From China to Viêt Nam

JYQZA l’occasion de la Conférence internationale « Evaluer l’interface : Etudes régionales et interdisciplinaires sur l’Asie du Sud-Est et le Pacifique/Search for the Interface : Interdisciplinary and Areas Studies in South-East Asia and the Pacific », qui s’était tenue à Marseille (Université de Provence, Site St Charles) et sur le Danielle Casanova, navire de la SCNM, entre le continent et Bastia, du 23 au 25 juin 2004, j’avais eu l’honneur de donner une communication intitulée en français :  « De la Chine au Vietnam : les avatars du Jin Yun Qiao zhuan, roman chinois en langue vulgaire du milieu du XVIIe siècle. » Je reproduit ci-dessous le texte qui avait été présenté en anglais, langue retenue pour cette manifestation organisée par l’IRSEA.

« From China to Viêt Nam: The Avatars of a Chinese Vernacular Scholar-Beauty Romance of the seventeenth-century, Jin Yun Qiao zhuan »

It has long been noted that in human history, cultural exchanges have been a constant and normal phenomenon. The Chinese culture recieved by foreign countries and brought out by overseas Chinese is many-sided and extremely complicated. One of its major components is literature, which I consider as the profoundest expression of the spirit of a nation, and  a major interface between cultures. I will today only give a quick glance to a petty aspect of this fascinating subject, with the point of view of the sinologist that concentrated his researches to the chinese literary production of the seventeenth century and particularly on what Chinese specialists call tongsu xiaoshuo 通俗小說, term which refers to novels and stories mainly written in vernacular chinese of the Ming 明 (1368-1644) and the Qing 清 (1644-1911) dynasties.

The first step in the study of the influence of Chinese literature on other asian countries have been made more than 30 years ago in Taiwan  [International Comparative Literature Conference, 18-24 July 1971,  Tamkang Review vol. II, n° 2 & vol. III, n° 1, 1971-1972]. More recently Claudine Salmon has edited an important contribution that aim was to study how traditional Chinese fiction penetrated into neighbouring countries (Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia, Indonesia and so on), and how it was received and eventually how it inspired local writers [C. Salmon (ed.), Literary Migrations : Traditionnal Chinese Fiction in Asia (17th-20th Centuries). Zhongguo chuantong xiaoshuo zai Yazhou  中國傳統小說在亞洲. Beijing : International Culture Pub.Corp., 1987].

A special sub-group of vernacular novels is refered by Chinese scholars as caizi jiaren xiaoshuo 才子佳人小說, “talented scholar and beautiful maiden novel” or “Scholar-Beauty Romance”, consisting in about sixty novels that were well received at the beginning of the Manchu period, from the late Shunzhi 順治 reign period (ends 1661) to the late Kangxi 康熙 (ends 1722). The novel The Story of Jin, Yun and Qiao whose original title is Jin Yun Qiao zhuan 金雲翹傳 is one of them.

Jin Yun Qiao zhuan 金雲翹傳 is apparently based on the life of a woman who lived around the mid-sixteenth century, whose name is Wang Cuiqiao 王翠翹.

In fact, little is known about her, except that several literati writers — some perfectly unknown as Xiehu laoren 謝湖老人 cited by Mao Kun 茅坤 (1512-1601) ; some very famous as Wang Shizhen 王世貞 (1526-1590), Huang Zongxi 黃宗羲 (1610-1695) and Xu Huai 徐懷 (1616-1693) — gave details about her in their account of the life and fall of the notorious pirate leader Xu Hai 徐海 (d. 1556). Her life attracted interest of writers largely for her possible role in the dramatic downfall of this famous pirate. These materials written in classical chinese seem to have some influence on the composition of  works of vernacular fiction during the last few decades of the Ming, but in  Zhou Qingyuan’s 周清源 collection, Xihu erji 西湖二集  (Stories from the West Lake, second collection)’s 34th story that focuses on the suppression of the pirates, Wang Cuiqiao is a marginal figure. In the seventh story of another seventeenth-century collection of vernacular short stories, Xingshi yan 型世言 (Model stories for the World), the female protagonist is much closer to that of Jin Yun Qiao zhuan in that she is an exemplary filial daughter, who sells herself in order to save her father, a petty official, involve in a court case, and the story contains much more details of how she has been sold, first as a concubine, then to a house of prostitution.

It is not yet clear, if our novel appeared at the end of the Ming or at the beginning of the Qing dynasty but it is known by different versions and more than twelve printed editions. Despite the success encountered by the novel, or because of it, we still do not know the real name of the author who signed it using a pseudonym : Qingxin cairen 青心才人.

Jin Yun Qiao zhuan is a remarquable Beauty-Scholar romance in many ways. Its plot first.

In the beginning of the story, the heroine Wang Cuiqiao admires a famous prostitute before whose grave she offers devotion.  She then falls in love with a man, Jin Zhong 金重, her eventual husband, but she is unable to marry him because her father is wrongly implicated in a case of robbery. The only way to gather the necessary sum of money to save him is for Cuiqiao to offer herself for sale. That would be the beginning of a bitter experience. For the next fifteen years, she therefore becomes the sexual partner of “everyone” but her future husband : first, she is sold into prostitution, then becomes the concubine of a man whose jealous wife contrives to enslave her, then she again falls into prostitution. She is redeemed by Xu Hai, a bandit chief that falls in love with her and takes her as his wife. By his help, she is able to take revenge on those who harmed her. She then encourage Xu Hai to surrender. But the pirate is killed and Cuiqiao captured by the leader of the governmental forces Hu Zongxian 胡宗憲 (d. 1565) who attemps to take advantage of her. The next morning, Hu regrets his action and gives Wang Cuiqiao to one of his general as a concubine. Feeling responsible for the desmise of Xu Hai, she tries to commit suicide by jumping into a river. She is miraculously rescued by a nun she used to know and finally reunites with her original husband-to-be, who has meanwhile married her sister Cuiyun 翠雲 (it was her wish that Jin Zhong marries her younger sister in her place to fulfill her pledge to him).

Two of the most memorable scenes stands at the beginning and at the end of the novel :

  • before they were separated, the two lovers had met secretly and Cuiqiao refused to have sex with her lover, telling him that “in order to have a successful end they must have a proper beginning”.
  • when they are finally reunited fifteen years later, she again refuses to have sex, now saying that she does not wish to do with him what she suffered as humiliation from other men. This leads Jin Zhong to realize that “she is not just a woman, but a sage and hero”.

Despite the heroine is relunctant to participate in it, the novel has a happy ending, like in the majority of scholar-beauty fictions the two sisters marrying to the same man.

Unless this particularity, or because of it, the novel had an important impact in Japan where it have been imported in the middle of the XVIIIth century (1754), as Hatakenaka Toshio has already stated [« On Kim-Vân-Kiêu – China, Viet Nam, Japan », Tamkang Review vol. II, n° 2 & vol. III, n° 1, 1971-1972, p. 89-99]. Its impact was much more important in Viet Nam where its plot, the protagonists it bringed to life, are very well knowned from the beginning of the nineteenth century until now.

It is now well established that Ngyuen Du 阮攸  (3 janvier 1766-1820), an official, appointed in 1813 Grand Chancellor and Special Envoy to China founds his inspiration in the Jin Yun Qiao zhuan when writing his famous Kim-Vân-Kiêu, a 3,254 lines epic poem. But it is not yet clear if he had to wait to go to China as ambassador to read the book or if he encountered the story of Wang Cuiqiao that may had been imported in Viet Nam years before. The literary form used by Nguyen Du is the verse story [truyên 傳, zhuan] written in nôm that is a new form of national writing derived from Chinese characters. [In this form that may have appeared at the 8th century or maybe later (11th-12th centuries), each character is made up of one or more Chinese characters.] People, from the ordinary reader to the historian of literature, generaly consider that “with this masterpiece, Nguyen Du consecrated his mother tongue as a  poetical language of an extraordinary delicacy, power and richness.” Some goes further saying that “he  also gave to the soul of his fatherland a sensitive and prestigious mirror in which its eternal image, evolving throughout the centuries and  in changing settings, is reflected.” [Xuan-Phuc and Xuan-Viet, in their introduction to the translation into French of Kim-Van-Kieu. Paris : Gallimard, « Connaissance de l’Orient », 1961] or that the poem is “the soul, quintessence of the entire nation” [Pham Quynch, Vietnamese Studies, 4. Hanoï, 1965]. They never forget to note that the poet took his inspiration from a chinese source, but they generaly insist on the fact that “Kim Van Kieu is incomparably superior to the original”, or that “Nguyen Du made use of the merits of the Chinese novel and left its demerits” [Xuan-Phuc &  Xuan-Viet, op. cit.]. The problem is that none of the critics had the opportunity to read the chinese novel in its original form. Taking the problem from the Chinese side, I naturaly may have a different point of view. [So has Dong Wencheng 董文成, the specialist of the work in PCR]

The comparaison beetwen the chinese novel and the translations that Kim-Van-Kieu recieved in french [Gallimard, 1961 ; NGUYÊN DU, Kiêu. Les amours malheureuses d’une jeune fille au XVIIIe siècle,traduit du vietnamien par NGUYÊN KHÂC VIÊN, Paris : L’Harmattan, (1965) 1999. 414 p.] showned me that the only really significative difference beetwen the two works — except some minor details, is a difference of literary genres : Jin Yun Qiao zhuan is a novel in vernacular prose [baihua 白話], using occasionnaly poetry as it’s the rule in this kind of work, while Kim-Van-Kieu is poetry by itself and only poetry. Therefore it is useless and a nonsense to compare one text with the other because they belong to two distant literary countries.

Furthermore the appreciation that these works recieved in their own country is the result of very different literary traditions. When Kim-Van-Kieu, was immediatly considered as part of what could be called upper-literature, and taken for the paragon of a refined literary genre, the chinese novel has been from the beginning clearly identified as a representant of low-literature, the production of a marginal part of the cultivated class, thus it belongs to a group of texts that has been the most neglected by the critic until the very end of the XXth century.

As Kim-Van-Kieu stands somewhere between translation and creation and expresses feelings in a refined way, the chinese novel is the popularization of historical and legendary materials to touch a large public with elegance and efficiency. Their goals seem to be different. The most surprising is that the two of them succeded using differents ways.

I am aware that the relations between the two works are much more complicated that I risked myself to present their today. I hope to have the opportunity to go further in this research oneday —maybe at the occasion of the translation work of the chinese version into french —, but it prove, in some way, that literature can be an extremely powerful interface between cultures [Ngyuen Khanh Toan (« Ngyuen Du and His Times », Vietnamese Studies, 4, Hanoï, 1965) : “Kiêu is a masterpiecs of synthesis of Chinese classical culture and Vietnamese popular culture for the benefit of our mother tongue.”]. In one sense, to use a the words of the XXIst century, the mirror that Kim-Van-Kieu prove to be for the Vietnamese is manufactured in his own country but it is builted under a Chinese copyright.

De prochains billets devraient apporter des éléments complémentaires sur ce roman dont voici un bref résumé en français :

Wang Cuiqiao 王翠翹, fille ainée d’un notable de la capitale (Pékin) est très belle, encore plus belle que sa sœur cadette Cuiyun 翠雲 et pas moins cultivée que son frère Wang Guan 觀. Jin Zhong 金重, jeune et beau lettré promis à un glorieux avenir en tombe amoureux et profite d’une occasion pour lui faire part de ses sentiments. Leur amour se développe rapidement grâce notamment à l’échange de poèmes. Mais la jeune fille, pourtant vivement éprise du jeune homme, lui refuse à deux reprises ses faveurs. Alors que leur passion grandit, le jeune Jin doit prendre congé pour accompagner dans une lointaine contrée la dépouille d’un oncle décédé. Au même moment, M. Wang est impliqué à tort dans une affaire judiciaire. Pour s’en sortir, il lui faut trouver une forte somme d’argent. La belle Cuiqiao décide donc de se vendre et personne n’arrive à ébranler sa détermination. Avant de partir, elle insiste pour que sa jeune sœur épouse Jin Zhong. A partir de ce moment commence le calvaire de Cuiqiao qui sans le savoir s’était vendue à un lupanar. Elle est ensuite cédée à un jeune richard, mais comme simple concubine et à ce titre, elle subit l’ire de l’épouse principale. Elle n’en sort vivante que pour se trouver à nouveau vendue dans un bordel où elle est repérée par le terrible chef pirate Xu Hai 徐海 (mort en 1556) qui tombe amoureux d’elle et en fait sa femme. La jeune femme n’est pas sans avoir de l’influence sur celui qui tient en échec les troupes impériales. Contactée par deux envoyées secrètes de Hu Zongxian 胡宗憲 (mort en 1565) qui commande les troupes Ming engagées contre Xu, elle fait accepter à son mari une reddition, ce qu’elle regrette aussitôt car Hu rompt ses engagements et fait exécuter le chef pirate. Cuiqiao est capturée et échappe de justesse aux avances du vainqueur. Pour se faire pardonner, le tombeur de Xu Hai donne Cuiqiao à un de ses généraux en qualité de concubine. Se sentant responsable de la mort tragique du pirate, la jeune femme tente de se suicider en se jetant dans une rivière. Elle est miraculeusement sauvée par une nonne de ses connaissances qui la conduit auprès de Jin Zhong lequel a, entre temps, épousé Cuiyun. Sous la pression de ses parents, Cuiqiao finit par accepter d’épouser son ancien amoureux, mais contre toute attente elle refuse de consommer l’union car son corps n’a plus sa pureté d’antan.

3 réflexions sur « From China to Viêt Nam »

  1. Ping : Bibliographie | Pierre Kaser


  3. Ping : De la Chine au Vietnam : les avatars du Jin Yun Qiao zhuan, roman chinois en langue vulgaire du milieu du XVIIe siècle | Chin'Electrodoc

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