This story was adapted from a tale in the Treasury of Vietnamese Folk Tales by Nguyen Dong Chi
Illustrated by artist Vu Xuan Hoan

Under the reign of Emperor Hong Duc, a poor disciple lodged in the Bich Cau Quarter to the south of the Thang Long Citadel. He was so knowledgeable that people started to call him Tu Uyen (the Brilliant Disciple) although he had gained no official title.

  One spring day, the Alms Festival took place in Ngoc Ho Pagoda, drawing crowds of Buddhist followers and pilgrims. Tu Uyen wandered around and took a rest beneath a banyan tree. He suddenly glimpsed a falling leaf and picked it up. Hidden on the back of the leaf was a courting poem. He thought someone upstairs had thrown it down.

He looked around but saw no one. Then, to his surprise, a beautiful young woman approached him. She cast a seductive look his way and Tu Uyen spoke to her. They went for a walk, talking gaily. Tu Uyen was overjoyed. However, upon approaching Quang Van Mound, the young woman vanished. Tu Uyen searched everywhere, only giving up after dark.

Tu Uyen grew depressed and neglected his studies. He visited the Bach Ma Temple and slept in the Premonition Temple, hoping to discover the young woman’s whereabouts. That night, he dreamt of a deity who said: “My amorous fool, visit the Eastern Bridge tomorrow and I will show you good news.”

  The following day he traveled to the Eastern Bridge but saw no one. At last he saw an artist painting a woman’s portrait. It was a picture of the beautiful woman! Tu Uyen bought the painting and hung it beside his table. At every meal he prepared two bowls and two sets of chopsticks and invited the woman to dine. He was surprised to see the image blush shyly. 

 One day Tu Uyen came home from school and found a feast set out for him. Used to meagre rations, he ate hungrily. This happened for several days. The young man was perplexed but very happy to eat such delicious fare.

  The following day he pretended to go to school, but sneaked back and hid outside his window. He saw the young woman step out of the scroll, clean his house and prepare his meal. He raced into the room and grabbed her hand. “You kept me waiting for so long! Now I will never let you go!”. He snatched the scroll and tore it to pieces.

The young woman flushed and replied: “You are so cruel. I am lost in your home, how dare I disobey you?” She told him that her name was Giang Kieu (the Descending Beauty) and that she was destined to descend to earth and marry him. Tu Uyen rejoiced. He wanted to marry immediately.

Giang Kieu said: “We must hold a banquet and invite my fellow fairies to witness our wedding”. She pulled out a brooch and used it to transform the small room into a splendid hall where a feast was laid out. Music played and the fairies arrived.

After his marriage, Tu Uyen stopped studying. He ate a lot and drank liquor. Giang Kieu begged him to resume his studies but the young man refused. He dropped out of school and drank until he passed out. He scolds Giang Kieu, who was enraged. One day he came home late from the tavern. The fairy tucked her sleeping husband into bed and flew back to heaven.

When he realized she had left, Tu Uyen was devastated. He did not eat or sleep. He decided to take his own life. He had just hung up a noose when Giang Kieu appeared before him. The young man begged for forgiveness and promised to stop drinking. The couple reunited and were happy.

Some time later, Giang Kieu gave birth to a son. The boy was happy and brilliant at school.

One night two cranes came down and picked up the couple. They instructed their son to remain on earth and rode the cranes to heaven.   

Illustrator’s profile: Vu Xuan Hoan majored in Graphics at the University of Fine Arts and Industry. He has illustrated various books of folk tales and fables. He is also a comic editor at the Kim Dong Publishing House.

Illustrator’s comments on “The Brilliant Disciple”: Staring up at the sky, the everlasting universe is a riddle. Stories of love between mortals and fairies entice and inspire us. The Brilliant Disciple is a mysterious love story.