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The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division [1967], at

The Vietnamese and Children

The great Chinese Empire left a vivid and deep impression during its more than 1,000 years of social and political domination in Vietnam. One writer had said that the Vietnamese are more bound by Chinese tradition than are the Chinese themselves. Confucian values derived from ancient China saturate Vietnamese ideas of family patterns and behavior. For instance, Confucianism promotes marriage over celibacy, and defined women's happiness in terms of her ability of having many children. With few exceptions, even today in Vietnam, women are expected to be married not later than about twenty years of age and to have children frequently thereafter. Out-of-wedlock children are not generally approved; their birth is severely censored: in a family-centered society as Vietnam is, the place of such children is quite difficult.

While neither Confucianism or Buddhism makes much of an issue of childbirth, the Vietnamese varieties seem to offer both help and solace to women. The woman who is eager to have children may petition Buddhist divinities in especially auspicious temples, or appeal to family ancestors for help. Hannah, in the Old Testament, did a similar thing in appealing to God for the birth of Samuel.

Some barren women seek medical attention, others look to sorcerers, but it seems that an even larger number appeal to deities for children. It is doubtful that there is a non-Christian home in Vietnam that does not have its shrine. Many villages have a protective Spirit, and shrines dedicated to them and other Spirits are found in abundance. So serious is the lack of posterity to Vietnamese women, that few would hesitate to lodge appeals to the spirits which reside in such places. To obtain the intervention of these supernatural figures, tradition provides definite ritualistic activities.

The supplicant woman must prepare herself for communication with the "gods", and to promote rapport refrains from using meat, onions, garlic, etc., for strong odors-save those of burning incense are not acceptable. A number of baths as well as repeated washings of hands and face are part of the ritual also. Then wearing their finest apparel and carrying

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the traditional offerings of vegetables, fruit, flowers, votive objects, betel nut, chicken, glutinous rice, incense, etc., they go to the temple. Having lighted their joss sticks, clapped their hands and bowed, they enter the temple from the courtyard and follow a standard pattern in bowing, reciting prayers, and expressing solemn wishes to have a child. Sometimes they have the bonzes write prayers on paper which is then burned so that the spirits may receive them.

Among the "gods" called upon in particular are Lieu Hanh, Tan Vien, and Hung Dao. These gods are the most frequently visited at the beginning of the lunar year. In the town of Huong Tich of Ha-dong province, now in North Vietnam, there is a grotto which has a number of vaguely human-shaped rocks called "Young Girls' and Young Boys' Rocks". After paying proper devotions, the supplicant woman chooses one of these "children of Buddha" and caresses it with exhortations to follow her home. She then goes home convinced that "Buddha's Child" is accompanying her, and in attempts to please it, she buys both sweets and toys, and will even pay double bus fare so that "it" can ride beside her.

From that day forward, a place for "it" is made at the family table, with a cradle being prepared at night until the day when the "invisible visitor" finally decides to become a member of the family. Such a child is referred to as a "prayed-for child" because he is an answer to fervent prayer and the parents tend to spoil it.

In Vietnamese homes may often be seen three porcelain or painted figures symbolizing happiness, wealth and long life. Long life is shown as a kindly old man with white snowy hair; a mandarin in fine robes symbolizes wealth; happiness is characterized by the figure of a father affectionately holding a smiling healthy child in his arms. The last is typical of the Vietnamese delight in children. The expectant mother often purposefully wears clothing which will call attention to her hopes, especially if it is her first baby. In accord with this, it is proper at TET, the Vietnamese New Year, when meeting a lady near delivery time to wish her "a boy at the beginning of the year and a girl at the end" implying a large family of course.

Different peoples look at the same events of life with differing attitudes. Who's right? Maybe both; maybe neither! But it's Vietnam!

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