Last update 4/30/2012 1:20:00 PM (GMT+7)

Ancient copies of “Truyen Kieu” preserved
“Truyen Kieu” (The Tale of Kieu) is considered the most significant work of Vietnamese literature because it not only has cultural value but also goes into the life as well as cultural consciousness of Vietnamese people.

It has also been an endless inspiration of many researchers and collectors who want to preserve the precious national cultural heritage.

“Truyen Kieu” is a popular name of the work “Doan Truong Tan Thanh” (A New Cry From a Broken Heart) written by the great poet Nguyen Du (1765-1820), a native of Tien Dien Village, Nghi Xuan District, Ha Tinh Province. Due to the values and pre-eminence of the work, Nguyen Du is known as the only great Vietnamese poet.

The work written in Nom scripts, consisting of 3,254 lines of verse in the sin-eight-word distich metre, recounts the reality of society and fate of people, especially women in the feudal society via the life, trials and tribulations of Vuong Thuy Kieu, a beautiful and talented young woman who had to sacrifice herself to save her family.

The work also conveys feelings and thoughts of the poet about the way of the world and the fate of people with different tones of feeling. Over the years “Truyen Kieu” has had great influence on every aspect of the cultural and social life and penetrates into the innermost feelings of Vietnamese people.

The work is so popular that many spiritual and entertainment forms, such as chanting Kieu, performing Kieu and telling fortunes via Kieu have been formed. Being so popular, it was transcribed into different copies with variant sentences and scripts.

According to historical records, when the story was completed, Pham Quy Thich, a renowned Confucian scholar, ordered to have the work set in woodblock for reprinting, which happened between 1820 and 1825. Unfortunately, these original wood blocks, that would be a priceless treasure, no longer exist.   

These days, apart from domestic readers, many foreign readers know about “Truyen Kieu” via different versions in English, French, Russian, German, etc. Particularly, since the 1950s many literary researchers and linguistics at home and abroad have researched “Truyen Kieu” and found the works to be interesting and unique in terms of language, images, sounds and Vietnamese traditional poetry structure. Besides, to meet the demand on researching and approaching the original one to learn deeply and exactly the work’s language, those who are interested in “Truyen Kieu” started collecting its documents, particularly ancient Nom copies.

In Bac Ninh Province, the homeland of Nguyen Du’s mother where he lived for a time, Nguyen Khac Bao has been renowned as a “Truyen Kieu” collector. Bao was born into a family practicing the trade of making oriental medicines so it was essential for him to learn Han-Nom scripts. Additionally, being a “Truyen Kieu” enthusiast he has spent much time collecting ancient copies of “Truyen Kieu” as a hobby and to research Han-Nom scripts to read medicinal books.

With his great passion, Bao has traveled to every province and district nationwide to collect ancient documents of “Truyen Kieu”. When hearing about any ancient copy of the work, he managed to buy it. He has so far collected 52 ancient copies in Nom scripts, including 36 printing woodblocks and 16 handwritings.  He also has another 58 copies of “Truyen Kieu” in the national language.

According to Bao, the Nom scripts are read in different ways, so when they are transcribed phonetically in the national language, the meanings are changed. Therefore, to translate exactly the original work, he has to compare the translation to every sentence and word of all copies he has. Even though being an amateur researcher, his work has made a contribution to editing and adjusting “Truyen Kieu”, helping readers correctly understand the beauty and interests of “Truyen Kieu”.

In May 2010, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism issued a decision to establish a Kieu Study Association with the aim of gathering domestic and foreign “Truyen Kieu” researchers, enthusiasts and collectors to joint efforts to preserve and promote the most outstanding work of Vietnam’s literature.

Nguyen Khac Bao, a collector of ancient copies of “Truyen Kieu”.'

For nearly 200 years, the ancient copies of “Truyen Kieu” are still valuable documents for
 “Truyen Kieu” researchers and enthusiasts.

Although some ancient copies of “Truyen Kieu” are disintegrated and having pages missing

they serve as precious documents for researchers and collectors.

Collecting, editing and adjusting ancient copies of “Truyen Kieu” is Nguyen Khac Bao’s
hobby and regular work.

Nguyen Khac Bao’s oriental medicine shop in Bac Ninh City is frequented by “Truyen Kieu”
 collectors and enthusiasts.