The cultural changes of the period under study [1900-1925] are dominated by one phenomenon: the replacement of classical Chinese by quoc ngu [国語 national language] as the official national writing system of Vietnam. The French, already from the beginning of their administration of Vietnam, had encouraged the use of that script to replace the Chinese characters. In their view, that was the most effective way to wean the Vietnamese from China’s multi-millenary cultural influence. Little did they anticipate that the Vietnamese were going to use the quoc ngu to mobilize the country against them.Here are some examples of Vietnamese renditions of Classical Chinese.
It was, however, only toward the beginning of the 1920s that the Vietnamese warmed up to it and used it readily in their every day activities. In the early years of the twentieth century, Phan Boi Chau and Phan Chau Trinh still wrote all their works in classical Chinese. Even in 1924, in Paris, Phan Chau Trinh composed his many letters asking the French minister of Colonies to allow him to go home in the purest style of classical Chinese. The Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc [東京義塾 Eastern Capital Free School, named for Fukuzawa Yukichi's Tokyo Gijuku (later Keio)] published their classic material in Chinese. The proclamation of the Thai Nguyen mutiny was written in Chinese. Classical Chinese survived at least to the middle of the century for two reasons. The last Confucian examinations were held only in 1918 in Hue, and the royal court of Annam will continue to use Chinese in its official documents until 1945, naturally with a great deal of translations into quoc ngu and French, for, to my knowledge, the last Vietnamese emperor had an exclusively French education.
Although sponsored by the French Security Services, the magazine Nam Phong [南風 South Wind] contributed in an important measure to the vernacularization and to the enrichment of the national script. To some extent, Nam Phong did almost exactly what the Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc dreamt of doing a decade earlier. It translated a vast variety of books or articles in philosophy, in natural and human sciences written mostly in French into quoc ngu. Thus, it introduced foreign cultures and sciences to the Vietnamese people while encouraging them to use a medium which is scientific and rich enough to express their ideas. From the 1920s, newspapers, publishing houses mushroomed and put out an impressive number of books in literature, poetry, sociology, political, social, and natural sciences, all written in the national script. A definite break with the Chinese or nom tradition has been imperceptibly effected and new generations will only deal with the alphabetical writing system.
Tien hoc le, hau hoc van
(先学理後学文 xian xue li, hou xue wen)
'First learn rites, then learn culture'
Thien Tu Van (千字文) 'Thousand Character Classic'
Tam Tu Kinh (三字经) 'Three Character Classic'
Four Books and Five Classics (of Confucius)
Đại Học (大學 Dà Xué) Great Learning
Trung Dung (中庸 Zhōng Yóng) Doctrine of the Mean
Luận Ngữ (論語 Lùn Yǔ) Analects
Mạnh Tử (孟子 Mèng Zǐ) Mencius
Kinh Thi (詩經 Shī Jīng) Classic of Poetry
Kinh Thư (書經 Shū Jīng) Classic of History
Kinh Lễ (禮記 Lǐ Jì) Book of Rites
Kinh Dịch (易經 Yì Jīng) Classic of Changes
Xuân Thu (春秋 Chūnqiū) Spring and Autumn