The Tale of Kieu

The entire plot in the Tale of Kiều spans over fifteen years. At the beginning of the story, Vương Thúy Kiều  — a beautiful and educated girl — is visiting her ancestors’ graves with her younger sister Thuý Vân and brother Vương Quan. On the way she meets and connects with the grave of a dead performer—Đạm Tiên, who was said to be as beautiful and talented as she is but lived a life full of grief. There, she meets and later promises to marry Kim Trọng, a young and promising scholar, but their marriage is delayed because Kim has to go back home to mourn his uncle for half a year.

 

During that time misfortune begins to befall Kiều. Her family is framed by a silk dealer and has all their wealth taken away by the government, and her father and brother are facing imprisonment. Kiều decides to sell herself to Scholar Mã to free her family, therefore showing her deeply rooted filial piety, while not forgetting the promise with Kim Trọng and has it resolved by asking her sister, Thúy Vân, to fulfill it. Scholar Mã turns out to be a pimp who is in charge of finding girls for a brothel run by Madam Tú. He rapes Kiều and takes her back to the brothel, but she refuses to serve any guest and attempts to commit suicide when she is forced to do so. Madam Tú concocts a plan to crush Kiều’s dignity by hiring Sở Khanh, a playboy and con artist, to meet Kiều and coerce her into eloping with him, and then lead her into Tú’s trap. With nothing left to hold on to, Kiều finally submits and becomes a prostitute. Kiều’s beauty attracts many men, including Student Thúc, who uses his wealth to buy Kiều out of the brothel and marry her, although he already has a wife named Lady Hoạn, who is the daughter of prime minister Hoạn. Upon learning of this, Hoạn burns with jealousy and secretly tells her henchmen to kidnap and force Kiều to become a slave in her house when Thúc is on the way to visit her. Thúc is shocked at the sight of Kiều as a slave, but never dares to reach out to her in front of his
first wife.

 

Kiều runs away from the estate, stealing some valuable decorations on the altar in the process. She goes to a Buddhist temple, where nun Giác Duyên graciously accepts her. However, after realizing that Kiều is carrying stolen property, Giác Duyên sends Kiều to Madam Bạc’s, whom Giác Duyên thinks Kiều will be safe with. However it turns out that Madam Bạc runs a brothel, so Kiều gets tricked into the brothel again where she meets  Từ Hải  , leader of a revolution army. Từ Hải and Kiều get married and live together for five years, together reigning over a temporary kingdom. Later tricked by  Hồ Tôn Hiến , Kiều convinces her husband to surrender all in favor of amnesty. This eventually leads to the invasion of Từ Hải’s kingdom, and the death of Từ Hải himself. Mesmerized by Kiều’s beauty, Hồ Tôn Hiến forces her to perform in his victory banquet, where he rapes her. To avoid bad rumors, he hurriedly marries Kiều off to a local official. Feeling devastated, she throws herself into the Tiền Đường river. Once again, Giác Duyên saves her, as she knew about Kiều’s fate when she consulted with Tam Hợp, who is believed to be able to see into the future, long ago. Meanwhile, Kim Trọng, Kiều’s first love, becomes an official and is providing housing for Kiều’s parents. He has been searching for Kiều,
and eventually finds her with the buddhist nun Giác Duyên. Kiều is reunited with her first love and her family, thus ending her cycle of bad karma. She is married to Kim Trọng, but refuses to have a physical relationship with him because she thinks she is no longer worthy.