Vietnamese literature

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Vietnamese literature (Vietnamese : văn học Việt Nam; Chữ Hán: 文學越南) is the literature, both oral and written, created largely by Vietnamese-speaking people.



For a millennium before the 10th century, Vietnam was under the rule of various Chinese dynasties and as a result much of the written work during this period was in Chữ Hán. Chữ Nôm, created around the 10th century, allowed writers to compose in Vietnamese using native characters that were inspired by Chinese characters. It flourished in the 18th century when many notable Vietnamese writers and poets composed their works in chữ nôm and when it briefly became the official written script.

While the Chữ Quốc ngữ script was created in 1631, it did not become popular outside of missionary groups until the early 20th century, when the French colonial administration mandated its use in French Indochina. By the mid-20th century, virtually all Vietnamese works of literature were composed in quốc ngữ. Today, Francophone Vietnamese and English-speaking Vietnamese are counted by many critics as contributors to the ongoing history of Vietnamese literature.


Folk literature

Unlike written literature, early oral literature was composed in Vietnamese and is still accessible to ordinary Vietnamese today. Vietnamese folk literature is an intermingling of many forms. It is not only an oral tradition, but a mixing of three media: hidden (only retained in the memory of folk authors), fixed (written), and shown (performed). Folk literature usually exist in many versions, passed down orally, and have unknown authors.

Myths consist of stories about supernatural beings, heroes, creator gods, and reflect the viewpoint of ancient people about human life. They consist of creation stories, stories about their origins (Lạc Long Quân, Âu Cơ), culture heroes (Sơn Tinh or Mountain Spirit - Thủy Tinh or Water Spirit).

Medieval literature

Văn ngôn

The earliest surviving literature by Vietnamese writers is written in Chữ Hán or Classical Chinese. Almost all of the official documents in Vietnamese history were written in Chữ Hán, as were the first poems. [1] Not only is the Chinese script foreign to modern Vietnamese speakers, these works are mostly unintelligible even when directly transliterated from Chinese into the modern quốc ngữ script due to their Chinese syntax and vocabulary. As a result, these works must be translated into colloquial Vietnamese in order to be understood by the general public. These works include official proclamations by Vietnamese emperors, imperial histories, and declarations of independence from China, as well as Vietnamese poetry. In chronological order notable works include:


Works written in chữ Nôm - a locally invented demotic script based on chữ Hán - was developed for writing the spoken Vietnamese language from the 13th Century onwards. For the most part, these chữ Nôm texts can be directly transliterated into the modern chữ Quốc ngữ and be readily understood by modern Vietnamese speakers. However, since chữ Nôm was never standardized, there are ambiguities as to which words are meant when a writer used certain characters. This resulted in many variations when transliterating works in chữ Nôm into chữ Quốc ngữ. Some highly regarded works in Vietnamese literature were written in chữ Nôm, including Nguyễn Du's Truyện Kiều , Đoàn Thị Điểm's chữ nôm translation of the poem Chinh Phụ Ngâm Khúc (征婦吟曲 - Lament of a Warrior Wife) from the Classical Chinese poem composed by her friend Đặng Trần Côn (famous in its own right), and poems by the renowned poet Hồ Xuân Hương.

Other notable works include:

Modern literature

While created in the seventeenth century, chữ quốc ngữ was not widely used outside of missionary circles until the early 20th century, when the French colonial government mandated its use in French Indochina. During the early years of the twentieth century, many periodicals in chữ quốc ngữ flourished and their popularity helped popularize chữ quốc ngữ. While some leaders resisted the popularity of chữ quốc ngữ as an imposition from the French, others embraced it as a convenient tool to boost literacy. After declaring independence from France in 1945, Empire of Vietnam's provisional government adopted a policy of increasing literacy with chữ quốc ngữ. Their efforts were hugely successful, as the literacy rate jumped overnight.

In those early years, there were many variations in orthography and there was no consensus on how to write certain words. After some conferences, the issues were mostly settled, but some still linger to this day. By the mid-20th century, all Vietnamese works of literature are written in chữ quốc ngữ, while works written in earlier scripts are transliterated into chữ quốc ngữ for accessibility to modern Vietnamese speakers. The use of the earlier scripts is now limited to historical references.

Works in modern Vietnamese include:

See also

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  1. George Cœdès The Making of South East Asia 1966- Page 87 "No work of literature from the brush of a Vietnamese survives from the period of Chinese rule prior to the rise of the first national dynasties; and from the Dinh, Former Le, and Ly dynasties, all that remains are some poems by Lac Thuan (end of the tenth century), Khuong Viet (same period), and Ly Thuong Kiet (last quarter of the eleventh century). Those competent to judge consider these works to be quite up to the best standards of Chinese literature.