History of TET MAGAZINES in Cochin China – Part 1

Associate Professor, Doctor of History NGUYEN MANH HUNG
Nick name: a baggage horse in the university village
Pen name: Beetle

   A number of veteran newsmen in the 30’s and 40’s have assuredly believed that Mr. Diep Van Ky himself was the man who first had taken the initiative in publishing the first springtime magazine, following his adherence to the Press  circle – namely the “Dong Phap” thoi bao (French Indochina time magazine) of town-councillor Nguyen Kim Dinh in 1927 (1).

     Although that magazine was owned by Nguyen Kim Dinh – Its editor was Tran Huy Lieu – The Dong Phap time was  the unique  magazine that clutched at the nationalist movement – that  grew exceedingly agitated at that moment – so it had secured the masses’ attention who welcomed it and read it. For that reason, right toward the end of 1927, the Springtime Time Magazine, with a modest number of pages and a normal size, had made its appearance, printed in red and black colours, and had been sold out immediately.

     How were the contents to be so warmly welcomed by the readers?

    Was  it because of the appearance of great names of politicians such as Phan Chau Trinh, Phan Boi Chau, or Bui Quang Chieu? The truth is proving quite to the contrary – It was because of the “eccentric” poet Nguyen Khac Hieu with his poem “Enjoying the Springtime” (Chơi Xuân). Reading the poem “Chơi Xuân” written in the simple style of the 30’s and 40’s, we at first might believe, that he was relating to us the pleasure and inspiration of a drunkard upon emptying his glass of wine with one gulp, but contrarily to our belief, he was actually making, a preliminary summing-up of all different manners of enjoying Springtime throughout all historical periods, from China to Our Country. All this with humanistic, political and military senses…, aimed at arousing patriotism.

    At that period of time, though already liberated from the ties of Chinese and Chinese-transcribed Vietnamse literatures, this poet who aspired to lead a French way of life and to learn to speak French, still could not break with his “paralleled constructions”.

    Next came the appearance of the Than Chung (Miraculous Bell) Springtime Issue in 1929 – It’s regrettable that the Than Chung was short-lived; it made its appearance on January 7, 1929 and died very young on March 25, 1930.

    The Than Chung daily had a pair of distichs very appreciated by its readers at that time:

    “The morning bell resounds conveying to our compatriots the best wishes for the three happy Tet days. Being over anxious and filled with love for our old country, we do hope that we’11 have many good opportunities in these springdays.”

    In the 30’s, there were not many newspapers written in “Quoc ngu” (Latinized national language), even though the literary public had made the acquaintance with the Latinized words.  Among those rare newspapers, the Than Chung daily was the most outstanding one.

     Among the group of newsmen writing springtime newspapers and magazines, the Cong Luan (Public Opinion) daily had a noticeable guiding principle: that of having a separate group of editors for each  Springtime Issue – for example the special springtime issue of the year 1931 was written by editors Nguyen Van Ba and Phu Duc. With the following springtime special issues came the turn of Vo Khac Thieu, Diep Van Ky, then Tran Thien Quy.

    Although appreciated by the readers while they were still with the Than Chung daily – the group Ky, Ba’s prestige had been lessened when they went to work for the Cong Luan daily.

    A similar case was the one of Tran Thien Quy – when in charge of the Trung Lap (Impartial) daily, he was greatly appreciated by the readers, but when joining the Cong Luan, he lost little by little that appreciation.

      The springtime issue – published in that springtime – though elaborated and brightened up – still had to share the fate of the nation through each different historical period. The first one was the period of economical crisis – and in the spring issue published on February 14, 1931, author Nguyen Van Ba, the editor, had complained about the miseries  of the people in Cochin China in  his article entitled: “Tet of the  last year and Tet of this year”. Let’s re-read a paragraph, filled with pessimism, in his article to be able to compare it with a life-loving paragraph Tan Da Nguyen Khac Hieu had written in his article entitled: “Enjoying the springtime”, mentioned above.

    “….While we were enjoying the last Tet time, we all were  certain  that we’l1 be able to enjoy this year’s Tet time, but we really didn’t expect it to be like this. Last year we didn’t  have a Tet time like this year Tet time and to tell the truth, we have never had a similar Tet time in Cochin China’s history.

     “How sad this year Tet time is?
     How sad is this Tan Vi Tet time?

    “… Don’t think of far-off days, since the last Tan Vi year (1871) up to now, after being under the French Protectorate, everybody in Cochin China had lived happily, and each time when Tet came, people drank to happily greet the springtime until the last year (1930), when the atmosphere and scenes weren’t as happy and bustling as in the past, but from seventy to eighty percent of the Tet atmosphere still could be seen. Anybody born  on this land would recognize so. However, everything is changed in this Tan Vi Tet time, one can say that last year we’ve had a tenfold of activities while this year we don’t have even just one. Last year, a shop selling silks on Catinat street could sell each day four or five hundred piastres of silk, this  year, it could sell only thirty or forty piastres per day. Everybody is complaining about meeting with a loss…

    With regard to the Dan bao (People’s  newspaper) – Newsman Bui The My had published 3 consecutive Springtime issues: in 1940-1941-1942. Besides them, the magazines of Dang Ngoc Anh and Mai Van Ninh had published 3 issues in the consecutive years 1943-1944 and 1945.

    If the low-spirited “tone” had been laid bare in a time of economical crisis, then, when came the wartime period, this same tone still served the masses with their resentful psychology. Let’s re-read an  article published on the Dien Tin in 1945.

“… Only people who had sheltered themselves under a trench could know how deep the ground was; and only those who had gone to sea could know how immense the sea was. In these last 6 years, our country was similar to a ship standing out to sea, while inland there still is a small trench to shelter.”


◊  History of TET MAGAZINES in Cohin China – Part 2

11 /2019