Vietnamese Pre-Colonial Chinese Nostalgia

One of the lasting legacies the Chinese left on modern Vietnamese culture is Chữ Nôm.  Otherwise forgotten in today’s romanised Vietnamese, Chữ Nôm survives particularly well in certain artistic and cultural revival circles.  Though defunct in everyday Vietnamese life since 1917, Chữ Nôm in essence remains a rich codex of the country’s heritage; covering science and technology, arts, literature, economics and warfare.

To the untrained eye, Chữ Nôm appears unintelligible from orthodox Chinese characters, yet the system is a totally different set of ingenuity.  Early Vietnamese scholars beginning the 13th century derive formative principles from Chinese, paving way for the scripting of  spoken, vernacular Vietnamese.  One basic theme persists, which is the borrowing of Chinese semantics to transcribe Vietnamese sounds.  This practice is known as ‘Gia.’  Otherwise, academic terms are directed imported unaltered from Chinese.  Thus ‘woman’ in Chinese is ‘more’ in Vietnamese; while ‘mathematics’ remain mutually understood.


Chữ Nôm would go to prosper in the ensuing years.  Poet and court diplomat Nguyễn Trãi (1380–1442) would become pioneer the script, having written many works of literature in  Chữ Nôm.  Himself a court advisor to the the Lê Kings,  Nguyễn Trãi also played decisive roles in repelling the threat of Chinese domination.   Chữ Nôm would continue to prosper in place of Chinese, until the arrival of the expansionist French in 1858.



About Kianglek Tan

Kianglek is a serial entrepreneur firmly committed to the free flow of quality content and service. He frequently writes about culture, technology and entrepreneurship, fields of his passion. He holds a bachelor's degree in Food Technology and Bioprocessing. He currently resides in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Reach out to him at
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