For a millennium before the 11th century, Imperial Annam was dominated by China and as a result much of the written work during this period was in Hanese. Chữ nôm, created around the 10th century, allowed writers to compose in Vietnamese using modified Chinese characters. Although regarded as inferior to Chinese, it gradually grew in prestige. It flourished in the 18th century when many notable Vietnamese writers and poets composed their works in chữ nôm and when it briefly became the official written script.
While the quốc ngữ script was created in the 17th century, it did not become popular outside of missionary groups until the early 20th century, when the French colonial administration mandated its use in French Indochina. By the mid-20th century, virtually all Vietnamese works of literature were composed in quốc ngữ.
Today, Francophone Vietnamese and English-speaking Vietnamese authors in Australia and the United States are counted by many critics as part of the national tradition.
Unlike written literature, early oral literature was composed in Vietnamese and is still accessible to ordinary Vietnamese today. Vietnamese folk literature is an intermingling of many forms. It is not only an oral tradition, but a mixing of three media: hidden (only retained in the memory of folk authors), fixed (written), and shown (performed). Folk literature usually exist in many versions, passed down orally, and have unknown authors.
Myths consist of stories about supernatural beings, heroes, creator gods, and reflect the viewpoint of ancient people about human life. They consist of creation stories, stories about their origins (Lạc Long Quân, Âu Cơ), culture heroes (Sơn Tinh or Mountain Spirit - Thủy Tinh or Water Spirit).
The earliest surviving literature by Vietnamese writers are written in Classical Chinese. Almost all of the official documents in Vietnamese history were written in Classical Chinese, as were the first poems. Not only is the Chinese script foreign to modern Vietnamese speakers, these works are mostly unintelligible even when directly transliterated from Chinese into the modern quốc ngữ script due to their Chinese syntax and vocabulary. As a result, these works must be translated into colloquial Vietnamese in order to be understood by the general public. These works include official proclamations by Vietnamese kings, royal histories, and declarations of independence from China, as well as Vietnamese poetry. In chronological order notable works include:
- Thiên đô chiếu (遷都詔) 1010, Edict on transfer the capital of Đại Cồ Việt from Hoa Lư (modern Ninh Bình) to Đại La (modern Hanoi).
- Nam quốc sơn hà (南國山河) 1077, Mountains and rivers of the Southern country, poem by General Lý Thường Kiệt
- Đại Việt sử ký (大越史記) Annals of Đại Việt by Lê Văn Hưu, 1272
- Dụ chư tì tướng hịch văn 諭諸裨將檄文, Proclamation to the Officers, General Trần Hưng Đạo, 1284
- An Nam chí lược (安南志略) Abbreviated Records of Annam, anon. 1335
- Gia huấn ca (家訓歌 The Family Training Ode), a 976-line Confucian morality poem attributed to Nguyễn Trãi 1420s
- Lĩnh Nam chích quái (嶺南摭怪) "The wonderful tales of Lĩnh Nam" 14th Century, edited Vũ Quỳnh (1452-1516)
- Đại Việt sử lược (大越史略) Abbreviated History of Đại Việt, anon. 1377
- Việt điện u linh tập (越甸幽靈集), Spirits of the Departed in the Viet Realm, Lý Tế Xuyên 1400
- Bình Ngô đại cáo (平吳大誥), Great Proclamation upon the Pacification of the Wu Forces, Nguyễn Trãi 1428
- Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư (大越史記全書) Complete Annals of Đại Việt, Ngô Sĩ Liên 1479.
- Truyền kỳ mạn lục (傳奇漫錄, Collection of Strange Tales, partly by Nguyễn Dữ, 16th century
- Hoàng Lê nhất thống chí (皇黎一統志) Unification Records of the Le Emperor, historical novel ending with Gia Long. anon.
- Chinh phụ ngâm (征婦吟) "Lament of the soldier's wife", the original Chinese version by Đặng Trần Côn d.1745
- Đại Việt thông sử (大越通史) history by Lê Quý Đôn 1749
- Vân đài loại ngữ (芸臺類語) encyclopedia Lê Quý Đôn 1773
- Phủ biên tạp lục (撫邊雜錄) Frontier Chronicles Lê Quý Đôn 1776
- Việt Nam vong quốc sử (越南亡國史), by Phan Bội Châu in Japan in 1905
Works written in chữ nôm - a locally invented demotic script based on Chinese characters - was developed for writing the spoken Vietnamese language from the 13th Century onwards. For the most part, these chu nom texts can be directly transliterated into the modern quốc ngữ script and be readily understood by modern Vietnamese speakers. However, since chữ nôm was never standardized, there are ambiguities as to which words are meant when a writer used certain characters. This resulted in many variations when transliterating works in chữ nôm into quốc ngữ. Some highly regarded works in Vietnamese literature were written in chữ nôm, including Nguyễn Du's Truyện Kiều, Đoàn Thị Điểm's chữ nôm translation of the poem Chinh Phụ Ngâm Khúc (征婦吟曲 - Lament of a Warrior Wife) from the Classical Chinese poem composed by her friend Đặng Trần Côn (famous in its own right), and poems by the renowned poet Hồ Xuân Hương.
Other notable works include:
- Chinh phụ ngâm (征婦吟) "Lament of the soldier's wife", translations from Chinese into vernacular chữ Nôm by several translators including Phan Huy Ích and Đoàn Thị Điểm
- Cung oán ngâm khúc (宮怨吟曲) "Lament of the Concubine" by Nguyễn Gia Thiều d.1798
- Hạnh Thục ca (行蜀歌) "Song of Exile to Thục" Nguyễn Thị Bích, 1885
- Lục súc tranh công (六畜爭功) "The Quarrel of the Six Beasts"
- Lục Vân Tiên (蓼雲仙傳) epic poem by the blind poet Nguyễn Đình Chiểu d.1888
- Nhị độ mai (貳度梅) "The Plum Tree Blossoms Twice"
- Phạm Công – Cúc Hoa (范公菊花) Tale of Phạm Công and Cúc Hoa
- Phạm Tải – Ngọc Hoa (范子玉花) Tale of the orphan Phạm Tải and princess Ngọc Hoa
- Phan Trần (潘陳) The clan of Phan and the clan of Trần
- Quốc âm thi tập (國音詩集) "National pronunciation poetry collection" attributed to Nguyễn Trãi after retirement
- Thạch Sanh tân truyện (石生新傳) anon. 18th century
- Tống Trân and Cúc Hoa(宋珍菊花) Tale of Tống Trân and his wife Cúc Hoa
- Trinh thử (貞鼠) "The Virgin Mouse" Hò̂ Huyè̂n Qui 15th century
- Hoa tiên (花箋) The Flowered Letter
|Modern Asian literature|
While created in the seventeenth century, chữ quốc ngữ was not widely used outside of missionary circles until the early 20th century, when the French colonial government mandated its use in French Indochina. During the early years of the twentieth century, many periodicals in chữ quốc ngữ flourished and their popularity helped popularize chữ quốc ngữ. While some leaders resisted the popularity of chữ quốc ngữ as an imposition from the French, others embraced it as a convenient tool to boost literacy. After declaring independence from France in 1945, Empire of Vietnam's provisional government adopted a policy of increasing literacy with chữ quốc ngữ. Their efforts were hugely successful, as the literacy rate jumped overnight.
In those early years, there were many variations in orthography and there was no consensus on how to write certain words. After some conferences, the issues were mostly settled, but some still linger to this day. By the mid-20th century, all Vietnamese works of literature are written in chữ quốc ngữ, while works written in earlier scripts are transliterated into chữ quốc ngữ for accessibility to modern Vietnamese speakers. The use of the earlier scripts is now limited to historical references.
Works in modern Vietnamese include:
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- George Cœdès The Making of South East Asia 1966- Page 87 "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.
- Viettouch. This site is dedicated to the promotion of Vietnamese history and culture; see reviews of the site.
- Culture of Vietnam encyclopedia
- Việt-Học Thư-Quán - Institute of Vietnamese Studies - Viện Việt Học Many pdfs of Vietnamese literature books
- Translating Vietnamese poetry
- Vietnamese Poetry Collection