The Tale of Kiều


This is a manuscript of Truyện Kiều (also known as Kim Văn Kiều; The tale of Kiều) by Nguyễn Du (1765−1820), perhaps the most important poem in Vietnamese literature. It is written in Chữ Nôm (Sino-Vietnamese characters). The story is based on a 17th-century Ming Chinese novel, which Nguyễn Du read while he traveled to China in 1813. The plot portrays the chaotic political and social circumstances of Vietnam in the 18th century, which was beset by dynastic struggles. The theme of the story is filial devotion, one of the main tenets of Confucianism. Lady Vuong’s dream is fulfilled when she gives birth to two beautiful daughters, Thuy Kieu and Thuy Van, and later to a boy named Vuong Quan. Thuy Kieu suffers terrible adversity over 15 years and sacrifices her happiness to save the disgraced Vuong family. She survives all until she is finally reunited with her betrothed, Kim Trong. However, this reunion does not bring earthly joy to Kiều, who chooses to devote her life to serving her family as filial duty demands. Literary critics have maintained that the story is an allegory of Nguyễn Du’s guilt and feelings of conflict after he agreed to work for the new regime (the Nguyễn dynasty, 1802−1945), which had been indirectly involved in the overthrow of his former master. This behavior was unacceptable in traditional Confucian Vietnamese society, as it was tantamount to betraying filial piety. Hence the theme of the story held particular poignancy for Nguyễn Du, who was born into an important mandarin family, and whose father served as a high-ranking minister under the Lê dynasty.

Last updated: April 3, 2015