A LITERARY CLASSIC: THE TALE OF KIEU
Vietnamese literary tradition has a rich long history that is primarily passed down in the written form. For a millennium before the 11th century, Vietnam was dominated by China and as a result much of the written work during this period was in Classical Chinese. The epic poem, The Tale of Kieu (Truyen Kieu), written by Nguyen Du, is regarded as one of the most significant and well-known work of Vietnamese literature. Nguyen Du made use of the plot of a seventeenth-century Chinese novel, Jin Yun Qiao, known in Vietnamese pronunciation of Chinese characters as Kim Van Kieu (???) to convey the social and political upheavals in Vietnam during his time at the end of the 18th century.
The entire plot in the Tale of Kieu spans over fifteen years. At the beginning of the story, Thuy Kieu — a beautiful and educated girl meets and later promises to marry Kim Tr?ng, a young and promising scholar. However their marriage is delayed because Kim has to go back home to mourn a relative for half a year. During that time misfortune begins to befall Kieu. Her family is framed and although Kieu has not forgotten her promise of marriage to Kim Trong, was unable to fulfil it and asked her sister, Thuy Van, to fulfil on her behalf. She decides to sell herself out of filial piety to try and save her family. Thus begins a life of descent and misfortune which culminates in her trying to end her life. Yet, she is rescued by a Buddhist nun, Giac Duyen where eventually Kim finds her and ends her cycle of bad karma. The tension between Kieu's impulsive tendencies and filial piety is clear, ensuring a constant struggle between Confucian and Buddhist beliefs.
Artists in Vietnam have not hesitated to look towards classic literary works such as The Tale of Kieu, demonstrating the symbiotic relationship between the visual and literary arts.