Vietnamese Literature

According to educationvv, Vietnamese literary historiography differentiates between folk literature (Van hoc mieng) as orally transmitted literature and the written “scholarly literature” (Van hoc bac hoc) that has been passed down in writing for the period up to the 20th century. Proverbs, riddles, folk songs, folk tales / fairy tales and the drama of folk theater (north: Cheo; north and central Vietnam: Tuong; south: Cai Luong) as well as puppet, v. a. of the water puppet theater (Mua roi nuoc). The scholarly literature includes the poetry and prose genres in Old Chinese (Sino-Vietnamese or Han) and Vietnamese (Nom), which were influenced by the Chinese model. Despite all the diversity of the genera, there were mutual influences, v. a. in the nom literature.


After overcoming 1,000 years of Chinese rule (111 BC – 939 AD), the first Vietnamese state was founded in 968. From the time of the early Vietnamese dynasties in the 10th – 13th centuries. Mostly literary evidence has come down to us in Han from the 19th century. They were written by Buddhist monks and members of the royal family. In their writings, Buddhist belief in salvation and Confucian duties towards the dynasty, state and people were often linked. Parallel to the development of the school and examination system (first Mandarin examination: 1075), a new educational and administrative elite of Confucian scholars and mandarins developed. With their poems and prose pieces, they influenced public morality and called for a strengthening of the central state. From the end of the 13th

The development of Han prose was reflected in the annals of the Tran Dynasty and the works in the style of the “strange tales” (truyen ky / chuanqi), v. a. by Ly Te Xuyens »Viet dien u linh« (spirits of the land of the Viet; dated 1329), influenced. The basis of the originally 27, later 88 with additions, short stories about mythical and real Vietnamese rulers and heroes as well as ghosts were the official annals, Chinese historical-geographical works and the biographies of the local guardian spirits. The oldest copy of the Han prose work “Miraculous Incidents in the Area South of the Five Passes” (“Linh Nam chich quai”) dates from 1492; the work is said to have been created as early as the time of the Tran dynasty in the 14th century. Many of the original legends of the Viet were written down for the first time in both works. The confiscation of the literature during the Ming rule (1407-27) led to the fact that many early works were lost, are still known today by name alone or could only be partially reconstructed. Since the state independence by the Le dynasty (from 1427), literature has once again taken on an upswing through the promotion of education and the examination system. Nguyen Trai (* 1380, † 1442), who was an advisor to the ruler Le Loi (* 1384, † 1443), participated in the uprising against the Ming and was one of the most important writers of his time, wrote in both Vietnamese and Chinese. In addition to the 105 poems published posthumously in Han (“Uc Trai thi tap”) in 1480, he published the first imperial geography (“Du Dia Chi”) in Vietnamese in 1434 and the political-strategic script “Binh Ngo dai cao” (German “Proklamation on pacifying the Ngo «). In terms of subject matter and language, it shows the transition from early to “classical” Vietnamese literature. The Nom poems in particular mark an archaic state of Vietnamese literature that has not yet completely broken away from the Han model.

In the 16th century v. a. Nguyen Binh Khiem (* 1491, † 1585)  - who initially worked at the court of the Mac dynasty before he had a self-imposed asylum in the “white cloud” pagoda – outstanding works. These include the poetry cycles “Bach Van am thi tap” (around 1,000 Han poems) and “Bach Van quoc ngu thi” (200 Nom poems). Influenced by Chinese philosophy, he seeks answers to the social crisis of his time that arose from the rivalry between aristocratic cliques. The Vietnamese literary language developed further with the Nom poems in particular. An important prose work of the 16th century was created by Nguyen Du (* 1765, † 1820) whose »Mixed Notes of Strange Stories« (»Truyen ky man luc«) are based in theme and plot on Chinese models and have been relocated to a Vietnamese environment.

18./19. Century – Highlights of Traditional Literature

The 18th and early 19th centuries are the climax of ancient poetry and prose. The poetry in Han and Nom gained depth of content and formal mastery. The Nom verse novel became the most important genre of ancient literature. The encyclopedically learned Mandarin Le Quy Don (* 1726, † 1784) wrote Han prose works on Vietnamese history, philosophy and literature, which approached philological standards in their historical-source-critical approach. Other works of Han prose were in the tradition of the “Mixed Records of Strange Stories” and drew a moral portrait of the end times of the Le dynasty, such as the collection “90 Stories” (“Tang thuong ngau luc «) by Pham Dinh Ho (* 1768, † 1839) and Nguyen An (* 1770, † 1815), also Pham Dinh Ho ‘s »Brush Tales, Written in the Rain« (»Vu trung tuy but«). The Han chapter novel “Report on the unification of the Le Empire” (“Hoang Le nhat thong chi”) tells of the Tay Son Rebellion (1783–1802) in 17 chapters. Its authors were members of the Ngo Thoi family.

Important works by Nom are the »Lamentation of a Harem Lady« (»Cung oan ngam khuc«) by Nguyen Gia Thieu (* 1741, † 1798) as well as the »Lamentations of a Warrior’s Woman« (»Chinh phu ngam«) originally written in Han. by Dang Tran Con (18th century). Nguyen Du (* 1766, † 1820), who worked as a mandarin for the Nguyen dynasty, wrote the nom verse novel »Truyen Kieu« (early 19th century; German »Das Mädchen Kieu«) set in the context of a state and social crisis, for which he chose a Chinese prose story from the 17th century as a model. Ho Xuan Huong About 50 Nom poems are ascribed to their lives at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century. With humorous, sometimes drastic-satirical stylistic devices, they eloquently depict everyday life from a female point of view. The best-known work of the mandarin Nguyen Đinh Chieu (* 1822, † 1888) is the Nom verse novel »Luc Van Tien« (around 1849–58), in which the dream of victory over the French conquerors is linked to one’s own fate of late blindness.

Early 20th Century – Chinese Reform Approaches and Western Influences

The early 20th century, under the influence of Chinese educational reforms and the increase in Franco-Western education, marked the transition from traditional, Chinese-influenced literature to modern, western-influenced literature. The Latin script developed for Vietnamese by European missionaries in the 17th century had been in use since the 19th century BC. a. known in Catholic circles in the south and prevailed nationwide in the first half of the 20th century. It has been increasingly used as a notation system by modern Vietnamese literature. Tan Da (actually Nguyen Khac Hieu, * 1889, † 1939), influenced by Chinese reformism and Vietnamese nationalism, established new forms of poetry in particular. Nguyen Con Hoan (* 1903, † 1977), who worked as a teacher and had a French-Vietnamese educational background, led v. a. with his social satirical short stories, modern prose blossomed for the first time. Corresponding prose writings and reports were also published by Vu Trong Phung (* 1912, † 1939). The literary group Tur Luc Van Doan attracted attention in the 1930s with so-called theses. Their demands for the liberation of the individual from collectivist ideologies were v. a. Presented by Nguyen Tuong Tam (alias Nhat Linh, * 1906, † 1963) and Tran Khan Giu (alias Khai Hung, * 1896, † 1947). Han Mac Tu (actually Nguyen Trong Tri, * 1912, † 1940), an employee with a western education, wrote stylish, mystical-melancholy poems.

Recent developments

After the Second World War, literature was divided into that of the north, which was under the political and aesthetic dictates of “socialist realism,” and that of the south, which was influenced by Western philosophies. Unmistakable voices could not assert themselves in the north and from 1975 in the reunified Vietnam. During the period of reform or »renewal« (Doi Moi), artists were given freedom, especially in 1986–92. The most important representative of the so-called Doi Moi literature was Nguyen Huy Thiep (* 1950, † 2021), who combined realistic narrative styles with montage techniques, elements of folk literature, poetry and satire in his stories and dramas.


Explorations. 16 Vietnamese storytellers, ed. v. Möckel, A. and K. (2 1979); From the learned Kuin. Vietnamese rogue stories, edited by N. I. Nikulin (from Russian, 1979); Vietnamese fairy tales, translated by I. Kondrková (from the Czech, 1992); An anthology of Vietnamese poems, ed. v. H. Sanh Thong (1996).

Vietnamese Literature