The Central region holds the dominant role in the contribution and development of tuồng/hát bội.

Hát bội (can be also called as tuồng or hát bộ) has a rich historical foundation and a profound influence on the performance art landscape in Vietnam. We can easily identify chèo as a popular art performance in Northern culture territory. Whereas cải lương, although it is well known across regions, still possesses distinctive characteristics of the rawness and humbling Southern values. For the past centuries, hát bội has branched all over the places, transformed itself into a diverse and colourful appeal. However, hát bội persists with its reputation of being known for the heroic and generous Central characters, as though it’s the way people would like to evenly justify each region’s performance art genres (chèo from Northern region, tuồng/hát bội from Central region, cải lương from Southern region), as well as a way to remember the origin of this traditional art form.

Actors for a tuồng performance in Huế Palace, illustration in 1784. Source: E. Ronjat –

With that in mind, what would be the role of the Central region for tuồng/hát bội? There was once an assessment saying tuồng/hát bội was specifically thriving in four regions: Huế, Quảng Nam, Bình Định, and Gia Định. For each region, they would have a distinctive performance style accordingly. Needless to say, it’s evident how the Central region holds the dominant role in shaping the art of tuồng/hát bội.

The official map of Đại Nam in 1838 under King Minh Mạng reign. (Source: Chloe Phương Anh – Wikipedia Contributor). Edited by Cultura Fish.

Bình Định and the Đào great men who shaped the art of hát bội

Bình Định the birth place of tuồng/hát bội art. Until today, scholars haven’t had enough scientific evidence to conclude how tuồng/hát bội originated. From a few essays and notes here and there about the art of performance before the 18th century, we can only imagine some folk performances that have the elements of satire, drama, and entertainment that has a certain role in the royal life. Not until the 16th century, with the journey of expansion down South from the feudal empire of Nguyễn dynasty and its army building, the art of tuồng/hát bội rooted from there and quickly claimed a significant position in the cultural life of the Inner Region.

Loc Khe Shrine for official Đào Duy Từ located in Ngọc Sơn village, Hoài Thanh commune, Hoài Nhơn ward, Bình Định province. Source: Cultura Fish.

Lộc Khê serves Đào Duy Từ- a talented advisor under Nguyễn lordship, he was believed to be the person who brought tuồng/hát bội from Thanh Hoá region to Bình Định region, then popularise it for the people. Not only that, Bình Định is also known for Đào Tấn- a great intellectual, who held the title of Hiệu thư in Hiệu thư Department (a place specialised in composing, editing, reviewing tuồng documents) under King Tự Đức reign. By the end of his life, Đào Tấn also focused on compiling “Học bộ đình” – an educational facility for performance art to facilitate the art of tuồng/hát bộ. Due to those reasons, both the Đào men were known as the pioneers for advancing the performance art of the Central region (some might as well call them as hậu Tổ*).

*hậu Tổ: A term to refer the creator of a practice. 

(To be continued)

The village gate of Vĩnh Thạnh (nearby Đào Tấn’s shrine) in village Vĩnh Thạnh 1, Phước Lộc commune, Tuy Phước ward, Bình Định province.  Source: Cultura Fish.

The essay was designed under infographic format, you can access it via our library here.

Written by Huyên

Translated by Trang

This essay is a part of “Hát Bội 101” project – A project that aims to introduce the art of hát bội in a welcoming and standardised way. You can follow this link to learn more about this project.