paix au peuple. C’est pourquoi personne ne contesta la légitimité de Lý Công Uẩn le jour de sa prise de pouvoir et de son intronisation dans l’année du chien (Canh Tuất 1010) sous la pression de son adjoint Ðào Cam Mộc et de ses proches dirigés par le bonze Vạn Hạnh car on pensa que tout était décidé à l’avance et qu’il était envoyé par le ciel pour devenir roi. Il était né sous le signe du chien de bois (Giáp Tuất ) en 974. Pour mettre la capitale à l’abri des caprices du fleuve rouge, Lý Công Uẩn, sur les conseils des géomanciens, avait l’intention de déplacer la capitale à Thăng Long (ou Hà Nội plus tard). Pour ce transfert, il fut obligé de faire croire à son peuple qu’il a vu un dragon d’or s’envoler de cette localité dans le songe. Cela lui permit de neutraliser pacifiquement toute idée de contestation et de révolte. De même, plusieurs siècles plus tard, rien n’était étonnant de voir l’édification d’une histoire prodigieuse, d’une légende sur le personnage de Lê Lợi , un riche fermier Mường à Lam Sơn, dans le but d’unifier tout le peuple vietnamien face à son destin et d’empêcher toutes les velléités de soumission dans la lutte contre les envahisseurs chinois ( les Ming ). Ce fut aussi la résistance organisée par un Vietnamien d’origine Mường pour la première fois dans l’histoire du Viêt-Nam. On réussit à faire croire au peuple qu’avant la naissance de Lê Lơi, il y avait un tigre noir fréquentant les alentours de son village. Dès sa naissance, on ne vit plus apparaître ce tigre. On attribua ainsi à Lê Lơi la réincarnation de ce roi des animaux. C’est Nguyễn Trãi, son conseiller politique et militaire qui l’a décrit dans son ouvrage « Lam Sơn Thực Lục » dans les termes suivants: 

Vua Lê vai tả có bảy nốt ruồi, long lá đầy người, tiếng như chuông lớn, ngồi như hổ ….
Le roi Lê ayant sur son épaule gauche 7 boutons, son corps poilu, sa voix retentissant comme une cloche, s’assoit comme un tigre …

C’est aussi à Nguyễn Trãi l’idée géniale de faire circuler le message suivant gravé sur les feuilles à l’aide des cure-dents et du miel. Ce texte était rongé ensuite au fil des mois par les fourmis à cause de l’odeur du miel:

Lê Lợi vì dân, Nguyễn Trãi vì thân
Lê Lợi pour le peuple, Nguyễn Trãi pour Lê Lợi

dans le but de montrer au petit peuple que la volonté venait de Dieu lui-même et que Lê Lợi était désigné comme le seul héritier légitime dans la lutte contre les envahisseurs Ming.

Pour faire disparaître l’affliction visible d’un grand nombre de gens devant le sort réservé aux adversaires de Gia Long , en particulier à la famille du roi Quang Trung (décapitation de son fils, le roi Cảnh Thinh, déterrement de sa tombe, supplice infligé à tous ses partisans et ses proches par le biais de piétinement des éléphants) et pour légitimer sa prise de pouvoir, beaucoup de légendes autour de Gia Long ont été mises en plein jour. C’est d’abord l’histoire de sa rencontre avec son jeune général eunuque Lê Văn Duyệt. Connu pour son courage et sa force, celui-ci menait jusqu’alors une vie cachée et réservée avec sa mère dans un coin refoulé du Sud Viêt-Nam. Il n’hésita pas à tuer tous ceux qui osaient le déranger. Ayant connu sa réputation et poursuivi sans relâche par les Tây Sơn (les paysans de l’Ouest), Nguyễn Ánh, le futur empereur Gia Long décida d’aller le voir et voulut se lier d’amitié avec lui. Accompagné par son subordonné Nguyễn Văn Thành, il trouva sa maison mais Lê Văn Duyệt y fut absent à ce moment. Sa mère les invita à déjeuner et leur demanda de se retirer immédiatement car elle connaissait bien le caractère de son fils. En voyant des étrangers dans la maison, celui-ci n’hésitait pas à les tuer. Face à la résolution de Nguyễn Ánh de vouloir rencontrer son fils, elle fut obligée de les héberger cette nuit là. En rentrant à la maison, Lê Văn Duyệt fut énervé par la présence des étrangers. Mais il s’aperçut que le jeune homme était entouré par un serpent dont la tête était adossée contre sa poitrine. Troublé par cette protection divine, il demanda timidement à sa mère: Qui est cette personne protégée par le serpent? Surprise par cette question, celle-ci revint dans la chambre où le jeune Nguyễn Ánh dormait. Elle ne trouva aucun serpent. Il n’y avait que Lê Văn Duyệt qui a vu cette scène. Pour ce dernier, il n’y avait plus de doute qu’il était en face d’un personnage hors du commun et sous la protection divine. Il alla le réveiller et lui demanda ses nouvelles. Lê Văn Duyệt devint de ce jour l’un de ses meilleurs et brillants fidèles dans la reconquête du pouvoir. D’après l’érudit français Léopold Cadière, l’animal fabuleux ressemblant au dragon trouvé sur le costume impérial de Gia Long ou sur le palier de son trône évoquerait probablement la protection du serpent dont Nguyễn Ánh bénéficia durant ses années de vicissitudes. Une autre fois, pour aller se réfugier dans l’île de Phú Quốc, Nguyễn Ánh a failli être capturé par les Tây Sơn si son bateau n’avait pas été retenu et gêné par la présence d’une bande de crocodiles. Intrigué par cet augure, il s’agenouilla à l’avant de son bateau et invoqua le Ciel :

S’il y a des ennemis qui veulent me tendre un piège mortel à l’entrée du fleuve Ông Ðốc, vous me faites signe en faisant disparaître et réapparaître ces crocodiles trois fois de suite sinon vous me laissez partir maintenant car le temps est tellement précieux pour moi.

Effectivement, la disparition et la réapparition de ces reptiles eurent lieu trois fois de suite. Témoin de ce phénomène inhabituel répondant à son exaucement, il renonça à partir. Pour être sûr de la présence de ses ennemis, un éclaireur fut envoyé sur-le-champ. Il n’y eut plus de doute que ses ennemis l’attendaient en surnombre ce jour là. Si on ne sait pas que Nguyễn Ánh serait sous la protection divine ou non, on constate qu’à travers ces récits historiques, il était un jeune prince très courageux et intrépide. Il fut poursuivi une fois par ses ennemis. Il fut obligé de traverser le fleuve à la nage malgré la présence d’un grand nombre de crocodiles. Il dut recourir au buffle qui pataugeait au bord du fleuve pour entreprendre la traversée.

L’homme vietnamien est né avec cette croyance. Sans celle-ci, il lui paraît difficile de surmonter les difficultés journalières rencontrées dans un environnement inhospitalier où la fatalité est de mise. Si la superstition porte quelque image de la pusillanimité, elle reste néanmoins une arme efficace dont l’homme vietnamien ne manque pas l’occasion de se servir pour forger son destin et réaliser son dessein. Il ne se laisse pas entraîner trop dans l’esprit cartésien pour réfuter tout ce qui appartient à l’héritage de croyances de son peuple. 

Lotus (Hoa Sen)

lotus

 
  French version
  Vietnamese version

No aquatic plant causes the admiration of the Vietnamese as much as the lotus. In addition to its buddhist emblem, the lotus is synonymous to purity, beauty and serenity. The lotus differs from the other aquatic plants not only by the grace of its flower both simple and distinguished  but also by the richness of the traditions which accompany it in Asia, in particular in Vietnam. In this country, it forms part of the four noble plants ( Tứ Qúi ): mai (plum tree), liên (lotus), cúc (chrysanthemum), trúc (bamboo) used in the representation of the four seasons (Tứ Thì).

 

 

In the Vietnamese art, the landscape is often built according to an ancient immutable diagram (Cổ Ðiển). This one determines the elements, in particular the characters to be put in the scene. One often finds an artistic symbiosis, an insoluble association of plant and animal in the small vietnamese paintings. This is why the lotus is always associated with a duck (Liên Áp). It is rare to find it associated with another animal unless the artist does not respect traditional conventions. The lotus is known in vietnamese with its flower under the  name « Hoa Sen or Liên Hoa « . It is part of the Nymphaeceae family and known under the scientific name of Nelumbo Nucifera or Nelumbium Speciosum. It is found everywhere in Vietnam (ponds, pools, parks, rivers etc.). It is also present in the pagodas and temples for the purpose of calming the fervors of the bonzes and to allow the visitor to feel carried furtively into nothingness thanks to the light scent released by its flowers. It develops easily and adapts to all surroundings. It contributes to the thriving of the aquatic life by purifying all dirty and muddy water that it colonizes, which makes it the symbol of a man of confucius quality (junzi). This latter, no matter where he lives, continues to remain faithful to himself, to maintain his purity in the middle of corruption. He does not let himself be contaminated by the vices of society as the lotus manages to destroy all the stench of its environment thanks to its flagrant flowers.

It is for that reason that in the Vietnamese poetry there is a poem dedicated to the man of confucian quality through the image of the lotus:

Chung quanh cành trắng, giữa chen nhị vàng
Nhị vàng cành trắng lá xanh,
Gần bùn mà chẳng hôi tanh mùi bùn

What can be more beautiful than the lotus in the pond?
Green leaves, white flowers, yellow stamen
Gold stamen, white flowers, green leaves
Though close to the stinking mud, it does not smell its odor.

To evoke the quality of this man or the lotus, one often says in vietnamese: Cư trần bất nhiễm trần (or in English Live in the society without being contaminated by its vices.)

The lotus has other qualities which enable it to belong to the chinese and vietnamese noble plants. It is what has inspired a Chinese Zen Buddhist sect known under the name  » Pháp Hoa Tông  » at the period of Tang to give birth to the doctrine  » Diệu Pháp Liên Hoa Tông « .  This one was  based only on the worship of life in relying upon the quality of the lotus. One found at that time in this sect the bonze poets Phong Cang and Thập Ðắc as famous as Lý Thái Bạch (Li Tai Bai) (1) , Bạch Cư Dị ( Bai Juji )(2). This sect whose pagoda was in Hàn Sơn in the neighborhoods of the city Cô Tô cultivated only the lotus in its ponds. It thought that one could find peace in the heart and free oneself from reincarnation and the fires of concupiscence while depending on this doctrine which borrowed from the lotus the character:

  • carefree (Vô ưu). Its scent allows the one who has the occasion to sniff it to find peace and serenity. According to the Forefathers, it is an antiaphrodisiac plant like lettuce.
  • adaptable (Tùy thuận). It can grow everywhere even on an arid soil.
  • odoriferous (Cư trần bất nhiễm trần ). It does not let itself influenced by the stench of the environment where it grows but it continues to release its scent according to the intensity of light.
  • specific to the level of reproduction.(Vô cấu ). It has a mechanism which is unique to itself for the vegetative multiplication. There is no formation of gametes. Its flower is exceptional by its size, by the hard and waxy consistency of its petals and by its perfume whose intensity varies during the day. A lotus flower only lives four days. The Japanese describe this blossoming in the following way: the first day, the flower has the shape of a bottle of saké, the second day that of a cup of saké, the third day that of a soup bowl and the fourth day, that of a saucer. Gradually, its fruit is formed and resembles a reversed cone or rather the head of a watering can. Its higher plane face is supplied with a score of cells containing seeds. It is detached from its stalk at maturity and its higher face disaggregates in contact with water with the passing days. That makes it possible to release and convey seeds far from the place of flowering. Its seeds heavier than water stick fast in the mud and take root.

That makes it possible for the young buds  to sprout as they already carry seeds at the time of their formation. This is why the Vietnamese say the following about the lotus: Nhân quả đồng hành to mean that the seed is made at the same time as the fruit. Buddha (3) was accustomed to using the lotus to name the person who has succeeded in freeing himself completely from concupiscence because the latter is the source of all human sufferings (duhkha) and of successive reincarnations.

The lotus is often visible in the vietnamese art, in particular in buddhist architecture. The motif that identifies the lotus in the decoration always has eight petals indicating the eight cardinal points and reproduces the mandala, geometrical and symbolic representation of the Buddhist Universe.

In the Vietnamese pharmacopea, the lotus seeds are used in the treatment of diarrhea, dysentery, erotic dreams. These seeds are considered sleeping pills when they are eaten raw and in great quantity. The consumer can fall asleep rapidly if he absorbs the green germ found in the middle of the seed. Formerly, the young vietnamese boys were accustomed to offering lotus flowers to declare their feelings to their beloved. One also finds candied lotus seeds and tea aromatized with lotus in all the traditional festivals of Vietnam, in particular that of Tết without forgetting to note for the epicurians in the art of vietnamese cooking that there is a delicious dish, the lotus salad.

The land of legends as is our Vietnam was plunged into war, injustice and corruption. Any Vietnamese in love with peace, justice and freedom always cherishes the hope to see that one day his country find serenity, splendor and dignity in the image of purity of this aquatic plant.

Its grace was evoked by the king poet Lê Thánh Tôn in his poem Hoa Sen at the time when Vietnam was at the height of its glory and radiance:

Nỏn nà sắc nước nhờ duyên nước
Ngào ngạt hương thơm nức dặm Trời ..

The lotus flower is of a beautiful whiteness and perspicacious thanks to the contribution of water
Its penetrating fragrance is spread into the sky.


(1) Li Bai, one of the famous chinese poets of the time of the emperor of Tang Xuanzong. ( 701-762).
(2) The great chinese poet of the time of Tang (772-846)
(3) Siddhârta Gautama ( Cồ Ðàm Tất Ðạt Ða ).

 

Flowers in the Vietnamese culture (Những loài hoa trong nền văn hóa Việtnam)

French version

Vietnamese versionimg_6909

 

In their cultural tradition, the Vietnamese attach a great importance to flowers. One notes their marked preference for the names of the flowers in the choice of the feminine first names . There is even an anecdote on the first name that great king Lý Thánh Tôn of the dynasty of Lý has chosen for his imperial concubine Ỷ Lan known later under the name Linh Nhân Hoàng Hậu. One day, on his way back to the capital, the king was greeted by jubilant villagers. He realized that there was a young country girl of extraordinary beauty who kept looking timidly at him while leaning against a magnolia. Desirous of knowing her, he made her come in front of him. Taken by her beauty and intelligence, the king asked her to marry him and gave her the name « Ỷ Lan » (Ỷ Lan means leaning against a magnolia). She was known later in the history of Vietnam as one of the greatest queens to take up several social projects for disinherited and women.

Những loại hoa được yêu trong nền văn hóa Việtnam

To immortalize the affliction they continue to bear for their daughter-in-law, from then on, they forbade their close relations and subjects to use the word Hoa not only in the choice of given names but also in the naming of public buildings. Because of that prohibition, the Ðông Hoa market in Hue became the central market Ðông Ba. The province Thanh Hoá was from then on called Thanh Hoa. The bridge stretching across the Thi Nghe river in Saigon changed its name to Cầu Bông from the name Hoa Bắc. However « Hoa » is the word the most used in Nguyễn Du’s Kim Vân Kiều, the masterpiece of Vietnamese literature. Without counting the name of the flowers evoked, one can come up with an inventory of at least 130 verses containing the word « Hoa ». Moreover, this word appears in a great number of terms having the connotation of flower in the Vietnamese literature.

Hoa diện, mặt hoa : blossoming face ( To have a beautiful face )
Hoa chúc: Flower of the torch ( the lamp in the nuptial room)
Hoa niên: Flower of Age ( youth )
Hoa tay: To have the pulp of the fingers in the form of a flower ( To be very adroit )
Số đào hoa: To be born under the peach flower star ( To be liked by women )
Nguoi tài hoa: Man of talent to the image of a flower ( To be talented and distinguished)
Hoa tai : Flower of the ear ( Earring )
Hoa đèn: Flower of the lamp ( coal of the wick of an oil lamp)
Hoa khôi: Flower of first rank (To be the most beautiful girl, also attributed to the plum flower or that of a lotus )
Hoa đá: Stone flower ( Coral )
Hoa vương: Queen of flowers ( Peony)

 

 

Concerning the stone flower, there is an anecdote recalling the episode when Vietnam was troubled by ceaseless internal wars between the two ruling families, the Trinh and the Nguyễn. It was one of the practical jokes of a mandarin named Trạng Quỳnh serving lord Trinh Cương and frequently known under the pseudonym Cống Quỳnh or Trạng Quỳnh. Lord Trịnh Cương was very greedy. He only thought of living in opulence and debauchery. That was why Cống Quỳnh tried to bring him back to reason and wisdom. He told him that he knew how to prepare a very delicious little dish called Hoa đá (Stone flower).

Lord Trinh Cương asked him to prepare it. But he told the lord that he must wait for at least two days to be able to taste that dish because he had to simmer it during that time. Lord Trinh Cương accepted this proposal. Back home, he ordered his servants to go to the store and get edible algaes and simmer them in water. Famished by this long wait, the lord Trinh recognized that the dish prepared by Cống Quỳnh was delicious even though it only contained vegetables after having tasted it.

One found some classical famous novels bearing the name of flowers. It is the case of Nhị Ðộ Mai (Twice blossoming plum tree) and Hoa Tiên (Flowery Loose Sheets). The first one was written in Nôm with two thousand eight hundred twenty Six-Eight verses and adapted from a Chinese work. It is the story about king fidelity, filial piety, loyalty, gratitude and love. As for the second novel, it was composed by the learned Nguyễn Huy Tự.This novel comprises more than eight hundred verses written in Six-Eight feet (lục bát). It is the first Vietnamese romantic poem and still remaining within the Confucian thought.

Despite a great variety of flower species found on this land of legends, the Vietnamese do not hide their preference to certain plants. They do not hesitate to classify some in the category of noble plants. Among those, one can quote:

Mai(Plum)
Lan (Magnolia)
Cúc (Chrysanthemum)
Sen (Lotus)
Mẫu đơn (Peony)
Hoa hồng (Rose)

These plants or their flowers have each one a particular and ethical signification and the Vietnamese tradition. The plum tree ( mai ) is the symbol of a superior man. It succeeds in resisting the cold and bad weather and continues to bloom in February, which allows it to symbolize the Spring in the representation of the four seasons (Tứ Thì). At the occasion of Têt, for a Vietnamese, there is never a lack on the altar of some branches of plum trees (or cherry) in bloom that are selected so that the flowers hatch during the festival. The plum flower is very much adored by learned and intellectual Vietnamese. An independent man of character like Cao Bá Quát who did not bow to mandarinal servitude had to admit to only bending his head before the plum flower during his lifetime.

Nhất sinh đê thủ bái hoa mai
Suốt đời chỉ cúi đầu trước hoa mai

All my life, I curve only my head in front of the flower of plum tree.

Another learned man Ðào Tấn, the father of stage productions of the Bình Ðịnh region in Central Vietnam, also nourished the hope to die one day near plum trees. That is why, while living, he chose (Mộng Mai) (Dream of Plum Flowers) as his pseudonym and had the occasion to reveal his state of heart in the two verses found in one of his poems:

Núi mai rồi giữ xương Mai nhé
Uớc mộng hồn ta là đóa Mai

It is the mountain of the plum trees where will be buried my skeleton of plum tree.
I continue to dream that my soul would be the flower of plum tree.

 

It was not an utopia for him because at his death (July 1907), he was buried at mount Huynh Mai, not too far from a plum garden which is a few kilometers away. Contrary to the Chinese, they are the plum and lotus flowers which are more appreciated than the peony. That’s why they are called Hoa Khôi (Flowers of first rank)
One has a preference for the plum tree because the lotus is rather reserved to Buddhism although it is also the symbol of a man of Confucian quality (junzi). It was the plant chosen by the learned Mạc Ðỉnh Chi to reveal his extraordinary talent and genius when king Trần Anh Tôn hesitated to appoint him « First Doctor » finding him too ugly at the time of diploma delivery. To convince the king, he compared himself to a lotus in a jade well by composing in front of the king the poem entitled «  Ngọc Liên Tỉnh Phú  » (Lotus in a a jade well) ».

Giống quý ấy ta đây có sẳn
Tay áo nầy ta chứa đã lâu
Phải đâu đào, lý thô màu
Phải đâu mai, trúc dãi dầu tuyết sương
Cũng không phải tăng phường câu kỷ
Cũng không là Lạc Thủy mẫu đan
Cũng không là cúc, là lan
Chính là sen ở giếng vàng đầu non

That precious species I already possess
In this coat sleeve I kept it for a long time
It is neither peach nor cherry whose color is gross
It is neither plum tree nor bamboo exposed to snow and dew
It is even not berry whose scent is to be avoided
It is not the peony from Lac Thủy(1)
It is neither chrysanthemum nor magnolia
But it is the lotus in the golden well on top of the mountain.

Mạc Ðỉnh Chi had the occasion to compose a funeral oration in honor of disappearance of a Mongol princess when he was sent to China as the Ambassador of Vietnam. That day, before the imperial court, one gave him a sheet of paper on which there were four lines, each one began with a single word « one » (một ). It was up to him to compose a poem by completing the lines to render a great homage in memory of that princess. Imperturbable, he succeeded in doing it with the surprise and admiration of all the Mongol imperial court by designating the princess like a flower:

Lò hồng môt giọt tuyết
Vườn thượng uyển môt cành hoa
Cung quảng hàn (2) một vầng nguyệt
Than ôi! Mây tan! Tuyết tiêu!
Hoa tàn! Trăng khuyết !

One cluster of clouds in the blue sky
One flake of snow on the rose beam
One flower in the imperial garden
One lunar disk in the Moon palace
Alas! Cloud disappears! Snow melts!
The flower wilts! The moon is incomplete !

As for the chrysanthemum, it is not only the monopoly of the Autumn but also the symbol of serenity and the indifference of people to honors and glory. Analogous to the flower of plum tree, the magnolia is the symbol of feminine beauty. It often designates a young girl in poetical compositions. Although the peony is seen as a noble flower, it does not have a significant range than it continues to have in China. Probably because of the Chinese influence, one continues to keep that custom. The peony is often evoked in Vietnamese ornamental art or in legends (The story of the mandarin Từ Thức and the fairy Giáng Hương for example).

As for the rose, it is the symbol of love and affection. To understand the value and the range of significance that the Vietnamese give to this flower, we should read the novel « Bông Hô`ng Cài A’o ( A rose pinned on the coat ) » of the Vietnamese zen monk Thi’ch Nhâ’t Hạnh. He attempts to remind us through his narration that everyone of us has a unique mother that we neglect to think of because of the ups and downs in life. We often forget that if everyone of us still has a mother today, that is because God has left an invaluable treasure with us. We still have the chance to be able to love her and show her our affection. For that, we can continue to pin a rose on our coats because we alone still have that immense, intimate and indescribable joy that lots of people no longer had long time ago.

Not long ago on this land of legends, one could not see white myrtle flowers (Hoa Sim) laid by young girls on the tomb of their lovers who had fallen valiantly in the defense of their ideal and fatherland. They did not have the chance to see peace coming back some day. They did not have the occasion to pin a rose on their coats even when their mothers were still alive. It is for these valiant people that all the Vietnamese want to offer a rose for the love they have always had for this land. They want to show them their sincere affection and profound gratitude. Without the bravery, sacrifice, and the nobility of soul of these people, Vietnam would not have been able to retain its independence, its cultural identity, its millennial traditions.

 


(1) Lạc Thủy : a river known in China.
(2) Cung quảng hàn : the  mythical  Chinese palace  found on the moon.
(3): An anecdote on the chrysanthemum of Luoyang  with  Wu Ze Tian empress ( Võ Tắc Thiên) of  Tang dynasty.
 

The challenge (Thách Thức)

defi

 

French version

The challenge

This word is not unfamiliar to the Vietnamese. On the contrary, it is synonymous to perseverance, resistance, ingenuity and confrontation for these frail people whose feet have been burried in the rice fields’ mud since the dawn of time. They never stop at taking up, from generation to generation, the challenge incessantly imposed by the excesses of a harsh and inhospitable nature and by the Midle Empire, their big brother and hereditary enemy at the border. The Vietnamese dedicated to the latter a surprising admiration but at the same time pledged an implacable resistance in the goal of keeping their national independence and cultural traits. China has many times tried to assimilate Vietnam during its millennial domination but it succeeded in blurring the particularities without making them disappear completely. It was quick to be aware of that, because on any favorable occasion, the Vietnamese displayed their resistance and difference. They even tried to confront the Chinese in the field of literature. That has been reported in a great number of accounts that keep on to be plentiful up until now in the history of Vietnamese literature.

According to what was said, after having succeeded in putting down the revolt of the two sisters Trưng Trắc Trưng Nhị and pacifying Giao Chỉ ( ancient country of the Viet ), Chinese General Ma Viện( MaYuan ) of the Han dynasty erected in 43 at the Sino-Vietnamese border a pillar several meters high bearing the following notice:

Ðồng trụ triệt, Giao Chỉ diệt
Ðồng trụ ngã, Giao Chỉ bị diệt.

Vietnam would disappear forever with the fall of this pillar.

To avoid the pillar’s fall, the Vietnamese tried to strengthen it by throwing, as they walked by, a piece of soil around that huge column, and thus progressively helped in building a mound making the mythical pillar disappear.

To be ironic about the Vietnamese’s fear and worry of losing their country, the Ming emperor did not hesitate to use unfriendly terms to arrogantly tell the Vietnamese envoy Giang Văn Minh ( 1582-1639 ) during a reception:

Ðồng trụ chí kim đài dĩ lục

This Bronze pillar is now buried in green moss

to remind Giang Văn Minh of the putting down of the Trung sisters’ revolt and the pacifiaction of his country by the Chinese. Remaining unruffled, Giang Văn Minh responded with a surprising insight and an energetic and courageous determination:

Ðằng giang tự cổ huyết do hồng
That Ðằng river was then blended with red blood.

This was not the first time such a litterary competition took place. Under the reign of king Lê Ðại Hành ( The Great Expediter ), monk Lạc Thuận had an opportunity to catch the admiration of Chinese ambassador Li Jiao ( Lý Giác ) whom he helped cross the river by posing as a boatman.

He was quick to complete the four-versed poem started first by Li Jiao who saw two wild geese playing on the water wave crests:

Ngỗng ngỗng hai con ngỗng
Ngữa mặt nhìn trời xanh
Goose, goose, the two geese
Looking up the blue sky they tease

by the following two verses:

Nước biếc phô lông trắng
Chèo hồng sóng xanh khua

Bluish green water contrasts white feather
Showing pink feet splitting blue waves over.

It is shown not only the rapidity of monk Lac Thuan’s improvisation but also his ingenuity of placing in parallel the ideas and the words to be used in this four-versed poem.
But obviously credits on the confrontation finally go to to the learned Mạc Ðỉnh Chi because he knew how to show during his stay in China his capability of resistance and his talent of knowing how to cleverly answer all questions s and avoid all traps. He was sent to China (1314) by king Trần Anh Tôn after the latter had defeated the army of Kubilai Khan’s Mongols with general Trần Hưng Ðạo. Because of an unexpected delay, he could not show up on time at the gate of the fort at the Sino-Vietnamese border. The mandarin in charge of the supervision of the fort agreed to open the gate if f only Mạc Ðỉinh Chi could appropriately parallel the mandarin’s sentence containing 4 words « quan ».

Quá quan trì, quan quan bế,
nguyện quá khách quá quan
Qua cữa quan chậm, cữa quan đóng,
mời khách qua đường qua cữa quan.

Late at passing the gate, the mandarin gate is closed,
Passing pedestrian please pass the gate.

Unruffled at this litterary challenge, he replied to the mandarin with a surprising ease by the following sentences:

Xuất đối dị, đối đối nan, thỉnh tiên sinh tiên đối.
Ra câu đối dễ, đối câu đối khó
xin tiên sinh đối trước

Easy to pose the sentence, difficult to parallel it.
Parallel sentence poser please pose first.

It is noted that in this reply, there are not only the word « đối » that is repeated 4 times in parallel with the word « quan », but also the virtuosity of respecting the rhymes and the rules in composing parallel sentences by Mạc Ðỉnh Chi in his verses while making it known to the mandarin the situation he was tangled up with. This enormously pleased the Chinese mandarin who was quick to to open the fort gate and greet him with great pomp. This incident was reported to the Peking court and was fast to bring desire to the best Chinese learned mandarins to measure up with him in literary field.

One day, he was riding his mule in the capital city of Peking. The mule did not go fast enough, which annoyed a Chinese mandarin who followed him on his way. Irritated by the disturbing slowliness, the mandarin turn to him saying with an arrogant and contemptuous tone:

Xúc ngã ky mã, đông di chi nhân dã, Tây di chi nhân dã?
Chạm ngựa ta đi là người rợ phương Ðông hay là người rợ phương Tây?

Slowing my horse is the barbarian from the East or from the West?

That mandarin took what he had learned in the book Mencius ( Mạnh Tử )(1) to refer to the barbarians, those who do not possess the same culture of the Midle Empire by using the words « đông di ». Surprised by the hurting remark while he knew that China was at that time governed by by the nomad tribes, the Mongols, Mạc Ðĩnh Chi replied with his black humor:

 

Át dư thừa lư, Nam Phương chi cường dư, Bắc phương chi cường dư
Ngăn lừa ta cưởi, hỏi người phương Nam mạnh hay người phương Bắc mạnh?

Impeding my mule is the strong people from the North or from the South?

Mạc Ðỉnh Chi also took what he had learned from the book Trung Dung (2) to remind the mandarin that he was not sure that the people from the North were stronger than those from the South. The mandarin turned pale of shame and was so vexed by the spirited and spontaneous reply that he was forced to drive off. Another time, in a discussion with Mạc Ðỉnh Chi and wanting to know his character, the Yuan emperor read him the following phrase:

Nhật hỏa, vân yên, bạch đáng thiêu tàn ngọc thỏ
Mặt trời là lửa, mây là khói, ban ngày đốt cháy vần trăng

Daytime, the sun being fire, the clouds being smoke burn up the moon.

The emperor wanted to show his power by comparing himself with the sun and in making it known to Mạc Ðỉnh Chi that Vietnam is comparable to the moon would soon be wiped out and dominated. Unruffled, Mac Ðỉnh Chi replied in firm and courageous terms:

Nguyệt cung, kim đạn, hoàng hôn xa lạc kim ô
Trăng là cung, sao là đạn, chiều tối bắn rơi mặt trời.

Nightime, the moon being crossbow, the stars being projectiles shoot down the sun.

Thus the Yuan emperor Kubilai Khan ( Nguyên Thê’ Tổ ) had to recognize his talent and granted him the title  » ( Lưỡng Quốc Trạng Nguyên  » ( Doctor of both countries ) for China as well as for Vietnam. this rendered some Chinese mandarins jealous. One of them tried to humiliate him one day by treating him as a bird because of the tone of the monosyllabic language; the Vietnamese give the impression of chirping when they speak:

Quích tập chi đầu đàm Lỗ luận: tri tri vi tri chi, bất tri vi bất tri, thị tri
Chim đậu cành đọc sách Lỗ luận: biết thì báo là biết, chẳng biết thì báo chảng biết, ấy là biết đó.

Birds gather on the branch to study the book Dialogs: What we know we say we know, what we don’t we say we don’t, we know it though.

It was a way to recommend Mac Ðĩnh Chi to show more humility and to behave like a man of Confucian quality ( junzi ). Mac Ðĩnh Chi replied in treating him like a frog because the Chinese have the habit of clicking the tongue when drinking and speaking loudly:

Oa minh trì thượng đọc Châu Thư: lạc dữ đọc lạc nhạc, lạc dữ chúng lạc nhạc, thục lạc.
Châu chuộc trên ao đọc sách Châu Thu: cùng ít người vui nhạc, cùng nhiều người vui nhạc, đằng nào vui hơn.

Frogs assemble in the pond to learn the work Chou Ching : they enjoy blaring alone, they enjoy blaring together, they’re blaring anyhow.
It’s a way to recommend the Chinese mandarin to have a keen mind in order to be able to have the right behavior and a more fair judgment.

In spite of the literary confrontation, Mac Ðĩnh Chi was very much appreciated in China. He was assigned by the Yuan emperor to write the funeral oration in honor of the passing away of a Mongolian princess. Due to the respect that the Chinese traditionally maintained toward talented Vietnamese people, especially the scholars having unprecedented erudition and keen minds, the learned Nguyễn Trãi was saved in extremis by the great steward Houang Fou ( Hoàng Phúc ). He was seen by Chinese generalissimo Tchang Fou ( Trương Phụ ) as a captive to be eliminated, a dangerous and harmful to the Chinese politics of expansion in Vietnam. He was retained by Tchang Fou during his stay at Ðồng Quang ( ancien name of Capital Hà-Nội before he could join the cotton clothed hero Lê Lợi later at Lam Sơn. Without the magnanimous and protective gesture of the eunuch Hoang Fou, Lê Lợi would not have been able to defeat the Ming because it was Nguyễn Trãi, the godsent adviser and eminent strategist that Lê Lợi relied upon to run the guerilla during his ten years struggle against the Chinese.

This literary confrontation began to blurr progressively with the arrival of the French in Vietnam and stopped definitively when emperor Khải Ðịnh decided to put an end to the Vietnamese system of mandarinal contest up until then copied from the Chinese one and based essentially on the Four Classics (3) and the Five Cannons (4) of the wise Confucius (Tứ Thư Ngũ Kinh).

intro1

The last mandarinal contest was organized at Huế in 1918. Another system of recruitment in the French way was proposed at the colonial l period. From then on, Vietnam has no longer the opportunity to measure up literarily with China and to show her its difference, its intellectual resistance and its cultural traits.


(1) : Jou philosophy of first plan of 4th century B.C.
(2) : The Middle-Of-The-Road, one of the basic works of Chinese education.
(3) : The Great Studies, ( Ðại Ho.c ), Middle-Of-The-Road ( Trung Dung ), Dialogs ( Luận Ngữ ) and Mencius’s Book ( ( Sách Mạnh Tử ).
(4):The Book of Odes ( Kinh Thi ), The Historic Documents( Kinh Thư ), The Book of Mutations ( Kinh Dịch ) The Rites( Kinh Lễ ), Springs and Autumn ( Kinh Xuân Thu ).