A Trickster

A folk hero of Vietnam, Trạng Quỳnh has bequeathed laughter to generations of Vietnamese. This folk character is based on a historical figure, Nguyễn Quỳnh who lived during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Trạng Quỳnh exploits the polyglossic and heteroglossic conditions of Vietnam, a boundary-crosser who disrupts and transforms the established Truth of his time. As a mandarin at the imperial court, he ignores hierarchical social forms, decorum, and ceremonies. In the story “Thi Ngũ Quả,” for example, he presents the Lord Trịnh with a painting of a woman rather than a platter of five fruits, depicting his portrait as follows:

The lady’s head is a pomelo, her eyes like longans, breasts like peaches, palms like Buddha’s Hands, her garden, a fragrant wedge of jackfruit.

The Wife Rock

The story of Hòn Vọng Phu, a wife who turns into stone waiting for her husband’s return, shapes and is shaped by the physical terrains of Vietnam and its people’s artistic expressions. In all four provinces, from central highland Vietnam to its northern border with China, stands a wife rock atop a mountain cradling a child waiting for her husband’s return; some folks say that he has gone fishing in the South China Sea, others that he has gone off to war. Classified sometimes as a folktale, fairy tale or legend, the story has been retold through numerous genres and media—poetry, short fiction, novel, song, painting, and film. Why is Hòn Vọng Phu so prevalent in the imagination of the Vietnamese?