The Lê princess Ngọc Hân was given in marriage to the Tây Sơn conqueror Nguyễn Huệ in 1786 and became queen upon his ascension as Emperor Quang Trung two years later. After her husband’s premature death in 1792, the 22-year-old widow composed a stirring elegy for which she was remembered as a leading poetess in Vietnamese literary history. By singing his praise so eloquently Ngọc Hân served as pivotal foil to Nguyễn Huệ’s increasingly idolized stature. For much of the twentieth century, the romantic union of Nguyễn Huệ and Ngọc Hân is hailed as a symbol of national unity across geographical, social and political divides. Co-opted and deployed with great potency by the triumphal socialist state in the postwar period since 1975 to promote a discourse of national reconciliation, the symbolism of this union of talent and beauty becomes strongly contested with the rise of counter-memories from the margins in literary works from the diaspora. With a historiographical approach this paper seeks to retrace the discursive transformation of the Ngọc Hân romance as a site of contested memory in postwar Vietnam. By contrasting the historical, literary and theatrical works from inside Vietnam and in the diaspora, it explores how sexuality and power emerge as key themes in the transformation of the Ngọc Hân romance with subversive elements about rape, sado-masochism, revenge, murder, nostalgia and absurdism to contest the master-narratives of nationalism.