Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Chu Dong Tu


From the “Treasury of Vietnamese Folk Tales”
Illustrator: Ta Quynh Mai

The third Hung King had a daughter whose beauty rivaled that a fairy. The girl was named Tien Dung. Rather than getting married, this beautiful princess wished to travel around the kingdom. The king approved of her wishes. Every spring she set sail to explore, and was so entranced by the fine landscapes she saw that she often lost track of time.

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In Chu Xa Village there lived a poor old man named Chu Cu Van and his son Chu Dong Tu. While they loved each other dearly, father and son were so poor they only had one loincloth between them. While the father rested at home, the son wore the cloth to go out, and vice versa.

When the father became ill and lay dying, he told his son to keep the loincloth and bury him naked. However, the son ignored his father’s wishes and used the loincloth as a shroud in which to bury him. After that, Chu Dong Tu only ventured outdoors at night to fish under cover of darkness. By day, the young man would wade into the river to hide his nakedness, approaching passing boats to sell the fish he’d caught or to ask for food.

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One day, the dragon boat carrying Princess Tien Dung stopped at Chu Xa Village. Spying the royal boat with its well-dressed passengers, Chu Dong Tu was horrified. He snuck into the reeds to hide and lay down, covering his body with sand.

The princess went onshore to explore. Finding the countryside tranquil and charming, she asked her attendants to erect a screen in the shallows of the river so that she could bathe. She didn’t know that Chu Dong Tu was hiding at that very spot. As the princess washed, the current swept away the sand concealing the young man’s body. The princess was startled but did not scream. Instead, she asked the young man about his life.

After Chu Dong Tu had shared his story, Princess Tien Dung said: “I planned never to marry. But fate placed you in my path. Our union is sealed by God. We are meant for each other.”

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Chu Dong Tu was given clothes and taken aboard the royal boat. The wedding of the princess and the poor young man was held on the river that very night.

When news of the union reached the king’s ears he was enraged. “My daughter refused to marry a dozen fine noblemen only to wed this poor commoner. I do not wish to see her again! She is not allowed to return to the palace!” he roared.

To make ends meet, the princess and her husband set up a market called Ha Tham Market. Foreign merchants often visited. Over time, the pair prospered.

One day a merchant invited the pair to travel overseas to buy goods that could be resold at a huge profit. The princess encouraged Chu Dong Tu to go, saying: “Fate brought us together and allowed us to earn a living. This trade must be fated.”

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Chu Dong Tu then sailed away with the merchant. When their boat anchored off a distant island to get fresh water, Chu Dong Tu wandered up a mountain and found a small shrine. He met a young Taoist monk named Phat Quang. Convinced by the monk, Chu Dong Tu asked the merchant to purchase the goods and sail on while he stayed on the island to study Taoism. When the boat returned, Chu Dong Tu left for the mainland. Upon his departure, the monk gave him a stick and a hat, saying, “These items are magic.”

Back home, Chu Dong Tu taught his wife about Taoism. The couple decided to stop trading in the market and seek a new Taoist master. They traveled a long distance in search of enlightenment. One night, finding nowhere to sleep, they lay on the ground, burying their faces under Phat Quang’s magic stick and hat. At midnight, a jade fortress rose from the earth around them, full of treasures and fine furnishings. There were even soldiers, mandarins and servants ready to serve the surprised couple.

Upon hearing of this rival kingdom, King Hung sent an army to attack the fortress. As the royal army drew close, Tien Dung’s troops wanted to venture forth to fight but she refused. “Everything was decided by God, not me,” she said. “I do not dare resist my father. If he decides to kill me, I won’t blame him.”

As darkness fell, King Hung’s troops camped on Tu Nhien Field, across the river from the jade fortress. At midnight a huge storm blew up, toppling trees and destroying the king’s camp. The fortress and everyone inside it was carried up into the heavens. The next day, to the locals’ horror, Tu Nhien Field became a great marsh. People built a temple in which to offer annual sacrifices and renamed the marsh Nhat Da (One Night). Nhat Da Marsh is located in Khoai Chau town in Hung Yen Province.


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