Lạc Long Quân and the Ancient Script of Our South

I came across this revealed gatha (偈), or verse, in a collection of spirit writing from 1921 entitled the Nam Hải Tam Thừa Diễn Nghĩa (Three Vehicles of the Southern Seas Explained). It claims to have been revealed by the “national founder” (quốc tổ), Lạc Long Quân.

The verse can roughly be translated as follows:

A dragon father and immortal mother, granted good fortune,

A sage woman and a divine man, an extraordinary event.

It can serve as a national history or a family genealogy,

Through the ages, descendants will feel/have felt attached to it.

The terseness of this verse creates difficulties in translating and interpreting it. Is this a verse which Lạc Long Quân created in antiquity, and is thus a prediction about the future (“will feel”)? Or is it a verse which his spirit created in 1921, and is thus a comment on the past (“have felt”)? In the end, it probably doesn’t matter as the goal of this verse was likely to awe those who read it with Lạc Long Quân’s potency. Clarity was not essential for that.

The other point which was meant to move readers was the fact that the verse was revealed in the script which Lạc Long Quân employed in antiquity. This verse is followed by an explanation from the “Sage King of the Trần” (the spirit of Trần Hưng Đạo perhaps?) which indicates that it is sad that the script which “Our Kingdom” (Ngã Quốc) originally had in antiquity was lost, but that with the explication of this gatha, people will now be able to once again see the traces of the script from “Our South” (Ngã Nam).

 

There are many interesting things to say here. First, like so many other writings from this period, it reveals the mental transition which was taking place as nationalist ideas were starting to take hold. Lạc Long Quân as a “national founder” and the need to say that the kingdom originally had its own script were new concepts which were in line with nationalist ideas. However, referring to the kingdom simply as “Our Kingdom” and “Our South” reveals a vagueness about “the nation” which was common prior to the mid twentieth century, when the term “Vietnam” finally took hold.

It is also interesting that Lạc Long Quân’s script is “translated” by the use of Chinese words. So I guess it is true what some people argue today – the Vietnamese really did invent the Chinese language. . .

8 thoughts on “Lạc Long Quân and the Ancient Script of Our South

  1. Ah, it’s a pity this didn’t become as popular as the “Jindai Moji” (Script of the Divine Age 神代文字) did in Japan. Most of those turned out to be strikingly similar to Hangul. Oh for the days when communications were so poor that you could pinch the neighbouring country’s script and pass it off as your own!

    The Wikipedia example of Jindai Moji is of a similar squiggliness to the Ancient Script of Our South:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jindai_moji

    But the ones I have seen in books were definitely Hangul in origin.

    1. Thanks for pointing this out, but I’m wondering if there are two things going on here. It would be entirely believable if Shinto priests in the medieval period (onward) used some kind of divine script. Daoists had stuff like that for their amulets, and Thai monks today use an ancient Khmer script for similar purposes. It would also be entirely believable if during say the Tokugawa some of the Kokugaku people started to promote a pre-Chinese-contact native script (and that they got their inspiration from Hangul). Do you know more about this? Such as when people made this argument? Some of the people today who try to argue that there was a pre-Chinese-contact script in Vietnam come up with examples which look strikingly similar to the Black Tai script used by people in the mountains of Vietnam. . . so yea, finding one’s own antiquity in the script of a neighboring people is pretty convenient.

      1. Isn’t there some hypothesis that Japan was colonized by people from the Korean peninsula? Specifically that the ethnic majority in Japan, including the imperial lineage was descended from some sort of religious exodus from Korea, with the 1st emperor being the leader of that congregation
        My source for this info is Larry Gonick’s Cartoon’s History of the Universe, which while well-researched, is sometimes credulous esp. when a particular hypothesis has entertainment value. Kind of like me.

  2. LLQ sure has nice penmanship. Still, very pretty. I wonder how the 1920s viewed LLQ to throw this out there? I’m so confused.

    1. For centuries, up until the 20th century, the educated elite in Vietnam revered the early-3rd-century Chinese administrator Shi Xie/Si Nhiep for introducing writing (van). To those people, there was no “Vietnamese” writing versus “Chinese” writing, there was just “Writing” (van). When Vietnamese were exposed to nationalistic ideas from the West in the early 20th century, ideas which were relatively new in the West as well, they changed their view of the world and started to think that they needed to promote a “Vietnamese” culture/history/language etc. Prior to this point, LLQ was known, but his position in Vietnamese culture was nowhere near as central as it is today. He was part of the line of descent from Shen Nong/Than Nong to the Hung kings, but the really important changes, to the educated elite (i.e., the people who recorded information), began with people like Shi Xie who started to transform the region and put it into the stream of civility which was shared with other peoples (i.e., Chinese and Koreans), but was not distinct to Vietnam. This document here represents a moment when these ideas were changing. LLQ was becoming more important, as was the need to show that Vietnam had its own culture, history and writing which was distinct. You can see it as a change from emphasizing a universal civility to a distinct culture.

  3. In my view, this one is not a verse of Lac Long Quan – the Vietnamese National Father . The 2nd sentence is another person talking about LLQ . Cause, LLQ should not tell themself as ” A sage woman and a divine man …” . Other, in the LLQ’s time , there wasn’t the 4/7 Tang veses yet , was there ?
    Anyway, this is a interesting poem by ancient script of Vietnam .

    1. This poem has nothing to do with LLQ. It is a 20th century invention. It was revealed by a spirit medium. How could a spirit medium in the 20th century reveal a poem that had been written over 2,000 years earlier, and to do it in a script from that period which no one had seen since, and to do so in Tang verse?

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