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Vietnamese Classical Literature - 19th Century

Vietnam Classical Literature is not known to the outside world as Chinese Literature. For the younger generation, the study of Vietnamese literature seem to fade away, leaving place to contemporary authors on topics on modern existentialism. In my attempt to "come back to source", I have started a collection of books on Vietnam, and classify them under various topics such as Culture, History, Vietnam War, Politics, Biographies, Contemporary Vietnam, International Relations, Doing Business in Vietnam, Reference and Languages, Zen Buddhism, Philosophy, Art and Literature. 

Here is a short picture of the literary world under the last dynasty of Vietnam: the Nguyen. 

Indeed, the 19th Century was a flourishing century for literature and the arts in Vietnam. It opened up with the Kim Vân Kiều  by Nguyễn Du (1765-1820) and closed with the anonymous Song of True Patriotism (Chính Khí Ca :1900). 

Three outstanding talents, Nguyen Du, Mdm Ho Xuan Huong and Nguyen Dinh Chieu contributed to the Vietnamese Classical Literature with the greatest masterpieces: The Tale of Kieu, and Luc Van Tien, two epics and selected poems.

  • Nguyen Du (1766-1820): It is necessary to keep in mind his historical and social background in order to understand both Nguyễn Du and his main work, The Tale of Kieu (Vietnamese Truyện Kiều), which was based on an earlier Chinese work known as Kim Vân Kiều and was originally titled Đoạn Trường Tân Thanh (lit. new accents of a heart-rending song).  Nguyen Du's main work is Kim Vân Kiều, (English title:The Tale of Kieu). The Tale of Kieu was written under a pen-name as the story was quite critical of the basic tenets of Confucian morality. It is a tragic tale of two lovers forced apart by the girl's loyalty to her family honor. Nguyễn added his own pain and guilt over the self-betrayal of his own code of honor, and the result is one of the greatest masterpieces of Vietnamese literature. What made the Story of Kiều a masterpiece is the refined, subtle, and yet simple way the author arranged his verses in a popular and genuinely Vietnamese cadence of six upon eight syllables that renders the recitation harmoniously rhythmic and the excerpts easily committed to memory. More Literature on Kieu

  • Mdm Ho Xuan Huong (1772–1822) Mdm Hồ Xuân Hương must have lived under three different dynasties, --the Lê, Tây Sơn and Nguyễn-- and must have owed her fame to her poems composed almost exclusively in nôm.  In between husbands, Hồ Xuân Hương managed a kind of salon frequented by writers and poets, where her talent shone in polished, elegant, but also daring, and  sexually evocative poems and retorts. To view Online selected readings in Vietnamese by Mdm Ho Xuan Huong, click here. More on Ho Xuan Huong on

  • Nguyen Dinh Chieu (1822-1888) Nguyen Dinh Chieu was a Vietnamese poet who was known for his nationalist and anti-colonial writings against the French colonization of Cochinchina, the European name for the southern part of Vietnam. He was the best known opponent of collaboration in the south of Vietnam and was regarded as the poet laureate of the southerners who continued to defy the Treaty of Saigon which ceded southern Vietnam to France, disobeying the royal orders of Emperor Tự Đức to continue harassing the French forces. His epic poem, remains one of the most celebrated works in Vietnamese literature. While Nguyễn Du's style was elegant, sophisticated, Nguyễn Đình Chiểu's words were easily understood by the common people and many of his verses sound just like a chat between two people in the streets. Nguyen Dinh Chieu main work is Lục Vân Tiên, perhaps one of the two most recognizable and influential epic poems in Vietnamese history. The poem praises the power of true love, applauds bravery and fair justice. Lục Vân Tiên, named after the main character, was written in nôm in 2080 six-upon-eight verses.While Nguyễn Du discoursed about the dichotomy between talent and fate, about the sufferings every human being had to endure, Nguyễn Đình Chiểu warns his readers to scrutinize the past so as not to make mistakes in the future. Young men should put loyalty and filial piety on top of all values, whereas young women should make chastity and faithfulness their ideals.
    To view the Online Vietnamese version: Click here. More on Nguyen Dinh Chieu on

  • Other classical Authors: Chinh phụ ngâm khúc - The Complaint of the Warrior’s Wife, by Authors: Ðoàn Thị Ðiểm (1705-1748) /  Ðặng Trần Côn (1715?-1745). view You Tube 
  • Cung oán ngâm khúc -  The Complaints of an Odalisk, By Author: Nguyen Gia Thieu (1741-1798), view article under buddhist view by Ven. Thích Pháp Như

  • Famous Selected classical works by Bà Huyện Thanh Quan (1805-1848), Nguyễn Khuyến (1835-1909), and Tran Te Xuong (1870-1907) can be found under the source indicated hereafter: wikipedia,, youtube,
(Compiled by Anh Tho Andres)

YourVietBooks is a collection of books on Vietnam for Readers who are interested in Vietnam's History, Culture, Language, Business & Management. Titles are available in English, French, German and Vietnamese. Find out more about our translation services, contact

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