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A mythographical journey to modernity: the textual and symbolic transformations of the Hung Kings founding myths.

The Vietnamese or rather the Kinh (ethnic Viet) have a founding myth, the 'Story of the Dragon Lord and Lady Au Co' (Truyen Lac Long Quan va Ba Au Co) also known as the 'Story of the one hundred eggs' (Truyen Mot Tram Trung). Linked to that founding myth is a cycle of stories relating the deeds of their direct descendants, the eighteen Hung Kings, considered as 'civilising heroes' as they settled the Southern land, battled invaders, and taught their people customs. (1) In this article, I refer to this body of myths as the 'Hung Kings Epic', the earliest textual appearances of which can be found in the 1329 collection, Viet dien u linh tap (Collected stories of the potent spirits of the Viet realm), and in the fourteenth-fifteenth century Linh Nam chich quai (LNCQ; Wonders gathered from Linh Nam). (2) These two collections represent the first extant attempt of a Viet euhemeristic process. A second stage would occur in the late fifteenth century with its official integration into Dai Viet historiography, Dai Viet su ky toan that (TT; The complete historical records of the Great Viet), commissioned under the Later Le dynasty. Thence, their textual appearances became more pronounced as the 'ornithomorphous hierogamy' mythologem seeped into Viet culture, and the Hung Kings were deified and worshipped in hundreds of temples throughout the Red River Delta. (3)

Nowadays the Hung Kings Epic motif, festivals, and temples have become an intrinsic part of Viet culture. The tales of the Dragon Lord, the Immortal Lady, and the Hung Kings have turned into mythologems inseparable from the birth-of-the-Viet-nation historical narrative. Every year, a national ritual takes place at Tet, the Lunar New Year, and more importantly, at the Gio To (Founder's Anniversary) on the Tenth of the Third Lunar Month. Leading government figures make obligatory pilgrimages to the Hung Kings temple in Phil Tho province to honour the Quoc To (National Founder). Whence did it all begin? (4)

This study retraces the mythographical journey through time of the Hung Kings Epic, and its progressive euhemeristic textual transformation and integration into the national discourse from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries, on the eve of the First Indochina War (1946-54). It will show how, through pre-modern and modern times, mythology and historiography have contributed to an evolving elaboration of the Viet identity as conceived by its literati elite, but also in response to the deep spiritual needs of a people conditioned by animistic traditions. It will demonstrate how mythical ideas had a life-force of their own--regardless of historical exactitude--by retracing the roots of the phenomenon centuries earlier and positing it within the framework of scholarly formulations of a pre-modern nationalistic sentiment. It will equally uncover the scholarly contestation undergirding this ancient historiographic reflection that attempted to elaborate a more 'Confucian-orthodox', de-mythified nationalistic narrative. France's twentieth-century cultural and political intervention in Viet Nam would exacerbate this debate by questioning the historicity of a Viet national past through a Cartesian demonstration of their colonised subjects' lack of antiquity. With independence and reunification, this mythographical and textual journey would solidify and be intrinsically woven into Viet Nam's national fabric.

Euhemerisation and semantics

Euhemerism is a Hellenistically-influenced approach inspired by and derived from the work of the fourth century BCE Greek scholar Euhemerus of Messene who rationalised the question of religious worship, myth, and history. The surviving fragments of his work Sacred scripture explains that Greek gods such as Zeus or Uranus had been actual kings, heroes who, because of their beneficial rule, were worshipped after death by their grateful subjects. (5) One may derive from this approach the conclusion that myth is based in history and that mythical phenomena were actual historical events. In the following centuries, euhemerism served different purposes, depending on whether its users were Christian apologists deriding paganism or modern anthropologists researching religion. Euhemerism seems to be a logical analytical framework for examining mythographical questions, but one has to ask, especially in light of Viet mythography's Sinitic connotations, which euhemerism--that of Greek origin, or that which is linked to Vietnam's pre-modern inspiration, the Chinese model?

In 1924, Sinologist Henri Maspero was among others who criticised ancient Chinese scholars for using euhemerism as their sole method of interpreting myths, melting them into 'a colorless residue, in which gods and heroes are transformed into wise emperors and sage ministers, and monsters into rebellious princes'. (6) In 1918 Maspero had published his study on the kingdom of Van Lang, which was to serve as a catalyst for modern debates regarding Viet Nam's founding myths. Following in his path, sinologist Derk Bodde in his 1961 'Myths of ancient China', commented that in Chinese mythology, euhemerisation was 'a problem' because it was 'the opposite process: the transformation of what were once myths and gods into seemingly authentic history and human beings'. (7) He blamed the Confucianists who, being historically minded, conserved but also edited ancient texts to fit their own framework and thus removed supernatural matters or explained them in 'purely rationalistic terms'. (8) Later generations of sinologists reached the same conclusions, although William Boltz in his discussion of the mythical hero Kung Kung uses the term 'reverse euhemerisation' to refer to the process of transforming myths into history. (9)

What then of the Vietnamese Hung Kings Epic? Which euhemerisation process did Viet scholars adopt, and for what purposes?

The mythopoeic premises

Within the framework of this particular mythography, I follow Bodde's definition of 'founding myth' as a story or stories that relate the deeds of 'the culture hero who enjoys supernatural birth, is sometimes aided by protective animals, becomes a sage ruler or otherwise performs great deeds for mankind, and so on', as it seems to fit the Viet case. (10) The origin or founding myth of Vietnam is 'Truyen Hong Bang' (The tale of Hong Bang), which appeared in LNCQ. (11) According to the tale, King Kinh Duong, who belonged to the bloodline of the Northern Than Nong (in Chinese Shen Nung, or the Divine Farmer) on his paternal side, and to the Immortals on his maternal side, ruled over the Southern realm named Xich Qui Quoc (The Red-haired Devils' Realm). (12) During a journey to the Water Realm, Kinh Duong married a Dragon Spirit, who gave birth to one son, Sting Lam, also known as Lac Long Quan (Dragon Lord of the Lac). (13) The Dragon Lord devised rules of behaviour among his subjects, and whenever they needed him, they called on their Bo (father). The Dragon Lord met Au Co, an Immortal from the Mountainous Realm, and was smitten by her beauty. (14) Their union produced a pouch of one hundred eggs whence one hundred sons emerged. Not needing any sustenance, they grew to manhood, born leaders shining with intelligence and bravery. Nevertheless, the union was not to last, and after one year, they parted, the father taking fifty sons to the Southern Sea and the mother fifty to the land at Phong Chau in the Red River Delta. (15) Of the fifty who followed their mother, the eldest and bravest took the title of Hung Vuong (King Hting or Valorous King), (16) founder of the Hong Bang dynasty. The eighteen ensuing kings bore the same reign title; the quoc hieu (realm's name) was Van Lang, (17) with its capital at Phong Chau. The quoc dan (realm's people) over which they ruled were known as the Bach Viet (One hundred Viet), noted for their custom of tattooing as taught by their Dragon Lord-Father to ward off crocodiles and other aquatic creatures. The ensuing tales retrace the evolution of the kingdom of Van Lang as it defended itself against invasions.

The struggle pitting the Hung kings against their attackers--the shift between what Viet historiography considered as 'inherently Viet' and what is 'exogenous' to it--is embodied in Truyen Kim Qui (Tale of the Golden Tortoise), also from the LNCQ. This is a fundamental tale, closely tied to events pertaining to the founding of what was believed to be a Viet state, as recorded in Chinese and Viet historiographies. This is a contested narrative which has undermined the very nature and claim of Viet historical identity because of the origins of its two main figures, King An Duong, and Trieu Da (known in Chinese as Zhao Tuo, 203-137 BCE), and the ethnonational identification of the political entities that they supposedly created. In a single narrative, the story recounts the rise and fall of three polities assumed by most Viet scholars as Viet precursor states, constituted before the advent of Han domination in 111 BCE. They were Van Lang, Au Lac, and Nam Viet, founded respectively by the Hung kings, King An Duong, and Trieu Da. Viet official historiographies such as the TT traditionally ascribed the following dates for their emergence and downfall: 2878256 BCE, 257-208 BCE, and 207-111 BCE, respectively. (18) Historiographically, Nam Viet was considered as the last independent Viet state before it succumbed to the Han armies in 111 BCE under general Lu Bode. (19)

It is said that Thuc Phan, also known as King An Duong, spurned by the Hung King's daughter, My Nuong, destroyed the kingdom of Van Lang founded by the Hung Kings. He incorporated it into his own kingdom, Au Lac. King An During then constructed and defended the citadel of Co Loa or Loa Thanh (Snail Citadel), helped by Than Kim Qui or the Golden Tortoise Spirit, who gave the king a magical claw. When used as a trigger to the crossbow, it allowed the king to defend Co Loa against invaders led by the Han Chinese general, Trieu Da, by unleashing tens of thousands of arrows. The general, although heading a large army, was repeatedly repulsed. An Duong's daughter, My Chau, married to Trong Thiy, Trieu Da's son, unwittingly contributed to An Duong's defeat when she revealed the secret of the citadel's impregnability. Trong Thuy stole the magical claw, replacing it with an ordinary one. Tragic events ensued: the citadel's downfall and the king's headlong escape to the sea from which he was saved by the Golden Tortoise, but only after having slain his daughter when informed of her betrayal; and Trong Thuy's suicide by jumping into the well upon learning of his wife's fate. (20)

Trieu Da seized Au Lac kingdom, founding in its stead the kingdom of Nam Viet in 207 BCE, an event recorded in Han Chinese texts such as the Shi Ji (Historical Records) by Sima Qian (c. 145-86 BCE): 'By the time the Qin dynasty fell, Zhao Tuo had attacked and brought under his command the provinces of Guilin and Xiang as well and had set himself up as King Wu of Southern Yue.' (21) Viet historiographies such as the 1377 Dai Viet Su Luoc (Great Vie Historical Annals; anonymous), often referred to as Viet Su Luoc, and the TT mention it briefly. (22) Yet this tale narrates an essential historical episode pertaining to the founding of the precursors of a constituted Viet state; as such, it poses perplexing questions, one of which concerns the nature of the Viet Quoc--was it a kingdom, realm, polity, or nation?

The Viet euhemeristic transformation

Unlike the diverse creation mythologies of their highland counterparts such as the Muong, Jarai, etc., there is no true cosmogony in Viet mythology. Le Oc Mach argued that
   The accounts [were] written mainly in Chinese by Viet scholars ...
   [who,] imbued with Confucian biases, exercised great
   selectivity.... Uninterested in creationist theories, they avoided
   the question of the origins of mankind as a species.... They pay
   particular attention to extraordinary men who were deified at the
   time of their deaths because of their deeds. They do, however,
   include the miraculous birth of the Viet people, descended from a
   sovereign couple of mythical origins, and they thus euhemerise
   mythic themes. (23)


This apparent disinterest in creation myths was also reflected amongst the populace, explained partly by relentless invasions, which 'led at least to the partial destruction of the Viet cults and the substitution of Chinese deities'. (24) Lacking a primordial cosmogonic tradition, Viet mythology nevertheless abounds in euhemerised tales. Those of the Dragon-Hung King and Golden Tortoise have survived in transcripted Viet versions in the 1329 Viet Dien U Linh Tap's collection of legends and biographies of heroes and founding spirits compiled by Ly Te Xuyen, but which includes only one related to Hung Vuong, the 'Tale of the Mountain Spirit and Water Spirit'. Ta Chi Dai Truong observed that in this earliest Viet reference, the Hung king was a mere ruler not even endorsed by the Tran when they first began spirit promulgation in 1285. Thus, 'until the end of the thirteenth century, the legend of Hung Vuong had not blossomed or at least, had not developed yet in Dai Viet.' (25) He notes, however, that before the 1407 Ming occupation, there was a deeply-rooted local practice of the worship of Lac kings that would evolve into the HUng Kings' mythic tradition. It stands to reason that Confucian scholars seeking to add an origin-founder component to their monarchical-construction ideology euhemerised the H6ng Kings tradition.

The LNCQ was compiled by Tran The Phap (26) under the late-fourteenth-century Tran dynasty, and amended in the fifteenth century under the Le dynasty by Vu Quynh and Kieu Phu. From the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, other scholars continued to add stories to the collection. Ethnologist Dinh Gia Khanh considers the LNCQ a collection of myths and legends compiled by successive authors. (27) The compilers relied on the works of their predecessors who, throughout the Ly, Tran, and L6 dynasties, had gathered tales that had circulated in the population for centuries, but whose names they no longer knew or had forgotten. Vu Quynh wrote, 'these were stories that had not been inscribed in stone or incised into wooden blocks,' but 'transmitted orally from one generation to another.' (28) The compiler-editors did not hesitate to compare the LNCQ to the best of contemporaneous Northern works, noting that the Southern land 'had magnificent mountains and rivers, magical lands, heroic people, and marvelous legends'. (29) The introductions, reflected through the prism of Confucianism, with Buddhist and Daoist influences in the background, manifest pride in the Southern land and its peoples. (30) Kieu Phil, the other contemporary editor, considered the 'One hundred eggs giving birth to one hundred boys' story the equal of the Northern myth of the black bird sent by Heaven to give birth to the Shang dynasty.' (31)

Some of these tales show external influences, especially borrowings from Chinese literature. For instance, in Kien van tieu luc (A small record of things seen and heard), Le Quy Don (1726-84) observed that the LNCQ adapted stories from the Song-era Tai Quy Ky by Truong Quan Phong and from the Yuan-era Narn Hai Co Tich Ky by Ngo Lai. (32) The 1329 Viet Dien u linh tap used Chinese sources such as the Giao Chau Ky by Trieu Cong, the ninth-century Tang dynasty governor of Annam. Among the oldest surviving texts, these two collections of stories have spawned innumerable versions that appeared in Viet imperial annals, historiographies, temple steles, and in folktales. In the ensuing centuries, more Confucian-infused scholars, such as the sixteenth-century Nguyen Du--author of Truyen ky man luc (Scattered annotations of marvellous stories)--integrated mythography as an inseparable part of their heritage, using myths and folktales to reflect on the society of their time. (33)

A textual euhemeristic journey from myth to historiography

With the advent of Viet historiography called chinh su (official history) in the thirteenth century (under the Tran dynasty, if not earlier), mythological figures and events related to the Hung Kings Epic began to emerge in texts at the end of the fourteenth century before becoming fully integrated in the fifteenth century into the official historiography. Their historiographical emergence and integration coincided with cataclysmic events, notably three devastating invasions: by the Mongols in the thirteenth century (Tran dynasty), the Cham in the fourteenth century, and the Mind in the fifteenth century (Later Le).

John K. Whitmore explains that by the 1330s, Emperor Tran Mirth T6ng, 'turning away from Thien Buddhism', invited Confucian scholars, including the great educator, Chu Van An, to the capital. (34) Chu Van An's teaching 'seems to have ... emphasised the classical belief of China, its antiquity', and by his students' (Le Quat and Pham Su' Manh) generation, 'there was also the change from Chinese antiquity to the formulation of one in Dai Viet, called Van-land'. (35) Citing Wolters, Whitmore affirmed that it was these scholars who contributed to the mythic creation of a 'Vietnamese Antiquity' and of 'Van Land' within this chaotic historical phase of 'constant invasions by Champa' of the end of the fourteenth century and a dynastic change with the rise of Le/Ho Quy Ly. (36)

Later, under Ming occupation, because of Emperor Yongle's instructions that, 'all written and printed materials within An-nan are to be burnt ... [including] anything that promotes Vietnamese rites and customs', cultural memories and artefacts became scarcer. (37) Each wave of destruction stimulated a stronger affirmation of Viet identity through the imperial promulgation of Supernatural Beings (than), their mythical feats and millennial semi-divine lineage, and in the validation of their existence through a transformative euhemeristic process. Responding to invasions, the Viet voice became stronger and clearer in its choice of founding myths. Ta Chi Dai Truong noted that during the Ly-Tran period, due to a surge in popular beliefs, 'kings pay heed to spirits that are worshipped in the country, and Confucian scholars gather phantasmagorical stories into books'. (38) Southern/Viet historiography drew its inspiration from a number of (no longer extant) Viet historical works such as the Viet Chi (Viet notes) by Tran Pho under Emperor Tran Thai Tong (1225-58). (39) Viet historical records until then did not mention the Dragon Lord and Immortal, the eighteen Hung Kings, King An Duong, or the kingdoms of Van Lang and Au Lac. The Ly and Tran are not known to have practised the worship of these mythical kings, only of such figures as the Mountain Spirit. The oldest historiography, the Dai Viet su ky (Annals of Dai Viet, which is no longer extant but mentioned in later texts) compiled in 1272 by Le Van Huu, court historian of Emperor Tran Thanh Tong, did not allude to the myth of the Dragon Lord and Lady Au Co of the Immortals, or the eighteen Hung Kings, but rather began with Trieu Da in 207 BCE. (40)

Two Viet sources appeared in the fourteenth century: (Dai) Viet su luoc (anonymous) compiled in 1377, and Viet Nam the the (Annals of Viet Nam) by Ho Tong Thoc. Although it summarised in great part the thirteenth century-Dai Viet su ky by Le Van Huu, for the first time, Dai Viet su luoc (Dai Viet historical annals) (also known as Viet su luoc or VSL), featured a starkly different introduction. VSL stated that in the seventh century BCE, in Gia-ninh district, 'there was a strange person who used magic to gain the tribes' submission, calling himself Hung Vuong, with his capital at Van Lang, in the kingdom named Van Lang.' (41) VSL also mentioned the eighteen Hung Kings, situating the beginning of a Viet state in the seventh century BCE. Thus, according to the VSL, before the seventh century BCE, there were only scattered tribes who began to coalesce under a state headed by the Hung Kings. Its eighteen kings ruled over 434 years until 258 BCE. According to Tran Quoc Vuong, this historiographic text was compiled at the end of the Tran dynasty, when Buddhist and Taoist influences remained strong, and Confucianism, although ascendant, had not yet exerted censorship on the essence of written texts. Thus, VSL recorded numerous myths, legends, phantasmagorical stories, including those concerning 'dragon appearances and white elephants'. (42) However, it made no mention of the Tale of the Dragon Lord and the Immortal, the One Hundred Eggs, and other related stories; nor did it recount the Tale of the Golden Tortoise, although it briefly referred to King An Duong.

Contemporary to VSL were Ho Tong Thoc's works (Viet Narn the chi and Viet su cuong muc). Gaspardone noted that, of these two, which were among the works requisitioned to China in 1418-19, the Viet Nam the chi (henceforth TC) described in detail for the first time each of the Eighteen--a figure not mentioned in the LNCQ--Hong Bang kings. (43) Ho Tong Thoc, a scholar of the late fourteenth century, during the Tran dynasty, wrote numerous works, most of which no longer exist. His TC, which recorded the history of ancient Viet rulers, survived only in the form of a 'Preface', and as mentioned in dynastic literature. (44) To answer his own hypothetical question as to why he did not observe the Confucian rule of expunging all extraordinary phenomena in TC, leaving only 'normal' ones, he replied that even in China, many phantasmatic tales had been recorded regardless of their accuracy. 'In our Viet land ... from the Hong Bang period onward, newly settled, lacking in learning and rites, if we consider the stories factual, then how do we confirm this? If we consider them fictional, then on what do we base this?' (45)

Ho Tong Thoc also emphasised the necessity, 'when interrogating the past, of listening to tales told by elderly people', and of utilising records found in shrines and temples. He was among the first to have made the connection between popular culture and ancient history and to exploit folktales and popular legends, integrating them into the historiographic mainstream. (46) Given his methodology, he may have been the first Viet mythographer!

Viet historiographic texts such as VSL began the official dynastic history of the Viet with Trieu Da, de facto acknowledging a Qin general as the founder of the Viet quoc. This would later give rise to uneasiness amongst some intellectuals regarding the 'Viet-ness', independence, and uniqueness of a quoc founded by a Northern invader.

In the fifteenth century, after two decades of Ming occupation, Viet scholars initiated the task of reconstructing the national past based on salvaged texts and imperially ordered transcription of existing folk tales. Nguyen Trai (1380-1442), the scholar-statesman who had aided Le Loi (1385-1433) to defeat the Ming in 1428 and to found the Later Le dynasty (1428-1788), integrated folk sayings--using Nom rather than Han--into his writing (e.g., Quoc am thi tap or Collected poems in the national language) to reflect popular perspectives. (47) He also initiated the integration of mythological dimensions into historiography. By order of Le Thai Tong in 1435, Nguyen Trai compiled Du dia chi (Treatise on Geography) a geography that retraced the land's evolution, traditions, and customs. Noticeably, he began the history of 'Viet Nam' with the rule of King Kinh Duong, descendant of the Dragon race and the 'Divine Farmer', writing, 'Hung Vuong kings succeeded each other and founded a realm called Van Lang, with its capital at Phong Chau.' (48) The Hung Kings were thus given precise antecedents with links to ancient mythological divine roots by a prominent Confucian. The Hung Vuong founding myth must have been not only familiar but also integral to the intellectual consciousness of the fourteenth-fifteenth century for a scholar of Nguyen Trai's stature to begin Viet Nam's history with the Hung Kings' predecessors. Ta Chi Dai Truong attributed this to Nguyen Trai's belief that the Hung Kings mythologem should become an indispensable part of the Later Le's monarchical nation-reconstruction process in the post-Ming occupation period. (49) Cao Huy Dinh notes that scholars of that era paid particular attention to popular legends in writing ancient national history. (50)

The Viet euhemeristic transformation of an ancient myth of unclear origins into a historicised tale about the founding of the Viet realm had now been officially sanctioned by the court. A further, definite stage occurred almost half a century later, which was to alter dramatically the way Viet history was conceived and written and thus how Viet peoples viewed themselves. Emperor Le Thanh Tong (1460-97) entrusted court historiographer Ngo Si Lien with the task of compiling a historiography of the realm, and despite Confucian-inspired misgivings, instructed him to include popular sources. (51) Thus was born the 1479 Dai Viet Su' Ky Toan Thu', which retraces Viet history from its origins to the fifteenth century, and through successive compilations by later historians, to the end of the seventeenth century. (52) It is one of the oldest and most important extant historiographic works, based as it was on numerous Viet historiographies, Northern sources, and a number of orally transmitted tales that had been transcribed. Previously, Emperor Le Thanh Tong had ordered all da su texts, ancient legends, and tales to be collected, recorded, and archived. (53) Ta Chi Dai Truong argues that this compilation provided the emperor with a genealogy superseding mere clan-based boundaries, making it possible for him to officiate in the 1473's le Te Giao (Offering to Heaven Ritual), a Northern-influenced ceremony that only the emperor, Son of Heaven, could conduct as true ruler and protector of the realm. (54) Other historians remarked that the emperor was in actuality inspired by Confucianism, which he had helped transform into the state ideology. (55) He used it as a tool to promote Viet 'national feeling', understanding that historiography was a sine qua non of quoc-buiiding. Thus, Ngo Si Lien's mission was to promote Dai Viet's supernatural and millennial ancestry. (56) Historian Nguyen Phuong observed that Ngo Si Lien went further than Le Van Huru did in ascribing a more ambitious territorial domain to Dai Viet due to his euhemerising (lich su hoa) the myths in LNCQ. For the former, 'the phantasmagorical world is the real world, and stories about spirits are also historical stories'. (57)

Ngo Si Lien became the first court historian to break with tradition by contributing a Ngoai Ky (External Chapter) that opened the founding period in the history of Dai Viet not with Trieu Da but with King Kinh Duong, the Dragon Lord, the eighteen Hung Kings, and ended with the rule of King An Duong. The materials used by the court historian for this chapter came mostly from da su (chronicles) and in particular, from LNCQ. (58) Ngo Si Lien was the first court historian to exploit myths, popular legends, and tales recorded in temple stelae, systemising them as sources for Ngoai Ky. (59) He combined them with Viet and Chinese official documents to write about the first realm of Van Lang of the Hung Kings. (60) By now, the phantasmagorical dimension of the Hung Kings Epic had been Confucianised and euhemerised. (61)

Ngo Si Lien also had the distinction of being the first historian who calculated that, from King Kinh Duong, the progenitor of the Dragon Lord, to the end of King An Duong's reign, there were 2,622 years. The founding year of the Hong Bang dynasty was now equivalent to 2879 BCE, and 258 BCE marked the end of Viet autonomy with An Duong's defeat by Trieu Da. (62) Ngo Si Lien's euhemeristic action integrated an era formerly shrouded in mythological mist into official history, giving it historicity and materiality. Such historicity would be rarely challenged in the ensuing centuries, as numerous court historians commissioned to compile national historiographies would follow Ngo Si Lien's example by integrating the Hong Bang dynasty into Viet official historiography. Dynasty after dynasty, from the fifteenth-century Le to the nineteenth-century Nguyen, confirmed the Hung Kings Epic as intrinsic to the quoc's cultural fabric. For instance, the Dai Viet thong giam thong khao (Complete study of the history of Dai Viet) compiled by Vu Quynh (one of the compilers of Viet dien u linh and LNCQ), who presented his work to Emperor Le Tuong Duc in 1511, opened with the H6ng Bang dynasty. (63) Another officially commissioned historiographic text, Dai Viet su ky ban ky thuc luc (The veritable basic historical records of Dai Viet), compiled in 1665 by Pham Cong Tru, likewise integrated the Hong Bang dynasty. (64) For historian Esta Ungar, there was visibly 'a dynasticisation of origin myths traced back to remotest antiquity', and thus, 'the images of political authority that filtered with increasing clarity into compilations of folk tales and official histories illustrate the growing perception of the ancient past in terms of dynastic authority'. (65) Nevertheless, dynastic construction without popular acquiescence cannot endure. Outside of the court-commissioned historiography accessible only to the scholar-gentry class, there were parallel traditions that contributed to a wider popular transmission of the Hung Kings Epic within the world of village worship.

Popular dissemination

Before the advent of transcription and integration of myths into literature, there was likely a long oral tradition in the Red River Delta of re-enactment of these tales at the level of the village. Each village held yearly festivities at the communal temple with public recitations and re-enactments (die xuong) during which villagers recreated a specific myth, historical event, or character. (66) Some villages focused on the popular mythical character of Tan Vien, the Mountain Spirit; others re-enacted the heroic sacrifices of female warriors who accompanied the Trung Queens in their struggle against the Chinese general Ma Vien, etc. Yet, each re-enactment carries with it the particular characteristics of the region and specific history of the village in which it takes place. Folklorist Nguyen Khac Xuong observes: 'Myths and legends are a form of popular oral transmission that has been preserved from one area to another' which, upon arrival in a specific region, are embellished with new features without losing their central themes. (67) Thus, the Hung Kings worship may have existed locally before the fifteenth century, but under the Lac name; its Mountain Spirit, its Phu Dong Celestial King, etc., which originally were worshipped to the capital's north were gradually integrated into its pantheon. Local spirits had their counterparts in the capital 'as un-obliterated remnants of a distant territory' even though its former occupants had been defeated. (68) The Hung Kings Epic with its mythologems of struggles against invaders, against nature, of enduring love, loyalty, bravery, etc., satisfied deep spiritual and emotional needs among the people, manifested in the construction of temples and shrines, and in oral propagation of multiple variations on the Epic. In 1285, the Tran dynasty began to promulgate the widespread village practice of than worship by issuing decrees confirming the spirits' ranks and titles, and by the recording of than tich, than sac, than pha, and ngoc pha. (69) This mythographic dissemination was driven in part by the court, which systemised and ordered this mythical profusion in part 'to standardise older traditions so as to reduce subversive potentials', but was also sustained by deep popular mystical needs. (70) Than were classified according to whether they were nature spirits (nhien than), celestial spirits (thien than), or Supernatural Beings (nhan than). (71) Le Thanh Tong, who had commissioned Ngo Si Lien's TT, also established in 1470 the Hung Vuong ngoc pha thap bat the truyen (Precious genealogy of the eighteen reigns of the Hung Kings). (72) Court archivists throughout successive dynasties--Le, Trinh, Tay Son, Nguyen--reproduced this text, and court-issued copies were worshipped in village temples. Spirit promulgation by imperial decrees became a sanctioned practice, amplified with each passing dynasty. In the sixteenth century, academician-cum-mythologist Nguyen Binh, who worked for the Ministry of Rites under Le Anh Tong (1557-73), compiled from 1572 to 1577 Ngo. c pha than tich, a collection of hundreds of myths and genealogies about Supernatural Beings and national heroes, including that of the Hung Kings which he had gathered from the Red River Delta. (73) More than a century-and-a-half later, in 1741, under Le Y Tong (1735-40), another academician, Nguyen Hien, began recopying these sources, an effort that continued until Khai Dinh's reign (1885-1925). Thus, numerous versions 'embroidered' earlier versions, recreating myths and inventing traditions that were then accepted by the villages--which had originated them--reinforcing and perpetuating the [Hung Kings'] spirits' materiality and potency through village worship. These mythical characters had been transformed into thanh hoang (tutelary spirits) consecrated by imperial orders and by popular fervour stemming from long traditions of ancestor worship. (74) Thus, the Hung Kings acquired sons-in-laws who became Mountain Spirits, and when migrating south with the territorial expansion, transformed themselves into Whale Spirits when near the sea, and mythical female characters such as Princess My Nuong merged with the local pantheon to morph into female Supernatural Beings! (75) As part of this process, the court also provided land to temples in Phu Tho province --site of the main Hung temple--to meet the expenses of Hung Kings worship. As late as 1945, the Nguyen court continued to delegate officials to oversee rituals in the temples of Phu Tho, the Hung Kings' heartland. Thus, as the result of the confluence of two currents, that of the monarchical state's mythographical construction and that of popular, village-based, animistic worship, the Hung Kings came to be venerated as ancestral founders of the Viet quoc in temples throughout the Red River Delta and beyond.

Mythographical dissemination was further facilitated by the use of the freer luc bat (six-eight) verse form, which Eric Henry defines as a 'deeply traditional and popular mode of expression (which) establishes an immediate link between even the most sinified of narratives and the vast world of ca dao, or Vietnamese rural folk poetry'. (76) This is especially true when it was used in the historical epic to recount the national past as illustrated by the end of the seventeenth century, anonymous Thien nam ngu luc (Annals of the Heavenly South, henceforth TNNL). (77) This text became intrinsic to the popular memory, which has retained familiar stories of beloved national heroes like the Dragon Lord or the Trung Queens. The tales are easily memorised and transmitted, thanks to the use of Quoc Am (national language) instead of Han linguistic expression, and to an abundance of ancient popular sayings. TNNL, the first versified historical work of epic proportions, recounts the history of the Southern Land from the Hong Bang until the end of the Tran dynasty. Although relying on Ngo Si Lien's TT for historical development and still influenced by Confucianism, the anonymous author, unfettered in form and use of sources, integrated a larger volume of myths, folktales, legends, and ca dao that mirrored the common folk's understanding of historical events. (78) It relates in lyrical style historical events and depicts historical figures such as the Trung Sisters in martial, heroic terms ('although of the weaker sex, they descended from the Dragon Lord'). (79) More importantly, it uses colourful verses close to the vernacular, to everyday life, to recount the tale of the Dragon Lord and the ensuing historical process of building a state with its capital at Phong Chau. (80) The founding myth of the Dragon Lord and the Immortal, deeply euhemerised, had now become a popular epic, easy to memorise and recite.

TNNL reflects a national character close to popular beliefs. (81) It sets the literary example of a work that 'summarises the millennial history of the country, and presents its national heroic tradition according to popular conception'. (82) According to Cao Huy Dinh, the 'orally transmitted' historical epic 'was transformed into a "historiography" in a six-eight verse format and transcribed using the N6m script'. (83) Nom literature, the authors of which were closer to the common folk who memorised and circulated mythical stories through different forms (ve, ca dao), stressed the mythical aspect, as it escaped the constraints of the formal literature. Whitmore also notes that six-eight nom verse 'allowed oral presentations to those who could not read. Recitations of this sort, popular versions of elite texts ... served ... to deepen the association between Vietnamese ethnicity and Neo-Confucianism'. (84) Unsettled conditions from the sixteenth through the early nineteenth century saw an explosion of N6m literature, facilitated by the development of woodblock printing which allowed for their circulation, first within the capital and later throughout the Viet-speaking lands. (85) As many scholars in the Dang Ngoai (Outer Region) and Dang Trong (Inner Region) grew disenchanted with the ruling class, they turned to popular Nom literature, further contributing to the transcribing of oral literature and the transmission of a nationalistic mythology. (86) Consequently, TNNL played a pivotal role in reinforcing and diffusing into popular perception a memory of historical developments in which the Hung Kings Epic had become inseparable from a Viet national ethos.

Confucian hermeneutic contestation

By the eighteenth century, when Dai Viet was nearing the end of centuries of turmoil, this popular mythographical construction was contested by Confucianised Viet intellectuals, who condemned the myths as 'implausible stories' (truyen hoang duong). Even Ngo Si Lien, the first historiographer to insert mythological dimensions into official historiography, admitted that some stories, e.g., the Mountain-Water Spirit tale, were too strange to believe. (87) Le Quu Don, while accepting the Hang Kings period, paradoxically did not trust the documents related to it. In his Van dai loai ngu (Classified topics from the Yun) he expressed doubt about Ngo Si Lien's Hung Vuong story, blaming Confucian scholars who had carelessly borrowed from Northern texts. (88) As he noted in Kien van tieu luc, since even Northern writers make copying errors, 'Southern oral transmission errors are to be expected'. (89) Similar misgivings emerged in two nineteenth-century historiographies, Dai Viet su ky tien bien (Annotations on the History of Dai Viet; henceforth TB) compiled by Ngo Thi Si (90) under the Tay Son and published in 1800, and Kham dinh Viet su thong giam cuong muc (Text and commentary as a complete mirror of Vietnamese history as ordered by the emperor; 1856-84; henceforth CM).

Ngo Thi Si, while perpetuating a historiographic tradition initiated by Ngo Si Lien, suffused his text with critical commentaries of his own as well as of those of other historians. For the first time in Viet historiography, a scholar imbued with Confucianism dared to contest the mythical aspects of the foundational period. (91) He particularly questioned the story of the union of the Dragon Lord and the Immortal, dismissing it as an 'unfounded interpretation' (thuyet vo van) inspired by LNCQ and Viet dien u linh. (92) One should not risk transforming 'a credible national history into a collection of phantasmatic stories'. (93) Significantly, Ngo Thi Si contested the pre-Chinese era's chronological scope, as it would mean that each of the eighteen Hung kings would have lived more than 130 years! (94)

Ngo Thi Si also questioned Trieu Da's integration into Viet historical discourse. In Viet su tieu an (Ambiguities in Viet History), a critical commentary, Ngo Thi Si rejected in a strongly worded statement the hagiographic construction of Trieu Da as a benefactor of the Viet quoc by past scholars and court historians:
   Trieu Da has no merit when it comes to our country. On the
   contrary, he was the first to bring ruin to it.... Our country was
   colonised by China from the Han to the Tang, all because of Trieu
   Da. He divided our country into commanderies and districts ...
   collected taxes, and supplied jade to the Han.... How can one say
   that he has merit? (95)


Challenging Trieu Da as a Viet founding national hero and questioning the length of Hong Bang's reign formed a historiographic counter-discourse that was to emerge in the following centuries, when the Hung Kings Epic would become the lightning rod of ensuing debates.

After centuries of wars, in the nineteenth century Dai Nam was consolidated from north to south by Nguyen Anh (Emperor Gia Long, r.1802-20)--but not for long, as France would begin its conquest in the 1850s. The last independent historiography was the CM, commissioned by Emperor Tu Duc in 1856 and intended as a national history combining existing official historiographies and private histories. Phan Thanh Gian and Phan Dinh Phung led the team of historians who took up the task between 1856 and 1884. (96) In presenting their findings to Tu Duc (1847-83), the scholars contested the pertinence of some historical figures considered as integral to Viet history: 'In what ways was Kinh Duong, located in the Qin kingdom ... related to our history? .... On what do we base the claim that these were our country's founding kings, who created a sovereign system?' (97)

The historiographers thus rejected opening the foundational chapter of Viet history with the Dragon Lord and King Kinh Duong, affirming that beginning it with the Hung Kings was more 'orthodox'. As to King An Du'o'ng, the court historians observed that he was a 'foreigner', an opportunist who seized the country but in turn lost his kingdom. However, Dang Quoc Lang, one of their collaborators, defended Ngo Si Lien's action in beginning Viet history with the Hong Bang dynasty, arguing that, 'In those days, although Confucian court scholars were influential and numerous, there was not one who challenged the rationality of his (Si Lien) action.' (98) He asserted that all the historiographies that succeeded Ngo Si Lien's fifteenth century TT did not question Hong Bang's beginning, proving that 'Si Lien's historiography was not totally unfounded'. (99) In his decree approving the composition of the History Committee in 1856, Tu Duc considered the existence of King Kinh Duong and of the Dragon Lord as belonging to neither truth nor untruth, but rather to a third category, the 'unverifiable'. (100) In his view, such tales should continue to be conveyed.

Also resulting directly from Tu Duc's programme of collecting, compiling, and writing national historiographies, the historical epic Dai Nam quoc su dien ca (The national history of Dai Nam in verse; henceforth DNQS), in Han-Nom script, was born. Le Ngo Cat (b. 1827) edited in 1858 a N6m work by a scholar from Bac Ninh. Another mandarin, Pham Dinh Toai, reworked it, titled it Dai Nam quoc su dien ca, and had it printed in 1870. It was soon translated into Quoc Ngu by the southern savant, Truong Vinh Ky (1837-98), and published in Saigon in 1875. Multiple versions were widely disseminated by the twentieth century. Numerous passages were popularised, especially verses on the Trung Vuong (Trung Queens); in recent years, the fact that some of them have been used as part of the literature syllabus in secondary education 'shows the extent to which this historical epic is propagated'. (101)

Historically, DNQS spans the period of Hong Bang to the rise of the Tay Son and the fall of the last Le emperor, Le Chieu Thong (1787-88). Thematically, although not alluding to the egg-pouch, it retained the theme of the Dragon Lord-Immortal Lady and their one hundred male progeny. The betrayal theme as illustrated by the story of the Golden Tortoise is reprised in the DNQS: 'The magical crossbow gone, his fate (An Duong) fallen/Hurriedly had come the moment of escape/But not without his daughter behind him/ ... /(The king) thus understood that the enemy was next to him/.../Bonds broken, to the precious sword he put his daughter.' (102) DNQS, born as France began its conquest of Dai Nam, infused Viet history with a nationalistic spirit as evoked in the heroic actions of the miraculous boy-saviour Phil Dong ('With a golden sword and an iron horse, he led the troops'), of the Trung Queens ('Lady Trung was from Chau Phong/Neither her fury at the oppressor nor her will to avenge her husband forgotten'), or of Tran Hung Dao ('Bach Dang a wide field of battle/The ground white with piled bones/The river red with spilt blood'). (103)

Through a colonial lens

While France conquered Vietnam in the nineteenth century, its scholars avidly explored the history and culture of their dominions, their curiosity piqued by the Annamites' apparent phantasmatic imagination. They collected legends and published them in collections such as Antony Landes' Contes et legendes annamites (1886), Abel des Michels' Contes plaisants annamites (1888), or Gustave Dumoutier's Les Chants et les traditions populaires des Annamites (1890). (104) Although these French-rendered stories mixed historical events and figures with local customs and legends about supernatural beings, magical births and animals, etc., there was no trace of the Hung Kings Epic. (105) The mythographical, historiographical, and national dimensions of the Hung Kings myths appeared to have evaporated from the Annamites' memory. What remained were 'droll', 'cynical' stories that illustrated--from the colonisers' viewpoint--their subjects' duplicity, untrustworthiness, and superstitious nature.

Maspero's challenge

Among the French scholars who distinguished themselves by their erudition was Henri Maspero, whose contributions have left an indelible mark on Viet (and Chinese) studies. One work, in particular, Le Royaume du Van Lang, 1918, proroundly shaped the Hung Kings' debate and all that had to do with Viet founding myths, national identity, and historical roots. Maspero contested the territorial extent and even the existence of the name of Hung, of a kingdom named Van Lang, attributing it 'to confusion between the names of Wen-lang (Van-lang) and Ye-lang (Da-lang)' (106) Somehow, everything was an error, a recording mistake reproduced unknowingly by generations of Chinese and 'Annamite' copiers for centuries! From those errors resulted misperceptions leading to a Hung Vuong temple, that although already in existence around the fifteenth century 'could not be very ancient', as Maspero conceded that at the most it dated back to the Tran dynasty (1226-1400). Such a cult, he reasoned, could not have survived in a 'savage country' over centuries during Chinese colonisation. Maspero concluded: 'In sum, the extent and even the name of the kingdom of Wen-lang (Van-lang) appeared to me to be caused by a series of confusions for which Annamite historians are not responsible, but which went back to the Chinese writers of the sixth and seventh century.' (107) Concerning the Hung Vuong name, Maspero, citing ancient Chinese texts, categorically stated, 'the traditional Annamite name is mistaken and must be discarded: there were never any Hung kings but only Lac kings. In this case again, the error went beyond the oldest Annamite authors, going back to Chinese writers. Furthermore, Annamite historians detected the error but did not dare to correct it.' (108) His summary left no doubt:
   The name of Van-lang that Tonkin might have had originally, the
   extents attributed to it, and the title of the kings that ruled it
   as given by Annamite historians, are so many errors and confusions.
   Additionally, we notice that all these errors are imputable to
   Chinese writers, and had already appeared during the Tang, and that
   the Annamites only reproduced when copying their sources. (109)


In barely ten pages, Maspero's study, by challenging the accuracy of the name of 'Van Lang', its territorial extensiveness, and the name of 'Hung' kings, by implication, equally contested that there was ever such an ancient realm and such traditionally named 'Annamite' kings, questioning the whole Hung Kings Epic. The entire Viet mythological construction and identification that had been coalescing over centuries was thus shattered. His statement did not provoke any immediate traceable reactions, confined as it was to the spheres of official French- and Vietnamese-language scholarship, and given the restraints of colonial censorship.

It was only in the 1930s that Maspero's statement was to ignite a rancorous, wide-ranging debate among Viet scholars. The decade of the 1930s, under the Front Populaire, presented opportunities for Viet nationalists of all political trends, as it liberated them from prisons, lifted censorship on newspapers, and allowed greater freedom of movement throughout Indochina. One must thus view the Hung Vuong/Lac Vuong debate within this context, reflective of the wider search for national identity. Contributing to such effervescence, chu quoc ngu (national script) was in its second decade of print dissemination through the blossoming of newspapers and magazines, spearheaded by intellectuals such as Truong Vinh Ky and Pham Quynh. The question of national origin(s) generated a fierce pro- and anti-Maspero thesis debate. Those opting for Lac Vuong as the correct name of the first kings professed their confidence in (Western) scientific accuracy and reliability. Their opponents, who proclaimed that only Hung Vuong was correct, based their argument on the conviction that indigenous sources and traditions are by definition authentic, whereas Chinese and French texts were unreliable.

Leading the group supporting the correctness of the Lac Vuong's name was Nguyen Van To (1889-1947), a Sinologist-cum-Francophile scholar, regular French-language contributor to the BEFEO, and a member of Ho Chi Minh's provisional government of 1945. Appearing in 1932 in the review Dong Thanh, his article, Hung Vuong or Lac Vuong?' addressed Maspero's contentions, examining ancient Chinese texts, and finally agreeing with him that the name Hung Vuong had arisen from replication errors. (110) He supported Maspero in putting the onus on Chinese copiers: 'That mistake was not due to our historians but mainly, to historians of China.' (111) In an ensuing article in 1941, Nguyen Van To reiterated his pro-Maspero arguments in favour of the Lac Vuong interpretation, 'This time we are more categorical in affirming that Hung was a replication error, and Lac was the correct (term).' (112) He revisited the question in 1943, explicitly rejecting the arguments advanced by Le Du representing the Hung Vuong interpretation, criticising him for being 'nationalistic', biased, and lacking a scientific, historiographic methodology. He deemed LNCQ to be 'a collection of hoang duong (implausible) and bizarre stories that could not be trusted to be factual.' (113) He explained that the Hung Kings mythography sprung from the rich imaginations of scholars who had invented names and stories of these Hung figures, pressed as they were by the Le court that obligated villagers to petition it for approval and recognition of tutelary spirit(s)!

Joining the ranks of the pro-Maspero school was Dao Duy Anh (1904-88), who published in 1938 Vietnam van hoa su cuong (An outline of Vietnamese culture), a work influenced by the French historian, Felix Sartiaux, who wrote on Hellenistic civilisations and Kantian philosophy. Dao Duy Anh wrote, 'According to tradition, the Vietnamese belong to the race of Immortal and Dragon (noi giong Tien Rong),' asserting that the first-born of the fifty sons, 'became the ancestor of the Vietnamese race'. Dao Duy Anh viewed this as truyen thuyet, that is, a legend, but deemed it meaningful. (114) He stated, 'The king of the Van Lang realm was titled Lac Vuong. Van Lang was the name of the ancient country of the Vietnamese nowadays. The Lac Kings of the Hong Bang dynasty succeeded each other over eighteen generations until the year 257.' (115) Dao Duy Anh partially supported Maspero, agreeing with his choice of Lac Vuong as the correct name for the first rulers, yet affirmed the other elements (e.g., the Dragon Lord, the Hong Bang, Van Lang kingdom, etc). However, he shifted his stance when he revisited the question in a 1942 article, which examined the truyen thuyet in the Hung Vuong Epic from an anthropological angle. This time, Dao Duy Anh was less categorical, opting for both possibilities: 'The term Hung-vuong or Lac-vuong is the name given to the feudal kings who succeeded each other just as the vassal lords were called Lac-hau and Lac-tuong.' (116) Later, as Dao Duy Anh assumed the role of a prominent DRV intellectual, he aligned his view with that of the Vietnamese Communist Party, which affirmed the materiality of the Hung Kings Epic as part of an independent state's identity reconstruction in the post-August Revolution of 1945.

Reacting heatedly to this Maspero-influenced Lac Vuong school, a number of Viet scholars published articles rejecting this theory in terms that reveal a wounded sense of nationalistic pride even under tight French censorship. The distinguished Sinologist, historian, and literary critic who had participated in Phan Boi Chau's Dong Du (Go East) learning-from-Japan movement in the 1900s, also a regular contributor to BEFEO, L4 Du (Le Dang Du) was among the most forceful critics of the Maspero thesis. In two 1942 issues of a publication by the Hoi Khai Tri Tien Duc (Intellectual and Moral Development Association) entitled, 'Hung Vuong is Hung Vuong', Le Du' wrote,
   For Heaven's sake! Could it be possible that we erred for so many
   centuries and it is only now that we have someone pointing out our
   error to us? ... 1. A country's history has to be examined by its
   own people to be accurate; 2. For an event that originated in a
   country, that country's own texts should record it to be accurate;
   ... ; 4. Whatever word as formulated by a people should be
   discussed only by them to be accurate. (117)


He remarked that the name of Hung Vuong appeared in a number of legends, but nowhere in these tales did the copying error of transforming Hung into Lac occur. He challenged Maspero's statement by asserting:
   All the stories related to the Hung dynasty that are clearly
   recorded in our texts, did Mr. Maspero see them in any Chinese
   texts? Naturally not! I am certain (that he did) not as I have
   carefully examined Chinese texts dealing with the Southern country,
   perhaps without any exception. Mr. Maspero has ignominiously
   slandered our historians of ancient times. (118)


Furthermore, he argued that since ancient times, Viet customs had always used the names of Hung Kings, Hung Mountain, Hung temple, and Hung mausoleum, it could not have been otherwise. In conclusion, Le Du' proclaimed that Maspero's mistake is understandable since 'after all, he came from a completely different culture than ours'. Le Du' thus felt obligated to correct this error by letting everyone know that 'Our national ancestor Hung Vuong is Hung Vuong, and never Lac Vuong. Our national history recorded Hung Vuong thus Hung Vuong is accurate.' (119) Le Du' was only one of many who reacted strongly against the Maspero school of Lac appellation.

Concurrently in 1932, appeared Nguyen Van Ngoc (1890-1942)'s Truyen co nuoc Nam (Legends of the Southern Country). Commenting on his collection of folktales and popular sayings, the author remarked, 'The phrase "Our Country has more than four thousand years of antiquity," is something that many Southern people often say, taking pride in their antiquity (considered) as the most precious quality. Thus, in what does the Southern Country's antiquity reside? In ancient race, ancient history, ancient customs, ancient government, ancient literature, and arts.' Nguyen Van Ngoc was careful to distinguish between 'Chinese' and 'Southern' legends, affirming that the stories that he collected 'are truly specific of Nuoc Nam (Southern Country), created and produced by the Southern people, and was not borrowed from, or inspired by, anyone.' The proof was that all the folk sayings were in tieng Nam (Southern language), that is, the kind of particular language which renders the Southern Country truly what it is.' (120) The legends belong to the oral tradition, never before having been transcribed, as they mainly circulated at the village level among Viet peasants. As Nguyen Van Ngoc said, 'Being a Southerner, one needs to know ancient legends of the Southern Country. The Southerner's soul is manifested in them; the essence of the Southern Country is preserved in them.' (121)

The Hung Vuong vs. Lac Vuong debate never truly abated through the two Indochina Wars. It continued and escalated into a crescendo during the 1960-70s when Vietnam was divided into two political entities. It took on more strident ideological tones as each claimed to be the true descendant of the Dragon Lord and the Immortal, with each promulgating the Hung Kings Anniversary as a national day of commemoration. Ngo Si Lien's integration of the Dragon Lord and Lady Au Co's myth into the official historiography of Dai Viet initiated the long journey into modernity of a tale believed to be an authentic founding myth of the Viet peoples. Nowadays, the Hung Kings Epic and its related textual debates have left their lofty intellectual confines to seep completely into the national fabric of modern Vietnam to form its own mythos. Ethnic Viet or Kinh people, whether at home or overseas, whether fiercely anti-Communist or Party members, identify their mythological origins as descendants of the Dragon Lord and the Immortal. They do not doubt the antiquity of their culture nor that of the Viet people, rooted in a quadri-millennial past apparently inseparably woven into their ethos, issued from a civilisation founded by the eighteen Hung Vuong.

doi: 10.1017/S002246341300009X

(1) 'Southern' was often used by pre-modern Viet authors to refer to their land in contrast to that of their 'Northern' neighbour, China.

(2) This paper uses translations in quoc ngu of works that were composed in Sino-Vietnamese or Nom and translated by contemporary scholars of Vietnam.

(3) Anne Birrell, Chinese mythology: An introduction (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), p. 113. The expression 'ornithomorphous hierogamy' has been applied by Birrell to refer to the 'sacred marriage' between divine, mythical bird-origin/shaped 'founders of the Shang and Chin people' that may or may not result in a sacred egg from which emerged the ancestors of the Chinese.

(4) Recently, the Hung Kings Epic inspired a parallel project by Liam Kelley, who views this phenomenon from the perspective of Chinese sources. Ta Chi Dai Truong and Keith Taylor contribute to the debate. Liam C. Kelley, 'The biography of the Hong Bang clan as a medieval Vietnamese invented tradition', Journal of Vietnamese Studies, 7, 2 (2012): 87-130. See also Eric Henry, 'Chinese and indigenous influences in Vietnamese verse romances of the 19th Century', Crossroads, 15, 2 (2001): 1-40. Henry analyses the Hung Kings Epic from a literary and gender angle, noting that even though 'some tales have at least a functional resemblance to tales of Chinese culture heroes ... or of the supernatural ... yet the Vietnamese tales also show striking and consistent differences'. Ibid., p. 6.

(5) See peter G. Bietenholz, Historia and fabula: Myths and legends in historical thought from antiquity to the modern age (Leiden: Brill, 1994); Truesdell S. Brown, 'Euhemerus and the historians', Harvard Theological Review, 39, 4 (1946): 259-74; Franco De Angelis and Benjamin Garstad, 'Euhemerus in context', Classical Antiquity, 25, 2 (2006): 211-42.

(6) Henri Maspero, 'Legendes mythologiques dans le Chou King', Journal Asiatique, 204 (1924): 1-2.

(7) Derk Bodde, 'Myths of ancient China', in Mythologies of the ancient world, ed. Samuel Noah Kramer (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961), p. 372.

(8) Ibid., p. 375.

(9) William G. Boltz, 'Kung Kung and the flood: Reverse euhemerism in the "Yao tien"', T'oung Pao, 67, 5 (1981): 141, 152.

(10) Bodde, 'Myths of ancient China', p. 370.

(11) There are between nine to eleven truyen ban (transmitted versions) of LNCQ, each including at least twenty-two stories compiled over centuries by a number of authors. The LNCQ was translated by both Hanoi and Saigon scholars separately, in multiple annotated versions, differing from each other in the version used, its interpretation, and translated terms. I refer to both the 1961 and the 2011 versions. Tran The Phap, Linh Nam chich quai ed. and trans. Le Huu Muc (henceforth LNCQ 1961) (Portland, Or.: Tram Viet, 1982); Tran The Phap et al., Linh Nam chich quai (henceforth LNCQ 2011) (Hanoi: Hong Bang, 2011) See also Keith W. Taylor, The birth of Vietnam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), pp. 349-59.

(12) In Chinese mythology, Shen Nung was one of the three major legendary heroes, a god of farming and medicine, the inventor of the plow and agriculture. By linking the Viet Hong Bang line with that of the Chinese Shen Nung, the Viet myth and its hero, Lac Long Qua, acquired a genealogy as ancient as, if not older than, that of its Chinese counterpart. M. Kaltenmark, 'Mythical rulers in China', in Asian mythologies, compiled by Yves Bonnefoy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), pp. 244-6.

(13) LNCQ 1961, p. 43.

(14) Lady Au Co' is an Immortal, that is, a fairy. Fairies symbolise a bird goddess common to South and Southeast Asian mythologies. In this tale, the mother of the Viet is believed to be a bird goddess, a motif omnipresent in Viet culture. Phan Dang Nhat, 'Chung tich van hoa dan gian ve coi nguon dan toc: Nhung yeu to trung hop giua su Thi-Mo va sach Linh Nam Chich Quai' [Folk cultural remnants and the question of national origins: Similarities between Mo epic and the Linh Nam Chich Quai], Nghien Cuu Lich Su [Historical Studies], 3 (1981): 43.

(15) In the village of Hy Cuong, Phong Chau district, Phil Tho province, there is an ancient Hung Kings temple complex on Nghia Linh Mountain (a.k.a. Hung Mountain), which includes a Lower Temple dedicated to the worship of Lady Au Co' and the Hung Kings' daughters; a Middle Temple to that of the Hung Kings-related figures and Lac nobility; and an Upper Temple to that of the Hung Kings and their struggle against invaders (Truyen Dong Thien Vuong). Le Trung Vu et al., Le hoi Viet Nam [Vietnamese Festivals] (Hanoi: Van Hoa va Thong Tin, 2005), pp. 328-9; Do Trong Hue, 'Di Tim Dau Vet Hung Vuong' [In search of Hung Kings' traces], Phil Thu Tuong Chinh Phil Viet Nam Cong Hoa [Office of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Vietnam], File 29277, dated 18/04/1964, VTX 4788: 14. Vietnam National Archives II, Ho Chi Minh City.

(16) Hung is a word common to Southeast Asian ethnic groups and indicates a leader, a chief, or clan head noted for bravery. Phan, 'Chung tich van hoa', p. 44; Vietnamese historians theorise that 'Hung Vuong' was a title given to the tribal leader of the Van Lang tribe, one of the most powerful tribes in the Red River Delta. Phan Huy Le et al., ed., Lich Su Viet Nam: Thoi Ky Nguyen Thuy Den The Ky X [History of Vietnam: From prehistory to 10th c.] (Hanoi: Dai Hoc va Trung Hoc Chuyen Nghiep, 1985), vol. I, pp. 104-5. Ta Chi Dai Truong hypothesised that Hung was the name given to the ruler of the native population in the colony of Giao Chau, whereas 'Lac' referred to an ethnic group. T a Chi Dai Truong, Than, nguoi va dat Viet [Spirits, humans, and Viet land] (Ke Sach eBook Publishing Center: Smashwords ed., 2011), p. 72. Others argue that 'Lac' connotes a bird similar to a crane or goose, a motif found on the D6ng Sob bronze drums and pediform axes. Dao Duy Anh, Co su Viet Nam [Vietnamese ancient history] (Hanoi: Tap San Dai Hoc Su' Pham, 1956), p. 53.

(17) Van Lang appears to be the transliteration via Chinese characters of an ancient Austro-asiatic word, Vlang or Blang, which designates a large wading bird, possibly a totemic animal worshipped by the Hung kings. The name of Hong in Hong Bang also refers to a wading bird. Nguyen Phuc Long, Les nouvelles recherches archeologiques au Vietnam (Paris: A. Maisonneuve, 1975), pp. 17-18.

(18) Ngo Si Lien, Dai Viet su ky toan thu [Complete historical records of Great Viet], ed. and trans. Vien Khoa Hoc Xa Hoi Viet Nam (henceforth Ngo and Vien, TT) (Hanoi: Khoa Hoc Xa Hoi, 1998), vol. I, p. 107.

(19) Sima Qian and Burton Watson, Records of the grand historian: Han dynasty (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), vol. II, pp. 215, 222-3.

(20) LNCQ 1961, pp. 70-74. See Philippe Papin, Histoire de Hanoi (Paris: Fayard, 2001), pp. 19-25. Papin provides an anthropological layer to the Hung Kings Epic, tying together natural elements and belief systems.

(21) Sima and Watson, Records of the grand historian, vol. II, p. 208.

(22) Viet Su luoc, trans, and ed. Tran Quoc Vuong (Hanoi: Thuan Hoa, 2005), p. 20; Ngo and Vien, TT, vol. I, p. 141.

(23) Le Oc Mach, 'Vietnamese mythology', in Asian mythologies, comp. by Bonnefoy, p. 221.

(24) Ibid.

(25) Ta, Than, nguoi, va dat Viet, p. 72. Emphasis in the original.

(26) Although Trim The Phap's authorship has been questioned, he is mentioned in pre-modern texts such as Le Quy Don's Kiln van tieu luc [A small record of things seen and heard], which described him as a scholar of the late fourteenth century c. Tran dynasty and a native of Ha Tay province. Emile Gaspardone, 'Legendes, confuceisme, bouddhisme, traites divers', Bulletin de l'Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient (BEFEO), IV (1934): 128-9; http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/ article/befeo_0336-1519_1934_num_34_1_4964 (last accessed 15 Feb. 2013); Dinh Gia Khanh and Nguyen Ngoc San, 'Loi Gioi Thieu', in LNCQ 2011, pp. 9-10. However, his name was not mentioned in the prefaces written by LNCQ's 1492-93 editor-contributors, Vu Quynh and Kieu Phu.

(27) LNCQ 2011, pp. 9-10. The translation from Sino-Vietnamese into quoc ngu used here is derived from the version (A33) dated 1695, comprising twenty-two tales compiled and edited in chronological order by Tran The Phap, Vu Quynh, and Kieu Phu.

(28) Vu Quynh, 'Tua Liet Truyen Linh Nam Chich Quai' [Title of the Compendium of wondrous tales gathered from Linh Nam], in LNCQ 1961, p. 38.

(29) Ibid., 37.

(30) Dinh Gia Khanh, Chu Xuan Dien, and Vo Quang Nhon, Van hoc dan gian Viet Nam [Viet folk literature] (Hanoi: Giao Duc, 2001); p. 53.

(31) Kieu Phil, "Hau Tu," in Tac pham duoc tang giai thuong Ho Chi Minh: Tim hieu kho sach Han Nom [Works awarded the Ho Chi Minh Prize: Understanding the treasury of Han-Nom works] (Hanoi: Khoa Hoc Xa Hoi, 2003), p. 1113.

(32) Le Quy Don, Kien van tieu luc, ed. and trans. Pham Trong Diem and Vien Su Hoc (Hanoi: Van Hoa Thong Tin, 2007), pp. 196-7; Emile Gaspardone, Bibliographie annamite (Hanoi: Imprimerie d'Extreme-Orient, 1935), p. ,129.

(33) Nguyen Tu Chi, Gop phan nghien cuu van hoa va toc nguoi [Contribution to the study of culture and ethnic groups] (Hanoi: Van Hoa Dan Toc: Tap Chi Van Hoa Nghe Thuat, 2003), p. 217.

(34) John K. Whitmore, 'Religion and ritual in the royal courts of Dai Viet', Working Paper 128, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, 2009, pp. 10-11. Chu Van An (1292-1370), a native of Son Nam, was famous for his rectitude and incorruptibility and for having taught thousands of students, many of whom became great scholars, among them Pham Su Manh. John K. Whitmore, 'Chu Van An and the rise of "antiquity" in fourteenth century Dai Viet', Vietnam Review, 1 (1996): 56-7.

(35) Whitmore, 'Religion and ritual', p. 10.

(36) Based on a poem by Pham Su Manh, Wolters speculates that 'Van-land, originally an obscure toponym in two early Chinese records about northwestern Vietnam, is seized on as a nostalgic metaphor for what was assumed to be a traditionally disciplined Vietnamese society.' O.W. Wolters, 'On telling a story of Vietnam in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries', Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 26, 1 (1995): 70-71.

(37) Alexander Ong Eng Ann, 'Contextualising the book-burning episode during the Ming invasion and occupation of Vietnam', in Southeast Asia in the fifteenth century: The China factor, ed. Geoff Wade and Sun Laichen (Singapore: NUS Press, 2010), pp. 157-8. See also Paul Pelliot and Leopold Cadiere, 'Premiere etude sur les sources annamites de l'histoire d'Annam', BEFEO, IV (1904): 619. The authors mentioned that Emperor Yongle as he issued the confiscation order in 1418-19 also decreed that Confucian and Buddhist texts be widely disseminated in Annam.

(38) Ta Than, nguoi, va dat Viet p. 16.

(39) Phan Huy Le, 'Dai Viet Su Ky Toan The: Tac girl, van ban, tac pham' [The Complete historical records of Great Viet: authorships, documents, and works], in TT, ed. Ngo and Vien, vol. I, p. 19.

(40) Gaspardone, Bibliographie annamite, p. 49.

(41) Viet su luoc, p. 18.

(42) Ibid., pp. 9-10.

(43) Gaspardone, Bibliographie annamite, p. 50.

(44) Esta S. Ungar, 'From myth to history: Imagined polities in fourteenth-century Vietnam', in Southeast Asia in the 9th to 14th centuries, ed. David G. Marr and Anthony Milner (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1986), p. 181; Tran Thi Bang Thanh, 'Ho Tong Thoc', in Tu dien van hoc [Dictionary of Literature] (Hanoi: The Gioi, 2003), pp. 643-4.

(45) 'Viet Nam the chi' in Lich trieu hien chuong loai chi [The classified repertory of regulations through successive dynasties], Phan Huy Chu, ed. and Vien Su' Hoc (Hanoi: Nha xuat ban khoa hoc xa hoi, 2005), vol. II, pp. 506-7.

(46) Tran Quoc Vuong, 'The legend of Ong Dong from the text to the field', in Essays into Vietnamese pasts, ed. K.W. Taylor and John K. Whitmore (Ithaca, N.Y.: Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University Press, 1995), p. 28; Dang Duc Thi, Lich su' su' hoc Viet Nam: tu' the ky XI den giu'a the ky XIX [Historiography of Viet Nam: from the eleventh to the mid- nineteenth century (Ho Chi Minh City: Nha xuat ban tre, 2000), pp. 158-64.

(47) Nguyen Trai wrote numerous fables based on Viet folklore, using popular sayings and themes, a fact that makes him one of the earliest if not the first socially inspired writers of Dai Viet. Cao Huy Dinh, Tu Thi Cung, and Ngo Van Doanh, Cao Huy Dinh, Tuyen top tac pham [Selected works of Cao Huy Dinh] (Hanoi: Lao Dong, 2004), pp. 666-71; N.I. Nikulin, Lich su' van hoc Viet Nam [Literary history of Viet Nam] (Hanoi: Van hoc, 2007), pp. 131-8. See also Nguyen Trai, Do Nguyen, and Paul Hoover, Beyond the court gate: Selected poems of Nguyen Trai (Denver: Counterpath Press, 2010).

(48) Nguyen Trai, Nguyen Trai toan top: Uc Trai thi top [Complete works of Nguyen Trai: Poetry of Uc Trail, ed. and trans, Hoang Khoi (Hanoi: Van Hoa Thong Tin, 2001), p. 742.

(49) Tit, Than, nguoi, va dat Viet, p. 76.

(50) Cao, Tu, and Ngo, Cao Huy Dinh, p. 673.

(51) Dinh, Chu, and Vo, Van hoc dan gian, p. 54.

(52) See Phan Dai Doan et al., Ngo Si Lien va Dai Viet su ky toan thu (Ngo Si Lien and The Complete historical records of Great Viet) (Ha Noi: Nha xuat ban chinh tri quoc gia, 1998).

(53) Ngo and Vien, TT, vol. I, p. 103; Yu Insun, 'Le Van Huu and Ngo Si Lien: A comparison of their perception of Vietnamese history', in Viet Nam: Borderless histories, ed. Anthony Reid and Nhung Tuyet Tran (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006), p. 46.

(54) Ta, Than, nguoi, va dat Viet, p. 76. See also David Cannadine and Simon Price, Rituals of royalty: Power and ceremonial in traditional societies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 181-236; Do Bang Doan and Do Trong Hue, Nhung dai le va vu khuc cua vua chua Viet Nam [Great royal ceremonies and dances of Viet Nam] (Ha Noi: Van hoc, 1992), pp. 13-86.

(55) Yu, 'Le Van Huu and Ngo Si Lien', pp. 57-8.

(56) Nguyen Quang Ngoc, 'Khuynh huong tro ve voi coi nguon dan toc thoi ky van minh Dai Viet va su ra dof cua Dai Viet Su Ky Ngoai Ky Toan Thu (Quyen I)' [The movement to return-to-our-people's origins during the period of Dai Viet civilization and the birth of The Complete historical records, External Chapter], in Ngo Si Lien va Dai Viet su ky toan thu, pp. 137-8.

(57) Nguyen Phuong, 'Phuong Phap Su' cua Le-van-Huu va Ngo-si-Lien' [The historical methodology of Le van Huu and Ngo si Lien], Dai Hoc, 12 (1962): 893-5.

(58) Phan Huy Le, 'Dai Viet su' ky toan thu, in TT, vol. I, p. 23; Ngo and Vien, TT, vol. I, p. 103.

(59) Dinh, Chu, and Vo, Van hoc dan gian, p. 54.

(60) Nevertheless, Ngo Si Lien adopted a patrilineal interpretation more suitable to Confucian mores. The fifty sons, who, in LNCQ, followed their mother to Phong Chau, now followed their father to the Southern Sea to become the founders of the Hong Bang dynasty. Ngo and Vien, TT, vol. I, p. 132.

(61) Ta, Than, nguoi, va dat Viet, p. 76.

(62) Ngo and Vien, TT, vol. I, p. 135.

(63) Gaspardone, Bibliographie annamite, pp. 76-7; Pham The Ngu, Viet Nam van hoc su gian uoc tan bien: Trip I, van hoc truyen khau-van hoc lich trieu: Han van [New concise literary history: vol. I, Oral and dynastic literature in Han (Dong Thap: Dong Thap, 1996), p. 279.

(64) John K. Whitmore, 'Vietnamese historical sources: For the reign of Le Thanh Tong (1460-1497)', Journal of Asian Studies, 29, 2 (1970): 373-94.

(65) Ungar, 'From myth to history', pp. 181, 184.

(66) Nguyen Khac Xuong, 'Tim hieu quan he giua than thoai, truyen thuyet va dien xuong tin ngong phong tuc' [Understanding the connections between myths, legends, and re-enactments], in Van hoc Viet nam, van hoc dan gian: nhung cong trinh nghien cuu [Literature of Viet Nam, folk literature: related research], ed. Bui Manh Nhi et al. (Hanoi: Giao duc, 1999), pp. 153-61.

(67) Ibid., p. 158.

(68) Ta, Than, nguoi, va dat Viet, pp. 56-7.

(69) Than rich refers to the biographical records of spirits worshipped in the village, documents which the court copied but 'corrected', preserving the originals at the Ministry of Rites; than sac are imperial decrees consecrating the than's deeds, ranks, and names, and conferred on villages for officially sanctioned worship; ngoc pha and than pha, designate, respectively records about the Hung Kings and about Supernatural Beings. Le Quang Chan, 'Mot so tu' lieu ve Hung Yen luu tru tai Vien Han Nom' [A number of documents about Hung Yen province archived at the Han-Nom Institute], (TBHNH2009), http://www.hannom.org.vn (last accessed 15 Feb. 2013); Nguyen Khac Xuong, 'Thu' tich ngoc pha, than tich va van de lich su' thoi Hung Vuong', [Bibliography of spirit records and the question of the history of the Hung Kings period] (TBHNH1995), http://www.hannom.org.vn; Tran Thi Thu Huong, 'May net ve mang sach than rich Ha Noi luu tru tai Vien Nghien Cuu Han Nom', [A few aspects related to the collection of Ha Noi spirit records archived at the Han-Nom Institute] http://www.hannom.org.vn.

(70) John K. Whitmore, 'Literati culture and integration in Dai Viet, c.1430-c.1840', Modern Asian Studies, 31, 3 (1997): 673.

(71) Le Quang Chan, 'Mot so tu lieu'.

(72) Nguyen Khac Xuong cites three main Hung Vuong Ngoc Pha genealogies: the oldest one (under Emperor Le Dai Hanh was dated to 986, although the date seems inaccurate), reproduced in 1919 under Khai Dinh; the 1470 version, reproduced in 1619; and the 1572 version by Nguyen Binh. Nguyen Khac Xuong, 'Thu' tich ngoc pha'.

(73) Nguyen Thi Lam, 'Su tich khac tren da o dinh Ngoc Tao' [Spirit records inscribed on stone at the Ngoc Tao temple] (TBHNH 1998) http://www.hannom.org.vn; Bui Duy Tan mentions that Nguyen Binh worked on the myths while in Thanh Hoa, where the Le-Trinh court was based during its struggle against the Mac. Bui Duy T/m, 'Nguyen Binh', in Tit dien van hoc, pp. 1109-10.

(74) See Dao Duy Anh, Viet Nam van hoa su cuong [An outline of Vietnamese culture] (Hanoi: Van hoa-thong tin, 2000); Phan Ke Binh, Viet Nam phong tuc [Customs of Viet Nam] (Hanoi: Van hoa-thong tin, 2003).

(75) Ta, Than, nguoi, va dat Viet, pp. 82-3.

(76) Eric Henry, 'Chinese and indigenous influences', p. 3.

(77) Bui Duy Tan, 'Thien Nam Ngu' Luc', in Tu dien van hoc, pp. 1671-72; Le Van Sieu and Nguyen Duy Nhuong, Van hoc su Viet Nam [The literary history of Viet Nam] (Hanoi: Nha xuat bin Van hoc, 2006), pp. 956-8.

(78) Nikulin, Lich su van hoc Viet Nam, pp. 250-51.

(79) Thien nam ngu luc: tho Nom [Annals of the Heavenly South: Nora poetry], ed. and trans. Nguyen Thi Lam et al. (Hanoi: Van Hoc, 2001), pp. 89-93.

(80) Ibid., pp. 27-9.

(81) Bui Duy Tan, 'Thien Nam Ngu Luc', pp. 1672-3.

(82) Cao, Tu, and Ngo, Cao Huy Dinh, p. 678.

(83) Ibid.

(84) Whitmore, 'Literati culture and integration in Dai Viet, c.1430-c.1840': 673.

(85) Cao, Tu, and Ngo, Cao Huy, Dinh, pp. 888-9. See also, Pham The Ngu, Viet Nam van hoc su gian uoc tan bien: Tap II, van hoc lich trieu: Viet van [New concise literary history: vol. II, dynastic literature: Viet literature] (Dong Thap: Dong Thap, 1997), pp. 32-46.

(86) Dang Trong and Dang Ngoai indicate two regions into which Dai Viet was divided from the sixteenth to the late eighteenth century; each was ruled by a Chua (lord) who claimed to support the L6 dynasty.

(87) Ngo and Vien, TT, vol. I, p. 135.

(88) Le Quy Don, Van dai loai ngu, ed. and trans. Tran Va Giap et al. (Hanoi: Van hoa thong tin, 2006), pp. 168-9.

(89) Le and Vien, Kien van tieu luc, 526-7.

(90) Ngo Thi Si (Ngo Thoi Sy, 1726-80) was an official of the Later L6 dynasty (under Chua Trinh Sam), a gifted scholar who composed hundreds of poems and treatises, and father of Ngo Thi Nham, minister to Tay Son Emperor Quang Trung. See Tran Le Van, Mot so tac gia va tac pham trong Ngo gia van phai [A number of authors and works in the Collected Literary Works of the Ngo clan] (Ha Son Binh: Ty Van hoa va Thong tin Ha Son Binh, 1980), pp. 71-121; Alexander Woodside, 'Classical primordialism and the historical agendas of Vietnamese Confucianism', in Rethinking Confucianism, ed. Benjamin A. Elman, John B. Duncan, and Herman Ooms (Los Angeles: UCLA Asian Pacific Monograph Series, 2002), pp. 116-43.

(91) Ngo Thi Si, Dai Viet su ky tien bien, [Preliminary history of Dai Viet] ed. and trans. Le Van Bay and Vien Nghien Cuu Han Nom (Hanoi: Khoa Hoc Xa Hoi, 1997), vol. I, p. 23.

(92) Ibid., pp. 39-41.

(93) Ibid., p. 44.

(94) Ibid., p. 45.

(95) Ngo Thoi Sy, Viet su tieu an: tu Hong Bang den ngoai thuoc nha Minh [Ambiguities in Viet History: From Hong Bang to the Minh domination] (Saigon: Van hoa A Chau, 1960), pp. 34-5.

(96) Truong Buu Lam, 'Loi Gioi Thieu' [Introduction], in Kham dinh Viet su thong giam cuong muc [Mirror of Viet history], ed. Buu Cam (Saigon: Bo Quoc Gia Giao Duc, 1960), vol. I, pp. i-xviii; Philippe Langlet, La tradition vietnamienne: un etat national au sein de la civilisation chinoise d'apres la traduction des 33 et 34 chapitres du Kham Dinh Viet Su' Thong Giam Cuong Muc (Saigon: Societe des Etudes Indochinoises, 1970), p. 5.

(97) Kham dinh Viet su thong giam cuong muc: Tien bien: Quyen nhat, ed. and trans. Truong Buu Lam (Saigon: Bo Van Hoa Giao Duc, 1965), vol. I, pp. 13-16.

(98) Ibid., vol. I, pp. 27, 29, T.N. 7a-b.

(99) Ibid., vol. I, pp. 27, 29, T.N. 7b.

(100) Truong Buu Lam, 'Loi Gioi Thieu', in CM, vol. I, p. xiii.

(101) La Minh Hang, 'Dai Nam quoc su dien ca: Van ban va tac gia' [The national history of Dai Nam in verse: text and author], in Dai Nam quocsu dien ca: Lich su Viet Nam, Le Ngo Cat, ed. and trans. Pham Dinh Toai, La Minh Hang and Vien Nghien Cuu Han Nom (henceforth Le Ngo Cat et al.) (Hanoi: Van Hoc, 2008), p. 10.

(102) Le Ngo Cat et al., Dai Nam quoc su dien ca, pp. 46-7.

(103) Ibid., p. 9.

(104) Abel des Michels translated these tales from Truong Vinh Ky's 1882 Nom collection of Chuyen khoi hai, whereas G. Dumoutier gathered his stories from 1886 to 1889 while doing fieldwork in Tonkin.

(105) However, Maspero in the course of his 1918 study on the kingdom of Van Lang, remarked that a number of the Hung Kings' myths had been published in a small anonymous pamphlet, written in Vietnamese and entitled History of the eighteen rules of the Hung Kings, which was distributed at the yearly anniversary celebrated at the Hung temple. Maspero opined that these were 'paraphrased from the local myths, which might have dated back to the end of the fifteenth century c.' Henri Maspero, 'Etudes d'Histoire d'Annam: IV. Le Royaume de Van Lang', BEFEO, 18, 3 (1918): 1, fn 2.

(106) Ibid., p. 2.

(107) Ibid., p.4.

(108) Ibid., p.7.

(109) Ibid., p.8.

(110) The text was quoted by Pham Hohn Mi in a 1959 series of articles published in Bach Khoa [(a Saigon-based literary journal founded in 1957) reprising the Lac vs. Hung Vuong debate].

(111) Quoted in Pham Hoan Mi, '18 Vi vua dung nuoc ta?' [The eighteen kings who founded our country?], Bach Khoa, 49 (1959): 78.

(112) Nguyen Van To, 'Lac Vuong chu khong phai Hung Vuong' [Lac Kings and not Hung Kings], in Tap Chi Tri Tan 1941-1946, Cac bai viet ve lich su va van hoa Viet Nam, ed. Dinh Xuan Lam et al. (Hanoi: Tam Unesco Thong Tin Tu Lieu Lich Su va Van Hoa Viet Nam, 2000), p. 124.

(113) Pham, '18 Vi vua dung nuoc ta?', Bach Khoa, 54 (1959): 63.

(114) Dao Duy Anh, Viet Nam van hoa su cuong, p. 22.

(115) Ibid., pp. 27-8.

(116) Dao Duy Anh, 'Nhung truyen thuyet doi thuong co cua nuoc ta' [Our country's legends in antiquity], Tri Tan, 30 (1942): 3.

(117) Quoted in Pham, '18 Vi vua nuoc ta', Bach Khoa, 49, p. 80.

(118) Ibid.

(119) Ibid., Bach Khoa, 52, pp. 33-5.

(120) Nguyen Van Ngoc, Truyen co nuoc Nam (Hanoi: Khoa Hoc Xa Hoi, 1990), pp. 7-8.

(121) Italics added; ibid., p. 13.

Nguyen Thi Dieu is Associate Professor in the Department of History at Temple University, Philadelphia. Correspondence in connection with this paper should be addressed to: dieunguy@temple.edu. I thank the anonymous referees as well as my Temple colleagues Peter Gran and Teshale Tibebu, the University of Delaware's Mark W. McLeod, and Tran Dinh Hang of the Vietnam Institute for Culture and Arts Studies in Hue for their constructive comments and bibliographical suggestions. My heartfelt gratitude goes out to the Gerda Henkel Stiftung whose generous grants facilitated the research and writing for this project.
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