LITERATURE OF VIETNAM
The literary arts, especially poetry, have traditionally been highly prized in Vietnam. There are three main types of Vietnamese literature: 1) “Truyen” (traditional oral literature); 2) “Han Viet” (Chinese-Vietnamese literature); 3) “Quoc Am” (modern literature, or anything written in the romanticized “quoc ngu” alphabet).
The Ly period (1009-1225) saw the appearance of the first historical works. Do Thien compiled a history of the country which, now lost, was mentioned in Viet Dien U Linh and Linh Nam Chich Quai. Cheo popular theater, which first appeared in the 10th century, continued its development. A prisoner captured during the Mongol Invasion, Ly Nguyen Cat, made a notable contribution to tuong Classical theater. ~
A number a French- and English-language writers spent time in Vietnam and set novels and other works there. André Malraux,W. Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene all stayed at the Continental Hotel in Saigon (present-day Ho Chi Minh City). The Vietnam-set film "The Lover" was based on the Marguerite Duras novel.
In 2008, the Publishing Department under the Ministry of Information and Communications released a survey showing that on average each person in Viet Nam only reads 0.6 of a book per year. The survey also found that 80 percent of books published every year were textbooks. [Source: Viet News, August, 7 2008]
History of Quoc Ngu—Vietnam’s Romanized Written Language
Vietnamese is written with the Roman alphabet, like English and French, not Chinese characters (like China) or a distinct alphabet (as is the case in Thailand and Myanmar). The Vietnamese writing system, known as “quoc ngu” , was developed in the 17th century by a French Jesuit missionary named Alexander de Rhodes, after he discovered few people, other than scholars, could read Chinese characters. Most syllables are written as separate words (such as Viêt Nam). About 60 percent of Vietnamese words are of Chinese origin.
Alexander de Rhodes, a 17th century French Jesuit missionary, devised an easy-to-use alphabet with Roman letters, which replaced the Chinese characters used for centuries in Vietnam. Rhodes arrived in Vietnam in 1624 aboard a trading ship bringing the first European missionaries to east Asia. He compared the Vietnamese language to the "chirping of birds."
Rhodes quickly learned the Vietnamese and was preaching in the language within six months. He soon realized that he would have difficulty distributing religious texts, because so few ordinary people could read Chinese characters, which didn't really reflect Vietnamese grammar and pronunciation. Expanding on work begun two Portuguese men, Rhodes produced a dictionary of Vietnamese words written in the Latin alphabet, that later was called “quoc ngu” .
Rhodes is credited with perfecting a romanized system of writing the Vietnamese language (quoc ngu), which was probably developed as the joint effort of several missionaries, including Rhodes. He wrote the first catechism in Vietnamese and published a Vietnamese-Latin-Portuguese dictionary; these works were the first books printed in quoc ngu. Quoc ngu was used initially only by missionaries; classical Chinese or chu nom continued to be used by the court and the bureaucracy. The French later supported the use of quoc ngu, which, because of its simplicity, led to a high degree of literacy and a flourishing of Vietnamese literature. After being expelled from Vietnam, Rhodes spent the next thirty years seeking support for his missionary work from the Vatican and the French Roman Catholic hierarchy as well as making several more trips to Vietnam. *
When the French took over Vietnam in the 19th century they promoted “quoc ngu” . Vietnamese nationalist, ironically also encouraged illiterate peasant to learn the easy-to-learn writing system so they could be fed anti-French political tracts. An important development in the early part of the twentieth century was the increased use of quoc ngu in the northern part of the country through a proliferation of new journals printed in that script. There had been quoc ngu publications in Cochinchina since 1865, but in 1898 a decree of the colonial government prohibited publication without permission, in the protectorate areas, of periodicals in quoc ngu or Chinese that were not published by a French citizen.
In 1913 Nguyen Van Vinh succeeded in publishing Dong Duong Tap Chi (Indochinese Review), a strongly antitraditional but pro- French journal. He also founded a publishing house that translated such Vietnamese classics as the early nineteenth century poem Kim Van Kieu as well as Chinese classics into quoc ngu. Nguyen Van Vinh's publications, while largely pro-Western, were the major impetus for the increasing popularity of quoc ngu in Annam and Tonkin. In 1917 the moderate reformist journalist Pham Quynh began publishing in Hanoi the quoc ngu journal Nam Phong, which addressed the problem of adopting modern Western values without destroying the cultural essence of the Vietnamese nation. By World War I, quoc ngu had become the vehicle for the dissemination of not only Vietnamese, Chinese, and French literary and philosophical classics but also a new body of Vietnamese nationalist literature emphasizing social comment and criticism. *
Birth of a National Literature Under the Tran Dynasty
With the recovering independence, a national literature took shape and gradually developed. Popular and oral literature in the national language became ever richer, but it is difficult to date most of the works, songs and stories handed down from generation to generation. In the l0th century, a scholarly literature appeared in classical Chinese, the common language of the culture of the Far East, using Chinese characters. However, more and more a need for the development of a script for the Vietnamese language was felt; the nom script, derived from Chinese, was thus created. The exact date of its creation is not known, but the first works written in nom appeared in the 14th century. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]
The first works in classical Chinese were mostly Buddhist texts expounding the doctrine or expressing the monks' reactions to certain events, for example a poem by the monk Van Hanh, who died in 1018: / Mail is a shadow, gone as soon as born,/ The trees, so green in spring, are bare in autumn./ Greatness and decline, why, should we care?/ The destiny of men and empires is like a dew-drop on a grass leaf./ The monk Vien Chieu (98-1090) was also it poet who wrote:/ Escorted by the wind, the sound of the horn slips through the bamboo grove,/ With the moon rising behind, the shadows of mountains climb the ramparts. ~
With the consolidation of the kingdom, Buddhist inspiration on the evanescence of things gave way to the contemplation of nature; then with the struggle for national independence, patriotism prevailed in the writings. The same men who in peace time sang of the beauty of the land took up their pens at critical moments to exalt the nation's struggle. King Tran Nhan Tong, the victor over the Mongols left this twilight landscape: Villages grow dim in the mist,/ They now vanish, now reappear in the sunset./ Buffalo-herds blowing their horns take their cattle home,/ A flock of white egrets swoop down oil the fields. ~
Great Writers from the Tran Dynasty
Among the author who left great literary works were Mac Dinh Chi (died in 1346), Truong Han Sieu (died in 1354), Chu Van An (died in 1370), Nguyen Trung Ngan (1289-1370), Pham Su Manh who in 1345 led a mission to China, and Le Quat. Truong Han Sieu glorified the two victories won in 939 and 1288 on the Bach Dang River, in a famous poem ending with these verses: The enemy has fled, peace is restored for centuries to come, / Terrain played no role, noble virtues were decisive. Of this period two works of religious tendency remain: Viet Dien U Linh, a collection of texts on genii, divinities, and deified famous men, which was attributed to Ly Te Xuyen, and Thien Uyen Tap Anh, a collection of texts and biographies of monks up to the Tran Dynasty. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]
Literature in nom appeared in the l4th century with Nguyen Thuyen and Nguyen Si Co whose works, though mentioned in the annals, have not survived. Tradition has it that when King Tran Nhan Tong married Princess Huyen Tran to the king of Champa in exchange for the O and Ly districts, this act was severely criticized in satirical poems written in nom. The appearance of poems in nom was an important landmark in the development of a national literature. By the end of the 13th century, Ho Quy Ly had translated the Kinh Thi (Book of Poems), a Confucian classic, into nom. ~
An annals department was created under the Tran. Tran Tan wrote Viet Chi, a monograph which the great historian Le Van Huu often referred to in 1272 when he compiled the Dai Viet Su Ky (History of Dai Viet) in 30 chapters covering the period from Trieu Da to the end of the Ly dynasty. Le Van Huu's work was also lost, but it was the major inspiration for the complete history of Dai Viet written later by Ngo Si Lien. At the close of the Tran Dynasty, the Dai Viet Su Luoc (Short History) was written by an anonymous author. This book was to be reprinted in China in the 18th century. It is reported in the annals that Ho Ton Thoc wrote two historical chronicles, the Viet Su Cuong Muc and Nam Viet The Chi. Both these works have been lost. Under the Tran, chronicles were also written describing military exploits in the wars against the Mongols and the kingdom of Ai Lao. Le Tac, who had taken refuge in China, wrote the An Nam Chi Luoc at the beginning of the 14th century. ~
Vietnamese Folk Stories
Water buffalo have no teeth on their upper jaw. According to a Vietnamese folk story the reason for this is that a farmer tricked a tiger while trying to show him what wisdom is and tied him to tree and set him on fire. When the tiger finally escaped he kicked out the water buffalo's teeth.
The Vietnamese equivalent of Rip van Winkle is a 13th century mandarin named Tu Thuc. According to legend, he became so captivated with scenery in a beautiful mountain area that he lost track of time. He returned home after what he thought was a year only to find that 60 years had passed.
Since coming into existence, Vietnamese literature has been rich in folklore and proverbs; tales that have been handed down from generation to generation, gradually becoming valuable treasures. The Muong ethnic group in northern Trung Bo has an epic poem called "de dat, de nuoc" (giving birth to the earth and water), whie the Thai ethnic group in the north-west has "xong chu xon xao" (seeing off and instructing the loving heart). [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]
Dragon Legends in Vietnam
There are many legends of the dragon with some being used to explain the origin of the Vietnamese people. One of these tells a story of a Vietnamese King named Lac-Long Quang(circa 2,500 B.C.) of the dragon race, who kidnapped the wife of his cousin, a Chinese king De-Lai, and got 100 eggs. From these came a hundred boys: fifty of these, taking after their father, becoming water geni--the other fifty took after their mother and became land dwellers. One of the latter founded the Hung-Vurong dynasty, but its kings were still more at home at the bottom of the rivers than in their palaces. While Vietnam had a dynasty and from time to time the ruler died, the Vietnamese did not say "The King is Dead" but rather "The Dragon has gone up into the upper regions". A second proverb states, "When the Dragon (the ruler) is peaceful and happy, the fish (the people) swim freely". [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division ,1967 ++]
The reddish color of the Sai river is explained by the following legend. When the Chinese invaded Tonkin in ancient times, their general used explosives to break up the rocks blocking the river. This explosion wounded the dragon hidden in its depths and the wound, having never healed, continues to color the water with its blood. This is very similar to the Chinese legend that the dragons are found everywhere underground, and serious difficulties would result if a dragon were accidentally wounded. His fury could result in untold catastrophe. ++
There are numerous other dragon tales which might be told, but they have a similar thought and seem to spring from the animistic concept of the earth having a "spirit" of its own which must be worshipped and appeased. These legendary stories have a present-day effect on the thinking of many common folk. To illustrate: a Chinese legend still current in Vietnam is that a three year old carp can be transformed into a dragon by certain rites. The Vietnamese, therefore, do not wish to eat large carp particularly if they are black as this may have dire consequences. While such concepts are entirely alien to the Western thought, awareness of such beliefs may help to avoid needless hostility. ++
Legend of Quan-Am
Thi-Kinh (better known as Quan-Am), a very beautiful and talented young maiden, was of a humble family yet she was sought in marriage by many of the richest and most handsome of men. To the surprise of all she refused them and married a poor unattractive peasant. While life was difficult, Thi-Kinh shared the meanest chores with her husband and found happiness in doing so. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division, 1967 ++]
During one summer siesta-time as her husband was asleep on the hammock, she noticed a stray hair of his beard growing in the wrong direction. Thinking to cut it off, she got a sharp knife and approached her husband. But her touch and the feel of the blade caused the man to jerk his head which wounded him. Frightened he began to call for help and accused his wife of attempted murder. Utterly dismayed that her husband would think thus, Thi-Kinh offered no statement and her silence seemed to be an admission of guilt, so she was cast out of her home as an exile. None took pity upon her. Her family disowned her, her former suitors and the village women who never forgave her beauty treated her badly. Finally weary of this, Thi-Kinh sought to renounce the world and seek release in religion. She thus disguised herself as a man and entered an order of Buddhist monks. ++
In spite of the simplicity of her religious clothing and "shaven head", she still was a very attractive individual, and this was noted by the devotees of the temple. A young girl fell in love with this "handsome monk". She plead with Thi-Kinh to forsake the religious order and marry. Thi-Kinh cut her short by asking her to respect the holy vows. The young woman reacted by having an affair with the first man who sought her out, and when pregnant went to another village and gave birth to a child. The new mother placed the babe in a basket and left it at the gate of the temple after writing a note accusing Thi-Kinh of being its father. While the prior was reading the note, with all the men gathered about, the baby began to cry. With typically feminine reaction, Thi-Kinh reached down and picked up the baby to quiet it. This gesture seemed to confirm the charge, and she was expelled from the temple as she had been from her home. ++
Pity for the child forced her to beg for herself and the baby. She thus became a familiar sight as she walked about with the child in her arms and a begging bowl in her hand. The day came when she could no longer sustain herself, so she returned to the temple and knocked at the gate of Buddha. She revealed her secret and begged pardon for her sins as well as for forgiveness of those who had caused her misery. Then in typical Vietnamese story fashion, she sank to the ground and died. When her story was heard by the Emperor of China, he was deeply moved by her abnegation and chastity, so by royal decree she was raised to the rank of divinity with the title of "Quan-Am Tong-Tu"-The Compassionate Protectress of Children. Today the cult has spread throughout the Far East. Pictures of Thi-Kinh or Quan-Am are to be found rather widely in Vietnam, and if one visits the old Vietnamese temples and looks under smoke blackened rafters caused by incense burning and decades of dust there Quan-Am sits with child in arms, an unchanging smile on a beautiful serene face. ++
Legend of the Water Melon
Once upon a time, the sixth son of King Hung Vuong the Fifth named An-Tiem disobeyed the King's order and was exiled to a deserted island. The Prince had to build his own shelter, dig a well for water, and fish and hunt animals for food. One day, he found a green fruit as big and round as a ball. He split the fruit into halves and found the inside of the fruit red. He dared not eat it because he was afraid it was poisonous. [Source: Vietnam-culture.com www.vietnam-culture.com |~|]
Days passed and the dry and sunny season came. It was so hot that all the plants were dry and the well had no water left. One day An-Tiem was so tired and thirsty that he tasted the fruit He found out that it tasted delicious and quenched his thirst. He tried to grow the plant around his house then. Soon the whole island was covered with the green fruit. |~|
An-Tiem carved the island's name and his own on some of the fruit and threw them into the sea. Later, seamen found the strange fruit with An-Tiem's name floating in the sea. Soon, words about the fruit reached the continent and many merchants tried to find the way the island. This then turned the deserted island into a busy island. The island was now crowded. Many boats came and went. An-Tiem helped anyone who wanted settle on the island. Soon, news about that reach the King. |~|
King Hung Vuong was very proud of having a son who was brave and strong enough to overcome difficulties without anyone's help. An-Tiem was immediately summoned back to the court. He brought his fruit with him to offer the King, his father. The King gave him his crown and An-Tiem became King Hung Vuong VI. Since then the fruit which was called "dua hau" and has become the symbol of luck; people often offer it to relatives and friends as a New Year present. |~|
Long, long time ago there was a clever boy whose name was Cuoi. He did nothing with his cleverness but to play trick on people around him. He lived with his uncle and aunt who were usually suffered from his cheats. Once day Cuoi came to the field and broke the bad new to the uncle that his wife had fell down from the ladder and bled. The man was so frighten that he ran to his home without saying a word. Cuoi at that time reached the house before his poor uncle by a short cut then broke another bad new to his aunt that her husband was collided by the buffalo and was going to died. The poor woman was scared and immediately ran out to the field. Suddenly she bumped to a man and recognized that it was her husband who was panting and sweating like her. The poor couple came back with anger and decided to imprison him into a bamboo cage then drifted him in the river. [Source: Vietnam-culture.com www.vietnam-culture.com |~| ]
In the afternoon when Cuoi was carried to the river's bank, he regretfully said sorry to them and asked them to come back home to bring him a book hidden behind the basket of rice that taught him telling lie as the last favor. They both agreed and returned home to satisfy their curiosity without saying a word. After that Cuoi saw a blind man passed by. He then asked the man to untight the cage if he wanted to have his eyes cured. At last Cuoi was free and hid himself in a bamboo grave and luckily found a jar of gold. He came back and gave it to his uncle and his aunt to atone for faults while the poor blind man was waiting for his eyes treated. |~|
Later Cuoi got married with a girl in the village and went on pulling people's leg. Once morning he came into the forest and saw a tiger mother picking leaves from a kind of tree to cure her son's wound. Immediately the wound was recovered and the tiger baby could follow his mother to continue their trip. Cuoi grasped the opportunity to uproot the tree and rose it in the garden behind his house. He called the tree Banyan and took good care to it. He always reminded his wife that the tree was magic one so it was impossible to pour dirty water or dump the garbage at its root otherwise it would fly to the heaven. His poor wife sometimes envied with the tree so she dumped garbage at the tree root once day.
When Cuoi came home he found the tree was shaking and flying higher and higher in the sky. He tried to hold its root to pull it back but he couldn't. The tree actually pulled him farther and farther from the earth until it reached the moon. It is said that there is still image of Cuoi sitting at the root of Banyan tree and looking down to see the world and there is also a Vietnamese saying " lie as Cuoi".
There was a rich devious landowner who used all kind of tricks to exploit his servants and laborers. He had a beautiful nubile daughter. Khoai lived as a servant in this household from the time he was a young boy. He had to work very hard. He is now in his late teens. The landowner was afraid that Khoai will leave the household and thus he would lose a very hard working helper. So, one day he called Khoai and told him: "If you stayed in the household and work hard day and night, I will give you my daughter in marriage." [Source: Vietnam-culture.com www.vietnam-culture.com |~| ]
Khoai believed the landowner and was very happy. He redoubled his efforts to win the heart of the landowner. Three years have passed. The daughter is now grown. In the region, there is this very wealthy village chief, who eyed the daughter for his son. So, the village chief came and ask for the hand of the daughter. The landowner agreed and set out to prepare for the wedding. When Khoai realized that he has been taken advantage of, he was mad and went to the landowner to complain. He asked the landowner: "You have promised your daughter to me. Why are you going back on your promise now?"|~|
The landowner did not like to be addressed in such a manner. He was going to beat him, but taking another look at the young man, he dared not. He told him instead: "My son, you are mistaken! My daughter is now of age and the preparation for the wedding that I am undertaking now is actually for you. However, if you want the wedding to take place, you must accomplish the following task. You need to find a bamboo with one hundred knots. Then you will need to cut it up into chopsticks for the wedding feast. That is my condition for giving you my daughter's hand in marriage." |~|
Khoai again believed him and went up the forest in search of the bamboo with 100 knots. He searched for days on end and went from one end of the jungle to the other without success. In despair he sat down in the jungle and wept in despair. Suddenly he saw an old cheery man with all white hair but with rosy complexion. The old man approached him and asked: "Son, why are you so sad?'. Khoai told him his story. The old man told him: "Go and cut 100 stems of bamboo and bring them back here". |~|
Khoai went out and brought back the bamboo that the old man asked. The old man then gave the command: "Stick together! Stick together" (Kha'c nhap) The bamboo sticks that were lying here and there on the ground immediately came together all in a row to make a bamboo with 100 knots. Khoai was filled with joy. He wanted to thank the old man, but he has disappeared. He realized that he has met Buddha. He set out to bring the bamboo back. But there was no way for him to load this long bamboo on his shoulder. He kept on running into other trees. He sat down again in despair and wept. Immediately he saw the old man reappear. |~|
Buddha asked him: "Why do you weep?" He explained his situation. Buddha pointed at the bamboo and said "Unstick! Unstick!" (Kha'c xuat). And the bamboo came apart in 100 stems. And Buddha disappeared. Khoai tied up the 100 bamboo stems and proceeded to take them home. When he arrived home, he found the two families preparing to feast in the courtyard. The village chief family has come for the wedding. Khoai was really mad and ran to the landowner to ask for an explanation. |~|
The landowner told him: "I asked you to get me a bamboo with 100 knots, not 100 stems of bamboo!" Both family stopped their feasts and laughed derisively at Khoai, and joked about his naivety. Khoai told the landowner that he has the bamboo and the courtyard and the landowner should come out and examine it. As the landowner approached the pile of bamboo, Khoai said in a low voice "stick together! stick together!" Immediately the bamboo stems came together and the landowner was also stuck at the end of the bamboo. The landowner tried to pull himself away but failed. The future in-laws came to his rescue. Khoai waited until the village chief has touched the landowner before he said "stick together! stick together!" |~|
Immediately the village chief became stuck to the landowner. The same fate happened to the village chief's son. The more they tried to pull away, the harder and more painful they became stuck. Both families were now in panic. Nobody dared to pull the three men away any longer nor joked about Khoai. They lined up and asked him to pardon the 3 men stuck at the end of the bamboo. Khoai had the landowner promise his daughter to him and the village chief has to agree not to seek vengeance. Then Khoai said "unstick! unstick!" and they all became free.The village chief and his party quickly left the festivities. And Khoai moved into the bridegroom chair and the celebration continued! |~|
Ca Tru Sung Poetry
Ca Tru is a 600-year-old form of sung poetry that is kept alive by a few eldery people and is in danger of dying out. It was hugely popular at one time. The songs—about mandarins and courtesans, love and loneliness—once filled the courts of Hue and drew large crowds at singing contests. Now many of the singers that keep it alive are in their 80s. Ca tru singing was inscribed on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in need of Urgent Safeguarding in October 2009.
According to UNESCO: "Ca trù is a complex form of sung poetry found in the north of Viet Nam using lyrics written in traditional Vietnamese poetic forms. Ca trù groups comprise three performers: a female singer who uses breathing techniques and vibrato to create unique ornamented sounds, while playing the clappers or striking a wooden box, and two instrumentalists who produce the deep tone of a three-stringed lute and the strong sounds of a praise drum. Some Ca trù performances also include dance. The varied forms of Ca trù fulfill different social purposes, including worship singing, singing for entertainment, singing in royal palaces and competitive singing. Ca trù has fifty-six different musical forms or melodies, each of which is called thecách. Folk artists transmit the music and poems that comprise Ca trù pieces by oral and technical transmission, formerly, within their family line, but now to any who wish to learn. Ongoing wars and insufficient awareness caused Ca trù to fall into disuse during the twentieth century. Although the artists have made great efforts to transmit the old repertoire to younger generations, Ca trù is still under threat of being lost due to the diminishing number and age of practitioners. [Source: UNESCO]
Ca tru is where poetry and music meet. People familiar with such ancient verse as luc bat (the six eight-syllable distich) and hat doi (singing tossed back and forth between groups of young men and women), and who are capable of sympathizing with the sentiments expressed in the sound of a small drum or a two-string viol, are more likely to fully enjoy a recital of ca tru. Many famous poets of past centuries were great amateurs of ca tru who wrote beautiful lines to go with its melodies. One well known instance is the poem singing the enchantment of a pilgrimage to Chua Huong (Perfume Pagoda) by Chu Manh Trinh. Coming from the lips of a ca tru singer, it has bewitched successive generations of pilgrims visiting the hills and streams of the famous pagoda complex in Ha Tay Province. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]
Ca tru music is most enjoyable when there is complete harmony between the words being sung, the rhythm marked by a pair of small bamboo sticks held by the singer who strikes a small block of wood or bamboo called phach, and, last but not least, the appreciation shown by a man among the audience beating a small drum at the appropriate moments. In short, ca tru is a refined form of art which is paradoxically appreciated and loved by audiences of all compositions. There are those who sit in small numbers in an urban auditorium to enjoy a recital. A Ca Tru Club has been founded in Hanoi where amateurs of this musical genre, young and old, local and foreign, regularly meet to enjoy its charming melodies. ~
See Types of Vietnamese Music
Hanoi and the Poets Nguyen Du and Nguyen Du Mau
Nguyen Du Mau is one of Vietnam’s most beloved poets. A former North Vietnamese soldier, he often wrote by candlelight while hiding out in the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. A poem about Hanoi goes:
“Ten years, time turned into a durable thread “
” Flowers bloom in violets, the wall covered with mold and moss. “
” Ten years in Hanoi and I have found “
” My sort if joys and sorrows.”
Nguyen Du Mau is closely associated with Hanoi. He told National Geographic, "This is a city that nurture’s the soul of a poet. It’s not something easily explained, but is something you feel. In the touch of the mist. In the sight f the Red River. In the traditions, the lives of struggle. A sense of romance hovers over Hanoi like no other city I know. You walk the streets, and you’re passing through a thousand years of history." [Source: David Lamb, National Geographic, May 2004 -]
"A city of poets? Yes, people have called us that, because Hanoi has always been the home of Vietnam’s artists and the home of Vietnam’s artists and intelligentsia. Part of the reason is historical: This was the seat of Vietnam’s old dynasties. They provided the intellectual foundation for the north. The emperors surround themselves with scholars and poets, and as far back as the Ly dynasty, in the 11th century, poetry was part of our cultural identity. In the south there is no such history and tradition. Saigon didn’t even exist as a city until the 18th century." -
In 2013, UNESCO recognized Nguyen Du (1766-1820), a revered Vietnamese poet who is widely known for his hallmark "Truyen Kieu" (The Tale of Kieu), as a "L'homme de Culture" (Man of Culture). Nguyen Du, who was recognized by the World Peace Council as one of the world’s cultural celebrities in 1965, was born to a noble mandarin family under the later Le dynasty and he himself became a mandarin, who was dedicated to listening to commoners’ voices and helping them, under the Nguyen dynasty. [Source: Tuoitre News, May 21, 2013]
He was equally outstanding in composing poems in Han (ancient Chinese characters) and Nom (Vietnamese characters adapted from ancient Chinese), with his poetry pervaded with profound love for humans and humanitarian values. His most notable poetic work is "Truyen Kieu" in the Nom language, the first Vietnamese novel featuring over 3,200 lines written in the Vietnamese 6/8 verse. “The Tale of Kieu” is a nation building epic poem about a Vietnamese heroine who is sold to foreigners and raped but keeps fighting—like the fiercely independent Vietnam. The masterpiece has been translated into different languages including French, Russian, English, Chinese, Hungarian and most recently Korean.
To Huu —Vietnam’s Great Poet-Politician
To Huu (1920-2002) was one of the great poets of Vietnam in the 20th century and an important politician in the Vietnamese Communist Party. He has been called the poet laureate of the Vietnamese victories over the French and Americans. A Saigon newspaper called him "a great power who used his poetry as a means to gather and encourage people around the revolutionary cause. One of his poems goes: “Oh Stalin! Oh Stalin/ The love I bear my father,/ My mother, may wife/ myself/ To nothing beside the love I bear you” . His state funeral in December 2002 was headed by Prime Minister Phan Van Khai.
To Huu, whose real name was Nguyen Kim Thanh and nickname was Lanh, was born in 1920 in Phu Lai village near the former imperial city of Hue. He wrote poems at an early age. At the age of 18 his poems were printed and he joined the Indochinese Communist Party (now the Communist Party of Viet Nam). He was arrested by the enemy in April of 1939. He escaped from Dac Lay prison in March of 1942 and continued with his revolutionary activities in central Thanh Hoa province.[Source: Vietnam News Agency - December 11, 2002]
His revolutionary activities linked with his poet life which was marked with five collections of poems. In 1946, his first collection of poems entitled "Poem" (then changed into "Since Then") were made first public appearance on the press. The "Poem" combined his works written from 1937 to 1946. The "Northern Viet Nam" was understood as the song for the whole country in the anti-colonialist stage. Life in the liberated northern region and the implementation of the five-year national construction plan were reflected in a collection of poems titled "Rising Wind". During the anti-imperialist resistance war, he introduced the collection "Going to the Battle Front", praising the Vietnamese army and people's militant spirit. His most recent collection was "A Musical Sound". He has been presented with the Ho Chi Minh Award - the highest distinction of the State for the literary and artistic circles.
The Times reported: Although he rose to become Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam and had been a long-serving member of the country’s Communist Party, To Huu is most celebrated in his homeland as a poet. Long after he had fallen from grace in the hierarchy of the party his poems continued to be studied in schools across Vietnam, where they had inspired soldiers and civilians in the struggles, first against colonial France in the 1950s and then against the forces of South Vietnam, increasingly backed by the Americans from the early 1960s onwards. [Source: The Times, December 11, 2002 \~]
During the Vietnam War, Huu’s poems were frequently printed in newspapers as a bulwark to resolve. Welcome Spring ’71 — which appeared on the front page of a special Tet (lunar new year) edition of the Hanoi daily paper in 1971 — exhorted the «co-op lasses seeing their dear ones off to the front» to fresh efforts to keep the home fires burning, while expressing the sense of ache felt by all Vietnamese over the continuing division of their country.
Hanoi aches for our heart is in Hue and Saigon!
O South, our southern homeland,
This spring Uncle (Ho Chi Minh) no longer writes poems.
With the Central Committee’s call burning hot in its heart, Our nation as one man is marching to the firing line,
We shall strike, strike thunder blows
To shatter the hawks’ wings, and bash in their heads.
"His contemporaries regarded such verses as being an important part of the epic evolution of modern Vietnam. To Huu, whose real name was Nguyen Kim Thanh, was born in the imperial city of Hue in the southern part of what was then the French colony of Indo-China in 1920. At 18 he joined the Indo-China Communist Party, but — in a country that was «protectively» occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War — he was jailed in 1940 as a result of his revolutionary activities. But in 1942 he escaped from prison to rejoin the revolutionary underground, by then called the Revolutionary League for the Independence of Vietnam, known as the Viet Minh. Following the Japanese surrender he was among the Viet Minh forces that seized control of the country and proclaimed its independence as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Huu, by now known for his propaganda skills in both verse and prose, was appointed regional information officer for the central region of Vietnam. The return of French forces to their old colony and their attempt to reassert their authority began a long struggle, during which Huu’s poems inspired his countrymen with revolutionary zeal. \~\
To Huu’s Political Career
To Huu became the President of the Hue Uprising Committee in the August Revolution in 1945. After that he had held many important positions in the Party and State apparatus. He was member of the Political Bureau and Secretary of the Communist Party of Viet Nam Central Committee, and former Vice Chairman of the Council of Ministers (now the Government) of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam. He was awarded the State's Gold Star Order, the 60-year Party membership badge, and many other distinctions.
The Times reported: After the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 led to the end of its hold over Vietnam and the division of the country, Huu was appointed Deputy Culture Minister in the North Vietnamese Government based at Hanoi. In 1956 he was appointed to the central committee of the Vietnamese Communist Party.When the struggle to subvert the South Vietnamese regime began — becoming from 1961 effectively a war against American forces in the country — Huu held various senior party and government positions. But his chief role was, again, as an inspirer of his countrymen and women against the foe. [Source: The Times, December 11, 2002 \~]
After the American withdrawal and the reunification of Vietnam he continued to prosper, and he was made Deputy Prime Minister in 1980. In March 1982 he was elected to the Politburo at the fifth party congress, a momentous meeting during which General Giap, who had defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu and been Defense Minister in the fight against the Americans, was removed from his Politburo seat. The 1982 congress was also remarkable for the fact that Huu’s poems were quoted on several occasions and he was regarded as being, more than ever, a coming man. \~\
But in truth he was a revolutionary socialist of the old school and the economic reforms that were being introduced into Vietnamese business and financial life were not to his taste. However, he was blamed for a disastrous monetary reform plan, introduced in September 1985, which replaced the Vietnamese D10 note with a new D1 note and reduced the dong’s foreign exchange value from D1.20 to the US dollar to D15 to $1. Part of the aim of the exercise had been to contract the money supply by eliminating illegal cash holdings. But a leak in the currency reform plans defeated this. Inflation rose by 50 percent by the end of the year and by 700 percent by the autumn of 1986. Held responsible for the chaos, Huu was forced to step down as Deputy Prime Minister in June 1986. Thereafter he wielded no further political influence. But he continued to be revered in his country as a poet who had put his art at the service of the revolutionary cause. \~\
Marguerite Duras and The Lover
Matt Gross wrote in the New York Times, "There is no better place to have an affair than Ho Chi Minh City. Virtually every block in the city has a hotel or guesthouse whose front-desk clerk won't bat an eye as you check in with your paramour. What happens in Saigon, as it's still known, stays in Saigon. No one understood this better than Marguerite Duras, the French writer who was born in colonial Indochina in 1914 and spent her childhood there. At the age of 15, Duras, then living with her mother and two brothers in Sa Dec, a town on the Mekong River, began an affair with the 27-year-old son of a rich Chinese landowner. They met on a ferryboat, and soon she was sneaking away from her boarding school in Saigon to spend hot-and-heavy evenings in his "bachelor's quarters" in Cholon, the city's enormous ethnic Chinatown. Their scandalous affair served as the raw material for Duras's best-selling 1984 novel, "The Lover," for a film version shot in Vietnam, and for Duras's revisitation of her past, the memoir-like 1992 novel-in-film-notes "The North China Lover." But as popular as the various forms of "The Lover" are, Duras's life remains unmarked in present-day Vietnam. [Source: Matt Gross, New York Times, April 30, 2006]
Duras never revealed the real name of her Chinese lover, but later admitted to being the girl when the film The Lover was being made. The last thing she heard of him was that he immigrated to the United States after the Chinese Revolution. He had already died when the movie was produced. In the movie the heroine tells her lover that she is 17. He tells her that he is 32. [Source: Wikipedia +]
The Lover (French: L'Amant) is an autobiographical novel by Marguerite Duras, published in 1984 by Les Éditions de Minuit. It has been translated to 43 languages and was awarded the 1984 Prix Goncourt. It was adapted to film in 1992 as The Lover. Set against the backdrop of French colonial Vietnam, The Lover reveals the intimacies and intricacies of a clandestine romance between a pubescent girl from a financially strapped French family and an older, wealthy Chinese man. +
In 1929, a 15-year-old nameless girl is traveling by ferry across the Mekong Delta, returning from a holiday at her family home in the town of Sa Déc, to her boarding school in Saigon. She attracts the attention of a 27-year-old son of a Chinese business magnate, a young man of wealth and heir to a fortune. He strikes up a conversation with the girl; she accepts a ride back to town in his chauffeured limousine.Compelled by the circumstances of her upbringing, this girl, the daughter of a bankrupt, manic depressive widow, is newly awakened to the impending and all-too-real task of making her way alone in the world. Thus, she becomes his lover, until he bows to the disapproval of his father and breaks off the affair. For her lover, there is no question of the depth and sincerity of his love, but it isn't until much later that the girl acknowledges to herself her true feelings." +
Saigon of Marguerite Duras
On his search fur clues about Marguerite Duras and "The Lover" Matt Gross wrote in the New York Times, "My hunt began on Dong Khoi Street, in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City's downtown District 1. Dong Khoi used to be known as Rue Catinat, Saigon's premier shopping and entertainment strip; it's still hopping, with boutiques and cafes leading from the Notre Dame Cathedral at one end to the Saigon River at the other. Right in the middle is a little alley lined with shelves — this is the Lan Anh Bookshop, run by a friendly 69-year-old Saigonese man who introduced himself as Mr. Thach and who tends a small collection of Vietnamiana.[Source: Matt Gross, New York Times, April 30, 2006]
"In an unwieldy mixture of English, French and Vietnamese, I described my project, and for 200,000 dong, or about $12, Mr. Thach sold me the 1953 "Annuaire des États-Associés: Cambodge, Laos, Vietnam," an annotated directory of the colonies, complete with maps, ads for Mic Extra cigarettes and a pamphlet that matched old French street names, the ones Duras would have known, to their contemporary equivalents. Jackpot. While motorbikes raced down Dong Khoi and vendors offered me the previous day's newspapers, I flipped through the yellow-pages-style listings until one heading caught my eye: "Cinéma (Salles de)." Below it was the Eden Cinéma, where Duras's mother had worked as a piano player. The address: 183, rue Catinat. I was standing at 201.
"For Duras, the Eden represented an escape from her miserable family. Today, it has been renamed the Video Mini Dong Khoi, and sits forlornly at the rear of an arcade whose shops sell reproductions of famous Vietnamese and European paintings. Finding a hotel to match their ground-floor love nest — "hastily furnished from the look of it, with furniture supposed to be ultra-modern" — proved impossible. I settled for the next best thing: the Phoenix Hotel, with a faux-Bauhaus facade and a stairway that would let me bypass the front desk — an essential feature for any adulterer interested in maintaining anonymity. As the sun began to set, the night market at the intersection of Nguyen Trai and Phung Hung streets was getting going, and although those roast ducks were enticing, I wanted a Durassian meal. The famous dinner scenes in "The Lover" take place at expensive Chinese restaurants — "they occupy whole buildings, they're as big as department stores, or barracks, they look out over the city from balconies and terraces" — where Duras's siblings get drunk on Martell and Perrier and then ignore and insult the Lover, who picks up the tab anyway.
"Since Duras never names the restaurants, I turned again to the Annuaire, which had an ad for the Arc-en-Ciel, boasting "une ambiance inégalable et unique" and "taxi-girls de Hongkong." Amazingly, 50 years later, the Deco-ish Arc-en-Ciel remains open for business, minus the taxi-girls. It is now primarily a hotel, but with three floors of restaurants. A wedding had taken over the rooftop garden terrace, so my friends Christine and Sita joined me on the ground floor — a neat dining room that could have been in any hotel, anywhere in the world — for sizzling scallops with crispy rice cakes. Then I gathered my courage to make Sita, a married artist from Rhode Island, a proposal. Would you like, I asked, to have a make-believe affair in Sa Dec ? Sure, she said.
"The next morning, I descended from Room 205 in an Italian linen suit, the closest thing I had to the lover's raw-silk outfit. Outside was a topless, white 1930's Citroën Traction, a substitute for the lover's black Morris Léon Bollée, which I'd hired to take Sita and me to Sa Dec and back." One the way to Sa Dec "we realized we had no air-conditioning and nothing to block the dirt that gets kicked up along. We crossed the My Thuan Bridge, a sparkling mile-long span over the Mekong that was built by Australia in 2000 and made obsolete the ferry on which Duras — then Marguerite Donnadieu — and her lover first met. From there, a bumpy road dotted with hivelike brick factories led to Sa Dec.
"Sa Dec, population 96,000, may be the quintessential river town. Sandwiched between two branches of the Mekong, it is threaded through with streams and canals over which arc bridges of all sizes. All along the water, there are shops and warehouses sending rice flour and pigs along a trade route that has served the town for centuries. Signs of Sa Dec's most famous residents were not, however, immediately apparent...As Chien bathed his dusty Citroën, we began our inquiries: Where could we find the riverfront house of a rich Chinese man? No one we asked gave coherent directions, but they all knew who we were talking about: Huynh Thuy Le, a k a the Lover.
"Still, somehow, we made it to the colonial villa that served as the Donnadieu residence in the movie (it's now a Department of Education office), and then to a low house with a Chinese-style ridged roof. Was this really the "big villa" with "blue balustrades" and "tiers of terraces overlooking the Mekong" where the Lover had lived? Its current occupants, the antidrug police, did not look interested in talking to us. Finally, our motorbike taxis took us to the Truong Vuong Primary School, which we had been told was built by the French. It did indeed look colonial, and as Sita and I stood in the quiet courtyard, a man in white pants and black slacks waved at us from the doorway of his office and called out, "Bonjour!"
"Mr. Sang was a shy, gentle French teacher in his 60's who had spent his entire life in Sa Dec. This school, he explained carefully, had most likely been that run by Duras's mother, but one could not be sure. "There are no documents," he said. "Others have said that Madame Donnadieu lived here, since the director had a house next door in order to observe the school. But everything has changed. One cannot find the exact site." We asked about the drug-squad headquarters, and he confirmed that it had indeed been the Lover's villa. Then he offered to be our tour guide: "You and your friend are foreigners in my country," he said, "so it is my duty as a Vietnamese to show you around." How could we refuse?
"Our first stop was the tomb of the Lover and his Chinese wife, on a concrete island in an algae-covered pond near our hotel. A white gate marked with Chinese characters hung above the tombs; a neighboring isle had two more, those of the Lover's parents, who refused to let him marry Duras. Mr. Sang next brought us to the Chua Huong pagoda, built in 1838, to which the Lover had donated heavily. Inside, past a turtle-filled pool, we discovered an ornate shrine displaying two photographs. They were, Mr. Sang said, Huynh Thuy Le and his wife. The Lover looked to be in his early 70's, thin and mostly bald, but with "the white skin of the North Chinese" that once caught Duras's attention. Was there regret in his eyes? Years after their affair, he phoned Duras in Paris to tell her "he would never stop loving her for the rest of his life." Perhaps that is why his wife, in her photo, looks so uncomfortable, so unloved.
W. Somerset Maugham in Vietnam
On the Perfume River near Hue, on his way to celebrate Tet with the Vietnamese Emperor, W. Somerset Maugham wrote in “The Gentleman in the Parlour” (1930): "We went along very slowly and the sound of the paddle was the only sound that broke the silence. It was delightful to think that I had all those hours before me to enjoy the sense of well being and I thought to myself how when I was once more in Europe, imprisoned in stony cities, I would remember that perfect night and the enchanting solitude, It would be the most imperishable of my memories. It was a unique occasion and I said to myself that I must hoard the moments as they passed."
On Saigon, W. Somerset Maugham wrote in "Gentleman in the Parlour": "At the mouth of the little river I got once more into the flat-bottomed steamerand crossed the wide, shallow lake, changed into another boat, and went down another river.Finally I reached Saigon...'Saigon is a pleasant enough place to idle in for a few days; life is made easy by the casual traveller; and it is very agreeable to sit under the awning of the terrace of the Hotel Continental, an electric fan just above your head, and with an innocent drink before you to read in the local paper heated controversies upon the affairs of the Colony and the 'faits divers' of the neighborhood. It is charming to be able to read steadily through the advertisements without an uneasy feeling that you are wasting your time and it must be a dull mind that in such a perusal does not find here and there occasion for a pleasant gallop on a hobby horse through the realms of time and space.'
"Notwithstanding the Chinese city that has grown up since the French occupied the country, and notwithstanding the natives who saunter along the pavements or, in wide straw hats like extinguishers, pull rickshaws, Saigon has all the air of a little provincial town in the South of France. It is laid out with broad streets, shaded with handsome trees, and there is a bustle in them that is quite unlike the bustle of an Eastern town in an English colony. It is a blithe and smiling little place. It has an opera house, white and shining, built in a flamboyant style of the Third Republic, which faces a broad avenue; and it has a Hotel de Ville which is very grand, new and ornate. Outside the hotels are terraces, and at the hour of the 'aperitif' they are crowded with bearded, gesticulating Frenchmen, drinking the sweet beverages, Vermouth Casis, Byrrh, and Quinquina Dubonnet, which they drink in France, and they talk nineteen to the dozen in the rolling accent of the Midi. Gay little ladies who have something to do with local theater are dressed in smart clothes and with their penciled eyebrows and rouged cheeks bring a cheerful air of sophistication to this far distant spot. In the shops you will find Paris dresses from Marseilles and London hats from Lille. Victorias drawn by two little ponies gallop past, and motor cars toot their horns. The sun beats down from a cloudless sky, and the shade is heavy with the heat and solid.'
Graham Greene in Vietnam
The English writer Graham Greene first came to Hanoi in 1951 to write for the Paris Match. He returned to Vietnam each winter through 1955 to report on the French-Vietnamese war for the London Times. He endured a disastrous affair and spent a fair amount of of time in Saigon’s opium dens when he was there.
While Greene was in Saigon he stayed at the Continental Hotel, which is on Dong Hoi Street and still open today. Built by the French in 1880 and recently restored, it was another "Wartime watering hole for officials, journalists, tipsters, covert enemy agents and prostitutes." Other guests over the years included the French writer and philosopher André Malraux and W. Somerset Maugham. Greene stayed in Room 214 and reportedly wrote much of "The Quiet American" there.
In 1951, Greene wrote to his brother: 'This is the country, not Malaya. The women really look beautiful and sophisticatedly dressed. The situation is fantastic. Good food, good wine and tremendous friendliness.' He was apparently inspired to write The Quiet American in October 1951 while driving back to Saigon from Ben Tre province. He was accompanied by an American aid worker who lectured him about finding a "third force in Vietnam".
The Quiet American
“The Quiet American” is Graham Greene's 1955 novel set in Saigon in 1952 in the middle of the Vietnam’s war of independence against the French. The central characters are Alden Pyle, an earnest American spy whose idealism destroys the very thing he is trying to protect; Thomas Fowler, a jaded, opium-smoking British journalist; and Phuong. Fowler’s lovely Vietnamese mistress, who Pyle also falls for.
Explaining why he loves Vietnam, Fowler narrates: " the gold of the rice-fields under a flat late sun: the fishers' fragile cranes hovering over the fields like mosquitoes: the cups of tea on an old abbot's platform, with his bed and his commercial calendars, his buckets and broken cups and the junk of a lifetime washed up around his chair: the mollusc hats of the girls repairing the road when a mine had burst: the gold and the young green and the bright dresses of the south, and in the north the deep browns and the black clothes and the circle of enemy mountains and the drone of planes"
“The Quiet American” predicted not only the U.S. debacle in Vietnam but also Iraq. It is very anti-American book. It criticizes the United States both for meddling in the affairs of other countries and trying to impose their values on them, which the world-weary Greene regarded as quaint and overly moralistic. In the book, Fowler, the narrator, says, "God save us always from the innocent and the good" and "I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused."
The setting “The Quiet American” was the Hotel Continental, where Fowler first meets Pyle and Pyle meets Phuong, and the Rue Catinat, a Saigon street now known as Dong Khoi, where a terrorist bombing took place at a café that implicates Pyle in a sinister American-backed plan to create a favourable power vacuum. Graham Greene was regular at Saigon's opium dens. Many of the journalists who covered the Vietnam War in the 1960s regard the book as their Bible.
Both film adaptations - Joseph Mankiewicz's black-and-white version starring Michael Redgrave as Fowler (1958) and Philip Noyce's colour version starring Michael Caine (2002) - had some exteriors shot in Saigon.
Edward G Lansdale: the Quiet American and Father of South Vietnam
Edward G Lansdale was legendary covert operator in South Vietnam regarded as a "white-hat hero figure immersed in "dirty tricks", a kingmaker and intriguer, manipulating and crushing the Asians for the greater glory of the American Empire." In "Bright Shining Lie," Neil Sheehan calls Lansdale the "father of South Vietnam", presumably referring to Lansdale's responsibility for swinging US support toward Diem in 1955.
Sergei Blagov wrote in the Asia Times, "When Lansdale arrived in Saigon in 1954 he faced the task of building an alternative to the mosaic of religious armies and criminal gangs that had ruled South Vietnam. By manipulating payments to the armed groups, Lansdale was able to neutralize most of them. Working under cover, Lansdale was widely credited with almost single-handedly maneuvering Diem to the pinnacle of power. [Source: By Sergei Blagov, Asia Times , November 22, 2003 \=]
Lansdale expounded what he called the "demotic" strategy, an approach similar to what would be called "winning hearts and minds". However, he simultaneously believed that dirty tricks beget dirty tricks. When an order appeared wrong, he simply ignored it and went on doing what he thought was right - and frequently it was. The kind of action designed to reduce corners appealed to Lansdale. Lansdale was also a master of deception. As he used to put it: "It's not true, but was something I started. Mea culpa." As a former advertising executive, Lansdale presented Trinh Minh The as Vietnam's Robin Hood. However, when asked some uncomfortable questions about Trinh Minh The, Lansdale claimed he had "a memory block".
Lansdale, who died in 1987, has often been referred to as the driving force and the idea man behind psywar action. "You can ... get away with almost anything so long as it's for the right thing and you do it for the right reasons," Lansdale once said. His other trademark piece of wisdom was, "Don't let the little formalities of life stop you."
According to his New York Times obituary: Lansdale was "an Air Force officer whose influential theories of counterinsurgent warfare proved successful in the Philippines after World War II but failed to bring victory in South Vietnam. A dashing Californian, Mr. Lansdale is widely thought to have been the model for characters in two novels involving guerrilla warfare in Southeast Asia: ''The Quiet American'' by Graham Greene and ''The Ugly American'' by Eugene Burdick and William J. Lederer. [Source: Eric Pace, New York Times, February 24, 1987]
Early in his Vietnam service, Colonel Lansdale was head of a team of agents that carried out undercover operations against North Vietnam. The team turned in a vivid report of its actions shortly before pulling out of Hanoi in October 1954. The team's report said it ''spent the last days of Hanoi in contaminating the oil supply of the bus company for a gradual wreckage of engines in the buses,'' and ''in taking actions for delayed sabotage of the railroad.'' ''The team had a bad moment when contaminating the oil,'' it went on. ''They had to work quickly at night in an enclosed storage room. Fumes from the contaminant came close to knocking them out. Dizzy and weak-kneed, they masked their faces with handkerchiefs and completed the job.''
Graham Greene and Caodaism
Graham Greene was briefly a member of the Vietnamese homegrown Cao Dai religion. Some tourists have said he described the main Cao Dai temple as "Walt Disney on acid" but actually what he said was that Caodaism was a "prophecy of planchette" at the temple one sees: "Christ and Buddha looking down from the roof of a Cathedral on a Walt Disney fantasia of the East, dragons and snakes in technicolor."
The Quiet American narrator, an English journalist named Fowler, has seized the opportunity to get out of Saigon for a day, and drives to a religious festival in the countryside. The visit serves as an interlude to the novel’s romantic and political intrigues, and also as an opportunity for Greene to brief the reader on a colorful aspect of Vietnamese culture: a new religion, which purported to unite all faiths in the service of universal peace, but which, at the same time, possessed its own army, and turned its province, which Greene calls Tanyin (its actual name is Tay Ninh) into a Caodaist state within a state. ?
As Fowler listens to this strange Pope’s deputy pontificate, he reflects, "I was certain he knew that all of us were there to laugh at his movement; our air of respect was as corrupt as his phoney hierarchy, but we were less cunning. Our hypocrisy gained us nothing—not even a reliable ally, while theirs had procured arms, supplies, even cash down."
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.
Last updated May 2014