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The Tale of Kiều

Truyện Kiều (The tale of Kiều), written by Nguyễn Du (1765−1820) is regarded as the most
significant poem in Vietnamese literature. It was composed in Lục-bát (6-8) stanzas and its
original title in Vietnamese is Ðoạn Trường Tân Thanh (A new cry from a broken heart).
However, it is better known as Truyện Kiều or Kim Văn Kiều. The story is based on a 17th
century Ming Chinese novel, which Nguyễn Du discovered while he was on an ambassadorial
mission to China in 1813. The plot portrays the chaotic political and social circumstances of
Vietnam in the 18th century, arising from political infighting. The theme of the story is filial
piety, one of the main tenets of Confucianism. It recounts the life and trials of a beautiful and
talented young woman who sacrificed her happiness to save her disgraced family. She had to go
through many sufferings, such as being lured into prostitution, being wed to a man who was
already married, and being thrown out of a Buddhist sanctuary before she was finally reunited
with her first love. However, this reunion did not bring earthly joy for Kiều, who chose to devote
her life to serving her family as filial piety demanded. Literary critics have argued that the theme
of the story is an allegory of Nguyễn Du’s guilt and conflict of interest in agreeing to work for
the new regime (the Nguyễn dynasty, 1802−1945), which had been indirectly involved in the
overthrow of his former master. This behavior was unacceptable in traditional Confucian
Vietnamese society, as it was tantamount to betraying filial piety. Hence the theme of the story
was a poignant reminder for Nguyễn Du, who was born into a high-profile mandarin family, and
whose father served as a high-ranking minister under the Le dynasty. The copy of the Truyện
Kiều manuscript held at the British Library (reference number Or 14844) was completed around
1894. It is written in Chữ Nôm (Sino-Vietnamese characters). Each page is beautifully illustrated
with scenes from the story. It is bound in a royal-yellow silk cover with dragon patterns. Nguyễn
Quang Tuấn, an independent Vietnamese scholar who inspected the manuscript, is of the opinion
that this manuscript bears some royal significance because the dragon on the cover has the five
claws normally reserved for imperial use only. Another significant feature of this manuscript is
that it bears annotations by Paul Pelliot (1878−1945), the renowned French Sinologist, who
bought the manuscript in 1929.


To solve everything the matter of the heart comes into being; 

righteous people will overcome everything toward a better life.

 What is the work’s contribution to Vietnamese/Indonesian literature?

Answer: Tale of Kieu is considered the masterpiece of that national literature, so popular
that even illiterates can recite scores of lines from this narrative in verse, even though it is
the adaptation, or recreation, of a rather banal Chinese work of fiction

 What is the work’s relevance to the reader?

Answer: The Tale of Kiều, allows for a narrative to establish spaces of a well-represented
female perspective that explores femininity and self expression in literature. Challenging
ourselves to seek out controversial literary texts to help broaden our horizons on the
topics of womanhood, will instill valuable conversations on current issues like women
empowerment and gender equality, more specifically being inclusive to establishing a
voice for women of color.


Pelliot, P.(2014).Library of Congress.The Tale of Kieu.World Digital


Dinhua, N.(1983).The Washington Post.Love and Safricice in Vietnam’s National Epic.