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

Issue #17. Superstition in Viet Nam, Van Ngan, Vietnam Bulletin, 
november 1969.

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
Issue #10: The golden axe, George F. Schultz, VB710308
Issue #11: Golden age of Viet Nam under the Hung Kings, Pham Tung, 
Issue #12: The legend of Chu Van Dich, George F Schutlz, VB701221
Issue #13: The sandalwood maiden, George F. Schultz, VB7010??
Issue #14: Legend about Emperor Ly Thai-To, George F Schultz, VB7010?? -
           April 17, 1996.
Issue #15. Chu Dong-Tu and Princess Tien Dung, George F. Schultz,
           VB701005 - April 24, 1996.
Issue #16. The husband's most difficult task: teaching his wife, 
           Van Ngan, VB 691216 - May 1, 1996.
Issue #17: Superstition in Viet Nam, Van Ngan, VB6911?? - May 8, 1996.
Issue #18: Hair: VN style, VB7007?? - May 15, 1996
                         SUPERSTITION IN VIET-NAM
                               By Van Ngan

Saigon--What is the best way to keep a child healthy? An old Vietnamese 
grandfather believes the charm of a certain necklace wards off evil 
spirits and he may give it to his grandson to protect the boy. An 
employee fails to show up for work on the third day of the lunar month 
because he believes that particular date brings him bad luck.  A student 
tries to borrow money to buy lottery  tickets because he dreamed of fire 
the night before.  These are some examples of superstition which may 
baffle the foreign visitor to this country.  But, in Viet-Nam, it is 
part of tradition and customs passed down from one generation to the 
next.  Ignorance, of course, plays some role in the traditional 
acceptance of superstition.  Not having sufficient knowledge, faith or 
trust in scientific methods, a Vietnamese often relies on his 
prejudices, emotions and the word of his forefathers  to guide his daily 

Superstition, sometimes, plays more than a passing role in Vietnamese 
society.  By the time a boy is old enough to marry, for example, he may 
not be able to wed the girl he loves because she was born in the wrong 
year.  On  the 12-year lunar calendar commonly used throughout Asia, 
many of the years are considered incompatible.  Such years are thought 
to bring misfortune if they are improperly matched with other years.  
Thus a young man born in "the Year of the Tiger," cannot marry his 
beloved from "the Year of the Horse" unless he wants to risk a break in 
family ties with his parents and elder relatives.  To the conservative 
relatives, the Tiger and Horse are incompatible and sure to bring bad 
luck to such a marriage.  The hoot of an owl is regarded as a bad omen 
announcing death or illness.  According to ancient tradition the bird 
must be chased away and those who heard his cry should be extremely 
cautious about their personal safety.

A large number of fortune-tellers, astrologers and palm-readers owe 
their living to Vietnamese superstition and often made a small fortune 
from their clients. Even the poor save money for occasional visits to 
well-known soothsayers. Superstition has been known to determine the 
conduct of the war in this ravaged country. A friendly or enemy 
commander may refuse to attack or may alter his strategy if the stars 
are not in his favor. One story has it that an American commander always 
consulted a Vietnamese astrologer before planning the deployment of his 
troops. When questioned by his incredulous superiors, he explained that, 
according to his theory, he could depend on the enemy to base his 
attacks on the positions of the stars. So, he consulted a stargazer 
himself for intelligence on the enemy's movements.  Another story passed 
down through history is that of the famous Vietnamese generals Le Loi 
and Nguyen Trai.  Several years ago, the pair was leading a war against 
Chinese invaders.  Nguyen Trai decided to turn superstition to his 
advantage and used grease to write the phrases "Le Loi vi Quan; Nguyen 
Trai vi Than," (Le Loi for King; Nguyen Trai for Minister of State) on 
the large leaves of forest trees.  Ants later consumed the grease 
absorbed in the leaf tissue and left the prophecy clearly engraved.  
People living nearby noticed the perforated leaves and interpreted them 
as a "divine message." Inspired  by this, they wholeheartedly supported 
the war which eventually led to the defeat of the Chinese and the 
enthronement of Emperor Le Loi.

Another story is told of a Montagnard tribe that trapped a white 
elephant in 1961 and offered the rare animal to the late President Ngo 
Dinh Diem as a gift.  Government news agencies, attempting to strengthen 
the already tottering regime of Diem, spread the word that a "powerful 
king" had been sent down from Heaven to rule the Vietnamese. The 
President himself flew to the city of Ban Me Thuot in the Central 
Highlands to accept the gift, a symbol of supreme and divine power.  The 
elephant was given to Diem in a much publicized ceremony.  Two years 
later, history proved no "powerful king" had come to the rescue when 
Diem was assassinated and his regime overthrown in a military coup.  
Whether by chance or not, superstition scores an occasional point in its 
favor. One story tells of an old Vietnamese Senator who, learning that 
the opening ceremony of the first Vietnamese Senate under the new 
Constitution would be October 10, 1967, voiced his disapproval.  It was 
a bad day, he said, and someone in the Senate would surely suffer for 
the indiscretion.  Four months later, during the Communist Tet Offensive 
of 1968, Senator Tran Dien, a popular and well loved figure, was 
assassinated, by the Viet Cong in Hue, in Central Viet-Nam.  The old 
Senator is convinced his prophecy of doom came true .

There are some social reformers in this country who believe that 
superstition is a problem, which should be eradicated in Viet-Nam is to 
become a truly progressive, modern nation. A young whipper-snapper, a 
graduate from a foreign western university, even proposed legislation to 
outlaw superstition in this country. How dull life would be if all our 
soothsayers, fortune tellers, palm-readers and astrologers were to be 
pensioned off and retired. We promptly took this abominable proposition 
to our favorite soothsayer who solemnly assured us that this is not in 
the stars.