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. . .