A World War II Annam Anthem (Đăng Đàn)

One period of Vietnamese history that I find fascinating is World War II. During the War, Vietnam was occupied by the Japanese, but for most of the war the Japanese left the French in power.

France, however, had been occupied by the Germans, so the French colonial officials in Indochina during the war were part of a collaborating government known as Vichy France.

Vichy France was led by Philippe Pétain, a military man and authoritarian. He sent Admiral Jean Decoux to Indochina to promote his authoritarian agenda and to try to keep the Japanese from gaining influence among the Vietnamese.


One of the ways Decoux tried to do this was by promoting the monarchy, but that did not go well.

This passage from Christopher Goscha’s Vietnam: A New History captures the tenor of the times well:

“Like [Pierre Marie Antoine] Pasquier and [Albert] Sarraunt [two earlier governor generals who tried to promote and strengthen the monarcy] Decoux approved of the resurrection of a monarchical government based in Hue and made Pham Quynh Minister of the Interior. But once again this project went nowhere, not least because the Confucian ‘son of heaven’ was uninterested and not prepared to be a dupe.

“Bao Dai kept Decoux at bay, avoiding imperial tours designed to increase his ‘prestige’ among the people. More importantly, the monarchy had no chance of success as a counter-revolutionary device as long as the French refused either to unite the kingdom they had truncated or to endow its indigenous sovereign with some semblance of power.” (201)


After reading this passage I came across a small booklet that the National Library of France has digitized called Hymnes & pavillons d’Indochine (Anthems and Flags of Indochina). This booklet was printed in Hanoi in December of 1941 and it contained “anthems” from Indochina. The first anthem in this booklet was, not surprisingly, “La Marseillaise,” and that was followed by anthems from An Nam, Cambodia and Luang Prabang.

The anthem from An Nam was called “Đăng Đàn” (Ascending the Altar). Between information I’ve come across on the Internet and what historian of Vietnamese music Jason Gibbs wrote in an article entitled “The Music of the State: Vietnam’s Quest for a National Anthem” (Journal of Vietnamese Studies 2.2, 2007) it’s clear that no one is 100% sure about how this anthem emerged, but it would appear that it was created over the course of the 1920s and 1930s as first Emperor Khải Định and then Emperor Bảo Đại sought to create “modern” (Western-style) music for their courts.


Then in 1941 we can see that the French tried to promote this anthem. Hymnes & pavillons d’Indochine contains the words and music for “Đăng Đàn.”

Looking around on YouTube, I can see that there is a “traditional” song by this name, but the “Đăng Đàn” in the Hymnes & pavillons d’Indochine is clearly a Western-style anthem.

So what did it sound like? I wanted to know so I time today trying to re-create it. . .


What I created is probably not completely accurate, but it should be close. I started with a drum roll. That is not in the musical score, but it seems like the type of thing that would introduce an anthem, so I included it.

So for anyone who wants to get a feel for what it might have been like when the Vichy French were trying to promote the monarchy in Vietnam during World War II, let us imagine ourselves at some ceremony where a proud Governor General Decoux is standing next to a bored Emperor Bảo Đại.

They stand at attention as “La Marseillaise” is played, and then they listen to this:

Finally, here are the lyrics and a rough English translation of the lyrics.

Kìa. . . núi vàng bể bạc,

Có sách Trời, sách Trời, định phần:

Một dòng ta

Gầy non song vững-chặt,

Đã ba ngàn mấy trăm năm.

Bắc Nam cùng một

Nhà con Hồng cháu Lạc.

Văn-minh đào-tạo:

Màu gấm hoa càng đượm.

Rạng vẻ dòng-giống Tiên-Long.

Ấy công gây dựng,

Từ xưa đã khó-nhọc,

Nhờ công dày-nặng,

Lòng trung-quân đã sẵn.

Cố yêu nhau, với nhau một niềm

Nguyện Nhà Việt Nam muôn đời thạnh-trị.


Hail. . . the golden mountains and silver sea,

That the Celestial Book, the Celestial Book has designated.

Our line on its own has

Established a country, strong and stable,

For more than three thousand years.

North and South are all one

Family descended from the Hồng and Lạc

Educated on civility:

They are ever more beautiful than brocade

And bring glory to the Immortal-Dragon line.

The work to build the country,

Has always been arduous,

But loyalty has always been present.

Let us love each other and maintain a single wish,

That Vietnam will enjoy prosperity forever.

10 thoughts on “A World War II Annam Anthem (Đăng Đàn)

  1. That’s a document I wish I had had access to. Here is what Đăng Đàn Cung sounds like in the traditional repertoire – and there is some overlap with the notated piece.

    But the notated piece is different in many ways. The real question is – who notated and arranged this? It seems that it must have been a French musician, but there is no information. Đăng Đàn was definitely performed by military bands and sung by Vietnamese, but I couldn’t say in what form.

    At the very least a document like this serves as a model of how to project national sovereignty through globally acceptable symbols – national anthem, flag and emblem. In 1955 Nhân Dân printed the same 3 symbols for the Nước Cộng Hòa Xã Hội Chủ Nghĩa.

    You have shown that a certain amount of Vietnamese national identity was actually concocted by French scholars. It appears that Đăng Đàn was maybe more of a colonial product than a Vietnamese national product, but could be accepted by some Vietnamese as characteristically Vietnamese.

  2. Yes, I smiled when I read in your article that you hadn’t seen the words for this song. . . 2007 was before materials like this one were digitized. All of your instincts in that article were right on target though.
    You also have your finger on a lot of things that are really important but which haven’t really been examined and documented yet. The French “concocted” a lot of things that relate to the monarchy: the Hùng kings anniversary (Tạ Chí Đại Trường briefly mentioned that), a “national anthem,” the idea of a “line” or “race” of people descended from the Hồng and Lạc or the Tiên Long, etc.
    We can’t say that the French “invented” all of this, but they certainly gave a boost to a lot of these things.

    1. I have no idea, but Nguyen Cong Tru in time of Minh Mang king has already give the name Kim Sơn (núi vàng/the golden mountain) and Tiền Hải (biển tiền/biển bạc?/the money/silver sea) for two villages in Thai Binh.

  3. _ according to Wikipedia ” Đăng đàn cung ”
    it was writtten at Gia long’ behest by one of his french advisers , J.B. Chaigeau ,following the model of French ” Marche militaire ; it was written in wenyan văn ngôn
    _ the verse [ 龍子孫在文明陶冶之下 , Long tử tôn ( dragon’s sons ) tại văn minh đào trị chi hạ ] was evil-ishly ( one more instance of “the evils of quốc ngữ “) translated into “con Hồng cháu Lạc ”
    _ it ‘s somewhat plausible that the ” 1000-year hoax-story ” was concocted by the French or modeled after the french history , it is eerily similar to the “Gaulois ” myth , isn’t it ?
    I have a hunch that it sprang in full force in the period of Amiral Decoux ‘srule

    1. Thanks for pointing this out. I was going to write something about that, but forgot to.

      There are many problems with that Wikipedia page!!

      The person who put the lyrics there took them from the same document I used here, however, that person does not know how to read a musical score.

      The Wikipedia page has a line that goes: “Màu gấm hoa càng sẵn.” In the musical score, “càng” comes at the end of a section that you repeat (that’s why there are 2 lines of lyrics in that middle section.” So after “càng”you are supposed to go back to the beginning of that section and start where the word “đượm” appears. When you reach the end of this section the second time, you then move on to the end, starting with the word “sẵn.”

      The “Han” and “Nom” versions on the Wikipedia page are then based on the erroneous lyrics. The person who put those lyrics there clearly invented these Han and Nom versions.

      The document that contains the musical score also has a page with just the lyrics, and they are presented in the proper way. And there is no Han or Nom in this document.

      Again, that Wikipedia page has major problems!

  4. Also in obscure Vietnam anthem facts: the words for the anthem of the short-lived Republic of Cochinchina in 1946-47 [Cọng-hoà Nam-kỳ] were taken from Chinh phụ ngâm. I have not seen the actual music for the anthem though.

    1. Chinh phụ ngâm was originally written by Đặng Trần Côn (鄧陳琨) in văn ngôn , the translation in Nôm ( or quốc âm ) by Đoàn Thị Điểm is much more prevalent . So from which Chinh phụ ngâm were words for the anthem picked ?

      1. This is the text I saw published:
        “Bản Quốc ca của nước Cọng-hoà Nam-kỳ,” Tân Việt, no. 103, 3 June 1946.

        Thuở trời đất nổi cơn gió bụi,
        Khách má hồng nhiều nỗi truân chuyên.
        Xanh kia thăm thẳm tầng trên,
        Vì ai gây dựng cho nên nỗi này.

        Trống Trường Thành lung lay bóng nguyệt,
        Khói Cam Tuyền mờ mịt thức mây.
        Chín tầng gươm báu trao tay,
        Nửa đêm truyền hịch định ngày xuất chinh.

        Nước thanh bình ba trăm năm cũ.
        Áo nhung trao quan vũ từ đâỵ
        Sứ trời sớm giục đường mây,
        Phép công là trọng, niềm tây sá nào.

        Chàng tuổi trẻ vốn giòng hào kiệt,
        Xếp bút nghiên theo việc đao cung.
        Thành liền mong tiến bệ rồng,
        Thước gươm đã quyết chẳng dung giặc trời.

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