Vo Truong Toan (? - 1792)

Vo Truong Toan
(? - 1792)
"Sinh tiên giáo huấn đắc nhân, vô tử nhi hữu tử
Một hậu thịnh danh tại thế, tuy vong giả bất vong"

There was always a mystery surrounding Vo Truong Toan's date and place of birth. It was just known to many that he was once living and teaching in Binh Duong District, Tan Binh Prefect, Gia Dinh Province. In his age, he was renowned as a talented and learned personality with broad and profound knowledge in many fields of study.

Vo Truong Toan belonged to a class of anchorites in a time when Confucian study still deeply dominated the Dai Viet society (At this moment, the national name 'Viet Nam' had not yet been officially used.) It was then that the first Western cultural and religious envoys had just set their feet on the land and had not yet had enough time to do what later turned out to be the Vietnamese writing alphabetic system, which has become today's Vietnamese language system. The historical age of his time then was the transition between the Tay Son and Nguyen Anh Dynasty.

Vo Truong Toan retreated to reclusive life, living among the common people in a rural village in his home town to teach them Nom and Mandarin languages, and the Confucian teachings. He refused any grants from the Royal Court, and stayed outside politics for there were so much unjustice and unequality that made him feel he could not afford to stay in it. 

During his life as a village teacher, he had a lot of excellent pupils, among them were some of the very well-known scholars and intellectuals such as Trinh Hoai Duc, Le Ba Pham, Ngo Nhan Tinh, Le Quang Dinh, of which Trinh Hoai Duc and Ngo Nhan Tinh were born in South China. The next generation of scholars, intellectuals, writers and poets such as Nguyen Dinh Chieu, Truong Vinh Ky, Phan Van Tri, Bui Huu Nghia, Truong Dinh, etc were all influenced by his academic style, moral traits and honorable spirit of a profound Confucian scholar.

When the first 3 of 6 Cochinchine Provinces fell into the hand of French invaders, some of the intellectuals in Gia Dinh province (including Phan Thanh Gian, Nguyen Thong, Pham Huu Chanh, Truong Gia Hoi) saw that it was unwise to let his tomb in the occupied land, so they all agreed to move him to Bao Thanh Village in Vinh Long Province (now is Bao Thanh Commune, Ba Tri District, Ben Tre Province) on December 15, 1865. The epitaph on his tomb was written by Phan Thanh Gian. Nguyen Thong, the then Chief Education Officer of Vinh Long province, wrote the report on the event that was engraved on the back of the headstone.

Almost all of his works were lost after his death, except for the only one classic 24-versed poem. In this poem, there are plenty of classic references and Chinese cultural images. The poem was said to convey most of his thoughts and conception about life, fate and human beings as well as the events he witnessed in the time of historical turbulant and chaos.

Today in Ben Tre, there is a temple in Bao Thanh Commune, Ba Tri District, to honour him. Especially, an annual educational award is named after him in order to honour teachers in the Southern provinces who have excellent achievements and contributions in their career. The 2004 award has been given to 20 teachers of all school levels in Ben Tre. For Ben Tre, this is a special event because it is the first time in seven years of establishment that the award is given to teachers in the place of final rest of Vo Truong Toan.

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