What Makes Chinese so Vietnamese?
An Introduction to Sinitic-Vietnamese Studies
(Ýthức mới về nguồngốc tiếngViệt)
Table of Contents
This is a forewarning that the author is going to discuss politics in this chapter. You may want to skip this, but if so, you must accept certain of premises and prerequisites as starting points for what comes next thereafter. Otherwise, you will never understand why the V people and their language have turned out to be so and so in this research while they are described in works by local scholars with substance specially devoid of those Sinitic-centric focus.
V) The politics of Chinese-Vietnamese linguistic studies
While discussing affiliation of both V and C in terms of history, the subject of politics, besides 'political party's lines' (be reminded that VN is still being ruled by the Communist Party), as often being disguised as "nationalism", would unavoidably creep in our talk in a very unpleasant way. Nobody wants to hear discussion on such topic in an academic paper, neither does the author; however, the fact that local people in the mainstream have already submerged in it would spoil the validity of a purely academic matter. Unfortunately, V history, nationalism, and politics are intertwined together that one could talk about a related matter without the others.
Politics is bad for an academic subject, yet in the case under our investigation it has long interfered in this academic field. On the contrary, Western scholarship, in general, as known to the world, is academically separated from political interests, hence, seen as neutral, whether or not it is on political history or historical linguistics. In the meanwhile, for the same matter, in the mindset of C or V scholars, who have been trained as organs to serve the ruling regime they live in, the concept of unbiasedness in historical views basically exists only in virtuality. The term itself is just like another foreign loanword denoting another exotic idea from the west, no more no less.
What further implication political issues would bring about is another subject matter, yet, its influence has already smeared one's impartiality on what we are trying to ring up here. To upkeep linguistic matters in a state devoid of any political contaminants we should not be afraid of confronting the issues, but address them head-on altogether. The author believes that by means of perpetuating historical facts we would be able to substantiate a better state of impeccability in the etymological matters involved. That is the reason why we need to know respective history in depth to better identify sources of related etymologies accordingly.
It is always true that the V language has evolved along side of the develoment of VN's national history. The issue at stake is how V historians view the historical records about the early VN throughout periods of her having been totally ruled by the imperial China for nearly 1000 years during the period hundreds of years before the 10th century. For a historian of the VN's history, s/he must be aware that works compiled by old C historians such as that of Han Dynasty's Sima Qian's Shiji (Records of the Grand Historian) (司馬遷《史記》) or Song Dynasty's Sima Guang's Zizhi Tongjian (Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government) (司馬光《資治通鑑》), are indispensable sources to draw a picture about the ancient 'Vietnam' through different stages of 10 centuries after her independence until now with some flip-flops falling back to a vassal state of China at intervals on and off. While 'Annam' was never mentioned as an 'independent state' in any time after 939 in Sima Guang's colossal work at all, the author does not know how VN's history could be written without that of China. Throughout its history, whenever China grows strong with its military might, it becomes a formidable threat to VN's sovereignty at all times. For such reason, the V harbor a nationalist sentiment against China so deeply inside their heart that has in effect governed their interpretation of academic subjects. Local V scholars could not objectively talk about V historical linguistics without talking about the history of their nation, politically, so to speak.
V history in any period has been in effect revised at least once every time a king or head of state is enthroned, which is a frequent 'political' practice, so to speak. As far as related academic subjects are concerned, historical facts of what happened 2000 years ago could be distorted with respect to what is related to anything C, on the one hand, for instance, propositional episodes of the origin of her people and language. It must have been easier for C historians to handle China's history until 1911, on the other hand, because their viewpoints on the past were least influenced by both changing dynasties and foreign issues where history of the Yuan (Mongolia) and the Qing (Manchuria) dynasties were equally treated on the continuum from the Han and the Tang, etc., to make up the complete Middle Kingdom. Therefore, its past will shed some light on the history of the V, hence, their language.
History of VN before the 10th century, in effect, has been compiled from that of China for the reason that there had existed no V history written in "Annamese" ealier than that period. Before her independence in 939 AD, what is known as today's VN was formerly called Jiaozhi 交阯 (or 交趾, 111 BC–39 AD) and Jiaozhou 交州 (299 AD) in the Han Dynasty and later Annam Đôhộphủ 安南督護府 ("Protectorate General to Pacify the South", 679 - 866) in the Tang Dynasty. So, linguistically speaking, what has emerged out of the history of VN as a vassal state of China is popular usage of massive C loanwords that have found their way into V, which is an inevitable consequence after 1000 years of C rule.
Historical records have indeed helped the author build the VS historical etymology. Imagine what 'China' would have become by now if subjects of the Chu State (楚國) had won in the contention against Liu Bang 劉邦 and his generals (also of Chu's sujects, who founded the Han Empire 漢朝) after the fall of the Qin Dynasty (秦朝 221-207 BC) from 206 BC to 202 BC for total domination over the Middle Kingdom? What if NamViet Kingdom (南越王國 NánYuè Wángguó) had won in the resistance war against the Han that ended in 111 BC? From the supposition that more than 3000 years ago the Yue precursors were indigenous inhabitants of the vast land of today's China South (華南 Huanan), the subjects of the ancient Chu State were then presumedly consisting mostly of the Yue aboriginal origin.
The core matter is in the substance, not the name, and then we can say "what makes Chinese so Vietnamese", instead of the other way around, because the majority of the Yue people in China South (CS) had made up the overall population of the pre-Han China since remote ancient times. Given that ancient 'Vietnamese' were survivors of the Southern Yue people who established the nation of what is now known as Vietnam which still exists in the south. If bronze drums were what the Yue people had been famous for with advanced bronze metalurgy, archaeological finds of them that scattered throughout the southern region in addition to recorded history, it is possible to establish the connection that there first had existed the ancient Yue pollens and only then flowered the Sinitic ones. As said, the core matter is in the substance, not in the name. (日) Historical threads of the Yue roots have fabricated the whole piece of fabric with spots of their habitats that take up more than one half of today's Middle Kingdom map.
With regard to the V language, at the initial look, it appears that after one thousand years under the rule of China, its cultural impact had taken a heavy toll on the V language with a great number of ancient forms that virtually gave way to common Sinitic elements in different usages, e.g., 車 chē (carriage) "xe" instead of "cộ", 房 fáng (room) "phòng" v. "buồng", etc., along with those plausibly rare original aboriginal ones, e.g., 'mới' 萌 méng (new) vs. '*t1miʔ' (A) (cf. 新 xīn, SV tân, VS xịn), 'lưỡi' 脷 lì (tongue) (L), etc., which are also late C cognates. For the two latter forms in V, like the names of those of animals in the V zodiac table as cited below, they could have made a complete round trip from the Yue to the C and back to V, a survival descendant of the Yue, again.
That phenomenon as genrally explained as it is because strong C cultural influence on V is accounted for linguistic dominance, especially from dialects brought into the country by new C immigrants since the ancient times. However, in some cases the other way is true. The Yue elements left inerasable marks in C. In the heartland of the Middle Kingdom there had existed the proto-Yue of Taic origin before "China" ever came into existence as we all see it now, back in time prior to the eras of the "Han" 漢朝, the "Qin" 秦朝, the "Chu" 楚國, the "Yue" 越國, the "Wu" 吳國, etc.. In both cultural and linguistic terms, for example, original Yue zodiac elements definitely had evolved into those of Chinese, say, names of the 12 animals called 子, 丑, 寅, 卯, 辰, 巳, 午, 未, 申, 酉, 戌, 亥, for instance. Now that the C say '鼠年' (nămchuột), '牛年' (nămtrâu), '羊年' (nămdê), etc, in place of '子年' (nămTý), '丑年' (nămSửu), '未年' (nămMùi), or 'Year of the Rat', 'Year of the Ox', 'Year of the Goat', whereas 鼠=子, 牛=丑, and 未=羊, respectively. Note the discrepancy of the C 兔年 'Year of the Hare' and the original one of the Yue as 'Year of the Cat' (卯年 nămMèo) and 卯 măo certainly must be "mèo". It is no-brainer for an academician to catch what is the implication here. In this specific example, in ancient times the "Chinese" might have considered, superstitiously, that cats were "sacred animal" (靈動物 língdòngwù) and replaced it with '兔 tù' or 'thỏ' (hare), and they gradually even replace the original southern 'Goat' with 'Ram' or 'Sheep' because the northern C are assosiated themselves with the latter animals. (羊) In other words, what the early 'Chinese' – while no Chinese had ever existed then yet – absorbed from the Yue and then in turn passed them down to the Han, who later re-introduced them along with many other etyma of the same characteristics, e.g., 'đôiđũa' 箸子 zhúzi (chopsticks) vs. 筷子 kuàizi, V 'chanh' 橙 chéng (lemon= modern C 檸檬 níngméng) vs. V 'cam(sành)' (橙)柑 gān (orange), etc., back to the early 'Annamese' whose ancestors had been descents of the Yue. That is, all 'mixed items' of as late as the Han Dynasty had transcended to become what the academics now call "Sinitic", arbitrarily, so to speak.
The postulation above may also further explain why Sinitic cultural items are customarily accepted by the V naturally for their intrinsic Yue values that went further back prior to the Qin Dynasty. For instance, 端午節 TếtĐoanngọ (the Dragon Boat Festival, commemorating the death of the Chu's patriotic poet named Khuất Nguyên 屈原 Qu Yuan) (K) or zodiac items as discussed previously, they both have been cited as of "Sinitic" to the effect that VN was even referred to as "Little China" in the book by the same title by Brodrick (1942), all for a good reason.
Magnitude of the whole Sinicizing process from the Han through the Tang dynasties in all areas, has proved to be enormous, which is analogous to that of the widespread of the so-called American Culture and the American English language around the world in our modern time. On becoming contemporary VN, her model finds parallels of sovereign statehood in development in line with numerous countries around the world, anthropologically, even with those of historically lesser time span – a fraction of nearly 2500 years that has made history out of VN such as Taiwan and Singapore of which a majority of the populace can communicate in C, Latin nations in South America in Spanish, or those republics separated from the old Soviet Union in Russian, etc.
VN's 1000 years after separation from China has been more than enough to build her unique national identity. In the VN's case, specifically, despite the fact that her culture and national language are so deeply Sinicized that what the V and the C all share seemingly has harmoniously sprung off from the same roots even though, politically, both countries could barely co-exist in peace. One millennium under the C domination proved to be too much for VN, but China is not going to loosen its alertness on any stance that shows VN's nationalism is on the rise. It has never stopped pressing VN so as to subdue her into submissiveness. At times when crises arise, therefore, their unequivocal animosity has maxed out to the next level of tolerance.