Vietnamese literature

Last updated

Vietnamese literature (Vietnamese : Việt-nam văn-học or Văn học Việt Nam) is the literature, both oral and written, created largely by Vietnamese-speaking people.



For a millennium before the 10th century, Imperial Annam was dominated by China and as a result much of the written work during this period was in Hanese. 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 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 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


The earliest surviving literature by Vietnamese writers is written in Classical Chinese. Almost all of the official documents in Vietnamese history were written in Classical Chinese, 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 kings, royal 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 Chinese characters - was developed for writing the spoken Vietnamese language from the 13th Century onwards. For the most part, these chu nom texts can be directly transliterated into the modern quốc ngữ script 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 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

Related Research Articles

The Vietnamese alphabet is the modern Latin writing script or writing system for Vietnamese. It uses the Latin script based on Romance languages originally developed by Portuguese missionaries.

History of writing in Vietnam

Spoken and written Vietnamese today uses the Latin-script based Vietnamese alphabet, the lexicon altogether containing native Vietnamese words derived from the Latin script, Chinese-Vietnamese words (Hán-Việt), Nôm words, and other adapted foreign words. Historic Vietnamese literature was written by scholars in Nôm and before that Hán.

Culture of Vietnam Culture of Vietnam

The culture of Vietnam is one of the oldest in Southeast Asia, with the Bronze age Đông Sơn culture considered to be one of its most important progenitors for its Ancient history. Vietnamese culture was heavily influenced by Chinese culture due to the 1000 years of Northern rule. In this period of time Vietnamese was written with Chinese characters. This large impact on Vietnamese culture meant that Vietnam is often considered to be part of the East Asian cultural sphere.

<i>Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư</i> official historical text of the Vietnamese Lê Dynasty

The Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư is the official national chronicle of the Vietnamese state, that was originally compiled by the royal historian Ngô Sĩ Liên under the order of the Emperor Lê Thánh Tông and was finished in 1479 during the Lê period. The 15-volume book covered the period from Hồng Bàng Dynasty to the coronation of Lê Thái Tổ, the first emperor of the Lê Dynasty in 1428. In compiling his work, Ngô Sĩ Liên based on two principal historical sources which were Đại Việt sử ký by Lê Văn Hưu and Đại Việt sử ký tục biên by Phan Phu Tiên. After its publication, Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư was continually supplemented by other historians of the royal court such as Vũ Quỳnh, Phạm Công Trứ and Lê Hi. Today the most popular version of Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư is the Nội các quan bản edition which was completed in 1697 with the additional information up to 1656 during the reign of the Emperor Lê Thần Tông and the Lord Trịnh Tráng. Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư is considered the most important and comprehensive historical book. The chronicle, which was modeled after Sima Qian’s Records of the Grand Historian, provides a chronological historical narration beginning with the legendary Hồng Bàng dynasty and continuing to the founding of the house of Lê in 1428.

Phan Khôi

Phan Khôi was an intellectual leader who inspired a North Vietnamese variety of the Chinese Hundred Flowers Campaign, in which scholars were permitted to criticize the Communist regime, but for which he himself was ultimately persecuted by the Communist Party of Vietnam.

Nam quốc sơn hà is a famous 11th-century Vietnamese poem. Dubbed "Vietnam's first Declaration of Independence", it asserts the sovereignty of Vietnam's rulers over its lands. The poem was first dictated to be read aloud before and during battles to boost troop morale when Vietnam under Lý Thường Kiệt fought against the first invasion of the Song dynasty in 1075–1076, though its exact authorship is still controversial.

Lý Thường Kiệt, real name Ngô Tuấn (吳俊), was a Vietnamese general and admiral during the Lý Dynasty in Vietnam. He served as an official through the reign of Lý Thái Tông, Lý Thánh Tông and Lý Nhân Tông and was a general during the Lý-Song wars.

Vietnamese poetry originated in the form of folk poetry and proverbs. Vietnamese poetic structures include six-eight, double-seven six-eight, and various styles shared with Classical Chinese poetry forms, such as are found in Tang poetry; examples include verse forms with "seven syllables each line for eight lines," "seven syllables each line for four lines", and "five syllables each line for eight lines." More recently there have been new poetry and free poetry.

<i>Đại Việt sử lược</i>

The Đại Việt sử lược or Việt sử lược is an historical text that was compiled during the Trần Dynasty. The 3-volume book was finished around 1377 and covered the history of Vietnam from the reign of Triệu Đà to the collapse of the Lý Dynasty. During the Fourth Chinese domination of Vietnam, the book, together with almost all official records of the Trần Dynasty, was taken away to China and subsequently collected in the Siku Quanshu. Đại Việt sử lược is considered the earliest chronicles about the history of Vietnam that remains today.

Dream memoir of Southern Man is a memoir written by Vietnamese official Hồ Nguyên Trừng during his exile in Ming dynasty in the early 15th century.

Nguyễn Quảng Tuân

Nguyễn Quảng Tuân was a writer, poet and researcher in South Vietnam. He was born in the village of Yên Mẫn, the district Võ Giàng, the province of Bắc Ninh, northern Vietnam.

Throughout history, there were many names used to refer to Vietnam. The modern-day country of Vietnam was named by Emperor Gia Long in the 19th century.

The Chinh phụ ngâm is a poem in classical Chinese written by the Vietnamese author Đặng Trần Côn (1710-1745). It is also called the Chinh phụ ngâm khúc (征婦吟曲), with the additional -khúc emphasizing that it can be performed as a musical piece not just read as a plain "lament".

Trần Quốc Vượng was a Vietnamese historian, archaeologist and culturologist. He was part of the generation including Hà Văn Tấn, and Phan Huy Lê which formed the foundation of Vietnamese History Studies since the 1950s. Since 1956, he was Professor of University of Social Sciences and Humanities - Vietnam National University, Hanoi and gave lectures on Vietnamese Ancient-Middle History, Archaeology and Culturology until 2005.

Trần Văn Giáp was a Vietnamese historian who wrote the first widely published histories of Buddhism in Vietnam in French. The two volumes, for Annam and Tonkin respectively were published in Paris in 1932. Giáp was an authority on Hán-Nôm literature. On his return to Vietnam he published various other histories in Vietnamese, both in Latin alphabet quốc ngữ and Chinese chữ Nho.

Chữ Nôm Writing system for the Vietnamese language using Chinese characters

Chữ Nôm is a logographic writing system formerly used to write the Vietnamese language. It uses Chinese characters to represent Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary and some native Vietnamese words, with other words represented by new characters created using a variety of methods, including phono-semantic compounds.

Phan Trần

Phan Trần is an anonymous Vietnamese language epic poem in lục bát verse originally written in Nôm script. It was first transcribed into the Latin-based modern Quốc ngữ Vietnamese alphabet in 1889.

Vietnamese calligraphy Calligraphic tradition of Vietnam, in various scripts

Vietnamese calligraphy relates to the calligraphic traditions of Vietnam. It includes calligraphic works using a variety of scripts, including historical chữ Hán, Chữ nôm, and the Latin-based chữ Quốc ngữ. Historically, calligraphers used the former two scripts. However, due to the adoption of the Latin-based chữ Quốc ngữ, modern Vietnamese calligraphy mainly uses Latin script since 1920s.

Seals of the Nguyễn dynasty collection of seals made for Vietnamese emperors between 1802 and 1945

The seals of the Nguyễn dynasty can refer to a collection of seals specifically made for the emperors of the Nguyễn dynasty, who reigned over Vietnam between the years 1802 and 1945, or to seals produced during this period in Vietnamese history in general.


  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.