Archive for the Ancient History Category

The Culture of Vietnam: Lasting Through the Ages

Posted in Ancient History, Dynastic History, I. News, IV. Columns with tags , , on October 6, 2012 by Ian Pham

Our next topic of discussion involves three very different cultures: that of Vietnam, China, and Manchuria.  One culture, Manchu culture, serves its place in history as China’s invader and occupier.  The other culture, Vietnamese culture, acts as China’s eternal rival, and at one dark point in its history, as China’s prisoner.  Interestingly, the ones that acted as China’s overlords, the Manchus, would find their cultural heritage wiped from the face of the earth.  On the other hand, Vietnamese culture, though dominated by the Chinese for 1000 years, will prevail, even to this very day.

What makes Vietnam different from Manchuria?  How is it possible that the people of Vietnam, through 1000 years of occupation and assimilation from the invaders from the north, came to sustain their cultural and ethnic identity?  Furthermore, how did the Manchus, effectively dethroning the Ming in 1644 and ruled all of China until 1912, see their way of life, their language, and their culture vanish in less than 300 years?  The answer to this question, at least form my own analysis, is culture.

The three cultures mentioned above all varied in depth, richness, and sophistication.  Whichever culture to most strongly display these three qualities was more likely to last.  Unfortunately for the Manchus, their culture was the least likely to embody these qualities and, as a result, their culture was inevitably absorbed by the culture of the Han.  Though the Manchu started out as the foreign overlords of the Chinese empire, they would gradually and increasingly adapt the customs and practices of the Chinese.  Overtime, they would become Chinese themselves.  This is where Vietnam and Manchuria differentiate, and this is where Vietnam prevails.

Du Mien Le Thanh Hoa, the author of Vietnam: The Springhead of Eastern Cultural Civilization suggests that Vietnam prevailed because of the strength of its culture.  According to him, Vietnam’s culture was simply higher than Chinese culture.  It was older, and more enshrined in the hearts and minds of the people of Viet.  Thus, even when facing the jarring threat of Chinese assimilation, the Viet people continued to practice their culture.  This persistence helped to safeguard the existence of Vietnamese culture.

Through all the hardship, Vietnam’s culture prevails, even to this day.  For thousands of years, our traditions have been upheld, our language preserved.  The legend of Lac Long Quan, the ancient folklore, and the songs of antiquity have been passed down from generation to generation.  These foundations remind us who we are, but more importantly, who we are not.  Through the darkest periods of foreign domination, our culture has kept us alive.  Our ways of life have lived through the ages, and today, they are more important than ever.

Kim Định: The Pioneer of Vietnam’s Historical Awakening

Posted in Ancient History, I. News, IV. Columns with tags , , , , , on September 27, 2011 by Ian Pham

Decades ago, the majority of academics believed that the origins of Asia’s writing system came from China.  However, one man dared to challenge conventional belief, presenting some ideas that shocked and enraged fellow members of his academic community.  This said individual was a professor and philosopher who went by the name of Kim Định.

Through his literature, Kim Định presented many interesting arguments and ideas, many which posed a direct challenge to the writings and accounts of the Chinese.  One of the sensetive points raised by Kim Định was the origin of the Chinese writing system.  Kim was the first to put into question the common perception that the system was developed in China.

Using Vietnamese folklore, geographical names and dates, and the disrepencies in Chinese historical accounts as his basis, Kim Định boldly presented the idea that it was from the clans of the Hundred Viets that the writing system of China was created.  According to Kim Định, it was the Chinese who borrowed the writing system from the Vietnamese, not the other way around.

The next groundbreaking idea presented by Kim Định was the origin of the Confucian ideology.  Kim Định was also one of the very first researchers to take the position that Confucianism was developed in ancient Vietnam, long before the Chinese used it as their official ideology.  Through extensive research, Kim Dinh came up with conclusions, mainly arguing that there is a much older strand of Vietnamese Confucianism, different from the Chinese, and older than the Chinese.

Because his ideas so strongly opposed what was commonly believed at the time, Kim Định was widely unpopular with his fellow researchers.  He was scorned for his work and shunned by many of his colleagues, labelled as a fanatic nationalist who defied history.  Decades went by until his work was taken seriously.  Today, Kim Định’s work has become the foundation by which modern researchers of Vietnamese history begin their investigations.

Kim Định was a researcher, philosopher, and professor in the former Republic of South Vietnam.  He has authored over 30 books dedicated to the study of Vietnam’s origins, and has become the originator of contemporary Viet studies.  Much of the ideas and findings conducted by modern researchers in the study of Vietnam’s past is based on his work.  A great contributor to the reemergence of Vietnamese history, an important man indeed.

The Return of Vietnam’s History

Posted in Ancient History, IV. Columns, Politics with tags , , , , on September 22, 2011 by Ian Pham

This is just a short note describing the great re-emergence of a history that has been lost for so many centuries.  Thanks to modern research, archeology, and intricate analysis, both of historical sources and ancient folklore, the culture of the Vietnamese people is now slowly coming back from the dust.

After being burned, buried, and outright obliterated for over 2000 years, what seemed like an impossible endeavour is now becoming a real possibility.  The history of the entire Vietnamese people, not only the Lac Viet, but all of the Hundred Viets, is slowly but surely returning from its long, lost, slumber.

Everyone used to believe that Vietnam was just an offset of the Chinese empire, but that is no longer valid.  Current research findings now argue with great validity that a civilized Viet society had existed for as long, if not longer, than the Chinese themselves.  Roots of Viet civilization have been traced back to more than 5000 years in the past, shocking and defying conventional belief, and laying the groundwork for future generations to dig even deeper.

I just want to bring to light the amazing new discoveries that have been made so far, and express my optimism and excitement for what will be found in years to come.  There are so many questions that have yet to be answered: Did Confucius actually acquire his teachings from the southern country of Viet?  Is the Nom writing of Viet really older than the writing of the Chinese?  Were the Hundred Viets really the predecessors of many of the people living in China now?  Did Kou Chien, King of Yueh actually speak and write in Vietnamese?

The questions I’ve just raised may seem farfetched, laughable, maybe even infuriating to some readers.  Regardless, it is important that one can see both sides of the arguments, and gain the confidence to challenge ourselves to see if what we’ve been thinking for years is actually true or not.  There are reasons why questions like these have been asked, and it all comes from evidence.  Whether or not you are excited about what the future holds, I can assure you that many more questions will be asked, with much more findings presented to spark the curious mind.  To an enlightening, stimulating, and groundbreaking future, full of discoveries and insights, cheers!

The Sword of King Câu Tiễn

Posted in Ancient History, Art, I. News with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2011 by Ian Pham

King Câu Tiễn (or Kou Chien/Goujian in Chinese) was a ruler during ancient times.  Câu Tiễn was the leader of the Kingdom of Yueh, over 2500 years ago, at the dawn of the Warring States.  Yueh was one of the contending states during the Spring and Autumn period, after the fall of the Eastern Zhou.  Under the leadership of King Câu Tiễn, the Yueh Kingdom broke free from the grasp of the ancient Wu, re-emerged to conquer that Wu kingdom, and became one of the more powerful states of this era.  The Yueh Kingdom would reign for several centuries, before being swallowed up by the State of Chu.

The Kingdom of Yueh was distinct from the other kingdoms, as they were related to the people of Bách Việt, different from the nomadic tribes.  Geographically, the Kingdom of Yueh is located further north than the other Viet clans.  It can therefore be suggested that Câu Tiễn was a descendent of either the Ư Việt, Hồ Việt, or Đông Việt, as opposed to the Lạc Việt, who were located farther in the south.  During this period, King Câu Tiễn, with the help of his brilliant advisor Phạm Lãi (Fan Li), won many major conflicts against the kingdoms of Wu and Chu, turning Yueh into a major contender of this all-out war.

Today, in a museum exhibit somewhere in China, lays the sword of King Câu Tiễn.  Shown here are photos of the exact same blade wielded by the King of Việt over 2500 years ago.  If you look closely, you will notice the very interesting writing located on the face of the sword.  I’m no expert in Chinese literature, nor am I an expert in ancient Việt texts.  It doesn’t take an expert however, to notice the damning resemblance with the writing on this sword and the Nôm characters of ancient Việt.

It is very interesting that in Chinese history, Việt Vương Câu Tiễn (Kou Chien, King of Yueh) was said to be a Chinese man.  Obviously, with the fact that the Yueh Kingdom was located where the Bách Việt used to be, and that the name Yueh directly translates to mean Việt, it is clear that Kou Chien is Vietnamese.  Even more interesting are the writing found on his blade, which shares a shocking resemblance to the ancient scriptures of the Bách Việt civilization.

During the period of the Spring and Autumn, and the era of the Warring States, the country known as China had not yet been formed.  Instead, many independent states emerged, each with their own ways of communicating.  It just so happens that the Kingdom of Việt’s system of writing were the Nôm from Bách Việt.  The writing on King Câu Tiễn’s sword is different from the writing of the later imperial Chinese, and strongly suggests that the Kingdom of Việt communicated using the ancient Nôm of Bách Việt.  Furthermore, the grammar on the sword is distinct from the Chinese, meaning that Câu Tiễn not only wrote in Vietnamese, but spoke Vietnamese as well.

The History of the Hundred Việts

Posted in Ancient History with tags , , , , , , on January 24, 2011 by Ian Pham

Earlier this month, I presented the ancient Vietnamese legend of Lạc Long Quân, the Dragon Prince, in order to illustrate the origins of the Vietnamese people.  It chronicles the life of the Prince, his meeting with Âu Cơ the Fairy Princess, and the birth of their hundred sons.  These hundred sons would become known as the Hundred Việts, otherwise known as the Bách Việt, or Bai Yue civilization.

In turning our sights from the story of the Hundred Sons over to the history of the Hundred Việts, we have crossed the line from myth into reality.  The Hundred Việts were an actual people, who once inhabited the vast region now known as Southern China, as far back as 4000 B.C.  They were an agricultural people who engaged in farming, fishing, and the raising of animals.  The traditions of these people included dying their teeth to black, as well as the art of tattooing.

The culture of the Bách Việt people was rich with folklore, poetry, and humanistic teachings.  The system of government was at the village level, as many clans, tribes, and families cooperated with each other, with a king or village chief at the top.  It is from these numerous clans that the people, as a whole, became known in modern history as the Hundred Việts.  The main source of food for these societies was rice, as the rich fertile soil of the south made it perfect for rice cultivation.

In reality, there were about ten to twenty different clans, the name Bách Việt (Hundred Viet, Bai Yue), is just the general title to describe the society as a whole.  Bách Việt was a peaceful society that did not engage in warfare with other regions.  The philosophy of the Bai Yue always spoke of peace, compassion, and the importance of the human heart.  Unfortunately, due to their peaceful nature, the society became highly vulnerable to the nomadic tribes from the north, who raided and captured much of the Bách Việt’s land, along with their culture.

As a result of their peaceful ways and unpreparedness for combat, the clans of Âu Việt, Ư Việt, Hồ Việt, Mân Việt, Đông Việt, and many others, slowly fell to the northern invaders, one by one.  The invaders subsequently erased the history of these clans in order to assimilate them, a strategy that proved to be devastating to the people of Bách Việt.  The plans resulted in the vanishment of Việt culture for over two thousand years, only to be rediscovered in the 21st century.

Of the dozen Việt clans that existed throughout history, only one has prevailed in the face of northern aggression.  This one surviving clan, the one clan able to resist the relentless invasions of the north for more than 4000 years, is the clan of Lạc Việt.  The Lạc Việt clan was the main branch of the Hundred Viets, they were the most powerful, and the only clan equipped to fight back.

The descendants of the Lạc are the forefathers of Vietnam today, carrying on the traditions of a culture that has existed for more than 6000 years.  In distant history, they were the warriors of Nam-Việt, Jiaozhi, and then Đại Việt.  Today, they represent the 3 million people oversees, who live from places like Europe, to Australia, to North America.  They are also the 87 million inhabitants of Vietnam today, a population that is slowly preparing to fight for their freedom, no matter what the cost.

Dragons and Fairies: The Legend of the Hundred Việts

Posted in Ancient History with tags , , , , , on January 3, 2011 by Ian Pham

The following is a myth that chronicles the origin of the Vietnamese people.  It has been passed down from generations to generations, long preceding even the thousand years of Chinese occupation.  It is a cornerstone of Vietnamese culture, a foundation that has safeguarded the identity of the Vietnamese for many thousands of years.

This is a mythical tale, filled with magic and wonder, and should not be taken literally.  It is meant to paint a picture in your mind, giving you something to think about.  After this reading, you will understand why the Vietnamese people refer to themselves as the seeds of Dragons and the descendants of Fairies.  It’s also kind of a love story, if you’re into that sorta thing?

Happy Reading!

The Legend of Lạc Long Quân

Legend speaks of a man named Kinh Dương Vương (aka King Kinh Dương), a mythical figure that descended from a long line of dragons.  Long Nu, a female descendent of another dragon clan, was married to Kinh Dương Vương and gave birth to a boy named Lạc Long Quân.  As an immortal with the dragon lineage, Lạc Long Quân would be known as the Dragon Prince in Vietnamese history. As Lạc Long Quân matures, he meets a beautiful woman by the name of Âu Cơ, and falls deeply in love with her.

The story of their first meeting happens when the Dragon Prince notices a demonic bird chasing after a defenseless white crane.  Lạc Long Quân rushes to the crane’s defense, smashing the demon bird with a rock.  The demonic bird was so furious that it morphed itself into a tiger and bitterly tried to maul the Dragon Prince.  As a result, the Prince found himself tangled in a violent struggle against an adversary he did not know.

Lạc Long Quân prevails in the end, killing the demon and succeeding in his protection of the vulnerable white crane.  As the Dragon Prince would find out, things are not always as they seem.  The white crane was actually the beautiful Âu Cơ in disguise, trying to get away from the predatory abomination that was pursuing her.  Lạc Long Quân was pleasantly surprised to find this out and the two quickly become close.

Âu Cơ was an angelic beauty, a descendent of the fairies, and an immortal like Lạc Long Quân himself.  Together, the two would form a family, becoming the parents of one hundred sons.  With his wife Âu Cơ, Lạc Long Quân would preside over the mountains and rivers of the land.  Their children would carry the blood of the dragons and the charm of the fairies.

Sadly, as time went on, Âu Cơ starts to long for her home in the sky, while Lạc Long Quân begins to miss his life at sea.  As a result, the two lovers would separate.  Princess Âu Cơ would take fifty of the children and depart to the mountains, Lạc Long Quân in-turn would bring the other fifty sons to the coastal regions close to the seas.  These children, the seeds of the dragon clans, the descendants of the fairies, will inhabit the mountains and rivers of the south, becoming the originators of the Vietnamese people.

The Rebirth of Viet Culture

Posted in Ancient History, IV. Columns with tags , , , , on October 6, 2010 by Ian Pham

It’s pretty amazing how much progress has been made over the past decade regarding the world’s understanding of the Vietnamese people.  Thanks to archeology, state of the art technology, DNA, and intricate research, numerous discoveries have been made about Vietnam’s past that have never been considered before.  Who would have thought that the teachings of Confucius actually originated form the Bach Viet people?  Who could have known that the chief architect of the Forbidden City was Vietnamese?  Furthermore, who would ever have thought that the ancient writings of Viet-Nom preceded the writings of the Han?

For centuries, all the way up to the 1990’s, the world knew very little about the origin of Vietnam.  Over 90% of all the history books have claimed that Vietnam was just a derivative of the Chinese empire, unaware of how misleading these claims are.  Even the history books in Vietnam, with very few exceptions, had accepted the idea that Vietnamese culture came from China.  Some past theorists, such as Kim Dinh, have made suggestions about Vietnam’s antiquity, challenging conventional belief that Vietnam was just a mere copy of the Chinese.  He was ridiculed by his colleagues in the past, discredited and labeled as a fanatic and ideologue.

Today however, the story has become quite different.  New generations of researchers have looked past the obscurity and outright lies of the older generations, disproving many old claims and making a few findings of their own.  They are contemporaries of Kim Dinh, following up on his ideas, now regarding him as a pioneer and trailblazer of modern Viet studies.  It is now verified that the teachings of Confucius came from Vietnam, and that the ancient Vietnamese (Bach Viet) people lived as farmers in the southern half of China long before the establishment of the Chinese state.  Cultivation of rice, another important aspect of East Asian culture, was part of Vietnamese culture before reaching China in the far north.

These new discoveries have only scratched the surface of Vietnamese culture, but have already defied the accepted beliefs of the old generation.  It is no longer valid to suggest that the civilization of Vietnam branched off from the Chinese empire.  Also false is the old claim that the Chinese taught Vietnam how to farm and cultivate.  The Chinese historical accounts of Tich Quang and Nham Dien, coming from China and teaching us about culture, has been proven false.  Also false is the national background of Shen Nong, a historical figure of China.  New evidence now suggests that Shen Nong was a Vietnamese person as a opposed to a Chinese person, as stated in the, now dated, history books.

With the help of archeology, DNA, and critical analysis of today’s current research, the world will better understand the origin of Vietnamese culture. In time, the findings will change the way people look at Vietnam.   Fragments of Viet culture, such as Viet-Nho (aka Confucianism) will eventually re-emerge.  Past accomplishments of Vietnamese individuals, like Nguyen An and the Forbidden City, will finally be recognized.  Most important of all, the lost history, burned by the likes of the Qin, Han, and Ming dynasties, will be restored to its rightful place.