Nguyen Cong Hoan – The Teacher of the Satirical Short Stories
Nguyen Cong Hoan was born on March 6th, 1903 in Xuan Cau Village, Xuan Cau Commune, Van Giang District, Thuan Thanh District, Bac Ninh Province (now is Nghia Tru Commune, Van Giang District, Hung Yen Province). He was born and grew up in an imperial family. When he was small, he heard and memorized many verses, parallel sentences, anecdotes of satirical nature, satire, lobbies, elites, evil. It is the poetry and anecdotes that deeply influenced his writing style.
In 1926, after graduating from the College of Education, he worked as a teacher in many places such as Nam Bo district, Kinh Mon district, Hai Duong town, Hai Duong province or some provinces such as Lao Cai, Quang Ninh, Nam Dinh, etc until the August Revolution succeeded. Then, Nguyen Cong Hoan held the position of director of censorship in the north as well as the director of the Department of propaganda in the North.
When the national resistance war was launched, he enrolled in the army and became an editor of the “Ve quoc quan” (National defense army) newspaper, Director of Army's cultural school as well as Head and Chief Editor of "Army reading" newspaper. In 1948, he joined Vietnam's Labor Party. In 1951, he worked for Elaboration Centre of the training and education sector to elaborate training curriculum for pupils and complied the book "Vietnam’s modern history from the French domination period to 1950" for Grade 7 (In the 9-year training program) and wrote articles for "People's Education" - the first organ of the Ministry of Education at that time. He was one of modern writers whose prose works were taken into curriculum books in response to needs for training pupils to master Vietnamese language in terms of speaking, writing and understanding.
He started writing when he was at school and identified his writing style right at the beginning of his career. He focused on topics reflecting the contemporary society with the realist and satire ways of description. He described the vivid picture of semi-feudal colonialism society, which was full of unfairness, fraudulence and cruelty. He criticized unhesitatingly the greedy and disgraceful government officials who occupied high positions in the society without talent and virtue; the stupid and stingy despotic landowners; and the unscrupulous bourgeois with the rotten and ridiculous ways of life who considered money the most important thing. However, he also shared his sympathy with the poor and defended them.
Nguyen Cong Hoan is one of the greatest writers following the literary realism, which was mainstreamed with profound romanticism. His prose works received high appreciation and respect from the readers. His first prose work “Kiep hong nhan” (The fate of a beautiful lady), written in 1920 and published by “Tan Da” Bookstore in 1923, was one of contributions for the national prose in Vietnamese script. With “Kep Tu Ben”, written in 1927 and published in 1935, he became the “great writer of satire and short stories” (Le Thi Duc Hanh). Receiving the laud of 18 newspapers from the North to the South, “Kep Tu Ben” made a great shock in the literature circles at that moment and became the hottest topic of pen war between two points of view “Art for the sake of art” and “Art for the sake of life”.
Nguyen Cong Hoan wrote many works in the period from 1920 to 1945. He also had a great number of novels. However, his most typical writing style was imprinted in short stories. One of his famous novels, published in 1938, which was written when the Democracy Front Movement reached its highest peak and affected all aspects of life, was “Buoc Duong Cung” (Dead end). This works was banned from circulation by the colonial government. After 1954, he also wrote some short stories concerning land reforms and revolutionary fighters.
In 1977, Nguyen Cong Hoan died in Hanoi, at the age of 75 years old. After 50 years of writing, he left a huge number of collections behind, including 200 short stories and 30 novels with a number of memoirs, notes, linguistic and literature analysis essays. A lot of his works were translated in many countries such as Russia, China, Bulgaria, India, Japan and Albany, etc. Nguyen Cong Hoan was honorably recognized as one of Vietnam’s 14 most talented writers during the twentieth century. He was rewarded with the Ho Chi Minh prize in the first phase of conferment.