Archive for Ancient Vietnamese Writing

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.

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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 Origin of Nôm Writing

Posted in Ancient History, Art, Did You Know? with tags , , , , on September 25, 2010 by Ian Pham

In the late 18th century, the Tay Son Dynasty (1788-1802), under Nguyen Hue Quang Trung, switched the national writing system from Han-Nho (Chinese characters) to the more Vietnamese writing of Nôm (Vietnamese characters).  As part of their sweeping educational reforms, many literature previously written in Chinese were translated into Nôm characters.  What were Nôm characters, and where did they come from exactly?

Primitive Nôm Writing of the Bach Viet (Bai Yue) civilization.

The origin of Nôm writing stretches all the way back to the farmers of Bach Viet (Bai Yue), five thousand years ago.  Back then, the writing was already known as Nôm, part of Viet-Nho, an ancient philosophy native to the people of the south.  However, the nomadic tribes eventually picked up on these writings, altering it over time, and is what people know as Chinese writing today.

Han-Nho writing adapted by the Chinese, is it derived from ancient Nôm?

This fact has also been buried for a long period of time.  Only recently, as part of a wider range of contemporary Viet studies, has these findings become more clear.  To anyone who has studied Chinese history, you probably heard that the origin of Chinese writing came from the ancient Shang Dynasty.  You’ve probably also been told that the Chinese writing simply came out of nowhere, possibly from dragon bones, and was quickly adapted by the Chinese.  However, this is in-fact a myth that has finally been proven false.

Modern or “restored” Nôm writing under the Tay Son Dynasty.

21st century research has clarified that the Shang Dynasty was actually a nomadic tribe that preceded the Zhou.  They were not agricultural, nor were they in any way a settled people.  During the Shang’s existence, the Viet were an independent people not under any type of control to the Chinese Shang.  The Viet were an agricultural people with their own way of life, culture, and government.  These agricultural people had their own philosophy and primitive writing system known as Viet-Nho and Nôm, respectively.  Ancient Nôm is the parent of imperial China’s Han-Nho, as well as the Nôm of modern imperial Vietnam.

Source:

Đõ, Thành (2010). NGUỒN GỐC CHỮ NÔM. Retrieved from: http://www.anviettoancau.net/anviettc/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2135&Itemid=99999999

Le Thanh Hoa, Du Mien.  Vietnam: The Springhead of Eastern Cultural Civilization. Trans. Joseph M. Vo.  San Jose: The Vietnam Library Publications, 2010.

Wright, David. The History of China. Connecticut, London: Greenwood Press. 2001.