Vietnamese literature (Vietnamese: Văn học Việt Nam; chữ Hán: 文學越南) is the literature, both oral and written, created largely by the Vietnamese. Early Vietnamese literature has been greatly influenced by Chinese literature. As Literary Chinese was the formal written language for government documents, a majority of literary works were composed in Hán văn or as văn ngôn.[1] From the 10th century, a minority of literary works were composed in chữ Nôm, the former writing system for the Vietnamese language. The Nôm script better represented Vietnamese literature as it led to the creation of different poetic forms like Lục bát and Song thất lục bát. It also allowed for Vietnamese reduplication to be used in Vietnamese poetry.


For a millennium before the tenth century, Vietnam was under the rule of various Chinese dynasties and as a result much of the written work during this period was in chữ Hán (Chinese characters), works written in chữ Hán were either called Hán văn or văn ngôn. Chữ Nôm, created around the tenth century, allowed writers to compose in Vietnamese using native characters that were coined by using Chinese radicals. 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 during the Hồ dynasty and the Tây Sơn dynasty.

While the Vietnamese alphabet was created in 1631 by Francisco de Pina, 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 Vietnamese alphabet. Today, Francophone Vietnamese and English-speaking Vietnamese are counted by many critics as contributors to the ongoing history of Vietnamese literature.


Folk literature

Main articles: Vietnamese poetry, Vietnamese mythology, and Vietnamese fairy tales

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).

Medieval literature

Hán văn

Main article: Literary Chinese in Vietnam

The earliest surviving literature by Vietnamese writers is written in chữ Hán (Chinese characters). Almost all of the official documents in Vietnamese history were written in chữ Hán, as were the first poems.[2] Not only is the Chinese script foreign to modern Vietnamese speakers, these works are mostly unintelligible even when directly transliterated from Classical Chinese into the modern Vietnamese alphabet due to their Chinese grammar and vocabulary. As a result, these works must be translated into Vietnamese in order to be understood by the general public. These works include official proclamations by Vietnamese emperors, imperial histories, and declarations of independence from China, as well as Vietnamese poetry. In chronological order notable works include:

Some of these Literary Chinese texts are still taught in school. For example, the poem Nam quốc sơn hà (南國山河) by Lý Thường Kiệt, is in the textbook used by schools in Vietnam.[3] The texts are generally and commonly is divided into three sections.

Phiên âm (Phonetic transliteration) - this section contains the original text transliterated into the Vietnamese alphabet. This section is not understood by any Vietnamese, as the text is in Literary Chinese which uses Classical Chinese syntax and vocabulary not used in Vietnamese.

Nam quốc sơn hà (南國山河)
Classical Chinese Vietnamese transliteration
南國山河南帝居 Nam quốc sơn hà nam đế cư
截然定分在天書 Tiệt nhiên định phận tại thiên thư
如何逆虜來侵犯 Như hà nghịch lỗ lai xâm phạm
汝等行看取敗虛 Nhữ đẳng hành khan thủ bại hư

Dịch nghĩa (Translated meaning) - this section contains the translation of the poem, it is understood by Vietnamese speakers. It is often just a direct translation rather than a full fledged translated poem.

Sông núi nước Nam
Vietnamese translation
Sông núi nước Nam, vua Nam ở
Giới phận đó đã được định rõ ràng ở sách trời
Cớ sao kẻ thù lại dám đến xâm phạm
Chúng mày nhất định sẽ nhìn thấy việc chuốc lấy bại vong

Dịch thơ (Translated poem) - this section contains the translation version of the poem. It is understood by Vietnamese speakers and is a full fledged translated poem.

Sông núi nước Nam
Vietnamese translated poem
Sông núi nước Nam vua Nam ở
Vằng vặc sách trời chia xứ sở
Giặc dữ cớ sao phạm đến đây
Chúng mày nhất định phải tan vỡ


Works written in chữ Nôm - a locally invented demotic script based on chữ Hán - was developed for writing the spoken Vietnamese language from the 13th Century onwards. For the most part, these chữ Nôm texts can be directly transliterated into the modern chữ Quốc ngữ 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 Vietnamese alphabet. Some highly regarded works in Vietnamese literature were written in chữ Nôm, including Nguyễn Du's Truyện Kiều (傳翹), Đoàn Thị Điểm's chữ nôm translation of the poem Chinh Phụ Ngâm Khúc (征婦吟曲 - Song of the Soldier's 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:

Modern literature

While created in the seventeenth century, the Vietnamese alphabet 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 Vietnamese alphabet flourished and their popularity helped popularize Vietnamese alphabet. The Self-Reliant Literary Association with its two weeklies Phong Hóa and Ngày Nay were among the most read newspapers at the time, and these two papers brought fame to many writers, including Khái Hưng, Nhất Linh, Xuân Diệu, Thế Lữ, Thạch Lam and Huy Cận. The success of The Self-Reliant Literary Association also inspired the development of modern literature during the 30s, a thriving period marked by the debuts of important writers, such as Nguyễn Tuân, Vũ Trọng Phụng, and Tô Hoài.

While some leaders resisted the popularity of Vietnamese alphabet 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 Vietnamese alphabet. 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 Vietnamese alphabet, while works written in earlier scripts are transliterated into Vietnamese alphabet for accessibility to modern Vietnamese speakers. The use of the earlier scripts is now limited to historical references.

After the 1954 Geneva Conference, Vietnam was divided into North Vietnam and South Vietnam, and the literature of these two regions also developed in different directions. In the North, which hitherto formed an alliance with the Soviet Union, writers were under the control of the Communist Party, although there were some periods of turmoil among Northern writers when the government launched the land reform campaign or when Khrushchev came to power and denounced the legacy of Stalin. The most well-known writers in North Vietnam of this period were Tố Hữu, Nguyễn Đình Thi, Trần Dần, and Hoàng Cầm. In the South, which welcomed a wave of Northerners during the 1954–1955 Great Migration, the writers had more freedom in expressing their political beliefs. They gathered and discussed new styles and different philosophical viewpoints about writing through certain periodicals, one of which was Sáng Tạo magazine, founded by Thanh Tâm Tuyền and Mai Thảo. There was also one group called Quan Điểm, assembling Vũ Khắc Khoan, Mặc Đỗ and Nghiêm Xuân Hồng. South Vietnam's literature went through different ups and downs under the ruling of Ngô Đình Diệm and Nguyễn Văn Thiệu. Although it existed for only 20 years (1955-1975), South Vietnam literature witnessed the emergence of various great writers and novels.

Works in modern Vietnamese include:

See also


  1. ^ Nguyễn, Tri Tài (2002). Giáo trình tiếng Hán. Tập 1: Cơ sở. Nhà xuất bản Đại học Quốc gia Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh. p. 5.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Nguyễn, Khắc Phi. Sách Giáo Khoa Ngữ Văn Lớp 7 Tập 1. Nhà Xuất Bản Giáo Dục Việt Nam.