Vietnam - Arts & Crafts


Vietnam's socialist government places a strong emphasis on the arts, particularly because it regards them as a prime vehicle for the propagation of socialist values. All of the main artistic forms such as theater, literature, cinema, and painting have state-controlled organizations that artists are encouraged if not forced to join. The government at times severely constrains the direction of artistic development through censorship, control over printing, and the presence of party members in artistic organizations. This has not prevented a minor artistic renaissance, particularly in literature, since the late 1980s. Some artists find ways to insert critical messages into their work. Many artists struggle financially because of the recent dramatic reductions in government subsidies for the arts, the absence of adequate protection for copyrights, and the fickle tastes of a public that sometimes prefers imported films, music, and literature. Artists, especially painters, who can produce for expatriates or the tourist market, have the greatest freedom to pursue their craft.

Literature. Vietnam has a vibrant literary tradition dating back many centuries. Elite mandarins and scholars in the pre modern period composed sophisticated poetry. Many poems from earlier eras such as Nguyen Du's The Tale of Kieu or Nguyen Dinh Chieu Luc Van Tien are regarded as literary masterpieces. Along with these traditions, the Vietnamese also maintained a rich oral legacy of songs, poems, and morality tales people recite still today. Prose fiction became popular under colonial rule in the first half of the twentieth century. Writers of this period such as those of the "Self-Reliance Literature Group" ( Tu Luc Van Doan ) developed the role of author as social critic. The socialist authorities kept literature under tight control for several decades to ensure that it was in accord with the officially prescribed "socialist realist" canon that described the virtues of the working class and the revolution. Since the late 1980s, Vietnam has experienced a literary revitalization with the publication of numerous works that present war, and revolution, and their consequences in a critical light. The work of several such authors, including Bao Ninh, Duong Thu Huong, and Nguyen Huy Thiep has attracted an international audience.

Graphic Arts. A number of indigenous graphic art traditions remain popular. These include lacquerware, ink block prints, and ceramics, all of which employ distinctive themes developed by Vietnamese artists. Historically, specialist families or villages have produced these items for local sale, though some objects such as ceramics were sold throughout the country and abroad. Painting has become more popular in urban areas since the colonial period. All of these forms are displayed in museums and, with the exception of paintings, are sold in local markets as well as galleries or shops in major cities.

Performance Arts. The most popular performance arts in Vietnam have historically been a variety of musical theater traditions, all of which continue to be performed by government-organized troupes. The main forms included the courtly tradition of classical opera ( hat tuong ); reform theater ( hat cai luong ); an innovative tradition that emerged in the Mekong Delta in the early twentieth century; and hat cheo, a rural folk tradition. The former tradition has been in decline for several decades. Reform theater is popular in the south, and hat cheo in the north. Most performances take place in theaters usually in urban areas. Troupes struggle financially and perform less frequently than before the revolution. The French introduced Western drama to Vietnam, but its popularity has never matched musical theater. Musical performances, either of traditional musical forms or contemporary popular music, are also popular. Radio and television have become a common way to listen to or watch the whole range of performance arts.


Everything from firecrackers to silk paintings, woodcarvings to ceramics and puppets to pottery are made in Vietnam and can make unique gifts for friends and family at home, or as an exotic reminder of your trip to Vietnam.

Vietnamese Handicraft Villages:

  • Bat Trang Pottery Village

The Bat Trang pottery village is one of the most famous of the craft villages in Vietnam. It’s so close to Hanoi, you can visit it on a half-day tour. Famous for its fired clay pottery (with a temperature of 1,200 degrees, the ceramics are well known for being difficult to break) Since the 15th century this village of the 2,000 families has been creating earthenware and ceramic creations.

  • Ha Dong Silk Making Village

Villagers gather mulberry leaves to feed the hungry silkworms. The traditional way of growing silkworms was imported from China, and today flourishes in many parts of the country. When the worms have woven a silken cocoon, the animals are boiled and the cocoon is carefully unraveled. The thread is carefully woven into all sorts of different things like placemats, shirts, etc.

  • Chuong My Wood Carving Village

Located in the Ha Tay province, this village is famous for creating more traditional crafts related to wood carving. It’s the mother of pearl inlay that makes it so popular, and this wasn’t started until the Ly Dynasty. A visit here can be made in combination with a trip to Hoa Lu, because it's 35 kilometers south of Hanoi.

  • Van Ha Puppet Making Village

Vietnamese Water Puppet shows are now popular the world over, and if you have an interest in how the implements of this art form are made, come to the Van Ha village.

  • Duyen Thai Lacquer ware Village

In this village, all kinds of lacquer ware products are made, including those using small slivers of mother of pearl, that are artistically placed into small grooves. The pieces are then painted with layers of lacquer. Each piece can take months to complete.

  • Dong Ho Paper Making Village

This village is located in Ha Bac province, the province just north of Hanoi. It’s been made famous for the folk themes printed onto a special paper made from the Do tree. Artisans in this village carve images onto thin wood blocks that are carefully layered with paint; then printed onto the specially made paper. These designs are particularly popular around Tet.

  • Co Do Silk Village

Sent to this village by her father, to help villagers grow silk, Princess Hoang Phu Thieu Hoa helped begin an industry that stretches all over the country today. Silk is produced by special worms that eat solely mulberry leaves, and these are gathered by children to feed the greedy animals. Once they have rolled a cocoon, the animals are boiled alive, and the cocoon is unraveled carefully to extract the precious thread. Popular designs include dragons, flowers and other Vietnamese legends.

  • Xuan La Chicken's toy

There is a traditional craft to make chicken's toys in existence for more than two hundred years now in Xuan La village, Phuong Duc commune, Phu Xuyen District, Ha Tay province. It's been handed down from generations, it's not only farmers' profit-making job off-harvest-season but it's a cultural identity of Vietnam craft-villagers.

Material to make children's toys are such a little rice-powder colored in red, yellow, black, brown---Tools to use are more rudimentary: Just a comb for decoration, a knife, a few coloured inks, bees’ wax and some small bamboo sticks. In a few minutes, a highly-skilled artisan to create children's most favoutite toys both funny and fine-looking. Quan Cong (Chinesse legendary general), Ton NGo KHong ( a chiftain monkey), roses.. or even 12 zodiac animals. Sometimes, toys are made on given models. So, the artisans have to be imaginative, creative and well-read to meet customers's demands, there might be inventions but almost trustful to ordered models.

  • Thu Bon River Islands

While visiting the historic and ancient port town of Hoi An, stop off at some of the islands in Thu Bon river, where artisans creating woodblock prints, silk weavings and other crafts offer a uniquely central Vietnamese art experience.