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The first Vietnamese cloak-and-dagger story

Young Vietnamese in the 1930s took delight in reading Tieu Son Trang Si, Knight of Tieu Son, the first modem cloak-and-dagger story from Viet Nam. The author, Khai Hung (1896-1947), was an animator of the romantic literary group Tu Luc Van Doan, Self-reliance Literary Club, which had a major impact in the reform of Viet Nam’s literature.
The story recounts the romance of the young marquis Pham Thai. This somewhat Byronian hero fought for a lost cause by attempting to restore a fallen dynasty. An unfortunate love eventually broke his heart and killed him.
So who was Pham Thai?
Pham Thai (1777-1813) holds a special place in Viet Nam’s classical literature. He was regarded as a proud aristocrat who revolted against the established order and conventional moral standards.
He was in fact a pathetic love singer.
A native of Gia Lam (now a suburban district of Ha Noi), he was the son of a marquis who led a revolt against the new and powerful Tay Son Dynasty. He fought in vain for the restoration of the Le Dynasty.
Disguised as a bonze he set up his headquarters at the Tieu Son Pagoda in Bac Ninh Province, and later joined Truong Dang Thu in a border province in an attempt to build up a nest of resistance.
After the death of his friend, he took the latter's remains to his native village, where he fell in love with Truong Quynh Nhu, sister of Truong Dang Thu Forced by her mother to marry another man, the young girl took her own life.
Pham Thai was consumed by despair, took to drinking and wrote poems to alleviate his pains, leading a roving life until his death at the age of 36.
Pham Thai, alias Pho Chieu Thien Su, The Venerable Pho Chieu of the Dhyama Sect, has left mostly lyrical works in Vietnamese ideograms scripts). Besides violent diatribes against the Tay Son, his political enemy, he is known mostly for his poems which take on the draconian rules of Confucian morality and a novel in Nom verses, So Kinh Tan Trang, Comb and Mirror, evoking the author’s love for Truong Quynh Nhu.
Learn more about Viet Nam’s classical literature with 3 days Mekong river Bassac cruise.
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Update : 03-08-2017
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