The theoretical cultural foundation of warning signs in Vietnamese medieval narrative prose: A survey

Abstract. In the Vietnamese medieval narrative prose, warning signs take on a rich variety of forms ranging from omen, fengshui, dream, to astrology, fortune telling, Chinese horoscope, etc. While methods to derive the warning signs differ in their individual techniques to predict outcomes, they share a common feature in that they reflect the influence of the founding theories of Yin and Yang and the Five Elements, Heaven-Man Unification, and Magic Association. Research on the influence of those theories on warning signs will help readers appreciate better the intellectual and cultural depth of the literary work.

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HNUE JOURNAL OF SCIENCE DOI: 10.18173/2354-1067.2017-0034 Social Sci., 2017, Vol. 62, Iss. 5, pp. 65-73 This paper is available online at THE THEORETICAL CULTURAL FOUNDATION OFWARNING SIGNS IN VIETNAMESE MEDIEVAL NARRATIVE PROSE: A SURVEY Tran Thi Thanh Nhi Faculty of Philology, Hue National Univesity of Education Abstract. In the Vietnamese medieval narrative prose, warning signs take on a rich variety of forms ranging from omen, fengshui, dream, to astrology, fortune telling, Chinese horoscope, etc. While methods to derive the warning signs differ in their individual techniques to predict outcomes, they share a common feature in that they reflect the influence of the founding theories of Yin and Yang and the Five Elements, Heaven-Man Unification, and Magic Association. Research on the influence of those theories on warning signs will help readers appreciate better the intellectual and cultural depth of the literary work. Keywords:Warning signs, Vietnamese medieval narrative prose, Ying and Yan and the Five Elements, Magic. 1. Introduction Although warning signs in the Vietnamese medieval literature in general, and in the narrative prose in particular, are an interesting issue, they have not received much attention from researchers. Scattered in a number of publications, some researchers have mentioned warning signs and their related cultural philosophies: Hoang Thi Tuyet Mai addressed the relationship between God and man: “Good and bad signs reflect Nature which men deeply cares about no matter what period they are in. To the ancient Orientals, good and bad signs are not simply natural, they also contain the philosophical values of Heaven’s mandate and the relationship between God and man” [5;101]; Tran Nghia also confirmed that Confucian school, Buddhism, Taoism, fengshui, Yin and Yan and Five Elements all have an influence on the Han Vietnamese novels. Those theories are well reflected in the warning signs that the medieval authors utilize: “fengshui, vu bốc concepts have also been reflected in many novels in which the topics on De ma in Gong Yu Jie Ji (Quick records in free time from work) and fortune telling in “The story of the strange fortuneteller” are typical examples [6;37]; Le Thu Yen in her article The true value of spiritual factors in the Vietnamese medieval literature analyzes the spiritual factors in that literature, in which there are many warning signs: “The spiritual factors in the Vietnamese medieval literature include: Heaven, Buddha, Fairy Gods, Worshipping, Pray, Spirit, Reincarnation, Magic, Received date: 10/2/2017. Published date: 1/5/2017. Contact: Tran Thi Thanh Nhi, e-mail: thanhnhidh@gmail.com 65 Tran Thi Thanh Nhi Astrology, Divination, Feng Shui, Signs, Karma, Dreams” ... Those are the spiritual factors which inevitably exist in the Vietnamese medieval literature” [14;30]. But research to discover the theoretical foundation, the existing structure, and the influence of cultural theories on warning signs have not been undertaken. Therefore, our article hopes to bring a new and deeper perspective on warning signs in the Vietnamese medieval narrative prose. 2. Content Warning signs are also known as prognosis which is derived from the Greek word “Pro” (before) and “gnois” (that is known), “prognois” means knowing in advance. As defined by the Dictionary on Religions and the Super naturals, warning signs are a type of prophecy in which information about future events is collected through people with psychic abilities, or divine-inspired people who can read symbols, or a change of perception. While a prophecy carries large stature involving many people or countries, the warning signs are related only to individuals; the prediction is based on a recognition beforehand, or direct knowledge of the future. This knowledge is gained through many ways: intuition, dreams and insights gained through a crystal ball, or through reading symbols such as astrology, Tarot cards, palm, scientific numbers, and other fortune telling methods [3;680]. From that, we see that while in the West there are some typical methods to derive warning signs such as intuition, dreams, crystal ball, fortunetelling, palm reading, warning signs in the East in general, and in China and Vietnam in particular, tend to rely on methods such as omen, dreams, fengshui, Chinese horoscope, astrology, contact with the supernatural world through “len dong” (“going into the trance”, a ritual of spirit mediumship). Warning signs were derived from the cult of nature, totem worship, ancestor worship and religious cult gods. The act of fortune telling and of providing warning signs is a way to probe the intentions of the Invisible, along with the vague feeling that by pleading answers from such forces, one has managed to get them on his side towards the desired goals. While there are many different kinds of warning signs, ultimately, they originate from and are influenced by, a number of cultural theories such as Yin and Yang and the Five Elements, Heaven-Man Unification, andMagic Association. 2.1. Yin and Yang and the Five Elements Yin and Yang are the basic elements, or fundamental forces, coming from two opposite directions, but can be combined in the universe. Yin and Yang originally were the objects defined in relation to the direction of sunlight, of which Yin is in front of the sun and Yang behind it. This structure forms the origin of everything in the universe. Yin and Yang give birth to, destroy each other to form the many phenomena in the universe. The Five Elements are basically a manifestation of the contradictory laws introduced in the Yin and Yang theory, but supplement and render that theory more comprehensive. The five elements are: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. Ancient people believed that everything in the universe was created from a combination of these five elements. Its basic principle includes two complementary aspects called mutual aspects (that is to help each other to grow: water gives rise to wood, wood gives rise to fire, fire gives rise to earth, earth gives rise to metal, metal gives rise to water, and this goes on, pushing unabated development) and opposite aspects (oppressing and overcoming each other (wood overcomes earth, earth overcomes water, water overcomes fire, fire overcomes metal, metal overcomes 66 The theoretical cultural foundation of warning signs in Vietnamese medieval narrative prose:... wood, and wood again overcomes earth and this goes on). In the literary work, due to its generality, the writers do not discuss in details the Yin and Yang and the Five Elements concepts; instead they describe and analyze those factors related to them. Nevertheless, a trace of those concepts still appears in the expressions used. In people’s concept and thoughts, one has to understand Yin and Yang in order to gather information from the warning signs. Valuing highly the talents of General Cong Giac who was also a fortune teller, the people commented “Do not say there are no talented generals/ a Prime Minister in this world/ wisely knowing all the past/ correctly predicting the future/ one hand hold the Yin and Yang/ heart following the harmony of Heaven and Earth/ exploring the legend/ Magic is being arranged (Nan chao gong ye yan zhi) (Vietnam dynasty’s deserts and cause records). Having the Ching hexagram sown is a simple way for people to use a coin to ask for Yin and Yang (head/tail) to calculate the hexagram: Canh did not see his father returning and rushed to the market to see the fortune teller who, knowing the Ching hexagram, used a coin to ask for Yin and Yang (Hoan Chau records). And when Dong Trieu’s soldiers who were digging to build a structure were found to feel dizzy and sick, he prayed, then threw two coins into the air and then knelt down, yelled “yes” and then told everyone that God has given a Yin and a Yang (meaning approval) (Nan chao gong ye yan zhi) (Vietnam dynasty’s deserts and cause records). Foretelling the future is sometimes called the Yin and Yang. The person who “has gone to the trance – a ritual of spirit mediumship” was offended, but was not angry and told of the future of Mr. Bui Tu Khanh: “He is rude, but is trying to have a career; his future is very bright. From now on, be careful and do not complain about Yin and Yang (The wrong cannot touch the right). The father of Ngo Kieu Nuong, upon hearing his daughter’s dream, went to the Ching hexagram to see what happened. He analyzed the Ching hexagram using the Yin and Yang: “This one. . . two Yins against one Yang. . . good marriage news (The Strange Encounter in Vietnam) [7;398]. Yin and Yang are not always the cause for bad things, and this point was shown not only in major literary works, but also in the historical accounts. The Empire Nhan TonTien gave a decree “Just now, there were natural disasters with falling stars and earthquakes, and I am really worried. I don’t know where they come from. Either because I have just taken on this job and do not know how to reduce the fiscal burden, or my Court officials did not govern right, leading to Yin and Yang not in harmony. . . Now I am giving the order to the responsible officials and soldiers to do everything possible to rectify the situation to end these disasters.” (Yue shi lue) (Abridged Chronicles of Viet) [13;187-188]. The writers utilize the Five Element Theory in formulating the warning signs, especially the good signs through the appearance of rainbow: the appearance of Phung Hung, God Long Do through images of Yin and Yang and Five Element Theory: thousands of chariots flying on top of trees and houses, splendid clouds combining the five colors (Father and Mother Great King); clouds beginning to form and there is a fresh, cold air with brilliant stars shining and flicking (Guang Li Sheng You Wei Ji Fu Ying Da Wang) (Quang Loi Blessing Saint - Power Aid – Trusted Responding Great King). The Messenger in Mai Thuc Loan’s mother story brought auspicious signs with his hand holding a pearl with five sparkling colors flashing to the eyes (Xiang Lan Mei di ji) (Huong Lam Mai Emperor records) while the mother of Duy Chi is a virtuous lady, she was dreaming of a rainbow cloud appearing in front of the house (The story of the Prime Minister from The Village of Mo Trach). One important issue in the Five Element Theory is the law of mutual resemblance 67 Tran Thi Thanh Nhi and mutual opposition, implying regulating each other and this was well reflected in the warning signs. In The strange encounter in Vietnam, the character HoaVien has applied these mutual and opposing elements to analyze the omen wind: “This wind is called shaking the ears, mainly about the enemy coming. But today is the day of the Snake, so the Yin of Wind belongs to “Gioc” and the wind is coming from “Mao”, its Yin belongs to Vu, water giving rise to wood, mother helping son, our army will win big” [7;4477]. Husband’s and wife’s ages were also analyzed according to this theory: the man named Duong gets married to Hoa Vien and Kieu Nuong and the harmony prospect among them seems favorable (Monkey-Rat-Dragon) (Hoa Vien is of the Monkey sign, Duong Gioi Dragon, Kieu Nuong Rat-the so-called three in harmony). The theory of Yin and Yang and the Five Elements is among the most important theoretical foundation for the existence of the warning signs, especially Chinese horoscope, Ching hexagram, fengshui, trach cat, physiognomy, etc. Therefore, in explaining the warning signs, the fortune teller always begins with an examination of the harmony between Yin and Yang and among the five elements to know the good or bad results. If there is harmony between Yin and Yang, with both present, and if all the elements of the Five Element Theory complement each other, then the results will be good while if only Yin, or only Yang exists, or if the five elements oppose each other, then the results will be bad. 2.2. The Theory of Heaven-Man Unification and Miniature Universe in Man Heaven-Man Unification is among the most important concepts in traditional Chinese culture. Lao Tzu said, “Man follows earth, the earth follows heaven, heaven follows doctrine, and the doctrine follows nature”, taking the doctrine and nature as the spiritual origin of human beings. Dong Trong Thu specifies “Heaven and earth meet and form a unit”. Heaven means nature and natural order while man is individual or self and society is the assembly of men or countries. The three entities, heaven, man, society are complementary and form the Heaven Man unification. The meaning of the Heaven Man feeling is the harmony among the three entities, which would be the road to Heaven Man unification [11;98- 102]. The concept of human beings as a miniature version of the universe broadly encompasses three main components: i) Man is the spirit of everything; ii) Man can have many ways to cope with the universe; and iii) Man can have different ways to feel for the universe, and treats the reaction of human body as a miniature version of the universe. This concept begins by treating man as the spirit of all things and man is a product of Heaven and Earth and of Yin and Yang. Therefore, the composition and the features of human beings through the symbols of “Can Chi” system can match up with Heaven and can feel each other. The concept of “Heaven Man mutual feelings” can be widened to the relationship between human body and the universe as well as the origin and development of the Yin and Yang theory and the Five Elements. The universe is the harmony between Yin and Yang; the Five Elements reproduce, and so does the human body. Human beings, when they are born, in accordance with the eight words of Can Chi, can rely on the opposing tendency of Yin and Yang and of the Five Elements in the eight words to foretell the future, predict life, richness, poverty, etc. and using that to avoid doing the bad things, to follow the virtuous path, while working along the fate. Human body and facial features match up with forms in Heaven and Earth; the physiognomy relies on that to predict virtues, happiness, or disasters, to know the fate and not to go against 68 The theoretical cultural foundation of warning signs in Vietnamese medieval narrative prose:... Heaven. The universe can last long and human beings are just a miniature version of the universe. If men practice this philosophy constantly, they could ultimately become fairy gods and live forever with heaven and earth – this is the nature of everyone’s wishing to become fairy gods. The concept that man is a miniature image of the universe is the foundation for the traditional “thuat so” used to predict fate. When there are many natural disasters or bad signs, the King rectifies his behaviors to convey to Heaven and Earth his hopes to avoid the disasters: “The second half of July there were fires in the capital area, close to 700 houses were burned, many properties and lots of cattle were lost. I the King knowing Heaven’s view, am determined to behave myself, to become more virtuous so that the people can avoid the suffering” (Nan chao gong ye yan zhi) (Vietnam dynasty’s deserts and cause records) [2;508- 509]; or a natural phenomenon also applies to human beings: On the day of the Monkey, the sixteenth of September, on the Rooster hour, on the South West border, a strange air flow rose up like a silk ribbon about three, four yards wide, with pointed head, glowing with a splendid color half gold, half red, which can be seen every day around dust and which, when the sun rises, is reduced to a small cloud standing still, until the first week of December. The elite group in Nam Ha at that time was busy trying to find an explanation whether that was good or bad news. Some wise mean whispered to each other: “That air flow started in the month of Monkey, gathered in the direction of the Monkey with two pointed ends, this could be touching the heels of the King, according to the art of fortune telling”. Yet no one said a word to the king. Later on people have the following poem about this story “Shining Heaven mandate was fulfilled/ periods of prosperity following starvation/ disturbances in the Nghieu period lasted for ten days/ the wolves are ramping abound/ analyzing life since the Ancient time/ understanding the past and future/ discovering that Yin and Yang are really true/ for the past and now undoubtedly”. In July that year, King Nguyen Phuc Tan suddenly had a foot disease, and no medicine could cure. Subsequently the king had problems moving about, could not ride on elephants or horses as before and he was not happy. He ordered his generals to practice war games to recover. At that point, the Court realized that the strange airflow was referring to the King’s foot problem. How effective were Heaven’s wishes (Nan chao gong ye yan zhi) (Vietnam dynasty’s deserts and cause records) [2;508- 509]. In Vietnam, changes of political regimes throughout history were also explained in terms of Heaven’s wishes. The Kings who legitimately assume their thrones are said to be blessed with good signs. Good signs are symbols according to the Confucian orthodoxy. Heaven’s wishes affect the entire human life – they are the official message of good and bad things. That message is also embodied in the beautiful religion adopted by people living in the East throughout so many centuries. The occurrence of natural phenomena such as calamity, crop failures, plagues was due to the King’s inexperience in governance or the Ultimate Beings’ unsatisfactory policies. In reality, it is debatable whether this is a good foundation, but the truth is that in the Vietnamese medieval time our ancestors have an unfailing faith in the intimate and fine relation between Heaven and man. It is this faith that forms the foundation for the King and Queen to behave in governing people; it is also the fulcrum on which people rely to live peacefully throughout the ups and downs of history. This was perceived in certain segments in the prehistoric society where people believe that the kings have supernatural powers. According to Frazer: “People assume that the natural flow of order depends on the King and they consider him responsible for bad weather, failing crops, and similar calamity... people assume that the natural flow of order depends only partially on the King’s will: the King himself was considered the action 69 Tran Thi Thanh Nhi center of the universe, from which the actions go off to all four directions; the force is such that even a small gesture by the King could cause action and create disturbances to a certain natural factor. The King himself is the fixed fulcrum of the world lever and even a small irregularity from the King could upset the delicate balance [4;283]. Next to the Yin and Yang and the Five Elements theories, the Heaven-Man Unification and miniature nature form an important theoretical foundation for the existence of, and faith in, warning signs. In the ancient concepts, the intimate relationship between Heaven and Man has prompted Heaven to provide the warning signs as instructions, guidance to man, especially the king (son of Heaven). This concept has led to a lifestyle in harmony with heaven and earth. 2.3. Magic Association Theory James G. Frazer mentions this theory in his famous The Golden Bough in which he presented two basic principles. The first one is that things resembling one another are likely to generate similar things, or a result similar to its cause. This can be understood in the simple imitation, which could generate all results as desired. This principle is based on a combination of ideas in accordance with the law of similarity. We see that in the Vietnamese medieval narrative prose