Story of Chu Dong Tu and Princess Tien Dung

When you take a holiday in Vietnam, you will soon see how important religion is to the locals. While in theory the population is primarily Buddhist, there is far more to Vietnamese Society than that. This story is from the Taoist strand that still exists today while ancestor worship and Confucius are still important to the people. If your Vietnam travel package corresponds with a festival, you will have a unique experience. The Chu Dong Tu Festival originates in the Northern Province of Hung Yen and is held in the springtime on the 10th day in the 2nd lunar month. The are bright costumes and parades with unattached people often attending in search of a partner; some think it is the equivalent of Valentine’s Day in the West.

Chu Dong Tu is regarded as a saint and one of Taoism’s immortal gods. One of the oldest legends in Vietnam is that of Chu Dong Tu and Princess Tien Dung. The Princess was the third daughter of King Hung Vuong. She was beautiful but resisted all offers of marriage as she enjoyed travelling. The King indulged her so she remained single.

In a small fishing village called Chu Xa in Hung Yen Province, Chu Cu Van and his son Chu Dong-Tu lost their home and possessions to fire save a single loincloth. They had to take turns to wear it. On his deathbed, Chu Cu Van told his son to keep the loincloth for himself. However, tradition demands that bodies are buried with a shroud so he attended the funeral in borrowed clothes but then had no clothes of his own. He was forced to fish when it was dark. He would sell his fish by day with the water up to his waist.

One day, the Princess approached in her boat so Chu Dong Tu moved to hide in the bulrushes, then digging himself a hole in the sand so only his nose was showing. The Princess decided to bathe there and naked, she poured water over herself and that water swept Chu Dong Tu’s sand away, revealing him to be naked as well.  

He explained he was a poor fisherman with no clothes as she hurriedly dressed, throwing him a cloth. She listened to his story and realised that this meeting had significance. She said she had decided to marry him even though he explained his poverty. The wedding too place that night.

The King was very angry when he heard about it and disinherited his daughter. She sold her possessions and bought land on which she set up a trading post. She prospered.

When a foreign merchant came one day and advised her to buy some rare goods abroad on which she would make good profit, she decided to send Chu Dong Tu. He met a Taoist priest when he was away and stayed for a year to learn more about Taoism. When he left, the priest gave him a pilgrim’s staff and a conical hat which he was told to keep with him at all times. When he returned to his wife, she converted to Taoism and they left all their possessions behind.

They wandered constantly, and tired one day, they fell asleep with the staff planed in the ground with the conical hat hung from it. They awoke to a clap of thunder and a magic citadel emerging from the ground. There were fabulous palaces, hosing and other buildings and the population came forward to welcome them and invite them to run the kingdom.

When King Hung Vuong heard of this, he assembled an army to destroy this new kingdom. Tien Dung refused her citizens’ requests for arms to defend the citadel but she refused because she believed that Heaven had created it and she must accept what was to happen. She also felt it was wrong to defy her father.

The night before the attack, a storm arose and the citadel disappeared up into the air leaving just a marshy pond and a beach for the troops to look at. The march takes the name Dam Nhat Da, the pond formed one night, and the beach, Bai Tu-Nhien, spontaneous beach.