Old pottery disk depicting Kieu’s Tale found in Nghe An

A monument management centre in the central province of Ha Tinh has announced the discovery of an old pottery disk that depicts the Kieu sisters, the characters in the Tale of Kieu poem epic.
August 26, 2018 | 20:49

A monument management centre in the central province of Ha Tinh has announced the discovery of an old pottery disk that depicts the Kieu sisters, the characters in theTale of Kieu poem epic.

Old pottery disk depicting Kieu’s Tale found in Nghe An

The pottery disk depicting the Kieu sisters was found in Nghe An. (Photo: sggp.vn)

Ho Bach Khoa, head manager at the centre designated for the Tale of Kieu’s author Nguyen Du, said on August 23 that his centre got the disk from antique collectors in neighbouring Nghe An province.

Khoa believed that the disk was produced in the 1940s by pottery makers in the southern region of Vietnam.

The disk is 17cm in diametre and in good condition. The white disk is decorated with a blue coloured painting depicting a scene from the Tale of Kieu, in which the Kieu sisters are walking and enjoying the spring when they meet the horse-riding Kim Trong character.

Khoa said the scenes in the Tale of Kieu were rarely depicted on pottery produced in the southern region, so the disk is a rare item. Khoa said the centre is showcasing the disk for researchers and the public.


Nguyen Du (1765-1820) was a mandarin and a gifted poet of Vietnam in the imperial time. He, also known as To Nhu and Thanh Hien, was recognised by UNESCO as a World Cultural Figure, among 108 others in 2003. His epic poem - the Tale of Kieu is considered one of the greatest poetic works of the country.

Originally known as “Đoạn trường tân thanh” (A New Cry from a Broken Heart), the Tale of Kieu is based on the plot of a Chinese prose novel titled “Kim Vân Kiều” written in the 17th century. The poem was originally written in “Nôm” script – the ideographic Vietnamese script that was widely used between the 15th-19th century.

An interesting feature of the Kieu story is that its 3,254 lines were written in “Lục bát” – a traditional Vietnamese verse form that was historically first recorded in “Nôm” script and deeply tied to the soul of Vietnamese culture and people. It consists of alternating lines of six and eight syllables, and is the most popular Vietnamese poem of all time.

Depicting the arduous life of Thuy Kieu, a beautiful and talented young woman who had to sell herself into prostitution to save her father from prison, Nguyen Du overcame harsh social prejudice to praise Kieu’s physical and soulful beauty, as well as her talents and personality.

Through Kieu’s story, the author wanted to draw a picture of the corrupt, money-dominated, evil and unequal feudal society in Vietnam in the late 18th century and the early 19th century, while reflecting the aspirations for the right to live, and the right to freedom, justice, love and happiness.

Old pottery disk depicting Kieu’s Tale found in Nghe An

Artists from Ha Tinh province gives its walls a makeover by creating murals depicting figures and landscapes mentioned in the Tale of Kieu. (Photo: baomoi.com)

The tale is considered one of the most significant works of Vietnamese literature with its flexible, creative utilisation of folk languages such as idioms, folk poems, proverbs and “Hán – Việt” (Sino – Vietnamese) expressions, which laid a foundation for the development of literary art in modern society.

In turn, local people have borrowed the language of characters in the story to create new proverbs and folk songs to express various emotions in their daily lives.

Old pottery disk depicting Kieu’s Tale found in Nghe An

Cover of Korea-translated version by Professor Ahn Kyong Hwan. (Photo: VNA)

It is undeniable that “Truyện Kiều” has helped international friends understand Vietnamese literature better. It’s rare that literary works in Vietnam and the world at large win the hearts of so many readers. The poem has become a “bedside” book and a “bible” for Vietnamese people over the past two centuries.

The narrative language in the tale is widely used in the cultural life of people of various social strata such as “ngâm Kiều” (a melodic recitation of the verses in Kieu, which can be done solitarily for personal entertainment or in a performance at a gathering), “vịnh Kiều” (refers to the composing of poetry that uses a situation or character in Kieu as an allusion to one’s thoughts and feelings, often concerning one’s present condition), “bình Kiều” (writing commentaries on Kieu), “lẩy Kiều” (changing a word or phrase in the verses to adapt them for one’s personal purposes), and “bói Kiều” (telling someone’s fortune by having the person randomly point at a verse line, whose meaning would then indicate his/her future).

On his historic visit to Vietnam eighteen years ago, former U.S. President Bill Clinton recited a verse from The Tale of Kieu: “Just as the lotus wilts, the mums bloom forth; time softens grief, and the winter turns to spring” (Sen tàn cúc lại nở hoa. Sầu dài ngày ngắn đông đà sang xuân).

In July 2015, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden quoted another phrase from the poem while welcoming Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong in Washington: “Thank heaven we are here today. To see the sun through parting fog and clouds” (Trời còn để có hôm nay. Tan sương đầu ngõ vén mây giữa trời).

The leading U.S. politicians’ use of these quotations during momentous events highlighted the normalisation of relations between the two countries. It also illustrated the immortal values and significant influence of the tale as a means of intercultural communication and diplomacy./.


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