Being Confucianist (English version)

French version

Being confucianist

Vietnamese society is profoundly influenced by Confucianism that was introduced to Vietnam in the era of a long Chinese domination (111 B.C. – 939 A.D.). Therefore Vietnamese people have absorbed more or less the concepts prescribed by the wise Confucius in « The Canonical Book« . Must be done what appears on a moral viewpoint just and appropriate taking into account the Five Relations ( Ngũ Luân ) upon which rests the Vietnamese society: relation between the king and subjects, father and son, husband and wife, elder and younger brothers, friend and friend.

Thanks to this doctrine, a Vietnamese bestows great importance to his family that he always considers as a moral training ground and strongly attaches himself to the forces of the land and his ancestors.

This allows the Vietnamese society to find not only a cohesion but also a consolidation, deep roots and an efficiency to overcome foreign powers in the most difficult and crucial moments of the history of Vietnam. Society is considered on a large scale by Vietnamese as an extension of the family circle. A confucianist Vietnamese never neglects his filial piety, respect of elderly people, ideal of loyalty, friendship and honor.

In order to understand the Vietnamese soul, gentleness should be taken. Generally speaking, a Vietnamese is stripped of his aggressiveness except when someone makes him lose face, in particular his honor. Forgiveness is something very Vietnamese. Those are quintessential traits of the Vietnamese people depicted by the Vietnamese Bob Dylan Trịnh Công Sơn. Honor is one of the qualities a confucianist Vietnamese tries to conserve until the end of his life. The jade that melts can conserve its whiteness, the consumed bamboo still keeps its stem straight. Individual existence is very light compared to that of honor. Those are the sentences that sum up the state of mind of the confucianist Vietnamese.

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It is the case of general Võ Tánh who, despite the recommendations of his brother-in-law Gia Long to flee, preferred to take sacrifice in 1801 by jumping in a building full of gun powder to defend not only is honor but also the lives of his soldiers facing the powerfully equipped Tây Sơn army immobilized because of the siege at Qui Nhơn, which allowed emperor Gia Long to claim at Phú Xuân (Huế) a thunderous and decisive victory. But the one who illustrated well the confucianist Vietnamese remains the hero Trần Hưng Ðạo. One finds in this general all the qualities of a man of ren (ren includes all virtues prescribed by Confucius in the Canonical Book.

His father, Trần Liễu was the brother of King Trần Thái Tôn. The latter had no children. To consolidate and perpetuate the dynasty, the prime minister Trần Thủ Ðộ did not hesitate to force the Princess Thuận Thiên, the concubine of Trần Hung Ðạo’s father, pregnant for three months, to marry the King. Outraged, his father Trần Liễu told him at the time of agony:

If you couldn’t avenge this offense and to take the throne, I wouldn’t never happy in the land of Sources.

It challenged not the words but never took into account the recommendations of his father. However, one day, to determine the intentions of his children, he asked again their opinion about it. His younger son encouraged him to usurp the throne. He prohibited his son from seeing him until the end of his life after failing to kill this latter on the field. Very pious, he learned that his father had told him, but he tried to leave aside the personal interests to act in accordance with the interests of the nation.

His loyalty toward the king was without failure . On a beautiful day, during an excursion with the king in a jonc, having in his hand a baton whose end bore a sharp piece of metal, he did not hesitate to take it off to show the king his loyalty. It was he who reassured the king to continue the struggle against the Mongols and not to surrender by telling him: « If you want to surrender, you must first behead me« . Thanks to his courage, determination, tenacity and magnanimity, Vietnam succeeded in getting out victor two times in a row against the Mongolian army of Kubilai Khan in 1257 and 1267.

He never took advantage of his military command to grant favor to anybody. He left it to the king to take care of when he was commander in chief of the Vietnamese army. He exerted his power with equal fairness on everyone, big or small. He is perfectly close to the man of ren. It is also thanks to him that Confucianism at his time reached its highest point and thus became the sole model of organization of state and of the Vietnamese society.

In spite of that, Confucianism is blamed for keeping the people in particular women in permanent status of submissiveness and for being one of the causing factors of inertia that works largely to the advantage of the leading class and stifles enterprise spirit and any reforms needed for progress, which provoked at the beginning of 20th century serious and catastrophic consequences for Vietnam with the fall of the Nguyễn empire followed by regrettable events during the last decades.

It is not surprising to see that a man coming from this Confucian society, in particular the Vietnamese intelligentsia of today is confronted often with an insurmountable dilemma. He is always pulled between social progress and moral values of Confucianism which continues to exert a noticeable influence on his heart and mind at the moment when Vietnamese society needs reforms to be able to better adapt with economic and social mutations that are necessary for Vietnam after so many years of war. It is difficult to know today in what way socialism erected on the dogma of state, has really played a role in the current social transformation. But it is also impossible to evaluate the degree of influence of Confucianism at this time.

Today, it is up to us, as Vietnamese to find the right way and to behave with dignity so that we are not ashamed of being the « Children and Nephews of the Dragon and the Immortal », in particular those who live abroad.

 

Being Caodaïst (Tôi là người Cao Đài)

French version

 

We, the Caodaïsts, we must know to perfect ourselves. It is not essential for us to fast and call upon Buddha by prayers or to enter a pagoda in order to be able to attain perfection. We have the possibility of attaining it if we always have in us the three following qualities: Love, Wisdom and Will.

At birth, we already had kindness. This is why, our Ancestors were accustomed to saying:

Nhân chi sơ, tính bản thiện. Mankind is naturally good at birth.

But because of the hazards of life, the unjustified competitions and the immoderate desires which continue to monopolize us sempiternally, we thus became dishonest people, perfidious, egoistic, which makes us lose the kindness that we acquired at birth. All the Wise ones of Antiquity had had these three qualities evoked above.

To have an idea on what the individual has or not in terms of kindness, it is enough for us to observe his behavior towards his close relations. It is by this observation that we are able to know him, which had said the Chinese philosopher Jou Mencius.

Love is a quality necessary to the perfection but it cannot be complete because we need wisdom to distinguish truth from falsehood, right from wrong, good from evil. There are plenty of generous people who, in spite of their gifts offered to the construction of the pagodas in a considerable way, continue to be entangled in an inauspicious behavior because they do not manage to distinguish right from wrong. It happens that they may be badly considered sometimes compared to those who never have the occasion to take part in this generous contribution.

In Vietnam, the Lý dynasty was famous for its irreproachable enthusiasm towards Buddhism by the bias of a great number of constructions of pagodas. That unrelentingly led the people to misery because of the too high taxes and ineluctably caused the popular discontent which was the principal cause of its fall.

Whatever his educational level, man always has in him Wisdom because when we act badly or not, we will know it thanks to our own conscience. For example, when one tries to lie, one feels ashamed towards oneself although the person to whom one lied does not know it. It is the wisdom which helps us make this distinction. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal had the occasion to stress that man is a thinking reed.

To continue to lie or act badly or not, we need Will. It is easy to evoke this quality but it appears difficult for us to have it because we are obliged to go sometimes against our own interests or to be losers at times also. Sometimes it happens to us not to have a safe life. I refer to some Chinese or Vietnamese historical facts with an aim of enabling us to be together to reflect and respectfully admire the people whom I regard as knowing how to perfect themselves because they had the three qualities evoked above. They became famous characters in the history of China and Vietnam.

Initially, it was the case of Zhuge Liang ( or Gia Cát Lượng in Vietnamese). He was at the same time Prime Minister and adviser to Liu Bei, the last survivor of the Han dynasty ( Lưu Hoài Ðức ) in China. The Barbarians coming from the steppes of the North of China and directed by Manh Hoạch often liked to raid the territory of his kingdom. Zhuge Liang managed to capture Manh Hoạch 7 times but this latter was released immediately on the order of Zhuge Liang at each capture. He was very generous. He was equipped with an extraordinary wisdom because he found that it was necessary to convince Manh Hoach by the means of love and feelings. If Manh Hoạch had been killed, there would be probably another Manh Hoạch. That obliged him to frequently assemble punitive expeditions and did not allow him to have the free hand to restore the Han dynasty and to bring back peace and happiness to its citizens.

It was why he continued to release impassively Manh Hoach at the time of each capture. He had an incommensurable will because he knew that to prevent Manh Hoach from betraying later, he was to waste much time, to forget the personal interests and to give himself many concerns with his rather advanced age. It would be less tiring for him if he decided to kill Manh Hoach because he was not obliged to assemble up to 7 times the punitive expedition. At the time of the last capture, when he was about to usually release Manh Hoach, this latter started to cry and to surrender definitively. Zhuge Liang had these three qualities evoked above. Although he is not a monk, we can affirm that with the three qualities found in him ( Love, Wisdom and Will ), he knew how to perfect himself and he was already regarded as a Wise one at the time of the Three Kingdoms.

In Vietnam, there are also kings whom we can regard as the Wise ones. It is the case of king Lý Thánh Tôn which had these 3 qualities quoted above. This is why he was known in the history of Vietnam as an intelligent king, distinguished, charitable and valiant. The revolt of the king of Champa, Chế Cũ obliged him to assemble a punitive expedition while leaving regency to his concubine Ỷ Lan. Faced with the determination of Chế Cũ, he was not able to capture him after several months of expedition. Disappointed, he was obliged to return to the country. On his return, he learned that his people did not cease praising the talent of his concubine Ỷ Lan in the art of governing the country. He felt ashamed and decided to return to the front. When he succeeded to capture Chế Cũ, he could have killed this one to alleviate his anger but he preferred to let him return to his country.

It was why Viet-Nam knew a period of peace, prosperity and happiness. He was very charitable because he let the one who had humiliated him in front of his people leave. He lost much time in order to be able to capture him. Are we capable of acting as he did if we were in his place? One fine day, during one period when the winter was hard, he addressed his mandarins in the following terms:

By dressing myself in this manner, I continue to be stiff with cold. How do people manage to resist this rigorous cold especially the poor when it is known that they do not have enough money to feed themselves?. It is necessary to give them as of now additional food and clothes.

Another time, while holding company with his daughter, the princess Ðông Thiên, at the time of an audience, he turned to his mandarins in saying to them:

I have a deep love for my people as that which I always have for my daughter. Unfortunately, the people is so little informed that it does not cease to make mistakes. It is for that that I have so much pity for it. I kindly request you to decrease the punishments and the pains inflicted.

His wisdom was incommensurable. To conquer Champa, he knew that it was necessary to convince and calm Chế Cũ although he was humiliated and upset to compare what he had undergone to what his concubine had done, a woman coming from a rural environment, Y? Lan for his people during his absence. He could kill Chế Cũ to alleviate his anger and to wash this momentary insult. But he was a courageous man who could put the interests of his people before his personal interests. He was really the person having the three evoked qualities.

 
Whatever the situation we are in, we, Caodaïsts, we must try to improve ourselves. That sometimes happened to me to want to continue this step. It is necessary to recognize that it is not easy to concretize it. I do not hide either that I had also the daily difficulties but I feel relieved enormously when I succeeded in concretizing it a little. I am delighted because I realize that I start to improve myself even if that appears negligible.

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A young Caodaïst

That reminds me of the sentence that Ung Giả Vi wrote in the Conversations of Wise Confucius:

Nhân viên hồ tai! Ngã dục nhân, Tư Nhân chi hỷ!
Nhân có xa đâu! Ta muốn nhân thì nhân đến vậy!

The virtue is not far! One will be able to have it if one really wants it.

that enables me to be convinced that GOOD or EVIL exists well in each one of us. I understand that it is not necessary to go to the pagoda or the church to be able to improve oneself. I am able to do it if I do not forget what God in the bible of the Caodaïsts said that I had the occasion to read:

If you want to be a true Caodaïst, it is necessary that you have Love and the moral principle. It is absolutely necessary for you to improve yourself.

You merit to thus wear this white tunic, symbol of purity. You feel more than ever proud to be a Caodaïst.

Être Caodaïste (Tôi là người Cao Đài)

 

Version vietnamienne

Nous, les Caodaïstes, nous devons savoir nous perfectionner. Il n’est pas indispensable pour nous de jeûner et d’invoquer Bouddha par des prières ou d’être cloîtrés dans la pagode afin de pouvoir être à la perfection. Nous avons la possibilité de le faire si nous avons toujours en nous les trois qualités suivantes: l’Amour, la Sagesse et la Volonté. À la naissance, nous avons eu déjà la bonté. C’est pourquoi, nos Aïeux ont eu l’habitude de dire:

Nhân chi sơ, tính bản thiện. Le genre humain est naturellement bon à la naissance.

Mais à cause des aléas de la vie, des rivalités injustifiées et des désirs immodérés qui continuent à nous accaparer sempiternellement, nous sommes devenus ainsi des gens malhonnêtes, perfides, égoïstes, ce qui nous fait perdre la bonté que nous avons acquise à la naissance. Tous les Sages de l’Antiquité avaient eu ces trois qualités évoquées ci-dessus.

Pour avoir l’idée sur ce que l’individu possède en termes de bonté ou non, il nous suffit d’observer sa conduite envers ses proches. C’est par cette observation que nous arrivons à le connaître, ce qu’avait dit le philosophe chinois  Jou Mencius.

L’Amour est une qualité nécessaire à la perfection mais elle ne peut pas être parfaite car nous avons besoin de la sagesse pour distinguer le vrai du faux, la raison du tort , le bien du mal. Il n’ y a pas mal des gens généreux qui, malgré leurs dons offerts à la construction des pagodes d’une manière non négligeable, continuent à être empêtrés dans un comportement néfaste car ils n’arrivent pas à discerner la raison du tort. Il leur arrive d’être mal considérés quelquefois par rapport à ceux qui n’ont jamais l’occasion de participer à cette contribution généreuse.

Au Vietnam, la dynastie des Lý était réputée pour sa ferveur irréprochable envers le bouddhisme par le biais d’un grand nombre de constructions de pagodes. Cela conduisit inexorablement le peuple à la misère à cause des impôts trop élevés et provoqua inéluctablement le mécontentement populaire qui était la cause principale de sa chute.

Quel que soit son niveau d’instruction, l’homme a toujours en lui la Sagesse car quand nous agissons mal ou non , nous le saurons grâce à notre propre conscience. Par exemple, quand on essaie de mentir, on se sent honteux envers soi-même bien que la personne à qui on a menti ne le sache pas. C’est la sagesse qui nous aide à faire cette distinction. Le philosophe français Blaise Pascal a eu l’occasion de souligner que l’homme est un roseau pensant.

Pour continuer à mentir ou à agir mal ou non, nous avons besoin de la Volonté. Il est facile d’évoquer cette qualité mais il nous parait difficile de la posséder car nous sommes obligés d’aller quelquefois à l’encontre de nos propres intérêts ou d’être perdants des fois aussi. Il nous arrive quelquefois de ne pas avoir la vie sauve. Je me réfère à quelques faits historiques chinois ou vietnamiens dans le but de nous permettre d’être ensemble à réfléchir et à admirer respectueusement les personnes considérées  comme  celles sachant se perfectionner car elles ont eu les trois qualités évoquées ci-dessus. Elles deviennent des personnages célèbres dans l’histoire de la Chine et du Vietnam.

D’abord, c’était le cas de Zhuge Liang ( ou Gia Cát Lượng en vietnamien). Il fut à la fois premier ministre et conseiller de Liu Bei, le dernier survivant de la dynastie des Han (Lưu Hoài Ðức) en Chine. Les Barbares venant des steppes du Nord de la Chine et dirigés par Manh Hoạch aimaient à faire souvent des razzias sur le territoire de son royaume. Zhuge Liang arriva à capturer Manh Hoạch 7 fois mais ce dernier fut libéré immédiatement sur l’ordre de Zhuge Liang à chaque capture. Il était très généreux. Il était doté d’une sagesse extraordinaire car il trouva qu’il était nécessaire de convaincre Manh Hoạch par le biais de l’amour et des sentiments. Si Manh Hoạch avait été tué, il y aurait probablement un autre Manh Hoạch. Cela l’obligea à monter fréquemment des expéditions punitives et ne lui permit pas d’avoir les  mains libres pour restaurer la dynastie des Han et ramener la paix et le bonheur à ses citoyens.

C’était pourquoi il continua à libérer impassiblement Manh Hoạch lors de chaque capture. Il avait une volonté incommensurable car il savait que pour empêcher Manh Hoach de trahir plus tard, il devait perdre beaucoup de temps, laisser tomber les intérêts personnels et se donner beaucoup de soucis avec son âge assez élevé. Ce serait moins fatigant pour lui s’il décidait de tuer Manh Hoạch car il n’était pas obligé de monter jusqu’à 7 fois l’expédition punitive. Lors de la dernière capture, lorsqu’il était sur le point de libérer habituellement Manh Hoạch, ce dernier commença à pleurer et à se rendre définitivement. Zhuge Liang a eu ces trois qualités évoquées ci-dessus. Bien qu’il ne soit pas religieux, nous pouvons affirmer qu’avec les trois qualités trouvées en lui ( l’Amour, la Sagesse et la Volonté ), il a su se perfectionner et il était considéré déjà comme un Sage à l’époque des Trois Royaumes.

Au Vietnam, il y a aussi des rois que nous pouvons considérer comme des Sages. C’est le cas du roi Lý Thánh Tôn qui a eu ces 3 qualités citées ci-dessus. C’est pourquoi il a été connu dans l’histoire du Vietnam comme un roi intelligent, distingué, charitable et vaillant. La révolte du roi du Champa, Chế Cũ l’obligea à monter une expédition punitive tout en laissant à sa concubine Ỷ Lan la régence. Face à la détermination de Chế Cũ, il n’arriva pas à le capturer après plusieurs mois d’expédition. Déçu, il fut obligé de rentrer au pays. Sur le chemin de retour, il apprit que son peuple ne cessait pas de vanter le talent de sa concubine Ỷ Lan dans l’art de gouverner le pays. Il se sentit honteux et décida de revenir au front. Lorsqu’il réussît de capturer Chế Cũ, il aurait pu tuer celui-ci pour apaiser sa colère mais il préféra le laisser rentrer dans son pays.

C’était pourquoi le Vietnam connut une période de paix, de prospérité et de bonheur. Il était très charitable car il laissa partir celui qui l’avait humilié devant son peuple. Il perdit beaucoup de temps pour arriver à le capturer. Sommes-nous capables de le faire comme lui si nous étions à sa place? Un beau jour, durant une période où l’hiver était rude, il s’adressa à ses mandarins dans les termes suivants :

En m’habillant de cette manière, je continue à être transi de froid. Comment arrivent-ils les gens à résister à ce froid rigoureux surtout les pauvres lorsqu’on sait qu’ils n’ont pas assez d’argent pour se nourrir?. Il faut leur donner dès maintenant de la nourriture et des habits supplémentaires.

Une autre fois, en tenant compagnie à sa fille, la princesse Ðông Thiên, lors d’une audience, il se tourna vers ses mandarins en leur disant :

J’ai un amour profond pour mon peuple comme celui que j’ai toujours pour ma fille. Malheureusement, le peuple est si peu instruit qu’il ne cesse pas de commettre des fautes. C’est pour cela que j’en ai tellement pitié. Je vous demande de bien vouloir diminuer les châtiments et les peines infligés.

Sa sagesse était incommensurable. Pour conquérir le Champa, il sut qu’il fallait convaincre et calmer Chế Cũ bien qu’il fût humilié et vexé de comparer ce qu’il avait subi par rapport à ce qu’avait fait sa concubine, une femme issue d’un milieu rural, Ỷ Lan pour son peuple durant son absence. Il pourrait tuer Chê’ Cũ pour apaiser sa colère et laver cet outrage passager. Mais c’était un homme courageux qui savait mettre les intérêts de son peuple devant ses intérêts personnels. C’était bien la personne ayant les trois qualités évoquées.

Quelle que soit la situation où nous sommes, nous, les Caodaïstes, nous devons essayer de nous perfectionner. Cela m’est arrivé de vouloir poursuivre cette démarche. Il faut reconnaître que ce n’est pas facile de la concrétiser. Je ne cache pas non plus que j’ai eu aussi les difficultés journalières mais je me sens soulagé énormément quand j’ai réussi à la concrétiser un peu. J’en suis ravi car je me rends compte que je commence à me perfectionner un peu même si cela parait infime.

 Un jeune caodaïste
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Cela me rappelle la phrase que Ung Giả Vi a écrite dans les Entretiens du Sage Confucius:

Nhân viên hồ tai! Ngã dục nhân, Tư Nhân chi hỷ!
Nhân có xa đâu! Ta muốn nhân thì nhân đến vậy!
La vertu n’est pas loin! On pourra l’avoir si on la veut vraiment.

ce qui me permet d’être convaincu que le BIEN ou le MAL existe bien en chacun de nous. Vous pouvez  le choisir à votre guise. Je comprends qu’il n’est pas nécessaire d’aller à la pagode ou à l’église pour pouvoir se perfectionner. Je suis capable de le faire si je n’oublie pas ce qu’a dit Maître (Thầy) ( Dieu ) dans la bible des Caodaïstes que j’ai eu l’occasion de lire:

Si tu veux être un vrai Caodaïste, il faut que tu aies l’Amour et le principe moral. Il est absolument nécessaire pour toi de te perfectionner.

Tu mérites de porter ainsi cette tunique blanche, symbole de la pureté. Tu te sens fier plus que jamais d’être un Caodaïste.

The Caodaïsm ( Cao Đài Giáo)

French version

 
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Caodaism is the third important religion in Vietnam after Buddhism and Christianity. Cao means « High » and Ðài means « Palace« . Cao Đài is the supreme palace where reigns God. Caodaism is a religion which encompasses, combines and is in harmony with several elements from other principal religions: Buddhism, Confucianism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Taoism while taking into account Vietnamese traditions. The Holy Seat is located at Tây Ninh, 90km northwest of Saigon. The number of its followers amounts to 7 million in Vietnam and 30,000 abroad, in particular in Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe and the United States.

 One finds in the history of this religion three important episodes of revelations. The first and second took place in 6th century before our era. During the first manifestation, God appeared under the three forms of Jewish leader in the Middle East, Buddha in India and Fou-Hi symbolizing the cult of humanity in China. During the second manifestation, Buddhism reappeared in the form of Sakiamuni, Confucianism in that of Confucius, Christianity in that of Jesus-Christ, Taoism in that of Lao-Tseu and Islam in that of MohammedAs for the third manifestation, God has decided to reveal himself. This third manifestation based on Buddhism is often called « Ðại  Ðạo Tam Kỳ Phổ Ðộ« . All the religions that have preceded the revelation of Caodaism are only the different forms of the same reality in different manner according to the period,  habits and traditions,  places of revelations with the view to educating the humanity and leading it on the path of good  according to the God guide.

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The philosophy and profession of faith found in  Caodaism are of a disconcerting simplicity, closer to morals than to mystical transcendence.

  • Respect of the cult of ancestors.
  • Practice of meditation.
  • Practice of vegetarism.
  • Suppression of violence.
  • Respect of all religious forms.
  • Searching for liberation from reincarnation cycle.
  • Respect of the following five prohibitions:
  • Kill no lives
  • Be not dishonest
  • Drink no alcohol
  • Commit no adultery
  • Use no offensive words
  • Pray at least once a day and practice a vegetarian diet at least 10 days per month. The service is held at the Holy Seat of Tay Ninh everyday and takes place at precise hours:

    6:00 am, 12:00 PM (noon), 6:00 PM and 12:00 AM (midnight)

    Being woman in Vietnam

    French version

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    Being woman in Vietnam

    Vietnam is a country where Confucianism exerts its considerable influence on political life as well as on society. Becoming a state philosophy under the Han dynasty, Confucianism was employed on several occasions as a single model of the state organization and of the Vietnamese society.

    This Confucian influence is not foreign to traditional conditions imposed on the Vietnamese woman. She is subjected to the rule of the following three submissions: Tam Tòng

    Tại gia tòng phụ, xuất giá tòng phu, phu tử tòng tử

    • submission to the father before her marriage
    • submission to the husband during her marriage
    • submission to the elder son when widowed

    This rule was reminded in « Family Instructions » (Gia Huấn Ca) by Nguyễn Trãi, the advisor of king Lê Lợi at the beginning of 15th century, and under the Nguyen dynasty. The Gia Long code which was in force in 19th century, was the most retrograde and rigorous that Vietnam has ever known.

    In spite of that, the Vietnamese woman had a dominating role to play in the Vietnamese family and society. This is found through songs, poems, tales, and lullabies. There, the Vietnamese woman is described not only as a tender, submissive, and virtuous but also a hard working person endowed with an incommensurable patience.

    The Trưng Trắc Trưng Nhị sisters are heroines as much quoted and venerated as the heroes Quang Trung, Hưng Ðạo Vương Trần Quốc Tuấn etc…They are also the first women who fought side by side with the men in the struggle for independence. The most illustrious case remains the example of Nguyễn Thị Giang. Faithful to the Vietnamese tradition, she committed suicide in 1930 after the execution of her husband, the nationalist leader Nguyễn Thái Học.

    The Vietnamese woman is viewed as a perfect model to defend the motherland and national honor. One finds it in the story « Hòn Vọng Phu  » ( Waiting Rock ). It is the story of a woman petrified at the top of a hill, her child in her arms, looking out for the return of her husband who had left for the frontiers in the defense of the country. This model woman is found at several points all over the Vietnamese territory (Cao Bằng, Ninh Hoà etc….)

    One also finds this model woman in the story « Thiếu Phụ Nam Xương » (« The Woman of Nam Xương » or  » The Contempt » ). It is the story of a woman who committed suicide because of an erroneous judgment her husband had on her fidelity. A man is allowed to have weaknesses but not a woman. She must be a perfect model. That constitutes for so many years a lot of stirs and discussions. Some women tried to break that Confucian yoke. It was the case of poetess Hồ Xuân Hương who criticized taboos while composing sensual poems at the end of 18th century. She has always been affirmed from the literary point of view as a free woman. Her verses are always filled with erotic evocations.

    One finds this vehement dispute by a woman of a Confucian society through the following poem that describes the cake Bánh Trôi Nước ( a white and round cake, having a sweetened core, immersed in a caramelized juice ) :

    Thân em vừa trắng lại vừa tròn
    Bẩy nỗi ba chìm với nước non
    Rắn nát mặc dầu tay trẻ nặng
    Mà em vẫn giử tấm lòng son

    My body is white, my shape is round,
    I float and sink with water and mound.
    My contour depends on the hand that kneads
    But I always keep my heart pure and sound.

    Hồ Xuân Hương referred to a woman who at that time, in spite of her tainted body and difficulties of life, continued to keep her heart pure and faithful. She was also the only one who dared approach her rights as a woman and talk shamelessly about carnal love. She succeeded in not being censored through her unequaled skill by proceeding with allusions and metaphors. To talk about eroticism, she used a soothing description of landscape and objects, things the most believed in a feudal society.

    There was even an anecdote about her told by the poet Xuân Diệu himself:

    It rained one day. The road became slippery. Hồ Xuân Hương fell suddenly. She spread herself all out on her body, her arms raised behind her head, her legs pulled apart. The boys laughed. She improvised a distich immediately:

    Giơ tay với thử trời cao thấp
    Xoạc cẳng đo xem đất vắn dài

    I raise my arm to measure the vastness of the sky
    I pull my legs apart to have that of the ground.

    It was also the case of the favorite Ỷ Lan of king Lý Thánh Tôn. She took advantage of the campaign conducted by her husband against Champa to assure a brilliant regency. She undertook at that time many social measures to help the poor and women in particular. Only in 1907 for the first time were classes opened for girls in a private school. The feminist movement started to be launched.

    Nowadays when the law recognizes equality of the sexes in all economic, political and social domains, there exists in fact this inequality. It is no longer a question of legality but a question of mentality. It continues to be omnipresent especially in rural environment.

    Peasant (Nông dân)

    Version française

     
    paysan

    As Vietnam is a country where Confucianism exerts considerable influence on society, the Vietnamese peasant always takes the second rank on the social scale compared to a scholar. Even in the majority of folk songs, an undeniable preference is noted for the learned men. The dream of having a learned man as husband is always an obsession for a Vietnamese girl in the old days.

    Chẳng tham ruộng cả ao liền
    Tham vì cái bút cái ghiên anh đồ.

    I neither need immense rice fields nor whole ponds
    I only like the scholar’s brush and his ink stone.

    However, thank to the farmer’s labor and sweat, Vietnam has currently become the third largest rice exporter after the United States and Thailand. Also thanks to his sacrifice, Vietnam territory has grown from Lạng Sơn to the Point of Cà Mau.

    It is the farmer that took possession from 16th century, of the territory filled with water and sunshine that is our Cochinchina during the Descent toward the South. It is also him that took up arms to defend the motherland when invaded. That is why he is often called peasant-soldier. It is also him that first revolted against the aristocracy and gave the brothers Tay Son the opportunity to grasp the power in 1770 in central Vietnam.

    It is also him that works the landscape of the two deltas with no cultivable piece of land is left unexploited. Everyday in the fields of these deltas are seen male and female peasants leaning under their conical hats, feet and hands in the clay, continuing to pull out rice seedlings from nursery beds or replant them in the paddy. His existence is a continual struggle. He loves his land more, and his precious cereal gives him so much anxiety and annoyance. He never stops resisting bravely the forces of nature: drought, flood, typhoon etc… He is always obsessed with overcoming the water. To work the soil, to thwart calamities, to prevent food shortage.

    That supposes his perfect mastering of hydraulic art: dike building, canal digging, breach filling, rampart elevating etc. It is the water that shapes his thick identity. He becomes more patient, more obstinate, more hard working and more methodical. For him, work is a supreme virtue, a value in itself. In the North, the peasant is poorer. He dresses in a more austere way and behaves with more reserve. Even on his face, the cheeks are more protrude, the features are marked. In the South, the peasant is more open, less reserved, craftier, and more outgoing. In spite of these differences, there is one thing in common between the peasant of the North and that of the South: realism.

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    The down-to-earth overrides sentimentality. His sharp observation of reality gives rise to an often wild humor towards other classes, in particular monks, sorcerers, quacks, aristocrats, etc. This humor is found in Ca Dao ( or proverbs ).

    Thẩy địa, thầy bói, thầy đồng,
    Nghe ba thầy ấy thì lông không còn.

    The geomancer, the fortune teller, the soothsayer,
    Listening to them and you will lose your shirt.

    Also in folk songs are found his joy of life, his simplicity, his righteousness, his economy. It is in these watery checkerboards filled with mud, and meticulously and economically gardened that appears the centennial rooting of the peasant tied to his labor, which makes him a diligent and obstinate combatant.

    For a Vietnamese peasant, his field, his soil are symbolized by this constant mixture of land and water. It is still by these words đất nước that he indicates his motherland. His attachment to this land is so deep that one can say only in one sentence:

    His destiny is that of Vietnam.

     

    Being Vietnamese (Tôi là người Vietnam)

    French version

    Vietnamese version

    Being Vietnamese 

    According to the archaeological sources we have today, the Vietnamese are descendants of the Thai-Vietnamese group. Some historians keep on seeing in these Vietnamese, not only Mongol immigrants coming from southern China (the Yue) and resettling in the Red River delta in the course of the centuries that preceded our era, but also carriers of the Chinese civilization that swept away on their passage by a demographic push, all the brilliant civilizations known up until then on the Indochinese peninsula (those of Ðồng Sơn, and later of Champa).

    Others think that the Vietnameses are the result of fusion between several people in contact in the basin of the Red River among which it is necessary to quote Hmongs, the Chinese, the Thais and Dongsonese. While basing themself on their legend of water melon taking place at the time of Hung kings and testifying to the coming of strangers of a different race who might have brought the seeds to Vietnam by the maritime way ( 3rd century B.C ) and on the archaeological excavations confirming the existence of the Nan Yue kingdom, the Vietnameses are convinced that they resulted from Yue but with an Indonesian background probably via by the intermediary of the Dongsonese because Ðình (communal house) heightened on piles and where resides the most vivid expression of the Vietnamese soul, resembles indisputably the houses prefigured on the bronze drums of Ðồng Sơn. This conviction seems conclusive because one finds also other astonishing resemblances among Vietnameses as well as Indonesian tribes: chews bétel, tattooing and tooth lacquering.

    Apart from some Frenchmen like Henri Oger who was able to discover in the Vietnamese society a millennial civilization rich in traditions and customs, one continues to be open to a hallucinating confusion in considering that the Vietnamese civilization is a tracing of the Chinese civilization. One continues to reproach the Vietnameses for not having a civilization so worthy, intense and rich as the ones found in other peoples in Indochina (Khmer and Cham civilizations) through their temples of Angkor and Mỹ Sơn. It is a regrettable ignorance because to known the richness of the Vietnamese civilization, one needs to be more interested in its history, its literature than its art. 

    How can one have a fantastic and original art when one is always in a perpetual struggle with a so rude and pitiless nature and when Tonkin is of no exceptional wealth not to include the systematic assimilation by the Chinese during their thousand-year domination. In spite of that, the Vietnamese succeeded in showing several times their techniques, know-how and imagination that allowed them to give to some Vietnamese productions (ceramics in particular) an almost admirable rank among the provincial arts of the Chinese world.

    In order to preserve the traditions and to perpetuate their culture, the Vietnamese owe their safety to their sempiternal struggle. Thanks to their religious beliefs and their quasi hostile environment at the beginning, they possess a considerable power of resistance to moral and physical sufferings that became with the passing years one of their main forces for overcoming all external aggressions.

    Also thanks to their labor, tenacity, and sacrifices in human lives, they were successful in holding in check the caprices and wrath of the Red River, in keeping the Chinese outside Tonkin on several rounds and in the 17th century going through the barrier which is made up then impenetrable the Anamitic cordillera in their march towards the South. The Chams were the first victims this secular confrontation, followed by the Khmers.

    One can reproach the Vietnamese for being pitiless towards the other peoples but it should not be forgotten that the Vietnameses have struggled inexorably since the creation of their nation for their survival and the preservation of their traditions. The Vietnameses have been at a much disadvantage for a long time by the geographical proximity of China. It was to block the passage of Kubilai Khan‘s Mongols in the conquest of Champa that the Vietnamese suffered twice their invasions in 1257 and 1287. It was to find a passage towards the Middle Empire that the French thought to succeed in their first try by the Mekong then by the Red River that allowed a link to Yunnan that Doudard de Lagree‘s mission followed by Francis Garnier’s were sent to Indochina. This permitted the French to be more particularly interested in Tonkin and intervene militarily a few years later. It was also to counter China after the Korean war that the Vietnamese were implicated by force for decades in the East-West confrontation. It was to thwart the China policy in Cambodia that the Vietnamese received a lesson of correction in February 1980 by Chinese troops’ lightning invasion at the frontier of Lạng Sơn for a month.

    For those who know the history of Vietnam well, being Vietnamese is not to be so peaceful and so cool even if a Vietnamese wants to be in that way. Kneaded of the brown silt of the Tonkinese delta where he comes from, involving in the perpetual struggle with the acrimony of the Red River, undertaking a  long march toward the South through a succession of intermittent wars, and suffering a long Chinese assimilation and domination, not to include a century of French colonization and a few dozens of years that compelled him to become a target of the East-West confrontation and a victim of the cold war, the Vietnamese never lets himself discouraged by these titanic hardships. 

    On the contrary, he becomes more hardened, more perseverant, more tough, more persuaded in his political convictions and more capable of resisting valiantly those affronts. His profound and intimate attachment to his native land and his traditions makes him become uncompromising in the struggle, which makes of him a pitiless and formidable conqueror for some, a legitimate defender of freedom and national independence for others.

    Whatever happens, he found himself proud of taking over from his parents to valiantly defend the ancestors’ soil and his people’s survival and to be worthy of the Son of the Dragon and the nephew of the Fairy.  « Dyeing for one’s country » is not strange either to his temperament or his traditions. But it is the lot the most beautiful and worthy of desire that many Vietnamese such as Trần Bình Trọng, Nguyễn Thái Học, Phó Ðức Chính, Nguyễn Trung Trực,Trần Cao Vân, Nguyễn An Ninh etc.. have accepted to get with bravery on that land of legends.

    Being Vietnamese

    is being capable of resisting above all any assimilation and foreign ideology and being proud of having in his veins the blood of the Dragon.

    Hà Tiên (English version)

    French version

    Vietnamese version

    Facing to the Gulf of Siam, Hà Tiên is located about 8 kilometers from the Cambodian border. It is also the city marking the end of the long walk towards the South started by the Vietnamese. Before being known as Hà Tiên, it initially was called  Phương Thành then Mang Kham in the past. Its economic growth has been due to the massive arrival of the Chinese, supporters of the former Ming dynasty (or Minh Hương in Vietnamese) whose most known was Mac Cửu (Mac King Kiou).

    Being hostile to the new dynasty of the Manchus (Qing) and leaving China at the 17 years age, this one,was established with his family in Cambodia in 1671. He was appointed a few years later by the Cambodgian king as provincial chief of Mang Khảm . Thanks to his generosity and business talent, he succeeded to transform Mang Kham into a port city flourishing and animated in the region. For countering against the Siamese’s ambition, he needed the Vietnameses protection, in particular that of the Nguyễn lords to the detriment of the Cambodian ones. They agreed to confer to him the title of commander of troops (tổng binh) in this region. Consequently, Mang Kham belonged to Vietnamese territory and changed name into becoming Hà Tiên. According to the legend, one saw appearing on the river, the ballad of Immortals (Hà river in Vietnamese). It is also the reason for choosing this name. Hà Tiên became a few years later the starting point for the conquest of Cambodian districts: Long Xuyên (Cà Mau today), Kiên Giang (Rạch Giá), Tran Giang (Cần Thơ), Tran Di (Bạc Liêu) with his son Mac Thiên Tứ. This latter was a character out of the ordinary. His fate was tied closely to that of Nguyễn Ánh, future emperor of the Nguyên Dynasty. It became the famous rampart of the Nguyễn against the Tây Sơn. With the years of vicissitudes of Nguyễn Ánh, he had to take refuge in Thailand with all the family and the son of Nguyễn Ánh, Prince Xuân. To sow doubt among the Siamese, the Tây Sơn did not hesitate to falsify documents and make them responsible for a conspiracy against Siamese king Trịnh Tân (Phraya Tak Sin).

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    His entire family was executed with the prince Xuân. To preserve his honor and fidelity, he committed suicide in September 1780. Mac Thiên Tứ was also a greatest poet of his time. He made Hà Tiên famous by his volume of poems entitled « Hà Tiên Thâp vịnh » praising the beauty of its natural and marvellous sites.

    This volume continues to grow in the coming years with the addition of 10 poems written by each of 31 poets belonging to the club of the poets « Chiêu Anh Các » created under the initiative of Mac Thiên Tứ. That constituted in all 320 poems to which Nguyễn Cư Trinh added the last ten poems to give a value priceless to this volume that continues to be transmitted to the posterity.

    Ones does not forget his famous poem in Six-Eight to tease an young girl in Quảng Nam (Center of Vietnam), disguised as a young student taking part in the evening of the illumination festival. By seeing this young man, he does not hesitate to send the following four verses:

    Bên kia sen nở nhiều hoa
    Người khen hoa đẹp nõn nà hơn em
    Trên bờ em đứng em xem
    Mọi người sao bỗng không thèm nhìn hoa

    On the other side, the lotus has many flowers
    The person who admires them is more prettier than you.
    On land, you continue to admire them
    Everyone is not be interested to admire your « flower »

    Without hesitation, he replied promptly by the four following verses:

    Mặt ao sen nở khắp
    Trông hoa lẫn bóng người
    Trên bờ ai đứng ngắm
    Sao chẳng thấy hoa tươi?

    The surface of the pond is filled with flowers of lotus
    Ones finds here at the same time these flowers and the people’s shadows
    On land, each one is admiring them
    Why isn’t a beautiful flower found?

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    Lotus

    This poetic exchange enabled him to have sympathy and to discover that this young student was only one girl disguised as a boy to avoid the pirates, coming from the Center of Vietnam, following her father to make the trade and bearing the name Nguyễn Thi Xuân. Mac Thiên Tứ took her later as wife of second rank . But the latter failed to die because of the jealousy of his wife . She was forced to withdraw herself in a pagodon to finish her last remaining days. Before her death, she left a poem showing her purity and nobility in a nauseaous world filled with turpitudes by comparing her with a lotus flower:

    Vươn khỏi bùn nhơ thoát vươn lên
    Phỉ lòng trong trắng giữa thiên nhiên
    Xuân thu đậm nhạt bao hồng tía
    Ðừng sánh thanh cao với đóa sen.

    Leaving mud, the lotus flower continues to open out
    It is glad to be pure in nature
    Its perianth becomes more or less purple in the course of time
    But one should not compare the nobility with this flower.

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    When one evokes Hà Tiên, one does not forget to think of Mac Cửu and his son Mac Thiên Tứ because it is thanks to them that Vietnam succeeded in achieving its long walk towards the South. Nothing is more astonishing than to see the deep attachment and respect which the Vietnamese reserved for Mac Cửu and his family through his temple in Hà Tiên.

    Tự Đức mauseolum ( English version)

    Version française

     

    Xung Khiêm Tạ

    Unlike other royal tombs of the Nguyễn Dynasty, Tự Ðức mausoleum  is primarily a possible place of refuge during his reign. That is why there is not only a palace which was later transformed into a place of worship after his death but also a theater and two small and pretty pavilions in red wood (Du Khiêm and Xung Khiêm) where he liked to sit for the relaxation and the composition of his poems. This mausoleum which was built during 1864-1867 by three thousand soldiers and workers, had approximately fifty buildings surrounded by a stone and brick wall 1500 meters in length in an area of 12 ha.

    Khiêm Lăng (謙陵)

    Tự Đức was crowned king at a time where he have had to cope not only with development of Western capitalism but also internal strife (war grasshoppers led by  poet Cao Ba Quát, the eviction of his elder brother Hồng Bang at his enthronement etc..). For taking refuge, he did not hesitate to order the construction of his tomb as a place of relaxation in his lifetime and remains a place of residence for eternal future life.

     

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    In this mausoleum, the pavilion Hoa Khiêm is the main building where the Emperor worked and the pavilion Lương Khiêm is where he lived and slept. One finds also in the domain of his mausoleum two other tombs: those of his wife, Queen Lê Thiện Anh and one of his three adopted son, King Kiến Phúc.

    The architecture of this mausoleum reflects not only the nature of the romantic poet emperor Tư Ðức but also the freedom that is lacking so far in the other mausoleums. Nothing is surprising to see this mausoleum become one of the favorite places choosen by most foreign and Vietnamese tourists.

     
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    Mausoleum of Minh Mạng emperor (English version)

    Version française

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    Each royal tomb has a particular landscape and a own charm. That of Minh Mang is known for perfect harmony between architecture and  natural environment. It began to be built during his reign (1820-1841) and was completed only in 1843, two years after his death by his successor Thiệu Trị.

    The temple Sung Ấn , dedicated to Minh Mang and his wife by his successor, may be achieved through  three terraces and the gate Hiền Ðức. On the other side of this temple, there are three stone bridges spanning Lake Pure Clarity. (Hồ Minh Trung). The central bridge known as the « bridge of the Intelligence and righteousness » (Trung Ðạo Kiêu , built in marble was used only by the emperor. Pavilion Minh Lâu (Pavilion of Light) represent the Triad: Heaven, Human being and the Earth. (Thiên Nhân Ðịa).

    Trung đạo kiều

    Hiếu Lăng (孝陵)

    From a stone bridge spanning the lake Tân Nguyệt (Lake of the New Moon), one can reach through a gate in bronze, a circular wall symbolizing the sun and in the middle of this sacred fence it is the emperor ‘s tomb, a mound of soil surrounded by natural pines.

    Map of  the Minh Mạng emperor mauseoleum

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    • 1 Ðại Hồng Môn
    •   The red main gate
    • 2 Sùng Ấn Ðiện
    •   The cult of temple
    • 3  Hoàng Trạch Môn
    •    The Hoàng Trạch gate  of pavilion of light
    • 4  Minh Lâu
    •    The pavilion of light
    • Trung Ðạo Kiều
    •     The bridge of the Intelligence and righteousness
    • 6  Mộ của vua Minh Mạng
    •      The mausoleum of Minh Mang emperor

     

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