Kindness, Loyalty, and Obedience and the Themes Presence in Vietnamese Literature


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Throughout Vietnamese literature there are a few themes that are almost always present. Some of the themes are kindness, loyalty, and obedience. Vietnamese literature is the written manifestation of Vietnamese values and society. Throughout almost all of the literary work of Vietnam, this holds true, whether it be a myth, folktale, or other work of creative writing. These themes are taught to children through their parents and the ancient folktales and myths are more like a historical record on the people of Vietnam’s culture and values.

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There are many different stories in Vietnam meant to teach the reader lessons about proper etiquette, or other aspects of proper behavior. In many stories there is often a heroine instead of a hero, because women have always had an equal standing with men in Vietnam. One of the most important values to the Vietnamese people is a wife’s loyalty to her husband and viceversa. There are many examples of stories in which heroines striving to remain loyal to their husbands by observing the three submissions, three bonds, and four virtues. These ten values govern proper behavior for Vietnamese women and in order to be a good wife as well as a disciplined, dignified woman. The story “Lady of Nam Xuong” for example is based on the value that women must remain completely loyal and faithful to their husbands. In the story, a woman’s husband goes away during a war, and to entertain her son, she makes a shadow puppet on the wall and says it is his father. Upon returning home the father is rejected by his son. The sons says that the man can’t be his father because his father comes home to him every night. This leads the man to the conclusion that his wife has been cheating on him, and he thus accusses her so. Even being accused of such a thing was unthinkable, The wife commited suicide because she is being accused. The reason for this is because according to Vietnamese culture faithfulness is very important and the fact that the husband would accuse her, means to her, that she must have don’e something terribly wrong. This was the true extent of the wife’s loyalty. She accepted her husband’s judgement and exacted a fitting punishment without knowing for sure in what way she was at fault. This is a bit of and exaggeration, but it gets the right point across. One poem often taught to children that is meant to teach female children the Three Submissions and the Three Bonds is called “Song of Family Education.” Certain parts of the poem greatly emphasized tradition, and observance of old stories pertaining to the standards for females such as the following excerpt:

“Be sure to listen to the old stories.

Observe how the virtuous daughters-in-law of the past behaved.

Follow the four virtues: appearance, work, correct speech, and proper behavior.

Work means cooking rice and cakes,

How Neatly the virtuous woman sews and mends!

Appearance means a pretty face and dignified demeanor,

Not careless and sloppy, everything in place.

Correct speech is to know how to use the polite phrases;

Proper behavior means to be loyal, filially pious respectful and trustworth.”

The poem does lose some of its charm in the translation, and seems more like a lecture than a poem, but in its original form the poem does sound rhythmatic and enjoyable while at the same time teaching a valuable lesson.

One of the most important stories in Vietnamese culture is the story of how the Vietnamese race began, “The Dragon and the Tien.” Most of the story is about the kindness of one dragon. The story focuses on the kind deeds of a dragon named Sung Lam. Sung Lam travels around the Vietnamese land, and ends up doing many deeds for the inhabitants of the land. He kills evil beasts, and helps the people in other various ways. Sung Lam has special powers, such as super strength, control over the weather, and the power to control or create animals, which he inherits from his father Lac Tuc. The kind and generous attitude of Sung Lam is the attitude that Vietnamese people are expected to have. Greed is ofcourse always present as it is in any race, however the people try to stay detached from material value and they focus more on a strong family structure as well as close relationships with friends. This attitude is accompanied by the assumption that generosity and kindness to others will result in the same returned treatment. In the end, no one should owe anyone else anything, everything should be equal, but what this exchanged kindness ensures is a very close, personal, and caring relationship, whether it be between brothers, cousins or friends.

According to an online translation of the story of “The Dragon and the Tien” that can be found on the Destination Vietnam website, during Sung Lam’s travels, he is asked to help stop an invading army from the north. He meets the daughter of the invading army’s general, Au Co, and they go away to a mountain fortress. Sung Lam then creates many wild beasts that attack and discourage the invaders. Eventually the invaders are detered and return home. Au Co and Sung Lam 100 children and are very happy for a while. One day Sung Lam decides to goto his mother for a while because he misses her and he flies off to the submarine palace of his mother. A long time passes and Au Co misses Sung Lam very much. One day she calls to him and suddenly he appears there. She asks him to stay and live with her and their 100 sons, but he tells her they cannot. He says “I am of the Dragon race, you are of the immortals. We cannot live together, We must separate. I am going to leave for the maritime regions with fifty of our children and you will go with the other fifty to the country of the mountains and the forests. We still divide this country between us to run it as best we can.” The 100 children of Sung Lam and Au Co became were the ancestors of the Vietnamese people. The eldest was proclaimed as king Hung Voung. He was the first of the Hung Kings that would rule Vietnam. Au Co is referred to by Sung Lam as an Immortal, but in other words we would more commonly know her as a fairy. The story of “The Dragon and the Tien” shows both the proper manner in which the Vietnamese should treat eachother. The story also gives a bit of a mythical history, with some basis in truth. The Hung Kings did rule over Vietnam for quite a while, however no one truly knows the origin of the first king. Most Vietnamese people don’t care to listen to modern science’s theories on the origins of people, but rather choose to believe in the legend that they are descended from the mighty dragon, and fairy.

Vietnamese culture always has a great deal of influence on Vietnamese literature. Usually stories of heroics are meant to show the manner in which the Vietnamese are expected to behave. The stories are a message to the people telling them what is the way in which to act. The emphasis is always on kindness. Fighting is not discouraged when the need arises but needlessly hurting others is something that is frowned upon. Generousity is important in order to build any strong relationship and this is clearly shown in Vietnamese literature. Fidelity is also valued in the culture of the Vietnamese, as one of the most important, because the relationship between a wife and a husband should be one of the strongest, if not the very strongest relationships anyone should have. This is very apparent in almost any Vietnamese story with a woman who has a husband in it.

The relationship between culture and literature is very strong in Vietnam. There are few works of creative writing that don’t involve the base values of Vietnamese society. The stories have guided the Vietnamese people into a state of mind that is quite peaceful, happy, friendly, and pleasant. Culture and literature in Vietnam have basically become mirror images of each other, both showing the same image of the Vietnamese people and their traditions, beliefs, and values.

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