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

Issue #10. The golden ax, George F. Schultz, Vietnam Bulletin, March 8, 

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 
Please direct all questions to [email protected]
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,
Issue #6:  Traditional Vietnamese male attire, by Van Ngan, VB710208 -
Issue #7:  The legend of Princess Lieu Hanh, George F. Schultz, VB710215 
Issue #8:  The dialogue on Mount Na-Son, George F. Schultz, VB710222 -
Issue #9:  The secret housewife, George F. Schultz, VB710301 -
           March 13, 1996.
Issue #10: The golden ax, George F. Schultz, VB710308 - March 20, 1996.
Issue #11: Golden age of Viet Nam under the Hung Kings, Pham Tung, 
           TAS720506 - March 27, 1996.
                        THE GOLDEN AX
                   Adapted by George F. Schultz

There was once a very poor man who lived near the forest. He was able to 
earn enough for a bare existence by cutting firewood, which his wife 
would barter for rice in the market place.

One day, when this man was cutting wood at the river's edge, the ax 
slipped from his hands and fell into the water. Although the woodcutter 
searched for it everywhere, it was not to be found. Discouraged, he sat 
down on the bank, lowered his head sadly, and wondered how he would be 
able to earn a living in the future.

When the man raised his eyes again, he saw a little old man standing in 
front of him. The newcomer asked the woodcutter the reason for his 
unhappiness. The latter described what had happened and added that the 
lost ax had been his most valuable possession. Only with it would he be 
able to earn his daily rice.

"I am the dragon of this river," said the old man sympathetically, "and 
I am going to help you. If you will wait here for a minute, I will 
recover your ax for you."

With these words the old man plunged into the water. A few moments 
later, he reappeared, holding a golden ax in his hand.

"Is this your ax?" he asked.

"No," replied the woodcutter, "that is not mine. My ax was made of iron 
and had a wooden handle."

The river-dragon plunged into the water again and then emerged holding 
aloft a silver ax.

"Is this ax yours?" he asked.

Again the honest woodcutter replied in the negative.

The dragon then submerged for a third time. When he reappeared, he was 
holding a very ordinary iron ax in his hand.

"Is this your ax?" he asked the woodcutter.

"Yes," came the reply, "that is mine, and I thank you from the bottom of 
my heart for your assistance."

"You are an honest man," said the river-dragon then. "For that reason, 
in addition to this iron ax, I am going to give you one of silver and 
one of gold as well."

It was difficult for the simple woodcutter to find words with which to 
thank his benefactor. He picked up the three axes and returned to his 

The evidence of all this new wealth soon aroused the speculation of the 
woodcutter's neighbors. With the exception of one man, however, they all 
wished him well.

This man was full of envy and was greatly desirous of obtaining for 
himself a golden or silver ax. From the woodcutter he obtained an exact 
description of the place on the river bank where the miraculous event 
had taken place. The greedy man then found an old, rusty ax and went 
there with it. He threw the iron ax into the water and pretended to be 
greatly troubled because of its loss.

The little old man appeared before the man and asked the cause of his 
trouble. Falsely the man described his loss and begged for the old man's 

"You shall receive justice," was the reply. Thereupon, the old man 
plunged into the river and reappeared with a golden ax in his hand.

Before the dragon even had time to ask the question, the man shouted, 
"That's my ax. Give it to me at once."

"You are lying," replied the dragon angrily. Raising the ax high in the 
air, he struck the liar a blow on the neck, killing him instantly.

Since that time, no one has ever tried to obtain a golden ax or even a 
silver one from the river-dragon's hoard.

Note. This story is probably of Buddhist inspiration but Confucianists 
would also approve of its moral: Greed is indicted and punished; honesty 
is rewarded. It also illustrates Vietnamese belief in the supernatural 
river-dragon, a generally beneficent creature, who is said to inhabit 
the depths of every stream and to be able to assume human shape at will.