CHỮ NÔM or the Former Vietnamese Script and Its Past Contributions to Vietnamese Literature – Section 4

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Nguyễn Khắc Kham

… be continued for section 3:

The history of Vietnamese literature in Nôm**

    In another respect, from the end of the thirteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century, it has played an effective role in the expression and the transmission of Vietnamese literature.

    The history of Vietnamese literature in nôm which covered nearly seven centuries may be divided in the following main periods:

1) The Trn-H period (thirteenth and fourteenth centuries). 
2) The Lê-Mc period (fifteenth and sixteenth centuries). 
3) The Lê trung hưng or North-South struggle period (seventeenth and eighteenth centuries). 
4) The Nguyn period (nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century).

1) The Trần-Hồ period

 According to Khâm-đnh Vit-s thông-giám Cương-mc 欽 定 越 史 通 鑑 綱 目, the first writer have used chữ nôm in poetry was Nguyn Thuyên 阮 詮 or Hàn Thuyên 韓 詮 and others were said to have followed his example. Such were Nguyn Sĩ C阮 士 固, and Chu An 朱 安. The latter and Nguyn Thuyên were reported to have been respectively the authors of Quc ng thi tp 國 語 詩 集 (Chu An, author) and Phi sa tp 披 沙 集.

   Unfortunately, both of these collections of Nôm verses were lost. According to Bùi Huy Bích 裴 輝 璧 (1744-1818), Trê Cóc 鯔 𤥫 or The story in verses of the Catfish and the Toad also dated from the Trn, but the exact date of this satirical fable in lc-bát meter, has not been so far conclusively determined.33 In addition, Trinh Th 貞鼠or the virtuous mouse a narrative poem in nôm, the Story in verses of Vương Tường 王 嬙 傳, and six other writings in nôm related to the Story of Nguyn Biu 阮 表 傳 were also presumed to have dated from the end of the Trn. However, there has been so far much controversy about their true date.33

    Concerning writings in Nôm under the Hu Trn and the H  it was also reported that in 1387 under the reign of King Trn Ðế Nghin , the King’s Father Trn Ngh Tôn 陳 藝 宗, having granted to H Quí Ly 胡 季 釐 then Lê Quí Ly 梨季釐, a sword bearing the inscription Văn vũ toàn tài quân thần đồng đức 梨季釐 (Both a scholar and a warrior, a virtuous subject serving a virtuous King)34, Quí Ly composed verses in the vernacular to show him his gratitude. Later, in 1437, as King Thái T of the dynasty wanted to read samples of edicts and verses written in nôm by H Quí Ly, Nguyn Trãi, was reported to have succeeded in gathering and presenting to him some tens of these writings.35

2) The Lê-Mạc period

    The same Nguyn Trãi was also said to have left some writings in Nôm, such as c trai thi tp, an improvised poem in the vernacular addressed to Th L, a girl seller of sleeping mats who later became his concubine36 and didactic poem in Nôm, Gia hun ca or family instructions. The so-called improvised poem to Th L is of dubious authenticity. As to Gia hun ca, this poem in 796 lines may have been composed later by one or several successive authors. The only writing in nôm by Nguyn Trãi available at present is the Collection of poems in the National language (Quc âm thi tp ) which forms the chapter seven of c trai di tp.

    If the outset of the dynasty was marked with no other important Nôm literary work than this collection of poems by Nguyn Trãi and two Th ngôn by Lê Li recently brought to light by Hoàng Xuân Hãn, the reign of King Lê Thánh Tôn (1460-1497) witnessed an extraordinary flourishing of Vietnamese literature in the vernacular.

   King Lê Thánh Tôn who was gifted with the rare faculty of composing poetry and was very fond of belles-lettres, founded a literary circle known as Hi Tao Ðàn with as members 28 Court officials called Nh thp bát tú or the 28 Constellations and with himself as Chairman, and as vice Chairmen, Thân Nhân Trung and Ð Nhun. Within this Hi Tao Ðàn, himself and his courtiers exchanged poems in nôm which were collected later to form the Collections of Vietnamese poems under the reign of Hng Ðc i.e. the reign of Lê Thánh Tôn.38

    Besides this Hng Ðc quc âm thi tp, mentioned should be made of such writings in nôm as Hng Châu quc ng thi tp, by Lương Nh Hc, Kim Lăng Ký by Ð Cn . In the next century, under the Mc, Vietnamese literature in Nôm showed much more originality in the famous Collection of poems by Nguyn Bnh Khiêm (1492-1587) known as Bch vân thi tp, Bch Vân (White Clouds) being the literary appellation of this poet. Among nôm writings under the Mc, we should also mention Ði Ðng phong cnh phú, Tam Ngung đng phú, and Tch cư ninh th by Nguyn Hãng; S Bc quc ng thi tp, S trình Khúc, Tthi Khúc, Tiu đc lc phú by Hoàng Sĩ Khi and, finally, Ngư ph nhp Ðào nguyên truyn , by Phùng Khc Khoan.39

3) The Lê trung hưng

    Or North South Struggle period From the death of Lê Thánh Tôn in 1497, Ði Vit or the then Vietnam went on to be plagued with social troubles and a permanent state of political unrest which led to the usurpation by Mc Ðăng Dung (1527). After the short lived dynasty of the Mc, war broke out in 1627 between the Trnh in the North and the Nguyn in the South, both claiming to be followers of the . It ended only in 1672 with the agreement to use the River of Linh (Linh giang) as the demarcation line between the two territories. But in 1775, taking advantage of the Tây Sơn, revolt in the South, the Trnh attacked and took Phú Xuân, the capital of the Nguyn in the South.

    However, both the Trnh and the Nguyn were finally overthrown by the Tây Sơn one of the leaders of whom Nguyn Hu proclaimed himself Emperor by the end of 1787. Despite the historic triumph of Emperor Quang Trung over the Chinese in 1789 and many of its remarkable achievements, the Tây Sơn regime was short-lived and brought to an end in 1802 when Nguyn Ánh proclaimed himself Emperor Gia Long of the Nguyn after capturing Emperor Cnh Thnh of the Tây Sơn and his brothers.

    The social and political background of this long period covering the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries had a great impact on the development of the Vietnamese literature in Nôm. Most of the writers were military leaders or Court officials mostly involved in the events of their times. All of them wrote in Chinese characters. However they chose to write also in nôm which enabled them to spread more widely their personal political convictions far beyond the traditional academic circle and, at the same time, to enlarge their sphere of influence in the country. Besides such Chinese borrowed literary genres as the Tht ngôn thi or seven beat meter poetry, the Phú or prosepoetry, the Kinh Nghĩa or explanations of Chinese Classics, the Văn sách or dissertation which continued to be in high favour, some long narratives in lục bát or Six eight meter and in Song tht lc bát or the 7-7-6-8 meter which made their apparition toward the end of the eighteenth century, materialized the new creative spirit of Vietnamese writers in nôm. Following are the most representative works of Vietnamese nôm literature during these two centuries in the then North Vietnam, South Vietnam and under the Tây Sơn.

  1. a) Let us mention, as main nôm writings in North Vietnam under the Trịnh: Giai cnh hng tình phú, Ngã ba hc phú by Nguyn Bá Lân, Chinh phngâm translated into Nôm by Ðoàn th Ðim, Cung oán Ngâm Khúc by Nguyn Gia Thiu, Hoa Tiên Truyn by Nguyn Huy T, T tình Vãn or two short poems by Nguyn th Ngc Vinh, a concubine of Lord Trnh Doanh, Lý Triu Ð tam Hoàng thái hu c lc thn tích quc ng din ca by Trương Ngc Trong, a maid of honor at the time of Lord Trnh Cương, Ng đ Thiên hoà doanh Bách vnh thi tp by Lord Trnh Căn, Kin Nguyên thi tp by Lord Trnh Doanh, Tâm thanh tn dy tp by Lord Trnh Sâm .40)
  2. b) Among main nôm writings in South Vietnam under the Nguyn, mention should be made of Huê tình Truyn by Prince Ðán (1699-1753) the eighth son of King Hin Tôn Nguyn Phước Chú, Ngo Long cương vãn and Tư Dung vãn by Ðào Duy T, Sãi Vãi, a satirical writing by Nguyn Cư Trinh, Song tinh bt d truyn by Nguyn Hu Hào.

4) Main nôm writings under the Tây Sơn

    In addition to such reasons as exposed previously which account for the great development of Nôm literature at the end of the eighteenth century, let us also mention the exceptional favour in which was kept ch Nôm under the Tây Sơn and especially under the short reign of Emperor Quang Trung. Here are some of the nôm writings whose authors supported or opposed this regime: Hoài Nam Khúc by Hoàng Quang, Tng Tây h phú by Nguyn Huy Lượng, Ai tư vãn by Princess Ngc Hân, wife of Nguyn Hu, D am Ngâm tp and D am văn tp by Phan Huy Ích, who has also left a Nôm translation of the Chinese written Chinh ph Ngâm by Ðng Trn Côn, Ngôn n thi tp and Cung oán thi by Nguyn Hu Chnh, Chiến tng Tây h phú and the narrative in nôm Sơ Kính Tân Trang by Phm Thái.41 Besides these Nôm writings of the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries, we would like to make a special mention of the Thiên Nam minh giám, an anonymous long historical poem in the 7-7-6-8 meter which according to Prof. Phm văn Diêu might have been composed between 1623 to 165742 and the Thiên Nam Ng lc, another anonymous historical poem which might have been written between 1787 and 1800 according to Nguyn Văn T or between 1682 and 1709 according to Hoàng Xuân Hãn.43

    Vietnamese literature in Nôm under the Nguyễn (1802-1862). This period which covered about sixty years has been justly considered to be the golden age of Vietnamese literature in Nôm. This great flourishing of Nôm literary works was not after all due to the cultural policy of the Nguyn who with the exception of Emperors Gia Long and T Ðc neither composed verses in Nôm like the Lords Trnh nor exhorted their subjects to write in Nôm. It was, to some extent, both a heritage from and a kind of outgrowth of the nôm literature in the eighteenth century. In another respect, it authorizes to suppose that readers of Nôm especially on Nôm narratives in verses must have been more and more on the increase in Vietnam. In any case, the fact is that most of the master-pieces of nôm literature precisely dated from the Nguyn dynasty. For lack of space, we will merely mention a few book titles and authors’ names without pretending to give an exhaustive list of the profusion of writings in nôm which were produced by the nineteenth century. First of all, a place of honor should be reserved for our National poem of Kim Vân Kiu a 3254 lục bát line poem by the famous poet Nguyn Du (1765-1820), of which several translations in foreign languages are available. Next come such writings both in nôm prosa and in verses as Xuân Hương thi tp by Poetess H Xuân Hương (early in the nineteenth century), Nh thp t hiếu din âm, Ph châm tin lãm, S trình tin lãm Khúc by Lý văn Phc (1785-1840), Mai đình mng Ký by Nguyn Huy H (1783-1841), Kim Thch Kỳ Duyên by Bùi Hu Nghĩa (1807-1872), Lc vân Tiên, Dương T Hà Mu, Ngư Tiu vn đáp y thut by Nguyn Ðình Chiu (1822-1888) Thánh chế Thp điu din ca, Thánh chế Lun ngthích nghĩa ca Thánh chế t hc gii nghĩa ca by TÐc (1829-1883), politics inspired poems by Tôn Th Tường and Phan Văn Tr , Chính Khí Ca by Nguyn văn Giai , Ði Nam Quc s din Ca by Lê Ngô Cát and Phm Ðình Toái , Hnh Thc Ca by Nguyn Nhược Th (1830-1909), poems and songs called Hát Nói by Nguyn Công Tr (1778-1858), Cao Bá Quát (?-1854) and Nguyn Quí Tân (1811-1858), various poems by Nguyn Khuyến (1835-1909), Trn Tế Xương (1870-1907) etc.

    Finally, a special mention should be made of such anonymous narratives in nôm verses as Nh đ mai, Tng Trân, Thch Sanh, N Tú Tài, Phương Hoa, Lý Công, Hoàng Tru, Bích Câu, Phan Trn, Quan Âm Th Kính, Hoa Ðiu tranh năng, etc… other Nôm narratives and Nôm writings continued to be produced mostly underground even after 1862 until at least the fourties and despite the official adoption of the Quc Ng script.44 All the Nôm literary works mentioned above have been integrally or partly transcribed in the romanized script. However, such is not the case with a prodigious number of other Nôm texts now stored in Vietnamese and some foreign libraries.45 They are always waiting for transcription in Quc Ng to be made by specialists. In another respect, Nôm texts which have been already transcribed have not been free from transcription errors. Under these conditions, textual criticism is indispensable and it would be possible only through collation of all the versions available both in Nôm and in Quc Ng. As rightly observed by Dương Qung Hàm a true history of Vietnamese literature could be really undertaken only when all these documents in nôm have been deciphered and transcribed in Quốc Ngữ.”46 But, all the Nôm texts especially those which require transcription in Quc Ng are not exclusively limited to literature and there are many important Nôm documents related to Vietnamese history and Vietnames folklore. In effect, Ch Nôm was not only used by Vietnamese writers for literature but also by other people for various purposes as early as from the seventeenth century. For example here is a letter in Nôm addressed in 1670 to the Lord Nguyn Phước Trăn by a Japanese named Kadoya Shichirobei also known under his Vietnamese name as Cha Chánh (Father Chánh): ( : ).

    Following is its transcription in Quc NgÔng muôn tui. Có mt em tôi đt Annam nghe rng đã làm tôi ông, mng lm. Du muôn l thi đã cy lòng (or trông) ơn. Ông muôn tui” [English translation: I wish you ten thousands years of life. I heard that one of my young brothers [i.e. Shichirojiro ] who is living in Annam has become one of your subjects. I feel much pleasure for it. May I recommend him to your benevolence under any circumstances. I wish you ten thousands years of life].47

    Always concerning the seventeenth century, let us mention several manuscripts in nôm from Italian Catholic Father J. Maiorica (1591-1651) found by Prof. Hoàng Xuân Hãn at the French National Library (Bibliothèque Nationale) in Paris. The titles of these manuscripts have been transcribed by him as follows. 1) Thiên-Chúa Thánh-giáo Hi ti Kinh. 2) Thiên-Chúa Thánh-giáo Khai-mông. 3) Ðc Chúa Chi-thu. 4) Truyn Ðc Chúa Chit-thu. 5) Thiên-Chúa Thánh-Mu. 6) Các Thánh truyn. 7) Vita sanctorum (No title in nôm). 8) Ông Thánh I-na-xu. 9) Ông Thánh Phan-chi-cô Xa-vi-ê truyn. 10) Ngám l trong mùa Phc-sinh đến tháng by. 11) Nhng điu ngám trong các l trng. 12) Kinh nhng l mùa Phc sinh.48 As just can be seen, Ch Nôm which has so richly and diversely contributed to the past Vietnamese literature, will remain an indispensable tool of research not only for the students of the past Vietnamese literature but also for researches on Vietnamese history and Vietnamese culture.

◊  CHỮ NÔM or the Former Vietnamese Script and Its Past Contributions to Vietnamese Literature – Section 2.
◊  CHỮ NÔM or the Former Vietnamese Script and Its Past Contributions to Vietnamese Literature – Section 1.
◊  CHỮ NÔM or the Former Vietnamese Script and Its Past Contributions to Vietnamese Literature – Section 3.

29  For further details about the structure of Ch nôm, see : 聞宥: 論字喃之組織及其與漢字關涉 (14, 1933. pp. 201-242), 燕京學報 14 , 1933, tr.201-242 – 山本達郎: 聞宥氏, 論字喃之組織 1949. 東洋學報12 卷第 2 , 1935 陳荆和: 字喃之形態及其產生年代 [Hình thái và niên đại xuất hiện của chữ Nôm], 人文科學論叢, 第一輯,台北, 1949 . Bửu Cầm, Dẫn Nhập Nghiên Cứu Chữ Nôm (Teaching material for students of the Faculty of Letters, University of Saigon). See also :  聞宥當田健次字喃研究一聲母 (1), 字喃研究一聲母 (2), 1973, 12 言語學論叢卷 (72, 12) (東教大言語學研究會), (1), (2), 1973, 12 (72, 12) ( ). 
30  Dương Quảng Hàm, Le Chữ nôm ou écritude démotique etc… pp. 283-284a. 
31 Edouard Diguet, “De la Langue Annamite Parlée et Ecrite”, Revue Indochinoise, Aout, 1905, 226-32. 
32  Bửu Cầm, “Ưu-điểm và Khuyết-điểm của Chữ Nôm” (Strong points and weak points of Chữ Nôm) Việt Nam Khảo Cổ tập san, Saigon 1960, no 1, pp. 50-64. Maurice Durand, Comptes rendus, B.E.F.E.O, tome L, fasc, no 2, 1962, page 561. 
33  Hoàng Xuân Hãn, Nghiêm Toản, Thi Văn Việt Nam (Từ đời Trần đến cuối đời Mạc), Các lớp Trung Học. Loại Sách Học Sông Nhị, Hà-Nội 1951. pp. 19-45. Hoàng Xuân Hãn, “Nguyễn Biểu, một gương nghĩa liệt và mấy bài thơ cuối đời Trần”, Khai Trí Tiến Ðức Tập San, 2.3, Hanoi 1941. Lãng-Hồ, “Văn phẩm với Thời Ðại của Văn phẩm. Truyện Trê Cóc và Truyện Trinh-Thử”, Văn Hóa Nguyệt San, Saigon Tập XII, Quyển 11 (11-1963), pp. 1690-1700. Lãng-Hồ, “Văn phẩm với Thời Ðại của Văn phẩm, Truyện Vương Tường”, Văn Hóa Nguyệt San, Saigon Tập XII, Quyển 12 (12-1963), pp. 1893-1898. Lãng-Hồ, “Văn phẩm với Thời Ðại của Văn phẩm, Những Bài thơ văn của Nguyễn Biểu, của vua Trần Trùng Quang và của một vị sư Chùa Yên-Quốc”, Văn Hóa Nguyệt San, Saigon Tập XIII, Quyển 1 (1-1964), pp. 63-70. 
34  Cf. Shu-King , 書經泰誓中, 6: “ 受有億兆夷民離心離德予有亂臣十人同心同德雖有周親不如仁人”: Kinh-Thư, Vietnamese translation by Prof. Thẩm Quỳnh, Saigon 1968, page 206. 
35  Dương Quảng Hàm, Việt Nam Văn Học Sử Yếu, page 107. 
36  Cf. Nguyễn Khắc-Kham, “Vietnamese Names and their peculiarities”, Area and Culture Studies, No 23 Tokyo University of Foreign Studies 1973, page 205, foot-note number 23. 
37  Hoàng Xuân Hãn, Nghiêm Toản, op. cited pp. 49-69. Trần Văn Giáp, Phạm Trọng Ðiềm: Nguyễn Trãi, Quốc Âm Thi Tập (Hanoi, 1956), Văn-Ðàn Tạp chí, Số Ðặc biệt về Nguyễn Trãi, Bộ IV, số 10 (3/1-9/1, 1963). A symposium about Nguyễn Trãi and his works, with as participants Phạm Ðình Tân, Thái Bằng, Vũ Hạnh, Phạm Ðình Khiêm, Nguyễn Khắc-Kham and Nguyễn Trọng Huy, a 16th generation descendant from Nguyễn Trãi. 
38 Dương Quảng Hàm, op. cited pp. 98, 99, 280. Nguyễn Ðình Hoà Book Review: Introduction à la litterature Vietnamienne by Maurice M. Durand and Nguyễn Trần Huân, Journal of American Oriental Society. Vol. 92, Number 2, April-June 1972 pp. 364-368. 
39  Hoàng Xuân Hãn, Nghiêm Toản op. cited. pp. 101-121. 
40 Dương Quảng Hàm op. cited, pp. 302-306. Nguyễn Văn Tố, “Poésies inédites de l’époque des Lê” , Bulletin de la Société d’Enseignement Mutuel du Tonkin, Tome XIV, no 1, Janvier-Mars 1934, pp. 30-36, Tome XIV, no 2, Avril-Juin 1934, pp. 182-190, Tome XIV, No 3, Juillet-Sept. 1934, pp. 460-463. 
41  Sơn-Tùng, Hoàng Thúc Trâm, Quốc văn Ðời Tây Sơn, Sách Hiểu Biết, Vĩnh Bảo Saigon, 1950, 123 pages. 
42  Phạm Văn Diêu, “Thiên Nam Minh Giám”, Văn Hoá Nguyệt San, Saigon Loại mới tập XII, Quyển 1, số 77 tháng 1-1963, pp. 49-68. 
43  Phạm Văn Diêu, “Thiên Nam Ngữ Lục”, V.N.V.H.N.S. Loại mới tập XII, Quyển 3, số 79, tháng 3, 1963, pp. 351-368, Quyển 4 số 80, tháng 4, 1963, pp. 535-550, số 81, tháng 5, 1963 pp. 689-698, số 82, tháng 6, 1963, pp. 835-847. 
44  Hạo-Nhiên, Nghiêm Toản, Việt Nam Văn-Học Sử Trích yếu, II, Vĩnh Bảo, Saigon, 1949 pp. 7-70. Thanh Lãng, Khởi Thảo Văn-Học Sử Việt Nam, Văn chương Chữ Nôm (Tựa của Giáo Sư Nguyễn Ðăng Thục), Saigon 1953, pp. 47-212, Phạm Thế Ngũ, Việt Nam Văn Học Sử Giản ước Tân Biên, Vol. 2, Quốc Học Tùng Thư, Saigon 1963. 
N.B. Concerning the true names of Hồ Xuân Hương and Bà Huyện Thanh Quan presumed to have been respectively called H th Mai and Nguyn th Hinh, see Introduction à la littérature Vietnamienne (Collection U.N.E.S.C.O, Introduction aux litteratures Orientales G. Maisonneuve et Larose Paris, 1969) by Maurice M. Durand and Nguyễn Trần Huân, pp. 181, 189. 
45  Concerning the Collection of Nôm texts at the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris, see: Alexander Barton Woodside, Vietnam and The Chinese Model, A comparative Study of Vietnamese and Chinese Government in the first half of the nineteenth century, Harvard University Press Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1971, page 323 where we read the following statement “In Paris, the baffling riches of the fascinating collection of nôm texts at the Bibliothèque Nationale are a challenge to any scholar.” 
46  Dương Quảng Hàm, Le chữ nôm ou Ecriture demotique etc… page 285. 
47 Kawashima Motojiro: 川島元次郎朱印[船]貿易史 [Lịch sử mậu dịch thuyền Châu Ấn], 大正十年九月十日印刷大正十年九月十五日發行內外出版株式會社, page 469. 
48  Hoàng Xuân Hãn, Girolamo Maiorica etc… op. cited pp. 208-213.

Source text: Area and Culture Studies 24, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies 1974. Electronic edition by Nguyễn Quang Trung and Lê Văn Ðặng, June 2001. (Tạp chí Hán Nôm, Số 4 (77) 2006; Tr.3-21)

** The title of sections, bold textes and featured sepia image has been set by Ban Tu Thư –
◊  Source: Institute of Sino-Nom studies.

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