You are on page 1of 14






Angeles City, June.04.2016



Truyen Kieu, the most influential work of Nguyen Du, is a 3,254line classic verse novel written in "luc bat (6/8), the form that consists of
alternating lines of six and eight syllables, a traditional verse form of Viet
Nam's poetry. It is based on Chinese novel Kim Van Kieu that Nguyen Du
exposed when he promoted to be the ambassador to China in 1803. The
original title in Vietnamese is Doan Truong Tan Thanh (, "A New
Cry From a Broken Heart"), but it is better known as Truyn Kiu (). It
is divided into 3 parts: Meeting and Proposal, Upheavals and Reunion.
Truyen Kieu is known as the most successful work of Nguyen Du and the
masterpieces of temporary Vietnamese literature. It is translated into more
than 20 languages; the most translation is 10 versions in French, 07 versions
in English, 04 versions in Japanese. Since its publication, it has become a
controversial topic, attracting great attention from writers, analyzers, even
criticism in 19th & 20th century. Truyen Kieu plays a very important part in
cultural social life of Vietnamese people. Many characters of two sides
including bad people and good people have become typical examples in
society & are applied to daily idioms, proverbs. There are numerous kinds of
art cultural practices like singing about Kieu, poems, plays, movies, painting,
Kieu fortune telling.


Nguyen Du (765 1820), penname is To Nhu or Thanh Hien. He was

the 7 child, his father, Nguyen Nghiem, a Minister under Le dynasty. His
ancestors kept high positions in the government. His mother, Tran Thi Tan,
was 3rd wife among 08 wives of his father, beautiful & intelligent, talented in
singing. At 6 years old, Nguyen Du started to learn Chinese language. He
was very intelligent; he could understand and remember after one time
reading. It was said that Nguyen Du might have inherited a part of his talents
from his mother. His father died when he was 11 years old, his mother died
when he was 13 years old. He mainly stayed with his brother or brother in

At 19 years old, he passed the provincial exam, got the title T TI,
and then was appointed to work for Trinh Dynasty. After Trinh Lords were
defeated by Le dynasty, he refused to serve under Le dynasty. In 1802,
Nguyen dynasty took control all over Vietnam in 1802, Nguyen Du agreed
to serve under his administration. He was promoted as the ambassador to
China in 1813. There he discovered the Chinese novel under Minh dynasty.
Based on the story and the social historical of Vietnam at that time, Nguyen
Du created his own work, Truyen Kieu, regarded as the masterpieces in
Vietnamese literature. He died of sickness after he was appointed to be the
ambassador for the 2nd time to China. In 1965, Nguyen Du was honored as a
World Cultural Celebrity by the World Peace Council for his devotion to
Vietnamese literature and the worlds culture. In 2013, he was recognized by
UNESCO as a World Cultural Celebrity at its 37th General Conference
session in Paris. In 2015, his 250th birth anniversary was held in the culture
& tourism week at national level in his father homeland, Nghi Xuan district,
Ha Tinh province, Vietnam.
Story telling + video clip showing the international conference of 250 th
birthday anniversary of Nguyen Du, video clip showing the interview
with an American scholar about his doctoral thesis about Truyen Kieu.
In Minh Dynasty, Mr & Mrs Vuong in Bejing have 03 children. The
two beautiful and talented daughters named Thuy Kieu & Thuy Van. Thuy
Kieu is the oldest, Thuy Van is the second. The last son is Vuong Quan.
In that spring, the three sisters & brother visit their ancestors
cemetery. By chance Thuy Kieu meets Kim Trong there, a handsome, gentle
& promising scholar. They fall in love at first sight and promise to get
married. However, Kim Trong receives the bad news that his uncle passes
away and he has to come back to his hometown to mourn his uncle for half a
During that time, Kieu faces a lot of chaos. Her family is cheated by a
silk dealer, leading her father and brother to imprisonment. Their house is
destroyed, all the property are stolen. To rescue the father and brother, Kieu

decides to sell herself to Ma Giam Sinh without knowing that he is a pimp.

To fulfill her promise with Kim Trong, she askes Thuy Van to marry him.
Ma Giam Sinh, brings her to a brothel run by Tu Ba. Kieu threatens to
kill herself if Tu Ba forces her to become a prostitute. Thus, Tu ba put her in
a trap. She hires So Khanh to pretend to take Kieu run away. Then Kieu falls
into her trap and is beaten heavily by Tu Ba and is forced to become a
Kieus beauty attracts a lot of men, including Thuc Sinh, a wealthy and
playboy mandarin. He pays money to take Kieu out of the brothel and marry
her even though he already has a wife named Hoan Thu. Hoan Thu is a
extremely jealous woman, the daughter of a high-positioned mandarin in the
government. She kidnaps Kieu and beats her cruelly, forcing her to become a
maid for Hoan Thu. Hoan Thu askes Kieu to serve wine and play the music
for Hoan Thu and Thuc Sinh. Thuc Sinh doesnt dare to do anything in front
of his jealous wife even he really pities Kieu.
Feeling too much miserable, Kieu run away to live in a temple. Then
she is lured to the brothel by Bac Ba, Bac Hanh the second time. Here, she
meets Tu Hai, a revolution leader. Tu Hai pities for Kieus destiny and falls
in love with her. He pays money to rescues and marries Kieu. After 05 years,
Tu Hai has a powerful army staff and they have a happy life. But Kieu is
cheated to believe Ho Ton Hien, a corrupt mandarin, representative of
mandarin in the feudal government. She asks Tu Hai to surrender to the
government, leading to Tu Hais death. Ho Ton Hien opens the victory party,
forcing Kieu to serve wine then rapes Kieu. To avoid bad rumor, he forces
Kieu to marry a local mandarin. Feeling shameful, she runs away and takes
suicide by jumping into Tien Duong River but she is saved by Buddhist nun
Giac Duyen and lives in the temple.
After half a year of mourning the uncle, Kim Trong comes back and is
told the story happened to Kieu, then he marries Thuy Van. Kim Trong &
Vuong Quan pass the examination and are assigned to become mandarins.
All the families come to Tien Duong river to pray for Kieu. Luckily, Nun
Giac Duyen sees them and informs them that Kieu is still alive.

Kieu reunites with her parents, sister, brother and Kim Trong after 15
years of being far away. The family asks Kieu to marry Kim Trong but they
decide to change from husband-wife love to the friendship.
It ends the miserable life of Kieu.
Truyen Kieu is the great masterpiece that expresses both realistic and
humanistic values. Regarding the realistic value, firstly, it demonstrates
black powers of declined Vietnamese feudal society in early 19th century. It
can be seen through the appearance of cruel mandarin along the story. They
are representatives for feudal system but do not perform their responsibilities
at all. Instead of ensuring the equity for people, they become culprits making
the society with inequity. Only the accusation without proof of the silk
dealer, the mandarin sentences Kieus father and brother imprisonment. He
even asks his staff to damage their house, taking all properties and requires
Kieu give a big amount of gold in order to get freedom for her father and
brother. This is the first mandarin in the story with unknown name. It means
that he is only the low ranked mandarin but we can see how he misuses his
power. Another vivid example for corrupt mandarin is Hoan thus family
high ranking mandarin family in the government but solves the problems
based on private business & takes advantage of their power as well. With
their great power in their hand, they can easily to fire a house, kidnap, and
beat people if anyone makes them annoyed. Furthermore, Ho Ton Hien is
the most powerful but the most cruel and coward mandarin in Truyen Kieu.
He does not dare to fight face to face with Tu Hai, cheating Kieu to kill Tu
Hai, and then asking Kieu to serve wine, raping Kieu and forcing Kieu to
marry the local mandarin. As the story shows, starting point and ending
point of 15 miserable years of Kieu has the appearance of cruel mandarin
from unknown to high ranking level, depriving Kieu, a beautiful talent girl
of her brilliant future. More than any accusation, Truyen Kieu is the greatest
conviction to the declined mandarin system in Vietnamese feudal society at
early 19th century.

In addition, the declined feudal system is lively displayed through

prostitution business. A lot of representatives like Tu Ba, Ma Giam Sinh,
Bac Ba, Bac Hanh, So Khanh, all earn dirty money by women prostitution.
Many young beautiful and talent women have become the attractive goods
under their hands. They do by all means to make women become their own
benefits without caring that they have trampled upon the right of life and
pursuit of happiness of those women.
Another symbolic image of rotten feudal society is dirty money.
Nguyen Du extremely criticizes the black power of money. It can change
from black to white, white to black. People become goods of money. Tu Ba,
Bac Ba, Bac Hanh sell women for money; mandarins do no justice to
guiltless people if they dont give money; even the hero Tu Hai has to use
money to rescue Kieu out of the brothel.
The second realistic value of Truyen Kieu shows the ill fate of
beautiful talented women in the feudal society of Vietnam at early of 19 th
century. Thuy Kieu is typical representative of women at that time. They are
beautiful at appearance, wisdom, virtue but they are trampled by the feudal
society. When Kieu threatens to kill herself so that she will not become a
prostitute, she is trapped by Tu Ba. When she runs away from Hoan Thu
family, she is tricked by Bac Ba, Bac Hanh to become the prostitute for the
second time. She has high awareness of her human dignity but the unjust
society tramples her to the bottom.
Addition to the realistic value, the humanistic value makes Truyen
Kieu the favorite works of many Vietnamese generations. Firstly, the epic
promotes free love through the love of Kim-Kieu. Their love is against the
extremely harsh concepts about love and marriage existing long time in the
feudal system. The love and marriage in the feudal society is completely
arrangement and agreement between parents of the families based on
numbers of factors including wealth, social status and not because of love at
all. In many cases, the woman even just knows her husband on the wedding
day. In contrast, Kim-Kieu love is natural love without any arrangement.
They meet each other by chance, falling in love then decide to get married
by themselves. The Love of Kim - Kieu shows the authors beautiful dream

about a free, innocent, faithful love. It is seen as beautiful love song in the
national literature.
Secondly, Truyen Kieu shows the desire for justice. This can be seen
clearly through Thuy Kieu. The justice is expressed through the mandarin
decide the case for her father and brother, Hoan Thu family, the prostitution.
Tu Hai is the embodiment of fighting for justice, freedom and democracy.
He rescues Kieu, bringing happiness for Kieu and he dares to fight against
all the feudal system.
Thirdly, Truyen Kieu compliments the beauty of people. Those are the
beauty of appearance, talent of Thuy Kieu, Thuy Van, Kim Trong, Tu Hai;
the wisdom, filial piety, faithfulness and sacrifices of Thuy Kieu, the beauty
of courage of a hero Tu Hai. All characters are built beautifully under the
skilful talented writer, Nguyen Du.

1. Thuy Kieu

She embodies the beauty in appearance, talent and ethics. The following is
the extract from the English translation of Truyen Kieu by Michael Counsell
describing her beauty in appearance, talent, even more beautiful than her
sister, Thuy Van.
But Kieu was yet more fair,
The olders merits took the prize.
Like autumn seas her eyes,
eyebrows like spring hills far away.
Flowers wished they were as gay;
The aspen shook with envying her.
One glance of Kieus could stir
cities or empires to revolt!
Her beauty had no fault.

nor in her mind was any flaw

shed write in verse, or draw.
excel at playing on the lute,
and, choosing tunes to suit.
compose songs for herself to sing.
Besides, she shows great filial piety. She sacrifices her love and
happiness to save father and brother. For traditional Vietnamese society at
that time, women are expected to abide by the Confucian principles three
submission, four virtues (tam tong, tu duc). Three submissions mean a girl
loyal her father when she is young and not yet married; loyal to her husband
when she is married and follows her son if her husband dies. Four virtues
mean domestic skills, refined manners, good speech and morality. Thus, it
can be seen clearly that Kieu follows the Confucian principle, taking her
father life more important than her life. When she is at brothel, she pities for
her parents because she cannot take care of them. Thus, Kieus filial piety to
her parents is remarkable. In addition, Thuy Kieu embodies desire of free
love, freedom and happiness. The love of Kim-Kieu, her strong resistance to
the feudal society is clearly described throughout the epic.
Moreover, she is representative for pain and misfortune, tragedy of
women in feudal society. She is a talented and ethical girl, but is buried by
feudal society, broken love and her human dignity is trampled.
2. Thuy Van
She is beautiful and talented girl
Vans moon-like round clear face
Her honest simple heart displayed;
eyebrows two arches made;
her voice like jade, clear, free from guile.
was comely as her smile

which blossomed like an opening rose.

What beauty have the snows
to that with which she was endowed?
What is a floating cloud
compared with Thuy-Vans flowing hair?
She listens to her older sister, her father to help her sister keep the
promise with Kim Trong. She takes care parents, Kim Trong and Vuong
Quan. Thanks to her care, Kim Trong and Vuong Quan can pass the exam
and are assigned to work for the government. Obviously, she also sacrifices
her life caring for her family.
When the family finds Kieu, Van actively asks Kim & Kieu marry
each other because she understands that Kieu is true love of Kim
when Van stood up and said.
Heaven made a marriage long ago;
two person met, and so
were joined by one word which they gave.
But like a tidal wave
misfortune swept one far beyond
our ken; the marriage bond
was tied for me which should be Kieus.
Thuy van, a talented beautiful kindhearted girl.
3. Kim Trong
He is 1 of the 3 most beautiful characters in Truyen Kieu. He is
handsome talented scholar. Nguyen Du describes him beautifully under
romantic landscape (water, grass, bridge, tree)
A scholar soon drew near

riding a sturdy snow-white steed;

so lively that, indeed,
his pageboys scarce could keep apace.
His robes glow with a race
In which grass-green with sky-blue blends;
the bag of odds-and-ends
he bears, marks him a gentleman.
a man above the norm
in reading and intelligence,
with more than common sense,
good manners and a generous heart
Together with Kieu, Kim Trong represents the desire for free and
faithful love. Even he marries Thuy Van, is moved by her love and care but
in the bottom of his heart throughout 15 years, he still loves Kieu and always
thinks about his first love. When he passes the examination, the first person
he thinks about is Kieu, that all his victory cannot be compared with having
with whom I now may share
my jade and golden bliss today?
You are so far away
lost like a flower afloat at sea.
My honors and degree
cannot erase my grief at heart

4. Tu Hai
He is the muscular hero with strong mind, independence, talent,
courage, he alone dare to fight again the all feudal society.
Strong-jawed, and tiger-like moustached,
brows like two silk worms arched,
broad shouldered, and extremely tall.
His fame was known to all;
In boxing and in cudgel-play
he always won the day;
then he was skilled in strategy,
of great temerity
and fearless when the risks were high.
The man was name Tu hai
He shows great pity and loves Kieu truly.
Besides, he saves Kieus life, bringing her a truly happy life even it is short;
helping her to repay and revenge.
He is defeated by Ho Ton Hien not because of he is less talented but because
he believes Kieu completely. He fights bravely, dies in the position of
standing, only falling down when Kieu cries.
The standing death of Tu Hai is the strong swear to feudal society that is no
justice, people tricks other people.
5. Ho Ton Hien
Representative for cruel mandarin in feudal society. He knows he can not
fight Tu Hai directly so he use Kieu to put Tu Hai in a trap, because he
knows that everything Tu Hai always discusses with Kieu.
Pretending then to sue

For peace, Ho camped his troops nearby.

He offered to Tu Hai.
a gift by special envoys hand
composed of jade, fold, and
of silks, to tempt him to submit,
and also send with it
a special gift as well as for Kieu;
two serving maids, and, too
a thousand pounds of gold and jade
Furthermore, he is prurient. After forcing Kieu to play the music in his
victory party and raping her, Ho Ton Hien just thinks of letting Kieu go out
of him so that he doesnt have to listen to the criticism.
Without consulting Kieu
he told his men without delay
to give the girl away
to wed a local mandarin
O fickle Fate, within
whose power our destinies all lie,
how could you ever tie
the marriage knot at random so?
Ho Ton Hien, representative for the rotten mandarin system in a seriously
declined feudal government.

6. Tu Ba
Tu Ba and the other villains in Truyen Kieu like Ma Giam Sinh, So Khanh,
Bac Ba, Bac Hanh are representatives for prostitution.
Tu-Ba her name, and on
some ill-starred day these two had met.
And what a pair! A set
of rotten eggs both in one nest!
Their interests coalesced
In opening a sort of shop
in which, without a stop,
they sold make-up and perfumed maids.
To carry on their trade
They scoured the country day by day
For girls they took away
To use as servants - they explained
but really, to be trained
to live the life of prostitutes.
They consider women as the tool for money at any cost. They trample the
human dignity of women just for their own benefits.


Valuable lessons from the masterpiece mark in our heart and our mind.
Firstly, we desire free and faithful love. True love should base on our own
feeling, not the arrangement of parents or anyone else. The love based on
the arrangement is hard to have a happy ending. Also, we will find the ways
to defend our true love. Secondly, we will fight for justice, right for freedom,
life and pursuiting happiness. Those are the basic rights of human beings that
are already emphasized in the Declare of Independence of America in 1776
and Declare of Independence of Vietnam in 1945. Without those rights, what
are the purposes that we exist on this Earth? Thirdly, we learn to show filial
piety to parents. Parents are the one who give birth to us, bring us up, teach
us how to behave and live in this life and many other lessons that we cannot
count by words. Thus, we should learn to be good children by studying hard,
listening to parents advice, showing our care to parents even from simplest
things in daily life, etc. Lets make our parents be proud of us because we
are good children. Last but not least, we learn not to follow the bad practices
in the society like prostitution or we are lured by money, considering money
more than the human dignity. Those are social evils we should avoid,
reminding ourselves not to be involved by any means. We do not live by
tricking people either. Otherwise we will not have good friends, good
relationships, and good future in life.

Reference: Michael Counsell (1994). Kieu. The Gioi Publisher.