Vietnamese Culture - A 1970's Perspective
                     copyright 1996, Vn-families

Issue #8. The dialogue on Mount Na-Son, George F. Schultz, Vietnam 
Bulletin, Feb 22, 1971.

This is a set of reprints from the Vietnam Bulletin, a weekly 
publication by the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, DC, during the 
period from 1967 to 1975. The original articles were not copyrighted. 

We will run this column weekly until we run out of interesting cultural 
articles. 
Please direct all questions to trant@teleport.com
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Here is the proposed schedule of this column.

Issue #1:  Tet 1971 in Vietnam! by Phu Si, VB710118 - Jan 17, 1996
Issue #2:  The Unicorn dance at Tet, by Minh Tam, VB710118.
Issue #3:  The origin of Tao Quan, the three kitchen gods, by
           George F. Schultz, VB710118.
Issue #4:  1971 - The year of the Pig, by Van Ngan, VB710118.
Issue #5   The Joy of "first writing of the new year", by Thuy Ngoc,
           VB710208.
Issue #6:  Traditional Vietnamese male attire, by Van Ngan, VB710208 -
Issue #7:  The legend of Princess Lieu Hanh, George F. Schultz, VB710215 
           - Feb 28, 1996
Issue #8:  The dialogue on Mount Na-Son, George F. Schultz, VB710222 -
           March 6, 1996.
Issue #9:  The secret housewife, George F. Schultz, VB710301 -
           March 13, 1996.
           
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                      THE DIALOGUE ON MOUNT NA-SON 
                      Adapted by George F. Schultz

The mountains of the province of Thanh Hoa, which are covered with dense 
forests for hundreds of miles, once served as an asylum for those 
hermits who chose to flee from the world in order to lead a life of 
meditation and solitude. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, an 
aged woodcutter was living on Mount Na-Son, in the district of Nong 
Cong. Daily he went to the village, where he would exchange his load of 
wood for wine and rice; he never found it necessary to save a single 
sapeque. When met by the farmers along the way, he would speak to them 
about the cultivation of their mulberry trees. When asked his name and 
origin, he would only smile. In the evening, when the sun had set below 
the tops of the mountains, the woodcutter would slowly return to the 
little hut that was his home.

One day, during a hunting expedition, King Ho Han Thuong happened to 
cross the woodcutter's path. The latter was walking along singing some 
verses of his own composition. The king stopped to listen.

"Na-Son has jagged rocks and dark trees.
I dress in leaves and adorn myself with orchids.
On all sides blue peaks surround my abode.
In the distance stretches the plain of green rice fields,
Far from the whirl of horses and chariots.
The world's dust does not touch these places.
The tall grasses efface every vestige of war.
The Earth buries the Court's decorations."

His song ended, the woodcutter arranged the flap of his tunic and 
disappeared in the forest.

The king was certain that he had encountered a sage and ordered one of 
his mandarins, Truong Cong by name, to invite the old man to his Court. 
The mandarin called to him, but the woodcutter was already deep in the 
forest. Truong Cong then set out to follow him.

The mist was already forming on the branches of the pines. Unused to the 
rugged terrain, Truong Cong had great difficulty in avoiding the vines 
and brambles that encumbered his path. The farther he advanced, the 
steeper the slope became. Greatly outdistanced by the woodcutter, the 
mandarin was soon lost in the unfamiliar surroundings. Raising his eyes, 
he saw that the shadows of the night had already invaded the mountains 
and that the trees had begun to blur. Somewhat uneasy, he would have 
liked to turn back; then a cock's crow from a neighboring bamboo thicket 
revived his hopes. At the thought that he must be near some human 
habitation, he raised himself on his stick and reached level ground.

The mandarin saw a small hut standing at the edge of a stream. Peach and 
plum trees with young, green trunks shaded its porch; here and there 
chrysanthemums were growing. Inside the hut he saw a rattan bed on which 
were lying a guitar, a flute, and a bamboo pillow. On the whitewashed 
walls, two songs were written in cursive characters: "Love of Chess"  
and "Love of the Summit".

The woodcutter was seated nearby, teaching a blackbird to speak. He 
appeared surprised to see Truong Cong.

"This corner of the world is lonely and deserted," he said. "Why did you 
take the trouble to climb up here?"

"I am a servitor of the king," replied Truong Cong. "Knowing that you 
are a sage, His Majesty sent me here to invite you to come to the Court. 
An escort awaits you at the edge of the forest."

"I am only an old man who has fled from the dust of the world", replied 
the woodcutter, smiling. "I earn my living with the ax, and my friends 
are the deer and the fish and the moon and the wind. I know only how to 
quench my thirst at the spring, how to prepare the roots of the forest 
for food, and how to sleep soundly amidst the mist."

The woodcutter then invited Truong Cong to remain with him and to 
partake of his modest meal of rice and vegetable. The two men conversed 
until far into the night without once referring to the affairs of State.

But the following morning, Truong Cong repeated his invitation.

"The famous hermits of olden times were not indifferent to the welfare 
of the State," he said. "In their retreats, they awaited the propitious 
hour at which to offer their services to the sovereign. For example, La 
Vong abandoned his line in the waters of the River Vi in order to serve 
King Chu Van Vuong. Although your knowledge is immense and your talent 
is great, you conceal yourself deep in the forest. I beg you to 
reconsider so that those who wish to bring happiness to mankind will not 
be deprived of your services."

"Every man has his own vocation," replied the woodcutter. "Nghiem Tu 
Lang declined Han Quang Vo's offer and refused to exchange his peaceful 
life on the banks of the Dong Thuy for the duties of prime minister at 
the Court; my slight merit could never be likened to his. Up to now, 
Heaven has been kind to me, and I desire no more happiness than that 
given to me in this verdant haven. If I were ambitious to tread the 
narrow road to honors, not only would I blush with shame for my failure 
to keep faith with the ancients, but I would also lose the friendship of 
the monkeys and the cranes. I beg you to return alone and not to insist 
further in this matter."

"Must you find every action in the present world contemptible?" asked 
Truong Cong. "Our monarch is great and men come from beyond the four 
seas to visit him. Chiem Thanh (Champa)  has relinquished certain 
territories in order to be recognized as his vassal. The North (China)  
has sent gifts and has withdrawn its forces. Lao Oua and Dai Ly have 
likewise submitted to his will. He now lacks only the counsel of sages 
in order to glorify his virtue and to make his reign comparable to those 
of Duong Nghieu and Ngu Thuan of the Golden Age. If you sincerely desire 
to live apart from the world, I must respect your wish. But if you will 
think of the common weal, you will not let this opportunity slip from 
your hands."

"Your words do me too much honor," replied the woodcutter. Then he 
asked,
"The present sovereign is of the Ho family isn't he?"
"That is correct."
"Did he not abandon Long Do in order to establish his capital at An 
Ton?"
"Yes, certainly."

"Although I have never set foot in the palace nor even in the capital," 
continued the woodcutter, "I have learned a great deal about the king. 
Lies, ambition, and luxury are the members of his entourage. He 
exhausted the people to build the Fortress of Kim Au. He emptied the 
national treasury to construct the walls of Hoa Nhai. Gold is thrown 
about like so much withered grass and jade, like dirt. Meanwhile, 
corruption buys titles and rank and opens the gates of the prisons. The 
masses are murmuring with dissent, and rebellion flares up on the bank 
of the River Day. The North has taken advantage of the situation to 
demand the cession of Loc Chau. The Court mandarins imitate the 
sovereign and become his accomplices in crime. That is why I fled from 
the world and concealed myself in the mountains and forests. Why should 
I return to drown in the tumultuous torrents of politics and thus throw 
the precious stone of Con Son into the flames?"

Unable to reply to these arguments, Truong Cong remained silent. He 
departed then and reported the woodcutter's words to King Ho Han Thuong. 
After a moment of anger, the monarch seemed delighted to receive an 
honest man's opinion. He ordered Truong Cong to supply himself with 
magnificent gifts for the sage and to go to his retreat a second time.

When the mandarin arrived at the summit, he saw that weeds and grass 
obstructed the approaches to the hermit's hut. On the stone wall, he 
noticed two verses that had been freshly brushed thereon with pine 
resin:

"At the mouth of the Ky La, poetic inspiration will be suddenly 
shattered; Beneath the summit of Cao Vong, misfortune will overtake the 
stranger."

No one understood the significance of these prophetic words.

When the king learned that the sage had vanished without a trace, he 
became furious and ordered his troops to set fire to his mountain. The 
trunks of the giant trees crackled in the heat, and the rising smoke 
obscured the horizon for many miles. A black crane was seen to leave the 
conflagration and trace great circles in the sky before disappearing in 
the direction of the sea.

Several years later (in 1407), the Minh (Chinese dynasty: Ming, 1368-
1628) invaded Dai Ngu. The Ho armies lost battle after battle and were 
forced to retreat to the province of Nghe An. Ho Qui Ly was captured at 
the mouth of the Ky La River and his son Ho Han Thuong, on Mount Cao 
Vong; their last faithful followers fell at their side. In this way, the 
prediction contained in the couplet inscribed on the stone wall on the 
summit of Mount Na-Son came  true.

The ephemeral Ho dynasty, which ruled Dai Ngu from 1400 to 1407, is not 
considered a legitimate dynasty by Vietnamese historians. Ho Qui Ly, the 
first Ho king, usurped the power in the year 1400. One year later, he 
assumed the title of thai-thuong-hoang  (supreme emperor), and his son 
Ho Han Thuong became king.

Ho Qui Ly tried to maintain that he was a descendant of Ngu Thuan, one 
of the five legendary emperors  of the Golden Age of Ancient China; 
therefore, he changed the name of Dai Viet to Dai Ngu. He was no 
ordinary man; but as an usurper, he did not have the support of the 
people and failed in his effort to establish a lasting dynasty.