Vietnam Arts and Literature

Literature, drama and theater

An oral tradition of folk poetry in the form of songs, fairy tales and sayings was the oldest literature in Vietnamese. During the Chinese Empire, Chinese was a literary language, and it was not until the 13th century that a written Vietnamese poem began to emerge. It was written all the way back to the 19th century with nôm, a difficult to access, written Chinese language written. The verse story was the dominant genre in the literature, an early example is the versified fable “The virtuous mouse” (c. 1375; not in Swedish translation). Nguyen So verse novel “Kim Vân Kieu” (1813) has the rank of national post.

Vietnam Population Pyramid

  • Countryaah: Population and demographics of Vietnam, including population pyramid, density map, projection, data, and distribution.

The proliferation of the written language quôc ngu迂, based on the Latin alphabet, brought about a renaissance for Vietnamese literature. They departed from the classical Chinese role models and produced a large amount of Western-influenced prose and lyricism during the first half of the 20th century.

From 1945 the literature was characterized by the political pursuits of freedom, and the division of the country in 1954 was reflected in the literature, which became Marxist oriented in the north and liberal and individualistic in the south. After the reunification in 1975, all Vietnamese literature is largely subordinate to political orthodoxy.

Literature in Vietnam is experiencing a boom since the 1980’s with names such as Nguyen Huy Thiep, Du’o’ng Thu ‘Hu’o’ng and Bao Ninh whose Sorrows of War (1994) have been published in all Scandinavian languages.

Traditional Vietnamese theater is closely related to Chinese. Commonly widespread in North Vietnam is partly a popular theater tradition, hat cheo, which is based on folk poetry and improvisations, and a very popular type of puppet theater, mua rôi nu迂o迂c, performed on and in water. Western-type drama was written during the 20th century and has been performed in South Vietnam since 1918.


In the 1920’s, the Hanoi-based film company Huong Ky Film Company produced documentaries and journal films, and during the 1930’s Asia Film Group started a continuous feature film production. With the war against the French colonial empire, the division of the country and the war against the US-supported regimes in South Vietnam, production in both the north and the south was dominated by propaganda films.

As early as 1946, the Vietnamese resistance movement Viet-minh began producing films that commented on the current political events as well as reporting and agitator film. Screening of the films was organized through special units touring the country. In 1957, there were hundreds of units, and in 1975 they were about 1,000.

In 1953, Viet-minh founded a national film organization responsible for education and film production, and in 1959 the first feature film was made on the theme of the country’s division. In South Vietnam, the regime produced Ngô Đinh Diem and then Nguyen Văn Thieu anti-communist propaganda film. During the 1960’s, North Vietnam accounted for an annual production of 5-6 feature films, a number that doubled after the reunion, when production spread to three studios: Hanoi, Hô Chi Minh City, and the Army studio. Leading filmmakers were Trân Vu (1925-2010) and Hai Ninh (born 1931), both in Hanoi during the 1960’s and 1970’s, and in Hô Chi Minh City Nguyen Hong Sen (1933-95).

Dominant themes, centrally prescribed, were the colonial wars, the new socialist society, the domestic literature (as film basis) and criticism of negative phenomena in the new state. With the capitalist-economic reforms in 1986 and the liquidation of the state film monopoly in 2002, domestic film production declined due to competition from foreign films, especially in the fast-growing video and television market. International co-productions made it possible to achieve acceptable technical quality. At the same time, the political censorship eased as talented filmmakers asserted themselves, even internationally, such as Trân Văn Thuy (born 1940), Hô Quang Minh (born 1949), with his “Karma” (1986), and Đăng Nhât Minh (born 1938)).

However, during the 1990’s, the state censorship intervened against international co-productions. So e.g. Trân Anh Hung (born 1962) abroad suffered extremely successful Franco-Vietnamese “Cyclo” (1995), depicting criminals in Hô Chi Minh City, by bans on display. In the 2000’s, more and more filmmakers have switched to digital production, and the new independent film companies make entertainment films in various genres, including action and horror, as well as socially critical films that were previously unthinkable.


From about 500 BC to 100 AD flourished a rich Bronze Age culture in Vietnam, called the soông Son after the find site. For a long time, the political and cultural influence of China dominated, leaving clear traces in literature, architecture, painting, calligraphy, sculpture and ceramics. When the French opened the École des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine in Hanoi in 1925, free art practice and the profession of artists were almost unknown concepts. Among the forerunners of modern figure painting are Nguyen Than Chanh (1892-1984) and Nguyen Gia Tri (1909-93). The conditions of the poor have been portrayed in provocative and expressive compositions by Nguyen Sang (1923-88).

Through his interest in history, Nguyen Tu ‘Nghiem (born 1922) laid the foundation for modern Vietnamese painting that is now the most common. An attempt to reconcile Vietnamese aesthetics with Western modernism has been clearly evident in Vietnam during the 1980’s. Among current artists include Nguyen Trung (born 1940), whose abstract painting influenced young talents such as Hoang Tuong (born 1957) and Trân Văn Thao (born 1961). The element of expressionism and fauvism is evident in Nguyen Than (born 1948) and Bui Suoi Hoa (born 1957). Bu’u Chi (born 1948) has created an interesting philosophical painting with strong symbolic elements.


The music tradition in Vietnam is strongly influenced by the Chinese. This applies to the instrumental instrument đan tranh, lutan ty ba as well as musical dramatic genres such as hate tuông and hate bôi. Strong influences from Indian music are evident in the modal structure of the music and in the drumming technique. The mono- chord âan bauu with parallels in neighboring countries has a distinctive design. A single strand extends from one end of a recessed resonance box to the tip of a flexible wooden or bamboo stick at its other end. They were played with flakeolettes and glissandons. The traditional music genres include đan Hue (‘the music of Hue’), performed solo or by chamber group, đan tai tu迂(‘amateur music’) in the south and in the north hat a đao (‘Dao singers’; Dao was a singer who founded the style in the 1000’s), a vocal music form for a female singer with accompaniment on the long neck đan đay and various rhythm instruments. Alternative songs are prominent in folk and minority music. During the 20th century, Western music gained a foothold. The modern music culture is organized within a cultural policy framework similar to the Chinese one.


Vietnam’s popular music was formed partly by French chanson during the time it was a French colony and partly by American music through the US military presence in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. A special phenomenon with Vietnam’s popular music is that song composers have had a more prominent position as heroes and role models in front of singers. In general, there has also been a preference for melancholic, romantic ballads. However, the music life has begun to change in recent decades when a modern Vietnamese pop (V-pop) broke through.

The basic figures for the development of popular music were the composers Phạm Duy (1921-2013), Văn Cao (1923-95) and Trịnh Công So*n (1939-2001), all active during the Vietnam War. Their anti-war songs and romantic ballads can be seen as a counterpart to American folk revival but rooted in Vietnamese tradition. Duy’s music was banned in communist Vietnam, while Cao (the composer for the country’s national anthem) and So’n have been more accepted, though not unreservedly. So’n is today a role model for new generations of music creators; his melancholic ballads have been interpreted with the success of singer Hong Nhung (born 1970).

The economic crisis that followed the war together with the censorship and cultural control of the communist regime caused many musicians to leave the country. No real commercial youth music could be developed until the 1990’s in connection with the lifting of US sanctions and the Internet and new technology paving the way for globalization.

V-pop includes a variety of styles such as rhythm & blues, hip hop and electronic music and is heavily influenced by Korean pop (K-pop). Many artists have made their way through popular TV shows and song competitions such as Paris By Night, Vietnam Idol and Asia Song Festival. YouTube is music’s most important dissemination forum and karaoke culture is widespread.

Well-known artists are the singers Thanh Lam (born 1969), Mỹ Linh (born 1975) and Trần Thu Ha (born 1977), and composer Trần Lập (1974-2016), leader of the popular rock band Buc Tuong. An exception to the male dominance of composers is the experimental Trần Kim Ngọc (born 1976).

Vietnam Arts and Literature