Sacred Texts  Asia  Index  Previous  Next 

The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division [1967], at

Veneration of Vietnamese Benefactors

The evidence of ancestor worship in Vietnam is a constant reminder of Chinese religious influences. The Vietnamese do not hesitate to state that veneration is given to historical figures who made permanent contributions to Vietnamese life. These include Marshall DUYET, the Trung sisters, Nguyen Con Tru, as well as the discoverers of certain vocations, crafts and arts.

p. 81

Much of the Vietnamese culture and development was largely in what is now North Vietnam. Only within the last century or two has the area known as South Vietnam become settled and developed to any substantial degree by the Vietnamese themselves. Perhaps this is one reason the southern Vietnamese seem to resent the northern Vietnamese; the cultural history and influence of the north is apparently not appreciated nor accepted. This is comparable to attitudes occasionally found in the United States between the East and West Coasts, or parts of the North and South as a result of economic, geographic, and cultural differences.

It was Tich-Quang, governor of what is now the area around Hanoi, who introduced the Chinese culture which colors every phase of lowland Vietnamese life. His successor introduced the reading and writing of Chinese which continued as the basic tool of written communication until Alexandre De Rhodes, a Roman Catholic Priest, introduced the present Vietnamese language.

It was a bonze who was credited with the origin of medical arts in Vietnam in the 10th century. Upon his death, a temple was erected in his name with an official cult instituted in his memory. Even this "holy man" learned his medical arts in China! Likewise, Luong-Thi Vinh introduced mathematics about 1700 after studying in. China, he also translated Chinese mathematics books and introduced the abacus. To show gratitude, a temple was erected to honor him.

The brothers who introduced goldsmithry as a craft were honored after their deaths by having a temple raised in their memory. Likewise, the book Bac-Ninh-Chi gives credit for the origin of the craft of copper working to a bonze, Khong-Lo, of about 1250 A.D. who also had a temple erected in his memory, as did the maker of Vietnamese coinage, one Luu-Xuan-Tin. Because of his contribution, the king, Le Thanh-Ton, erected a temple wherein his cult could be perpetuated.

Even the individual credited with introducing mat making to the Vietnamese has a temple in his memory. Similarly, honor and veneration is given to that "clever" ambassador who learned from the Chinese the methods of silk weaving and the methods of growing soya beans and corn. In spite of Chinese embargoes against the moving of seed out of China, the ambassador did so. There is still a temple to his memory even though this was more than 400 years ago.

The facts of ancestor worship and Chinese cultural influences must be considered in evaluating the forces that have moulded culture in this part of Southeast Asia. No valid understanding of current thought and behavior patterns can be gained without awareness of the past and present Chinese influence.

Next: Ancestor Worship