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Nguyen Du: symbol of Vietnamese culture

Update: October, 11/2015 - 22:21
The past preserved: The Nguyen Du memorial site in Ha Tinh Province contains more than 1,000 artifacts related to his life, career and family. — Photo nguyendu.vn

This year is renowned poet Nguyen Du's 250th birth anniversary. Do Thuy takes a look at his life, and how his words written long ago still shape society today.

A new wooden statue of Viet Nam's most loved poet, Nguyen Du, has just been completed. The 3.5m statue weighs 4.8 tonnes.

The statue was sculptured out of a single tree-trunk commissioned by Le Huy, a member of the Song Lam Heritage Association in Nghe An Province. It is the biggest wooden statue of the great poet in Viet Nam, and will be unveiled to mark his 250th birthday and honour him as an Outstanding Man of Culture in December.

The year 2015 marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of poet Nguyen Du. His life, career and works, especially Truyen Kieu (The Tale of Kieu), interest readers of all walks of life in Viet Nam and scholars abroad.

Descended from a family with long academic tradition in the central Nghe Tinh province, Nguyen Du, whose pen-names are To Nhu and Thanh Hien, was born in 1765 in Thang Long (Ha Noi). His father was the former prime minister during the Le dynasty.

Born and raised in a time of chaos, Nguyen Du witnessed many changes in the transition from the Le to Nguyen dynasties. His works reflected the realities in Viet Nam's society during these years. Nguyen Du's poems displayed the vicissitudes of history and the spiritual life of Vietnamese people.

He left a monumental poetic legacy with three collections in Han (Chinese characters) scripts totaling 250 poems in Thanh Hien Thi Tap (poems of Thanh Hien), Nam Trung Tap Ngam (various poems) and Bac Hanh Tap Luc (Miscellaneous Writings in Trip to the North), the heartfelt Van Te Thap Loai Chung Sinh (the funeral oration for ten kinds of living beings) and most well known, the Tale of Kieu.

"Nguyen Du's cultural heritage is the product of a Vietnamese intellect, soul and culture coming together his outstanding talent and with time, his legacy has become part of humanity's culture," Dinh The Huynh, chairman of the Commission for Publicity and Education of the Party's Central Committee said at the international conference commemorating the 250th anniversary of Nguyen Du's birth in August, 2015.

"Nguyen Du left a huge legacy in terms of ideology, content and artistic penmanship. He contributed to national literature and cultural heritage. He beautified and enriched the Vietnamese language," Dr Ngo Van Gia, lecturer of Ha Noi University of Culture said.

Nguyen Du's poems are considered "ahead of his time". In the work Miscellaneous Writings in Trip to the North, he describes the real social situation in Viet Nam and China, which seemed not to be touched on by other writers.

"That Nguyen Du disclosed China's nature in Miscellaneous Writings in the Trip to the North showed he was a Confucian scholar ahead of his time, an early enlightened poet," said Tran Thi Bang Thanh, an Associate Professor of literature.

Roots of culture: A wooden statue of Nguyen Du has just been finished. — Photo nguoiduatin.vn

The Tale of Kieu was written in 1803 when Nguyen Du was promoted to ambassador to China, and this journey gave him the basis for the story.

The Tale of Kieu has the original title in Vietnamese of Doan Truong Tan Thanh (A New Cry from a Broken Heart), but it is better known as Truyen Kieu.

A 3,254-line classic novel in verse written in luc bat (the six-eight-word distich metre), a traditional Vietnamese verse form, The Tale of Kieu, recounts the life, trials and tribulations of Thuy Kieu, a beautiful and talented young woman, who has to sacrifice herself to save her family. To save her father and younger brother from prison, she sells herself into marriage with a middle-aged man, not knowing that he is a pimp, and is forced into prostitution.

"It is said that the Tale of Kieu elevated the Vietnamese and made it a language of literature and culture," said Gia.

To date, The Tale of Kieu has been translated into 37 versions in more than 20 different languages such as French, English, Japanese, Chinese, and Russian, etc.

"The vitality and pervasive power of The Tale of Kieu is rooted in its intrinsic value of humanitarian content and Nguyen Du's masterly and creative poetic skills," said Nguyen Xuan Thang, president of Viet Nam Academy of Social Sciences, said.

With these great works, Nguyen Du has been honoured by the world. In 1965, he was honoured as a world cultural celebrity by the World Peace Council, on the anniversary of his 200th birthday.

Nguyen Du was recognised as a world famous personality by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at its 37th General Assembly in Paris in 2013.

Next November, he will become the third Vietnamese person after Nguyen Trai (1980) and late President Ho Chi Minh (1990) to be venerated as an Outstanding Man of Culture by UNESCO.

Many activities, including The Nguyen Du Culture and Tourism Week, talks and competitions on The Tale of Kieu and its author alongside several documentary films and theatre productions based on life of the poet and his family, are scheduled to be held in December.

"It's an occasion to praise the poet's talent and devotion to Vietnamese and world culture," said Bui Duc Hanh, director of the Ha Tinh Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

A writing contest on Nguyen Du's life and career and The Tale of Kieu launched by the Cultural and Cinema Centre of Ha Tinh Province attracted more than 210,500 people in different age groups. — VNS

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