One thing which is clear to me is that when Vietnamese started to write histories after their kingdom had become autonomous from Chinese rule, they did not “remember” all of the people and events that had occurred in the centuries prior to that point, but instead, they created a history by looking for information about their region in Chinese sources, and particularly anything which mentioned the Việt/Yue 越. The clearest evidence for this is the fact that the information which Vietnamese recorded was often word for word the same as the information in Chinese histories and encyclopedias.

Well if the Vietnamese could turn to Chinese sources to create an early history for themselves, so could other peoples, and some did. In particular, the Cantonese engaged in many of the exact same literary activities as the Vietnamese, and at roughly the same time. They looked at Chinese sources to find information about the area of Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan in earlier centuries, and then used this information to speak about the uniqueness of that region.

The Cantonese also referred to themselves as Việt/Yue, and they likewise looked for whatever Chinese sources said about the Việt/Yue, be it recorded with the character 粵 or 越. A clear example of this is the Guangdong xinyu (廣東新語, New Anecdotes of Guangdong) by Qu Dajun 屈大均 (1630-1696). This was by no means the earliest work about the Guangdong region by a Cantonese. Instead, it was an encyclopedia which covered many topics which had been written about earlier by either Chinese from the BC period up to at least the Song, or by local Cantonese after that.

I found a copy of this text which someone placed online [http://open-lit.com/bookindex.php?gbid=484]. It clearly has typos in it, so I do not want to talk about it in detail until I can check an original version. Nonetheless, it is clear from browsing through it that there is much of interest in this work for historians of Vietnam.

For example, the Guangdong xinyu has a section on women in which it acknowledges that the Trưng sisters were the first Việt/Yue women to gain fame, but argues that this was due to the novelty of their having “usurped” (僭) the title of “monarch” (王, vương/wang) for themselves, something which no woman had ever done before. It then goes on to mention Lady Triệu, a woman warrior of the third century who lived somewhere in the area of what is today central Vietnam and who rode into battle on an elephant with her long breasts hanging over her shoulders. She is largely dismissed, however, as merely a “heroic bandit.”

Having recognized but played down the importance of these women who are central to what is today “Vietnamese” history, the Guangdong xinyu then went on to argue that there were Việt/Yue 越 women in the region in the past who were much more notable, such as a couple of the daughters of the Xian clan from Guangdong. One of these women predated the Trưng sisters, and like Lady Triệu, hung her long breasts over her shoulders.

This Xian clan is the family which Feng Ang married into, the man whom I mentioned in an earlier post (“The Last of the Hundred Việt/Yue?”) as a figure who at the end of the Sui Dynasty was encouraged by his followers to establish his own kingdom and call himself the “King of Southern Việt/Yue.” If Feng Ang had done so, and his kingdom had remained autonomous from Chinese rule long enough, I suspect that people in Guangdong would have used the material which you find in the Guangdong xinyu a bit differently. The material there already reveals a great deal of pride and a strong sense of place, but with a little more effort, it easily could have been transformed into a “national history,” as occurred just to the south, where the Vietnamese used many of the same materials (both of the “long-breasted women” mentioned above come from Tang-era encyclopedias, for instance) to create a different style of story about themselves.

If this had happened, then I’m sure that today the Xian daughters would be just as famous as the Trưng sisters, and in every major town in the “country” of Guangdong there would be a street called “洗氏女路” (Xian Clan Daughter Road).