Truong Vinh Ky (1837- 1898)

Truong Vinh Ky
(1837- 1898)

Truong Vinh Ky, also called J.B. Truong Chanh Ky, or Petrus Ky, was born on December 6, 1837 in Vinh Thanh Village, Minh Ly Canton, Tan Minh District, Vinh Long Province (now is Vinh Thanh Commune, Cho Lach District, Ben Tre Province).

His father was Commander Truong Chanh Thi, his mother was Nguyen Thi Chau. He started to learn the Mandarin language at as early as 5 years of age. When he was 9, he lost his father. In Cai Nhum at that time there was a Christian missionary teaching Latin language. At 12, Ky studied the Christian Bible with Father Hue (or the Priest Belleveaux) and followed him to the Pinhalu School in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. In 1851, Truong was granted a scholarship by this school to study at the Pinang Friary in Indonesia, then the main centre of Christian training for Southeast Asian countries. At the Pinang Friary, Truong Vinh Ky showed outstanding learning skills to the ideological and knowledge on natural as well as social sciences, that even some of the famed personalities at that time were surprised and praised his excellent brainpower and erudite knowledge. He also proved himself skillful in linguistics. Beside the commonly used languages at the time such as French, English, Latin, Greek, Hindi, and Japanese, he was also proficient in Chinese, Spanish, Malay, Lao, Thai, Burmese. Truong Vinh Ky worked mainly in the cultural domain, but he also worked for 8 months at the Secrete Institute in the Court of Hue and another 8 months as an interpreter in the Vietnamese delegation to France. When the French troops attacked the Province of Gia Dinh in December, 1859, he was appointed as an interpreter to the Occupying forces. In June, 1863, he accompanied Phan Thanh Gian, the chief delegator sent to France by the Hue Court to negotiate the retrieval of provinces lost into the French hands. This trip was a very good chance for Truong to meet with famous figures at the time such Victor Hugo, Littre, Renan, and French statemen. He also had chances to tour the world, coming to countries such as Egypt, Portugal, Spain, Italy, etc.

The trip also gave him a quite broader perspective view of his own country and the blight of his fellow countrymen. After all of the 6 provinces of the Cochinchine were lost to the French invaders, Truong was appointed as the first Annamite officail to serve under the French protective regime. He was professor of French language at the Interpreter School (1866-1868), Chief editor for the Gia Dinh Newspaper (1868), Director of the the Pedagogic School and at the same time Secretary of the City Council of Cho Lon (1872), professor in French language for the French and Spaniard expats at the College des Administrateurs Stagiaires in 1874. In February, 1876, Truong was appointed as the Supervisor for Dong Khanh King at the Secrete Institute and stayed on the job until October, 1876. Then he went back to Sai Gon. He was no longer accredited after the abrupt death of Governor-General Paul Bert on November 11, 1886, and spent most of the time doing research and teaching at the Interpreter School and the College des Administrateurs Stagiaires. In the cultural area, Truong Vinh Ky was admired greatly as a scholar with broad and profound knowledge in various fields of study, both in social and natural sciences. He had considerable achievements in collecting, transcription and translation from foreign languages into Vietnamese. Some of his best-known transcription and translation works include Truyen Kieu (The Story of Miss Kieu), Luc Van Tien (written in Mandarin language by Nguyen Dinh Chieu), Phan Tran, Gia Huan ca (Book of Familial Educating), Luc Suc Tranh Cong (The Six Animals Vying for Services).

During his 40 years working in the cultural field, Truong Vinh Ky created 118 works of many genres such as research, collecting, translation, transcription, tens of which were written in French. He was also a member of science societies and associations in Europe. In the time of transition and cultural intersection between West and East in Viet Nam at the end of 19th and early 20th century, Truong had such a grandiose career that the French scholar J. Bouchot called him "the only scholar in Indochina and even the modern China " In Viet Nam, Truong was praised as the most excellent language and cultural researcher. Though there are some ideas criticizing him for having cooperated with the French colonialists, no one ever doubts his excellent learning and profound knowledge, as well as his invaluable contributions to Viet Nam's cultural development during the early days of modern civilization. He died on September 1, 1898, in Sai Gon, at 62. There have been many research books and biographical as well as critic books about Truong Vinh Ky, his life and his works. All were published and have been reprinted many times in many ways for many later researchers to get to understand him.

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