The element of affection in the Vietnam culture


        By Ph.D. Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan

  (Speech at  The California Miramar University in U.S.A and  The Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) in Germany)


1.    Every nation has characteristics of its own. This national identification is expressed in the aspects of culture, both tangible and intangible and in the way of thinking, in the way of life, and in spiritual activity.

        Affection or love ( tình) is the national fingerprint to identify  the Vietnamese   in the spritual world. The Vietnamese personality has been moulded by the affection in the way of thinking, the manner to behave…and in many  aspects of culture, that can be considered as a significant symbol of Viet culture.         

2.    Linguistically speaking, The words denoting abstract concept in the Vietnamese language is limited in number, however, the vocabulary of sentimental expression is very large,  especially, those denoting the things of commonplace, which depend on the feeling or attitude of the  “speaker”. Take  the word (lạnh) cold for instance. The Vietnamese language has many words denoting the different shades of cold: lạnh buốt, lạnh cóng, lạnh thấu xương, lạnh lẽo, lạnh lùng, lạnh co ro, lạnh tê tái, rét đậm, rét ngọt, rét hại…the same with the word denoting (nóng) hot  : nóng, nóng nực, nóng như lửa, nóng như thiêu, oi, bức, hầm…

         The above - mentioned matter  is  obviously available  in the nominatvive pronouns of  the Vietnamese language. It has a large vocabulary referring to all kinds of personal pronouns from 1stpersonal  to 2nd or 3rd , singular or plural, subjective or objective, that depend on the attitude or  feeling of the speaker. Therefore, personal pronoun is really a messed issue for the foreigners who learn Vietnamese. In English, we have “I” for the 1st personal subjective and “ me”  for objective, but, in Vietnamese, we have : tôi, mình, tớ, anh, em, cháu, ông, bà,dì, cậu, cô, con, thầy, chúng tôi, referring to “I” or “me” according to conversational implicature.

3.   In the respect of behaviour, Viet people think highly of  affection. There is a saying “  Hundreds of  reason are  not equal to a little affection” ( literally translated). Obviously, it is a  present-day saying, reflecting a negative attitude in the modern society, however, it  has taken root in the way of thinking of the Viet people through long history. The proverbs such as  “ Right in sentiment but wrong in reason” or “ deep in affection, heavy in gratitude” …came into being  in the former time, with word affectionalways standing before  word reason. The Viet people often say:  “affection and gratitude” , rarely   “ gratitude and affection”. That is to say, in psychological the Viet people think highly of affection.

       Affection(love) plays an important role in the way of life and social relationship. The following proverbs : “ A warm welcome is more appreciated than groaning board, good table” or” A handful of  food when hungry is better than a package  when sated”.The Viet people appreciate greatly the sentimental value in the human relationship. They easily get angry with or forgive those who violate or respect the affection. In doing business, and social relationship, between affection and reason, the former often holds the balance of advantage.The case is internationally popular, however, it is more serious and popular in Viet nam.

       The Viet people are inclined to laughing.  They laugh whenever possible,  even at the first time they meet strange persons, especially,  the foreigners. Someone thinks that the Viet people are open- minded and hospitable. First of all, the Viet hospitality has originated from the  way of life based on affection. The affection is very simple, truthful, and it is not resulted from diplomatic behaviour or skill.         

4.    The Viet  spiritual life is heavily influenced by affection. A famous scholar of Vietnam, Mr. Đào Duy Anh in his book “ Fundamental Vietnam Culture” has a comment: “ In the spiritual aspect, the Vietnamese …are capable of better aptitude  for art than knowledge of science, better intuition than reasoning…better frivolous literature than real knowledge”( Publishing House Bon Phuong, Sai gon in 1951, page 22). The nature of  “ aptitude for art” and  “ frivolous literature” is the sentiments. Sentiments are the beginning of literature works. Vietnam is a country backward in science and technology, but Viet nam is a country abundant in literature and the world famous  “ Kieu Tale” by Nguyen Du is an example. Vietnam is the country of poetry of various kinds: epic, lyric, dramatic, pastoral…In Viet nam, everybody  from the president of the nation to an ordinary citizen all enjoy poetry; they can make poems and read poems… Poetry is regarded as a means of sentimental expression for the Viet people.

         The a.m issue supplies the evidencce to the explanation of  reason why Vietnam Literature does not bear the philosophical thoughts, however, it is imbued with the sentimental expression: sentimental attachment of  family relatives, lovers, emotional tie between wife and husband, native land, etc. Affection is the basic motive  for  art and literature imagination ( creation) in the past and at present as well. That Viet nam has the great national treasure of folk- songs is a solid evidence for the argument.

 5 .Why do the Viet people think highly of  affection? This is a  personality  of Viet that has been formed by many implicable elements, both material and spiritual through thousand years of history. However, there are two main elements as follows:

           1st: Vietnam society is an agricultural one. Due to the a small scale of production of self- sufficing, confined by the boundary of village and commune, separated from the world development of science and technology, the intellectual thoughts have no convenient background to develop. Under this circumstance, the social relationship based on “faith” and ´affection” has gained momentum.

          2nd. Vietnam has experienced thousand years of poverty and suffered the long domination by the foreigners. The Viet people have been haunted by the long - term famine. Existing in a poor condition, they have to pity fellow – countrymen, protect and help one another in the times of distress. This way of life has become traditional. Up to now, Vietnam is still an agriculture - characterized society  not an industrialized one, so  affectionplays  a  special role in the daily life of the people of Vietnam.

5.    Th strength of the culture based on the affection is  generosityand  flexibility.The generosity is a great value of human beings. It is the essential   to  different religions ( Catholic, Buddism…). In the point of view of may great writers, philosophers, it is the saviour for humans  (L. Toltoy, F. Dostoevsky…) 

Based on affection, thinking is always flexible, supple, not rigid, therefore,  it has strength and “ intelligence” of its own. French philosopher, Pascal says:“ The heart has its  own grounds that the intellect can not understand”. And L.Tolstoy  says: “ The intelligence of intelligence hangs aroundbut the the intelligence of heart is clear - sighted.”

          The strength of affection is the strength of water. The Vietnam culture is characterized by “ water” since  partly it has been impregnated with affection.

          Thanks to the strength of affection,the Vietnam nation has consistently existed for thousand years, overcoming poverty, natural calamities, and foreign invasions.

6.    Nowadays, Viet nam is on the way to build a mordern society, an industrialized state, and the way of life depending on affection has showed  mistakes and shortcomings. There is a modern saying relating to the priority in doing business: “the relatives first, the good lineage  second, the interests third,  the regulations ( rule) fourth ”. If affection is considered more important than  reason, principles, and legality, the society becomes disordered,  no rules are observed…Affection is easily resulted in  individualism,  sectionalism, and regionalism. Building up a state of jurisdiction, developing science need  to be objective in high level, so these defectives are  great hindrances.

8.     Conclusion:   Affection is a characteristic of Viet culture. It is can also regarded as an outstanding feature. To comprehend this matter helps  explain many other chracteristics of Vietnamese culture and Viet people. To comprehend the matter is also useful in the bulding of a modern Vietnam society.

 HCM CITY.  October, 2012

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