The important event in the Russian Vietnamese studies

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This is a review of the book “Spiritual Culture of Vietnam: Traditional Religious and Mythological Views of Vietnamese” by E.Yu. Knorozova. The author summarizes her many years’ studies on mythology and religious views of Vietnamese, on their forming and development beginning from ancient times up to nowadays. The monograph is based on concrete translations and studies of numerous original sources (which the author has worked at for decades), taking into account all the available works by Russian and foreign researchers. In fact, the book is an encyclopedia of traditional spiritual life of the Vietnamese people, distinctive from spiritual life of other peoples, which up today has a great influence on the state ideology and policy of Vietnam. The completeness of materials, convincing and irreproachable arguments in favor of the author’s conclusions will undoubtedly give long and happy life to the book, as one of the buttresses for future studies on similar and closely-related problems.

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Knorozova E.Yu. Dukhovnaya kul’tura V’etnama. Traditsionnye religiozno-mifilogicheskie vozzreniya v’etnamtsev. (Spiritual Culture of Vietnam: Traditional Religious and Mythological Views of Vietnamese) Saint Petersburg: BAN, 2020. 507 Pp. Rara orientalia; vyp. 2 (8). ISBN 978-5-336-00271-3 Ekaterina Yur’evna Knorozova is one of the most authoritative and competent researchers of traditional Vietnamese society. She works much and fruitfully in the cross-cutting sphere at the meeting-point of history, religious studies and ethnology. Due to her works researchers and numerous readers have known many medieval Vietnamese sources in Russian translation with detailed comments. That is why her new summarizing work was expected impatiently and the book has come up to expectations. In the new “thick” monograph all the author’s conclusions, dispersed in numerous publications, sometimes difficult to access, have been collected together, classified and distributed in a strict sequence. Besides, the monograph contains entirely new facts, which have not been reflected yet in formerly edited works. It can be concerned the absolute achievement that the situation with spiritual life of Vietnamese is not hanging in the air as a separate phenomenon, but is inserted in the context of spiritual life of other world cultures, at that, not only neighboring, close by their origin and living conditions (first and foremost, China, Korea, Japan, South East Asia, partly India), but also remote ones. So, this work is of interest not only to Vietnamists, but also to numerous Orientalists and specialists in various spheres of humanities, especially because the author shows the highest level of erudition and knowledge of problems, and the arguments of similarity and differences of the investigated phenomena are logical, consistent and sure. The monograph consists of three chapters (“Some Aspects of Vietnamese Religious Ideas”, “The Sources”, “The Religious and Mythological Sets”). The third chapter seems to be of the greatest interest. In it the author reached such depths that sometimes to assess their data is not easy even to the proficient reader. As usual, E.Yu. Knorozova is very careful to the sources. The reader will find their new translation in the appendix. This time it is the survey of Vietnamese myths in the exposition by Nguyen Dong Chi. Thoroughly prepared Russian literature on these problems is the obvious achievement of the author. Are there any shortcomings in the work? The last book, which needed not to change at least one hieroglyph, had been “Lushi chunqiu” by Lu Buwei (the third century B.C.). So, in this monograph there is something to find fault in. Unfortunately, there are some small factual mistakes. Here they are: The Emperor Ly Than Tong ruled in 1128 - 1138, not in 1128 - 1175 (p. 24). The Emperor Ly Nhan Tong did not rule till 1126 (p. 27); he died on February 2, 1128. Dai Dinh era (1140-1163) had no Tan Suu year (p. 30). 1141 was Tan Dau. Trung-hung time is not the time of the dynasty Nha Hau Le (1428-1788, p. 34), but only the time of its revival (trung hưng) in Laos in 1533. Chongzhen era lasted till 1645, not to 1643 (p. 34). Tian Zuo (Thien То) is not the posthumous name of the Emperor Ly Anh Tong (p. 34), but his personal “forbidden” name. There is no "Dinh Chin " year (p. 35) in the Vietnamese calendar. Possibly, Dinh Chi year is meant. Ly Bat Ze temple (p. 102) is Ly Bat De temple (“Eight Emperors of the Ly [dynasty]”). The Emperor Le Thai Tong ruled in 1433 - 1442, not in 1434-1439 (p. 127). It is not clear, why the author has taken 1595 for the last year of the dynasty Mac rule (p. 144). Usually, this dynasty is considered to have ruled to 1677. Sometimes 1593 is mentioned, when the last adherents of the dynasty were defeated in the battle in Thanh Lam district, and the Emperor Mac Kinh Chi was prisoned and executed. In 1595 there were no events possible to be interpreted as the fall of the Mac dynasty. The leader of the Song army, invaded in Dai Viet at the end of the 11th century, was Go Kui, not Go Pui (p. 203). The feast in Phu Dong temple takes place on the fourth moon, not in April. So, it is wrong to tell of some events happened in it on “the 5th and 6th of April” (p. 203). On p. 258 it is pointed out that Duong Khong Lo, the monk, died in 1120, and that he lived in Ha Trach pagoda under Emperor Ly Than Tong, who is known to have ruled in 1128-1138. Phang Dang Nhat (p. 333) is Phan Dang Nhat. Tian-sin era (p. 347) is Tian-sheng era (1023-1032). The precise birth year of Tran Quoc Tuan (Hung Dao Vuong), the military commander, is not known, but he could not have been born in 1213 (p. 423), as his father Trinh Lieu, the elder brother of Emperor Tran Thai Tong, was born in 1211. As a whole, these small mistakes do not influence the reviewed text, but the reader not acquainted with the author and her works may doubt her competence. The second group of claims relates not so much to the monograph, as to our Vietnamese studies as a whole. As usual, each author transcribes Vietnamese terms to Russian in his own way. While earlier such a situation was more or less acceptable, in the epoch of hashtags, keywords and retrieval systems it is unacceptable and hampers actively current work with texts. One can but envy our sinologists who solved this problem long ago with appropriate notes in dictionaries. Of course, this is the task for linguists, not for historians, but the same work must maintain the same system (Thanh Ziaung, p. 201, not Thanh Ziong; Thang Laung, not Thang Long, p. 228; Zia Lam, p. 204, not Zya Lam, p. 36). At least, the same names and concepts in the same text must be identical. Are they Le Quy Don (p. 119, 134, 135, 144, 171) or Le Qui Don (p. 121, 162, 163), Ho Shi Zyong (p. 128) or Ho Si Zyong (p. 121), Su Dun-po (p. 41, 59) or Su Dunpo? What about the sources? ("Complete records of the Great South " (p. 400) or "Summary description of Dai Nam" (Dai Nam nhat thong chi) (p. 58)? Which is the correct form: the Ho Tay (p. 362) or The West Lake (in other cases)? Bodisatva (p. 36, 423) or bodhisatva (p. 311)? In the descriptions of religious and mythological views of Vietnamese the author has showed excellent knowledge of texts on the theme by other Russian and foreign researchers, having reflected them in her monograph. At that, through the monograph the author avoids to give her own assessment of legitimacy or doubtfulness of these or those arguments, confining herself but with their more or less detailed exposition. In some cases, her opinion can be understood by indirect signs, but mostly not. Meanwhile, in the result diametrically opposed (sometimes even mutually exclusive) concepts and arguments referred to spiritual life in Vietnam are neighboring each other. For the erudite, acquainted with relevant issues, it is no problem. But it is worth to think of the student, one of the main users of such a production, who reading such a text will never understand, whether Trieu Viet vuong was a historical person or a mythological one? How Gao Pian, who ruled Annam in 864-868, could get to the territory of contemporary town of Hue, then in the very center od a quite different state of Champa (p. 57)? Were there any reforms under Emperor Ly Thanh Tong (ruled 1054-1072) or were they made up by later chroniclers (p. 33)? And if they had place, what were those reforms? The unsuccessful attempt to implant Confucianism in the country (p. 33) or a quite successful process of transforming the country into Far-Eastern despotism on the base of imperial religion (p. 77)? And the statement that the name Ly Phat Tu (literally “Ly, Buddha son”) is “the rule motto of the Vietnamese Emperor” (p. 272) will be referred to the work of the favorite Teacher, but not of the real “inventor” of this vexed statement. At last, the chief catastrophe: the circulation of the book is a hundred copies. The main mass of readers seems never to have this excellent book in their hands ant to be content with its e-copy again. Ekaterina Yur’evna Knorozova is not like most contemporary researchers. She does not try to show her exclusivity, to seek for imaginary sensations and to stagger the mankind. Merely, day after day, month after month, year after year she fulfills her favorite work, as if embroiders a large canvas with small beads, not sparing her time and labor. She educates excellent students with their bright eyes and deep interest in problems studied. When the state has no money to publish the results of her works, she does not moan, but publishes them on her own account. It is only left to wish her further successes in her noble work and to congratulate all the Orientalists of Saint Petersburg with the new remarcable achievement.

About the authors

A. L Fedorin


D.Sc. (History), Researcher, Centre for Vietnam and ASEAN Studies


Copyright (c) 2021 Fedorin A.L.

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