THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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22 posts categorized "Vietnamese"

10 August 2018

Testimonial presented to Sir Henry Lawrence

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One of the most unusual objects held in the British Library’s Visual Arts collection is an oversized silver candelabra that was presented to Sir Henry Montgomery Lawrence (1806-57) as a ‘Testimonial’ from the ‘Friends of the Panjab’ in 1856. Lawrence was appointed as the British Resident in Lahore in 1846 and was the President of the Board of Administration for the Affairs of the Panjab. The Testimonial is currently on loan and featured at the exhibition Empire of the Sikhs at the Brunei Gallery, London which runs from 12 July – 23 September 2018.

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The Lawrence Testimonial, by Hunt and Roskell after the design and model of Alfred Brown, 1853-56. British Library, Foster 1075 Noc

Henry Lawrence started his career as an army officer of the East India Company. He was trained at the Company’s Addiscombe College in south London and travelled to India when he was 16 to join the Bengal Artillery. Lawrence was in fact born in Ceylon and would spend the majority of his life in the subcontinent. From the onset of his career, he was keen to develop his linguistic skills and would become fluent in Persian, Hindi and Urdu. His language skills would prove to become useful and he was appointed as an assistant revenue surveyor for the revenue survey of India in the north-western provinces based in Moradabad from 1833. From the 1840s, Lawrence’s career shifted to a more political nature. In 1840, Lawrence was formally appointed as Assistant to the Governor-General's Agent for the Affairs of the Panjab and the North-West Frontier. In 1843, Lawrence became the Resident at the court of Nepal. Following the First Anglo-Sikh War of 1845-46, Lord Hardinge appointed Lawrence as Agent at Lahore and subsequently the British Resident. Following the annexation of the Panjab in 1849, he served as President of the Board of Administration for the Affairs of the Panjab.

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Portrait of Sir Henry Montgomery Lawrence painted by Delhi artist Ghulam Husain Khan, c. 1847.
British Library, Add Or 2409 Noc

According to the Illustrated London News (Feb 16, 1856), ‘this magnificent testimonial was projected in the year 1853 for presentation to Sir Henry Montgomery Lawrence K.C.B. … upon the occasion of his voluntary relinquishing of the above appointment [President of the Board of Administration for the Affairs of the Panjab] for the no less honourable and important post of Governor-General’s Agent in Rajpootana.’ The Testimonial was in the Lawrence family’s collection until 1949, when it was deposited as part of the wider Lawrence archive to the India Office Records and Private Papers collection by Sir John Lawrence; shortly after the acquisition, the Testimonial was sent on long term loan to the National Army Museum and only returned to the Library in 2015. Tarnjeet Singh Padam, Leading Library Assistant at the British Library, volunteer for the UK Panjab Heritage Association, and a contributing curator for Empire of the Sikhs, located the Illustrated London News article which now provides the documentation regarding the circumstances of production and the symbolic significance of the multiple vignettes presented in this elaborate testimonial.

According to the Illustrated London News: ‘The figure on the summit represents India; beneath, in bassi rellievi, are five reclining Deities, representing the rivers of India. The branches, ornamented in the Indian style, carry twelve lights. The palm, plaintain, and the fig-tree encircle the shaft. On the base is a grand composition of figures, divided into three groups. The first is typical of the state of anarchy which existed in the Punjab previously to the introduction of British rule. One of Runjeet Singh’s body guard is attacked by a hill man-a dismounted irregular horseman lies dead on the ground, and above him is a wounded Akalie. The second group represents the conflict between the British and the Sikh forces which resulted in the conquest of the country by the former. The figures introduced are a Sikh irregular horseman mounted, opposed to by a British foot solider, and a Sikh artilleryman contending with a dismounted trooper. The third group represents the pacification of the Punjaub. Sir Henry Lawrence is represented in the act of receiving from an Afghan villager and a Sikh Chief their arms; in exchange for which he is about to present them with different implements of husbandry, held by Industry and Peace, which are represented by two female figures.’

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Detail showing Henry Lawrence receiving an Afghan villager Noc

‘The entablatures on the three sides of the Testimonial contain respective representations; - firstly, of the sacred Tank at Amritsar (the Pool of Immortality), with the Sikh temple in the centre; secondly, of Sir Henry Lawrence, with the Maharajah of the Punjaub and Chieftains seated in Durbar at Lahore, arranging for the payment of the troops, who were in a state of mutiny; and, thirdly, the establishment of the Lawrence Asylum in the Himalaya, for the children of European soldiers – allegorically represented by Benevolence under the guidance of Wisdom-removing the children from the plains to the salubrious regions of the Himalaya. At the angles are the Brahmin Bull, the Cashmere Goat and the Camel.’

In 2000, the descendants of Henry Lawrence donated to the British Library the Lawrence Album, which contained 66 drawings, prints and cut-outs, along with 35 photographs connected with the life of Henry Montgomery Lawrence (1806-1857) and Honoria Lawrence, née Marshall (1810-54), presented to their daughter Honoria Letitia (1850-1923) in 1859 by her aunt and godmother Charlotte Frances Lawrence (1814-1885). The album includes further information regarding the design of the testimonial, including a set of illustrations showing the original design by Alfred Brown which was manufactured by the silversmith Hunt and Roskell.

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Illustration from the Lawrence Album, c. 1853-56. British Library WD 4464 Noc


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Illustration from the Lawrence Album with the vignette of the Golden Temple at Amritsar on the base, c. 1853-56. British Library WD 4464 Noc

Further reading:
Susan Stronge (ed.), The Arts of the Sikh Kingdom, London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 1999.
Davindar Toor, In Pursuit of Empire: Treasures from the Toor Collection of Sikh Art, London: Kashi House, 2018.

 

Malini Roy, Head of Visual Arts  ccownwork

 

25 May 2018

Classes and costumes in traditional Vietnamese society

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In traditional Vietnamese society people were divided into four classes, similar to those found in Chinese and other East Asian Confucian societies. The tứ dân, or four social hierarchical classes, were scholars (sĩ), farmers (nông), craftsmen (công) and merchants (thương).

At the top of the social hierarchy were the scholars or intellectuals, who led relatively comfortable lives in respected occupations such as doctors, mandarins and teachers. Commoners who were not born into this class but wanted to climb the social ladder to enter it were able to do so by studying very hard and sitting civil service examinations, supported financially by their own families. If they were successful, they brought great honour upon themselves and their families, and even their villages, and they might be welcomed back to their villages with parties paid for by their neighbours (Woodside: 1981, p.170). The royal court would award them special costumes which distinguished them from common folk, and they could even be appointed as local mandarins.

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Costume of the first grade military mandarin, adorned with the ‘four mythical creatures’ pattern (Trần Đinh Sơn 2013: 127). British Library OIJ 391.009597.

Vietnamese mandarins, both civil and military, were divided into nine grades and each grade was further subdivided into senior and junior levels. High ranking mandarins were distinguished by their official robes in purple or red, colours reserved for their class, while lower ranking officials wore blue robes. Commoners could only wear black, brown or white dyed costumes, as Harry A. Franck, an American travel writer, observed in Tonkin in 1923: “the Tonkinese were dressed in a cinnamon or tobacco-juice colour that suddenly became as universal as black had been further south … the country women, then their men, and finally all the hand-labouring class, took to wearing long cotton cloaks of this reddish brown hue” (Franck 1926: 191).

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A mandarin accompanied by his servants; only the mandarin wears shoes. Oger [1909]: f. 4. British Library, Or. TC 4

Below the class of scholars was the largest social grouping in Vietnamese society: farmers, primarily rice farmers, who could be further sub-divided into three different groups according to land ownership: trung nông, bần nông and cố nông. Trung nông were farmers who owned land and farming tools. This was the most well-off group economically and socially, as they could produce enough rice or other agricultural products to support themselves, and therefore did not have to labour for the state in lieu of taxation. Bần nông were farmers who owned a small amount of land, albeit not large enough to yield sufficient rice to support their families. They therefore had to work on land belonging to landlords, and also had to rent their farming tools. Cố nông or tenants were farmers who owned no land or farming tools at all and had to till the land for landlords to earn their living. They were the poorest people in the society and were frequently subject to exploitation.

The third class was craftsmen, whose numbers were relatively small compared to farmers. Some were actually farmers who had developed skills in crafts such as carpentry, weaving or blacksmithing. At the village level their scale of production was very small and did not have significant economic impact, but in larger towns they formed their own guilds to protect their interests and to support each other. Those who were highly skilled could be recruited to work for the court, but the court did not support them to develop their production into an industrial scale.

At the bottom of the social hieracy were merchants. From a modern perspective it may come as a surprise to find that in a traditional self-sufficient economy merchants actually played a very insignificant role, since farmers were able to produce most of their daily necessities and could barter goods with each other, rather than relying on tradesmen. Traditional Confucian society also disapproved of the mercantile practice of “buying cheap, selling dear”.

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A peasant farmer in his raincoat made of grass. Oger [1909]: f. 302. British Library, Or. TC 4

Towards the end of the 19th century, Vietnamese hierachical society was still very much intact. Even though French colonial rule brought about some social and economic changes, these were not powerful enough to uproot entirely the traditional system of four social classes. Newly emerging social groups, such as the French-educated literati or colonial employees, still fitted into the scholar class (sĩ) despite the different ideological basis. The number of poor farmers and landless peasants increased, and their plight may even have been exacerbated through colonial land ownership and tax policies.

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A bride in a western-style costume. Oger [1909]: f. 315. British Library, Or. TC 4

Traditionally, Vietnamese women wore both skirts and trousers. In the 17th century Emperor Lê Hyuền Tông issued a decree forbidding women to wear trousers, but this decision was reversed during the reign of Emperor Minh Mang (r.1820-1841) who instead forbade the wearing of skirts (Ngô Đức Thịnh 2009: 2). In the 1820s, George Finlayson wrote of the Vietnamese: “…though living not only in a mild, but warm climate, the partiality for dress is universal. There is no one, however mean, but is clothed at least from head to the knee, and if their dress is not always of the smartest, it is owing more to their poverty than to their want of taste … the principal and most expensive article in their dress is the turban ... A loose jacket, somewhat resembling a large shirt, but with wide sleeves, reaching nearly to the knee, and buttoning on the right side, constitutes the principal covering of the body. Two of these, the under one of the white silk, are generally worn, and they increase the number according to their circumstances and the state of the weather. Women wear a dress but little different from this, though lighter, and both wear a pair of wide pantaloons, of various colours. The dress of the poorer class is made of coarse cotton, but this not very common, coarse silks being more in vogue. Those of China or Tonquin are worn by the more opulent classes. Shoes are also worn only by the wealthy, and of Chinese manufacture, clogs, in fact, rather than shoes” (Finlayson 1988: 378-9).

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A Vietnamese gentleman wearing a western-style cap rather than a traditional turban. Oger [1909]: f. 32. British Library, Or. TC 4

Almost a century after Finlayson’s account, almost no major changes in the costumes of Vietnamese commoners could be observed. Henri Oger’s pictorial records of daily life in and around Hanoi at the turn of the nineteenth century illustrate the slow rate of change in social class in this French colony. One might argue that some changes in fashion can be noticed reflecting western influence, but these mainly affect the elite and wealthy classes. As for the poor, Oger’s drawings suggest that they barely benefitted from the social and economic changes brought about by the new ruler.

Harry A. Franck reports on the clothing of the period: “Among the coolie class these overcoats of both sexes were of thin cotton. The well-to-do men in towns and in autobuses wore jet-black ones, thin as gauze … with flowered designs of the same hue woven in them, … and fastened together down the side with little gold buttons … A black cloth carelessly wound about the head distinguished most coolies, but all men above that class wore the most unique item of the Annamese costume, a black band-turban permanently arranged in many little folds … At least along this main route of the French railway and autobus highway both men and women of the well-to-do class wore gold and other valuable ornaments openly. Long necklaces of grains of gold of the size of peas are the favourite adornment”(Franck 1926: 106).

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Westerners mingling with locals during the colonial era. Oger [1909]: f. 263. British Library, Or. TC 4

Further reading:

George Finlayson. The mission to Siam, and Hué, the capital of Cochin China, in the years 1821-2. Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Harry A. Franck. East of Siam: Ramblings in the five divisions of French Indo-China. London: T. Fisher Unwin, ltd., 1926.
Ngô Đức Thịnh. Traditional costumes of Viet Nam. Thế giới, 2009.
Henri Oger. Introduction générale a l’étude de la technique du peuple annamite. Paris: Geuthner Librarie-Éditeur, [1909].
Trần Đinh Sơn. Đại lễ phục Việt Nam thaời Nguyễn 1802-1945. Hà Nội : Nhà xuất bản hồng Đức, 2013.
A.B. Woodside. Vietnam and the Chinese model. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1971.

Sud Chonchirdsin, Curator for Vietnamese

29 November 2017

Fifty shades of Kiều

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Kim Văn Kiều, or the Tale of Kiều, by Nguyễn Du (1765-1820), is a jewel in the crown of Vietnamese classical writing. In Vietnam, as Nathalie Huynh Chau Nguyen (2003: 18) points out, the Tale of Kiều has been embraced by the general public, who see it as a romance, a book of divination, and a moral fable, while scholars explore its literary, linguistic, philosophical, political and social aspects. The eponymous heroine is the most acclaimed lady in Vietnamese literature, and her captivating but tragic story has inspired many artistic depictions. The most outstanding version in the British Library collection is undoubtedly a manuscript which was completed around 1894 (Or 14844), written in Hán-Nôm with illustrations of scenes from the story on each page, and a fine yellow silk binding with dragon patterns. Shown in this post are a selection of images of Kiều from this beautiful manuscript, alongside more recent portrayals from printed books.

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Kiều demonstrates her talent for playing the Ho guitar. British Library, Or 14844, f. 3r  noc

Literary critics have argued that the theme of the story is an allegory of Nguyễn Du’s guilt and conflict of interest in agreeing to work for the new regime (the Nguyễn dynasty, 1802-1945) which had been indirectly involved in the overthrow of his former master. This behaviour was unacceptable in traditional Confucian Vietnamese society as it was tantamount to betraying filial piety. Hence the theme of the story was a poignant reminder for Nguyễn Du, who was born into a high profile mandarin family, and whose father served as a high ranking minister under the Le dynasty.

Nguyễn Du was inspired by a Chinese Qing dynasty novel ‘The Tale of Chin, Yu , Ch’ia’ while he was leading a diplomatic mission to Beijing in 1813. He re-wrote the story by using ‘lục-bát’ or ‘six-eight’ verse form. The ’lục-bát’ was a commonly used and popular style in folk poetry and it was conducive to reciting. Its original title in Vietnamese is Ðoạn Trường Tân Thanh (A New Cry From a Broken Heart). However, it is better known as Truyện Kiều or Kim Văn Kiều.

The name of the story Kim Văn Kiều derives from the names of three important characters: Kim Trọng, Kiều’s fiancé and her first love; Thúy Văn, Kiều’s younger sister; and Thúy Kiều herself; the main protagonist being, of course, Thúy Kiều. Arguably the most recognised and stereotypical image of Kiều is of her playing a musical instrument, usually depicted either as a Ho guitar or a p’i p’a lute. In his English translation of the story, Lê Xuân Thủy describes her talents and beauty: "The bow of her eyes looked like two graceful autumn waves ... flowers envied her brightness, and willow shivered for not being so clear. With one sidelong glance, then another, she could subvert empires and put cities in revolution ... Being a thorough master of the Cung Thương five-tone scale, she excelled chiefly in playing Ho guitar ... (1960?: 22-23).

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Kim Văn Kiều, by Le Xuân Thủy (1960?). British Library, 16690.a.40, front cover

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Tryuện Kiều, by Nguyễn Thạch Giang (2010). British Library, YP.2011.b.433, back cover

Kiều was born to a family of scholars and was a vision of idealised Confucian womanhood: beautiful, chaste, obedient and loyal to her family (Nathalie 2003: 14). A virtuous and graceful young woman, however her fate was doomed, and she had to sacrifice her love and life to save her father and her family. After a noble upbringing, she gradually fell into disgrace, being forced to work as a prostitute, not once but twice, and had four husbands. At one point she even stole valuables from her master to survive. After fifteen years of suffering, she was finally reunited with her first love, Kim Trọng. However, after all she had gone through she could not see herself as his wife, and therefore remained in a platonic relationship with him, and asked her younger sister, Thúy Văn, to marry him instead.

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Kiều meets Kim Trọng for the first time. British Library, Or 14844, f. 6r  noc

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The first meeting of Kiều and Kim Trọng in Truyện Kiều (2010). British Library, YP.2011.b.433, pp. [20-21]

It is hard to imagine how this pure and talented young lady faced and coped with her subsequent downfall. In the following images, the manuscript artist depicts the lowest point in Kiều’s life, when she was sold by her first husband to a brothel. Tứ Bà, the madame and owner of the brothel cajoled Kiều into prostitution: ‘Listen to this my daughter, and keep this in mind: there are seven interior attitudes and eight intimate techniques to amuse people …until you can turn them upside down like stones…you must know how to charm them, sometimes by the tips of your lips, sometimes by the corner of your eyes, sometimes by reciting alluring poems, and occasionally by the flowers of your smile’ (Le Xuân Thủy, 1960?: 176-77).

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Tứ Bà taught Kiều how to use her charms to attract men. British Library, Or 14844, f. 29v  noc

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Kiều in Tú Bà’s brothel. British Library, Or 14844, f. 25r   noc

As Nathalie (2003: 13) points out, Kiều and this literary genre ‘stand out as a character of universal and enduring appeal, a vulnerable individual with whom those most acutely affected by change and misfortune can readily identify. For generations of Vietnamese who have experienced years of turmoil, changing regimes, colonisation, post-colonisation, war and exile, Kiều’s troubles strike a deep emotional chord.’

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Kiều is kidnapped on the order of Hoạn Thư, the first wife of Kiều’s second husband. British Library, Or 14844, f. 38v   noc

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The same scene depicted in Truyện Kiều (2010). British Library, YP.2011.b.433, p. [119]

Reflecting its popularity, Kim Văn Kiều has been widely published in various forms, and in the British Library alone, there are over thirty books on this Vietnamese classic. Literary criticisms, different interpretations and translations of Kiều, both in Vietnamese and foreign languages, continue to be published; for instance, in 2004, Vladislav Zhukov translated the story into English with his own interpretations. His version complements well other widely recognised English translations, especially those by Lê Xuân Thủy in the early 1960s and by Huynh Sanh Thong in 1973.

Further reading

Nathalie Huynh Chau Nguyen. Vietnamese Voices: Gender and Cultural identity in the Vietnamese Francophone Novel. DeKalb: Illinois: Northern Illinois University, 2003.
Kim Văn Kiều: English translation, footnotes and commentaries, by Lê Xuân Thủy. Fort Smith, Arizona: Sống Mới, [1960?]
Ta Quang Khôi. Nhân vật truyện Kiều, in Hồn Việt. Vol. 36, No. 323 & 324, January-February 2011, pp. 138-143.
Nguyễn Du. Truện Kiều : thơ và tranh. Nguyễn Thạch Giang, dịch. Hà Nội : Văn học, 2010.

Sud Chonchirdsin, Curator for Vietnamese Ccownwork

05 September 2017

Vietnamese traditional markets

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One striking feature of South East Asia is its traditional markets. They can be easily set up in any available space in communities, with vendors laying out their goods on makeshift stalls or on street pavements. Despite global and international retail chains mushrooming in many parts of the region, traditional markets are still going strong and in many areas are making a comeback.

In Vietnam, traditional markets have played a vital part in daily life, especially in the past when people still lived under a self-sufficient and rural economy. Markets provided a place where they could trade their daily necessities, while socialising and exchanging local news. Their importance is best expressed by the Vietnamese proverb “A market has its regulations; a village has its customs.” Vietnamese traditional markets come in different forms and sizes, from a tiny and basic hamlet market, to a more substantial village market which takes place where roads meet, or a town market, which also has proper shop houses (buildings which combine a shop with simple living accommodation for the trader). Markets can be held on any day but are usually busiest on the 2nd, 6th, 12th, 16th, 22nd, and 26th of the lunar month (Hưu Ngọc 2012: 178) .

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Bà Chiểu vegetable market, Sài Gòn, from Ký Họa Về Đông Dương: Nam Kỳ, 2015, p.22. British Library, OIJ.915.97

The origins of the Vietnamese traditional market can be traced back from written records to the end of the 13th century. In 1293 Trân Phu, a Chinese envoy of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) who travelled through Vietnam during the Trầ n Dynasty (1226-1400), made a note in his records (An Nam tức sự) that “Vietnamese markets took place every two days. Hundreds of goods were laid out. A building of three rooms width with four bamboo benches was erected at every five (Chinese) miles as a place for a market.” (Trịnh Khắc Mạnh 2015: 6).

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Food vendor, from Oger 1909, p.75. British Library, Or. TC 4

According to Trịnh Khắc Mạnh, traditional Vietnamese markets before the modern period can be divided into two types, namely those managed by the local administration and those managed by a local temple. Profits from market management would thus go back either to local communities or to the temple (Trịnh Khắc Mạnh 2015: 7).

In the past, markets were not only a place for businesses but they served as a community’s centre where locals were able to socialise. In addition to being able to sell or buy goods, both traders and customers also had a chance to meet up and exchange or gather news about their neighbours and communities. A market was a place where other daily activities took place, as this folk song about a girl looking for a man of her dreams demonstrates: “I’m like a length of rose silk / Waiting in the market for the right buyer” (Hưu Ngọc 2012: 178).

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Poultry vendor from Ký Họa Về Đông Dương: Nam Kỳ, 2015, p.23. British Library, OIJ.915.97

Markets in small villages or communities required no permanent fixtures. They could be easily set up with makeshift stalls, benches or even just a piece of cloth laid out on the bare ground. Markets in towns were generally bigger and would also have permanent shop houses. In the 18th and 19th centuries in prominent towns such as Sài Gòn, Hà Nội or Huế there were markets that specialised in one particular trade, such as clothes, paper, tin and copper household utensils, and leather. Street names in the old quarter of Hà Nội clearly reflect the specific commercial history of parts of the city as each name gives you a clue as to what you could expect to buy from the area. For example, Phố Hàng Đào was a place where you could buy silk or fabric, Phố Hàng Bạc specialised in silver products whereas Hàng Chiếu would have plenty of sleeping mats for you to choose from. Some of these traditions still carry on to the present day.

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Paper shop, from Oger 1909, p.131. British Library, Or. TC 4

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A pharmacy, in Oger 1909, p.90. British Library, Or. TC 4

Records of western travellers to the region in the 19th century also give good accounts of what traditional markets were like. George Finlayson, a surgeon and naturalist attached to the Crawfurd Mission to Siam and Vietnam in 1821-1822, gave an account of the principal market in Huế, which he visited on 3rd October 1822, as follows:
“It consists of a spacious street about a mile in length, with shops on either side of the whole of its length. Many of the shops are mere paltry huts, made of palm leaves; the rest are more substantial houses, constructed chiefly of wood, and have tile or thatched roofs. Here also, the poverty of the shops was particularly striking. A very large proportion contained nothing but shreds of gilt and coloured paper used in religious ceremonies and at funerals. Chinese porcelain, of a coarse description; fans, lacquered boxes, Chinese fans, silks, and crapes, the two latter in small quantity; medicines without number, coarse clothes made up, large hats made of palm-leaf, and a sort of jacket of the same material; rice, pulse, and fruit; sago … were the common articles exposed for sale. There were but few, and those very coarse articles of manufactured iron, as nails, hatches, and chisels, which bore a high price …” (George Finlayson 1826: 371-2).

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Ceramics and pottery shop, from Ký Họa Về Đông Dương: Nam Kỳ, 2015, p.57. British Library, OIJ.915.97

The British Library is fortunate to hold some items which depict Vietnamese markets at the beginning of the 20th century. The three-volume set of Introduction générale a l’étude de la technique du peuple annamite by Henri Oger, published in Paris in 1909 (Or. TC 4) has detailed and informative drawings of daily activities of the Vietnamese in and around Hà Nội in the first decade of the 20th century. In addition to this finely illustrated item, the Ký Họa Về Đông Dương: Nam Kỳ (OIJ.915.97) depicts daily life activities of the Vietnamese in the Gia Định-Sài Gòn area in the 1920’s-1930’s. The item in our collection is a 2015 re-publication of the Monographie Dessinée de L’Indochine: Cochinchine, first published in Paris in 1930. It is a collection of beautiful drawings from the Gia Định School of Drawings (Trường vẽ Gia Định or Ecole de Dessin, founded in 1913, the predecessor of the present University of Fine Arts, Hồ Chí Minh City). Both items are wonderful historical records of the lives of Vietnamese commoners at the turn of the 20th century.

Further reading:
George Finlayson, The Mission to Siam and Hue, the Capital of Cochin China in the years 1821-2. London: John Murray, 1826.
Henri Oger, Introduction générale a l’étude de la technique du peuple annamite. Paris: Geuthner Librarie-Éditeur, [1909].
Hưu Ngọc, Wandering through Vietnamese Culture. Hanoi: Thế Giới, 2012.
Ký Họa Về Đông Dương: Nam Kỳ. TP. Hồ Chí Minh : Nhà xuất bản văn hóa văn nghệ, 2015.
Trịnh Khắc Mạnh. Chợ truyền thống Việt Nam qua tư liệu văn bia. Hà Nội: Khoa học xã hội, 2015.

Sud Chonchirdsin
Curator for Vietnamese

24 July 2017

Animals in Southeast Asian manuscripts

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The Southeast Asia exhibition case outside the Asian and African Studies Reading Room at St Pancras is currently showing a selection of images of animals in manuscripts from Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. The delightful depictions of animals can be appreciated as exquisite works of art, but certain animals were also important as religious, political and cultural symbols in Southeast Asian societies, none more so than elephants.

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Animals in Southeast Asian manuscripts, on display in 2017.

In pride of place on the top shelf is a 19th-century Burmese folding book or parabaik (MSS Burmese 204) containing 22 coloured illustrations of elephants, showing the elephant king Chaddanta, who was the Bodhisatta or previous incarnation of Gautama Buddha, and his queen Mahathubadda. In Burma white elephants are regarded as sacred and a source of blessings, as they play a major role in Buddhist tales. In the story of the ‘Life of the Buddha’, Queen Maya dreamed that a celestial white elephant holding a white lotus flower in its trunk entered her side, to be reborn as Gautama Buddha, while in the last Birth Story of the Buddha, Vessantara Jataka, the white elephant appears as a rain maker. Every Burmese king longed to possess a white elephant, a symbol of power and sovereignty.

Next to the Burmese book is a Javanese manuscript of Serat Panji Jaya Kusuma dated 1805 (MSS Jav 68), which is shown open at a scene (identified by Lydia Kieven) where Sekartaji and her servant (emban) approach the forest filled with animals including an elephant, tiger, banteng, wild boar and two deer. This tale is one of many versions of the adventures of Prince Panji in his search for his beloved Princess Candrakirana. Stories of Prince Panji date back to the 13th century, and mark the beginnings of a truly Javanese literature no longer overshadowed by the great Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. Panji tales are found not only in Java but were also translated into Malay, Balinese, Thai, Lao, Khmer and Burmese.

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Drawings of forest animals in a Javanese manuscript of Serat Panji Jaya Kusuma, 1805. British Library, MSS Jav 68, f. 42r.

On the lower shelf is a Vietnamese royal edict issued by Emperor Khải Định on 25 July 1924, adorned on the back with a gilded turtle (Or 14632). The turtle (rùa) has a special place in Vietnamese culture and history. It symbolises longevity, strength and intelligence and is also closely related to the independence of Vietnam. Legend has it that Lê Lời, who led the Vietnamese fight against Chinese invaders in the 15th century, borrowed a sword from the dragon king. After the defeat of the Chinese, the sacred sword was returned to the king by a turtle which lived in a jade water lake. At the Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu) in Hà Nội, 82 stone turtles carry on their backs steles inscribed with the names of scholars, signifying the importance of education in society.

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Turtle, on the back of a Vietnamese royal edict issued by Emperor Khải Định on 25 July 1924. British Library, Or. 14632.

The final item in the case is a 19th-century Thai Phrommachat or horoscope manual in folding book format (Or. 13650). The twelve-year Chinese zodiac cycle was widely used in Thailand, and the manual contains coloured drawings depicting the zodiac in two series, together with detailed explanations for fortune telling and divination. 2017 is the year of the Rooster, and on display are drawings related to this year, with each rooster shown representing one particular quarter of the year. There is also a number diagram for people born in the year of the rooster, and the male avatar and plant for this year. These are accompanied by drawings used for predicting the future and to explain dreams and omens.

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Thai horoscope manual, open at the page for the year of the Rooster (the present year, 2017). British Library, Or. 13650, f.5v

Or. 13650 has been fully digitised, and shown below are some other pages from this beautiful manuscript, which can be accessed through the hyperlinks beneath the images.

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Thai horoscope manual. British Library, Or. 13650, f. 11v

Display Animals Thai OR_13650_f013r
Thai horoscope manual. British Library, Or. 13650, f. 13r

Annabel Teh Gallop, San San May, Jana Igunma & Sud Chonchirdsin, Southeast Asia section

Other blog posts about animals in Southeast Asian manuscripts:

Elephants, kingship and warfare in Southeast Asia, by Sud Chonchirdsin

Elephants in all shapes and sizes

The year of the Rooster, from a Thai perspective, by Jana Igunma

O graceful fawn, o gentle doe: deer in Thai manuscript art, by Jana Igunma

What's my Thai horoscope? by Jana Igunma

17 May 2017

Elephants, kingship and warfare in Southeast Asia

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Elephants have played an important part in many Asian civilisations since ancient times, for once they could be brought under control, their gigantic physical appearance and wild temperament were regarded as great assets. In China, war elephants appeared from at least as early as the Shang Dynasty (1723-1123 BC) (Kistler 2006: 8). They were respected both for their awe-inspiring size and for their difficult behaviour, which in turn helped to secure the position at the top of those kings who succeeded in controlling the beasts (Trautmann 2015: 68-69). In India, from as early as 1000 BC in the later Vedic period, elephants were domesticated and became a very valuable resource for kings and rulers in the northern states, especially for use in battle, and information on domesticating elephants was recorded in Gajasastra or elephant knowledge manuals. In Hinduism the pachyderms are regarded as sacred animals since the god Indra chose a celestial elephant named Airavana as his animal mount, or vahana (Trautmann 2015: 100).

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Airavana, the god Indra’s elephant, depicted in a Thai manuscript. British Library, Or.  13652, f. 4v Noc

The Indian epic Ramayana also portrays elephants as an important part of kingship. It mentions the relationship between kings and elephants, and the duty of the royals to attend to the needs of the elephants (Trautmann 2015: 50-51). Ayodhaya, the royal city of Rama, was full of horses and elephants, and according to early Buddhist texts, King Bimbisara of Magadha (558-491 BC) possessed a well-trained elephant corps (Kistler 2006: 21) .

The idea of the royal use of elephants, war elephants and elephant training techniques gradually spread from India to the kingdoms of Southeast Asia. In Vietnam, as early as AD 40, the two Trưng sisters, Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị, led a victorious but short-lived rebellion against the Chinese Han ruler before they were suppressed in AD 42. The two Trưng sisters, who were killed in the war, have been depicted in Vietnamese history as warriors riding on elephants to fight against the Chinese Han.  Since then they have become national heroines and a symbol of resistance against foreign rule and domination.

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The Trưng Sisters (Hai Bà Trưng) depicted on the front cover of Làng Văn, no. 19, March, 1986. British Library, 16641.e.13

Elephants played an essential role in traditional warfare in Southeast Asia. Not only were they the main war machines but they could also instigate war, especially if they were “white elephants”. In many traditional kingdoms in Southeast Asia, “white elephants” received royal treatment and carried the king. In reality “white elephants” are simply albino elephants, but they are extremely rare. Some white elephants which simply had pale colorations or certain spots and other characteristics were deemed to be “auspicious” and beautiful, and were believed to be especially blessed by the gods. This belief may also be related to the Hindu myth which describes Airavana, Indra’s mount, as a white elephant. Rulers sometimes competed for ownership of such white elephants, and these ownership contests could be used as pretexts for declaring war (Kistler 2006: 178-9).

Just as the Vietnamese honour the Trưng sisters, so the Thais regard highly Queen Suriyothai and her daughter, Princess Boromdilok, for their bravery and sacrifice. According to Thai chronicles, Queen Suriyothai gave up her life to protect her husband King Maha Chakkraphat, who was engaged in an elephant fight with the Burmese Viceroy of Prome during the rise of the Tongoo dynasty of Burma in 1548. She dressed as a male soldier on a war elephant and decided to block the Viceroy of Prome from charging her husband, but was killed by a single blow from the Viceroy’s spear, together with her daughter. Between 1563 and 1564 the Burmese kingdom of the Toungoo Dynasty and the Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya were engaged in another war, this time over white elephants. King Bayinnaung of the Toungoo demanded that King Maha Chakkraphat of Ayutthaya send two of his white elephants to Burma as tribute, but Maha Chakkraphat refused, and hence war broke out. Ayutthaya could not withstand the power of the Burmese army, and eventually a peace deal was agreed in which one of the Siamese king’s princes was taken hostage to Burma, and Ayutthaya also had to give four white elephants to the Burmese king. In addition, Siam had to send thirty elephants and a substantial amount of silver to Burma annually. Ayutthaya was also reduced in status to a vassal state to the Burmese kingdom.

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Elephant catching in Burma. British Library, Or. 16761, f.10r Noc

According to Thai historical sources, Siamese pride was only restored by King Naresuan, the grandson of King Maha Chakkraphat, when he won an elephant duel between himself and Mingyi Swa, Bayinnaung’s grandson, in 1593. In foreign source material the actual elephant duel was not mentioned but there was definitely an elephant battle between Naresuan and the Burmese troops. Similar conflicts over white elephants took place in other traditional Southeast Asian kingdoms. For example, around the 1470s, Emperor Lê Thánh Tông of the Đại Việt kingdom waged a war against the Lan Xang kingdom (literarily translated as 'kingdom of a million elephants', located in modern Laos) after his request for a gift of a hair of the white elephant of King Chakkaphat of Lan Xang was rejected.

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King Naresuan on his elephant battles with the Burmese.  King Naresuan the Great (Bangkok : Animate, 1994). British Library, YP.2007.a.2584,  p.[170]

Elephants have no place in modern world warfare; nevertheless Southeast Asians still have a strong sense of their power and role in society. In Thailand an annual elephant round up is organised in Surin province in north-eastern Thailand. This festival was an important royal event during the Ayutthaya period, when wild elephants were hunted, tamed and trained to be used as working or war animals. In Thanh Hóa province in northern Vietnam, an elephant battle festival or Trò Chiềng has been revived recently. This festival commemorates and honours General Trịnh Quốc Bảo, who adopted war tactics in his fight against the enemy in the 11th century.  He had elephants made out of bamboo, glued fireworks to them, and then burnt them in the battle against the enemy’s elephant troops. This spectacular and original strategy may well have contributed to his victory.

Further reading:
John M. Kistler. War elephants. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2006.
Thomas R. Trautmann. Elephants and kings: an environmental history. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.
‘Tro Chieng: the Most Anticipated Festival in Thanh Hoa’, Vietnam Pictorial, No. 699, March, 2017, pp. 30-33 (British Library shelf mark : SU216 (2) )

Sud Chonchirdsin, Curator for Vietnamese Ccownwork

03 March 2017

Vietnam and Dragons

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In Vietnamese culture, as in many other East and South East Asian societies, the dragon plays a very prominent role. It is arguably the most sacred of the four mythical creatures - the dragon, the phoenix, the unicorn and the turtle - and its pre-eminence is closely related to the birth of the nation. Legend has it that Lạc Long Quân, king of the dragons who lived in the water, married Âu Cơ, a fairy from the bird kingdom. She gave birth to 100 sons and her first-born son became King Hùng Vương of Lạc Việt, the first dynasty of Vietnam. The word 'Long' in the name of the legendary Lạc Long Quân (Dragon Lord of the Lac) is a Hán-Việt word which also means 'dragon', or rồng in modern Vietnamese. Hence there is a proverb saying that the Vietnamese are con rồng cháu tiên or “children of the dragon and grandchildren of the fairy”.

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Gilded dragon on the reverse of an Imperial edict of Emperor Khải Đinh, 1924. British Library, Or.14665 Noc

From the very birth of the country, the dragon has thus been closely associated with Vietnamese kings or rulers, but it is believed that in even earlier times the dragon was used as a symbol at clan level to represent talent, noble and beauty. There are proverbs which refer to the dragon in this context, such as chữ viết đẹp như rồng bay phượng múa, 'handwriting is as beautiful as a flying dragon and a dancing phoenix'. However the increasing use of the word 'dragon' and objects with dragon patterns by feudal lords led to this creature becoming a symbol of the authority of the imperial clan. In China, it is believed that an emperor of the Han dynasty (B.C.206-A.D.220) was the first ruler to use the dragon to represent his authority.

Vietnamese tales and legends also reinforce a close association between this creature and the country’s rulers. For example, when Lý Công Uẩn took power from the Early Lê dynasty in A.D. 1009, he is said to have seen a golden dragon descending from the sky over Đại La citadel. He therefore renamed Đại La as Thăng Long ('Rising Dragon'). Lý Công Uẩn  became Emperor Lý Thái Tổ, the founder of the Lý dynasty (A.D. 1009-1225) and Thăng Long, which later became Hà Nội, was chosen as the capital. It is believed that both the new emperor and the capital city were blessed by this mythical creature right from the very beginning. Lý Thái Tổ was not the only emperor who claimed to see a golden dragon during his reign, for Emperor Lý Nhân Tông (A.D. 1066-1127) and Emperor Lê Thanh Tông (A.D. 1442-1497) were also said to have seen golden dragons several times during their reigns (Zeng Zen 2000: 46).

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The Imperial dragon depicted on the yellow silk front and back covers of a manuscript of KimVăn Kiều, 19th c. British Library, Or.14844 Noc

The dragon is regarded as immortal and even though its appearance can seem frightening, it does not represent evil. On the contrary, in Vietnam the dragon was always regarded as a symbol of power and nobility, and thus became the chief attribute of the person highest in nobility and greatest in power: the emperor or king (Buttinger 1983: 20). The Vietnamese imperial throne is called bệ rồng or 'dragon throne', while the throne hall in the palace where the emperor granted public audiences or worked, such as that in the former imperial capital city of Huế, was also decorated with dragons. Imperial attire and accessories were also related to the dragon; for example, the imperial gown was called a long bào and his hat was called a long quân. The dragon with five claws was reserved for imperial use, while one with four claws was for the use of royal dignitaries and high ranking court officials. For commoners, their dragons could only have three claws.

From a geographical aspect, the shape of Vietnam, which resembles a letter S, also enhances the dragon myth. The Vietnamese consider the shape of their homeland to be similar to a winding dragon: the northern part is its tail, central Vietnam is its body with the Trường Sơn mountain range (the Annamite Range) as its back and spine, and the dragon’s head lies in the southern part, with its open mouth spraying water into the South China Sea. It should be noted that when the Mekong River reaches the south of Vietnam and branches into nine tributaries in the Mekong River Delta, it is called Sông Cửu Long or the 'Nine Dragon River'.

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Gilt dragon on the Imperial edict of Emperor Khải Đinh,  25 July, 1917. British Library, Or.14631 Noc

Dragons also appear in many other aspects of Vietnamese life and culture. On auspicious occasions such as the Vietnamese New Year, a dragon dance will be organised. The Nguyễn court (A.D. 1802-1945) also declared the Dragon Boat Day, originating from Chinese traditions, as one of the 'three great holidays' in Vietnam along with the lunar New Year (Tết Nguyên Đán) and the emperor’s birthday. The boat race festival was celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month by peasants in South China and Vietnam, to ward off poisonous spirits (Woodside 1988: 36-37). Many Vietnamese proverbs and children's plays relate to dragons, and many place names in Vietnam also contain the word “Long”, or 'Dragon'.

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Dragon Boat Race, Thiếu nhi vẽ.  Hà Nội: Văn hóa, 1977, [21]. British Library, SEA.1986.a.4004

In Hồ Chí Minh City (formerly Sài Gòn), there is an historic building called Nhà Rồng, or the Dragon House, located at the old port of Saigon. The house was built by the French in 1862-1863 in a French colonial style, but on the roof top there were two symmetrical ceramic dragons facing each other and looking at the moon, hence the name Nhà Rồng. It was from here that the young Hồ Chí Minh embarked on a ship to sail to France in June 1911, on his search to find methods to fight French colonialism and seek independence for his motherland. Symbolically, dragons seem to appear in some critical junctures in Vietnamese history.

Further reading:
A.B. Woodside. Vietnam and the Chinese model. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University press, 1988.
Joseph Buttinger. A Dragon Defiant. Newton Abbot, Devon: David and Charles, 1983.
Phùng Hồng. ‘Rồng trong đời sống Việt Nam’  in  Hồn Việt vol.25, no.196/197, January-February 2000; pp. 63-66. (BL shelfmark: 16641.e.5)
Zeng Zen. ‘Năm thìn bàn chuyện rồng’ in Hồn Việt vol.25, no.196/197, January-February 2000; pp.45-48. (BL shelfmark: 16641.e.5)

Sud Chonchirdsin, curator for Vietnamese Ccownwork

05 September 2016

The formation of the British Library’s Vietnamese collection. Part 2: South Vietnam

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This blog is the second in a two-part series chronicling the efforts by the British Library to build up its Vietnamese collection, particularly throughout the difficult period of the Vietnam War years, based on departmental archives. Part 1 dealt with North Vietnam; in Part 2 we look at South Vietnam.

Unlike the situation with North Vietnam, throughout the war years the British government maintained a diplomatic relationship with the South Vietnamese regime in Saigon, and there was a Republic of Vietnam embassy located in London. The earliest evidence of an attempt by the then Library of the British Museum to establish book exchanges with South Vietnam is found in a letter from G.H. Spinney (the Keeper of the State Paper Room) to the Vietnamese Embassy in London, dated 7 May 1959. In it, he mentioned his lack of success in contacting the State Library of Vietnam in December 1958 regarding establishing a book exchange programme, and also reiterated the necessity of collecting material from South Vietnam.

Through the London Embassy of the Republic of Vietnam and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Saigon, an agreement in principle was reached on 12 January 1960. Despite the absence of a formal exchange contract, from 1959 onwards the British Museum Library started to exchange both official publications and books with various South Vietnamese government ministries and departments.  Negotiations between two parties regarding the details of exchanges went on for some years, dealing with details such as whether or not the supply of back numbers of periodicals of any date could be arranged and included (source: letter from Miss E.C. Blayney, The Foreign Office to Mr. J.R. MacKay, H.M. Stationery Office, 17 July 1962).

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Letter from the Republic Of Vietnam’s Embassy in London to the Library of the British Museum (precursor of the British Library), 1960.

Finally, on 30 November 1962, the UK government and the government of the Republic of Vietnam agreed upon an Exchange of Notes concerning the exchange of official publications between the two governments. This agreement formed the basis for material collected from South Vietnam during the war years. The Directorate of National Archives and Libraries in Saigon was entrusted with the task of sending official publications from the Republic of Vietnam to the British Library.

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Exchange of Notes between the UK government and the government of the Republic of Vietnam, 1962.

The correspondence between the British Library and the Vietnamese Embassy in London demonstrates that there was a regular exchange between the two institutions, and Saigon occasionally also sent a few monographs to the Library. However, it is quite surprising  that the number of official serials and monographs from Saigon in our collection during the war period is much smaller than that received from Hanoi, considering the fact that the UK only had diplomatic relations with the Saigon regime, and that the Republic of Vietnam was a ‘free country’. The answer to this puzzle probably lies in Nguyễn Thế Anh’s observation that in the socialist North, where culture and literature were placed under the direction of the state, publications were often issued in large editions and played an important role in society. On the other hand, in the South, where free enterprise reigned, publishing benefited from the latest technical innovations but was often disorderly, with a proliferation of limited and poorly distributed editions (Herbert & Milner 1988: 82).

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Publication from Saigon, 1960. British Library, 16622.a.12.

It should also be noted that all printed material for export in the North came under the state-run enterprise, XUNHASABA. Even though the export of printed material was subject to strict rules and controls, the state distributor worked more efficiently than the private suppliers in the South during the war years. As a result, the British Library sometimes received duplicates from the North which were then donated to the Embassy of Vietnam in London for their own use, illustrating how rare such material was, and how the gathering of such essential information was valued by these two war-torn states was during the Vietnam War.

All these attempts by those who were involved in acquiring material from both sides of Vietnam have paid off. Today, the Vietnamese collection in the British Library is probably the largest in the UK. Even though the collection of manuscripts in Vietnamese is small by comparison with many other language traditions in the British Library, it represents well the literary tradition of Vietnam. We are also continuing to add to the collection of modern printed books, and to date we have about 10,000 items in our collection, which cover a wide range of important fields in social sciences and humanities, such as linguistics, law, literature and anthropology.

References:

H.J. Goodacre and A.P. Pritchard. Guide to the Department of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books. London: British Museum Publications Limited, 1977.
Patricia Herbert & Anthony Milner, eds. South-East Asia Languages and Literatures: A Select Guide. Arran, Scotland: Kiscadale Publications, [1988?]
P.R. Harris. A History of the British Museum Library, 1753-1973. London: The British Library, 1998.

Sud Chonchirdin, Curator for Vietnamese Ccownwork