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A Sixth Grade Introduction to Vietnamese Mythology

Updated: 7 days ago

Dear Asian Youth,

Welcome to your first day of class! If you grew up in the U.S., you probably read a lot of “classic” fairy tales when you were younger, like the ones by the Grimm brothers or Hans Christian Andersen. You may have even learned about Egyptian, Greek, or Roman mythology in your other classes. It’s also possible that you developed an interest in some specific subset of mythology, which for me was Irish folklore because I was easily able to find a really informative and fun Magic Tree House: Fact Tracker book on the topic.

But my favorite fairy tale was always Yeh-Shen (or Ye Xian): A Cinderella Story from China, a children’s book I found one day while roaming the aisles of my local library. I had never read a story from Asian folklore before, but here this book was, the only one of its kind on the shelf, waiting for me to read it. I was gripped by the beautiful illustrations and storytelling, both of which were so much more interesting to me than that of the Cinderella stories I had read before.

After finding Yeh-Shen, though, to my disappointment, I was never able to find another story like it. My experience with Asian mythology ended as quickly as it began. But I could find at least a dozen versions of Cinderella where she was white. In fact, I could find just about any myths and fairy tales where the characters, or at least the main protagonist, were white. The message was loud and clear: the stories of Asian people, my people, were unimportant.

But that’s not true. Our folklore has always been beautiful, and it has always deserved to be read, and taught, and passed on. So, for myself and all my students (and readers) of Vietnamese descent, I’m adding a new unit on Vietnamese mythology to our curriculum. Take your seats, class, and get out your notebooks—you never know if you’ll have a pop quiz on this material!

Chapter 1: An Introduction to Vietnamese Mythology

1.1 Creation Story: Ȃu Cơ and Lạc Long Quân

A creation story details the spiritual or mythological origins of a culture, people, or place. The idea that all Vietnamese people are descendants of dragons and fairies came from this particular creation story. The king of Xích Quỷ (also known as the Land of the Red Demons, south of the Yangtze River), Lạc Long Quân, which translates to “Dragon Lord of Lạc,” was the son of a mountain god and water dragon with the body of a dragon who used magical abilities to fight such monsters as Ngư Tinh, the sea monster, Hồ Tinh, the mountain monster, and Phong Châu, the evil genie. Ȃu Cơ was a fairy goddess-princess and healer from the northern mountains who could transform into a bird at a moment’s notice.

There are two different stories for how the two met and fell in love. The first: after the Northern mountain people came to Lạc Long Quân’s Southern lowland kingdom, Lạc Long Quân met Ȃu Cơ, the chieftain’s daughter. The two fell in love and ran off together to Lạc Long Quân’s mountain palace. The second: Ȃu Cơ was healing villagers when she was ambushed by a beast and transformed into a bird to escape. Lạc Long Quân showed up and conquered the beast, causing Ȃu Cơ falling in love with him. Their legend continues that the two settled exactly in-between the mountains and the ocean, where Ȃu Cơ laid a sac of 100 eggs and their children were born.

As time went on and their children grew up, both Lạc Long Quân and Ȃu Cơ missed their lands immensely and felt that their lives were incompatible together, from the contrast of fire and water in their spirits, to the different customs they honored. Together, they decided to return to their respective homes with 50 of their children, so that half of the family would grow up in the mountains, and half in the sea, where they would develop skills and occupations that matched their environments. Despite the distance, Lạc Long Quân and Ȃu Cơ’s love still rung true, so they swore to always meet at the middle ground if ever they needed one another’s help.

1.2 Nature Myth: Sơn Tinh and Thưy Tinh