Archive for Vietnamese Writing

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.

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