Tự Lực Văn Đoàn [Self-Reliance Literary Group] was a literary movement that produced the first modern novels in Vietnam and initiated a new poetry shaped by nationalist and anticolonial sentiments.
Founded by Nhất Linh in 1932 and lasting a decade, it used literature as a means of triggering profound literary and social changes in colonial Vietnam. Among its “Ten Commandments” were resolutions to write original works rather than adapting from foreign authors, and to write in clear, simple Vietnamese, without alluding constantly to Chinese classical texts, a widespread tendency up until then. Other commandments expressed the group’s commitment to improve society and to encourage patriotism by emphasizing the beauty and distinctiveness of Vietnam. The group also deserves credit for popularizing the use of Quốc Ngữ, which was still novel at the time.
From its manifesto: “Lúc nào cũng mới, trẻ, yêu đời, có chí phấn đấu và tin ở sự tiến bộ. Theo chủ nghĩa bình dân, không có tính cách trưởng giả quý phái. Tôn trọng tự do cá nhân. Làm cho người ta biết đạo Khổng không hợp thời nữa. Đem phương pháp Thái Tây áp dụng vào văn chương An Nam.” Translation: “It is always new, youthful, life affirming. It fights and believes in progress. It adheres to a popular ideology and shuns elitism. It respects individual freedom. It teaches that Confucianism is no longer relevant. It brings Western techniques into Vietnamese literature.”
Tự Lực Văn Đoàn made a seismic contribution to Vietnamese literature and society, although some critics charged that its idealism and optimism prevented it from truly reflecting the misery, struggles and hardships of real life.
It published two magazines, Phong Hóa [Customs] and Ngày Nay [Today], which attracted a wide readership, and managed a publishing house, Đời Nay [Life Today], that produced, from 1933 to 1936, close to sixty thousand copies of novels or poetry collections. In 1935, 1937 and 1939, it gave out several cash prizes to encourage young writers. During the French war, reprints of the group’s works appeared in Hanoi, within the French zone, then again after 1954 in the new Republic of Vietnam. One of the first acts of refugees in the United States after the fall of Saigon in 1975 was to reprints these works once more. Since “renovation” in 1986, several classics have been republished within Vietnam.
(source): Vietnam Literature Project