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TRẦN VĂN KHÊ : Traditional theatre in Viet-Nam (Prof.Tran Van Khe) – Part 2

Traditional theatre in Viet-Nam (Prof.Tran Van Khe) – Part 2

Analogies between hat tuong and Chinese ching hsi

A foreign spectator is immediately struck by the great resemblance between the Viet-Namese hat tuong and the Chinese ching hsi.

For instance, as regards the stage and the properties, there is the same stage devoid of scenery, decorated with a single piece of plain fabric or material as backcloth; the properties also are few. In the hat tuong as in the ching hsi, the table and a few stools may serve as furniture just as well in the dwelling of a court dignitary as in a poor student’s cell. A tablecloth embroidered with dragons spread over the table indicates that the scene takes place in the throne room. A stool placed on the table makes mountains shoot up. The riding whip represents a steed and the oar a boat. Two strips of white cloth held vertically on each side of the actor and bearing the pattern of a wheel, represent the royal chariot. Add to the objects mentioned above some wooden weapons painted black, red and silver, some many-coloured flags, a piece of material wrapped round some bamboo sticks representing a missive (a private letter or a royal message), a carafe and some small wooden or china cups, and you have nearly all the properties of the hat tuong and the Chinese ching hsi.

As to the actors and their parts, the characters belong to all the classes of the old Viet-Namese or Chinese society: kings, queens, princes, princesses, civil and military mandarins, citizens, scholars, peasants, servants, soldiers, brigands, and also some immortals, goddesses of Chinese or Viet-Namese mythology.

In the Viet-Namese theatre there is a clear distinction between the parts of the good men (trung) and the bad men (ninh). In the Chinese theatre there is a great variety of female parts: ching i, a modest and virtuous young woman; hua tan, roguish and given to flirtation; kuei men tan, a young unmarried girl. In general, and 74 The performing arts in Asia apart from a few variations, the same types of part are found in both theatres.

Examining make-up and costumes, it will be seen that if the painted faces are looked at in detail, they are not the same in the two theatres, Viet-Namese and Chinese. But the symbolic meaning of certain colours on the other hand is nearly identical: red for the good and loyal characters; white (or grey in the Viet-Namese theatre) for traitors; green for demons; black for the straight and honest parts. In the Viet-Namese theatre, use is rarely made of blue, yellow and brown, symbolizing respectively courage, intelligence and obstinacy in the Chinese theatre. A beard with three or five tufts indicates the loyal part; a sparse beard, fairly short and in the form of a Newgate frill, a traitor’s part; a bushy beard, a violent character. A face painted white with black and red streaks indicates the non-Chinese origin or the violent character of a person.

The costumes also differ in detail: the soles of the Viet-Namese boots are rounded and not flat and rectangular like those of the Chinese theatre. But the costumes and hair-dressing have been designed with the same idea: broad silk tunics decorated with dragons with five claws embroidered with gold thread for kings, phoenixes embroidered with gold or silver thread for queens; heavy chasubles spangled with tinsel with little flags on the back for warriors. Peasants, servants and soldiers wear cotton jackets without embroidery. Students wear a black or dark blue cap while court dignitaries wear head-gear decorated with gems and provided with two lateral wings. The head-gear of generals, knights or warriors is decorated with pheasant feathers. Certain conventions in materials and colours are found in both theatres : light yellow silk for kings, black cotton for impetuous or unpredictable characters, grey for old persons, etc.

In both theatres, gestures and attitudes are stylized and conventional. Some are identical, like the manner of tasting a cup of tea or liquor, the gesture of wiping away tears, the setting-off of a horse marked by striking the Traditional theatre in Viet-Nam 15 boot with a riding whip, the crossing of weapons between two combatants. Others are specifically VietNamese or Chinese. In the Viet-Namese theatre, it is impossible to distinguish hundreds of sleeve movements, hand play and steps, as in the Chinese theatre. But the walk, the way of opening a fan, of stroking the beard peculiar to a traitor’s part are very well exploited in the Viet-Namese theatre. Also very characteristic is the manner of moving sideways without lifting the feet, movements facilitated by the rounded shape of the soles of the Viet-Namese buskins, to express suffering or deep emotion.

For themes of plays, the history of China, especially the period of the Three Fighting Kingdoms (third century A.D.), Chinese mythology, even the Chinese romance Tay Du (Pilgrimage to the West) with the King of the Monkeys, have provided Chinese and Viet-Namese authors with material for their works. The texts of Viet-Namese plays contain many Sino-Viet-Namese words understood solely by scholars. The plays have approximately the same ending: the good are rewarded, the wicked punished, the kings restored to their thrones though they are for a time threatened by traitors, who are often killed at the end by the loyal subjects.

If the two theatres are examined in detail, numerous differences appear, more particularly in the inner meaning and form of the plays, the songs and the music.


*** Source: The Performing Arts in Asia – Unesco Paris 1971

(Edited and with introductions by James R. Brandon)

TRẦN VĂN KHÊ : Traditional theatre in Viet-Nam (Prof.Tran Van Khe) – Part 3 (END)

Traditional theatre in Viet-Nam (Prof.Tran Van Khe) – Part 3 (END)

Differences between hat tuong and Chinese theatre

In plays, subjects drawn from the history of Viet-Nam or from certain Viet-Namese romances are not rare. We mention among others : Tru’ng Nu’ Vuong (The Two Trung Queens) by Phan Doi Chau on the exploits of the Trung sisters fighting against the Chinese invaders (40-44 A.D.); Duong Ve Lam Soh, glorifying the fight of the VietNamese people against the Ming, under the leadership of a peasant patriot Le Loi, founder of the later Le dynasty (fifteenth century); and Luc Van Tien, a romance in verse of Nguyen Din Chieu. Although loyalty to the sovereign formed the theme of plays in the Viet-Namese theatre, the fine parts were given to loyal subjects, often of humble birth. At the end of tuong thay (history) plays, the crown princes, pursued by traitors but protected by the people, ascend the throne, reward the loyal subjects and punish the felons. The language of the principal characters is that of aristocrats. The servants and clowns, when they speak among themselves, use the language of the people. Although in the tuong pho, the text is largely written in the Sino-Viet-Namese language, in tuong thau and especially tuong do domestic plays, much room is left for the national language. The musical repertory is very different in the two theatres: there are of course speeches (noi loi in the VietNamese theatre, pai in the Chinese theatre) and songs. In the Chinese theatre, the songs are in two principal styles : hsi pi and erh huang. The pang tse may also be mentioned. They are absolutely different from the hat khach, hat num of the Viet-Namese theatre. The passages called kouo men (literally ‘to go through the door’), played as interludes, and the pieces calledya ti (literally ‘elegant A utes’) intended to accompany pantomimes or a particular stage effect in the Chinese theatre, do not exist in the Viet-Namese theatre where on the other hand a large number of pieces for percussion are found such as: Khai troung or Trong duong dau (overture) before the beginning of the play; Dam bang or Bai chien for battle scenes.

Reform and change

At the beginning of the twentieth century, a tendency to ‘reform’ the hat tuong was shown by the appearance of the hat boi pha cai luong genres (traditional theatre mixed with the so-called reformed theatre) in southern Viet-Nam, the hat bo Xuan nu (traditional theatre, Xuan nu style : ‘springlike young girl’) in central Viet-Nam, and the hat tuong Saigon (traditional theatre, Saigon style) in northern Viet-Nam. In fact, the reform consisted mainly in imitating the play, gestures and make-up of the Chinese actors, in introducing pieces of relaxation music into the traditional repertory, and in using the scenery and curtain as in the Western theatre. The production has even been seen of traditional plays taken from a fashionable novel such as Toi Cua Ai (Whose Fault?) and Ai Len Pho Cat (Who is Going up to Pho Cat?). In the countryside, however, the public always calls for the traditional plays. Immediately after the revolution of August 1945, and during the War of Resistance, the hat tuong in the north and the hat boi in the south went through a period of decline. In some provinces, the hat tuong companies tried without success to perform plays for spoken theatre instead of the traditional theatre. From 1952 onwards, by order of the Government of the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam, it was decided to restore the traditional theatre. Plays taken from the ancient or contemporary history of Viet-Nam appeared. We mention among others Tru’ng Nu’ Vuong (The Two Trung Queens),Dung Ve Lam Son (The Road Back to Lam Son, the place where the struggle began against the Ming invaders in the fifteenth century), Dau Tranh Giam To (Fight for the Reduction of Farm Rents), Chi Ngo (Chi Ngo the Fighter). Each hat tuong performance was attended by thousands of spectators, and many young people were trained in the hat tuong section of the National School of Dramatic Art. In southern Viet-Nam, the traditional theatre is dying out. A single company gives performances in Saigon which are poorly attended. In Dinh Dinh, the cradle of the hat boi, there are about fifteen village troupes. Recently in Saigon, the Association for the Encouragement of Theatre Studies and of Traditional Singing (Hoi khuyen Ze CO CU) organized several hat boi performances for an audience of connoisseurs and students. In the south, however, the so-called reformed theatre (hat cai Zuong) has almost completely replaced the traditional theatre. At the present time the young people are turning towards the new music (tun nhuo) or the variety and dance music of Western countries, and they are completely ignorant of the subtleties of song and speech in the traditional theatre. The task of educating the public is just as urgent as that of preserving and handing down the art of the theatre. In northern Viet-Nam, all the forms of theatre are taught in the National Conservatory of Dramatic Art. Research groups are collecting documents on the hut tuong, hut cheo, hat cui Zuong, hut bui choi; and together with the study of a historical or aesthetic nature, experiments are being made to reform or adapt the theatre to living conditions of the present day. The public is sympathetic towards efforts made to find a new and original formula for the traditional theatre, which continues to develop in the north. Only the return of peace and the reunification of Viet-Nam, or at least the re-establishment of cultural relations between the two parts of Viet-Nam, will make it possible to give new energy to the work of restoring and developing the traditional theatre.


*** Source: The Performing Arts in Asia – Unesco Paris 1971

(Edited and with introductions by James R. Brandon)

THANH HIỆP : Nghệ sĩ hải ngoại tưng bừng cúng Tổ nghiệp

(NLĐO) – Nhiều nghệ sĩ hải ngoại tổ chức cúng Tổ nghiệp vào ngày 23-9 (giờ địa phương). Dịp này, nhóm nghệ sĩ Tuấn Châu – Ngọc Đáng – Cẩm Thu – Linh Tâm ở Mỹ cũng tổ chức mừng thọ cho nghệ sĩ lão thành Văn Chung.

Các nghệ sĩ ở Mỹ trong chương trình Cổ nhạc phương Nam mừng giỗ Tổ và mừng thọ 88 tuổi của nghệ sĩ Văn Chung
Các nghệ sĩ ở Mỹ trong chương trình Cổ nhạc phương Nam mừng giỗ Tổ và mừng thọ 88 tuổi của nghệ sĩ Văn Chung

Nghệ sĩ Tuấn Châu cho biết nghệ sĩ Văn Chung đã 88 tuổi, nhiều năm gắn bó với chương trình Cổ nhạc phương Nam. Ông cùng với anh và các đồng nghiệp khác dốc sức biểu diễn Đờn ca tài tử, những bài bản cổ nhạc để những khán giả trẻ sinh ra và lớn lên tại Mỹ hiểu hơn về văn hóa dân tộc, không quên nguồn cội.

“Rất đông nghệ sĩ đến thắp hương, thành tâm lên bàn thờ Tổ trong ngày Truyền thống ngành sân khấu. Đồng thời, họ cũng gửi lời chúc thọ đến nghệ sĩ Văn Chung” – Tuấn Châu chia sẻ.

Nghệ sĩ Văn Chung tâm sự với nghệ sĩ, việc thờ phụng Tổ nghiệp, cúng Tổ hằng năm là hoạt động tâm linh không thể thiếu. Nhất là khi nhà nước công nhận ngày 12-8 âm lịch là ngày giỗ Tổ truyền thống của ngành sân khấu. Việc kính Tổ nghiệp góp phần răn dạy nghệ sĩ ý thức giữ gìn đạo đức, nghề hát, để được công chúng yêu mến.

Bánh sinh nhật mừng thọ 88 tuổi nghệ sĩ Văn Chung
Bánh sinh nhật mừng thọ 88 tuổi nghệ sĩ Văn Chung

Nghệ sĩ Hương Sỹ Nhân cũng tổ chức chương trình biểu diễn văn nghệ chào mừng ngày Truyền thống sân khấu Việt Nam tại Mỹ, với nhiều tiết mục ca cổ, ca ngợi tình yêu quê hương, đất nước. Nhiều nghệ sĩ cũng đến đây để thắp nhang, kính Tổ nghiệp.

Kim Phụng và các đồng nghiệp biểu diễn văn nghệ mừng ngày giỗ Tổ sân khấu tại Mỹ
Kim Phụng và các đồng nghiệp biểu diễn văn nghệ mừng ngày giỗ Tổ sân khấu tại Mỹ

Nghệ sĩ Kim Phụng tổ chức cúng Tổ kết hợp với hoạt động gây quỹ giúp đỡ trẻ em nghèo, mồ côi và nghệ sĩ nghèo đang gặp hoàn cảnh khó khăn trong nước. Bà gắn bó với các hoạt động sân khấu của tiểu bang Arizona.

Hương Sỹ Nhân và danh hài Bảo Quốc
Hương Sỹ Nhân và danh hài Bảo Quốc

“Người Việt ở đây sống chủ yếu bằng nghề trang điểm và làm nail. Dù cực nhọc nhưng cuối tuần họ vẫn dành thời gian xem văn nghệ. Họ thích nhất là cải lương, nhờ đó mà tôi cùng nhiều đồng nghiệp tổ chức thành công nhiều suất diễn phục vụ kiều bào. Vào mỗi dịp rằm tháng Tám, chúng tôi đều tổ chức cúng Tổ thành kính” – Nghệ sĩ Kim Phụng cho biết.

Soạn giả Yên Lang (người thứ ba từ phải sang) cùng các nghệ sĩ hải ngoại tổ chức giỗ Tổ sân khấu tại Mỹ
Soạn giả Yên Lang (người thứ ba từ phải sang) cùng các nghệ sĩ hải ngoại tổ chức giỗ Tổ sân khấu tại Mỹ
Hương Sỹ Nhân, Ngọc Huyền và Phượng Liên
Hương Sỹ Nhân, Ngọc Huyền và Phượng Liên

Thời gian qua, nhiều nghệ sĩ hải ngoại tổ chức các suất hát gây quỹ từ thiện, phần tiền này được mang về nước, trao cho những nghệ sĩ, công nhân hậu đài nghèo đang gặp hoàn cảnh khó khăn. “Với chúng tôi, được làm việc thiện nguyện, góp sức với đồng nghiệp trong nước là một việc làm có ý nghĩa. Bởi sống nhân ái, yêu thương nhau sẽ giúp Tổ nghiệp luôn phù hộ cho chúng tôi có nhiều vai diễn hay phục vụ khán giả. Dù xa quê nhà nhưng trái tim chúng tôi luôn hướng về sàn diễn trong nước” – Kim Phụng cho biết.


HCMC honors Prof. Tran Van Khe and his son

HCMC honors Prof. Tran Van Khe and his son


Updated : 06/20/2013 11:19 GMT + 7

Professor Tran Van Khe.

On June 19, the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee decided to honor Master of Vietnamese traditional music Professor Tran Van Khe for his dedication to promoting the southern folk music genre “Đờn ca tài tử” to the world.

The professor will be awarded the HCMC insignia and a VND30 million (US$1,442) reward. Khe’s son, professor Tran Quang Hai, will also receive merit and a VND20 million award from the committee for his contribution to bringing the genre to international friends.

Khe and Hai have been awarded many distinctions and prizes from prestigious universities, academies and international institutions.

They can play many Vietnamese instruments: “đàn kìm” or “đàn nguyệt” (moon-shaped lute), “đàn tranh” (sixteen stringed zither), “đàn cò” or “đàn nhị” (two-stringed fiddle), “đàn tỳ bà” (pear-shaped, four stringed lute) and the “trống nhạc” (ceremonial drum).

Having lived in Paris for decades and traveled around the world to lecture and perform, they have played a key role in introducing Vietnamese and Asian music to the western world, and have also taught several thousand students all over the world.

Chau van ritual singing artists given folk awards

September, 17 2015 10:10:00

Chau van ritual singing artists given folk awards

Eleven artists who perform and teach the art of chau van (ritual) singing and dancing have been awarded « Folk Artisan » title by the Viet Nam Folk Arts and Literature Association. — Photo

HA NOI  (VNS) — As many as 11 artists who perform and teach the art of chau van (ritual) singing and dancing have been awarded « Folk Artisan » title by the Viet Nam Folk Arts and Literature Association.The award marks the first official praise of chau van artists. Chau van is a spiritual performance art accompanying the hau dong (mediumship) ritual of the Mother Goddess’ religion.

The awards ceremony was in the framework of the second Chau Van Performance Programme of the Northern Delta Region held here by the Ministry of Culture, Viet Nam Theatre Artists’ Association and the Viet Nam Folk Arts and Literature Association.

The Ministry of Culture has asked the Viet Nam Institute of Culture and Arts Studies to compile a dossier on Chau Van songs and dances, to seek UNESCO recognition of the art as invaluable cultural heritage. — VNS


Page 1
Doan Thi Doan Trinh
Researcher in the field of Cultural
History – Deputy Director of
Vietnam UNESCO History &
Culture Information Center.
Stimulated by the melodious drumbeats and gongs, the spring ceases
raindrops and calls for opening the Gate to Heaven connecting Three Worldsi.
This is also the moment when people’s consciousness falls into spiritual world
intended to gain help, good fortune throughout the year from the Mother
Goddess (also called Mother of Universe). People do believe that:
Mother’s heart is passionate like the overflowing Ocean,
Her love is sweet and gentle like kite’s flute.”
Through the practices and beliefs of Maus, Viet Nam can be seen as a
country which promotes the democracy at the commune level, and the equity
among community always has a reflection in gender equality.
Scientists, through literature studies and practical research showed their
characteristic findings of the formation of Vietnamese nationality. They fold that
the Vietnamese traditional society is different from China, India, and other
neighbor countries in the Southeast Asian region. To describe the Vietnamese
society, researchers have jokingly put it as a common truth that there is none
man in Vietnam who did not excessively respect his wife”. The Vietnamese
expression which goes that an order from the Man is not of equal value like a
gong from the Womanii showed that although the power of the Woman is not
i Three worlds: The three levels of the state of existence in Samsara: (1) the world of desire, which comprises
hell, the realms of hungry spirits, animals, humans and some of the heavens; (2) the world of form, which
comprises some higher heavens; and (3) the world of non-form, which consists of supernal heavens.
ii in Vietnamese “lệnh ông không bằng cồng bà”

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great, it anyway could be amplified via the decision of the Man relating to
societal matters. History also offers us many examples from national heroines
like the Two Sisters Trung, like Madam Trieu, and later during modern times
like Bui Thi Xuan and others during the two liberation wars where women never
have been underestimated.
In the field of religion (or belief), the Goddess usually was a Sacred
Mother with unlimited power, a Creative Mother, the Creator of all species and
all things, a Measureless Super Mother leading all other deities.
But just here, there is an interesting difference between Deities from
China, India and Vietnam. The Ones from China relied mainly on The Reasoniii
and on The Quintessenceiv
; the Ones from India relied mainly on philosophical
Transcendency, while our Vietmamese Mothers relied mainly on common sense
feelings thus feeding the thinking system of Vietnam with lyrical, flexible and
harmonious elements. One can see that unlike Chinese’s or Indian’s, the
Vietnamese wisdom focuses on the compassion … “Give to others the same pity
you want to give to yourselves”v, such feeling embraces generosity and
tolerance that later were realised in everyone’s behaviour.
In reality this is the soul and the feeling of the Mother and its incarnation
into one Woman. In the past, Vietnamese people once had access to many
ideologies worldwide, such as Brahmanism, Buddhism, then Christianism. But
the Mother element was the one that attracted people the most. People used to
follow any religion where the major element is the Goddess. And people also
invented their own Goddess they need in exchange for the original One. For
example, when Buddhism was widespread into Vietnam, people did not mind
about the philosophical theory of this religion, their main concern was the sacred
Mother Buddhavi. In fact, the Indian Buddha was a male character, but it has
changed into the Mother Quan Am while entering Vietnam to become a kind of
powerful and generous (Buddhist) Goddess. The same Goddess had also the
iii in Chinese “Lý”
iv in Chinese “Khí”
v in Vietnamese, thương người như thể thương thân
vi named in Vietnamese Quan Thế Âm Bồ Tát or Quan Âm

Page 3
power to self-transform into different personalities bearing different names as
Phật Bà, Phật Mẫu, Quan Âm. We now can see in the Tien Son pagoda, Bac
Ninh province, the transversal wooden plate with transcriptions in Chinese
characters Quan Âm Thánh Mẫu i.e. the fusion of Buddha with the Mother
Buddha. One can also see in the Hương Tích pagoda, Ha Tay province the
fusion of the Water Goddess (Mẫu Thoải) into Quan Âm (the female Buddha)
greening the land during spring time festivities.
The same thing happened to Christianism in Vietnam. In the Bui Chu
region (Ninh Binh province), a great character Mẫu (Mother Goddess) has been
carved in the main window of the cathedral. Later, the “appearance” of Maria in
the famous cathedral of La Vang (Quang Tri province) entirely bore the profile
of the Mother Forest in the Mother Goddess worshiping.
When we enter in depth into other ideological systems like Confucianism
and Taoism, we’ll see that, when these systems were lacked of any Mother as
representative character, they would have less and less followers. The systems of
Confucianism and Taoism had a great impact on the elite of the society, mainly
consisting of men, buts they meet great obstacles to reach the mass. It is easy to
explain this by condemning its male gender centered confucianist position. One
can also explain the event by the lack of attractiveness of these male systems due
to the absence of any Confucianist or Taoist “Mother”. The results are shown in
daily exercises of the woman during the festivities far going beyond Confucianist
and Taoist worshiping rites …
Via the role of the woman in Mother Goddess, researchers also saw the
close link between different steps of development of Mother Goddess
Worshiping in Vietnam with the development of this nation (at least in the
Cultural History).
Going through the chaotic prehistoric period, the animistic belief and
worshiping of plants and trees, stones and rivers, animals (with totemic
element)… , to reach the period of anthropomorphic deities, the role of Mother
Goddess have got their most important place. One can see the long period of

Page 4
time when Vietnamese people were living in the forest and subsisting with
natural food, the distribution of task to women was the collecting of plants and
fruits. Certainly this source of food was more stable than the hunting. This
reality has led to the exclusive respect of the mother of the forest thus making
Her the first anthropomorphic deity, later called as Great Mother Forestvii, then
focused into Madam Dong Cuong (in Van Chan district between the two
provinces Yen Bai and Lao Cai), Her temple was close to the embankment of
the Red River – where the late professor Tran Quoc Vuong has found many Son
Vi Mid-Stone Age toolsviii.
The development tendency following the Red River down stream was a
Vietnamese historic necessity so that this nation could become later a wet rice
culture nation. The starting place was in Hien Luong (now in Phu Tho
province). In this area many thousands years ago beside the picking and hunting
economy Vietnamese people already grew plants and trees and knew how to
defend their domesticated land. A mother of the nation would then appear as a
national necessity, it was Madam Au Co. Naturally, this was a cultural heroin
born in the prehistoric time bearing the same character common to all humane
beings, i.e. the “flirting and copulating” with outsiders. This event clearly
demonstrated the combination of forestry, agriculture and fishing (later
integrated into the historic king named Lac Long Quan. From the legend of
Madam Au Co giving birth to one hundred eggs one can see the union of
different systems as Mon Khmer, Burmo-Tibetan, Tay Thai, Polynesian and
others to create the Viet-Muong system. The land for this union was Phu Tho
closed to the Viet Tri confluence of three rivers (the Red River, the Da River
and the Lo River). Since then and from there, Vietnamese people re-affirmed
their wet rice economy and gradually left the hills and mountains to reach the
delta, and to give birth to new cultural heroes and heroines like Tan Vien, Phu
Dong Thien Vuong …
vii In Vietnamese Thánh Mẫu Thượng Ngàn
viii although not yet the conclusion of my own.

Page 5
Also from this area happened the period of splitting up after the period of
union: one branch would go down the River to become the Kinh ethnic group;
the other branch would cross the Da River then crossed the Son Tay, Hoa Binh,
to get the Center Vietnam to become the Muong ethnic group. The historic
immigration of the Kinh ethnic group seemed to stop at the borderline between
the High level Delta and the Low level Delta, namely the Phuc Yen-Bac Ninh
region. From there, the Viet folk would meet up with foreign cultures like
Brahmanism, Buddhism, and also from there begun their new life with northern
Han invading elements. These historic realities were closely linked to the path of
the religion and affected the change of the worshiping of Mother Goddess,
resulting in the birth of the Four Mother Elements. These are the Goddess linked
to the nature like the Mother Cloud, the Mother Rain, the Mother Thunder-
storm, the Mother Lightningix.
One dare to say that on the migrating way to the sea the pioneer was
Mother Au Co then appeared another cultural peak to give birth to a new Mother
Nation, namely Mother Man Nuong. Her “affairs” with Khau Da La was nothing
else than a common profile of the humanity, i.e. the “l… making” with
outsiders. More than that, this state of things reflected the fusion between
Buddhism and the local belief, in which there were not only the Brahmanist
elements, but also the Chinese thinking in the development from One Mother to
Four Mothers. The development of belief inside an agricultural economy in the
Low level Delta led to the Four System worshipping four powers linking to four
worlds: the Sky, the Water, the Earth and the Forest. Researchers have divided
them up according to their functions as:
– The first system with the creation function including these Mothers: Sky,
Forest, Water and Earthx.
– The second system with the realisation function as given by the Mothers
including Five Man Deitiesxi.
ix Later, under the Chinese influence, changed their names as Vân – Vũ – Lôi – Phong
x In Vietnamese: Thượng Thiên, Thượng Ngàn, Nước, Đất
xi In Vietnamese: Ngũ vị tôn ông

Page 6
– The third system with the function as defenders of the creation
achievements including heroic people in the domain of building and
preserving the nation.
– The fourth system as an awarding one including people with good deeds
when they were alive and they would be reborn in the Universe of the
Mothers and become Young Men and Young Womenxii.
Seen generally, the first three systems were linked to deities in the world
of agriculture and in the domain of building and preserving the nation. The
fourth system can be seen as universal to the human kind now “appropriated”
into the Mother Goddess belief and religion.
The agricultural economy of Vietnam people once developed has pushed
up the development of the manufacture and the trading especially since the
XVIth century with the exploitation of the Red River by trading boats. The new
development has made room for a new Mother in the legend of Chu Dong Tu.
He has transformed himself from a Fish deity to a Trader deity to combine with
the Mother Agriculture Tien Dung and the Mother Forest Tay Sa to form a new
Mother Nation made by the Agriculture, the Trading and the Forestry as seen in
the prosperous Pho Hien in Hung Yen.
Then increasing role of the Trading and the trading spirit have strongly
influenced the worshipping of the Mother Goddess. We then witnessed the
appearance of the South Sea Mother Buddhaxiii closely linked to trading boats
and occupying an important place in the Vietnamese Buddhist shrines – the
favourable conditions as for the birth of the Mother Lieu Hanh as well as for the
union of Lieu Hanh and Mother Buddha.
All things well considered and after leaving away all elements of
superstition (necessarily taking shape in the process of development of the
folkloric belief) we can se in the Vietnamese tradition of the Mother Goddess
worshipping almost all steps of development of our nation and its decisive
xii In Vietnamese: Cô and Cậu
xiii In Vietnamese: Bà quan Âm Nam Hải

Page 7
relation to the making of different Mother Deities. Speaking differently, we can
say that the development of deities inside the worshiping of Mother Goddess has
relatively demonstrated different steps in the Vietnamese long history.
Generally speaking, all modern religions in Vietnam were imported from
outside, we dare to say that only the folkloric belief in the worshipping of the
Mother Goddess can reflect the Vietnamese soul seen as the Vietnamese identity
and the protection of this state of mind so that Vietnamese people could never
become a copy or a version of another nation – could it be either a good copy or
a very good version.

Page 8
1. Ngô Đức Thịnh, ed,. 2002. [Mother Goddesses and Some Shamanistic
Form in Ethnic Groups inVietnam and Asia], Hanoi: Social Science
Publishing House
2. Đỗ Thị Hảo and Mai Thị Ngọc Chúc. 1984. [The Goddesses in Vietnam],
Hanoi: Phụ Nữ Plublishers.
3. Vũ Ngọc Khánh and Ngô Đức Thịnh, 1990. [Four Immortals], Hanoi:
Van Hoa Dan Toc Publishers.
4. Vũ Ngọc Khánh, ed. 1990. [Van Cat Goddess], Hanoi: Van hoa Dan toc
5. Vũ Ngọc Khánh, ed. 1991. [Princess Lieu Hanh], Hanoi: Van hoa
6. Nguyễn Minh San. 1993. [Famous Goddesses in Vietnamese Cultural
Belief], Hanoi: Phu Nu Publishers.
7. ————–. 2002. [The Mau Religion in Vietnam], Hanoi: Culture-
Information Publishing House.
8. Trần Quốc Vượng, ed. 1996. [The Introduction of Cultural Study and the
Fundamental of Vietnamese Culture], Hanoi: Khoa Hoc Xa Hoi
9. Nguyễn Duy Quý. 2004. [The Mother Belief and Phu Day Festival] in
[Mother Goddesses and Some Shamanistic Form in Ethnic Groups in
Vietnam and Asia]. Ngô Đức Thịnh, ed., Hanoi: Social Sciences
Publishing House.
10. Đặng Văn Lung. 1991. [Three Palaces for Whorshipping Mother
Goddesses], Hanoi: Van hoa Thong tin Publishers.

INVITATION LETTER TO PROF.DR. TRAN QUANG HAI about the international conference « the Study of Mother Goddess Beliefs in Contemporary Society » 5-6 january 2016 in NAM DINH province, VIETNAM


              VIETNAM NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF                                 Independence-Freedom-Happiness

                   CULTURE AND ARTS STUDIES              


                             Hanoi, August 18, 2015


Dear: Prof.Dr. Trần Quang Hải


Beliefs in Mother Goddesses meet the spiritual needs of many Vietnamese people and at the same time express many profoundly Vietnamese cultural traits. Practices associated with these beliefs, such as rituals and traditional festivals, have been safeguarded and promoted so that they have become increasingly popular in contemporary society. In order to evaluate the significance of beliefs in Mother Goddesses, discuss the theoretical issues that they raise, and approaches to both research and cultural preservation, Viet Nam National Institute of Culture and Arts Studies is collaborating with the Nam Dinh Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism to organize an international conference on “The Study of Mother Goddess Beliefs in Contemporary Society.”

Time: January 05 – 06, 2016

Venue: Nam Dinh City, Nam Dinh Province

You are cordially invited to write your paper on the following themes:

  1. Theoretical issues and approaches to rituals and beliefs.
  2. Practices related to Mother Goddess beliefs and the popular religious practices.
  3. Policies and legal issues on the beliefs.
  4. Safeguarding and promoting the beliefs in Mother Goddesses in contemporary Society.

Abstracts: 300 words; deadline by October 1, 2015.

Full papers: 3,000 – 5,000 words; deadline by December 1, 2015.

Abstracts and papers should be sent to Ms. Giang (email: ; Tel: 84-914634927), Vietnam National Institute of Culture and Arts Studies, 32 Hao Nam Street, Dong Da District, Ha Noi, Viet Nam.

If your paper is accepted, the Institute will reimburse you for an economy class round-trip air ticket, and will provide accommodation, meals, and domestic travel during the time of the conference.

We sincerely hope that you will be able to join us to help make the conference a success, and we look forward to welcoming you in Nam Dinh City.


Associate Professor TỪ THỊ LOAN

Director of Vietnam National Institute of Culture and Art Studies

Invitation letter (Prof.Dr. Trần Quang Hải )

WIKIPEDIA : ĐẠO MẪU : Worship of Mother Goddesses in Vietnam

Đạo Mẫu

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A Lên đồng practitioner performs in a pagoda.

The term Đạo Mẫu (Han Nom:道母) refers to the worship of mother goddesses in Vietnam.[1] While scholars like Ngô Đức Thịnh propose that it represents a systematic mother goddess cult, the term draws together fairly disparate beliefs and practices.[2][3][4][5] These include the worship of goddesses such as Thiên Y A Na, The Lady of the Realm (Bà Chúa Xứ), The Lady of the Storehouse (Bà Chúa Kho) and Princess Liễu Hạnh,[6] legendary figures like Âu Cơ, the Trung Sisters (Hai Bà Trưng), and Lady Trieu (Bà Triệu), as well as the cult of the Four Palaces. Đạo Mẫu is commonly associated with spirit mediumship rituals—known in Vietnam as lên đồng—much as practiced in other parts of Asia, such as Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong. Although the Communist government had initially proscribed the practice of such rituals, deeming them to be superstitions, they relented in 1987, once again legalizing their practice.


  • Asian Ethnology, Volumes 67-68 2008 p.305 « mother goddess religion (Đạo Mẫu) »
  • Ngô Đức Thịnh, »The Cult of the Female Spirits and the Mother Goddesses ‘Mẫu’, » Vietnamese Studies 121, no.3 (1996):83-96
  • « Đạo Mẫu ở Việt Nam » [The Mother Goddess Religion in Vietnam] (Hà Nội: Nhà Xuất Bản Văn Hóa Thông Tin, 1996)
  • « The Pantheon for the Cult of Holy Mothers, » Vietnamese Studies 131, no.1 (1999): 20-35
  • « The Mother Goddess Religion: Its History, Pantheon, and Practices, » in Possessed by the Spirits: Mediumship in Contemporary Vietnamese Communities, ed. Karen Fjelstad and Nguyen Thi Hien. (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Southeast Asia Program, 2006), 19-30.
  1. Nguyen Quoc Tan, Mother Goddess Liễu Hạnh under the View of Religious Studies, Religious Studies Review Vol. 1, No. 2 – May 2007.

External links

Mother Goddess worship in VIETNAM , the oldest religion

Mother Goddess worship

Worship of the Mother Goddesses is the oldest religion in Vietnam, pre-dating even the Chinese occupation of Vietnam. Worship of Mother Goddesses, once dismissed as superstition, has recently grown in popularity and is now accepted and widely practised in Vietnam and in Vietnamese communities overseas. What does it all mean?

Mother Goddess scene at 2013 exhibition at Women's Exhibition.

Mother Goddesses are considered to control everything that happens on earth and their worship addresses concerns of daily life and desires for good health and fortune. The Goddesses protect and support and bring good luck and strength to overcome misfortune. They are generally asked for help with issues considered to be connected with femininity — fertility, marriage or female sickness.

In most temples and other places of worship, in the north of Vietnam at least, a trinity of Goddesses are represented: the Goddesses of Heaven (white), Water (red) and Mountains and Forests (green). However, in many texts four Mother Goddesses will be represented, including the Goddess of Earth (yellow). The colours for Water and Heaven are often the other way around as well.

The Goddesses incarnate on earth to perform good deeds or miracles, in a different guise each time to avoid recognition. Strong followers will know of all the incarnations of the different Mother Goddesses and believe that they co-exist in spirit.

If a follower needs to call for help from the Mother Goddesses — particularly if their goals in life are not being met — they will sometimes visit a spirit medium. The problems will be explained to the medium, and they will know which incarnation, or incarnations, to call upon. The medium and entourage will be paid and a ceremony arranged at a temple– more likely a small temple such as the one on Yen Phu Street, rather than somewhere like Phu Tay Ho — for everyone involved.

Look out for the low-lying cave.

An orchestra will play and over the course of up to 12 hours the medium will call on different incarnations. He or she will reach a trance, connect with the incarnation, and be imbued with its spirit. The medium’s assistants will cover him or her with a cloth and they will put on the clothes, and take the accoutrements, associated with that incarnation before being revealed to the crowd. Those seeking help with then have direct face-time with the God or Goddess and can pray and make offerings. Effigies of items they know the incarnation will appreciate will be burnt as an IOU and, at the end of the ceremony, life size effigies of the incarnations will be burnt on a large bonfire.

If you happen to pass a temple while this ceremony is going on, go in — it’s considered good luck for a foreigner to join, but you must accept any money or other gifts that they give you.

Not everyone will arrange a ceremony — most will go to a temple. One Mother Goddess usually dominates at each temple, pagoda or palace. For example, at Phu Linh Tay Ho Pagoda, the Goddess of mountains and forests is featured.

Sometimes effigies of the Mother Goddesses can be seen on the altar, surrounded by their male Chinese servants, but on other altars you will just see empty chairs, ready for the Goddesses to occupy when they’re on earth.

Preparing trays.

Underneath altars you will see a cave of animals. The cave reflects the animist set of beliefs in place at the time Mother Goddess worship began. Many animals will be represented but tigers and deers usually dominate the tigers were the kings of the jungle and the deer their main prey.

The Jade Emperor is often worshipped alongside the Mother Goddesses. He is usually subordinate to, but sometimes dominates the Goddesses, depending on the temple’s architect. The Jade Emperor is part of mystical Taoism and was brought to Vietnam by the Chinese. He is supreme in the new religion while the Mother Goddesses are supreme in the old one.

At Mother Goddess temples you will see worshippers preparing trays of food and other consumables. They put a stick of incense on the tray, place it on the altar and light the incense. The smoke connects with the Mother Goddesses and their strength flows into the produce. Once the incense has burnt down the food is then carefully wrapped — it is really important not to touch it — and then taken home to be given to the suffering relative.

Many of the places of worship around Hanoi were erected in tribute to an incarnation of the Mother Goddesses, including Tay Ho Palace, Tran Quoc Pagoda and One Pillar Pagoda.
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