Literacy in Ancient Vietnam

Michele Thompson, Southern Connecticut State University
Evidence for Literacy in the Red River Basin in the Late 03c
WSWG 17, Leiden University, 18 September 2003


Archaeologists find evidence of continuous human habitation for a minimum of 14,000 years in the Red River basin in what is today northern Vietnam. Between the peoples of this area and those on the upper reaches of the Mekong, Red, and Yangtze rivers, in what is today the People's Republic of China, there is a long and well-attested history of trade and other forms of cultural contact. Literacy among the non-Sinitic peoples who lived in the southeastern and southwestern regions of what is today China is a well established fact, though clearly this literacy was limited to members of certain classes of society.

Literacy in the ancient Red River basin is certainly not an established fact, nor does this paper aim to make it one. Instead, this paper will discuss the limited physical evidence from Co Loa citadel (20km WNW of Hanoi; built in the 03c and the capital of the area under the Nan Ywe and under Han overlordship, until Han imposed direct rule in the year 43). That evidence seems to imply literacy among a class of non-Sinitic overlords who moved from areas where literacy is well attested in what is today China into what is today Vietnam in the 03rd century.

The paper will conclude with the theory that writing was first introduced to the ancient inhabitants of northern Vietnam from southern China before the nominal conquest of the area by the Chinese in 0111, and well before the Han forces under Ma Yuan imposed direct rule over the area in the year 43.


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26 Apr 2003 / Contact The Project / Conferences Page