The long Chinese domination over the 5th century (1st century BC-10th century AD) has had a great impact on the cultural development of the country, sinizzando it deeply. For centuries, Vietnamese literature has been expressed in chu ‘nho, the “writing of the literati”, or in Chinese, albeit with a Sinoannamite pronunciation.
The first major works of Vietnamese literature date back to the Ly (1010-1225) and Tran (1225-1400) dynasties, which founded a strong independent monarchy. Indian Buddhism was assimilated, which over time became the state religion, though never completely replacing indigenous animism, and Chinese Confucianism and Taoism. The bonzes became councilors of the court: the main literary works of the period were due to them, while the requirements of the state administration advised them to imitate the Chinese system of examinations; for the recruitment of officials, the Confucius cult was established in 1070 and state examinations in 1075. This gave impetus to the development of a Confucian-inspired literature associated with national sentiment. Poetry prevailed over prose; however, most of the poetic collections of the time have been lost. An important event in the development of Vietnamese literature, probably dating back to the end of the 13th century, is the birth of the chu ‘nôm (“local writing”), a writing system deriving from the Chinese one, capable of transcribing the spoken language. The earliest work in nôm is traditionally considered to be Nguyên Thuyên’s poem Truyên Khu Ca Sâu (“History of the Hunt of the Crocodiles”), recently postdated by critics.
At the end of the Tran, a new period of Chinese occupation began, which destroyed much of the local literary heritage. With independence, under the reign of Le Thanh Tong (1460-97), there was a new renaissance; Confucianism became state doctrine, a class of literati-functionaries developed, schools and academies were opened. Sinizing formalism prevailed in literature. The only works in nôm are the 254 poems of Nguyên Trai, Quoc Am Thi Tâp (“Poetic collection in national language”) and the poem of King Le Thanh Tong, Hong Duc Quoc Am Thi Tâp (“Poetic collection in national language of the period of kingdom hong-duc “), example of a new genre, the epic (vinh-su ‘, “sing the story”). With the decline of the Le (16th century) we enter a phase of decline. The writers were inspired by Taoism, for example. Nguyên Binh Khiem (1491-1525), author of the Bach Vân Am Thi Tâp (“Collection of poetry of the White Cloud Pavilion”) composed after his retirement from public life, and the disciple Nguyên Du, to whom we owe the Truyên Ky Man Luc (“Vast Collection of Marvelous Legends”), the first work of social criticism.
The 17th century marks the beginning of the progressive affirmation of the nôm literature over the Sinoannamite one. The poetry, of the phu type (rhythmic prose), sings love and nature in lyrical tones. An indigenous rhyme is also born, the luc-bat (couplets of 6 and 8 syllables). Among the best authors is Nguyên Ba Lan (alias Trang Trinh, 1701-1783), to whom we owe many phu in nôm. At the same time the learned tradition continued, with Le Qui Don (1726-1784), a very learned scholar, author of many historical and encyclopedic works in Sinoannamite.
The 19th century sees the triumph of the novel in verse in nôm. The Kim Van Kieu (from the name of the three protagonists; another title Doan Truong Tân Thanh, “The new poem that rips the bowels”), a novel in 3254 lines by Nguyên Du (1765-1820), inspired by a Chinese tale, is considered unanimously the masterpiece of Vietnamese literature, surprising for the high poetic quality of the verse and the psychology of the characters. We should also remember the Hoa Tien (“The paper with flowers”) by Nguyên Huy Tu (1743-1790), a love novel in 1826 verses; the Luc Vân Tiên (from the name of the protagonist) by Nguyên Dinh Chieu (1822-1888), on the world of state exams; the work of Hô Xuân Hu’o’ng (whose dates of birth and death are unknown), the first poet to achieve fame, known for the audacious licentiousness of her poems and the choice of themes such as equality of the sexes and the costume revolution. Numerous other talents bring the nôm to unprecedented stylistic perfection.
The French conquest of Vietnam, which ended in 1862, had a very strong impact on the social and cultural life of the country, which opened up to the West and entered modern life. On the literary level, the most important event was the affirmation of the quôc ngu ‘ (transcription of Vietnamese in Latin characters, with some modifications, by the Catholic missionaries of the seventeenth century). Two men of letters with a Catholic background contributed a lot to its diffusion, P. Cua (1834-1907), promoter of local journalism, founder in 1865 of the first magazine in quôc-ngu ‘, Gia Ðinh Bao (“The Newspaper of Saigon”), and P. Ky (1837-1898), author of hundreds of works in quôc-ngu ‘. In Hanoi in 1906 the Ðong Kinh Nghia Thuc (Tonkin Academy for Justice), an association of patriotic writers who are determined to educate the population by spreading the quôc-ngu ‘ and translating many progressive works, from contemporary Chinese reformists to Rousseau, Voltaire, etc.; however, it collided with the censorship of the colonial government.
The modern era saw the birth of three new genres, poetry in free verse, the prose novel and the theater, due to French influence. The ” new poetry ” is dominated by the figure of Nguyên Khac Hiêu (alias Tan Ð a, 1888-1939), author of Khôi Tinh Con (“Childish loves “), by Khôi Tinh Lo’n (“Adult loves “) and of the poems collected in Tan Ða Van Van (“Poems of Tan Ð a”). The first modern Vietnamese novel is Tô Tâm (named after the protagonist; 1925), by Hoang Ngoc Phach, a caustic satire of the wedding costumes of the time. Western theater appeared for the first time in 1915 with the staging of The Imaginary Ill of Molière by Nguyên Văn-Vinh, which was followed by the representation of numerous Western and local plays, such as Chen Thuoc Doc (“The cup of poison”) in 1921 and Hai Toi Hon (“The two wedding nights”) in 1929 With the foundation of the Indochinese Communist Party (1930), a literature of Marxist inspiration began to develop, centered on the defense of national culture. For more than a decade the Vietnamese cultural world was dominated by the ideological conflict between the bourgeois, intellectual and progressive tendency of the literary group Tu ‘Lu’c Văn Ðoan (“Autonomous Literary Group”) and the realist tendency of leftist writers: for example. the controversy between materialism and spiritualism undertaken by the progressive scholar Phan Khôi and the Marxist journalist Hai Trieu, who fascinated a vast array of intellectuals. After the Japanese invasion, press freedoms ceased and censorship was re-established; many Communist writers went underground and the pro-French progressives fled to the South or went to France.
With the proclamation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, led by Ho Chi Minh, the armed struggle against the three imperialisms and the agrarian reform prevailed over cultural activities. Thus was born a revolutionary literature with a decidedly propaganda background, inspired by the principles of socialist realism. Poetry is essentially political, it must exalt the values of resistance and promote confidence in the construction of socialism.
Among the poets of the last generation we remember Tô Hu’u with his main collections of poems, Tu Ay (“Since then”, ie from 1937 to 1946), Viêt Bac (“North Vietnam”) and Gio Long (“Hurricane” ). For the narrative we remember Nguyên Tuan who was Secretary General of the Association of Vietnamese Writers, author of novels, short stories and reportages, with his best known novel Quê Hu’o’ng (“The native country”), and Nam Cao, who died in a guerrilla action, with his collection of short stories Cu’o’i (“Laughter”) and Chi Pheo (name of the protagonist). The theater draws mainly from the repertoire of the local popular tradition, tuong (classic), cheo (popular) and cai luong (renewed).
With the I National Congress of the PCV (December 1986), the Vietnam enters a new stage of development, which will be characterized by the introduction of the policy of Doi Moi (“Renewal”), ie the introduction of economic reforms based on the free market economy. In a short time with the opening to the Western world, the inflow of foreign capital and the strong push to accelerate the renewal process, Vietnam takes on a new face. In fact, it is today a country heavily engaged in great efforts to integrate more and more into a rapidly growing Southeast Asia. But the law of the market still does not seem to be counterbalanced by a democratic debate and cultural growth, despite a new generation of intellectuals is struggling forward. In the summer of 1993, a dozen high-quality literary works, whose authors were not in line with the Party, were censored. Among them Dao Hieu (arrested), Lê Minh Khue, Phan Thi Bang Anh, Xuan Cang, Vo Van Truc, Nguyên Khai, To Hoai, Le Luu. For fiction we remember Nguyên Huy Thi ^ p (b.1950), historian and novelist, author of Un général à la retraite (trad. Fr. 1991) and Le coeur du tigre (trad. Fr. 1993); Bao Ninh (b.1952), author of Than Phan Cua Tinh Yeu, (1991, English translation, The sorrow of war, 1993), which became a best-seller.