VIETNAMESE RELIGIOSITY: THE TRADITIONAL CULT OF TUTELARY SPIRITS IN VILLAGE COMMUNES AND THE STATE
The author indicates the present renaissance of all the forms of religiosity after the doi moi reforms, indigenous and of foreign origins.
The study is based on the author’s field work in Vietnam at the end of the 1970’s and his analysis of the “temple books” collected by the colonial French authorities. The authors compares this Vietnamese material with Chinese cults and religious practices, and – on the other hand – briefly outlines the present situation of religious cults with the “socialist” period and in detail analyses their state on the village level in the last centuries of the monarchy.
As the principal forms of the Vietnamese religiosity the author outlines the following cults and rites: 1) The “Three Teachings” – Confucianism, Taoism and Zen Buddhism; 2) Sino-Vietnamese cults – adapted from China (as the Chinese cult of Mazu, of the Prince Guan, Xuan Wu, etc.); 3) The Vietnamese cults of saints (thanh), in particular of the “national heroes” (anh hung), worshipped in the dinh temple; 4) Cults of the local tutelary spirits (most of the village cults belongs to this category) also worshipped in dinh; 5) The cult of the ancestors; 6) The state cults celebrated by the ruler; 7) Beliefs and practices related to the mysterious forces – benevolent or malignant (such as astrology, geomancy, oracles, the use of amulets, etc. In addition the author indicates that these cults and rites involves first of all various communities, not individuals as in the West, and instead western priests the rites are usually performed by the heads or representatives of the communities: of the family, of the community or of the state. One can find there the anthropocentric not the western theocentric orientation (this is common to all the countries of the Confucian-Buddhist civilization). Moreover, the orthopraxy not the western orthodoxy prevails in Vietnam as in the region, hence religious rites and practices are essential there, not beliefs, so important in the West. The rites serve first of all to preserving/restoring order and harmony in the family, in the village or in the region/the state. Therefore the deep religiosity is usually missing and the rites have mainly social functions.
The author describes the traditional Vietnamese village commune as a semiautonomous village-state (with its own complex bureaucracy) that could be compared with the Mediterranean city-states. Hence, following the Vietnamese historians, the author characterizes the Vietnamese monarchy as a kind of federation of such village communes. In this respect Vietnam differs significantly from the Chinese Empire, where the state was much stronger. Village communes constituted the fundamental entity of the political and social order in the Vietnamese monarchy and these traditions influenced political culture in Vietnam.
The author presents the village communes’ tutelary spirits – thanh huang: their types, character, ranks and functions. He indicates that this deity corresponds to the Chinese “tutelary deity of a city” – cheng huang, and indicates all together 14 types of such Vietnamese deities (with numerous examples). The author indicates the difficulties related to such surveys in the field and in archives, first of all related to the “temple taboo” (hen) and its relation to the state policy.
The strengthening of the state in the 2nd millennium involved increasing control of the village cults and the resistance of the local communities, which protected their original cults with taboo and other measures. In this way the old cults that contradicted the newly propagated Confucian values and norms often could be preserved. The author outlines the complex interrelations of the village communes and the state in the last centuries of the Vietnamese monarchy in detail with references to various examples of villages and their correspondence with the Ministry of Rites. He concludes that a significant autonomy of village communes was preserved until the end of the independent Vietnamese monarchy in the religious aspect, which was certainly essential to the Confucian type of state.