Continuing on the issue of the translation of the character “đôi” (碓) in the Đại Việt sử lược as “hùng,” a reader kindly sent me a copy of Trần Quốc Vượng’s 1960 translation.

With Trần Quốc Vượng we no longer have a question of what text he was translating from, as he clearly states that it was the Siku Quanshu version that was reproduced by the nineteenth-century scholar, Qian Xizuo, in a compilation of texts that he published called the Collected Books from the Shoushan Pavilion.

Here again the character in this text is “đôi” (碓). Yes, it does look like “hùng” (雄). But, as I stated before, this also looks like the character for “lạc” (雒).

So a translator can’t simply make a change and write “hùng” when that is not what is in the original text and when there is a possibility that it might be a mistaken character for “lạc” instead of “hùng.”

To determine whether or not this should be “hùng” or “lạc,” one must look for historical evidence.

Is there evidence that the term “Hùng vương” was employed before its appearance in this text (which people date to the late fourteenth century)? No. There is one reference to a Hùng vương with regards to the Sơn Tinh – Thủy Tinh story in the early fourteenth-century Việt điện u linh tập, but that work was never published, and therefore is not reliable for dating information.

Does the Hùng vương tradition, as it was eventually recorded in the Lĩnh Nam chích quái and the Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư mention anything about this “extraordinary person who was able to use sorcery to bring into submission the various tribes”? No.

Does the Hùng vương tradition, as it was eventually recorded in the Lĩnh Nam chích quái and the Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư mention anything about Goujian of the Kingdom of Yue (Việt Câu Tiễn) sending an envoy to the Hùng king, as is mentioned here in the Đại Việt sử lược? No.

What other texts are there from this period, and what do they make reference to? There is the An Nam chí lược and the An Nam chí nguyên, from the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, respectively. Both were compiled in China, the first by a Vietnamese exile and the second by a Chinese who employed materials collected during the Ming occupation. Neither mention Hùng kings, but both contain information about Lạc kings in reference to the remains of old citadels in the Red River Delta.

So given all of the above, is there clear evidence that in the late fourteenth century when the Đại Việt sử lược was compiled the idea of the Hùng kings existed? No.

What the textual evidence suggests, I would argue, is that it is around this time that the Hùng kings were invented. So it is possible that the Đại Việt sử lược did mention Hùng kings, and that as the tradition subsequently developed the information about the “extraordinary person” and “Goujian of Yue” was dropped, but the term “hùng” was kept.

That’s possible. But it is equally possible that there was a tradition of Lạc kings which was getting created around this time as well. That is what the An Nam chí lược and the An Nam chí nguyên suggest.

In which case, Trần Quốc Vượng and Nguyễn Gia Tường never should have simply replaced the character “đôi” (碓) with “hùng” (雄) without at least noting what they had done, because it is not clear what the original character was. “Đôi” does seem to be wrong. But was it a mistake for “hùng” or “lạc”?

Unfortunately, unprofessional translation practices like this one plague quốc ngữ translations. The damage which this does to our understanding of the past, and to our ability to access the past, is immense.