Vietnamese and Chinese Movies about Royalty

From Confucian Cosmology to Ecological Politics


  • Cam-Giang Hoang Vietnam National University, University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Hanoi, Vietnam



Confucian cosmology, historical movies on royalty, ecological politics, “the Unity of Heaven and Man”, “Rectification of Names”, “Virtue of Loving Life”


Since 2002, with the enormously successful release of the movie Hero by Zhang Yimou, we have been witnessing the resurrection of the royal theme in contemporary East Asian cinema, and the return of Confucian cosmology as its philosophical foundation. In this paper, I focus on Vietnamese films which represent royal subjects and court life, like Heroes of the Tay Son Dynasty (Tây Sơn hào kiệt; Lý Hùng, Lý Huỳnh, and Phượng Hoàng; 2010), Blood Letter (Thiên mệnh anh hùng, Victor Vũ, 2012), and Tam Cam The Untold Story (Tấm Cám chuyện chưa kể, Ngô Thanh Vân, 2016); and Chinese films, like Hero (英雄, Zhang Yimou, 2002), The Banquet (夜宴, Feng Xiaogang, 2006), and Red Cliff (赤壁, John Woo, 2008). Firstly and most importantly, my essay examines how the cosmic and environmental elements in such movies are manipulated to advocate some particular political discourse as a kind of ecological politics. From this analysis, I analyse and explain the similarities in how the filmmakers in Vietnam and China establish the stereotypes of power and legitimacy of authority utilizing and transforming the Confucian spiritual cosmology. I also try to clarify the difference between the two cinemas in how they express the concepts “the Unity of Heaven and Man” (tianren heyi), “Rectification of Names” (zhengming), and “Virtue of Loving Life” (haosheng) in their political implications. Finally, I will discuss the layers of meaning and visual narratives by analysing the characters and social contexts of the films to reaffirm the varying degrees of influence of Confucian tradition on contemporary forms of cultural and political practices.


Download data is not yet available.



Adorno, Theodor W., and Max Horkheimer. 2012. “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.” In Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks, edited by Meenakshi Gigi Durham, and Douglas M. Kellner, 41–72. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.

Aranburu, Ainhoa Marzol. 2017. “The Film Industry in China: Past and Present.” The Journal of Evolutionary Studies in Business 2 (1): 1–28.

Bell, Daniel A., and Hahm Chaibong. 2003. Confucianism for the Modern World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cambridge Dictionary. 2019. “Utilitarianism.” Accessed March 1, 2019.

Cao, Tự Thanh. 2017. “Nhìn lại tình hình nghiên cứu Nho giáo trước nay” (Looking Back on the Confucian Research in the Past and the Present).” Accessed December 28, 2018.

Chan, Wing-tsit. 1963. A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Cheng, Chung-ying. 1972. “On yi as a Universal Principle of Specific Application in Confucian Morality.” Philosophy East and West 22 (3): 269–80.

China Film Industry Promotion Law (中华人民共和国电影产业促进法 ). 2016. Beijing: China Democracy and Legal System Publishing House.

Confucius. 1999. Book of Rites (Liji/ Kinh Lễ). Translated with annotations and introduced by Nguyễn Tôn Nhan. Hanoi: Literature Publisher.

–––. The Analects (Lunyu/ Luận ngữ). Translated with annotations and introduced by Nguyễn Hiến Lê. Hanoi: Literature Publisher.

Davis, Darrell William. 2010. “Market and Marketization in the China Film Business.” Cinema Journal 49 (3): 121–25.

Deng, Jun and Craig A. Smith. 2018. “The Rise of New Confucianism and the Return of Spirituality to Politics in Mainland China.” China Information 32 (2): 294–314.

Dong, Zhongshu. 2016. Luxuriant Gems of the Spring and Autumn (春秋繁露). Translated and edited by Sarah A. Queen, and John S. Major. New York: Columbia University Press.

Durham, Meenakshi Gigi, and Douglas M. Kellner, eds. 2012. Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.

The Economist. 2017. “How the Private Sector is Helping China to Modernise Propaganda.” Accessed December 28, 2018.

Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2019a. “Shun: Legendary Emperor of China.” Accessed March 1, 2019.

Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2019b. “Yao-Chinese Mythological Emperor.” Accessed March 1, 2019.

Eytchison, Patrick. 2013. “Green Confucianism: Ecology, Class and the Green Movement.” Synthesis-Regeneration: A Magazine of Green Social Thought 31: 38.

Hammond, Kenneth J., and Jeffrey L. Richey, eds. 2015. The Sage Returns: Confucian Revival in Contemporary China. New York: State University of New York Press.

Hon, Tze-Ki. 2017. Confucianism for the Contemporary World: Global Order, Political Plurality, and Social Action. New York: State University of New York Press.

Kassiola, Joel Jay. 2010. “Confucianizing Modernity and ‘Modernizing’ Confucianism: Environmentalism and the Need for a Confucian Positive Argument for Social Change.” In China’s Environmental Crisis, edited by Joel Jay Kassiola, and Sujian Guo, 195–218. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kitchenham, Andrew. 2008. “The Evolution of John Mezirow’s Transformative Learning Theory.” Journal of Transformative Education 6 (2): 104–23.

Li, Luzhou, and Saskia Witteborn. 2012. “Confucianism in the Chinese Media: An Analysis of the Revolutionary History Television Drama in Those Passionate Days.” Chinese Journal of Communication 5 (2): 160–77.

Lý, Tùng Hiếu. 2015. “Ảnh hưởng của Nho giáo trong văn hóa Việt Nam (The Influence of Confucianism on Vietnamese Culture).” Tạp chí Khoa học Xã hội Việt Nam (Vietnam Journal of Social Sciences) 4 (89): 88–96.

Minh, Anh. 2005. “Tư tưởng Nho giáo về gia đình và việc xây dựng gia đình mới ở Việt Nam hiện nay (Confucian Thought about Family and the Construction of New Families in Vietnam Today).” Tạp chí Triết học (Journal of Philosophy) 10 (173).

Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China. 2006. “Outline on Secondary School Moral Education (Zhongxue deyu dagang).” Translated by Ming Qiang, and Gregory P. Fairbrother. Chinese Education and Society 39 (2): 21–36.

The National Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. 2010. Luật điện ảnh (Revised Law and Legislation on Motion Pictures in Vietnam). Hanoi: National Political Publishing House.

Natural Medicine Clinic. 2019. “Haosheng, to Love and Promote Life.” Accessed March 1, 2019.

Nguyễn, Kim Sơn. 2003. “Nho giáo trong tương lai văn hoá Việt Nam (Confucianism in the Future of Vietnamese Culture).” Tạp chí Văn hóa và Nghệ thuật (Journal of Culture and Arts) 2 (224): 53–57.

Nguyễn, Thị Thanh Mai. 2010. “Tư tưởng đạo đức Nho giáo và ảnh hưởng của nó ở nước ta hiện nay (The Thoughts of Confucian Ethics and Its Influence in Our Country Today).” Tạp chí Nghiên cứu Văn hóa online (Journal of Cultural Research).

Nguyễn, Văn Lục. 2014. “Nhìn lại sử liệu viết về Nguyễn Huệ Quang Trung và Gia Long Nguyễn Ánh (Looking Back on Historical Documents Written About Nguyễn Huệ Quang Trung and Gia Long Nguyen Anh).” Nghiên Cứu Lịch Sử, January 20, 2014.

Nguyệt, Như. 2018. “Xóa bỏ lằn ranh phim nhà nước và phim tư nhân (Remove the Boundaries of State Movies and Private Movies).” Tổ quốc (Nation). Accessed December 28, 2018.

Pang, Qin. 2018. State-Society Relations and Confucian Revivalism in Contemporary China. Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan US.

Phan, Huy Lê, Hoàng Xuân Hãn, and Trần Văn Giàu eds. 2006. Quang Trung Nguyễn Huệ: Những di sản và bài học (Quang Trung Nguyễn Huệ: Legacies and Lessons). Ho Chi Minh City: Saigon Culture publisher.

Phan, Văn Các. 1994. “Nghiên cứu Nho giáo Việt Nam trong bối cảnh khu vực và thời đại (Vietnamese Confucian Studies in Regional and Era Contexts).” Tạp chí Triết học (Journal of Philosophy) 3: 41–4.

Phong, Kiều. 2018. “Phim cổ trang Trung Quốc và bí quyết thành công (Chinese Historical Costume Films and the Secrets of Success).” Báo Thế giới điện ảnh online (World Cinema Newspaper). Accessed January 18, 2019.

Quang, Đạm. 1994. Nho giáo xưa và nay (Confucianism Past and Present). Hanoi: Culture and Information Publishing House.

Rawnsley, Gary D., and Ming-Yeh T. Rawnsley. 2010. Global Chinese Cinema: The Culture and Politics of “Hero”. New York: Routledge.

The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. 2016. Zhonghua renmin gongheguo dianying chanye cujin fa 中华人民共和国电影产业促进法 (China Film Industry Promotion Law). Beijing: China Democracy and Legal System Publishing House.

Tan, Sor-Hoon. 2012. “The Pragmatic Confucian Approach to Tradition in Modernizing China.” History and Theory 51 (4): 23–44.

Taylor, Rodney Leon, and Howard Y. F. Choy. 2005. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Confucianism. New York: Rosen Pub Group.

Teo, Stephen. 2009. Chinese Martial Arts Cinema: The Wuxia Tradition. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Thiesse, Anne-Marie, and Sigrid Norris. 2003. “How Countries are Made: The Cultural Construction of European Nations.” Contexts 2 (2): 26–32.

Trần, Nho Thìn. 2013. “Tiếp cận tác phẩm trong chương trình phổ thông trung học có liên quan đến văn hoá chính trị cổ trung đại (Approaching the Literary Works in High School Curriculum Related to Ancient―Medieval Political Culture).” Tạp chí Văn hóa Nghệ An (Nghệ An Culture Journal). Accessed January 18, 2019.

Tu, Weiming. 1993. “The Way, Learning, and Politics in Classical Confucian Humanism.” In Way, Learning, and Politics: Essays on the Confucian Intellectual, 1–12. Albany: State University of New York Press.

——. 2000. “Implications of the Rise of ‘Confucian’ East Asia.” Daedalus 129 (1): 195–218.

——. 2004. “The Continuity of Being: Chinese Visions of Nature.” In Chinese Aesthetics and Literature: A Reader, edited by Corinne H. Dale, 27–40. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Tucker, Mary Evelyn. 2005. “Ecology and Religion: Ecology and Confucianism.” Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by Lindsay Jones, vol. 4, 2631–35. Detroit: Macmillan Library Reference.

Tucker, Mary Evelyn, and John A. Grimm, eds. 1994. Worldviews and Ecology: Religion, Philosophy, and the Environment. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

——. 1998. Confucianism and Ecology: The Interrelation of Heaven, Earth, and Humans. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Tuyết, Tùng. 2014. “Phim lịch sử Trung Quốc: Đánh lớn, thắng lớn (The Chinese Historical Films: Big Bet, Big Win).” Khám phá (Journal of Discovery). Accessed May 5, 2018.

Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training. 2018. Giáo trình Tư tưởng Hồ Chí Minh (Manual of Ho Chi Minh Thoughts). Hanoi: National Political Publishing House.

VTV News. 2018. “Sức mạnh của điện ảnh Trung Quốc (The Power of Chinese Cinema).” VTV News, August 15, 2017., 2018.

Vũ, Khiêu. 2009. “Về giá trị đương đại của Nho giáo (The Contemporary Values of Confucianism).” Tạp chí Triết học (Journal of Philosophy) 8: 219.

Yang, Fenggang 2011. Market Economy and the Revival of Religions. London: Oxford University Press.

Yang, Yanling. 2016. “Film Policy, the Chinese Government and Soft Power.” New Cinemas: Journal of Contemporary Film 14 (1): 71–91.

Yao, Xinzhong, and Hsin-chung Yao. 2000. An Introduction to Confucianism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Yu, Tianlong. 2008. “The Revival of Confucianism in Chinese Schools: A Historical-Political Review.” Asia Pacific Journal of Education 28 (2): 113–29.

Zhang, Yingjin. 2012. A Companion to Chinese Cinema. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.


Cận, Đức Mậu, and Tạ Huy Cường. 2011. Lý Công Uẩn: đường tới thành Thăng Long (Ly Cong Uan: The Road to Thang Long Citadel). Vietnam: Trường Thành Media and Vietnam Television.

Choo, Chang-min. 2012. Gwanghae: Wang-i doen namja 광해: 왕이 된 남자 (Masquerade, Gwanghae: the Man Who Became King). Korea: Realies Pictures, and CJ ENM Corp/ PCJ Entertainment.

Đào, Bá Sơn. 2010. Long Thành cầm giả ca (The Musician at Thang Long). Vietnam: Trẻ Studio.

Đinh, Thái Thụy. 2015. Mỹ nhân (The Nymph). Vietnam: Giải Phóng Studio.

Feng, Xiaogang. 2006. Yeyan 夜宴 (The Banquet). China: Huayi Brothers and Media Asia Films.

Jie, Zhangke. 2006. Sanxia haoren 三峡好人 (Still Life). China: Shanghai Film Studio and Xstream Pictures/ Xstream Pictures.

Kim, Sung-hoon. 2018. Chang-gwol 창궐 (Rampant). South Korea: Leeyang Film, Rear Window and VAST Entertainment & Media/ Next Entertainment World.

Yee, Jae-Gyu. 2014. Yeoglin 역린 (The Fatal Encounter). South Korea: Good Choice Cut Pictures/ Lotte Entertainment.

Lee, Joon-ik. 2005. Wang-ui namja 왕의 남자 (The King and the Clown). South Korea: Cineworld and Eagle Pictures/ Cinema Service and CJ Entertainment.

Lưu, Trọng Ninh. 2010. Khát vọng Thăng Long (The Prince and the Pagoda Boy). Vietnam: Kỷ Nguyên Sáng Company.

Lý, Hùng, Lý Huỳnh, and Phượng Hoàng. 2010. Tây Sơn hào kiệt (Heroes of the Tay Son Dynasty). Vietnam: Lý Huỳnh studio and Thanh Niên Films/Lý Huỳnh Studio.

Ngô, Thanh Vân. 2016. Tấm Cám chuyện chưa kể (Tam Cam: The Untold Story). Vietnam: VAA Productions and BHD/ BHD.

Nguyễn, Đức Long. 2016. Triều đại Quang Trung - Nguyễn Huệ (Quang Trung: Nguyễn Huệ Dynasty). Vietnam: Việt Long Studio.

Nguyễn, Hoàng Long. 2018. Hoàng đế Quang Trung - bước ra từ lịch sử (Emperor Quang Trung from History). Vietnam: Vietnam Televison.

Phan, Đăng Di. 2010. Bi, đừng sợ! (Bi, don’t Be Afraid!). Vietnam, France, Germany: Acrobates Films, ARTE France Cinema, Vietnam Media Corp & Vietnam Studio, TR9 Film.

Phùng, Văn Hà. 2017. Người anh hùng áo vải (The Hero in Plain Clothing). Vietnam: Vietnam Animation Studio.

Vũ, Victor. 2012. Thiên mệnh anh hung (Blood Letter). Vietnam: Phuong Nam Films, Saiga Films and Thanh Niên Films/Phuong Nam Films and Saiga Films.

Woo, John. 2008-2009. Chibi 赤壁 (Red Cliff 1, 2). China: Beijing Film Studio, China Film Group, and Lion Rock Productions/ Chengtian Entertainment.

Yoon, Sung-sik, and Cha Young-hoon. 2014. Wang-ui eolgul 왕의 얼굴 (The King’s Face). South Korea: KBS Media/ Korean Broadcasting System.

Yasuo, Tsuruhashi. 2011. Genjimonogatari Sennen no nazo 源氏物語 千年の謎 (Tale of Genji: A Thousand Year of Enigma). Japan: Kadokawa Pictures, Tokyo Broadcasting System, Toho, Chubu-Nippon Broadcasting, J Storm, Mainichi Broadcasting System, RKB Mainichi Broadcasting, Mainichi Shimbun/ Toho.

Zhang, Yimou. 1992. Qiu Ju da guansi 秋菊打官司 (The Story of Qiu Ju). China: Sil-Metropole Organisation and Youth Film Studio of Beijing Film Academy/ Sony Pictures Classics.

–––. 1994. Huozhe 活著 (To Live). China: Shanghai Film Studio and ERA International/ The Samuel Goldwyn Company.

–––. 2000. Wo de fuqin muqin 我的父亲母亲 (The Road Home). China: Sony Pictures Classics, Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia, and Guangxi Film Studio/Beijing New Picture Distribution Co. production. /Beijing New Picture, Distribution Company (HK), and Sony Pictures Classics.

–––. 2002. Yingxiong 英雄 (Hero). China: Sil-Metropole Organisation, CFCC, Elite Group Enterprises, Zhang Yimou Studio, and Beijing New Picture Film/ Miramax Films and Beijing New Picture Film.

–––. 2006. Man cheng jin dai huangjin jia 满城尽带黄金甲 (Curse of the Golden Flower). China: Edko Film/ Sony Pictures Classics.

–––. 2016. Changcheng 长城 (The Great Wall). China: Legendary East, Atlas Entertainmen, China Film Group, and Le Vision Pictures/ Universal Pictures and China Film Group.

Zhang, Yimou, and Yang Fengliang. 1990. Ju Dou 菊豆 (Daisy). China and Japan: China Film Co-Production Corporation, China Film Export and Import Corp, Tokuma Shoten, and Tokuma Communications/ Daiei.



20. 05. 2020

How to Cite

Hoang, Cam-Giang. 2020. “Vietnamese and Chinese Movies about Royalty: From Confucian Cosmology to Ecological Politics”. Asian Studies 8 (2): 135-62.

Similar Articles

1-10 of 223

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.