Nguyen Dinh Chieu (1822-1888)

Nguyen Dinh Chieu

Nguyen Dinh Chieu, alias Manh Trach, alias Trong Phu, Hoi Trai, was born on July 01, 1822, in Tan Thoi Village, Binh Duong District, Gia Dinh Province, now is Cau Kho Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. He was the son of a poet and official at the Cultural Services under General Le Van Duyet. His mother was Truong Thi Thiet, a Gia Dinh woman. As a young boy, Nguyen Dinh Chieu had chances to witness and realize the social chaos at the time.

There were endless uprisings by poor farmers and ethnic minorities everywhere against the corrupt Royal Court in Hue, particularly the resounding revolt led by Le Van Khoi in Gia Dinh Province. This event caused direct adversities on his family because his father, Nguyen Dinh Huy, was also involved as an ally with Khoi. Nguyen Dinh Huy ran away to Hue and was dismissed from his post. Nguyen Dinh Chieu was taken along with his family on the run to Hue (the Kingdom City) after his father had been sacked. It was the 8 years living in Hue that helped him realize more clearly the political complications as well as the dark side of the Royal Court. At the same time, he also had chances to absorb the national cultural traditions in the Kingdom City.

In 1843, after returning from Hue, he passed the Tu Tai (High school graduation) at the Gia Dinh. Then, at 25, he went back to Hue for further study awaiting for the examination session of Ky Dau (1849). Unfortunately, the examination had not yet been opened when he got the news of his mother's passaway. So he had to returned home, and fell ill on the way for too much weeping, and lost sight of both eyes. Thunder never strikes twice at one place, but Nguyen Dinh Chieu seemed to bear the mishaps twice.

In Gia Dinh, after mourning his mother, he began teaching and gave medical treatment to poor people. He also wrote poems and stories. Living among the poor, he got a rather insight into their life, their thoughts, their sentiments and what they wanted. It was in this time that Nguyen Dinh Chieu made the first work of art, the versed story of Luc Van Tien, later becoming a masterpiece in the Vietnamese classic literature.

He got married to Le Thi Dien, a younger sister of one of his pupils, Le Tang Quynh. Quynh greatly admired Nguyen Dinh Chieu's talent and merit and was so moved by his life blight that he decided to match his sister to his teacher.

When the French colonialists came to occupy Gia Dinh, Nguyen Dinh Chieu brought his family back to his wife's home land in Can Giuoc District (now a district in Long An Province). It was here that he made the most long-live masterpiece Van Te Nghia Si Can Giuoc (The Eulogy for the Righteous People of Can Giuoc), praising the heroic action of village people in an attack to kill the French invaders, among the martyred was one of his best friends, Mr Do Trinh Thoai and 7 other fighters, all died under the enemy's military might.

When the 3 Eastern Provinces (including his wife's home land) fell into the French hand, he brought his family to An Duc Village, Bao An District, Vinh Long province (now is An Duc Commune, Ba Tri District, Ben Tre province) for he could not stand living under the enemy occupation. In An Duc, he continued teaching and giving medical treatment for poor people in the village. At the same time, he maintained connection with other petriotic intellectuals such as Phan Van Tri, Nguyen Thong and local resisting forces. When told of Truong Dinh's death on August 19, 1864, he made the Ten Contiguous Poems to pay tribute to the heroic martyr. Then he made the Ten Eulogic Poems to pay tribute to the Commander Chief Phan Tong who was martyred in the Giong Gach battle (1868).

During the last years his life, Nguyen Dinh Chieu wrote one of the most famous works, The Fisherman and Woodsman Dialogues on Medical Arts that conveyed his inmost feelings of the situation of the country under the French colonialism.

Ben Tre is very honoured to be the final place for Nguyen Dinh Chieu to lie in rest. A near quarter of a century living in Ben Tre was the most briliant part of his whole life. His merits, his services to the people among them he lived have made him their "Father" and their "Teacher". His poems and stories had gone into the life of the Ben Tre people. His sentiment and anti-colonialist spirit had been passed to them, and became a fundamental base to form the unyielding and undaunted traits of the best-known "Ong gia Ba Tri" (The Ba Tri Old Man) - the typical character of the Ba Tri people. It was said that, on the day of his funeral, thousands of local people attended, mourned him, and saw him off to final rest.

He left hundreds of thousands of literary works to the people in Ben Tre and other parts of Viet Nam.

Now, a memorial complex has been built in An Duc Commune, Ba Tri District to memorize him, and it is one of the most visited tourist sites in Ben Tre. Schools, hospitals, streets and many other public facilities in Ben Tre are also named after him as a way to honour him. All make tourists feel that Ben Tre is a real native land of Nguyen Dinh Chieu - where he is best honoured. Every year, his birthday on July 1st is one of Ben Tre's main holidays. It is a good practice in the Vietnamese cultural tradition to hold a memorial day to remember someone one love and respect most.

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