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The Tale of Kieu-Wikipedia

The Tale of Kieu

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Epic poem in Vietnamese written by Nguyễn Du (1766–1820)

The Tale of Kiều
Truyện Kiều


Book cover with

chữ Hán

text, published 1967

Full title Đoạn Trường Tân Thanh
Also known as Truyện Kiều

Nguyễn Du



Date of issue 1820
State of existence Emperor

Minh Mạng

Authenticity remake

epic poem

Verse form

lục bát


Length 3,254 verses
Personages Thúy Kiều

Jin Yun Qiao

The Tale of Kiều is an





written by

Nguyễn Du

(1765–1820), considered the most famous poem and a classic in

Vietnamese literature






The original title in Vietnamese is Đoạn Trường Tân Thanh (斷腸新聲, “A New Cry From a Broken Heart”), but it is better known as Truyện Kiều (傳翹, IPA: 

[ʈʂwîənˀ kîəw]


About this sound


), lit. “Tale of Kiều”).

In 3,254 verses, written in

lục bát

(“six–eight”) meter, the poem recounts the life, trials and tribulations of Thúy Kiều, a beautiful and talented young woman, who has to sacrifice herself to save her family. To save her father and younger brother from prison, she sells herself into marriage with a middle-aged man, not knowing that he is a


, and is

forced into prostitution

. While modern interpretations vary, some post-colonial writers have interpreted it as a critical, allegorical reflection on the rise of the

Nguyễn dynasty






Nguyễn Du made use of the plot of a seventeenth-century Chinese novel,

Jīn Yún Qiào



: 金雲翹), known in Vietnamese pronunciation of Chinese characters as Kim Vân Kiều. The original, written by an otherwise unknown writer under the pseudonym Qīngxīn Cáirén (


: 青心才人 “Pure-Hearted Man of Talent”), was a straightforward romance, but Nguyễn Du chose it to convey the social and political upheavals at the end of the 18th century in Vietnam.


Vietnam at that time was ruled nominally by the 300-year-old

Lê dynasty

, but real power rested in the

Trịnh lords

in the north and the

Nguyễn lords

in the south. While the Trịnh and the Nguyễn were fighting against each other, the

Tây Sơn rebels

overthrew both the Nguyễn and then the Trịnh over the span of a decade. Nguyễn Du was loyal to the Lê Dynasty and hoped for the return of the Lê king. In 1802 the Nguyễn lord Nguyễn Ánh conquered all of Vietnam forming the new

Nguyễn dynasty

. Nguyễn Ánh, now Emperor

Gia Long

, summoned Nguyễn Du to join the new government and, with some reluctance, he did so. Nguyễn Du’s situation in terms of conflicting loyalties between the previous Lê king and the current Nguyễn emperor is partially analogous to the situation of the main character in The Tale of Kiều who submitted to circumstances but her heart longed for her first love.

Depiction of sex work[



It is believed that The Tale of Kiều contains the earliest depiction or mention of

sex work in Vietnam

. The poem depicts a form of sex work that resembles

Chinese courtesan culture

. Although the poem is fictional, it reveals a view of sex work in 19th century Vietnam as a kind of performative and


, not simply sexual, labor.


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The story takes place during the reign of the

Jiajing Emperor


Ming China



The entire plot in the Tale of Kiều spans over fifteen years. At the beginning of the story, set in


, Vương Thuý Kiều (

Wang Cuiqiao





]) (王翠翹) — a beautiful and educated girl — is visiting her ancestors’ graves with her younger sister Thuý Vân (王翠雲) and brother Vương Quan (王觀). On the way she meets and connects with the grave of a dead performer—Đạm Tiên (淡仙), who was said to be as beautiful and talented as she is but lived a life full of grief. There, she meets and later promises to marry Kim Trọng (金重), a young and promising scholar, but their marriage is delayed because Kim has to go back home to mourn his uncle for half a year.

During that time misfortune begins to befall Kiều. Her family is framed by a silk dealer and has all their wealth taken away by the government, and her father and brother are facing imprisonment. Kiều decides to sell herself to Scholar Mã (馬監生) to free her family, therefore showing her deeply rooted filial piety, while not forgetting the promise with Kim Trọng and has it resolved by asking her sister, Thúy Vân, to fulfill it. Scholar Mã turns out to be a pimp who is in charge of finding girls for a


run by Madam Tú (秀婆). He rapes Kiều and takes her back to the brothel in Lin-Tzu (modern day Xindian in


), but she refuses to serve any guest and attempts to commit suicide when she is forced to do so. Madam Tú concocts a plan to crush Kiều’s dignity by hiring Sở Khanh, a playboy and con artist, to meet Kiều and coerce her into eloping with him, and then lead her into Tú’s trap. With nothing left to hold on to, Kiều finally submits and becomes a prostitute. Kiều’s beauty attracts many men, including Student Thúc (束生), who uses his wealth to buy Kiều out of the brothel and marry her, although he already has a wife named Lady Hoạn (宦姐), who is the daughter of prime minister Hoạn. Upon learning of this, Hoạn burns with jealousy and secretly tells her henchmen to kidnap and force Kiều to become a slave in her house when Thúc is on the way to visit her. Thúc is shocked at the sight of Kiều as a slave, but never dares to reach out to her in front of his first wife.

Kiều runs away from the estate, stealing some valuable decorations on the altar in the process. She goes to a Buddhist temple, where nun Giác Duyên (覺緣) graciously accepts her. However, after realizing that Kiều is carrying stolen property, Giác Duyên sends Kiều to Madam Bạc’s (薄婆), whom Giác Duyên thinks Kiều will be safe with. However it turns out that Madam Bạc runs a brothel, so Kiều gets tricked into the brothel again where she meets

Từ Hải





], leader of a revolution army. Từ Hải and Kiều get married and live together for five years, together reigning over a temporary kingdom. Later tricked by

Hồ Tôn Hiến





], Kiều convinces her husband to surrender all in favor of amnesty. This eventually leads to the invasion of Từ Hải’s kingdom, and the death of Từ Hải himself. Mesmerized by Kiều’s beauty, Hồ Tôn Hiến forces her to perform in his victory banquet, where he rapes her. To avoid bad rumors, he hurriedly marries Kiều off to a local official. Feeling devastated, she throws herself into the

Qiantang River

. Once again, Giác Duyên saves her, as she knew about Kiều’s fate when she consulted with Tam Hợp, who is believed to be able to see into the future, long ago. Meanwhile, Kim Trọng, Kiều’s first love, becomes an official and is providing housing for Kiều’s parents. He has been searching for Kiều, and eventually finds her with the buddhist nun Giác Duyên. Kiều is reunited with her first love and her family, thus ending her cycle of bad karma. She is married to Kim Trọng, but refuses to have a physical relationship with him because she thinks she is no longer worthy.

English translations[



There have been at least five English translations of the work in the last half century. Kim Van Kieu


by Le-Xuan-Thuy, presenting the work in the form of a


, was widely available in Vietnam in the 1960s. The Tale of Kiều, a scholarly annotated blank verse version by

Huỳnh Sanh Thông

(1926–2008), was first published in the US in 1983.


In 2008, a translation by Arno Abbey, based on the French translation by

Nguyễn Khắc Viện

(1913–1997), was published in the US.


There have also been two verse translations in recent years. One of these, another bilingual edition called simply Kiều published by Thế Giới Publishers, Hanoi, in 1994, with a verse translation by Michael Counsell


(born 1935), is currently the English version most widely available in Vietnam itself, and the English version alone, called Kieu, The Tale of a Beautiful and Talented Girl, by Nguyen Du, is now available worldwide. A second verse translation, The Kim Vân Kiều of Nguyen Du (1765–1820), by Vladislav Zhukov (born 1941), was published by Pandanus books in 2004.



A new translation by Timothy Allen of the opening section of the poem was awarded one of

The Times

Stephen Spender

prizes for Poetry Translation


in 2008; further extracts from Allen’s translation have appeared in Cosmopolis,


(the Summer 2009 edition of Poetry Review.


) and in Transplants, the Spring 2010 edition of Modern Poetry in Translation.


Comparison with Jin Yun Qiao[



The Tale of Kiều adapted the Chinese novel Jin Yun Qiao into Vietnamese

lục bát

verses. Thus, there has been many works that compare the two in both Vietnamese and Chinese. The first person to do the work is

Đào Duy Anh

, who wrote in his book:


“Nguyễn Du preserved the Chinese story without cutting or adding anything. But the original is redundant, detailed, presented in a simple way, while Nguyễn Du calculated and rearranged [the story] to be more organized and coherent.” Researcher Phạm Đan Quế said: “…Nguyễn Du’s story, characters, order of events, morality, philosophy and even details are mostly from the original by Qingxin-caizi. However, he selected main events and cut redundant parts, and sometime summarized long paragraphs into a few sentences. The main different is that: the events in Jin Yun Qiao are analytical, while [the events] in Tale of Kiều are organic […] Through comparisons, we can see that Nguyễn Du preserved the order of events from the original story. However he cut the entirety of chapter 5 and 6, and instead scatter them between previous chapters. It’s worth noting that Nguyễn Du told chapter 20, which is about the reunion with Kim Trọng, in 526 sentences, equal to 1/6 of the work.” However Nguyễn Hữu Sơn noted that what Đào and Phạm believed to be “redundant” in Jin Yun Qiao is actually its strong point, as prose requires different storytelling technique from rhymed poetry. He also believes that the Tale of Kiều is more emotional than the original.


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Text comparisons[



The original text was written in Vietnamese using the vernacular

chữ Nôm

script. Below are the first six lines of the prologue written in modern

Vietnamese alphabet

and several translations into English. Most


speakers know these lines by heart.[

citation needed


Original text[



In Nôm:



In the

Vietnamese alphabet



Trăm năm trong cõi người ta,
Chữ tài chữ mệnh khéo là ghét nhau.
Trải qua một cuộc bể dâu,
Những điều trông thấy đã đau đớn lòng.
Lạ gì bỉ sắc tư phong,
Trời xanh quen với má hồng đánh ghen.

English translations[




Lê Xuân Thuy’s

Kim Vân Kiều:


Within the span of hundred years of human existence,
what a bitter struggle is waged between genius and destiny!
How many harrowing events have occurred while mulberries cover the conquered sea!
Rich in beauty, unlucky in life!
Strange indeed, but little wonder,
since casting hatred upon rosy cheeks is a habit of the

Blue Sky


Another English translation:[

citation needed


As evidenced by centuries of human existence
Destiny and genius are apt to feud
Having endured an


The sights observed must wrench one’s heart
‘Tis no surprise to find the bad and good in pairs
So a maiden blessed by beauty is likewise cursed by envy.

Another English translation:[

citation needed


Centuries of human existence,
Prodigy and fate intertwined in conflicts,
Mulberry fields turned into open sea,
Enough’s been seen to melt the heart.
Little wonder that beauty begets misery,
For Blue Heaven’s jealous of exquisite glamour!

English translation by Michael Counsell:


What tragedies take place
within each circling space of years!
‘Rich in good looks’ appears
to mean poor luck and tears of woe;
which may sound strange, I know,
but is not really so, I swear,
since Heaven everywhere
seems jealous of the fair of face.

English translation by Vladislav Zhukov:


Were full five-score the years allotted to born man,
How oft his qualities might yield within that span to fate forlorn!
In time the mulberry reclaims the sunk sea-bourn,
And what the gliding eye may first find fair weighs mournful on the heart.
Uncanny? Nay—lack ever proved glut’s counterpart,
And mindful are the gods on rosy cheeks to dart celestial spite…

English translation by Timothy Allen:

It’s an old story; good luck and good looks
don’t always mix.
Tragedy is circular and infinite.
The plain never believe it,
but good-looking people meet with hard times too.

Artistic adaptations[



A pamphlet for the 1923 film Kim Vân Kiều (金雲翹).

As an integral part of Vietnamese literature for 200 years, The Tale of Kieu had been the inspiration for numerous works. The poem had been adapted into numerous other art forms, including

cải lương



, pantomime and Western-style operas.


The first theatrical film created in Vietnam, in 1923, was Kim Vân Kiều. The film followed closely the plot of the poem. The 30 or so actors in the film were

traditional opera

performers, and so the film was not a critical or commercial success.


The musician

Phạm Duy

adapted The Tale of Kieu into an epic song cycle entitled Minh họa Kiều (“Illustrating Kieu”) in 1997.

The Tale of Kieu was the inspiration for the 2007 movie

Saigon Eclipse

, which moved the storyline into a modern Vietnamese setting with a modern-day immigrant Kieu working in the massage parlor industry in San Francisco’s Mission District to support her family back in Vietnam. Additionally,

Burton Wolfe

directed a musical adaptation which premiered September 10, 2010 in Houston.


Trịnh Thăng Bình



]‘s 2020 music video entitled Bức bình phong (“Folding screen”) is set in a researcher of ancient works living in modern times, while reading The Tale of Kieu, happened to be lost in Wang Cuiqiao’s timeline.


A film set released in April 2021, entitled




], generated controversies when it released its first teaser clip in September 2020. At issue was the use of the modern Latin-based

Vietnamese alphabet

in signage in a film based on a poem written in

chữ Nôm

and set in

Ming China



Near the official premiere date, the film has been evaluated as a disaster, “ruined” The Tale of Kieu.



As a result, the film was loss (gained only


2,696,659,000) and later turned into a web film.



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  1. ^

    Zhukov’s patronymic is sometimes incorrectly given as ‘Borisovich’. His full and correct name is Vladislav Vitalyevich Zhukov.




  1. ^

    Huỳnh Sanh Thông (1983).

    The Tale of Kieu: A Bilingual Edition of Nguyen Du’s Truyen Kieu

    . Yale University Press. p. xx.




    . A perfect example of the long narrative poem in six-eight verse, it has also stood unchallenged since its publication and dissemination in the second decade of the nineteenth century as the supreme masterwork of Vietnamese literature.

  2. ^

    John Balaban.

    “Vietnamese literature”

    . Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 25 September 2020. Perhaps the greatest of these statesmen-poets was Nguyen Du in the 19th century. His Truyen Kieu (The Tale of Kieu), or Kim Van Kieu, is generally considered the pinnacle of Vietnamese literature.

  3. ^

    “An Introduction to Truyện Kiều – An electronic version”


    Nôm Foundation

    . Retrieved 26 September 2020. The Truyện Kiều, The Story of Kiều, by Nguyễn Du (1765-1820) is the great classical poem of Vietnam.

  4. ^

    Hoàng Nhật (7 June 2020).

    “Nguyễn Du và Truyện Kiều: Từ những điều trông thấy đến những điều mơ ước”

    . Kinh tế & Đô thị (in Vietnamese). People’s Committee of Hanoi. Retrieved 26 September 2020. Cho đến nay, trong văn học Việt Nam chưa có ai sánh được với Nguyễn Du và Truyện Kiều. [As of now, in Vietnamese literature nobody can compare to Nguyễn Du and The Tale of Kieu.]

  5. ^

    Patricia M. Pelley Postcolonial Vietnam: New Histories of the National Past 2002 Page 126 “Many postcolonial critics who focused on the masterpiece of Vietnamese literature — Nguyễn Du’s narrative poem The Tale of Kiều — were tempted to interpret it as a critical, allegorical reflection on the rise of the Nguyễn dynasty.”

  6. ^

    “Tale of Kieu”

    . Southeast Asia Library Group (SEALG).

  7. ^

    Hoang, Kimberly Kay (2011).

    New Economies of Sex and Intimacy in Vietnam

    (PhD). University of California, Berkeley. pp. 16–19.

  8. ^

    Nguyễn Du (1983).

    The Tale of Kieu: A Bilingual Edition of Nguyen Du’s Truyen Kieu

    . Translated by Huỳnh Sanh Thông. Yale University Press. p. 3.




    . Lines 9-10: Under the Jia-ching reign when Ming held sway,/ all lived at peace—both capitals stood strong.

  9. ^

    Kim Van Kieu (




    ) is an annotated prose translation, comprising 27 chapters and an epilogue, by Le-Xuan-Thuy, first published in Saigon in 1964 and reprinted by Silk Pagoda in 2006

  10. ^

    Nguyễn, Du


    Huỳnh, Sanh Thông


    The Tale of Kieu

    . Yale University Press.





  11. ^

    Abbey, Arno (2008).

    Kieu: An English Version Adapted from Nguyen Khac Vien’s French Translation

    . AuthorHouse.





  12. ^

    Michael Counsell’s personal site

  13. ^

    Zhukov, Vladislav (2004). The Kim Van Kieu.





  14. ^

    “Timothy Allen’s version of the opening sixty lines, alongside the Vietnamese original”


  15. ^

    “Poetry Review for Summer 2009, containing extract from Kiều

    . Archived from

    the original

    on 28 June 2009.

  16. ^

    “Poetry Review home page”


  17. ^

    “The Transplants edition of Modern Poetry in Translation


    dead link


  18. ^

    Đào Duy Anh (1943).

    “Khảo luận về Kim Vân Kiều (Examining Jin Yun Qiao/Kim Vân Kiều)”


  19. ^

    Nguyễn Hữu Sơn (2005).

    “So sánh Truyện Kiều với Kim Vân Kiều truyện (Comparing the Tale of Kiều with the Tale of Jin Yun Qiao)”


  20. ^



    “Tale of Kiều version 1902”

    . Vietnamese Nôm Preservation Foundation. Retrieved 6 November 2012.

  21. ^

    Lê, Xuân Thuy (1968). Kim Vân Kiều, Second Edition. p. 19.

  22. ^

    Counsell, Michael (2013). Kieu by Nguyen Du. Amazon.





  23. ^

    Zhukov, Vladislav (2004). The Kim Vân Kiều of Nguyen Du (1765–1820). Pandanus Books.

  24. ^

    “Vietnam National Drama Theatre stages The Tale of Kieu”

    . Hanoi Times. Hanoi People’s Committee. Retrieved 25 September 2020.

  25. ^

    Băng Nữ Tuyết (30 July 2011).

    “Đưa “Truyện Kiều” lên phim”

    [Putting Kieu on Film].

    Thanh Niên

    (in Vietnamese). Retrieved 25 September 2020.

  26. ^

    “Webpage of the musical version of The Tale of Kieu

    . taleofkieu. Archived from

    the original

    on 3 June 2010.

  27. ^

    “Trịnh Thăng Bình làm Sở Khanh trong MV mới, say đắm “nàng Kiều” Helly Tống”

    . VOV.VN (in Vietnamese). Retrieved 10 May 2021.

  28. ^

    Đình Dy (26 September 2020).

    “Phim dựa theo Truyện Kiều có cảnh dùng chữ quốc ngữ: Nhà sản xuất nói gì?”

    [Film based on The Tale of Kieu has a scene with

    quốc ngữ

    : What do the producers say?]. Lao Động (in Vietnamese). Retrieved 26 September 2020.

  29. ^

    Ly, Mỵ (9 April 2021).

    “Đừng khóc Nguyễn Du bằng một bộ phim dở tệ”

    [Don’t cry for Nguyễn Du with a bad film]. Tuổi Trẻ Online (in Vietnamese). Retrieved 28 April 2021.

  30. ^

    Hoàng, Phượng (9 April 2021).

    Kiều’ – biến tấu thảm họa với câu chuyện tình tay ba sống sượng”

    . zingnews.vn. Retrieved 28 April 2021.

  31. ^


    “Phim ‘Kiều’ lỗ”

    . vnexpress.net (in Vietnamese). Retrieved 12 May 2021.

  32. ^

    “Phim “Kiều” thua lỗ nặng nề phải chuyển sang chiếu online, Mai Thu Huyền: “Tôi rất buồn

    . YAN (in Vietnamese). 28 April 2021. Retrieved 12 May 2021.

  • Renowned Vietnamese Intellectuals prior to the 20th Century (essay on Nguyễn Du by the Vietnamese historian Nguyen Khac) published by The Gioi Publishers, 2004.

External links[



  • Truyện Kiều


    Encyclopedic Dictionary of Vietnam

  • Truyện Kiều – An electronic version

    , Vietnamese Nôm Preservation Foundation, including editions of 1866, 1870, 1871, 1871 and 1902.

  • British Library

    Or. 14844: edition of 1894, with annotations by

    Paul Pelliot


    • scanned copy

      from British Library

    • scanned copy

      in World Digital Library, Library of Congress

  • Recitation of Truyện Kiều

    (with musical accompaniment)

  • Complete text in proper quoc ngu text

  • The Tale of Kieu, Vietnam’s Epic National Poem (Archive.org copy)

Retrieved from “


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