Essay: An overview of Vietnamese literary history

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1. An overview of Vietnamese literary history:

a. From 10th to 19th century:

From the 10th to the end of 19th century, Vietnamese literature was medieval. Historically, Vietnamese literature was established quite late in the compare with other literature all over the world. According to (Tân, 1998) and (Thin, 2016), the earliest works by Vietnamese writers were written in the 10th century in classical Chinese, related to the first Vietnamese dynasties.

“No work of literature from the brush of a Vietnamese survives from the period of Chinese rule prior to the rise of the first national dynasties; and from the Dinh, Former Le, and Ly dynasties, all that remains are some poems by Lac Thuan (end of the tenth century), Khuong Viet (same period), and Ly Thuong Kiet (last quarter of the eleventh century). Those competent to judge consider these works to be quite up to the best standards of Chinese literature” (George, 1966).

In the second half of the 19th century, Vietnam society and culture were affected by Western civilization through the way of French colonialism. However, it was said that the western civilization could not make Vietnamese literature become modern (Long & Suyen, 2007). From 1858 to the first decade of 20th century, Vietnamese literature was still medieval, with the ways of writing affected by medieval Chinese literature (language, letter, ways of writing…).

b. From 1900 to 1930:

The process of urbanization at the early of 20th century in Vietnam had created the appearance of modern publishers, newspapers and magazines, and more important, the new intelligentsia with the new outlook on life. The key role of the cultural and spiritual life had gradually had shifted from the Confucian scholar to the Western intellectuals (Khung, 2001). This fact led Vietnamese literature to the first process of modernization in the first three decades of 20th century (1900-1930).

In this first three decades, the modern Vietnamese literature did not get much achievement. However, some important changes happened which would be the basic for literature to have more success in the next stage. Those were the changes in the letter/ system of writing (From Chinese to Latin alphabet), in the type of writer (from scholar to artist), the ways of writing (from parallel constructions to conversational language), the way of passing (from mainly handwriting to printing) (Long & Suyen, 2007)…

This time is considered to be the transitional period of time, from medieval to modern period of literature. (Long & Suyen, 2007).

c. 1930-1945:

There was a booming process in Vietnamese literature from 1930 to 1945 for its achievements (Manh, 1978). Vietnamese scholars highly appreciate the great achievements in that period. Discussing about the speed of Vietnamese literature development at this time, literary critic Vu Ngoc Phan commented that: “One year of literature development in Vietnam (this time) is equal to thirty years in other countries”(Phan, 1942).

The maturity of the writer generation who were train in the schools system by French, the role of newspapers and magazines, the effects of the western modern life, and the birth of Vietnamese communist party in 1930 was described as the important reasons why Vietnamese literature had entered the blossoming period of 15 years. The Vietnamese literary critics argued that Vietnamese literature had skyrocketed in terms of both quantity and quality in this time of period (Khung, 2001; Long & Suyen, 2007; Manh, 1978).

Vietnamese literature in this time can be divided into three parts: First one was the romantic part in which the main content was expressing the writers’ ego. Second part was the realistic one, described the fact and generalized rules of life, especially the reality of famer and worker class who were the main percentage of population in Vietnam society at that time. And the last one was called “revolutionary literature” or “resistance literature” in Vietnam, which was mainly written by the Vietnamese prisoners of French colonialism. This part described the process of struggling (qua trinh dau tranh) of Vietnamese combatants (chien si, nguoi dau tranh) for independence, freedom of Vietnam.

For the politic purposes, the first part got very lowly while the second and the third parts got the highly evaluation in Vietnam for many periods of time(Manh, 1978). The romanticism in literature was even boycotted (bai xich). Starting in 1930, under the leadership of Communist party of Vietnam formed and trained by President Ho Chi Minh, the “revolutionary literature”/ “resistance literature”, mainly written to support political purposes had become the part which was strongly encouraged in Vietnamese literature.

That was why many novels and short stories written in this time were chosen to the curriculums, and then after 1945 they were invested to make feature films. Describing the facts of classes in Vietnam society, films made from novels and short stories written in this time have historical and cultural values. As a result, they can become very useful tools to teach Vietnamese history and literature.

d. From 1945 to 1975:

After “August revolution” to declare independence and freedom in 1945, Vietnam started a new historical process with two resistance wars, and so, literature had changed its nature. During this time, politics effected seriously on the literature. Under the orientation of Vietnam communist party, Vietnamese literature must serve politics in encouraging the fighting spirit of people in the struggles with French and American for Vietnam’s independence, freedom and unification.

* The context of Vietnam from 1945 to 1975:

– Historical and the social context:

Literature and films in Vietnam from 1945 – 1975 developed in the special conditions of the society and history. Many important historical events had impact on all aspects of social life in Vietnam happened from 1945 to 1975.

According to N. X. Minh (2006), the “August Revolution” in 1945 led by President Ho Chi Minh demolished the dominance of French colonialism, Japanese fascism and also the feudalism that existed for thousands of years in Vietnam. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam nation was founded. However, the French colonialism had come back Vietnam and then the resistance against French colonialism happened and lasted for 9 years, from 1946 to 1954.

In July 1954, the Geneva Convention was signed. Vietnam country was divided into two zones. Vietnamese people had to conduct the struggle against US, to liberate the Southern and defend the Northern. In April 30th 1975, Vietnam liberated of the South, and had reunification of the country. All those big historical changes had a strong impact and led to fundamental changes in society (N. X. Minh, 2006).

– Cultural and thought background:

National culture, especially the cultural values created by the working classes and soldiers were valued. This was resulting from the fact that farmers, workers and soldiers were the main forces of Vietnam population and also the main resources of resistances.

Vietnam had mainly accepted the socialist culture from the Soviet Union, China. Cultural exchanges were limited, primarily in some socialist countries. Patriotism, solidarity, sense of community and humanism were the ideological foundation of the literature and films.

* The characteristics of Vietnamese Resistance Literature:

– The roles of literature:

Vietnamese literature in this time composed and developed primarily in the context of wars with difficulties and obstacles. The objects of Vietnam revolution were not only French colonialists and American imperialist but also feudal system and feudal mandarins. Under the supplying guidance of the Communist party of Vietnam, writers had contributed significantly to get the goals of the common struggle of the Vietnamese people. Vietnamese literature reflected some major aspects of the history and appearance of the spirit’s life of Vietnamese during the wars.

The contents of the literature were the entire life of the nation and of the country’s struggles those were organized and led by the Communist party of Vietnam for independence, freedom, for reunification as well as for the socialist ideal of the country.

The leaderships of the Communist party of Vietnam for arts were shown in many ways, both in terms of ideology and organization. The writers also were pointed out the objectives and tasks of the arts in every period. From 3 parts, Vietnamese literature was incorporated in one part called “resistance literature”.

A big team of writers and artists gathered in cultural organizations to ensure that they were going on the right artistic path. Literature actually became spiritual weapons to serve effectively the objectives of the struggle. Literature have been closely linked with the destiny of the nation and become an integral part of its career. They were directed at and followed up to the service of political tasks and the requirements of each periods of time from 1945 to 1975.

– The contents of Vietnam resistance literature:

First, Vietnamese literature wrote about the social reality with many historical great events. Literature in this period had recorded the images of a historical period with full of hardships and sacrifices of Vietnamese people.

Secondly, literature in this time had the image of the country, about the classes of people, generations and people of Vietnam with rich ethnic traditions and qualities.

And lastly, in terms of the ideological content, literature and films of this period were highly promoted the basic spiritual traditions of the nation – as well as highlights of Vietnamese’s qualities: patriotism, Humanism.

– The impacts of literature:

In 1945, more than 90 % of Vietnam’s population was illiterate. However, a large team of writers and artists who used to be illiterate farmers and workers were trained in the revolution and resistance – which also must be counted as an achievement of the new literature.

Literature helped Vietnam’s culture wide its exchanges: from Chinese in the medieval time to the French in the first half of 20th century, and then to the nations of socialism (mainly with Soviet union in the period of resistance and war from 1945 to 1975).

e. From 1975 to now:

10 years after 1975, the Vietnamese literature continued its inertia, like the wartime. From 1986, with the process of “Doi Moi”, Vietnamese literature had gradually been changing its nature to be more suitable with the life of the post war. And Nguyen Minh Chau was argued the writer in the van of the innovative movement in literature (Hoan, 2002).

2. The films used the plots of Vietnamese novels and short stories written from 1930 to 1975:

The process of struggle for independence and national unification in Vietnam had created a rich and vast body of literature featuring content outlining historical facts and also cultural and emotional life throughout the Vietnam War. It is said that these literary achievements are not only the a leading source of motivation for Vietnamese people during the two resistance wars against the French and Americans, but that these have also contribute significantly to nurture the spiritual life of Vietnam today. Due to the historical and cultural values of this literature, and more important, this part of Vietnamese literature was unanimous with the political point of views of the Communist party of Vietnam, many novels and short stories were chosen to write literature textbooks those are compulsory with both teachers and students in schools and universities. Thanks to their appearance in the textbooks, the novels, short stories, plots and characters had become familiar with many Vietnamese generations.

In the mean time, many of the plots of novels and short stories were chosen to build the featured films. Both of these literature and featured films are so well known and common for their classical, cultural and political values in Vietnam that they are shown on national television frequently each time Vietnam celebrate the national historical events. They are also easy to find and freely download on the Internet. Thanks to literary works’ appearances in the textbooks in schools and university, and thanks to the films’ propagation films on Vietnam national channels television as well as on the Internet, these films and literary works have contributed significantly to nurture the spiritual life of Vietnam not only during the war but also in the present time. Therefore, from the tools of politics, films and literature had become the entertainment in the low living standard society.

Based on the purposes of education and training at every level, the syllabuses were built and textbooks were organized to write by Vietnam Ministry of Education and Training. These textbooks were mandatory to use in schools. At the primary, secondary and high schools, many poems, short stories and extracts of novels those got the high evaluation were used. At the tertiary level, students will study the more deeply and broaden knowledge of literary history. The processes of literary development and the literary career of writers were also taught. Therefore, at the tertiary level, many short stories and novels in the form of films can be chosen as a tool to teach literature for students. Some of them those are very common and popular can be listed below:

1. Short stories Chí Phèo (Chi Pheo), Lão Hạc (Mr Hac, The poor old man), and novel Sống mòn (When the life had gradually declined), written by Nam Cao. These plots were mixed and used in one film Làng Vũ Đại ngày ấy (The Vu Dai village in the remote past time), by Pham Van Khoa.

2. Novel Tắt đèn (The light was off) by Ngo Tat To and film Chị Dậu (Mrs Dau, a poor woman), by Pham Van Khoa.

3. Novel “Đất nước đứng lên” (The country had risen up again aggression) by Nguyen Ngoc. The name of film and novel were the same.

4. Short story “Một chuyện chép ở bệnh viện” (A story written in the hospital) by Bui Duc Ai and film Chị Tư Hậu (Mrs Tu Hau)

5. Short story “Người đàn bà trên chuyến tàu tốc hành” (The woman on the express train) by Nguyen Minh Chau and the film “Người đàn bà mộng du” – (The sleepwalker woman).

6. Novel Hòn Đất (Hon Dat, the name of district in Ba Ria – Vung Tau province, Vietnam) by Anh Duc – and the film Chị Sứ (Mrs Su)

7. “Vợ chồng A Phủ” (Mr and Mrs A Phu) by To Hoai

8. Cỏ lau (The forest of reed) by Nguyen Minh Chau.

9. Short story and film “Mảnh trăng cuối rừng” (The cresent moon behind the forest) (by Nguyen Minh Chau).

10. Short story and film “Những người thợ xẻ” (Sawyers, short story by Nguyen Huy Thiep”, film by )

11. Novel and film “Bến không chồng” (Village without husband, novel by Duong Huong)

12. Short story and film “Tướng về hưu” (General retired, short story by Nguyen Huy Thiep)

13. Short story and film Thương nhớ đồng quê ” (Miss countryside, short story by Nguyen Huy Thiep)

14. Novel and film “Đất rừng phương nam” (Southern land and forest, novel by Doan Gioi)

15. Novel and film “Cánh đồng bất tận” (The unending field, short story by Nguyen Ngoc Tu)

16. Film “Mẹ vắng nhà” (When the mother went out) by Nguyễn Khánh Dư (short story Người mẹ cầm súng (when the mother took the gun – Nguyễn Thi)

The list of these films (novels and short stories as well) can be lengthened with the films produced in the Southern of Vietnam.

However, to serve for the main purposes of this topic, the feature films those are chosen for this project should satisfy three following conditions:

Firstly, they should be produced from the literary works those must be used in as many levels of Vietnam education as possible.

Secondly, the literature works should be appeared in textbooks in Vietnam as long as possible.

And thirdly, both literature and the films should have high quality or got the high evaluation from the critics, reviewers, readers and/or audiences.

From those criterions, below is films chosen for this project:

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